[Milton-L] obedience to your creator

Matthew Jordan matthewjorda at gmail.com
Thu Apr 10 14:25:34 EDT 2014


Well, it depends what you mean by "Power," which always sounds worse
capitalized. Personally, I find the contemporary disposition to find all
power illegitimate (effectively, to rule out of court a concept like
"Authority," or legitimate power), rather dis-empowering, democratically.
Overall, growing scepticism is a good thing; but it can also involve an
altogether Ideal, utopian "anarchism" - the offspring of a strange marriage
between Parisian departmental politics and US-style individualism...


On 10 April 2014 18:50, Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:

> Yes, I think the appeal to Power, recurrent in the poem, is truly
> disturbing.  To say that this power is always beneficent obscures the
> problem, I think, and covers over something quite ugly -- although profound
> (our --everyone's -- desire to be on the side of, and idealize, the
> powerful).
>
> Sent from my iPad
>
> On Apr 10, 2014, at 12:11 PM, "Bryson, Michael E" <michael.bryson at csun.edu>
> wrote:
>
> > "have a look at Abdiel's first speech"
> >
> > I just went over it in class, actually.  I am familiar with Abdiel's
> "rational appeal." Abdiel's question, "shalt thou dispute with him," which
> he assumes to be unanswerable in anything but the chastened negative, is
> essentially the question of the book of Job. Job disputes--and so, I think,
> does Milton. Yes, Job gets the storming answer from Yahweh, and (in an
> *exceedingly* textually vexed passage) gives an ambiguous response (no
> English translation is a reliable guide here). But he disputes,
> nonetheless. Abdiel's assumption that because "He" made you, "He" has the
> perpetual right to determine you and even destroy you, is of a piece both
> with Elihu's "submissiveness above all" harangue against Job, and Yahweh's
> insistence that his creative and destructive power is all that truly
> matters in the universe. Admire that? No thanks. Abdiel--when the chips are
> really down--reveals himself to be a royalist/authoritarian of the most
> power-worshiping kind, and one who *deliberately* ignores the ethical point
> Satan tries to make about the distinction between power and equality:
> >
> > Who can in reason then or right assume
> > Monarchie over such as live by right
> > His equals, if in power and splendor less,
> > In freedome equal?
> >
> > Satan does not here equate freedom and power, or equality and power, but
> distinguishes between them (rather in the way we currently have the
> imperfectly-lived-up-to concept of equality under the law, even for people
> of obviously unequal measures of "power"--however measured--in the world).
> But Abdiel collapses the distinction in order to emphasize inequality of
> power:
> >
> > But to grant it thee unjust,
> > That equal over equals Monarch Reigne:
> > Thy self though great and glorious dost thou count,
> > Or all Angelic Nature joind in one,
> > Equal to him begotten Son, by whom
> > As by his Word the mighty Father made
> > All things, ev'n thee, and all the Spirits of Heav'n
> > By him created in thir bright degrees
> >
> > And then, as mentioned before, he wraps up his performance with a
> wait-till-your-Father gets home threat of "divine" violence, complete with
> "Thunder [and] devouring fire."
> >
> > Satan has his problems--serious and troubling--as a character. Rather an
> obvious point. But Abdiel--whom many Miltonists admire for his courage in
> speaking out--has his own sophist tendencies, and seems very much to admire
> power above all other things. If that tendency in him is to be admired, so
> be 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 11:11 AM
> > To: John Milton Discussion List
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience to your creator
> >
> > Michael Bryson,
> >
> > You quote Abdiel's second speech, responding to Satan's rejection of
> Abdiel's appeal. But have a look at Abdiel's first speech (5.809-48), about
> the goodness of God, the obligation of created beings to be grateful, the
> rightness of the Son's elevation, and the final opportunity to repent.
