Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Life in this world is referred to by Blake as Eternal Death. Man enters it at birth and leaves it at the Last Judgment when he Annihilates his Selfhood. From the perspective of the natural man, Eternal Death is the furnace of affliction where all that can be annihilated is annihilated. From the perspective of the Redeemed Man, Eternal Death is the opportunity to pass through states which lead to Eternal Life. The lessons of love and forgiveness are learned through encountering the stages through which one passes.

Fuseli put this plate second in his order of arranging the pages of The Grave to show what man may expect to experience as he pursues his journey through life. As a man or woman travels with his or her own endowments, he/she moves into situations which elicit responses. The individual gains self-knowledge by interacting with various classes of humanity in multiple circumstances. From the images in the illustration we can focus on states we have already passed through and ones which may lie in the future as our lives unfold.
Fuseli's comment:
"The pious daughter weeping and conducting her sire onward; age, creeping carefully on hands and knees; an elder, without friend or kindred; a miser; a bachelor, blindly proceeding, no one knows where, ready to drop into the dark abyss; frantic youth rashly devoted to vice and passion, rushing past the diseased and old, who totters on crutches; the wan declining virgin; the miserable and distracted widow; the hale country youth; and the mother and her numerous progeny, already arrived in this valley, are among the groups which speak irresistibly to the feelings."
University of Adelaide
The Grave
- Page 2
Fuseli's arrangement
Blake's Watercolor
British Museum
The Grave - Page 2
Cromak's arrangement
Schiavonetti's Engraving
British Museum
The Grave - Page 2
Cromak's arrangement
Schiavonetti's Engraving

Milton, Plate 4, (E 98)
"Every Mans Wisdom is peculiar to his own Individuality
O Satan my youngest born, art thou not Prince of the Starry Hosts
And of the Wheels of Heaven, to turn the Mills day & night?  
Art thou not Newtons Pantocrator weaving the Woof of Locke
To Mortals thy Mills seem every thing & the Harrow of Shaddai
A scheme of Human conduct invisible & incomprehensible
Get to thy Labours at the Mills & leave me to my wrath,

Satan was going to reply, but Los roll'd his loud thunders.   

Anger me not! thou canst not drive the Harrow in pitys paths.
Thy Work is Eternal Death, with Mills & Ovens & Cauldrons.
Trouble me no more. thou canst not have Eternal Life

So Los spoke! Satan trembling obeyd weeping along the way.
Mark well my words, they are of your eternal Salvation"  

Milton, Plate 14 [15], (E 108)
"And Milton said, I go to Eternal Death! The Nations still
Follow after the detestable Gods of Priam; in pomp               
Of warlike selfhood, contradicting and blaspheming.
When will the Resurrection come; to deliver the sleeping body
From corruptibility: O when Lord Jesus wilt thou come?
Tarry no longer; for my soul lies at the gates of death.
I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave.       
I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!
I will go down to self annihilation and eternal death,
Lest the Last Judgment come & find me unannihilate
And I be siez'd & giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood"

Milton, Plate 24 [26], (E 120)
"Arise O Sons give all your strength against Eternal Death
Lest we are vegetated, for Cathedrons Looms weave only Death     
A Web of Death: & were it not for Bowlahoola & Allamanda
No Human Form but only a Fibrous Vegetation
A Polypus of soft affections without Thought or Vision"

Milton, Plate 26 [28] (E 123)
"For the various Classes of Men are all markd out determinate
In Bowlahoola; & as the Spectres choose their affinities
So they are born on Earth, & every Class is determinate
But not by Natural but by Spiritual power alone, Because         
The Natural power continually seeks & tends to Destruction
Ending in Death: which would of itself be Eternal Death
And all are Class'd by Spiritual, & not by Natural power.

Milton, Plate 32 [35], (E 135)
"States Change: but Individual Identities never change nor cease:
You cannot go to Eternal Death in that which can never Die."

Jerusalem, Plate 31, [35], (E 177)
"And the Divine voice came from the Furnaces, as multitudes without
Number! the voices of the innumerable multitudes of Eternity.
And the appearance of a Man was seen in the Furnaces;            
Saving those who have sinned from the punishment of the Law,
(In pity of the punisher whose state is eternal death,)
And keeping them from Sin by the mild counsels of his love.

Albion goes to Eternal Death: In Me all Eternity.
Must pass thro' condemnation, and awake beyond the Grave!"

Jerusalem, Plate 48, (E 196)
"These were his last words, and the merciful Saviour in his arms
Reciev'd him, in the arms of tender mercy and repos'd
The pale limbs of his Eternal Individuality
Upon the Rock of Ages. Then, surrounded with a Cloud:
In silence the Divine Lord builded with immortal labour,         
Of gold & jewels a sublime Ornament, a Couch of repose,
With Sixteen pillars: canopied with emblems & written verse.
Spiritual Verse, order'd & measur'd, from whence, time shall reveal.
The Five books of the Decologue, the books of Joshua & Judges,
Samuel, a double book & Kings, a double book, the Psalms & Prophets 
The Four-fold Gospel, and the Revelations everlasting
Eternity groan'd. & was troubled, at the image of Eternal Death!"

