Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


The Human Form

by Rev. Hugo Lj. Odhner

It is the habit today to think of life in terms of mechanics. Not content with the bodies that the Lord made for us, we have extended the power of our hands by bulldozers and rockets, and instead of our feet we use automobiles and jet planes. Our eyes are improved by spectacles and their horizon has been widened incredibly by telescopes and electron microscopes. Night is turned into day by artificial illumination. Computing machines speed the human brain. And we resort to chemical artifices to make our bodies stand a strain for which they were seemingly not originally intended.

Centuries ago, the human form - the body and brain of man - was without question taken as the perfect summit of organic life in the best of all possible worlds. But now biologists regard many of our organs as inadequate and clumsy vestiges of a questionable past. Many consider that - if life existed on some other planets - the type which became dominant there might well be of the insect-order, rather than the human. Their only claim for the superiority of the human form is that it happens to have been adapted for survival on our earth, under the conditions which "happened" to obtain here.

The materialistic thinker would entirely rule out the idea of an intelligent Creator from the scheme of any such evolution of man from the primeval slime. To his mind, life arose by chance - combinations of interacting chemicals, and man's body evolved merely in adaptation to a shifting environment, like a complex machine the parts of which happen to fall together by chance - a thing which goes counter not only to religion, but to common sense, and even to the laws of probability.

To think of the human body as a machine leaves the heart cold and the mind suspicious. For the concept seems to evade the major fact of consciousness and of our sense of freedom. Leaders of thought have therefore often been driven to postulate a driving power intrinsic in matter itself which blindly releases its energy under whatever forms fortuitous circumstances permit. It is so, they suggest, that the human body was formed. As for the mind - they say - it is but a temporary spurt of consciousness, doomed to flicker out when the body dissolves. Some speak of this driving force, poetically, as God, even when they mean the interiors of nature. But wherever it appears among men, the spirit of religion still stirs a perception that the breath of life which takes of the dust of the ground and makes man a living soul, is from God. There is an influx into the souls of all men which predisposes them to accept this truth as in accord with reason: that God is and that He is one; and along with this, that God created mankind in His own image and after His likeness. (TCR 8)

This is an ancient yet revolutionary truth which is fully developed only in the revealed doctrine of the New Church, but which is already taught in Scripture and has been vaguely acknowledged in the churches from a common perception. It makes man central to creation - as the means through which the Divine end of creation is to be accomplished. It endows the human form and shape with a certain sanctity which even the ugly facts of evil, disease and perversion cannot take away.

From this point of view, the body and mind of man are recognized as the focus of all the purposes and uses of creation, as a microcosm in which all planes and powers found in the universe finally co-operate for a common end - to resolve the rhapsody of life into the joy and beauty of truth and into the holiness of love.

For we can then see how universally the human form is reflected everywhere. All nature, in its changing moods and cycles, is transformed into a world of symbols - symbols readily sensed by lovers and poets as well as by New Church men as corresponding to the world of the mind and the spirit. All nature, with its birds and beasts, its unknown deeps and its more familiar surroundings, its distant mysteries of whirling planets and blazing stars - all is brought into, a strange kinship with man.

The doctrine therefore states: "The universe, regarded as to uses, is man in an image." (DLW 317) There is a remote likeness of man in the beast, the bird, the fish; even in the tree, and in the earth and the solar - system; yea, in the starry firmament with its suns and satellites. And all that man uses and produces - from field or sea or mine - and all that he builds up around him, comes to represent his needs and the extensions of his personality. Even the engines and implements which man's brain calls into being through the magic formulas of knowledge are but further developments of the powers of man's body in his struggle to overcome the handicaps of matter, space and time which impede the spirit while on earth.

We confess that we have a great aversion to likening man's body to a machine - even an animated machine. For the idea of mechanical law suggests what is dead and devoid of innate purpose. We prefer to describe the body as organic - replete with a living purpose. Yet every machine made by man reflects the human need or yearning, good or evil, which promoted its invention.

It is as if the modern Adam, long banished from Eden, but still searching for some help-meet for him in his low estate, was permitted again to bestow names upon the creatures and elements of the world, by recognizing their human uses, and thus an image of man.

