The Process of Resuscitation
Paul, in his famous but somewhat vague description of the resurrection, given in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (ch. xv) , imagined that the quick and the dead, on the sounding of the judgment trumpet, would all be changed and put on immortality “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” For Paul, in his youth, sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the celebrated Jewish rabbi, and he reflects much of the doctrine of the Pharisees, who believed in a last judgment day common to the living and the dead.28
In the Writings, however, it is revealed that the resurrection of man is individual, and that it occurs not in the twinkling of an eye but as a process, a gradual change of state. Death is indeed sudden, in the sense that there is a moment when the spirit’s departure is unavoidable. But the resurrection is a process—a gradual adjustment of the spirit to conscious, free life in the eternal world.
Death occurs when the two vital motions, the respiration of the lungs and the beating of the heart, cease, and the body, deprived of the life of the spirit, grows cold and begins to decay. But until the heart’s motion is entirely stopped the spirit continues in the body “for a short time.”29 And even after the body is apparently cold, life may with some persist as conscious thinking. The spirit can of course not have any sensation of its natural environment— since respiration has stopped—nor can it move even a particle of the gross matter of the body.30 The spirit, though definitely severed from the body, may still abide in it, by virtue of the “finest substances of nature” which are not affected by death but are retained by the spirit as a “limbus” which eventually “recedes” as a cutis-like covering.31 These substances would not leave the body until the “interior corporeals” grow cold. The thought here described would be tranquil and unaffected by the state of the body.32
Death is, in a manner, like sleep; for in sleep celestial agencies are at work to relax and restore man’s body and mind. But the celestial angels who attend man’s resuscitation are concerned with preserving the sense of the continuity of life. They are drawn to man on the faintest notion of the approach of death, or whenever the proprium of man is awe-struck with fear or paralyzed by uncertainty. Their presence is felt in the spiritual world as an aromatic odor, which causes evil spirits to flee.33 And it is due to their wise ministrations that the spirit of a dying man is held in the last thought which he entertains as he is expiring—a thought which is commonly about eternal life. The celestial angels have the effect of quieting all man’s own affections—all his anxiety, impatience, revenge, lust, and ambition. This the Lord accomplishes by temporarily cutting off any communication with the attendant spirits which man had himself invited while on earth, or with any societies in the world of spirits or in hell. Man thus becomes passive, as if in sleep. Indeed, these spirits then suppose that man is dead. For as the poets have noted, Death is but the somber sister of Sleep.34 And the angels breathe no accusation, no reproach, whatever man’s quality had been. For “they love every one,” seeing not his proprium, but the “remains” of celestial good with which the Lord has endowed every man from childhood.35
Thus man’s mind becomes docile as a babe’s. His thought, guided by angelic affections, is drawn out—vaguely but persistently—while a blissful feeling of security enwraps him. This single thought, sensed as a soothing monotone, is like a narrow bridge whereon the spirit is borne up without sense of time or self-consciousness, and is carried across the abyss which we call Death, into the land of Resurrection.
The Three Stages of Resuscitation
All those who die, whether good or evil, are received in the spiritual world as welcome guests.36 But their introduction is gradual, by orderly stages.
That he might learn something of these successive stages, Swedenborg was reduced into a state resembling that of a dying person.37 This occurred on the morning of March 1, 1748. His spirits then withdrew, thinking that he was dead, because his proprial affection was taken away. His heart beat was normal while his respiration became tacit; he became insensible of the world and yet remained conscious so that he remembered what occurred.
