Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Saint William Blake

Guest post by Ben Carmack

If you are like me, you were told that William Blake was something of a hedonist, an eccentric weirdo who wanted nothing to do with God, morality or restraint of any kind.

You can get the idea from reading some of his poems. He calls you to cast aside restraint and pursue "Desire" with abandon. Now that I think on it, I think he was being intentionally provocative and cheeky. He didn't necessarily mean for us to take him in a strict, literal sense. That was not his style. He was responding to the overly legalistic tendencies of the Church in his time.

As in so many things, I was wrong. I remembered that today when I had a chance to go over some of William Blake's poetry on Jesus afresh. It is just as good as when I dug into it a year ago.

It's so good, and shows such prophetic depth (along with many of his other poems, like "London," "Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and "Jerusalem") that I have personally canonized William Blake. Of course I have no idea as to his whereabouts in the afterlife, but I figured I'd do my part to put in a good word for him. If the Pope can do it, why can't I?

Blake was an engraver by trade, and he published his poems as engravings. Here's what he said at the introduction to his poem on Jesus and the Gospel:

There is not one Moral Virtue that Jesus Inculcated but Plato & Cicero did Inculcate before him; what then did Christ Inculcate? Forgiveness of Sins. This alone is the Gospel, & this is the Life & Immortality brought to light by Jesus, Even the Covenant of Jehovah, which is This: If you forgive one another your Trespasses, so shall Jehovah forgive you, That he himself may dwell among you; but if you Avenge, you Murder the Divine Image, & he cannot dwell among you; because you Murder him he arises again, & you deny that he is Arisen, & are blind to Spirit.

Granted, the theology in the foregoing paragraph is not entirely orthodox in the usual sense, but it is fascinating to hear the man's thoughts. He was one of a kind.

Charles Williams, who was a bit of a weirdo himself, called him "the brilliant but heretical poet William Blake" in his book 
Forgiveness of Sins.

I won't share the poetry; go pick it up and read it for yourself.

Seems to me that William Blake, much like Thomas Jefferson, has been misunderstood by Christians.

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You may also be interested in this earlier post, 'William Blake, Charles Williams, and Anglican Spirituality'.     Comments always welcome.

1 comment:

  1. I do love the old stories of Glastonbury, Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus, and His Mother, and I am grateful to St. William for recollecting them in his poem, Jerusalem.

    I have linked the hymn, Jerusalem, to the song page.