How much more clearly is it not true of the Creator, that "as the created universe is from God, His image is in it, as the image of a man is in a mirror; in which the man does indeed appear, although there is nothing of the man in it." (DLW 59) "Every created thing . . . is as it were [such] an image of God." (DLW 56)

The prime concept within all New Church thinking is that the human form is derived from the form of God-Man; that "whatever proceeds from God is of the human form, because God is Himself the Human itself (Ipse Homo)." (Inv. 48) Thus "the human is the inmost in every created thing, yet without space." (DLW 285) It is the endeavor towards the human that pulsates as an effort or purpose within all creation from its inmosts – ordering all things into the semblance of that order of use which, in its fullness and complete balance, is represented within the bodily form of man.

As long as we think only from the spatial aspect of the human body – its average size, its shape, its two eyes and four extremities – we would, of course, find difficulty in seeing an image of man in the universe around us. Some mystic philosophers actually believed that the stars were arranged in the human shape! But our doctrine is not concerned with shape, but with functions.

Thus we believe that the law that organizes nature is inmostly one law – a spiritual law which is everywhere the same in purpose; and that this creative law is due to the influx of the Divine truth itself, which is that from which not only the spiritual world, but nature itself, had its origin. (7Ath. Cr. 191; 1111 137; AC 5272, 7004, 8200e, 6880, 6115e, 10076: 5)

This influx from the Divine Human contains the infinite potentialities of the human form. But in finite creation it is differently received. Each animal or vegetable form thus becomes an exaggerated image of some one of those uses which in their complete balance are found only in man. The use of sight may, for instance, be represented in some animals by many eyes, the function of locomotion by many legs. Yet all human functions are reflected in every form of creature, even if obscurely. This limitation of the Divine image begins in the spiritual world of causes, in the "souls" of organic things, for these souls are derived from different degrees of the spiritual realm.

All things which appear upon earth – herbs and trees and birds and beasts – are correspondences of the infinite affections of the Lord’s love and of the infinite perceptions of His wisdom. (TCR 78) Yet it is only when the three kingdoms of earth are taken together with the spheres of other earths and with the mazes of the starry skies that the full representation of the human form is obtained.

A knowledge of the unique doctrine of correspondences, revealed in the Writings, is essential if the scheme of creation is to be seen in its logical whole. Many thinkers, past and present, have acknowledged that there must be a purpose, a Divine purpose, in creation. But none have realized to any extent that if there is a purpose, an intelligent, beneficent end in the universe such as the formation of the angelic heavens, then the things created must correspond to that original end-in-view, and represent it and serve it in finite ways. If a single link were missing in this chain of correspondences, the purpose of God would be thwarted! Nothing positive can spring from God-Man which does not represent something of the Divine. A stone could not be hard, unless the Divine truth was eternal! A child could not be born, unless the Divine love was creative! A man could not attain any wisdom, unless the Creator was omniscient!

The only philosophy which logically follows out the law that every effect has its cause, is one which shows that the Creator must be infinite God-Man. For the source of life must be higher than the highest product of life; and in the universe no law and no virtue exists which is not presented in its highest finite form – its spiritual aspect – in man.

For this reason every vital religion of the past has been based on some conception of God as personal or human. In the Old Testament this personal aspect of God was presented in accommodation to sensual and barbaric men: and Yehowah is thus pictured as an arbitrary monarch possessing the same passions as men; as bargaining with Abraham and Jacob, as permitting polygamy and bloody sacrifices, as sanctioning laws of retaliation. Hostile critics have seized upon such descriptions and scornfully labeled any concept of a personal God as "anthropomorphic" – as making a god in the image of man. They even class the more lovable picture, given in the New Testament, of God as a Heavenly Father, as a futile attempt to refine a superstition dating back to the supposedly "savage" days of primitive man.

But they fail to see that the human form is universal, as a pervasive conatus or organizing endeavor. It does not only manifest itself in the similarities of design which we see among plants and animals and men; but it manifests itself in the forms of human society, wherever two or three are gathered together.

The truth is that only the Lord possesses the human form. This form may be defined as the union of love and wisdom, or the unity of good and truth. But man can become human in a finite image; he can grow into the human form as far as a will of good is conjoined with an understanding of truth. The Gospels and the Writings name this process "a new birth," a spiritual "regeneration." This conjunction of good and truth is the measure of life and is what makes heaven, and, in a marriage of love truly conjugial, fulfils the promise of human happiness.

