Key Concepts in Swedenborg's Theology: Our Humanity

Most of the time, however, we do not experience ourselves primarily as receptors of the Divine. We feel self-contained and self-sustaining. This appearance is God’s intentional gift of freedom and rationality, which are designed to enable us to accept the Divine willingly and which therefore are capable of being used to reject it.

The physical world is the arena in which we choose to accept or to reject. Its ambiguity is essential to this purpose, enabling us to convince ourselves that we are self-sustaining in fact, to focus on our distinguishability to the exclusion of our oneness. If we so choose, we voluntarily forfeit the unitive power of love and wisdom and thereby set ourselves against the fundamental nature of reality itself.

This rejection manifests itself in isolation and hostility, both internal and external. That is, we develop a delight in conflict with others, and our own loves and thoughts are in conflict with each other. Our satisfaction comes only at the expense of others, which is inherently unworkable.


Key Concepts in Swedenborg's Theology: God

God is the absolute “distinguishable One,” both within and transcending all space and all time, by nature incapable of being less than wholly present. The fundamental nature of the universe is therefore coherent at all times and in all places: the same fundamental laws apply everywhere, as indeed science assumes, either intuitively or of necessity.

To help us grasp the nature of that infinite oneness, we may distinguish the primary features of infinite love, wisdom, and power

—love being ineffective without wisdom,

—wisdom inert without love, and

—power the wholly natural result of their oneness.

God is one in the essential sense that there is no conflict within the Divine: love does not bid one course of action, with wisdom counseling another. This is a qualitative monotheism, not simply a numerical one.

Love is intrinsically personal, and God is therefore the essential and only person, the definition of the human person. There is no other source of life, which is in its essence love.

We have been created not “out of nothing,” but quite literally “out of love,” since love is by nature self-giving and self-expressive. We are in that sense differentiated from the Divine but never separated (again “distinguishably one”); we are recipients of being rather than beings.

We differ from each other not in the presence of the Divine within us, but in our acceptance of or receptivity to the Divine.


Concerning the Holy Scripture or Word, in Which Are Stored up Divine Things, Which Are Open before Good Spirits and Angels (Continued)

It may seem a paradox, but still it is most true, that the angels understand the internal sense of the Word better and more fully when little boys and girls are reading it, than when it is read by adult persons who are not in the faith of charity. The cause has been told me, and is that little boys and girls are in a state of mutual love and innocence, and thus their most tender vessels are almost heavenly, and are simply capacities for receiving, which therefore can be disposed by the Lord; although this does not come to their perception, except by a certain delight suited to their genius.

It was said by the angels that the Word of the Lord is a dead letter; but that in him that reads it is vivified by the Lord according to the capacity of each one; and that it becomes living according to the life of his charity and his state of innocence, and this with inexpressible variety.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1776

Concerning the Holy Scripture or Word, in Which Are Stored up Divine Things, Which Are Open before Good Spirits and Angels (Continued)

There are spirits who do not desire to hear anything about the interior things of the Word; and even should they understand them, they are still unwilling. They are chiefly those who have placed merit in works, and who therefore have done goods from the love of self and of the world, or for the sake of the rank or wealth to be gained for themselves, and the consequent reputation, thus not for the sake of the Lord’s kingdom. In the other life such desire more than others to enter heaven; but they remain outside of it; for they are unwilling to be imbued with the knowledges of truth, and thereby to be affected with good. They interpret the meaning of the Word from the letter according to their fancies, and by advancing whatever favors their cupidities with its approval.

Such were represented by an old woman who had a face not comely, but of even snowy paleness, with irregular features [cui inerant inordinata], which made her ugly. But those who admit and love the interior things of the Word, were represented by a girl in early maidenhood, or in the flower of youth, handsomely dressed, and adorned with garlands and heavenly ornaments.

I have conversed with certain spirits concerning the Word, saying that it has been necessary that of the Lord’s Divine Providence some revelation should come into existence, for a revelation or Word is the general recipient vessel of spiritual and celestial things, thus conjoining heaven and earth; and that without it they would have been disjoined, and the human race would have perished. And besides it is necessary that there should be heavenly truths somewhere, by which man may be instructed, because he was born for heavenly things, and, after the life of the body, ought to come among those who are heavenly; for the truths of faith are the laws of order in the kingdom in which he is to live forever.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1774-1775

Concerning the Holy Scripture or Word, in Which Are Stored up Divine Things, Which Are Open before Good Spirits and Angels (Continued)

Of the Lord’s Divine mercy I too have been permitted in the same way to see the Lord’s Word in its beauty in the internal sense, and this many times; not as it is while the words are being explained as to the internal sense in detail, but with all things both in general and particular brought together into a single series or connection, which may be said to be the seeing of a heavenly paradise from an earthly one.

