[Milton-L] obedience

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Tue Apr 8 14:00:52 EDT 2014

Milton's God does expect his subjects to obey inscrutable and arbitrary commands.  Wouldn't be a "test" in the Miltonic sense otherwise -- a test of obedience.  If they understood, it would be a test in prudence.  M's God sends the angels on pointless errands to test their obedience.  A bad feature of the poem, I think, but very important to Milton (I've argued this in "Milton's Fetters:  Or, Why Eden is Better than Heaven").

Richard Strier
Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus
Editor, Modern Philology
Department of English
University of Chicago
1115 E. 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Michael Gillum [mgillum at unca.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, April 08, 2014 11:38 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience

Carol, that's an interesting point about the "falling" angels having an opportunity--according to Abdiel--to undo the damage if they stop short of actual war and repent. Eve did not have the advantage of hearing a counter-voice to Satan's.

Regarding your second paragraph, I would emphasize that Adam and Eve both understood the reason for the prohibition (4.412-45). The test is reasonable; only the choice of tree is arbitrary. In my understanding, Milton's God does not expect his subjects to obey inscrutable or arbitrary commands. The Son is perfectly obedient because he believes that the Father wills what is good and right.


On Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 12:08 PM, Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net<mailto:cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>> wrote:
Yes, Michael; and I haven't thought this through entirely yet, but another that reason that Adam and Eve find grace, the other none is that, prior to the angelic revolt, there *was no* sin, dissension, anarchy, disunity, or disobedience in Heaven--so there was no need for "grace" or "redemption" in the restorative sense (there was nothing to restore). Satan has the opportunity, as do the fallen angels, to repent, and restore what they stole from Heaven (unity) by genuine acceptance of the Son; Adam and Eve can't make the injured party whole again (to use legal language) because they can't give back the forbidden knowledge, or undo the second act of disunity, except by the same means. Satan and the fallen angels reject the only avenue to salvation; after running through many of the same stages of denial that the devils do, they embrace it.

And the point of obedience is that we love God and our parents enough, and trust in their love for us enough, to do as they ask without always knowing **why**. (We do not, however, owe such allegiance to our political leaders.) The prohibition against eating the Fruit may be "arbitrary" from Adam and Eve's point of view--just as many things our parents did seemed arbitrary to us--but the fact that a commandment "seems" arbitrary doesn't make it so. I am reminded of the story _The Once and Future King_ 1.9 of the prophet Elijah and the Rabbi Jachanan, as well as Twain's _Mysterious Stranger_. Sometimes, things happen for reasons we don't understand . . . but that doesn't mean they happen for no reason.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

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