The Dual Reading of 'Paradise Regained'

G.A. Wilkes


In discussing the incarnate Christ in the De Doctrina Christiana, Milton argues that Christ was at the same time completely human and completely divine, and that while these two natures were individually distinct, they were also indissolubly united. This doctrine, he says, 'is generally considered by theologians as, next to the Trinity in Unity, the greatest mystery of our religion'. It has continued to perplex critics of Paradise Regained. Some have seen the Christ of the poem as fluctuating between the two natures, or as being supported by his divinity at moments of crisis; others have seen him as exploring his own nature, and coming to realize or assert his divinity on the pinnacle of the temple, in the utterance 'Tempt not the Lord thy God'; there is a general tendency to look at least for some kind of psychological progression in the poem, with Christ 'undergoing a genuine adventure of testing and self-discovery' . I wish to argue in the first place that the Christ of Paradise Regained experiences the entire action in his human nature alone. While theologically he never ceases to be divine - and how this can be so is 'the greatest mystery of our religion' - we are to abandon any notion that the Christ undergoing the temptations in the wilderness has his divinity as a resource to call upon, that he need only snap his fingers to convert from the one nature to the other. He is the second Adam whose perfect obedience is to repair the deficiencies of the first, and it is only in his human nature that he can do this, with only the same equipment as other men.

Full Text: