Ellis Washington
On Milton's Paradise Lost
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By Ellis Washington
December 13, 2014


Him the Almighty Power hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky.

~John Milton, Paradise Lost: Book I, Lines 44-45

Biography of Milton

John Milton (1608–1674) was an English poet, essayist, a man of letters and official for the English government under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote during an era of tremendous religious radicalism and political turmoil, and is most celebrated for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), written in blank verse as poetry in regular meter, but unrhymed lines.

Milton's poetry and prose reveal profound personal principles and deep psychological insights. He is especially known for his passion for natural law, natural rights, freedom of the individual and self-government. He lived during times of great social upheaval, particularly the protracted and bloody English Civil War (1642-51). Writing in English, Latin, Greek, and Italian, he attained universal prominence during his time beginning with his famous Areopagitica (1644) – a strong critique against literary censorship and is among history's most singular arguments for freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Known as the "greatest English author" he is universally considered "as one of the preeminent writers in the English language." Samuel Johnson praised Paradise Lost as "a poem which...with respect to design may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind."

Paradise Lost (1667)

The opening scene of Milton's Paradise Lost depicts the narrator declaring that his business will be Adam and Eve's rebellion and fall from paradise. He appeals to an angel and requests help in telling his epic narrative about God's plan for humanity which existed before the foundations of the world were ever created. The story begins with Satan and his demon legions (fallen angels banished from heaven) who are presently chained in the abyss of Hell. Soon they escape from their prison in the lake of fire and fly to land, where they build Pandemonium with minerals they discovered there; this will be their meeting place. Inside Pandemonium, the demons discuss new plots to launch a war against God. Beelzebub proposes that they try to pervert God's favorite new creation, humanity. Satan approves, and offers to engage this plot personally. Satan's children, Sin and Death, meet him at Hell's gates and assist their father constructing a bridge between Hell and Earth as Satan departs from Hell to Earth.

The scene shifts to Heaven, where God orders a convention of the angels. He briefs them of Satan's evil objectives, and the Son offers to be the sacrifice to redeem humanity back to God. In the interim, Satan journeys through Night and Chaos and discovers Earth. In order to get past the guardian at the sun, the Archangel Uriel, Satan takes on the disguise of a cherub. He conveys to Uriel that he desires to see God's magnificent creation so that he may praise it, and Uriel approves. Arriving on Earth Satan takes time to observe the grandeur of Paradise, but instead of happiness, Paradise causes him great pain. Satan repeats his malevolent intent to make evil as his good, and vows to wage perpetual war against God and against his heavenly kingdom. Breaching the wall of Paradise, Satan assumes the form of a large bird (cormorant), and abides atop the Tree of Life. Satan, the winged avenger from Hell surveys the Garden from his perch awakening his vindictive passions; alarmed, Uriel warns the other angels that a deceiver has infiltrated their ranks. Immediately, the other angels decide to search every corner of the Garden hunting down the invaders.

Next the scene shifts to the Garden where, Adam and Eve are the dutiful caretakers, carefully conforming to God's divine command not to touch or eat from the Tree of Knowledge. After toiling in the Garden all day, Adam and Even return to their arbor to rest. At this decisive moment, Satan assumes the form of a toad and speaks into the ear of Eve. Gabriel, the guardian angel of Paradise, discovers the invader, Satan there and commands him to depart. Satan prepares to battle Gabriel, but views a sign of the golden scales of Justice God reveals in the sky causing Satan to immediately depart. Eve awakes and expresses to Adam of her dream in which an angel beguiled her to eat from the forbidden tree. Concerned about his creation, God sends Raphael down to Earth to instruct Adam and Eve about the dangers they will face battling with Satan.

In the next book, Raphael comes down to on Earth and has a meal with Adam and Eve. Raphael recounts the history of Satan's hatred regarding the Son's appointment as God's co-regent. Satan, filled with envy and revenge, convinced one-third of heaven's angels who were likewise furious over Satan being overlooked in favor of the Son, therefore they allied against God launching a civil war in Heaven. The angels, led by Michael and Gabriel for Heaven's army battles Satan and his army. The war wages for two days, when God sends the Son to end the war and cast Satan and his demon legends into Hell. Raphael tells Adam about Satan's wicked motives to separate them from God's love, and cautions Adam to always remain vigilant against Satan.

Adam asks Raphael about how God created the world. Raphael declares to Adam that God sent the Son into Chaos to bring order; to create the universe. From nothing the Son formed the earth and stars and other planets. Eight days after his expulsion, Satan invades Paradise once again, closely examining all of the animals and he selects the form of the serpent as a disguise. Satan hunts for Eve and is pleased to discover her with Adam. Taking the form of a serpent, he flatters Eve praising her beauty and divinity. She is astonished that this animal can speak. The serpent tells her that he learned to speak by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Perverting God's command the serpent declares to Eve that God really wants her and Adam to eat from the tree, and that his commandment is only a test of their heroism. She is initially cautious yet plucks a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and eats. She becomes hysterical and looks for Adam who deduces Eve has eaten from the forbidden tree and is in a fallen state of nature, thus he chooses rather than remain sinless and lose his beloved, that he would rather be fallen with her and eats the fruit. The pure love Adam and Eve had for each before the fall immediately turns to lust.

