Chaos and Order in Paradise Lost

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In the manuscript, On Christian Doctrine, John Milton says of Chaos, "It was necessary that something should have existed previously, so that it could be acted upon by his supremely powerful active efficacy…Matter must have always existed independently of God, or else originated from God at some point in time… But if matter did not exist from eternity, it is not easy to see where it came from" (John Milton, On Christian Doctrine). This manuscript has since been described by C. A. Patrides as a "theological labyrinth" and as "an abortive venture into theology". In many ways, The notion if Chaos itself is just as complex, and critical response to Milton’s portrayal of it has been widely varied in interpretation. Critics mainly argue over the depiction of Chaos as either good or evil, and many contemplate its supposed neutrality. The subject of order is somewhat more tenable, as the concept is housed in Milton’s own description of the Garden of Eden. Chaos, being neither Heaven, Earth, nor Hell, possesses a provocative ambiguity. It is separate from God, yet God created a perfect world out of it. Milton describes Chaos as ‘a dark Illimitable ocean without bound, Without dimension, where length, breadth, and height And time and place are lost’ (Paradise Lost 2.891-4). Already, images of void emptiness are evoked. The true nature of the word ‘chaos’ is ruthlessly portrayed. The limitlessness suggests a severe lack of security and direction. Milton describes these concepts as ‘lost’, which suggests they have not only ceased to exist, but they have ceased to matter, they have not only died completely, but never existed in Chaos in the first place. ‘eldest Night And Chaos’ (Paradise lost 2.894-5) are described as ‘Ancestors of Nature’ (Paradise Lost 2.895). through his personification of complex ideas, Milton connotes Chaos as a state where nature, the very science and theory of being, everything relatable and understandable, is new and previously absent. Chaos,...
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