The Infernal Serpent
The Infernal Serpent
The Infernal Serpent
A few years ago, I turned on the TV, as my wife and I often do, as we relaxed after our evening meal. She read, and I dozed off intermittently (as usual). So, the episode of Detective Chief Inspector Morse that was on did not receive our close attention. Its plot was not too clear and nor was the conclusion. But what struck us was the title of the episode displayed in the credits “The Infernal Serpent”.
I Googled it and discovered that it was from Book 1 (the first of 13) that comprised the 17th Century poet John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost. What I downloaded was fascinating: it was Milton’s humble plea for divine aid: for instruction from the One Who was present at the beginning as when the heavens and earth rose out of chaos. Of course we read about these matters in the Bible, but Milton paraphrases the beginnings.
As he put it, it was the poet’s adventurous song, his attempt to attempt the unattempted, and to justify the ways of God to men; to say what caused our first parents in their original happy state to disobey their Creator and go their own way.
Who first seduced them to that foul revolt? The infernal serpent (34) it was, whose guile, stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived the mother of mankind; whose pride had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host of rebel angels… who aspired to set himself in glory above his peers, and trusted to have equaled the most high, if he opposed the throne and monarchy of God. He raised impious war in Heaven with vain attempt.
Him the Almighty Power hurled down to bottomless perdition, vanquished and confounded though immortal (53).
But his doom reserved him to more wrath. Now the thought of lost happiness and lasting pain torments him, huge affliction and dismay mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate. Fixed mind and high disdain, unconquerable will, and study of revenge, and courage never to submit or yield (108).
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell, receive thy new possessor: One who brings a mind not to be changed by place or time, the mind is its own place and can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. What matter where if I still be the same. Here at least I shall be free. The Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, and will not drive us hence. Here we may reign secure. Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven….”.( 263) So Satan spake…
(NB. 13 books comprise this epic work)
There is so much truth in what Milton has had to say for us in our times, and indeed through the course of human history. The Bible is full of it.
In our own lives we continually encounter the evil one whom we would rather not know as portrayed in Paradise Lost. We see but do not recognise him because he is subtle, persistent, often suave, deceptive and insidious, and who we find difficult to recognise, and prefer not to recognise, let alone evade: the devil himself (although Mel Gibson in his ‘Passion of Christ’, shrewdly opts to use the feminine gender in describing and portraying the Evil One)
Satan continually puts a spoke in the human wheel, (as St.Paul poignantly points out), persuades us to make the wrong choices however good our intentions may be: “To do good will never be our task, to do ill our sole delight (160). And out of good still find means of evil (165)’’ as Milton reiterates.
If we realise this, should we not be vigilant, even when we pray. The evil one would even dare to infect and frustrate the Lord’s Prayer!
As we address and contemplate God as our Father,
Who made us, loves and cares for us, and is ever with us; Whose Name is to be reverenced and hallowed, not ignored, or used loosely as an epithet;
Who calls us to His glorious kingdom of love, justice and mercy, and
Who asks us to strive for it through being conformed to His Will in our here and now, by making the Divine Will our goal in all we are and do, and which brings heaven, the divine companionship and peace, into our earthly life.
We ask our Father to sustain us in our quest, to give us our daily bread, to enable us to grow, to change for the better, to trust, to hope, to love, to be at peace in the Divine Love, even in the midst trial. Not to fret for the distant scene, to live in the now moment. To know that God who is Compassionate and Merciful hears our prayer.
We rejoice when we realise that our Father forgives us our sins whenever we ask for forgiveness, although all too often we tend to mute or delete the next part of the prayer “as we forgive those who trespass against us”, making out that we are the aggrieved and innocent party and that the blame is of the other.
This is where the Infernal Serpent comes into the picture to keep our hearts righteous and hardened and not fully forgiving.
Yet, even if we think that by God’s grace we have been carried over this high hurdle, and that we may safely rely on God to deliver us from evil, is it not essential that we continue to be watchful in humble prayer, and receive the Sacraments which would give us strength, and help us to know that the Infernal Serpent has not given up its determination to retain its grip on us?
[NB. We have powerful allies in our quest: the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Michael the Archangel, the saints and angels, the Church, the faithful on earth, the Holy Souls in Purgatory……and so, may we rejoice!]