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Dara Miller
Dr. Paula McQuade
ENG 427
10 March 2012
To heavnly Love thou mayst ascend: the Potential of Marriage in Eden and Beyond
In Books IV and VIII of John Miltons Paradise Lost, the angel Raphael fields a myriad
of questions in response to the newly formed mans curiosity: Adam is curious about the solar
system, about Nature, about his creation and his Creator, about his relationship with Eve, and
about the nature of angelic beings. Through the discourse between Adam and Raphael, Milton
teaches his readers about proper questioning, proper use of earthly gifts, and proper
understanding of the heavenly hierarchy. Throughout the majority of this discussion, Milton
reiterates and expounds upon many fairly orthodox view of angelic roles and natures, and
through his angelology he continues the Renaissance dialogue concerning the essence of spiritual
beings and their relationship to mankind. However, his adherence to orthodox beliefs strays in
one essential area; whereas most discussion of angelic nature centered on the nature of the angels
themselves, as in Aquinas treatises, Milton infuses his angelology with the erotology that
defines his prelapsarian couple. In Raphaels response to Adams ultimate question about angelic
desires, Milton shapes the framework for our understanding of right human sexuality through the
sanctioning of angelic intimacy. Through his borderline-heretical ideas presented his angelology
and his carefully guided redemption of sexuality both before and after the fall, Milton invites his
readers to consider the possibilities of Gods intentions for human happiness through conjugal
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Miltons angelology, although it also provides a necessary background for the
development of angelic characters and the creation of a heavenly setting, primarily serves as one
of Miltons many pedagogical tools. Through his unique inclusion of intimate descriptions of
angelic desire and sexual nature, Milton extends beyond the realm of traditional angelology in
order to teach his readers about the appropriate use of and appreciation for pleasure. The ideas
about angelic nature put forth in Books IV and VIII were hardly the widely accepted ideas of his
day; these descriptions were at best controversial and at worst heretical, and the fact that Milton
chose at a cost to emphasize these theories of angels suggestsThey have place in Paradise
Lost not so much for their own sake as for the sake of what they point us to (West 162). In
relation the concept of right use of desire, therefore, he emphasize[s] his picture of mans nature
by its parallel in angels nature (West 163). The concept of angelic sexuality, therefore, is
crucial in justifying the enjoyment of human sexuality, which Milton sees as God-given aspect of
mans original nature. In their discussion of love, Raphael and Adam engage in an exploration of
the nature of sexuality that illuminates not only the proper role of sex, but also the intended
progression of prelapsarian humanity. While some scholars such as Clay Daniel in his article
Miltons Neo-Platonic Angel? suggest that Raphaels discussion with Adam echoes the
temptation in Eves dream and anticipates the temptation in the garden, (175) their struggle to
understand each other stems not so much from some predisposition towards sin on Adams part
as from the complicated nature of conjugal love.
In Paradise Lost, Milton promotes a fecund and innocently sensual Eden, as opposed to
thinkers such as Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, who purported that mankind before the fall would not
have needed sex; that they rather would have employed whatever the mode of increase in the
angelic nature is (unspeakable and inconceivable by human conjectures, except that it assuredly
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exists), it would have operated also in the case of men, who were made a little lower than
the angels (17.2). Gregorys claim, however, due to its lack of specificity, does not satisfactorily
explain the heavenly commandment to be fruitful and multiply; if the first humans were
fashioned for this sort of mysterious asexual reproduction, there would have been no reason for
God to issue such a command to Adam and Eve as a couple. Milton, on the other hand, both
justifies the human sexuality that parties such as Gregory were so anxious to exclude from
Paradise and explains the nature of this unspeakable and inconceivable angelic sexuality.
