The Doctrine of the Church is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word and to be confirmed by it3 (S. S. 50-61)
Here again we note the use of the term " sense of the letter of the Word." It is from this that the doctrine of the Church is to be drawn, and not from the letter of the Word. That is to say, it is to be drawn from the Word not by any correspondential interpretation but from the sense of its letter, from the genuine meaning of that letter.
3 In the treatment of this heading it is further said that " the doctrine of genuine truth may be fully drawn from the literal sense of the Word" (n. 55).
This is so clear a consequence of the oft-repeated teaching as to the source of doctrine, that it seems unnecessary to adduce any specific confirmation from the Writings in its support. At any rate, I will content myself with a single passage:
The manifest reason for this law as to the source of doctrine is that man may be taught not by men but by the Lord, that is to say, by the ultimate form of revelation wherein alone the Lord instructs man, and wherein alone Divine Truth is in its fullness and its power to save. " To be taught from the Word (we read) is to be taught by the Lord. This is an arcanum of arcana of angelic wisdom " (D. P. 172).
It is manifest that in every dispensation man can be taught by the Lord from the Word only from the sense of the letter of that Word, that is to say, from those things " intermingled " in the letter which are the clear face of the Divine Truth, and " from which a genuine doctrine can be gathered and formed." To be taught in any other way would be to be taught by man and not by the Lord.
In the Jewish Church the most pious and enlightened of men could not have seen any Divine Truth save what is declared in the sense of the letter of the Old Testament. By studying the sense of that letter in the spirit of obedience to God, they might by the light thus received have been able to perceive something of the true meaning of many passages theretofore obscure. Thus they might have seen that the sense of the letter of their Word teaches that the neighbor who is to be loved includes the gentile also; that the Lord's mercy is extended to all alike; consequently, that the promised Messiah would come to save all who would receive Him; and so, that His kingdom was to be a spiritual and not an earthly kingdom, a kingdom of love and not a kingdom of despotic rule. All this is clearly taught in the sense of the letter of the Hebrew Scriptures, or is clearly deducible from that sense. This genuine sense of the letter of their Word was, however, the limit beyond which the Jews could not have gone. To have taught or believed anything not clearly expressed or involved in the sense of the letter of the Old Testament would have been to teach and believe not God's Word but the imagination of men. Such teaching could have none but human authority.
By the sense of the letter of their Word, the Jews might have been introduced into many heavenly truths, bringing enlightenment and wide extension of thought. But by no possibility could they have penetrated to the interiors of their Word by means of correspondences, except indeed as regards those natural correspondences to which we have previously referred; as, for instance, where it is said that the Lord is a sun and a shield; that true circumcision consists in the circumcision of the heart; that man is to wash and cleanse himself; and so on. They could not have learned the spiritual arcana which lay within their statutes and rites, the history of the patriarchs, or the dark sayings of the prophets. To do this would have required a knowledge of doctrines which were beyond their reach because not taught in the sense of the letter of their Word.
So in the Christian Church. By a faithful study of the sense of the letter of the New Testament, Christians might have been introduced by the Lord into the seeing of many spiritual truths which were beyond the reach of the Jewish Church even had that church been a genuine church. Thus they might have seen that the Lord's kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and consequently that His second coming would not be a coming to destroy the visible heaven and earth and create a new one, but would be a revelation of truths enabling men to enter more interiorly into the kingdom of heaven. They might also have gathered from the Word some knowledge of correspondences, and so might have seen something of the spiritual significance of some of the more obscure portions of the Word, as for instance, of the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, the promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham, the raising up of the brazen serpent, etc. Indeed, in its early days the Christian Church did make a beginning in this direction, and had that church continued in its integrity its knowledge of genuine doctrine must have been widely extended.
But by no possibility could they have entered into the more interior arcana now revealed in the Writings, as for instance, the Glorification of the Lord as taught in the story of the patriarchs, the degrees of the human mind, the nature of the spiritual world, etc. Nor could they have unfolded the correspondences of the Apocalypse or of the dark sayings of the Prophets. " The Apocalypse (we read) can by no means be explained save by the Lord alone " (A. R. Pref.), and this by means of a man "to whom it has been granted to have consort with angels and to speak spiritually with them " (L. J. 42) ; " and therefore (we further read), lest what is written therein should be hidden to men, and hereafter6 be disregarded because not understood, its contents have been disclosed to me " (ibid.).
That the internal sense of the Old and New Testaments, save as to those portions thereof where that sense shines forth from the sense of the letter, can be disclosed only by a new Divine Revelation, is aptly illustrated in the case of the Apocalypse. Many men have put forth expositions of this book, but because what they taught was not drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word (to cite one reason only), these expositions have brought no light and have had no power and no authority among men. " Unless gathered from the sense of the letter of the Word and confirmed thereby (we read), the doctrine of the church is of no avail [has no power (De Verbo 57)] because it does not effect communication, but only doctrine from the sense of the letter and together with that sense" (De Verbo 15). How can aught but the Divine Truth have power and authority? and how else can Divine Truth be given to man except in the " sense of the letter " of Divine Revelation? There alone does that Truth appear in ultimates, and there alone has it power to instruct man and elevate him into the light of heaven.
