Wednesday 10 December 2008

On Blake and the Bible (and Milton)

A post by Kim Fabricius (This was Kim’s “vote of thanks” after Christopher Rowland’s lecture yesterday for the Theological Society in Swansea. Rowland spoke on “William Blake and the Bible” – if you’re interested, you can download the lecture as a PowerPoint presentation from the Oxford website.)

William Blake was my first true literary love. (Before Blake I’d merely slept around.) We met when I majored in English. I still have my copy of Northrop Frye’s magnificent study of Blake, Fearful Symmetry. And after I’d graduated and hit the road to Europe and Asia in 1971, along with Shakespeare the only other book I carried in my rucksack was a one-volume collection of the works of Blake and John Donne. (And if that seems an unlikely pairing, you obviously don’t see the connection between the two most interesting things in life: God – and sex!)

And then, homeless and broke in London a few years later, crashing and sponging at a friend’s flat in Pimlico, I used to spend many a day blowing my mind on Blake’s visual art in the Tate Gallery just down the road.

And when I became a Christian in the late 1970s, this prophet who so accurately pinpointed the pernicious social consequences of the empiricist and utilitarian philosophies of the Enlightenment, and who exposed with searing indignation the fatal link between the church’s moral teaching, repressed human sexuality, and a culture of death – well, for me, Blake’s heroic status only grew the greater.

The word is vision. Chesterton declared: “Critics say his [Blake’s] visions were false because he was mad. I say he was mad because his visions were true.” Absolutely! “Mad” in the way St. John the Divine was mad (no coincidence, then, that Professor Rowland has written a brilliant commentary on the book of Revelation). “Mad” in a way that neither the legalism of conservative Christians, nor the reasonableness of the liberals, can comprehend. Such is the impoverishment of the contemporary Christian imagination for which the Bible is either an inerrant rulebook or a religious resource book, but not, as it was for Blake, an inspired and inspiring narrative for re-configuring the world.

So thank you, Professor Rowland, for so profoundly and pictorially riveting us tonight with a fabulous lecture. And what a providential evening on which to give it: Milton, whose company Blake often kept (he said that Milton had left heaven and entered his foot in the form of a comet) – it is, this very day, the 400th anniversary of Milton’s birth. Finally, perhaps the highest compliment that I, as a minister in the URC, can pay you: I shall henceforth regard you, with Milton and Blake, as an “honorary” Nonconformist!


Anonymous said...

True Wisdom is the capacity for perfect Madness---Adi Da

Anonymous said...

Chris Rowland is indeed a brilliant, apocalyptic and nonconformist thinker (I think I heard he refuses to dine at High Table at Queen's College!). He's also a genuinely nice man. He's been working on a book on Blake and the Bible, from which this lecture was no doubt culled, for the past ten years - tentatively slated, I believe, to be published by Yale University Press. Should be well worth the wait!

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing that

Anonymous said...

Although, as a lifelong commercial fisherman who converted from the atheism of my family at a young age, I have had a lot of time to think about these things, I can see why I haven't spent much time reading the theological classics and delving into theological debate forums.

The entirety of Scriptural revelation is ordered, defined and delineated by Jesus' retort to Philip on the night before his death when the disciple asked to be shown the Father. "I and the Father are one. If you have seen me you have seen the Father." Jesus was (is)God's own interpretation of everything He ever inspired anyone to say and/or write down. Just look into what Jesus was like, and you know what God is like, and interpret everything through that prism. Simple....

Larry Clayton said...

As a UMC minister with 50 years of service I too consider Blake the primary interpreter of the Bible to my knowledge.

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