Conjunction with Heaven by the Writings
3. A third objection which New Churchmen have entertained against thinking of the Writings as " the
Word " is that they understand it to be the peculiar prerogative of the Old and New Testaments to serve as a medium conjoining angels and men, this conjunction being effected when men read the letter; for angels are then in the spiritual sense of what is read. This they suppose cannot be the case with the Writings since the Writings are themselves the spiritual sense.
A little reflection will show that such a position involves that the Word serves as a medium between heaven and earth only when man is in ignorance of its spiritual contents, or that it is the letter that conjoins and not the spiritual sense within the letter. But if such were really the case, what shall we say of those parts of the Word where the spiritual sense shines forth? Is not the conjunction of angels and men effected by those parts also? nay, and a closer conjunction ?
There are indeed passages in the Writings which teach that the conjunction of heaven and earth when man reads the Word is effected when the man reads it without an understanding of its spiritual contents, provided only he reads it with an acknowledgment of its holiness; and consequently, that such conjunction is more frequently effected when children read the Word than when adults read it. But to take such passages to mean that man's entering into the spiritual sense detracts from or weakens this consociation, is to reduce the teaching to absurdity. I shall again refer to this matter a little later.
Here I would ask for a more particular attention to what is involved in the teaching that if the Word is to conjoin man with heaven, it must be read with an acknowledgment of its holiness. Clearly it is this acknowledgment that effects the association with angels; without it there could be no such association. It was because of this that the Israelites, when engaged in their rituals, were induced—for the most part by compelling external means—into a state of awe and reverence, that is to say, into a state of apparent holy acknowledgment. Only then could their rituals serve as the medium between heaven and earth; for otherwise the spheres of their evil loves would have been sensated in the spiritual world and would have repelled all association with good spirits and so with the angels who are associated with such spirits. With the Israelites, the mere reading of the Word, or the mere enactment of the rites there laid down, could not have brought even the presence of good spirits; there was also required a state of awe and fear whereby the evils of the Israelites were temporarily concealed and so could not affect good spirits, and prevent communication with the angels of heaven. It was for this reason that Balaam was hindered from cursing the sons of Israel, that so their evils might not be laid bare to the gaze of good spirits (S. D. 1778, 2354).
It is, therefore, not the mere reading or enactment of the Word that effects the consociation of angels and men, but the sphere engendered when the Word is read holily. When the Word is thus read, good spirits and angels are present with the man and perceive the spiritual things that are concealed within the sensory images in the man's mind. Thus heaven and earth are conjoined by means of the Word only when read by men who acknowledge its holiness, and who thus tacitly acknowledge that within its bosom lie truths ineffable.
And now I again ask, Shall we say that this conjunction of man with angels is weakened if the man sees something of the spiritual sense of the words that he reads? Shall we say that he is more closely conjoined with heaven when, with holiness, he reads those portions of the Word where the spiritual sense is thickly veiled, than when he reads those portions where the spiritual sense shines out and moves his thoughts and affections? that he is closer to the angels when he reads the statutes of the Israelites and their cruel wars, than when he reads the Sermon on the Mount?
There are indeed passages in the Writings which imply that the consociation of men and angels is more assured when men read the letter of the Word without entering into its hidden meaning, but such passages clearly have reference to an entering into the interiors of the Word from the man's own intelligence; otherwise why should we now be taught that there is a spiritual sense in the Word? why should that sense be revealed? and why should we be exhorted to think from the spiritual sense of the Word and not from its mere letter? Is not the revelation given that man may be more closely conjoined with heaven than ever before was possible?
The reading of the Word holily does indeed bring man into communion with angels, but if, when reading, he also has spiritual ideas like those of the angels, then not only is he conjoined with them but he is actually associated with them and, as it were, thinks and wills as one of them.
It can safely be said that the consociation with heaven enjoyed by true Christians when reading the Word was more intimate than that enjoyed by faithful Jews when reading the Hebrew Scriptures—for we cannot lose sight of the fact that even in the Israelitish Church it was possible for men to see something of the spiritual sense in the Hebrew Word. Shall we then deny the operation of the same law in the reading of the Writings? If those Writings are read in a spirit of holiness, with the acknowledgment that it is the Lord who is there teaching, do not they also bring consociation with the angels? and this even though the reader may not enter deeply with his understanding into the spiritual arcana involved? The Writings are a revelation of Divine Truth clothed in a letter which aptly and beautifully presents that Divine Truth under the garb of language perceptible to the bodily senses and comprehensible to the natural mind; and surely it cannot be denied that when a man reads them holily and with a view
to his spiritual edification, he is thereby brought into consociation with heaven. Can it be denied then, that if haply his mind is enlightened, and he enters interiorly into the meaning of what he reads, his consociation is still more close? To me it seems indisputable that when man reads the Word in the letter, whether it be the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Writings, with an acknowledgment of its holiness, he is by that very fact conjoined with angels who perceive the interiors of what he reads; and that if he also can see those interiors, he is not only conjoined with angels but actually makes one with them in thought and in love.
That there may be no doubt concerning this office of the Writings in consociating man with heaven, let me adduce the specific teaching of the Writings as given in the Invitation to the New Church, n. 44. There, after stating that the revelation now given is more excellent than all. the revelations which have hitherto been made, the passage continues: " By this revelation the communication of men with the angels of heaven is opened and the conjunction of the two worlds is effected; for when man is in the natural sense angels are in the spiritual sense."
In general it can justly be said that, granting that the reading is done with holiness, the reading of the Old Testament brings the presence of angels; the reading of the New Testament brings not only this presence but also some kindredship of thought and affection which is reflected in the perception of spiritual-moral truths; and the reading of the Writings enables man to think with the angels and as an angel.
