Archive for the ‘William Blake’ Category


Truth and Poetry in The Book of Job 2 – Robert Alter

February 11, 2014
Job Accepting Charity, William Blake, 1825.  William Blake (1757 – 1827) was an English poet, painter and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His prophetic poetry has been said to form "what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language". His visual artistry led one contemporary art critic to proclaim him "far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced". In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Although he lived in London his entire life (except for three years spent in Felpham), he produced a diverse and symbolically rich corpus, which embraced the imagination as "the body of God" or "human existence itself".

Job Accepting Charity, William Blake, 1825. William Blake (1757 – 1827) was an English poet, painter and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His prophetic poetry has been said to form “what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language”. His visual artistry led one contemporary art critic to proclaim him “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Although he lived in London his entire life (except for three years spent in Felpham), he produced a diverse and symbolically rich corpus, which embraced the imagination as “the body of God” or “human existence itself”.

See Intro in previous post.


In Job’s complaint there are two extended anticipations of the Voice from the Whirlwind, 9:5-10 and 12:7-25. For the sake of economy I shall cite only the first, and shorter, of these two passages, with reference to the second. Job, in the midst of objecting that God is an impossible legal adversary because He is so overpowering, shifts his imagery upward from the arena of law to the cosmos:

Who uproots mountains and they know not,
overturns them in His wrath.
He makes earth shake in its setting,
and its pillars shudder.
He bids the sun not to rise,
and the stars He seals up tight.
He stretches the heavens alone,
and tramples the crests of the sea.
He makes the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the south wind’s chambers.
He performs great things without limit,

and wonders without number.

Job’s cosmic poetry, unlike that of the Friends, has a certain energy of vision, as though it proceeded from some immediate perception of the great things it reports. Most of the images he uses will reappear, more grandly, in God’s first discourse in Chapter 38.

There, too, God is the sole sovereign of the sun and the stars, the master of the very constellations and of the chambers of the wind mentioned here. There is, nevertheless, a decisive difference in emphasis between the two chapters, which leads me to infer that this and other passages in the poetic argument are in one respect patiently teaching us how to read God’s speech when it finally comes.

The Creator in Chapter 38 is distinguished by His ability to impose order. The Creator in Job’s poem is singled out first of all for His terrific, and perhaps arbitrary, power — tearing up mountains in His wrath, eclipsing the sun, and blotting out the stars. (The speaker, we should remember, is the same Job who had prayed for every glimmer of light to be swallowed by darkness.)

If both the present text and Chapter 38 allude indirectly to the Canaanite creation myth, in which the weather god conquers the primordial sea beast Yamm, what is stressed in Chapter 38 is God’s setting limits to the breakers of the of the sea, His bolting doors against the chaotic rush of the flood, while Job here gives us instead God the mighty combatant, treading on the back of the conquered sea. To be sure, there is also an element of celebration of the Creator in Job’s words, at least in the last two lines of the passage quoted, but his general perception of the master of the universe is is from the viewpoint of someone who has been devastated by His mastery.

This sense is made perfectly clear in the lines that introduce our passage (9:12-13), and the point is even more emphatic in the lines that follow it:

Look, He seizes — who can resist Him ?
Who can tell Him `What do You do?’
God will not relent His fury.
Beneath Him Rahab’s minions stoop


The analogous passage in Chapter 12 stresses still more boldly the arbitrary way in which God exercises His power.

Here, too, God, as in the revelation from the storm at the end, is imagined as the supreme, master of nature — a truth that, according to Job, we can learn from the very birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field (behemoth, a term that in a different acceptation will designate one of the featured attractions of the grand zoological show in the speech from the storm), And like the LORD Who will reveal Himself in the end to Job, God; here is imagined above all as the absolute sovereign of light and darkness: lays bare depths from darkness, / and brings out to light death’s shadow (12:22).

But this divine monarch as Job conceives Him show a singular inclination to capricious behavior, befuddling counselor, and judges, unmanning kings, humiliating nobles, using His prerogative over light and darkness to draw the leaders of nations into trackless wastes: they grope in darkness without light, / He makes them wander like drunken men (12:25). Job’s vision of God’s power over the world has an authority lacking in the parallel speeches of the Friends, but he sees it as power willfully misused, and that perception will require an answer by the Voice from the Whirlwind.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two extended anticipations of the concluding poem that show the greatest degree of consonance with it occur in the interpolated passages, the Elihu speech and the Hymn it Wisdom. This may seem less puzzling if we remember that in the ancient Near East a “book” remained for a long time a relatively open structure, so that later writers might seek to amplify or highlight the meaning of the original text by introducing materials that reinforced or extended certain of the original emphases.

In the case of Elihu, the immediate proximity to God’s speech is the most likely explanation of the high degree of consonance with it. That is, Elihu is an irascible presumptuous blowhard (images of inflation and evacuation cluster at the beginning of his discourse), and as such he is hardly someone to be in any way identified as God’s “spokesman.”

But as he approaches the end of his long harangue — as the poem ‘draws close, in other words, to the eruption of the Voice from the Whirlwind — he begins to weave into his abuse of Job images of God as the mighty sovereign of a vast creation beyond the ken of man. First he conjures up a vision of God Whose years are without number mustering the clouds and causing the rains to fall (36:26-33). Then, at the very end of his speech, in a clear structural bridge to the divine discourse that directly follows, Elihu asks Job whether he can really grasp God’s wondrous management of the natural world, invoking it as evidence of the moral perfection of the Divinity that man cannot fathom:

Hearken to this, O Job,
stand and take in the wonders of God.
Do you know when God directs them,
when His thunderhead’s lightning shines?
Do you know of the spread of cloud,
the wonders of the Perfect in Knowledge
When your garments feel warm
as the earth is becalmed from the south?
Will you pound out the skies with Him,
which are strong as a metal mirror?
Let us know what to say to Him!
We can lay out no case in our darkness.
Will it be told Him if I speak,
will a man say if he is devoured?
And now, they have not seen the light,
bright though it be in the skies,
as a wind passes, making them clear.
From the north gold comes;
over God — awesome glory.
Shaddai, whom we find not, is lofty in power,
in judgment and great justice — He will not oppress.
Therefore men do fear Him.
He does not regard the wise of heart.

Elihu’s cosmic poetry does not quite soar like that of the Voice from the Whirlwind (and this passage also involves several textual difficulties), and the second-rank poet responsible for his speeches never entirely escapes his weakness for boilerplate language. Even so, here the end it is something more than the rehearsal of formulas we saw in Eliphaz and Zophar.

The various items of his panorama of creation-the power over rain and thunder and the dazzling deployment of sunlight — will in a moment recur, more grandly, in God’s speech, and above all, the final emphasis on man’s inability to see the solar brilliance of the all-powerful God points toward the extraordinary exercise: of divine sight in which we are privileged to share through the poetry of God’s concluding speech.

The Hymn to Wisdom, Chapter 28, is in certain obvious ways cut from different cloth from the rest of the Book of Job. Lexically and stylistically, it sounds more like Proverbs than Job. Its celebration of divine Wisdom does not at all participate in the vehement argument on theodicy into which it is introduced. Structurally, the hymn is divided into three strophes of approximately equal length with the boundaries between them marked by a refrain; such explicit symmetry of form is servable elsewhere in the poetry of Job.

The imagery of precious that dominates the middle strophe has very few parallels else-in the book. But all these disparities may have troubled the audience a good deal less than they trouble us, with our notions of literary unity based on the reading of unitary texts produced by single who generally could be fully responsible for them from first draft to corrected page proofs. Whatever editor or ancient literary gremlin decided to insert this poem just after the completion of the rounds of debate with the Friends and before Job’s final Confession of Innocence (Chapters 29-31) chose the new material with a firm sense of could help tune up the proper attentiveness for God’s concluding speech.

That tuning up is a matter not just of emphasizing the vast scope of God’s Wisdom against man’s limited understanding but also of poetically defining a place where we can begin to imagine the unfathomable workings of the Creator. A whole world of sprawling expanses and inaccessible depths and heights is evoked in the poem — “A path that the vulture knows not, / nor the eye of the falcon beholds” (28:7), :unguessed realms of hidden recesses that only God can see or bring to light if He chooses.

The thematic stress on sight intimated at the end Elihu speeches is prominent here and made powerfully explicit in the concluding strophe. At the same time, specific details of the cosmic imagery that will begin the divine discourse are strategically anticipated (or, to think in the order of the editorial process rather than in the sequential order of the book, are strategically echoed):

And wisdom, from where does it come,
and where is the place of insight?
It is hidden from the eye of all living,
from the fowl of the heavens, concealed.
Perdition and Death have said,
“With our ears we heard its rumor.”
God grasps its way,
and He knows its place.

For He looks to the ends of the earth,
beneath all the heavens He sees,
to gauge the heft of the wind,
and to weigh water with a measure,
when He fixed a limit for rain,
and a way to the thunderhead,
Then He saw and recounted it,
set it firm and probed it, too.
And He said to man:
Look, fear of the Master, that is Wisdom,
and the shunning of evil is insight.
(Job 28:20-28)

The aphoristic concluding line is distinctly unlike the Voice from the Whirlwind not merely stylistically but also in the neatness of its sense of resolution. (Its formulaic pairing, however, of “wisdom” and “insight” is quite like the one God invokes in His initial challenge to Job.) In any case, the discrepancy in tone and attitude of the last line was no doubt far less important to whoever was responsible for the text of Job as we have it than the consonance of the hymn’s vision of God with the Voice from the Whirlwind — that is, a vision of God as the master of sight, searching out the unknowable ends of the earth.


