Adam in “Paradise Lost”: Fate’s Ruler – and Subject
A central problem in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in the theological issue of free will versus fate, a traditionally much-debated question. Free will is the condition of having control or direction over fate or destiny; the individual shapes his life and future through his actions. The opposing view, complete lack of free will (made famous by John Calvin), is predestination, which expresses the idea that our futures have been foreseen long before our existences, so our actions are preordained, and our paths chosen for us. Milton’s presentation of the character Adam wrestles with these ideas around free will throughout Paradise Lost; while he does in fact eat the apple of his own accord, the episode is foreseen by God, in advance. In this epic poem, Milton asserts that man, through Adam’s example, exercises free will; but in doing so, he exposes contradiction, makes some absorbing inquiries and asks some engrossing questions.A cursory history of both views would be beneficial here. John Calvin, the famed apologist of predestination, defines it in this way:
In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of it…
…eversed in a moment of free will; else there is a paradox here that is unreconcilable: how can people both have free will and not have it, simultaneously?In “Paradise Lost”, John Milton attacks the theme of free will versus predestination through the actions of Adam, the first man. Adam’s actions are unclear — thus he has free will to act on his own — but at the same time he is governed by an overriding God who can see past, present, and future. Adam is both the subject and ruler of his fate, in a unique contradiction cleverly set up and expressed by Milton. The writing surrounding Adam evidence Milton’s essential believe in free will, but also display his thoughtful treatment of the situation. In the epic poem “Paradise Lost”, John Milton carefully weighs the two ideas of predestination and free will against each other, with profound and fascinating results.