Evil as no independent force
Another way, to have confidence in the Source, is to not exaggerate any power of evil. I favour the idea that evil, although real enough in its effects if given reign, does not really exist in its own right. In other words, social injustice, pain, misery have never been inevitable. What is chaotic and disorderly comes about because people at times have chosen to stand good on its head. I see the evil of suffering, and hatred as the tragic rejection and thus absence of orderliness, contentment and compassion. In fact, the inversion of all that is good.
I would like to suggest that the cause of chaos and disorder is not an evil power that some religions have sometimes, and mistakenly in my view, referred to as the Devil. Instead, an atmosphere of evil originates in the way humans sometimes have freely chosen to behave.
“It is human spiritual disorders like lust, vengeance, cruelty and oppression that incubate disease and misfortune.” (Bruce Henderson, Swedenborgian writer)
I happen to hold the view that disease and natural disasters are due to the negative side of this spiritual environment around us. Let us then all try to not feed its influence. We could instead turn towards the spirit of love. This is shown by the outpouring of service and kindness in the wake of disasters. Seeing others suffer can help us to be more sensitive and merciful.
We have the potential to be a vehicle for both good and evil. In very trying times, putting one’s hope in the Source of love is not easy. But we all have a part to play in turning back towards Love Itself and helping with its plan to bring happiness in the world.
Copyright 2019 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
“The person who follows the Lord in freedom is led by Him out of evil into good, and thus into Heaven.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Married Love 444
“Evil spirits never fight against things other than those which a person loves.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 1820
“It [is] impossible for any good to take root in a person except in their freedom, for that which does not take root in freedom is dispelled at the first sign of evil and of temptation. “
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 3854
Verse of the Day
for Saturday, January 27, 2018
“Since the Lord’s face is mercy, peace, and all good, it is clear that He always looks with mercy on anybody, and never turns His face away from anybody. Instead it is mankind, when governed by evil, who turns away their face.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 233
THE SCIENCE OF CORRESPONDENCE
“Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”—Psalm xcvi. 6.
STRENGTH and beauty are the two essential elements of a noble manhood and of a beautiful womanhood. They are combined in man and woman in different proportions. Man has more of strength, woman more of beauty. But all true manhood has its beauty, and all genuine womanhood its strength. Rough, naked strength has no comeliness, and weakness no beauty. But combined in due proportion and modified by each other, they become the charm of character and the cause of that attraction which draws human beings together and makes them a delight to each other.
These two primary qualities of all human excellence, strength and beauty, are in the Lord’s sanctuary. His sanctuary is in man’s will and understanding, and derivatively in his affections and thoughts. The will and the understanding are the grand temple in which the Lord dwells ; the affections and thoughts the chapels of various form and use in which the precious gifts of strength and beauty are received from Him and appropriated by man. When the sanctuary is pure, free from evil lusts and false principles, life from the Lord is received in its own perfect forms, in all its purity, sweetness, and harmony, and then it becomes ”the beauty of holiness,” in which we are to praise and worship the Lord. This beauty of holiness becomes “the dew of youth,” an influence which gives the freshness, the innocence, and the beauty of youth to all the faculties of the mind, and to the forms of that body which we are to inhabit forever. Zion, which is called by the Lord Himself ” the perfection of beauty, ” represents in general the same principles in man as “sanctuary.” Zion is man’s heart, Jerusalem his understanding ; and it is this Zion, the perfection of beauty, which the Lord exhorts to awake, to shake herself from the dust, and to put on her beautiful garments. Here, then, we have the source of human beauty revealed to us, and the way of access to it pointed out. Its well-spring is in the heart, in the affections. It takes on its forms and colors in the understanding, and comes out in substantial reality in bodily forms and actions. Beauty in its highest qualities is represented as attainable, and we are exhorted to make it our own, to put it on as a garment, to pray that ” the beauty of the Lord our God” may be upon us.
The beauty of the Lord, the supreme and infinite type of all beauty, has its origin in His Divine love, and its form and qualities in the Divine wisdom. Man was created in the image and likeness of God. He was made to be a sharer of the supreme beauty. The Lord is in the constant effort to endow us with this beauty, and we are clothed with it in the degree that we become partakers of those Divine qualities which are the essence and cause of beauty.
Regard beauty, of which we propose to speak at the present time, in any sense you please, in its lowest and most sensuous, or its highest and most interior qualities ; beauty of form, or color, or motion,—in all cases it is the expression of some affection or interior grace. All beauty is spiritual in its origin. The beauty of a material object consists in its meaning, in what it says to us of something more excellent than itself. The beauty of a flower, of a tree, of a winding stream, or of a landscape consists in what it suggests to us of something higher than itself, because it is the form of that higher quality. The beauty of the material world is an effect which expresses the excellence of its spiritual cause.
This must be so from the very nature of the relation between cause and effect. Every cause seeks to reproduce and express itself, in all its qualities, in lower forms. Innocence, purity, and loveliness of character must tend to express themselves in lovely forms. When we reflect that the material universe is the embodiment of the Divine love and wisdom in material substances, we can see why it is that there is so much beauty in the world. Every material object and living thing has a beauty of some kind. Even the weeds that cumber the fields, the thorn and the thistle, which men regard as a curse for sin, the insect which stings and poisons us, the degraded reptile, and the wild beast which tears and devours, have some beauty of form or structure or color or motion. Perverted forms as they are of the Divine loveliness, they still bear some trace of its impress.
If we find traces of the beauty of the Lord in the lowest things, we may expect to find it more fully embodied in the highest, and our expectations will not be disappointed. We shall find it in its perfection in the human face and form. Here also we can see how the outward beauty is the effect and expression of inward and spiritual beauty. This would follow as a necessary result from the fact that the material body is cast into the mould of the spirit. The spirit has fashioned it. The spirit is the potter, and the body is clay in its hands, which it is constantly acting upon to mould into its own likeness. This is true of the material body in the first years of our existence, and of the spiritual body in every stage of our being. There are, in general, two kinds of human beauty : beauty in its essence or cause, and beauty in its expression. All beauty has its origin in love and its expression in truth. A pure and innocent affection in the will, united with genuine truth in the understanding, cannot fail of producing beautiful effects.
We must not forget that love and truth are not abstractions. They are the most potent forces that act upon the spiritual or the material body. We are penetrated by them ; we live and move and have our being in them. The material body is constantly subject to their action, has its life from them. There is a force constantly present in water, and in all matter, which forms it into spheres when the matter assumes a fluid state and is left free to move. So there is in the very nature and activities of the Divine love and the Divine truth, from which we receive all our life, a tendency to the human form and an active influence to make that form as noble and beautiful as possible. Thus those very forces and principles which are the essence and cause of all beauty are constantly acting upon us to make our faces and forms and motions the complete correspondents and embodiments of their nature. Thus the Divine forces which give us life tend to mould us into every form of beauty, in thesame way and according to the same immutable law by which the Divine forces in nature tend to make material forms beautiful. All that we have to do to become more and more beautiful is to co-operate with these forces, to let them have free play through us, and to supply them with the right kind of materials for their workmanship. The first thing we are to do is to exercise pure, innocent, heavenly affections. Without this it is impossible to become more beautiful than we are, or to retain what we may have received from hereditary influences. The beauty of youth, of mere surface and complexion, will fade like a flower. There must be some inherent, vital, and unfailing source which supplies natural wastes with finer and more substantial substances, and replenishes them with perennial freshness and moulds them into a lovelier beauty. The quality and degree of our beauty and nobleness of form will be determined by the quality and degree of our spiritual affections. There is no possibility of failure in this respect. They are orderly results of normal causes. Every affection you cherish leaves its impress upon you. It tends to fashion the external form into its likeness, and there is no escape from its effect. This is a truth of common observation and experience. We see it in its accumulated and large results, in the faces and forms of every man and woman we meet.
Every disposition habitually indulged forms its image in the features of the face, in the motions of the body, and in every fibre and muscle of its form. Its first effect is upon the brain, and through that upon every part of the whole organization. The face is the index of the mind, because the mind forms it and makes it the theatre on which it enacts all its passions. Every face is a history, and in its small compass are recorded the sins and sorrows, the joys and fears, the malignities, the lusts, the cunning, the ferocity, the hope and trust, the struggles with evil passions, the integrity, the innocence and peace of many generations. We can only read some of the most prominent and boldest characters. But the history, of all the influences, large and small, which have combined to form the character of your ancestry from its beginning is embodied in your own person. We talk of fleeting influences. There are no fleeting influences.
Every influence is eternal. The Lord does not write human history in fading colors and on perishable leaves. You think you can be false or cunning, that you can indulge in malignities and lusts, and no one will know it, and that you can escape all lasting eflects of it. How much, how terribly much, you are mistaken ! You cannot sulk in the corner ; you cannot indulge in an unkind thought ; you cannot say a sharp word ; you cannot indulge in a revengeful feeling ; no, you cannot think a false thought, or do an evil deed, and escape the record of its shame in the book of your own life. The Lord has made the mind self-registering. Every falsity leaves a shadow upon it, every evil a stain. I know the influence of one evil once indulged may be small ; its consequences may seem as fleeting as the act itself. But it is not so. The brutality and ferocity and stolidity and meanness, the low cunning and worldly shrewdness, the stony selfishness and cruel malignities, the pride and vanities and contempt which we see in the forms and faces of men and women are the recorded results of the indulgence of evils which were momentary and casual in their inception.
My young friends, will you not remember this when you are tempted to think falsely, to feel wickedly, or to act sinfully ? The wicked feeling has its sharp graver in its cunning hands, and while you indulge the feeling it is etching its ugly lines in your face and twisting your features into its own form. The impure thought is photographing itself upon the delicate but tenacious forms of your whole nature, and leaving its foul stains indelibly impressed upon you. If every time you told or looked a falsehood, or indulged a hate, the name of the evil should come out in distinct and black lines upon your forehead and repeat itself in ugly characters in your whole face, with what horror you would shun it ! It is so written, in very faint lines at first, it may be, but every repetition of the evil increases their distinctness. The angels can read the whole history in the hand ; they can tell the quality of the mind by the tone of the voice. According to the same law, every good affection and true thought registers itself in its own proper characters. Every heavenly affection leaves its impress upon you and, to the extent of its influence, moulds you into its own image. Every element of the noblest and purest beauty is contained in the principles of goodness and truth. As these principles are brought into act and become substantiated in the form and features, they change them into their own likeness. And they do it by imperceptible but constantly acting influences. When you think kindly of others and your heart goes out to them in desires for their good, the beauty of kindness is winning its way through the labyrinth of many organic forms, leaving its smile and its impress upon them all as it passes, until it comes out in open expression upon the face.
Some faces are like landscapes in a day of broken clouds. Sometimes the shadows lie dark and heavy upon them. When the features are in repose you can see the history of former generations which has been stereotyped upon them ; the weariness of protracted labor, shadows of disappointed hopes, and the sadness of many sorrows. But when the light of an awakened heavenly affection breaks through their parting folds the face becomes illuminated, transfigured with the glory of the inward light. You can look away into its serene deeps and see in every feature a beauty born of heavenly influences.
Patience in duty and trust in the Lord contain important elements of beauty, which they impart to the face and to the whole form. They give quietness and composure to the features and to the actions. Through the face, as through a transparent veil, you can look down into the serene depths of being, where no storms can reach, where all is stable and in repose, and see the foundations on which the natural life rests and the perennial springs from which its thoughts and affections flow. Every time you repress an impatient desire, every time you restrain an impatient word or act, every time you take up the burden of duty cheerfully, every time you meet the conflicts and the vicissitudes of life in patient confidence in the infinite goodness which makes all things work together for good for those who trust in the Lord, you make some progress in bringing your whole form into the image of that repose and quietude which impart a charm to every feature and every action.
