The History of the Conjugial with Mankind
In the work Conjugial Love, there is an account of the spiritual ages of history, of visits made by Swedenborg and an angel guide to the successive eras of mankind. The heavens and regions of past civilizations still exist, of course, in the spiritual world; thus the amazing accounts of Swedenborg's visits to the peoples of the golden, silver, copper, iron, and clay ages. [See Conjugial Love 75-79] It is evident that these epochs are so named from the quality of the good predominant in each era. The purpose that Swedenborg had in mind was to learn the quality of conjugial love in each of these eras. [See Conjugial Love 75: 1] The accounts of Swedenborg's journeys are given in the form of memorable relations, which relations may be regarded as treatments for simple states; as being most appropriate, perhaps, for younger ages. There is a truth in so regarding them. Yet within the memorable relations are key doctrinal treatments-truths that are vital. The only way to see this is to read them as adults, and to see that at the heart of many of them are universal truths. So it is with the relations which describe Swedenborg's visit to the past ages.
One point which becomes clear is that the key to a civilization-to a past age-is its concept of conjugial love. Moreover, this is a key to the present age and to future civilizations. A noted modern historian, Arnold Toynbee, believes that an index to a civilization is its religion: when the religion is vital, the civilization flourishes; when the religion loses its force, the era gradually fades. The Writings reveal that this is true; but they penetrate more deeply, showing that a key concept of religion is its doctrine concerning marriage. Conjugial love is the fundamental of all loves, and it surpasses all other loves, celestial, spiritual and natural. [See Conjugial Love 64, 65] Therefore, as an age or epoch in history regards conjugial love, so it reveals its inmost state; its highest good, and its limitations.
In the Golden Age - so far the most beautiful time on earth - conjugial love was regarded as the highest love open to man. Swedenborg spoke to a couple of this earliest time, a husband and wife from the Most Ancient Heaven. It is written through him: "I looked alternately at the husband and wife [of the Golden Age], and observed as it were a oneness of souls in their faces. And I said, ‘You two are one.' The man replied, `We are one. Her life is in me and mine in her. We are two bodies but one soul. . . . She is my heart, and I am her lungs."' [Conjugial Love 75] He explained this: "'She is the love of my wisdom, and I am the wisdom of her love." [Ibid.] Swedenborg then asked: "If such is the union, can you look at any other woman than your own?" He replied: "I can' but as my wife is united to my soul we two look together, and then nothing of desire can enter. For when I look at the wives of others, I look at them through my wife whom alone I love." [Ibid.]
In this heaven Swedenborg found an innocence and a depth of love no longer known. In the uses of the Grand Man, the power of this heaven is such as to surpass all lower analysis. From such a heaven come the inmosts of all that is human, which are innocence and the conjugial. A representative of this is in the wives of that heaven, who are the conjugial in form. Swedenborg attempted to describe a wife of this heaven, but could succeed only in part. Of her he says: "I saw her face and did not see it. I saw it as beauty itself, and did not see it because this was inexpressible. . . . I was simply struck with amazement." [Conjugial Love 42] He realized that he was seeing conjugial love in its form; and because this is love imaged, he could only say: "I see and do not see." [Ibid.]
After visiting the people of the Golden Age, Swedenborg and the angel traveled successively to the peoples of the silver, copper and iron ages. In the silver and copper ages, or heavens, he found that conjugial love was still regarded as the fundamental of all loves, but each time on a lower spiritual plane. In the Iron Age he found a sensual people, those in the lowest of all spiritual good; and he found that in them the concept of the conjugial was almost lost.
Leaving the region of the Iron Age, Swedenborg and his companion angel drew conclusions "respecting the circuit and the progression of conjugial love."
It is not until Swedenborg reaches the people of the next age, that of iron and clay, that the relevancy of what has gone before may be seen fully. For in this last age the Writings are speaking of states that are around us today and that threaten from within ourselves. The age portrayed by iron and clay, which do not cohere, is that of the consummated Christian Church; the age in which we live, and of which we are a part to some extent.
