The Writings and Correspondences
2. Another objection to calling the Writings " the Word " entertained by those who yet believe they are a Divine Revelation, is that by " the Word " they understand a book or books written in correspondential imagery, or symbolic language; written that is to say, in the prophetic style, or in the form of a narrative describing earthly things or earthly events, which while corresponding to spiritual things, are in themselves more or less remote from spiritual things. If this truly describes the essential properties of " the Word," then the Writings are most certainly not the Word, as can be seen at once from a cursory reading of them. That the Word is written in correspondences must be admitted; for it is a revelation of spiritual things, and these cannot come to man unless they are clothed in corresponding natural language. But is the language of symbols the only form whereby spiritual truth can be presented in corresponding natural garb?
The Writings teach that the Word " was written throughout by mere correspondences" (S.S. 20). It is easy enough to see this in the story of the Garden of Eden and of the Tower of Babel, in the lives of the Patriarchs, the statutes of the Israelitish Church, the chronicles of the Kings, etc. But what shall we say of those parts of the Word where the spiritual sense shines through? Take, for instance, the following: " He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before thy God " (Micah 6:8); " Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself " (Lev. 19: 18) ; or the Lord's words: " But I say unto you, Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5: 28). I might quote innumerable passages of the same kind, but they are so well known that there is no need of further citation. Are these passages also written by correspondences? Seeing that the Word "is written throughout by mere correspondences," I answer unhesitatingly, Yes, and in this I suppose all New Churchmen will agree with me. But reflection upon the answer must bring to us the conviction that the idea of correspondences cannot be limited to physical objects or historical events, and still less to such objects and events when they convey meanings remote from the spiritual sense, and even opposite thereto.
Because certain portions of the Old and New Testaments are so written that the spiritual sense shines forth in the sense of the letter, it does not follow that these portions are not written in the language of correspondences. As well might we argue that the mild and gentle expression of a good man does not correspond to the spiritual charity that rules in his heart. Everything in the world and everything in man's speech and actions and in his natural thought and affection has its correspondence in spiritual things, and these it represents or sets forth to the view whether in clear language or obscure.
If we examine the correspondences used in the Word, we shall find that they are in general of two kinds, namely, those which consist of physical objects, plants, animals, etc., and those which consist of human thought and will, and speech and action. And each of these may again be divided into natural correspondences and permissive2 correspondences. In those that are natural, whether physical or human, the spiritual sense shines through more or less clearly, and something of it is at once perceived; or, to put the matter in another way, the correspondential language is such that it is the natural and spontaneous expression of the spiritual truths within. Thus in the passages, " The Lord is a sun and a shield " (Ps. 84), " He maketh his sun to arise on the evil and on the good " (Matt. 5: 45), the correspondences are self-explanatory, and the general spiritual sense is at once apparent. So in the passages, " Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do well " (Is. 6: 16, 17);" Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This will become clearer when we come to speak of " the sense of the letter of the Word."
Now these and many other like passages that might be quoted are just as much written in correspondences as are those portions of the Word where the spiritual sense is not apparent but is thickly veiled. In both cases, the Divine Truth is clothed in the language of correspondences; but in the one case the correspondential clothing is in the form of natural correspondential objects, or of corresponding natural ideas and moral truths, while in the other case the clothing is taken from the events of history, or from the Jewish mind with its debased ideas and its characteristic cruelty and idolatry. In the one case the veiling is transparent so that all who will can see something of the spiritual truth within; in the other case, the veiling is so dense and thick that in the mere letter, it sometimes presents what is even opposed to the spiritual truth within, and that spiritual truth can be seen only by entirely removing, as it were, the letter.
