Mon 08 Mar 2010 03:22:25 PM EST
"...I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination."
(Jerusalem Plate 5: line 17ff)
Seek love in the pity of another's woe,
In the gentle relief of another's care,
In the darkness of night and the winter's snow.
In the naked and outcast, seek love there.
The most striking tenet of Blake's faith was his vision
of the Eternal; it was also his primary gift to
mankind. Blake lived in an age when the realm of
spirit had virtually disappeared from the intellectual
horizon. This single fact explains why he stood out
like a sore thumb in late 18th Century England and why
for most of his contemporaries he could never be more
than an irritant, an eccentric, a madman; their most
common term of depreciation was 'enthusiast'. His
primary concern was a world whose existence they not
only denied, but held in derision.
The task of the Enlightenment had been to
emancipate man from superstition, and Voltaire, Gibbon,
and their associates had done this with great
distinction. Blake was born emancipated, but he knew
that closed off from vision, from the individuality of
genius, from the spontaneous spiritual dimension, from
what Jesus had called the kingdom of God, mankind will
regress to a level beneath the human. In his prophetic
writings he predicted 1940 and its aftermath. Where
there is no vision, the people perish.
Blake was blessed with vision from his earliest days;
his visions were immediate and concrete. He found the
eternal inward worlds of thought more real than the
objective nature exalted by John Locke and Joshua
Reynolds. Their depreciation of vision, genius, the
eternal never failed to infuriate Blake. This fury
strongly colored his work and often threatened to
overwhelm it. It also led to his deprecatory view of
nature, which was their God.
Blake perceived the five senses as "the chief inlets of
Soul in this age"
(MHH plate 4). The rationalists had imposed upon
their world the view that life consists exclusively of
the five senses. Blake knew better:
"How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses
(MHH plate 7)
Blake was keenly alive to another world, a world of
vision, of imagination, of God, which he called the
eternal; it was a world that most of his contemporaries
had deliberately closed their minds to. He spent his
life furiously trying to strike off their href="http://www.autodidactproject.org/quote/cornforth4.html">mind forged manacles.
The man of faith believes some things; other things he
knows by experience. Blake had experienced the eternal
from earliest childhood. At times the vision clouded,
but its reality remained the one unshakeable tenet of
Every child begins in eternity. Jesus said, "Except
you become as little children...." Blake knew this
better than anyone since Jesus, or maybe anyone since
Francis. He knew it because by a providential
dispensation of grace the child in Blake remained alive
throughout his life. At the age of 34 he wrote those
beautiful 'Songs of Innocence', his "happy songs
Every child may joy to hear". 'Songs of Innocence'
hooked a great many people on Blake originally:
transparent goodness transcribed into black type on
white paper--somewhat beyond Locke's href="http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tabula%20rasa">tabula rasa.
If life were only like that. If Blake were only like
that, he'd have an assured place as one of England's
best loved poets, a beloved impractical idealist and a
threat to no one. But in 'Songs of Experience' he
began to express a more complex reality.
Marriage of Heaven and Hell' represents a healthy
beginning in working out the complexities. They have
to be worked out, every minute particular in the
corrosive burning flame of thought, etching away the
surfaces, getting down to bedrock. Most of us have
refused Blake and his Eternal because we don't want to
be bothered with reality; we don't want to take the
trouble. We're content with the little sub-realities
that inform our lives and values, the simple half
truths and prejudices which we call the real world.
Blake wrote, etched, painted, sang his visions of Eternity
throughout a long life time. This chapter systematizes his
visions as they address and relate to the general constructs
of Christian theology. That enterprise of course violates
the spirit of his creative genius, which refused
systematization. Nevertheless we systematize in the hope
that a coherent picture of his faith may emerge and lead the
faithful reader to an encounter with the original, organized
in Blake's own inimitable style.
The theologues of the forties and fifties learned from
Paul Tillich that everyone has an ultimate concern, his God.
People in Alcoholics Anonymous have told some of their
theologically confused members that, lacking any better God,
they may worship a 'pot on the mantle', anything at all to
break that devotion to the bottle which is actually the
worship of a lower form of the self. To remain sober one
must believe in a Higher Power of some sort.
