Paradise Lost: Book 12
Michael tells the history “betwixt the world destroy’d and world restor’d” with the coming of Christ.
The archangel begins with the “second source of men,” after Noah and the flood. There was peace until Nimrod who broke the laws of nature by building unholy cities. God, however, often descends to visit men and check their wrongdoing, as at the Tower of Babel when he caused everyone to speak a different language, thus creating confusion.
Adam is horrified by the events the angel tells, especially by the rule of tyrants, like Nimrod. Michael comments that with Adam’s fall true liberty was lost. Reason was lost and passions rule. Michael gives other examples of righteous and unrighteous nations and how God intervenes in human history when imbalances become too great, such as the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt.
Michael explains typology as a law of history. There is a foreshadowing of divine events. Moses is thus a type of Christ, a deliverer. Christ is the completing pattern, often called “the second Adam,” while Mary is the “second Eve.” In this way, “From shadowy Types to Truth, from Flesh to Spirit” human history demonstrates the evolution of man towards heaven in spite of Satan. There will always be sin but always ways to overcome it.
God renews his covenant with man from time to time, and the greatest covenant is when He sends his Son, born from Eve’s seed, not only to intervene in history but to be part of it, thus joining divine and human natures. When Christ dies and then is resurrected, He defeats the enemy, Death, creating immortality for men. At the end of time, the earth shall be a paradise greater than Eden. Until then, God will send his Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to dwell in the heart of man.
Thus Michael narrates the plan of how Satan will be defeated. After hearing “God’s ways justified to man” Adam declares the fall was fortunate: “O goodness infinite, goodness immense/ That all this good of evil shall produce.”
Michael says, now you are equipped to leave Paradise, and if virtuous “shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far.” Adam and Eve leave Eden hand in hand for the wide world before them.
Although history is bloody and terrible, God does not abandon humans to their fallen fate. Wherever men are just, God provides help, as when He rescued the Hebrews from slavery. The crucifixion and resurrection of His own Son means that divinity came down to be human and overcome sin and death, thus opening the path to heaven once more, in the way that Satan had opened a path to hell. Humans still have two choices before them, even as Adam and Eve did.
The idea of “the fortunate fall” summarizes the theme of providence: no matter what evil may befall, God turns it to good. The extremity of man’s fallen condition was the stimulus for an even greater gift of mercy—God’s descent into man (Christ) to redeem human nature.
Humans, nevertheless, must exercise free will to choose their fate. In paradise, the choice was easier since Reason was naturally tuned to God’s will. Since the overshadowing of Reason by the passions, conscience is the only memory of God’s will in the human heart. If someone prays for help, grace from God will supply the missing strength.
The concluding remark that Adam and Eve must now create their own inner paradise through virtuous living, means that they have come of age, no longer dependent on an external Eden. They can carry the seed of paradise with them wherever they go, just as Satan carries Hell with him. Once more, the conclusion is that humans may seem helpless, but they have all they need to make their lives heaven or hell. They still have the chance to climb the ladder to heaven.