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On Immortality

by Rev. Hugo Lj. Odhner


The Fact of Death

In this our age there is a constant insistence on facts. The sternest, most recognized fact of human experience is that all men are mortal. Death strikes young and old with equal finality. There is no arguing with death as a fact which all must be ready to face.

Yet facts are elusive. Facts, however actual, are appearances, phenomena which sometimes endure and sometimes fleet away. The solidity of a piece of ice is a fact real enough, but while we look away it has disappeared. The ice has left a pool of water which eventually evaporates into an invisible gas. This gas, or steam, might be recaptured, and by electrolysis be turned into elements still more evasive. And these in turn might themselves be resolved into tiny bundles of measured energy in forms which imagination cannot picture, but which science generally holds to be the final constituents of that which we know as material substance.

Death is a fact. Yet it, too, is only the appearance of a change, whereby the body functions become disordered and inactive, and the organs and members no longer exhibit those mysterious yet familiar reactions which testify of sensation, consciousness and will, or, in short, of life. The substance of the body still remains, as far as man can tell, destined to rejoin the elements in one way or another. This is but one phase of the fact of death.

Ideas of Immortality

But since time immemorial men have generally felt assured that the death of the body could hot mean a destruction of that personality which is built up through a lifetime of human experience and effort. For if so, what was the purpose and intent behind life itself? Why should man pass through so many arduous stages of learning and analytic understanding-such as animals never attain-if the human mind, so marvelously formed, was destined to sink back into dissolution and never put

its acquired powers to permanent use? In the primitive celestial church, this necessity of man's immortality was a basic perception flowing from the instinct order of its life, confirmed by every experience of nature. Later, it took the form of doctrine, incorporated in the symbolic histories of the most ancient Scriptures. And when these Scriptures-the Ancient Word-were mostly lost, the idea and hope of an immortal life survived in myth and legend. Classical philosophy purged away some of the grosser features of the myths, but retained in general the concept of the soul's survival; debating its possibilities pro and con. And when Christianity became dominant throughout western civilization, it not only taught of man's immortality, but it borrowed both from legend and philosophy to amplify the picture of the soul's after-life. It became a picture confused and contradictory, bemuddled by the persistent feeling that the eventual heaven was somehow possible only on earth at the end of the world.

And in recent times, after the faith of Christendom had been undermined by new modes of thinking which centered men's attention upon worldly goals-upon a heaven on earth more immediately attainable through scientific research and without the help of God-the concept of personal immortality has increasingly come under indictment as an unnecessary assumption or as an unlikely possibility.

It is necessary for the New Church man from time to time to review the teachings of the Writings about man's immortality, with a view to seeing that his understanding of these teachings is not so vague and indefinite that it cannot stand up against the doubts that are current in the world about him. We need to have the clearest possible ideas about what is the immortal part of man-what there is in man's constitution that cannot be dissolved or destroyed by death.

The Fount of Immortality

What is it that makes man immortal? The Lord said: "I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." (John 11: 25) The Writings say: "Man is so created that as to his internal he cannot die." And the reason is that "he can believe in God and also love God and thus be conjoined to God by faith and love; and to be conjoined to God is to live to eternity." (AC 1940, 1999)

From this passage of doctrine it might sound as if only those who believe in God will become immortal. But a closer reading shows that it is because man is so created that he can believe in God and love Him that he also will live to eternity. Every man has the faculty or potentiality of believing and loving because his inmost soul receives life continually from the Lord. The Lord pours His own life into every man's soul, whether a man's mind turns itself against the Lord or not. The Lord's love is unceasing, and He never takes back the gift of life from any man; not even from the devils of hell, whom He continually seeks to save from their own evils. In the inmost soul, which is above the conscious mind of either angels, spirits or men, and which can therefore never be perverted by human vice or folly, the Lord can find an abode or receptacle even with the evil. (HD 223; Lord 25; HH 39)

Two Conditions for Immortality

It is from this inmost soul or "human internal" (AC 1999) that man has the faculty of conjoining himself with God, and also the responsibility of using this faculty. Animals, although they have sensation and a certain analogue of reason, do not have such a faculty, and cannot conceive of God, because their souls are merely natural affections. Hence they are not immortal, nor responsible for the use which they make of their life, a life of specific instincts which they cannot change from free choice. This is not merely because the animals are in ignorance of spiritual things. For human infants who die as such are also in such ignorance; and yet, because they are born possessing a human internal, they can grow into rational adults in the other life and be conjoined with God.

We note that there is a second condition for immortality. The first is the possession of the human internal. But the second condition is that man shall be born into the natural world. This implies that no human being can be created immediately into the spiritual world, as has been imagined by Christians in general, who speak of God creating a host of angels and archangels before the earth was ever formed. These angels were described as purely spiritual beings, and tradition pictures them as living a life of ecstasy continuously glorifying God. It is even claimed that some of these angels, under Lucifer their leader, rebelled and formed an empire of their own, and that this is what is meant by the Devil and his crew which have troubled mankind since the time of Paradise.

Similarly, many ancient philosophers, including some of the Christian church fathers, believed that human souls were first created to inhabit the stars, and that it was when these souls began to long for a more corporeal life that they were born into the world as men.

In ancient times, as still among many Orientals, it was thought that the pre-existing soul could remember something of its previous life and could indeed be born again and again, by transmigration-born in different forms, either human or animal!

The Writings indeed teach that the Lord creates the human soul and by the agency of that soul forms the body. The soul is prior, as a cause is prior to its effect. The soul is not an effect of the body, but the body of man is formed by the soul; or rather, by the Lord through the soul or "human internal."

In a remarkable passage in the Arcana Coelestia, it is said, among other things, that, "man's internal is that from which he is a man. . . . By means of this internal he lives after death and to eternity as a man. . . . The very heaven that is nearest the Lord is from these human internals but this is entirely (usque) above even the inmost angelic heaven, and therefore these internals are the Lord's alone. . . ." Yet they are forms receiving the Lord's life, and do not have "life in themselves." (AC 1999: 3, 4)

This inmost degree of man which immediately receives the Lord's life is also called the dwelling place of the Lord in heaven and in the angel, "for what is there transacted an angel does not know." (6SD 5548; AC 1940) The Spiritual Diary notes that it lacks a name (SD 4627) but in the later Writings it is sometimes contrasted with the lower degrees of man's spirit or mind, and is then called the "soul." (Infl.8) Thus the angels are said to have a soul, a mind and a body, the inmost being called the soul; although in a general sense the entire spirit or mind which departs from the body at death is commonly called "the soul" in the Writings.