The important thing is that one's Higher Power be not a
projection of some lower form of self; that's idolatry. The
person seriously interested in ultimate reality engages in
a life long search for the most real image he can discover,
the image of his God. A person's best
image of God nurtures his spirit as he goes through life.
The Bible contains a multiplicity of images of God. For
example we read about the finger of God, the nostrils of
God, even the backside of God. All his life Blake
maintained a high level of respect for the Bible as vision.
Nevertheless he refused to worship other men's visions of
God: "I (you!) must create a system, or be enslaved by
(Jerusalem, 10.20; E153)". He's saying that we
have a choice to adhere to the conventions (whatever
conventions may be for us) or to create our own values
from our own experience. Blake did this for a
lifetime, creating his own myth of meaning, and with
his creative works he expressed it over and over again.
The only thing Blake really trusted was his own immediate
direct vision, and he possessed his soul in varying degrees
of patience until that vision clarified (and you may be
sure that it was criticized, corrected and amended over and
over again. The
'Felpham Moment' marks the decisive
clarification of Blake's vision of God. Even then the
Father remained for Blake a symbol of subjection to the
other man's vision, of spiritual tyranny. His own vision
came to center upon Jesus.
Nobodaddy, Father of Jealousy, href="http://facstaff.uww.edu/hoganj/outluriz.htm">Urizen, all the creator and
authority figures that filled the young Blake's mind,
represented in essence his rejection of other men's images
of God. The href="http://www.english.uga.edu/nhilton/Blake/blaketxt1/the_four_zoas.html">"Vision of Ahania" (4Z: chapter 3, 39.13ff)
expressed Blake's dawning awareness of a fundamental
spiritual truth: the transcendental image which had
dominated institutional religion is most often a projection
of man's primitive negativities. The ultimate negativities,
repressed into the unconscious, irupt into consciousness as
the ultimate positivity, a God built upon sand, a "shadow
from his wearied intellect". This passage, probably as much
as anything else in his experience, inspired Thomas Altizer
in the sixties to launch his Death of God movement.
Blake depreciated the God of Law and Wrath in order to
exalt the God of Forgiveness. He believed that the far off,
elusive, mysterious, transcendental image of God freezes
man into spiritual immobility. He wanted to liberate men's
minds from this imposture and put them in touch with the
true source of creativity:
Seek not thy heavenly father then beyond the skies,
There Chaos dwells & ancient Night & Og & Anak old.
I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! we are One, forgiving all Evil, Not seeking recompense.
Ye are my members....
The prophetic poems which Blake wrote prior to 1800 concern
his efforts to know, describe and deal with the old,
jealous, wrathful, creator image; he finally dismissed it as
a "shadow from his wearied intellect" (FZ3-40.3). The later,
major prophecies, Milton and Jerusalem, also contain this
theme, happily outweighed by the new vision. Prior to the
Felpham Moment Blake had worshipped his own visionary
endowment, his Pot on the Mantle; he called it the Poetic
Genius and later the Imagination. The evolving figure of
Los building Golgonooza personified what we might call a
pre-Christian God. When grace fell upon Blake, he came to
see the true embodiment of God in Jesus.
In a letter to his friend and patron, Thomas Butts,
he described the experience of redemption that had come
"And now let me finish with assuring you that tho I
have been very unhappy I am so no longer I am again
Emerged into the light of Day I still & shall to
Eternity Embrace Christianity and Adore him who is the
Express image of God..."
The last part of CHAPTER FIVE contains a detailed
description of Jesus as the mature Blake envisioned him. At
this point we look again at the lovely poem Blake wrote to
Butts in October, 1800 reporting on an early appearance of Jesus
to him, perhaps the first--when he was 43. He aptly called it "My first
Vision of Light":
To my Friend Butts I write
My first Vision of Light,
On the yellow sands sitting.
The Sun was Emitting
His Glorious beams
From Heaven's high Streams.
Over Sea, over Land
My Eyes did Expand
Into regions of air
Away from all Care,
Into regions of fire
Remote from Desire;
The Light of the Morning
Heaven's Mountains adorning:
In particles bright
The jewels of Light
Distinct shone & clear.