To reach this age, Swedenborg and the angel traveled far, for its states are alien to all the ages which preceded it. Deep within a valley, they came to a dark city. The terms "valley" and dark city" are clear representatives of actual states. The two spiritual travelers were taken to the forum of this city, where first they talked to the people of the region, and later to their leaders. They questioned the people about conjugial love. Their answers were at first guarded, but finally became openly mocking. The leaders, or so-called wise of the city, then came to Swedenborg and the angel. They led the two travelers to a private spot, and questioned them directly, asking where they came from and what their business was.
They answered: "That we may be instructed respecting marriages, whether with you as with the ancients who lived in the golden, silver and copper ages they are sacred or not." They answered: "What, sacred! Are they not doings of the flesh and of the night?" We replied: "Are they not also deeds of the spirit? And what the flesh does from the spirit, is it not also spiritual? And all that the spirit does it does from the marriage of good and truth. Is not this a spiritual marriage that enters into the natural marriage which is of husband and wife?" [Conjugial Love 79]
Hearing this, they turned away, and said:
The statement of Swedenborg and the angel in reply to the leaders of this age was direct:
In anger, the leaders then called for the people to attack the two travelers. But they received Divine protection from the Lord and left the city to its judgment.
In this account it is, perhaps, the arguments of the leaders of the iron and clay age that seem most familiar. In a general way they express the ideas that are in the minds of so many on earth today, and that would express themselves within us. Yet hope for the conjugial is the deepest hope within the human heart. The inner loves that allow for the conjugial are with every man from his remains, and, in fact, originate in the very soul, the human internal. Not hereditary evil, not the subtle appearances of self-life, can kill this hope; not unless man deliberately turns to deceit or profanation. Deceit is the lie that causes evil; profanation is making what is holy profane.
Both of these are what the proprium would have us use to kill conjugial love. For this highest love of heaven is the proprium's enemy. So it is that within the New Church the hells would attack and undermine the belief in conjugial love. This will not be done openly, but rather through deceit - through the lie that sounds like a liberating truth, and through profanation.
Technically we live in the atomic age; spiritually we are still in the age of iron and clay that do not cohere. This sounds simplistic, but universal truth often does. Iron is sensual truth or, more widely, scientific facts. Clay is good adulterated. [See The Apocalypse Explained 411: 4] This is not to condemn the millions of human beings on earth who are in the church universal - the "men of single heart" among both the simple and the educated. But it is to condemn, as the Writings do and the Lord does, the truths and goods of dead religions, so-called goods and truths. And a religion is whatever philosophy of life man believes from love to be true. If the love is proprial, the "truth" is an appearance; and one way in which we can judge is by what that philosophy or religion teaches concerning marriage, concerning what the Writings call conjugial love. For its concept of the conjugial qualifies all else in a religion or philosophy. How do hedonism, existentialism, certain aspects of psychology and Freudian psychiatry stand in the light of the revealed doctrine of conjugial love?
However, this question may cause annoyance. To paraphrase the leaders of the last age: What has conjugial love in common with these things of philosophy? The answer is that it had better have something in common, for conjugial love is the highest love from which all other loves and philosophies are truly judged. If there is a power in any modern concept or technique, then spiritually it is because it conforms to the conjugial in the macrocosm and the microcosm; and certainly there are things that are true and valuable in modern discoveries. On the other hand, "facts" discovered can be inverted to suit the proprium's needs. The spiritual quality of iron and clay which do not cohere is present hereditarily in every man born on earth.
In order that the conjugial may be preserved its opposites must be known, particularly since these opposites disguise themselves with the mask of innocence and sweetness. We are taught that "there is nothing in the universe which does not have its opposite." [Conjugial Love 425] The opposite of conjugial love is scortatory love; and scortatory love is the love of adultery in all its forms, including obscenity. [See Conjugial Love 424ff.] Adulterers believe that there is no opposite to adultery. This is because the quality of conjugial love cannot be known from its opposite. "No one from evil knows good, but from good one knows evil; for evil is in thick darkness, but good is in light." [Conjugial Love 425]
From heaven there descends the sphere of conjugial love - a sphere which originates in the Lord, and descends through innocence. Opposed to this is the sphere of adultery, which arises from hell. This sphere includes delight in lasciviousness and obscenity, in fact, all perversions. The origin of this negative sphere is the lowest hell - that hell which above all hates innocence, and whose chief delight is to destroy innocence. Deceit is its weapon, the making of evil into apparent good. These two spheres - the sphere of conjugial love, and the sphere of adultery - meet each other in the world, "but do not conjoin themselves." [Conjugial Love 434-436]
Between these two spheres man, who is in spiritual equilibrium, must make his choices. Each sphere is reinforced by its own environment. Today, for instance, pornography and unchastity are reinforcers of the sphere of adultery. But there are reinforcers of the conjugial, too, if the human heart is open to receive them.
