C. S. Lewis on Milton's God To many it seems that the failure - even if it is only a partial failure - of Milton's God destroys Paradise Lost as a religious poem. And I think it is quite true that in some very important senses it is not a religious poem. If a Christian reader has found his devotion quickened by reading the medieval hymns or Dante or Herbert or Traherne, or even by Patmore or Cowper, and then turns to Paradise Lost, he will be disappointed. How cold, how heavy and external it will all seem ! How many blankets seem to be interposed between us and our object! But I am not sure that Paradise Lost was intended to be a religious poem in the sense suggested, and I am sure it need not be. It is a poem depicting the objective pattern of things, the attempted destruction of that pattern by rebellious self love, and the triumphant absorption of that rebellion into a yet more complex pattern. The cosmic story - the ultimate plot in which all other stories are episodes - is set before us. We are invited, for the time being, to look at it from outside. And that is not, in itself, a religious exercise. When we remember that we also have our places in this plot, that we also, at any given moment, are moving either towards the Messianic or towards the Satanic position, then we are entering the world of religion. But when we do that, our epic holiday is over : we rightly shut up our Milton. In the religious life man faces God and God faces man. But in the epic it is feigned, for the moment, that we, as readers, can step aside and see the faces both of God and man in profile. We are not invited (as Alexander would have said) to enjoy the spiritual life, but to contemplate the whole pattern within which the spiritual life arises. Making use of a distinction of Johnson's we might say that the subject of the poem 'is not piety, but the motives to piety'. The comparison with Dante may be misleading. No doubt Dante is in most respects simply a better poet than Milton. But he is also doing a different kind of thing. He is telling the story of a spiritual pilgrimage - how one soul fared in its passage through the universe and how all may fear and hope to fare. Milton is giving us the story of the universe itself. Hence, quite apart from any superiority in Dante's art or Dante's spirituality (and I freely admit that he is often superior in both) the Comedy is a religious poem, a poetical expression of religious experience, as Paradise Lost is not. A failure in the last canto of the Paradiso would be disastrous because Dante is himself looking at God and inviting us to look with him. But Milton has only to describe how the angels and Adam looked at God : and a theologically inadequate symbol for God will not ruin the whole scheme - as in some large religious pictures it may be the position of the Christ that counts rather than the actual drawing of His face. No doubt the drawing of the face might be so bad that we could not get over it, and similarly Milton's God might be so bad as to spoil the whole pattern of which He is the centre. But I do not think He is as bad, or even nearly as bad, as that.