Amaz'd & in fear
I each particle gazed,
For each was a Man
I stood in the Streams
Of Heaven's bright beams,
And Saw Felpham sweet
Beneath my bright feet
In soft Female charms;
And in her fair arms
My Shadow I knew
And my wife's shadow too
And my sister & Friend.
We like Infants descend
In our Shadows on Earth
Like a weak mortal birth.
My Eyes more & more
Like a Sea without shore
The Heavens commanding,
Till the Jewels of Light,
Heavenly Men beaming bright,
Appear'd as One Man
Who Complacent began
My limbs to infold
In his beams of bright gold;
Like dross purg'd away
All my mire & my clay.
Soft consum'd in delight
In his bosom Sun bright
I remain'd. Soft he smil'd
And I heard his voice Mild
Saying: This is My Fold,
O thou Ram horn'd with gold!
And the voice faded mild.
Following John and Paul quite literally Blake believed
that all things belong to Jesus. He is in them (us) and
they (we) are in him. All his life Blake had kept a firm
grip on the oneness of humanity and its identity with God.
At the Moment of Grace he came to see all as One Man and his
own forgiven and accepted place in that Man's bosom. In
the poem the Man refers to the All as "My Fold" and names
the awakened Blake as his herald: "Thou Ram horn'd with
Blake sent this poem to the one faithful Christian he
knew who had befriended and loved him. The circumstances
leave no doubt as to the identity of the One Man. The poem
poetically expresses Blake's faith as it relates to God, Man
and the relationship between the two. It expresses what
the Christian faith has to say about the relationship as
well as it can be expressed verbally. It also expresses
with vivid eloquence the child like nature of the entrance
to the kingdom of God. Blake here celebrates and confesses
it. To interpret Blake's experience we could use any
number of hackneyed phrases representing the various
dialects of the language of Zion; suffice it to say that for
most of them as for Blake this is the main event, the center
of the Moment of Grace. At this point Jesus became and
forever afterward remained the One and the ever present
Reality which Blake had formerly known as the Infinite or
Eternal. For Blake Jesus was a Man, the Reality of Life,
and most ultimately the All. In all three instances Blake
strictly followed Johannine and Pauline strains of the New
Heaven and Hell
Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?
No one knows of the Beyond. Still men throughout history
have seen visions of it. These visions have informed their
faith and galvanized them to the words and deeds by which
they have lived. Look now at Blake's visions of Heaven and
For Isaiah (and Blake) 'everlasting burnings' had
connotations opposite to those of conventional thinking.
Indeed throughout the Bible fire more often symbolizes God than
the Devil: href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews%2012:29;&version=9;">"our God is a consuming fire".Note also the burning bush
seen by Moses and the forks of flame at Pentecost. In Eden
every bush burns and flaming tongues fill the air; Blake
referred to them as burning arrows of thought.
Blake's eternity, both here and hereafter, is characterized
by two intense activities, href="http://www.iath.virginia.edu/cgi-bin/nph-1965/blake/erdman/erd/@Generic__BookTextView/13730;pt=9683">War
and Hunting (Milton: Plate 35:2), "the
Two Fountains of the River of Life". Both are intellectual
in nature and aimed at growth into Truth. In this world
they have been prostituted into "corporeal war" and the
killing of the innocent. War and Hunting of course exhaust
the eternals, so periodic rest is provided in what might be
called Lower Heaven; Blake called it Beulah:
There is from Great Eternity a mild & pleasant rest
Nam'd Beulah, a soft Moony Universe, feminine, lovely,
Pure, mild & Gentle, given in Mercy to those who sleep,
Eternally created by the Lamb of God around,
On all sides, within & without the Universal Man.
4Z (Night 1 5:29-31)
Blake tells us relatively little about Eden, but in his
larger poems he had a lot to say about Beulah. He described
it as a sort of way station between Eden and Ulro, which we
might roughly translate as this vale of tears. Two way
traffic passes through Beulah. Those who reach it from Ulro
are in good shape and headed for something better. Those
coming from the other direction are also okay for the
moment but in deadly peril if they go farther.
