|Texts and Contexts|
When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet; All sheep and oxen, yea and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea. (Psalm 8:3-8, AV)
Doing our taxes I found that my wife had written checks to a salon called “Glorious Crown.” She is named Stephanie (Gr. ‘crown’), and I thought of Proverbs 16:31 (New KJV), “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of righteousness”—or a gold rinse. But the text nearer to hand was Psalm 8:5 (AV), “thou hast crowned him with glory and honor,” where him is the subject of “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (vs. 4). Milton’s alienated Adam refers to the Psalmist’s question when he says that faith can well admit that “all / The good which we enjoy, from Heav’n / descends,” but that it is harder to believe that any of our prayers that might ascend to heaven could be “So prevalent as to concern the mind / Of God high-blest” (PL 11.141-45). The Psalm itself goes on to celebrate man’s exalted place in the Creation, “a little lower than the angels” (8:5); Milton’s Satan concurs, when he observes that Adam and Eve are “Not spirits, yet to heavenly spirits bright / Little inferior” (IV, 361-62).
Although Adam finally trusts that sincere prayers will be heard by God, in Job the Psalmist’s topic has become more like, What is man, that thou dost afflict and try him? Milton’s pessimistic patriarch has thought that way too (see Job 7:12-21 with PL X, 743-844 and Psalm 144:3-4). One may also be warned by the questions and prayers of the Chorus of Danites in Samson Agonistes:
The Chorus implies that God should be taking more care over—or better care of—his human image.
God of our Fathers, what is man!
That thou towards him with hand so various,
Or might I say contrarious,
Temperest thy providence through his short course,
Not ev’nly as thou rulest
Th’ Angelic orders and inferiour creatures mute,
Irrational and brute. [...]
So deal not with this thy once glorious Champion,
The Image of thy strength, and mighty minister. (667-73; 705-06)
The poet Spenser, in The Faerie Queene also asks about the divine concern over mortals:
And is there care in heaven? and is there love
In heavenly spirits to these creatures bace,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is: else much more wretched were the cace
Of men, then beasts. But O th’exceeding grace
Of highest God, that loves his creatures so,
And all his workes with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed Angels, he sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked man, to serve his wicked foe.
How oft do they, their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour us, that succour want? [...]
They for us fight, they watch and dewly ward,
And their bright Squadrons round about us plant,
And all for love, and nothing for reward:
O why should heavenly God to men have such regard? (II.viii.1-2)
The angel guarding the body of the comatose Sir Guyon, by taking up a romance version of the defense of the fallen warrior in the military epic, is himself an answer to the question, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” Man is a fallen creature in mortal need of succor, and in mortal danger of defeat. And yet Milton’s narrator echoes this Spenserian passage (as well as Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28:12, on which “the angels were ascending and descending”) when describing Satan at the stairway to heaven; he says the Promised Land was “to God so dear” that “to visit oft those happy tribes, / On high beheasts his angels to and fro / Passed frequent” (PL III, 532-34).
Milton spends the first half of Paradise Lost accounting for both the favor and enmity emanating from supernatural quarters towards mankind. But Satan’s alienation and animosity precede any actual encounters with a human subject—so where did the fallen angel’s prejudice come from? It turns out there is an analogy between the devil’s well-known hostility to our humanity and our happiness, and the angels’ lesser known opposition to our creation. In traditional Jewish commentary the angelic resistance crystallized in the question from Psalm 8, which the rabbis came to understand as the principal intersecting text for the words of God’s proposal, “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:23). To whom was this invitation extended, if not the ministering angels? “[T]he Hebrews / still dare affirm that our eternal Father / spoke to surrounding angels in this guise, / and begged their help for what he was to do. / As if He needed servants for his work,” scoffs Tasso in Book VI of The Creation of the World, “servants, not much dissimilar from man / [...] / and quickly co-creators in the deed / that made man almost similar to God!” (VI, 1608ff., trans. Joseph Tusiani, p. 182).
But if the angels were present at the creation, who could more appropriately have asked, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” In the midrash the Psalmist’s wonder at God’s regard for man has morphed into an expression of rabbinic skepticism. The midrash on “let us make man” includes Rabbi Huna:
R. Huna said in the name of R. Aibu:Why give such a foreseeably royal screw-up a chance in the first place, if he’s only going to give heaven grief?
The ministering angels spoke up to the Holy One: “Master of universes, ‘what is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou thinkest him’ [Ps. 8:5]. This source of trouble—why should he be created?” (Genesis Rabba 8.5)
But God had the right, for he had used the imperial ‘we.’
Like Psalm 8, Genesis 1 tells us that God transferred much of his sovereignty to man. The Psalm’s own midrash finds in God’s mindfulness and man’s dominion an ingenious history of Israel’s virtuous leaders. But the angels are still demurring:
As the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating His universe, He sought to show the angels the excellence of the deeds of the righteous. But the angels said to God: What is man that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man that Thou rememberest him? etc. (Ps. 8:5).
But how much could one have known about man in advance?
“And God said: ‘Let us make man’ With whom did He take counsel?” [...] R. Hanina said: He consulted the ministering angels. R. Berekhiah said: When the Holy One was about to create Adam, he saw both the righteous and the wicked were to issue from him. [...] What did the Holy One do? He diverted the way of the wicked from before His sight, partnered the quality of mercy with Himself, and then created him.” (Genesis Rabba 8:3-4)God showed his mercy to non-entity by blindering his omniscience.