God of course sees the treachery of Adam and Eve and sends the Son to give out the punishments. The Son first punishes the serpent whose body Satan took, and judges the serpent to crawl on his belly forever. Next the Son expresses to Adam and Eve that they and their descendants through the generations will become acquainted with pain and death. Eve and all womankind particularly must suffer the pain of childbirth and submit to their husbands, and Adam will struggle to hunt and to grow food from the toil and sweat of the ground which, now cursed, the earth gives little food for the great labor expended. In the interim, Satan descends back to Hell where he is welcomed with jubilation. He tells the devils in Pandemonium that he has defeated God. Sin, Death journey to Earth using the bridge they constructed, followed by the demon legions. The fruit turns to dust as the demons taking the form of snakes try to eat from the tree.

After the fall, God commands the angels to curse the Earth as humanity will be distressed under extreme seasonal changes rather than the constant temperatures they enjoyed in the Garden before the fall. Adam and Eve perpetually argue and blame one another. In an episode of anger, Adam regrets that God ever created Eve. Eve pleads with Adam not to leave her for they must stay together by loving each other, lest they die apart. Depressed, Eve admits blame for disobedience against both God and Adam. She considers suicide. Adam, inspired by her words, prevents her from this rash act. He remembers their judgment and understands that they can avenge Satan through faithful obedience to God. The scene ends with Adam and Eve offering a poignant prayer of repentance to God.

Before they are banished from the Garden, God send the archangel Michael, puts Eve to sleep and shows Adam a vision of his future generations from atop of a high mountain. Adam is horrified at the terrifying visions of humanity as he witnesses his children and children's children through the ages inside a whirlwind of despair at his first image of death. Adam pleads with Michael for some substitute punishment. Generation after generation after generation slavishly fall into sin by lust, greed, envy, pride and murder. Because of the sin of Adam, like savage beasts they slaughter each other and exist only to fulfill their selfish desires which paradoxically can never be satisfied. Next Michael reveals to Adam a series of future historical visions: Enoch is delivered by God as a mob of his brethren try to kill him. Adam has a vision of the entire narrative of how God used Noah and his family to deliver mankind and the animals from the flood that kills all other humans and living things not inside the ark. Adam witnesses the vision of the first civilization, Nimrod and the Tower of Babel and how God stopped the building of a "tower reaching up to heaven" by confusing their language. The last visions Adam sees are the conquest of Moses and the Israelites over the Egyptian slavery, and the shadows of the Son's personal sacrifice to redeem all humanity back to God's rule. Michael next forces Adam and Eve out of Paradise. Death, depression and despair fills Adam's heart as they leave the Garden, yet hope springs eternal: Eve has an exciting and enlightening dream to tell Adam causing him to remember that one day the Son will come again to redeem humanity back to God, nevertheless they must go with Michael from Paradise to an ominous and foreboding new world.

Milton's legacy in Modern Times

What is the legacy of John Milton's writings and ideas in modern times? Milton wrote his famous pamphlet, Areopagitica (1644) at the height of the English Civil War (1642-51) as a formal argument highly critical of literary licensing and censorship monopoly by the Crown. Areopagitica is among history's most powerful and emotional philosophical arguments in defense of the right to freedom of speech and expression ever written greatly influencing America's Revolutionary War (1763-87). Areopagitica was modelled after a discourse written by Isocrates, an Athenian orator who flourished in the 5th-century BC. One of the most legendary orations delivered at the Areopagus was made by St. Paul in defense of Christianity against the pagan Greek and Roman critics of his times as chronicled in Acts 17:19, 22-23:
    And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine whereof thou speakest, is? ... Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
According to George H. Sabine the Areopagitica was based on an intelligent and engaged civil society, hostile to collectivist control either by the monarchy or the State; a people very knowledgeable about their God-given natural rights, natural law, that considered humans to be free by nature. Milton writes:
    Its basic principle was the right and also the duty of every intelligent man as a rational being, to know the grounds and take responsibility for his beliefs and actions. Its corollary was a society and a state in which decisions are reached by open discussion, in which the sources of information are not contaminated by authority in the interest of party, and in which political unity is secured not by force but by a consensus that respects variety of opinion.
Tragically, in modern times, the more educated people become, the more access (through the Internet) they have to voluminous amounts of knowledge that would have dwarfed the famed library of Alexandria which contained most of the ancient manuscripts from antiquity (burned down by Caesar in 48 B.C.), the more ignorant the masses seem to be. How else can one explain the universal love of Marxism, socialism and fascism? Because most people today seem incapable of critical thinking of using syllogistic reasoning to do even childlike problems any kindergartener could deduce (e.g., 'It's wrong to take another child's candy, because that's stealing and stealing something that doesn't belong to you is immoral and wrong').

In Milton's Paradise Lost, God through his angelic legions led by the archangels Michael and Raphael casted out Lucifer and his demonic host from heaven because Satan presumed to put his will above the will of God. In the picture above, artist Gustave Doré captured Milton's genius chronicling the epic defeat of Satan and his demon army in Book I, lines 44-45 – Him the Almighty Power hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky. As I end this essay, the question of ultimate concern is who will be our champion, our Redeemer in modern times? Who will have the courage to cast out the legions of socialists, Marxists, progressives, liberals and evolution atheists who like squatters for centuries have infiltrated every institution of civil society and culture perverting it and destroying our Judeo-Christian legacy of our forefathers?

*N.B.: This essay is based in part on ideas from Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor-in-Chief (University of Chicago, 1952), Vol. 2, Chap. 17 – Desire; Vol. 3, Chap. 86 – Sin; Vol. 32 – Milton.


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Invitation for manuscripts

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Ellis Washington

Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review (1989) and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute (1992). Currently he is an adjunct professor of law at the National Paralegal College and the graduate school, National Jurisprudence University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, American History, Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Real Property, and Advanced Legal Writing, among many other subjects... (more)

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