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

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 13 17:49:10 EST 2011

Professor Skulsky, thanks for the useful information and the reminder of the 
"hermeneutic principle of charity." Let's also not forget the similar 
"pedagogical principle of charity" that allows tyros to pose their questions.

Jeffery Hodges

From: Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at smith.edu>
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Mon, February 14, 2011 7:12:08 AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "As by his Word . . ."

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 

>>> 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, 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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