But God also suppressed the devil’s advocates: permanently. Thus:
R. Judah said in the name of Rab: When the Holy one was about to create man, He first created a company of ministering angels and asked them: Is it your desire that “we make man in our image”? They replied [...], what will be his deeds? God said: Such-and-such will be his deeds. Indignantly, they exclaimed: [...], “what is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou thinkest of him?” At once He stretched out his little fingers among them and consumed them with fire. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a)Good-bye, loyal opposition.
R. Simon said: When the Holy One was about to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and companies, some of them saying, “Let him be created,” while others urged, “Let him not be created.” Thus it is written, “Love and truth fought together, righteousness and peace combated each other.” Love said, “Let him be created, because he will perform acts of Love.” Truth said, “let him not be created because all of him will be falsehood.” [...] What did the Holy one do? He took truth and cast it to the ground, as is said “Thou didst cast down truth to the ground” (Dan. 8:12). [...] (Genesis Rabba 8.5)Medievalists will recognize here the debate dramatized as the Process du Paradise,1 but God also outflanks the disputants, purges heaven, and does what he will:
The elder R. Huna of Sephhoris said: While the ministering angels were parleying with one another and disputing with one another, the Holy One created Adam and then said: What are you parleying about? Man is already made. (Genesis Rabba 8.5)Milton’s God created Adam while Satan was down for the nine-count and the janitor Raphael in the meantime kept Chaos’s door shut.
—Now let us return to Glorious Crown. When the Son of Paradise Lost VII went out to create the world, he was “with radiance crowned / Of majesty divine, [...] and all his Father in him shone” (194-96). Perhaps relatedly, “Glad evening and glad morn crowned the fourth day,” when the Son created the sun’s “glorious lamp,” the first of the lights in the heavens (386, 370). When the Son of Milton’s Book III volunteers to die for man’s sin, the Father accepts him to be “in Adam’s room / The head of all mankind” (286-87) and the angels answer the Father’s insistence that “All knees to [the Son] shall bow” with “lowly reverent” genuflection toward the two divine thrones (321, 349): “and to the ground / With solemn adoration down they cast / Their crowns” (350-52). But “Then crowned again,” the angels hymn the Creator, and “of all creation first, / Begotten Son, divine smilititude” (365, 383-84). The pattern is this: coronation confirms distinction, and demands obeisance or provokes dis-obeisance; and obeisance is rewarded by re-coronation, dis-obediesance punished by disgracing. Abdiel asserts that the Father created “All things, even [Satan], and all the spirits of heaven” through the Son (837); and he adds that God “Crowned them with glory” (839). The revelation of the Son’s reign only makes them more illustrious, since the “reduc’t” Son’s re-duke-ifying makes him “One of [the angels’] number” (843).
But these heavenly promotions and otherworldly power-shifts—and the Star Wars they subsequently produce, as it were in another galaxy a long time ago—only touch us mortals at several removes. It is God among his court in Psalm 82:6, or indeed the newly appointed champion Marduk in the Babylonian Creation Epic, whom Satan echoes when he is trying to get some of his lost glory back in the infernal council of Book II: “Well have ye judg’d, well ended long debate, / Synod of Gods, and like to what ye are, / Great things resolved” (389-91). Satan, however, has also reported that sometime before the angels were ordered to worship the newly-begotten Son, they had already received the information about “some race called man, about this time / To be created like to us, though less / In power and excellence, but favored more / Of him who rules above” (PL II, 348-51)—Like us, but favored more? This alienation of likeness and migration of election might not have sat well with an incumbent. Metahistorically and aboriginally speaking, the announcements of the human race and the divine Son are proving to be doubles: each causes a primeval angelic demurral or upheaval. Knowing that Adam and Eve are going to fall, God’s chosen ambassador to them might well be rather diffident about the status of their new race. In Book VIII Raphael expresses his regard for Adam somewhat guardedly, as if God’s show of favor towards man were a quizzical matter among the angels, and still raising eyebrows in heaven:
“We see.” Raphael thus makes it clear that the angels were not consulted before the event. They may have some catching up to do, but the new species also needs to be put in its place, as no less obliged by service than the angels’ own, older kind.
Nor less think we in heaven of thee on earth
Than of our fellow servant, and inquire
Gladly into the ways of God with man:
For God we see hath honoured thee, and set
On man his equal love: (PL VIII, 224-28)
Why might Satan say that man was “favored more” than the angels? Is it because man was made “in the image of God?” “God on thee / Abundantly his gifts hath also pour’d,” Raphael says to Adam, “Inward and outward both, his image fair” (VIII, 219-21). “Adam was made in the divine image,” says Milton, “chiefly with respect to the soul” (De Doctrina I.vii; Bohn edn. of Milton’s Prose, 3:191). But is there any reason to believe that the angels’ souls were less generously endowed? No one says that the angels were not made in the image of God, but neither does anyone trustworthy have the kindness to say they were. The Son seems to try, when he says that Grace is “The speediest of [God’s] winged messengers, / To visit all [his] creatures” (III, 229-30), but at the time it is not clear that the angels themselves are all that gracious. The most prominent visit in this area of the poem is Satan’s; he plans “To visit oft this new creation” (III, 661). “What is man [...] that thou visitest him?” asked the Psalmist (8:5).