In the natural world, nothing new is produced even in a physical sense except from an image of this conjunction of good and truth, or of active and passive. In the ultimates of earth, that image grows less perceptible. But man – in whom are collated all things of Divine order, from primes to ultimates – is the fulcrum from which there can begin an ascent of uses whereby mankind itself can in the after-life be built up by the Lord into a sublime image of Man, or into an eternal kingdom of spiritual uses, seen by the Lord as a Grand Man. (LJ 9; AC 3701ff.)

The human race can attain to such an approximation to the human form only through uses – by the specialized service of each individual to others; whereby good and truth are freely conjoined within the complex whole of society until this is organized into a fabric of common charity, common faith, common worship, and common understanding – a society which attains its perfection in the heavens of the after life.

But as in heaven, so upon earth. The Writings tell us a marvelous thing: that there is, dispersed over this sinful globe, a universal church which consists of all salvable men, men who "live in the good of charity according to their religion"; men from every race and church and nation who are in something of innocence, who acknowledge God and refrain from what they know to be evil because it is against God. Whether living scattered or gathered into "societies," they are known to the Lord alone, and in His sight they are as one "grand man" – one human form. (AC 7396: 2, 3898; HH 308; DP 326: 10, 328: 8; cp. AE 1178-1180) Thus all salvable men are bound together by a secret connective – an invisible government and a communion of similar purpose – no matter how far they are apart in distance; a spiritual communion, through which the spirits of all such men are linked and governed by the Lord’s providence. Mankind is therefore an organic whole, connected not only by the mechanical communications which are now becoming incredibly perfected, but by a spiritual liaison through the spirits and angels who attend us.

It is through the men of the Lord’s universal church that the human race can persist despite the general perversion of religious truths in the Christian churches and in the pagan world, and despite the continued accumulation of hereditary evils among men. For these people are not interiorly affected by the falsities which spring from evil, nor do they understand them or defend them, even though they might accept them formally. By the influence of such sincere people the rampant evils of the world are to some extent counteracted, modified and restrained, so as to avert the destruction on the brink of which mankind stands. They are indeed our unknown allies, like the "earth" which helped the apocalyptic woman by swallowing up the flood which the dragon spewed forth from its mouth. (Rev. 12; AE 762e, 764)

But there are – in the spiritual economy of the world – essential uses which cannot be accomplished by good intentions alone, or by the church universal. For wherever falsities are accepted for truths, progress is misdirected and the judgment on evil is delayed. Therefore another remarkable thing is revealed: In order that the church universal may be maintained, it is essential that there be also, somewhere on earth, a "church in special" or church specific where the Lord is known and the Word is read with understanding, and where there is an effort to restore among men the order of heaven. Such a specific church, as an "inmost" of the church universal, is founded on a new revelation of Divine truth and established to provide the conjunction of the church with heaven. (HH 308 refs; AE 313: 3) It is to serve in both worlds as a vital center from which the light of the Word, the light of intelligence, may be propagated; and this in order that a perpetual judgment may be carried on upon the evils of the human heart and upon the spirits which inspire them; and also in order that a continued instruction in spiritual truths may be given from the Word, not only on earth but in the world of spirits, where are the portals of the heavens.

It is specifically taught that the light in which the angels from our planet are is from the Lord by means of the Word. From this as from a center light is diffused in heaven to gentiles and others who are outside the church where the Word is known; and this diffusion of light affects also the minds of men, giving "a new enlightenment" to them as far as they accept instruction from the Word, and as far as they will to perceive it. (AE 351 e; CLJ 30; LJ 74)

All this is revealed in the Writings in order to show the necessity why a new specific church must be established whenever an old church has ceased to perform the spiritual use of dispensing the spiritual truths of the Word. For "all in the whole earth who constitute the church universal, dive from the church where the Word is . . ." And "the Word in the church, although it is with comparatively few, is life from the Lord through heaven to all the rest. . . ." (AE 351; SS 105f)

This may be grasped more easily when we reflect on how certain remnants of truth, which have been preserved among various religions and in the literary heritage of many nations, have all drawn their origin from the Ancient Word, the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Gospels, and thus from specific churches of the past (AE 1178f); and how it is especially in heaven and the world of spirits that the diffusion of spiritual light can take place unhindered by distances or by barriers of language.

