|Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
6 Spiritual Associations
“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” Hebrews 1:7
Heredity and Human Types
Nothing is more plain than the fact that men differ as to the general state of their minds. “Many men, many minds.” But there are also resemblances. All infants and adolescents are in states which are characteristic of their general age. Those of the same race incline to show a common genius. Teachers, laborers, lawyers, business men, show certain traits of mind and attitudes typical of their profession or work. And, besides these distinctions, all individuals may be classified according to temperaments, seemingly inborn yet following no known law of heredity.
Students have therefore observed that every nation or large society includes some people who are predominantly instinctive in their reactions, others who are imaginative and easily influenced by suggestion, others who possess speculative and perhaps fanatical tendencies, and some who are critical, analytic, calculating, or reflective. According to another classification, we find those who are characterized by intellect, those in whom the will is a prominent trait, and those who are action-types, whether they be dull and slow, or excitable and impulsive.
These observed types are seldom pure, and the classes overlap—fortunately. For no one type is perfect in and by itself. The Writings—amplifying the Lord’s saying that in the Heavenly Father’s house there are many mansions—teach that every type of mind is accommodated within the Grand Human Form of the Divine economy: even as many types of cells and tissues are needed to make the human body complete. These types are classified, on the one hand, as belonging to a celestial genius, a spiritual genius, and—in a sense —a natural genius: and, in addition, their diversity is made more complex as men cultivate and develop some one of the degrees of the natural mind—either the sensual-scientific, or the imaginative, or the moral and rational.
Men can modify but not essentially alter the hereditary temperaments of their natural minds. By regeneration, a man can also receive the Lord’s gift of spiritual life in a more and more interior form, and thus the Lord will open within him the degrees of the spiritual mind, which places him in the spiritual or celestial degree of his heaven. But the basic type of his natural mind, the result of heredities and of the social environment, is only to some extent modified by his choosing, and remains to qualify the general state of his spirit. His natural mind is formed, under the auspices of the Divine providence, largely without man’s help, as a vessel receptive of life. He changes its particular states, but not its general state or type. After all, it is only a vessel, a tool for a deeper life. And therefore, in heaven, the natural mind of an angel becomes as it were transparent from the spiritual within.156
If we should ask wherein lies the permanence of a racial type, such as the Chinese or the Semitic, we might receive many answers. The scientist would labor to explain about the strange process of meiosis or reductive division, whereby the hereditary factors in sperm and ovum are varied while the persistent characteristics of the species are preserved. The New Church scientist would wish to allow for gradual changes even in the germ plasm, in each generation—although he might stress that the observable changes of the cell could be responsible only for the physical and not for the spiritual inheritance, which latter cannot be traced according to any Mendelian “laws.” The New Church theologian would be particularly interested in three facts. One is, that hereditary evils, although accumulating, do not seem greatly to alter the type of face or of mind, to judge from the pictures on the palaces of ancient Egypt and the stories of the Old Testament. The second is, that our doctrines intimate that evils of heredity can be modified by a change of religion and by regenerate life. The third is, that life is not inherent in the transmitted germ-plasm, but inflows from the spiritual world.
What a man inherits from his parents is only a vessel of life: but a vessel so ordered that it receives a certain type of influx, or receives life mediated by certain groups of angels and spirits. It is in. the inflowing life that the reality of heredity lies: or, in the spirits and angels which mediate life for the receiving vessel. So far as some other type of life could be received by the germ-plasm, or by the inner organics of the child and man, so far another type of mind (and even of body) would result! This is the reason that heredities can be altered by the life of religion: for religion is the only power that can deeply reorder the spirits and angels about a man, or change such a general state as that of an inherited disposition.167
General states—states rooted in wide groups of societies in the spiritual world—can be changed only by the Lord whose Providence works through ultimate conditions in this world and thus upon all spirits and angels. And the process is slow because the deeper evils of heredity can be modified only with men who are capable of sustaining spiritual temptations. It is therefore inevitable that the general states through which the human race has passed should survive as characteristic traits of disposition, and should crop out in different combinations of hereditary types, each having their roots in different combinations of societies in the spiritual world. It is of Providence that certain forms of mind should be inclined to each other, while others should repel each other. Heredities combine, strengthen or counterbalance each other. Thus are formed races and nations and psychological groups, each receiving the gift of life in a different manner. Behind the choice of a man and the consent—or refusal—of a maid, there lie hidden invisible issues that flamed vast ages ago, and the decision involves the compatibility of the spiritual uses of societies in the other world.