We could also call Ulro "this world". In a sense "this
world" is as close to the conventional hell as Blake got. In
Blake as in the Bible, especially in Paul, "this world" has a
technical meaning. It does not mean the present stage of life as
opposed to a heavenly (or hellish) existence beyond physical
death. Basically "this world" means a level of consciousness
that sees only the material, which Blake called the corporeal.
Ulro is the state in which "Reality was forgot, and the Vanities
of Time and Space only Remembered and called Reality"
(href="http://www.iath.virginia.edu/cgi-bin/nph-1965/blake/erdman/erd/@Generic__BookTextView/59949;pt=61315">Vision of the Last Judment; Erdman 555; his comments on an
href="http://www.english.uga.edu/wblake/EverlastingGospel/evgok_html/LastJudgepg.html">astounding canvas; it concerns Revelation 20:11-15).
Ulro, Blake's hell, denotes a form of blindness or
sleep, from which one may awaken:
"Of the Sleep of Ulro! and of
the passage through Eternal Death!
and of the awaking to Eternal Life....
(Jerusalem Chapter One)"
This is his theme, Blake tells us. Students of the
New Testament know that sleep and waking are thoroughly biblical
figures for the spiritual realities which concerned Blake here.
He envisioned Eternal Death as the fallenness of "this world"
through which we pass before "awaking to Eternal Life". Blake
thus saw hell as man's fallen state before the coming of Jesus to
awaken us and set us free.
The biblical writers as they are generally understood
had not adequately grasped the fullness of Jesus' power to rescue
mankind totally from the darkness which Blake called Eternal Death.
They wrote most of the New Testament in a time of persecution. In
their effort to stiffen the spine of the believer in the face of
that persecution they retreated into a degree of thralldom to the
Old Testament God of Wrath, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards'
sermon,"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".
One can readily understand why the worldly ecclesiastics who
followed Peter and Paul picked up on the angry God. All too often
he became their primary weapon; the image of hell is the ultimate
form of coercion. Blake made no such mistake, probably because
of the ten years which he had spent confronting and subduing that
"shadow from his wearied intellect", years of suffering,
but it turned to glory.
In those years he laid to rest the
Punisher who has afflicted the minds of believers through the
centuries, but he retained the creative possibility which
represents the best of the Christian faith. The rationalists and
deists had thrown out both and confined us to Ulro, which today
threatens to engulf mankind. The reader must decide for himself
whose hell is most real--the place of unending punishment or the
sleep from which man may awaken.
Sin and Forgiveness
"Whosoever of you are justified by the
law: ye are fallen from grace"
Just as he redefined hell, so Blake redefined sin. The
only sin for Blake consisted in hindering, oneself or another:
"Murder is Hindering Another, Theft is Hindering Another." To
subvert one's individuality is the sin against the Holy Spirit.
"He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence".
The responsibility for hindering another falls upon the Lawmaker and Enforcer,
who has polluted life with his prohibitions: "over the doors
Thou shalt not". One could say that Blake took Paul's letters
to the Romans and to the Galatians too seriously. Luther had
taken those epistles seriously enough to throw off the Roman yoke.
Blake took them more radically and threw off the mosaic yoke--as
Paul had suggested.
Paul had identified the Law with the flesh
and opposed it with the Spirit. Our poet took with utmost
seriousness these stirring passages calling the Christian to freedom
from the Law. He didn't have the benefit of the 'interpretations'
of such ideas afforded by the educational process.
Sin stems from our ideas of morality, which Blake called
hindering. When we presume to know what someone else should or
must do, we have entered the state of Caiaphas, the Pharisee, who
crucified Jesus, but "was in his own Mind/a benefactor to Mankind."
We lay down the law to another--our law--and thus
violate the other's nature: "One law for the Lion and Ox is
Oppression". We tell him what to do, and then we use the power
of the Accuser, the God of this World, to compell him to do it
and to punish him for his failures. This is sin, the way life
happens in Ulro. As we have seen, Blake didn't call it life,
he called it Eternal Death. Paul had said, "The wages of sin
is death but the gift of God is eternal life."
The categories of sin and righteousness divide mankind.
The division often proceeds to the point of physical violence.