Spirits who had found delight and joy in the Word of the Lord during their life in the body, have in the other life a kind of joyous heavenly warmth which it has also been permitted me to feel. The warmth of those who had some measure of this delight was communicated to me. It was like a vernal heat, beginning in the region of the lips, and diffusing itself about the cheeks, and thence as far as the ears, ascending also to the eyes, and descending toward the middle region of the breast.

The warmth of those who had been still more affected by delight in the Word of the Lord, and by the interior things of it which the Lord Himself had taught, was also communicated to me; beginning at the breast it ascended thence toward the chin, and descended toward the loins. The warmth of those who had been even more delighted and affected, was still more interiorly joyous and vernal, extending indeed from the loins upward toward the breast, and thence through the left arm to the hands. I was instructed by the angels that this is really the case, and that the approach of those spirits brings such warmths, although they themselves do not feel them, because they are in them, just as infants, children, and youths are not commonly sensible of their own warmth which they have in greater measure than adults and old people, because they are in it.

I was also made sensible of the warmth of some, who had indeed been delighted with the Word, but had not been solicitous about the understanding of it; their warmth was felt in the right arm only. As regards the warmth: evil spirits also can by their artifices produce a warmth which counterfeits delight, and can communicate it to others; but it is only an external warmth, without an origin from internals. Such warmth is that which putrefies and converts food into excrement, like the heat of adulterers, and that of those who have been immersed in filthy pleasures.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1772-1773

Concerning the Holy Scripture or Word, in Which Are Stored up Divine Things, Which Are Open before Good Spirits and Angels (Continued)

On two occasions afterwards I saw others taken up into the second heaven, among the angelic spirits; and they spoke with me thence while I was reading the third chapter of Deuteronomy from beginning to end. They said that they were solely in the interior sense of the Word; at the same time asserting that there was not a tittle in which there was not a spiritual sense that coheres most beautifully with all the rest, and further that the names signify real things. Thus they too were confirmed; because they had not believed before that each and all things in the Word have been inspired by the Lord; and this they wished to confirm before others by an oath, but it was not permitted.

Certain spirits also were in unbelief concerning the Word of the Lord, as to there being such things stored up in its bosom, or within it; for in the other life spirits are in unbelief like that in which they had been in the life of the body; and this is not dissipated except by means provided by the Lord, and by living experiences. On this account, while I was reading some of the Psalms of David, the deeper insight or mind of these spirits was opened. These were not taken up among angelic spirits. They then perceived the interior things of the Word in those Psalms; and being amazed at them said that they had never believed such things.

The same portion of the Word was then heard by many other spirits; but they all apprehended it in different ways. With some it filled the ideas of their thought with many pleasant and delightful things, thus with a kind of life in accordance with the capacity of each one, and at the same time with an efficacy that penetrated to their inmosts, and this to such a degree with some that they seemed to be uplifted toward the interiors of heaven, and nearer and nearer to the Lord, according to the degree in which they were affected by the truths and the goods therewith injoined.

The Word was then at the same time brought to some who had no apprehension of its internal sense, but only of the external or literal sense; and to them the letter appeared to have no life. From all this it was manifest what the Word is when the Lord fills it with life-that it is of such efficacy that it penetrates to the inmosts; also what it is when He does not fill it with life-that it is then the letter only, with scarcely any life.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1770-1771

Concerning the Holy Scripture or Word, in Which Are Stored up Divine Things, Which Are Open before Good Spirits and Angels (Continued)

A certain spirit came to me not long after his departure from the body, as I was able to infer from the fact that he did not yet know that he was in the other life, but supposed that he was living in the world. It was perceived that he had been devoted to studies, concerning which I spoke with him. But he was suddenly taken up on high; and, surprised at this, I imagined that he was one of those who aspire to high things, for such are wont to be taken up on high; or else that he placed heaven at a great height, for such likewise are often carried up on high, that they may know from experience that heaven is not in what is high, but in what is internal.

But I soon perceived that he was taken up to the angelic spirits, who were in front, a little to the right, at the entrance to heaven. He then spoke with me from thence, saying that he saw things more sublime than human minds could at all comprehend. While this was taking place, I was reading the first chapter of Deuteronomy, about the Jewish people, in that men were sent to explore the land of Canaan and what was in it. While I was reading this, he said that he perceived nothing of the sense of the letter, but the things in the spiritual sense, and that these were wonders which he could not describe.

This was in the first entrance to the heaven of angelic spirits; what wonders then would be perceived in that heaven itself! and what in the angelic heaven!

Certain spirits who were with me, and who before had not believed that the Word of the Lord is of such a nature, then began to repent of their unbelief; they said, in that state, that they believed because they heard the spirit say that he heard, saw, and perceived that it was so.

But other spirits still persisted in their unbelief, and said that it was not so, but that these things were fancies; and therefore they too were suddenly taken up, and spoke with me from thence; and they confessed that it was anything but fancy, because they really perceived that it was so; and by a more exquisite perception indeed than can ever be given to any sense during the life of the body.

