How should those in the Church regard the Teachings Concerning the Earths in the Universe?
Thursday, February 13, 1969 Bryn Athyn, Penna.
Whenever the earthly sciences appear to deny the factuality in the natural world of some teaching in the sense of the letter of the Word, there is a certain disturbance in the minds of those of the Church. There is the appearance that the true of the Word is being invalidated, and because of this appearance the first reaction of those of the Church is to deny the validity of the teachings of the earthly sciences wherever they disagree with the teachings of the sense of the letter of the Word. Those of the Church then feel that their faith in the Word is being attacked by the discoveries of science. And it is true that insofar as the faith of the man of the Church in the Word rests on the apparent external factuality of the Word on such subjects, his faith is going to be sorely tried whenever the discoveries of science disagree. There may be something good, something very admirable, in the struggle of a man of the Church, even in the face of the most overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to believe everything said in the literal sense of the Word, for in the beginning his faith does rest in such things, and he comes into a love for their literal truth. On the other hand, there is the danger that in so doing he may be defending only his own sensual grasp of the Word, and thus be destroying the true use of the sense of the letter of the Word.
For a long time we have seen the struggles of the Old Church against the discoveries of science which appear to invalidate the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, in many places. And those of the New Church have taken a wholly unsympathetic and even boastful attitude toward the Old Church in its sufferings on this score. We have said, “Oh, those poor people don’t know that there is an internal or spiritual sense in all those things in the Word, but we know it.” And so there was the tendency to laugh at their misdirected efforts to defend their faith in their Word. But yet we had to acknowledge that in teaching the Old and New Testament to our children, the children first of all receive those things, as for example, the first eleven chapters of Genesis, as being factual for the natural world, and that there is a certain image of a struggle to bring them to see that they are true but not in the worldly factual way they first received them. With regard to the adults in the New Church there has in the past been no serious challenge to their faith in the literal sense of the Word by the discoveries of science.
In this century those in the Church who studied astronomy felt that the discoveries of science in that field brought the factuality of the teachings of the Earths in the Universe into question. And in the last few years and even months the progress made in observing conditions on the moon, and in circling the moon, and photographing it from positions relatively close to it, has so far appeared to confirm the doubts of the astronomers as to the possibility of life on the moon, and therefore to cast doubt on the factuality of what is said in the Word of the Third Testament about the moon. According to the evidence so far obtained, there is no air, no water, no vegetation. Without these it is difficult to see how the moon can support human life as we know it. In this some feel a threat to their faith in the the Third Testament. Although they acknowledge that this Testament has an internal sense, in which is the real life and light for the Church, and although they acknowledge that the literal sense of that Testament is representative and significative, still the thought and feeling prevails that this Testament by it very nature must be also factual in a natural way in its literal sense, and that otherwise its truth is invalidated. For this reason we think it to be of use to consider how those of the Church should regard the teachings in “The Earths in the Universe”. In so doing we must acknowledge that on the plane of earthly science there is still a vast ignorance with regard to the whole subject, and that there is on the plane of understanding of the Word itself a still greater ignorance as to what is the real meaning of the teachings of the Word on the subject. These things have not been opened up in the Church, and the probability is that they cannot be opened for a long time. But there are truths concerning the Word which have been opened in the Church, and from these we can find direction as to how we ought to regard the teachings given about the earths in the universe.
The things said in the Word about the angels, spirits and inhabitants of other earths, and concerning those of our earth in relation to them, were first written in that work called “The Spiritual Diary.” Many of the teachings there given are quoted, with some additions, in the Index to the Diary, which volume has not yet been translated into English. In the Arcana Coelestia the things said about the Earths in the Universe are subjoined to all fifty chapters of Exodus. After the publication of the Arcana Coelestia a little work, “The Earths in the Universe”, was published in 1758. In general, the things said about the various earths are much the same in all four places where they are given, but in each place there are some things said which are not said in the others. The order in which the earths are treated is different in the Arcana Coelestia from the order in the Spiritual Diary, and the order in which they are treated in “The Earths in the Universe” is different from that in the Arcana Coelestia. Again, in the Arcana Coelestia, six earths in the star-bearing heaven outside of our solar system are treated of, whereas, in “The Earths in the Universe” only five are spoken of, the fourth earth described in the Arcana Coelestia being entirely omitted, and the fifth and sixth earths of the Arcana Coelestia being renumbered the fourth and the fifth. Also, it should be noted that after the publication of “The Earths in the Universe” none of these earths are again mentioned in the Third Testament. The work on The Earths in the Universe is sometimes mentioned, and the general teaching that there are other earths in the universe which are inhabited is sometimes given. In the original Latin it is not said “the planet Mercury”, “the planet Venus”, etc., but always “the planet of Mercury,” “the planet of Venus': and so forth.
