Confusion Rests Within My Mind
As scary and awful as this may sound, I find Satan a far more relatable character than God in Paradise Lost. Milton lost he vigor that we find with Satan as he progressed through Book 3. It just didn’t have the umph (yep, I know it’s not a word) as it progressed. God comes off as egotistical and not the least bit relatable.
Here’s some notes that I found on the chapter that I found intriguing:
As the narrative of Paradise Lost shifts from its sustained focus on Hell and Satan and begins to present glimpses of Heaven and God, we may feel that the story loses some of the intense interest and appeal that it began with. The discussion in Heaven is moving and theologically interesting, but the parts of the poem treating the evil designs of Satan are written with more potency and rhetorical vigor. The characters in Heaven play a relatively passive role, watching the story unfold, while Satan actively and endlessly devises his evil machinations. Moreover, the sinful, evil characters hold our attention more easily than the pure and virtuous ones. Satan appears to be the active hero, struggling for his personal desires, and God may seem rather dull. These observations, however, are beside the point that Milton hopes to prove to his readers: God’s reason and grace rule the universe and control all of those who live there.
The encounter between Satan and Uriel demonstrates Satan’s capacity for deception and fraud, as he subverts Uriel’s role as a guardian by disguising himself as a cherub. Uriel is unable to recognize Satan in part because he does not believe it possible that Satan would be lurking around. As a devout and virtuous angel, Uriel is unable to recognize evil even when it presents itself right in front of him. Through Satan’s deception of Uriel, Milton shows the significance of the sin of fraud, or hypocrisy. Fraud is an especially damaging sin because it is invisible to others, hurting them in ways they are not even aware of. In the Inferno, Dante maintains that fraud is the worst of all man’s sins. Milton goes almost as far in showing that leading innocent people to evil is much worse than leading yourself to evil.
Milton reveals his own personal theological positions in Book III. Through God’s initial speech, for example, Milton discards the orthodox Calvinist position of predestination. Omniscient God, seeing the fall in the future, says that men cannot blame God for their fate, or for acts of evil or bad luck, insisting that man possesses free will, even though God can foresee what they will do. God’s speech here contradicts the Calvinist belief, held by most of Milton’s fellow Puritans, that the fate of every man’s soul is decided before birth. Milton refuses to abandon his belief in free will, insisting that man must have free will in order to prove his sincere love for God. This balance between free will and virtue is a paradox—man is free to choose, but only truly free when he chooses the good.
Milton had to confront certain problems inherent in any attempt to represent beings and events outside of time and human understanding. To have God and the Son appear as separate characters in a work of fiction poses particular problems and risks in terms of logical consistency. There may not be a completely coherent way to represent God and the Son as characters who are both independent and human-like, but at the same time consubstantial, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. It was extremely ambitious of Milton to risk heresy by putting words in God’s mouth, and he lessens this risk by incorporating numerous biblical allusions into the speeches of God and the Son.
By making God and the Son two different characters, Milton asserts that they are essentially separate but equal entities. Milton did not believe in the Holy Trinity completely, and believed that the Son was created after God, not coeternally. The relationship between God and the Son is not fully revealed. Appearing as separate characters with separate comments, they may still share a mind. Some actions, like God’s plea for a volunteer, and the Son’s subsequent volunteering, argue that they do not share a single mind. God asks for a volunteer, yet he must know ahead of time that his Son will be the only volunteer. The precise nature of the relationship between the two remains mysterious.
Chapter Challenge: Book 4