What prevents God’s winged messengers from volunteering in man’s behalf is that they don’t know how to die. This is because they have no memory of being born; in contrast, Satan’s daughter Sin remembers her own gestation. Sin’s procession from Satan parodies that of the Second Person of the Trinity, so the Son, knowing his own begetting by adoption, may have a comparable birth-memory. The angels don’t know how to surrender or sacrifice their own privileged immortality, or can’t be sure God would give it back: they lack the Scriptural prooftexts about God not suffering his Holy One to see corruption (Ps. 16:10, 49:9; Acts 2:27). Instead, they’ve seen the fall of the angels in the war in heaven—something blameworthy like leaking ichor and knowing pain could happen to you too! Like the virgin in A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, the angels suffer from a failure of innocence to get off first base, and to imagine bodily corruption as reparable, or to think of self-forfeit as a form of soul-making. The good angels have anticipated the merit-conserving advantages of resisting rebellion, but not the character-building benefits of sacrificing self-advantage—as if they’d been asked to die on behalf of the spotted owl. C.S. Lewis’ fiction recognizes this mechanism for redemption as the Star-Trekky “interspecies altruism” it is, but the stymied angels also embody Milton’s distaste for a theory of vicarious atonement through blood sacrifice (cf. “On the Circumcision”).
The good angels who don’t know how to fall down and die are comparable to the bad angels who don’t want to fall down and worship. Valmarana’s Demonomachia (1623), subtitled “The Battle of the Angels over the Incarnation,” had Satan rebel at God’s prophecy of the Incarnation; McColley (‘Paradise Lost’: An Account of Its Growth, 33) and Fowler reserve this information for the place in Book V (603-06) where God decrees that all of heaven must unite in worshipping the newly-declared, newly-begotten Son, on pain of falling into eternal damnation, and likewise for the challenge and rebellion issuing from Satan in Book VI. MacCallum (Milton and the Sons of God, 286 ), quotes Thomas Heywood’s Hierarchie of the blessed Angells (p. 339), to the same effect on the motive for Lucifer’s rebellion:
On the first day of the total action of Milton’s epic, however, the Son apparently assumes the nature of an angel, even if only an honorific one. In their kind, Milton’s angels are flesh, so this event may well count as a version of the Lucifer-offending Incarnation too.
Ambitiously his Hate encreasing still,
Dares to oppose the Great Creators Will:
As Holding it against his Justice done,
That th’Almighties sole begotten Sonne,
Mans nature to assume purpos’d and meant.
And not the Angels, much more excellent.
One of the demonstrable sources for two of Satan’s major speeches of frustration in Paradise Lost is Edward Fairfax’s translation of Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered (compare the defiances of PL IV, 39, “above thy sphere,” and GL IV, ix, “above the sun,” and the resolves of PL I, 105-06, “What though the field be lost? / All is not lost; the unconquerable will,” and with GL IV, xv, “I grant we fell on the Phlegrean green, / Yet good our cause was, [...] We lost the field, yet lost we not our heart,” and the unconquered will to glory in Tasso’s original Italian here [and note the comparison for Satan’s defeat at PL I, 576-77, to that of “all the Giant brood / of Phlegra”]). Tasso has the devil lament God’s overall scheme of salvation in terms of its cost to the fallen angels:
By means of the intervention of his darling Son, God will repopulate the heavens: restoring mortal men to the place for which they were are elected and from which the angels fell, and re-crowning them with the glory that the loser-angels lost.
That sinful creature man elected is,
And in our place the heavens possess he must,
Vile man! begot of clay, and born of dust.
Nor this suffic’d, but that he [God] also gave
His only Son, his darling, to be slain,
To conquer so hell, death, sin, and the grave,
And man condemned to restore again;
He brake our prisons, and would algates save
The souls that here should dwell in wo and pain
And now in Heav’n with him they live always
With endless glory crown’d, and lasting praise. (GL IV, ix-x)
When Satan resolves not to “deify” God’s power in Book I (“That glory ne’er shall his wrath or might / Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace / With suppliant knee, and deify his power [...]. That were shame [...] beneath / This downfall” [112-15]), he is surely thinking of the humiliating apotheosis of the Son in Book V, and his anger at having to “bend / The supple knee” (V, 787-88). But the Son-worship with which the right-thinking angels were “well pleased” (V, 617) is not unique to the fifth book. The equivalent demand for obeisance is also levied in Book III, which is where the Incarnation is actually in the cards on the table. This scene obliquely refers to the demonic hostility to God’s creating man, by God’s embarrassing of an angelic diffidence that falters in helping him. For this embarrassment is naturally followed by the new demand for allegiance to the Son and a second reduction of the newly federalized orders under him:
Based, like the original command in Book V (606-12), on a combination of Colossians 1:16 and Philppians 2:10, the demand appears a third time, in Abdiel’s reiterative re-subscription to it, after Satan has become openly defiant towards it (V, 813-18). As Phineas Fletcher’s devils confess: “We bent / Our armes ’gainst heaven, when scorning that faire lot / Of glorious blisse (when we might still have raign’d) / With him [God] in borrowed light, and joyes unstain’d, / We hated subject crownes, and guiltless blisse disdain’d” (The Locusts, or Appolonysts, Canto II, stanza 15). “We hated subject crownes” may also mean “we hated God’s crowning of a subject.”
Anointed unversal king, all power
I give thee, reign for ever, and assume
Thy merits; under thee as head supreme
Thrones, princedoms, powers, dominions, I reduce:
All knees to thee shall bow, of them that bide
In heaven, or earth, or under earth in hell (III, 317-22).
Since Milton’s God apparently failed to mention creating the spotted owls at the time he originally predicted some race about to be created called man, we may agree with Ephraim the Syrian, where he makes the typological case for the beforehandedness of the Son of God as a fortiori even stronger than that of Adam:
The cause of Adam was elder than all creatures, which were made for him, for to him[,] even to Adam[,] He [God] had respect continually, the Creator even while he was creating. Thus though Adam as yet was not, he was elder than all creatures. How much more then, my Lord [God], must this Thy manhood be elder, which in Thy Godhead is, from eternity with Him that begat Thee. (Ephraim Syrus, Nisbene Hymns XXXVIII.9, trans. in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 13, p. 200)The Second Person was before his begetting, as the prototypical Adam was before the creatures. But this sempiternal filiality is not, itself, very Miltonic, since at one point in De Doctrina Milton almost says that prior to the Incarnation God’s Son might well have lacked a soul. The Son’s begetting posterior to the angels certainly comports with the Miltonic denial of his eternal generation, if not his pre-existence. (Despite Abdiel’s reconstruction, Milton’s doctrine and his narrative are almost Socinian—Dryden’s Hind and the Panther calls Socinus the reanimation of Arius.)