But the supreme beauty which charms all hearts is innocence, purity. This is the charm of the beauty of infancy and childhood. It is not beauty of form ; it is not grace of motion. It is the purity and sweetness of heaven which shine through a little child. The material body is, as it were, transparent. It is like the charm of flowers, which is not so much in their forms as in their delicacy of texture and purity of color and sweetness of fragrance. They awaken the perception that they are offering up themselves for our delight.
Innocence combines all the Christian graces,—unselfishness, trust, repose, unconscious action, which is always beautiful, gentleness, devotion to others, and devout adoration of the Lord ; that worship of the heart which surrenders itself to the Divine will, to be guided by its wisdom and to be moulded into its likeness. Innocence is not weakness or ignorance. It is wisdom and power itself It is power without noise. It is the power which makes the grass grow, and planets fly through the silent spaces with ceaseless motion. It is the wisdom which uses the mightiest forces for human help and culture. It is supreme order, which is always beautiful. Feebleness is not beauty. Strength and beauty must go hand in hand, as they always do when the strength is used for beneficent purposes.
While you are in the effort to keep the great commandment of love to the Lord, and just to the extent that you keep it, you will be gaining the heavenly beauty. You open your heart to the Lord, and to the living springs of all grace and comeliness. You put yourself into His hands who has the perfect ideal of nobleness and beauty, and perfect skill to fashion every feature and form according to it. The Divine truth, which is the Holy Spirit, contains in its substance and in all its forces and forms and influence a tendency to ultimate itself in the perfection of beauty. As you open your affections to the influence of these Divine forces they will flow in and do their work. They will efface the lines of deformity which sin has engraved ; they will harmonize discordant proportions ; they will round into fulness imperfect forms ; they will reduce to order conflicting motions, and bring the whole person into unity.
Every effort you make to learn the truths which constitute the Divine wisdom, and to incorporate them into your nature, will have its effect. While you are reflecting upon them they are imbuing your understanding with their sweet and lovely spirit, softening its hardness, quickening its perceptions, harmonizing its activities. The soft and lambent light of truth is flowing down with more fulness and clearness into the eyes, and a power which attracts and makes the heart glad begins to beam forth from them. As you go on with the work and receive more largely of this informing life and beautifying spirit, it softens the hardness and smooths the roughness of the voice, and imbues it with those qualities which touch the sympathies and win the heart ; it penetrates every feature, remoulds the face after the heavenly pattern, rounds the limbs, gives nobleness and comely dignity to the whole form, and sways every motion to harmony born of an inward grace, and expressing it. As the life of the Divine love becomes fuller and purer the whole person will become the very form of heavenly love ; it will become the embodiment of Zion, the perfection of beauty.- This is no fancy. Your own observation can teach you that it is not. You know how fierce passions inflame and distort the face, and how heavenly affections fill it with a serene light and a most winning loveliness. You have seen faces that were not regular and cleanly cut in particular features, but which had an inward beauty that charmed every beholder. All that is necessary to render any form of the face fixed and permanent is to cherish the affections which express themselves in that form.
It may be replied that, if this principle is true, the good must be the most beautiful. Yet some of the worst men and women have been famous for their beauty. There is a kind of external beauty, regularity of features, symmetry of form, delicacy of complexion, which is due to inheritance and to causes not within one’s self; but if the soul is deformed with evil this superficial beauty is but a veil which ill conceals the ugliness within. Without the beauty of expression which shines forth from the soul the most that the body can attain is the lifeless beauty of the statue or the painted mask.
Again, while it is true that the material body is so intimately allied to the spiritual that it becomes changed by it, making the face the index of the mind, the physical form may respond but slowly to the changes of the spirit; so much so that a face that is outwardly fair may conceal an infernal character ; and again a plain and unattractive face may clothe a heavenly spirit. Our spiritual bodies, the bodies in which we are to live and by which we are to be identified forever, are the exact forms of our affections. They change easily, and become the perfect exponent and image of the affections we habitually cherish. The purer and more interior the affection, and the more fully it becomes united with genuine truths, the more beautiful we shall become. It is, therefore, in the power of every one to become as beautiful and noble in form as he chooses ; and the way to do it is to cultivate those heavenly affections which mould the face and limbs and every part of the body into forms corresponding to their quality. Such is the nature of the affections that there is no assignable limit to their strength and excellence, beyond which they cannot pass. You see what a prospect this holds out for our attainment in personal beauty and nobleness of form. You can see that what Swedenborg says of the beauty of the angels must be true, because it follows from causes which we see in operation here. He says their beauty surpasses the power of words to describe or of any human art to portray. Their faces are so glorious and lovely, and shine with such a heavenly light, that they penetrate the hearts of those who behold them, with enchanting power. They are the very forms of loveliness. They are purity and innocence itself. The eyes of the angels are aflame with heavenly love ; their faces are all aglow with its warmth ; their features are moulded into its nobleness and rounded into its harmonies ; its dignity is enthroned in their foreheads ; its sweetness is folded in their lips, and its gracefulness sways every motion. The voice is so modulated by heavenly affections that it is felt to be the sweetness and power of love itself speaking. The whole form is the embodiment of a benign power, and radiant with the very life of heaven.
All the faculties are in the freshness and vigor and resplendent comeliness of their spring-time ; they grow as the lily and blossom as the rose. All these elements of loveliness continue to unfold into more excellent forms. It is not the glorious beauty of a fading flower. It continues to increase ; it glows with a serener light ; it becomes the more complete and varied embodiment of a holier joy, a purer love, and a sweeter peace. Its perfections must continue to increase to eternity.
All the qualities and forms of beauty are in heavenly love, as all germs are in their seed. You have only to cherish and cultivate them, which is to exercise them in love towards the Lord and towards man. You have only to live the life of them, and you will grow into their appropriate forms, with more certainty than the seed grows into the loveliness of the lily, or the acorn into the grandeur of the oak.
Why is not this an excellence and a glory worthy of our thought and effort ? If physical beauty, which fades and perishes so soon, lay within as easy reach as heavenly beauty, which is fresh, perennial, and which will continue to increase in perfection forever, we should all strive for it ; multitudes would think no price too great to pay for it.
We are becoming forms of heavenly beauty or of infernal deformity every day. Whether we seek it or not, every affection we exercise has its influence in moulding our form ; every truth we learn enters into its composition ; every thought we think and every good deed we do is the graver’s tool which gives a new line of beauty, or the painter’s brush which adds a lovelier tint. Yes, every gentle act leaves its gentleness in the hand that performs it ; every noble deed leaves the imprint of its nobility ; every heavenly purpose carried into effect communicates its fragrance and beauty as a Divine benediction to the soul. Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895
|Copyright © 2007-2013 A. J. Coriat All rights reserved.|
Selection from Arcana Coelestia ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
The man who has been alienated from good and truth intends nothing but evil, because he cannot intend good; and what he intends, reigns with him, and therefore is in all his thoughts, and in every least detail of him; for the intention or end is the veriest life of man, the end being his love, and the love being his life. And what is more, a man is exactly such as is the end with him, and such also is his image in the light of heaven; and — this may surprise you — such as is his image in general, such is the image of the least things of his will. Thus the whole man is such as his end is.
From this it is evident that the man who is an evil end cannot possibly be among those who are good ends; thus he who is in hell cannot possibly be in heaven; for the ends conflict, and the good ends prevail, because they are from the Divine. Hence also it is evident that they do not think truly who believe that everyone can be admitted into heaven from mercy alone; for if one who is an evil end comes into heaven, his life labors as with one who lies in the death agony, and he is direfully tortured; besides that in the light of heaven he appears as a devil. Hence it is evident that they who have been alienated from truth and good can think nothing but evil; and that this evil is in the least things of their thought and will is very manifest from the sphere which from afar exhales from such spirits, for their quality is thereby perceived. This sphere is like a spiritual evaporation from every detail of the life.
Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
15 Mental Causes of Disease
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” A Hebrew Proverb
Is Illness the Fault of Man?
Many Christians believe that all accidents and diseases are retributions of Providence for personal sins. This idea was common among the Jews, who conceived of no higher good than health and prosperity, nor any higher destiny than a long life on earth. The Lord sought to disabuse the minds of the disciples of this fallacy when he said concerning the man who had been born blind, “Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”; and when He said that the eighteen killed by the fall of the tower in Siloam were not sinners above others in Jerusalem.381
Men—from no individual fault of their own—may fall sick from natural causes which in turn come from spiritual causes hidden from man’s understanding. And by natural remedies he may be restored. But while the disease lasts, evil spirits are able to extend their operations from the realm of the mind into the body, working against a cure by inflowing into the unclean things which belong to the disease, which they aggravate. The stress of the Writings is laid upon the fact that without the influx from the hells there would be no actual disease. “Every disease in the human race” comes from sin, which is spiritual disease.382 We cannot take this to mean that it is always a man’s fault if he is sick, any more than it is his fault that he has hereditary tendencies to evil. But even as sin bred disease in the human race as a whole, so it is the tendency of a man’s own individual states of evil to lead into corresponding diseases of the body. “If his spiritual life sickens, evil is derived therefrom into the natural life also, and becomes there a disease.”383
It does not follow that an evil man is always, or necessarily, sick, or cannot remain in what appears as perfect bodily health. But actually, the things that come to belong to man’s life are not only of his mind but of his whole body, from head to foot.384 And therefore it is disclosed in the Writings that the blood in the lungs purifies and nourishes itself correspondently to the affections of the mind, and that in evil states it absorbs a subtle food of unwholesome quality, unsuitable to serve the soul in its impartial and wise economy. Yet no one can ascertain this quality of the blood by any qualitative chemical analysis since “it is a purer blood, called by some ‘the animal spirit,’ which is purified” with the regenerating man.385
Certain “lusts and passions of the mind” are more prone than others to “destroy man’s interiors,” and thus to “drag” man into disease and death.388 Such passions may be classed as breaches of the moral law.
Intemperance, drunkenness, gluttony, luxuries of various kinds, and pleasures that cater to bodily enjoyments alone, head the list. For these upset the routine of use and the balance of the body functions; denying to the body the proper exercise or the proper sleep; or compelling the stomach to absorb useless food or drink, for the sake of the transient pleasures of the senses. Drunkenness causes a man to lose his manhood, since it is his intellectual faculty that marks him a man. It not only brings damage on his body and so hastens his death, but it wastes in extravagance what might be of use to many.387 Envies, fears, and anxieties about the future without proper trust in Divine provision, keep the nerves taut by a constant reliance upon prudence. It is a remarkable thing that the human body and brain can rise to emergencies and prolonged strain, and that men in executive positions can do work which even in amount shames others; but this only so long as states of frustration and personal anxiety do not affect them. For generally it is not work but fretting worry and vexation which cause health to break down.
Hatred and revenge also visibly poison the body and heat the blood, as well as warping the judgments of the mind. States of bitterness and brutality have always been compared to gall—the bile rejected from the liver and longing to punish the stubborn food in the intestinal tract. Lasciviousness— when given rein—leads to sexual diseases of varied types, affecting the glands, tissues, and nerves, and even infecting the blood itself. Hypocrisy and deception tax the nervous system by inducing constant fear of detection.
