There have been in general four Churches on the Earth

There have been in general four Churches on the Earth

That there have been four churches in general on this earth since its creation, one succeeding another, can be seen both from the historical and prophetical Word; especially in Daniel, where these four churches are described by the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in a dream (chap. ii), and afterwards by the four beasts coming up out of the sea (chap. vii). The first church, which is to be called the Most Ancient, existed before the flood; the consummation or end of this is described by the flood. The second church, which is to be called the Ancient, was in Asia, and in part in Africa; this was consummated and destroyed by idolatries. The third church was the Israelitish, which began with the promulgation of the decalogue upon Mount Sinai, and continued through the Word written by Moses and the prophets, and was consummated or ended by the profanation of the Word; the fullness of which profanation was at the time when the Lord came into the world,—and therefore Him who was the Word they crucified. The fourth church is the Christian, established by the Lord through the evangelists and apostles. Of this there have been two epochs; one from the time of the Lord to the council of Nice, and the other from that council to the present day. But in its progress this church was divided into three parts, the Greek, the Roman Catholic, and the Reformed. They are all however called Christian. Besides, within each general church there have been several particular churches, which, although they have withdrawn have yet retained the name of the general; as the heresies in the Christian church. (TCR n. 760)

General Character of these four Churches

In the most ancient times men were informed concerning heavenly things, or the things which relate to eternal life, by immediate intercourse with the angels of heaven. For heaven then acted as one with the man of the church, for it flowed in through the internal man into their external; whence they had not only enlightenment and perception, but also converse with the angels. This time was called the golden age, from the fact that men were then in the good of love to the Lord; for gold signifies that good. These things are also described by the Garden of Eden in the Word. Afterwards information concerning heavenly things, and concerning the things that relate to eternal life, was given by such things as are called correspondences and representations; the knowledge of which was derived from the most ancient men, who had immediate intercourse with the angels of heaven. Heaven then flowed into these things with them and enlightened them; for correspondences and representations are external forms of heavenly things. And men were then enlightened in proportion as they were in the good of love and charity; for all Divine influx out of heaven is into the good in man, and through the good into truths. And because the .man of the church at that time was in spiritual good, which good in its essence is truth, those times were called the silver age; for silver signifies such good. But when the knowledge of correspondences and representations was turned into magic, that church perished; and a third succeeded, in which all worship was indeed performed by things almost similar, but yet it was unknown what they signified. This church was established among the Israelitish and Jewish nation. But as information concerning heavenly things, or the things which relate to eternal life, could not be communicated to them by influx into their interiors, and thus by enlightenment, therefore angels from heaven spoke by the living voice with some of them, and instructed them concerning external things; and little concerning internal things, because they could not comprehend them. Those who were in natural good received these things devoutly; and those times were therefore called the brazen age, for brass signifies such good. But when not even natural good remained with the man of the church, the Lord came into the world and reduced all things in the heavens and in the hells to order; to the end that man may receive influx from Him out of heaven, and be enlightened, and that the hells should not prevent and let in thick darkness. Then a fourth church began which is called Christian. In this church information concerning heavenly things, or concerning the things that relate to eternal life, is communicated solely by means of the Word; through this man has influx and enlightenment. For the Word was written by pure correspondences and pure representatives, which signify heavenly things,—into which the angels of heaven come when man reads the’ Word. Hence by means of the Word a conjunction of heaven with the church is effected, or of the angels of heaven with the men of the church; but only with those therein who are in the good of love and of charity. But because the man of this church has even extinguished this good, he cannot therefore be informed by any influx, and by enlightenment from the Word,—except concerning some truths which are not connected with good. Hence these times are what are called the iron age; for iron denotes truth in the ultimate of order. But when truth is such it is of the quality described in Daniel: “Thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay; they shall mingle themselves by the seed of man, but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay” (ii. 43). From these facts it may be seen how revelations have succeeded, from the most ancient times down to the present; and that at this day revelation is only given through the Word. But genuine revelation is with those who are in the love of truth for the sake of truth, and not with those who are in the love of truth for the sake of honour and gain as ends. For, if you will believe it, the Lord is the Word itself, since the Word is Divine truth, and Divine truth, because from the Lord, is the Lord in heaven. They therefore who love Divine truth for the sake of Divine truth love the Lord; and heaven flows in with those who love the Lord, and enlightens them. But they that love Divine truth for the sake of honour and gain as ends, turn themselves away from the Lord to themselves and to the world; and therefore with them there can be no influx and enlightenment. They also, because in the sense of the letter they keep their minds fixed upon themselves and upon their own fame and glory, interpret that sense in conformity with such things as favour their loves. (AC n. 10,355)