When one reads the Earths in the Universe one is caught up in a kind of rapture in the idea that this immense creation is not an empty, meaningless, cold mechanism, but that it is all the work of the Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, having as its end the production of the human race, and of the eternal angelic heaven therefrom. Here the universe is pictured as having many inhabited earths, from which daily there comes a torrent of human souls to their places in the heavens, myriads every day. (A.C. 6699). And in all those earths there is the worship of the one Lord in Human Form. And in that wonder in which we are so caught up we hear the words of the Psalm, “The Heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament announceth the work of His hands”. (Psalm 19:1)
And here it is interesting to note that the scientists, judging only from the numbers of the suns which they can see, and according to the blind laws of chance or probability, conclude that there are inhabited earths in the universe far exceeding in number the highest number mentioned in the Word, which is around 600,000. (S.D. 3264 and Index under Tellus). Not that that number given in the Word is given as the total, but is according to the calculation of the spirits of Mercury. So great is the number of visible galaxies, and so great the number of suns in each one of them, that according to the so called laws of chance, the probability of there being planets around even a portion of those suns, and of there being a portion of these with just the right conditions to support human life as we know it, would make the number of inhabitable earths in the billions. In this the most general or common truth of the teachings about the earths in the universe, namely, that there must be many inhabited earths because of the infinity of the Lord’s Love toward the human race, and because of the needs of the Grand Man of Heaven, is more than amply confirmed. And here it should be noted that there is a similarity here between the confirmation of the apparent scientific things taught in the Old Testament and those taught in the Third Testament in this respect, that the science of the world confirms the general things and is contrary to the particular things. Thus, the most common order of creation taught in the first chapter of Genesis, namely, that there was first a kind of chaos, then the separation of sea and land, and a progression of forms from the mineral, vegetable, animal to man, is confirmed by science. So also the common truth that there are and must be many inhabitable earths is confirmed by science. But with regard to particulars there is a contrariety.
There is one common or general teaching of the Third Testament which at first sight appears to be denied by the discoveries of science. Several times it is stated in the Word that where there is an earth or even a satellite, there is the human race, because the Lord created them all for the purpose or the existence of the human race. (A.C. 6697.) This would appear to be contrary to the evidence as at present discovered by science, which indicates that none of the other planets in this solar system, nor the moon, are inhabitable. That law, that where there is an earth or satellite, there are men, is put so strongly as to be almost a command that those of the Church must literally believe this. But this could be understood in a different natural way. In nature on all sides of us we observe what might be called the law of profusion. Thousands, even millions of seeds are formed in vegetables, animals and men. Each one of them is created with the potentiality of procreating its kind. And yet only a small proportion of them will find just those conditions in which they can perform the function for which they were created. It does not appear to me to be contrary to the truth that the Lord creates earths to be inhabited, if this law of profusion were to be applied also to the earths and satellites. Thus, here again the common or general truth of this teaching is unquestionably to be upheld, but there is the possibility that in some particulars it may prove not to be upheld.
Some in the New Church have brought forward certain possibilities which might reconcile the literal factuality of the things said about the earths with the findings of science. One such idea is that human life may exist on the moon and the planets in forms wholly different than our own, adaptable to the conditions existing on the earths. But in the descriptions given of the inhabitants of the planets and the moon, they appear in forms very similar to our own, and have similar foods, and are of much the same size, and so forth. Nothing is said to indicate that they might be invisible, or unrecognizable. In this connection what is said about the third earth in the star-bearing heaven should be noted. The spirits from that earth are so unwilling to think of bodily things that they do not appear as other spirits in a clearly defined human body, but as a cloud. (A.C. 10312, 10314) In the Spiritual Diary it is said of these spirits that they insisted that they had never had any body, only a face, Swedenborg doubted this, and asked them whether they walked upright. When they said that they did so, he asked how they could walk without feet. He concluded that they had been clothed with a body but that they had despised it and did not want to think they had ever had a body. (S.D. 1672 1/2.) But still, previous to this he had wondered whether they had not been clothed with some other kind of body than ours, and whether they were not on this account from some satellite of Jupiter, where they have not a similar atmosphere as on an earth. He could not have any idea of men unless of such as lived on an earth surrounded by an atmosphere.
