The Spiritual Universe
by Rev. Erik E. Sandström
May I dip my oar in, as regards the on-going debate about life on the planets? For when reading the Heavenly Doctrines and also of the scientific findings, the instinct of human reason is urged to reconcile them to each other. However, let us beware lest we inadvertently precipitate a crisis for the New Church by investigating spiritual matters from things of sense. Let us take sober cognizance of this:
I do not wish to infer that we have come into this danger. Who is to judge? There are two worlds, the spiritual and the natural. Whichever is our stand as regards life on the planets, we need only beware lest we use astronomical data to cast doubt on Heavenly Doctrine. For example, we have received opinions on the status of The Earths in the Universe. Some have said that Swedenborg was mistaken, others that he was misinformed; others that the earths are hollow, and the described phenomena are to be found inside the planets; and yet others stating that there must be an internal sense to the whole treatment.
Thus warned, let us not rush at externals, but take time to look at the essentials contained in the work, The Earths in the Universe.
THE SPIRITUAL VANTAGE-POINT
This book was published separately in 1758, but was of course first seen as inter-chapter material in the Arcana Coelestia, and also in the Spiritual Diary. Thus it was written before the Last judgment which took place in 1757. Now the impact of this event on the rest of the universe, is hard to judge; for it was in the world of spirits of our planet that this judgment took place. Since Swedenborg makes the point that he spoke only with the spirits who were from other planets, (EU2) we therefore assume that he met these spirits in their respective worlds of Spirits. After the Last judgment took place, it is possible that the relationship to other worlds of spirits was affected. Therefore it could be that the spirits from other planets could be visited only at the time they were visited, because by the judgment, new spiritual laws were brought into effect, or rather were restored. Three examples are given in the Doctrines: the time allowed to stay in the world of spirits (HH 426; AR 846); the companions newcomers were not allowed to seek out (LJ 64); and the size to which imaginary heavens could grow (LJ post. 105).
Swedenborg did not speak to any inhabitants of planets either. He did not observe any planetary surface conditions, except on some special occasions through the eyes of spirits in communication with their own inhabitants (Cf. EU 135, 161). Therefore, virtually everything said about each planet needs to be viewed from the spiritual vantage-point.
To view spiritually any planetary condition mentioned in the Doctrines entails searching for corroboration by means of the science of correspondences. By applying correspondences drawn from the Sacred Scriptures, we can see whether the descriptions of planetary conditions conform with the actual conditions known to Science, or whether they conform to the states seen in the World of Spirits.
THE SECOND STATE
One law applicable to the World of Spirits, is that man passes through three states on his way to heaven. We must assume that Swedenborg spoke mostly with good spirits from the planets, thus heaven-bound spirits. In which state they were when he met them, the first, second or third, we have no way of telling. But because the second and third states take the longest, we may assume that these were the most common.
The second state is when a spirit has passed through the external life as he had known it from his own planet; and has gradually come into his true internals or interiors, which are truly of his spirit. Gradually his externals known from his earth are replaced by such things as correspond to his true internals. Spirits then appear more and more heavenly if good, or more infernal if evil. Also their surroundings change into scenery corresponding to the spirits' delights (HH485).
How great these changes are, is clear from the fact that well-known people of Swedenborg's day were not recognized until he was informed who they were. Everyone becomes recognizable according to his internal nature rather than external appearance. Finally he does not remember who he was on earth.
Granted, then, that the spirits from other planets were in their respective worlds of spirits, it stands to reason that Swedenborg saw them as to their true internals, after they had forgotten much of their former terrestrial externals. The spirits therefore spoke about their new externals, which correspond with their internals, as habitual. What they ascribed to their planet, may in fact never have existed in such forms there. Actual planetary conditions are almost certainly not meant by much of what the spirits said of validity on this subject (EU 160).
