A couple of weeks ago, a lady blogger had a bone to pick with me (on another blog) on account of my applying the famous image of the Industrial Revolution immortalised by William Blake in Jerusalem – dark satanic mills – to churches. I have always found it strange that we would sing Jerusalem to the tune of Parry as something eminently patriotic and English, whilst we are struck by this reproach about the places where formerly country folk were brought to toil long hours for a pittance. Properly speaking, a dark satanic mill is one of those textile factories established in the late eighteenth century to mass produce fabrics, cotton weaving in particular. For Blake, it was the symbol of the Industrial Revolution and the exploitation of the poor. Conditions in those places were appalling, where children had to work for fourteen or fifteen hours a day in near-slavery. Accidents with the machinery were rife and the entire system created a new urban under-class as would be described decades later by Charles Dickens.
In other articles I have written, I have compared the development of centralisation in the Church to the Industrial Revolution, a process of dehumanisation and institutionalisation. Canon law and bureaucracy become mechanised and theoretically efficient, I say theoretically, because the Roman Curia, like anything in Italy (England too and other countries where discipline and rigour are not given priority in popular culture), is notorious for inefficiency and confusion. My reference to Blake’s satanic mill in reference to churches is by way of analogy.
What is analogy? It is a device of human language to overcome (to some extent) the inadequacy of human language when reflecting on matters that escape our understanding. The words used to discuss God, the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ and other mysteries of our faith are analogies. The analogy shows a partial similarity between things that are dissimilar. A certain comparison is possible, without complete assimilation. Thus a church is not a dark satanic mill, because it is not a factory for the production of textiles or other mass-produced things. It is not intentionally evil. A comparison is made on the basis of the background idea of the transformation of a traditional society into a mass of people exploited by those who have money and political clout. The analogy strikes the reader and makes him ask questions.
We compare the Church to a body with a head and members, but the Church is not a human or animal body. God does not have eyes or hands because he is pure spirit and has no body. Yet, many of our liturgical prayers ask God for things that are only possible for beings with bodies. The language is analogical.
Bloggers and others who write need to be aware of the different ways of using language. I remember finding literary analysis at school very boring, because I was not aware of these distinctions and believed language either to be literal or nonsense. I despised poetry and found much of the Bible to be nonsense, because I had no idea about the use of figurative language. Literal language uses words in accordance with their defined meanings. Figurative language uses words by altering their meanings. Speaking of God as a being with body parts is using words that do not express literal truth. Many passages of Scripture seem incoherent, because their language is allegorical and poetic. Truth is apprehended at a level other than that of the intellect.
How do we tell the difference? The only answer I can give is our human experience and intuition, our capacity for living by our senses and the spirit, not only our rational faculties. This is the genius of Romanticism!