The angels’ adverse reaction to Adam’s creation in the Jewish midrash parallels Satan’s reaction to the Son’s begetting in Milton’s epic. We are dealing with a myth, which is not a text, but a context, that is, the far-sighting of a cultural coherance, rather than the close reading of an authenticated scripture. The myth is found in a body of intertestamental material pertaining to Adam and a putative Adam-cult. Perhaps, originally, it was an Enoch-cult. For example, when the men of Enoch’s generation dragged the worship of God down to the level of idolatry, 3 Enoch says:
Thereupon the ministering angels conspired to bring a complaint before the Holy One, blessed be he. They said in his presence, “Lord of the Universe, what business have you with men, as it is written, ‘What is man (‘enosh) that you should spare a thought for him?’ It does not say here, ‘What is Adam?’ but, ‘What is Enosh?’ because Enosh is the chief of the idolators. Why did you leave the heaven of heavens above, the abode of your glory, the high and exalted throne which is in the height of ‘Arabot, and come and lodge with men who worship idols?” (3 (Hebrew Apocalypse of) Enoch 5:10-11; trans. by P. Alexander in James H. Charlesworth, gen. ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, in 2 vols., 1:260)Thus Enoch associates the midrashic objection to man with a degrading act of supernatural condescension. Why should the divine demean itself to and by an evil kind of worship? Why confer God’s glory on idolators, or let a higher being submit to worship at the shrine of a lower one?
Earlier in this particular text, three ministering angels complain simillarly against Enoch himself. Enoch is recounting his heavenly exaltation:
“[‘Uzzah, ‘Assah, and ‘Aza’el] said before the Holy One, blessed be he, ‘Lord of the Universe, did not the primeval ones give you good advice when they said, Do not create man!’ The Holy one, blessed be he, replied, ‘I have made and will sustain him; I will carry and deliver him.’ When they saw me they said before him, ‘Lord of the Universe, what right has this one to ascend to the height of heights. Is he not descended from those who perished in the waters of the Flood? What right has he to be in heaven?’ Again the Holy One, blessed be he, replied, and said to them, ‘What right have you to interrupt me? I have chosen this one in preference to all of you, to be a prince and a ruler over you in the heavenly heights.’ At once they all arose and went to meet me and prostrated themselves before me, saying, ‘Happy are you, and happy your parents, because your Creator has favored you.’ Because I am young in their company and a mere youth among them in days and months and years—therefore they call me ‘Youth.’” (3 (Hebrew Apocalypse of) Enoch 4:6-10, trans. in Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:258-59)The angels react to Enoch like those Hebrews who reject the leadership of Moses (Exod. 2:14, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?”), or like the sons of Leah who mistrust the princely pretenses of Rachel’s son Joseph (Gen. 37:8, “shalt thou indeed reign over us: or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?”): but also like Milton’s Satan, reacting against the beloved Son’s promotion to the heights of heaven in defiance of the archangel’s own election and rights of primogeniture. In the 2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch, it is the devil from whom evil begins, because, God says, the devil “understood that I [God] wanted to create another world, so that everything could be subjected to Adam on earth, to rule and reign over it,” and moreover “he [the devil] became aware of his condemnation and of the sin which he sinned previously. And that is why he thought up the scheme against Adam [...]” (2 Enoch 31:3, 6, tr. F. I. Anderson in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:154). This approximates the ambiguous sequence in Paradise Lost, but it does not specify the causes of the devil’s pre-Adamic condemnation.
The texts from the Enoch corpus suggest that angelic image-worship in Milton’s heaven is half-informed by heaven’s man-worship in an earlier literature. Despite the confidence of the narrator of Paradise Lost and the author of its opening “Argument,” the occasion for the devil’s fall has not always been a settled one: “certain mythmakers have said that [Satan] received a command to venerate Adam and fell” (pseudo-Athanasius, PG 28:604C, italics mine; cit. and trans. from Gary A. Anderson, “The Fall of Satan in the Thought of St. Ephrem and John Milton,” Hugoye Journal of Syriac Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, January 2000). Ephraim the Syrian reports the serpent’s analogous objection to God’s partisanship towards man:
The hostile serpent lamented [...] what he had undergone from the beginning with Adam: saying when God created man from the earth, he ordered us, all of us [...] saying, come, fall down and worship [Adam]. (On the Resurrection V.23; cit. and trans. from Gary A. Anderson, “The Fall of Satan in the Thought of St. Ephrem and John Milton”)Milton’s Satan receives no order to worship Adam, yet honors one in the breach, since the angels often express their desire and readiness to esteem and serve the new species, while Satan degrades it in the name of such service. As the serpent, he pretends to worship Eve, and in angelic disguise he intends to pay man a visit like Herod’s to the new king whom the Magi fell down and worshipped (Matt. 2:8, 11).2
As this reference to the Gospel suggests, both Milton and the New Testament appear to know an episode from The Life of Adam and Eve where, in order to explain his post-lapsarian undoing of an attempted repentence and mortification on Eve’s part, the devil confesses his enmity to Adam, in response to Adam’s demand to know the reason for the devil’s enmity to man:
“O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you, since because of you I am expelled and deprived of my glory which I had in the heavens in the midst of angels, and because of you I was cast out unto the earth.” Adam answered, “What have I done to you, [...]The devil replied, “[...] It is because of you [, Adam,] that I have been thrown out of there [the heavens]. When you were created, I was cast out from the presence of God and was sent out from the fellowship of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael brought you and made us worship you in the sight of God, and the Lord God said, ‘Behold Adam! I have made you in our image and likeness.’ And Michael went out and called all the angels, saying, ‘Worship the image of the Lord God, as the Lord God has instructed. And Michael himself worshiped first, and called me and said, ‘Worship the image of God, Yahweh.’ And I answered, ‘I do not worship Adam.’ “And when Michael kept forcing me to worship, I said to him, ‘Why do you compel me? I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation, before he was made, I was already made. He ought to worship me.’ When they heard this, other angels who were under me refused to worship him. And Michael asserted, ‘Worship the image of God. But if now you will not worship, the Lord God will be wrathful with you.’ And I said, ‘If he be wrathful with me, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the Most High.’” (12:1-15:3; trans. by M.D. Johnson, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:262)In the Gospel, Satan tempts the newly-begotten Son to possess all the kingdoms of the world: “if, thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Mt. 4:10, Lk. 4:8) and in Paradise Regained the Second Adam rejects Satan’s original proposition, “He ought to worship me” (IV, 166-67).
