The Second Part of "Conjugial Love"
The teachings of the Lord in the second part of Conjugial Love have long been a source of embarrassment to many New Churchmen. It has always been the position of the Academy and the General Church that these teachings are no less the Word of God than any other portion of the heavenly doctrines, and thus are fully authoritative. In the early days of this century a court battle brought this to the attention of the press, and the Academy was branded in the headlines of local papers as being a school which promoted free love.
When these teachings were given, over two hundred years ago, they certainly seemed to be out of step with the common thought of the day. And no doubt they have caused more than a few states of affirmative doubt in the minds of many readers of the Writings. But as the external structure of the former Christian Church crumbles around us, and the old Christian morality fades into oblivion, the significance of the second part of Conjugial Love becomes increasingly obvious. It will soon devolve upon us as New Churchmen to set up new standards of morality for our youth and for the world, for the old Christian Church is no longer capable of providing those standards. We cannot return to the concept of morality held in the Christian Church, for surely, in it there are falsities. Rather we must turn to the Writings, and particularly we must consider the second part of Conjugial Love, for there we find some challenges to commonly held principles of morality. Nowhere in the Writings is the doctrine of imputation more clear, than in the second part of Conjugial Love; it is what a man intends that counts, more than what he does. The concept of morality in the Christian Church has focused primarily on external patterns of behavior.
Christian morality on matters concerning sexual relations have always been a confusion. Paul taught that it is better to marry than to burn, thus implying that marriage is somehow an evil, but one that can be tolerated. The concept of original sin has been confused with the sexual act, thus making even the external act of love seem somehow cheap and dirty. Many Christian scholars still hold that man's first disobedience was to engage in sexual intercourse. Eve's curse was to bring forth children in pain. What could be more obvious? As a result of this basic misinterpretation, the Christian concept of morality in sexual matters has varied widely throughout its history, and seems to have been influenced more by differences in culture than by any doctrinal conviction. While monogamy seems to have been the rule in Christian morality, there have been exceptions even to this.
Today, in the United States, we live in a culture which had its origin in what might be called the last word of the Christian view of sexual morality. The men who founded this country did so primarily for religious freedom. Mostly of Puritan stock, the early settlers of this country established strict codes of behavior which rapidly became the accepted American way of life, and soon laws against adultery, sodomy, and fornication were part of the legal code of nearly every state.
While the Puritan ethic of external morality is undoubtedly responsible for much of the success of this country, it seems obvious from the Writings that such a strict external code of behavior is not the most conducive to true internal morality. From today's perspective, when most laws concerning sexual morality are being challenged, it should be easier for us to understand the teaching of the doctrine on this delicate subject, and give us some insight into the timelessness of the Lord's Word.
The teaching of the Writings concerning fornication is indeed a delicate subject, and a subject which is difficult to talk about, but it is also a subject which must be talked about because there are so many misinterpretations of it.
First, let us define "fornication" as it is used in the Writings. By fornication is meant sexual relations between a youth or a man and a woman who is not a virgin. Relations with a virgin, or with the wife of another, are not fornication, but debauchery and adultery. (CL 444: 2) The teachings of the Writings concerning fornication are often misunderstood to be a license for the masculine sex to enjoy a double standard. But such is not the case. Rather they are an accommodation of the Divine mercy to an affliction which is common only to men, and only as a result of the structure of society which requires that marriage be put off for great lengths of time after puberty.
We are taught that "with some men the love of the sex cannot be restrained from going forth into fornication without harm" during this time when society requires that marriage be delayed. (CL 450) This is not to say that such is the case with all men, or that fornication is good. The Lord has foreseen that for some men who suffer from severe physiological excitement, quite beyond their wishes or choice, an excitement so intense that it could not but lead them into certain disorders of the mind and body, to say nothing of evils, (Ibid.) a course of action must be open which can protect them. Such a course of action is limited fornication.
Let us now look at what the Writings have to say about the nature of fornication. First, it is perfectly clear that it is better that the torch of the love of the sex first be lighted with a wife. (CL 459) It is also clear that this is not something which is to be considered by every man. (CL 450) An interesting, and perhaps little known teaching is that the sphere of the lust of fornication is intermediate between the sphere of adultery and conjugial love and is actually a state of equilibrium, for from it one can turn either to conjugial love or to adultery. (CL 455) Thus the equilibrium is the physical attraction which is felt for many of the opposite sex at the same time. But the actual indulgence in sexual relations apart from marriage can no longer be considered a state of equilibrium, for it is a disorder and therefore an evil. However, actual fornication is said to be light, in other words, not far from equilibrium, in so far as it looks to conjugial love and prefers it. (CL 452)
At this point perhaps we recoil at the thought, and ask how can fornication be light? The answer is important, and crucial for understanding the difference between those who use these teachings properly and those who use them as an excuse for sexual license. The first reason fornication is said to be light with those who prefer the conjugial state and love it more, is that with them the purpose and intention of their actions is the achievement of conjugial love. And we must remember here that a man is such as he is in his purpose or intention; such is he before the Lord and before angels. (Ibid.) Thus in order to use these teachings properly one must have a great deal of maturity and be very honest with oneself. If a man is not sure that his objective is conjugial love, he probably is misusing the teaching. The second reason why fornication is said to be light with those who prefer conjugial love is that they are able to separate evil from good in themselves. In other words, a man who uses these teachings correctly must be able to say to himself: "What I am now doing is not good; it is not the state of life the Lord intends; it is an evil which I cannot for now avoid." (Ibid.) Such a man can be purified of the lust of this evil when he comes into conjugial love because he has not considered it to be good, or confused it with marriage love in any way.