But still he did not fully reject the possibility, because corporeal forms are according to the state of the atmospheres and of many things on the earths, (S.D. 1670.) Yet it must be pointed out that while a dissimilar atmosphere is spoken of with regard to the satellites, no such thing is spoken of with regard to the planets or other earths in the universe. The spirits of the moon are described as dwarfs, about the size of a seven year old boy, with longer faces. Mention is made there that there is not a similar atmosphere on the moon as on the earth, but there is no indication that their form of body was not recognizable.(A.C: 9232, 9238.)
Another idea advanced by those in the New Church to reconcile the factuality of the things said about the earths with the findings of science is that the other planets and the moon might have once been such as to support human life, and that therefore, there are spirits and angels from them, but that they now are no longer such. While this idea in itself can be considered possible, there is nothing said in the sense of the letter of the Word to support it, and many things said which would not agree with it. For one thing, it is said that Swedenborg spoke with the spirits from the moon and planets, not with angels from them, thus with those who have more recently died. Also, much is said about how these spirits communicate with the inhabit-ants of their earths, now. While this way of reconciling the teaching of the Word and the findings of science would reconcile them in one way, it would, in another way, deny the factuality of many things said about the inhabitants of the planets.
Before proceeding to the subject itself of this class, I would draw attention to some things said about the moon which may not generally be known. Not much is said about the spirits and inhabitants of the moon. Nothing about their quality, or their worship of which so much is said in relation to the earths. It is only said that they make a thundering noise to frighten away spirits who might harm them, and that this proceeds not from the lungs, but out of the abdomen, since they have not a similar atmosphere as other earths, and that they are dwarfs, in height like boys of seven, but with more robust body. It is said that they refer to the Xiphoid cartilage, in the Grand Man, but it is nowhere said what this signifies, That there are inhabitants there, spirits and angels know, because they often speak with them. This is the general teaching. But in the Spiritual Diary, the heading of the section on the moon reads, “Concerning the Spirits of the Moon, so called.” (S,D. 3241.) In the Index to the Diary it is said that it was perceived that these spirits, were out of the moon, about which he first doubted because he did not know of what quality the atmosphere there was, but that he was persuaded that they were out of the moon because there cannot be a planet or satellite without the human race. In the Arcana Coelestia it is said that he was informed by angels that these spirits were out of the moon.
We know from the Word that the Word in its internal sense treats of the Divine Human of the Lord, of His Kingdom in Heaven and in the Church, and of the regeneration of man. (A.C. 6827.) It treats of the Lord, love into Him, and charity toward the neighbor, and of how man comes into the reception of those loves. (A.C. 3454) And we are told that the Word, as it ascends through the Heavens is at last presented before the Lord as an image of a man in which and through which Heaven is represented in its complex, not such as it is, but such as the Lord wills it to be, namely, that it may be His similitude. (A.C. 1871.) These celestial and spiritual things of the Word, which are its very life, are presented before men in the world in the representative and significative things of the sense of the letter. Also, we are told that the things of the literal sense are for the most part taken from appearances in the spiritual world, especially from things seen and heard in the ultimates of heaven. (A.E. 369,503,594.) Also, they are according to appearances in nature, and according to the fallacies of the senses. (A.C. 735,1408.)
This Church acknowledges that these principles in relation to the Word apply to the Third Testament. And it therefore is not of order for any mature member of the Church to regard the teachings about the earths in the universe as being placed in Divine Revelation for the purpose of informing us about the spirits and inhabitants of other earths or about the things on those earths. They are not a travelogue. They are a Divine representation of the Lord and of His Kingdom in Heaven and the Church, and also of things in the regeneration of man by the Lord. And the man of the Church should regard them as such.
At the beginning of this Class it was said that these things have not been opened up in the Church, and that they would probably not be opened for a long time. The reason for saying the latter is that in the Arcana Coelestia they occur at the end of the chapters of Exodus. The things said in the Arcana Coelestia about Exodus we can see to be in almost complete darkness with us, as far as their internal meaning is concerned, and until they are opened in the Church the things said about the earths in the universe cannot be opened in any substantial way.
