Monday, November 22, 2010

William Blake, Charles Williams, and Anglican Spirituality

       This post is intended simply to be a congregating point for comments on spirituality as it has been revealed in the Anglican church.

       Anglican church history begins somewhere in the semi-legendary, semi-historical accounts of the mission of Joseph of Arimathea and the establishment, or re-establishment, of the original House, built by Jesus, the young Carpenter, for His Mother.  You can find the stories elsewhere -- google on Glastonbury, for example.  The story has survived the centuries when the Church of Britain lived in uneasy relation with the occupying Roman imperial -- and later papal -- authorities, and the successive invasions of the Anglo-Saxons and the Norman French.  It (the ancient story) has even survived the Puritan era, and informs some -- perhaps much -- of William Blake's insights and his sense of freedom to redefine, or I should say, recast, certain orthodoxies.

       And the amazing Mother Julian of Norwich, and the old prophetess, Mother Shipton, remain beloved in at least some Anglican circles.

       While much of Anglicanism descended into mere sycophancy with British imperialism, a healthy mysticism and spirituality has been preserved always.  Persons who might be considered heretics by thoroughgoing Calvinists or other Reformers have found a place in the Anglican communion for centuries.

       In the fringes of the Anglican tradition can be found men as diversely orthodox as the Wesley brothers and John Henry Newman  -- not that all remained there; Newman eventually became a Roman Catholic (and a cardinal at that) -- but they certainly remained in the Body of Christ.  More recently, of course, we have the life-long Anglican Charles Williams, and a slightly later convert, C. S. Lewis.

       I'd like to launch the discussion with a tribute to the poet, William Blake, who I think first opened my eyes to the explicitly spiritual value of poetry.  I do not claim to fully understand him; I do claim to treasure him; and I am delighted that great thinkers and mystics of the stature of Thomas Merton and Charles Williams draw much from him.

       If he had never written anything more than the magnificent "Jerusalem," he should be forever considered among the first rank of poets and seers.  If you have not read this poem recently, you can look it up on the net and enjoy it again.   As long as William Blake is remembered, there remains the possibility -- perhaps only a possibility -- of bright hope for England.

       To Charles Williams I owe my first real understanding of church history as spiritual rather than historical/political/religious reality (Descent of the Dove).  His development of the reality of "co-inherence" transformed my understanding of the Atonement.

       But let the comments begin.  In this discussion, I hope, I have very much to learn.  Welcome.

 *       *       *

       Note: I intend to set up posts for discussion of Celtic and Scandinavian spirituality soon.


  1. poetry and prophets.

    If you go through and read the prophets chronologically, you notice an interesting thing. As they get closer to the capitivity, poetry seems to slowly, surely disappear. Jeremiah is a bridge, he's about 50/50 poetry, prose. AFTER him, poetry is considerably smaller, and, none of the prophets understand visions anymore. They have to have them explained to them.

    rama lama bionicus strikes again.

  2. YouTube has several versions of the famous hymn, Jerusalem. Here is one.

    Blessings to all who love William Blake. May he return one day in the company of Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Arthur, and "Jack on Aslan's back." England hath need of them all.

  3. Thanks, r. l. bionicus. I had never noticed that pattern before; but you are right, and it makes a certain sense. Poetry, not prose, best mediates holy vision.

    St. Richard Wurmbrand mentions somewhere that he learned to pay attention to the "white spaces" as well as the black letters of the Scripture. And he could see and hear rhythm and silence in those spaces.

  4. Interestingly, what seems to slip past is the fact that the older Wiccan religion still held sway in England, and despite the Great Inquisition or its predecessors, it was never wiped out in England. Most English churches are built on or near Wiccan worship spots including the Templar church at Glastonbury. I am not going into paranormal issues like ley lines and the ilk. While you touched upon Mother Shipton, you forgot another famous man of prophecy called Sir John Dee. Both predate Nostradamus.


  5. Everyone,

    See this link from N.T. Wright, former bishop of Durham in the Church of England, on Blake's poem "Jerusalem."

  6. I owe something to Charles Williams: as someone who took seven long and sometimes awful years to come into Communion with the Catholic Church, I must say that Williams, as an Anglican, opened my eyes to one of the more difficult Catholic doctrines. His doctrine of "substituted love" (expressed in "Descent into Hell", and elsewhere) explains Purgatory, Indulgences, and Good Works, in a remarkably lucid way. Truly in Christ we actually can help to bear our brother's burdens, sorrows, and sufferings, and this is one of the greatest acts of Charity we can perform on earth. The often misunderstood asceticism of Catholic Saints begins to make more sense; the puzzle pieces come together. I remember the very relevant case of the Cure D'Ars, St. Jean Vianney. St. Jean was ordained a priest due to his holiness of life alone, for he had struggled greatly with his academic studies. He was appointed to the tiny, much fallen-away parish of Ars, a place of no significance at all. The obstinate town folk refused for the most part to come to Mass or even listen to Father Vianney. When, at last, it became clear that he could neither preach or speak to people in any way, St. Jean went to his room, and for nights engaged in painful ascetical practices, offering them for the stubborn people he had been sent to shepherd. And slowly, without speaking a word, a work began. The Rain of Grace began to fall from Heaven, until it became a mighty Flood through all of France, unforseen, unstoppable. The simple, poorly educated Cure was enabled, by offering his sufferings in Christ for others, to eventually bless the souls of literally hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who descended on the little village of Ars over the rest of the years of his life. He is now the Patron Saint of Parish Priests.
    There are aspects of Williams writings that I now have no taste for whatsoever. I find his fiction bizzare and fanciful to an unfortunate degree. But I still have great respect for him, and consider him one the brilliant Anglican writers of the company of Lewis and their ilk; and I will always hold gratitude for his opening my eyes on a crucial doctrine. Requiescat in pace.

  7. William Blake : 'The Divine Image'

    To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
    All pray in their distress;
    And to these virtues of delight
    Return their thankfulness.

    For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
    Is God, our father dear,
    And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
    Is Man, his child and care.

    For Mercy has a human heart,
    Pity a human face;
    And Love, the human form divine,
    And Peace, the human dress.

    Then every man, of every clime,
    That prays in his distress,
    Prays to the human form divine,
    Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

    And all must love the human form,
    In heathen, turk, or jew;
    Where Mercy, Love, & Pity dwell
    There God is dwelling too.

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    - Robson

  9. J'ai appris des choses interessantes grace a vous, et vous m'avez aide a resoudre un probleme, merci.

    - Daniel