But fornication is said to be grievous in so far as its intention is not conjugial love, and becomes more and more grievous to the extent that it begins to intend adultery, (CL 453) or the lust of varieties and defloration. (CL 454) For those who embark upon fornication for these reasons the warning is clear: "After roving intercourse with the sex there comes cold, disdain and loathing, first for the married partner, then for others, and finally for the sex." (CL 453) Many teachings confirm that such men become totally impotent in hell.
There are also external restrictions which a sincere man must maintain in fornication. His conjunctions cannot be with a virgin, or a wife, but must be with a woman who is not a virgin, and they must be limited to just one such woman. Any other circumstance will not allow conjugial love to be the intention behind the deed. If, however, such an arrangement is entered into with a virgin, it must be with the intention to marry, and if marriage is not the result, it is adultery, for the man has been having relations with another man's future wife. And, if the arrangement becomes one in which marriage love evolves, "the man cannot with any right withdraw without a violation of the conjugial union." (CL 460)
One further point. Fornication can in no way be considered as a substitute for taking the marriage vows. Once marriage love exists between two people, whatever the circumstance; it is then proper that they should come before a priest, take their vows, and make the marriage legal, before the world and before the Lord. The Writings have some unhappy: things to say about couples who feel that cohabitation from covenant and law is not free, and therefore lacking in heat. Those who feel that love can only survive outside marriage are said to be among those with whom conjugial love is cold in the inmosts. (CL 256) Those who have abhorred love outside the conjugial; and who think of marriage as heavenly, have the covenant with its agreements and its obligations written upon their hearts, and they regard the external legal enactment as the natural consequence of the love in which they are. (CL 257)
Two aspects of this subject are important in understanding the perspective of the heavenly doctrines. First, why it is that limited fornication is permissible at all. Secondly, why it is not permissible for the female sex. As for limited fornication being permissible with some men, the answer lies in taking a broad view of life, which must necessarily be the Lord's view, rather than a narrow, purely temporal view which concludes that what is best for now must also be best for eternity. While the Lord is concerned for the integrity of the present state in which a man lives, He is primarily concerned with what is best for the man to eternity. Thus, from the Lord's point of view, if the maintenance of complete integrity for the present is foreseen to be detrimental to a man's future welfare, there can be no choice but to sacrifice the fleeting present for the sake of the eternal future. In the case of a man whose strong physical appetites would inevitably lead him into association with adulterous evil spirits, it is therefore better that some concession be made in the present for the sake of his eternal well being. Such a concession is limited fornication, not because it is good, but because of the evils it does not lead to. We are taught that through limited fornication there is no approach to the four kinds of lust that are in the highest degree destructive of conjugial love, which are the lust of defloration, the lust of varieties, the lust of violation (rape), and the lust of seducing innocences. (CL 459)
Let us now turn to the question of why this is not permissible for women. The immediate question must be, "Who then can be the mistress?" For every man saved must there be a woman broken? 'The answer certainly is no. We must remember that these teachings are for those who would be of the Lord's' New Church, otherwise they would not be found in the revelation to that church. The clear implication here, however, is that the woman whom the man selects to be his mistress is not to be a woman of the church, but rather a prostitute. (CL 451) The degree of her culpability will be determined, as is everyone's, by her loves and motives. In Swedenborg's day, undoubtedly there were many women, such as widows and orphans, who could earn a living in no other way, and no doubt here are some women who find themselves in the same position today.
It is well to remember at this point that the reason for the establishment of the New Church on earth is not primarily that men may be regenerated, for men can be regenerated in any religion, but because it is a necessity that the Word be known and understood, and conjugial love received, at least among a few, in order that there may be a natural basis upon which the heavens can rest.(LT 9) As further proof that a mistress is not necessarily condemned by her actions, the Writings leave open the possibility for conjugial love to develop between her and her patron; in other words, she may be brought into the church. (CL 461)
Why then is the woman of the church not permitted limited fornication? The Writings give no direct answer, but the answer seems obvious. While it is certainly true that women have sexual desire, we are taught that with them there is no state of excitation such as with a man, but rather a state of preparation for reception. (CL 219) Since with women there is no semination, restraint causes no disorders of mind or body. Thus the initial reason for the permission does not apply to them.
We might add to this the fact that it would appear that such a permission is more likely to be destructive of conjugial love with women, rather than in some cases conducive to it as is the case with men. We are taught that "with women conjugial love makes one with their virginity. . . . Wherefore, to pledge and give up her virginity to any man, is to give a token that she will love him to eternity." (CL 460) Because a woman is a form of love and the recipient of the sphere of conjugial love, (CL 224) her inclination to unite herself to her man is constant. (CL 161) She is therefore not capable of separating the sexual act from love, and thus the giving of her virginity is also a token that she will love to eternity. But a man is the form of understanding, and receives the sphere of conjugial love only through women, thus his inclination to unite himself to his woman is inconstant, even as the understanding alternates, while love remains constant. It is therefore possible for him to separate sexual activity from love, as is the requirement in limited fornication. (CL 460) Indeed we are taught that the love of pellicacy is a love that enters only the understanding, and into those things which depend upon the understanding. (CL 460: 5) This teaching is difficult to comprehend, but perhaps is related to the fact that the semination with a man is according to his love of propagating the truths of wisdom. (CL 220)
We would close by reiterating an earlier statement: nowhere in the Writings is the doctrine of imputation more clear than in the second part of Conjugial Love. The challenge of understanding and accepting these teachings as a valid part of the Lord's revelation to the New Church is in seeing that it is what a man intends that counts. When these teachings are seen in their own light and qualified by what has gone before, we cannot help but marvel at the extent of the Lord's mercy, and do we not see His Divine Humanity all the more clearly in His willingness to bend in order that we may not break?
-New Church Life 1976;96:211-216