By means of this experience he was instructed how a spirit is prepared for his resurrection—how he is received first by celestial angels, later by spiritual angels, and finally by good spirits more akin to his own life; and how, “on the third day,” he awakens into the world of spirits, to take up his own life where he left it off.38
These three states of resuscitation precede his final awakening in the world of spirits which takes place “on the third day.”39There is need for such an introductory period and for a brief recapitulation of the spiritual history of his life. The Lord needs to reorient the spirit around the celestial and spiritual remains and surviving moral states which evil has not destroyed and which were the Lord’s own creations in his mind. Soon enough the spirit will resume control of his own life, follow the biddings of his proprial affections, and begin the journey towards the goal of his ruling love. But first the Lord needs to revive and integrate what is of the Lord’s own with man, and thus marshal the saving elements in the rising spirit. And this—the gathering and organizing of all “remains” and the removal and quieting of the trivial worries of natural life, must be done for the evil as well as for the good.
It is the Lord who is the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11:25) The resuscitation of man’s spirit is effected by the living and mighty attraction of the Lord’s mercy, who said, “And I, if I be lifted up, shall draw all men unto Me.”40
The inmost “soul” of man is the abode of the Lord and the medium of His unimpeded influx by which He, by Himself, organizes and builds both spirit and body. He needs no angelic assistance in that work, or in the gathering of such “human internals” to Himself.41 Neither angel nor man is aware of His secret labors.
But the “spirit,” or mind, is formed in the sphere of angels and spirits. And in the order of its building, the celestial angels came first to assist. It is through them that the interiors of the minds of every man are furnished in infancy with those celestial “remains” which made a beginning for all that is orderly and rational and human in man. It is these same angels “of the province of the heart”42—who are now the first to assist in the reconstruction of the mind of the spirit from within, from the innocent states of infancy, for its adaptation to a purely spiritual environment.
With every one who dies, two celestial angels also generally appear seated near his head.43 These seem to be in meditation-communicating their thoughts without words or images, and by as it were “inducing their faces” upon the spirit; and when their thoughts are recognized as theirs, and not the spirit’s own, they know that the spirit can be withdrawn from the body.44 They maintain man’s final thought, however, lest man’s identity be lost in the transition. For in all change there must be an inner connective. And for all their own desire to hold the spirit in their sphere the celestials will nothing more than the freedom of man. And after a time the spirit begins to gravitate towards externals-unable to sustain the profound peace of innocence and selfless love.45
The celestial angels do not leave the resuscitating spirit, but act more remotely.46 But the spirit now requires something they cannot give. His first need was one of spiritual warmth, for a revival of that inmost motivation of innocence from which his infant heart had begun to beat. His new need is one for spiritual sight. And even as in each child and youth, the spiritual heavens superintend the storing up of spiritual “remains” of truth and intellectual sight, which intimately correspond to the societies of the second heaven,47 so now these remains must be revived for use in the new spiritual environment.
So far, in the background of the spirit’s thought, there was a dim idea that he was still living in the body.48 But when spiritual angels approach from the province in the Grand Man which answers to the tunics of the eyes, they seek to communicate by visual representations and thereby to give spiritual light—the light which reveals the spiritual world.49 The appearance to the spirit is as if they gently rolled off a tunic from his eyes, until dim light begins to show through — like the light of the newly awakened before the eyelids are opened; or like what took place with the blind man whom the Lord cured and who at first saw only “men, as trees, walking.”50 Various types of imagery present themselves as their vision clears—presaging a new sight which sees in concrete fashion that which man before had perceived only as abstractions. This is effected by a removal or sinking back of corporeal ideas.51Something seems to be unveiled from the spirit’s face — which represents his passing from natural thought into the type of thinking that is common to all in the after-life. And with this a new sense-perception is given by degrees. In some cases the spirit is enveloped by a golden light and he is given a feeling of happiness and gladness—a feeling of the commencement of a new life. And he is then told that he is a spirit!52 He can look about him and see spiritual things in the customary symbolism of his thought — as if they were natural.53 But the spiritual angels delight to inform him about eternal life and, if he had been in faith or at least in some external belief in heaven, they will show him the wonders of the heavenly mansions—as if in a prophetic preview.54
The Arcana Coelestia reveals concerning the dying, that “scarcely a day intervenes after the death of the body before they are in the other life.”55 And on the cross the Lord said to the penitent robber, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”56 Perhaps this refers to the paradises which the spiritual angels show to the rising spirits! In one case Swedenborg may have been present with other angels at this stage of the resurrection process. For he tells that he spoke to Eric Brahe twelve hours after the latter had been executed.57
When a spirit is informed by the spiritual angels that he is a spirit, this does not seem to cause him any surprise. His state seemingly is still passive—as man is in a dream. But with the consciousness of life there usually comes also “self-consciousness”— with a revival of old desires. Even instruction about heaven wearies him eventually, and so he withdraws himself from the spiritual angels.