The Divine truth is one and indivisible. It is the one essential reality behind creation. It exists as Law, spiritual law and natural law. This law is one, the same for all, whether men differ about it or not. In the Writings, the Divine law is stated in the form of doctrine adapted to rational comprehension. But that law, the one Divine truth, is older than the Writings, older than the Scriptures. It is eternal—the Word which was in the beginning.
The Divine truth is one. Yet there have been many religions on earth. An incomplete census taken in 1956 of sixty-eight million reported church-adherents in the United States of America records one hundred and fourteen religious organizations, most of them with varied doctrines. A denomination generally represents a general state, which has taken from various sources whatever religious truth that state is adapted to receive, and has rejected any truth which it is not able to admit: and in place of rejected truth there usually come falsified truth and a contorted perception of the whole.
The same holds true of each individual man. His religious perception is according to his state. He sees only one phase of the Divine truth at a time. He is not to blame for this: although he may be to blame for some particular states in which his perception is thus obscured—states which he may have invited. He is not responsible for general states. When a child he cannot be expected to see with the mind of an adult. If he was born and raised a Protestant, or a gentile, he cannot see the truth as the New Church man sees it.
As a man grows up, he passes through many general states. His faith is at first imitative and blindly literalistic. Later, his faith becomes imaginative, emotional, perhaps enthusiastic. Afterwards, it turns critically upon itself, becomes analytic and at length rational. At each stage there are truths which cannot be received: at least he cannot see them except in a symbolic way, or only in their most general form. Religion means different things for different ages as well as for different races.
Some years ago a psychologist suggested that since each religion fills the need of some special mood or instinct, we should really, in our progression through life, change our religion at each stage. He also classified various religions as especially satisfying to certain psychological types. This man was a pessimist as to religion. He believed that creeds were only wish-thoughts, that no one could ever contact the one and indivisible Divine truth. The New Church man of course knows that human states limit the reception of that Divine truth. But he also knows that all normal and orderly human states can receive something of that Divine truth without rejecting the rest, and that a true religion has in it that which can guide and feed these normal states without encouraging what is disorderly and evil: i.e., without stooping to falsehoods or fantasies.
Universality of the New Church
The New Church is a religion of universal application. It is adaptable to the needs of all states. It must provide leadership and instruction for all normal human types, and provide uses—spiritual uses—for all and benefits for every age. Yet it does not cater to morbid states. The New Church cannot satisfy the neurotic demands of those who would feed on the sensational, or be maintained in the good life only by the thought that they are ‘chosen of God’ or by some religious frenzy or some special earthly reward. It cannot encourage the “escapers” who retreat as recluses from worldly duties or social obligations. Nor can it be content— like so many—to substitute a moral life for a spiritual! It cannot permit the individual to evade responsibility by placing the power of salvation or the prerogative of truth-seeking in the hands of priests. It cannot pretend that rituals are more than gates to the spiritual life. It avoids appealing to merely natural affections in men, although realizing their place and value. For the New Church seeks rationally to restore the balance, the normal state of mind in which truths and uses can be seen in their progressive aspects, so that there is no false sophistication which contemptuously rejects ancient truths, nor any idolatry of traditions just because they are old; no stagnation; no disproportionate emphasis which shall sidetrack the people of the Church into such temperamental eddies as are represented by the many denominations of the present day.
