"Verum est, certum et verissimum, quod est, superius naturam habet inferioram et ascendens naturam descendentis."



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Daniel Tarr

Milton's Paradise Lost

The Fall of Man


The problem of the Original Sin is perhaps one of the great concerns of humankind, and therefore has been interpreted throughout the centuries. In Milton's time religious issues were more strongly debated than ever, with the Reformation various new churches were formed which all felt the need to re-interpret the basic questions of humanity.

Milton himself was engaged in Church matters, writing several pamphlets to the questions of church government, but also turned to literal means to express his ideas. After his first marriage he has written prose championing ecclesiastical liberty, and despite the death of his first wife, bad health and increasing blindness fiercely participated in the war of Presbyterianism as the sole form of church in England by writing political pamphlets.

Even after moving to Whitehall he laboured valiantly for the republican regime writing state letters in Latin and taking on one opponent after the other. It was not until the death of his second wife in 1656, and after a series of open attacks on his politico-religious liberal views, that Milton realized he needed a different media for his ideas and started writing Paradise Lost. Tried in court, completely blind, out of the horror of the Cromwellian regime and Restoration, with the loving care of his third wife, he created the truly sacred vision of Man’s Fall.

In the purging of his contemporary time, the Fall of Man was the most actual questions which had to be explained. Although his temporaries were also engaged in religious matters, it seems it was Milton’s own personal concern to find the answers for the political and religious chaos of his time. He needed justification for his personal misery (his blindness and death of his two wives) and also for his time's misery. Taking the role of the prophet he takes on the task "to justify the ways of God to Man". Paradise Lost is therefore seen as a new Bible containing the answers for the questions of the current time.

The main theme of the book is the Fall of Man for it is the contemporary situation. Milton's ingenious lies in the fact that his vision moves far beyond the scope of a coexistent justification, and reveals the cosmic truths of the Fall. Although the preceding religious (puritan) ideas, as a consequence of the middle ages, interpret the Original Sin as connected with sexuality and name the reason of Man's Fall as merely sexual, Milton shall give a very different explanation.

Paradise Lost

If we look at any of the esoteric teachings of humanity - and Milton is no exception - we find that the Fall of Man is due to a certain forgetfulness. No matter which tradition we might take in hand, the doctrine of spiritual cataclysm is always expressed [XII. 498-514], due to which Man finds himself in a definitely degraded state compared to the original, paradisaical completeness. This new condition is degenerative and secondary to the primal one, and in this state man feels himself spiritually castrated, lacking his complete cerebral potentiality. This is completely true of Milton's state, both in private and social life. What makes this even more difficult is that Man is separated from his original state by an impenetrable chasm - Paradise is forever shielded [XIII. 641-645] - which doesn't allow the contact with the primordial origin.

The Fallen Man feels himself to be sinful - the immediate result of the Fall is Sin and Death [X. 230-270 & 585-640] . He feels his fallen condition incommensurable to his primal potent state. The phantom of the connection with the primal origin lives on in Man, and it is due to this irresolute association that each tradition states that various outcomes might await Fallen Man. I am sure we know several such genesis myths, e.g.: the genesis of the Old Testament, the theology of Memphis, the zyrvanist ontogenesis just the same as Milton’s lost paradise. But we also find several relating ideas expressed in the works of the Greek philosophers, say Hesiod, the Orphics, Pythagoras, Herakleitos, etc. It is more than efficient just to keep in mind the pre-exsistentia myth of Plato expressed in the dialogue Phaidros,[1] or Milton's Book VII. in 'Paradise Lost' [esp. 520-547] .

According to every myth, Fallen Man is not condemned to destruction and a degenerated existence. It is true that according to his original state he is in a deprived condition, therefore needing support in the beginning, but afterwards he is left alone to find his own ways - he is given free will [III. 98-100 & 122-128] . In this state, he is completely alone to judge and choose what he wishes; it is up to himself to give judgment upon himself, to gain the ability of decision - to separate good from evil. This is what leads to the Original Sin - the division of the universe. But the Old Testament myth also states that the reason for the Fall is the split, the duality. This is what the later Gnostics identified with the creation of Eve. She is the one who takes the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge [IX. 780-792] , and she is the one who persuades Adam to partake in her sin [IX. 856-885] . The “sin” of Man is to let himself to be enticed, in order to gain knowledge. The sin of Man is that he wants to know himself [2] . But comprehension is only possible through duality, that is why the split is necessary. That is why Eve is born of Adam (it is important that Eve is born from Adam, from his free will [VIII. 413-435] ) - Eve is created to make reflective process feasible [X. 149-150] - that is why Plato’s androgynous is split in two.

