Thursday, December 02, 2010


Jonathan Roberts and Christopher Rowland contributed a chapter to the Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature in which they present their views on Blake's use of the Bible. On page 375-76 they write:

"Blake was influenced by a view of the Bible which has a long history in Christianity and may have been a part of the radical religious underground of which he was an inheritor. In this view the Word of God is not a book but a person: Christ ( see John 1:14. "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" and Hebrews 1:1-2. God...Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son"). In short, the Bible bears witness to the Word of God (that is Christ), but is not in itself the Word of God. Blake manifests this view when he writes:

'The Bible or Word of God, [when read] exclusive of conscience or the Word of God Universal, is that Abomination which like the Jewish ceremonies is for ever removed & henceforth every man may converse with God & be a King & Priest in his own house.' (Erdman, 1990, p.614) [Annotations to Bishop Watson]

"Here Blake exalts 'the Word of God Universal' (Christ, or conscience) over the 'Peculiar Word of God' (the Bible as the exclusive mode of divine communication). This distinction between the two 'Words' (Christ and the Bible) means that an individual inspired by the former (through conscience, the Divine Spirit within) may contest and criticize the latter."
End of Quote

Rowland and Roberts are right that this view has a long history and is apparent in Blake's writing. This view of placing the Living Word (acting through the Holy Spirit) above the Written Word (recorded in books) opens up the possibility of continuing revelation which Blake wholeheartedly affirmed. Placing complete and final trust in the recorded Word limits further revelation of Divine Truth. This obstacle to the possibility of the evolution of spiritual consciousness through the work of Imagination is removed through placing trust in the Living word of Christ. Rowland and Roberts were conveying their view that Blake most trusted the word that came to him in thought, and Vision and the expressions of the Imagination.

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