> Satan has responded to that rational appeal by threatening violence
> (864-71). --Michael Gillum
> >
> >
> > On Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 1:35 PM, Bryson, Michael E <
> michael.bryson at csun.edu<mailto:michael.bryson at csun.edu>> wrote:
> > " _Areopagitica_, _Reason of Church Government_, and the Tenure of Kings
> and Magistrates_ (et al)  talk about freedom vs. human authority--not in
> terms of one's obligations to God. In Milton's mind especially,  they are
> far from the same thing."
> >
> > Some variation on this is always going to be the response to the kinds
> of questions I raised, isn't it? Milton demands liberty to know...unless
> God says no. For many, it seems, Milton is an authoritarian who gives the
> merest lip service to liberty, a man who--unlike Moses, or Abraham--would
> never *dare* to argue with God. No, he would merely accept without question
> or caveat the will of his "creator."
> >
> > No wonder so many seem to admire the rawly Thrasymachan logic of Abdiel
> in Book 5. All philosophy, all liberty, all thought, all everything stop at
> the feet of God--but not "God" conceived of as "light from above," not
> conceived of in terms of divine similitude or anything *internal,* no at
> the feet of a "God" conceived of in terms of human (all too human) power,
> force, and violence:
> >
> > soon expect to feel
> > His Thunder on thy head, devouring fire.
> > Then who created thee lamenting learne,
> > When who can uncreate thee thou shalt know.
> >
> > How genuinely awe-inspiring. How absolutely admirable. How absolutely
> Bronze-Age (the same speech could be given of Indra or Marduk).
> >
> > OK, enough from me already...
> >
> > Michael Bryson
> > ________________________________________
> > From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> <mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] On Behalf Of cbartonphd1 [
> cbartonphd1 at verizon.net<mailto:cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>]
> > Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2014 6:10 AM
> > To: John Milton Discussion List
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience to your creator
> >
> > Yes, Greg: obedience to God is obedience to the Creator, Author of all
> things, out of love--not compulsion. The Father makes that clear on Book 3
> ("What pleasure I from such obedience paid / When Will and Reason (Reason
> is also choice) / Useless and vain,  of freedom both despoild / Made
> passive both, had servd necessitie, / Not mee.") You have *the right* to
> disobey--just as you have the right to break human laws--but there are
> consequences of choosing to obey (continued freedom/salvation) or not
> (fines, incarceration/the enslavement to sin that is damnation).
> >
> > God "invents" mercy spontaneously at the urgings of the Son ("my word,
> my wisdom,  and effectual might"). It wasn't needed previously (no sinners,
> no occasion for mercy), and the Son certainly couldn't be expected to
> intercede on the part of the reprobate hoard who rejected him--but this is
> also his first intercession in behalf of humankind, before the fact.
> Neither seems inconsistent with a benevolent Almighty, or contrived against
> theological precept to me.
> >
> > I think (as I gain the dubious benefit of having an aging perspective
> myself) that Milton's concept of useful knowledge and the limits of right
> reason was a function of two things: the mature recognition that some lines
> of inquiry are not worth pursuing (because they lead nowhere and result in
> nothing productive) and a bit of anxiety at the way all of the givens of
> his grandparents' generation had been swept away (divine right kingship,
> the Ptolemaic universe, the humors, the fixed stars, the Great Chain, and
> even the unassailable "truth" of the Bible as presented by the Roman
> Catholic pulpit before the 95 Theses, to name several epistemological
> takings-away). It must have been terrifying,  to learn how much of the
> "knowledge"on which the Renaissance prided itself was pyrite, and I have
> thought since I began formulating my dissertation that one of the reasons
> why Milton wrote _Paradise Lost_ was because he was asking himself what he
> could with certainty know (and, perhaps, how even someone as educated and
> well-read as he was could have misjudged Cromwell so entirely). His answer
> to that question is almost Cartesian: I can know what the Bible says (God's
> Commandments), and I can rely on the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my
> heart. _Areopagitica_, _Reason of Church Government_, and the Tenure of
> Kings and Magistrates_ (et al)  talk about freedom vs. human authority--not
> in terms of one's obligations to God. In Milton's mind especially,  they
> are far from the same thing.