This explanation is the more likely when we consider that most other human races mentioned have more exalted uses in the Grand Man than we mere earthlings. Our use is rooted in material things. Theirs, being exalted, has less or no concern for natural things, so why should they care to report them? Furthermore, they all enjoyed spiritual sight while on their planets (EU 120). The difficulty in keeping spiritual sight and natural sight apart, is profusely illustrated in both Testaments (e.g., Gideon and the angel; the Lord walking on water.) They were perhaps incapable of telling what their surface conditions had actually been like, because even when on their planets, they had seen the familiar scenery of paradisal heavenly societies. Instead, they provided Swedenborg with representative examples from their new externals, which could depict their true internals more accurately than actual earth-conditions ever could.
Can we therefore evaluate what is said of the planetary conditions, or about themselves, in terms of the true internals of the spirits who provided the information?
THE TRUE INTERNALS
The true internal of each planet is given as the use of that planet, or of the spirits from its human race, in the Grand Man. For example, the use of our planet is to confirm celestial and spiritual truth by natural truth (SD 1531), or the outer coverings and membranes of the body. It was on account of our earth being of this nature that the Lord could make His Advent at all (EU 118), Swedenborg, being an earthling, was qualified to perform the task of revelator of the Lord's Second Advent, and as observer of, spiritual things: His. mind was equipped to bring spiritual, celestial, yea Divine truths down into natural truths, but only by enlightenment from the risen Lord. Thus the heavens rest on the literal sense of Sacred Scripture, or on the plane of he sciences of Nature, and in either case on writing and print (Cf. EU 113)
The 'archetype' for bringing internal things down into external, is found in The Apocalypse: the New Jerusalem descending from God, out of heaven, down to the earth. Because our genius is such, the Lord is said to love this earth above others, for on this earth, the Lord's Divine Humanity has actually been witnessed on the plane of ultimate creation (SD 1531). On only this earth can it be known that God is Man also from science (SD 4782). Even though our use involves gross matter and natural loves, we can easily come into interior or inner heavens, once our exteriors have been vastated (SD 1531).
Once in heaven, our use includes the instruction of the rest of the universe, especially in the Doctrine of the Lord's Advent on our earth (EU 118, 121; SD 1531). On our planet alone, we study the universe through telescopes etc; and after death we instruct "the universe" on the subject of the Lord's Advent. The Doctrine of the Lord is therefore central in our consideration of the earths in the universe. It is no doubt because of our crucial use, that the Lord is seen by spirits from other planets as He appeared to inhabitants who saw Him on our earth! (EU 40, 65, 141, 170e) Since we instruct all other spirits from the planets that the Lord has been born on our earth, and since all other inhabitants of planets are in contact with angels from their own human races, we reach the thrilling prospect that the Lord's Advent is by now known throughout the inhabited universe, . from one depth of outer space to the other (Cf. EU 118-121). Our Lord Jesus Christ is worshiped as God throughout the universe.
What we see of surface conditions on the, planets through., telescopes or by space-probes, must therefore be viewed in terms of, the unique planetary use of each planet. For , each human race, being created especially for .a use, must clearly be able to survive whatever planetary conditions prevail! Indeed, any planet's ,conditions must ultimately correspond to, and thus depend on, what use in the Grand Man the human race performs.
For example, our use in the Grand Man is known, and so are our earth's conditions! Are they not such that all spiritual, celestial, yea Divine things can be ultimated in the three kingdoms of Nature? The reason why other planets appear so barren and devoid of life may well be that their uses are upwardly oriented. And as each use in the Grand Man is inborn, in all individuals, on whatever planet they are born, it must therefore come to full fruition first by a life on the surface of each planet, and then, after the three states in the World of Spirits, in heaven. Clearly, planetary conditions must enhance the use of the inhabitants, however inhospitable they may appear to us.
Let us consider some of the planets mentioned in The Earths in the Universe.
THE PLANETARY USES FROM CREATION: JUPITER
The true internal, or use in the Grand Man, of Jovian spirits is the imaginative of thought, and their genius is intermediate between the spiritual and the celestial (AC 8733). What correspondences verify these statements?
