Raphael continues his tale of the war in Heaven. Abdiel returned to find that the good angels were already preparing for war, as God had seen everything and instructed them. God praised Abdiel for his faithfulness and obedience even in the face of persecution from the rebel angels. God appointed Michael the leader of the army of Heaven (which was fairly equal in number to Satan’s army), with Gabriel as his second-in-command, and God instructed them to drive the rebel angels out of Heaven so that they fell into the abyss and their place of punishment.
This war in Heaven is generally meant as a lesson for the internal war that will soon come to Adam and Eve. God could easily defeat Satan in an instant, but he allows his angels to fight for him, perhaps to prove their obedience, or else simply so Milton has something dramatic to describe. This battle will echo the great wars of the Iliad or Aeneid.
The army of Heaven then flew off to battle arranged in perfect ranks, and they met Satan’s army, and the two sides lined up and faced each other. Raphael comments on how strange it was for angels to be fighting angels, as they are both children of the same God. Satan came forward in a golden chariot made to look like God’s throne. Abdiel could not endure the sight of his blasphemy, so he confronted Satan.
Heaven’s army is defined by its order and strict adherence to rank. The good angels remain good because they accept their place in the divine order. Satan already begins setting himself up as a reflection of God, but he cannot create new things himself – he can only copy and pervert what God has already created.
Abdiel condemned Satan for his disobedience and defiance of omnipotence, and Satan responded with insults of Abdiel’s cowardice and vanity. Satan also mocked all the good angels, claiming that they defended “servility” against his “freedom.” Abdiel countered that to serve God is the way of Nature, as in the natural hierarchy God is monarch. Abdiel then stepped forward and struck at Satan, who was knocked backwards.
This is a condensation of Milton’s thoughts on the theme of order and hierarchy, and also an echo of what seems to be the poet’s own inner contradictions. Milton, like Satan, felt restricted by monarchies he felt were illegitimate, but unlike Satan, Milton tried to recognize the divine order in Nature, in which God is the rightful monarch of all.
At this the battle began, and the rebel angels surged forward as Michael blew his trumpet. The battle raged on evenly for a long time, creating great chaos and destruction in Heaven, but not as much as might have occurred had not God limited the strength of each angel and arranged their strategies of battle. Finally Satan fought his way through to Michael.
The war is huger and more glorious than any of those in the classical epics, but there is very little actual drama as the angels do battle, as they only act as God allows them to, and none of them can be killed.
Before engaging each other Michael and Satan traded insults, with Michael promising to banish Satan to Hell and Satan to “turn this Heav’n itself into the Hell / Thou fablest” if he could not be victorious. Then they began to fight, both of them glorious and powerful like “Two planets” colliding, until Michael struck Satan with his sword, which was specially tempered by God himself. The sword sheared off Satan’s entire right side, so that he knew the horror of pain for the first time.
Satan’s disobedience causes him to lose his power and allows him to feel pain, but he still cannot be killed without God specifically annihilating him. The violence and spectacle without any real stakes makes the angelic battle seem extravagant and almost cartoonish.
Satan bled “nectarous humour” from his wound, and the rebel angels protected him from Michael until he healed, which happened quickly “for Spirits that live throughout / Vital in every part” cannot be killed except by “annihilation.” Other great deeds were done on the battlefield, like Gabriel cutting Moloch in half, but after Satan’s defeat the rebel army retreated with their wounded leader. The rebel angels had never experienced pain before until now, and they began to understand the consequences of their disobedience. The good angels flew off in a cube formation.
The cube is a symbol of divine order and perfection, as the good angels successfully defend God’s hierarchy. Milton expounds on his theories of angelic bodies – angels are constructed of spiritual substance and can bleed this heavenly “quintessence,” but they still cannot be totally killed by any injury. Again goodness is associated with power, as the rebels are easily defeated.
