The connection of evil with disease
Rev. Hugo LJ. Odhner
(Notes on the Calendar Readings)
In the November Arcana assignments we find a treatment of the subject of the connection of evil with disease (A. C. 5711-5727), a subject that has ever been a matter of speculation, both in ancient and in modern times. The Biblical narratives frequently explain disease as an obsession by evil demons. And in our own day much study has been devoted to the influence of the mind and the nervous system upon the body. On the one hand are the advocates of various forms of faith-healing and prayer-cures, and also of the possibility of a miraculous power associated with sacred relies, such as those of the Catholic "saints"; on the other hand are the more plausible claims of psychiatrists, who trace many kinds of nervous and bodily diseases to thwarted passions and unsolved knots within our subconscious mind. The question of treating the sick by exorcising the spirits of disease occasioned the breaking up of the first New Church movement in Sweden,-the "Philanthropic and Exegetic Society" (active 1786-1791).
Yet the New Church doctrine seems quite clear and concise. All things in nature have their origin and cause in the spiritual world. Diseases, and death by disease, came from sin, even as is suggested in Genesis 2:17. And we read: "If man had lived in a state of good, then a man would wane even to the utmost feebleness of age, and then, when the body could no longer minister to the internal man, that man would pass away from his earthly body, without disease." (S. D. 4592; see A. C. 5726.)
But "if man's spiritual life sickens, evil is derived thence even into his natural life, and there it becomes disease." (A. C. 83643.) It is not surprising that intemperance in various vices, luxury, lasciviousness, anxiety about the future, envies and hatreds and the like, tend to destroy the interiors of the body. (A. C. 5712; S. D. 4592.)
The Writings tell us that men in the world impregnate their blood with such things from their environment as correspond with their affections (D. L. W. 420), and that "when a man falls into such a disease as he has contracted from his mode of life, then forthwith an unclean sphere corresponding to the disease attaches itself and remains as a fomenting cause." (A. C. 5715.) We can scarcely doubt that the ultimate of that sphere is represented in the characteristic germs and poisons which multiply to excess in each disease, and in "the vitiated particles in the blood which circulate through all the veins and arteries, and contaminate the whole mass." (A. C. 5719.)
The impurities from the blood, therefore, are what cause "an inmost obstruction" in "the very least and wholly invisible vessels . . . which are derived from man's interiors," and thus produce disease. (A. C. 5726; S. D. 4592.) And into these ultimates evil spirits begin to inflow, "inducing and aggravating the disease." (D. Minor 4731.) Normally, spirits " are not permitted to inflow so far as to the solid parts themselves of the body, or into the parts of which man's viscera, organs, and members consist, but only into his cupidities and falsities; only when man falls into diseases do they inflow into such unclean things as belong to the disease" (A. C. 5713), and produce symptoms exactly corresponding to the character of the spirits present. Not that the spirits are present individually (for this would be obsession-no longer permitted); but there is a "general influx" of their sphere (S. D. 4590), which determines the intensity and pain of the malady.
The spirits who thus "inflow" with their spheres into the various organs and viscera correspond exactly to the disease. Hypocritical spirits, for instance,-who by their deceits try to evade and destroy the truths by which a spirit is judged as to his internal state and usefulness when he enters the other life through the jaws of death,-attack the teeth, and aggravate pains there. (A. C. 5720.) For the province of the teeth in the Grand Man answers to the inexorable laws of judgment, the hard facts of eternal justice and self-revelation which every risen spirit must meet up with, but which hypocrites fear and hate. Certain other spirits, who are described as utterly sensual, dull, and lacking in any vitality, prevent a patient's recovery, if not removed by the Lord. (D. Minor 4731.)
From some of the passages referred to above it might seem as if the only cure to disease were regeneration. And this is interiorly true. Only with the spiritual man is "the purer blood, called by some the animal spirit," purified, and through it, the red blood. (W. 423.) The search for spiritual health through a life of piety and usefulness must accompany any endeavor to recover from disease. Nervous afflictions obviously require such treatment; and the element of confidence and peace of mind is demanded by every physician.
Nevertheless, we cannot say that our sicknesses are an index to specific unregenerate states. Rather are they outward signs of the corruption and weakness of the human race. The Lord said of the blind man, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents." (John 9:3.) The innocent often suffer with the guilty, for the sake of eternal ends seen only by the Lord. And since, by heredity, the human flesh is now susceptible to various ailments, and the environment is charged with all manner of hostile bacteria, pests and dangers, Swedenborg informs us that "diseases do indeed exist from natural causes among men who are not at the same time as to the spirit in the other life." (Swedenborg himself, therefore, was apparently immune from such accidental illnesses.) But, having natural causes, diseases can be combated by natural remedies. The fact that a spiritual influx occurs into diseased conditions "does not hinder man's being healed in a natural way; for the Lord's providence concurs with such means." (A. C. 5713.) "Medicines help, but still more, as is said, the providence of the Lord!" (D. Minor 4650.) Pharmaceutics is therefore mentioned among the useful sciences. (D. Minor 45781 A. E. 1214; T. C. R. 524.)
"Among spirits in the other life," we read, "there are no natural diseases, nor any hospitals; although, for the treatment of such as have denied God in theory or practice, there are spiritual madhouses. Those who were idiots in the world are still foolish and idiotic on their arrival in the other world; but when their externals have been removed, and their internals opened-as takes place with all-then they are endowed with an understanding in accordance with their genius and their previous life; for real madness and insanity reside in the external or natural, and not in the internal or spiritual man." (Document 243.)
Possibly this is alluded to in the Diary where it is said that, because of the Lord's infinite power, there are "no diseases or irremediable ills" in that world. (2299.) Still, they know diseases of spiritual origin from the correspondent bodily symptoms which appear, and "have medicaments which correspond, and with which they are healed." (S. D. 6035.) Indeed, there are specialists who use the plants growing in heaven for such purposes. (A. E. 1214.) Obviously the outward remedies are only representations of the mode whereby spiritual health is restored.
In the hells, the human form of each spirit is maintained, and there is no actual death. Yet evil tends to perversions, and the body of an evil spirit becomes deformed, its fibers and vessels being "inverted"; and the monstrous appearance which results from this is sometimes apparent even to himself. (D. P. 296; L. J. post. 302.)
On earth, where Nature is both a nourishing mother and a ruthless foe, "everyone ought to consult for his body, to the end that there may be a healthy mind in a healthy body." Yet worry about health is discouraged in the Writings. And "he who consults for the body merely for the sake of the body," and does not regard the hygiene of the mind and the soul, nor the uses of charity, he "consults evilly for himself to eternity." (A. C. 6936.)
New Church Life, 1953