"To stand upright will ask thee skill": The Pinnacle and the Paradigm

Carol Barton
Averett College

Barton, Carol. "'To stand upright will ask thee skill': The Pinnacle and the Paradigm." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.2 (September, 2000):2. 1-20<URL:

          "Good temptations are those which God uses to tempt even righteous men, in order to prove them. He does this not for his own sake--as if he did not know what sort of men they would turn out to be--but either to exercise or demonstrate their faith or patience, as in the case of Abraham and Job, or to lessen their self-confidence and prove them guilty of weakness, so that they may become wiser, and others may be instructed"--The Christian Doctrine, Book I, ch.8 (CPW 6:338)

  1. Circa Easter 1630, a young man who had himself known little or nothing of sacrifice and suffering made his first and only recorded attempt to memorialize the most glorious act of altruism in human history in a sustained poetic image. [1] Finding the subject of the passion of Christ "to be above the yeers he had, when he wrote it, and nothing satisfi'd with what was begun," however, twenty-one year old John Milton "left it unfinisht," [2] and did not return even tangentially to contemplation of "deeds above Heroic" for four decades. [3] But by 1671, the sixty-two year old poet had won his share of bays and laurels, and had come to know disappointment, privation, bereavement, frustration, humiliation, and even calumny firsthand as the intimate companions of his own spiritual odyssey. Now at the mercy of those who would "a little onward . . . a little further on" lend their scribe's hands and reader's tongues to supply his want of eyesight, he published Paradise Regain'd, A Poem in IV Books with a companion piece, the "dramatick poem" entitled Samson Agonistes. Why he chose to print these works in tandem, no one knows for certain, [4] just as there is little hard evidence to support the actual dates of composition of the twinned texts. Phillips says merely that "it cannot certainly be concluded" when his uncle "wrote his excellent Tragedy," though Paradise Regain'd "doubtless was begun and finisht and Printed after the other [Paradice lost] was publisht" (Flannagan 27)--a contention to which Shawcross takes pointed exception (Self 146-52), noting that Phillips is "notoriously in error concerning dates" (151). Ellwood's account in turn strongly implies that at the cottage at Chalfont circa June of 1665, he "put into [Milton's] Head" the germ of an idea that would ultimately evolve into the brief epic--what the poet had "to say of paradise found" (Shawcross, Self 148)--but Parker is extremely skeptical of the inspirational claims that Ellwood makes for the incident (597), suggesting that Ellwood's comments merely brought the older man to the realization that his "fit audience though few" might need some help interpreting the longer poem. Shawcross concurs, [5] arguing rightly that reliance on Ellwood's recollections in the context of external events like the dating of the Great Fire and the plague and the terms of Ellwood's imprisonment would mean Milton must have written his brief epic in less than a year ("between August 1665 and, at the latest, the summer of 1666," according to MacKellar)--which though of course possible, is highly unlikely, given his customary authorial habits and what else was going on in his life at the time (Self 148). Other critics have placed the composition of Samson Agonistes at anywhere from "early in the sixteen-forties" to as late as 1670, [6] and most tend to be silent on the subject, except to say that the poem was Milton's final poetic word.

  2. Regardless of their actual dates of composition or revision, however, it seems to me that, since Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes both inform and are implicit in the action and meaning of Paradise Lost, [7] and since Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes both inform and are implicit in the action and meaning of Paradise Regain'd, it is reasonable to view them, not according to any strict linear chronology of composition, but (with Sonnet XIX's anguish over vocation, "light deni'd") as the progressive expressions of Milton's continuing inquiries into the nature of Christian heroism. [8] Each of them explores the collusive relationship between temptation and self-seduction (to which, of the protagonists, Jesus alone is entirely impervious), and each of them leads to a demonstration of the kind of standing and waiting that typifies Christian obedience, humanity's sole defence against "Hypocrisie, the onely evil that walks / Invisible, except to God alone" (PL 3.683-4).

  3. It is not surprising that, like some of its readership today, many members of Milton's contemporary audience found the brief epic unappealing and anticlimactic in comparison to the poet's earlier triumph. According to Edward Phillips, Paradise Regain'd was "generally censur'd to be much inferiour to the other, though [Milton] could not hear with patience any such thing when related to him." [9] The aesthetic "inferiority" of Paradise Regain'd to Paradise Lost may be attributed to any number of things: to its lack of action (there are only two contending characters involved in the central agon, and, as is the case in Comus, one of them is both "unmov'd" and motionless. The latter is an "uninspiring hero," according to one critic, [10] whose speech is as "mechanical as bricklaying," according to another). [11] Others have lamented its lack of rhetorical flashiness (it is an "austere poem" which, "except for two or three purple patches," has "a style of almost Biblical simplicity"--Bush 22). Still others have pointed to its lack of tension (Jesus has "only the ungracious dramatic function of saying No," and his "ability to reply 'Why art thou solicitous?' to every temptation destroys all opportunity for narrative suspense"--Frye 313-14). But perhaps the true reason for the work's lukewarm reception over the centuries is the unwillingness or inability of so many of its readers to grasp completely the nature and purpose of what Milton's brief epic is attempting to accomplish, as opposed to what they--as creatures of a narrative modernity--come to it expecting it to achieve.

  4. As Parker suggests, and Shawcross affirms, Paradise Regain'd is not simply or even necessarily an answer to Ellwood's famous question, [12] and neither is it a "sequel" to the longer poem, as several critics -- Lewalski and Shawcross among them -- have pointed out. But if a question like Ellwood's could be asked by an enlightened reader (and one who was himself a student of the poet), there was good reason for Milton to be concerned about the popular reception of his longer poem, especially given the bitter lessons he had learned about the reading and analytical skills of the English masses in the 1640s: "Ellwood's question made it clear that even those one might have numbered among the fit audience were not" (Shawcross, Self 152), no doubt a disquieting observation for "the basically impractical Milton, led by 'ideal' beliefs and not really capable of understanding the ordinary person and what impresses such people" (171). As a result, owing to the young Quaker and what he put into Milton's Head at the "pretty Box" a mile from his own residence in Giles-Chalfont (147), if by the conclusion of the story of Mans First Disobedience ( PL 12.587) we cannot fully apprehend the paradise within us, happier farre, we have the more austerely univocal Paradise Regain'd to aid our perception; "if we cannot read Paradise Regain'd adequately, we have the far more human Samson Agonistes to help us" (Shawcross, "Regain'd" 112); and if we cannot glean from those readings (together with an understanding of Milton's Sonnet XIX) a Pogo-like warning that "we have met the enemy, and he is us," we will relegate Milton to the Devil's Party in ways Blake never intended, see Tillyard's "beaten dog" (161) in the author of "When I consider," be convinced (as countless others before us have been) that Satan is the hero of Paradise Lost. We might even, like the Devil of Paradise Regain'd, attempt to impose a plot on the pointedly plotless confrontation between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness.

  5. That fact notwithstanding, what was true in 1966 remains so today: "the design [of Paradise Regain'd] has [still] not evoked widespread critical enthusiasm. Many readers [(when they speak about the poem at all) continue to] complain about the static plot, about the lack of tension resulting from the perfection and passivity of the hero, and especially about the 'cold and negative' renunciations whereby Jesus [13] appears to consign to the Devil the chief blessings of the world, including . . . classical learning and poetry" (Lewalski, Brief Epic 4). Though it is true "from one point of view--the point of view from which Adam calls for the heroics of a duel [in PL 12.383-5]--that [Jesus] doesn't do anything" in Paradise Regain'd (Fish, "Plot" 104), that doesn't mean that Milton was unaware of the dramatic potential of the situation. On the contrary,

    had [he] wished to celebrate Christ's power, the Bible offers the resurrection, the ascension, and the last judgment. Had he wished to demonstrate Christ's obedience, he might have chosen Gethsemane or the crucifixion. Instead, he chose the triple temptation of [Jesus] in the wilderness as recorded by Matthew and Luke. Certainly, there is dramatic potential in the episode, for [Jesus] might have suffered terribly from hunger and thirst; he might have felt a patriot's frustration at Rome's complacent tyranny [as Milton did at Charles I's]; he could have burned with the desire to destroy the adversary, Satan [as Samson did when confronted by his enemy, Harapha]; he might have felt himself deserted, and very humanly have sought another miracle to reassure himself of God's favor [as both Milton and Samson do when the loss of their eyesight brings them to the brink of despair]. Although Milton seems to be aware of the dramatic potentials, each of the possible crises occurs only retrospectively in Paradise Regained; for [Jesus] remembers having entertained and then dismissed the various possibilities of self-aggrandizement through worldly wisdom and power (Miller 161-2).