Corporeal war always rests upon a base of self righteousness and
condemnation of the sins of the enemy. Religion too often allies
itself with those attitudes and their violent results. Long
before the peaceniks of the sixties Blake said in effect, "Make
love, not war!" He said it at great length in dozens of
different ways. He saw war as the ultimate end of hindering
(See CHAPTER NINE.) In the Book of Urizen we read how Urizen,
the great Lawgiver (who lives in all of us!) discovers that none
of his children can obey his laws, "for he saw that no flesh nor
spirit could keep His iron laws one moment".
So we see that Blake opposed the idea of sin; he opposed
morality; he opposed Law. Parodoxically Blake lived a very law
abiding life. Only such a person can afford the luxury of
antinomianism without losing his integrity. For example Blake
despised the marriage laws--and lived as a faithful and dutiful
husband for forty years. But beyond the surface absurdities of
his anarchism Blake tells us something profound about life:
Goodness cannot be compelled; goodness grows only in a context
of freedom. "To the pure all things are pure". Blake was
basically pure; one of his mottoes was "everything that lives is
holy". That in itself would have been enough to make him famous.
If we can suspend our judgments about people's conduct
and stop tormenting ourselves because of our failures to do the
good which we have laid upon ourselves, if we can accept what we
have called bad, but which may be simply disowned facets of our
true nature, in Blake's terminology if we can forgive, then we
can put sin behind us and receive the gift of eternal life.
Blake, drinking deeply from the prmary fountains of scripture,
intuitively expressed these universal truths in poetic terms.
100 years later Jung came along and clothed them with the
respectability of a scientific jargon.
From what has been said it is obvious that Blake didn't If the primary moral wrong is hindering, the primary At Felpham, in the major crisis of his life, he faced The old urizenic monstrosity that had haunted him, first Startled was Los; he found his Enemy Urizen now Has anyone better portrayed the psychodynamics of We can't say that's the end of the story; in Night viii Blake had a deep grasp of what students of the Bible According to Blake's faith this coming of Jesus is the In the lovely "first Light" poem quoted above he used the The unforgiving, This was Blake's religion; unfortunately he does not In 'Milton' Blake speaks of two streams flowing from a fountain in That's the most incredible good news for anybody who can If you believe that all came originally from the One Double Predestination contains as its lower half the Blake expended an enormous amount of his creative energy In 'Milton' Blake ironically inverted the calvinistic Double Predestination is a consequence of a more In MHH Blake examined most directly the conventional However the conventional Hell does seem to have some In the second place, although the doctrine of hell has And at the end of the first chapter of 'Jerusalem' the The relationship between Blake's doctrine of states and The Last Judgment in Blake is the consummation devoutly An incident from Blake's last years suggests something Psychologists tell us that a person's early relationship with his father has a great bearing on his image of God. The Neo-platonic interpreters have theorized that Blake "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" Has anyone
believe in Sin as it is commonly understood: "Satan thinks that
Sin is displeasing to God; he ought to know that Nothing is
displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the Tree of Knowledge
of Good & Evil". Jerusalem, Blake's symbol of the redeemed and
pure consciousness, speaking to Vala, his symbol of the fallen
mind, expressed Blake's candid evaluation of Sin as such: "Oh
Vala...what is sin but a little error & fault that is soon forgiven?"
grace is forgiveness. Redemption came for Blake when forgiveness
first entered the horizon of his vision; it increasingly came to
dominate it. Prior to 1800 with all his denunciations of Urizen,
the Restrainer, and of morality Blake was growing more and more
into the role of judge. He was becoming in fact a judge of judges.
The later Lambeth books witness the resultant decrease in vitality;
in the language of Zion he suffered a loss of faith. It coincided
with a slowly dawning realization that Urizen had infested his own
mind all the while he was denouncing him in others. There
awakened in his mind a new awareness of sin, a sin more basic
than hindering others, or rather an awareness of the inner cause
of hindering. He called it the Selfhood, the Spectre, Satan.
As many of us have since that day, Blake realized that he saw
the God-playing in others because he was so good at it himself.