The sphere of adultery would undermine the conjugial; in this it finds its chief delight and reward. In doing this, the hells would undermine the Lord's purpose in creation. For the Divine end in creation is a heaven from the human race, and conjugial love is a means to this end. Spiritual and natural offspring are the use of the conjugial. Both must be present in intent and hope, or the Divine end is not followed. Circumstances may limit or deny natural offspring; but if there is no intent of having children in marriage, the conjugial will die.
In the Spiritual Diary [Spiritual Experiences in the latest translation] there is the direct teaching that those who are "without any desire for offspring . . . utterly exclude from themselves that which is the . . . inmost end and principle of marriage." [Spiritual Diary 1202, 1203] As long as this intent is lacking, for so long does the marriage "separate [itself] from heaven." [Ibid.] This teaching must be taken in context with others, as, for example, that passage which treats of angel mothers in heaven which says: "there are as many children in each one's care as she desires from a spiritual parental affection." [Heaven and Hell 332] The conjugial, and love of children, are one, as cause and effect. The hells utterly deny this because they hate that inmost quality with small children, which is innocence.
In this age of iron and clay that do not cohere there are those who would make marriage an unnecessary requirement, saying that it is simply a civil requirement which is outdated, an anachronism. "Love" is the substitute for all requirements. In this, sexual relations are made as it were holy, apart from having children, apart from the Lord, who is "dead." It is written through Swedenborg:
In one striking number it is said that a man who deliberately destroys the innocence of the conjugial in a woman before marriage, with premeditated delight, is sinning against the Holy Spirit. [Spiritual Diary 2706] Such cupidities are "what are principally understood by sins against the Holy Spirit." In the Word it is stated: "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven." [Matthew 12: 31]
This is a time when the pretenses behind the old morality are being questioned, when the perceptive see that society often condemns adultery with its mouth, and loves it in its heart. Dogmatic insistence will lead few to obey the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Rather, the universal truths that lead to this injunction must be seen; and the conjugial itself must be loved, which comes only through shunning its opposites. The challenge is to expose those deceits which make evil good, or, more specifically, that make obscenity and adultery good.
After reading the memorable relation on the iron and clay age, and seeing its possible application to us today; after seeing how the conjugial is so undermined today that few know of its existence, or what its quality is like; one could easily despair. That is exactly what the hells would like. However, the memorable relation that succeeds the account of the visit to the iron and clay age is entirely different, like the song of a bird flying over a battlefield.
This song was followed by choirs of song from various heavens, each celebrating some truth of the Second Coming, until the whole heaven burst into song together: "Lo, this is our God, whom we have waited for, that He shall save us." "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, God, Hero, the Father of eternity, the Prince of Peace." [Isaiah 25: 9, 9: 6]
Then it is written through Swedenborg:
To this we would add a final thought. What is true of the history of mankind as a whole is true also of each human being, that is, the promise is there for each individual. There is in marriage a golden age of first love, a silver age of inmost friendship, a copper age of natural uses shared, and an iron age of ultimate occupations. Such uses can be malleable if interior loves are within. And there need not succeed an age of iron and clay that do not cohere. This is partly why the Writings have been given, to save man from such a fall into disillusionment. Even if the failures have come, with disillusionment, the mercy of the Lord is infinite and all-embracing. He can reveal what in the proprium of man has caused the disillusionment, so that it may be shunned.
The promise, then, is for an ascent. The songs of the angels foreshadow this. There can be an uplifting, in the hands of the omniscient Lord, to a new copper, a new silver, and a new golden age. And what is given is eternal, for this gift of the eternal conjugial is the purpose of creation. "He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more two, but one. . . ." [Matthew 19: 4-6a]