    The point is, of course, that Jesus needs no "dramatic potentials": unlike the heroes of precedent epics, the Son is not required to engage in physical combat with supernatural, mortal, or reptilian foes to achieve his mission. Merely by virtue of hanging immobile on the Cross, Jesus "does everything--that is, he performs the only act that merits the name; he obeys, and it is 'this God-like act' that, Michael declares, 'Shall bruise the head of Satan' ([PL] XII, 430)" (Fish, "Plot" 164). The act is not a physical one, because physicality is irrelevant: as Shawcross suggests (Self 149), where Ellwood erred in reading Paradise Lost (and modern readers seem to err in reading Paradise Regain'd) is in his assumption "that Paradise on earth was still existent but in need of being rediscovered or recognized" -- and, I would add, that the act for which Adam and Eve were punished was the physical ingestion of the interdicted Fruit. The promise of Paradise Lost is not the Atlantis-like resurrection of Eden from out of the sea: it is the restoration of Man's unity with God, the harmonious accord of a univocal eternity happier farre than our chaotic, discord-riddled temporal lot that "was lost by action (disobedience)" --that is, an act of separation and disunity -- and "can be regained only by action (obedience)" -- that is, an act of at-one-ment (149). But just as the violated apple is only symbolic of the sin committed by our First Parents (which originates in envy and pride and egoistic despair, not in the "rash hand in evil hour / Forth reaching to the Fruit," PL 12.780-1) so its atonement does not inhere in the Man of Sorrows being crowned with thorns and suspended from the cross-beam by the nails in his hands: it occurs in the darkness of Gethsemane, in the simple but pregnant words, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done" (Matthew 26:42). [14]

  6. As a result, the conflict here is not the Manichaean confrontation that Adam envisions between the reified agents of Good and Evil, a physical battle in the temporal universe that will culminate in the Serpent's sustaining a "capital bruise" accompanied by "mortal pain" (PL 12.383-4) -- "mortal" in this context in the dual senses of "fatal" and "of the type that Adam might feel." Rather, it is a metaphysical contest, pitting Man's love for God ("Thy will be done") against Man's love for himself ("My needs be satisfied"), God's Truth against the Devil's falsehood (3.443), and the Messiah's "fulness of time" against the Adversary's window of opportunity. Indeed, Satan's increasingly frenetic activity as he tries to pierce the armour of the Son's imperturbability, and Jesus responding with sufficient resistance to prevent him from making any headway at all is the drama, though visually there seems to be nothing going on here but stasis. [15]

  7. As Lewalski sees it, Milton "assumes [rightly or wrongly] that his 'fit audience though few' will be more interested in the excitement and the heroism involved in the inordinately subtle and complex mental combat between [Jesus] and Satan than in that provided by physical combat," and uses "the proposed predicament of the hero and the tremendous import of the battle for all mankind to supply the necessary tension" (Brief Epic 105). It is this argument against the need for a standard story-line that makes Fish's observation that "what defeats Satan finally is the Son's . . . [refusal to partipate as] a character in a plot, in a narrative where every change of scene brings new opportunities and new risks" -- that is, Jesus's "inability or unwillingness . . . to recognize the fact that there is a plot at all" (166) -- such an important one. In its insistence that, to Jesus, one temptation is the same as any other, and that knowing that, he becomes impervious to all, it relates the exchange between the Son and the Adversary to the exposure of Alcina in Canto 5 of Orlando Furioso, the stripping of Duessa in Book I, Canto 8, of the Faerie Queene, the unmasking of the little man behind the great machine in Chapter 15 of The Wizard of Oz, and countless other tales in which a sorcerer or sorceress is ultimately caught out, and the malevolent magic he or she has been working is exposed and defeated: once the hero perceives the mechanism behind the illusion, it ceases to have any power over him. Jesus "does nothing" in Paradise Regain'd because he understands virtually from the start that there is "no difference at all between the various objects and actions that are offered to him" (166) by the Archimago-like old man he encounters in the desert: they are all invitations to damnation, and "always more complicated than they seem at first because the terms in which they are posed are not explicitly stated" (173). Jesus knows that to do anything at the Devil's bidding (even to turn stones into bread to feed the hungry, or to rescue the people of Israel from bondage to relieve them of their misery) is to do just that--obey the Devil--and to disobey God thereby. [16] Like Abdiel, Gabriel, Raphael, Christ, and Michael, but unlike Eve and Samson, Jesus never makes the mistake of perceiving God's Adversary as his own, or of considering himself sufficient in se to fulfill the role that such a relationship would imply: he knows that God has sent the demon to hell for all eternity, whether or not he completes his salvific mission and redeems mankind, and he acts in the capacity of heaven's agent, not (as Eve and Samson do) in loco Parentis. Unlike the Nazarite confronted by his enemy's blustering champion, the Nazarene feels no compulsion to reassert or demonstrate his primacy by "proving" either his divinity or his superiority to the Fiend on Satan's terms. He takes those attributes as given (1.453-64), and recognizes almost from the moment that he first sets eyes on the "aged man in Rural weeds" (1.314) that indeed "relation stands" (4.519)--he is God's emissary and God's instrument, and all he needs to conquer is himself. Had Eve or Adam been capable of internalizing such an insight (and of acting on it with similarly single-minded fidelity), there would have been no fall: rather than a phatic refrain,[17] God's interdiction of the fatal malus would in and of itself have been sufficient to prevent Eve from accepting the Serpent's deadly invitation. Even had it not, it would at least have prevented Adam from "scrupl'[ing] not to eat" what "she gave him of that fair enticing Fruit / With liberal hand . . ./ Against his better knowledge, not deceav'd / But fondly overcome with Femal charm" (PL 9.997-9), "as of choice" -- of choice! -- "to incurr / Divine displeasure for her sake, or Death" (PL 9.992-3). That is the lesson "Milton, the eternal teacher" (Shawcross, "Regain'd"113) wants every reader to take away from the brief epic: Jesus's greatest feat is not his death, however horrible; others have suffered as much and more, and all that lives must die. And neither is it bringing Lazarus back into the light of day, or turning a few loaves and fishes into a feast for the multitudes, or curing the lame or sick, or casting out devils. Very simply, it is his ability to "just say no," consistently, unwaveringly, and assertively (that is, "one man's firm obedience, fully tried, through all temptation," 1.4-5). [18]

  8. It is significant, also, it seems to me, that the Son of Man goes into the wilderness as unproven and inexperienced in negotiating the challenges of the world, the flesh, and the Devil as the Lady of Christ's was when he first attempted to write about him. Like the scrivener's boy, the carpenter's son has also suffered little, and seen few if any of the evils of the human condition; he has even been treated with some deference as a prodigy (PR 208-14):

    e're yet my age
    Had measur'd twice six years, at our great Feast
    I went into the Temple, there to hear
    The Teachers of our Law, and to propose
    What might improve my knowledge or their own;
    And was admir'd by all . . .