This question of sexuality, while key to creating Miltons epic, still perhaps remains the
most problematic portion of depicting prelapsarian life; because sexuality is associated in some
obscure but powerful way both with Gods supreme blessing and with the most terrible
transgression, (Turner 39) a fine balance must be maintained in any portrayal of prelapsarian
sexuality in order to dissuade readers from interpolating their own postlapsarian conceptions of
intercourse. According to Joshua Scodel, in the light of the Protestant Reformation Temperate
sexual relations between married partners were the mean between sin-producing abstinence and
sinful fornication, and it is this temperate passion between man and wife that Milton advocates
in Paradise Lost. In his depiction of prelapsarian intercourse, Milton models the proper use of
passion; like Aquinas states in his Summa Theologiae, virtue dependson conformity with
right reason: and consequently the exceeding pleasure attaching to a venereal act directed
according to reason, is not opposed to the mean of virtue. Through this right reason,
postlapsarian humanity could then strive to achieve what William Gouge describes as The first,
highest, chiefest, and most absolutely necessary common mutual dutie betwixt Man and
WifeMatrimonial Unitie, whereby husband and wife doe account one another to be one flesh,
and accordingly pursue the inviolable union whereby they are knit together (214).
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In Miltons paradise, it is this right reason that Adam and Eve invoke in their
lovemaking, and in their pre-fallen state, the implication is that the exceeding pleasure would
outweigh any comparison our fallen humanity could strive to emulate. On their first night
together, Adam and Eve know instinctively the right ways in which to celebrate their new life
and marriage; after first offering praise to God, they retreat to their marriage bower to engage in
adoration pure / which God likes best (Paradise Lost 737-78). In his view of paradisal
marriage, Milton echoes Augustines firm belief that there could be no manner of doubt that to
increase and multiple and replenish the earth in virtue of the blessing of God, is a gift of
marriage as God instituted from the beginningworthy of the happiness of Paradise (Augustine
14.22). This controversial view of sex before the fall contrasted with the views of those
theologians who held that Adam and Eve remained in a state of innocence before the fall, and
therefore had no sexual knowledge. Milton, well aware of this alternate view of paradisal
marriage, sternly imposes his rebuttal in his Hail wedded Love speech in Book IV; he claims
that these Hypocrites purport to speak in the name of puritie and innocence, but actually
[defame] as impure what God declares / Pure (Paradise Lost 4.744-52). The promoters of this
sexless Eden, in Miltons view, seem to incite the subtle stratagem against our Christian
warfare that causes people to be terrified by a vain and shadowy menacing of faults that are
not that he speaks of in his earlier Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (699).
In his embrace of prelapsarian intimacy, Milton endows Adam with an innate knowledge
of sex and the rightness of his connubial love for Eve. However, Adams entrancement with Eve
consumes his thoughts to such an extent that it becomes a primary topic of his discussion with
Raphael. Adam, as a supremely reasonable being, knows his role in the hierarchy and knows
how he is supposed to feel and behave towards his wife; even though he and Eve [embrace] in
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the marital act, not goaded on by the pricking of voluptuous desire, but rather in peace of soul
and with integrity of body (Augustine 14.26) his reaction to Eve still leaves him weak /
Against the charm of Beautys powerful glance (Paradise Lost 8.532-3). This perceived
weakness leads him to question Raphael, even going so far as to wonder if God may have taken
perhaps / More than enough (Paradise Lost 8.536-7) of his own substance when creating Eve.
Raphael, in his reaction to Adams question, cautions against an excess of passion in
marriage, warning that if the sense of touch whereby mankind / Is propagated seem such dear
delight / beyond all other, think the same voutsaft / To Cattle and each BeastIn loving thou
dost well, in passion not (Paradise Lost 8.579-88). This firm denouncement of intemperate
passion echoes John Donnes view that There is not a more uncomely, a poorer thing, then to
love a Wife like a Mistresse (11). Adam, although he seems troubled by Raphaels response, is
still only half-abasht (Paradise Lost 8.595); he appears to realize, as Turner claims, that
Human eroticism is both higher and more complex than the archangel realizes (278).