Jerusalem, Plate 63, (E 215) 
"Without Forgiveness of Sin Love is Itself Eternal Death"

Jerusalem, Plate 96, (E 256)
"Jesus said. Wouldest thou love one who never died
For thee or ever die for one who had not died for thee
And if God dieth not for Man & giveth not himself           
Eternally for Man Man could not exist. for Man is Love:
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little Death
In the Divine Image nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood

So saying. the Cloud overshadowing divided them asunder
Albion stood in terror: not for himself but for his Friend     
Divine, & Self was lost in the contemplation of faith
And wonder at the Divine Mercy & at Los's sublime honour

Do I sleep amidst danger to Friends! O my Cities & Counties
Do you sleep! rouze up! rouze up. Eternal Death is abroad

So Albion spoke & threw himself into the Furnaces of affliction 
All was a Vision, all a Dream: the Furnaces became
Fountains of Living Waters Howing from the Humanity Divine
And all the Cities of Albion rose from their Slumbers, and All
The Sons & Daughters of Albion on soft clouds Waking from Sleep"

BOOK - 2 Christ Descending - Eternal King whose potent arm sustains the keys of Hell and Death

Thursday, December 21, 2017


In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
John 14:2

Henry Fuseli and William Blake were both 'corporeal' friends and spiritual friends: they enjoyed each others company and shared interests, but they also related with each other through the bond of a common spiritual sensitivity. Fuseli recognized in Blake's watercolor illustrations for Blair's The Grave the implications of what he was trying to communicate of everyman's spiritual journey. To enhance the message that Blake incorporated in his illustrations, Fuseli arranged the pictures in the order appropriate to carry Blake's message.

"By the arrangement here made, the regular progression
of Man, from his first descent into the Vale of
Death, to his last admission into Life eternal, is
exhibited. These Designs, detached from the
Work they embellish, form of themselves a most
interesting Poem."


To Blake the Door of Death marked entry into earthly life. Christ and Man alike enter the door of death to gain experience by living in a physical, mortal body. A man takes on an identity on earth suited to the tasks assigned to him. Although the man may experience himself as a body separated from his soul this is a misapprehension. The soul remains a presence which can be accessed whenever the body is prepared to receive it. In the Vale of Death are many mansions which the man may have occasion to explore as he seeks the truth which will remain when error is annihilated. When the trumpet sounds for a man he receives the transcending vision and his body of flesh is exchanged for a spiritual body suited for Eternity. Man is not alone in the Eternal Realm but reunited with the company of the redeemed in the fellowship of love. Error is annihilated and truth reigns when the Last Judgment separates the Eternal from the transient, the Infinite from restraints of space.

Cromek, the publisher, did not follow the order suggested by Fuseli but used a completely different order in the published book:

1 Title Page - The Grave - A Poem 
2 Christ Descending
3 The Meeting of a Family in Heaven
4 The Counselor, King, Warrior, Mother and Child in the Tomb
5 Death of the Strong Wicked Man
6 The Soul Hovering Over the Body reluctantly parting with Life
7 The Death of The Good Old Man
8 The Descent of Man into the Vale of Death
9 The Day of Judgment
10 The Soul Exploring the Recesses of the Grave
11 Death's Door
12 The Reunion of the Soul & the Body

The arrangement by Cromak follows the more common understanding of Death as the end of Life when the evil man is subject to punishment and the good man is rewarded in heaven by being rejoined by his soul from whom he was alienated on earth.

Page 1
Fuseli's arrangement
Blake's Watercolor
Page 1
Cromak's arrangement
Schiavonetti's Engraving 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


National Portrait Gallery Oil Portrait by Thomas Phillips 1807

The only formal portrait of William Blake was painted by Thomas Phillips in 1807. It is uncertain if the work was as a result of friendship between Phillips and Blake or in conjunction with Cromek's proposed publication of Blair's The Grave with illustrations by Blake. As it turned out Blake did not engrave the illustrations he had painted for Cromek's publication but his portrait was included prominently as the frontispiece.   

The Phillips portrait resides in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Cromek had the engraving of Blake's portrait done by Luis Schiavonetti whom he also hired to engrave Blake's images.

British Museum Luis Schiavonetti Engraving

Published book The Grave National Gallery of Victoria
Morgan Library and Museum 
Watercolor Copy from Butts Collection
Blake Portrait by Phillips  
Milton, Plate 21 [23], (E 115)
"But I knew not that it was Milton, for man cannot know
What passes in his members till periods of Space & Time
Reveal the secrets of Eternity: for more extensive
Than any other earthly things, are Mans earthly lineaments."     

Milton, Plate 32 [35], (E 132)
"And thou O Milton art a State about to be Created
Called Eternal Annihilation that none but the Living shall
Dare to enter: & they shall enter triumphant over Death
And Hell & the Grave! States that are not, but ah! Seem to be.

Judge then of thy Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore

What is Eternal & what Changeable? & what Annihilable!"          

Jerusalem, Plate 38 [43], (E 185)
Humanity, who is the Only General and Universal Form         
To which all Lineaments tend & seek with love & sympathy
All broad & general principles belong to benevolence
Who protects minute particulars, every one in their own identity."

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 530)
"CLEARNESS and precision have been the chief objects in painting
these Pictures.  Clear colours unmudded by oil, and firm and
determinate lineaments unbroken by shadows, which ought to
display and not to hide form, as is the practice of the latter
Schools of Italy and Flanders."

Descriptive Catalogue,(E 541)
"He who does
not imagine in stronger and better lineaments, and in stronger
and better light than his perishing mortal eye can see does not
imagine at all.  The painter of this work asserts that all his
imaginations appear to him infinitely more perfect and more
minutely organized than any thing seen by his
mortal eye."