    In this respect, I agree with MacCallum that "the temptation in the wilderness" is not a test at all, but a kind of spiritual basic training, " . . . a short period of withdrawal in which the hero retires into the desert in order to prepare his soul for heroic action" (226)-- such preparation not by means of fasting and prayer, but by the accumulation of much-needed experience, just as the young Cambridge scholar would himself need to experience a little more of the world (beyond the level of the schoolboy debaucheries he so despised) before he could write this poem. ("But first I mean / To exercise him in the Wilderness," the Father says. "There he shall first lay down the rudiments / Of his great warfare, ere I send him forth . . ." 1.156-8). The confrontation in the desert is less "a final trial and clarification of [Jesus's] views which confirms his authority" (MacCallum 229) than it is an assessment of Jesus's ripeness--which (because he successfully demonstrates his command of the skills he will need to pass his real trial) becomes an affirmation that he is both ready and able to deal with what he will have to face in the world external to the psychomachia. Once Jesus in his human persona has bested Satan as he has earlier defeated him in his divine one, the Son of Man is able to carry the strategic knowledge gained by means of this "exercise" with him into Jerusalem, Gethsemane, and Golgotha, and thereby to stand when he shouldn't fall, and wait when others would goad him into rash or premature action. It is not by vanquishing Satan for a third time in the desert, but "by vanquishing / Temptation" in all of its manifestations that Jesus regains "lost Paradise" and "avenge[s] / Supplanted Adam" (4.606-8)--"hung'ring more to do [his] Father's will" (2.259) than he hungers for anything the world, the flesh, or the Devil have to offer. As Radzinowicz points out, "to follow the trail of [Milton's] thinking through his biblical sources is to arrive at an understanding of the exemplary and salvatory action of the Son in standing fast against temptation, which makes that action a sufficient atonement and example for all men" (213). Certainly, from this perspective,

    nothing is ever inconsequential. If, even in the smallest things, one is bearing witness to some kind of inner allegiance, then action is continual, and admits of no respite; since obedience is not a matter of following directions, but of having a direction, one has it not at particular times or in response to extraordinary circumstances, but at all times and in response to every circumstance. And since every circumstance presents the possibility of either keeping to or straying from the way, there is finally no meaningful distinction to be made between them. That is, one cannot speak meaningfully of moments where there is more at stake than at other moments or of choices that are more or less difficult or significant than other choices; although life will present you with what appears to be a variety of situations, your obligation is to see through that variety and discern in each situation the challenge it offers to your continuing obedience; your obligation, in short, is to remember that, despite appearance to the contrary, the issues are always the same, as are the dangers . . . for as Satan discovers to his repeated frustration, the Son sees no difference at all between the various objects and actions that are offered to him. . . . Where Satan's rhetoric continually suggests that he is ascending a scale of progressive lures, [Jesus's] responses have the effect of leveling that scale by refusing to recognize it (Fish, "Plot" 166-7).

  9. Waiting for the "due time" in which "all things are best fulfill'd" (3.182) in accordance with what "the Father in his purpose hath decreed" (3.186) is the primary duty of all of the heroes of Milton's major poetry, but it is emphasized almost nowhere in the canon as urgently as it is in Paradise Regained. As it was Eve's presumptive "expectation high / Of knowledg" (PL 9.789-90) hoping "to add what wants / In Femal Sex" and "render [herself] more equal" to her spouse -- the construction implies that she would remain Adam's inferior even so -- before God was disposed to grant her "the Cure of all" of the perceived inequities of her world (PL 9.775), and Adam's presumptive declaration that "with [Eve] / Certain [his] resolution [was] to Die" (PL 9.906-7) before he even considered the possibility that there might be other alternatives, that damned them; so it is crucial to Man's redemption that the true Son of God "endure the time, till which expir'd / [Satan has] permission on [him]" (4.174-5). Jesus must act only at the proper moment, and in accordance with divine direction, serving as the conduit for the Lord's power (a function to which he is always open and receptive, whether almighty thunderbolts are flashing on the horizon or not). But he cannot and must not attempt to appropriate God's dominion, and it is not for him to take it upon himself to try to alter or accelerate the manifestations of the Father's will. [19] Neither, indeed, should he wish to do so, if his will and the Father's are one, regardless of how seductive the temptation to do otherwise might be. But as Fish says, "while it is easy to see what is wrong with working a miracle at the Devil's bidding, it is not so easy to see what is wrong with relieving the misery of others" ("Plot" 175) at the same urging. When Satan importunes Jesus to turn stones into bread to "save thyself and us relieve" in the desert (1.344), or exhorts him to "free / Thy Country from her heathen servitude" (3.175-6), we the reader succumb vicariously to a guilt trip at least as old as motherhood itself, and just as powerful: "what kind of a man/Son/Messiah/creature are you," the Devil's question implies, "if having the power to do otherwise, you would let other human beings suffer and die?" "All things are best fulfill'd in their due time, / And time there is for all things" (3.182-3) Jesus answers the Adversary, echoing Ecclesiastes, and fully confident that "when [his] season comes to sit / on David's Throne" (4.146-7) "means there shall be to this, but what the means, / Is not for thee to know, nor me to tell" (4.152-3). Christ's eternal reign will begin when and how "the Father in his purpose hath decreed," and not a moment before. Likewise, when and when and how it pleases God to provide the means, his people shall find release (3.186).

  10. It is Jesus's complete understanding and unqualified acceptance of this kairotic principle that makes him ultimately impervious to temptation, and distinguishes him from Milton's other mortal heroes. Despite Satan's Anchises-like astrological prophecy (4.374-81) that Jesus will "wish [he] never [had] rejected thus

    Nicely or cautiously my offer'd aid,
    Which would have set thee in short time with ease
    On David's Throne . . .
    Now at full age, fulness of time, thy season
    When Prophesies of thee are best fulfill'd,

    Jesus knows that the "time [for him to act] is not yet come" (3.396-7), and he categorically refuses to act in any way that might accelerate the kairotic schedule. This is true, as we have said, even when the action being proposed is a seeming good that need not--even should not, in human terms -- be delayed any longer than is absolutely necessary: from Israel's perspective, the Messiah's will indeed be "the happier raign the sooner it begins" (3.175-9). But if Jesus is to "[win] by Conquest what the first man lost / By fallacy surpris'd" (1.154-5), the Son of Man must at all times and in every situation stand as "unmov'd" in his righteousness as he does on the temple spire, trusting in God to set things right, and maintaining his moral ground as much as mortals unaided can. Otherwise, as a human being subject to the laws of the physical world, even the seeming inaction of his remaining impossibly upright on the pinnacle will signify that he has fallen prey to the satanic paradox, and accepted as inevitable the requirement that he must choose either to "stand" (physically) and "show [his] Progeny" by mastering his "uneasy station" (4.584) with suprahuman ease, or fall (that is, "cast [him]self down") and "show [his] Progeny" by forcing God to send his angels to bear him aloft. To do either is to act on any one of a number of false assumptions: that those are the only choices open to him, because they are the only choices offered; that the choices offered are as simple as they seem; or that a choice between Satanically ordained alternatives must even be made at all. (In response to any question that posits an "either/or," we always have the option of replying "neither.")

  11. The pinnacle scene is then "a perfect visual emblem of what has been required of the Son all along, a keeping to a path so straight and narrow that the deviation of a single step to the right or left would prove disastrous" ("Plot" 181), for as Jesus discerns, to choose would be to succumb, and thereby to "fall down, and worship" the Adversary "as [his] superior Lord" (4.166-7). [20] Because Satan's offer of "the Kingdoms of the world" (4.163) in some respects resembles Harapha's goading of Samson -- it is, after all, a challenge both to Jesus's paternity and to his manhood -- responding in kind is "easily done," as the Adversary needlingly suggests. And he almost gets the rise out of Jesus he is looking for in reply (PR 4.170-81):

    Whom thus our Saviour answer'd with disdain.
    I never lik'd thy talk, thy offers less,
    Now both abhor, since thou hast dar'd to utter
    The abominable terms, impious condition;
    But I endure the time, till which expir'd
    Thou hast permission on me. It is written
    The first of all Commandments, Thou shalt worship
    The Lord thy God, and only him shalt serve;
    And dar'st thou to the Son of God propound
    To worship thee accurst, now more accurst,
    For this attempt bolder than that on Eve,
    And more blasphemous? . . .