Soon others also were taken up into the same heaven, and among them one whom I had known in the life of the body, who testified to the same effect, saying also, among other things, that he was too much amazed to be able to describe the glory of the Word in its internal sense. Then, speaking from a kind of pity, he said that it was strange that men knew nothing at all of such things. He said further that from where he then was he could look most deeply into my thoughts and my affections, and perceived in them more things than he could tell; such as causes, influxes, whence they came, and from whom; the ideas, and how they were mixed with earthly things, and that these were to be wholly separated; besides other things.

from Arcana Coelestia, Section 1769

Concerning the Holy Scripture or Word, in Which Are Stored up Divine Things, Which Are Open before Good Spirits and Angels

When the Word of the Lord is being read by a man who loves the Word and lives in charity, or by a man who from simplicity of heart believes what is written and has not formed principles contrary to the truth of faith which is in the internal sense, it is presented by the Lord before the angels in such beauty and in such pleasantness, with representatives also, and this with inexpressible variety in accordance with all their state at the time, that every particular is perceived as if it had life, which life is that which is in the Word, and from which the Word had birth when it was sent down from heaven. From this cause the Word of the Lord is such, that although in the letter it appears crude, there are stored up in it spiritual and celestial things which lie open before good spirits, and before angels, when the Word is being read by man.

That the Word of the Lord is so presented before good spirits and before angels, it has been given me to hear and to see; and I am therefore permitted to relate the experiences themselves.

from Arcana Coelestia, Sections 1767-1768

There Are Levels of Love and Wisdom, Consequent Levels of Warmth and Light, and also Levels of Atmosphere (Continued)

However, the levels of spiritual warmth cannot be described on the basis of experience because the love to which spiritual warmth corresponds does not fit into the images of our thought. Still, the levels of spiritual light can be described because light does fit. It is actually an attribute of thought. On the basis of levels of light, we can understand levels of spiritual warmth, since warmth and light are comparable levels.

As for the spiritual light that surrounds angels, I have been allowed to see this with my own eyes. For angles of the higher heavens, the light is so brilliant that it is indescribable, even by comparison with the brilliance of snow; and it also has a glow that defies description, even by comparison with the radiant glory of our world’s sun. In short, this light is thousand times greater that the light at noon on earth. The light of angels of the lower heavens can in some measure be described by comparisons, though. Even so, it surpasses the highest level of light on earth.

The reason the light of angels of the higher heavens defies description is that this light is integral to their wisdom. Since their wisdom, relative to ours, is inexpressible, so is their light.

We can tell from these few facts that there are levels of light; and since wisdom and love occur on comparable levels, it follows that there are similar levels of warmth.

Since the atmospheres are what receive and hold warmth and light, it follows that there are as many levels of atmosphere as there are of warmth and light–as many, that is, as there are levels of love and wisdom. An abundance of experience in the spiritual world has shown me that there are several atmospheres, distinguished from each other by level. One kind of experience was especially convincing, namely that angels of lower heavens cannot breathe in the realm of higher angels. They seem to labor for breathe like creatures taken out of the air into ether, or like creatures taken out of water into the air. Then too, the spirits below heaven look as though they were in a cloud.

On the existence of several atmospheres distinguished from each other by levels, See Section 176 above.

from Divine Love and Wisdom, Sections 182-183


Section 176: Published 1/13/2020

There Are Levels of Love and Wisdom, Consequent Levels of Warmth and Light, and also Levels of Atmosphere (Continued)

It is even clearer that there are levels of love and wisdom if we compare angels’ love and wisdom with our love and wisdom. It is generally acknowledged that the wisdom of angels is unutterable, relatively speking, You will see later [ Sections 267, 416] that it is also incomprehensible to us when we are wrapped up in our earthly love. The reason it seems unutterable and incomprehensible is that it is on a higher level.

Since there are levels of love and wisdom, there are levels of warmth and light–warmth and light here meaning spiritual warmth and light as angels experience them in the heavens and as they exist for us in the deeper levels of our minds. This is because we do have warmth of love and a light of wisdom like that of angels.

It is like this in the heavens. The quality and amount of angels; love determine the quality and amount of their warmth, with the same relationship between their wisdom and their light, This is because there is love in their warmth and wisdom in their light, as I have already described [Section 5, 32, 84]. The same holds true for us on earth, but with the difference that angels feel the warmth and see the light, while we do not, the reason being that we are focused on physical warmth and light; and as long as we are, we feel spiritual warmth only as a kind of pleasure of love and see spiritual light only as a kind of sense of what is true.

Since people know nothing about the spiritual warmth and light within them as long as they are focused on physical warmth and light, and since they can know about this only through experience offered by the spiritual world, I need first of all to talk about the warmth and light that surround angels and their heavens. This is the one and only way to shed some light on this matter.

from Divine Love and Wisdom, Sections 180-181


Section 5: Published 4/9/2018

Section 32: Published 4/20/2018

Section 84: Published 6/3/2018