Reading Selections 2 From The Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris By John Paul II

January 31, 2012

The God of Job's comforters, who claim that Job's trials are punishment for his sins, is to Blake a false god, equivalent to the demiurge of the Gnostics. This was more of a distinction between Elohim (the creator) and Yahweh (the law-giver) than it was any direct influence of Gnosticism. For Blake, Yahweh was an imposer of laws upon a humanity that could never keep to them -- he appears in the 11th illustration as a cloven-hoofed apparition who menaces Job while pointing to the tablets of the covenant. In Blake's mythology he is analogous to "the Accuser of Sin", the specter, and Urizen. This particular print was based upon Blake's earlier monotype, Elohim Creating Adam.

The Quest For An Answer To The Question Of The Meaning Of Suffering
Within each form of suffering endured by man, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why? It is a question about the cause, the reason, and equally, about the purpose of suffering, and, in brief, a question about its meaning. Not only does it accompany human suffering, but it seems even to determine its human content, what makes suffering precisely human suffering.

It is obvious that pain, especially physical pain, is widespread in the animal world. But only the suffering human being knows that he is suffering and wonders why; and he suffers in a humanly speaking still deeper way if he does not find a satisfactory answer. This is a difficult question, just as is a question closely akin to it, the question of evil. Why does evil exist? Why is there evil in the world? When we put the question in this way, we are always, at least to a certain extent, asking a question about suffering too.

Both questions are difficult, when an individual puts them to another individual, when people put them to other people, as also when man puts them to God. For man does not put this question to the world, even though it is from the world that suffering often comes to him, but he puts it to God as the Creator and Lord of the world. And it is well known that concerning this question there not only arise many frustrations and conflicts in the relations of man with God, but it also happens that people reach the point of actually denying God.

For, whereas the existence of the world opens as it were the eyes of the human soul to the existence of God, to his wisdom, power and greatness, evil and suffering seem to obscure this image, sometimes in a radical way, especially in the daily drama of so many cases of undeserved suffering and of so many faults without proper punishment. So this circumstance shows — perhaps more than any other — the importance of the question of the meaning of suffering; it also shows how much care must be taken both in dealing with the question itself and with all possible answers to it.

 Man can put this question to God with all the emotion of his heart and with his mind full of dismay and anxiety; and God expects the question and listens to it, as we see in the Revelation of the Old Testament. In the Book of Job the question has found its most vivid expression.

The story of this just man, who without any fault of his own is tried by innumerable sufferings, is well known. He loses his possessions, his sons and daughters, and finally he himself is afflicted by a grave sickness. In this horrible situation three old acquaintances come to his house, and each one in his own way tries to convince him that since he has been struck down by such varied and terrible sufferings, he must have done something seriously wrong.

For suffering — they say — always strikes a man as punishment for a crime; it is sent by the absolutely just God and finds its reason in the order of justice. It can be said that Job’s old friends wish not only to convince him of the moral justice of the evil, but in a certain sense they attempt to justify to themselves the moral meaning of suffering. In their eyes suffering can have a meaning only as a punishment for sin, therefore only on the level of God’s justice, who repays good with good and evil with evil.

The point of reference in this case is the doctrine expressed in other Old Testament writings which show us suffering as punishment inflicted by God for human sins. The God of Revelation is the Lawgiver and Judge to a degree that no temporal authority can see. For the God of Revelation is first of all the Creator, from whom comes, together with existence, the essential good of creation. Therefore, the conscious and free violation of this good by man is not only a transgression of the law but at the same time an offence against the Creator, who is the first Lawgiver. Such a transgression has the character of sin, according to the exact meaning of this word, namely the biblical and theological one.

Corresponding to the moral evil of sin is punishment, which guarantees the moral order in the same transcendent sense in which this order is laid down by the will of the Creator and Supreme Lawgiver. From this there also derives one of the fundamental truths of religious faith, equally based upon Revelation, namely that God is a just judge, who rewards good and punishes evil: “For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth. Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon us… for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins.”

The opinion expressed by Job’s friends manifests a conviction also found in the moral conscience of humanity: the objective moral order demands punishment for transgression, sin and crime. From this point of view, suffering appears as a “justified evil”. The conviction of those who explain suffering as a punishment for sin finds support in the order of justice, and this corresponds to the conviction expressed by one of Job’s friends: “As I have seen, those who plough iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”(24).

 Job however challenges the truth of the principle that identifies suffering with punishment for sin. And he does this on the basis of his own opinion. For he is aware that he has not deserved such punishment, and in fact he speaks of the good that he has done during his life. In the end, God himself reproves Job’s friends for their accusations and recognizes that Job is not guilty. His suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery, which the individual is unable to penetrate completely by his own intelligence.

The Book of Job does not violate the foundations of the transcendent moral order, based upon justice, as they are set forth by the whole of Revelation, in both the Old and the New Covenants. At the same time, however, this Book shows with all firmness that the principles of this order cannot be applied in an exclusive and superficial way. While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.

The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. Revelation, which is the word of God himself, with complete frankness presents the problem of the suffering of an innocent man: suffering without guilt. Job has not been punished, there was no reason for inflicting a punishment on him, even if he has been subjected to a grievous trial. From the introduction of the Book it is apparent that God permitted this testing as a result of Satan’s provocation. For Satan had challenged before the Lord the righteousness of Job: “Does Job fear God for nought? … Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face”. And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to demonstrate the latter’s righteousness. The suffering has the nature of a test.

The Book of Job is not the last word on this subject in Revelation. In a certain way it is a foretelling of the Passion of Christ. But already in itself it is sufficient argument why the answer to the question about the meaning of suffering is not to be unreservedly linked to the moral order, based on justice alone. While such an answer has a fundamental and transcendent reason and validity, at the same time it is seen to be not only unsatisfactory in cases similar to the suffering of the just man Job, but it even seems to trivialize and impoverish the concept of justice which we encounter in Revelation.

The Book of Job poses in an extremely acute way the question of the “why” of suffering; it also shows that suffering strikes the innocent, but it does not yet give the solution to the problem.

Already in the Old Testament we note an orientation that begins to go beyond the concept according to which suffering has a meaning only as a punishment for sin, insofar as it emphasizes at the same time the educational value of suffering as a punishment. Thus in the sufferings inflicted by God upon the Chosen People there is included an invitation of his mercy, which corrects in order to lead to conversion: “… these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people.”

Thus the personal dimension of punishment is affirmed. According to this dimension, punishment has a meaning not only because it serves to repay the objective evil of the transgression with another evil, but first and foremost because it creates the possibility of rebuilding goodness in the subject who suffers.

This is an extremely important aspect of suffering. It is profoundly rooted in the entire Revelation of the Old and above all the New Covenant. Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God.

But in order to perceive the true answer to the “why” of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the “why” of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.

In order to discover the profound meaning of suffering, following the revealed word of God, we must open ourselves wide to the human subject in his manifold potentiality. We must above all accept the light of Revelation not only insofar as it expresses the transcendent order of justice but also insofar as it illuminates this order with Love, as the definitive source of everything that exists. Love is: also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the Cross of Jesus Christ.


The Impossible Self – Laura Quinney

January 27, 2012

The archetype of the Creator is a familiar image in Blake's work. Here, the demiurgic figure Urizen prays before the world he has forged. The Song of Los is the third in a series of illuminated books painted by Blake and his wife, collectively known as the Continental Prophecie.

In one sense the self is thriving. Magisterial works such as Charles Taylor’s The Sources of the Self and Jerrold Siegel’s The Idea of the Self as well as the plethora of other recent titles on the self testify to the current fascination of the topic. Yet it is a widespread assumption among contemporary philosophers and literary theorists that the concept of “the self” is obsolete. At the end of their recent book, The Rue and Fall of Self and Soul, Raymond Martin and John Barresi conclude that the notion of the self as a “unified entity” has been permanently debunked by modern science and philosophy: “Analysis has been the self’s undoing. As a fragmented, explained, and illusory phenomenon, the self [can] no longer retain its elevated status. And it is hard to see how it might ever again regain that status. It is as if all of Western civilization has been on a prolonged ego trip that reality has finally forced it to abandon.”

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century science did away with the concept of the “soul,” and the eighteenth century replaced it with the concept of “self,” but the march of progress liquidated that notion too, along with the related idea of the universal “subject.” Thus much contemporary thought dismisses the discourses of soul, self, and subject as anachronisms. This common view is, I believe, malformed because it entails dismissing the actual experience of subjectivity, that is, the subject’s experience of itself as a subject.

The self supposed to be obsolete is the unitary subject, the integral, transcendent self linked to the traditional religious idea of the immortal soul. I state categorically that the actual subject has never mistaken itself for a Subject of this kind. Modern skeptical thought congratulates itself for a work of demystification that the subject by virtue of its subjectivity performs every day.

Martin and Barresi concede that this “ego trip” is likely to go on despite our putative enlightenment: the idea of a unified self is not dispensable because many everyday practices depend on it. More deeply, the individual has an intuition of selfhood so strong that it cannot be summarily dispelled: “each of us seems to have a kind of direct, experiential access to him- or herself [a Cartesian intuition] that makes the development of theories of the self and personal identity, however interesting, seem somewhat beside the point.” The intuition of selfhood is tenacious; it rides roughshod over the rational truth.

