[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana and diminishing returns

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at email.smith.edu
Thu Jan 15 13:08:10 EST 2009

Perhaps we have not yet reached the point of diminishing returns. 

Mr. Maxwell agrees that the introduction of peculiar grace at PL3.184
is not inconsistent with the treatment of sufficient but resistible
grace that follows it. So a two-track theory of justification isn't
contradictory. But on one reading of the peculiar grace track, the
theory is (Mr. Maxwell says) "odd." How so?

Perhaps the oddity can be cashed out as follows. If the contrast
between peculiar and sufficient grace implies that peculiar grace
guarantees its own acceptance, then the Father has chosen to deny
beneficiaries of peculiar grace the gift of free will — the gift that
(according to the Father's previous argument) gives human choice its
moral significance. How are the beneficiaries compensated for the loss?

Professors Gillum and Schwartz argue, in effect, that the issue
disappears if peculiar grace contrasts with sufficient grace NOT in
being irresistible, but merely in being harder to resist. On this
reading, a virtuous exercise of free will is simply made easier by
peculiar grace. 

But then (the reply will come) once again the moral significance of
free will is compromised, if to a lesser degree. And, if so, it will be
fair to ask once again how the beneficiaries of peculiar grace are
compensated for the loss.

But it isn't clear that in the Miltonic scheme the choice of virtue IS
drained of significance by being necessary, much less by being easy.
After all, it seems that on Milton's showing neither the Father nor the
Son, nor elect souls after this life, are capable of choosing evil.
Surely Milton does not conclude from this fact that the Father's or the
Son's acts of will are insignificant. In short, peculiar grace and
sufficient grace simply add different perfections to the world, both of
which are a tribute to the providence of the Creator. Or so Milton can
consistently argue. 

The underlying premises of the Free Will Defense are: 

(1) Without the availability of evil, freely chosen or freely rejected,
God's creation would suffer a loss in perfection, for lack of moral

(2) The notion of free will (liberum arbitrium, libertas
indifferentiae) is not only intelligible but indispensable, since the
notions of moral praise and blame, just reward and just punishment, and
moral responsibility, collapse into vacuity without it. 

Both (1) and (2) are (to be charitable) fraught with well-known
difficulties. But they are tenable and important. And so, I think, is
the version of the Defense (premises and all) on display in PL.

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