    Clearly, if but for a moment, the Devil has managed to perturb "our Saviour"'s customary calm of mind, for he twice declares himself "the Son of God" before revealing that he knows for certain the identity of his foe ("Get thee behind me; plain thou now appear'st / That Evil one, Satan for ever damn'd," 4.190-4), and "the Fiend with fear abasht" replies, "Be not so sore offended, Son of God" (3.196), and, snake-oil salesman that he is, Satan is quick to explain that it was all very innocent, really--an attempt to clarify the terminology. "....Sons of God both Angels are and Men" (my discovery of which was what pitted me against humanity in the first place)--I only proposed what I did "to try whether in higher sort / Than these thou bear'st that title" (4.199) -- and who could blame me, if him "thou art, whose coming is foretold / To me so fatal," when obviously "me it most concerns"? (4.204-5). (I ask again: are you the man?) No harm done, though, whoever you are: "The tryal hath indamag'd thee no way, / Rather more honour left and more esteem; / Mee naught advantag'd, missing what I aim'd" (4.206-8)--(except, of course, that I did manage to get a rise out of you, which means you're not entirely divine, and maybe you can be rattled).

    Therefore let pass, as they are transitory,
    The Kingdoms of this world; I shall no more
    Advise thee, gain them as thou canst, or not.
    And thou thy self seem'st otherwise inclin'd
    Then to a worldly Crown, addicted more [emphasis mine]
    To contemplation and profound dispute . . . (4.209-14)

    One can almost see the glistening bottles of snake oil in his wagon.

  12. Throughout their confrontation, Satan has guilefully endeavored to establish the nature of Jesus's "addiction," the Achilles' heel temptation to which resistance will be impossible (that which in modern parlance we would call his "price"). But because Jesus is "addicted" to heavenly wisdom (rather than infernal sophistry), he knows better than to let Satan goad him into responding rashly. "With Eve, the lack of logic did not matter, and [Satan] was able to exploit doubts and contradictions which expressed his own pride and hunger for domination. With Jesus his lapses in reading are immediately exposed, for he is confronted with a mind which can without hesitation place the elements of the problem in correct order" (MacCallum 251). The Son of God is not as easily cozened as the Adversary's more credulous prey into losing control of the situation, even if he has faltered for a moment, "the persuasive Rhetoric / that sleek't his tongue, and won so much on Eve" accomplishing "so little here, nay lost, but Eve was Eve, / This far his over-match . . ." (4.4-7). Offered the wisdom of the world, Jesus can decline "unmov'd" 4.109), no vestige of his anger remaining, and rather than rejecting the proffered beneficence out of hand (as many readers have assumed he does), he merely subordinates human knowledge to "Light from above, from the fountain of light" (4.289), the wellspring of all scientia. As Fish (and others) point out, he does not reject human knowledge in se; in effect, he simply asks his Tempter why he should bother looking through a glass darkly, or watching shadows on the cave wall, when he has immediate access to Truth unaccommodated any time he wants it? [21] "Quite at a loss, for all his darts [are] spent" (4.366), Satan plays his last trump: terror in the form of physical menace, preying (he hopes) on the superstitious aspects of Jesus's mortal nature (a long shot, at best, though "Desperate of a better course, to vent his rage / And mad despite to be so oft repell'd" (4.445-6) he tries it anyway). The first part of this temptation, the storm of "fierce rain with lightning mixt, water with fire / In ruine reconcil'd" (not to mention "Infernal Ghosts, and Hellish Furies" howling and yelling and shrieking all night--4.412-22) is not a factor. The experience of Satan's "ominous night" (4.481) leaves Jesus no "worse than wet," and maybe even a little amused: "Other harm those terrors which thou speak'st of, did me none;" the Son tells the Adversary; "I never fear'd they could, though noising loud, / And threat'ning nigh . . . [thou] storm'st refus'd . . . and toil'st in vain" (4.486-98). Now it is Satan's turn to lose his composure, and "swoln with rage," to offer his final challenge: "Then hear, O Son of David, Virgin-born: / For Son of God to me is yet in doubt . . . . [I] seek / To understand my Adversary, who / And what he is . . . / Therefore to know what more thou art then man . . . /Another method now I must begin" (4.500-540).

  13. This "other method" is of course the challenge on the temple's highest spire. Here again, Jesus knows that, like Samson's, Adam's, and Eve's pre-emptive sins against their appointed kairoi, [22] and Lucifer's own transgression against his Creator's master plan, for the Son of Man to engage in the performance of divine "magic tricks" at infernal prompting to demonstrate what God in his wisdom does not yet want revealed would be the wrong action for the wrong reason at the wrong time, a variation on "prostituting holy things to Idols" (SA.1357)-- and thus the kind of non-action Milton describes in The Christian Doctrine. [23] In its obedience to Satan (by definition disobedience to God), it would be a sin. As Jesus recognizes a priori (and Adam, Eve, and Samson will discover a posteriori), all who would rightly serve their Creator "must learn to relax the will, to perform real acts in God's time and not pseudo-acts in [their] own" (Frye, "Typology" 315). The ordeal in the desert demonstrates that what Shawcross aptly refers to as a "confederacy with God" (Paradise Regain'd 108) is accomplished, not by surrendering the ego to annihilation and oblivion within the unity of an omniverous Godhead--"being swallowed up in some vaguely indefinable oversoul of meaning," as Arthur Barker once described it (82)--or wishing "that we not be heard, that we utter sounds in such a way as to remain silent," as Fish more recently claims ("Action" 520), [24] but by willingly and lovingly subordinating one's personal agenda (and particularly one's impatience) to a ready obedience to the panoptic vision and benevolent will of the All-in-All, much as in a successful friendship or marital relationship, the participants yield to one another from time to time, without either partner requiring the other "to bow and sue for grace / With suppliant knee" (PL 1.111-12) or relinquish his or her individual identity. The kind of obedience Jesus shows (and mankind owes) his Father is nothing like the mere "submission" that Satan thinks unthinkable in Book I of Paradise Lost. [25] As Merritt Hughes points out (Eikon Basilike 6-7),

    in itself obedience is not necessarily a virtue. . . . In a political setting it may be mere compliance with custom or surrender to tyranny [as certainly the apostate angels are obedient to their infernal lord]. In Paradise Lost the angels who praise obedience are aware that it must be rooted in love and wisdom. . . . There is no better evidence of Milton's approval of Jesus' assertion of the primacy of the First Commandment-"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matt. 22:37)-than its mark on Raphael's explanation of loyal angelic obedience to God-'freely we serve, / Because we freely love" (5.538-9). More explicit is his departing advice to Adam: "Be strong, live happy, and love, but first of all / Him whom to love is to obey . . ." (8.633-4).

  14. In the context of the brief epic, "the Son keeps his freedom of will by choosing not to act" (Shawcross, Paradise Regain'd 108) and as a result is placed continually in the role of object of the Adversary's predicate. But like the Lady of Comus or his own alter-ego on the Cross, he is neither motionless nor passive, no matter how inactive he may appear--just as Satan, who is continually engaged in decathlons of frenetic motion, is in cosmic terms simply running in place:

    Satan appears to do all the acting: it is he who dances about [Jesus] in a fever of motion, trying one scheme after another, one argument after another, while [Jesus] remains impassive, immobile, unaffected by all of Satan's proposals. Yet it is in [Jesus]'s consciousness, not Satan's, that all real change takes place: [Jesus] in responding to the challenges of the temptations progresses steadily toward a full understanding of his nature and the various aspects of his role, evidencing this development by his increased certainty of tone and calmness of manner, whereas Satan, constantly failing to resolve the puzzle about Christ's sonship and mission, gives way to progressive frustration and loss of control over himself and over the course of the action (Lewalski, "Theme" 324-5).