However, it can easily be seen that the things said about these earths are representative. Twelve earths are there described, and we know that twelve signifies the universals of love and faith. It has been suggested in the Church that Exodus treats of the Church in the most external things. This does not mean the most external things of the Church such as she now is, but the Church in most external things after she has been formed and developed in internals. For this reason these things are so hidden to us. In that relation one can sense that the earths in the universe are a representation of the universals of love and faith in the very outmost and therefore in the most comprehensive things.
That the earths in the universe are a Divine representation is also evident from what is said about each earth having its place in the Grand Man of Heaven. And in relation to the six planets mentioned in our solar system this place is given, that is, it is said to what they refer in the Grand Man of Heaven. Of three of the earths in the star-bearing heaven, a use, or place is also given.
In this connection I must note for you what is said in the Spiritual Diary 1558: “How in this world (solar system) the minds(animi) are in communion. In common this results out of those things which have been revealed about the inhabitants of the earth of this solar system (mundi), namely that they who are of the earth of Venus and of our earth, are they who constitute bodily things and their appetites, thus who constitute terrestrial things, and also lower worldly things, thus who rule the external senses. That the spirits of the earth of Jupiter refer to or constitute rational ideas, for they live without care of those things which are of the senses of the body; they are as I might say as if a ground to which interior things and those more inmost may be inseminated; for without an interior rational idea those things which are still more interior and more inmost are not inseminated; that the spirits of the earth of Saturn are the interior sense or reason. That the spirits of the earth Mercury are cognitions. And that the spirits of the earth Mars are thought.”
Considering the things said above with those taught elsewhere about these planets, one can recognize in them the Divine order of influx, of the voluntary into the intellectual, and from the intellectual into the rational, and from this into the scientifics and things of bodily sense.
In relation to the literal sense of the things concerning the earths in the universe, we regard them as the Word of the Lord, whether or not they are factual in relation to the natural world. To us they are just as import-ant, just as much a part of Divine revelation containing celestial and spiritual things for the Church whether or not the findings of science should confirm the things there said or show that they do not apply to the planets so named in this world, In this connection we must keep in mind what was said above about the things of the literal sense being for the most part taken from appearances in the spiritual world, as well as from the natural world. Those things said in the earths in the universe are actual appearances either in this world or in the spiritual world. In that sense they are factual, either for the one world or the other. Against this it might be objected that Swedenborg, as far as can be ascertained from the sense of the letter of the Word, regarded them as appearances in this world, that is, as factual for this world, that may be so. The disciples thought that the appearings of the Lord to them after His resurrection were in the natural world, whereas, they took place before their spiritual eyes, and it therefore should not be surprising if something of that kind also took place with Swedenborg.
In this relation we would note that the planets all appear in the spiritual world, in a certain fixed position, not revolving as here. (A. C 7171) Also, we would note the thing said about the inhabitants of the earth of Venus, namely, that first it is said that the good inhabitants of that earth dwell on the side of that planet facing the sun, and the evil or crude ones, the giants, dwell on the side facing the earth. Then it is added, “But it must be known that they so appear according to their states of life, for the states of life present all appearance of place and space.” (A.C. 7246.) Here the Word gives what appears to be a factual statement of the natural world, and then immediately follows it with a factual statement that can hold only in the Spiritual World. This might indicate that all the appearances about the earths are from the spiritual world. Consider also what is said about the stars appearing in the spiritual world, which are said to equal the number of the stars appearing in the natural world, each of them being a Society of angels. (TCR 160.) (A.R. 65.) From this I would conclude that if the appearances of the things said about the earths in the universe are not factual in relation to the physical world, they yet are factual in relation to the spiritual world. Nor have I seen anywhere in the Word any principle or teaching that would require that all the things said in the Third Testament apparently in relation to the natural world, should necessarily he factual in relation to that world.
You will note that I have used the word “factual” in relation to the things of the sense of the letter of the Word, and not the word “true”. As I see it, it would be altogether wrong to say that these things in the sense of the letter may not be true. They are trues for the natural mind of man whether taken from the appearances in the spiritual world or the natural world. We do not say that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are not true in their literal sense. They are a Divine ultimate of Divine Revelation, and, not a word of them could be changed. They have a natural sense that is true, even though that sense as taken up by our natural minds, at first, is not factual. There was a garden of Eden, there was a flood, and an ark, and a Noah, but not in that sense in which we first grasped them. And so also there are these earths in the universe, with all things said about them but not necessarily in the way in which we first grasp them. Any lack of truth in them arises from our lack of understanding what is involved in them, and not in the Word.
