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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 416-497. SATAN IN LIMBO

Meanwhile, Satan lands on the outer rim of the World, suspended on its golden chain from Heaven (see illustration). He manages to find a spot where he is to some extent sheltered from the winds of Chaos, like a vulture who rests for a while on the windy plains of Mongolia, on his way to steal lambs for his prey. Notice how the epic simile makes a kind of double image: you see the ugly bird and Satan superimposed on one another, sharing the same characteristics.

There is nothing where Satan is walking up and down "alone bent on his prey." Later in the history of the World, Milton tells us, this place on the perimeter of the World will become Limbo. Here will be found the souls of those who are more misguided than sinful, who can't be sent to Hell but aren't good enough to enter Heaven. They will include the builders of the Tower of Babel and the Greek Philosophers who wanted to become gods. Milton especially mentions those Roman Catholics who believed that putting on religious garments would get them into Heaven.



NOTE: MILTON'S CHRISTIAN INDIVIDUALISM England had become a Protestant nation in 1539, not for purely religious reasons but because King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his first wife and the Roman Catholic Church opposed divorce, as it still does. So Henry declared a Church of England, with himself as head.

The main difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism comes in the matter of access to God. The Roman Catholic Church believes in the need for intercession with God, through a priesthood specially trained to act as intermediary for the people. Protestants believe they can address God directly through prayer. Their clergy, who are permitted to marry, are counselors and advisors more than intercessors with God.

As Protestantism developed, groups arose believing that even the reduced priestly function of the Church of England was too much. The extreme is probably the Quakers, who have no priests at all. Milton was closest to being a Puritan, but his kind of Christianity is really unique to him. We can best describe him as a Christian individualist. He believed that he should obey only God and God's law, which was immediately obvious to anyone who believed with a pure heart. Milton had no use at all for the external shows of religion-even symbols like the cross.

Thus you can see why he despises Roman Catholic "Indulgences, Dispenses, Pardons, Bulls." All those who believed in them would be blown away from Heaven and whirled into Limbo, the Paradise of Fools.

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