How Milton goes beyond this revelation, is by pointing out that the split is not equal to the split of sexes (the creation of Eve), but to the split of reason. Reason is set as the ultimate governing force of Man that is able to transcend carnal love - that is the prime judicious scale by which Man may ascend to heavenly love [VIII. 590-593]. It is Reason that the Temptation disturbs, through the feeling of insecurity, which arouses the need for true Knowledge to replenish this intellectual vacuum [VIII. 745-779]. Reason is the commanding force of the Will of Man, which may be confused [IX. 360-364] and as a consequence dictate false and lead the Will astray [IX. 350-356]. It is the fault of the depraved mind and will that the Fall comes to pass [XII. 82-90] - the world is divided into good and evil [X. 825].

It will be in this split, dual world that Man has to reestablish his existence, and how he does it is not predestined in any way. God in his infinite mercy has granted 'reason as chief' above the senses [V.103] to man, to judge the evil that enters into the mind. Man has the power of decision to use as a governing force of his present condition. As to what will happen to Fallen Man in this condition, Tradition gives at least three plus one answers. We could again quote Plato’s famous myth of the "round man" [3] in the Symposium, according to which united nature was split in half and the two sides died as a consequence in the beginning. But God's intention is not to destroy man, but as a result of his increased strength - the gaining of knowledge - to reduce his powers [4] . That is why Man is given Laws [XII. 270-306]. That is why Adam and Eve is expelled from Paradise. Because they have too much power.

This is easy to understand if we take a simple physical model. If we imagine an objective universe, which has only one existent and nothing else besides, then this existent cannot possibly derive conclusions concerning himself or the outside world. In order that he can reflect upon himself, he needs at least one more existent to compare himself to. He not only needs any kind of existent, but he needs one that can be the basic postulate for self-understanding. In order to gain knowledge we need the principles of similarity and difference. These are complement pairs; one carries the necessity of the other. This duality is what the woman carries in comparison to men - who is very similar to men, but also very different. That is why Adam creates Eve - to observe the similarities and differences, in order to reflect upon himself, to get to know himself better [VIII. 500-520 & 530-559] . Through Eve Adam discovers such knowledge (feeling and passion) that he was not aware before. That is why the feminine power has a dual nature - has two in one - as the kabbalist numerology discloses. As such she is the perfect existent next to men, who observing her is able to see his own true nature reflected in her [VIII. 547] . This self reflection is only possible, because woman contain something that is not herself - a part of Adam. Think it this way: if a chair could think and there would be only an exactly similar chair besides him in the universe, would he be able to know himself? Obviously not, since there would be no differences to tell the two chairs apart. We could only say that the recognitional process could go as far as there is two of something, but the analytical process could never proceed further.

This little bypass was perhaps not altogether useless, for it makes the necessity of the split into two clear. In order that the primordial man could get to know himself, he had to step out of his primordial potentiality. He had to make at least one thing manifest, which is not himself but is outside of him. It is with the help of this outside-of-him that he is able to understand himself. But this results in a dependency of the “not-me”, which is a degenerative state compared to the preceding absolute. This is the cataclysm Man had to go through, when he split nature into two - when Eve was created [III. 440-475] . This is when Man had to realize that he is no longer complete, and can only possibly find the state of completeness in a union of his external dependency [VIII. 536-7] . That is why Adam is unable to leave Eve to be condemned alone, for then he would be left unwhole [IX. 914-916]. According to Plato Man did not survive this trauma alone. It was Zeus who made sexual intercourse possible for man, which brings split nature together again, constituting harmony. Milton puts it this way: God made Man for pleasure, so that in the act of love they create absolute harmony - God gave them "Love that leads up to Heaven" [VIII. 595-615] .