> >
> > Best to all,
> >
> > Carol Barton
> >
> >
> > Sent from my Samsung Galaxy S®III
> >
> >
> > -------- Original message --------
> > From: Gregory Machacek
> > Date:04/09/2014 8:02 AM (GMT-05:00)
> > To: John Milton Discussion List
> > Subject: [Milton-L] obedience to your creator
> >
> > One quibble with Bryson (Michaels to the left of me, Michaels to the
> right . . .) and one substantive disagreement.
> >
> > The quibble:  not "unquestioning obedience" (To ask or seek I blame thee
> not); just obedience, and then your questioning.  I actually think A&E
> might eventually have arrived at the rationale for God's arbitrarily
> designating one fruit forbidden that we armchair Edenites easily supply.
>  And if they'd got there by reasoning under obedience, it would only have
> strengthened their obedience.
> >
> > The substantive disagreement (my "and yet"):  not obedience to a "really
> really big and impressive, divine even" being; obedience to a Creator.  Can
> the clay say to the potter. . . My dad had a saying when we kids thought we
> could argue about how something in the household was run:  "You've heard of
> the golden rule?  He who makes the gold makes the rules." (My wife thinks
> that's a horrible message to send to kids and she's probably right).
>  Milton's version was "He who makes, makes the rules."
> >
> > If one of the deepest truths you feel about yourself is that you were
> not self-begot, self-raised, then it is reasonable to think that you would
> be served by putting your actions in accord with the will of your Creator;
> he might reasonably be thought to know better what is good for you than you
> could possibly ever know yourself (even more, perhaps infinitely more, than
> the parent that Carol often invokes as an analog).  Adam does just this bit
> of reasoning before there is any prohibition.
> >
> > It's true that it's hard for us moderns to share Adam's turn of mind:
>  un-self-begotten-ness to eager-obedience-to-my-Creator's-will-for-me.
>  That is in large measure because our our image of that Creator now takes
> the form of the-fine-tuning-of-25-dimensionless-physical-constants, and
> what those tell us about how we ought to live our lives is not clear, in
> fact could only be discerned (if there's anything there to discern)
> precisely by unhampered reasoning.
> >
> > One of the fascinating things about that freethinking Milton that Bryson
> so admires is how emphatically, in his late poems, he limits the exercise
> of the mind.   (Solicit not thy thoughts, He who receives light from above
> no other doctrine needs).  When the list's conversation made it's jump to
> the Tree of Life, the discussion I was having with Salwa broke off just
> where I thought I thought it was getting interesting.  She and I had both
> granted that God wants you to shut down profitless lines of reasoning, but
> I was in favor of the mind clamping shut as quickly as one sees that a line
> of reasoning is profitless, whereas she was arguing for a full imaginative
> exploration of possibilities before the shutdown.  We were just differing
> on the issue of timing.  And I wanted to ask what Milton thinks about how
> one recognizes fume as fume, how deep one can go down a line of exploration
> before recognizing one should turn back.
> >
> >
> > Greg Machacek
> > Professor of English
> > Marist College
> >
> >
> > -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> wrote: -----
> > To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
> > From: "Bryson, Michael E"
> > Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>
> > Date: 04/09/2014 02:22AM
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience
> >
> > Michael Gillum wrote: "Milton thinks of God as rational and reasonable."
> Does he? Perhaps. But even assuming this to be true, does it necessarily
> follow that he presents his literary character "the Father" in this way? I
> think the latter a much more crucial question than the former.
> >
> > In response, Greg Machacek wrote: "Rather than being a freestanding
> theological disquisition subject to the expectations we might have of such
> (internal coherence, fidelity to one or another tradition of theological
> reasoning), it's theology-in-service-of-a-story-element."