  15. Ironically, in Miltonic terms, it is Satan who in this case "at [God's] bidding speed[s] / And post[s] o'er Land and Ocean without rest," [26] only to end precisely where he began (or worse yet, "now more accurst / For this attempt bolder then that on Eve, / And more blasphemous" 4.179-81), in contrast to the "patient Son of God," who stands "unshaken" and "unappall'd in calm and sinless peace" in the midst of an horrific thunderstorm, no "worse than wet" while lightning flashes, thunder rolls, and pandemonium screams its eternal torment into his ears (4.420-5). Because all of Satan's activity is negative, in terms both of his malevolent objectives and of the "bad success" of his hellish campaign, it results in stasis rather than progress, as symbolized by the contrast between Hell's classically eternal "circling hours" (1.57) and the linear movement of earthly (Judeo-Christian) time. [26] By standing and waiting patiently, and thinking before he acts, Jesus can separate what he wants from what God wants, and allow the recta ratio of the Holy Spirit sufficient opportunity to clear his brain of Satan's "glozing lies"; unlike "the first man," he is not entrapped "By fallacy surpris'd" (1.154-5) into embracing that which he should out of hand reject, simply because there is "no ground of enmity between us known, / Why he should mean me ill, or seek to harm" (PL 9. 1151-2)--it "seemed like a good idea at the time." [27]

  16. There seems to me no question that Jesus is unambiguously aware of his divine pedigree throughout the confrontation in the wilderness(1.227-58), and knows precisely what destiny he is expected to fulfill (1.280-90), but he has not discovered yet "to what intent" he has been brought into this place at this time. Rather than speculating in vain about his Father's plans for him, however, he is content to wait until "the time prefixt" (1.269) to learn the balance of his mission: he is both satisfied and comforted by his consciousness of the fact that there is a divine plan, whether he is personally privy to its details or not, as he waits in what MacCallum calls "alert passivity . . . for a clue" (243). "Perhaps I need not know," he says in serene soliloquy at the beginning of Book I, "For what concerns my knowledge God reveals" (1.292-3). The magnitude of trust conveyed by such a declaration (especially in the context in which this one is made) is doubtless one of those things "worthy t'have not remained unsung so long" to which we should have been paying closer attention: loving son of a loving Father, Jesus never for a moment doubts that what he needs to fulfill God's mission the good Lord will supply, or that "who brought [him] hither / Will bring [him] hence," no matter what happens to him in the wilderness; recalling Psalm 23, "no other Guide [he] seek[s]" (1.335-6). This stands in starkest of contrasts to Adam's failure to trust in God to find a way to reclaim Eve from damnation, knowing as the Almighty must that "loss of [her] / Would never from [his] heart" (PL 9.912-13). As he speaks the words that will damn his progeny to death eternal (PL 9.904-10), Adam is as yet unblemished by the twice foretasted Fruit:

    . . . som cursed fraud
    Of Enemie hath beguil'd thee, yet uknown,
    And mee with thee hath ruind, for with thee
    Certain my resolution is to Die;
    How can I live without thee, how foregoe
    Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn'd
    To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn?

    Adam pre-empts God's answer to his question by acting selfishly and impulsively, by taking for himself what he does not even consider that God might give him, and damning his posterity in the process. Until he is rescued by the "fiery Globe" / Of Angels on full sail of wing" "from his uneasie station" (4.581-4), Jesus stand until then under apparently imminent threat of plummeting from the spire, just as Satan has moments before--yet he is nonetheless as little perturbed by the prospect as he was frightened by the Devil's meteorological pyrotechnics:

    the important thing is that [Jesus] is content to wait out the 'time prefixt' for God's sign. After the early years of wondering how to accomplish God's will, he has been led into the wilderness still without knowing the purpose; however, here, as later, he is a patient believer in eventual revelation. God will tell him what he needs to know, and in the meantime, [Jesus]'s patient acceptance leads him to wisdom and right action (Zwicki 275).

  17. Though both Jesus and Satan "are ignorant of the identity between this son and the 'first-begot" during their exchange, and though the latent Messiah "has no recollection of his previous celestial history" that would lead him to make such an assumption (Lewalski, "Theme" 323), Jesus is at least to some degree aware of the power he can wield in God's name by the time Satan places him on the pinnacle. "Shall I receive by gift what of my own, / When and where likes me best, I can command?" he retorts in response to Satan's urging that he "sit down and eat" at Hell's banquet table. "I can at will, doubt not, as soon as thou, / Command a Table in this Wilderness, / And call swift flights of Angels ministrant / Array'd in Glory on my cup to attend" (2.381-6). By Book IV of Paradise Regain'd (531-40), Satan makes it clear that he, too, has recognized his adversary for who and what he is, in the cosmic sense, and in terms of his messianic mission ("Therefore to know what more thou art than man, / Worth naming Son of God by voice from Heav'n, / Another method I must now begin . . . ," 4.538-40), even if he does not yet realize that this son of God and his ancient rival are the same entity. [28] Up to that point,


    [Jesus] has been tempted quasi homo, purely as man. . . . [He] has resisted the whole of Satan's world; he has done what man can do, and the only possible next step is for God to indicate acceptance of what he has done. Thus the fact that [Jesus] successfully stands on the pinnacle is miraculous, but not a miracle drawn from his own divine nature, not an ace hidden up his sleeve [or other demonstration of his personal power], which is what Satan is looking for. [Jesus's ability to perform that seemingly impossible feat] means that his human will has been taken over by the omnipotent divine will at the necessary point (Frye, "Typology" 318),

    so that, as the words "also it is written, / Tempt not the Lord thy God" are spoken by the figure on the temple spire, they are divinely infused with the full force and effect of the Almighty's omnipotent grace, augmenting the strength of the Son of Man's equal and opposite resistance to the force of Satan's temptation. But Jesus does not claim the victory for himself, nor could he have achieved it without the Father's assistance: "the reply is a denunciation of Satan's perverse application of Scripture, but it is also the most spectacular of all the hero's verbal gestures of self-denial. Once again he refers the Satanic challenge to higher authority, and climactically identifies himself (to those who are doctrinally informed) as a hero fighting with the Sword of the Spirit" (Christopher 204), the instrument, rather than the initiator, of miracles. [29] As a result, the power of Jesus's human righteousness and the strength of his good works, which have been enough to permit him to stand immobile like a wall of steel against the relentless onslaught of his supernatural attacker, are now enhanced a hundredfold by the omnipotent puissance of agape. The Son of Man is able at this point not only to remain upright, but to exert greater force than that which the Arch Fiend in all his satanic might can oppose. He pushes Satan backwards from the pinnacle, "smitten with amazement" and "struck with dread and anguish," to plummet away in "ruin, and desperation, and dismay" straight back to Hell. "Confronted with a demonic either/or, Christ responds with both/and. Christ stands; Satan falls; and the angels carry Christ safely from the height to a feast" (Miller 167). The spiritual banquet is the inverse parallel of the demonic banquet offered to the Son of Man by the Prince of Darkness at the beginning of Paradise Regain'd.

  18. It is at the instant of his response on the pinnacle that Jesus, the Son of Man begins to become the Christ, [30] "True Image of the Father" (4.596), "The Son of God with Godlike force endu'd" (4.602), who by "vanquish[ing] by wisdom hellish wiles" (1.175) has proven himself "by merit call'd [God's] Son" (1.166) and "now . . . hast aveng'd / Supplanted Adam, and by vanquishing / Temptation, hast regain'd lost Paradise" (4.606-9, emphasis added). Though of course there is much ahead to do to complete his "glorious work" and "save mankind" (4.634-5), the events leading to the divine kairoi of Gethsemane and Golgotha will from this moment forward be merely dénouement, for as Satan in his pride has fallen into sin and damnation, Jesus in his humility has stood in righteousness and glory, and it is this antithesis (not rising/falling, strength/weakness, heaven/hell, damnation/ redemption, or any of the other mirroring pairs that inform Paradise Regain'd) that is the only lexical opposition that matters. In time to come, the Christ will of course ascend (physically) into Heaven as Satan has fallen (physically) into Hell; his meek and passive acts of sufferance, faith, and unity with the Father will have counterbalanced Satan's indignation, pride, and apostasy, just as His pacific "weakness" will prove more potent than Hell's bellicose "strength"; and his patience, humility and obedience at noon on a Cross fashioned from the wood of the Tree of Knowledge will have redeemed Adam and Eve's presumptive noontime disregard for the "one easy Prohibition" (and make amends for Satan's midnight act of disunity in Heaven as well). [31] But it is on the pinnacle "unobserv'd" that the unaided righteousness of the ultimate One Just Man defeats the sophistical contortions of the Prince of Lies, a temporal victory that is sealed for eternity by God's almighty grace, and which, though more glorious than all of the conquests of all of the warriors of all of the world from the Iliad till the end of human time, has no truck whatsoever with earthly fame. Refreshed by the banquet of God's approbation, the greatest human hero of them all "home to his Mothers house private" (4.638-9) returns, unsung, unapplauded--and utterly unconcerned.