Next, he finds himself in a society of good spirits—presumably angels of the natural or lowest heaven, where truths are taught by representations. The spirit man seems to himself to be in the flower of his youth and riding a horse which, strangely enough, cannot move a step although he is directing it towards hell!58 He then dismounts and walks—being instructed that his reasonings would lead him astray unless he was guided by knowledge which distinguishes between right and wrong. The good spirits among whom he now is, do not at first know his quality.59 But they delight to show him every kindness—evoking so far as possible the states of moral good and the virtues which he had made his own.60
But actually the spirit is sinking back towards the state of life in which he was when death overtook him. The process of resuscitation is not complete until he has returned into his customary sphere of thought, and “associates himself with those who are in full agreement with his former life in the world, among whom he finds as it were his own life… .” “. .. After sinking back into such a life, he makes a new beginning of life. . . .”61
Resurrection on the Third Day
The Lord’s death and resurrection are often taken as a model of man’s transition. The Lord suffered a violent death on the cross at about three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, and rose from the sepulchre in His glorified Human at dawn on the following Sunday; thus after about thirty-eight hours had elapsed. This period is referred to in the expressions “on the third day” and “after two days.”62 The Hebrews sometimes used the phrase “three days” counting each part of a day as one day; and, in a hyperbole, the Lord once predicted His abode in the tomb as lasting “for three days and three nights”—the significant number “three” being emphasized to indicate completeness.63
It might be observed that the apostle Peter states that the Lord, being put to death in the flesh, was “quickened by the Spirit; by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”64The implication is that “when He rose again” He descended “into the lower regions” of the world of spirits and liberated these captive souls.65 The Lord may have been present spiritually and indeed visibly with them even during His sojourn in the tomb. No such activity is shown by the spirit of man during the process of his resuscitation. For man is then in a state of passivity.
The consistent doctrine of the Writings is that man rises into the world of spirits on the third day. All that befalls before this is a preparation. And of this preparation, described above, we read in the work Heaven and Hell:
“This opening (exordium) of man’s life after death does not last more than some days. . . .” “I have talked with some on the third day after their death, and then those things which were described above (nos. 449, 450) had been accomplished.” The spirit’s entrance into the world of spirits “takes place shortly after his resuscitation, as described above.”66
The separation of the spirit from the body is said to be completed mostly “on the second (altero) day after the last agony,” and thus most are introduced into the spiritual world “after a period of two days,”67 or “on the third day after he has expired.”68The spirit, on the third day, thus awakes into the state of his corporeal memory, and it appears to him as if he was still in the body and “that the time elapsed since death has been only as a sleep,” with lingering memories of dreams beyond recapture.69
He now begins to attract to himself such spirits, good or evil, as agree with his own affections or cupidities. He has forgotten the premonitory instructions of the angels.70 His corporeal memory of earthly events becomes again active in a brief revival. This is necessary in order that death may be shown to be a continuation of normal life and thus assure the continuity of his personality. He begins his own life de novo by taking up the pattern of his memory as it existed at the moment of his death.71 Thus “every one, in the first days after death, knows no otherwise than that he lives in the same world in which he was before. For the time since passed is as a sleep, from which, when he is awakened, he does not perceive otherwise than that he is where he was.”72