Mental states can so influence the body as to create organic disorders therein into which the hells can operate because the mind or spirit while man lives on earth is not apart from his body nor present only in the brain, but is within the whole body and animates it with life. “The spiritual,” we read, “accompanies every stamen [of me viscera, organs, and members of man] from outmost to inmost, and therefore all the minute structures and fibres of the heart and lungs.” This is the reason given for the fact that the spiritual body, which is formed within the natural body, rises at death in a similar form. Death “is merely the separation of the spiritual substance from the material.”388 The spiritual which is present in the body and its brain, and thus acts into nature, is called, in the Writings, the “ultimate-spiritual” and also the “spiritual-natural degree”; for it is the ultimate degree of the spiritual.389 In the inmost of the brain and body of man this ultimate spiritual is clothed with natural substances from the very inmost of nature,390 and thereby is given the power to separate itself from the higher spiritual degrees and to act against them. When such a perversion sets in it becomes evil.391 By paternal heredity, this lowest degree of the spiritual is now from birth contrary to the order of heaven and open to the influx of hell.392
It is the natural mind that is formed in direct contact with the natural substances of the body. And although the natural mind or the “spiritual-natural” in man is perverted by heredity, yet it is none the less ruled by the superior spiritual degrees in such a way that these can act by it in creating the body into the general image of the soul and usually maintaining it in seeming health. The perversion of the substance of the “ultimate spiritual” is thus of such a nature that its essential function of conveying life is outwardly unimpaired.
This ultimate spiritual degree with man unfolds itself as the natural mind—which is itself of three degrees, sensual, natural and rational. There is need in the body, then, for various planes of organics which shall serve to express the powers of that mind. For no life, no thought or affection, could possibly manifest itself in the realm of nature, unless nature furnished a receptive vessel, responsive to its influx.
Swedenborg’s Early Views on Diseases
In the Writings, little is said of these body-planes which display the powers of the spirit. But in his philosophical works, Swedenborg gives much thoughtful attention to them. What he says therein cannot be taken as revealed doctrine and is not binding on our minds. But what served him for a rational ultimate in receiving the inspired doctrine, might help us to understand its meaning more fully.
His general theory was that there are, in the body, three vital fluids. Each builds for itself a center, or principal court. The grossest of the vital fluids we call “the red blood,” and its center is the heart. The fluid of middle degree Swedenborg calls by various names—the “animal spirit,” the “purer blood” —and for its centers are prepared uncounted millions of cortical “glands” in the brain. Thence it flows at incredible speed through the nervous system and also enters into the composition of blood and tissues in various ways. The third and highest vital fluid—the “spirituous fluid” or “purest blood”—has innumerable centers in each cortical gland—centers which are called “simple corteces,” and thence it flashes like rays of force through the simplest invisible fibres, and through nerve fibres and blood vessels into the entire body. Indeed, the body is the product solely of the ineffable formative activities of these simplest fibrillae. For this “spirituous fluid” is the servant of the soul itself, and may indeed be called “the soul of the body.”392b
Into this framework of vital fluids and fibres, formed by the soul itself out of the best of nature’s gifts, Swedenborg then places the degrees of that mind which man employs in the world. The blood serves as the plane of the vegetative and most sensuous life of the mind. The cortical glands, with their vital nerve juices, are made the plane for the animus, its sensations, imaginations and passions. The simple cortex and simplest fibre and thus the highest vital substances of the body, are cited as the organic instruments of the rational mind and the pure natural intellect.
Diseases are affections of the various natural organics mentioned above. But the spiritual soul itself, which is the immaterial essence of man’s immortal spirit and is above these natural forms, can also suffer a vitiation or a perverse change of state—as to the reception of life. This cannot be counted as a disease, but as “guilt” (reatus).393
Yet the afflictions of the “purest blood” cause a sickness which affects the workings of man’s intellectual mind: it shows itself, not as a disease, but as a perversity in will and judgment—as vain ambition, malice, and a banishing of conscience. Thus insanities and vices result.394 The cure for such irrational states, Swedenborg suggests, is to gain health of body and animus, and then to enlighten one’s mind through masters who have saner judgment; but also to learn from revealed and rational theology, and to exercise freedom of thought and especially self-control !395 (And in the Writings it is added that “all who love uses think sanely in their spirit, and their spirit thinks sanely in their body).”396
If the “purer blood,” which runs through the cortical glands and the nervous fibres, becomes vitiated, there arises not disease as such, but “passions of the animus,” such as moody anger, jealousy, foolish prides or fears, melancholy, fickleness, weakness of the imagination, loss of memory, and many other ills which depend on the state of the brain and its various parts.397
All the natural affections or the mediate loves of the animus are in themselves healthy instincts.398 But when taken as ends-in-themselves, and indulged not for the sake of uses or for the sake of higher ends, but only for selfish satisfaction, then some of them become intemperate and urge us to excesses. We may call these natural affections, “natural goods,” because they are implanted in the natural mind from birth. Each love finds its own expression under the form of some virtue. Some individuals inherit prominent qualities of pity or generosity or courage, or on the other hand, their complements, prudence, thrift, or caution. Curiosity, hope, zeal, the love of the sex, are other examples of natural affections. Within such tendencies there lies hidden hereditary evil, which tends to upset that delicate balance of judgment which should make out of them all a harmonious and perfect whole—a moral life of use. From hereditary evil, the affections of the animus awake gradually into a mutual conflict. If—through intemperance—some of these loves of the animus are given loose rein, they turn from apparent goods into vices or grave faults, into searing passions which disturb the mind. But so long as man keeps them in balance and due proportion the mind is normal, and its natural affections do not then bring about any disease in the body, or any poisoning of the nervous fluid or the organics of the brain.
Swedenborg also suggests remedies for the sicknesses and upsets of the animus. Medicines, he says, may be employed to purify and restore the red blood; for it may be some external condition of the body and its blood that accounts for the mental state. Yet if the cause is not in the body, the state might be amended by an improvement of the mental environment : agreeable feasts, convivial companionships, and broader social contacts may put one in a more normal frame of mind! If this does not help, let the sufferer seek recourse to moral philosophy and in a bit of practical self-analysis, so that he rectifies the mistakes into which he has drifted.399 On the other hand, the trouble may be derived from perversities of the intellectual and rational mind—and then repentance is called for!
Health cannot truly exist, unless all the planes of the body and mind are in harmony and cooperation! If the inner mind is cheated of its ends, the animus may become angered, the blood hot, and a bilious fever may seize the viscera !400
Lack of harmony with interior planes is therefore a cause of bodily disease—disease “properly so called.” But not the only cause; for the body is affected by any organic deterioration of blood, serum, or tissue.401 And the principal and most common cause of bodily disease has to do with the lack of proper nourishment or with the food that we eat; and also with the subtle food which we draw in by breathing the air, and even the still more subtle nourishment which the “purer blood” drinks in from the ether.402 For the blood must be provided with aliments of sufficient quantity and the right quality. Our philosopher therefore classes—among the remedies for the body—not only various drugs, drawn from the three kingdoms of nature, and moderate diet, exercise, rest, sleep, moderate temperature; but also mental calm. And he leaves the field open for new discoveries of ways by which the blood may be purified, amended and renewed.403
The Theological Writings on the Causes of Organic Disease
We have cited these observations which Swedenborg made before he was called to his religious mission, in the hope that they might help us to understand more clearly certain statements made in the Arcana, the Spiritual Diary and the other theological works.
In the Arcana Coelestia we read that evils “close the smallest and altogether invisible vessels of which the next larger, also invisible, are woven; for the vessels which are smallest of all and wholly invisible, are continued from man’s interiors. Thence comes the first and inmost obstruction and thence the first and inmost vitiation of the blood. This vitiation, when it increases, causes disease and at length death. . . . “404 It is difficult to ascertain whether the inmost vessels which evil closes are to be conceived as physical or as spiritual substances, for they seem to be combinations of both. They are called vessels “on account of the correspondence,”405 and indeed “vessels in man’s rational and in his natural,” and are said to be in “contrary position” within him relatively to the inflowing life which none the less still can dispose them. Man perceives the variations of their form as truths.406 And a cross-reference suggests that it is in these “substances which are the beginnings of the fibres” that the objects of sense are organized as memory. They might perhaps be identified with the twists of the spiritual and natural substances of the natural mind which are turned in a sinister order before reformation has occurred.407 The evil heredity of the race is carried over from generation to generation by such correspondent disorders in the lowest spiritual degree present in the germ-plasm.408 And there must be a natural basis for such hereditary evils, since it is only in conjunction with natural substance—thus only in the natural mind while on earth—that evils can arise.409 The reason for this is that it is the very nature of natural substance to resist and react against spiritual substances.410 And owing to this resistance the lowest spiritual can there be separate from its higher degrees, and become perverted into “spiritual substances such as are in hell.”411
Hereditary evils, it is well to note, are not “guilt” or “sin” or “original sin,” but only tendencies or inclinations to evil. It would seem to follow, that with the newborn infant the “smallest and invisible vessels” which are receptive of the spirit and undoubtedly carry the marks of heredity, are not closed but have the tendency to close themselves against the spiritual mind; nor is there as yet any “inmost vitiation of the blood.” So far as the child, and later the man, does not prevent, the Lord continues to hold him in innocence and mental health, by a general influx. With infants and well-disposed children, even the worst spirits, if present, would be compelled to serve the Lord’s will and cannot introduce any evil. It is when the child begins to acquire a sphere of evil that the inmost vessels are “closed” to the influx of the un-perverted spiritual412 and become opened to an influx of cupidity from evil spirits; and then the “animal spirit” begins to absorb the malignities to which it had formerly been immune.
While an evil inheritance may thus give a predisposition to certain diseases, most babes are born healthy; unless some deficiency in maternal nourishment or some accident in the womb has interfered with the execution of the soul’s pattern of the embryonic body—that marvelous four-dimensional pattern which is latent in the germ-cells and which Dr. Schroedinger has described as a code-script for the individual’s entire future development.413 Hereditary evil does not affect the physiological functions of the soul in the body, for the inmost natural vessels are utterly obsequious to the soul in its general influx. Swedenborg therefore stated in the Economy of the Animal Kingdom that the spirituous fluid which is present as a formative substance in the parental seed cannot be perverted or injured or essentially changed in its form except with reference to a variant reception of life and wisdom.414
If this be so, it may be surprising that any one could be born an idiot. Yet even if the “spirituous fluid” is perfect in its physiological action there can be congenital defects in the derivative organisms or injuries to the nervous tissues due to malnutrition or to some trauma experienced either before or after birth. There are no doubt special reasons in the Divine providence why idiots should remain in the state of innocence for their entire life time, or why those who lose their rational balance through disease should be arrested for a time in their mental development. But the law is that “life . . . acts according to the ultimate determinations, but not from them.”415
The internal man may be quite rational even when the mind cannot be rightly channelled into corresponding imaginations, words, or acts. In a private letter, Swedenborg observed that “real madness and insanity resides in the external or natural, not in the internal or spiritual man.” There are no natural diseases among spirits in the other life, nor any hospitals; although there are spiritual asylums for spirits who become insane and idiotic from a denial of God. Natural diseases, blindness, lameness, insanity, etc., are cured when man sheds his externals and his internals are opened in the other life.416
Yet natural insanity may be caused or abetted by unwholesome mental habits and by the leading of evil spirits. For if our rational mind is not in control, spirits will lead man and cause mental fixations and monomanias.417
Nerves, Glands, and Spirits
There are two general ways by which mental and emotional states can affect the body. One is through the nervous system, the other is through the secretions which the glands communicate to the blood. Both originate in the brain. Swedenborg explained that the brain is not only a common sensory and a common motory for the body, but is also a complex gland which acts as a chemical laboratory. And the soul and the mind exercise their special functions, both conscious and unconscious, through the brain. The influence of our spiritual environment thus affects us first of all through the brain. And even as speech corresponds to the thought of the mind, so the influx of the mind into the body always expresses itself according to laws of correspondence.