As is often the case, we are enlightened in theory but benighted in practice: “For many central and persistent purposes of everyday life, theory and practice are likely to remain autonomous, at least when it comes to theories of the self.” But does the everyday self really live with itself so naively and happily? Here Martin and Barresi make a mistake characteristic of those who treat the concepts of self and soul in the abstract: they fail to inquire further into the self’s own relationship to the idea of selfhood. For whereas the intuition of selfhood persists within the self, it also is already embattled within the self.

If the intuition of selfhood attends Western subjectivity, then so does its frustration. Subject-life entails interior struggle and disappointment because the actual “self” fails to coincide with its own self-definition. Even to speak of “the self” or “subject” here is a misnomer: we must say that an elusive and as-yet-un-unified “self” feels an imperative to find in itself a “Self” worthy of the name and that the imperative never desists, although such a Self cannot be found. The self does not possess its intuition of selfhood in comfort — it does not fall back on a reassuring confidence in its integrity, but rather seeks for such confidence in vain; it seeks wholeness, but encounters self-division and self-doubt.

Disillusionment with “the self” that contemporary thinkers attribute to modernity actually defines the experience of selfhood. When Jacques Lacan deconstructs the Cartesian cogito and demonstrates that “I” is not self-coincident, he may scandalize the theorist, but the subject is likely to assent because Lacan’s claim captures the felt insecurity of selfhood. The “error” of Rene Descartes’s philosophical idealism cannot be sustained, Lacan says, for “There is no subject without, somewhere, aplianisis [vocab: fading, disappearance] of the subject, and it is in this alienation, in this fundamental division, that the dialectic of the subject is established.”

The rhetorical power of Lacan’s argument lies in its appeal to the experience of subjectivity. Whatever the ontological truth of the matter, to be a subject is to feel that such a description of subjectivity is true. The language of “self” and “subject” may have been rendered atavistic, but the concepts can never lose their hold on the individual subject, because subjectivity is constituted in its balked relation to them.

In fact, the intuition of selfhood has always been perplexed in theory as well as in practice. Western philosophy and literature have borne witness since the time of Greek mythology to the fragmentation of the self. This sense of fragmentation has given rise to the many fascinating paradigms of self-division: everything from Plato’s tripartite division of the soul to Gnosticism’s evocation of the “incrusted” transcendental spirit, Augustine’s description of the “darkness hidden within” him, Descartes’s dualism, and Kant’s faculty psychology, to Sigmund Freud’s map of the psyche and Melanie Klein’s kaleidoscopic “inner chaos.” Radically dissimilar as these paradigms of self-division and their provenances are, they all emphasize the confusion of the self in relation to its own selfhood. They begin by treating the self’s embattled experience of itself as a central fact that cries out for explanation. And the fact is sufficiently central that its explanation opens a window on expansive metaphysical views. It becomes the pivot of far-reaching claims.

The self’s experience of itself as fragmented testifies to larger truths about human nature and sometimes divine nature and the nature of reality. Each theory offers up this feature of subjective experience as a validation of particular ontological truths. Why must reason struggle with emotion and appetite? Because reason is the highest faculty of the soul; it is confirmation of the soul’s origin in the intelligible world. Why is the transcendental soul benighted in the world? Because it fell from heaven, and was waylaid here by an evil god. Why is there darkness hidden within? Because of the human soul’s inherent perversity. Why is the ego beleaguered? It is menaced by insubordinate repressed energies.

The beauty of these claims is that evidence of their truth becomes available to everyone through the simplest act of introspection. Common experience of selfhood is the proof, as Socrates shows in the Phaedo when he disputes the definition of the soul as a “harmony.” The soul is a harmony neither in our experience of the inner life nor in the literary representation of it. (The tripartite division of the soul appears in the Phaedrus; in this passage, “soul” is a unitary faculty but selfhood is divided.)

We previously agreed that if the soul were a harmony, it would never be out of tune with the stress and relaxation and the striking of the strings or anything else done to its composing elements, but that it would follow and never direct them?

We did so agree, of course.

Well, does it now appear to do quite the opposite, ruling over all the elements of which one says it is composed, opposing nearly all of them throughout life, directing all their ways, inflicting harsh and painful punishments on them, at times in physical culture and medicine, at other times more gently by threats and exhortations, holding converse with desires and passions and fears as if it were one thing talking to a different one, as Homer wrote somewhere in the Odyssey where he says that Odysseus “struck his breast and rebuked his heart saying, `Endure, my heart, you have endured worse than this.”
(9q c-d, Complete Works 82)

The soul must discipline the wayward passions and appetites, and the result is frequent internal conflict. This internal conflict, a basic fact of psychological experience, is offered as evidence for the soul’s sovereignty and then, in a leap, of its divinity and immortality. Strikingly, it is not the soul’s conviction of its own transcendence but rather the persistence and strength of inner conflict that proves it is transcendent. The self’s fraught experience of itself testifies to major metaphysical realities. It is a surety that, like Platonic recollection, lies in every heart as intimate and indubitable truth.

From the point of view of science, the authoritative discourse of our own time, the self’s experience of itself has lost its hold on truth-value. Since the eighteenth century, the evidentiary value of introspection has come under grave suspicion. The story of how and why this change occurred is incisively told by E. S. Reed in his book From Soul to Mind: The Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James. Developments in eighteenth-century thought cast doubt on the significance of the subject’s testimony as to its own state.

The tradition of British empiricism in particular taught investigators to treat the witness of consciousness with suspicion: Humean skepticism introduced the idea that consciousness may be self-deceiving, and Hartleian associationism argued that it is shaped by unconscious processes of which, by definition, it has no knowledge. The subject’s experience of itself was thus radically demoted in testamentary status and the study of it banished to “unscientific” discourses: philosophy (primarily phenomenology), religion, literature, and “humanistic” psychology.

In Reed’s view, the chief casualty of this disciplinary divide is respect for “concrete, lived experience,” now treated by science as an amorphous and incidental phenomenon unavailable to analysis. Reed concludes severely that scientific psychology has thus rendered itself irrelevant: “Once the science of psychology arrogates the right to reject out of hand the content of a person’s experience — because it is too inchoate, mystical, or whatever — it can no longer pronounce on the meaning of that experience.

Psychology in its present divided state applies at best intermittently and incompletely to the lives most of us lead.” Reed warns that as a consequence, a void appears where authoritative response to ordinary inner struggle should be. Scientific psychology abandons “the important territory connecting everyday experience with meaningful self-understanding” to the seductive manipulation of demagogues and fanatics.

According to Reed, the last scientific psychologist to try to bridge the gap was William James, who in his view resisted the subdivision of disciplines and maintained the value of investigating “a wider realm of experience” than his contemporaries. James insisted not only on taking the experience of consciousness seriously but also on treating it as a subject about which science ought to find something useful to say. James wrote a deft argumentative sally that Reed does not cite but that clearly supports his view of James. It occurs in The Varieties of Religious Experience, at a moment when James is questioning the scientific ideal of objectivity.

It is absurd for science to say that the egotistic elements of experience should be suppressed. The axis of reality runs solely through the egotistic places, — they are strung upon it like so many beads. To describe the world with all the various feelings of the individual pinch of destiny, all the various spiritual attitudes, left out from the description — they being describable as anything else — would be something like offering a printed bill of fare as the equivalent for a solid meal. Religion makes no such blunder. The individual’s religion may be egotistic, and those private realities which it keeps in touch with may be narrow enough; but at any rate it always remains infinitely less hollow and abstract, as far as it goes, than a science which prides itself on taking no account of anything private at all.

Much as I delight in James’s polemical vigor, I cannot pretend I know enough to evaluate his comments on the limitations of scientific psychology. But neither do I think it is his aim to endorse “religion.” James points out that, when it comes to addressing “private” experience, there is a very strict division of labor between “scientific” and “unscientific” discourses. His polemicism enters in when he adds that supercilious disregard of subjective experience leads to a certain irrelevance. I quote this passage because I wish to draw an analogy between what James and Reed see as the neglect of lived psychological experience in scientific psychology and the suspicion of “the self” in much current literary discussion.


William Blake’s Loneliness Of The Soul – Laura Quinney

January 26, 2012

Blake's Newton (1795) demonstrates his opposition to the "single-vision" of scientific materialism: Newton fixes his eye on a compass (recalling Proverbs 8:27, an important passage for Milton) to write upon a scroll that seems to project from his own head.

Blake’s essential topic is the unhappiness of the subject within its own subjectivity, or to use a more plangent idiom, the loneliness of the soul. This unhappiness is very often expressed in dualism, either of mind-body or of subject-object; both imply that subjectivity is anomalous in a material world and that each subject is isolated from others. Blake seeks to repair this deep ontological wound.

He starts from the premise that consciousness intrinsically experiences the intuition of soul and its loneliness in the world (its failure to fit in), or at least consciousness in what he would have called the “six thousand years” of Western history. The major religions and philosophical movements of the West have built on this intuition and also strengthened it. Sacrificial religion, Judaism, orthodox Christianity, Aristotle, and the Stoics all conspire to diminish the ontological status of the human being in its own eyes by representing the soul as “an atom in darkness,” a mere spot of consciousness engulfed by all-powerful external forces. The most recent avatars of this error can be found in empiricism and the New Science.

Blake’s critique of empiricism is usually described in philosophical terms as an objection to its ontology, its treatment of Nature and natural man as final realities. But Blake’s more profound objection to empiricism is psychological: the New Science is “a Science [of] Despair.” It encourages the center of consciousness, or “I,” to regard itself as passive and helpless. The “I” has been thrust into a material world whose power and influence over it are disproportionate; it is invisible and intangible where the world is solid and real.