Night fell and both armies rested and regrouped. Satan, already healed, gathered his army for a council. He encouraged them with their realization that though they can experience pain, they are “Incapable of mortal injury,” and so could potentially keep fighting forever. He then proposed they return to the second day of battle with better weapons, and perhaps overcome the stronger good angels with cleverness.
Satan already revises his position as he realizes that he is not as strong as he thought – the rebels are not even fighting all of Heaven’s army, but only a number equal to their own. Satan seems to accept that he cannot defeat God with his own strength, but he is already resolved to keep fighting and hurt God however he can.
Nisroch, the chief of the “Principalities” (a rank of angel) proposed that they invent a device to cause the good angels pain, as pain is “perfect misery, the worst / Of evils.” Satan answered with an idea of mining “materials dark and crude” from under the ground, which when lit with fire would explode. He proceeded to invent gunpowder and the cannon, and the rebel angels then spent the rest of the night constructing cannons.
Milton’s description of the war between the angels does not reflect warfare of his time, but instead the kinds of battles of the Iliad or Aeneid, with armies lining up to face each other and heroes making long speeches. Milton then adds this seemingly anachronistic detail of cannons, which were by Milton’s time a common sight on the battlefield.
The next morning the armies faced off again, and Satan revealed his cannons with a sarcastic speech about sending “proposals” of peace. The good angels were confused at the sight of the “devilish enginery,” but then the rebels fired the cannons and caused great injury. The good angels’ armor hindered their speed so they were unable to escape the cannonballs, but they, like the rebels, could not be killed.
Milton portrays gunpowder as a devilish invention in a very specific critique of the technology of warfare. Milton even warned against seeking “forbidden knowledge” about the cosmos, so he is especially opposed to scientific “advancements” in the mass murder of humans.
Satan and Belial then made more sarcastic, punning speeches, feeling assured of victory, until the good angels grew wrathful and started ripping up hills and throwing them at the rebel army, burying the cannons. Again the rebels experienced pain and felt their optimism wane, but they fought back. There would have been even more damage done to Heaven had not God then sent his Son to end the conflict and prove himself as worthy of deity.
The battle takes on an even more ridiculous quality as the angels throw hills at each other, but still none of them can be killed and God only allows as much damage as he decides is proper. The outcome of the conflict has never been in doubt, as the all-powerful God hasn’t even entered the battle yet.
The Son put on all the armor and power of God and rode forth in the divine chariot. Michael immediately drew the Heavenly army back and the Son rode ahead alone. The rebel angels tried to fight him but he drove them back easily with “ten thousand thunders” in his right hand, and the rebels fled in terror. The son drove them like “a herd / Of goats” all the way to the crystal border of Heaven. Before the rebels opened a hole into the abyss, but this was less terrifying than the Son’s wrath behind them, so Satan and his followers flung themselves into the pit.
Milton devotes a lot of description to the Son’s glorious armor and frightening appearance, but it only serves to highlight the one-sidedness of the conflict – the Son has no real need of armor and weapons, as he easily defeats the rebels. One of Milton’s poetic inventions is that the rebels were not literally thrown from Heaven, but instead chose to jump into the abyss instead of face the Son.
Satan and his angels fell for nine days, at last landing in Hell, where they now dwell in darkness and fire. The “Messiah” Son returned to his army in glory, and all the angels praised and worshipped him. The Son re-ascended to God’s throne and sat down at the right hand of his Father. Raphael says again that he has tried to tell this tale in earthly terms so that Adam could understand, and he hopes that Adam now realizes who his enemy is – none other than Satan himself, who is now trying to have revenge against God. Raphael hopes Adam will learn from Satan’s example and so “fear to transgress” against God.
The Son’s victory is basically a restoration of order to Heaven. After all the activity and chaos of the battle, the Son re-ascends to his throne and the angels return to singing praises – everything goes back to normal. Raphael’s long and extravagant description echoes Milton’s, as Milton uses the war in Heaven as a lesson about disobedience and the dangers of Satan’s trickery.