Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Marriage: the Intimacy and the Ecstasy

Let’s continue our blog series on Paradise Lost by looking at Book 4.

Summary
With a mixture of nostalgia (remembering the glories of his heavenly state) and wounded pride (his refusal to seek repentance), Satan experiences inner turmoil on his way to Earth. With his first exposure to Adam and Eve, Satan is struck with both wonder and disgust at their perfections and pleasures. Their utterly happy state fills him with envy and hatred. Overhearing Adam and Eve’s conversation, he learns that the tree of knowledge of good and evil is forbidden to them. Meanwhile, Uriel, who has quickly discerned the deceit of Satan’s earlier inquiry, warns Gabriel that an evil spirit is making his way to Earth. Gabriel appoints two angels to guard Adam and Eve from any attempts made on their safety. In the evening, these angels come upon Satan, now disguised as a frog, whispering tempting dreams into Eve’s ear. Satan is forcefully brought to Gabriel; the two verbally spar before Satan flies out of Paradise.

Meditation
Book 4 introduces us to the absolute perfection of God’s creation. Milton does a stellar job of taking us into a world that none of us has ever experienced: one of complete purity and pleasure, without even a hint of shame or corruption. All is as it should be, and it is gloriously beautiful to behold.

Nothing stands out as wonderfully as the sinless relationship between Adam and Eve. Their conjugal harmony and the sweetness of their conversation are a delight to observe. Adam’s first address to Eve exhibits radiant affection: “Sole partner and sole part of all these joys, Dearer thyself than all” (lines 411-412). And skipping ahead to lines 18-19 of Book 5, we read Adam’s call for Eve to awake from slumber: “My fairest, my espoused, my latest found, Heaven’s last best gift, my ever new delight.” Yes, theirs is the marriage relationship we all long for—perfectly intimate in every way.

At the first sight of all this beauty, grace, and pleasure, Satan is left speechless. When he recovers from the initial shock, his first two words summarize his response: “Oh hell!” (line 358). Satan looks on their conjugal attraction and pure kisses with disapproval, envy, and jealousy. He disgustingly proclaims, “Sight hateful, sight tormenting!” (line 505).

Contrary to what the world may say today, it is Satan—not God—who hates the physical, emotional, and spiritual pleasure of sex. It is God who planned for married couples to enjoy “endearing smiles” (line 337), “youthful dalliance” (line 338), and to be “linked in happy nuptial league” (line 339). It is Satan’s hatred of sex, says Milton, that led him to instigate the manmade practice of celibacy for clergy (see lines 742-749).

Furthermore, in order to reduce mankind’s pleasure in sex, Satan aims to pervert and dilute it. He seeks as much as possible to keep all those who might lawfully enjoy sex to abstain from it, and to get all those who cannot lawfully enjoy sex to experiment with it. To the degree that these things happen, to that degree mankind’s enjoyment of the goodness of sex is lessened.

Marriage is a blessed union, the pinnacle of all human relationships:

Hail wedded love, mysterious law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propriety
In Paradise of all things common else. . . .
Perpetual fountain of domestic sweets,
Whose bed is undefiled and chaste pronounced,
Present, or past, as saints and patriarchs used.
(lines 750-752, 760-762)

The marriage relationship far outweighs the satisfaction of “the bought smile / Of harlots, loveless, joyless, unendeared” (lines 765-766). It exceeds the joys of “Mixed dance, or wanton masque, or midnight ball” (line 768). The genuine pursuit of marital romance yields a reward that is unmatched by any other romance this world can offer.

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