Examining a Paradise Lost

In my ongoing quest to read everything C. S. Lewis wrote, I have not yet gotten to his preface to Paradise Lost, and I decided not to read it until I had first read the poem myself. So I’ve been wading through Milton’s epic.

It’s not an easy read, but I’m getting the hang of it. Every once in a while, I come across some pearls, both theologically and in Milton’s choice of words. For instance, now I’m aware of where one quote comes from that I’ve heard all my life. Here’s a comment from Satan, speaking to the fallen angels who joined in his revolt:

Here at least we shall be free; the almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in hell: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.

Later, Milton compose a soliloquy from God the Father to the Son, making it clear who will be to blame if man gives in to sin:

Whose fault? Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.

Such I created all the ethereal powers and spirits, both them who stood and them who failed; freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.

We always want to blame someone or something else for our failure to obey God. That doesn’t work; we choose our path.

I also found it rather fascinating when Milton attempted to show Satan’s own reaction to the possibility of repenting for what he had done. He gives us an interesting back-and-forth in the mind of Satan as he contemplates the awfulness of his rebellion:

Is there no place left for repentance, none for pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame among the spirits beneath, whom I seduced with other promises and other vaunts than to submit, boasting I could subdue the omnipotent.

Ay me, they little know how dearly I abide that boast so vain, under what torments inwardly I groan: while they adore me on the throne of hell, with diadem and scepter high advanced the lower still I fall, only supreme in misery. . . .

But say I could repent and could obtain by act of grace my former state; how soon would height recall high thoughts, how soon unsay what feigned submission swore: ease would recant vows made in pain, as violent and void.

For never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep: which would but lead me to a worse relapse, and heavier fall.

I’m in book six of twelve and unsure how long it may take to finish, but I’m going to persevere. How often I have personally bemoaned (how’s that for a poetic word rarely used nowadays?) the poor education I received in my formative years. Now, in my sixties, I have this yearning to make up for what I’ve missed.

So, as much as I want to read Lewis’s preface to this work, I believe I have to devote myself to the poem itself first. As I find more pearls, I may share them with you.

The Great Deceiver

In the preface to his Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis points out the problems with man’s perception with respect to the existence of Satan and his minions:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

Later in the book, the “senior” devil, Screwtape, tutors his “junior” charge, Wormwood, giving him advice on how to deceive the man he is supposed to lead into hell:

The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

“The Great Deceiver” is a name Satan has well earned.