It is a particular influx from hells attracted by our chosen states that stirs up partiality and dissension among the affections of the natural mind, causes mental symptoms, emotional moods, psychic disturbances and disorders in the functions of the braincells, and upsets the balance in the products of the endocrine glands.
The conscious part of the mind, or the voluntary, by its deliberate or at least perceptible decisions moves the body by means of the central nervous system. Our errors of judgment or intent may thus cause injury to the body by overstraining it or leading it into perils with which it is not equipped to cope. But emotional states may cause illness even when man is not really aware of them except as a frame of mind; and they may affect the body through the autonomic nervous system centered in the hypothalamus and midbrain, causing unwanted muscle tensions and pains in the oesophagus and stomach and in various parts of the alimentary canal, resulting in symptoms like those of peptic ulcers or gas or appendicitis. The breathing may be affected and cause undesirable changes in the blood. The blood vessels are most sensitive to emotions, as in blushing or in headaches, and the heart beats faster when one is deeply moved. Certain prejudices or constant irritations may cause outbreaks on the skin or rheumatic ailments. Frustrations may explode in hysterical weeping or laughter, or in violent actions not intended. Anger may lead to hemorrhages on the brain and possible death through coronary occlusions.
The second bodily agency to respond to our mental states is the glandular system. In his physiological works and later in the Writings Swedenborg called attention to the important functions of what is now called the endocrine glands—anticipating many discoveries by more than a century. In fact he noted that there is no viscus which does not contribute a secretion to the bloodstream.418 Chief of all the glands he considered the brain with its constituent “cortical glands,” some of the products of which were strained through the region of the hypothalamus into the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and thence—modified in various ways—into the jugular vein, thereby vivifying the blood with “animal spirit.” Health depends on the proper balance and purity of these fluids, and many diseases result from their deficiency or wrong distribution.419
Swedenborg concluded that the “animal spirit” which is so essential for the balance of all body functions contains within it a life-carrying “spirituous fluid” which is generated in the inmost structures of the cortical cells. All the ductless glands in the body are regulated through the pituitary gland which is the outlet for this subtle nerve-product. In his various treatises he points especially to the uses of the thymus, the adrenals, the spleen, the pancreas, the liver and the testicles; which all aid in modifying, tempering, and salvaging the animal spirit. And in the Diary he says of the learned of his time: “So long as they dispute whether there exists an animal spirit in the fibres, which they may still do for a thousand years, they can never come to the courtyard of knowledge, but will stand far away.”420
It can hardly be doubted that what Swedenborg called “animal spirit” is closely related to what medical science in this century refers to as hormones produced by internal secretory glands. The pituitary is now acknowledged as the master gland and the source for a number of hormones which regulate almost every process in the body and condition the various organs to avert any threats to bodily well-being. Most important, however, is the finding that these glands are so sensitive to emotional stresses and psychic states (such as mental blocks and aversions) that they can cause corresponding illnesses and symptoms in the body. The relation of the endocrine glands to our inner states is so close that some have named them “the glands of personality.” The accumulating evidence of symbolic symptoms in psychosomatic diseases is not surprising to the New Church man who is familiar with the universal correspondence of the natural to the spiritual and knows the body as the instrument and clothing of the mind. Yet we may sometimes forget the further truth—that our inner life does not originate with ourselves but is induced by the spirits who are attracted by the contents of our mind.
Our morbid psychic states need not at once, nor necessarily, cause disease in the body. But when a disorder exists in the body itself, the sphere of evil spirits acts spontaneously by a law of correspondence. In certain cases, they can cause disease only when men invite the evil which these spirits represent; and in such cases the Lord cannot avert their sphere.421
We read strange things in the Writings about this correspondent influx—things which can be appreciated only after reflection and a study of the doctrine of the Grand Man. Thus hypocritical spirits—who wish to evade judgment— tend to inflow to produce toothache and what appears to be neuralgia.422 Certain dominating, pompous and impatient spirits induce great pain and weakness and weariness of mind and body.423 The sphere of selfish and slothful spirits produce numbness and oppression in the stomach. Spirits who have been in much solicitude or are inclined to avarice and are unwilling to leave “the state of externals” in which newcomers are in the other life, affect the stomach with nervous indigestion.424 Revengeful spirits aggravate superacidity in the stomach.425 Those who make everything a matter of conscience also induce abdominal anxieties.426 In each instance there are profound correspondential reasons for such influxes.
Anxieties of a different kind are due to the presence of unworldly female spirits of the province of the adrenal glands who are in solicitude from a life lacking in variety. But these spirits, who also act on newly born infants, are merely concerned to hold the mind in some line of thought that excludes what is worldly. Certain other spirits, who in the Grand Man relate to the infundibulum, are—like the fluids in the ventricles—inconstant and undetermined, and cause in man states of impatience and suspicion.427 Those who do not like work but seek social prominence and pleasures as their sole gratification, correspond to obstructions in the brain, and their presence causes stupidity, dullness and loss of affection.428 Those who relate to the viscid humors of the brain with which vital fluids are mixed, love to incite scruples of conscience in trivial matters. Such rather narrow-minded spirits induce a sensible anxiety in the upper abdomen; and they are also wont to come to a man during temptations and make them unbearable.429
When sickness coincides with temptation, man’s lot is unenviable. “Temptations,” we read, “are most grievous when they are accompanied with bodily pains, and still more so when those pains continue for a long time and no deliverance is granted even though the Divine mercy is implored.”430 Yet illness itself, even when the mind is anxious and moody, is very different from spiritual temptation. Real temptations have a spiritual issue involved—a struggle to retain spiritual health and faith and charity. Still, moods of sadness may break like a flood upon a man who has lived in good when he relapses into the sphere of his proprium; and then he may become indignant and angry. He thinks restlessly and his desires become impetuous; although when this flood is lifted, he returns to a serene and cheerful state. Such temptations affect the animus and perhaps the body. In the case of the last posterity of the Most Ancient Church, such a profane flood of evil and insanity was let loose that people perished physically, by a species of suffocation. This, therefore, was actually a death of sin, and—as was shown above—was described by the great Deluge.431
The indications are that diseases are usually receptive of an influx from particular spirits, who then inflow by their sphere into a particular part of man’s body. But a localized disease may become general, or may attract a more general influx.
This is noted in the case of fevers. Many places in the hells, among obstinate and pernicious spirits, exude an excessive heat, impure and corporeal. This sphere inflows partly into the mind of man, by means of particular spirits, to inflame him with cruelty or adulterous lust; but partly also it may, by a “general sphere or a general influx,” produce a febrile heat in the diseased parts of the body as well as a delirium in the mind.432 Indeed it is stated that “the sick man summons” those who infuse such heat, and that spirits most marvelously know how to determine their sphere into the body, and this despite the fact that spirits do not know the man with whom they are. Fortunately the Lord controls them under laws of order, withdrawing them periodically; “wherefore several fevers have stated alternations.”433 It is generally admitted that the rise of body temperature into fever heat is a defensive reaction of the body in its resistance to disease.
Spiritual Uses of Sickness
Disease and melancholic anxiety may be classed among “natural temptations.”434 But the difference between an illness and a state of spiritual temptation is well illustrated in the case of certain spirits who relate to the province of the stomach and especially to the undigested things therein. The general action of these spirits is to instill feelings of oppressive sadness and uncomfortable melancholy for which no perceptible cause or occasion can be recognized. The spirits who thus inflow are not the spirits who are with man as his attendants and who resemble him as to affections; but they are strange spirits who have been sent forth from some infernal society into the sphere of his life. They flow in by a more general influx to produce these effects, which are contrary to man’s own affections. Such spirits may also infest man during a spiritual temptation; but then they would not only inflow “in general,” for the temptations themselves are produced by particular spirits who excite certain evils that man has done and put a wrong interpretation on the good things in his mind. Only by such a “particular” influx can the man be placed in freedom to resist, and his guardian angels then engage in combat on his behalf.435
What has been said may aid us to understand the teaching that a man cannot be reformed—or he cannot change his ruling love—while in states of sickness of mind or body.436 While ill, the mind is not always rational, and if rational yet is not free. Man then lives apart from his world of uses and duties and is withdrawn in his spirit. The Writings liken such a man to a religious recluse, a hermit bent on thoughts about his own salvation; and the same is the state of one who is in some extreme danger or in sudden misfortune. Besides, the sick man may be oppressed by moods beyond his control, and is released from his usual responsibilities and from the pressure of many of the affections that normally wage their silent warfare for predominance.
So far as a man can carry on his uses, he cannot be called sick in the above sense. Nor does illness prevent a person already on the road of reformation from being strengthened in his good resolutions by the reflections on his sick-bed. There is therefore room for the further teaching that a very large class of men (who are represented in the Word by the Hebrew manservant) “cannot be reformed otherwise” than through the hardships of life, such as anxieties, misfortunes, and even sicknesses! These are they who from infancy have given little thought to anything but worldly life and success, yet have lived morally and accepted the doctrine of their church on hearsay. With them, sickness is turned into an opportunity to review life’s real purposes, and something of spiritual good may then adjoin itself to their thought. They may turn again to the consolation offered by their church, and confirm their faith more deeply while their worldly loves lie dormant for a while.437
Even like gifts of wealth and peace, the gift of health is happily in the Lord’s hands to dispense—for those to whom health may be a blessing. In our hearts we all pray for health when it eludes us. Yet it is the Lord’s admonition that we should seek first the kingdom of God and His justice. “He who is in faith from the Lord asks for nothing but what contributes to the Lord’s kingdom and to himself for salvation.” The angels told Swedenborg that if they should pray for anything else, they could have no faith that they would receive it.438
Sickness is not a total waste in the Lord’s sight. We are encouraged to practice foresight and to seek to maintain our health by prudence as well as by medicine. But to be brooding constantly upon the possible ailments of our body and to delve intently into anatomical details all one’s life, is not in itself an aid to health.439 “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The regenerating man, even in his pastimes, looks to uses as an end. He loves the things of his body for the sake of having a healthy mind, and consults for his body as the first requirement for usefulness; and he “loves his mind and its health for the sake of an end still more interior—that he may have a relish for good and may understand truth.”440 This is further explained as follows:
“He who is in merely external pleasures makes much of himself, indulges his stomach, loves to live sumptuously, and makes the height of pleasure to consist in things to eat and drink. One who is in internal things also finds pleasure in these things, but his ruling affection is to nourish his body with food pleasurably for the sake of its health, to the end that he may have a sound mind in a sound body; thus chiefly for the sake of the health of the mind, to which the health of the body serves as a means. One who is a spiritual man does not rest here, but regards the health of the mind or soul as a means for acquiring intelligence and wisdom—not for the sake of reputation, honors, and gain, but for the sake of the life after death. One who is spiritual in a more interior degree regards intelligence and wisdom as a mediate end having for its object that he may serve as a useful member in the Lord’s kingdom; and one who is a celestial man, that he may serve the Lord. To such a one bodily food is the means for the enjoyment of spiritual food, and spiritual food is a means for the enjoyment of celestial food; and as they ought to serve in this manner, these foods also correspond, and are therefore called ‘foods’ ” (AC 4459:6).
Starting Science From God
Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
14 Influx and Disease
“Is it easier to say to one sick of the palsy, Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, take up thy bed, and walk?” Mark 2:9
Order, Freedom, and the Permission of Evil
“Heaven keeps all things in connection and safety.” But “hell destroys and rends all things asunder.”351 This is the general truth from which the Arcana Coelestia proceeds to its teaching about the origin and nature of disease.