The world was there before it, and so its “life” is largely reactive. It floats about, an immaterial node, embedded in its disturbing private experience. It can master neither the stimuli to which it is exposed nor the effects of stimuli in its interior. The “I” finds the self to be dark and strange, occupied by things it does not acknowledge as its own — hidden processes and extrinsic “impressions” the world has forced upon it.

In empiricist psychology, personal identity; or the unique “I,” is stranded. Because it is immaterial, it is isolated in the material world, and because it is an atomic or unique existence, it is isolated in itself. Blake summarizes this plight in The Four Zoas in the opening lament of Tharmas, who complains of having a troubling and contradictory sense of self:

I am like an atom
A Nothing left in darkness yet I am an identity
I wish & feel & weep & groan Ah terrible terrible
The Four Zoas, William Blake

Tharmas says he feels like an “atom” because he is experiencing his subject-life in the terms that empirical science suggests. He must figure the “I” as a thing because the spiritual terms have been debarred.

So he describes the “I” as a little node of consciousness adrift in a dark and alien world of matter. It is a like an atom: single, essential, small, opaque. And yet it is not material after all. Consciousness is not comparable to matter, but once matter is stipulated as the prevailing reality, consciousness loses definition. What place in a material world can that have which is immaterial, and hence wispy and spectral? So Tharmas pessimistically revises his formulation; his “I” is less than an atom, it is ‘A Nothing left in darkness.” But that description does not seem quite accurate to him either, and he has to revise again. “I am… A Nothing left in darkness yet I am an identity.”

Dwarfed by the dominance of matter, the “I” feels that it is nothing, and yet it also has the opposite intuition: it knows itself as the one reality it is sure of (as Descartes would say), the one true being, an “identity” How to explain this contradiction? The word “identity” takes over here from the word “atom”: it is still reductive, it still suggests thing-ness.

Blake no doubt alludes to the chapter of Locke’s Essay in which he defines “personal identity,” or continuity of the self, in minimal terms as present consciousness plus its continuous memories of itself. This is a narrow definition, befitting a materialist psychology, and to Blake’s mind it deserves parody. Blake counters empiricist definition in this passage by using the word “identity” in a subtly: ironic sense, intimating its perverse inadequacy. Tharmas clearly feels no better once he has defined consciousness as “identity” because he right away dissolves into incoherent emotional protest: ‘Ah terrible terrible.”

Thus he characterizes himself as an “identity” insofar as he “wish[es] & feel[s] & weep[s groan[s]” in vain. Tharmas finds that selfhood seems on the one hand insignificant, cant and on the other, absolutely central. Even in an empiricist, the inter life reasserts its urgency, but it cannot assign a meaning or purpose to either its tumults or their bearing on anything without. A Nothing left in darkness ought not to be burdened with a vain but engulfing internal life, and that is what seems so “terrible.”

Empiricism’s reductive accounts of identity fail to address the urgency the inner life. Blake’s point is not that philosophy remains irrelevant to our daily practice, but rather something much deeper. He perceives that the subject cannot possibly conform to the proscription on selfhood implicit empiricism; it cannot live peacefully with the contradiction between the conclusions of naturalism and the intuition of selfhood.

The place of the subject in a material world has become a vital issue with the rise of the New Science amid the New Science, Blake says, has imposed on the subject an untenable view of itself. One cannot live with the bracketing of subjectivity; it creates a form of psychological division too agitating to be ignored. The transcendent intuition pursues you even if you disavow it. It must be owned, but possibly the worst way to own it is through orthodox cosmology, theology, or eschatology in which the divinity of the soul is referred to the noblesse oblige of a tyrannical creator-god and to fulfillment in another life. Blake recommends instead identifying it with a creative power that is your own possession in the here and now. Above all, he says, how the self thinks and feels about itself must be taken into account. A descriptive psychology like his own, he asserts, speaks directly to the self’s intuitions and fictions about itself.

When Tharmas adopts the empiricist view of the subject — when he defines himself as Natural Man — he falls into a revealing state of confusion. His bafflement reminds us that although empiricism and the scientific materialism to which it is related claim to present an objective or “neutral” view, they are themselves ideological, forcefully “interpellating a subject,” [the process by which ideology addresses the pre-ideological individual and produces him or her as a subject proper]as we would say now, rather than leaving the domain blank, as it purports to do.

Peter Otto forcefully remarks: “Blake is not suggesting that Locke, Bacon, and Newton are wrong in their descriptions of fallen humanity. In fact they are correct.”  That is how we live now. Any body of knowledge that gives an account of human nature automatically “interpellates a subject,” and it perpetrates bad faith when it claims that it does not. Blake makes this argument in his address “To the Deists,” where he insists “Man must & will have Some Religion; if he has not the Religion of Jesus, he will have the Religion of Satan” (J 52, Ezot).

Consciously or not, everyone holds some concept of the human and the divine and their interrelation. There is such a view hidden in empiricism, precisely insofar as it denies that anything meaningful can be said about the divine and the relation of the human to the divine. For embedded in this notion is an assertion of the subject’s helplessness. If we must have a view, says Blake, let us have a more constructive one. Let us have Blake’s own, in which there is neither a distant nor a punitive God and the human subject does not have to look upon itself as a poor thing abandoned to darkness.


William Blake And The Intuition Of Selfhood – Laura Quinney

January 25, 2012

Portrait of William Blake by Thomas Phillips, painted in 1807. The original hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Martin and Barresi in “Paradise Lost,” their chapter on twentieth-century challenges to the discourse of the self, name as demystification’s major figures Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, the thinkers most influential for current literary study. In fact, neither Lacan nor Derrida scotched the topic of the self; they adduce the bafflements of the self’s desire for masterful selfhood with some degree of sympathy. More clearly influential for this particular species of demystification is the received Foucault, the poststructuralist sloganeer who coined the catch phrase “the subject is dead.” (I will return further on to a subtler, deeper Foucault.) The dogmatic reception of these thinkers has promoted wholesale disdain for psychological discourse.

This disdain sometimes reaches the level of unthinking caricature. The trend is so common that I hardly know where to begin citing instances of it. Consider this example, chosen at random from an undergraduate textbook on literary criticism. Catherine Belsey opens her essay “Literature, History, Politics” with a mocking portrait of the literary psychological subject: “The sole inhabitant of the universe of literature is Eternal Man (and the masculine form is appropriate), whose brooding, feeling presence precedes, determines and transcends history.” Belsey reflexively, and symptomatically, conflates attention to subject-life with sexism, ahistoricism, and gross metaphysical illusion. (The strangely, unintentionally Blakean phrase “Eternal Man” gives one pause be- cause it would have so radically different a resonance in his poetry) The assumption seems to be that analyzing the experience of selfhood automatically means endorsing a bogus concept of Self. But that is the very concept perpetually under siege in ordinary psychological experience.

The Self is always with us, already undermined, but there can be no progress in understanding its problematic relation to the actual experience of selfhood if the very discourse is declared taboo. Both James and Reed describe with admirable clarity the distortion that results from fixed inattention to subjective experience. It is ironic that literary study should have come to join in this neglect because subjective experience has since the Enlightenment increasingly become the province of literature and of other discourses dismissed as “merely” literary (such as psychoanalysis). Many literary texts have devoted themselves to dramatizing the experience of interior schism and struggle that science, the most authoritative discourse of our day, refuses to address. Yet a good deal of literary criticism now also refuses to address it.

As Socrates’s citation from the Odyssey suggests, Western literature has always paid attention to the self’s experience of itself and, particularly, to its experience of its own disunity. Yet literary treatment of these topics seems to accelerate from the late eighteenth century onward, and any number of compelling examples could be adduced from Romantic, Victorian, and Modernist novels and poetry. To give a smattering, consider the representation of the subject divided against itself or puzzled by its own nature in such canonical works as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Dejection,” George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The popularity of these topics is no accident.

As Reed shows, the later eighteenth through early twentieth centuries witness the official splitting of the subject between conscious and unconscious, with the result that the testimony of consciousness is demoted. Literary focus on the experience of subjectivity occurs simultaneously with the bracketing of subjectivity in scientific discourse, and it can be interpreted as a response. Literature picks up where some other contemporary discourses leave off, drawing on the fascinating new anatomies of the subject formulated in contemporary science and philosophy but seeking to explore them as they are experienced in psychological life.

The major philosophical debates in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain revolve around the clash between religion and the New Science. For our purposes, the important form of this clash is the dramatic challenge scientific materialism and a newly naturalistic psychology pose to traditional ideas of self and soul. Can the old theological discourse of the “soul” serve any function in a scientific environment? Can it be replaced with a naturalistic concept of “self,” which emphasizes the preservative instincts of the organism? Should that concept, too, be superseded by theories of mind and brain functioning founded on sensory atomism?

Essentially there is a showdown between scientific materialism and subjective intuition. The important intervention of literature is this: it shows that the questions raised by scientists and philosophers already influence the self’s experience of itself. The self carries on these debates and feels the force of these questions in the form of anxiety and self-bafflement. To give an example: the exploration of self-division might be said to climax in the period’s emblematic text on the subject, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In Jekyll’s last testimony, he reflects with repugnance on his “other” half.

