The Revolutionary Vision of William Blake

Journal of Religious Ethics 02/2009; 37(1):33 - 38. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9795.2008.00374.x


It was William Blake's insight that the Christian churches, by inverting the Incarnation and the dialectical vision of Paul, have repressed the body, divided God from creation, substituted judgment for grace, and repudiated imagination, compassion, and the original apocalyptic faith of early Christianity. Blake's prophetic poetry thus contributes to the renewal of Christian ethics by a process of subversion and negation of Christian moral, ecclesiastical, and theological traditions, which are recognized precisely as inversions of Jesus, and therefore as instances of the forms of evil that God-in-Christ overcomes through Incarnation, reversing the Fall. Blake's great epic poems, particularly Milton (1804–08) and Jerusalem (1804–20), embody his heterodox representation of the final coincidence of Christ and Satan through which, at last, all things are made new.

Full-text preview

Available from:
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Why focus on the work of William Blake in a journal dedicated to religious ethics? The question is neither trivial nor rhetorical. Blake's work is certainly not in anyone's canon of significant texts for the study of Christian or, more broadly, religious ethics. Yet Blake, however subversive his views, sought to lay out a Christian vision of the good, alternated between prophetic denunciations of the world's folly and harrowing laments over the wreck of the world's promise, and wrote poetry as if poetry might mend the world. Setting imagination against the calculations of reason and the comfort of custom, Blake's poems inspire questions about the relationship of ethics to prophecy, and open the possibility that ethics itself would be markedly enriched could it find a place for what Thomas J. J. Altizer has called Christian epic poetry.
    Preview · Article · Feb 2009 · Journal of Religious Ethics
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: William Blake says Jerusalem is written to move readers from a solely rational way of being (called Ulro) to one that is highly imaginative (called Eden/Eternity), and that each word in it is chosen to suit 'the mouth of a true Orator'. Rational interpretation is of limited use when reading this multifaceted poem. But considering Jerusalem as visionary theatre - an imaginative performance in which characters, settings, and imagery are not confined by mundane space and time - allows readers to enjoy the coherence of its delightful complexities. With his characters, Blake's readers can participate imaginatively in what Blake calls 'the Divine Body, the Saviour's Kingdom', a way of being in which all things interconnect: spiritually, ecologically, socially, and erotically. This two-part book first discusses the theological, literary, and historical antecedents of the poem's imagery, characters, and settings before presenting a scene-by-scene commentary of the entire illuminated work. Jerusalem tells the story of a fall, many rescue attempts, escalating violence, and a surprising apocalypse - in which all living things are transfigured in ferocious forgiveness.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2012