Rational and Moral Wisdom

Rational and Moral Wisdom

      A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself. (Genesis 24:64, 65)

The general topic of today’s sermon is marriage. The particular aspect of marriage that we will consider is the conjunction that can take place between a husband and wife when together they look to the Lord, and shun evils as sins. It is important that we take the time to remind ourselves about these things now and again, for without some spiritual refreshment we may find that the idealistic view that we originally had has been eroded by time and the cares of the world. The Writings themselves put it this way:

Take as an example the conjugial, which in the beginning some one regards as heavenly, but afterwards one of the married partners or both of them suffer themselves to be persuaded that it is only for the sake of order in the world, and for the education and individual care of children, and for the sake of inheritance; and further that the bond of marriage is nothing but a matter of compact, which may be dissolved or relaxed by either party, provided that it is done by consent; the result being that after he has received this persuasion the individual has no heavenly idea of marriage. (AC4171:4)

In other words, unless we continually refresh ourselves with the ideals of love truly conjugial, we are in danger of allowing the weight of the cares of everyday life deprive us of the delights that we once felt when we were first married. We may be tempted to no longer think of marriage as a heavenly gift from a loving God, but instead think of it as a form imposed on men and women by society for the sake of order in society, for producing children, and for passing on properties acquired during life. We may become bored, and begin to daydream about how we would change our lives if we were free of these oppressive obligations. We may even have fantasies about ending the marriage. These are states brought on by those particular hells that love to destroy marriage. We need to be aware of them so that we can fight them, and, with the Lord’s help, defeat them. We can be thankful that the Lord has given us a way to conquer these hellish inclinations: rational and moral wisdom.

In order to see how rational and moral wisdom can supply our spiritual needs and protect the spheres of marriage with us, we must first have a clear picture of what rational and spiritual wisdom are. As we all well know, wisdom is not just acquired knowledge and experience. It is knowledge and experience brought into life. Our lesson from the Old Testament today speaks to this very point in the internal sense. Rebekah represents the affection of truth. Her brother Laban, with whom she lived and was therefore distantly conjoined, represents the natural man. The camel on which she was riding represents memory-knowledges, the facts about the natural world and life in it that we learn without discrimination, without reflection. When Rebekah gets down off the camel, it represents a state of separation. When these ideas are all brought together, the internal sense tells us that the affection of truth (Rebekah) is separated from the natural man (Laban) when the natural man no longer guides his life simply from memory-knowledges, but instead he lives according to truths that are a part of his life. This new state is represented by Rebekah’s new husband, Isaac. What this means when applied to life is that when we are first learning a new skill, we find it quite difficult and it requires our full attention, but once we have mastered it, we can do it without thinking. Touch-typing and driving a car are two common examples.

It works in a similar way with the knowledges of spiritual good and truth with people who are being regenerated by the Lord. At first we are like children, and spiritual truths are like memory-knowledges (for example the fact that water corresponds to truth is in itself a spiritual truth, but the phrase can be learned by little children as a memory-knowledge to be later infilled with meaning to become a spiritual truth with them). In order for adults learn deep doctrinal truths, the truths from the Lord through the Word must first enter the mind as memory-knowledges. Once in the mind, however, the Lord uses them, associates them with affections and remains, and eventually, in secret ways, they are implanted by the Lord in a person’s life, that is, in their will.

When this happens, there is a turning point in our lives, for we no longer act only from truth, but instead we now act from the good that is associated with the truth. So, we can see that there is a parallel between the states of regeneration and the states of growth from childhood to old age: We act first from simple facts, then from the delights we have come to associate with living according to the Lord’s truth, and then finally from charity itself. When a person no longer acts from what is doctrinal, but from charity, he is then for the first time in wisdom.

The Heavenly Doctrines further distinguish between kinds of wisdom, in particular, they define Rational and Moral wisdom especially in relation to the conjunction of husband and wife in a heavenly marriage. Rational wisdom belongs to the understanding alone. In general, it is known as science, intelligence, and wisdom. In particular it is known as rationality, judgment, genius, and learning, and its application is familiar according to its use in various offices, such as those of the priesthood, the government, the courts of law, soldiers, farmers, shopkeepers, and so forth. Also included are all those subjects which are studied at universities for the purpose of giving form and structure to the mind, such as Philosophy, Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, History, and so forth. In general, rational wisdom has to do with the application of pure thought to theoretical problems and the discussion of the probable results of possible actions.

On the other hand, moral wisdom belongs to the understanding and at the same time to life. Again, a few examples will serve to illustrate the point. These are some of the virtues which pertain to moral wisdom: Temperance, Benevolence, Friendship, Modesty, Sincerity, Readiness to Serve, Courtesy, Diligence, Industry, Cheerfulness, Generosity, Courage, Prudence, and so forth.

Having briefly described the difference between rational wisdom and moral wisdom, we can now consider the function of rational and moral wisdom in a marriage. We know that the mind is opened in a series of changes that take place from infancy to old age. At first an infant lives totally in the world of the bodily senses, so we say that a person is born corporeal. When the next degree is developed and opened, we say that he becomes rational. As this degree is by stages purified of the falsities and confusion that enter from bodily sense and the delights of the flesh, the rational is opened. This opening of the rational degree is done solely by means of truths lived, that is, by means of wisdom. Then, when the interiors of the rational mind are opened, then the person becomes a form of wisdom – a form which is suitable to receive love truly conjugial. The wisdom which makes this form and receives this love is rational and at the same time moral. Rational wisdom regards the truths and goods which appear interiorly in a person, not as his own but as flowing in from the Lord; and moral wisdom shuns evils and falsities as leprosies, shunning especially things lascivious which contaminate its conjugial love.