The most startling precedent for the refusal to worship God’s newly begotten appears in the Apocalypse of Sedrach. Sedrach knows that “among [God’s] own creatures [... God] loved man first,” ahead of the angels (8:2), but he says to the Lord:
“It was by your will that Adam was deceived, my Master. You commanded your angels to worship Adam, but he who was first among the angels disobeyed your order and did not worship him; and so you banished him, because he transgressed your commandment and did not come forth (to worship) the creation of your hands. If you loved man, why did you not kill the devil, the artificer of all iniquity? Who can fight against an invisible spirit? He enters the hearts of men like a smoke and teaches them all kinds of sin. He even fights against you, the immortal God, and so what can pitiful man do against him? [...]” (5:1-6, trans. S. Agourides, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:610)That’s Paradise Lost in a nutshell, despite its lack of an answer to the question of Robinson Crusoe’s man Friday, Why God no kill devil?
Milton’s poem can be used to explain that God uses the devil to try man’s fidelity, as he uses the Son to try the angels’ loyalty. God the agent provocateur smokes out the devil’s enmity to man by testing him for his envious predisposition toward the Son. But then he banishes Satan to a lock-up that is merely virtual, thereby giving Satan all the permission he needs to fight against the man by ruining the woman—to whom said adversary teaches sin by molesting her dreams. For who can fight against an invisible spirit?
The command that the angels worship the new image of God is alluded to in Scripture itself, at the sixth verse in Hebrews 1:
And again, when [God] bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, [...] let all the angels of God worship him.Lest readers think Adam is meant—as well they might—the preceding verse cites the very Psalm (2:7) from which the action of Paradise Lost begins:
For unto which of the angels said [God] at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? (AV Heb. 1:5)In both The Epistle to the Hebrews and Paradise Lost we find a double entendre that one cannot hear without knowing the story of an admirable Adam once upon a time failing to secure an undivided angelical worship.
Moreover, Hebrews’ next chapter alludes to the historical role of the angels, even as they are displaced by the Son of Man:
For unto the angels hath [God] not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands. Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection, under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering [...] Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; [...] for verily he [= Jesus] took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. (AV Heb. 2:5-11, 14,16; italics mine)Adam’s universal sway devolves upon Jesus; and he has won the honour of Adam-worship, at the expense of the angels: for the angels are not in charge of the world to come, they are not in charge of the universe, and they have not been endowed with the flesh and blood that have enabled Jesus to taste death on behalf of Adam’s children.
The Koran can refer to the angelically defaulted Adam-worship no less than seven times, because there is no Pauline Christology to compete with it, and thus suppress it. Yet such a story is also a perfect vehicle for the Pauline assertion that the Christ is a second Adam, behind which lies the idea that Adam was the first divinely begotten son. Paul’s Christ “was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:7-8):
Wherefor God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (AV Philippians 2:9-11)If, however, “the name of Jesus” is otherwise that of Adam, as we are in fact asserting it once may have been, then a Jewish text exalting man or Adam over the angels was anciently adopted by Christians to acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus over the cosmos.
Satan’s confession of fealty, however, is directed back towards the original object, Adam, through the speech of the serpent in Book IX of Paradise Lost to Adam’s wife. The serpent appears before Eve, “as in gaze admiring” (IX, 524), and glozingly says she should not wonder at his admiration—“that I approach thee thus, and gaze insatiate” (535):
Fairest resemblence of thy maker fair,
Thee all things living gaze on, all things thine
By gift, and thy celestial beauty adore
With ravishment beheld, there best beheld
Where universally admired; [...]
