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64. The Son and the Father Talking
Paradise Lost III. 227-343
Father, thy word is past, man shall find grace;
And shall grace not find means, that finds her way,
The speediest of thy winged messengers,
To visit all thy creatures, and to all [ 230 ]
Comes unprevented, unimplor'd, unsought,
Happie for man, so coming; he her aide
Can never seek, once dead in sins and lost;
Attonement for himself or offering meet,
Indebted and undon, hath none to bring: [ 235 ]
Behold mee then, mee for him, life for life
I offer, on mee let thine anger fall;
Account mee man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom, and this glorie next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly dye [ 240 ]
Well pleas'd, on me let Death wreck all his rage;
Under his gloomie power I shall not long
Lie vanquisht; thou hast givn me to possess
Life in my self for ever, by thee I live,
Though now to Death I yield, and am his due [ 245 ]
All that of me can die, yet that debt paid,
Thou wilt not leave me in the loathsom grave
His prey, nor suffer my unspotted Soule
For ever with corruption there to dwell;
But I shall rise Victorious, and subdue [ 250 ]
My Vanquisher, spoild of his vanted spoile;
Death his deaths wound shall then receive, and stoop
Inglorious, of his mortal sting disarm'd.
I through the ample Air in Triumph high
Shall lead Hell Captive maugre Hell, and show [ 255 ]
The powers of darkness bound. Thou at the sight
Pleas'd, out of Heaven shalt look down and smile,
While by thee rais'd I ruin all my Foes,
Death last, and with his Carcass glut the Grave:
Then with the multitude of my redeemd [ 260 ]
Shall enter Heaven long absent, and returne,
Father, to see thy face, wherein no cloud
Of anger shall remain, but peace assur'd,
And reconcilement; wrauth shall be no more
Thenceforth, but in thy presence Joy entire. [ 265 ]
[Note, because of this section's length, I only provide about forty lines. Most of what I say below relates to these forty lines]
Milton's Son has stressed human ability in lines 228-231; now he returns to the wonderful things that will be worked out for humans by the Father and the Son. Humans cannot bring "Atonement for himself or offering meet" (234); they need help. They need a mediator or redeemer. For the rest of the Son's speech we have, in brief and compressed overview, a presentation of the history of salvation. Four brief points about the speech should be made: (1) the arresting literary opening; (2) the stress on satisfying God's anger; (3) the Scriptural nature of almost every line; and (4) flow of the ideas.
(1) The Son has volunteered to go to earth. Note the literary effect of the repeated "me's" (236-37):
"Behold me then; me for him, life for life
I offer; on me let thine anger fall"
An older commentator points to the similarity of thought in Virgil's Aeneid 9.427: "Me, me, adsum qui feci: in me convertite ferrum" or "Me, here I am, I did it! Turn your blades on me. . ." Repeated "me's" focus the action on the cost of the Son's decision to redeem.
(2) But redemption or atonement happens in the context of the traditional penal substitution theory of the atonement. Christ "substitutes" himself to appease the divine wrath, turning it aside so that it is directed at him and not at mankind. "On me let thine anger fall." The wrath of God must be satiated; Christ will receive it. Would that Milton had found a more appealing doctrine of the atonement that would "fit" his progressive doctrine of human freedom. Note also that the two bodies or entities demonstrating anger here are God and Death (l. 241--"on me let Death wreck all his rage"). Prof. Rogers, in his Yale lectures, would like to see Milton adopting a more "modern" view of the atonement--stressing a "debt" to be paid rather than anger to be satiated, and though that is present in the text (see below), the sole emphasis on that idea is, in my judgment, misplaced.
(3) As Milton lays out the course of salvation history in highly compressed and vigorous language, almost every literary move he makes is dependent on Scriptural language. I will only illustrate a few instances. Let's begin even before his speech.
(a) Line 225, "In whom the fulness dwells of love divine," is taken from Colossians 2:9
(b) Line 233 "dead in sins and lost," comes from Colossians 2:13
(c) The notion of the Son's putting off heavenly glory in 239-240 is familiar from Philippians 2:5-11.
(d) Line 243-44, "thou hast given me to possess/ Life in myself for ever," comes right from John 5:26.
