[Milton-L] the problem of hell

Steve Fallon sfallon at nd.edu
Wed Oct 30 17:34:23 EDT 2013

What Richard says makes sense, and one might wish for a different final outcome than Milton envisions, but, as Richard acknowledged earlier, "He should have, but didn't. Alas!"

Milton did find predestination to reprobation repulsive, and he says so (I don't have my books with me to offer the citation).  But that is as far as he goes.  He insists that it is the individual and not God who chooses whether the individual is saved or damned.  If Milton's damned face what can seem a grossly disproportionate punishment, at least they, unlike Calvin's damned, are there as a result of free choice.

Milton is strongly rationalist, which does as Richard suggests account for much of his unorthodoxy. From this perspective, recent claims for an apophatic Milton or for Milton's hidden God seem skewed; granted that all Christians agree that God is ultimately incomprehensible, Milton's God is about as comprehensible as a Christian God can get.

Steve F

On Oct 30, 2013, at 5:09 PM, "Richard A. Strier" <rastrier at uchicago.edu<mailto:rastrier at uchicago.edu>> wrote:

Everything Steve F says seems to me quite right.  But it doesn't really answer the question.  The question is whether the notion of hell is morally intelligible -- should anyone be punished eternally for a sin committed in time.

The believers in universal salvation thought that this was an abominable idea, as do I.  The trouble with the protestant scheme is that in eliminating purgatory, it eliminated the possibility of guaranteeing moral improvement -- through whatever painful process of re-education -- for the wicked.  I know all the stuff about in hell the wicked re-perform their wickedness eternally, and therefore keep meriting their punishment, but that seems to me a nasty doctrine in itself.  The point is the ethically abominable status of the concept of hell.  A number of thinkers in the Christian tradition found it so (from Origen to young Thomas Browne on).  Even our penal system pretends that it values rehabilitation rather than mere punishment.

To get out of the dilemma, Milton would have had to envision something like purgatory -- perhaps an ante-chamber to heaven in which purifying suffering took place (something a great visionary poet could do).

And to answer the (supposedly) knock-down question-- do I think Satan should eventually be saved (in a moral universe in which this question makes sense-- that is, in which there is such a thing as "salvation"), my answer is yes.  And then, of course, there is Hitler.  Again, I'd say, after enough salutary pain, and reeducation, yes.

That seems to me what Christianity should look like -- a religion truly of love and grace.  Punishment and vengeance are not anything special.  Love is (and love only for the worthy is hardly impressive).

the heretic

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] on behalf of Steve Fallon [sfallon at nd.edu<mailto:sfallon at nd.edu>]
Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 10:57 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Bk 3

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

Milton-L mailing list
Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu>
Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.richmond.edu/pipermail/milton-l/attachments/20131030/f19889ac/attachment.html>

More information about the Milton-L mailing list