But the universal church even on earth is dependent for its spiritual life upon the specific church which has the Word and which understands it and lives it. This church specific is the means by which there is a conjunction of mankind with heaven. It is to be for the body of the church universal what the heart and lungs are for the human body. Only as long as the heart beats and the lungs respire is the spirit of mind of man conjoined with the body. (AC 931, 932, 4423, 10452, 2853; HH 305, 308)

Because the first Christian Church has reached its consummation and judgment both as to doctrine and as to life, it can no longer perform this function of maintaining a conjunction with heaven. In order to restore it, a new revelation of truth was therefore given from the mouth of the Lord, as a means to institute a new specific church – the Church of the New Jerusalem. This, we are assured, "will never undergo consummation," but "will endure to eternity" and gift mankind with "spiritual peace and internal blessedness of life." (AE 641, 670; TCR 779; Verbo 20; Coro. LIH, 18)

It is clear that no organization of men can claim that it is the church specific. Those only are of the church in whom the church is. Still, every one can, in penitent humility, resolve to serve what he apprehends to be its needs. Thus it is the avowed endeavor of those who compose the churches of the New Jerusalem to carry on and support two spiritual uses. Indeed, it must be the objective of every family, circle and society of every organization of the New Church, firstly, to maintain in the world the use of worship – worship which shall turn our hearts continually to the Lord in His Divine Human; and secondly, to seek to improve our understanding of what the life of charity really means.

The blood which pulsates from the heart of our church sustains manifold uses, both ecclesiastical and secular, and motivates them with a spiritual love and purpose. The second spiritual use, which is likened to the function of the lungs, studies not only how to spread the gospel of the Second Advent throughout the church universal, thus among our own children and wherever gentile states appear, but also to maintain the purity of doctrine even as the lungs feed and purify the blood. This latter use has taken many forms – especially those of doctrinal instruction, publication, missionary work, and distinctive New Church education. But the two uses – worship and instruction – interwoven and inseparable, will, we pray, increasingly serve as the means to maintain in hidden ways, within the Lord’s universal church, the justice and judgment which are the support of His throne.

The inmost uses of the church are performed by the Lord in secret. No man can boast that he is a part of the vital organs of the invisible body of the Lord’s universal church! or that he is a medium of conjunction with the New Heaven! Man was indeed created to be a basis and foundation of heaven. But he has severed this connection. And for this reason, the doctrine reveals, "the Lord has provided a medium to serve in place of this base and foundation for heaven" and thus for the conjunction of man with the Lord and his consociation with the angels. "This medium is the Word." (HH 305)

The Word in its letter was written in natural correspondences. "It must be natural"; for "in no other way" could there be a conjunction with heaven by which the spiritual sense is presented before the angels of heaven – even those of other planets – when the Word on our earth is read and preached. (AE 1061, 329: 5, 816: 2 ; Verbo 15e; AC 9357) But this consociation by correspondences, which is possible even when a man is thinking only of the sense of the letter, causes men and angels "to be together in affections but not in thoughts." It is when man knows something of the spiritual sense, through a knowledge of correspondences, that he can be together with the angels even as to thoughts – "but only as far as he is at the same time in good." (AC 3735: 2, 3464; AR 943; HH 114, 310e; AC 3316: 3)

This is the inmost function which the Lord can perform through His specific church; when the Word is seen from its spiritual sense now revealed, seen after the falsities which have distorted its meaning are dissipated by the genuine truths of doctrine. Thus the full conjunction with heaven "is effected only when a man perceives the Word in the same way as the angels perceive it." (AE 950: 2)

It is the reverent and perpetually new reading of the Sacred Scripture and of the Heavenly Doctrine (which discloses its inner meaning) that keeps open the channels of spiritual light. The Writings indicate that the "new truth" which is so perceived is the only truth which makes a man a church and that makes the church – by a common enlightenment – to be unified by a distinctive quality. (AC 5806) It is not our mission to dilute this quality by yielding to the persuasions of self-intelligence; but we are to enter ever more interiorly into the understanding and life of this New Church which in the Lord’s own time will serve its appointed purpose within the body of humanity….

-New Church Life 1966;86:384-393

Back to Further Reading


Swedenborg Biography
Heavenly Doctrines
The revelation process
Who is God?
The Word of God
Bible & the Writings
Time and Eternity
History of Religion
On Being Useful
Providence and  Evil
Getting Rid of Evil
The Death Process
Life after Death
Life on Other Planets
The Second Coming
Spiritual Marriage
Art & Literature


• Back • Home • Up • Next •

The Human Form

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com