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 560)
"I intreat then that the Spectator will attend to the
Hands & Feet to the Lineaments of the Countenances they are all
descriptive of Character & not a line is drawn without intention
& that most discriminate & particular as Poetry admits not a
Letter that is Insignificant so Painting admits not a Grain of
Sand or a Blade of Grass Insignificant much less an
Insignificant Blur or Mark" 

Sunday, December 17, 2017


First posted on Wednesday, March 09, 2011

We all reach God in some way, but among those closest to God were several Soldiers of the Cross. These examples all show a long continued inner turmoil and struggle rewarded in due course by that special gift that Eternity offers to the most faithful.

His heart leapt for joy

“Now after I had received that opening from the Lord that to be trained at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to equip a man to be a minister of Christ, I respected the priests less, and looked more after the dissenting Christians. And among them I saw there was some tenderness, and many of them came afterwards to be convinced, for they had some openings from God. But as I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separatist Preachers, also, together with those called the most experienced people. For I saw there was no one among them all who could speak to my condition. And when all my hope in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I even tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, “There is one — even Christ Jesus — who can speak to thy condition!” And when I heard it, my heart leapt for joy. Then the Lord showed me why there was no one on the earth who could speak to my condition. The reason was that I was to give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, so that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence, as the one who enlightens, and gives grace, faith and power. So, when God works, who shall prevent it? And I knew this experimentally through my experiences.”"
(From the Journal of George Fox)

The Loss of the Burden in Pilgrims Progress

Blake's Illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress

Christian is at the Cross; his burden is cast off (at the lower left of the picture):
"To take my cross up day by day,
And serve the Lord with fear.
Now I saw in my dream, that they went on,
and Great-Heart before them. So they went,
and came to the place where Christian's
burden fell off his back and tumbled into a
sepulchre. Here then they made a pause; and
here also they blessed God."
(from Pilgrim's Progress)

His Heart was strangely warmed

.John Wesley was a super-Christian at Oxford. He demanded rigorous adherence to certain practices, carried out by his disciples; they were called methodists. Once ordained he went to the colony of Georgia to save the heathen, but he came to realize that he needed salvation himself.

Returning to England there was a terrible storm at sea and everyone quailed with fear for their lives; everyone that is except a group of Moravians who continued in prayer and showed great equanimity.

Back in London Wesley continued to worry about his salvation until, in 1738:
"In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

He was generally considered to be one of the greatest men in 18th century England and was thought by many to have saved England from Revolution.

The Truchsessian Museum

The Enlightenment of William Blake was on this wise:
"O lovely Felpham, parent of Immortal Friendship, to thee I am eternally
indebted for my three years rest from perturbation and the strength I now enjoy. Suddenly, on the day after visiting the Truchsessian Gallery of
pictures, I was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and which has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by window-shutters. 

Consequently I can, with confidence, promise you ocular demonstration of my altered state on the plates I am now engraving after Romney, whose spiritual aid has not a little conduced to my restoration to the light of Art." (Erdman 756)

He wrote this in Letter 51 (To William Hayley) 23 October 1804.


".....Albert Schweitzer's biography of J. S. Bach, written in 1905, had also proved an immediate success. At 30 years of age Schweitzer was tall, broad-shouldered, darkly handsome, and a witty charismatic writer, preacher, and lecturer: clearly, a bright future lay before him. However, one spring morning in 1905, he experienced a stunning religious revelation: it came to him that at some point in the years just ahead he must renounce facile success and devote himself unsparingly to the betterment of mankind's condition.

Accordingly, several years later, Schweitzer threw over his several careers as author, lecturer, and organ recitalist and plunged into the study of medicine - his aim being to go to Africa as a medical missionary. He won his medical degree in 1912. The year before, he had married Helene Bresslau, a professor's daughter who had studied nursing in order to work at his side in Africa; in 1919 the couple had a daughter, Rhena.

In 1913 the Schweitzers journeyed to what was then French Equatorial Africa. There, after various setbacks, they founded the Albert Schweitzer Hospital at Lambaréné, on the Ogooué River, "at the edge of the primeval forest." This area now lies within the independent West African republic of Gabon. Funds were scarce and equipment primitive, but native Africans thronged to the site, and in the decades that followed, many thousands were treated." (From Answers.Com) 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


British Museum
Preliminary drawing for Blair's The Grave  
The soul exploring the recesses of the grave
Among the Blake books made available for reading on the internet by the University of Adelaide is The Grave by Robert Blair. Blake made watercolor drawings to illustrate a new edition of the book, expecting to engrave the images himself. Although the lucrative job of engraving went to Schiavonetti, it is Blake's drawings which captured, and enhanced the text through the illustrations.
To create their book the University of Adelaide used the watercolor drawings which were located in 2001 having been lost since 1836. The book published by Cromek with the Schiavonetti engravings is available as a free Google book. The published book, as suggested by the number of subscribers, was profitable to Cromek and Schiavonetti but Blake's creative work of making the designs earned him only a pittance.