The growth of mankind required that there should have been true religions in the past which were sufficient to the needs of those times. The Most Ancient Church, the Ancient Church, and the Christian, were, each in their day of flower, true religions. Yet they were of a preparatory character, and do not reach to all the normal states of a mankind fully matured. It is in a manner true that our race, as it grew into new states, did change its religion. And so, in the New Church, we go back to the true religions of the past for the needs of those progressive states which every man experiences as he grows up. The body of Divine revelation through which we receive instruction and where we see the presence of the Lord, is the Word of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings. We teach our younger children the stories of Creation and of the Flood—symbolic truth, which is truth to them. We give the next age the Commandments and the moral truth as accommodated to the Hebrews—an adaptation of the laws of charity that they can understand, a lesson in justice and obedience. The parables and the morality of the Gospels are particularly adapted to the state of puberty. And in adolescence, the gradual introduction to the Writings commences. The internal sense, the angelic Word, is then grasped as doctrine, first as to relatively external and general teachings, but gradually as to the more interior. In the Writings heavenly truths, natural, spiritual, and celestial, are laid open, and each adult may take what serves to feed his state, according to the capacity and elevation of his thought.
Each successive stage of life thus has its religion! Yet the religions of childhood, youth, and age, are the same, comprised within the one Divine truth; indivisible, yet such that it accommodates itself to all ages and types and states.
It is for this reason that the Heavenly Doctrine, the spiritual sense of the Word which is now revealed in the Writings, can in the spiritual world become a source of light to all races and nations, that is, to spirits of all types. Yet so far as falsities of religion have been deeply impressed by accustomed life on earth, the light of truth can be received only in a very partial way. The whole spiritual world is ordered—-society after society—according to the ways and degrees in which the light of Divine truth is received in the understanding and in life. There are heavens formed from those in all nations and religions, past and present, Gentile and Christian. Such heavens are in varying degrees of spiritual light. But central to all is the New Christian Heaven, where the Word is the source of all doctrine and light. There are spirits in the world of spirits, from all types and states, whose light is relatively obscure or clear or shifting. There are also— formed out of the evil in all religions and nations—many hells where spiritual light is absent just in proportion to the evil states which they confirmed within themselves; and the light of fantasy takes its place, a sensual lumen in which all things appear distorted and confused. For evil spirits see things in the light of their ambitions and wishes; not as they really are. They see themselves as wise, they see their own states as orderly and every one else’s as insane—until the light of heaven is let in to dispel their fantasy.
Now all the life and thought that man has comes from the spiritual world, through such spirits as are with him. His mental light which should give clarity to his ideas, is obscure or bright according to his spiritual associations. He will be in a state of spiritual illustration if he is closely associated with the New Christian Heaven where the Lord is fully revealed in His Divine Human.158 But so far as he departs from the societies of spirits who communicate with this heaven, so far his mind is dimmed as to all spiritual things, although it may still be quite clear and indeed brilliant in worldly affairs.
The New Church on earth is established that it may be associated with the New Christian Heaven and partake of its spiritual illustration. Indeed, the New Heaven is the internal whence alone the New Church can increase.158 The New Church can grow only in proportion to its conjunction with the New Heaven. And therefore the Lord, who rules all things from primes through ultimates, has provided means for this conjunction. The conjunction itself is that of love and charity, for these alone conjoin. But the means of the conjunction are ultimates in the minds of men, ultimates of thought which will have meaning and special value to those spirits who are associated with the New Christian Heaven.
The Power of Baptism
The Lord has ordained two sacraments, Baptism and the Holy Supper, as the ultimates of all spiritual order with men. Order is the opposite of confusion. Order calls for distinctions. There would be no real freedom in a state of confusion. This is the reason why all in the spiritual world are distinguished according to their religions. Moreover, all of the same religion are arranged into societies according to affections of love to God and to the neighbor—and their opposites. “On the distinct arrangement there, the preservation of the whole universe depends !”159
It is of order, also, that spirits of alien religions—such as the Mohammedan and those of idolaters—should not apply themselves to the infants or children of Christians and infuse into them an inclination for such religions, and thus draw them away and alienate them from Christianity. For this would be to distort and destroy spiritual order and would create utter confusion and internal conflict in the mind of the child, preventing any orderly development of progressive states. And what holds true with infants, is true also with adults.