This new vision of his Selfhood led to the Moment of Grace.
the need to forgive both the impositions of his corporeal friend,
Hayley, and the resentful thunderer, William Blake, as well. The
appearance of his first Vision of Light marks the coming of
Christ into his life with the power of this forgiveness;
henceforth he called him Jesus, the Forgiveness.
in the outer world and increasingly as a component of his own
psyche, was recognized, accepted, subdued, and forgiven. It was
undoubtedly the greatest event of his life, a new birth of hope at
the age of 43. He shared with us the psychic unfolding of this
experience in Night vii of 'The Four Zoas' where Los embraces his
Spectre (equivalent to Jung's acceptance of the shadow) and soon
thereafter finds Urizen miraculously changed:
In his hands; he wonder'd that he felt love & not hate.
His whole soul loved him; he beheld him an infant
forgiveness? In order to forgive you first withdraw the
projection, then you forgive yourself. It's your baby!
Urizen continues to afflict life with his judgments, hostility
and violence; Satan comes forth from his War. The Saviour dies
for him, and we are still waiting for the ultimate victory. Nor
was Blake himself fully delivered from the resentments and self
justifications of the old man. Hard times ahead, the
deceitfulness and opprobrium of others continued to afflict and
to warp his psyche and caused him to participate in sin (mostly
by suffering through the sins of others against him), but now he
knew the answer: through recurring awareness and
Self-annihilation he could forgive again and again. The wheat
and tares continued to grow together.
have called the kenosis. At his Moment of Grace it became for
him an existential reality. He rewrote 4Z to show Jesus
throughout the drama coming from above, hovering over Mankind,
descending into mortal flesh to join us and to take on our
burdens, our sorrow and pain and travail. Blake referred to
this as the "dark Satanic body". This is the body we all wear
until Jesus glorifies it in us.
ultimate act of forgiveness for what we have become in our
brokenness. It empowers us to become through a new birth what we
were originally and what we are called to be again. The new
birth is an alteration of consciousness. Blake had an inkling
of this as early as 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', where he
referred to it as "an improvement of sensual enjoyment" In the
same plate he referred to it as a cleansing of the "doors of
perception" and likened the former state to life in Plato's cave.
thoroughly biblical figure of Jesus purging away "all my mire and
Forgiveness is not a temporal event, but an eternal one.
The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. We
must forgive not once, but seventy times seven times. Blake
deals with sin and forgiveness as ultimates in his notebook poem,
"My Spectre around me night and day". The poem speaks primarily
to the advanced student, but with crystal clarity stanza 14
bears on the primary grace:
accusing, egocentric, spectrous Selfhood is the stuff of Ulro, the life that is Eternal Death.
Forgiveness through Self-annihilation is the stuff of that life
which is life indeed. In the eternal realm Good and Evil,
Virtue and Sin, all are forgiven and replaced by Truth and Error,
which constitute the matter of the eternal wars of love. We fight
these with Blake's weapons (the burning arrows of thought, etc.)
or with Paul's "whole armor of God". Error meets an eternal
consummation as we grow closer and closer to the Perfect Man.
The apocalypse in Blake's structure of faith comes as an
alteration of consciousness by which "this world" fades out
(is consumed) and is replaced by the Eternal. Albion awakes.
"Whenever any Individual Rejects Error and Embraces Truth, a
Last Judgment passes upon that Individual".
seem to have found it in any of the churches which he knew.
Instead many of his deepest convictions directly contravened the
prevailing theology. He discovered that he "must create a
system, or be enslated by another mans". The pages that follow
trace some of the contrarieties between Blake's vision of
eternal reality and the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy.
The Two Ways
a rock of crystal: one goes straight to Eden; the other is more
torturous. They represent of course two possible journeys through
life, and he could speak of both because he lived both. The first
stream represents the child-like consciousness that enabled Blake
(that enables anyone gifted with it) to live every moment in the light
of Eternity. The other, more common path wanders all over this
God-forsaken vale of tears, but it winds up at the same place.
hear it. The apostle Paul hinted at it a time or two; perhaps it
was the truth that he was forbidden to tell. Origen believed it,
no doubt one of the reasons the Church Fathers kicked him out.