The imaginative of thought occurs curiously enough in the Genesis account of the Deluge. "The imagination of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually." (Gen. 6: 5) This signifies that there was no perception of truth and good (AC 586). But the Jovian spirits were far from evil. Thus their perception of truth and good was remarkable, seeing that good is of the celestial, and truth of the spiritual. Being intermediate between these, they perceive both.
Now the spirits from Jupiter said that on their earth they had lived in long, low huts, with blue star-studded ceilings. A sky-blue ceiling would represent truth transparent from good, with references to interior and inmost things (Cf. AC 10184, 9408). Truth transparent from good is the spiritual from the celestial, or mediate between them.
Fixed stars refer to knowledges of good and truth, or celestial and spiritual things. Consequently, when disagreement arises between Jovian spirits, sparkling stars are seen (EU 50). They regard wandering stars as an ill omen, but fixed stars as a good omen.
May we not conclude from these things, that the description of Jovian earth-dwellings refer in fact to their homes in the world of spirits? What their earth-conditions or houses were like, is not even implied, and may be at great variance with their after-death conditions. Even the conditions for our Most Ancients on earth must have varied greatly from their splendid heavenly condition (Cf. CL 75)!
We see then, that Doctrine and Science hardly touch on the same area. There is hardly any danger of transgressing the code (AC 127).
The spirits of Saturn appeared to Swedenborg "in front at a considerable distance, beneath the plane of the knees." (AC 8947) They are very humble and worship the Lord who often appears to them. Their true internal or use is the "middle sense between the spiritual and natural man." (AC 8953)
Why did they appear beneath the plane of the knees? The knees signify the intermediate between spiritual and natural things (AC 5328: 2)and also humility and adoration (AC 5323). In front signifies facing the east, thus being near the Lord (AC 9668: 3). Clearly, these doctrinals verify their appearance in front, beneath the plane of the knees.
The use of Saturnian spirits apparently involves communication between the spiritual and natural degrees, for they often appear to be snatched away into heaven and presently to be let back again (AC 8953). This of course must apply to their state in their world of spirits. Thus their genius is such as to encounter both spiritual and natural things.
Therefore when Saturnian spirits were beset and abused by spirits from our earth who were merely natural, they had no fear; and by their tranquility they caused our spirits to be tortured until they fled (EU 102). This conflict came about because their use is to recede from the natural, but our use is to approach it.
Yet some Saturnians become natural, and worship the snowy light cast on their planet through the great belts surrounding it. Snowy whiteness in fact represents faith separated from charity (AC 3412: 3). Such faith is merely natural.
The rings of Saturn are obviously a true terrestrial external. The point however is that the light it casts corresponds to the Saturnian use.
"The spirits of Mercury wander through the universe . . . (because) they relate to the memory of things in the Grand Man, which is continually being enriched." "They relate to the memory of things abstracted from material and earthly things." (AC 6925, 6809)
Although such wandering clearly applies to the spiritual world, we know that it is possible also in the natural. Did not Swedenborg himself travel the spiritual universe while his body stayed here on earth? The Mercurian inhabitants may be experts in this form of travel, even while they never leave their planet.
A Mercurian woman spirit was seen, wearing a linen cap "artlessly put on, yet becomingly." A man was also seen wearing a tight dull-blue dress, free of wrinkles (AC 7105). Are these externals representative of their true internals?
A head-dress signifies intelligence (CL 293e), and linen, truth from a celestial origin. (AC 9744ff.) That a woman was seen wearing such a cap, implies that their love of wisdom (i.e. a woman) consists in being intelligent from accumulations of knowledges. For they love to learn abstract things, and reject and indeed mock natural things. Thus they take such pride in their knowledge, that they end up by not knowing either what celestial or what natural things are (AC 6814).Yet their knowledges are from a celestial origin.
Is not their love of knowledge, yet their ignorance of celestial things, best represented by a woman with a linen cap, artlessly yet becomingly worn?
