The Meaning of the Bread and the Wine

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart. (PSA 104:14,15)

  1. One of the most important and basic concepts of the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Church is the idea that when good is conjoined to its appropriate truth, it is like a marriage.
  2. Because the bread and wine of the Holy Supper are also symbols of good and truth they remind us of the marriage of good and truth.
  3. When good and truth are conjoined, or married, in our minds, it brings the Lord more closely present with us. So we say that the bread and wine of the Holy supper together represent the Lord’s presence with us.
  4. The bread and wine = the Divine Human of the Lord.
  5. The bread = His Divine Celestial
  6. The wine = His Divine Spiritual
  7. Consequently, together they = his love towards all humans — and the love of humans to the Lord — reciprocal conjunction.[1]
  8. And in general, that is true enough but a closer examination shows that there is more.
  9. In their discussion of the bread and wine of the holy supper, the Writings frequently use the terms “celestial” and “spiritual.”
  10. In this context, the word “celestial” means having to do with the celestial kingdom (as opposed to the celestial, or highest, heaven).
  11. Every human being has been created with both a will and understanding. Since they cannot be of exactly equal influence in our lives, we are of a “celestial” genius if the will predominates, and a “spiritual” genius when the things of the understanding predominate.  However, just because one predominates over the other, it does not mean that the lesser does not have its effect as well; just because the will predominates, for example, it does not mean that one is without intelligence.
  12. The celestial kingdom encompasses all those for whom things of love are the most important, and for whom the things of truth are servants of their loves. There are angels of the celestial kingdom in all the heavens.  In the same way, “spiritual” has to do with the spiritual kingdom of heaven, and relates to all those for whom the things of truth come first.
  13. Therefore, when the Writings say something like, “bread represents celestial things”[2], it means that bread has generally to do with the things of affection, or love, that is, good, and when they say that “wine represents spiritual things”[3] it means that wine has generally to do with the things of the understanding, that is, truth.

III.             This external symbol [the Holy Supper] was commanded, because the greatest part of the human race are in external worship; therefore, without something external, there would be nothing holy with them.[4]

  1. In general, bread corresponds to good. The Heavenly Doctrines explain the reason for this correspondence in this way:
  2. The food derived from trees, and more especially from the grain harvests of the field, corresponds to affections for good and truth, because these affections feed the spiritual life, as the food of the earth does the natural life; and bread from grain, in a general sense, because it is the food that specially sustains life, and because it stands for all food, corresponds to an affection for all good.
  3. It is on account of this correspondence that the Lord calls Himself the “bread of life”; and that loaves of bread had a holy use in the Israelitish Church, being placed on the table in the tabernacle and called “the bread of faces;” also the Divine worship that was performed by sacrifices and burnt offerings was called “bread.” Moreover, because of this correspondence the most holy act of worship in the Christian Church is the Holy Supper, in which bread is given, and wine.[5]
  4. Bread signifies every good that nourishes the spiritual life of man, thus it signifies all heavenly and spiritual food.
  5. a) Spiritual food is knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom thus the good and truth from which these are.
  6. b) Therefore, every thing that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord is spiritual food.
  7. Bread means food in general, it signifies every good, celestial and spiritual.
  8. a) And because these things nourish the mind which belongs to the internal man.
  9. b) So bread, which commonly represents good, when viewed in its inmost meaning, also represents truth, for it is by means of truth that good is communicated to us by the Lord.
  10. Wine
  11. Throughout the Word, and especially in the Gospels, fruits are symbols of the good works that people do. The following quotation is typical of the way the Lord used the image of fruitfulness in the Word:
  12. a) You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.[6]
  13. In the gospel account of the crucifixion wine plays an important part.
  14. a) In Mark, He refuses wine mixed with Myrrh, because it represents the Divine truth mixed with the falsifications of the Jewish Church.
  15. b) In John, He accepts “sour wine” because it represents truth as it is with the Gentiles, which, although not entirely correct, comes from a good heart and can lead to the good of life.
  16. We know that wine, in general, represents spiritual things[7], so we can see that wine, because it comes from grapes, which are fruit, represents the spiritual things, or faith, that come from living the life of charity.[8] In fact, we could say that the bread and wine are simply manifestations of the Lord’s inflowing life on different levels.  When the Lord’s life is received in the celestial degree, it is perceived as good, or the bread of life.  When it continues down, passing through the celestial degree into the spiritual, it shows itself as something spiritual, that is, truth.  The Divine Life is its inmost; celestial good its first clothing, and spiritual truth its next.
  17. When we read about wine in the Word, or when we receive it during the Holy Supper, the angels who are with us do not think about the wine itself, but instead they think about what the wine represents. They think about charity towards the neighbor.[9]
  18. a) This means that instead of thinking about the bread and wine as representing “good” and “truth,” it would be more accurate for us to think of them as representing “love” and “charity.”
  19. Celestial love is love to the Lord, and is represented by bread. Spiritual love is love to the Neighbor, represented by wine.
  20. Celestial love shows itself through Spiritual love, that is, we express our love to the Lord, our obedience to His will, not by doing good to Him, but by doing good to our neighbor:
  21. Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me[10].
  22. As with the bread, which turned out to represent both good and truth, so we find that wine, too, carries element of both good and truth. Its source is good, it takes form as truth, but only lives in the human mind when it goes forth and expresses itself as good deeds done to the neighbor for the Lord’s sake.
  23. What should we think about when receiving the bread and the wine in the Holy Supper?
  24. The … person who has a holy mind, when he receives the bread in the Holy Supper … does not think of the bread but of the Lord and His mercy, and of the things which constitute love to Him and charity towards the neighbor, because he is thinking about repentance and amendment of life. … It is similar when wine is … received in the Holy Supper. In this case [the person does] not think at all of wine but of charity towards the neighbor.  This being so, and since man in this way is linked to heaven and through heaven to the Lord, bread and wine have been made the symbols and unite a person who leads a holy life to heaven, and through heaven to the Lord.[11] Amen.