In the 19th Century an entire denomination arose whose primary
emphasis was this particular good news--the Universalists.
Actually this good news could not be pronounced with authority
except by someone like Blake who had traveled both journeys; he
knew whereof he spoke.
and that in the fullness of time all things in Christ are
gathered together in one, then as a consequence the two paths do
meet at the end as Blake claimed. We can put this in a more
properly theological context with Blake's expressed response to
the calvinistic doctrine of Double Predestination.
grim old notion of Hell that has probably done as much as
anything else in theology to discredit the Christian faith in the
eyes of the modern world. Calvin taught the hoary old
superstition that most of the world's population are destined
to live without Christ and to die and move on to eternal torment;
a lucky few have a happier destiny. The lucky few included
Calvin of course and his friends, especially his obedient
friends. In contrast Origen, perhaps Paul, and surely Blake
believed in single predestination: the two streams converge at
combating Double Predestination. He heaped scorn upon scorn on
the calvinistic God who curses his children. His break with
Swedenborg followed his discovery that Swedenborg was a
"Spiritual Predestinarian, more abominable than Calvin's". He
later lamented over him and called him the "Samson, shorn by
categories of 'elect' and 'reprobate'. With incredible elegance
he used Jesus' words on Calvin like a two edged sword. He
simply pronounced on behalf of Christ the obvious truth, as if
to say, "Calvin, your doctrine is of the world, and your first
shall be last in my kingdom."
fundamental error of Rahab, the whore of Babylon, the organized
Church, "Imputing sin and righteousness to individuals". Blake
addressed that error with his doctrine of states, which we look
at in a moment.
idea of Hell and pronounced it a delusion of a certain type of
mind. In VLJ he gave his straightforward views about the meaning
of the biblical Hell. Again in 'Jerusalem', "What are the Pains
of Hell but Ignorance, Bodily Lust, Idleness & devastation of the
things of the Spirit?"
biblical basis: Isaiah 66.24, Mark 9.43ff; Matthew 25.41 provide
examples. How do you deal with all those scriptures? In the
first place Blake felt perfectly free to discount anything in the
Bible that he found incongruent with his vision, at least to
discount its conventional meaning. The immediate experience
always exercised authority over anything second hand. The
inerrancy of scripture, another of the Five Fundamentals, meant
just about as much to him as Double Predestination.
most often been used as a means of anathematizing those with whom
one disagrees, there are certainly more creative ways to deal with
it. Blake chose one of these, what he called the doctrine of
states. In a conversation with the "seven Angels of the Presence"
Milton is told by Lucifer: "We are not individuals but states.../
Distinguish therefore states from individuals in those states."
daughters of Beulah pray as follows:
Descend, O Lamb of God, & take away the imputation of Sin
By the Creation of States & the deliverance of Individuals
But many doubted & despair'd & imputed Sin & Righteousness
To Individuals & not to States, and these Slept in Ulro.
(Jerusalem, 25.12 Erdman 170)
To distinguish states from individuals is the only means
of forgiveness of sins. In the centuries since Blake enlightened
Christians have learned to condemn sin without condemning the sinner. The most enlightened condemn no one, realizing that they
themselves are as sinful as anyone else. For such a consciousness the only authentic preaching becomes confessional preaching.
the conventional doctrine of hell becomes clear in
Plate 16 of the
Job series where Job and his wife watch the 'old man' in themselves take the plunge with their master "into the everlasting
fire prepared for the devil and his angels". This of course is a
spiritual or psychic event. The crude and ludicrous superstition
of the conventional doctrine of hell stems from a spiritual blindness that attempts to impose the material upon the Beyond--once
again the Lockian fallacy, the assumption that 'material' is
to be hoped for when truth takes its rightful place in man's
psyche. Error is "burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it".
The person wedded to error finds this a fearsome prospect; the one
who wants to be free finds it a glorious one. We're all headed
for the last judgment--by the direct childlike route or the torturous worldly route. It's the fervent hope of the eternalist
and the bane of the materialist. Blake as was said before, traveled both routes. His exquisite lyrics attest to the first;
his (often tormented) prophetic declamation to the second. The
childlike route is so crystal clear as to need little explanation;
the second obviously needs a great deal. Looking closely at the
first may be good preparation for the second.
of the nature of the torturous route which was Blake's life. The
old poet was telling the story of the Prodigal Son. He got to
the moment when the wandering boy at last returns to the Father.