[You] Who shouldst be seen
A goddess among gods, adored and served
By angels numberless, thy daily train. (IX, 538-43, 546-48)
Eve demands of the serpent where he got this fancy talk, and he says “Easy to me it is to tell thee all / What thou command’st, and right thou shouldst be obeyed.” Satan is “compelled [...] to come / And gaze, and worship [Eve] [...] Sovereign of creatures.” (IX, 569-70, 609-12). —Compelled indeed: that is, as Satan originally was by the Michael of the Vita. Satan has come to the Creaton, he tells Uriel, “That [he] may find [Adam], and with secret gaze, / Or open admiration him behold / On whom the great creator hath bestowed / Worlds, and on whom [God] hath all these graces poured”—this comes just after Satan’s having described “man,” as being “[God’s] chief delight and favour [meaning favorite], him for whom / All these works so wonderous he ordained” (III, 670-74, 664-65). In this obsequiousness we overhear an abreaction to the devil’s original guilt for not worshipping the Son in Adam’s place, or Adam in the Son’s. Milton has made the envious root of Satan’s first disobedience in the Vita into its obsequious fruit in the epic: as if to say that the “arche” of Satan’s fall in the poem was the effectiveness of its previous manifestation in the legend.3
It is also here, with Uriel, that Satan inquires whether or not among the stars the new race has a “fixed seat” (III, 669), which might well echo Pico della Mirandola’s assertion that man’s versatility and capacity for transcendence confine him, in the overall cosmic scheme of things, to no such place. That is only to say that, with respect to Milton’s epic, the criterion in question might better apply to the inquiring and errant Satan himself: Milton’s Faustian, protean, adventuresome, Renaissance Satan, on whom his great creator has seemingly bestowed a plurality of worlds.
Satan’s histrionic outrage at man’s succession to heaven, as found for example in the tradition of Avitus and the Anglo-Saxon Genesis B, is confined to a single speech in Milton’s Book IX. But Satan has also suppressed his animosity to the Son on occasion, as in an analogous speech at the opening of Book IV, where his anger is re-directed to the sun. His original, seditious speech, the one that Abdiel revolts against in Book V as “blaspehmous, false and proud” (809), reacts to something not unlike Gabriel’s speech in Joos Vondel’s Lucifer, where Gabriel proposes to bring the angelic orders into the service of the newly-created race of man:
Here we may compare again Philippians 2 on Jesus Christ, “coming in the likeness of men,” but “highly exalted” that at his name “every knee should bow [...] And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (AV Philippians 2:9-11). So in Milton’s Book V, God announces the Son to the angels in heaven:
[...] Though the realm
Of Angels seems all others to surpass,
God has determined, from Eternity,
To raise the lot of Man above the Angels, [...]
[...] Now the throne
Stands consecrated in the midst of Heaven.
Let all the hosts of Angels honour Him [the Lord’s Anointed]
When he rides in, triumphant, having made
The form of Man exalted o’er our own. (Act 1, trans. in Watson Kirkconnell, The Celestial Cycle, 368)
Abdiel is careful to repeat this charge to Satan two hundred lines later in the same book:
[...] your head I him appoint;
And by my self have sworn to him shall bow
All knees in heaven, and shall confess him Lord:
[...] him who disobeys
Me disobeys, breaks union [...] (606-12)
But in Milton’s Dutch predecessor Vondel, this angelic service is equally comandeered for the exalted Adam, at the time of his original creation.
Canst thou with impious obloquie condemn
The just decree of God, pronounced and sworn,
That to his only Son by right endu’d
With Regal Scepter, every Soul in Heaven
Shall bend the knee, and in that honour due
Confess him rightful King? (813-18)
The Life of Adam and Eve is a source for both Vondel’s Lucifer and Giovanni Battista Andreini’s Adamo, two pre-Miltonic oratorio-like literary dramas that depict the devil’s fall as a consequence of his rejection of Adam-worship. Andrienni’s snide tempter-serpent asks Eve rhetorically, “[who] can fail to honour with submission / The demi god of earth?” (William Cowper’s trans., in his 4 vol. edn. of Milton, 3:66). The answer is the tempter himself: he is the party who originally failed to offer obeisance to man and thereby caused the angels’ fall from grace. Equally Miltonic, Vondel’s worshipful angel Gabriel (in place of Milton’s Abdiel in Book V, in regard to the Son, and his Uriel in Book III, in regard to Adam), urges compliance with the new dispensation, which is caused in heaven by the creation of man. “[S]ince the Divinity / Himself of man is mindful,” Vondel’s Gabriel has deduced, “Honouring Adam, / You win the heart of Adam’s Father, God.” Adam-service is the order of the day: Lucifer should get with the program! As we have seen, this is the program of Psalm 8. Vondel’s eclipsed archangel concludes that “Our [angelic] birthright goes to [man], the favorite son, / Who violates our primogeniture. / The youngest son, in face so like the Father, / Obtains the crown” (Lucifer, Act 2; in Watson Kirconnell, The Celestial Cycle, 372). “The youngest-born ha[s] gain’d the crown, [...] the eldest son, / [has been] Cast off [...]” (Act 3, in Kirkconnell, 390).
Milton reserves explicit Satanic expression of angelic dismay at man’s creation, and enmity to his promotion, to very late in the action of Paradise Lost, at a soliloquy in Book IX:
But Satan has already demurred at God’s command to worship the Son, and it is Satan who first identifies the newly-begotten Son as God’s “image.”
[...] [God] to be avenged [...]
Determined to advance into our room
A creature formed of earth, and him endow,
Exalted from so base original,
With heavenly spoils, our spoils: what he decreed
He effected; man he made, and for him built
Magnificent this world, and earth his seat,
Him lord pronounced, and O indignity!
Subjected to his service angel wings,
And flaming ministers to watch and tend
Their earthly charge: (IX, 143, 148-57)
The great prooftext for the identification of the Son as his father’s image is Colossians 1:15-16, where the Son “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created [...] all things were created by him, and for him.” It takes Vondel’s Gabriel to see—as it were stereoscopically—that this text applies both to the Son and to Adam, and that Adam-worship can be adapted to the celebration of the Son in Colossians as in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Like the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Paul of Colossians can originally only have known of God’s human image as that of the Adam of Genesis 1:24 and 5:1. Thus all things were created for the Son, because he was once Adam, for whom the world was created. And all things were created by the Son, because once upon a time all living things were named by Adam. The Paul of Philippians 2:9-11 implies that the object of the new worship may indeed have been given a new name.
