Genesis and Commentaries

John Milton, from Christian Doctrine >> note 1

[Click on image to enlarge] Milton's theological treatise is the product of a lifetime studying the Bible and analyzing theological issues in terms of that text, as he understood it. He was working toward this treatise for many years, but apparently did most of the writing during the time that he was at work on Paradise Lost (probably 1658–65). It could not be published in England in the repressive religious climate after the Restoration because many of the positions Milton argues for were seen as dangerously heretical: he does not believe Christ and the Holy Spirit are equal to the Father (antitrinitarianism); he insists on general grace and free will against Calvinist predestination (arminianism); he believes that the Ten Commandments (insofar as they are laws) are abolished for Christians, who are to live by the laws of love (antinomianism); he denies the dualism of soul/body and spirit/matter (monism); he believes that the soul dies with the body until both rise on the Last Day (mortalism); he reaffirms his belief in divorce, denies any real distinction between clergy and laity as to their activities in the church, denies the necessity of keeping the Sabbath or Sunday in any special way; and more. Many of these views, as well as a distinctly unusual conception of Edenic life (hinted at here and more explicitly in Aeropagitica (NAEL 8, 1.1816) are worked out on the stage of his imagination in Paradise Lost. The treatise disappeared soon after Milton's death and was only rediscovered in 1823.

[On Free Will, God's Decrees, and Divine Foreknowledge]

From Book I, Chapter 3:

To sum up these numerous arguments in a few words, this is briefly how the matter stands, looked at from a thoroughly reasonable angle. By virtue of his wisdom God decreed the creation of angels and men as being gifted with reason and thus with free will. At the same time he foresaw the direction in which they would tend when they used this absolutely unimpaired freedom. What then? Shall we say that God's providence or foreknowledge imposes any necessity upon them? Certainly not: no more than if some human being possessed the same foresight. For an occurrence foreseen with absolute certainty by a human being will no less certainly take place than one foretold by God. For example, Elisha foresaw what evils King Hazael would bring upon the Israelites in a few years' time: 2 Kings 8: 12. But no one would claim that these happened inevitably as a result of Elisha's foreknowledge: for these events, no less than any others, clearly arose from man's will, which is always free. Similarly, nothing happens because God has foreseen it, but rather he has foreseen each event because each is the result of particular causes which, by his decree, work quite freely and with which he is thoroughly familiar. So the outcome does not rest with God who foresees it, but only with the man whose action God foresees. As I have demonstrated above, there can be no absolute divine decree about the action of free agents.

* * *

But though future events will certainly happen, because divine foreknowledge cannot be mistaken, they will not happen by necessity, because foreknowledge, since it exists only in the mind of the foreknower, has no effect on its object. A thing which is going to happen quite freely in the course of events is not then produced as a result of God's foreknowledge, but arises from the free action of its own causes, and God knows in what direction these will, of their own accord, tend. In this way he knew that Adam would, of his own accord, fall. Thus it was certain that he would fall, but it was not necessary, because he fell of his own accord and that is irreconcilable with necessity.

[Edenic Life Before the Fall]

From Book I, Chapter 10:

It was necessary that one thing at least should be either forbidden or commanded, and above all something which was in itself neither good nor evil, so that man's obedience might in this way be made evident. For man was by nature good and holy, and was naturally disposed to do right, so it was certainly not necessary to bind him by the requirements of any covenant to something which he would do of his own accord. And he would not have shown obedience at all by performing good works, since he was in fact drawn to these by his own natural impulses, without being commanded. Besides a command, whether it comes from God or from a magistrate, should not be called a covenant just because rewards and punishments are attached: it is rather a declaration of power.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not a sacrament, as is commonly thought, for sacraments are meant to be used, not abstained from; but it was a kind of pledge or memorial of obedience.

It was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil because of what happened afterwards: for since it was tasted, not only do we know evil, but also we do not even know good except through evil. For where does virtue shine, where it is usually exercised, if not in evil?

[On Original Sin]

From Book I, Chapter 11:

THE SIN COMMON TO ALL MEN IS THAT WHICH OUR FIRST PARENTS, AND IN THEM ALL THEIR POSTERITY COMMITTED WHEN THEY ABANDONED THEIR OBEDIENCE AND TASTED THE FRUIT OF THE FORBIDDEN TREE.

OUR FIRST PARENTS: Genesis 3:6: "the woman took some of the fruit and ate it, and gave some to her husband, and he ate it." Hence 1 Timothy 2:14: "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and was the cause of the transgression." This sin was instigated first by the devil, as is clear from the course of events, Genesis 3 and 1 John 3:8: "the man who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning." Secondly it was instigated by man's own inconstant nature, which meant that he, like the devil before him "did not stand firm in the truth," John 8:44. He did not keep his original state, but left his home, Jude 6. Anyone who examines this sin carefully will admit, and rightly, that it was a most atrocious offense, and that it broke every part of the law. For what fault is there which man did not commit in committing this sin? He was to be condemned both for trusting Satan and for not trusting God; he was faithless, ungrateful, disobedient, greedy, uxorious; she, negligent of her husband's welfare; both of them committed theft, robbery with violence, murder against their children (i.e., the whole human race); each was sacrilegious and deceitful, cunningly aspiring to divinity although thoroughly unworthy of it, proud and arrogant. And so we find in Ecclesiastes 7:29: "God has made man upright, but they have thought up numerous devices," and in James 2:10: "whoever keeps the whole law, and yet offends in one point, is guilty of all."

Each type of sin, common and personal, has two subdivisions, whether we call them degrees or parts or modes of sin, or whether they are related to each other as cause and effect. These subdivisions are evil desire, or the will to do evil, and the evil deed itself. James 1:14, 15: "every man is tempted when he is drawn on and enticed by his own lust: then, when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin." This same point is neatly expressed by the poet:

"Mars sees her; seeing desires her; desiring enjoys her." >> note 2

It was evil desire that our first parents were originally guilty of. Then they implanted it in all their posterity, since their posterity too was guilty of that original sin, in the shape of a certain predisposition towards or, to use a metaphor, a sort of tinder to kindle sin.


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