So there is divine intervention. The chasm that man cracked within his primordial nature can only be bridged by a divine force. With Man splitting himself into two distinct parts, he split his creative power into two as well. You need both parts in order to create anew. With the new birth the duality is widened to trinity, to which the former two gives a name. According to the Kabbalah if something is given a name, then it is assigned with power. The name also carries the essence of the thing. This again is reflected in many traditions of the world - the magical practice for giving names was a widely used practice for long centuries. According to the Kabbalah that is how Adam distributed his powers into the world. By giving names to everything, he distributed his own powers, he became many, he became the world itself. Milton is aware of this mystery too and Adam learns the nature of things by giving them names [VIII. 343-354].

This is the true cataclysm, the reason for the impassable chasm between the primordial and the present state. For many is not one. But the original state of mind is. The only problem is that Man is in a constant state of forgetfulness, and therefore sees himself as not one internal whole but several external entities. For him innumerable extant subsist, of which he is dependent. He perceives himself as a being that relies upon the many [XII. 82-90]. The only primordial wisdom that is left in every human is that one puts oneself as a whole in opposition to the world of many. The concept of dependency of the external world is a result of a degenerative thinking, since those things which Man puts as the primal base of his existence just as dearly depend on the man himself. It is the human perception of things that show objects as an objective truth, showing them in a likeness, whereas matter on its own is nothing like. It is the mode of perspective, the way our perception is directed on its object that things are made to be like this or that [5] . Therefore we should at least assign a two way correlation between the external reality and the reflective man. Milton shifts this problem in an engaging way.

Since the illusory condition of dependency is an attribute of the Fallen Man, who sees himself as a dependent of the external world, it does not apply to Adam and Eve. They do not see themselves as adherents of the external world, the Garden of Eden is a place of immortal prosperity and peace - Sin and Death are not part of this reality yet [IV. 195-287]. They are not a cleaving subjects of the external world [IX. 346-348] , but the other way round; the world is supportive towards them providing their harmonious, stabile existence [IV. 328-355], "all things are for Man’s delightful use" [IV. 692]. Adam and Eve represent the completeness of existence, without external concerns. Their existence is filled with the presence of God, Adam lives for God only and Eve for God in him [IV. 299]. They possess what we could call Natural Religion. Their every act is filled with such a transcendency that relate everything to God - they themselves are in a godly state. However, since Adam created Eve, he split his powers in two, therefore even if they do not depend on the external world, they very much depend on each other [IX. 267-269]. They are mutually dependent on each other. Therefore dependency applies to them, as well as the human predicament of forgetfulness which will eventually cause their Fall.

What Milton is hinting, that the weakness of the Fallen Man in his need for external objects, through which he can relate to himself - the use of 'objetctivated' forces that determine and limit his creative powers - is only conceptually wrong. It is not the notion of dependency that is out of place, but the adherence of externalized objects [IX. 344-350]. When this happens the man of destiny appears, who lives his existence as a slave of destiny. This is what the Greeks called cyclos anankes, or the Wheel of Ixion. This is the infinite wheel of fortune, of which the man who claims himself as a dependent of natural or mystic laws and conditions becomes enslaved to. This is what Plato is up against in the dialogue called Phaidros, [6] where he tries to prove that the philosopher's way of life can free man from the never-ending cycle of births. On the other hand what is true is the mutual dependency of man and woman. Adam and Eve's weakness is not to realize their interdependence and therefore separate themselves from one and other which results in their fall. Plato also knows this and elaborates on it in the Symposium. [7]

Adam and Eve constitute one whole - they are the double nature of the primordial totality. They can only exist in harmony if they stay together and do not split themselves in two [IX. 253-260]. Their efficiency lies in their joined power, which is expressed through Love [IX. 309-314] , their static condition lies in the combined security of unity [IX. 335-339]. It is the constant mutual control between this primordial duality of nature that is stability [IX. 358]. This is what Eve forgets, and of which the validity questions [IX. 322-341] , and this united firmness is what Adam is unable to maintain. He is incapable to use his Will to keep this concentration of mutual control in place - is unable to endure the responsibility of the governing power, of giving a command - and gives the choice to (the creative power of) Eve [IX. 364-375]. In the moment that this balance is weaned, the world is displaced and the dependency - the feeling of security - is placed on external objects. But in order to be able to place the foundation of Man’s existence on external objects, he needs Knowledge so to build up the external world around him. This is the Fall of Man: the shift from harmony - the mutual stability of men and women - to the instability of dependency on external phenomenon.

