[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana and diminishing returns

Kim Maxwell kmaxwell at stanford.edu
Thu Jan 15 04:00:54 EST 2009


1.  I suspect Prof. Skulsky is correct, that those wishing to see PL as doctrinal will find ways of making its apparent inconsistencies disappear, much as biblical exegesis must make biblical inconsistences iron themselves out somehow.  Once they have disappeared, of course, they no longer seem to be inconsistencies.  I do wish to offer a palinode, that he is also correct, that the three modes of election at 3.180 ff are not inconsistent within themselves.  God could logically segment mankind into those he treats one way and those he treats another without having to answer to us for his reasons.  My sense, however, is that exempting one segment of man from election based on satisfying certain conditions and then electing another set based on those conditions is quite odd.  I do not think he means to segment man by their natures, some without sin entirely, hence immune to temptations and perpetual testing (the Son's sour view of mankind in Paradise
 Regained would support such a view, that only the Son has this level of internal fortitude).  He knows of course who satisfies his conditions and who does not, whatever those conditions may be.  So why the segmentation?  In any event, I also respect the view that we have probably reached diminishing returns.  So I offer but one thought on my own perspective, without judging thereby that of anyone else.  

2. I sometimes wonder how we would read PL today if DCC had never been found.  We will never know of course, but I suspect it may have followed more in the footsteps of King Lear.  Its presumptions of Christrian suffering and redemption, justified by some passages in the play, have given way to darker and more secular readings, and many readings in which the theological dimensions of the play take no part one way or the other.  (There are still advanced some quite good arguments for it as a Christian play, however.)  I find myself in front of PL this way.  I probably overstate the doctrinal problems.  But I keep thinking about the poem's first lines, before one greater man regains the blissful seat (or is it we who regain the blissful seat, or can we tell), and wonder why no book has been written  just about Adam.  My confession is this.  I think the poem is principally about Adam, not God.  I think the poem asserts, as does DCC, that a universe without
 God is unintelligible, and God must be present in the poem to so testify and to judge Adam's acts.  But the poem can be read without resolving its doctrinal compenents and still make a contribution, perhaps even a profound contribution, to our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live.  At least, this is what I think.

Kim Maxwell
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