Letters, (E 702)
[To Trusler]
"And I know that This World Is a
World of Imagination & Vision I see Every thing I paint In This
World, but Every body does not see alike.  To the Eyes of a Miser
a Guinea is more beautiful than the Sun & a bag worn with the use
of Money has more beautiful proportions than a Vine filled with
Grapes. The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes
of others only a Green thing that stands in the way.  Some See
Nature all Ridicule & Deformity & by these I shall not regulate
my proportions, & Some Scarce see Nature at all But to the Eyes
of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself.  As a man
is So he Sees.  As the Eye is formed such are its Powers You
certainly Mistake when you say that the Visions of Fancy are not
be found in This World.  To Me This World is all One continued
Vision of Fancy or Imagination & I feel Flatterd when I am told

America, Pate 8, (E 54)
"For every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life;
Because the soul of sweet delight can never be defil'd.
Fires inwrap the earthly globe, yet man is not consumd;      
Amidst the lustful fires he walks: his feet become like brass,
His knees and thighs like silver, & his breast and head like gold."

Letters, (E 754)
[To William Hayley]
"It is certainly necessary that the best artists that can be
engaged should be employed on the work of Romney's Life. . . . 
How can it be that lightness should be wanting in my works, while
in my life and constitution I am too light and aeriel, is a
paradox only to be accounted for by the things of another world. 
Money flies from me; Profit never ventures upon my threshold,
tho' every other man's doorstone is worn down into the very earth
by the footsteps of the fiends of commerce.  Be it so, as long as
God permits, which I foresee is not long.  I foresee a mighty

Laocoon, (E 273)
"The whole Business of Man Is The Arts & All Things Common
Christianity is Art & not Money 
Money is its Curse
The Old & New Testaments are the Great Code of Art"

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Yale Center for British Art   Angel with a Trumpet

The sound of the trumpet announces the great gathering in. Its message is not of an ending but of a beginning. What has been divided and scattered and sundered is being returned and mended and restored. It is as if man has lived in a fog which limited visibility. The strong wind and the warm sunlight are clearing the air so that distortions no longer obstruct man's vision. The trumpet proclaims the transition when change is arriving. 

Matthew 24
[3] And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
[4] And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
[5] For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
[6] And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
[7] For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
[8] All these are the beginning of sorrows.
[9] Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
[10] And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
[11] And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
[12] And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
[13] But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
[14] And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
[29] Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
[30] And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
[31] And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

In Fearful Symmetry, Northrop Frye emphasizes the apocalypse as awakening:
"For the whole point of an apocalypse is that the darkening sun and the falling stars and the rest of the fireworks represent a kind of vision that is disappearing because it is unreal, whereas what takes its place is permanent because it is real, and if real, familiar. With a deafening clangor of trumpets and a blinding flash of light, Man comes awake with the sun in his eyes and his alarm clock ringing beside him, and finds himself in what he now sees to have been all the time his home." (Page 306)

Milton, Plate 23 [25], (E 119)
"But Los dispersd the clouds even as the strong winds of Jehovah, 

And Los thus spoke. O noble Sons, be patient yet a little
I have embracd the falling Death, he is become One with me
O Sons we live not by wrath. by mercy alone we live!
I recollect an old Prophecy in Eden recorded in gold; and oft
Sung to the harp: That Milton of the land of Albion.
Should up ascend forward from Felphams Vale & break the Chain
Of jealousy from all its roots; be patient therefore O my Sons
These lovely Females form sweet night and silence and secret
Obscurities to bide from Satans Watch-Fiends. Human loves        
And graces; lest they write them in their Books, & in the Scroll
Of mortal life, to condemn the accused: who at Satans Bar
Tremble in Spectrous Bodies continually day and night
While on the Earth they live in sorrowful Vegetations
O when shall we tread our Wine-presses in heaven; and Reap      
Our wheat with shoutings of joy, and leave the Earth in peace"

Milton, Plate 25 [27], (E 121)
"They sang at the Vintage. This is the Last Vintage! & Seed
Shall no more be sown upon Earth, till all the Vintage is over
And all gatherd in, till the Plow has passd over the Nations     
And the Harrow & heavy thundering Roller upon the mountains

And loud the Souls howl round the Porches of Golgonooza
Crying O God deliver us to the Heavens or to the Earths,
That we may preach righteousness & punish the sinner with death
But Los refused, till all the Vintage of Earth was gatherd in.  

And Los stood & cried to the Labourers of the Vintage in voice of awe.

Fellow Labourers! The Great Vintage & Harvest is now upon Earth
The whole extent of the Globe is explored: Every scatterd Atom
Of Human Intellect now is flocking to the sound of the Trumpet
All the Wisdom which was hidden in caves & dens, from ancient    
Time; is now sought out from Animal & Vegetable & Mineral

The Awakener is come. outstretchd over Europe! the Vision of God is fulfilled
The Ancient Man upon the Rock of Albion Awakes,"

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Church 1

      No committed Christian ever had a more antagonistic relationship to the church than William Blake. This, probably more than anything else, has prevented wider recognition of his spiritual genius. Like Paul he became an apostle to the gentiles and suffered the attacks of the orthodox. In his non-allegiance to the organized church Blake is in good company: Milton, Emerson, Whitman, Lincoln, and Gandhi all refused the church for essentially the same reasons--it never was what it purported to be.
       In these posts we examine in some detail Blake's relationship to the church:
In the first unit we  survey church history from Blake's point of view, and we trace some of the sources of his ideas and attitudes.
In the second we take a closer look at the contemporary scene with sections on
the State Church, the Society of Friends, the Methodists, and the Deists.
 In the third we examine Blake's personal associations as they relate to religious
community, and we conclude with his statements about the church and the uses which he made of the word in his poetry.
A Blakean View of Christianity