[Jekyll] had now seen the full deformity of that creature that shared with him some of the phenomena of consciousness, and was co-heir with him to death: and beyond these links of community, which in themselves made the most poignant part of his distress, he thought of Hyde, for all his energy of life, as of something not only hellish but inorganic. This was the shocking thing; that the slime of the pit seemed to utter cries and voices; that the amorphous dust gesticulated and sinned; that what was dead and had no shape, should usurp the office of life.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

Reed discusses Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the context of contemporary speculation about the existence of a rational “unconscious.” To my mind, it more obviously dramatizes the contemporary discussion of “soul” in its relation to matter. Does matter think? Does mere neural activity create the “illusion” of consciousness and the intuition of soul? Regardless of whether Stevenson takes a position on the controversy, he makes a claim that the contemporary science does not: namely, that the intellectual debate is experienced as conflict by and within an individual psyche. For a tear is an intellectual thing. Jekyll is tormented by the gulf between subjectivity and material being; his horror at the errant vitality of Hyde reflects the subject’s alienation from the body and its autonomy.

Consciousness balks but cannot extract itself from its entanglement with the body. The body is neither inert nor, by contrast with Plato and Descartes, is it merely a source of deception and temptation; it has its own ways and will from which consciousness or reason can by no means detach themselves. Clearly Jekyll’s experience is not universal. Yet the novel does what horror stories commonly do: it raises everyday conflicts to the register of the supernatural. The literary text takes up the philosophical issues, translating them into psychological crisis: the center of consciousness, or “I,” reacts to material being with dread and uncertainty.

But the quandary from which Jekyll suffers is not necessarily substance dualism, for the “I” in him that quarrels with material being does not identify itself as a different order of being (an intelligible substance, something divine). Instead his anxiety seems topical; it reflects the pressure that scientific materialism exerts over the sense of self. (Not that materialism was invented in eighteenth-century Britain, but then and there it established a major cultural empire it had never had before.)

It was the Romantic poets, two generations before Stevenson, who first began to explore the impact of materialism on self within the experience of the subject. The isolation of consciousness in the material world is a topic uniquely associated with Romanticism. The contemporary prestige of materialism made the isolation of consciousness a more acute problem because, stripped of its transcendent provenance, consciousness must struggle to make sense of its existence. Why must one labor tinder the burden of subjectivity if there is no intelligible world to which the soul belongs, or if mind itself reduces to the firing of neurons?

One Romantic reaction is to reinstate the transcendent provenance of the spirit, although usually with considerable new refinements. In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge borrows from German Idealism to oppose the living Subject and the “dead” object world. Instead of arguing the issue in the abstract, the Romantic crisis lyric — Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” Percy Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” — dramatizes the plight of a subject struggling to understand its relation to the object world. Such dramatization can reach impressive heights of complexity: Wordsworth’s Intimations Ode presents the traumatic experience of consciousness awakening to its alienation from actuality and seeking, with all deliberate if uncertain will, to create for itself a faith in its transcendent provenance. No dramatization of this plight is starker than the anguished soliloquy of Shelley’s Alastor Poet, who addresses his urgent questions about the purpose of consciousness to a swan who cannot understand him.

And what am I that I should linger here,
With voice far sweeter than thy dying notes,
Spirit more vast than thine, frame more attuned
To beauty, wasting these surpassing powers
In the deaf air, to the blind earth, and heaven
That echoes not my thoughts?
Alastor,” 11. 285-90, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose 81

Shelley presents as psychologically tormenting the experience of the subject marooned in a no-man’s-land between lost transcendence and reductive materialism. With his intellectual sophistication and keen historical sense, Shelley might have thought the Alastor Poet’s anguish premature or primitive. But the whole body of his work, right down to the Neoplatonic poignancy of Adonais, with its fierce claim that “Life … Stains the white radiance of Eternity” (Shelley’s Poetry and Prose), manifests his respect for the aspirations of the subject and his insistence that pat formulas are insufficient to cure its unease.

This is where Blake comes in. Of all the Romantics, Blake was keenest and most systematic in his critique of materialism; more to the point, he was the one who insisted in the most explicit terms that the intuition of selfhood does not dissipate just because it has been renounced. For Blake the intuition of selfhood includes the intuition of its transcendence — its superiority to the material world — and he maintained that if this intuition is simply discounted as an illusion, it will not die down but rather rankle and torment. Martin and Barresi rather complacently say that it is progress to “shed illusions” and that it shows how important the repudiation of the concept of self is that “it may be psychologically impossible to embrace [it] wholeheartedly.”

But what happens when we are unable to embrace it? We become avatars of Hegel’s unhappy consciousness; we find ourselves living at odds with our own subjectivity. Blake satirized the proponents of such dead-end unbelief in the person of the Idiot Questioner, “who publishes doubt & calls it knowledge, whose Science is Despair” (M 41:15, E142). His target was equally the empiricists and the philosophes — “[Francis] Bacon, [Isaac] Newton & Locke,” “Voltaire Rousseau Gibbon Hume” (M 41:5, E142; J 52, E2o1) — all to his mind reductive skeptics who superciliously disregard the torment of subjectivity.

But Blake thought Lockean empiricism especially guilty of imposing cruel strictures on the subject, requiring it to regard its experiences as irreal [vocab: Not real. irreality], shadowy epiphenomena of a “real” physical world. This theory outraged Blake — he thought it entailed forcible suppression of the subject’s need and its nature; its just and unavoidable need to esteem subjectivity and its natural intuition of transcendence.

Blake claimed that the subject laboring under the injunctions of empiricism will suffer from a kind of schizophrenia in which it has to treat as phantasmal (the inner life) what at the same time presses upon it with the utmost urgency. In short, he found empiricist psychology simplistic and grossly inadequate.

Blake thought of himself as providing what his philosophical contemporaries had abjured: an account of inner realities from the subject’s point of view. For he perceived that the science and philosophy of his own day had become increasingly committed to discounting the value of perception and introspection, and that they were thereby simply abandoning the subject to its vexed experience of itself. The subject’s bewildering intuition of transcendence, in particular, was definitively discharged, which left it with no choice but to go seek a home in False Religion.


William Blake And The Bible: The Old And New Testaments As The “Great Code Of Art”

November 11, 2011

William Blake, The Book of Job, 1825

A great new book by Christopher Rowland (see link below). A reading selection from the introduction:

Blake was a brilliant biblical interpreter — eccentric, perhaps, but one of Britain’s most insightful exegetes. Engagement with his work reshapes the way in which one reads the Bible, views and experiences the world, and for that matter, God. He grasped the Bible’s underlying patterns and themes and reproduced them in different ways in images, poetry, prose and illuminated books. His purpose was not an aesthetic act, narrowly conceived. For him the text was a means to an end: to bring about the conversion of minds, hearts and lives to a life of `forgiveness of sins’ and the abjuration of `Religion hid in war, a Dragon red, and hidden Harlot’ (cf. Revelations 12:3 and 17:1-5).

This book (Blake and the Bible) rests on two fundamental assumptions.

  1. Firstly, that there is an underlying consistency in Blake’s approach, notwithstanding the supposed turn to Christianity after the Felpham years. Thus, the unfinished ‘Everlasting Gospel’ shows us Blake articulating the kind of theological sentiments which are to be found in the illuminated books of the 1790s (Paley 2003: 183; Daniell 2003).
  2. Secondly, Blake the modern prophet saw himself not only in continuity to with the prophets but also as someone whose own peculiar mythology was already anticipated by John on Patmos.

What we find in ‘The Everlasting Gospel’ are theological themes used with little reference to the mythological system featuring in earlier works but conveying the same sentiments, using biblical figures only. This is also true of the Job sequence. Blake retains much of the theological framework which is evident in The First Book of Urizen and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell but engages more closely with the biblical text (though it has been argued that there is less coherence in the attitude to the Bible taken in the late works, Paley 2003: 231).

A generation of scholarship has located Blake in a tradition of radicalism and nun-conformity. Not only was he just one of several individuals who claimed to be prophets at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, but also his ways of interpreting the Bible have their antecedents in English radicalism, especially that of the seventeenth century. For Blake, as for the seventeenth-century writers, biblical, prophetic texts, including the Book of Revelation, were not merely a matter of otherworldly expectation but had a bearing on current politics and the role of human agency in establishing God’s Kingdom on earth.

Blake’s seventeenth-century predecessors made similar kinds of interpretative moves to his, and were indebted to the kind of interpretation which may be found on the left wing of the Reformation in the writings of authors like Hans Denck. Elements such as the priority given to the Spirit over the Letter; the critique of a theology which places supreme value on what is found in a book rather than attending to what Blake calls `the Word of God Universal’ (Annotations to Watson’s Apology, E615); the advocacy of a religion of divine immanence rather than transcendence; experience as the motor of theological and ethical change — all these have their antecedents in seventeenth-century biblical interpretation.

Throughout his life the Bible dominated Blake’s imaginative world. Yet while there can be few writers and artists whose work is so permeated with biblical themes, Blake is at the same time one of the Bible’s fiercest critics, not least in the way he inveighed against a theology which viewed God as a remote monarch and lawgiver. It was the use of the Bible as an instrument of social control, a handbook of divinely ordained texts of moral virtue, so widespread in the society of his day, that he sought to challenge. This is no better exemplified than in The First Book of Urizen, where Blake very deliberately parodied the Book of Genesis and, to a lesser extent, that of Exodus.

The rewritten creation story is clearly intended to challenge the normative role that this story had in the moral ordering of society. After all, at the heart of the Genesis story of the exclusion from the Garden of Eden, there is a divine imperative: `Thou shalt not eat of the fruit’ (Genesis 3:3). The prescriptions, and indeed, restrictions derived from the literal reading of the Bible meant for Blake `binding with briars’ one’s `joys and desires’ (‘The Garden of Love’, E26). So he took the biblical themes and represented them in a way which more truly reflected his understanding of that which he considered to be the heart of the divine in human (Regan 2002: 115-27; 219-22).