Satan launches into his seditious speech in Book V with the word “[a]nother,” and then arrives at the word “image” by way of the word “double.” Thus he manages to allude to the whole double entendre that is the literary basis for the rebellion in heaven against Adam or the Son:
After Satan’s visit to Uriel on the sun, the solar angel reports his guest to have been “A spirit zealous, as he seemed, to know / More of the almighty’s works, and chiefly man / God’s latest image” (IV, 565-67). In Satan’s mouth “God’s latest image” might imply that the Creator is in some danger of over-producing himself.
Another now hath to himself engrossed
All power, and us eclipsed under the name
Of king annointed, for whom all this haste
[...] to consult how we may best [...]
Receive him coming to receive from us
Knee-tribute yet unpaid, prostration vile,
Too much to one, but double how endured,
To one and to his image now proclaimed? (775-77, 779-84; italics mine)
According to a Sufi version of the story of the angels’ refusal, the angels excuse themselves from the veneration of God’s image in man because such worship would have constituted idolatry—as bad as “the image of jealousy [...] which provokes to jealousy” in the Jerusalem Temple of Ezekiel 8:3 (see Joseph Campbell, Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, 452-53). St. Theodore the Studite, voicing the objections to image-worship as proposed by his iconclastic antagonists, writes as follows: “‘What then, is it that is shown?’ the heretics ask. ‘Either the image of Christ or Christ Himself, but not both, for the shadow and the truth are not the same thing. And how could one say that each is in the other, or that either one is in the other? The absurdity is obvious.’” (On the Holy Icons, “First Refutation,” sec. 11, trans. by Catherine Roth, p. 31). Some of St. Theodore’s answer is:
If, because we offer veneration to God alone, we ought not venerate the image of Christ, on the gorunds that two kinds of veneration are introduced instead of the one worship, in accordance with the duality of the image and the prototype: then the veneraiton of the Father and the Son will also be dual, bacause of the duality of their hypostases. But if this is impious to say, for obviously the veneration is one and the same in accordance with the unity of nature, then the veneration of Christ and His image is also one, in accordance with the unity of hypostatic likeness, regardless of the diversity of natures.” (On the Holy Icons, “Third Refutation,” sec. 9; trans. Roth, pp. 106-07).The position of Milton’s heterodox Satan is rather stronger, however, given the poet’s Arian rejection of abstruse compounds like “the unity of hypostatic likeness.” Perhaps Abdiel and Satan are more jealous over their own identity than God’s—as when Satan describes man “like to us [...] but favored more” (PL II, 349-50), after trying to capture God’s image for himself (at VI, 101, as “idol of majesty divine”), or when Abdiel describes the Son as having become “One our number” (V, 843). Nonetheless, the debaters at the end of Book V may have also become embroiled in a virtual mimesis of the patristic controversy over the veneration of images of God in the eighth century Eastern Church.
According to Abdiel, and in contrast to Satan’s objection to having to “bend / The supple knee” (V, 787-88), God is “bent rather to exalt” (829) and thus re-create (and not eclipse) the spirits of heaven, whom he has “Crowned [...] with glory” (839), as it were, a second time. Fowler’s edition thinks that Abdiel’s phrase from Scripture, “Crowned [...] with glory,” jumps ahead to the Incarnation, but surely it also circles back to the exaltation of Adam in the previous literature, including Psalm 8 itself. For the Geneva Bible gloss on that Psalm explains God crowned him with glorie and worship as “touching [man’s] first creation.”
By the use of the words from the Psalm Milton’s Abdiel enrolls angels and future men in a common party. For by God’s cessory and liberal action toward us, we are “made, as it were a god over all [God’s] works,” as the Genevan gloss just cited goes on to say—before it too leaps ahead to our benefits from regeneration through Christ. But unless we interpolate the use of the Psalm in Hebrews 2 into the text, the soteriological idenfication is invisible. It is man’s incarnation—his investment as God’s plenipotentiary—which is hymned both in the Psalm and Genesis 1. These texts in turn echo a much older Egyptian Wisdom piece that we may quote before concluding:
Well directed are men, the cattle of the god. He made heaven and earth according to their desire, and he repelled the water-monster. He made the breath of life [for] their nostrils. They who have issued from his body are his images. [As sunlight] He arises in heaven according to their desire. He made for them plants, animals, fowl, and fish to feed them. (“The Instruction for King Meri-Ka-Re,” trans. in James H. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd Edn., p. 417)—The Lord is my solar cattle-drover, I shall not want.
When Milton’s God begets and anoints a son in his likeness, the angels are out of the loop, if not out of power. Comparably, if Adam is little lower than a supernatural being, he is also nothing less than a monarch of the world. “Ye shall be as gods,” says the mendacious Yahwist serpent in Genesis 3:5 (AV), the word “as” reflected by the divine “image” and “likeness” from Genesis 1:23, and raising the estimate of human potential beyond even that of Psalm 8. The Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (13) also has the ministering angels brought up short by man, and thus turned from man’s rival into his enemy:
The ministering angels spake before the Holy One, blessed be He, saying: Sovereign of all Worlds! “What is man that thou shouldst take note of him” (Ps. 144:3]? “Man is like unto vanity” [Ps. 144:4], upon earth there is not his like.” (Friedlander trans., 91)God in reply challenges the angels to name things as Adam now does, and the critics are suitably dumbfounded:
When the ministering angels saw this [...] they said: If we do not take counsel against this man so that he sin before his Creator, we cannot prevail against him. (Friedlander trans., 91)
Like the angels in the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer when man performed the astonishing feat of naming all the animals, Milton’s Satan has become envious for a reason. This is especially true if we see the promotion of the Son from obscurity as a kind of stalking horse for the promotion of Adam from the dust: since the divine royalization of the ranks on high, as pre-announced in Abdiel’s phrase “Crowned [...] with glory,” also forecasts a comparable enhancement for the earthly creature below.
