Milton’s God has been especially controversial; the presentation of the deity is never doubtful (as a Puritan, why would Milton do so?). Despite the radical polarities of their beliefs, the angels, humans and devils all believe in God, he is very real, and his existence is never questionable.

Milton asserts in Book I (ll. 24-6) that he will attempt a theodicy in Paradise Lost. The declared purpose is to justify the ways, or justice, of God to Milton’s contemporaries. Milton seeks to explain the workings of divine will and the existence of evil in the world.

Milton’s God exemplifies eternal providence. He foresees – cf. Latin pro (before) videre (to see) – and provides everything:

"for what can scape the eye

Of God all-seeing, or deceive his heart

Omniscient, who in all things wise and just"


Milton had little concern with metaphysical speculation of the Scholastic philosophers. But in justifying God’s ways Milton was forced into theology, and hence, he could not refrain from making controversial assertions about God.

Foreknowledge of events did not mean that God caused them. Man, like angels, was made capable of falling from grace – God knew that he would fall but did not make him fall. Free Will allowed the freedom to follow or ignore God’s calling, for both angels and mankind. Thus, foreknowledge does not equate with predestination. Milton did not adhere to the Calvinist concept of predestination, but allowed for the working of Free Will (though God foreknew the outcome, nonetheless). Man’s pre- and postlapsarian liberty depended upon following the God-given power of reason, which must govern his will. Raphael echoes Milton’s own thought when he advises Adam that no man should relinquish his God-given freedom to any other man, rather he should preserve his liberty to serve God. For Milton this held for both the spiritual and the worldly (especially pertinent in the sphere of political forms).

When Abdiel returned to Heaven after his encounter with Satan, God characterised the fallen angels as those who "refuse | Right reason for their law." Justifying his own ways, God declares in Book III that both acts of reason and acts of will are forms of choice. In heaven there are no illusions or disguises, it is a realm where false appearance is derided, yet the overall reality is overwhelming. Milton sought to disclose the mystery of heaven with rational lucidity. God is presented within the fountain of spiritual light, an attempt at a logical explanation of the workings of divine justice. The representation of perfection, of the heavenly domain and its deity, presented the ultimate challenge to the artist of Milton’s time. To some extent Milton’s depiction is lacking. The artistic dilemma Milton faced was overwhelming: how to present the omnipotent, immutable, immortal and infinite God in heaven, supreme perfection. Both Milton’s presentation of heaven and his characterisation of God have undergone critical attack.

Aesthetic difficulties are encountered when Milton’s God appears as a character confronting the evil of Satan. Though God the Father wins the theological debate in Book III, it is to the detriment of His image of majesty, grandeur and mercy. Furthermore, though His arguments follow when interpreted along Milton’s own theological outlook, further interpretation leads to divine paradoxes or contradictions of faith. Criticisms of the anger Milton’s God shows have overlooked the attempt of the poet to combine the wrathful Father of the Old Testament with the merciful of the New Testament.


  By PanEris using Melati.

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