> >
> > Yes. And it takes place in *a story* in which (at least as many seem to
> read it) "the way one passes these tests of obedience is not to look for
> reasons and then do the commanded thing because one deems it reasonable but
> just to obey because God said so," a story that (apparently) valorizes
> unquestioning obedience, a story written by the same man who wrote this:
> >
> > "A man may be a heretick in the truth; and if he beleeve things only
> because his Pastor sayes so, or the Assembly so determins, without knowing
> other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds,
> becomes his heresie." Oh wait. If a literary character called "the Father"
> tells you, then that's different. You're not "a heretick in the truth"
> then, because the fallacy of believing something based on authority,
> "without knowing other reason," stops being a fallacy if the authority is
> really really big and impressive, divine even.
> >
> > And this:
> >
> > "What need they torture their heads with that which others have tak'n so
> strictly, and so unalterably into their own pourveying. These are the
> fruits which a dull ease and cessation of our knowledge will bring forth
> among the people. How goodly, and how to be wisht were such an obedient
> unanimity as this, what a fine conformity would it starch us all into?" Oh
> wait. Again, if a literary character called "the Father" tells you, then
> that's different.
> >
> > And this:
> >
> > "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to
> conscience, above all liberties." Unless a literary character called "the
> Father" says otherwise. Then, no knowledge for you!
> >
> > Yes, I know. Prelapsarian, Postlapsarian, Fall, Original Sin (a concept
> Milton seems to have a rather tenuous relation to, given his assertion "The
> end then of Learning is to repair the ruines of our first Parents by
> regaining to know God aright;" perhaps just a *bit* of knowledge other than
> "because I said so" might have helped poor A&E). But that is not what the
> original myth gives him--he has to work with raw material that insists that
> knowledge is prohibited to the first humans by God, the very same story
> pattern we see in other NME mythologies. It is, in every other example of
> the myth that the Genesis writer (of the so-called J strand) is reworking,
> "suspicious, reasonless," just as Milton has his Satan observe. The
> Biblical account is of a piece with numerous other stories that narrate the
> distance that grew between humankind and their gods (variously imagined),
> though the Bible account differs from some others by making that rift
> partly the fault of humanity (in a va!
> >
> > riation on what Biblical scholars refer to as the Deuteronomic Theory of
> History). But the Biblical narrative does not let the often irascible
> Yahweh off lightly either--often, it is quite the reverse--and I am
> perpetually flummoxed by readings of Milton's great poem that practically
> insist that the Father must be understood as always perfectly just, and
> honest, and simply chock full of moral rectitude. Yahweh--one of the
> greatest literary characters in all of the world's literature--is certainly
> no such thing, and a great number of the people who have lived and died in
> this world thinking/believing him more than a literary character have
> experienced him as light *and* shadow, after the fashion of Isaiah 45:7.
> How is it that a *mere* literary character like the Father in PL, a
> collection of words on a series of pages, a character no one has ever
> prayed to, believed in, loved, or suffered from as one might with an
> "actual" deity has reached such a status in the eyes of so ma!
> >
> > ny professional literary critics that he *must* be read as jus!
> > tified, that what would appear arbitrary in the words and actions of any
> other character from English literature (I cannot help but hear echoes of
> Lear's "better thou hadst not been born, than not to have pleased me
> better" in a number of the Father's statements) are devotedly, assiduously,
> painstakingly explicated as examples of love, and justice, and mercy
> combined?
> >
> > To struggle with, defend, accuse, and even justify (in the sense of
> accusation *and* acquittal) a God in which one believes (rather in the
> sense that Elie Wiesel narrates in his play "The Trial of God," which he
> has always maintained was based on actual events he witnessed at
> Auschwitz)--*that* I understand. I have been through it, most profoundly
> and painfully (though in nothing like the way Wiesel narrates). But to
> insist that a literary character that equivocates, demonstrates a fondness
> for the word "if," tells a half-truth (if not an outright lie) with his
> first utterance in the poem in which he appears, and aids and abets the
> ostensible villain of the piece at practically every crucial point from
> Book 1 to the temptation scene of Book 9...to insist that such a literary
> character must be read as just, that his actions must be understood as
> "loving*, and to maintain that this is *the only legitimate way truly to
> "understand" the poem in which that character appears*, wel!
