Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The seventeenth century English poet John Milton wrote two great epic poems: Paradise Lost, in which he depicted Adam’s fall into Original Sin, and its sequel, Paradise Regained, which celebrates humankind’s redemption through Jesus, often called the second Adam. Milton was both a Puritan, whose stern Christianity demanded a radical break with worldly values, and a Christian humanist, eager to place ancient Greek and Roman culture in the service of Christianity. While these two positions could be in tension, Milton reconciled them by retelling the Gospel narrative as a classical epic on a par with Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611) and Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553). However, where classical epics portrayed great heroes defeating enemies in physical combat, Milton makes Jesus a hero like Job in the Old Testament: one who suffers but maintains his faith in God. Through the analogy between the heroes of classical, pagan epics and the Jesus of his Christian epic, Milton created a new epic hero: one whose domain was elevated, as it deserved to be, over all epic heroes of all time.

Jesus’ example as an epic hero thus counterpoints and trumps those of his mythic predecessors. At the same time, his tribulations humanize him and his response to Satan’s temptations exemplify the potential in all human...

(The entire section is 532 words.)