[Milton-L] Bk 3

Steve Fallon sfallon at nd.edu
Wed Oct 30 11:57:05 EDT 2013


On Oct 26, 2013, at 6:49 PM, Richard A. Strier wrote:

Jeffery:  "Did Milton hold that all mankind would find grace?"

RS:  He should have, but didn't.  Alas!  If he had, he could have been one of the heroes of D. P. Walker's wonderful The Decline of Hell.

It all depends on what "all mankind" and "find grace" mean. I do not recall that Milton in his discussions of grace and predestination handles the question of those who have not heard of Christ, but setting that question aside he is clear in his opposition to the Calvinist doctrines of limited atonement and irresistible grace.  In other words, he is clear that grace is offered not only to the elect, but generally.  If the offer of grace to all is synonymous with all "find[ing] grace," then the answer would be that all do find grace.

In the epic, the Father promises that "Man shall not quite be lost, but saved who will, / Yet not of will in him, but grace in me / Freely vouchsafed."  With this grace, "lapséd powes" are "renew[ed]."  This points to the partial undoing of the fall, so that "yet once more" man will "stand / On even ground against his foe."  After the race is enthralled to sin as a result of the fall, God will allow each to choose.  One might argue that God does not specify explicitly all persons, but given the general language the specification would seem more necessary if God meant to exclude anyone from this offered grace.

Milton is explicit in the Christian Doctrine: "God foreknew those who would believe, that is, he decreed or approved that they alone would be those for whom in Christ he should have regard—all, certainly, if they believed " (the new Oxford edition, 8.1:87; my emphasis).  The point is clear in the Latin ("omnes utique si credidissent").  The passage is in the Yale edition at 6.181-82 and in the Modern Library edition—slipping in a plug here—on pp. 1164-65).  Milton emphasizes the universality of offered grace a few pages later: "[I]f God rejects no one except the disobedient and the unbeliever, surely he imparts grace—if not equal, yet sufficient—to all, by which they may be able to arrive at recognition of the truth and salvation.... The reason, therefore, why God does not deem all worthy of equal grace is his own supreme will; the reason, however, for his deeming all worthy of sufficient grace is his justice" (my emphasis again, Oxford 8.1:101-03; in Yale, 6:192-93; in MLM 1168-69).

So if to "find grace" means to accept it and believe, then the answer is clearly no.  If it means to have the benefit of grace enabling one to believe and be saved, the answer seems clearly to be yes.

Steve F

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