Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Marriage and Regeneration

by Rev. Hugo Lj. Odhner

"And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh thereof; and the rib which. the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman and brought her unto the man." (Genesis 2: 21, 22)

The sacred legend of the creation of woman is woven into the text of Scripture in such a way as to represent the mode of human regeneration. Its inner meaning is subtle, easily misunderstood or misapplied. It can be seen only by angels and by men who can sustain the light of heaven.

In literal appearance we are here told of woman's first formation from one of Adam's ribs. But in inner truth it tells rather of the substance of a beautiful dream fulfilled in. the childhood states of the race. Indeed, the most precious things must first come to us as dreams - as distant visions of things we long to realize but have no power of ourselves to accomplish by any conscious effort. In the intimacy of our hearts we fashion such dreams; and then, through the incomprehensible mercies of the Lord God, we may suddenly awake to find them actual, tangible beyond our expectations, perfect beyond our desert.

But in every such fulfillment there is, unconsciously, a renunciation, a sacrifice. In the spiritual sense, the separation of Adam's rib meant a severance from that which is nearest man's heart - the wish to guide himself by the opinions formed from his own' experience, his own "natural truth." Such truth is lifeless, bound up with an assurance of self-sufficiency and a blind dependence on the senses. It leads away from humility and tends to pride and haughtiness. Even the holy city, New Jerusalem, with its walls of hard jasper and its foundations of precious stones, had to be turned before the eyes of the seer John into the picture of a virgin bride adorned for her husband, before its spiritual purpose could be represented. How much more necessary that the barren facts and opinions of our natural experience be endowed with life - life from the Lord - and be converted from dead bone into a virgin form of loveliness and warmth! Mercy and truth must meet together, justice and peace must kiss in our minds. Charity and faith must wed, lest the paradise of heavenly life vanish away.

This spiritual marriage must take place within every human mind, that of man and that of woman. But it was to facilitate this spiritual marriage that God created man male and female. Man and woman each possess both understanding and will. But "with the man the understanding predominates and with the woman the will predominates" (HH 369). All perfection comes about by a specialization of functions. Neither man nor woman can reach perfection or completion except through the other; that is, by their cooperation in one angelic use. In a conjugial pair in heaven, there is no predominance: "for the will of the wife is also the husband's will, and the husband's understanding is also the wife's." Therefore Adam said of Eve: "This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh."

Yet such a conjugial unity; is a Divine creation. It is possible only where men consent to live according to the Divine order, following the Lord's commandments. But it is not the result of human prudence; nor does it stem from the inborn love of the sex. Rather is it a process based on the willingness to look to something outside of one's self and to place the delight of another above one's own.

The Heavenly Doctrine therefore draws an inseparable connection between true marriage and regeneration. The masculine mind is characterized by a primary love of growing wise, of gathering knowledge and wisdom, of seeing things logically confirmed by reasonings. This is the basis of his hope of salvation. Yet, because of his inborn love of self, a secondary love develops - a love of the wisdom that he has gathered, a love of his mental prowess, a pride in his own intelligence. But woman, too, is born with the evil tendencies of the race. All that is native in her, turns itself to self-love. Like man, she must obtain a new center for her affections, some form of truth outside herself. But affection does not separate itself from the thought with women as easily as with men. It is revealed that the nature of woman is such that she cannot carry the wisdom she acquires detached from her natural affections. And so, in the mercy of God the Creator, woman is not so loaded with the responsibility of conveying truth; but instead another natural endowment has been given her, in that from creation she is a form of conjugial love. This turns her reliance upon the wisdom acquired by the man.

It is so that woman becomes wife - is formed about the rib of man, built up to cherish the wisdom of the ages as it has been transmitted to her man and is represented in him as manly virtue and moral strength.

And without this sustaining love there is found no help meet for man. For his mental fibers cannot - as woman's - flow so naturally toward any one outside of himself. He tends to love the rational wisdom he gains, not because it is true but because it is his. And when it turns into the pride of self-intelligence it departs as to essence and remains only as to form; it departs from the internal life and remains only in the memory and on the lips, as a dead thing which is yet near his heart.