As the husband and wife individually and together fight their battles with evil and shun sins they will draw ever closer to the Lord and His kingdom. As they draw closer to the Lord, they must also draw closer to each other as their states of conjunction grow, and there are more and more affections of good and knowledges of truth that they share with each other.

The importance of developing rational and moral wisdom becomes even more clear when we see that the conjugial relationship, the inmost conjunction of a husband and wife, depends on rational and moral wisdom, for a wife is conjoined to the rational wisdom of her husband “from within,” and to his moral wisdom “from without.”

Rational wisdom is what we might call “typically masculine thought,” the kind of exercise where argument is added to argument, seemingly without end or purpose. The Heavenly Doctrines call this a particularly masculine trait, and further state that women seldom take part in such discussions – because they are seen as pointless. Frequently, the wives have already perceived the solution and are wondering what is taking the men so long. And yet we must be very careful not to hold this process in ridicule for it is important that the rational be exercised and truths be examined in detail and in their relationship to each other. This dedication to examining truths and their relationship to each other before they are brought into the life is precisely what attracts a true wife to her husband’s mind. This is what is meant when the Writings say that a wife is a form of love of her husband’s wisdom. While she may not wish to do it herself, she loves and respects her husband to the extent that he searches out new truths to bring into their marriage and life and struggles to see their relationship one to another.

Rational things are what make up the husband’s understanding, while things pertaining to moral wisdom make up his will. It is the things of his will, the love and desire he has for bringing truth into his life, that the wife can share with him, and actually make her own, for they are one with her own life. In fact, they are so close to her own life that it is said that the wife knows these virtues in a man better than the man knows them in himself.

When a wife seeks to have her moral wisdom conjoined with the moral wisdom of her husband, that is, when a wife seeks to be one with her husband in their life’s decisions, she is given a perception of the affections that are present with her husband. The wife is then able to use this intimate, tender knowledge of her husband to gently lead and guide him in the path indicated by his reasonings, at the same time protecting him from wild deviations from their path in life. He is the guardian of the truth, she the guardian of its application to life. In this, they are one, conjoined. In confirmation and illustration of this, we close with this passage from Conjugial Love 137 which is a portion of Swedenborg’s conversation with the married couple that appeared as a little child when seen from a distance:

“We have been married for centuries now,” they said, “and we have remained continually in this bloom of youth in which you see us.

“At first our state was similar to the initial state of a maiden and youth when they first come together in marriage. Moreover, we believed at the time that that state was the most blissful state we could experience in life. But we were told by others in our heaven, and we afterwards perceived for ourselves, that it was a state of heat not yet tempered with light. We found that it is gradually tempered as the husband is perfected in wisdom and as the wife grows to love that wisdom in her husband, which is achieved through and according to the useful services which each of them performs in society with the other’s help. We also found that new delights then follow as heat and light or wisdom and its accompanying love are tempered each with the other.

“A seemingly springlike warmth wafted over you when we approached because in our heaven conjugial love and that warmth go hand in hand. … For men were created to be receivers of light from the Lord, meaning the light of wisdom, and women were created to be receivers of warmth from the Lord, meaning the warmth of love for the wisdom in a man.” (CL 137: port.)


First Lesson: GEN 24:50-67

Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing comes from the LORD; we cannot speak to you either bad or good. {51} “Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as the LORD has spoken.” {52} And it came to pass, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, that he worshiped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth. {53} Then the servant brought out jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother. {54} And he and the men who were with him ate and drank and stayed all night. Then they arose in the morning, and he said, “Send me away to my master.” {55} But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.” {56} And he said to them, “Do not hinder me, since the LORD has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master.” {57} So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask her personally.” {58} Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” {59} So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. {60} And they blessed Rebekah and said to her: “Our sister, may you become The mother of thousands of ten thousands; And may your descendants possess The gates of those who hate them.” {61} Then Rebekah and her maids arose, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed. {62} Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South. {63} And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming. {64} Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; {65} for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself. {66} And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. {67} Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Second Lesson: Mat 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ {39} “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. {40} “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. {41} “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. {42} “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. {43} “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ {44} “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, {45} “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? {47} “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? {48} “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Third Lesson: CL 130:1, 4

130. …Wisdom … has to do with both reason and life together. It is on the way to becoming wisdom when it is a matter of reason first and consequently of life; but it is wisdom when it has become a matter of life first and consequently of reason.

The most ancient people in this world did not acknowledge any other wisdom than wisdom of life.

[4] Since wisdom is, as we said above, a matter of life first and consequently of reason, the question arises, what wisdom of life is. In brief summary, it is this: to refrain from evils because they are harmful to the soul, harmful to the civil state, and harmful to the body, and to do good things because they are of benefit to the soul, to the civil state, and to the body.

This is the wisdom that is meant by the wisdom to which conjugial love attaches itself. For it attaches itself through wisdom’s shunning the evil of adultery as a pestilence injurious to the soul, to the civil state, and to the body. And because this wisdom springs from spiritual concerns which have to do with the church, it follows that conjugial love depends on the state of the church in a person, because it depends on the state of his wisdom. This also means, as we have frequently said before, that a person is in a state of truly conjugial love to the degree that he becomes spiritual. For a person becomes spiritual through the spiritual things of the church.

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