Archives for posts with tag: christianity

Book III opens to God consulting with his son, Jesus about the upcoming “Fall of Man”. Being omniscient, God knows what Satan is up to and the end result, but he decides not to interfere and justifies this decision with a lecture on free will. (I have a problem with this doctrine of obedience that is so fundamental to Christianity. I find it impossible to reconcile obedience to love. A doctrine John Milton, I feel, struggles with too, especially as it concerns the politics of his day.) At this point, the poem devolves into metaphysics and legalese.

“But yet all is not done; man disobeying,
Disloyal breaks his fealty, and sins
Against the high supremacy of Heav’n,
Affecting Godhead, and so losing all,
To expiate his treason hath naught left,
But to destruction sacred and devote,
He with his whole posterity must die,
Die he or Justice must; unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.” [III: 203-212]

The theology of these lines is hard to interpret, but it almost seems as if there’s some greater law and God is only acting as the judge, albeit a judge who always makes the just decision. God apparently cannot ignore this “greater law” hinted at in the poem, less he disrupt the order of the universe. There’s a strange sense of competing mythologies in Paradise Lost. On the one hand, Christianity has the “God created everything!” approach. On the other hand, classical mythology says that the universe arose out of Chaos from which the gods and the world spontaneously? emerged. I certainly see an uneasy tension between these philosophies.

Back to the narrative, God is willing to return man to grace, if someone else would ‘take the fall’ for them, and takes the offer to his angels only to be received with non-enthusiasm. “Well don’t everybody speak up at once.” I half expected God to quip, because, wow angels, your devotion towards humanity is really touching. The crickets were deafening compared to your clamorous response, or non-response I should say. Luckily Jesus, being the incarnation of love, intercedes on humanity’s behalf.

“His words here ended, but his meek aspéct
Silent yet spake, and breathed immortal love
To mortal men, above which only shone
Filial obedience: as a sacrifice
Glad to be offered, he attends the will
Of his great Father.” [III: 266-271]

But his speech seems to deflate at the end (at least for me) because the son effectively concludes with “Besides, I’m immortal so it’s not like I’m actually going to die for real, right Dad? And while I’m at it I might as well kill Death too.” Cue the round of applause.

Meanwhile, Satan arrives on Earth at the borders of Eden. He’s having trouble finding his way so he stops and ask for directions from the angel, Uriel. Uriel’s not exactly the brightest crayon in the box. I know, I know, Satan’s in disguise, but still, God has just given this huge speech about how humanity is going to succumb to sin, and Uriel thinks nothing of it when some strange guy comes asking about Paradise because he’s so desperate to witness God’s creation. Uriel, you done goofed.

Satan, while the angels try to find him after realizing their mistake, stumbles upon Adam and Eve, and dare I say it, falls in love. He almost regrets the sin he will lead the pair to, but necessity and the expansion of his empire call for the deed. Nonetheless Satan consoles himself with the thought that mankind will come live with him in Hell.

“Hell shall unfold,
To entertain you two, her widest gates,
And send forth all her kings; there will be room,
Not like these narrow limits, to receive
Your numerous offspring” [IV: 381-385]

Huh. Satan has a point, I suppose. Earth is overpopulated as it is. Could you imagine Eden? In all seriousness, Milton dwells for some time on life and love in the Garden of Eden. First of all, Adam and Eve perform labor on their garden, rather than idle the time away. A sense of purpose appears to be one thing that sets Man apart from animals. This book abounds with descriptions of flower, tree, and animal life.

Naturally, the relationship between Adam and Eve is examined at length. For one thing, they had really good sex. This seems like a silly thing to bring up, but sex is a significant facet of their marriage, as it is for most marriages. Though Milton is careful to make the distinction between true heartfelt love vs the lustful sort. However, his contemporaries and even modern day Christians to be honest view sex as an impure, shameful act that didn’t occur in this perfect setting. Milton argues that sex in the right context is a beautiful act that definitely would have occurred in Eden. However, the doctrine of obedience returns in a very troubling form: Eden’s submission to Adam. Based on Milton’s tone, I doubt he views this imbalance positively. However, it remains as foreshadowing at this point in the epic.

Overall, Books III & IV examined the nature of love whereas Books I & II concerned themselves with hope and despair.

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IMG_1060The days grow short. The air grows cold. The harvest comes to an end. The leaves fade and the plants wither. Summer is dying. Winter lurks around the corner. Samhain has arrived. In Celtic tradition, October 31st marked the end of the year. On that day the old year would die. On that day the world of the living and the world of the dead would intertwine.

IMG_1045For the Celts, this was a time for celebration, preparation, and remembrance as well, for the dead would walk amongst the living once more. Loved ones, long gone, would rejoin their families. The Celts lit great bonfires to guide these spirits safely to their new home. When we light candles and illuminate carved pumpkins for Halloween, we carry on this ancient tradition unaware of its original purpose.

IMG_1038Of course spirits of the otherworld were not necessarily benign. Often mischievous and sometimes malicious, the ghosts would receive food and blessings from the households they visited. If not, the family could expect tricks. Some people would dress up as the otherworldly creatures and once mistaken for one of the spirits would then be left alone. Some would even take advantage of the night to obtain food and gifts for themselves.

IMG_1178However, Samhain was not necessarily a night of terror for the Celts, not for a people who so valued darkness and the dead. Samhain was a time for the people to celebrate the gift of life before they were worn down by the hardships of winter. They could revel in their harvest and enjoy the fruit of their labor. Games with apples and pumpkins were as popular then as they are now. The community would host parties and feasts even inviting the spirits. 

With the spread of Christianity, the old holidays were superseded, Samhain among them. The day was converted into All Hallow’s Eve to eventually become known as Halloween. However, the people were loath to give up beliefs so fundamental to their culture. To those who look, the old celebration is buried just beneath the surface. This is the day where we are reminded that life and death are not as far apart as they seem, that a belief in the supernatural lurks in the mind of every human. Like the Celts we also remember that it is a time to just appreciate life itself. 

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