But man's love of his wisdom is converted and given a new motivation when a woman's love encourages and directs it away from self and to the uses of charity and love, the uses of home and society, which center about the sphere of conjugial love. It is transformed, elevated and enlightened. And so far as his mind is elevated into spiritual light - in the course of self-examination, repentance and the endeavor to understand spiritual truths - the woman's love is also elevated into superior warmth, which thus becomes more and more chaste and pure, more expressive of that conjugial which by creation is latent in her inmost soul (CL 188).

This is how the intelligence of man and the conjugial love of woman may, by a mutual conjunction, from natural become spiritual. But this is possible only to men who shun the pride of self -intelligence as a sin against God. It is possible only to women who shun the love of domination over men by the power of their beauty and the appeal of their weakness. For unless a woman perceives and loves the things of wisdom, and is guided by the teachings of truth and the order of the spiritual conjugial, she will desire to subject both teachings and teachers under her dominion; and thus her conjugial love, native to her sex, will remain merely natural and at length turn vile and adulterous. Both goad and evil come to us through other human beings, and largely through those of the opposite sex. Those women who examine themselves and shun their loves of self and the world, will come to love men whose wisdom is genuine and capable of being opened to true love. And those men who shun wandering lusts and selfish conceit and self-consciousness of their own merit, will have their love of the sex become chastened into chivalry and respect towards women, and will acquire a moral wisdom which can receive a love truly conjugial through the partner of their choice.

Such a man's love of his proprial wisdom is said to be transcribed into woman "that it might become conjugial love" (CL 193). So far as it is done, the woman is formed actually into a wife. Yet what a woman interiorly loves is not the knowledge nor the external will of her partner. It is not learning or skill that makes man's character. The external will of a man, like that of a woman, is at best fickle and partakes of pretence and simulation. A wife does conjoin herself with the moral wisdom, that is, the virtues of her husband, which she recognizes better than he, and which she quietly moderates from her instinctive prudence; and this wisely, so far as she does not think from self-love or merely natural emotions. But since she also has corresponding virtues, this conjunction is "from without" (CL 165).

A true wife's love is thus not a blind emotion, not a mere hero-worship which submerges her perceptions under a persuasion that her husband is infallible or without fault. Rather is it a selective love which encourages the best in him and dissuades from anything that is unworthy of their common faith and trust. Hence, it is that not only is a virgin formed as a wife by marriage, but a husband becomes more and more a husband by things derived from his wife (CL 199).

But the interior marriage whereby the wife is formed, is a conjunction with the internal will of the husband. It is obvious that if marriages depended on a unity of external affections, they would quickly disintegrate through mutual conflicts. There must be an internal bond, an internal similitude, formed especially through a common looking to the Lord, and thus through the states of the church with the partners, that reconciles, revaluates, and subordinates the, rival affections.

The internal will of the husband has its seat in the understanding. It makes one with his moral wisdom, which contains both moral and spiritual virtues. This internal will is formed through his rational wisdom. The woman's mind cannot enter into the peculiar workings of the man's rational; but woman can perceptively recognize the result of its enlighten men, as it manifests itself in attitudes, in speech, in life, in uses: And therefore it is taught that the conjunction of the wife with the rational wisdom of the man is "from within" (CL 165).

The love truly conjugial by which this conjunction of the wife with the regenerate will and rational wisdom of the husband is made possible is from the Lord alone. Therefore it is told that the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, when He took the rib and made it into a woman, a wife. The husband is; unconscious that his love of his own wisdom is being transferred from himself to his wife, and changed into a love of her mind and spirit, so far as he shuns the pride of self-intelligence. And because of the innate prudence of wives - who thus protect domestic blessedness, confidence and friendship - they do not divulge how they gradually assume the affections of their husband's life and so transcribe his wisdom into themselves.