The Arcana does not state that the human internals existing above the inmost angelic heaven were created before mankind and are there waiting until proper parents are available for incarnation on earth. "What is there transacted" not even an angel knows! The soul is "a superior spiritual substance" which must not be thought of from either time or space. Certainly the Lord foresees from eternity all the possible needs of mankind. In His view, creation is already as it were completed, "according to the idea of an infinite heaven." (Compare SD 4845c) With Him there is no time. In the Divine, proceeding to create, are contained all the possible uses of the Grand Man of the heavens-and what are human souls except the first expression of such potential uses?

The creative process of the Lord is continual. And His creative urge or conatus is transferred into the souls which He creates. Hence the soul, which in its essence is spiritual, from an implanted effort to self propagation, wills to procreate itself; not only to form a body for itself, but also to form off-shoots of itself in the form of human seed so as to multiply some of its uses in its descendants. And since "the soul is a spiritual substance which does not have extension but impletion, and from which there is no taking away of a part but a production of the whole without any loss of it," this can be done innumerable times, generation after generation. (CL 220)

Creation of Human Minds

The effort within the soul is not only to receive life immediately from the Lord, (Infl. 8) which it does unconsciously, but also to form more and more such immortal receptacles which can receive this life consciously, so as to appreciate the Lord's love and wisdom and co-operate with His will and His laws of truth. And this conscious reception of life can come into being only by the soul forming itself into a human mind, which not only receives and transmits life passively but reacts in freedom.

The inmost soul does not have this kind of freedom because it does not have consciousness. These two, freedom and consciousness, go together. Without these two-or without the faculties of rationality and liberty-there can be no reciprocal conjunction with God, and therefore no permanent individuality, no eternal life. Thus the doctrine stresses again and again that it is the human mind that is the spirit which lives after death. And this mind, which constitutes man's individual reaction to life, cannot be formed except on the basis of that experience which we call birth into the natural world.

We may well ask why this is so. One answer which the Writings give is found in the little work Divine Wisdom: "One who knows what the substances of the spiritual world are like compared to the material things in the natural world can easily see that no procreation of angelic minds is possible or can occur except in those and from those who inhabit an earth, the ultimate work of creation.... Substances in the spiritual world appear as if they were material, but still they are not; and because they are not material, therefore they are not constant. They are correspondences of the affections of the angels, and they remain as long as the affections or the angels, and with these they. disappear (disparantur). It would be the same with the angels if they had been created there. Among the angels, furthermore, there is and can be no procreation and thence multiplication other than a spiritual one, which is that of wisdom and love, such as pertains to the souls of men who are born anew or regenerated. But in the natural world there are matters through which and out of which procreation and afterwards formations can occur; thus multiplications of men, and thence of angels." (Divine Wisdom viii, 3)

Note here that the angels, although they are spiritual substances, do not disappear or dissolve, although the creations around them do so if the angelic states change or the angels go away. (Compare DLW 344) The reason is that the angels were born on earth and thus acquired a permanent individuality. The spiritual substance of their souls was as it were anchored in time and space. The soul had by birth been made aware of its separate existence! It was no longer an unconscious part of the flux of life, like the soul of the embryo, which lives solely from the Lord and has no conscious sensation or action.

Birth and Immortality

The Writings thus show us that the miracle of birth is a one with the miracle of immortality. By birth man enters not only life on earth but eternal life. But we must still consider how this is effected. How does the soul become an immortal spirit at the moment of birth? For all things have many beginnings. The soul of a child, we are taught, commences as an offshoot or graft from the soul of the father. (TCR 103) Such offshoots are transferred into the innumerable paternal seeds from one of which conception takes place. The soul of the offspring thus may be said to have its inception (inchoet)-or second beginning-in the ovum of the mother, and it is "afterwards perfected in her womb" while its tender body is being formed. (AC 3570: 4) It is now distinct and carries with it a distinct heredity different from that of any other being. The soul dwells in the whole body, since it is a spiritual substance which has "impletion" although no extension. As the supreme formative essence, it is active in every fiber, cell and tissue. But it is not yet appropriated to the future child. It is merely a loan from God. It is present in the ultimate organics of the body, but is not yet wedded to the flesh, not yet appropriated by the body which it has fashioned.

We read in Genesis that the Lord God formed man out of dust of the ground, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man "became a living soul." Only by the first breath of earth's air, or, as the Writings say, by the opening of the lungs, does the soul obtain immortality. For the respiration of the lungs is a condition of consciousness. No feeling of self-life is possible, no sensation is felt, as long as the lungs are inactive. The cerebrum, in which we consider consciousness to operate, must be stimulated by the oxygen breathed into the lungs and carried up to the brain by the bloodstream. The brain, which in prenatal life has been conjoined with the motion of the heart, becomes instead harmoniously attached to the rhythm of breathing, and takes up the conscious government of its body. (DLW 401, 407; Wis. iii. 5, 6, v, vi. ) Life, which had hitherto been directed solely to the formation of the body, is thus short-circuited in the intricate organic network of the cortical cells and fibers of the cerebrum, and the soul begins to realize its individual independence for the first time! The body is born-but also the spirit!

Memory and Personality

Why individuality cannot commence except in the world of nature, is worth some reflection. For what is the basis of our individuality? Is it not memory of sensory experiences?-a memory built up from defined beginnings in time and space? I am "I" because born at a definite time, in a particular place; and all my experiences, gathered up into a vast complex of memories, were basic to every reaction of my will, marked the external limitations of my thoughts, the field in which my personality gradually formed itself. And so it is with all-even with the infant who drew only a few breaths before its spirit departed! (HH 345)

And memory, the memory of an earth experience, therefore limits or finites one's life; but note, only from below. It makes every person uniquely different, a vessel of life precious in the eyes of the Lord. It provides a ground in which all the states of a man's life are preserved as eternal. In it every feature of a man's character is represented. It is ordered not only chronologically, but according to all man's affections - his valuations and interests, his ruling loves. The Writings call this ultimate plane of man's life "the corporeal memory." The ideas of which it consists are derived directly from bodily sensations and are called "material ideas." For it is the record of man's corporeal life in this world.

But how is this corporeal memory held permanent? Ideas, even though they may be ideas of material things, are not themselves material, but are spiritual; states of mind, states of a spiritual substance. But as we have read, spiritual substances are not permanent in form, but change. Memory is permanent, we know, as long as the texture of the brain is intact. Things long forgotten can be recalled perfectly if the right parts of the brain are given some physical stimulus. But what happens to it at death, when the body, with all the visible organisms of the brain, dies and decays? Is the memory then also dissolved, to vanish as the objects around the angels sometimes do?