This enhancement is deeply disappointed by the actual, tragic action of Milton’s poem. Moreover, the uncrowning of the human subject is written into the text at a critical juncture, if that does not indeed become the poem’s whole point: an agonizing reappraisal of man’s potential or perfectability. While Eve is out foraging beyond the citadel of her marriage, and thinking to secure for herself the divine enhancement of human stature and capacity which the angel has predicted for humans, her husband Adam, who believes his consort is the crowning glory of his existence (“the sum of earthly bliss” [PL VIII, 522]), “ha[s] wove / Of choicest flowers a garland to adorn / Her tresses, and her rural labours crown, / As reapers oft are wont their harvest queen” (IX, 838-42). When his erstwhile happiness returns with bough in hand, its “ambrosial” bouquet (852) seeming to support her report of “dilated spirits, ampler heart, / And growing up to godhead” (876-77), his idyl comes to an end and the marriage-crown is left trailing in the dust: “From his slack hand the garland wreathed for Eve, / Down dropped, and all the faded roses shed” (892-89). Milton seems to say that we, like Adam, must shed any illusion of angelhood and, like the author of Hebrews, look elsewhere for that favorite whom God has crowned with glory and worship.
By identifying the Son as the Creator that crowned the heavenly orders with glory, Abdiel credits the Lord’s Anointed with having accomplished a great deal before his theophany in Book V, as if this angelic doctor were anticipating another of the possible objections to the new religion being proclaimed in the heaven of Book V. For at the time when God says the newly anointed party “by right of merit reigns” (VI, 43), the mysterious nominee has apparently done nothing more than get himself designated and crowned the boss’s Son. Something like this happens when Duncan makes his son Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland, on an occasion that is also supposed confer new honors on all deservers. But the Son’s own desert must be imputed to him purely on the basis of the merit of his Father, like Isaac’s deservingness in inheriting God’s blessing of Abraham. Thus where Milton the Renaissance humanist chose to treat a myth about the near-angelic exaltation of a universal man who would eventually do everything but resist temptation, Milton the Puritan church-divine chooses to re-create a myth about the secret election of a single, obscure individual who can claim to have done nothing more than abide in the Father. Some of us who stayed up most of the night on November 4th, 2000, may think this is an election we can relate to.
1. With this early example of the law-case in heaven, namely the debate over man’s salvation among the four daughters of God (from the meeting of Righteousness, Truth, Love, and Peace in Psalm 85:10) may be compared a late example cited by McColley, ‘Paradise Lost’: An Account of its Growth, p. 205, from Joseph Fletcher, The Perfect, Cursed, Blessed Man:
To express and set forth this wonderful work of God for the the redemption of mankind, we imagine him first to be moved by his compassion or pity; his pity to stir up his mercy; his mercy for truth and justice’s sake to submit herself to his wrath; his wrath to be assauged by his peace: and so one grace to advise and deal with another, till at last they sweetly agree and join all in one, how to perfect and effect a work for the deliverance of all mankind out of its misery.
2. See also Questions of Bartholomew, I.21-27 (trans. in Richard Elliott, Apocryphal New Testament, 657), for an angel that, for a different reason—more like that of Milton’s Raphael, who is absent at the creation of the man and the woman—does not join in the celebration of Adam.
3. In the main texts of the Vita, the devil tells Adam that he refused to worship him, this being the cause of his exclusion from bliss. But in an alternative text (misleadingly called the Apocalypse of Moses) the speech is missing. In its place the post-lapsarian Eve recounts to her children how she fell. She reports that the devil began his temptation by securing the services of the serpent, tempting it to improve its earth-bound lot, for which Adam is apparently to blame:
“And the devil spoke to the serpent, saying, ‘Rise and come to me, and I will tell you something to your advantage.’ Then the serpent came to him, and the devil said to him, ‘I hear that you are wiser than all the beasts; so I came to observe you. I found you greater than all the beasts, and they associate with you; but yet you are prostrate to the very least [of them]. Why do you eat of the weeds of Adam and not of the fruit of Paradise? Rise and come and let us make him to be cast out of Paradise through his wife, just as we were cast out through him.’ The serpent said to him, ‘I fear lest the Lord be wrathful to me.’” (Apocalypse [of Moses] 16:1-4, trans. M.D. Johnson, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:277; italics mine)The devil insists that the serpent has lost something to the other animals that it can hope to recover, in the same motion that the fallen angel has lost something to man that they, acting together, can hope to revenge: they should make their cause a common one. Despite the objection of God’s possible wrath, the devil persuades the serpent to go along with his project, by means of the analogies the devil the draws between the serpent and himself: the prostrated reptile, least among the animals, should resent his animal associates (who perhaps do eat of paradisal fruit), just as the outcast devil resents the man living in paradise, on whose account he has lost his status in heaven. As Adam displaced the angel, so Eve can be made to undo Adam, and the serpent can aspire to a better feed than animal fodder. If the serpent feels envious of the other animals, then let him aid the devil, who feels vindictive towards man. Thereafter the devil as the serpent makes his successful argument to Eve that God begrudges mankind the forbidden fruit in order to enforce upon it a subject-status like that of the animals; Milton’s serpent makes a similar argument: the animals have been unable to reach the tantalizing fruit that the serpent alone has eaten, with the transforming effect that Eve can also procure for herself.
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