[Milton-L] crucifixion

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Apr 6 02:47:43 EDT 2014

Richard --

Thanks for posting these ideas. I'd like to suggest that Milton's specific
language is important. He doesn't have God say, "I'm going to forgive Adam
and Eve because they were deceived." He has God say,

Self-tempted, self-deprav'd: Man falls
130 ]
By the other first: Man therefore shall find grace,

He says instead that man shall find "grace." We might be tempted to think
of God's forgiveness the way that we think of human forgiveness: you or I
could forgive someone unilaterally, regardless of their response to us or
of their feelings for us.

But grace is something that must be both given and received. The Son
observes later in Book 3 that

"he her [grace's] aide /
Can never seek, once dead in sins and lost;"

Because of man's fallen state, man is unable to seek out the help of grace,
so God offering man grace won't be enough to save mankind: somehow, mankind
has to be made able to receive it.

Because mankind is unable to make atonement for themselves, Christ agrees
to become man and offer himself up:

"Attonement for himself or offering meet,
Indebted and undon, hath none to bring: [ 235 ]
Behold mee then, mee for him, life for life"

In these lines the state of being "dead in sins and lost" can only be
remedied by atonement, but because of man's fallen state, man is unable to
offer atonement. Christ, however, being unfallen, can make himself such an
offering by becoming human.

That seems to me to be the Milton's explanation for the existence of the
cross: God offers grace, but mankind is unable to receive it, so Christ's
sacrifice of himself, as a man, makes all of mankind able to receive God's

As has been mentioned, I think, there's also the problem of a just penalty
for sin: God is the judge or ruler of a moral universe and mankind, having
sinned, deserves punishment:

"But yet all is not don; Man disobeying,
Disloyal breaks his fealtie, and sinns
Against the high Supremacie of Heav'n, [ 205 ]
Affecting God-head, and so loosing all,
To expiate his Treason hath naught left,
But to destruction sacred and devote,
He with his whole posteritie must dye,
Dye hee or Justice must; unless for him [ 210 ]
Som other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death."

The two and a half lines seem like a fairly straightforward presentation of
substitutionary atonement: either justice falls on humanity or on someone
else. If that doesn't happen, then justice itself will die.


On Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 6:06 PM, Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>wrote:

>  Well, here goes!  I'll say it, and let the storm follow:  Milton could
> hardly care less about the crucifixion and still be any sort of Christian.
>  The Son's "heroism" in Book 3 is entirely adventitious, since, after the
> proem, the action of the Book OPENS with God's decision to pardon man on
> purely moral/rational grounds (he was misled -- but then, so were Satan's
> followers-- but that's another problem).  In any case, "Man therefore shall
> find grace" is determined, absolutely and definitively, before the whole
> drama of sacrifice takes place.  The critics who think Satan's heroism
> false and the Son's true have it backwards.  Someone had to do what Satan
> did, if his plan was to succeed (and it is not clear that anyone else was
> going to volunteer); the Son's Great Act is strictly unnecessary -- it's
> Milton trying to look orthodox, as if he believed in Anselmic atonement
> theory, when in fact he has already worked things out in his purely
> rationalistic way.
>  And of course, the crucifixion is notoriously difficult to find in the
> account of history in Bks XI-XII.  It takes up 3 lines (XII: 411-13), and
> even there, Milton finds the abjection intolerable, and immediately makes
> the event a military triumph and reversal of torture -- "But to the Cross
> he nails thy Enemies."
>  RS
>    ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of alan horn [
> alanshorn at gmail.com]
> *Sent:* Saturday, April 05, 2014 4:40 PM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] tree of life
>     why is the Tree of Life there at all? Milton seems to strip it of any
>> function in the literal narrative and reduce it to a symbol prefiguring
>> Christian salvation. Does this get us any closer to establishing a
>> symmetrical relation between the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life?
>  The Tree of Life is the type of the cross. Jesus dying on the cross in
> obedience to the law of God makes good Adam's disobedience in eating of
> that other tree. So Christ (the anti-type of Satan, who offered the fruit
> of the Tree of Knowledge, or death) redeems from death all those who
> "offered life / Neglect not" (XII, 425-6). The Tree of Life is identified
> with the true church in Book IV and Satan who perches on it as he scopes
> out Eden to corrupt clergy (193).
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Dr. James Rovira
Associate Professor of English
Tiffin University
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
Continuum 2010
Text, Identity, Subjectivity
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