Therefore, instead of merely accepted Raphaels rebuke, Adam defends his love for Eve; it not
equitable to animal desire because it is not simply her physical beauty that attracts him, but also
Those thousand decencies that daily flow / From all her words and actions, mixt with Love /
And sweet compliance (Paradise Lost 8.601-3). Adam is not concerned that his love for Eve is
in any way unnatural, and he seems reluctant to even admit that may potentially be excessive;
rather, he is concerned with where his love for Eve fits into the divine scheme of love and
ascension. Therefore, in his final question to Raphael about how the heavnly spirits express
their love (Paradise Lost 8.615), Adams goal is to discover whether heavenly loveis indeed
joined in a Platonic scale to the highest sexual love between a man and woman, and if so,
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whether this vertical dimension provides an adequate model for understanding his own feelings
(Turner 278).
Although this provocative question does reveal a more complete understanding of the
workings and purposes of angelic love, what Adam does not initially comprehend is that Raphael
has already answered his question that he is truly asking about heavenly ascension. What Adam
viewed as a reproach actually entailed a revelation, if somewhat buried in Raphaels swift reply,
of the heavenly plan for paradisal humanity. In Raphaels warning against an overflow of
passion, he obscures his intended message concerning the purpose of marriage itself. In its
original form, Love refines the thoughts, and heart enlarges, hath his seat / In Reason, and is
judicious, is the scale / By which to heavnly Love thou mayst ascend (Paradise Lost 8.589-
91). Heavenly love is not sunk in carnal pleasure; (Paradise Lost 8.592) rather, it is the total
unification of the body and mind in worshipful joint ecstasy. Adam, although he claims to share
unfeignd /Union of Mind and one Soul with Eve (Paradise Lost 8.603-4), still feels the
need to know more about how exactly LoveLeads up to Heavn, and thus demands Miltons
controversial depiction of angelic eros.
In Raphaels blushing reply to Adams request, Milton creates as part of his erotology a
singular interpretation of angelic nature; in his description of angelic sexuality, Milton stands
peculiarly alone in a field of discussion obsessed with the nature of angelic beings. While
theories about angelic bodies and even the capacity of angels to have sex with humans were an
active part of the discourse, no scholar so explicitly claimed as Milton did that angelic forms
were capable of or had the desire to have sex with each other. Although Aquinas does propose
the idea that one angel loves another with natural affection in so far as he is one with him in
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nature, (Aquinas 1.60.4) neither he nor any other involved in this discussion makes a claim
quite so bold as Miltons:
Let it suffice thee that thou know'st
Us happie, and without Love no happiness.
Whatever pure thou in the body enjoy'st
(And pure thou wert created) we enjoy
In eminence, and obstacle find none
Of membrane, joynt, or limb, exclusive barrs:
Easier then Air with Air, if Spirits embrace,
Total they mix, Union of Pure with Pure
Desiring; nor restrain'd conveyance need
As Flesh to mix with Flesh, or Soul with Soul. (Paradise Lost 8. 620-9)
Why, then, does Milton step so far outside the parameters of established dialogue on
angelic nature? Why choose to make angelic nature blatantly sexual? Angelology, although laced
throughout the epic, is not the primary focus of Miltons work: therefore, one must look at this
digression into the topic of angelic sexuality through the lens of what it reveals about human
sexuality; as Karma deGruy claims, Miltons angelogyplaces him within a long scriptural and
exegetical tradition in which angelic being elucidates human being (117). With this in mind,
Raphaels earlier comment that love can become the scale / By which to heavnnly Love thou
mayst ascend takes on new meaning; through the persistent application of right reason in
regards to love, the prelapsarian man has the opportunity to elevate himself to a higher level of
being through his sexual nature. Although Anna Nardo argues that Adam must correct the
angels misconception about his love because sex is a complement that no angel needs,
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Raphaels speech seems to subtly decry this interpretation; while angels may not feel the driving
necessity for a mate that Adam felt upon his creation, they still enjoy in eminence the
pleasures of love that humans, on a smaller scale, also take delight in. This then involves the
spiritual delight of a comingling of essence that Adam so highly venerates in his love of Eve;
while human and angelic natures are vastly different, the complete physical and emotional
connection with another being serves as a mode of worship for both.