The Doctrine of the "Limbus"

The answer to this question lies in the doctrine concerning the "limbus." The term is Latin, and occurs only once in the Writings. It means a border, or fringe, or hem, or edge. The reference is to the border substance of the natural world, the inmosts of nature; where nature as it were touches the spiritual world, or where the body is immediately responsive to the influx of the spirit. Unless we know something of the function of this border substance we cannot come to understand why man's memory and thus man's spirit can be preserved from dissolution when the body dies. As an introduction to the teachings about this link between the spirit and the flesh we shall cite the following from the work The Divine Love and Wisdom:

"Man's mind is his spirit, and the spirit is the man, because by the mind is meant all of man's will and understanding, and these are in principles in the brains and in principiates [or derivatives] in the body; therefore they are all things of man as to their forms.... For the first thread of the human form or the human form itself with each and everything thereof, is from the beginnings from the brain continued through the nerves. . . . It is this form into which man comes after death and which is then called a spirit and angel, and who is in all perfection a man, but a spiritual man. The material form that is added and superinduced in the world is not a human form from itself, but from the spirit to which it is added and superinduced that man may be able to perform uses in the natural world, and also to draw unto itself from the purer substances of the world a fixed containant of the spiritual things, and thus continue to perpetuate life ...." (DLW 387, 388)

Thus man is born in an earthly body not only to perform uses in the world, but-and this is of primary importance-in order that his spirit may draw a subtle natural substance unto itself and fashion it as a permanent containant for his spirit. Concerning this we read in the work The Divine Providence:

"The conjunction of temporal and eternal things with man is the Lord's Divine providence.... It is from Divine providence that man by death puts off what is natural and temporary, and puts on what is spiritual and eternal. . . . Extremes and ultimates are containants; and these are in the natural world. Hence it is that no angel and spirit was created immediately but that they were all first born men.... From this they have extremes and ultimates which in themselves are fixed and stable (stata), within which the interiors can be held together in connection. But man at first puts on the grosser things of nature; from these is his body. But these things he puts off by death, and retains the purer things of nature which are nearest [or next] to the spiritual things, and these then are his containants.

"Inasmuch as the extremes or ultimates of nature cannot receive spiritual or eternal things . . . he retains only the interior natural things, which agree and conform with spiritual and celestial things and serve them as containants . . . ." (DP 220)

It is clear that it is by birth that man first puts on and appropriates these interior natural things in which his spirit may dwell not only during life on earth but forever. But whence are they derived? What function do they serve during man's life? And what is their relation to the spirit after death?

These questions we shall consider in our next [section].


In [the previous section] we began a consideration of what there is in man's constitution that is immortal. It was shown that immortality has its origin in the Lord, who has created man with an inmost soul which is appropriated to him at his birth in the natural world. Man's spirit is thus born at the same time as his body.

Through this fact, the birth of a man may be seen as a very important event! It is the beginning of his mind, the beginning of consciousness and of the formation of the memory, which is the basis of individual or proper life. Without memory, man's life could not be marked off from all the currents of life which affect him. Nor could his spirit awaken after death as the same person, if he had not carried with him all the mental experiences that had occasioned the formation of his character.

Yet the question left unanswered was: How is this memory preserved after the body has died and his brain has decayed? We indicated that the answer lies in the doctrine of the "limbus," which speaks of the existence of a plane of substance taken from the inmosts of nature to serve as a "containant" for the spiritual things that compose man's mind or spirit. The need for such a containant is shown in the work The Divine Providence; (No. 220) and other teachings indicate that an angel created directly into the spiritual world-not having obtained, by a life on earth, such a containant or "limbus" from nature-would not be any more permanent than the correspondential objects around the angels. But whence does this containant come? And how is it formed?

The Source of the Substance of the Limbus

The general source of the substance of the "limbus" is said to be "the inmosts of nature"; (Wis. viii: 4) "the purer substance of the world"; (DLW 388) or "the purer" or "purest things of nature," (DP 220; TCR 103) "nearest to spiritual things." (DP 220) But what could this mean? Doctrine tells us that nature's substances are created in discrete degrees, one composite of the other. Recently, scientists have assured us that the matter we handle is indeed composed of masses of molecules, held together by mystical bonds which no one really claims to understand; and that these molecules, in turn, are constituted of elemental atoms which are infinitesimally small, yet which are ordered like miniature solar systems in which incredibly mobile electrons whirl like planets around a center of nuclear particles. The Writings speak of three successive "atmospheres" from which three degrees of matter originated. (DLW 302) These atmospheres are the active forces which are the mediate causes of all natural phenomena. The highest, most universal of these spheres originates the force of gravity, (LJ post. 312) and may thus be taken as the "inmost" of nature; for in theory, the original form of matter must be conceived as gravitational fields of force. However this sphere may be conceived, it would somehow answer to what is called the "purest things of nature" out of which the "limbus" is said to be formed.

But how can the spirit of man draw unto itself, from the inmosts of nature, such a substance? Obviously this formation of a "containant" of the spirit must be an organic process, a process begun even before birth.

That there is such a type or degree of substance in the seed from conception is, in fact, indicated in the work Conjugial Love, (No. 183) where it is stated: "In the seed of man is his soul in a perfect human form, veiled over with substances from the purest things of nature, out of which the body is formed in the mother's womb." And a further teaching is given in The True Christian Religion, to the same effect: "I shall add this arcanum, that the soul . . . is the very man. . . . The body is only a covering of the soul, composed of such things as are of the natural world, but the soul indeed from such things as are in the spiritual world. Every man, after death, puts off the natural which he had from the mother, and retains the spiritual which he had from the father, together with a certain border (limbo) from the purest things of nature around it . . . ." And it explains that "in the seed of every one from which he is conceived, there is a graft or offset of the father's soul in its fullness, within a certain covering from the elements of nature through which the body is formed in the mother's womb. . . ." (No. 103)

The substance is thus at hand in the very seed for the formation of what later is to be the "limbus" of the eternal spirit. It is the purest substance of nature-able to convey the soul and serve as its first embodiment. But what use does it serve during man's life on earth?

To understand this we must realize that the soul, as a spiritual substance, forms itself into three discrete degrees, which in the Writings are called the celestial, the spiritual and the spiritual-natural. These three degrees are in every man from birth, and are meant to be opened successively. (DLW 236) The lowest, which is called the spiritual-natural or ultimate spiritual degree, (DLW 345) operates in the organics of the physical brain and body, and there it prepares for itself the natural mind-the mind which man consciously uses in the world. It is this natural mind which contains the memory of earthly things. It is in that degree of the mind that man has sensation, memory, imagination and reason, and that he forms his attitudes towards good and evil, by an exercise of conscious choice.