The complete cataclysm is this: Since the loss of harmony, the disturbance of the finely tuned interdependent balance, Man looses the basis for the analytical process that is the foundation of his self-recognition and perceptive understanding. He has to find a new base to secure his fragile existence, which he will find in the external world. Since Eve as the feminine, creative force of the universe [IV. 475] is by nature bound to the material, external world [IV. 455-465], and has a natural interest in Nature [IV. 6557658]. And since Adam gave the decision of Free Choice to her, she is the one, who in her forgetful state primarily commits the original sin [IX. 780-793], it is no surprise then that she, in her insecurity, shall turn to the external world for support. But in order to make external reality the fundament of Man’s existence, man needs Knowledge - Man has to eat from the Tree of Knowledge - to gain the ability of external identification; to tell one thing from the other, to tell good and evil apart. So Man shifts his internal, mutual stability to an external dependency. As a result Man forgets his primordial nature - the harmony of dual forces, a condition when he was an absolute whole, in possession of all his powers - and perceives himself as a dependent of external reality not as a dependent of himself alone. In this analytical process he becomes more and more enslaved to the externally conceptualized perceived objects. He becomes captive, until he can no longer detach himself and becomes a shadow of the illusionary world. This is the condition of Plato’s prisoners of the cave [8] . When Man perceives himself as a shadow only.

In the beginning, like the platonic legend tells, the first split humans, recognizing their degraded condition, and contemplating what their future may bring, rather died. The same applies to Adam, who falls into a state of deep regret [X. 720-736] and foreshadows the universal death of Man [X. 769-770]. This was so, until God intervened, and gave humanity divine knowledge (hokmah nistarah) - he sacrificed his only Son. Potential salvation is brought by the Son’s true sacrifice [XII. 420-431]. Like we said, Man is not incipiently doomed to be dependent on the external reality and die - he is not primarily a slave of cyclos anankes. This is only due to a gradual degradation.

We talked about 3+1 possibilities that may happen to the Fallen Man. The first is immediate death, when the split mind comprehends his own severness and terminates its performance immediately. We have not talked about the rest. The Talmud gives an example to this in the Chagiga chapter [9] , where this three plus one possibility is demonstrated through the parable of the four wise man who found their way to Paradise. Like the commentaries state ‘ Paradise’ equals the answer to the absolute questions - the obtaining of divine knowledge. Therefore these consequences befell to the sages in their ultimate quest for the divine knowledge - their quest to become one with God. One sage died, one went insane, one became one with God, and the fourth went freely in and out of Paradise.

These four destinies await the Fallen Man. Of course not every man, for not all man is capable of realizing his present state. Most humans live their lives in the state of complete "forgetfulness of existence", and are never even struck by the realization, that their present state is not their state of completeness. That is what the saying expresses: "Raris haec ut hominibus est ars, ita raro in iucem prodit". Only few people posses this realization; that this state is passing - it is the realm of death - therefore imperfect. The flawed condition awaits perfection. These four fates, except death (which is the given right of every man) only await those who commence on a spiritual journey. Therefore insanity and even atheism is already one of the spiritual, potent states.

For example we could bring a Sufi parable: There were two towns next to each other; one was a sinful town, the other was a place of holiness. In the sinful city there lived a man who realized that he leads an inappropriate life and therefore started towards the holy city. On his way when he has past the half of the distance, he suddenly became sick and died. The wise man of the holy city gathered around him and started debating who this man might be and whether he would reach salvation. They came to the conclusion that the sinful man was purified, since he recognized his condition and started for the city from his own Free Will.

