Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Four Churches

Blake's family were religiously sophisticated; as a child he likely attended Swedenborg religious groups, Moravian services, possibly Behemist ones, maybe even Methodist and Quaker ones (this is pure surmise!)  Through it all he developed an anti-clerical viewpoint.  An assiduous student of the Bible he had great familiarity with the various religious forms of the Hebrews over a couple of millenia.

In the Old Testament he found various alternatives to a monotheistic God; the prophets often accused the children of Israel of "whoring after false Gods".  The chief rival of Moses, Jehovah was often called Baal.   A generic term it included a sexual dimension in many cases.  They accused the Israelites of worshipping false gods 'under every green tree'.

Blake's biblical research, as well as observations of the low levels of ethics and morality of the Established Church, led him to a dim view of Churches. This is perhaps best seen in this series of readings re the "Four Churches", the latest in a historical sequence spanning  time; The Four Churches appears in the Four Zoas, in  Milton and in Jerusalem:

In The Four Zoas (Erdman 380):
I [Los] am that shadowy Prophet who six thousand years ago
Fell from my station in the Eternal bosom. I divided
To multitude & my multitudes are children of Care & Labour
O Rahab I behold thee I was once like thee a Son
Of Pride and I also have piercd the Lamb of God in pride & wrath
Hear me repeat my Generations that thou mayst also repent

And these are the Sons of Los & Enitharmon. Rintrah Palamabron  
Theotormon Bromion Antamon Ananton Ozoth Ohana
Sotha Mydon Ellayol Natho Gon Harhath Satan
Har Ochim Ijim Adam Reuben Simeon Levi Judah Dan Naphtali
Gad Asher Issachar Zebulun Joseph Benjamin David Solomon
Paul Constantine Charlemaine Luther Milton

Four of the last 5 appear next in Blake's Poem, Milton

I saw the Covering Cherub        
Divide Four-fold into Four Churches when Lazarus arose
Paul, Constantine, Charlemaine, Luther; behold they stand before
Next in Jerusalem Plate 56:
 Then the response came warbling from trilling Looms in Albion
We Women tremble at the light therefore: hiding fearful
The Divine Vision with Curtain & Veil & fleshly Tabernacle       

Los utter'd: swift as the rattling thunder upon the mountains[:]
Look back into the Church Paul! Look! Three Women around
The Cross! O Albion why didst thou a Female Will Create
(Erdman 206)

And finally in Jerusalem Plate 76:
And these the names of the Twenty-seven Heavens & their Churches
Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch,
Methuselah, Lamech; these are the Giants mighty, Hermaphroditic
Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, Cainan the Second, Salah, Heber,
Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah: these are the Female Males:
A Male within a Female hid as in an Ark & Curtains.       
Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Paul, Constantine, Charlemaine,
Luther. these Seven are the Male Females: the Dragon Forms
The Female hid within a Male: thus Rahab is reveald
Mystery Babylon the Great: the Abomination of Desolation
Religion hid in War: a Dragon red, & hidden Harlot        
But Jesus breaking thro' the Central Zones of Death & Hell
Opens Eternity in Time & Space; triumphant in Mercy
Thus are the Heavens formd by Los within the Mundane Shell
And where Luther ends Adam begins again in Eternal Circle
To awake the Prisoners of Death; to bring Albion again           
With Luvah into light eternal, in his eternal day.
(Erdman 230-31)

Many interesting ideas and biblical references appear in these reading; here are a few:

The Sons of Los embody a poetic list of various epochs in Israel's history (they begin with the four principals in the poem, Milton). The group beginning with Reuben are a listing of the 12 sons of the historical personage, Israel and might be thought of as provinces of the nation. The last seven represent the last two levels of Old Testament culture (for Blake!) and five succeeding periods in the History of Christianity.

Blake called all these 'Sons of Los 'Churches' (cultures might be more reasonable, but the least to expect from Blake was 'reason'; it never got in the way of poetry).

The Covering Cherub is a biblical term from Ezekiel. It harks back to Genesis where Adam and Eve had tasted of the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil and God cast them out of the Garden and put a cherub with a flaming sword in the Gate to keep them out.

In Milton Plate 24 Blake tells us that the Covering Cherub divided into the four Christian Churches (a pretty damning indictment of conventional Christianity through two thousand years and about as poetic as you can get).

In Jerusalem Plate 56 Blake recalled the three women around the cross and associates that with Albion's  creation of the Female Will.

In Plate 76 he names the Churches and associates the last seven with Revelation, using terms like the Abomination of Desolation and the dragon red and hidden harlot.  Finally he sees all this as the Circle of Destiny and offers the dire prospect that it may simply revolve again.

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