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The Falsity of Adultery

by Rev. Donald L. Rose

The "fundamental" (foundation) evil love is the love of adultery. (AE 993: 2) Since the Christian religion itself is to shun evils as sins, we may see that the Christian religion has its foundation in shunning adultery as a sin against the Lord. The conjugial of man and wife is called the very "repository" or resting place of the Christian religion, (CL 457) and where this is destroyed the Christian religion has no place.

The most devastating and powerful of falsities is that falsity which negates the commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." It is a devastating falsity, not only because it strikes at the very foundation upon which religion rests, but also because, of all falsities, it seems to be the one to which man is most susceptible. Here is as it were the Achilles heel of religion in a church or in an individual. For man will entertain the proposition that adultery is not an evil, or that it is not to be shunned as a sin. He is unaware that this proposition and its attendant reasonings ascend "from the Stygian waters of hell." (AE 982: 5)

Of all evils adultery seems to be the easiest for clever men to defend. There are certain lines of argument which might seem reasonable enough; they are the arguments which evil spirits also employ, and the Lord permitted these arguments to be expressed by the evil and to be written in the pages of the Writings, that they might be there to see and that men might know from whence they come.

Again and again we encounter in the Writings examples of those who do not regard adulteries as sins, and it is emphatically stated that these are especially from the Christian world. (See SD 3194, 3197; AC 539, 825, 1032: 2, 1885) The condition is so general that it is said that scarcely anyone believes that adulteries are actually infernal. (SD 6051) The truly Christian religion, the Lord's New Church, can exist only where the repository of religion is preserved by the shunning of adultery. Thus it is said that three things will be shunned especially by those who will be of the New Jerusalem: adulteries, the love of ruling and deceit. (SD 6053) The teaching is that adulteries are of hell; in fact, that hell and adultery may be regarded as the same thing. "Since adultery is hell, it follows that unless a man abstains from adulteries and shuns them, and turns away from them as infernal, he shuts up heaven to himself, and does not receive the least influx therefrom." (AE 982: 5)

There is at this day "an insanity inseated in the minds of many from which it is thought that the question of adultery is not a religious question." (See CL 243) Men do say and do see that it is important that marriages should be maintained. (DP 77) They reason that this promotes the order of the country and the better education of children. (AE 982: 5) Men do "talk morally against [adulteries] and in favor of marriages," and yet on the spiritual plane they are not against adulteries, but even in favor of them." (See CL 153) The man who can see reasons to preserve marriages at the same time argues that "marriages and adulteries are alike." "He does not know that these and other like reasonings in favor of adulteries ascend from the Stygian waters of hell." Such reasonings "possess the minds of most men in the Christian world." (See AE 982e; SD 4784)

We meet these arguments in the world today. Note, for example, the methodical argument in favor of adulteries that is quoted in Conjugial Love, no. 500, typifying the view of nine hundred out of a thousand Christians. Most remarkable is the incident recorded at the beginning of the chapter on adultery in Conjugial Love:

"Angels once convoked an assembly of some hundreds from among the clever, learned and wise men of the European world; and they were asked concerning the distinction between marriage and adultery, and were asked to consult reasons pertaining to their understanding. After the consultation all but ten answered: ‘Public law alone makes the distinction, and this for the sake of some useful purpose. This purpose can indeed be recognized, yet it can be adjusted by civil prudence.' Asked whether they saw anything of good in marriage, and anything of evil in adultery, they replied: ‘No rational evil or good.' Questioned as to whether they saw anything of sin, they said: ‘Where is it? Is not the act the same?' Amazed at these answers, the angels exclaimed: ‘Oh this age! What grossness and how great!"' (CL 478)

The truths of the New Church are in direct conflict with those insidious and powerful falsities which erode and destroy the very foundation of religion. "Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery." (Matthew 5: 27) In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord showed that lust was itself adultery; and in the New Church it is shown that the intellectual confirmation that adulteries are not sinful is itself adultery. (SD 6110: 5, 38; Life 74) The man has religion who sees that all good loves are given from the Lord and that the fundamental love, conjugial love, is holy and not to be violated in any way, for that is a matter of religion. We can see "in no dubious manner whether a man is a Christian or not, and even whether a man has any religion or not. If from his faith and from his life a man does not regard adulteries as sins, then he is not a Christian, and neither has he any religion. On the other hand, if a man shuns adulteries as sins . . . then he has religion, and if he is in the Christian Church he is a Christian." (Life 77) External morality by itself is not the criterion, for there are many external considerations which prompt morality in men and women. It was granted Swedenborg to see in the other world maidens who had lived morally for the sake of preserving a good name and for the sake of being acceptable to a suitor. This being their only reason, they were surrounded with a dusky cloud. On the other hand, those who despised adultery for the reason that it is contrary to the Divine law, that is, from religion, were surrounded with a shining light, and they had communication with heaven . (AE 1009: 2)