The Word is given to reveal to men Divine things, celestial and spiritual things, and it is not given to reveal to us those things of the world which can be ascertained through the bodily senses and reason. The internal things of the Word, in coming down into the world, are sometimes clothed with appearances which lie in the realm of the earthly sciences. This is true of all the Testaments, but perhaps more so of the Third Testament because Swedenborg’s mind was trained and prepared through those sciences. For this reason there are many things in the sense of the letter of the Third Testament which are factual in the light of earthly sciences, but there are also things there which are stated within the limits of the sciences of Swedenborg’s time, and which are not in agreement with the results of later investigations. There is a tendency in the human mind to want to make the Word the external authority on such matters of earthly science. This would not only take away from the sciences all possibility of advancement on their own plane, but would take away from the Church the possibility of advancement into the celestial and spiritual things of the Word, being a total misuse of the sense of the letter of the Word.
In relation to this subject we must consider the nature and use of the literal sense of the Word to its internal sense. For if we see that the things said about the earths in the universe have an internal sense, and that therefore it is relatively immaterial to the Church whether or not those things are factual appearances of this world, it might be supposed that we thereby invalidate the whole of the sense of the letter of the Word. If we say that the things said about the moon may not be factual appearances of this world, why should we not say that the Ten Commandments and all things said about them in the Third Testament may not be factual appearances for this world, in other words, that they are not binding on the life in this world? Such reasonings as this could destroy the whole use of the Word, and thus destroy the whole Church, and with it the human race.
It is one truth about the sense of the letter of the Word that in it the internal things of the Word have been brought down into the world in external things accommodated to the state of those in the world at the time the Word is given. This is why many things in the sense of the letter are taken from fallacies of the senses. But it is another truth concerning the sense of the letter of the Word that it can conjoin man with Heaven, and that there are things there which, if man believes them and lives according to them, his mind may be opened to understand and love the internal things of the Word. If it were not so, no man could be saved.
Consider the things which are taught about the laws of the Old Testament, why many of them are not binding on Christians. In the Arcana Coelestia 8972 it is said: “The laws which were shown and commanded to the sons of Israel by the Lord, were distinguished into precepts, judgments and statutes. Those were called precepts which were of life, judgments which were of the civil state, and statutes which were of worship. As pertains to judgments,.. they served for laws in the Church where internal things were represented in external things; but they do not serve for laws in the Church where internal things are no longer represented by external things, as in the Christian Church. The cause is that to the man of this Church internal things were revealed, and therefore through internal things communication with heaven is made, but not through external things, as before. This is the reason that the man of the Christian Church is not held to observe those things which are called judgments and statutes in external form, but only in internal form. Still, holiness remains to those things, because they contain holy things in themselves… for when they are read by a Christian man, the Divine things which are in them and which are represented are apperceived in the heavens, and fill the angels with the holy, and then at the same time fill the man who reads, by influx from the angels, and more so if the man himself then at the same time thinks about the Divine things which are in them. (A.G. 8972.)
Again it is said in Arcana Coelestia 9211, “Thence that law (concerning usury) was binding on that nation, but does not bind Christians to whom interior things have been revealed by the Lord. That it is so the man of the Church at this day knows… But still the holiness of that law has not therefore ceased, nor has this Word been abrogated, for its holiness remains out of the interior things which are in it. These interior things still affect the angels when this Word is read. Nevertheless, beware lest the laws of life, such as are in the Decalogue and here and there elsewhere in the Old Testament, are believed to be abrogated, for these have been confirmed as well in internal form as in external, because they cannot be separated.” (A.C 9211.)
From the above we can see that all things of life in the Third Testament must be altogether observed in their external as’ well as in their internal sense. And when it is said, “of life” this does not mean only the outward, appearing life, but all things of love and of faith that make the life of the man of the Church, as well. And in the internal sense all things of the Word are of life. If we were in that sense, we could see also a natural sense in which everything of the Third Testament is as it is written, but this would not be the same as that natural sense in which we first grasp the Word in our sensual and corporeal minds.
The Church can come into the living things of the internal sense of the Word only insofar as it receives the teachings of the sense of the letter of the Word in faith and life, and the minds are thereby opened by the Lord. If the Church does this, it will come more and more into the genuine uses of the sense of the letter of the Word in accommodating the Divine True to men, in consociating me with the Heavens, and in the elevation of the mind into the light of Heaven with those who live according to it.