To see the Bible as a book full of `Moral Virtues’ is to miss its focus. For Blake `the Whole Bible is filld with Imaginations and Visions from End to End & not with Moral virtues’ (On Berkeley, E664). According to Blake, the moral virtues are to be linked with the philosophy of the Greeks. Such classical learning came to be regarded by him as a snare from which Christianity needed to be freed.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Blake sees Christianity as the practice of the forgiveness of sins, but not obedience to a list of commands, or assent to virtues. `The Gospel is Forgiveness of Sins & has No Moral Precepts; these belong to Plato & Seneca & Nero’ (‘Annotations to Watson’s Apology’, K395, E619).

Blake’s writings with regard to the Bible seem to have undergone a change between the 1780s and ’90s and the last decades of his life (suggested by letters of 22 November 1802, E720; Hagstrum 1970). In seeking to explain this, we might consider two circumstances. In November 1802 Blake experienced what could be called a conversion, about which he wrote two letters to Thomas Butts (Hagstrum 1965: 321-4).

In the first, he described emerging from unhappiness to ‘the light of day’ still committed ‘to Eternity’ to ‘Embrace Christianity and Adore him who is the Express image of God but I have traveld thro Perils & Darkness’ (E720). In the second, he wrote a poem about Los descending in flames in the sun to envelop him in a fourfold vision, readying the poet for mental fight (E722). Perhaps the most remarkable of all is the experience he had of a heavenly ascent, of transformation, and of recognition that he was part of the Divine Body.

This is set out in some lines he penned for Thomas Butts (1712, quoted below, p. 133). In his famous additional preface to Milton, he rejects the dominance of classical learning and pleads for a return to the Bible as the prime intellectual inspiration. Thereafter, in his art and his illuminated hooks, there is a more positive engagement with the Bible as the prime source of his inspiration, though, it should be added, the Bible appropriately read.

Also, after 1800, as Blake developed further his own complex myth of individual and social redemption, there is a sense in which his focus moved from the particularities of society that he saw in the streets of London to the Bible. Northrop Frye is probably right to suggest that a text like Jerusalem (c.1804-20) mirrors the Bible, consisting of ‘a fall, the struggle of men in a fallen world which Is what we usually think of as history, the world’s redemption by a divine man in which eternal life and death achieve a simultaneous triumph, and an apocalypse’ (Frye1947: 357).

The author of Jerusalem is no critical interpreter, but rather a theologian of a grand vision of human redemption, albeit in his idiosyncratic version of systematic theology, who puts into the mouth of his hero Los the words: ‘I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s I will not Reason & Compare: my Business is to Create’ (J10: 20-1, K629, E153).

Despite Blake’s fierce polemic against the Bible in his earlier works (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The First Book of Urizen, for example), his views on the Bible remained fairly consistent throughout his life. Thus there are significant continuities between his strong assertion of the priority of the Bible after 1800 and his criticism of the Bible in earlier works. Particularly in the Job engravings, completed in 1825, there is once again the depiction of false religion as a religion dominated by respect for the book and lacking the immediate apprehension of God, which comes through vision. The Job sequence reflects Blake’s theological concerns throughout his life and is also consistent with other texts and images written in the last years of his life.


Book Recommendation: “Jesus, The Man Who Lives” by Malcolm Muggeridge

December 15, 2009

Salvador Dali "Christ of St. John of the Cross"

Tolstoy On The Gospels
An idea becomes close to you only when you are aware of it in your soul, when in reading about it it seems  that it has already occurred to you, that you know it and you are simply recalling it. That’s how it was when I read the Gospel. In the Gospels I discovered a new world: I had not yet supposed that there was such a depth of thought in them. Yet it all seemed so familiar; it seemed that I had known it all long ago, that I had only forgotten it.
Tolstoy, As recorded in Bulgakov’s Diary 18 April 1910

The Revelation’s Impetus
..the revelation Jesus provided, in his teaching, and in the drama of his life, death, and Resurrection, of the true purpose and destination of our earthly existence, seems to me, even by comparison with other such revelations, to be of unique value and everlasting validity. The fact hat I happen to have come into the world myself at a time when the revelation’s impetus in history gives every sign of  being almost spent, and when western Man is increasingly inclined to reject and despise the inheritance it has brought him, only serves to make me the more appreciative of it and awed by it. In the same sort of way the last notes of the Missa Solemnis seem to contain the whole beauty of what has gone before, or the light of a June evening to hold all the glory of the day that is ending.

The key to this seeming disparity between Pascal the scientist, scrupulously observing facts and weighing their relevance, and Pascal the Christian, bowing his head, bending his knees, humbling his proud mind, before the Virgin Mother of Jesus, lies in the one word “faith”…”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”[Paul, Epistle to the Hebrews] Faith that bridges the chasm between what our minds can know and what our souls aspire after; faith which so dwarfs whatever we may consider ourselves to have achieved, or been, that it makes all men —- the humblest, the simplest, the most, in worldly terms –foolish — our equal, our brothers; faith which so irradiates our inner being and outward circumstances that the ostensible exactitudes of time and measure, of proof and disproof, lose their precision, existing only in relation to eternal absolutes which everything in the universe proclaims, and in which all life has its being — the stones and the creatures, the pigs grunt and the nightingale’s song, the trees and the mountains, the wind and the clouds, height and depth, darkness and light, everything that ever has been, or ever will be, attempted, or done, till the end of time — all swelling the chorus of faith.

Fantasy, Truth And The Eye
I want to cry out with the blind man to whom Jesus restored his sight: One thing that I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. How, I ask myself, could I have missed it before? How not have understood that the grey–silver light across the water, the cry of the seagulls and the sweep of their wings, everything on which my eyes rest and my ears hear is telling me about God.

This life’s dim Windows of the Soul
Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole
And leads you to believe a Lie
When you see with, not thro’, the Eye.

Thus Blake distinguishes between the fantasy that is seen with the eye and truth that is seen though it. There are two clearly demarcated kingdoms; and passing from one to the other, from the kingdom of fantasy to the kingdom of reality, gives inexpressible delight. As when the sun comes out, and a dark landscape is suddenly glorified, all that was obscure becoming clear, all that was incomprehensible, comprehensible. Fantasy’s joys and desires dissolve away and in their place is one joy, one desire; one Oneness — God.

In this kingdom of reality, Simone Weil tells us, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as goodness; no desert so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. There we may understand what St. Augustine meant when he insisted that ‘though the higher things are better than the lower, the sum of all creation is better than the higher things alone, and how, in  the light of this realization, all human progress, human morality, human law, based, as they are, on the opposite proposition — of the intrinsic superiority of the higher over the lower — is seen as written on water, scribbled on dust; like Jesus’ scribble while he was waiting for the accusers of he woman taken in adultery to disperse.

Approaching Jesus Through Art
Jesus’ story is a drama, not documentation, and the word whose flesh he became is every true word ever written or spoken; every true note ever sounded, every true stone ever laid on another, every true shape molded, or true color mixed. The whole creative achievement of Man is comprehended in it. Look for it in the light shining in El Greco’s faces; listen for it in the notes of Plainsong; marvel at it in the spire of Salisbury Cathedral rising so exquisitely into the sky; read it in Blake’s Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Hold it in your hand in a grain of sand; in your mind in the universe, with all its planetary systems within systems and ultimate vistas of everlasting space; in your soul in the contemplation of the creator of it all, the spirit which animates it all the beginning and the end of what has not beginning and no end — God. Then pinpoint it all, bring it all to a focus, concentrate it all in a Man and that Man — Jesus

The Meaning of The Incarnation
The perfection of Jesus’ divinity was expressed in the perfection of his humanity, and vice versa. He was God because he was so sublimely a man, and Man because, in all his sayings and doings, the grace of his person and words, in the love and compassion that shone out of him he walked so closely with God. As Man alone Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not. Incarnate, he could and did.

If, I remember reflecting as a child, and perhaps asking some unfortunate teacher, this or that had to be done to fulfill a prophecy, how was it a prophecy at all? Surely, prophesying meant foreseeing something that was going to happen, not so arranging things that it happened. Subsequent experience of life, and brooding thereon, made me understand that two parallel processes are at work – prophesying, and surrendering to the logic of events whereby the prophecy comes to pass. Built into our mortal circumstances here is what Blake called a Fearful Symmetry –

Tyger Tyger buring bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Western Man Has Decided To Abolish Himself
It has become abundantly clear in the second half of the twentieth century that Western Man has decided to abolish himself. Having wearied of the struggle to be himself, he has created his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, his own vulnerability out of his own strength; himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, in the process of auto–genocide, convincing himself  that he is too numerous, and laboring accordingly with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer in order to be an easier prey for his enemies; until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and becomes extinct.

Determinism, Freedom And Prophecy
In their exposition of the fulfillment of the prophecy the Gospels faithfully reflect the mysterious blend of determinism and freedom which governs our lives. What happens, they tell us, has to happen, but still need not; we must bend our knees and bow our heads and say Thy will be done, while none the less knowing, as Jesus did in his darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, that it is open to us to follow our own wills. The demons of the ego are allowed to enter into us, as they were allowed to enter into the Gadarene swine, and can send us similarly leaping to destruction…

The imagination can relate these two seeming opposites — determinism and freedom — into a wholeness which partakes of both and is greater than either. Hence art. Watching a performance of Macbeth, we know perfectly well that Macbeth will murder Duncan, and all the tragic consequences will ensue, and yet hang breathlessly on Macbeth’s words as he summons up his resolution to fulfill the witches’ prediction…

Prophecy belongs to the domain of the imagination, not of the intellect; its truth lies in the inescapable necessity to fulfill it; its strength, in our sense that we are free to fulfill or not as we think fit. This is why, especially at moments of great crisis in our individual lives or in history, we often seem to be following a preordained course, and yet choosing, whether grudgingly, heroically, or in desperation, to follow it.