  The immediate followers of Jesus were accused of turning the world upside down. They followed him in challenging all forms of worldly power including death. One can make a good case for the idea that the Christian by definition challenges the powers of the world that's certainly the meaning of 'radical Christian'.
       Blake perceived the legacy that Jesus left behind in two ways. On one hand the church as the mystical body of Christ consists of those who continually challenge the authority or powers of the world. On the other hand the Church as an institution becomes one of the powers of the world. The tension between these two principles probably exists within the breast of anyone seriously interested in Christ.
       In the second century Ignatius of Antioch eloquently embodied that tension with his life. Ignatius died a martyr to the secular power of the Roman Empire. Before that happened, he had spent much of his time as an eccleiastical authority rooting out dissenters, whom he called heretics; he did this in the course of establishing the institutional authority of what became the Roman Church.
      With Constantine these two streams of authority came together. In 312 A.D. the
new emperor declared himself a Christian and assumed control of the Church. He exercised that control through the simple device of naming his most trusted servant as bishop. The Church became an arm of the political power of the empire.
      From that day to this the Church has been primarily one of the powers of the
world. The power of the Church has been expressed through ecclesiastical hierarchies and creeds, both imposed upon the rank and file by various coercive techniques essentially identical with those of other worldly powers. This means that the spiritual reality of Christ vis-a-vis the Church is only actualized through the same sort of dissent that Jesus made in the beginning.
       These conclusions of course may be debated, but they represent the basic and lifelong viewpoint underlying the radical protest which was Blake's art.
The Early Church

       After the departure of Christ converts to the new faith gathered together in small groups awaiting the bodily return of Christ, which they expected momentarily. Paul and the other missionaries organized these brotherhoods throughout the Roman world. Paul's letters usually contain two sections: poetic images created to encourage their faith as they awaited the return of Christ at the end of the age and practical advice for the Christians' life together.
      He wrote for example to the Colossians that they were "buried with him in baptism [and] risen with him through the faith". No one could interpret that as a
statement of material fact, but rather as a powerful poetic identification of the faithful with Christ. In spite of Paul's encouragement the years went by disappointing  their hopes for the second coming and requiring adjustment to changed expectations.
      Two classes of leaders arose, whom we may call priests and poets. The priests
dedicated their efforts to preserving the heritage of the apostles. They clearly spelled  out the facts and implications of the faith which they had received from the first generation of believers. They claimed the authority of their forebears, and they required uniformity of belief and obedience as a condition of membership in the Church. Paul's practical advice to struggling congregations became the rules of order; his poetic images became dogma. The priests imposed their order and dogma upon the majority of their followers and cast out the others. The priests go by the name of the Church Fathers, and the institution which they organized became the orthodox Church.
       The other class of leaders we have called the poets. The earliest Christian poets largely manifested themselves in a movement called Gnosticism . While the Church Fathers transformed doctrine into dogma, these Christian Gnostic poets moved in the opposite direction. Instead of focusing on the letter they listened to the Spirit, and they heard a wide variety of things. They believed in "letting a thousand flowers bloom". Many of them enjoyed Greek or oriental learning, which they combined with Christian thought, much to the dismay of the priests.
      What did the Church Fathers find so threatening about the Gnostics? First of all it was a matter of temperament; priests and poets are temperamentally at opposite
poles; it has always been so. The priestly enterprise requires a conforming flock; poets simply don't conform. The Gnostic poets came up with all sorts of radical ideas which severely threatened the emerging orthodoxy.
      They became the first of a long line of non-conforming Christians, a line that
comes straight down to William Blake. Obviously a movement like Christian Gnosticism, creative as it may have been, didn't make for order. The Church Fathers were much better organized, and they successfully cast out the Gnostics, naming them heretics. Bowing to their conforming zeal the Christian Gnostics went underground but emerged periodically offering a radical alternative to the established way. The Bogomils, the Albigenses, the Waldensians and many other groups through the ages experienced a grace that freed them both from the law and from much concern about this world.
Jerusalem, Plate 52, (E 201) 
 " Those who Martyr others or who cause War are Deists, but never
can be Forgivers of Sin.  The Glory of Christianity is, To
Conquer by Forgiveness.  All the Destruction therefore, in
Christian Europe has arisen from Deism, which is Natural
Wikimedia Commons A Large Book of Designs The Accusers
I saw a Monk of Charlemaine 
Arise before my sight 
  I talkd with the Grey Monk as we stood  
In beams of infernal light

  Gibbon arose with a lash of steel       
And Voltaire with a wracking wheel
  The Schools in clouds of learning rolld
Arose with War in iron & gold.

  Thou lazy Monk they sound afar          
In vain condemning glorious War           
  And in your Cell you shall ever dwell   
Rise War & bind him in his Cell.

  The blood. red ran from the Grey Monks side
His hands & feet were wounded wide
  His body bent, his arms & knees          
Like to the roots of ancient trees

  When Satan first the black bow bent
And the Moral Law from the Gospel rent
  He forgd the Law into a Sword
And spilld the blood of mercys Lord.
  Titus! Constantine!  Charlemaine!
O Voltaire! Rousseau! Gibbon! Vain
  Your Grecian Mocks & Roman Sword
Against this image of his Lord!

  For a Tear is an Intellectual thing;              
And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King
  And the bitter groan of a Martyrs woe 
Is an Arrow from the Almighties Bow!"

