St. Michael and Satan: Coventry Cathedral

These magnificent Epstein sculptures, on the façade of the new Coventry Cathedral (which replaced the old one ruined in WW II), illustrate the survival to this day of popular recognition for the traditional images with which Milton enriched the Battle in Heaven in Book VI of "Paradise Lost." However, in his epic Milton shows that the ultimate defeat of Satan's plans is not by such military means as the Archangel Michael customarily musters, but by the creative authority of God's Son. The whole career of Milton ultimately reflects his recognition of this superiority of God's will over the forces affecting mankind, whether political, military, or moralistic. Many of Milton's failures as propagandist for Parliament's authority and its militaristic enforcement, and later for Cromwellian dictatorship, result from Milton's early idealism as student, poet, and pamphleteer, which had to be defeated before his final great works could display his recognition of the need for human modesty in the face of divine Providence. In this sense, the statue of St. Michael does not fully reflect the spirit of forgiveness enshrined in their new cathdral by the citizens of Coventry, whose destruction by German bombers I witnessed from a nearby hilltop on the night of 14 November 1940. (HMR)

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