The two higher degrees of the mind-the celestial and the spiritual-are beyond man's consciousness while on earth, even though they can be opened and furnished to receive the Lord's influx by regeneration. It is told that these higher degrees derive their form "solely from the substances of the spiritual world." (DLW 270) But "the natural mind consists of spiritual substances and at the same time of natural substances." (DLW 257, 260) It is "woven from the substances of both worlds, in the brain where the mind resides in its primes. . . ." (DLW 273) Here-in the natural mind-the spiritual substances of the spirit are closely associated with the inmost natural organics of the brain, and make thought and sensation possible. The changes of state in the physical structures of the brain give the soul an occasion for interpreting their meaning and use. And volitions and intentions in the spiritual substance of the mind are also able to direct the energies and movements of the body in correspondence with the states of the spirit.

All through man's life on earth, the subtlest natural substances distilled in the inmost recesses of the brain and the nervous system act as the agents of the spiritual substances which think and will. The spirit, through these most subtle essences of nature, is present throughout the body. Hence we read: "The spirit of a man is not a substance that is separate from the viscera, organs and members of the man, but it cleaves to them in conjunction; for the spiritual accompanies every stamen of them from the lowest to the inmost. . . ." "That man after death is equally a man . . . is because his spiritual is adjoined to his natural, or the substantial of the spirit to the material of the body, so aptly and unitedly that there is not a fibrilla, stamen, or least thread from these where the human of the spirit is not a one with the human body. . . ." (Wis. vii: 2, 4) Death is nothing but a separation of the natural substance from the spiritual.

The spirit or mind is, in one sense, present throughout a man's body. But the common center towards which all sensations travel, and from which all motor impulses proceed, is the brain. Within the subtle organics of the brain the natural mind becomes conscious of the states of the body and the world and organizes a memory of all its sensations. And in the brain the lowest or ultimate spiritual adapts the purest things of nature into a permanent basis, in which the mental states of memory, thought and affection are represented in an image by corresponding motions.

It is therefore said: "Man's natural mind consists of spiritual substances and at the same time of natural substances. From the spiritual substances, but not from the natural substances, comes thought. . . ." (DLW 257) And to make it clear that the natural substances-which are thus for all practical purposes an operational part of the natural mind while man is living in the world-are not destroyed along with the body, which, brain and all, decays in the grave, it is added: "These [natural substances of the natural mind]recede when man dies, but not the spiritual substances; wherefore, after death when man becomes a spirit or angel, that same mind remains in similar form in which it was in the world." (Ibid.)

Thus the spiritual substance-which is the real natural mind-remains, while the natural substances associated with it, "recede" or fall back. Being natural they can certainly not enter the spiritual world! (DLW 83, 88) But they do not perish. Instead they "recede"-withdraw from that intimate relation which they had with the spiritual substances while in the life of the body. For in the material body, all man's conscious thought was tied in with changes in these natural substances of his brain. But after death the spirit is freed from this dependency, and can perceive things apart from nature; can directly perceive his spiritual environment, to which he formerly had been blind! He can see other spirits and can commune with them through a spiritual medium which has nothing in common with space or natural substance. He is released into "another world where there are other functions, and other powers and abilities, to which the quality of his body there is adapted." (AC 5078: 40 For he is now in a spiritual body.

What this spiritual body is like, as described in the Heavenly Doctrines, we hope to consider more fully in our next article. But our interest at this point is in the question as to what happens to "the natural substances of the natural mind" when they so gracefully "recede" to allow the spirit a fuller freedom. The teaching in The Divine Love and Wisdom thus continues: "The natural substances of that mind, which, as was said, recede by death, make a cutaneous covering of [or for] the spiritual body in which spirits and angels are. By means of this covering which is selected out of the natural world, their spiritual bodies subsist, for the natural is the ultimate containant: thence it is that there is not any angel or spirit who was not born a man. These arcana of angelic wisdom are here adduced, that the quality of the natural mind in man may be known. . . ." (No. 257)

It is clear from this that the purest things-or inmost things-of nature, selected and organized in the interiors of the brain as the natural basis of the memory, are the very substance which is elsewhere called the "limbus." "Every man, after death . . . retains the spiritual which he had from the father, together with a certain border (limbo) from the purest things of nature around it . . ." (TCR 103)

The departing spirit retains this "border." Nowhere do the Writings say that he takes it along into the spiritual world! For nothing natural can enter, or be a part of, the spiritual world. Yet he retains it, and its use is likened to that of a cutaneous covering for (or around) the spiritual body-which seems like a very intimate function. If we were literalists we might here evolve a rather grotesque picture of a spiritual body which, being spiritual, is not in space, but which has a skin made of natural substance! It is reasonably clear, however, that the Writings here employ a comparison. The living flesh which we carry is surrounded by a skin, or cutaneous covering. The skin is our boundary, the nether limit of our individuality. And while the body is living, the surface of the skin, or cuticle, consists of cells of flattened epithelium which gradually are deprived of life and dry up like scales and flake off. Yet without this covering of almost lifeless skin our bodies could not withstand the impact of the world or be protected from undue influences. In a parallel way the spiritual body is protected by the "limbus" as by a cutaneous envelope Its obvious use is negative-to fix the corporeal memory so that it can no more change!

But another teaching makes this more clear. Speaking of the necessity that man be born on an earth, the little work Divine Wisdom goes on to say: "That spirits and angels thence derive that they can subsist and live to eternity, is because an angel or spirit, from the fact that he was first born a man in the world, draws with him that he subsists; for he draws with him, from the inmosts of nature, a medium between the spiritual and the natural, through which he is limited so that he might be subsistent and permanent. Through this he has a relationship (est illi relativum) to those things which are in nature, and also something correspondent to them." Why the "limbus" is called a "medium" between the spiritual and the natural, is then explained: "Through this also spirits and angels can be adjoined and conjoined to the human race, for there is conjunction, and where there is [such a] conjunction there must be a medium. The angels know that there is such an intermediate, but as that intermediate is from the inmosts of nature, and the expressions of language are from the ultimates of nature, it can be described only by means of abstract terms.." (Wis. viii: 4, 5)

Let us note well that the "limbus" is not here given any role in the spiritual world as a medium in the intercourse of one spirit with another. It has a definite role in fixing the personality of a spirit. But it is a medium between spirits and men. We presume this to mean that when a spirit is exerting an influence on, or influx into, the mind of a man, there is an activity in the limbus of the spirit and a communication set up in the inmost sphere of nature which affects the natural substances of the natural mind of the man, or those inmost organics of his brain which are on the same level or degree and in a receptive state. But all this is in the realm of speculation, since little is known factually of the innermost substances of the brain or the inmosts of nature.

Indeed, the "medium" is from the inmosts of nature, and this "cannot be described except by abstractions." In recent times many scientists seem to have been forced to a similar conclusion. The hypothetical ingredients of the atom are admittedly mental constructs. Science shies at any mechanical models, but describes the inner sphere of nature in "a sheaf of mathematical formulae"-to borrow a phrase from Sir James Jeans.

