Treatise for the Christian Soldier in John Milton’s Paradise Lost

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Milton's Treatise for the Christian Soldier in Paradise Lost

While the War in Heaven, presented in Book VI of John Milton's Paradise Lost, operates as a refutation of the concept of glory associated with the epic tradition, the episode also serves a major theological purpose. It provides nothing less than a perfect example of how the Christian soldier should act obediently in combating evil, guarding against temptation, and remaining ever vigilant against the forces of darkness. It also offers the ultimate hope that Satan can be thwarted and comforts Christians in the knowledge that Satan cannot be victorious. At the same time, the example warns against the pretensions that Christians might have about being able to
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Yet while valuing war for what it has to give of interest and beauty and insight into man's nobler nature, Milton none the less deplores it as an evidence and outcome of man's fallen state (221).

The "insight into man's nobler nature" is gained through war as "a precious illustration," not through the glory won on the battlefield. As an "illustration" war parallels the conflict and destruction brought into the world because of sin; therefore, the analogy of the Christian as a soldier holds true for Milton as it has for countless theologians. It is not war that Milton wants to do away with; it is the popular assumption that war holds glory and honor that he seeks to break down. Spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness is the command of God. God commands Michael and Gabriel to "lead forth my armèd Saints, / By thousands and by millions ranged for fight . . . / Them with fire and hostile arms / Fearless assault" (vi, 47-51). Hanford also notes that Milton's "hopefulness [for peace] is tempered, however, both by experience and by the implications of his theology, and he sees no prospect of doing away with war while human nature remains in its present unregeneracy" (222-223).

If Hanford is correct in suggesting that Milton liked war as an "illustration," then the War in Heaven must serve as an ultimate "illustration" of the duties of the Christian soldier. Stella Revard says, "In telling us that it is a war of resistance, however,

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