Raphaels revelation, in addition to providing evidence to the eternal progression
that Milton seems to imply was Gods original intention for mankind, also elucidates the finer
points of prelapsarian sexuality, both angelic and human. Milton, like Henry More, viewed
angels as having freer plenty of the purest sort (199) of any experiences humans could enjoy;
in Mores The Immortality of the Soul, he claims that angelic spirits have Bodies surpassing
ours so much in purity that they are more open to the most enravishing affections, and that
these spirits sing, and play, and dance together, reaping the lawful pleasures of the very Animal
life, in a far higher degree then we are capable of in this World (418-20).
However, even in this seemingly parallel view of angelic pleasure, More is careful to
ascertain that the sweet motions of the Spirits in the passion of Love can very hardly be
commanded off from too near bordering upon the shameful sense of Lustthey cannot but
enravish one anothers Souls (420-21). On this point Milton firmly holds to an essential
exception to popular angelology; whereas for More, any discussion of enravishment that
extends beyond the Soul must entail a form of lust, for Milton, the physical embracing of Spirits
is a total union that extends beyond an intellectual mix. In Raphaels speech, he blatantly
suggests that angelic intercourse is analogous, though far superior, to human intercourse.
Without the obstacle of human form, they are free to enjoy Whatever pure thou in the body
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enjoyin eminence (Paradise Lost 8. 621-5). Although Raphaels shy explanation may seem
initially uncharacteristic of the admonishing angel who mere lines ago censured Adam for his
enjoyment of sexual pleasure, he again in this description focuses on the proper and Pure
uses of the experience, and thus, in a moment of grave foreshadowing, again warns Adam to
take heed lest Passion sway / Thy judgment to do aught, which else free Will / Would not
admit (Paradise Lost 8. 635-7).
This emphasis on the contest between Adams passion and free Will underlines the
crux of what Raphael is attempting to teach him about his erotic nature and leads to one of the
key difficulties of paradisal sexuality. As Augustine indicates, the central troubling aspect of the
sexual impulse is that it becomes So possessing indeedthat at the moment of time in which it
is consummated, all mental activity is suspended (Augustine 14.16). This orgiastic interruption
of reason, he suggests, equals a loss of free will, and it is this loss of will, this sublimation of the
reasoning mind to the unthinking body, which causes the shame that accompanies postlapsarian
sex and threatens to invade even into Adams perfect mind. In his imagined Paradise, then,
Augustine envisioned a marital sexuality which was entirely ruled by reason, where Men and
women dwelling happily in this well-ordered world, [would] not beget their offspring in the
weakness of passionate desire, for the sexual appetite, like all others, stirred but at the bidding of
the will (Augustine 14.26).
This reasoned intercourse seems to be supported by Miltons interpretation of Eden; in
Raphaels admonishments to Adam, it is Adams lack of will not his love that he decries.
Indeed, Raphaels depiction of angelic sexuality would also seem to support this controlled
intimacy; as angels are not subject to membrane, joynt, or limb impeding their union, they are
also not subject to the interference of the appetite overtaking the will. Because so much of their
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substance is wrapped up in reason, it follows that their lovemaking would include an equal
mingling of the mind with the senses. It is only in following this same angelic pattern of
reasoned and right passion that Adam and Eve fully enjoy the unlimited blessings of paradisal
marriage, and as Turner suggests, they would have felt the joy of the artist or the performer, and
exhilarated and effortless agility, an alertness of body as well as mind, a trusting love, and a
benevolent warmth. They would have come together in a blaze of holy love (50).
