Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cast into Hell Satan and All the Evil Spirits Who Prowl About the World Seeking the Ruin of Souls

Today is the feast day of the Archangels Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael and one of the readings for today is about Michael:
War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them." (Rv 12:7-12)
I've not read the entire book, and of course it is a secular work and not at all authoritative on matters of doctrine and theology (and has even been condemned at times), but the epic poem Paradise Lost, by (Protestant) John Milton, is an interesting and fascinating read. Most captivating, from a literary standpoint, is the dramatic portrayal of the war in heaven that is depicted above in the Book of Revelation and Satan's defiant vow after he and his minions are cast into perdition.
"What though the field be lost? All is not lost -- the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield: And what is else not to be overcome? That glory never shall his wrath or might extort from me. To bow and sue for grace with suppliant knee, and deify his power who, from the terror of this arm, so late doubted his empire--that were low indeed; that were an ignominy and shame beneath this downfall; since, by fate, the strength of Gods, and this empyreal substance, cannot fail; since, through experience of this great event, in arms not worse, in foresight much advanced, we may with more successful hope resolve to wage by force or guile eternal war, irreconcilable to our grand Foe, who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven. . . .

"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime," said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat that we must change for Heaven? -- this mournful gloom for that celestial light? Be it so, since he who now is sovereign can dispose and bid what shall be right: farthest from him is best whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme above his equals. Farewell, happy fields, where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail, 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 in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. What matter where, if I be still the same, and what I should be, all but less than he whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, to reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
This being a website about film, it would be interesting to see such an epic story told on the screen, but I doubt that anyone could successfully pull it off. This is truly "bigger than life" in its scope, beyond ability to fully envision, even if it might be dramatically told in words.

It is for that reason, I suspect, that in films such as Jesus of Nazareth and Bernadette, the cinematographers did not even attempt to show the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, or the Blessed Virgin appearing to Bernadette at Massabielle. Instead, they merely showed an image of light. Conversely, in the otherwise good film that is a word-for-word depiction of the Book of Acts, the filmmakers do make the attempt, showing Jesus floating up to Heaven in the Ascension. And not to be disrespectful of our Lord here, but the scene is rather laughable as depicted. Some events, especially those full of mystery, simply cannot be successfully represented on the screen. In painting, perhaps it can be done, but not on film.

Still, if it could be done in a way that did not look absurd, a big screen epic portrayal of the war in heaven, borrowing some of Milton's great dialogue, would be something to see. Likewise, film versions of Dante's Inferno or C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce would be fascinating. But they will never happen. We'll simply have to make do with allegorical stories, like those of Tolkien, or those works whose characters relate to the fallen Satan here and adopt his vow as their own, like the Creature in Frankenstein (although the Creature is no Satan, merely a wronged innocent who vows revenge for the many wrongs inflicted upon him, and Victor Frankenstein is certainly no God, quite the opposite) or Ahab in Moby Dick or Khan in Star Trek or "John Milton" in The Devil's Advocate.

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