Predestination in Book III of Paradise Lost
Milton's purpose in Paradise Lost is nothing less than to assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to men - a most daunting task. For Milton to succeed in his endeavour, he has to unravel a number of theologiccal thorns that have troubled christian philosophers for centuries. Since his epic poem is, essentially, a twelve book argument building to a logical conclusion - the 'justification of the ways of God to men' - he will necessarily have to deal with these dogmatic problems, and, in doing so, reveal his own take on the Christian theology.
What we receive in Paradise Lost, however, is Milton's final conclusion concerning these issues; to discover how he worked a number of them out, and the supportive proofs he employed, one must turn to another text, De Doctrina Christiana. This means that certain words, concepts and statements that Milton puts forward within his epic poem carry a heavy weight, being nothing less than the intense compression of a massive theological argument. Take, for instance, a brief passage from Book III: the lines 96-134 consist of an argument put forth by God, exonerating him from the implication that foreknowledge and predestination placed the onus upon him for the Fall of Mankind. God's defence is a good one:
" They therefore as to right belong'd,
So were created, nor can justly accuse
Thir maker, or thir making, or thir Fate;
As if Predestination over-rul'd
Thir will, dispos'd by absolute Decree
Or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed
Thir own revolt, not I: if I foreknew,
Foreknowledge had no influence on their faults,
Which had no less prov'd certain unforeknown."
(Book III, 111-119)
This, essentially, is the core of God's argument, and it contains some rather important concepts - the notions of free-will, foreknowledge (and therefore, the permissive will of God1), and, most importantly, predestination, to which the previous terms are connected. But what is implied by Milton's usage of the word?
God's defence in Book III can be broken into four parts:
1-Man was created free, ie. "I made him just and right/Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall". This is covered in lines 97-111;
2-It is through free-will that man chose to fall, ie. "...they themselves decreed/Thir own revolt, not I". This is covered in lines 111-119;
3-Though fallen, man shall not lose their free-will, ie. "I form'd them free, and free they must remain"; the notion of the non-mutability of God is also contained here. This is covered in lines 120-128;
4-Using free-will, and through God, man shall be saved, ie. "Man therefore shall find grace [...] in Mercy and Justice both". This is covered in lines 129-134, and thus constitutes the final part of God's full argument and defence.
Central to the argument, ...