The liturgical/praying animal in Paradise Lost

In Book VII of Paradise Lost, Milton has the angel Raphael recount to Adam the six days of creation, and this is what he says concerning humanity:

There wanted yet the master-work, the end
Of all yet done—a creature who, not prone
And brute as other creatures, but endued
With sanctity of reason, might erect
His stature, and upright with front serene
Govern the rest, self-knowing, and from thence
Magnanimous to correspond with Heaven,
But grateful to acknowledge whence his good
Descends; thither with heart, and voice, and eyes
Directed in devotion, to adore
And worship God Supreme, who made him chief
Of all his works.

What is striking about this account is the way in which the rationality ascribed to humanity, unique among all creatures, is specified and given content. Initially it seems quite in line with classical accounts: humans are distinct by virtue of their reason. But what sort of reason, and to what end?

According to Milton, men and women are rational inasmuch as, and so that, they "correspond with Heaven," thanking God for his manifold gifts and worshiping him as the source of all, including their own, being and goodness. Which is to say, human rationality is at once the condition and the means of prayer, which is reason's telos. What sets apart human beings from other animals is that they use words to talk to and about God in thanks and praise. As Robert Jenson has it, human beings are "praying animals." Or in Jamie Smith's words, homo sapiens is homo liturgicus.

Rationality, for Milton, as for Jenson and Smith, isn't the cold logic of unbiased inquiry or instrumental reason. It is the devotion of a heart on fire for the Creator, manifested in the speech of adoration and love, awe and thanksgiving. Rationality is correspondence with heaven.


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