Tag Archive: the Church


A decentralized religious anarchist?

It is unfair to locate Blake on a political spectrum because by strict definition his theory has nothing to do with politics, just like Thomas Paine’s theory has nothing to do with religion.

In A Song of Liberty from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake disdains any possible kind of system: empire, any kind of government either democratic or not, church, slavery, monarchy. So I think it might be safe at least to call Blake an anarchist. He does not support any type of institution because institutions set standards.

However, he is definitely not just an anarchist because there is something dominant in Blake’s theory: the Poetic Genius. For here we need to examine the position of religion in Blake’s theory. Blake is against centralized church and religious morality. But he is still a Christian and believes Jesus is an artist and as rebellious as him, as a man who break the ten commands. In the relationship between state and church, he deletes the existence of state and decentralizes church into personal practice. Nevertheless, the religion exists and exists as the ultimate goal of his theory: the New Jerusalem. So Blake is a religious anarchist.

If we characterize all the political theories during that time period as rational, then Blake is a romanticist. The practice of art and imagination, the essence of Poetic Genius are irrational. Blake’s theory of revolution is irrational, thus system does not exist. He calls for the Poetic Genius in everyman and the undisciplined environment. A categorization for Blake is shameful.

Moravianism vs. the Church

A broad glance at William Blake’s work seems not to yield the notion that Blake was overly concerned with depicting the physical body or appearance of Christ. But the influence of the Moravian beliefs of his parents and of his childhood is nevertheless present in Blake’s productions.

Lamentation Over the Body of Christ by John Valentine Haidt

Blake is focused on humanizing divinity and on emphasizing the easy access humans have to God. This is why Christ is such a prevalent figure in Blake’s art: apart from his perceiving Christ as the ultimate artist, one of Blake’s main beliefs was in the access to God Christ provided to man. Thus “God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” Christ’s assumption of the physical human body is what rendered his crucifixion meaningful: only the death of a perfect human could bring about salvation. Christ’s wounds thus encapsulate the message of Christianity: the body of Christ, to Blake, is one of his faith’s most important symbols, for in his death Christ provided access for all humanity to a direct relationship with God.

Communication with the divine lies at the heart of Blake’s work. In this most basic belief Blake is more of a Protestant Christian rather than a Catholic, for he chooses to focus on the ramifications of Christ’s death instead of that death’s eternal reality. Blake’s art becomes the method by which he takes advantage of  the open channel of communication between mankind and God: he contends that creative expression allows for an infinite variety of ways to seek and find the divine. Of course, this was an explicit rejection of the contemporary Catholic doctrine that man could only reach God through certain sacraments or through a mediator. Blake’s rejection of the Church was thus rooted in and closely aligned to Moravian spiritual belief. Despite that sect’s (and Blake’s) reputation for radicalism, such notions about the body of Christ have endured and seem to be far more in line with modern, common beliefs about Christianity than the traditional Catholic doctrine that Blake abhorred.

Though I missed class on Wednesday, I would like to talk a bit about Blake’s connections to the Moravian Church. While I’ll be avoiding the highly sexualized undertones of the “diminuitive terms of endearment” and all this business about “the last Kiss” and the Church as the “eternal Bridegroom,” I shall not fail to search for these kinds of references in my future engagement with Blake’s work (much the same as my habit of thinking of nun’s as being Christ’s earthly girlfriends… I once read a comic strip that conjectured that perhaps Jesus wouldn’t return to earth out of fear of his perhaps millions of sexually frustrated suitors who’ve been waiting patiently in their convents for centuries, but perhaps we can save that for another time…) No, I want to focus on those aspects of Moravian theology that can be easily found in his work, both in the the particular manifestations we find in a given piece, as well as the essence of his œuvre en générale.
In Zinzendorf’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Ludwig_Zinzendorf) reading of the Bible, the idea of Christ as the husband of his earthly Bridegroom, the Church (and by extension, presumably, the individual members therein) takes such a precedence that it thematizes the very way the Moravian Church refers to their Savior and their relation to him. This is where the sensual language (like the “last Kiss”) comes from. The Moravians, themselves, did all they could to maintain a childlike demeanor by “playing games and developing a secret language…” While their desire to appear childlike in the face of a sexualized savior seems quite troublesome, let it suffice to say that this search for youth and simplicity resonates strongly in Blake’s work. Recall “The Ecchoing Green” in which these very themes are explored. Now consider the whole of The Songs of Innocence and Experience. In Blake’s world of contraries, youth may have its appeal, innocence and the pastoral idyll are well characterized in Innocence, but age and experience provide an individual with a fuller understanding of the self and the world in which it resides.
I could go for longer, but I want to utilize the comments section to see where these ideas are leading you, dear reader. For now, I wait, as so many nuns before me.