Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blake's Church II

While the Church Fathers congregated in Rome, 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. Blake read widely and drew on Gnosticism and Neo-platonism.

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 Renaissance and the 16th Century Reformation.

Blake had definite gnostic leanings:
"To understand what is being said in such poems as "THE GARDEN OF LOVE" and "The Little Vagabond" one must consider the poet's religious, or shall I say spiritual, position. William Blake considered himself to be a monistic Gnostic. He believed what saved a person's soul was not faith but knowledge. Faith, he felt, was a term that was abused by those who thought spending every Sunday in a church would grant them eternal salvation regardless of what actions they might exhibit outside the walls of the church. Church ceremonies were also dry, emotionless and meaningless, according to Blake."

Blake expressed many times that the church was a spiritual obstacle.

His "The Little Vagabond" portrays the "loveless morality of the churches" (Raine 148). The church, the clerics of the church and the church ceremony altogether is cold and distant. "Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold" ("The Little Vagabond ln i) is the opening line of the poem. It is obvious that the young child is distraught with his church because it is not quenching his spiritual thirst. However, he offers a remedy:

"But if at the Church they would give us some Ale,
And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,
We'd sing and we'd pray all the live-long day,
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray."

"These lines plainly, but clearly, express Blake's religious stance. The church is a cold place that has kept a distance between its members and itself. Therefore, the meanings of the gospels have been delivered in a way that has no meaning or effectiveness. The word of God has been marginalized when it should in fact be communicated in a kind loving manner. The preacher is God and the members of the church are God as well. Instead, the preacher is a merciless intruder that is penetrating the word into the congregation's heads not alloying thought, but perpetuating cold disciplined faith. This poem is used by Blake as a way to communicate his belief that the church was suffering from cold militant preaching rather than warm intoxicating love."

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