(e) the constellation of ideas in lines 247-249, centering on the Father's not leaving the Son in the "loathsome" grave in order to face "corruption" is derived from Psalm 16:10, which was taken up in the early Christian preaching in Acts 2:27. These lines, as we all know, will be significant for GWF Handel in Messiah, less than one century later
(f) the notion that death has lost its "sting" or power, in lines 250-52 is the subject of Paul's reflection in I Corinthians. 15:54-56
(g) the idea that the Son "Shall lead Hell captive maugre (in spite of) Hell" (255) is drawn from Psalm 68:18, taken up in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:8.
These aren't all the explicit references to Scripture, but they show that Milton was so conversant with the Biblical text that it infused his telling the story of redemptive history at every turn. Likewise, those who desire to be "Miltonists" today, or who would like to say they know PL well, have to be well-versed in the text and texture of Scripture.
(4) Only a few ideas in the Son's speech still need mentioning. The Son leaves the safe and agreeable confines of the Father's side to come and die for mankind. He will die but will not long remain under the "gloomy power" of Death (242). He is paying a debt, to be sure (and this theology of the atonement can co-exist alongside the penal substitutionary theory), and "All that of me (i.e., the human nature of the Son) can die" will die (246). The last is a felicitious line, because it recognizes the incongruity of the eternal Son's dying, while, at the same time, honoring the theological necessity of "death for death." Milton isn't trying to enter into significant theological controversy here, for a change. But death shall only be the first act, for then will come the rising from the grave, the rescue of the "captives" from Hell, the punishment of Death, with his "Carcass [to] glut the Grave" (259), and the triumphant entry into heaven along with the redeemed. Then there will no longer be "anger," which is characteristic of God and Death today; there will be peace, reconciliation and joy. It is all set, and the Son will do this sometime in the future. Just as in the Aeneid, where the prophet "foresees" the great days of Rome even before Rome is a historical twinkle in anyone's eyes, so here we have the completion and summing up of all things even before we meet Adam and Eve in the garden.
Conclusion--The Father Responds
Lest we think that the Son has been devising this sceheme of salvation on his own, the interlude in lines 266-73 stresses several times the obedience of the Son. We have his "filial obedience" (269) on full display. He is glad to offer himself as a sacrifice; "he attends the will/ Of his great Father" (270-71). What really can the Father say to all of this? Since Milton has just stressed the obedience of the Son, no mention of this as agreeable to the mind of the Father is necessary. So, in the next 70 lines, from 274-343, we have the Father's "filling in" some of the details of salvation history that the Son hasn't mentioned, as well as confirming what the Son has mentioned.
For example, God mentions that the Son will take on human nature and be born of a virgin (280-85). Scripture is also centrally important to the Father in this passage. "As in him (i.e., Adam) perish all men, so in thee/ As from a second root, shall be resotr'd/ As many as are restor'd" (287-89) comes directly from I Corinthians 15:22, but with an interesting twist. The Apostle Paul had stressed that in Christ shall "all" be made alive. But Milton isn't ready for the implicit universalism of that verse, and so he mentions that the restore dwill be "as many as are restor'd" and not "all." Once these new twists are given, the Father repeats the Son's ideas. The Son will die and rise (296), and redeem what "hellish hate/ So easily destroy'd" (300-01).
But then the lines conclude with a glorious ending--the Son, having taken on this lower duty, will be "Anointed universal king" (317) and all power will be given him by the Father. This is indeed a promotion, since previous to this time he just did things at the beck and call of the Father. Quoting again from one of his favorite passages, Philippians 2, Milton has the Father say to the Son: "All knees to thee shall bow, of them that bide/ In Heav'n, or Earth, or under Earth in Hell," (321-22). Then, it will be time to wrap up all history, where the "dread tribunal" will be held (326). It is Christ's tribunal, and Christ will judge all at this "general doom" (328). The earth will be burned up, in agreement with II Peter, and the new heaven and earth that Revelation 21 promised shall come. The result, quoted from I Corinthians 15:28, is that God shall be "All in all," 341.
Quite grand, to be sure, but none of this action has yet begun. That is why, after a long angelic chorus, from 344-415, we return to the most interesting character of PL, Satan....