There is a difference also in the method of interpretation of these two classes of passages; for in the one case the natural truth presented, or the natural image, is simply unfolded and opened up, the natural truth or image still remaining but gloriously infilled. In the other case, the opening of the spiritual sense will abolish, as it were, the sense of the letter. Thus if we see the spiritual sense of Solomon's dedication of the temple, or of the cruel wars of the Israelites, then the bloody sacrifice of ten thousand animals, and the savagery of the Jews disappears from our sight, and we fix our gaze on spiritual things which are far removed therefrom. How different is the case when we see the spiritual sense of the words " The Lord is a sun and a shield." As soon as the Christian hears these words, he at once sees that the Lord is the source of that heat and light which bring comfort to the mind of man, and that He guards against all evils. However natural the idea that comes to him, yet, if he reads the Word holily there is something spiritual within that idea, and his further progress depends on his penetrating more deeply into this something, as the Lord gives him more clearly to see it. So in the words, " Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The idea of the neighbor may be a merely natural one, yet to the devout Christian the spiritual idea is involved in the love of that neighbor; and however deeply he may enter into the arcana contained in the words, those words will still remain as the true and correspondential clothing of those arcana. And here we may note in passing that the four Gospels are much more characterized by a letter in which the spiritual sense thus shines forth than are the books of the Old Testament.
It is clear, therefore, that the Writings cannot be differentiated from " the Word " on the ground of the one being written by correspondences and the other not. Spiritual truth can be revealed in no other way than in corresponding natural language and so in the language of correspondences. " The sense of the letter of the Word (we read) is the basis into which the spiritual ideas of the angels terminate; nearly in the same manner as words are the basis into which the sense of the thought flows and is communicated to another " (A. E. 356 fin.). But the words, that is to say, the correspondences, may or may not be " remote " from the internal sense (S. S. 102).
The difference between the Old and the New Testaments and the Writings is not in their being written by correspondences but in the nature of the correspondences. In the Old Testament, the correspondential clothing is, for the most part, a Jewish one. Therefore we are told that " in the sense of the letter of the Old Testament interiors rarely stand forth " (A. C. 3373). In that Testament it is only here and there that the spiritual truth appears clothed in its own shining garments. In the New Testament, excepting the Apocalypse, the clothing consists for the most part of spiritual-moral truths learned by the disciples from the Lord's own mouth; and to that extent it openly presents more or less of the spiritual sense within. In the Writings the clothing is a rational one, gathered by Swedenborg under the Divine guidance by the reading of the Old and New Testaments and by the study of nature in the light of a genuine philosophy. This clothing sets forth the Divine Truth in its glory. Yet it is a clothing; and men may read it and see nothing of the spiritual truths within, seeing merely an intellectual system of philosophy or theology wherein, for them, the spiritual truth lies concealed; or they may read it and see the Divine Love and Wisdom enlightening them in interior arcana such as have never before been given to the world. It is for this reason that the revelation made in the Writings is said " to be more excellent than all the revelations that have hitherto been made since the creation of the world " (Invitation 44).
The difference between the various revelations is reflected in the nature of the churches instituted by those revelations. The Jewish Church was in representatives and its worship consisted in ritual. In the Christian Church purely ritualistic worship was abolished and the open preaching of the Gospels took its place; for its revelation was an open one. In the New Church also purely ritualistic worship is abolished, but in that church it is spiritual truths that are to be preached, and being seen rationally, these truths will reveal the presence of God Man even in nature and its science and philosophy.
The three revelations have each their letter. The letter of the one may be compared to a coarse garment, the letter of the other to a more seemly and beautiful garment, and the letter of the Writings to a magnificent garment, and this despite the fact that when seen merely as a garment those Writings may appear simple and unadorned. Paul's words to the Corinthians, " The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life," apply equally to all three revelations; for no revelation is living with a man or a church unless the Lord himself is seen therein. Without this, the letter gives not life but death.
While on this subject, I should like to add some reflections on the letter of the Gospels and that of the Apocalypse. As already stated, the letter of the Gospels consists for the most part of spiritual-moral truths which, provided they be read as coming from the Lord, reflect the spiritual truth within. Still the Gospels contain also obscure passages which, like the majority of passages in the Old Testament, seem thickly to veil the truth. The reason seems to be that at the commencement of the Christian Church it was only to a limited extent that genuine truths could be revealed. The Church had to progress from the former state of mere representatives and rituals to the perception of genuine truths, and this could be done only in time. Therefore in the Gospels, while for the most part truths are openly set forth in general but genuine form, yet the merely representative style of the Old Testament could not be altogether abolished.
As to the Apocalypse, this was a book prophetical of the New Church, and its contents were sealed because, though it was necessary that they be presented on earth as the basis for angelic thought and for the hopes and aspirations of the good on earth, yet men could not then enter into them.