This is true from the perspective of Tradition too. There are two kinds of man: one who has not realized his true inner nature and therefore leads a life in darkness pursuing imaginary merits. On the other hand, the other kind of man has recognized his fallen condition, and therefore started on a spiritual journey of self-awareness, in order to return to his primal origin. This man, even if he falls, has done much more than the one who has not fallen since never started. For the man who has not even started on a spiritual journey, there is only one destiny - total annihilation. Christian dogma says the same in its symbolic language when it states that the incorrigible sinners (those who have done nothing towards their salvation - to enbetter their degenerative condition) will be doomed to eternal damnation on the day of the last judgment [III. 330-333 & XII. 461]. The only prize for such an imperfect man is death, which is not the same as the death of the initiated. Such man is called homo faber, who, to be precise, does not really die, since there is nothing in him that resembles his primordial existence that might be condemned to death.

It has to be understood according to Tradition, that the thing that is, is forever - it is indestructible. Of course every man has something imperishable in him - the seed of God (logoi spermatikoi, as the Gnostics called it), but the forgetful man may never behold this. This is what Milton calls the Spirit of God, alike and given to Man to turn the body into a living temple built by faith [XII. 519-524]. This divine flame, which Man carries within himself is never revealed to the unaware - the divine light that could penetrate and radiate through his life never invade his shallow mind. Without this heavenly germ - without the Holy Spirit - man is nothing but dust, mere dirt, a vessel. A container into which God pours his own power [III. 90-134]. This image is again described by many traditions, for example the Hebrew Kabbalah, which depicts man as a cup into which the ten heavenly rivers of God flow through the ten sephirots. The human cup conceives these divine influences and integrates them by his Free Will. It is according to this mixture of heavenly fluids that the different personalities are formed. The body is therefore the chariot (or prison [10] ) of the spirit, and the ego - which is the base of personal, temporary motivations - is the materialization of this body. Until man follows his self asserting pride, he does nothing else but dance as a shadow in the flickers of the shadow world. The human body and its instinct behavior (whose level most people not even rise above), which in more advanced individuals surfaces as ego, is nothing else but a mask; an outer shell, a caterpillar under which hides the real butterfly. The human body and the instinctive consciousness is only an unstable messenger of the divine self.

Like we said, most people live their life without the internal divine spark ever touching his existence. Accordingly, Tradition never really considers them existent, since they were not much more than a shadow or dust. Dust he was an to dust shall return [compare to III. 770]. There is nothing in him that could die, because nothing ever really was born in him. What sacred he carried within himself was not born, therefore shall not die either. The eternal within, with the death of the shell, will return to it primeval origin. That is why the initiated (religious) man cannot be compared to the man on the street. The religious man has already started from the sinful town - he already started trying to purify himself. He brought to light the Spirit of Man that shall not perish with the corporal clod [X.784-798].

This process of transformation is not automatic. God made Man potentially perfect, but not immutable [V.524-526]. Man has Free Will by nature, but this sovereign quality needs discipline [V. 610]. Discipline relies on obedience [V. 500-518] - the obedience of God, and the obedience of inner principles. Man has to purify his stumble form, following the only principle that holds the divine truths - the Spirit of God [XII. 489-492]. Man has to transform his physical form into the living temple of God - he has discover his own divine potential nature [XII. 525-530]. Therefore Man is given law to dignify Man [V.680] - law that shows the sinfulness of Man; "Law can discover sin" [XII. 285-290]. Man has to show patient endurance in the world of many and to learn true patience [XI. 360-366]. He has to suffer for Truths sake - go through the stages of purification - so that in his state of reduced potentiality he can reserve enough power to re-ascend to his original completeness [XII. 569-570]. Man has to bare the illusory nature of his present state and learn to "stand still" [VI. 801-810]. He has to master independence of the outside world - not to change according to external pressure - be that physical or spiritual. Man has to ascertain the true service of God, which is the realization of his own true, inner Freedom. This liberty is the freedom of love that God requires; this is what will lead Man to him - will lead him back to his original condition. This free service of love is the ultimate fundament of the perfect human existence [V.536-540]. This is Love - the mutual dependency of man and woman - that constitutes harmony. In the realization and re-establishment of the harmony of the split universe lies stability, which is the essential ground of ascension [X. 915-931]. Because only Love can fulfill the Law - it is only through love that Man is able to stand still and obey the law of God [XII. 397-404]. This true union of the sexes that carries the hope of salvation [XII. 615-623]. Thus re-establishing harmony Man has to start out on the spiritual quest of self-ascension and return to primordial totality.

