[Milton-L] obedience

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Tue Apr 8 16:55:49 EDT 2014


Richard,

PL's God sends angels on errands that are fruitless but not exactly
pointless. When he sends the good angels into battle, he provides a cogent
rationale for the mission:

. . . to subdue
By force, who reason for thir Law refuse,
Right reason for thir Law, and for thir King
Messiah, who by right of merit Reigns. (6.40-43)

Likewise, when sending angels to guard Hell during the Creation, he gives a
reason: he doesn't want to be distracted from his good work by having to
smite meddlesome devils. Now, the first errand is impossible, and the
second is unnecessary (pointless in that sense), but God does give reasons
for his commands. The purposes of the first two days of the War in Heaven
are intelligible. God is (a) giving the good angels the opportunity to
serve, obey, and earn some of those angel merit badges (b) demonstrating to
the fallen that many faithful angels exist and are marginally
stronger/better and (c) setting up Messiah's demonstration that he is
vastly superior to the angels. So the errand is not pointless; it's just
that God didn't tell the good angels they were incapable of fulfilling
their mission. Still, they were able to hurt and temporarily defeat the bad
angels, and they were not hurt themselves, just discomfited by being knocked
around like tenpins. They gained glory.

For the guarding of Hell, on the other hand, the reason God gives is
spurious, since he knows Satan will not escape yet. However, Raphael was
not privy to that information, so the mission has a purpose from his
perspective. I have no idea why Milton included this detail. It is such an
easy posting for the angels so assigned that it hardly serves as a test of
obedience.

My point is that PL's God almost always gives reasonable explanations for
his commands, although, in these two examples, his explanations do not
reveal all of his purposes. I am arguing against finding in PL a God who
appears irrational or inscrutable to those who serve him, a God who demands
compliance to arbitrary-seeming commands.

Michael

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