[Milton-L] "As by his Word . . ."

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at smith.edu
Sun Feb 13 17:12:08 EST 2011

It's clear from DC that the Father "performs everything in all things in [the person of] the Son and the Spirit" ("[Deus] agit omnia in omnibus etiam in Filio et Spiritu"), that the Son's unique office is to be the Demiurge, or agent of the Father's external acts ("Filius duntaxat est per quem omnia [fiunt]").  In PL, when the moment arrives for the physical universe to be created, the Son is shown performing this office at the Father's command (7.162-67). This order of creation is common doctrine, on account of the locus classicus at Heb. 1:2.  According to this conception, being the agent of creation is an essential part of what it is for the Son to be God's Word, and for the Word to be present at the beginning. 
God's announcement to the angels (already created) that he has just begotten the Son is inconsistent with this doctrine only if taken literally, in violation of the usual hermeneutic principle of charity.  (In M's tradition violation of this principle is the mark of a tyro, with the matching degree of credibility; that is, none.) In the context of the announcement, "beget" (like "create") means "appoint." 
>>> Horace Jeffery Hodges <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com> 2/13/2011 3:13 PM >>>

I've been convinced of Milton's Arianism by Michael Bauman and other scholars, but I do wonder what to make of this passage in PL 5.833-838, where Abdiel maintains that the begotten Son made the angels (even though God had earlier announced the begetting of his Son to the assembled angels):
 Thy self though great and glorious dost thou count,
Or all Angelic Nature joind in one,
Equal to him begotten Son, by whom [ 835 ]
As by his Word the mighty Father made
All things, ev'n thee, and all the Spirits of Heav'n
By him created in thir bright degrees,

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed., The Milton Reading Room ( http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton ), February 2011.]
I speculate a bit on my blog:

The begotten Son was the one "by whom / As by his Word the mighty Father made / All things." This line can be read as distinguishing between two states of the Word of God: a pre-sonship state and a sonship state, differentiated by the event of being begotten. If so, then for Milton, 'divine sonship' is a role taken on by the eternal Word of God in the act of being begotten by God Himself, who (I presume) becomes the Father at that point. This reading of Milton raises the question as to what Milton thought the act of begetting to mean. I haven't looked into that yet, but perhaps Milton thought that the Word was a power of God that became hypostasized through an emanation of God's own substance, but I'm merely guessing
Could somebody clarify this for me?
Jeffery Hodges
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