Essay on Freedom and Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost

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Freedom and Satan in Paradise Lost

Satan's primary operational problem in Paradise Lost is his lack of obedience. The fundamental misunderstanding which leads to Satan's disobedience is his separation of free will from God's hierarchical power. In the angel Raphael's account, Satan tells his dominions, "Orders and Degrees/Jarr not with liberty" (5.792-93). Tempting as this differentiation seems, Satan is mistaken. Free will and hierarchical power are not mutually exclusive, as Satan suggests, but overlapping concepts. Even though Satan has been created with sufficient freedom to choose to disobey, he tacitly acknowledges God's sovereignty when he exercises his choice. Satan is constrained existentially, from the outset, by …show more content…

But if Satan does only what God wants, there is no external proof that Satan indeed had exercised his will. Satan cannot be content with mere assent that looks like blind obedience. Dissent, on the other hand, is absolute proof of Satan's individual will being realized over against God's will. Satan's intent seems to be to prove the existence of his will rather than, as God wants, to prove the independently good content of his will. By dissent, Satan shows himself to be more concerned with himself than with God, with the appearance of free will than with its real content. Here is the second major constraint under which Satan lies: as a rule, he only recognizes that part of himself which is disobedient. This constraint, unlike the one natural to Satan's will, is self-imposed.

Satan's pride further constrains him. Because he is able to prove his freedom via dissent, and because he has ignored the fact that his free will comes from God, Satan thinks (or at least tells the angels before his own fall) that all heavenly beings including God are "Equally free" (5.792). Focused on his own freedom, Satan cannot understand that God has even more freedom than he. When confronted with the hegemonic power of the Son, then, Satan believes that "new Laws" have been imposed, that God has changed the rules (5.679-80). But this is not a new constraint; it is merely a new formulation of the Godhead.

According to Raphael, Satan thinks that to acknowledge the Son would be to

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