  19. Milton's avoidance of resurrecting the Passion narrative he had attempted in his youth out of season suggests, not that he was incapable of treating the subject with all of the honour and decorum it deserved, but that it was inconsistent with the limits of his inquiry as to what man (vs. God-in-man) can do with the talents he is given to serve his Maker, and thereby prove himself to be a true servant and son of God. In Paradise Regain'd, the figure many critics refer to erroneously as "Christ" (the Anointed, not the messianic Son of Man) is never once called by that name by the narrative voice: Satan's unreliable epithets aside, Milton calls his hero "the Son" (of Joseph, of God, of the Most High, God's beloved Son, no Son of mortal man) a total of twenty-eight times in the four books of the brief epic; "the Savior," twenty-one times; "the Messiah," five times; "Jesus," six times; and "our Morning Star," God's "living Oracle," "Israel's true King," the "True Image of the Father," and the "Queller of Satan," once each, [32] while Satan speaks of him once as "[God's] Anointed"--sixty-six epithetical references that in Milton's mind less directly link the human being in the wilderness with the suffering Christ on the Cross, and thereby allow us to perceive him as "one of us," a flesh and blood creature whose virtues are of heroic proportion, but whose achievements are still mortal and attainable, rather than hopelessly out of reach for the average sinner: [33]

      . . . Milton avoids the term [Christ] here because he is not writing only about the life of Christ, that unique being, Prophet, Priest, and King; he is writing about a composite generalized being whom he calls the Son of God in such an insistent way as to recall the opening of John's Gospel: 'But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God' (I,12); or the promise of Paul in Romans viii: 14: 'For as many as are led by the spirit of God, these are the sons of God.' Or, best of all, the words of John's first Epistle (iii, 1-3): 'Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure' (Martz 357).


  20. None of us can ever be Christ, and few of us will ever be Jesus, but all Christians can strive to be more like the second Adam than the first. One need not be a divinity to use the cognitive capabilities that are by birthright conferred by God on all rational creatures, and one need not be Jesus to understand that to obey any master but God (including our own desires, when they are in conflict with Heaven's) is to disobey God himself. As it did in Milton's own era, the world continues to teem with those whose "craft" is Belial-like "mixing somewhat true to vent more lies" (1.432-3), whose words are "dark / Ambiguous and with double sense deluding" (1.434-5) -- and we need not look far to find them. Heeding the implicit warnings of the diffuse epic and the brief epic and the tragick poem, we can listen with a wary ear and "stand" and "wait" as Jesus does (and as Adam, Eve, and Samson ultimately learn to do) when the time is wrong for us to move and act, and we can act, with intelligence, patience, and calm of mind, once we are inspired by the "rousing motions" of the Spirit. But that Spirit is, as Samson and all humankind must come to recognize, quite different in both form and substance from the yearnings of the ego: had Adam learned sooner "that to obey is best" (PL 12.561) there would have been no reason for the Cross.


All poetic citations are from Flannagan, The Riverside Milton. All prose citations are from Wolfe, The Complete Prose Works.

1. A year earlier, in the sixteenth stanza of the far more successful "On the Morning of Christs Nativity," he had acknowledged that the Babe who lay "yet in smiling Infancy" on Christmas morning ". . . on the bitter cross / Must redeem our loss," but made no further attempt to address the details of that event, except for a glancing reference in the last four lines of "Upon the Circumcision": the infant who "now bleeds to give us ease" as a result of the title ritual thus "seals obedience first with wounding smart / This day, but O ere long / Huge pangs and strong / Will pierce more near his heart" (11; 25-8). In Paradise Lost, Milton devoted thirteen lines of Book XII (411-24) to the Passion.

2. "The Passion," in Flannagan, The Riverside Milton, 52.

3. Even in the Trinity Manuscript, Milton contemplates "Christ Crucifi'd" (CPW 8:559) and "Christus patiens" (CPW 8:560) as potential subjects for tragedy, envisioning in the latter case "The Scene in ye garden [of Gethsemane], beginning fro[m] ye comming thither till Judas betraies & ye officers lead him [Christ] away"-but he refuses to face the Crucifixion head on. ("Ye rest," he says, will be conveyed "by message & chorus," noting that "his agony may receav noble expressions" nonetheless.)

4. See Chapter 8 of Shawcross, Paradise Regain'd: "Worthy T'Have Not Remain'd So Long Unsung" ("The Poem as Sequel and Companion"), which posits, essentially, that "the wisdom of putting these two works together in the same volume is the commerce which is thus established between them: we see in Samson what the Son as Man could have become had he succumbed to any of the temptations of Satan, and in the Son we see what Samson as the 'great Deliverer'--the ironic earthly counterpart of the true 'heavenly' deliverer--should have been" (104).

5. "The thought that Ellwood's remark was necessary for Milton to conceive of what became the substance of Paradise Regain'd is incomprehensible to me," he writes (Self, 150). Milton's later comment to Ellwood, on showing him the manuscript of the brief epic, that "'This is owing to you: for you put it into my Head, by the Question you put to me at Chalfont; which before I had not thought of"

does not require that construction. The "it" is not the thought of the poem but the need for the poem, two very different matters. "It" is not a poem on how to regain Paradise, for surely Milton had not only long contemplated the message of the eventual poem but had included its substance already in Paradise Lost. "It" was the need for a more explicit statement to belay questions about Paradise found. "It" is the physical, separate work itself and its need, which before he had not thought of and which thought Ellwood put into his Head.

6. See Hughes, "Introduction" to Samson Agonistes, in Complete Poems, 531.

7. Although the thirteen lines quoted (12.411-24) in endnote 1 above do not specifically reference the temptation in the wilderness, the biography of Jesus is related by Michael in response to Adam's plea to learn "what oft my steddiest thoughts have searcht in vain," i.e., where and when the battle between the Son of Man and the Serpent will occur, and "what stroke shall bruise the Victors heel"? (12.375-85). Likewise, Samson is not an express part of Michael's prophecy for the race of man, but it is implicit in an historical catalogue that runs from Cain and Abel to the ascension of Christ and the building of his Church by the disciples.

8. See my article "'In this dark world and wide': Samson Agonistes and the Meaning of Christian Heroism." The viability of the notion that these works were composed at least to some degree in parallel over an extended period of time, and that they are thus a conceptual trilogy (regardless of the dates of their actual publication), is confirmed independently by Shawcross's apprehension of the same insight with the even greater warrant of his meticulous biographical scholarship, in Chapter 9 of The Self and the World. To my embarrassment, I was unaware of the existence of that impressive contribution to Milton studies at that time that my Samson article was written--though the independent nature of our respective perceptions would seem to make them all the more valid.

9. Edward Phillips, The Life of Milton, in Flannagan, 27.

10. F.R. Leavis, cited in Burnett, 122.

11. See endnote 5 above, and the balance of Shawcross's excellent discussion of the subject in Chapter 9 ("Moves toward the Great Purpose") in The Self and the World. Parker records that, having at Milton's request read the original manuscript of Paradise Lost, the flattered Thomas Ellwood (in his own words) "modestly but freely" responded to Milton's query as to how he liked it. "Indeed," says Parker, "the Quaker ventured a suggestion."

'Thou hast said much here of paradise lost,' he declared, 'but what hast thou to say of paradise found?' Milton did not answer. For 'some time' there was silence, Ellwood wondering, perhaps, whether he had somehow offended his distinguished friend. When the poet finally spoke again, it was to change the subject completely.

