The Turmoil of Milton’s World Reflected in Paradise Lost
"To explain the ways of God to men" (Invocation, 26) Milton loftily proclaims his goal in writing Paradise Lost. He will, he asserts, clarify many ambiguities of the Bible itself. Thereby begins one of the greatest epic poems in literary history – and the war of the sexes is raised to new heights. Milton claims to be the mouthpiece of God. If so, God was quite the rhetorician, not to mention misogynist. A being of absolute reason, he fails to understand how his reasonless creations can be devoid of allegiance to his person. A strict and orderly God, he brings a case against his own brain-children, and thus condemns himself.
Allegiance is a key issue in untying the political knot fastened in Paradise Lost. Allegiance between creator and created, between king and subject, between man and woman. Adam and Eve owe God allegiance for their lives. Genesis doesn’t address this; the idea is implicit in the text. In Genesis, we are led to believe that God wished for his creations to be faithful and obedient in accordance with his wishes. Milton, in personifying God and the first human beings, takes this concept one step further. In bringing God down to man through the vehicle of the epic poem, Milton attributes to God the capacity for reason. God does not act arbitrarily: each action is planned with a specific end in mind.
Loyalty is important because it can be used, in the field of reason, to prove innocence. Innocent beings have no understanding of inferiority, power, or debt; and therefore no grasp of even the necessity for loyalty. Milton’s God is a God of reason – but his creations, Milton asserts, were wholly innocent. The question, then, that Genesis poses and Milton addresses is: Can God expect to be faithfully obeyed by his innocent creations when those creations, by their very innocence, have no comprehension of allegiance?
Milton is not only anthropomorphizing God, he invests his God character with his own personal religious ideology. A far cry from the Old Testament God of fire and wrath, Milton’s God is orderly. God looks for "proof that they could have given sincere, for true allegiance, constant faith, or love" (III: 103-105) from his creations. Herein lies the paradox: God looks for what he has not instilled. Men do not have a knowledge of good and evil, as God’s angels do. It is strongly implied that this knowledge is required to recognize power and the idea of a creator.
Milton, unwittingly or no, seems to draw the conclusion that, if men were only possessed of the concept of allegiance in their state of innocence (a paradox as we now understand humankind and the state of innocence) the fall from grace would have been avoided altogether. How can God call the Fall of mankind the fault of mankind when Eve, tempted by Satan, is not possessed of adequate knowledge to form a "right" decision? For faith in power and a comprehension of truth, experience and knowledge are in...