[Milton-L] crucifixion

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at smith.edu
Sun Apr 6 23:21:07 EDT 2014


*"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."*



*Milton is an enthusiastic biblicist, and his ethics is frankly both
classical and Christian. He is devoted to the full practical implications
of the Aristotelian prohairesis. And at the same time he tries mightily to
find ways to reconcile the Pauline letter with his conception of the
rationally self-evident. *



*What is more important for present purposes, he is committed to divine
foreknowledge in the Boethian sense (in which it is consistent with free
will): God is no less temporally omnipresent than spatially, and his
knowledge of every moment-- fore and aft; past, present, and future--and of
every act at every moment, whether free or determined, is as certain and
irrevocable as it is immediate. In the literal sense, God neither looks
back nor ahead, though in PL 3 and elsewhere he indulges in a divine
version of speaking with the vulgar and thinking with the learned. *



*So we had better not be so infatuated with "vulgar" chronology as to be
deaf to the "learned" sense of "before" in which the fact that "Man
therefore shall find grace" is "determined, absolutely and definitively,
before the whole drama of sacrifice takes place." By the very same token,
after all, not only this "finding" of grace but the whole drama of
sacrifice too--the vehicle of the "finding"--is ALSO determined, absolutely
and definitively, "before" it takes place; that is, determined in the
tenseless "before" of the divine perspective. So much for the canard that
the Son's future Act of satisfying the as yet unsatisfied requirements of
divine justice is "strictly unnecessary" and therefore unheroic. *



*As for Milton's shying away in disgust from the supposed obligation to
dwell on the literal details of the Passion, why suppose that this is the
obligation of a Christian poet not notably given to Counter-Reformation
aesthetics? The whole point here is that in itself the Cross is indeed
beneath contempt--is indeed the punishment reserved for the mangy and
slavish cruces or furciferi, the "gallows birds" of Plautine slang. Milton
does not shy away from this fact, but the well-founded claim of the Cross
on his interest is theological. It lies in what the Son act has indelibly
made of it. It lies in the sublimation of an abject means by its exalted
end: the assumption of the burden of guilt by a divine furcifer or (to be
more specific and less abusive) crucifer whose authentic heroism is made
indispensable by A&E's unfitness to assume that burden themselves even if
they could properly will it, trapped as they are by their fallen condition
in a theological Catch-22. *




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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