God hears the prayers of Adam and Eve, inspired by his own grace. He allows his Son to act as an advocate for humankind, and eventually pay for humankind’s sins. The Father then calls all the angels of Heaven together, and announces his plans. He commands the Archangel Michael to go down to Earth and escort Adam and Eve out of Paradise. They can no longer live in a pure place now that they are impure. But through leading a good and moral life, they may be reunited with God after their death. To make the news easier on them, God allows Michael to show Adam a vision of what is to come in the future of humankind.
Adam anticipates that God has heard their prayers. He reassures Eve that she will be able to seek revenge on Satan by being the mother of humankind. She still feels ashamed for bringing Sin and Death into the world, and does not feel that she deserves to have such a role. Nevertheless, she asserts, she will try to obey God and live peacefully in Paradise. Michael then flies down from Heaven and tells them that they must leave Paradise. This news shocks and saddens them, even though their death will be delayed so that they may live for many years. Michael comforts them with the knowledge that all of the Earth, not just Paradise, has been given to them by God and is under the eye of the Father. They are saddened to leave Paradise but know they must obey God’s command. Adam laments that he will never be able to speak with God again, but Michael explains that Adam can speak to God wherever he goes. The Archangel then puts Eve to sleep and takes Adam up to a high hill to show him visions of humankind’s future.
From the highest hill in Paradise, Michael allows Adam to see nearly an entire hemisphere of the Earth. Adam sees two men offering sacrifices, and watches in horror as one of them kills the other. Michael explains that these men are Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve. Adam is shocked and dismayed at his first vision of death. The angel then shows him the other ways that death will take the lives of men: disease, war, and old age. Adam asks if there is any alternative to death, woefully declaring that he could not die too soon, but Michael advises him that obeying God and living a virtuous life can allow people to live long and fruitful lives, so long as Heaven permits.
Next a vision appears of men and women enjoying dances, games, and amorous courting. Adam assumes that this vision is a good portent, but Michael informs him that they are atheists who live for pleasure, not for God, and that they will die as well. This image is followed by the appearance of great armies, slaughtering men by the thousands and plundering cities. Michael tells how war will be praised by violent men, and many terrible conquerors will be admired as heroes. One man, Michael explains, will try to prevent these wars: Enoch. The other men shun him and threaten to kill him, until God lifts him up and brings him safely to Heaven. The scene then changes to further sins of death and dancing and sex. These scenes depict a later era in which sins of the flesh will abound. A single man can be seen, preaching to the others to repent and stop this evil way of life, but he is ignored. He goes off into the mountains and constructs a giant boat, filling it with all the animals of the Earth, and his family. A great flood then comes, wiping out all living things except those on the boat. The good man who builds the boat is Noah. Michael explains how God was angered by humankind’s sinful ways, and decided to cleanse the earth of them. He finds one virtuous man, Noah, and preserves humankind through him. The flood wipes out all human life except for Noah and his family. At the end of the flood, Adam sees a rainbow appear and God’s covenant with humankind that he will never again destroy the Earth by flood. Adam feels reassured by this story and its promise that virtue and obedience to God will continue on Earth through Noah.
The visions in Books XI and XII provide a larger context to Paradise Lost and allow Milton to “justify the ways of God to men” (I.26) and to conclude his epic poem with the message that one must live virtuously and be obedient to God. These stories, narrated as Adam’s visions, explain why God allows sin and death into the world, and why God wants us to live a certain way. Without these visions and stories, Milton could not explain God’s reasoning and his glorious plan for humankind. These visions enable Milton to transcend his focus from the first narrative in the Bible to subsequent books, so that he can discuss human history in broad terms. Part of his message is that human history should be told in terms of its sins, not its advancements in civilizations or invention. These visions expose a dangerous cycle of sins, from sloth and envy to gluttony and lust. Through these visions, Milton asserts the need for repentance and service to God.
Adam and Eve’s repentance is made possible through the grace of God. The act of repentance was necessary for salvation, and since God wanted humankind to be redeemed, he planted the seeds of repentance in the souls of Adam and Eve. This realization is appropriate to the belief that humankind, after the fall, is totally depraved. Adam and Eve cannot do anything good on their own accord without God’s guidance. God also now specifically reveals why he allows Death to come into the world. Humankind is now impure and unfit for Paradise, as well as for the kingdom of Heaven. The sacrifice of Jesus makes humankind worthy of Heaven: his sacrifice is humankind’s final remedy. The price of Jesus’ sacrifice is heavy, but the reward outweighs the cost. After death, humankind can be purified and renewed, thus restoring them to their previous position as God’s obedient children.
The whole sequence of visions contains a careful emotional balance between grief at the corruption of sin and joy at the redemption of the moral soul. Michael evokes this balance through these visions to inform Adam of humankind’s sins and punishments, as well as their sacrifices and rewards. Otherwise, he might have given up hope, and God does not want humankind to fall victim to the same despair that doomed Satan. On the other hand, Adam cannot fail to realize just how depraved humankind will become as a result of the fall—Adam and Eve’s sins will be repeated again and again by their children and their children’s children. The vision of ensuing decay through war, disease and intemperate living gives Adam a tremendous sense of worry and shame. But the figure of Enoch, the one who is saved by God, demonstrates the need to stand up for one’s moral beliefs, even if other nonbelievers will kill one for such integrity. The strength and hope in Enoch’s story gives Adam the confidence he needs to continue living obedient to God.
Milton presents Adam, along with other men from his vision, as prefigurations of Christ. The whole scene with Adam on the mountain prefigures an event in Jesus’ life. In the Gospels, Satan takes Jesus up onto a mountain and offers him all the kingdoms of the world, if he will bow down in worship to the devil. Adam’s time on the mountain is not such a test, but it does tax his courage. Likewise, Enoch’s ability to stand up for his beliefs shows the redemptive qualities of humankind. The story of Noah shows that his unwavering belief in God helps to save the virtues of humankind. Noah is given such an important place here because Milton, like many other Christian thinkers, thought of him as a Christ figure: a single man whose virtue in the face of evil saves humankind. From the stories of Enoch and Noah, Adam can recognize the power of devotion to God. These visions, and Adam himself, demonstrate the path of greatness that prefigures the salvation of humankind through Jesus’ sacrifice. These visions also demonstrate Milton’s belief that a true measure of a person, from Adam up until modern times, is his or her virtuous relationship with God.
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