Thursday, November 03, 2005

Liberty Restored:

Since Milton presents Adam and Eve as incapable of self-condemnation, and thus of repentance, due to the loss of their free will, the story cannot continue without divine intervention to restore their lost liberty, which Paradise Lost 11.1-8 describes:

Thus they in lowliest plight repentant stood
Praying, for from the Mercie-seat above
Prevenient Grace descending had remov'd
The stonie from thir hearts, & made new flesh
Regenerate grow instead, that sighs now breath'd [ 5 ]
Unutterable, which the Spirit of prayer
Inspir'd, and wing'd for Heav'n with speedier flight
Then loudest Oratorie:

This passage needs some unpacking. Adam and Eve, truly contrite, are praying their penitential prayers. How did this happen? It happened because God, from the mercy seat of his heavenly temple, had already extended the prevenient grace that softens hearts to restore mankind's freedom to repent and seek saving grace.

The passage makes a number of biblical allusions, the most obvious being Ezekiel 11:19b, for which, I'll quote the King James Version (just to stay in the 17th-century mood):

21 . . . and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:
Note the colon in the biblical text. Something follows from what God has done:

20 That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord God.
The restored freedom -- if we may read Ezekiel in light of Milton -- will enable Adam and Eve to repent and follow God's laws or to refuse to repent and follow their inclination towards evil. They have chosen to repent, but Milton's Adam later sees through a vision that many of his descendants will choose evil rather than good.

Oh, and when Milton says "Then loudest Oratorie," he means "Than loudest Oratorie."


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