The societies of heaven receive from the Lord an influx of mutual love, which seeks to give happiness to others and allows freedom for the uses of others. Therefore there is a general influx from the Lord through the societies of heaven which maintains the order and health of human society and of the human body. By general influx, the human body is moulded into an organism which corresponds to all the uses of the Grand Man of heaven. Similarly, by general influx, a society is moulded into a replica of the human form. So far as a society is performing the uses of communal life, it is in the order of heaven, and in a noble form. So far as the human body is functioning, it has beauty and grace and nobility, even if man’s mind be perverted. For the Lord spreads the sunshine of health upon the evil and upon the good. Only upon the basis of a sound body can a sound mind be built. Only in states of health and rationality can man’s spiritual reformation proceed. The Lord exerts His providence to provide these ultimates of order for all men, because His primary gift to man—the freedom which makes of man a responsible human soul—can be exercised only where order exists.
But freedom would be but a name, if man could not at all reject or disturb the order which the Lord provides for him. Freedom implies that man can, if he will, disturb that order not only for himself, but for others! Freedom implies that man should be free not only to think and will against the order of God, but that he shall also feel able to carry his purposes into act and set up a plane of disorder in the world. In no other way could his free will be conveyed to the comprehension of others; in no other way could he invoke the cooperation or opposition of others, who, in their turn, are free to respond. Life would not be free if it were confined within the airtight space of one’s own intentions ! Man must be free to commit mistakes, to do actual evil, to spoil the handiwork of the Creator, and abuse His agencies.
When this occurs, and order has been disrupted, the general influx from heaven gives way so far as man insists. Fundamentally, and as to all His final purposes, the Lord alone rules the universe, which cannot be upset by fickle man. It is legitimate to inquire, how far evil can derange the ultimate order of life.
That it can do so in the realm of the mind, is of course plain to see. The two higher degrees of the mind of which we are not cognizant in this life, are indeed in the order of heaven.352 But the natural degree, or the “natural mind” in which man is conscious on earth, becomes perverted as to its thoughts and affections, as to its organic habits, its spontaneous reactions, and its reasonings. Indeed, by birth, or from heredity, the natural mind of present day man is utterly opposed to the gyre and flow of heaven. It is within the various degrees of that natural mind that the hells are formed.353 And for one’s salvation, that mind must be reformed and reconstructed into the order of heaven.
But perversions go further than the mind. The brain and the rest of the body can become disordered, and after death they actually disintegrate in the grave. Not only disease, but “death,” comes from “no other source than sin.”354 But let us here pause a moment to free our minds of several possible misunderstandings.
The Actuality of Evil and the Necessity of Death
Swedenborg did not belong to that school of so-called “idealists” which regards the body and the world of matter as mere projections of the mind. He believed in the reality of the natural world which he describes as existing independently of man or man’s thought. He states that man was created last of all—as the culmination of the organic kingdoms. There is therefore no kinship between the teaching of the Writings and that of Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy (the founder of “Christian Science”). It has recurrently been stated that “Christian Science” was partly derived from Swedenborg. And on the surface, we find a great many phrases and ideas in Science and Health which are obviously borrowed from the Writings. “The three great pioneers of mental-healing, Dr. Quimby, Dr. Evans, and Mrs. Eddy, were readers and students [?] of Swedenborg . . . but they were more influenced by Berkeley. . . . “355 As the late Rev. John Whitehead put it: “Many flowers have been culled from Swedenborg’s garden, but they have been transplanted without roots.” Both Swedenborg and Mrs. Eddy teach that the natural mind (or what she called the “mortal mind”) is the seat of evil and the origin of disease. But Swedenborg shows that the mind is a real organism of finite substances, both spiritual and natural, while Mrs. Eddy regarded her “mortal mind” as an illusion —as “nothing claiming to be something.” The body, to her, was merely an offspring of the delusions of mortal mind!
When the Writings state that death has no other origin than sin, the reference is presumably to death from disease. The language of Scripture alludes to the life of sin as the death of the soul. In the symbolic story of Genesis, death is said to have come upon man because of his eating of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”; which made him feel like a god who could decide for himself what was good and evil. This was the spiritual death which overcame the first race— those signified by “Adam”—who were of a “celestial” genius. And the Arcana Coelestia explains that the “antediluvians” who perished in the “Flood” meant some of their descendants who could not master their evil passions—with the physical result that they died of a species of suffocation.356
Thus the symbolic prediction became literally fulfilled. And the same still holds of death from disease. But in a wider sense, death antedates both disease and sin. Death, so regarded, is but a part of finite life. Our blood dies and is restored with each breath of the lungs. The cycles of finite things all end in a death of passivity. Endless successions of plants and animals lived and propagated and died before man’s advent on earth. And mankind, before its fall into sin, was not immune to bodily death. Eternally to live on earth could be no reward for virtue. The statement that death is from no other source than from sin, is therefore qualified by the explanation that “if man had lived the life of good … he would be without disease, and would only decline to extreme old age, even until he became a child again, but a wise child ; and when the body could no longer minister to his internal man or spirit, he would pass without disease out of his earthly body into a body such as the angels have. . . . “357 From this we judge that the absence of evil—actual or hereditary— creates a pre-disposition to health. It does not prevent physical death or the wear and tear upon bodily tissues. But it prevents what the Writings call “disease”—a word which we associate with a destructive influx and with states of pain and mental anguish.
A further word might be premised about the reason why evil, which is a mental state, is permitted to extend its influence into the body and the natural world. Evil that is hidden cannot be examined, shunned, and removed. Evil in the mind exists as a desire not only to think and intend, but also to do and speak. It goes out to change the state of others— forcibly to remould the world more nearly to one’s advantage, and to profit despite another’s hurt! Unless it be seen that such indeed is the effect of the evil state of mind, evil could never be recognized. Evil in a man harms uses—his own and those of others—harms his body and the bodies of others.
In an orderly life we see a balance of good uses—such as we observe in a healthy organism. But when evil and its bodily effects came into existence, one evil is used to counterbalance another. We see this in the constant warfare of insect-pests, in the neutralization of extremes, in the balanced germ-life of our own bodies. It is even suggested that evil men do not defeat the Divine government since “one is the remedy of the other, for evil is cured by evil.”358
On earth there is much grumbling against the Divine Providence because evils and bodily sufferings are permitted. Yet in the view of the angels, bodily sufferings are as nothing when the eternal welfare of a man is at stake. The use of pain—as a signal to man that his body is in disorder—is indispensable. Without pain, man could not be warned of his mistakes or recognize his dangers. Pain and disease are thus necessary as long as man governs himself by his fallible prudence. If one still led a spontaneous life in the order of his creation, and were governed by general influx, and thus lived a life of wise instincts, he would no doubt be less liable to mistakes and abuses, less liable to pain and disease; and the fulfilment of his goals might be far easier than today.
The general effect of the teachings of the Writings seems to be that the real origin of disease was evil and self-will. The insistence on breaking the rules of rational moderation, the indulgence to excess, the refusal to curb the appetites, have caused men to turn aside from the “tree of life” and to eat gluttonously of the fruit of knowledge which would make men as gods who determined for themselves what was good or evil for them.
We rightly call disease and its consequent pains evil, because they imply a partial defeat of the ends of life, for they disturb the uses of society. They pull the mind down and make one conscious of his body, which should serve—as it did in most ancient times—merely as an instrument whereby the soul may perform uses for the minds of others.
Evil spirits love material things and attach material values, material meanings, even to spiritual things. Therefore they seek to immerse man’s mind into his bodily life. They rejoice and are in their delights when they can induce man to reflect on his sensual pleasures or pains. Some spirits would indeed obsess man, if they could, and return into the body through men. Such, however, are now confined in their hells, i.e., they are not permitted near men. To cure them of their desire, certain punishing spirits are permitted to induce upon them the feeling that they, too, actually have a material body. And to spirits it is an inconceivable torture to feel themselves bound within an earthly body, for thus they can be subjected to all manner of tormenting fantasies.359
* * *
To assert that “every one draws disease upon himself from the evil of life” may seem a hard saying.360 We may readily admit that many diseases are obviously traceable to overindulgences, passions, or a useless, self-centered life. But there is some comfort in the further teaching of the Writings which shows that the real cause of disease lies in the other world— thus not necessarily in man’s own evils, but in the influx of the hells. “All the infernals induce diseases. … If infernals apply themselves, they induce diseases, and at last death.”361
The idea that illnesses come from the influence of evil spirits is regarded in the world as a superstition. And yet it must be admitted that all man’s passions and lusts are nothing but effects of the spirits whose invisible presence feeds our contrary moods. If disease comes from such a source, it can readily be understood why the miracles which the Lord performed on earth were chiefly works of healing. His mission was to restore order in the spiritual world. What He did on earth corresponded to His work of redeeming mankind from the dominion of evil spirits.362 He did not come to take away all sickness; but each of His miraculous cures marked a step in the battle against the hells—representing on earth what He was doing in the spiritual world. There were many sick and blind in those days, but only a relatively few were healed.363
Many of the early Christians believed that the Lord came to establish a kingdom of God on earth, in which evil would have no place, nor disease or death. Yet after nearly two thousand years have passed, illness and evil persist. But what the Lord came to do was done. This was the ordering of the spiritual world so that men might be free to choose between good and evil, and progress into heaven if they willed. A spiritual judgment was performed, and certain restraints were imposed on the hells. One of the results was, that the obsessing of man’s body by evil spirits was henceforth made impossible.364 Yet disease, and the consequences of disease, were not removed.
The spiritual law now operating is, that selected good spirits and evil spirits are allowed to inflow into men’s minds. The evil spirits thus stir up lusts and falsities, by particular influx, and man feels these changing states as his own. But, as was shown in chapter XIII, the body is governed by a general influx through the societies of the Grand Man of heaven. So far as spirits are performing uses in the Grand Man, so far their societies are assigned as media for the general influx of life into the various corresponding organs and parts of the human body. The influx takes place “into the use of the organ” and so into the organ itself.365 So far as man’s body is in functional order, so far it mirrors and receives the flux of corresponding spiritual uses which make up the Grand Man; and then evil spirits are entirely unable to cause any disorders in the body. “They are not permitted to inflow as far as into the solid things of the body,” thus not into tissues or organs. But if for any reason the order of the body is disturbed, then evil spirits—who are not within the Grand Man, but together compose an opposite spiritual form which might rather be called “the Grand Monstrosity”—are permitted to inflow into the disorder, or “into the unclean things which belong to disease.”366
(The precise meaning of these teachings may be somewhat debatable. In discussing the subject of disease, we are conscious of the imprudence of trespassing on alien ground; for it belongs to the medical profession to form a philosophy of disease and cure. Yet the doctrinal statements that will provide the principles for such a philosophy must be cited, since we set out to treat of the influence of spirits upon human states. Admittedly, in drawing out these statements, a certain personal perspective cannot be avoided).
Causes and Cures, Natural and Spiritual
“Only when a man falls into disease” can spirits inflow into his body, and then only “into those things in the man where the disease is” or “into such unclean things as belong to the disease.”366 What are these unclean things ? And how does a man “fall into disease” ?
