What Cause?: Faith and Reason

  • Stanley Eugene Fish


To fall not deceived is to fall because you are not deceived, to fall to your own analysis of what is involved in a decision to break union with God. In this study, much has been made of the danger of rhetoric as an instrument of deception and as an appeal which panders to the worst in man. But for those who are able to resist the lure of the rhetorical there is a greater danger still: the over-valuing of the faculty one has recourse to when an obvious temptation presents itself. I refer, of course, to the rational faculty, which distinguishes man from the animals and testifies to the residence within him of the image of God. The exercising of reason is its own temptation; its perverse sweetness ravishes the intellect and diverts one’s thoughts from Heaven ‘whose sweetness would make us blessed’. It is the inquiring and discriminating mind which betrays the reader in Book n, as he is led to distinguish between speeches which are united in blasphemy, a blasphemy he tacitly approves and shares if he judges them on any other basis (rhetorical effectiveness, strategical soundness).


Emphasis Mine Divine Command Paradise Lost Good Temptation True Faith 
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  1. 1.
    For a full discussion of the subject, see Howard Schultz, Milton and Forbidden Knowledge (New York, 1955), esp. chap, iii: ‘God’s justice was a datum to be accepted on faith, even when the Almighty behaved questionably. … “Down reason, then” — William Twisse and the rest of Job’s comforters would have gone no further, but Milton’s Chorus finished the sentence — “at least vain reasonings down”. While reason could still absolve God from guilt, it had work to do; it was the vain reasoning that doubted God’s ways justifiable to men that must down. Mere human morality had no case against God for having driven the Nazarite into the arms of the Timnian bride: “Unchaste was subsequent, her stain not his.” If God moved Samson in mysterious ways, to a Timnian woman or to suicide, reason had a simple choice: to render a moral verdict in God’s favor and support it by logic, or to render the same verdict and be silent and assenting, confessing its own feebleness as an advocate’ (pp. 132–3). 1 Summers, The Muse’s Method, p. 161.Google Scholar

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© Stanley Eugene Fish 1967

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