       The priestly party, who usually controlled the sword, assisted thousands of them in their exit from this world. The Church through the centuries combined a rigidly orthodox view of Christian theology with a bloodthirsty reaction toward their
theological opponents.
       Blake, like many other thoughtful people, discounted the orthodox theology on
the basis of the bloodthirsty spirit, which he perceived an obvious contradiction to the spirit of Christ. "Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels and have not love". The Church had done that, and Blake knew it. He therefore listened to the  tongues of other men and other angels.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Church 2


       The Church Fathers congregated in Rome, but Gnosticism had its center in Alexandria, a marketplace of competing religious and philosophical ideas. There in the third century a man named Plotinus gave birth to Neo-platonism, an amalgam of the best of Greek thought with the ethical teachings of Christ.

Extremely eclectic, drawing on currents of thought from Rome to India, Plotinus's teachings became the religion of some of the later Roman Emperors.

       During the fourth century the religion of Neo-platonism disappeared as a rival of the Church. However it deeply influenced the shape of Christian theology, most notably through the mind of St. Augustine. Augustine in his spiritual journey passed through a Neo-platonic stage, which left its mark upon his Christian life and writing. Augustine occupies an anomalous position in the history of the Church: he is both a Church Father of impeccable reputation and the spiritual forebear of many theologians whose Neo-platonic bent put them on the fringe of orthodoxy: Erigena, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Meister Eckhart are a few of these Neo-platonic Christians. Some of these thinkers succeeded in remaining within the umbrella of the authorized tradition; some were partially or totally cast out. Among them they preserved to theology a breadth and a poetic dimension that burst open the priestly cocoon with the 15th Century Renaissnce and the 16th Century  Reformation.

The Middle Ages

       Through the Middle Ages the successors of the Church Fathers, most notably the authorities at Rome, maintained a fairly firm grip on the shape of  theological and intellectual activity. They presided over an age of stability with a gradual leavening of creative change. They aborted many changes in the name of orthodoxy; the aborted change usually went underground to reappear at a more open time and place. The openness most often proved momentary. Creative truth struggled against rigid institutional necessities.

       In spite of all the Church periodically gave birth to men and women who, from the platform of the orthodox tradition, were elevated to a direct vision of  God. Most of the creative change in the Church originated with such types. The Church rather uniformly discouraged mystical visions of God unless they conformed in full detail to the orthodoxy of the moment. God refused such limitations; the entire period witnessed recurring visions of great diversity. Many of these prophetically judged the priestly position. A long volume could be written about the many prophetic visions which in one way or another resemble that of our poet.

       The Church was broad enough to include and even honor many of these free spirits, but the works which followed them in the hands of their more militant disciples generally fell into ill repute. The early Franciscan movement is a case in point. St. Francis preached to his little sisters the birds; he shared the stigmata of Christ and suggested that to share Christ's poverty might be fitting for his disciples, an extremely radical idea which an extremely wealthy pope indulged. But many of Francis' disciples faced persecution of various sorts.

       Roughly contemporary with Francis another monk named Joachim of Flora rediscovered for the nth time the dominance of the Spirit over the letter. Preaching what he called the Everlasting Gospel Joachim proposed to dispense with the corrupt and worldly political structures of the establishment and move into a New Age, the era of the Holy Spirit. The New Age would replace the age of the Church; it would be an age of freedom with everyone led directly by the Spirit. Jeremiah had foretold this. Even Moses had said, "would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets". For the creative poet the New Age represented freedom at its best, exactly what Jesus had come to bring us. For most of the priests it represented  antinomianism at its worst.

       The Everlasting Gospel and the New Age came down the centuries through the various subterranean channels of the heterodox tradition. Swedenborg announced its advent in 1757, which happened to be the year of Blake's birth; Blake noted this with obvious delight in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'. Years later, in the autumn of his life, Blake filled his spiritual journal with a fragmentary poem called 'The Everlasting Gospel'. It was his systematic attempt to set forth in the most direct terms possible his precise view of Christianity and its founder. He probably never concluded the project to his full satisfaction.

The Reformation

       To many of us the Protestant Reformation represents a breaking free from the oppression of ecclesiastical tyranny. Unfortunately the tyrannies of Luther and Calvin soon replaced those of the Pope, and the conflicts among the various orthodoxies brought about in the 16th and 17th Centuries perhaps the most satanic bloodletting the church has ever experienced.

       The Protestant authorities in general were no less rigid theologically than the Romans from whom they had separated. When a German cobbler named Jacob Boehme started talking directly to God, his pastor had him exiled. However the Lord got Boehme's ear and proceeded to talk to him about Oneness, about the emanations coming from the One, the dark side and the light side. The Lord graced Boehme with a fantastically vivid and voluminous   imagination; his visions resembled in many ways those of the Christian Gnostics and of Plotinus. They also owed much to the alchemical doctor, Paracelsus.
    Boehme went a long way beyond the orthodoxy of either Catholic or Protestant authorities, but a sweetness of spirit pervaded his mind reminiscent of St. Francis and of other simple souls who have walked with God. Cast out by his church, Boehme still won the respect and support of many serious thinkers,  products of the liberating currents of Renaissance and Reformation. His friends published his work widely, and it endured the test of time. Almost two hundred  years later, in the late 18th Century, it appeared in an English translation attributed to William Law.

