Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Christ and the Temptation

Today's class discussion had me considering a question that was asked:  Why did Milton choose the action for this sequel called Paradise Regained to be something that at first glance seems relatively minor?  Why not make Paradise Regained the story of the Second Coming, or of the Crucifixion, or of the Resurrection?  Why follow up such a grand epic like Paradise Lost, with such a small epic (while still giving it such a monumental sounding name like Paradise Regained)?

Looking at the text and considering a few things from Christian teachings, I believe that there are a couple of reasons for this.  One reason for Milton choosing to tell this story of the temptations of Christ to explain how paradise was/is regained is the fact that this story immediately follows Jesus' confirmation by the Holy Spirit of God that he is the Son of God, thus making all his actions in that moment the first true test of his divinity.  

Christ, in Milton's story, says after hearing the voice of the Father declaring him to be the Son of God that it was "by which [sign] I knew the time / Now full, that I no more should live obscure, / But openly begin, as best becomes / The authority which I derived from Heav'n" (ll. 286-289).  For the first time, Jesus has confirmation that of what he had been exercising faith in:  that he is the Anointed Savior of mankind.  It is significant then, that Satan, who seems to have been aware of Jesus before then, waited until after this confirmation to try to tempt Jesus directly.  If Jesus were to fall after having received a perfect knowledge, all mankind would be irrevocably lost.  As such, Jesus' steadfastness in resisting temptation makes it the first of his many triumphs over Satan.

What's more, I believe that the simplicity of the narrative and the narrowness of the scope adds to the rhetorical effect of the story.  Whereas PL is a huge, expansive story cataloguing the fall of Adam and Eve (as well as the fall of Satan), PR is a smaller, simpler story because it is a story of redemption.  While Christ's redemption for all mankind was a huge, universe-altering event, the redemption that is offered to each person individually is by its nature a personal, intimate matter.  I think that Milton wanted this story of Christ resisting the devil to feel like a close, personal story more than an epic in the vein of PL.  The simpleness of the story also accentuates Christ's humility.

Concerning the temptations, I believe that there is a tradition that looks at the three temptations as allegorical of all the temptations that the rest of us face.  These temptations represent temptations of money, power, fame, impatience with God's timetable, the seeking of signs, etc.  There are some who also believe that that was the only time that Satan ever tried to tempt Jesus directly (or even indirectly in some cases).

What are your thoughts on why this episode from Christ's life was chosen to illustrate Paradise Regained?  Do you think this poem is shorter because of aesthetic reasons?  Because the main characters (and essential premise) had already been introduced in Paradise Lost?  Because it was just a smaller story?  Because Milton was tired and didn't want to write that much this time around?  Let me know what you think.


  1. I do think that the fact that some of the characters have already been introduced is a big reason why PR is significantly shorter. Just think about how much of PL was descriptions of characters or their history...I really like that you said the simpleness of the story may be because of Christ's humility. I think that's lovely.

  2. I think the respective lengths are a key detail. PL is this huge sweeping epic detailing the fall of two major factions in Christian theology, and Milton spends a great deal of time leading the reader to care about both parties. PR is smaller in scope, and since the lead figure is Christ Milton doesn't need to spend as much time convincing the reader to support His cause.

  3. I really like what you said about PR being a personal story. PL was the story of the fall if mankind, it already happened. But the regaining of paradise, that is still happening individually for each of us. We can only reach that paradise through Christ. So I totally agree with the notion that Milton is hoping to engender a personal relationship with the reader and Christ as we area irking in our own little segments of Paradise Regained.

  4. I hadn't thought of PR being an intimate story, talking about our relationship with the Savior. I really like that idea. Something interesting to note why it may be smaller is that in PL, Satan is having an actual debate with Eve and convincing her degree by degree to take the fruit. I think Milton had to build up to that moment with setting up the story to help us realize why each character did what he or she did. But in PR, Christ never gives Satan an ounce of control. I think here, there couldn't be a build up of whether Christ would be tempted by Satan because there was never any doubt. There isn't really a debate, just Satan saying things and Christ refuting them.