[Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Bryson, Michael E michael.bryson at csun.edu
Wed Apr 9 17:38:09 EDT 2014

Michael G,

This seems to be an area in which we are not going to reach agreement. While I have argued that the Son develops into the superior character morally (when compared to the Father), I have also argued that he starts out in a rather less impressive fashion. And at this point in the poem, the Son is not what he will become in the scene in book 3 in which he borrows from Abraham as an intercessor. His rhetoric in Book 6 is that of a warrior, concerned with the power of his right arm, not "moral merit." And if the angels do not know of it (or if we "do not know whether the angels know about" it, it is because the poem has not given them that information at that point in time--even the point about creation is new, being brought up right then, for the first time, in the context of this argument. 

And your account of Abdiel's "angrily rebutting Satan's claim" elides, in my view, the fact that Abdiel does not base his case on morality or goodness or ontological superiority (whatever that might be--how does one "exist" in a superior way, unless that is code for having greater power?). He mentions "the mighty Father" who uses the Son to make all things: the "Son, by whom / As by his Word the mighty Father made / All things." That isn't moral power. That is simply power--to create, and as is obvious from Abdiel's speech, power also to destroy. It is the power of Job 2:10, or Lamentations 3:38, or Isaiah 45:7. It is a power that--as it does in Job--rejects claims of morality as petty human concerns beneath the attention of the "creator." 

And yes, the Father demanded that everyone should

United as one individual Soule
For ever happie: 

But he also adds the threat

him who disobeyes
Mee disobeyes, breaks union, and that day
Cast out from God and blessed vision, falls
Into utter darkness, deep ingulft, his place
Ordaind without redemption, without end.

That casting out is the basis of Abdiel's threat, and it is a threat based in *physical*, not *moral* power. The war in heaven is won, not by right, but by might. Morality does not carry the day; the overwhelming might of "The Chariot of Paternal Deitie" that the Son rode, along with the "ten thousand Thunders, which he sent / Before him" wins the war:

O're Shields and Helmes, and helmed heads he rode
Of Thrones and mighty Seraphim prostrate,
That wisht the Mountains now might be again
Thrown on them as a shelter from his ire.

Right may be aligned with might in this war. But might--power--is what wins the war, and power is what Abdiel is referring to when he insists that Satan and the angels are unequal. That has always seemed to me to be one of the great ironies in the way Milton treats war in Book 6. It is a blunt instrument, and right/morality has precious little to do with it.

Michael Bryson
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: Wednesday, April 09, 2014 1:42 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Michael B.,

Thanks for the clear response.

The Son is far superior to the angels in wisdom and goodness--you have gone so far as to argue that he is superior even to the Father in those respects. It is this merit which justifies his kingship, not his military power. We don't know whether the angels know about his moral merit yet. What they do know is that he created them, and this fact is what Abdiel emphasizes in his first challenge to Satan. In this role, the Son demonstrated his creative power and beneficence, sharing the goodness of being. But he also showed himself to be on a higher ontological plane than the angels. In emphasizing that the Son made the angels, Abdiel is not worshipping power; rather he is angrily rebutting Satan's claim that the Son cannot rightfully "assume / Monarchy over such as live by right / His equals." The angels are not his equals.

In decreeing the Son's kingship, the father explains his purpose: that the angels should live "United as one individual soul / Forever happy." Abdiel repeats this purpose at the end of his first speech. The speech is not an appeal to physical power. Indeed it seems that the Son only acquired his power as a warrior on the eve of battle. --Michael G.

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