But the New Church man must attach importance to the teaching that the immortal persistence of our personality depends on an inmost natural substance which is organized during his bodily life on earth. What natural substance is this?

This question occupied Swedenborg's mind at least ten years before he was called to his spiritual office. The growing skepticism among the learned led him to attempt to prove that there existed within man's body an inmost substance which was so subtle and perfect that it could not be affected by the destructive forces of disease or death. It was the purest substance, derived from the highest or universal aura of nature and organized by man's mind into a correspondent form. In The Economy o f the Animal Kingdom he called it "the spirituous fluid," and asserted that "no corporeal language could adequately express its nature." "I should," he wrote, "be obliged to resort to analogues and eminences, by abstraction from the things brought out by sense, in which case even truths savor of hypothesis." (1 Econ. 650, 2 Econ. 167)

This eminent and transcendental fluid was next to the soul or spirit, and was the soul's agent in the body. But after death it would be "emancipated from the bonds and trammels of earthly things," and, immortal, retain its organization. On its substance would be impressed a form corresponding to the man's character as to his reception of love and wisdom. It would even retain the record of all his earthly life. (Econ. 314) Swedenborg's speculations were, of course, not final. Yet he clearly perceived that man was born on earth because he needed to procure from nature "a containant" for his spirit. And he realized that the nature of this inmost containant could be grasped only by abstractions and by a sort of "mathematical philosophy of universals"!

There are so many things in nature beyond our understanding that we cannot afford to scoff at the idea that the inmosts of our brain substance can be organized into an image of our entire sensory history, a permanent record of our sensations and actions. A lecturer's words may be transferred to a magnetic tape, where they are stored in the form of magnetic charges ready to be re-translated into words at any time. Our brains also are charged by all the sensations we experience, year after year. Is it so hard to believe that these sensations, by the intent and power of the Creator, are also preserved for an immortal record in a substance which defies even death itself?

The question might be asked, "Where then does the ‘limbus' go at death?" That it remains in nature is not to be doubted. Yet what does its locale matter, if its substance is not affected any more by the changes of nature; but remains, independent, in a realm of simples, beyond the corpuscular universe of atoms and molecules which are within the narrow range of our sensory experience? At least, so we may surmise on the basis of what we now know of doctrine and of science. For all we know, the "limbus" might be a structure of wave-patterns, the form of which we can describe only by abstractions, and which is perpetually redintegrated without losing its characteristic uniqueness. If any one thinks this to be impossible, let him reflect on the fact that the whole pattern of a future man and his hereditary peculiarities are actually contained within the microscopic germ-plasm, which is not in the form of the body, yet in a perfect human form which, as to its interior structure, is known, it is said, to the Lord alone!

In one of his early commentaries, Swedenborg speaks of death in these words: "First of all there is released, from its connection with the earthly things which are properly called the body, that substance whose essence is mediate between the natural and the spiritual. This takes with it, because it encloses, that superior substance whose essence is spiritual and which is called the intellectual mind. . . . This, in turn, encloses man's principal and purer substance the essence of which is supra-celestial and which is properly called the soul. . . ." (WE 3058)

And the Spiritual Diary notes that at death "that of man which is vital is gathered together in a moment even if parts of the body were scattered over a thousand miles." (SD 1099) "As soon as the interiors of the body grow cold, the vital substances in the man are separated from the man, wherever they are, even if enclosed in a thousand labyrinths. . . . Nothing of the vital substance can remain in corporeal and material things. . . ." (SD 1104)

The vital substances here spoken of seem to refer to the limbus as well as to the spirit itself. For the limbus is still living, even as the body was living, from the soul. Yet the limbus is a natural substance, and thus has no spiritual attributes, no mental powers. It is not the mind, not the soul: its only attributes are those of nature, thus of motion; even though these motions, or potentialities to motion, are like the magnetic stresses on the recording tape which may be referred to as invisible wave-patterns rather than movements.

The limbus is physical. The angels never see it, they only know that it exists. It is not to be identified or confused with the spirit or even with the spiritual body. Yet it serves the spiritual body of man as a natural basis and gives it a certain "permanence" and "fixity." We also read that through it the spirit has "a relativity to those things which are in nature." In this life, such "relativity" is possible because the memory-which is the ultimate of the mind or spirit-has a basis in the natural organisms of the brain. The limbus must therefore be that which fixes the order of the corporeal memory for the after-death man.

Let us, then, dismiss any idea that the "limbus" is identical with the mind we use in this world, or with the spirit which lives to eternity in the spiritual world. We must learn to think spiritually of the immortal soul which is raised into the world of life on the third day after death. Man rises into that world, not in a limbus, but in a spiritual body, which has been formed during earth-life "by the truths and goods which flow in from the Lord through the spiritual world and are received by man within such things as are from the natural world and are called civil and moral." (TCR 583)

That the limbus takes no real or active part in the life of spirits among themselves-as it would if it were the actual skin or cutis of their spiritual bodies-is clear. And since the limbus gives fixation to the corporeal memory of man, which marks the lowest or sensual degree of his mental life, it is even said that with those in hell, the "limbus" is above and the spiritual below! (TCR 103) Not that the evil spirits live below their own skin! But by them the natural ideas and delights which once belonged to the life of their corporeal memory, are valued above spiritual things. That the hells are within the sphere of the natural degree of the mind only-the degree formed in juxtaposition with natural substances-is doctrinally certain. (DLW 345, 270, 274, 275)

The Writings are given that we may see spiritual things in the light of heaven. In the next article we shall cite some of the revealed teachings about the spiritual body-the real immortal man. What is this spiritual organism? What is its relation to man's memory? What are its powers and functions in the eternal life? Far from being mystifying, these questions are clearly and amply answered in the Writings.


Man's natural thought is so focused on physical things that he finds it difficult to ascribe reality to anything which is not measurable in terms of space and weight and material values. Although most religions have acknowledged that man's spirit lives after death, people have often thought of spirits as flitting spectres or transparent bodies in the air or ether, awaiting the last judgment when they would rejoin their bodies. The learned have defined a spirit as abstract thought, as an incorporeal essence, or as a simple substance or monad; and some, as a spark of the Divine. Others deny that it is a substance, calling it a process in the material body which perishes with the flesh.

But the simple, both among Christians and Gentiles, who are not confused by reasonings or false doctrines can usually see from a common perception that the spirit is the real man, and lives as a man after death. This idea pervades human speech and literature. Yet such a bare acknowledgment without definite knowledge is unable to withstand the worldly wisdom which is continually infecting the simple and sincere with a spirit of doubt and denial; and therefore the Lord has given an "immediate revelation" concerning the spiritual world-a revelation which is to enlighten our understanding to perceive what man is after death.