Through the innate differences in their beings, Adam and Raphael struggle to truly
communicate with each other; Raphael, in his zealous concern for Adam, glosses over his
instruction about Gods plan for humanity in his correction of Adams perceived sexual
immoderation, while Adam, in his endeavors to understand his nature, fails to grasp Raphaels
importations of the heavenly plan of ascension through the proper use of love. Thus, while
Milton rescues sexuality from sin and erotic activity from being only a pale, imperfect, and
limited shadow of divine love, (deGruy 123) through the combination of love and Reason, he
also suggests that achieving this balance is so difficult that even an angelic being and a perfect
man cannot fully agree on the scope of the power of intimate love. Thus, after the fall mans
understanding of the nature of sexuality must become even more complicated. It is no accident
that the first activity Adam and Eve engage in after he partakes of the fruit is a tainted
copulation; instead of the adoration pure (Paradise Lost 4.737) which defined their first
encounter, their marriage rites are now sullied by Loves disport took largely (Paradise Lost
9.1041) and its dire implications of sexual indulgence that runs contrary to the reasoned
temperance that they so naturally displayed before. Driven by lust rather than the desire to fulfill
each other through Gods divine commandments, sex becomes thir mutual guilt the Seal
(Paradise Lost 9.1042).
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As Turner asserts, fallen sexualityis not an entirely new experience, something visited
on humanity or thrown in as a solace for the pains of expulsionit is a version of Adam and
Eves established pattern, a cracked and hectic transcription of familiar music (303). However,
retaining some vestiges of its former glory does not make fallen sexuality less of perversion; in
the aftermath of their prelapsarian copulation, the couple is stripped destitute and bare / Of all
thir virtue (Paradise Lost 9.1061-2). They are now subject to foul concupiscence, (Paradise
Lost 9.1078) and Augustine confirms the guilt they thus projected onto all mankind; because
their reason and love is now subjected to their appetites and they are moved and restrained not
at [their] will, but by a certain independent autocracy there is now a shame very specially
connected with this lust (14.17).
This shame, in addition to subverting the act that was once a viable topic of conversation
between men and angels into one that even shameless mendare not display (Augustine
14.18) in conversation or in act, also carries a harsher penalty than embarrassment. In mankinds
fallen state, conjugal love can no longer work towards heavenly ascension. Just as the gates of
Eden are forever closed to Adam and Eve at the end of the epic, so are all options for mankind to
promote himself through any means of his own of merit alone closed. In his newly-fallen state,
Adam does not seem to fully grasp the full extent of the corruption of sexualitys exalting power,
and as Turner claims, the astounding irony of their first postlapsarian coupling measures the
depth of the fall: Adam and Eve think they are deliberately re-enacting their love on a higher
plane, but we can see it only as a travesty (303). Even after they realize the guilt that
accompanies their actions and spend fruitless hours in mutual accusation (Paradise Lost
9.1189), Adam still clings to the idea that marital love may bring redemption. In his scene of
instruction by the Archangel Michael, Adam mistakenly views the future coupling of the Just
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men and the Bevy of fair Women as a hope / Of more peaceful days where Nature seems
fulfilled in all her ends (Paradise Lost 11.575-602). Adam cannot yet differentiate between his
vision of divinely sanctioned sexuality and this subtle disfiguration of that model, and Michael
has to explicitly tell him to Judge not what is / Best by pleasure, though to Nature seeming
meet (Paradise Lost 11.603-4). Although he is initially left of short joy bereft, (Paradise Lost
11.628), Michaels glimpse into the entirety of the future leaves him Replete with joy and
wonder at Gods ultimate plan of redemption.
On their path to reclaiming their life as a married couple in this new world, Adam and
Eve must relearn the arts of affectionate conversation and erotic companionship (Turner 308)
and their understanding of heavenly love is once more guided by angelic wisdom, as they are
instructed by Michael to make peace with the fact they must enter a new phase in their existence.
He counsels them to add / Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith, / Add virtue,
Patience, Temperance, add Lovethe soul of all the rest, and though they could expect this
revised version of the reasoned existence that had been their natural gift before the fall to be
difficult, their perseverance could produce A paradise within thee, happier far (Paradise Lost
12.582-587). Although their path has now changed, they could yet strive to reach that Union of
Pure with Pure Desiring in their love by learning to locate Eden within their marriage (Turner
308), and by living on in love that is once again Founded in Reason, Loyal, Just, and Pure they
can regain their marriage bed undefild and chaste pronounct (Paradise Lost 4.755-761). With
this hope, they can leave paradise hand in hand, (Paradise Lost 12.648) once again joined in
marital harmony as they begin their new life together.

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