Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Fall

The Angelic Host rejoices
Engraving by Gustave Doré
“ Here all ye angels, progeny of Light,
  Thrones, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers,
  Hear my decree, which ever shall stand.
  This day I have begot whom I declare
  My only Son, and on this holy hill
  Him have anointed, whom ye now behold
  At my right hand; your head I him appoint;
  And by myself have sworn to him shall bow
  All knees in Heav’n,
  And shall confess him Lord. ”

And so unto the angelic host God gave his command. Rejoice abounded in the heavenly choirs it seemed, as the winged Seraphim greeted the news of the Son of God. All seemed well, but all was not well. For within the crowds on high was one who fell silent of praise, one who did not greet this command with joy at all... We look today to the story of Lucifer’s fall from grace, turning once more to the pages of Paradise Lost (for the first post on this, please click here), and read of the beginning of Evil.

Raphael tells the story of Lucifer
Engraving by Gustave Doré
Some time after Satan (the name Lucifer assumed after his rebellion against God) was hurled to the Pit of Hell, God sent down to the Garden of Eden one of the most trusted of Archangels, Raphael, to bear a message to Adam and Eve. After sharing joyous company and dining, Adam questions the angel of the Lord as to his coming. With a heavy heart, Raphael tells them that God has sent him to warn them of their Enemy, whose ever present threat of deceit and trickery pervades the Blessed Paradise of Eden. Little do they know that Satan himself has already broken into the Garden, and even now torments Eve with nightmares. Sighing, the Archangel sets the scene, of a time before the World and Man were created. Raphael speaks of the ecstasy in Heaven at the announcement of the arrival of the Son of God, and the honouring of the Messiah, how the angels danced and sang and made merry at the wondrous tidings. Until that day, highest in the favour of the Most High and the bright Morning Star, Lucifer was the shining prodigy of the celestial plains. If there was any imperfection within that which seemed perfect, it was that He bore within his frame that most terrible of vices – pride. The command to bow before the new and young Son of God, so honoured by the Almighty, Lucifer - whose name “Is heard no more in Heav’n” -  could not bear the sight.  Deepest malice, envy and rage radiated from his dark mind. As midnight fell on the Heavens, “he resolved with all his legions to dislodge, and leave unworshipped, unobeyed the throne supreme”.

Awakening, Satan turns to his lieutenant and bids him summon all loyal angels under their banners to his side. Satan’s dark thoughts go not unnoticed within the wisdom of the Almighty, who warns his Son “such a foe is rising, who intends to erect his throne equal to ours”. But Satan, “far advanced on winged speed”, flies to his palace in Heaven, raised on a Mount in imitation of that Mount upon which the Messiah was declared. He calls to him the summoned angels, feigning council to appraise the new Son of God. Speaking of bowing before the Son of God, Satan dares to question God’s command:

                                          “ But what if better counsels might erect
                                            Our minds and teach us to cast off this yoke?
                                            Will ye submit your necks, and choose to bend
                                            The supple knee? Ye will not if I trust
                                            To know ye right, or if ye know yourselves
                                            Natives and sons of Heav’n possessed before  
                                            By none, and if not equal all, yet free... ”
                                                   - SATAN REFUSES TO BOW TO MAN

Divided were the angels who stood before the Morning Star, some falling to his heresy, others shocked:

Abdiel rebukes Satan
Engraving by Gustave Doré
“ Thus far his bold discourse without control
  Had audience, when among the Seraphim
 Abdiel, than whom none with more zeal adored
 The Deity, and divine commands obeyed,
 Stood up, and in a flame of zeal severe
 The current of his fury thus opposed.
 ‘Oh argument blasphemous, false and proud!
 Words which no ear ever to hear in Heav’n
 Expected, least of all from thee, ingrate
 In place thyself so high above thy peers'...”

Abdiel orders Satan to bow before the Will of God at once, and pray for the mercy of forgiveness for his impious words. Dismayed and enraged that no other rises to second his order, Abdiel turns to the Fallen Angel, who rejoices in the power of his words. The loyal angel reminds Satan that God created all things, even him. Eyes burning with malice, Satan’s heresy goes deeper still, as he questions the very authority of God himself:

                                           “ Who saw when this Creation was?
                                              Remember’st thou thy making,
                                              While the Maker gave thee being?
                                              We know no time when we were not as now...
                                              Our puissance is our own, our own right hand
                                              Shall teach us highest deeds...”
                                                         - SATAN RENOUNCES GOD

His words echoed with impassioned applause around the vault of Heav’n, as the rebellion is proclaimed. Abdiel looks on in horror to see such betrayal in the faultless plains of Heaven. Turning to the Morning Star one last time, he declares him a traitor to God, warning him of the Almighty’s wrath:

Satan rouses the rebel angels to War
Engraving by Gustave Doré
“ O alienate from God, O Spirit accursed,
  Forsaken of all good; I see thy fall
  Determined, and thy hapless crew involved
  In this perfidious fraud, contagion spread
  Both of thy crime and punishment: henceforth
  No more be troubled how to quit the yoke
  Of God’s Messiah; those indulgent laws
  Will not be now vouchsafed, other decrees
  Against thee are gone forth without recall;
  That golden sceptre which thou didst reject
  Is now an iron rod to bruise and break
  Thy disobedience...”

Alone among the faithless, faithful only was Abdiel, “unmoved, unshaken, unseduced and unterrified”. Taking to flight, and jeered at by the treacherous legions, the angel fled at once, desperately bearing word of the rebellion of the greatest of the Archangels to the Most High. Through the unyielding expanse of the Heavens, the lone angel sped, yet not far behind marched the traitor legions. War was declared in Heaven...
Thus was Lucifer re'christened' Satan ('The Adversary') and Evil was first born. Act One of Satan's rebellion was complete. The time for words was now over, and now He dared to lead a war to dethrone God himself from Heaven. The gripping account of the First Traitor will be continued next time, as the celestial plains of Heaven witness the First War. Here Milton really gets into his stride, as the tension in Paradise Lost begins to build to a new height. Herein lies the beginning of suffering, that curse which Satan lays upon mankind, one already underway within the First Woman, even as Raphael tells his story...

                                      For Part Two, please click here...

Paradise Lost is a rite of passage. With nothing else like it written in the English language, it occupies a special place in literature, and indeed theology. I strongly recommend anyone to give it a read - you will not be disappointed. It is available in many translations, all available cheaply and easily on Amazon:

United Kingdom

Penguin Classics:
Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics)
(Paradise Lost is written in English, so text choice is personal preference)

Oxford World's Classics:
Paradise Lost (Oxford World's Classics)
(Paradise Lost is written in English, so text choice is personal preference)

United States

Penguin Classics:
Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics)
(Paradise Lost is written in English, so text choice is personal preference)

Oxford World's Classics:
Paradise Lost (Oxford World's Classics)
(Paradise Lost is written in English, so text choice is personal preference)

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