The Mind of Man is Organic

Spirits and angels, the Writings reveal, "are nothing else than human minds and souls in a human form, stripped of the coverings which were composed of elements found in waters or soils and of the exhalations diffused thence into the air. When these are cast off, the forms of men's minds are seen such as they had been inwardly in their bodies. . . ." (CL 192) Man's spirit or soul is thus the interior man. It is his mind, which was organized on earth, interiorly of spiritual substances, and exteriorly of natural substances, and finally from material things. (TCR 38; AC 1594: 5) The affections, the thoughts, and the memory of man are nothing but changes in, and states of, the "purely organic substances of the mind." (DP 279)

The whole concept of man's regeneration given in our doctrine springs from the fact that the mind is organic. It is impossible to change the quality of one's mind suddenly. The shunning of evils and the formation of new and better habits of thought is a work of long years-yea, of a life time. For all our confirmed states are inwoven into the web of our spirit. The natural mind, which from birth carries with it hereditary evils, has to be reformed and regenerated until it no longer, resists the action of the spiritual mind. This reformation is likened to the untwisting of a spiral until the gyres of its habitual action coil in the same direction as those of the spiritual mind. (DLW 270, 263; AE 1168: 3 ; DP 319: 3) For the mind, or what is the same, the spirit of man, is organic. It must not be thought of as something simple, without constituents, for it is far more complex than the physical body.

But when we say that the mind or spirit is "organic," this might easily be misunderstood. For it is usual for men to think only of the vegetable and animal forms on the earth as organic; meaning material forms so organized that they manifest the signs of what is vaguely called "life," such as feeling, growth, propagation and purposiveness. Yet the term "organic" includes far more than earthly organisms. By an organic form we mean any vessel receptive of life and responsive to life. Natural organisms are organic only by virtue of their souls, whether vegetative, animal or human. Their material bodies react to life only by manifesting motions. Matter cannot respond to life. It is the soul, or the spiritual, that responds. The real organ of life in man is the spirit or mind.

The Bodies of Spirits and Angels

Now the Writings reveal in unmistakable terms that the spirit which had lived in the body of a man has, after death, "a form like that in which the man was before; there is only a separation of the spiritual substance from the material. For this reason the spirit has a heart and lungs the same as the man in the world, and for the same reason it has like senses and like motions, and also speech; and there can be no senses or motions or speech without heart and lungs." Spirits also, it is added, "have atmospheres, but spiritual." (Wis. vii: 2) And-to dismiss the idea that a spirit is a disembodied and fleeting ghost-the doctrine continues: "He is just as much a man as before he died, except that after death he becomes a spirit-man." (Wis. Vii: 4. 5.)

After death, then, "man appears to himself in a body just as in the world, with a similar face, members, arms, hands, feet, breast, belly and loins; so that when he sees and touches himself he says that he is a man as in the world. But still it is not his external which he carried about the world that he [now] sees and touches, but it is the internal which constituted the human itself which lived and which had an external about it or outside of every part of it, by which he could be in the world and be adapted to act and carry on functions there. This earthly corporeal is no longer of any use to him, he being in another world, where there are other functions, and other powers and abilities, to which his body there is adapted. This body he sees with his eyes, not by those he had in the world, but those . . . of his internal man. . . . This also he feels with the touch, not with the hands or the sense of touch which he enjoyed in the world, but with the hands and the sense of touch which he there enjoys, which is that from which his sense of touch in the world had existed. Every sense, too, is more exquisite and more perfect there. . . ." (AC 5078) His body in the other life "is designed for uses in that life, and does not consist of bones and flesh, but of things which correspond to them." (AC 3813: 5)

It is not to be wondered at that spirits when they awaken into the spiritual world have at first no realization that they are not still in a material body. They learn this only when they find that all the phenomena of the other life arise from spiritual causes rather than from natural causes such as could be observed on earth. Some, when they realize that they are. spirits, become utterly frightened, thinking themselves to be in an empty world. Yet it appears much the same as the world they left, and is sensed with exquisite reality. Indeed, the law is soon taken for granted, that "when what is spiritual touches or sees what is spiritual, it is altogether as when what is natural touches or sees what is natural." In fact, this law, the key to understanding the spiritual world, is repeated again and again in the Writings. (HH 461; LJ 24; AE 926: 2; TCR 79: 7; LJ post. 323) And "nothing in the spiritual world is material, but everything there is spiritual." Nor can the spirit any more see or touch the material environment, or any man or object therein! "Those who are in the one world cannot see those who are in the other world. For the eyes of a man, who sees by natural light, are from the substance of his world, and the eyes of an angel are from the substance of his world." (DLW 91)

Here we meet with the warning that we must not think that the spiritual is but a "purer natural." For "the natural can never by subtilization approximate the spiritual so as to become it." (TCR 280: 3, 695: 3; DLW 350; Wis. vii: 5; Infl. 9: 4, 17: 2) The spiritual body is not a "purer natural," like the "limbus" of which we treated in a previous article, "nor is it a further refinement of the limbus. The spiritual body is, like the inmost soul, of spiritual substance. An angelic teacher, in Swedenborg's presence, therefore said to his youthful disciples: "The material body does not live and think, but the spiritual substance in that body; and this you called the soul, whose form you did not know. But now you have seen and do see it. You all are souls, about the immortality of which you heard . . . so much. . . . The soul is the human form, from which nothing can be taken away and to which nothing can be added; and it is the inmost form of all the forms of the entire body. And because the forms which are without take both essence and form from the inmost, therefore you, just as you appear to yourselves and to us, are souls. . . ." (CL 315: 11) And another angel, from ancient Athens, chided some newcomers with having thought of the spiritual world as empty, because spiritual. For to them anything that was abstract from the material appeared as empty, when, in truth, in the spiritual world "is the fullness of all things." "All things here," he said, "are substantial, not material; and material things derive their origin from the substantial. We who are here are spiritual men because substantial and not material."

