Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Faith VII

       According to Blake's faith the coming of Jesus is the ultimate act of forgiveness for what we have become in our brokenness. It empowers us to become through a new birth what we were originally and what we are called to be again. The new birth is an alteration of consciousness. Blake had an inkling of this as early as 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', where he referred to it as "an improvement of sensual enjoyment" In the same plate he referred to it as a cleansing of the "doors of perception" and likened the former state to life in Plato's cave.

In the lovely "first Light" poem already quoted he used the thoroughly biblical figure of Jesus purging away "all my mire and my clay". Forgiveness is not a temporal event, but an eternal one. The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. We must forgive not once, but seventy times seven times. Blake deals with sin and forgiveness as ultimates in his notebook poem, "My Spectre around me night and day". The poem speaks primarily to the advanced student, but with crystal clarity stanza 14 bears on the primary grace:

 Throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me.  

As our dear Redeemer said:  
This the Wine and this the Bread.

       The unforgiving, accusing, egocentric, spectrous Selfhood is the stuff of Ulro, the life that is Eternal Death. Forgiveness through Self-annihilation is the stuff of that life which is life indeed. In the eternal realm Good and Evil, Virtue and Sin, all are forgiven and replaced by Truth and Error, which constitute the matter of the eternal wars of love. 

We fight these with Blake's weapons (the burning arrows of thought, etc.) or with Paul's "whole armor of God". Error meets an eternal consummation as we grow closer and closer to the Perfect Man. The apocalypse in Blake's structure of faith comes as an alteration of consciousness by which "this world" fades out (is consumed) and is replaced by the Eternal. Albion awakes. "Whenever any Individual Rejects Error and Embraces Truth, a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual".

       This was Blake's religion; unfortunately he does not seem to have found it in any of the churches which he knew. Instead many of his deepest convictions directly contravened the prevailing theology. He discovered that he "must create a system, or be enslated by another mans". The pages that follow trace some of the contrarieties between Blake's vision of eternal reality and the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy.

                               The Two Ways

       In his poem Milton Blake speaks of two streams flowing from a fountain in a rock of crystal: one goes straight to Eden; the other is more torturous. They represent of course two possible journeys through life, and he could speak of both because he lived both. The first stream represents the child-like consciousness that enabled Blake (that enables anyone gifted with it) to live every moment in the light of Eternity. The other, more common path wanders all over this God-forsaken vale of tears, but it winds up at the same place.

       That's the most incredible good news for anybody who can hear it. The apostle Paul hinted at it a time or two; perhaps it was the truth that he was forbidden to tell. Origen believed it, no doubt one of the reasons the Church Fathers kicked him out. In the 19th Century an entire denomination arose whose primary emphasis was this particular good news--the Universalists. Actually this good news could not be pronounced with authority except by someone like Blake who had traveled both journeys; he knew whereof he spoke.

       If you believe that all came originally from the One and that in the fullness of time all things in Christ are gathered together in one, then as a consequence the two paths do meet at the end as Blake claimed. We can put this in a more properly theological context with Blake's expressed response to the calvinistic doctrine of Double Predestination.

       Double Predestination contains as its lower half the grim old notion of Hell that has probably done as much as anything else in theology to discredit the Christian faith in the eyes of the modern world. Calvin taught the hoary old superstition that most of the world's population are destined to live without Christ and to die and move on to eternal torment; a lucky few have a happier destiny. The lucky few included Calvin of course and his friends, especially his obedient friends. In contrast Origen, perhaps Paul, and surely Blake believed in single predestination: the two streams converge at the end.

       Blake expended an enormous amount of his creative energy combating Double Predestination. He heaped scorn upon scorn on the calvinistic God who curses his children. His break with Swedenborg followed his discovery that Swedenborg was a "Spiritual Predestinarian, more abominable than Calvin's". He later lamented over him and called him the "Samson, shorn by the Churches".

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