       This work became one of Blake's primary sources. He seized on Boehme's visions with delight; he recognized in Boehme a creative servant of God who held the imagination as highly as he did himself. Speaking of a series of anthropomorphic metaphysical designs which appeared in Law's Boehme he told Crabb Robinson that "Michaelangelo could not have done better". Much of the Neo-platonic flavor of Blake's work came down to him through Boehme, his most immediate fountain for the heterodox tradition.

       For a great many peasants in Germany the Reformation meant little more than a change of masters; nothing really happened. They had been accustomed to doing what they were told by the Pope's priests; now they did what they were told by Luther's priests. Likewise Geneva afforded no real relief from the pervasive spiritual repression, what Blake referred to as the "mind forg'd manacles". Soon after he won power, Calvin had a child beheaded for striking his father; he executed a man named Servetus for denying the Trinity. He and his contemporaries inaugurated a new round of bloodthirstiness decimating the population of Europe, all in the name of Christ! Blake observed all this without the usual conventional blindness and concluded that the Reformation arose through envy of power--a plague on both houses!

       But some of the devout did go further than their masters. Some peasants  decided that a believer should be baptized after the age of consent; he should even elect his own priest. The Holy Spirit swept across Europe with the Radical Reformation. Free churches arose here and there and were stamped out with great vigor by Catholics and (right wing) Protestants alike. The Romans had never shown such brutality. It was a century to to be thankful you were not born in.

       In their efforts to escape extermination the free churchmen wandered across the face of Europe. They found refuge in a few islands of political sanity amidst the general theological madness: Switzerland, Bohemia, Holland. Another of these islands was England. The non-Conformist tradition in England swelled to a climax in the 17th Century. The Puritans came to power about 1642 and six years later went so far as to behead a king.

       During the Civil War the anabaptists and radicals-- Levellers, Diggers, Ranters, Quakers, Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchists, etc. etc.--came within an inch of taking over England. For a few years censorship collapsed, and free thought had open season. Every conceivable idea about God and man had its day. The Levellers even questioned the idea of private property. Their religious and social theories were so radical that Cromwell and his confederates found it necessary, for the protection of their middle class values, to return the Crown to the son of the man whom they had beheaded. John Milton had warned them that they would do this unless they learned to control their greed.

       The anabaptists and Milton both exercised an overwhelming influence on the mind of William Blake; call them his spiritual grandparents. Milton shared much of the radical theology of the left wing. Even before the Civil War he had expressed his strong anti-priestly bent: "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed". Milton believed that the Church had become hopelessly corrupted by Constantine.


       We can summarize this "Blakean vision of Christianity" with the conclusion that Blake thought of the institutional church as one of the powers of the world, under the dominion of the God of this World. He described it with the colorful though not original phrase, "the Synagogue of Satan". Bear in mind that in Blake's eternal vision differences of time and space had little meaning; he made no distinction between the Sadduccees of the Sanhedrin who had condemned Jesus and the Anglican bishops of his own day, one of whom condemned his friend, Tom Paine.

Jerusalem, Plate 52, (E 201) 

 "Man must & will have Some Religion; if he has not the Religion
of Jesus, he will have the Religion of Satan, & will erect the
Synagogue of Satan. calling the Prince of this World, God; and
destroying all who do not worship Satan under the Name of God. 
Will any one say: Where are those who worship Satan under the
Name of God! Where are they? Listen! Every Religion that Preaches
Vengeance for Sins the Religion of the Enemy & Avenger; and not
the Forgiver of Sin, and their God is Satan, Named by the Divine
Name   Your Religion O Deists: Deism, is the Worship of the God
of this World by the means of what you call Natural Religion and
Natural Philosophy, and of Natural Morality or
Self-Righteousness, the Selfish Virtues of the Natural Heart. 
This was the Religion of the Pharisees who murderd Jesus.  Deism
is the same & ends in the same."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Church 3

The Contemporary Scene

Shortly after the publication of Paine's Age of Reason with its deist critique of the Bible, a certain Bishop Watson replied with an An Apology for the Bible in a Series of Letters addressed to Thomas Paine. George III commented that he wasn't aware the Bible needed an apology. Blake noted in his Annotations to Watson's Apology "that Paine has not attacked Christianity; Watson has defended Antichrist". On the back of the title page Blake wrote: "To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life. The Beast and the Whore rule without control".
The Beast and the Whore, two of the more flamboyant images of Revelation, in Blake's vernacular symbolized respectively the State and the Church. 

 A State Church

England has long had a State Church. Although many scholarly books have been written about it, the English Reformation primarily signified Henry VIII's declaration of independence from the papacy. Through the Middle Ages religious and temporal authority had existed side by side in continuous alliance and usually with a minimum of tension. At the high point of papal authority in 1077 a Holy Roman Emperor waited for three days in the snow outside the door until Pope Gregory VII saw fit to  receive him. The Pope considered the kings and princes of Europe his spiritual children.

Henry VIII was a child who grew up. When the Pope denied him permission to put away his wife in favor of a later romantic interest, Henry declared himself in effect the pope of the English Church and gave himself the necessary dispensation. That was the major event of the English Reformation; thereafter the ultimate authority of the Church of England resided with the Crown.

America, Plate 2, (E 52)
"I know thee, I have found thee, & I will not let thee go;
Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa;
And thou art fall'n to give me life in regions of dark death.
On my American plains I feel the struggling afflictions          
Endur'd by roots that writhe their arms into the nether deep:
I see a serpent in Canada, who courts me to his love;
In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru;
I see a Whale in the South-sea, drinking my soul away.
O what limb rending pains I feel. thy fire & my frost            
Mingle in howling pains, in furrows by thy lightnings rent;
This is eternal death; and this the torment long foretold.