That illnesses exist which flow directly from lusts and passions of the mind has already been mentioned.367 But we are also assured that “diseases do indeed exist from natural causes among men . . . but as soon as they exist, spirits flow thither which correspond to that disease.” Swedenborg continues : “For spirits who are in evil and falsity, produce precisely such things as are sensibly perceived in sicknesses, as I have plainly experienced . . . beyond all mistake. . . . Hence it is, since such spirits apply themselves there and aggravate the disease by their presence, that if they should be removed by the Lord, man would at once be restored; for there are evil and false spirits to whom correspond diseases and ailments of every kind.”368We presume that such a sudden restoral is possible only where no member is actually cut off.
Swedenborg himself seems to have been immune to any diseases which came from natural causes. For he adds: “But such a one who is as to the spirit in the other life, is immune so long as the Lord permits him to live in the world.”369 Certainly, his biographers agree that his health in later days was remarkable.
Why was this? Perhaps because natural causes do not appear as natural to one who is sensible of the spiritual realm ! At any rate, he continues: “But, because we do not believe spirits to be about us, all these things are ascribed to natural causes. Medicines help! But still more the Lord’s Providence—as people do confess. And, strange to say, sufferers pray to God that they may be restored, and declare that God has restored them; but still, when they are out of that state, every one of them ascribes [his cure] to nature !”370
If we analyze natural causes, they are bound to resolve into spiritual causes. Even an earthquake could not affect anyone unless a spiritual cause—a mental state—has led him to abide in the zone of danger. And in the spiritual world those causes which on earth seem utterly disconnected and beyond any visible law, may be seen to be marvelously dependent on spiritual laws of Divine foresight and permission.
Yet man on earth, not knowing these spiritual connections and interior causes, must act according to his own judgment and prudence. For Providence, in His leading of man, uses also man’s prudence. Disasters that appear to have natural causes, can be ameliorated—at least for the time—by natural remedies. “Medicines help!” “Diseases”—we read—”can be, and also ought to be cured by natural means, for the Providence of the Lord concurs with such means; and thus also man is the longer kept from faith in a Divine Providence in most particular things: for if man should believe this, and then deny it, he would profane a most sacred truth, which profanation is itself a most dreadful hell.”371
The fact that there are spiritual causes operating within disease, “does not prevent man’s being healed naturally, for the Divine Providence concurs with such means.”372 Even the Lord Himself, in one instance, used an external means of cure, when He made clay of His spittle and laid it on the blind man’s eyes. There is power in ultimates. For influx is according to the vessel that receives. A disorderly plane attracts evil influx. If the disorder is corrected, the forces of the general influx through heaven—which operate in unison with the soul’s healing power and creative, formative influx into the body—will again take charge and restore the broken tissues so far as is possible.
It is important to distinguish between a disorder in the body and the disease which may follow it. A small wound, accidentally incurred, will heal without difficulty if it be kept clean. It is only a wear in the tissues—such as occurs, in different fashion, again and again in normal life; and the formative powers of the soul immediately begin to weave new fibres, new cell-structures, to repair the damage. For the soul is as it were omniscient as to all that happens in its body, and continually creates new cells, and redistributes the functions of the body most wisely while healing is going on. The soul also unifies the action of all the cells and fibres and organs into a single whole. There is no break in what we have called “general influx.” But when decay and infection set in, then the “unclean things of the disease” also attract a corresponding influx from the spiritual world. For life is constantly present—it is never absent, knows no limitations of time or space. “The expanse of life … is not an extense, but is yet within the extense of the natural sun, and is with living subjects there according to reception, and reception is according to forms and states.”373According to the quality of the natural vessel, such is the quality of the influx. Heaven cannot inflow into the unclean things of disease. But the life-spheres of hell can and do, and they act therein negatively— to oppose the human form, which is in the order of heaven, and to shatter the harmony of its uses.
What occurs in man’s body in illness resembles what takes place in a man’s mind, which is subject to spiritual diseases. “The sins retained in an impenitent man may be compared to various diseases in him: unless medicines are brought to bear on them, and the malignities are thereby removed, the man dies.”374
This is more than a comparison. For the mind also is in the human form, and has its ailments, each of which corresponds to some bodily disease. The mind—we must remember—is a spiritual organism. And while we live on earth, our mind is enclosed within the tissues of our material body, so intimately that every state of the mind has an effect on the interiors of the body; and in turn the mind accommodates itself so closely to the state of the body, that it appears as if the body had an effect upon the mind.
Spiritual states—mental states—are actuated from the presence of spirits. These spirits do not see or know the man. They only see the knowledges of man’s memory, and think by their means just as if they were man. And when we say that evil spirits inflow or act upon the diseased things of the body, this is said according to the appearance. Spirits cannot “enter” man’s body, nor do they seem to themselves to do so. But when they act spiritually into evil ideas, fantasies, and emotions, and follow the “ways” of spiritual decay which correspond to opposites of the human body, then the sphere of these spirits causes a maladjustment of the currents regulating growth in the body.373 Swedenborg notes that with one like himself whose interiors were open to sense the spiritual environment, spirits who corresponded to various diseases actually produced—in different parts of his body—the symptoms and sensations of these diseases, and this on their first approach.376 He felt their operation within him in that way,377 yet his organic body was apparently not affected, for he was protected by the Lord.378 Until he became accustomed to it, the pain was often almost unbearable.379 At the same time the spiritual character and function of the spirits were manifested, and Swedenborg spoke to them and felt how they affected his thought and emotion.
It belongs to the various departments of medicine to determine what the influx of spirits effects in the bodies of men during disease. Some of these effects are well known. There may be a sudden multiplication of bacterial colonies. There may be the engendering of poisons that infect the fluids and retard or disturb the tissue processes. There may be misdirected or cancerous growths of certain tissues. There may be upsets of the body-tone and of the harmonious vibratory motions by which life in the body is sustained. There may be deficiencies of some of the simple elements or of the complex organic chemicals which food must contain to supply the cells and tissues with the means of growth and renewal. In many cases there occurs an abnormal rise or fall of the vital heat upon which the chemistry of the body depends for its balance.
Diseases are sometimes attended by the presence of bacteria—germs which multiply with incredible speed to generate poisons and to clog the tissues. The nature of such disease germs was not known in Swedenborg’s day and is therefore not directly discussed in the Writings. But it is clear that these invading micro-organisms are to be included with the “unclean things” of disease.380 For evil spirits can inflow only into organic receptacles which, while in the body, are in some way isolated from the soul’s control. It is important to note the teaching that medicines wisely administered can serve in the Divine providence as an effective means by which the ultimates of evil influx can be weakened, counteracted, or removed, so that the influx is diverted from the body. In extreme cases the surgeon’s scalpel must remove the disordered tissue to prevent the spread of the malignity. But such external remedies do not reach the inner causes of disease which will be further considered in our next chapter.
That the inmost soul has at its disposal many marvelous agencies in the body is obvious in all stages of the formation of the embryo and the growth of the body. The strange appearance of “anti-bodies” to counter disease germs in the blood stream is an example of how the balance of organic life is maintained as if by an omniscient government; as is also the dominant role played by the secretions of the endocrine glands. That this government is mediated by the spiritual world has been the theme of this book. But man’s mind is his own special spiritual world. And health and disease may both depend on his psychical states. The philosophy of disease and cure which will eventually take form among the people of the New Church must account first of all for the relation of the body to the mind, and thus to the spiritual world.
Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
13 General Influx
“He sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5: 45
“Life inflows.” This statement is a postulate which no one can refute. For life, wherever it manifests itself, cannot be proved to be inherent in any natural form or to be identical with it. The death of the body testifies to the truth that life is a gift, an “influx” from a realm beyond our sight. Life is a gift—a loan. Revelation assures us that for men it is a permanent loan which shall not be taken away from us. And the further truth is revealed that the life which unfolds its strange qualities in the tiny organisms, from lichens to men, which flourish so miraculously on the surface of the planets, is derived from the Lord God who is infinitely Man—infinite Love and infinite Wisdom.
The Lord governs the heavens and the galaxies of worlds by the modes of His influx—by laws according to which He gives of His life to all finite recipients, just so far as there is response and reciprocation. The Lord alone is Life. What appears as life with man is only reception—variable and limited states of reception. To receive is the esse of man’s life,313 His body is not his own, but is built for him out of the matters of the earth and the atmospheres. His soul is beyond his control and is eternally under the Lord’s care, being formed from higher spiritual substances as the Lord’s own abode with him.314 His mind is formed from lower spiritual substances, and into it are focussed knowledges and thoughts and spheres of affection from neighboring minds and spirits; for no man either wills or thinks from himself.
Man himself is but a state of reception, a state of response to the rich gifts of life which press in from within and from without—”good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over.” Yet he is the focus, the ultimate upon which all the influxes of life are centered as upon their final object in and through which all the ends of creation are to be fulfilled.315 The faculty of reception is given to man by the Lord’s life acting both immediately and through diverse instrumentalities. The Lord inflows into the interiors of man, or into his rational thought and will, both immediately from Himself and mediately through heaven or the spiritual world. He also inflows into the exteriors of man’s natural, both immediately, and mediately through the spiritual world.316
The Lord’s immediate influx is not only into the will and thought of man “but also at the same time into many things which befall him”—thus ruling apparent accidents, chance and fortune; which (as was shown in a preceding chapter) are called “Providence in the ultimate of order, in which all things are relatively inconstant,” or wherein no order or necessary sequence can be discerned, but which are according to Divine foresight.317
The Lord’s mediate influx, or His mediate government of man’s mind and body is effected through the spiritual world— through the heavens and the hells. We have already stressed the teaching that all man’s states draw their causes from the spirits and angels who attend him. We are creatures of changing moods. But we are usually able, on reflection, to account for the states into which we have imperceptibly drifted, by tracing them to natural causes. To excuse our frailties or our impatience, we complain that we are tired, are unjustly treated, are bored or homesick, etc. We tend to blame our rebellious moods, our moral lapses, or our indulgence in self-pity upon deficient health or other natural circumstances.
Yet common experience tells us that the same apparent natural causes do not always produce the same moods but serve merely as an occasion favorable to their appearance. The Writings convert this vague perception into a clear doctrine which teaches that there would be no conscious life, no realized affections or distinct thought with man, except for the influx of spirits and angels; and that the real meanings which we attach to our sensations and experiences in this world are derived from the moods which spirits instil into us—moods of delight or aversion.
If we are to pursue the subject further, however, we must learn to distinguish between “particular influx” and “general influx”—between two types of influx, both mediated by the spiritual world, but affecting men in different ways.318
General Influx and Particular Influx
“There flows from the Lord through the spiritual world into the subjects of the natural world a general influx and also a particular influx—a general influx into those things which are in order, a particular influx into those which are not in order.”318 Animals are all born into the order of their creation and are ruled by a general influx, without the mediation of any spirits and angels; which is of course obvious, since animals existed before mankind. The first men were also created into the order of their lives. And before the Fall, men, like the animals, were no doubt born into similar instinctive grasp of the knowledge needed for their natural life; but they were also born with a faculty to develop a perception of spiritual wisdom which beasts cannot have. The primitive race would then have been governed, even as to their mind, by no other than a “general influx.”319
But differently from the beasts, man could change the original order of his life—although only with reference to his mental life. With the fall into sin, as hereditary evils began to multiply among men, man’s natural mind became utterly divorced from heaven. The sensual degree of that mind became by heredity so infected and perverted that the Writings declare that every tender babe now born is born in “a state of damnation!”320 For an infant feels anything as good if it favors self. This shocking truth implies first of all that man’s mind cannot any longer be governed by a general influx from heaven. The only general influx that it could receive would be a general influx from hell which would flood his unresisting understanding with fantasies of self-love. All his mental instincts would then be perverse beyond any possibility of change, and he would live like a ravening beast without any restraints of reason.321
It was therefore provided by the Lord that man’s will should be separated from his understanding so that the rational part of his mind could be built up in a certain independence of the native will. Although he might long for evil, he could then still learn about truth and good. He could see truths and reflect upon them, so that a new world could be created within him in which he becomes more or less detached from that which was natural and spontaneous to him from birth. He could then be governed in a new way under the Lord’s auspices—by “particular influx” or by limited influences through a succession of angels and spirits so counterpoised that man might be held in a freedom of choice. Two good spirits and two evil spirits thus become his attendants.