Our sole authority for this tale is Ellwood himself, who was completely, even painfully, honest, if not very imaginative or very perceptive. It is quite clear how he later interpreted Milton's silence: he felt that he had given the poet an absorbing idea, and that Milton had at once lost himself in thoughts of a possible sequel to his epic. What the humourless young Quaker failed to realize, in his eager excursion into literary criticism, is that Paradise Lost (at least in its printed version) has a number of very pointed and eloquent things to say of 'paradise found'. We may conjecture, therefore, that the poet's silence was compounded of disappointment and moody self-criticism. Had he failed to communicate his belief in a 'paradise within,' or was Ellwood merely a careless reader? Ellwood was, of course, an intelligent, earnest Christian; he had suffered much because of his religion; he was the sort of person for whom the poem has been composed. Milton had entrusted the precious manuscript to his care and perusal, partly because he was grateful to the young man, but also, we may supposed, because the devout Quaker's response might show to what extent the epic spoke to Christians of all faiths. Did the very nature of the story of the Fall, with its necessary stress upon the sin of disobedience, obscure the present and future rewards of virtue? Was the poem, because of its material, negative rather than positive in emphasis? Could any poem artistically illustrate the possibility of a 'paradise within'? These questions, and others like them, may have passed through Milton's head as he sat quietly in his cottage at Chalfont, while Tom Ellwood, his hat on his head and another 'Thou' on the tip of his tongue, considered breaking the awkward silence-and decided against it (597-8).

12. In the interest of avoiding potential confusion, I have altered references to "Christ" in direct quotations pertaining to the hero of Paradise Regain'd to read "Jesus." For the reasoning behind that substitution, please see endnote 29, below.

13. In Mark (14:36) and in Luke (22:42), Jesus says this only once; in John 18, not at all; in Matthew, he says it first as 26:39, and again as cited. (This does not include the observations that "he prayed [again], saying the same words" at Matthew 26:44 and Mark 14:39).

14. "Dream not of this fight, / As of a Duel, or the local wounds / Of head or heel," Michael tells Adam in Book XII of Paradise Lost (386-91). "Not therefore joins the Son / Manhood to Godhead, with more strength to foil / Thy enemy, nor so is overcome / Satan..."

15. Like so many of the other temptations Satan offers Jesus in the desert, this one, too, involves a seemingly impossible choice: either to obey Satan and scripture, and thereby disobey God, or not to obey Satan, and thereby both obey and disobey God. In Book I, ch. xi of the Christian Doctrine (CPW 6:391), Milton points out that sin can be committed in a variety of ways, one of which is

Through omission: Matt.xii.30: he who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me, scatters, similarly Luke xi.23 and vi.9, where not to save a man is considered the same as destroying him. Matt.xxv.42: I was hungry and you did not give; James iv.17: a man who knows how to do right and does not do it, is in the power of sin [emphasis added].

Such entrapments (which are much more sophisticated than the simple logic problems Satan sets up for Eve in Paradise Lost) are to my mind the real drama of the brief epic: will Jesus see through mazey tangles of the Devil's lexical legerdemain, and avoid the intellectual temptation to subscribe to specious logic? The deftness of Jesus's responses attests to his single-minded devotion to God, and his recognition that to do anything the Devil tells him to do is wrong, no matter how "right" it may seem. (On the provenance issue, please see endnote 21, below.)

16. During the central temptation, for example, Eve twice informs her reptilian guide that what he suggests is the object of Divine interdiction, saying in the first instance,

Serpent, we might have spared our coming hither,
Fruitless to mee, though fruit be here to excess . . .
Of this tree we may not taste or touch;
God so commanded, and left that Command
Sole Daughter of his voice.

Only six lines later, she repeats the admonition, and this time reiterates the promised punishment:

. . . Of the Fruit
Of each tree in the Garden we may eat,
But of this fair Tree amidst
The Garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat
Thereof, nor shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

God's prohibition is invoked in paraphrase by the Serpent himself "with [rhetorical] show of Zeal and Love / To Man, and indignation at his wrong" (9.665-6) an additional four times before Eve actually reaches for the Fruit (9.684-5; 9.693-5; 9.713), and is echoed again in the soliloquy immediately preceding her fateful act another four times thereafter (9.750; 9.753; 9.758-9; and 9.762-3)-a total of nine times altogether. It is clear that in her case, even repetitive words to the wise are insufficient.

17. I cannot help but be reminded of the difference between the old priest of the title and young Father Damien in William Blatty's The Exorcist, in illustration of the difference between Jesus and Eve. The old priest knows that, Odysseus-like, he must stop his ears (and eyes) and believe nothing of the figure on the bed, but the young priest succumbs to the illusion of his filial guilt, in the form of an apparition of his elderly, invalid, and institutionalized "mother," pleading in broken English, "Dimmi, why you do this to me?"

18. As Georgia Christopher points out in "Milton and the reforming spirit,"

The lack of anything numinous in the hero's presence or his speech tends to mislead us along with Satan, for we expect an emotional effusion to accompany an access of the spirit . . . 'heartburnings' of the sort found in Puritan diaries. Instead, [Christ's] forensic precision is almost chilling, and his failure to defend himself makes him appear emotionally empty. But this absence of claims of the self is an important indication of the hero's hidden identity as Bearer of the Spirit. . . . Reformation thought considered self-mastery, not sensuality, the quintessence of flesh, to which it opposed self-denial, or self-emptying in favour of governance [by] the Spirit. To surrender the egotistic flesh to the governance of the Spirit therefore required, not self-mastery, but an opening of oneself to 'Light from above, from the fountain of light' (4.289)-(204)

19. See Georgia Christopher, "Milton and the reforming spirit."

20. As John Shawcross suggests, Jesus "neither grants such doctrine true or not true, but he certainly does not reject it as meaningful for some people. The implication is unhidden: there are those who do not receive the light from above which is open to them. . . . For them some intermediary presentation of 'moral prudence, with delight' [4.261] is necessary, and it is for this reason that Spenser was a better teacher than Aquinas, since the 'delight' is missing from the latter's work. For humankind Milton's Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes are needed when there are those who have not received the light from above" (Paradise Regain'd 113)-or, one might hasten to add, when like Ellwood, they have not received it from Paradise Lost.

21. "In God's plan for the world, everything will occur at its proper moment, 'when time shall be.' Such moments, designated for certain events, were called kairoi by the Greeks and the New Testament writers, the most famous Biblical reference being John vii.6: 'My time (kairos) is not yet come[; but your time (kairos) is always ready].'" Laurie Zwicky, "Kairos," 271-3.

22. One hesitates to assert the Christian Doctrine as evidence of Miltonic thought in light of the current authorship debate (see, for example, William B. Hunter, "The Provenance of the Christian Doctrine," Studies in English Literature 32 (1992): 129-42, and the responses by Barbara Lewalski (143-54) and John Shawcross (155-62) in the same volume; Gordon Campbell, et. al., "The Provenance of De Doctrina Christiana" in Milton Quarterly, Vol. 31:3 (October 1997), and Hunter's and Sellin's "Responses" and "Further Responses" in Vol. 33:2 (May 1999) of the same journal); along with Hunter's monograph "Visitation Unimplor'd": Milton and the Authorship of De Doctrina Christiana. (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne UP, 1998). The arguments on both sides being both complicated and persuasive, however, until the contention is resolved definitively, it is unreasonable to do otherwise. Therefore: according to Book I, ch. xi of the Christian Doctrine (CPW 6:391), Milton considered sin not properly an action, explaining that

the second subdivision of sin, after evil desire, is the evil action or crime itself, which is commonly called 'actual sin,'" which can be "committed not only through actions . . . but also through words and thoughts and even through the omission of good action. It is called 'actual' not because sin is really an action, on the contrary it is a deficiency, but because it usually exists in some action. For every action is intrinsically good; it is only its misdirection or deviation from the set course of law which can properly be called evil. So action is not the material out of which sin is made, but only the ŰB@6,\:gL@L, the essence or element in which it exists.