By Baptism a sign is placed upon a man that he belongs to the church. The experience of the baptismal rite—the promises of the man or, with the child, of his parents, the sensation of the water, the words of the sacred text, the sign of the cross, the act of benediction by the laying on of hands —enters deeply into the memory, and (whether consciously or unconsciously) remains there indelibly to color every idea which the mind later comes to entertain. This connection of ideas is seen by every spirit at his first approach to man. By virtue of the correspondence of water, and of washing, to truth and especially the truth of repentance, baptism becomes the ultimate in the mind for spirits who are being instructed in truth and who in the other life are being introduced into the doctrine and life of the New Heaven. It becomes a sign in the spiritual world, that the man is of Christians. And the spirit of man is therefore, by this sacrament, inserted among societies and congregations there “according to the quality of the Christianity in him or around him (extra illum).”160
Not the water, or the act alone, constitutes the Baptism: but the intention associated with the act. No spirit is a witness to the act itself. But spiritual beings who are with us see the associated thoughts in the minds of the one baptized and of the priest and witnesses—see all the ideas which have ever been adjoined to the idea of the ritual itself. If priest and witnesses adjoin the ideas of a Trinity of Divine Persons, of a vicarious atonement by sufferings, or of a salvation by faith only, then the act of baptism effects an introduction— in this world and among spirits—into the assembly of those who so believe. But if the ritual arouses in priest and witnesses the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God, and if the ideas that are associated are from the Heavenly Doctrine and thus conjoined with an acknowledgment of the Lord’s second advent, then it makes for an introduction into the New Jerusalem, into the New Church and the New Heaven. The memory of the baptism will be the lasting focus of all these suggested ideas: all will be recalled to spirits when the baptism is recalled; and all are invitations to such spirits to be with the man, a cloud of unseen witnesses: and there will be a connection established between all the new experiences that the man absorbs and the initial ideas centering around the material fact of baptism. Such spirits are a protective sphere around the man, keeping him in the general state of his own religion.
The baptismal ceremony as such is only a natural event. Our remembrance of it is centered about the material ideas of the water, the washing, the cross. But, as was noted previously, Swedenborg testifies that while a man thinks, his material ideas are as it were in the midst of a wave of such things as are adjoined in the memory—all that was ever known on the subject; and thus the full thought, not the material idea, is apparent to the spirits about him. Swedenborg likens that surrounding wave of associations to spiritual wings by which the thing thought of is elevated out of the memory, and is endowed with meaning and value.161 And something of this is interiorly meant when the Lord said to Moses, about the exodus from Egypt: “I bare you on eagle’s wings, and brought you unto Myself”; and the same is suggested when He lamented: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not !”162
By Baptism the Lord does gather His children together under the protective sphere of the New Heaven. This sphere is a sphere of spiritual thought and affection. It guards, but does not compel. It aids, through our spiritual associates, to ward off alien spirits. At any time we are free to break away from its gentle gyres, and—by focussing our life and thought on ultimates that are opposed to it, on falsities or on things that are symbolic of evil—we can enter by degrees into other spiritual connections, if these are more accordant with our life’s delight. But so far as we freely allow the sphere of the New Heaven to be with us, there is freedom also to progress in accordance with our choice; there is a leading into greater illustration, spiritual clarity, and wisdom; there is the possibility of the more and more interior fulfilment of what Baptism involves, the realization of the meaning of the new order of the spiritual world, and of the truth that the Lord reigneth.
New book: Starting Science from God.
Posted on May 25, 2017 | | |