The quotes “And Justify the ways of God to man” and “But vindicate the ways of God to man” by John Milton and Alexander Pope respectively are at first glance interchangeable. Pope was influenced by Milton to some degree, both men were poets, both men were prone to satire and both were interested in the relationship between man, God and the universe. Both sought to explore the latter within the framework of their own ethical beliefs. The similarity in both person and intent ends there, however.
By happy coincidence, I have read both Paradise Lost and An Essay n Man more than once. Thus I have some basis/context for comparison of the two quotes in question. Lest anyone thinks this is a gasconading, I have also been known to read the backs of cereal boxes – including nutritional charts – because nothing else is handy and supernatural romance novels because they stroke the limbic. I recommend neither those, nor Paradise Lost for that matter, as before bedtime fare. Any of them might make the dreams passing strange. In short, I will read anything and usually have.
Milton was plagued by the “Life is not fair! ” problem of God. How an God exist as a benevolent force if these terrible things happen in the world? Therefore, he set out to explain why the two things were not mutually exclusive. His use of the word Justify is not incidental; he wanted to give us the reason things happen as they do. Which is one of the definitions of the word Justify. This is exactly what he did. He argued in the poem that man essentially paddles his own canoe. God’s punishments are not arbitrary; they are a reaction to man’s choices.
He explained that the things that happen to man are ultimately the result of the actions f man. Pope, on the other side, was not concerned with explaining why God acted in any particular way. His choice of the word vindicate was also likely deliberate. His ultimate goal was to give God a free pass. To clear him of suspicion, blame and doubt with what he considered proof. He attempted to prove that God was innocent of evil, of unfairness, because he was God. The argument is that God is unknowable, and because he is unknowable and our minds are finite, we are Just not capable of seeing the bigger picture.
In other words, we are Just an itty-bitty cog in a universal machine and things are the way they are supposed to be because they are that way. So stop whining and questioning. Just accept that it is. That even if we do not understand the reasons, there is a plan, and the plan is necessary. The difference between the two in intent is a bit like the difference in approach to freewill between Calvinist and Wesleyan. They both think man chooses. However, one thinks he chooses according to some unchangeable cosmic plan and the other thinks he chooses because he can whose and nothing is set in stone.
I have problems with both Milton and Pope theologically and philosophically. However, if strange things were afoot at the Circle K – and I had access to a time machine? so I found myself arguing philosophy with them in a Greek bathhouse? I would debate Milton and hiss and throw sponges at Pope. On the basis that Milton tried; whereas, Pope abdicated. Anything you cannot explain simply, or at least logically, is either a lie or something you do not understand yourself . To claim it is unknowable, rather than Just unknown, is a cop-out.