The passage is glossed by Northrop Frye in "The Story of All Things" (Five Essays, 20-21) as follows:

An act is the expression of the energy of a free and conscious being. Consequently, all acts are good. . . . Evil or sin implies . . . the loss or lack of power to act. . . . What happens when Adam eats the forbidden fruit then is not an act, but the surrendering of the power to act. . . . It appears to be an act, but it is really the giving up of the possibility of action . . . a refusal to act at all.

Milton likewise held that spiritual death consisted "in that extinction of righteousness and of the liberty to do good, and in that slavish subjection to sin and the devil, which is, as it were, the death of the Will" (The Christian Doctrine I: xii); CPW 6:395.

23. "When men stood in their 'state of good,'" he writes, "they declined to move. The point is one that Milton will make repeatedly in his poetry: the impulse to action, to change, to sequence, is always sinful because it has its source in a desire to be separate, to break away from the corporate existence of those who live and move in God . . . . The wish that we be united with God's celestial consort . . . is a wish that we not be heard, that we utter sounds in such a way as to remain silent. The man who wants to sing alone is like the man who wants to stand alone, raised by his own merit to some bad eminence" ("Action" 519-20). This is one of the rare instances in which Dean Fish and I strenuously disagree.

24. Paradise Lost, 1.660-1, "Peace is despair'd, / For who can think submission?"

25. Sonnet XIX.12-13, "When I Consider . . . ." Note Satan's admission that "what [God] bids I do" (1.376).

26. See Laurie Zwicky's excellent discussion of this concept in her article "Kairos in Paradise Regained: The Divine Plan."

27. Jesus of course recognizes the "ground of enmity" between him and the "aged man in Rural weeds" almost immediately, despite the latter's putative offer of "friendship" and "hospitality" (in contrast also to the Redcrosse Knight's credulous acceptance of Archimago in sheep's clothing). Rather than trusting in his professed benevolence as Eve trusts in the serpent's, Jesus is wary of the purported "swain's" opening gambit, ("Sir, what ill chance hath brought thee to this place, / So far from path or road of men . . . ?" 1.321-2) from the start, and challenges his "benefactor" repeatedly, demanding to know "and with my hunger what hast thou to do?" (2.390), "But what concerns it thee when I begin / My everlasting Kingdom? Why art thou / Solicitous? What moves thy inquisition?", "But whence to thee this zeal?", etc.. Eve is likewise capable of exercising due caution, having been forewarned on several occasions that her seducer is in their midst; her alibi is thus an elegant piece of sophistry which, like Satan's (or Eikon Basilike's fallacious rhetoric) dazzles on the surface, but disintegrates under the intense scrutiny of logic.

28. At 4.501(and see endnote 32 below), Satan calls Jesus "Son of David, Virgin-born; / For Son of God to me is yet in doubt," and says (4.515-21) that he has been observing him from the moment of his birth into the world to the present time,

          that I might learn
In what degree or meaning thou art call'd
The Son of God, which bears no single sence;
The Son of God I also am, or was,
And if I was, I am; relation stands;
All men are Sons of God; yet thee I thought
In some respect far higher so declar'd.

29. This is an important distinction, it seems to me, and I disagree with Neil Forsyth ("Biblical and Classical Allusion in Paradise Regained" 201) that "the poem does not resolve [the] issues" "that exercised the tradition about the nature of Christ. Man or God? If both, how? . . . however closely or ingeniously we read the lines" (201). Rather than an amnesiac Jesus who recollects his godhead in fits and starts (as Lewalski and others have viewed him), or "a divine spirit who takes on the phantom appearance of manhood"--which makes Milton guilty of "the ancient heresy of Docetism," as Hugh MacCallum perceptively remarks (250)--the Son of Man must be entirely mortal in thought, word, and deed throughout the confrontation in the desert to avoid Empson's allegations of God's having stacked the deck: a "sacrifice" in which nothing of any value or permanence is forfeit is no sacrifice at all. As MacCallum says, "there is no need to assume that the Son experiences the fitful return of his memory of the divine life that preceded his Incarnation. . . . Rather he draws upon all his powers of rational insight, logic, and human memory in order to apprehend the revelation of scripture concerning the Messiah in terms of his experience on the human level. There is 'Light from above, from the fountain of light' (4.289), but it illuminates the man's mind, imagination, and judgment" (237) rather than piecemeal restoring his divinity. Jesus may know more about reason and obedience than the average human being, but he does so only in the same way that Mozart and Beethoven had special knowledge of musical composition, or Da Vinci or Raphael or Michelangelo knew about painting or working in marble: they express the divine, without being divinities themselves.

30. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church glosses "Christ" (Gr. kristos) as "lit. the 'Anointed One'," the Greek translation of the Hebrew 'Messiah' (278). Under the entry for 'Messiah' (906), it indicates that "the term denotes a person invested by God with special powers and functions," which was "rendered from the Greek by kristos (from krio, 'anoint'), from which the title 'Christ' derives. . . . According to the Synoptic Gospels," the article continues (907), the Lord was expressly proclaimed as the Christ or Messiah by the angels at His birth (Lk.2.11) and His fulfillment of this role is divinely attested before his birth," though

in His public ministry, His Messiahship was acclaimed at first only by demoniacs (Lk.4.41) and suspected by John the Baptist (Mt.11.3). He himself did not at this period openly acknowledge His Messiaship. St. Peter's explicit confession of him as the Christ at Caesarea Philippi (Mk.8.29; Mt.16.16) seems to mark a turning point; on this occasion the Lord did not disclaim the title and acc[ording] to Mt.16.17 He acknowledged it fully. He still, however, charged His disciples that they should not tell anyone that he was the Christ (Mk.8.30; Mt.16.20), doubtless because of the current political implications of the title and the need to prepare the disciples for its fulfilment through the Passion and Resurrection rather than the immediate establishment of a visible Kingdom of God. When at his trial Jesus was asked by the High Priest the direct question, 'Art thou the Christ?', He replied in the affirmative (Mk.14.61 f.).

Therefore, despite its persistent use in Milton scholarship, the term "Christ" to denote the hero of Paradise Regain'd is not acceptable.

31. See Albert Cirillo, "Noon-Midnight."

32. Louis Martz says the phrase "Son of God" occurs thirty-nine times (356), but he is including Satan's references to Jesus in the count; those uttered in the narrative voice only are catalogued in the table below (the numbers refer to the lines in which they appear):

Reference PR Book 1 PR Book II PR Book III PR Book IV
Son of Joseph 23 n/a n/a n/a
Son of God 36; 183; 335; 346; 406 4; 242 1; 145; 252 109; 365; 396; 420; 431; 484; 550; 580; 602; 626; 636
My Son, the Son [of God]: 166; 173 260 n/a n/a
[God's] beloved Son: 285 n/a n/a n/a
No Son of mortal man 234 n/a n/a n/a
Son of the Most High n/a n/a n/a 633
[God's] Anointed n/a 50 n/a n/a
(the), (our) Saviour 187; 406; 465; 493 283; 338; 378 43; 121; 181; 266' 346; 386 25; 179; 285; 367; 401; 442; 615; 636
The Messiah 245; 254 4; 32; 43 n/a n/a
Jesus n/a 4; 317; 322; 378; 432 n/a 560
Our Morning Star: 294 n/a n/a n/a
[God's] living Oracle: 460 n/a n/a n/a
Israel's true King n/a n/a 441 n/a
True Image of the Father n/a n/a n/a 596
Queller of Satan n/a n/a n/a 634


Here again, George Herbert's "Thanksgiving" (The English Poems of George Herbert, C.A. Patrides, ed., London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1974), 56, illuminates the point: "Oh King of grief! . . . how shall I grieve for thee? . . . how shall I imitate thee?' the poet asks, then proceeds to catalogue one by one the methods by which he proposes to "revenge" himself on God's love ("If thou dost give me wealth; I will restore / All back unto thee by the poore. / If thou dost give me honour; men shall see, / The honour doth belong to thee," etc.), ending,

Nay, I will read thy book, and never move
          Till I have found therein thy love;
Thy art of love, which I'le turn back on thee,
          O my deare Saviour, Victorie!
Then for thy passion-I will do for that-
          Alas, my God, I know not what


Works Cited


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2000-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).