Here we leave Satan and meet God and the Son, though we will return to Satan for the last third of the book. This book is the shortest so far (742 lines).
The Argument shows that God knows exactly what Satan is up to, the success that he will have in tempting humans, and what will need to happen as a result. There are a couple of interesting points here. God will be gracious toward humans, and not toward the fallen angels, because man “fell not of his own malice, as did Satan, but by him seduced.” Milton presents a view of the Atonement largely cohering with Penal Substitution, as one would expect from an English Calvinist. (He even uses the term “fealty” at line 204.) The Son volunteers to receive man’s punishment, and the Father ordains the Incarnation. Then we return to Satan, who has made his way to the new creation.
Book 3 begins with a prologue in which Milton addresses again his Muse (lines 1–55), then he gets back to the story. The Father and the Son notice Satan’s activities (lines 56–79), and then the Father speaks to the Son (lines 80–134), predicting man’s sin and explaining free will. Here God explains why Satan is going to the new world:
with purpose to assaylines 90–99
If him by force he can destroy, or worse,
By some false guile pervert; and shall pervert
For man will hearken to his glozing lies,
And easily transgress the sole command,
Sole pledge of his obedience: so will fall,
He and his faithless progeny: whose fault?
Whose but his own? ingrate, he had of me
All he could have; I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
And here he explains why he will have mercy on humans and not on angels.
The first sort by their own transgression fell,lines 129–32
Self-tempted, self-depraved: man falls deceived
By the other first: man therefore shall find grace,
The other none.
There is a little more of this distinction between humans and angels at lines 400–2.
The Son is described (lines 135–43) and then he speaks (lines 144–66), agreeing with the Father’s choice of grace, thus not to give Satan the victory. It is interesting that before people are even tempted, God has already determined not to carry out the punishment he had threatened.
The Father speaks to the Son (lines 167–216), first praising the Son, and then talking about human salvation. The speech seems a bit Calvinistic.
Some I have chosen of peculiar gracelines 183–84
Elect above the rest; so is my will.
But the continuation seems to say that others who do not enjoy this peculiar grace are not thereby lost but are still called by grace and may respond. Next, the Father talks about the problem that punishment must be meted out for human disobedience.
He with his whole posterity must die,lines 209–12
Die he or justice must; unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.
The Father presents the choice for all the heavenly host: who will take man’s place (lines 213–16)? This an interesting idea, for it implies that someone other than God incarnate might have redeemed humans.
Everyone in heaven is silent (lines 217–26) until the Son speaks up (lines 227–65), offering himself as the substitute.
Behold me then, me for him, life for lifelines 236–37
I offer, on me let thine anger fall.
on me let Death wreak all his rage;lines 241–43
Under his gloomy power I shall not long
The Son talks more about how he will destroy Death and “Shall lead hell captive maugre hell” (line 255). This whole speech, along with the previous one by the Father does a nice job of combining the two most prominent Atonement theories: Penal Substitution and Christus Victor.
All heaven stood in awe of the Son (lines 266–73).
The Father replies (lines 274–343), foretelling the Incarnation.
And be thyself man among men on earth,lines 283–85
Made flesh, when time shall be, of virgin seed,
By wondrous birth.
And after the Son accomplishes his mission on earth?
Therefore thy humiliation shall exaltlines 313–17
With thee thy manhood also to this throne;
Here shalt thou sit incarnate, here shalt reign
Both God and Man, Son both of God and Man,
Anointed universal king.
The Father then announces the universal and eternal reign of the Son, to whom the Father now subjects all creation, and he talks about the Day of Judgment, after which will come the new heaven and earth wherein the just shall dwell (line 335; cf. 2 Peter 3:13). Here’s how life is depicted in this new state.
And after all their [= the just] tribulations long
See golden days, fruitful of golden deeds,
With joy and love triumphing, and fair truth.
The angels praise the Father and Son (lines 344–71). The song described (lines 372–415), including a brief description of the Son’s victory over the rebel angels and his decision to die for humans.
Back to Satan at line 418, where he alighted “upon the firm opacous globe / Of this round world.” It is interesting (and slightly confusing on a first read) that the “world” here is not the earth but the entire universe created by God, which itself is only a part of “space,” outside of which exists Chaos and all that, and God’s heaven and hell.
There is a long description of Satan’s travels on this world (lines 418–653), including a long digression on the Paradise of Fools (lines 441–97; the name is given at 496), where, the Poet tells us, will some day live the giants of Gen 6:1–4, and those who built the Tower of Babel, and Empedocles, and Cleombrotus, and
many more too long,lines 473–75
Embryos and idiots, eremites and friars
White, black and grey, with all their trumpery.
Satan sees a light (line 500) and finds a stairway to heaven (lines 502–3). After a long description of the stairs—a stairway that leads from heaven to Paradise—Satan finally gets there at line 540. He looks down and gets envious. He actually travels to the sun, and Milton goes on for a while about the sun. He sees the angel of Revelation 19:17 (line 622–23). The angel saw not Satan, who now transforms his appearance into “a stripling cherub” (line 636), then approached the angel, who turns out to be Uriel, one of the seven angels who stand in God’s presence (lines 648–49), later called “regent of the sun” (line 690).
Satan speaks to Uriel (lines 654–80), asking for directions. It is interesting that in this speech, Satan represents the creation of humans as “to repair that loss” (line 678), the loss of the rebel angels. Uriel suspects nothing (lines 681–93).
Urigel speaks to Satan (lines 694–735), describing the moment of God’s creation and points out Paradise. Satan descends and lands on on a mountain called Niphates (apparently in Armenia).