First Lesson:  PSA 104:1-15

Bless the LORD, O my soul!  O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, {2} Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain. {3} He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, {4} Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire. {5} You who laid the foundations of the earth, So that it should not be moved forever, {6} You covered it with the deep as with a garment; The waters stood above the mountains. {7} At Your rebuke they fled; At the voice of Your thunder they hastened away. {8} They went up over the mountains; They went down into the valleys, To the place which You founded for them. {9} You have set a boundary that they may not pass over, That they may not return to cover the earth. {10} He sends the springs into the valleys, They flow among the hills. {11} They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild donkeys quench their thirst. {12} By them the birds of the heavens have their home; They sing among the branches. {13} He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works. {14} He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, {15} And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.  Amen.

Second Lesson:  Mat 7:9-21

“Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? {10} “Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? {11} “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! {12} “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. {13} “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. {14} “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. {15} “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. {16} “You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? {17} “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} “Therefore by their fruits you will know them. {21} “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Amen.

Third Lesson:  AC 3316 [3]

That ‘pottage’ or soup means a massing together may be seen also from what is said about the sons of the prophets and Elisha in the Book of Kings, Elisha came again to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land.  And the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, and he said to his servant, Set on the great pot, and boil pottage for the sons of the prophets.  And one of them went out into the field to gather herbs and found a wild vine, and gathered from it wild gourds his lap full, and came and cut them up into the pot of pottage, for they did not know [what they were].  And they poured out for the men to eat.  And it happened, while they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out and said, There is death in the pot, O man of God!  And they could not eat it.  And he said, Then bring flour.  And he threw it into the pot, and said, Pour out for the people.  And they ate, and there was no harm in the pot. 2 Kings 4:38-41.

In the internal sense these words have an altogether different meaning from what they do in the sense of the letter, that is to say, ‘a famine in the land’ means a dearth of cognitions of good and truth; ‘the sons of the prophets’ means those who teach; ‘pottage’ facts badly massed together; ‘flour’ truth which is obtained from good, or that which is spiritual obtained from that which is celestial.  Thus the description of Elisha throwing the flour into the pot, at which point it ceased to contain anything harmful, means that those facts, massed together so, were put right by means of spiritual truth from the Lord’s Word – for ‘Elisha’ represented the Lord as to the Word. Amen.


[1]AC 2830

[2]AC 1727

[3]AC 1727

[4]AC 2165:5

[5]HH 111

[6]MAT 7:16-20

[7]AC 1727

[8]See AC 1071

[9]See AC 4217

[10]MAT 25:40

[11]AC 4217:2

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem
Author:  Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page updated October 21, 2008

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