Each spirit could act upon him only by affections aroused one by one and presented as intentions and perceptions in his understanding. Good spirits could approach him through the “remains” of good and truth implanted since infancy; and evil spirits would excite the hidden states of his evil loves.
Under the regime of particular influx man is born into ignorance, not as a prey to his instincts. His responsibility is confined to the states which would be gradually aroused through knowledge and experience. His native will is mere self-love, with animal appetites capable of incredible ferocity. But man does not normally realize the character of these dormant loves, for they are mercifully covered over with apparent goods. The hereditary will is covered over, closed and reserved, lest it should overwhelm the mind with irresistible waves of passion. This is the salvation provided for the “spiritual” race on our earth, and is signified by Noah’s retreat into the ark, the lowest mansion of which was shut up.322
Through particular influx man becomes aware of his evil potentialities by their gradual admission into consciousness, as intentions; which is permitted only so far as the understanding is equipped to analyze, to recognize, and to challenge them. Man has no power to change the general state of his natural mind by any sudden exertion of free choice. But he has the power to act from his understanding and judge as to particular states when they come forth one by one. He cannot shun all his evil tendencies, but he can resist them one by one as they appear while he is in free and rational states. By placing man under the rule of particular influx, the Lord as it were permits man to break the bundle of sticks one by one.
By placing man’s disordered mind under particular influx, the Lord did not abrogate the general influx of heaven wherever such influx could be received. General influx still rules all things which are in order, and thus governs those things in body and soul which man does not control. Man has no command over his inmost soul nor over the secret operations within his body. Particular spirits attend man and rest upon his ideas and stir his various emotions, thus affecting his thought and will. But no individual spirits are appointed over that in man’s life over which he has no real direction. He is free to think, to decide what to do, and to initiate an action. But the will flows into act spontaneously, and thought flows into speech by natural processes according to an order which man does not understand because it occurs by general influx in an instinctive manner. It is done by order itself, and neither man or spirit has any part in it.323 After spending many laborious years trying to understand the subject, Swedenborg concluded that “it is better simply to know” that the will inflows and moves the body than to attempt to trace the operations in their intricate fluxions through the fibres from brain to muscles.324 The order itself is as it were implanted in nerves and muscles. Other bodily functions, like the growth of the embryo during gestation, are performed without man’s real assistance. Similarly, one tastes food and swallows it; but this being done, the digestive canal acts without the help of man in converting the food into blood.
On reflection we may see that man’s own part in life is very small, and it is sometimes said that “Nature” carries out the processes of growth, digestion, etc., with an instinctive intelligence immeasurably wiser than man’s own. But nature has no intelligence. It is the Creator Himself who inflows with life immediately into the human soul—the inmost of the spirit—and operates these miracles. The soul, which is above the ken or control of both angels and men, is created in the image and likeness of God and bears within it the cause, pattern and conatus by which the body is formed and maintained.325
The body, as to its essential form, is therefore also under the Creator’s direct rule, so that man cannot by any mental resolve make a single hair white or black. For it is under a general influx, not needing the mediation of any particular spirit.326
Yet the medium through which the human body is created and maintained by general influx is “the Grand Man, which corresponds in all its minute details to human bodies.”327 “Bodily things are exempt from the particular influx of spirits and angels,” lest men should suffer bodily obsessions.328 But the ordinate flow of the will and the thought into bodily acts is “by means of a general influx according to the correspondences of the Grand Man.”329 The human form of the body is indeed modified by parental and environmental factors, through angels, spirits and men. But this modification is comparatively slight and superficial. For “what is effected through mediate influx … is relatively very little.”330 The image of the whole of the Grand Man dominates every society of heaven, and the more general societies correspond to the organs and viscera of the body, and so regard each other mutually and make a one.331
It is a new truth revealed in the Writings that there is a general influx from each general society of heaven into the corresponding part of the human body.332 Such an influx is necessary to maintain the uses of these organs. Without it, not the smallest part of the body could have any life. We read that “spirits are appointed to every member of speech and every member of action; but these spirits do not know it.”
In fact, they are apparently not appointed as individual spirits, but as societies acting by general influx.333
From all these things the universal law may be seen that from the Lord through the spiritual world there flows a general influx into those things which are of order, and a particular influx into what is not in spontaneous order, and that man’s mind, being now in a contrary order, could not subsist without spirits adjoined to him who agree with his life.334 With the people of the most ancient church the affections, such as joy, fear, reverence or shame, were involuntarily expressed in their faces “by a general natural influx.”335 Animals, whether mild or ferocious, are governed by general influx. Indeed, nature, in whole and in part, is so governed.
But general influx has an even wider range. It may be compared with the pressure of the atmosphere which holds all things in their order. The sphere of Divine good, like an atmosphere, infills the universal heaven and encompasses, guards and preserves it. Inmostly it acts even upon the hells, although it is not openly received there and can rule only as Divine truth.336 Unless order was so imposed both in heaven and in hell, the end of creation could never be fulfilled, for even particular influx through spirits would not be possible. No freedom can exist except on the basis of order; without order there can be no clear distinctions, and thus no choice.337
Swedenborg sensed this general influx as a stream of general affections—an invisible stream of providential guidance which overrules all the conflicting endeavors of spirits and men and unifies them into forms of uses through laws of spiritual necessities. It is like an atmospheric current which holds everything in freedom, yet always within bounds. He likens the sweep of this river of heaven to the general motions of the heart and the lungs which dominate the body yet leave its parts in freedom even to the point of contrariety. He saw in it a picture of the Divine mercy.338
Spheres of Universal Loves
All life would perish unless there proceeded from the Lord certain universal spheres which fill each world, the spiritual and the natural, and sustain it.339 One of these Divine spheres looks to the preservation of the universe by means of the procreation of successive generations, and with men this makes one with the sphere of conjugial love. By a general influx it operates the miracle of propagation in all forms of life—from the simplest fern to the most perfect tree and from the unicellular protozoa to the highest mammalian structure. This sphere causes the cells to multiply and the sexes to unite from a spontaneous impulse.
With men, this sphere descends also through the celestial heaven as a free gift of conjugial love which with its ineffable delight comes to lovers everywhere as a temporary loan, by a general influx. But the feeling of selfless surrender which is instilled by this sphere cannot long remain pure, but vanishes like the manna in the desert, leaving life bleak and meaningless unless the minds of the partners are opened, by their own choice and effort, to the particular influx of celestial angels. For these inspire a resistance to evils as sins against God, and a love of the truth which alone can knit the lives of lovers more and more closely into a union of common uses— uses which make marriage the nursery of the human race and the seminary of heaven.
The second universal influx is the Divine sphere which looks to the preservation of what has been procreated. Even in the ultimates of nature we see a distant reflection of this influx in that gems are found in matrices and seeds in husks. Animals have protective coloration and by instinct build nests for their young, which they feed and defend from an inborn love called “storge.” Such a natural love of offspring is implanted in all creation. It gives the birds and beasts a herding instinct that impels an animal to give up its life for the preservation of its kind; in an unwitting resemblance to mutual love.340 Ferocious beasts and evil parents have this love as part of their love of self. How otherwise could life in its many forms be propagated generation after generation ?
A reason why the young of every species are so protected is that a sphere of innocence inflows into the helpless progeny and thence affects parents. With men, the love of procreating and the love of infants can become spiritual loves when the final end regarded is to enrich heaven with as many angels as there are descendants and when the offspring are loved for their moral virtues and their spiritual intelligence.341 Natural loves are provided as free gifts by the Lord’s general influx, to sustain His creation. But spiritual loves can be received only through the man’s own selection of associate spirits, or by particular influx.
General influx is described in the Arcana as “a continuous endeavor from the Lord through the whole heaven into everything pertaining to the life of man.”342 It presses continually for the maintenance of external order and connection and health, so far as man’s freedom will allow it. Evil spirits also are brought into order, within “generals” which govern their particular forms of spiritual rebellion.343 Indeed, there are no hells which are not opposites or perversions of some general good of heaven. And upon these opposites a certain general form of order is externally superimposed, by general influx.
How the general influx of heaven as a whole—all its provinces and societies—maintains order, is seen illustrated in human society. For in a city or commonwealth “every use derives its life from the general” or from the community. Each use depends on the common good (Char., chap. vi). And the uses spring from the natural loves which are implanted in all men. All rewards of use, all wealth, all knowledge, conies to each man from the community, which is therefore likened to a lake from which each man derives his necessities, utilities, and delights; even as the organs of the body derive their nourishment from the common bloodstream. Because of a general influx into the “common good” there can be order in society in spite of the prevalence of evil and selfishness among individuals. There is a general influx of the whole into all the parts, holding them in form. The social instinct comes from a general influx, like the herding instinct with animals. Particular influx through specific spirits who are ever changing, makes for individuality and freedom for both the evil and the good. But general influx protects the state as a whole and causes the common good to be regarded. It causes a nation to unify in face of common dangers, to harbor common ideals and common delusions and to be moved by prejudices and passions peculiar to itself.
General influx maintains cooperative order. But it does not reform the spirit of man. Only by the repentance and regeneration of its citizens can the spiritual state of a nation be changed for the better. Order and legislation can never regenerate society. They merely facilitate the mutual uses of the people. And by this they furnish a neutral plane in which both good and evil men seek their individual ends. It is a common plane for many individual states and particular attitudes, a plane of automatic procedures which cannot be essentially changed or upset by any single person. Yet there might arise a state of disorder, a break-down of civic responsibility and national consciousness on the part of individuals, a state in which the means for the proper performance of uses are lacking and the sphere of general influx can no longer operate. Such a condition brings disease and sometimes death to the commonwealth. This principle has a tremendously important bearing on national and social issues. Totalitarian government while man is evil means a surrender of that particular influx which gives freedom to repent.
Habit and General Influx
It is the Lord who rules our spirit-associations in correspondence with our states and needs. Yet man can select the spirits who rule him. Doctrine states that there is no physical influx—no influx from men to spirits or from this world into the spiritual world. We can therefore not alter the character of the spirits who are with us. They do indeed adopt our natural memory and along with it our beliefs and ideas; and they are held in these ideas as long as they are with us. But we cannot transfer to them the changes of heart which we may experience. If we from free choice shun an evil, the spirits who induced that evil are simply compelled to retire, and are separated.
Students of the Spiritual Diary have marked with surprise that the world of spirits seemed to show no effect of the strong sphere of spiritual interest and exaltation which is apparently present among Christians on the occasions of festival seasons such as Christmas and Easter. To judge from Swedenborg’s entries on such days, the spiritual world was utterly unaffected by the holiday moods of men. Yet we seem to feel a stronger sphere from the spiritual world on such days; as we also do at church gatherings and at the death of a friend. Such is the relation of the two worlds that what we do on earth—our direction and concentration of thought and affection—does no more than invite an influx from such spirits and angels as are already in the loves and thoughts which we on earth wish to entertain. They enjoy the internal sense of the things which we then read about in the Word, for in such ultimates they find their delight. And we may be allowed to hope that the spirits of evil do at least retreat somewhat when the spirit of Christmas or Easter seizes hold of men.
