[Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Thu Apr 10 10:59:49 EDT 2014

If I may offer a connection between two arguments going on in this thread:
given that PL's understanding of rightness is what Harold Skulsky says it
is, obedience to God is obedience to the good, and so obedience to God is
good for the creatures. It is for their benefit, not God's.

Michael B.,

I want to comment on what you earlier described as Satan's "ethical claim,"
unrebutted by Abdiel.

 if not equal all, yet free,
Equally free; for Orders and Degrees
Jarr not with liberty<http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_5/notes.shtml#consist>,
but well consist.
Who can in reason then or right assume
Monarchie over such as live by right [ 795 ]
His equals, if in power and splendor less,
In freedome equal?

PL defines freedom as acting according to reason, "reason alone is free."
The germ of truth in Satan's BS about freedom and equality is that all the
rational creatures were created free and capable of freedom, "till they
enslave themselves." PL defines that servitude as "serving th'unwise." With
his sophistical rhetoric of freedom, Satan is leading his followers into

In the part about "Orders and Degrees," Satan is saying, "Of course, I'm
properly the boss of you and deserve to have the glittery palace." He
diverts attention from the fact that he himself has always had a natural
superior, the Father. He pretends that the Son has usurped ("assumed")
power, when actually he was appointed by the Highest, and for good reason.

You write, "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?)." It is by
insisting on the Son's creation of the angels that Abdiel establishes the
Son's ontological superiority. You conflate creative power with destructive
power, but they are very different. Creation is beneficent and establishes
the goodness of the creator as well as the obligation of the creature to
gratefully serve. The Son "exists in a superior way" because he is wiser
and better as well as more powerful. I have granted that the angels may not
know much about the Son at this point, but they should trust the Father's
word that his kingship has a purpose and will benefit them.

I wish Milton had given a clearer account of how Abdiel knows about the
angels' creation but Satan can claim not to know. I take it that Satan is
addressing a lie to his followers. True, they ought to know whether or not
it is actually a "new" doctrine. But the followers trust Satan, and if he
has never heard of being created, maybe they would doubt whoever told them
they were created. Remember, Eve knew exactly how she was created, but
Satan managed to instill doubt in her mind about that crucial consideration.

The reason the Father threatens so severely in his decree is that he knows
Satan is breaking bad. Fairness requires a clear warning of the

You are correct that the Son figures in this episode as a military hero,
agent of violence, or Messiah. Likewise he appears in the judgement scene
as a judge, in the intercession scene as a kindly intercessor, in the
creation story as a creator. --Best, Michael G.

On Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 5:38 PM, Bryson, Michael E
<michael.bryson at csun.edu>wrote:

> 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
> abide
> 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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