Monday, November 11, 2013

Humility and "Active Passivity" in Paradise Regained

I had a couple of thoughts as I finished Paradise Regained.  One is concerning the ending.  The final image that Milton chooses to leave us with is of Christ, having just defeated Satan in his temptations, simply returning home.  Milton writes, "Thus they the Son of God our Savior meek / Sung victor, and from Heav’nly feast refreshed / Brought on his way with joy; he unobserved / Home to his mother’s house private returned" (Book IV, ll. 636-639).  It's such a small image to end the story on, especially considering the context.  Jesus has just had his first victory over Satan, he has just partaken of a heavenly feast, and a chorus of angels have just told him "thou hast avenged / Supplanted Adam, and by vanquishing / Temptation, hast regained lost Paradise" and "thy glorious work / Now enter, and begin to save mankind" (Book IV, ll. 606-608, 634-635).  The ending does a couple of things for me:  One is that it again reinforces Christ's humility.  After such a triumph and a praising by the angels of heaven, Christ doesn't have a huge celebration to brag about himself to all of the world, but instead simply returns home to his mother, who has no doubt been worrying about him.  

Another thing is that it reinforces the theme of Christ's "active passivity," a seemingly paradoxical state.  Throughout the story we see Christ applying active faith in order to wait on the Father for instruction and enlightenment.  We see this from the start when Jesus says concerning his being compelled by the Spirit to go into the wilderness, "to what intent / I learn not yet, perhaps I need not know; / For what concerns my knowledge God reveals" (Book I, ll. 291-293).  We see it also in his final victory over Satan's final temptation on the pinnacle of the temple when Jesus, rather than summon angels to save him and give in to the fear that Satan tries to evoke in him, instead says simply, "Also it is written, / 'Tempt not the Lord thy God,' " he said and stood" (Book IV, ll. 560-561).  To stand against Satan's temptation, Christ literally just stands--he is actively passive against the temptation.  The endnote for these lines includes the note, "Christ announces that he is God, then enacts, by standing, his words" (location 25625).  At the end we see an enlightened Christ again returning to wait upon further instruction from the Father as to what course he must take in his mission.

Another thought I had as I read were Milton's adverbs in describing how Christ responded each time to Satan.  They serve as a kind of roadmap of Christlike virtues.  They all sort of follow the pattern of "Jesus ______ replied."  A few examples:
  • with unaltered brow (Book I, l. 493)
  • temperately (Book II, l. 378)
  • patiently (Book II, l. 432)
  • calmly (Book III, l. 43)
  • fervently (Book III, l. 121)
  • unmoved (Book IV, l. 109)
  • sagely (Book IV, l. 285)

Really this sets the example for all of us on how to respond to temptation and pressure to give in.

Finally, just as an endnote, I wanted to write a note or two on what I want to write on for the final essay.  I am intrigued by the idea of looking at the concept of overreachers in Milton's works and his influence on the overreachers in the literature that followed (such as Frankenstein or Byron's Manfred).  The topic intrigues me because Milton's Satan is sort of the ultimate overreacher.  In fact, Milton uses the phrase "over-reached" to describe Satan in PR (Book IV, l. 11).  Also, there is the fact that Milton could be considered something of an overreacher himself in that he was always striving for something seemingly just beyond his grasp, a sense of fame and greatness that he felt he was destined to.

I'm only just starting, so I haven't got much to go on yet.  I look forward to any input that you might have.

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