[Milton-L] obedience

J. Michael Gillum mgillum at ret.unca.edu
Tue Apr 8 11:15:09 EDT 2014

I disagree with Greg's and Neil's (and Fish's) emphasis on arbitrariness.
Milton's God is not the Calvinist God of pure will and power. Milton thinks
of God as rational and reasonable. and Milton in PL interprets God's words
and actions as reasonable insofar as the Genesis text allows. Yes, God in
PL singled out a tree for arbitrary prohibition. He did so for a *reason*.
 He had a *reason* to set up the test, and (because A&E had a frictionless
relation to their environment in Paradise) the arbitrariness of the
selection was essential to the test. We should not therefore conclude from
the arbitrariness of that prohibition that arbitrariness is basic to God's
nature and actions as represented in PL.

God had a number of *reasons* to be more merciful to A&E than to the fallen

1. Mercy by definition is not deserved, but punishment may be deserved in
different degrees. The angels raised impious war in Heaven against the
throne and monarchy of God, while A&E violated an arbitrary prohibition.
The angels rebelled violently against a good order, while the humans did
something that would have been morally neutral except for the prohibition.
It seems reasonable to distinguish degrees of punishment. Adam and Eve are
still punished.

2. God told the angels before their revolt that rejecting the Son's
kingship would cause them to be punished with no hope of mercy. He made no
such statement to A&E.

3. The angels had a higher order of rationality which would have made truth
and right more obvious to them than to the humans.

4. Eve was deceived by a being of a higher order; Satan misled himself and
then his equals.

5. As the Son in Book 3 interprets the Father's decree of mercy (144-66),
he gives a whole list of *reasons* for it:

---The whole race of man would be lost [implicit contrast with the majority
of angels surviving].
---The Father had loved mankind as his "youngest son."
---Destroying mankind would give a victory to Satan.
---That victory would raise questions about God's "goodness and thy
greatness both."

God's decree of mercy is *therefore* reasonable and not arbitrary. He does
not include all this context in his decree, but--perhaps
arbitrarily--chooses to mention only the factor of external temptation.

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