Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rogers on theodicy

While we look forward to hearing Milton's verse read aloud, and to thinking about it as we go, it's also possible we might look for some basic premises from which to begin our exploration.

One place that might be of use is a lecture by Prof. John Rogers, Yale University, on Lycidas. Prof. Rogers has no qualms about addressing the extravagant claims made by Milton - for poetry, and in particular his poetry - that emerge in Lycidas as a prelude to the grand, or as some may feel, grandiose task he set for his epic:

Theodicy is the term coined by the eighteenth-century philosopher Leibniz, and he applied this term theodicy to just that kind of philosophical sentiment that's implied by its etymology. The theodicy is an account of the justice (the dike) of God (theos). And so, to use the words with which Milton would begin Paradise Lost, a theodicy is an attempt "to justify the ways of God to men."

Now for a lot of orthodox Christians in Milton's time -- and I think we can say the same for a lot of orthodox Christians in our own time -- to embark upon anything like a theodicy at all can be considered heretical, or at the very least heterodox. A theodicy can be seen as heretical or even blasphemous for the simple reason that it -- think of what it assumes. It assumes that the ways of God are in fact justifiable. A theodicy assumes that God's justice can be witnessed, that it can be accounted for here on earth. A theodicy assumes that things on earth actually make sense and that God's ways are ultimately rationally accessible, that they are comprehensible by human beings, and that God can in some way -- and this is, I think, the central implication of the Elder Brother here -- that God can in some way be held accountable for his actions. To justify the ways of God to men is essentially to put God on trial for the actions that he performs. Of course in the central test case this is what we all care about, for the unfortunate events that befall virtuous people.
The above is from Lecture 6 of Prof. Rogers' free online course on Milton.

The Open Yale Courses series offers video of a wide variety of courses as well as transcripts of each lecture. Rogers devotes two lectures to Lycidas. The second is also quite worthwhile.

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