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found
Where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding? [Job 28:12] Not, certainly, in what passes for being the documentation of this or any other age, whether recorded by a Josephus, elegantly recorded by a Gibbon, laboriously assembled by a Namier, dispersed in clouds of rhetoric by a Churchill, or reflected in the fabulous distorting mirror twentieth — century technology has devised to take in every detail and aspect of our contemporary scene — the television screen. This last, least of all; nothing is less actual that its actualites.

Only mystics, clowns and artists, in my experience, speak the truth, which, as Blake was always insisting, is perceptible to the imagination rather than the mind. Thus an animist groveling naked in the African bush before a painted stone may well be nearer to the heart of things than any Einstein or Bertrand Russell, and a painted clown riding a bicycle round and round a circus ring more attuned to the reality of life than a Talleyrand or a Bismark can hope to be. Jesus was making the same point when he insisted that God has revealed to the foolish what is hidden from the wise.

A Religion Of Slaves
Simone Weil describes…There was a full moon, and the wives of the fishermen were going in procession form ship to ship, carrying candles and singing ancient hymns of a heart — rending sadness. As she listened to them, here own sadness lifted, and she suddenly had a joyous conviction ‘that Christianity is preeminently a religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and I among others.’

Sinners’s Knowledge, Garnered In Sinlessness
This is like asking why the Word needed to become flesh in the first place; why it did not suffice just as Word. The point is that, to exist for us in time, the Word had to be spoken, and that the Incarnation was God’s way of speaking it. Or, as it is put in the Fourth Gospel in becoming flesh in the person of Jesus, the Word dwelt among us. Thus though Jesus’ coming into the world was divinely ordained, and represented God’s deliberate intervention in history, it was still the case that he had to live in the world as a man among other men. In this capacity, he heard and heeded John’s call to repentance and accepted John’s hands, just as later, he accepted crucifixion at Pilate’s.

In this capacity too, he understood, fully and perfectly, the nature and driving force of sin. How otherwise could he have insisted that just to look after woman to lust after her is to commit adultery? This is sinner’s knowledge, as all sinners at once recognize. How otherwise would he know that the insatiable ego ever raising its cobra head will not be coaxed or persuaded or indulged into quiescence, but must be struck down once and for all? That to live we must die, experiencing the ultimate sweetness of life, the final fragrance and music of it, only in its final rejection. That when we at last know that life is worthless, then only do we truly live; that when we have absolutely nothing more to hope for  —- no dream, however exalted, of delighting or uplifting our fellows, no vista of fulfilled love or of silver evening light falling serenely across our last days – then, at last, we can hope?  That when the heart is empty, the mind dry, the soul blown away in dust, and the sheet of white paper that has to be covered stares back at us glassy-eyed, then, and only then, a flame leaps up of certainty, absolute and everlasting, that God awaits with outstretched arms to welcome us into the eternity whence we came? This is what Jesus knew — sinners’s knowledge, garnered in sinlessness.

Salvation For Individuals No Collective Cures
Jesus never used his miraculous powers to promote any general or collective purpose. The salvation he offered was for individuals not collectivities; for a person, not for an idea. Though the sick crowded around him there were no collective cures or blanket dispensations.

Fulfilling His Mission While Accepting Mortal Existence
…While he was incarnate he insisted on being regarded in every respect as a mortal man. Had he done otherwise, the focus and climax of all his teaching, the Cross, would have lost its point. For a man to die on the Cross for other men was sublime, where for God to be crucified would be nothing – like someone who is immortal serving a prison sentence. If the Devil had succeeded in persuading Jesus to exploit his miraculous powers to his own greater glory in the eyes of the world, his mission would have been emptied of its content. To fulfill his mission he had to accept all the limitations, fallibilities and inadequacies of our mortal existence and relate these to our immortal destiny, thereby enabling men to draw near to God, and God to make Himself accessible to men….

After his colloquy with the Devil it was to be abundantly clear to him that always and in all circumstances he must eschew the three pillars of earthly authority – marvels, affluence and the exercise of power. It was not for him to turn stones into bread, however plentiful the stones and scarce the bread, but rather to sacramentalize bodily into spiritual sustenance; not for him to draw men to him by calling on God for a sign, but rather to light with his truth their way to God and God’s way to them. Above all it was not for Him to look for help or support to any Caesar, actual or aspiring; still less to become one. He was to be no Fuhrer, no mythical resistance leader; there was poetry , but no rhetoric, in the words wherewith he would reveal to men how God would have them live together and do His will.

Adam And Jesus
As one man, Adam, had estranged men for God, so another man, Jesus, would reconcile them to God; as Adam’s disobedience necessitated Moses’ Law, so Jesus’ obedience opened up a new dispensation of love transcending Moses’ Law in relations between man and man, and between men and God…Jesus’ sacrifice undoes Adam’s sin; the Old Man with his deeds is put off, and the New Man, reborn in the spirit is put on; and all mankind, Jew and gentile, bond and free, conjoined together in one body, in one fellowship, with, and in, Christ. This was the new heaven and the new earth prophesied in the Scriptures…

C.H.Dodd On Truth In The Gospels
There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized) becomes manifestly and effectively true. Such a moment in history is reflected in the Gospels. The presence of God with men, a truth for all times and all places, becomes an effective truth. It became such (we must conclude) because of the impact Jesus made; because in his words and actions it was presented with exceptional clarity and operative with exceptional power. Jesus himself pointed out the effects of his work as signs of the coming of the kingdom: If by the finger of God I drive out devils, then be sure the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

The Messiah Of The Prophecy And Jesus
The Messiah of the prophecy was for the Jews exclusively, and his Kingdom an Israel restored to a greatness and glory; the messiah in the person of Jesus is not for a Chosen People, but for all who will accept Him, and His Kingdom is not of this world at all. It is, at once, within us, and located beyond the confines of space and time and mortality.

We carry about it with us in our inner being, infinitely precious, as it might be some locket containing he likeness of a beloved face. At the same time, like Augustine’s City of God, it is high above us out of our reach — Isaiah’s land that is very far off; but still, for those who have eyes to see, discernible from our earthly city and the destination of our earthly pilgrimage.

It is both here and now, available to everyone for the asking, and to be vigilantly expected — as the wise virgins awaited the coming of the bridegroom, with their lamps full of oil, unlike the foolish ones who had used up their oil and then, when the bridegroom came , had no means of replenishing their lamps.

The Christian Life: Tasting Eternity In Time
As Shakespeare put it in his famous seven stages of man, we come into the world as babies mewling and puking in our nurse’s arms; then pass from childhood to youth, to mature manhood, until finally we peter out in second childishness and mere oblivion. Where in this process is there a place for being reborn? Yet it happens. Out of the dark womb of our own willfulness and carnality some force of spiritual creativity can push us into another birth. We emerge into the same world we have grown accustomed to, to find it now made new; its colors shining and translucent, its shapes sharpened and wonderful in their grace, its men and women moving like angels, and all its creatures disclosing a beauty hitherto secret.

So, seeing with new eyes, I see a new world; understanding with heart and mind and soul, truth breaks upon me, not thought or sensation or realization but in one comprehensive enlightenment. As a child with its first yawn or smile measures up to Time, I, reborn, and become a child again, measure up to Eternity. Who can doubt that this is the everlasting life Jesus promised – what is eternal in life becoming manifest eternally; each joy forever in its joyfulness, each woe likewise in its woefulness, and the two inextricably intertwined; in Blake’s words ‘woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine.’…

[Jesus’ Kingdom] offered salvation to men and women living in the world; holding out to them the possibility of a way of life on quite different terms from any hitherto envisaged. Tasting eternity in time; experiencing heavenly ecstasies while still walking the earth; carrying love, not just to the ultimate requirements of the Law, of morality, of human affections, but far, far beyond that — into the crazy extravagancies of God’s love, which knows no limits; which is poured out indiscriminately on all His creation, flooding it all in beauty, and making all its sounds — the grunts, the cries, the songs, the screeches – somehow melodious, not to mention words, which fill and billow like a sail to his Breath, and glow with his translucence. …

[Imagine] Paul breaking into song while living in and for Christ in Nero’s world…The joy and wonder  were to continue unabated through all the troubles and pitfalls that lay ahead. In the world ye shall have tribulations: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world – how often I have said over to myself with feelings of inexpressible comfort these words Jesus spoke to his disciples, knowing that when the test came they would scatter and lose heart, and regret ever having been associated with him . Jesus had indeed overcome the world, and forever…He had overcome the world by revealing its true nature, its reality contrasting with the layer upon layer of fantasy which the human ego is endlessly constructing out of itself, like a monstrous coral reef. The revelation was Jesus’ good news, the kingdom he came to proclaim. In its light, we may know ourselves to be displaced persons, who yet are given eyes, if we care to use them, capable of seeing here on earth, all the contours and of our true habitat and dwelling–place–to–be. Thus St Augustine’s preaching…after hearing the news of the sack of Rome:

You are surprised that the world is losing its grip? That the world is grown old and full of pressing tribulations? Do not hold on to the old man, the world; do not refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: the world is passing away, the world is losing its grip, the world is short of breath. Do not fear, thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle.

