Friday, January 13, 2017

What Does "The Great Code of Art" Mean

Northrop Frye's book, The Great Code:  The Bible and Literature, draws its title from the words of poet William Blake, who said, "The Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art" (quoted by Frye xvi).

Here's the context from which Frye draws the quote:

 Around his engraving of the famous Roman sculpture, Blake included (as you can see in the image above) a LOT of text, which reads in part:
Jesus and His Apostles and Disciples were all Artists. Their Works were destroy’d by the Seven Angels of the Seven Churches in Asia, Antichrist, Science.

The Old and New Testaments are the great code of Art.

The whole business of Man is the Arts, and all things, common.

No secrecy in Art.   

Art is the Tree of Life.

God is Jesus.

Science is the Tree of Death.

For every pleasure Money is useless.*
A quick Google search reveals hundreds of attempts to decipher Blake's idiosyncratic theology; I have no desire to go there.  What fascinates me is the idea that these sacred texts are difficult, that they are encoded, and that when you decode them, what emerges is not a bloodless theology, but vibrant, living Art.

You, and I, and every human being, have been created in the image of a creative God.  Our creativity is therefore potentially holy and definitely meaningful.

Whenever I feel discouraged, I need to remind myself of this larger context against which our brief, tiny, creative lives are played out.

Our lives are not meaningless, and we are not alone.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Thirsting for New Water

The Bible "has had a continuously fertilizing influence on English literature from Anglo-Saxon writers to poets younger than I, and yet no one would say that the Bible 'is a work of literature' " (Northrop Frye, The Great Code, xvi).

Waterfall, Cloud Forest, Costa Rico.
©2017 Tina Quinn Durham

At what point is a treasure trove of inspiration exhausted?  Will the Bible always be a source of creative inspiration?

When we keep draw upon the myths of the past for our fantasy, our movies, and our serious literature, we don't merely copy them. We re-vision them – that is, we consciously attempt to see the past in new ways, from new perspectives.

At the Gethsemane Encounter (a Buddhist-Christian conference at a Trappist monastery), Fenton Johnson talks to a Buddhist nun named Dr. Yifa.  She tells Fenton Johnson: “I joined the sangha [the community of monks] to make it richer and more attractive to others. A pond is dead water unless it has a stream of new water coming in” (Keeping Faith:  A Skeptic's Journey 13).

Perhaps this applies, not merely to monastic communities or communities of faith, but to everything.  In agriculture, cross-pollination occurs when a plant pollinates a different variety of the same species.  Sure, you could end up losing good qualities of a commercial hybrid or strain, but you also might up with greater genetic diversity and resistance to pests or diseases.  A more productive variety could emerge from this chance encounter.

Nations benefit from an influx of hard-working, highly motivated immigrants who bring new foods, new ideas and necessary skills.  Their cultural influences revitalize art, music, and literature.

It's not just the Bible that "has a continuously fertilizing influence on English [and American] literature."  We have been blessed by "new water" from every people and every culture that has come to our shores.

When we cease to embrace the Other, we will embrace Death.

Durham, Tina Quinn.  Image "Waterfall, Cloud Forest, Costa Rico."  Used by permission.
IAC Publishing, Inc. "What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Cross Pollination?" Reference. IAC Publishing, Inc., 2017. Web. 11 Jan. 2017. <>. 
Rhoades, Heather. "What Is Cross Pollination - Learn About Cross Pollination In Vegetable Gardens." Gardening Know How. Gardening Know How, 01 May 2016. Web. 11 Jan. 2017. <>.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Bible's Disregard of Unity?

Have you ever been in church and heard your pastor talk about the amazing unity of the Bible, a book written by "40 authors... over a period of 1500 years" (  You may have heard him say something like this:

All 66 Books of the Bible Agree

But here is the wonder of it all: When the 66 books of the Bible with their 1,189 chapters made up of 31,173 verses are brought together (KJV), we find perfect harmony in the message they convey. As the great scholar F. F. Bruce noted: "The Bible is not simply an anthology; there is a unity which binds the whole together."
The Bible writers gave God's messages by voice and pen while they lived, and when they died, their writings lived after them. These prophetic messages were then gathered together, under God's leading, in the book we call the Bible (

You may also have heard about the evils of "higher criticism," which fundamentalists regard with the deepest suspicion and hostility, as if the inspired word of God would not withstand the assault of "literary historical-critical methods"and analysis "based on reason rather than revelation" ("Biblical Criticism").  They appear to see the world as being at war, with the central conflict being faith v. reason.

After half a century of living under such teaching, I was truly surprised when I read what Northrop Frye so casually wrote:

"...the Bible's disregard of unity as quite as impressive as its exhibition of it" (The Great Code xvi). 

Frye doesn't question his faith; he just says this.  Like the boy in the fairy tale who proclaimed that the emperor had no clothes, Frye isimply reports his own observations, without making judgments beyond what he sees in the text itself.

Like the townspeople in the fairy tale, I too find myself agreeing with the man who honestly tells me what he sees.  I've been reading the Bible or memorizing it daily for about 40 years.  I've noticed both the "disregard of unity" and the "impressive... exhibition" of unity within the Bible.

However, this is the first time I've said it out loud.