But on the other hand, the wife is not conscious of how the man's love . of wisdom becomes in her conjugial love, or how his love of his wisdom becomes a love of his wife. For this is not the result of her prudence, is not caused by her foresight, still less by any jealousy of the man's uses or studies; but it is the outcome of love itself which uses her as its agent (CL 193, 194). It was the Lord God who caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. But it was also the Lord who created the woman; and she was brought unto Adam - unconscious of the mode by which she was created in secret. For the purest gifts of human love cannot be received except in utter innocence, when there is forgetfulness of self.

The states of conjugial love are marvelously dependent on the states of regeneration. Only those who walk in the path of repentance and regeneration can invite the creative love which, by a secret transformation, makes man into husband and woman into wife. When there is no elevation of mind into the light of the revealed truths of heaven, but the thought is instead held captive to the senses and the flesh, the descent of conjugial love is diverted and stopped. In our next discourse, some of the states which disturb and prevent the orderly course of marriage will be treated of. For if true marriage depends on a life of mutual regeneration, it is by the same token necessarily exposed to the spheres of natural and spiritual temptations.

The state of marriage is the norm of human life - the condition to which both men and women look for the fulfillment of their powers and destinies. Home and family constitute the normal unit of society, around which all uses turn and to the perfection of which they look. Because of this we find that Swedenborg, although himself not married on 'earth, was inspired to write the following sentence: "Man is born into the love of evil and falsity, which love is the love of adultery; and this love cannot be converted into spiritual love, . . . still less into celestial love, . . . except by the marriage of good and truth from the Lord, and not fully except by the marriage of two minds and two bodies" (AE 984: 3).

Only through the successive states of married life are the many facets and potencies of human character disclosed, amid joys and sorrows, bereavements and compensations, pride and humiliation, failings and forgiveness, patient discipline alternating with delightful discoveries, sacrifices followed by deep rewards. Only in this life of marriage with its varied uses can truth meet good on every plane and the combats 'of temptation reach their fullness. Only through love truly conjugial is there a complete safety from the hells (AE 999: 2).

Marriage was thus ordained for the mutual perfection and protection of men and women. And so far as true marriages exist on earth, this protection extends also to those who have not as yet entered into married life yet hope for a conjugial partner in this life or the next. Through the church where the Word is, the means are given to all to prepare for such a union, by subduing the loves of self-intelligence and of self-will. When this is done, a man or a woman, although unmarried, comes into the sphere of the uses of the conjugial sphere and its illustration.

This sphere operates in this world through the common sphere of husbands and wives. It is present in the acts and words of all chaste men and women. It is felt in the communion of the church and breathes as heavenly wisdom through all her teachings. By receiving this sphere from the Lord every one who is desiring a marriage of genuine love may be lifted into the spiritual light and heat of that very heaven whence his or her unknown partner draws inspiration. He as well as she is thereby prepared for the gifts which love will one day bring.

The lack of a partner is therefore not a barrier in the way of regeneration. But there would be such a barrier if there were no true marriages among men; or if there were no truths of religion to form spiritual wisdom; or if there were no men to gather the fruits of wisdom and no women to love such truths in the men. For then only self-glory would inspire the search for truth and only vanity fan the flames of love. Regeneration is itself a spiritual marriage. Each truth swears fealty to the good it teaches: Each affection loves the truths that bring it into use. And so the Church is called as a Bride to the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Lord in His Divine Human. When men and women on earth can learn to love with no desire for dominion, and to understand without conceit, then the angels of innocence can lead them on, two by two, into their paradise'. And the dream of Adam - the dream of moral wisdom, the dream of the barren reason - is then clothed with living flesh; realized, not by man's doing, but by a miracle of the Divine love and the Divine providence.

-New Church Life 1952; 72:313-318

Back to Introduction


Swedenborg Biography
Heavenly Doctrines
The revelation process
Who is God?
The Word of God
Bible & the Writings
Time and Eternity
History of Religion
On Being Useful
Providence and  Evil
Getting Rid of Evil
The Death Process
Life after Death
Life on Other Planets
The Second Coming
Spiritual Marriage
Art & Literature


• Back • Home • Up • Next •


Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com