When the truths of the Writings answer the arguments in favor of adultery, it is not a matter of pitting one line of reasoning against another. It should be made clear that this is an issue of the heart, a question of whether a man is willing to see. The argument that adultery is allowable is compared to the argument that light is darkness and darkness light. (SD 6110: 57, 58) The way of wisdom is to see the truth in this matter, and this is not merely to descend into a' contest of clever debating. A man can argue that darkness is light if he wants to; he can refuse to be convinced, if he wants to and it is hardly edifying to match wits with a man on such a foolish proposition. On one occasion evil spirits who ridiculed the idea of the holiness of marriage advanced a series of reasonings in favor of adultery. The angels did not discuss their arguments, but said: "You are reasoning from the heat of lasciviousness, and not from conjugial love." (CL 79: 11. Cf. DP 144: 2)

It is hopeless to reason on this matter without truths, and it is folly to do so in the sphere of adultery. Man must be willing to elevate his mind. "No one can know that there is any evil in adultery if he judges of it merely from external appearances." (CL 478) Especially is this true if one is unwilling even to consider that marriages are holy. We read of many, both men and women, who "laugh in their hearts" at the proposition that marriages are holy, (SD 4661) and we read of others who dismissed the words of the angels with laughter. (CL 4780) Obviously there is nothing to be gained in that sphere, for adultery "shuts off the interiors of the mind" (CL 497) and is "diametrically opposed to the wisdom of reason." (CL 478: 3)

In receiving the doctrines of the Second Advent the issue is whether men are willing to believe that conjugial love is in itself spiritual and therefore from religion. (TCR 847) In making His coming, the Lord approaches both mind and heart, and invites those who are willing to open their eyes and see. Man can respond to this and elevate his mind. He can consider something holy, pure, clear and beautiful. Even when he is young he can see this with joy. He is to learn that conjugial love is not only beautiful and desirable but is from the Lord Himself, and he is invited to see the quality of the love that is granted by the Lord. Then he is in a position to see the quality of the scortatory love that opposes conjugial love. The quality of the love of adultery cannot be known unless the quality of conjugial love is known; who can set before his judgment the filthiness of adultery "unless he has previously set before his judgment the cleanness of conjugial love?" (CL 424) Those things that appear to the natural man as similar are totally different, for the delight of marriage comes down from the highest heaven, and the delight of adultery comes up from the lowest of the hells; and man is invited to the state from which he can see and feel that this is so, and can know that everything about marriage is pure and holy and everything about adultery is impure and unchaste. (AE 990: 2)

Man can know the quality of adultery, and he should know it. He should consider adultery, or look down upon it, from a state of clear sight, thinking from conjugial love. He should look down upon the quality of the arguments in favor of adultery and take note that the arguments are from hell. For in subtle ways those arguments will attack, and he is armed if he knows their quality.

We can thus see why the evil spirits were allowed to argue in favor of adultery. In the Spiritual Diary we note that Swedenborg conversed with a spirit who had been the general of an army. (SD 4405) As a man he had thought nothing of adultery. The conversation is set forth in Arcana Coelestia no. 2733, in Heaven and Hell in the chapter on marriages in heaven, and again in Conjugial Love no. 481. "He said that in the life of the body he thought nothing of adulteries. But it was given to tell him that adulteries are horribly wicked." He was told that conjugial love comes down through heaven from the Lord. When he was told that to violate marriages is against the Divine laws he said that he had never known such a thing or given it thought. The account continues:

"He wished to reason whether [such things] were so; but it was told that in the other life truth does not admit of reasonings . . . and that he ought first to think of the things that had been said, because they were true. Or he ought also to think from the principle most fully known in the world, that one must not do to another what he was not willing that the other should do to him; and thus if anyone had in such a manner beguiled his wife, whom he loved - as everyone does in the beginning of marriage - would he not himself also at that time when in a state of wrath about it, if he spoke from that state, have detested adulteries? And at the same time, as he was of superior talent, would he not have confirmed himself against them more than others, even to condemning them to hell? and thus he might have judged himself from himself." (AC 2733)

Because everyone loves the partner at the beginning of marriage there is in the world the possibility of seeing clearly that adulteries are harmful and hateful. Among the hundreds of Christians to whom angels spoke there were some who saw evil in adultery. Yet one can see how great is the need for the spiritual truth concerning conjugial love. One can see it where there is immorality in the world and argument in favor of it, and one can see it even where external moral standards are maintained. No pendulum swing of public sentiment on morals can gain for the world the precious jewel of human life. No judicious pronouncement or ethical reasoning can effect it, any more than a social system which enforces strict codes. At the end of True Christian Religion Swedenborg tells the angels that he doubted whether those in the world were willing to regard conjugial love as spiritual and from religion. (TCR 847) But in His revelation the Lord has granted that those who are willing may see that this is so. The holding sacred of conjugial love as a spiritual obligation is the repository of true religion, and the Lord invites all who are willing to receive it in heart and in mind and in life.

* * * * *


"They who in the life of the body have lived in conjugial love are together in the other life for the reason that conjugial love is innocence. Conjugial love is such that one wishes to be the other's. It is thus mutually. Mutual love is such that it wishes better to another than to oneself; thus it wills to give to another what belongs to one-self, namely, one's goods" (SD min. 4604-4607).

-New Church Life 1968;88:242-246

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Falsity of Adultery

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