Paradise Lost 2 Essay, Research Paper
Milton is widely considered to be one of the five greatest poets in the English language and Paradise Lost, a religious epic, is his greatest masterpiece. As stated in the beginning of the first book of Paradise Lost, Milton’s intention for writing his religious epic is, among some other things, to justify the ways of God to men.
Milton’s audience, of course, is a fallen audience, like the narrator of the epic. Some may think Satan is the hero of the epic; Milton has been blamed for making Satan too heroic a character. Others may blame God for allowing the falls to occur. However, both of these readings are shortsighted and are not what Milton intended. Therefore, to prevent misinterpretation, Milton has included a theme of personal responsibility for one’s actions throughout the epic. In this manner, Milton neutralizes God from any unjust blame, exposes Satan for the deceiver that he is, and justifies the falls of both Angel and Man. First and foremost, Milton clears God’s omniscience from any suspicion of blame for letting the Angels rebel or Man eat of the forbidden fruit. Milton defends God’s foreknowledge in Book III, when God says,
. . they [rebel angels] themselves decreed
Thir own revolt, not I: if I foreknew,
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,
Which had no less prov’d certain unforeknow.
God states that His knowledge of future events is not the same as predestination, he establishes himself as merely a bystander in these events. To force His divine will on the Angels or Man would be an injustice to each particular creature’s own free will. Instead, God must let each creature act on its own choices. In turn, God must act as a judge: He must honestly reward the faithful and justly punish the violators.
The concept of free will is of utmost importance to God, and it is the key to justifying the falls and properly placing blame.
I made him [Man] just and right
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall
Such I created all th’ Ethereal Powers
And Spirits, both them who stood and them who fail’d
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Milton explains here, that although both the angels and men are his creations and perhaps even ‘minions’, they nevertheless must make all decisions based on their own thoughts and considerations. Man, as all of his other creations, was created pure, and also free – sufficient to have stood, but free to fall.
Milton offered in Paradise Regained a sequel that provided much more hope. This shorter work deals with Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. Milton’s argument between the two is that while paradise was lost due to the failure of Adam and Eve to resist temptation, it was regained (partially) through Christ’s successful resistance.