Only this kind of Man may hope to gain one of the four sacred destinies. Even if he cannot reach his goal getting back to his divine origin - even if he does not find in his outer shell, in his body (in the vas philosophorum, the alchemical furnace) the gold, he is more worthy than the mudman, who never even tried. We could use the pascalian interest-ethics and say Man has nothing to loose. If one never tries, one does not get anywhere - one will not find the philosopher’s stone - and therefore will have death as a reward. If on the other hand, one does set out on a spiritual journey and finds nothing, still there is nothing to loose. But if there is a salvation, a philosopher’s stone out of which one can produce the life-elixir, the drink of eternal life, then we have found the greatest treasure - immortality. But for that we have to find what is hidden, what is occult, for the divine flame is very deeply hidden in Man, buried in the depths of existence. Therefore Man has to ascend from his divine state to the severe depths of existence, to find the Lost Paradise, and flourishing that holy garden replant the Tree of Knowledge.

Milton deals with this problem in Paradise Regained....


All numbered references ([ I. 26.]) apply to:

Milton, John : Paradise Lost . [A Mentor Book, Penguin, New York, 1981].

[1] See. Plato - Phaidros [246b-256e]. According to the myth humans followed the 12 orders of gods up in the sky, contemplating the eternal existents in the world beyond the sky (hyperuranus topos). According to their inadequacy they fell to the Earth, and built for themselves a body from mud to remind them of their origin and the divine things they witnessed in the sky. (Compare to Milton's Book V. 470-515)

[2]  Like the ancient oracle in Delphoi predicted: 'gnóti sze auton' (Compare to Milton’s Book X. 156)

[3] See: Plato - Symposium [189d-193e]. According to the myth humans first died as a consequence of being split in half and could not overcome this mutilation until Zeus helped them. He gave them the possibility of sexual intercourse, which unites the two primal forces of the two parts again to constitute unity. (Compare to Milton’s Book IV. 735-775)

[4]  See: Plato's mythic use of language in Phaedo [62b-c] referring to an Orphic teaching: "The story told about them sub arcano to the effect that mortals are in a sort of prison, and that a man must not, apparently, free himself from it, or try to run away. /.../ Gods are our guardians and that we men are one of gods’ possessions /.../." (Compare to Milton’s Book V. 529-540)

[5]  See : Immanuel Kant's ontological theory, according to which all things only appear as a phenomena in the mind. It is according to our mode of perception that we perceive the appearance of these phenomena, in which deciding factors, in Kant's case, are named Time and Space.

[6] See: Plato - Phaidros [248c-249d]. One of the most important paces, where Plato reveals his idea of reincarnation, according to which a soul engaged in the scrutinization of external objects may not return to its origin until ten thousand years. The soul attracted to the illusion of the external shadow world has to go through several incarnations until it is purified to return to its primordial state. (Also see: Republic X. 614b-621d)

[7] See: Plato - Symposium [193.c.] "I am referring to all men and women: If our love would be fulfilled and if we were to bring our love to consummate end, and each of us were to find his own beloved on his return to his ancient nature." (Compare to Milton's Book VIII. 357-366)

[8] See: Plato - Republic [VII. 514a-517a]. According to which people forgetting their primordial condition sit in chains in the bottom of a cave which is lit by light coming from the real world. People are originally from this real world, but they do not have the strength or will to return there. Therefore they are rather engaged in the contemplation of the shadows of the real world and tend to sophism. (Compare to Milton's Book XII. 505-512)

[9] See : The Talmud [Book XIII. (Chagiga) Chpt. 5. (Tosifta II.)] - Those four who got into Paradise...

[10] See : Plato - Phaidros [250 c] according to which "...since we have been initiated into complete, clear, unchanging and happy appearances and we watched them in true light, without the burden that we now wear on ourselves and call body, and in which we are imprisoned like shells."

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