What men do—their habits and their reflections—invites the corresponding types of spirits. This is indeed how habits are formed. For usually a habit is of the mind before it is of the body. Our states of mind mould our habits; which is the same thing as to say that we make our own habits quite freely, by repeating the same decision again and again, thus acting in the same way under similar circumstances. We thus become less and less conscious of our habit. It becomes “second nature,” and thus almost automatic. We add it to our life, and the control of it is as it were elevated into our subconscious memory. We give up controlling the habit. It controls us.344
Viewed from the spiritual world, the establishment of a certain habit actually means that we have placed ourselves under the rule of a special kind of spirits who delight in that routine. We no longer bother to spend any thought upon it. The question whether it is right or wrong no longer comes up. This is for us a great saving of mental labor and even of physical energy. Human life would be most arduous, if not impossible, if whatever a man learned to do would have to be reasoned out again whenever he wished to repeat it. Man could then never acquire skill or facility in anything. No matter how often he had convinced himself of some truth, he would still have recurrent doubts until he worked it all out in his mind again. Under such conditions there could be no progress. Therefore we are allowed to relegate what we have once approved to the interior or subconscious memory; or what is the same, to the spontaneous working of an accepted influx from the spiritual world. And when after death we enter that world, the roads we will see and wish to travel will correspond in general to the habits of thought which we have established in this world.345
When we exercise our freedom of thought in the course of our earthly life we are, from time to time, making decisions as to what particular spirits we desire to receive; for choice has to do with “particular influx.” As long as we are in the life of the body there will be repeated opportunities for such choice. Yet it seems likely, that when we are being carried along in a confirmed habit, which has established an unconscious plane of order or second nature, individual spirits are not so much in question as whole groups of spirits—a selected group of societies through whom life is channelled into our minds.
A man must therefore take thought and explore his habits of mind and body, before they are confirmed beyond the point of no return. In our habits we can recognize the workings of our self-love, our lack of consideration and charity, our impiety, brutality, conceit, or vanity. Our habits will reveal to us our ruling loves, our besetting sins and temptations. External habits which are in themselves good may because of their obsession over us indicate that we place overmuch value on external things.
We can imagine an evil man, a slave to his passions, without restraints or shame, who by his habits has abandoned himself to the general influx from an infernal society. His love has been fixed to the degree that he no longer desires to exercise his freedom of choice, but has surrendered to evil openly and irrevocably, so that his rational mind no longer resists. His spirit is immersed into the hell of his delight. Particular influx is then renounced, and a general influx from hell takes over the government of his mind.
Yet if this be true of an evil man, it must also be true that a regenerating man—after his work of reformation, with its cultivation of good habits, has been completed—will thereafter be upheld in the spontaneous sphere of a more general influx from heaven.
General States and General Influx
A man has freedom and choice in the particular states of his life. But general states are outside of his control. It is from a “general influx” that infants grow up in an unvarying order of development, year by year. Common ages imply common states, with only slight variations. In later life there is very much more differentiation between individuals of the same ages, because as to particular states, self-chosen, men are quite unlike each other in thought and affection.
Even so, there are general or common states among adults. Those in the same use or profession are also in a common state. We often speak of the illustration of a man’s use, a peculiar attitude, light, inspiration, or wisdom, which dignifies an office. The Writings indicate that this is based on general influx, which is given where there is the order of some use. This general influx is not based on man’s regeneration, but on his devotion to the use. An unregenerate man is of course constantly tending to break down the order of his use through dishonesty or indolence and is thus in danger of losing his professional illustration. But a faithful worker—although moved by selfish interests—is externally associated with societies of that use in the other world, and is restrained by their general influx from injuring his use.
That this is so is clear from the appointed rite of priestly ordination. The use of the priesthood being essential to the welfare of mankind, the entrance into this use must be orderly, and is solemnly marked by the laying on of hands (which represents the communication of the powers of illustration) and by “the promise of the Holy Spirit.” In effect the candidate accepts the order and responsibility which open him to a general influx from societies of the priestly use in the other world. But his own personal and inward repentance and regeneration can alone open his heart to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Such internal reception must come by way of particular influx.
With respect to the general environment in which man’s spirit is, order requires that the spirits normally around a man should be those of his own religious persuasion. Without this order—which implies also a general influx to maintain it— there could be no true freedom or normal progress, but man would become an easy prey to fickle states of doubt and spiritual indecision.
Generals come first, particulars come later. We know that as an infant grows up, he enters first into concepts of most general truths and that particulars are later given to infill them. The generals of childish thought are such that they may be accepted from natural affections which are full of hereditary evils as yet hidden. It is not to be doubted that these basic orders of generals from natural experience and from the natural sense of the Word, are maintained by general influxes from the other world. And even with adults, the literal sense of the Scriptures is delightful because the things therein can be explained to favor their own states and opinions, until these generals are qualified by an understanding of particulars and these by a perception of singulars.346
It is the same with generals of doctrine which are taught in the church. These call forth a general influx—which is very vital for preserving the church. If generals of doctrine are denied or contradicted or called into question, the general influx of heaven fails to hold the thought of the church together, and a temptation arises, the outcome of which depends on the individual choice and illustration of each man of the church; for the battle must be decided in the field of particular influx. The prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” is a prayer for the continuance of general influx whereby men are held in a general sphere of faith and charity, the protecting sphere of heaven and of the church as a whole. We are not to seek temptation, nor introduce temptation to others. Yet it is true that general influx by itself cannot at this day preserve the church. Advance can only come if there is individual study of the doctrine and an interior entrance into truths. Generals of doctrine are protective, and must be maintained as basic. But they may easily become lightly and thoughtlessly accepted—intoned as empty ritual and vain repetition.
The Invitation to the New Church—a work which records the results, in past churches, of relying on the momentum of a merely historical faith—therefore contains the following statement: “Unless the present little work be added to the preceding one [the True Christian Religion], the church cannot be healed. For it would be a merely palliative cure. . . . The doctrine of the New Church indeed furnishes the medicine, but only exteriorly” (Inv. 25). The little work referred to was therefore added; for it contained certain particulars of utmost importance for the establishment and survival of the church.
General Influx into the Mind
The body is held by the Lord under general influx, as an instrument for man’s mind. The externals of human society are also held in order by general influx. But the mind is attended by particular spirits, good and evil, which grant to men freedom of choice in matters of thought and will. Yet even within the mind general influx dominates. It is only in the thin conscious fringes of the mind that man’s own choice is actually operating. In the unplumbed depths of the mind and in the surrounding spiritual world general influxes order all things, and endow man with the power of reasoning, analysis, and logic. General influx must flow into the minds of all men. Thus it is mentioned that “there is a universal influx” into the souls of all men predisposing them to perceive “that there is a God and that He is one.”347 No man is taught by influx; but the gyre and flux imposed upon the mind are especially attuned to accept such truths. There is also a general influx out of heaven as a whole which disposes the minds of men to think of God in terms of the human form, but variously according to their states of perception and provided that there is something of order in the mind by the shunning of evils as sins. The perception of immortality is also mentioned as universal.343 Such general concepts are indeed said to be “implanted” in the mind, or to be “intuitive.” But what is meant is that they come from a general influx.
Indeed, our faculty of thinking could not operate unless certain “generals” were so implanted in our minds that we are not aware of them. Animals, of course, are wholly led by a connate disposition and order which automatically responds to specific general influxes of their predestined natural affections. It is from an ordering by general influx that both men and animals instinctively learn to judge distances and without reflection learn to avoid objects. And man learns to order all that he knows into general categories, arranging his knowledge into series and orders according to general qualities, classing particular ideas under general heads, and thus marking out limits and protective bounds within his thoughts.349
But, finally, general influx is also responsible for that gift which is common with the simple but often lacking among those of the learned who cannot think from general principles. This is “common sense”—thought that is not the product of learned arguments or preconceived logical formulas, but comes from seeing truth in its own light. Common perception is the great preservative of mankind.350 It can in a moment explode the most elaborate structure of fallacy. It spans our practical difficulties. It cuts the Gordian knot of seemingly hopeless dilemmas. It nullifies theological doubts. As a fresh breeze it clears the smoke clouds from the scene of our intellectual battles; and remains usually the sole victor. And upon it rest the blessings of heaven. Yet common sense—alone— cannot regenerate or even reform. It can but preserve the remnants of order in the mind.
Whatever comes from general influx depends on a remnant of order, on the health of the body or the mind. Where evil steps in or disease enters this order is disturbed, and heaven reluctantly withdraws her protective wings somewhat, with the distressing result that individual spirits of hell begin to inflow.
Selection from Doctrine of Faith ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
Most of us would welcome a life without temptation. It would be so easy to be good!
According to Swedenborg, however, a life without temptation would actually guarantee the opposite: It would leave us mired in evil and bound for hell. In fact, his theology says that temptation is the only way we can root out our evils and let the Lord into our hearts, so we should recognize it as an opportunity even if we can’t exactly embrace it as a good time.
The reasoning behind this starts with the idea that we are what we love; that what we care about actually determines our character and defines our identity. That might sound odd at first, but consider: If you say that you “know” someone, you’re really talking about an awareness of what they love, not an awareness of all their thoughts. What we love is who we are.
And from the beginning of our lives, what we love is highly self-centered. Much as we love babies for their innocence, they can’t even form the concept of putting someone else’s needs first. And while children and teenagers learn to be kind and considerate, that kindness is more in their external levels – inside they are busy with the work of becoming themselves, and that remains a self-involved process.
Somewhere between there and the end of life, we’re called on to change completely, setting our self-interest aside and replacing it with a genuine love for others and love for the Lord. That, however, involves uprooting the things we love most. And since those loves form our identity, that’s really hard, and has to be done in many, many steps.
The key element working for us is the mind: from our knowledge and thoughts we can know what’s right even when we don’t want it. In fact, from our knowledge and thoughts we can actually want to be better people, while in our hearts we still want to wallow in those attractive evils.
Elevating the mind this way creates a conflict between “the person I want to become” and “the person I am,” between “what I want” and “what I want to want” (sort of like, “I want to be craving celery, but I’m really craving cookies”). And since the hells want to keep you enslaved by cookies, they go on the attack, using both blunt desire and twisted logic and argument to try to break you down.
Key to the hells’ attack is the fact that what we want forms our identity; giving up each evil thing we crave feels like sacrificing a little part of who we are. But the Lord’s promise is this: If we actually do it, stick through it and let that piece of ourselves be sacrificed, He will eventually replace it with the desire for something good, pure and loving.
An interesting twist is that if we tried to do this all at once, we actually would lose our identity, destroying every love we have at once. This may sound odd – wouldn’t we want such a transformation- – but imagine someone you think of as thoroughly evil: Hitler, perhaps, or Caligula, or Vlad Dracula. Then imagine removing, in one swipe, all their evil desires. Would we even recognize them anymore? Would they be themselves? Would they be anything?
But imagine a child’s stuffed bear, loved so much that it loses an arm. You replace the arm, and then it is loved so much that it loses the other arm. And then the legs, and the head, all replaced one at a time. Finally the body wears through and you replace that too. So what you have is the same bear, but with every part replaced. That’s kind of how the Lord works on us: Through a lifelong series of temptations we can root out and replace one little bit at a time until we emerge all-new and ready for heaven while still being who we are.
It’s clear, then, how crucial a role temptation plays. If we never had that conflict between what we want to be in our minds and what we are in our hearts, the evil would just stay in our hearts untouched. We have to take on those battles, one by one over a lifetime, to become the people the Lord wishes us to be.