God sees Satan heading toward the world and points him out to his Son, sitting on his right hand. He tells his son how Satan is going to tempt man and how man is then going to fall.
“Ingrate,” God says of man. “He had of me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”
Even though God knows man will fall, as opposed to Satan, man will still have the chance to gain God’s grace, since he was led to evil by Satan. Satan, on the other hand, freely choose evil without any temptations. God says, then, that there will be a chance for God’s grace for mankind, but that mankind will always be cursed with Death.
His Son, of course, offers to die for man, “I for his sake will leave Thy bosom,” he says. And then the Son will come back and conquer death himself.
God then agrees, and tells of how his Son will be born to a virgin and die so that God’s favorite creation, man, will live. God then makes him the king of man, son of both man and God. God tells the angels in heaven to bow to him.
The scene switches back to Satan who has arrived in the Limbo of Vanity and the Paradise of Fools, the place where all men and nature go who have vain hopes of achieving heaven while on earth by pursuing riches or superstitions. The Limbo of Vanity, in fact, will soon be filled with “hoods and habits… relics, beads, indulgences, dispenses, pardons, bulls.” Here Satan paces on semi solid land.
Satan sees also the Gate to Heaven and the stairway to the gate. As well, there is a large passageway, though it will soon be made smaller, that brings angels down to God’s creatures on earth.
Satan flies up to the sun where he can see all of creation. He spies Uriel, one of God’s angels, guarding the earth. Satan turns himself into a cute little cherub and asks Uriel where this new creature of God’s is so that he may go and admire it
Uriel is impressed that an angel would want to leave heaven to check out God’s creation, and he directs Satan to man’s home in Paradise.
Milton introduces the character of God and Son with preparatory phrases of praise, almost a hymn, describing the nature of God and heaven. From stanzas 1-55, Milton uses the idea of light to represent this nature. Alternately, light is used to describe God himself, the first born Son, the immortality of God, the glory of God, grace, truth, wisdom, and physical light. Heaven is a place, then, full of light but much of it is an invisible light, i.e. the light of wisdom, that man cannot perceive in the same manner as physical light but which works in the same way.
The reader is introduced to the characters of God and his Son, watching Satan from the heavens. The Trinity of God, Son, and Holy Spirit (the one who is inspiring Milton to write) is juxtaposed against the evil Trinity of Satan, Death, and Sin, a relationship originating in lust. Milton relates love and goodness with reason and reason is clear in even a conversational sense in the holy trinity, between God and his Son. Corruption and evil, however, are tied to the irrational and thus to the unholy trinity. The raping of Sin by father and son, the battle between Satan and Death, all emphasis Milton’s view on relationships based outside of God’s grace.
Compare heaven’s council with the one Satan had in hell. Heaven’s council is a peaceful, rational conversation between God and his Son, both of whom seem to see and understand the same things. Decisions are made rationally given the circumstances that God’s all-seeing eye can predict. Hell’s council, on the other hand, argued and debated, their opinions clouded by the distance from goodness, which is here equivocated with reason. A path motivated by revenge, Milton is saying, is not one of right reason, and therefore is unpredictable.
Note, however, the reaction from the heavenly council when God asks if someone would volunteer to redeem man’s moral crime. Just as it was when volunteers were asked for in hell to tempt man to fall, no one in heaven is willing to undertake the task of saving him. Finally, the Son volunteers which places him on a parallel with Satan. The implication is that, though God is all powerful, his Son and Satan are more on equal footing in that they can equally impact the destiny of man.
The concept of the Son of God conquering death comes from the Pauline letters in the New Testament, specifically First Corinthians. Because the Son of God cannot really die, his coming down from heaven and becoming fully human while at the same time fully God made it possible for him to experience death ,but then move through it to be resurrected. Through the resurrection, the theology goes, death no longer has the same grip it did before, it is not a permanent state merely a place that all men can now pass through.
Book III introduces the other settings of the epic as well, including heaven and earth, tied to each other with a golden chain and a passageway for angels to go down to earth and help with creation. Milton’s universe is structured fairly simply: earth is in the middle, tied to heaven above it and a soon-to-be constructed bridge to hell leading below it. Between the earth and hell is Chaos. In concentric circles, or invisible globes surrounding earth, are the various orbits of the sun and moon, stars and planets around the earth (the earth is still in the middle).
Milton uses Limbo, or the Paradise of Fools, to make social criticism by demonstrating that examples of man’s vanity that he saw in his era would find their end there. Thus, Limbo is full of indulgences and pardons, symbolic of the political machine behind the Catholic Church, as well as relics and beads, symbols of the superstitious nature of Catholic worshipers. Milton’s point is that it is vain for man to think he can get into heaven by using these things. In fact, there is nothing man can do himself to get into heaven, he must rely completely on God’s light. Those that use these religious trappings end up in a fake heaven, a Paradise of Fools.
Remembering always that Paradise Lost is a poem, note the structure of lines 56 through 79 as God looks down at his creation. God starts by seeing all the good things, including his creation of Adam and Eve. Then he pans over to hell and chaos, and finally to Satan himself flying toward Paradise. The paragraph gives equal time to nature as pure and nature as corrupted. Sentences in the middle of these two equal parts deal with love. Therefore, the subdialogue is that love is what divides corrupted nature from pure nature. This circular paragraph structure, with a discussion literally circulating around one theme (in this case love) is a poetic tool employed by Milton throughout the story.