Yet they are capable of humility. After ridiculing the art of writing on our earth, they were told that we could become celestial more easily than they (AC 6929, 6930). Thus chastened, they produced a neatly prepared paper of their own! So quick were they to recognize their fault.
Their humility is seen as a sinking down of a whirlpool (AC 7077). Yet their love of knowledges is seen as a crystal globe. Thus they love truths, but make them a matter of mere knowledge, removed from material ideas: Such would be the correspondence of a skin-tight, dull-blue dress (Cf. AC 592, 10036).
The use in the Grand Man of Martian spirits, is something interior in man, the mediate faculty between the intellectual and voluntary, or thought from affection (AC 7480).
The spirits of Mars were seen to have yellow faces with a blackness of the lower face, which was not a beard. Does this facial appearance relate to their use? Or did they so appear on their planet?
Concerning man's face, we are told: "By the face are signified the interiors which are of the life, thus which are of the thought and affection." (AC 9360) The color yellow refers to celestial together with spiritual good (AC186). The Martian spirits are also said to be of a celestial genius, but they delight in spiritual things, as is evident from their delight in our earthly birds which represent spiritual things (AC 7476, 7620-22).
The blackness of the lower face can refer to the state of innocence from ignorance (Cf. AC 4001). This is a quality to which the Martian spirits are prone. To demonstrate this, they saw one of our birds gradually turn into a black stone (AC 7622), which meant that they could recede from their celestial state, and come to dwell in knowledges without love.
Since they know that they are capable of such a fall, they love to humble themselves so profoundly that they are as it were outside of themselves; they remain upon their knees until the Lord elevates them and as it were draws them out from hell (AC 7478).
Indeed, their humility is part of their use. For humiliation, we are told, can come only from the conjunction of the intellectual and voluntary faculties (AC 3539: 3). Their use is mediate between these. Therefore their face is also particolored, to represent a curious combination of celestial humility, and the ignorance belonging to corporeal life, to which they are prone. Interestingly enough, celestial wisdom is said to have the ignorance of infancy adjoined to it, and is then called the "ignorance of wisdom." (AC 10225: 7) This ignorance of wisdom, full of humility, seems to describe the Martian genius, and thus also their face.
The lunar spirits have the use of the ensiform or soutiform cartilage, which is at the base of the sternum or breastbone. This cartilage holds the diaphragm and other muscles necessary for volume and tone control in speech (AC 5504).
The spirits from the Moon were heard to speak or make noise as of thunder. Is not thunderous noise a most appropriate signal for the use of this cartilage? Even their breathing was described as abdominal, emphasizing the use of the diaphragm, and also this cartilage. For when we speak, our chest reverberates.
Thunder is often heard in the spiritual world, and is from the Divine inflowing into the ultimates of heaven. Thunder signifies the Divine Truth which illustrates and perfects those who are in heaven, while it at the same time terrifies and vastates those in hel1(AC 7573). Spirits and angels are clearly needed to perform this ultimate use of perfecting and terrifying, and some of these could come from our Moon.
We can see from these few samples that the descriptions either of the spirits themselves, or of their planets, are consistent with their true internals, which is use from creation. By correspondence we see that the externals apply to the world of spirits, and not necessarily to the planets themselves.
Of the planets mentioned, Mars and the Moon stand out, since they have both been explored by us, and amply photographed. Their lifeless condition apparently has ruled out any confirmation of what is said in The Earths in the Universe. But did we really expect these space-flights to confirm the Doctrines verbatim? The things of sense are far, far removed from the mysteries of faith. Doctrine and science have hardly yet concerned themselves within the same area. Nevertheless, the use of our planet is to bring spiritual truth into natural truth, or Doctrine into life. The Lord, who is Doctrine Itself, was born only on our earth.
So we have not been given The Earths in the Universe to make us look like fools. Instead it is a work that contains a plethora of information, which, if seen from the spiritual vantage-point, can provide the New Church with a truly spectacular view of the universe. That, too, would fulfill our use.
- New Church Life 1977;97:190-198