[The stern Bard ceas'd, asham'd of his own song; enrag'd he swung
His harp aloft sounding, then dash'd its shining frame against 
A ruin'd pillar in glittring fragments; silent he turn'd away,   
And wander'd down the vales of Kent in sick & drear lamentings."
America, Plate b, [Canceled Plates], (E 58) 
"Reveal the dragon thro' the human; coursing swift as fire
To the close hall of counsel, where his Angel form renews.

In a sweet vale shelter'd with cedars, that eternal stretch
Their unmov'd branches, stood the hall; built when the moon shot forth,
In that dread night when Urizen call'd the stars round his feet; 
Then burst the center from its orb, and found a place beneath;
And Earth conglob'd, in narrow room, roll'd round its sulphur Sun.

To this deep valley situated by the flowing Thames;
Where George the third holds council. & his Lords & Commons meet:
Shut out from mortal sight the Angel came; the vale was dark     
With clouds of smoke from the Atlantic, that in volumes roll'd
Between the mountains, dismal visions mope around the house.

On chairs of iron, canopied with mystic ornaments,
Of life by magic power condens'd; infernal forms art-bound
The council sat; all rose before the aged apparition;            
His snowy beard that streams like lambent flames down his wide breast
Wetting with tears, & his white garments cast a wintry light.

Then as arm'd clouds arise terrific round the northern drum;
The world is silent at the flapping of the folding banners;
So still terrors rent the house: as when the solemn globe        
Launch'd to the unknown shore, while Sotha held the northern helm,
Till to that void it came & fell; so the dark house was rent,
The valley mov'd beneath; its shining pillars split in twain,
And its roofs crack across down falling on th' Angelic seats."

Wikimedia Commons
Europe A Prophecy
Plate 12
By Blake's standards a State Church is the ultimate abomination. He was aware that in the second century at least one Emperor had attempted to enforce the worship of his person as God throughout the Roman Empire, resulting in considerable persecution of those Jews and Christians who refused. Much of the New Testament addressed the problem. In 312 A.D. Constantine took over the Church and made it an arm of the State. That's the way Blake saw it in the 18th Century.

In America we take for granted the separation of Church and State as a constitutional principle. This limits the sort of power that corrupted Henry VIII. In England many people feel comfortable with a State Church, but traditions of freedom have limited its power. A large proportion of the population exist in religious groups outside of the State Church, and probably an even larger proportion have no significant religious attachment.

Even in Blake's day the tradition of dissent was an accepted part of the established order. True, the State Church operated Oxford and Cambridge for its own purposes, primarily preparing clergymen. But dissenting academies had arisen to provide a form of education in many ways superior to that of the established universities, especially in the new areas of science and industry. Dissenters largely carried out the Industrial Revolution.

The 17th Century had witnessed an explosion of dissent in which the head of State and Church had lost his own head. But the Restoration in 1660 reinstated the former arrangements. The Commonwealth struggle had led to a general disgust with religious controversy. Enthusiasm came to be despised and feared by clergy and laity alike. Conventional 18th Century religion had little to do with the feelings. It was rather an intellectual and political matter.

One of Blake's Four Zoas, Urizen aptly portrays the God of the majority of Anglicans during Blake's age. The State Church existed as a facade or symbol of order and authority, but with limited power, temporal or spiritual. The State Church, like the Jewish Sanhedrin, represented a minority of the people: the conservative establishment types, the squirearchy, the people who for centuries had controlled society. Frequently the landowner's younger son became the priest, though his character may have been dissolute. Politics dictated clerical appointments. Pluralism was common, the same man being appointed to a number of church positions. He would hire a curate to look after each parish's affairs, often at a tenth of the income which the parish provided him.

The bishops served primarily as political officials; they spent most of their time in London sitting in the House of Lords, where they generally provided a faithful voting block for the Crown. Tithes were the law of the land and enforced much as the income tax is today, much of the proceeds going to the clergy. It was a convenient arrangement, but it could not last; there was too much dissent, too much growth, too much creativity. Change was overtaking all England's institutions, and the Church was no exception. The religious changes had been quietly gathering force for centuries.
Side by side with Henry VIII's Reformation had existed a grass roots movement which we may call the Radical Reformation. It was made up of less worldly types than Henry, people who took their religion more seriously. One such group departed England in 1619 aboard the Mayflower. Their descendants became the Established Church in New England and spun off dissents from their dissent, like that of Roger Williams

William Penn brought shiploads of other irregulars to found a new colony. The Pilgrims, the Baptists, the Quakers of necessity learned to coexist--with one another, with other European religious groups,and with the Cavaliers of Virginia, who were solidly Anglican. All cooperated in throwing off the yoke of the mother country. In this melting pot religious groups learned to compete in an ecclesiastical form of free enterprise. It represented quite an improvement over the religious wars that had decimated Europe in previous centuries. The same fluid climate existed in the mother country. Every group that immigrated contained members who remained behind and found a place in English society. The State Church, with its large and unwieldy ecclesiastical bureaucracy, existed alongside an infrastructure of non-Conformist groups. What these groups lacked in political clout they made up for in creativity, character, industry, and commercial acumen. Each group has a fascinating story. In the next post we look at two of them which had a specific relationship to the mind of William Blake.