Christianity Is An Experience
The war goes on; and suddenly in the most unlikely theater of all, a Solzhenitsyn raises his voice, while in the dismal slums of Calcutta a Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity go about Jesus’ work of love with incomparable dedication. When I think of them, as I have seen them at their work and at their devotions, I want to put away all the books, tear up all the scribbled notes. There are no more doubts or dilemmas; everything is perfectly clear.

What commentary or exposition, however eloquent, lucid, perceptive, inspired even, can equal in elucidation and illumination the effect of these dedicated lives? What mind has conceived a discourse, or tongue spoken in it, which conveys even to a minute degree eh light they shine before men? I was an hungred, and  ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me – the words come alive, as no study or meditation could possibly make them, in the fulfillment in the most literal sense of Jesus’ behest to see in the suffering faces of humanity his suffering face, and in their broken bodies, his.

The religion Jesus gave the world is an experience, not a body of ideas or principles. It is being lived that it lives, as it is in loving that the love which it discloses at the heart of all creation becomes manifest. It belongs to the world of a Cervantes rather than a Wittgenstein; to Rabelais and Tolstoy rather than to Bultmann and Barth.

Our Transformation At Death
So at last I may understand, and understanding believe; see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter, muddy and marred with being trodden underfoot, and hover over it, myself, like a butterfly released from its chrysalis stage and ready to fly away. Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection? How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth — crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely pained wings? If told, do they believe it?

Is it conceivable to them that so constricted an existence as this should burgeon into so gay and lightsome a one as a butterfly’s? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads — no, it can’t be; it’s a fantasy, self–deception, a dream. Similarly,  our wise ones. Yet in the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of grey, I hear those words; I am the resurrection, and the life, and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace.

Two Great Propositions
Jesus summarized all his teaching for us in two great propositions which have provided Christendom with, as it were, its moral and spiritual axis. The first and great commandment, he said , was: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and the second , like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these commandments, he insisted, hang all the law and the prophets. His manner of presenting them indicates their interdependence; unless we love God we cannot love our neighbor, and correspondingly, unless we love our neighbor we cannot love God.. Once again , there has to be a balance; Christianity is a system of such balanced obligations –To God and Caesar, to flesh and spirit; to God and our neighbor, and so on. Happy the man who strikes the balance justly; to its imbalance are due most of our miseries and misfortunes, individual as well as collective.

What Does Loving God Mean?
We can love the world he created and the universe which is its setting…All this we can love; but still it is not loving God…We may love the godly works of man…all this can be loved as emanating from God, and yet not even this is God. Yet again there are Man’s own particular and private loves, all of which pertaining to love partake in some degree of God’s love…how beautiful in old age to note in the grandchild newly born some trait remembered form long ago …like the echo of a distant bell…yet this is still not God…How is God to be found and loved? Not as philosophically conceived as a first cause or Categorical Imperative…still less are we capable of loving God as scientifically conceived…the life force which has triumphantly carried our species form primeval slime to Professor Ayer…the simple fact is that to be truly loved God has to become a Man without thereby ceasing to be God. Hence Jesus who provides the possibility of loving God through and in him.

Thus the two commandments become one; to be celebrated in a Man – Jesus —- who died and sanctified in a Man — also Jesus — who goes on living.. As out of Jesus’ affliction came a new sense of God’s love, and a new basis for love between men, so out of our affliction we may grasp a the splendor of God’s love and how to love one another. Thus the consummation of the two commandments was on Golgotha; and the cross is at once their image and their fulfillment. “It is affliction itself.”

Simone Weil writes, ‘that the splendor of God’s mercy shines; from its very depths, in the heart of its inconsolable bitterness.’ We feel ourselves to be forsaken, as Jesus momentarily did on the Cross; and if then we persevere in our love, we end by coming into contact with something which is neither joy nor sorrow, something necessary, pure and essential; something apart form the senses, partaking of both joy and sorrow. Then, at last , triumphantly, we know what it is to love God and looking outwards from within this love, we see our fellow men, all of them, the sick and the well, the beautiful and the plain, the stupid and the clever, mongols and beauty queens, and  imbeciles and athletes, every variety and category of humankind; see them all as brothers and sisters, members of one family, at once enfolded in God’s love and chained together by it, as though they were His galley–slaves, and this servitude their perfect freedom.

Jesus And Jerusalem
In his [Jesus’] only recorded personal outburst, he cried out at his first glimpse of Jerusalem in the distance, set amidst the hills, so strangely and beautifully aloof, as though floating in the sky, and more like a visionary city than an actual one: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

The Cloud Of Unknowing: Quotation
Love is such a great power that it maketh all things to be shared. Therefore love Jesus, and all things that he hath, it is thine. He by his Godhead is maker and giver of time. He by his Manhood is the true heeder of time. And he by his Godhead and Manhood together, is the truest judge and the asker of account of the spending of time. Knit thee therefore to him, by love and by belief.

And Judas?…Was he the most skeptical of them all about Jesus’ Messianic pretensions and the powers that went therewith, and so the readier to be a paid renegade? Or was he the most understanding of them all, the one with the greatest certainty that Jesus was indeed all he claimed to be, Incarnate God, which made Judas feel he must at all costs get rid of him The method he chose suggests as much – betraying Jesus to the Sanhedrin gang for a paltry sum of money, thirty pieces of silver, which at the then market rate was less than the cost of a mediocre slave.

As does also the manner he chose to identify Jesus — with a kiss. After all there were plenty of other means of identification than a kiss; such as pointing Jesus out and pronouncing a Devil’s version of Ecce Homo—Behold the Man! Surely that kiss was an indication that Judas betrayed Jesus, not because he hated him, but because he loved him.

A Stupendous Riddle
They call him Master and rightly so, but in washing their feet the Master deliberately abases himself in order to demonstrate that greatness lies not in self–assertion, but in self–abnegation. Earthly authority displays itself in giving orders, in magnificent apparel, in hordes of servitors, in sycophantic addresses; the authority  Jesus disposes of is, by contrast, spiritual, and expresses itself in serving, not in being served, in seeking to be the least instead of the greatest, the last instead of the first, in finding wisdom in the innocence of children and truth in the foolishness of men rather than in those who pass for being sagacious and experienced in the world’s ways. When we want to adulate men, we say they are godlike; but when God became Man, it was in the lineaments of the least of men…

If the greatest of all, Incarnate God, chooses to be the servant of all, who will wish to be the master? If he receives orders, who will venture to give them? If those who climb are descending, and those who descend, climbing, who will aspire after eminence? These are the questions Jesus leaves with us; not to answer — because they have no answer — but to live with and by. Christianity is a stupendous riddle without a solution; a stupendous joke without a point; a stupendous song without a tune; a stupendous waking dream that we lose in sleeping; a death in life and a life in death.

The Way, The Truth, The Life
Thomas, the doubter, asked, not unreasonably, how, if they did not know where Jesus was going, they could possibly be expected to follow after him. It was then that Jesus came out with one of his greatest sayings — that he was himself  the way, the truth, and the life. For his followers, to know him is to know where they’re going, and why they are going there, and to be vouchsafed the strength to follow the way to the end where Jesus awaits them. There are many signposts, but he is the way. There are many words and meanings, but he is the truth; there are many ways of living and dying, but He is life itself.

The Trinity
First God the Father who is everywhere and nowhere; the oneness of all things rather than any particular thing. It is material or temporal beauty? Surely not. Not the brilliance of earthly light, the sweet melody of harmony and song, the fragrance of the flowers, and perfumes; not manna or honey or limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is none of these he loves when he loves his God. Yet, in loving God he also loves them; but in his inner self, when the soul is bathed in illimitable light, when it breathes fragrance not borne away on the wind, listens to sounds that never die away, clings to an embrace not severed by desire’s fulfillment.

What then is his God? He asks the earth, and it answers: I am not God. Likewise he asks the sea, the winds that blow, the sky , the sun, the moon and the stars, all things that can be admitted by the door of the senses, and the answer is of one and all is the same – they are not God. Where then is God And the answer is at the very core of creation, and in all its parts God is creation’s soul, and because we have souls which are components of His as the tiniest particle of moisture in sea spray is a component of the ocean, we are one with God and God is one with us.

So Augustine triumphantly concludes: ‘He is the life of the life of my soul.’ …Between the earthly city and the heavenly city there is a deep impassable chasm ….Jesus is the suspension bridge to God the Father. Through him we may know God truly as a Father; through him the universal becomes the particular, the immanent becomes the transcendent, the implicit becomes the explicit. Always becomes now. The pure of heart are blessed because thy may know God the Father; but thanks to God the Son, so may the impure of heart through knowing Jesus.

It was for this purpose – to open up a way for sinners to know God – that Jesus came amongst us. By the same token, this was the offense for which he was crucified. God the Son is God the Father’s probation officer to a fallen world, who, by his death on the Cross, expiated Adam’s sin, and reversed the fall. Under the dispensation of God the Father, Adam brought death into the world; under the dispensation of God the Son, Jesus abolished death….

Then there is the Holy Spirit…this is the conception the most nebulous, but in terms of experience, the most actual. The Holy Spirit first descended upon the disciples in the Acts of Apostles, on the first Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, on what is celebrated by Christians as Whit Sunday…Whatever may have been the precise intimations and nature of the experience, it s certainly the case that thenceforth these hitherto easily scared, rather quarrelsome and confused men became worthy and effective servants of their Master; propagandists of genius and martyrs of indomitable heroism…


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