Formation of the Spiritual Body

The teaching is also given that man's soul or spirit "is a spiritual substance which does not have extension but impletion." It "has nothing in common with space or extension," "nothing in common with the changes of nature." (CL 220; TCR 103; Infl. 11) This is said of the soul when it is present in the body. Yet it is true of the spirit after death that it has no extension except a spiritual extension; which has to do with the limitations, not of space, but of qualities and states. The spiritual world, like the human mind, is devoid of space, yet it has limitations and distances which appear as space. It is such appearances that limit and thus finite and distinguish spiritual things. (TCR 29; Wis. vii: 5) These spaces and spatial forms under which all spiritual things -including the bodies of spirits - appear, are called appearances "because they are visible, and they are said to be correspondences, and are real, because they spring from creation. . . ." (AE 553)

It is hopeless to attempt to understand what is meant by a spiritual body unless we are willing to reflect on what composes it; that is, on what it is that appears as such a body or such a human form, in the other life. The first thing to note is that "as far as the spirit of man is concerned, it also is created from finite things. . . . The finite things from which it is [created] are spiritual substances which are in the spiritual world. . . ." (TCR 470) But these spiritual substances - which, we are assured, are far more real than material things - are organized in a marvelous fashion into vessels responsive to the influx of life as this is channeled and modified through heaven or through hell. They are organized into ideas and thoughts combined into states of affection and delight; into knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom, or into their opposites - into fantasies and corruptions. And because both good and evil spirits have an overruling human soul, this organization of all man's states of life is unified into a human form, which appears perfect and beautiful if there is a ruling love of what is true and good, but decrepit and ugly if the dominant love is evil. (AC 6605)

Even in the natural world we can discern at times how a man's mind and character will flash out in self-revelation, and transform the countenance into lovely beauty or contort it with repulsive hatred. The human body is indeed built to express the soul, but the mind can modify the Creator's intent; and when the spirit or mind has been released from the physical body, it is seen in a form corresponding to its inner quality, yet mercifully held by the Creator in the human form just so far as man has not perverted its order. And indeed, man or spirit has no power to destroy in entirety the order of his spiritual body. It is maintained by the Lord for the protection of his freedom.

Is the Spiritual Body only an Appearance?

What is this spiritual body? Is it a mere appearance? and if so, an appearance of what? When Swedenborg first considered the question, he was inclined - as was everyone else - to treat the spiritual body as a product of fantasy; for what need could there possibly be of legs and arms in a world devoid of space! But when he had become accustomed to the spiritual world, he confessed that this was not a fantasy or mere appearance. It was an appearance, yes; but the appearance of a spiritual reality. The natural body is also an appearance - an appearance of a material reality. Spirits are indeed in fantasy when they mistake their bodies for material bodies and think that they are still in the natural world! But in the year 1748 Swedenborg notes in his Diary, "Let it not seem astonishing that such things as are merely bodily exist also in the spiritual world, namely, that they there appear to themselves to be bodies, yea, to be clothed with garments, that they perceive pain, consequently possess a sense of touch, besides other things which are merely corporeal such as it would seem could never occur in spiritual essences or in spirits. Nevertheless, that still they do exist, is so true that the whole heaven affirms it." (SD 1715) "Hence it may now appear that there are senses in spirits or in the spiritual essences of man, and moreover that these survive in souls after death. . . ." (SD 1719)

At first one might suppose that it is a man's habitual sight of nature that survives after death. His memory is filled on earth with natural objects and human shapes. Is the spiritual world perhaps a mere survival of his memory? But what shall we then say of infants who, dying at birth, had no such memories of this world, yet grow up in the other life as to both body and mind and see all spiritual things in the same natural forms; see all their companions in human forms, and see the gardens and lakes and mountains around them as clearly as other angels? Clearly the faculty to perceive all life in such mental terms, is inborn in them!

The secret law which is now revealed is that the terms of consciousness are the same in both worlds because the same mind senses objects in both worlds. Hence the spirit "neither sees nor feels any difference. But his body is then spiritual . . . and when what is spiritual touches and sees what is spiritual, it is altogether as when what is natural touches and sees what is natural." (HH 461)

The Components of a Spirit

The doctrine points out that "it is an error [to think] that a soul can exist without a body." (DLW 14) Angels have a body, a rational and a spiritual. (DLW 334) As to their body and its sensations, angels are in "a lower sphere." (AE 926: 2) Their bodies have sensations and pleasures, their minds have affections and thoughts. (CL 273) Thus the spirit, like man on earth, consists of degrees - substantial degrees. "Exterior spiritual things are so created by the Lord as to clothe or invest interior spiritual things." And the exterior spiritual things are in forms like those in the natural world. Into these exterior spiritual forms the interior spiritual things - such as those of the angelic mind - close and have their ultimate existence. (AE 582) Indeed, "his whole spiritual body, from head to heel, is completely such as his mind." (AE 775: 4)

The changing states of affection and thought of spirits are represented as a spiritual flora and fauna around them, and these are said, not merely to "appear" but to be "created" in correspondence with these states. They are real "because they spring from creation." (AE 553, 582) But the ruling states which compose the character of each spirit are manifested as a spiritual body, permanent and complete. No part is lacking, not even the genitals. (CL 51) This body is not a superficial appearance, but contains heart and lungs and brains and digestive organs. It is nourished on spiritual food. Spirits feel with their external senses, but think with their internal sensories or their brains! (DLW 135) The body of a spirit contains substantial organs, fibers, nerves and vital fluids, answering to those in the material body. For the human mind has similar formations to the natural body. The reason given is that "there is a perpetual correspondence of all things of the mind with all things of the body." (LJ post. 316; DP 181; TCR 38) There could be "no living thing in the natural world or in the spiritual world" without substances which are forms adapted for the reception of life. Such forms are constituted of the purest filaments like fascicles or bundles. (AC 7408) In the natural body we see fasciculated fibers, especially proceeding from the cortical substances of the brain, arranged into intricate series and connections. And they are so created "because they correspond to the series in which the organism of the mind is disposed." For "the truths which are of faith are so arranged in the human mind." "Unless there were such an arrangement in the human mind, man would not have any analytical faculty of reason, which every one has according to the arrangement and . . . abundance of truths cohering, as it were in a bundle; and the arrangement is according to the use of reason from freedom." (TCR 351) In general, good and truth together "make as it were one body, the soul of which is good, the truths in that good being as it were the spiritual fibers which form the body." (AC 5435) "What is said of the natural forms of the body can be said similarly of the spiritual forms of the mind." (DP 181)

We tend to forget how complex our minds are - how ideas are inwoven into each other in remarkable series of kinships, how marvelous the order through which we can recall the various elements of our thought. We seldom reflect on the laws of the association of ideas and how the most rational and logical processes can yet be upset and reversed by the awakening of our affections or passions! We strain our mental muscles at times; and we digest knowledge in order to obtain its inner essence, the meaning that is of use in building our minds. Our minds feed on intellectual substances and are poisoned by falsities and by fantasies of self-love.

These are not mere comparisons or metaphors! The spirit after death has inner degrees, answering to all the invisible interiors within the viscera and the brains. It has also its ultimate, which is the spiritual body.

The Spiritual Body and the Memory

We do not think with our bodies. Neither is the body of a spirit employed by the spirit in his thinking processes in the other life. Yet it is spiritual. It is indeed organized within the material body and "formed through goods and truths which inflow from the Lord through the spiritual world," and received in civil and moral states. (TCR 583, 454) All man's states are preserved in the form of memory. This is the ultimate of man's mind, the sensual degree, which embodies his entire mind.