> >
> > l all of that simply boggles my mind. It always has. I think it always
> will.
> >
> > Milton's "God" is not God, or a god, or anything at all other than the
> words that create him, and the emotional and intellectual effects those
> words create. Yes, we can and will understand those words, and those
> effects, through theological, mythological, narratological, psychological,
> and other contexts. But they remain outside the realm of deity (whatever
> that may or may not be), forever, wonderfully, in the realm of human
> imagination and art.
> >
> > And yet...and yet...and yet...and so it goes.
> >
> > Michael Bryson
> >
> >
> > ________________________________________
> > From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> <mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] On Behalf Of Gregory
> Machacek [Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu<mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>]
> > Sent: Tuesday, April 08, 2014 8:09 PM
> > To: John Milton Discussion List
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience
> >
> > Well, I'm willing to rethink the word arbitrary.  All I'm trying to get
> at is that God gives beings tests of obedience.  And the way one passes
> these tests of obedience is not to look for reasons and then do the
> commanded thing because one deems it reasonable but just to obey because
> God said so.  God's therefore may be succeptible to the rationalizing you
> give below (though my quibbles follow).  But the Son doesn't say, "I assent
> to your reason."  He says, "you say you want grace; let's see how we can
> make grace happen."  So let's take point 2.  You have God the Father in
> effect saying "Oh, what I meant by death was not anything permanent and
> irreversible, even though, I know, that's kinda the usual definition of
> death."  The Son could shoot back a "Strange point and new this death that
> really isn't death in any way that we've understood the term."  But he
> doesn't.  He says "You say death is a mode of disobedience-punishment that
> can be undone by mercy? Hey, you're God; you!
> >
> >  get to make that call."
> >
> > [Quibbles:  On 1) we're not dealing with degrees of punishment (though
> it eventuates in that) but in the availability of mercy to the two orders
> of being.  So if mercy is by definition not deserved, it could be extended
> to the rebel angels also.  On 3) presumably each order of being had the
> level of rationality sufficient to pass its test.  In fact God collapses
> the distinction you're trying to draw when he flatly conflates both orders
> and says explicitly that each was sufficient to have stood though free to
> fall.  On 4b) I'm not sure all of the angels have equivalent reasoning
> powers.  On Mt. Niphates, Satan creates a hypothetical where, if he'd been
> a lesser angel, he might have gone along with a greater one.  That says to
> me that he can conceive of himself (as this lesser angel) not having been
> the one who was intellectually-enterprising enough to come up with the idea
> of defying God (but being disobedient enough to go along with that smarter
> guy).  On 4a) when he gave th!
> >
> > e interdiction, he hadn't included an "unless you're deceived by a
> higher order of being" exemption.  In fact, deceit is irrelevant to tests
> of obedience; all you gotta do is obey; the second you make it a matter
> where deceit could operate, i.e. a matter of reasoning, conclude you then
> begin to fall.  If so, deceit can hardly serve as grounds for
> differentiating the disobediences.  On 5) the Son does concoct possible
> reason's for God's therefore; they come as a result of his obedience, not
> its cause.]
> >
> > Anyway, my main point is to propose that perhaps the aspects of book 3
> in which many critics find troubling lines of theological reasoning are the
> way they are because what Milton most needed the Son to be was a foil to
> Adam and Eve's disobedience, i.e. needed him to be an example of obedience,
> and so, maybe working from Philippians 2:8, he built a theological
> superstructure in which Filial Obedience could be manifested.  Rather than
> being a freestanding theological disquisition subject to the expectations
> we might have of such (internal coherence, fidelity to one or another
> tradition of theological reasoning), it's
> theology-in-service-of-a-story-element.
> >
> >
> >
> > Greg Machacek
> > Professor of English
> > Marist College
> >
> >
> > -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> wrote: -----
> > To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
> > From: "J. Michael Gillum"
> > Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>
> > Date: 04/08/2014 11:19AM
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] obedience
> >
> > 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 angels.
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > Michael
> >
> >
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