And here I should like to add some observations with respect to the thoughts of the angels. It is often assumed that angelic thought is so far removed from human thought as to be ineffable. In a sense this is true—in the sense namely, that interior thought can be set forth in human language only inadequately; indeed, when we essay to express in writing our deepest thoughts and affections, it is a matter of common experience to find, when reading the writing, how inadequate are our words; how greatly we are forced to rely on the perception of our reader for the grasping of the many things which we would express but can express only feebly. But it is not true that angelic thought is ineffable, if by this is meant that man cannot think with the angels and as the angels. Man is a spirit, and he can become an angel even while on earth. True it is, that during life on earth, the things of time and space obtrude to obscure his thoughts, and that after death he is freed from these hindrances. But it is also true that at times, even on earth, he can elevate his thought and think with and as the angels. When the ministers of the Church teach the Word, what other end do they have in view than that men may think spiritually? Moreover, the fact that man can think spiritually even while on earth, is abundantly pointed out in the Writings of the Church, which while teaching that the letter of the Word is for men, and the spiritual sense for angels, also teach, and this again and again, that the spiritual sense is also for men who will think spiritually, that is to say, who will think as do the angels. Of what use otherwise are the Writings? the revelation of spiritual truths? of angelic wisdom? It is true that when we read in the letter the words " Abraham," " bread," " rain," " shield," etc., the angels have no idea of the natural images which these words present ; but it is also true that the spiritual man, when reading these words, also fixes his mind and thought not on the words but on the spiritual ideas which they present. While on earth, the words also are before his sight, but this does not prevent him from seeing and delighting in the spiritual ideas contained in those words, and this to such an extent, that the words may disappear, as it were, from his view. Whether he thinks of them spiritually or celestially can be known to the Lord alone. It is enough for us to know that if we will, we can think as the angels think. Indeed it is possible for some men to think more wisely, more interiorly than some angels—a fact which is testified to by the teaching of the Writings that after death some men are at once elevated into an interior heaven.
When we die, we do not come into an alien world, an alien thought and speech. Death is but the continuation of life, and those who have thought spiritually and wisely on earth will continue so to think after death; nor will they notice any essential difference in the nature of their thought. Though this thought will then be unchecked by the hindrances of time and space, and of worldly cares and anxieties, yet essentially the thought will be the same. Why otherwise has the Lord made himself manifest in interior light? why otherwise do we pray daily that the kingdom of God may be established on earth as it is in heaven?
It is this entering into spiritual and angelic thought that is meant by the suggestion sometimes given in the Writings, that in the New Church intercourse with the spiritual world will be renewed somewhat as it was in the Most Ancient Church. Certainly men will never again consort with spirits as did the men of the Most Ancient Church; for in the New Church instruction is to be received not from any angel or spirit but from the Lord alone in his Word. But this quasi-renewed consociation of men with spirits will consist in the establishment of spiritual thought among men on earth ; in the possibility, now given by the Writings, that man can think with the angels and as angels, even while clothed with a material body.
Before leaving this subject of the communication with heaven effected by means of the Word, I would note the teaching that every verse of the Word communicates with some society of heaven. " When I read the Word through, from the first chapter of Isaiah to the last of Malachi, and the Psalms of David (says the Revelator) it was given me clearly to perceive that every verse communicated with some society of heaven, and thus the whole Word with the universal heaven " (S. S. 113).
It has been supposed that a communication of this sort, that is to say, a communication with the societies of heaven in orderly series, could not be effected by the Writings. Reflection, however, will, I think, show that this supposition is not well founded. Certainly it cannot apply to the Arcana Celestia and the explanations of the Apocalypse where the Word is unfolded in series. Nor does it hold good as regards the other books of the Writings. It is not the mere letter of the Word that effects communication with societies of heaven, but the truths that are contained in that letter. This is obvious; moreover, it is clearly indicated by some words which were added to the passage last quoted, when that passage was inserted in the True Christian Religion. There it is said that Swedenborg perceived the communication with the societies of heaven when he read the Word from Isaiah on, " and held the thought in their spiritual sense " (T. C. R. 272).
When now we consider that every book of the Writings is an orderly presentation of the Heavenly Doctrine in series (see T. C. R. 351) the conclusion must inevitably follow, that the truths there presented, effect communication with the societies of heaven also in series. The Writings are a revelation of the Heavenly Doctrine in divine order, and so present the image of the universal heaven, that is to say, of the Grand Man.
Indeed the communication with societies of heaven by means of the Word, is of wide extension. It is true that any given verse of the Word, or any given aspect of truth as disclosed in Divine Revelation, effects communication with some society of heaven; but it is also true that the more interior the entrance into that truth, the more extended and universal is the communication; for inmostly in every verse of Scripture, in every truth of revelation, the Lord Himself is present, and thus the whole of heaven. Indeed the Writings are the Lord Himself revealed in human form as the Divine Man, and they must needs effect conjunction with the whole of heaven and with every society thereof.
The fact of such communication is moreover vividly presented to us by the Revelator, who tells us that " when the Brief Exposition was published the angelic heaven from east to west, and from south to north, appeared of a deep scarlet color with the most beautiful flowers " (Eccliast. Hist. 7) ; and elsewhere he adds that " this was a sign of the assent and joy of the New Heaven" (Documents 2: 281). It is also involved in the fact that when the True Christian Religion was finished the Lord called together His twelve disciples and sent them forth into the whole spiritual world (T. C. R. 791).
Both these events indicate that the writing of the works referred to, established a communication with the societies of heaven whereby the angels were inmostly affected.