[Milton-L] the problem of hell

samuelsmith112 at comcast.net samuelsmith112 at comcast.net
Wed Oct 30 19:33:16 EDT 2013

I agree with both Richard and Stephen that the Father’s initial remarks in Bk 3 are sufficient for any scheme of salvation. No need for “Die hee or justice must.” But I don’t think Milton would agree with us. 

I also think Richard is quite right about imagining something like "eternal salvation" - if humanity is in need of the redemption/salvation imagined by orthodox Christianity, it must be universal. 

And I'm not sure Hitler would need as much "salutary pain and re-education" as we might suppose. As Alice Miller has argued in For Your Own Good: Poisonous Pedagogy in Child-rearing and the Hidden Roots of Cruelty , Hitler was never not in Hell, and no adult told the child Hitler that the daily abuse his alcoholic father visited on his smaller body was wrong. It was an early, long-lasting lesson that whoever is bigger and stronger does whatever the hell he wants, and the absence of any intervention (relative, teacher) allowed the lesson to anchor. We could say that Hitler was born into Hell, and Hell was all he ever knew--he was never not in Hell. So our response is simply to give him more Hell? A reminder that none of us has sufficient knowledge of any other human being to pass absolute judgment. Isn't this one of the reasons humans imagine God? Surely God would have sufficient knowledge to judge absolutely. 

[Note that I am only talking about Hitler's "salvation," not what would be civil or criminal justice with respect to his crimes, for which he had many, many compatriots and accomplices.] 

And if I can actually agree with Richard for a third time, I affirm his contention that it is love, not power, that really matters when we come to talk about God. And this is where Milton's theological vision is vitiated and untenable from my point of view. Imagine a theology that begins with Luke 6.27-36 and requires all other sacred text to conform to that vision. Luke's Jesus makes precisely the point Richard does - vengeance and punishment are nothing special - radical love is. I think John Caputo's The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event points the way forward on this question. 

Did Milton ever comment on Luke 6.27-36? 

Samuel Smith 

----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Fallon" <sfallon at nd.edu> 
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu> 
Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 5:34:23 PM 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] the problem of hell 

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 > 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 [ milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu ] on behalf of Steve Fallon [ 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 

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