This sensual degree is the first of man's mind to be awakened into consciousness at birth. It exists at birth, read for use. In it are organized all sensations, which are gradually formed into a memory. It exists also with infants who die at birth; exists as a "spiritual-natural plane" (HH 345) which can develop and grow in the other life. But a man who grows up in the natural world develops that sensual degree into a corporeal memory, a "relatively fixed" plane which he takes with him into the spiritual world. "What sort of fixity it is can be known only by this, that all things which are on earth are also in the heavens, but there they are not fixed, but still they appear as fixed." (SD 5552) The corporeal memory, or ultimate degree of the mind, thus cannot be changed after death, nor added to; and this means that he "remains to eternity" such as he had been in the world. "He has this plane with him, but it becomes altogether quiescent. Still, his interiors close in it. . . ." (Ibid.)

Let us again ponder the fact that all the contents of our memory are organized by our special interests and affections, and ordered to reflect the image of our ruling loves, our whole personality. (AC 3539: 2) And this order imposed on our corporeal memory is fixed after death by the fact that it is devoid of physical sensory organs and thus cannot grow. "New harmonies and correspondences cannot be formed" with the interiors of the mind which rest in it. (SD min. 4645 f.; SD 4037) And the reason that it cannot change is also found in that mystical structure, the "limbus," which was the subject of our last article. For the limbus gives a natural fixation to the corporeal memory. It closes the chapter of earthly life - or binds the book of memory.

It is therefore stated in the doctrine that "the organization taken on in the world remains to eternity." (DP 326: 5) "No one's life can be changed after death, because it is organized according to his love and faith, and hence according to his works. . . . A change of organization can take place only in the material body, and by no means in the spiritual body after the former is rejected." (BE 110; CL 524: 2)

"Where the tree falleth, there it shall be." (Eccl. 11: 3) Not that all progress stops after death. He who is in good can be "perfected immensely, even to angelic wisdom - but correspondingly to the concordances and correspondences that exist between internals and externals while he lived in the world." (SD min. 4645: cp. SD 5552; AC 4588, 3293)

The general teaching is that after death a man takes along his whole natural memory "but is not allowed to use it," that is, recall its contents. It is closed, quiescent, like the body when it is asleep. If it were not, and its material ideas were reproduced in the other life, the spirit could not progress into spiritual thought, which is abstracted from persons, spaces and times. If the corporeal memory of a spirit were activated, his ideas would also mix themselves into the thought of the man with whom he was. (HH 461, 464) But spirits have full use of their spiritual or interior memory, in which they store all their experiences in the spiritual world.

All these teachings strongly suggest that the corporeal memory becomes, after death, a body for the spirit; or rather, that the memory of man is impressed on that spiritual-natural plane which becomes his spiritual body. Man does not live in his brain only, but his soul and mind are present in every part of his body. His memory, even on earth, is impressed on his body, especially as to all acts and habits.

Thus we are told that if it becomes necessary to confront a spirit with his earthly misdeeds which he denies having committed, angelic examiners "inspect his face; and their search extends through the whole body, beginning with the fingers of each hand. . . . The things that are inscribed on the memory from the will and its thought are inscribed not only on the brain, but also upon the whole man, and there they exist in an order according to the order of the parts of the body. . . ." (HH 463; SD 5492)

Such spiritual palmistry would be impossible unless the spiritual body were formed in accordance with the thoughts and acts of man's will. (HH 463e) The external memory with its inactive material ideas, seems thus to be represented in those basic structures such as bones and skin and sinews which have relatively little life, while the viscera and brains of the spirit are formed according to his internal memory, which he employs in his thinking and from which the immaterial sphere of his life unconsciously flows forth. (AC 2489, 10130, 1504; DLW 291)

Immortal man has not only a substantial body, but also the interior degrees which constitute his mind. Celestial angels have the celestial degree organized and opened for use; the spiritual angels have the spiritual degree. All spirits have a natural mind or degree, which with the evil remains perverted and consists of "spiritual substances such as are in hell." (TCR 38: cp. SD 5547)

Yet all angels have a natural degree of the mind as well as a spiritual body. The body is the outward form of the mind and makes one with it. (HH 340; DLW 369) But since hereditary and other evils of man remain in his spiritual body like scars, there are things in the angel "so depraved that never to eternity can correspondence occur, did not the Lord continually bring it about." For the Lord makes it possible that the natural should become as it were "transparent" or removed so that the interiors can be displayed. (SD 2157-2159) The humiliating fact is that even with angels, there is correspondence only in a few things of the mind! (SD 2292)

It is therefore a law in the spiritual world that a state becomes apparent, either in the features of the visible spiritual body or in the corresponding environment which is created about spirits and angels, only if it is an active state. Here again the mercy of the Lord is seen. For who could stand if all the inner turmoil of his heart were always apparent, or the dormant hereditary passions which man had never measured were always exposed to view?

What are seen in the spiritual world are the active states of spirits and angels, perceived in the mental forms which correspond to them. These mental forms are the same as those into which we interpreted our natural environment, and thus appear the same.


The objective in [this paper]… has been to examine what there is in man that is immortal. We found three things which do not perish at death: the soul, the mind within a spiritual body, and the "limbus" from the inmosts of nature. We also found that through the isolation of the "limbus" the corporeal memory was reduced to quiescence so that its material ideas are not used in the thinking processes of the spirit, but only those things which he had drawn out of the memory as conclusions and rational concepts. (HH 364: 2)

For those who are willing to endeavor to think spiritually about the spiritual world, and to realize that the spirit is an organization, not of physical elements but of states of good and truth, many fields of study are opened up through the Writings. But no treatment of the subject of the bodies of spirits and angels would be adequate which did not point out the teaching that "a spirit does not subsist upon a basis of his own, but upon a common basis, which is the human race." 54 This might seem surprising, since every spirit has his character engraved upon his own corporeal memory, and in his own spiritual body; and since this corporeal memory is closed and fixed by means of a "limbus" from nature, which individualizes him.

But the spirit cannot use the ideas of his corporeal memory, any more than we can think with our hands or feet! Instead of this, spirits can be with men and can use the contents of our memories as if they were their own. Their common basis - on which the external phases of their mental life are founded - is the whole human race." (LJ 9) The angelic mansions are indeed in heaven, to the sight separate from the habitations of men, but still they are with man in his affections of good and truth. That they stand forth to the sight as separate is from the appearance." (LJ 9)

"The spiritual world is where man is, and in no wise away from him." (DLW 92) This conjunction of the two worlds is the unique doctrine of the New Church.

New Church Life 1960;80:5-13, 64-72,111-121     


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