At that point Blake broke down in tears; he couldn't go on. The
story casts a revealing light on a primitive relationship that
must have provided a lot of the dynamic for Blake's creativity.
Applying that idea to Blake's poetry one could infer that Blake
as a child had a gruesome relationship with his father. However
we find little suggestion of this in the biography. On the contrary the preponderance of the evidence suggests a permissive and
understanding parent. (The only exception seems to be the threat
to beat the eight year old for his 'lie' about the tree full of
angels.) In any event 'father' has unpleasant associations in
Blake's poetry, especially in the theological realm. He adored
Jesus, but he obviously had trouble believing Jesus' word about
the loving Father (See CHAPTER FIVE).
couldn't forgive the Creator for condemning us to this prison
house of mortal life. I think a more universal explanation fits
the facts. Everyone has difficulty forgiving his father and/or
creator for the dimensions of horror in life which threaten in
one way or another to overwhelm the psyche. Few or none of us
have done a really adequate job of this. Most often we've repressed the sensitive idealist; we've closed off from consciousness those unpleasant ultimate realities which seem to have no
really asked that question since 1794? Neitszche asked it and
went crazy. In our generation Jung has come closest, and that's
what makes him great. Most of us, even the best of Christians,
have partitioned off and closed out that ultimate question, the
ultimate doubt expressed by the dying Saviour on the cross. This
William Blake could not do; like Jesus he was condemned to face
consciously the penalty of our finitude.
Frye has spoken of the 'abyss of consciousness'. Enion,
the primeval mother in 4Z is condemned to it by her love of her
children. at the end of
Night ii she calls our attention to this blindness which we have
chosen and its opposite, the abyss of consciousness which she (and
Blake in her) is condemned to face; here is href="http://www.progressiveliving.org/william_blake_poetry_enion_2.htm"
If the primary moral wrong is hindering, the primary
At Felpham, in the major crisis of his life, he faced
The old urizenic monstrosity that had haunted him, first
Startled was Los; he found his Enemy Urizen now
Has anyone better portrayed the psychodynamics of
We can't say that's the end of the story; in Night viii
Blake had a deep grasp of what students of the Bible
According to Blake's faith this coming of Jesus is the
In the lovely "first Light" poem quoted above he used the
This was Blake's religion; unfortunately he does not
In 'Milton' Blake speaks of two streams flowing from a fountain in
That's the most incredible good news for anybody who can
If you believe that all came originally from the One
Double Predestination contains as its lower half the
Blake expended an enormous amount of his creative energy
In 'Milton' Blake ironically inverted the calvinistic
Double Predestination is a consequence of a more
In MHH Blake examined most directly the conventional
However the conventional Hell does seem to have some
In the second place, although the doctrine of hell has
And at the end of the first chapter of 'Jerusalem' the
The relationship between Blake's doctrine of states and
The Last Judgment in Blake is the consummation devoutly
An incident from Blake's last years suggests something
Psychologists tell us that a person's early relationship with his father has a great bearing on his image of God.
The Neo-platonic interpreters have theorized that Blake
"Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" Has anyone
Something is terribly wrong in this created universe,
and in the face of this underlying wrongness the idea of a loving
Father as Creator simply doesn't fit all the facts. This consciousness, which Blake shared with Dostoevski in the person of
Ivan Karamazov, interrupted Blake's childlike innocence and precipitated the torturous journey "through the Aerial Void and all
Probably a majority of people will always refuse such
an invitation; they will cling to the refuge of their Church, or
Bible, or President, or fraternity, or whatever form of authority
they have made their obeisance to, whatever they have found to
block out the abyss of consciousness. A few will have at least a
sympathetic or vicarious interest in the problem posed by Blake
and Dostoevski. A handful will perceive that to realize their
full humanity and the God Within they must proceed beyond
innocence. They, too, must take that long journey and plumb life to
its wholeness. The art of Blake offers a good map for the trip.