" Doctrine from any other source than the Word [that is, doctrine from any other source than the sense of the letter of the Word] is not doctrine wherein is anything of the church, still less anything of heaven. Doctrine must be gathered from the Word, and while it is being gathered, the man must be in enlightenment from the Lord; and he is in enlightenment when he is in the love of truth for the sake of truth and not for the sake of self and the world. Such men are enlightened in the Word when they read it, and see truth and make for themselves doctrine therefrom" (A. C. 9424). " Doctrine is not only to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word but is also to be confirmed by it; for if not confirmed by it, a truth of doctrine appears as if only the intelligence of man were in the doctrine and not the Lord's Divine Wisdom " (S. S. 54).
Some of my readers may feel that I have dwelt at unnecessary length on a matter which, after all, should be obvious to every intelligent man on slight reflection. I have done this purposely because of the importance of this obvious truth when considered in its whole extent. For broadly stated the law is that the Lord teaches man solely from ultimate Divine Revelation, and that the doctrine of the church is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of that Divine Revelation, and from no other source.
New Churchmen have usually limited this law to the Old and New Testaments. A limitation of the same sort must have been made by many in the early days of the Christian Church, especially by Jewish converts. " The Scripture" was then the Old Testament, and it was to that Testament that the Apostles constantly appealed in support of the truth which they preached—as seen in their Epistles. But gradually, as the Gospels became recognized as being themselves a Divine Revelation, there came a change, and the writings of Christian teachers—except when addressed specifically to the conversion of the Jews—no longer laid the emphasis on the Old Testament. Satisfied that the New Testament is in truth the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Old, it was to the New Testament that they then turned for deeper instruction, and it was from the sense of the letter of that New Testament that they drew the doctrine of their church; and in the light of this doctrine they then read both the Old Testament and the New. Both Testaments were indeed seen to be the Word of the Lord; but the New Testament was seen to be the Word given for the establishment of the new and Christian Church, and as the source from which the doctrine of that church is to be drawn. " When the end of the Jewish Church was at hand (we read), the Lord himself came into the world and opened the interiors of the Word. . , . Those truths, therefore, were interior truths and in themselves spiritual, which afterwards served the new church for doctrine and life. But still those truths were not immediately received " (A. E. 670).
We see something of the same kind in the early history of the New Church. And naturally so; for a clear parallel is drawn by the Writings between the revelation given in the Gospels and that which is now given to the New Church. Thus we read:
" When the end of the Jewish Church was at hand, the Lord himself opened and taught the interior things of the Word, and especially did He reveal those things in the Word which were foretold of Himself. . . . The case is the same at this day; for it has now pleased the Lord to reveal many arcana of heaven, especially the internal or spiritual sense of the Word which has hitherto been entirely unknown ; and with it He has taught the genuine truths of doctrine" (A. E. 641). Again we read: "The like is to be done now as was done at the end of the Jewish Church; for at its end, which was when the Lord came into the world, the Word was interiorly opened; for by the Lord when he was in the world were revealed interior Divine Truths which were to serve the new church about to be established by Him, and which also did so serve. At this day, also because of similar reasons, the Word is interiorly opened and thence are revealed Divine Truths still more interior which are to serve the New Church which shall be called the New Jerusalem " (A. E. 948).
In the beginning, New Church teachers were mainly engaged in the work of making converts. Consequently, their writings abound in quotations from the Old and New Testaments showing the truth and authority of the claims of the enlightened Swedenborg. By abundant quotations from these Testaments they set forth their genuine doctrine, namely, that the Divine Trinity is in the one Person of our Lord; that faith alone is not saving; and so forth. By the same means they also demonstrated that the Last Judgment and the Second Coming of the Lord are the fulfillment of prophecy. But as the church grew, and more and more men came to recognize the Writings themselves as Divine Revelation, a change came upon the character of the literature of the Church. Men began to devote their studies to learning the deeper meaning of the Writings, and to the drawing of doctrine from the sense or meaning of the letter of the Writings themselves; not those doctrines, such as the Unity of God, the necessity of the life of charity, etc., which, in the Writings, are so plainly stated as to be unmistakable; but doctrines peculiar to the New Church itself; as, for instance, the Glorification of the Lord; the nature of the Second Coming; the Authority of the Writings; the nature of the Spiritual World, etc., etc. In this way there has come into being, a body of doctrines distinctively belonging to the New Church. It was then confirmations from the Writings, and not so much from the Old and New Testaments that were brought forward; that is to say, for the showing and the confirming of what men considered to be the true teaching of the Writings, it was the sense or meaning of the letter of those Writings that was the final court of appeal.
In the Christian Church, teachers of opposing creeds all appealed to the sense of the letter of the New Testament as their authority; but in the New Church, the proponents of varying or opposing doctrines appeal solely to the sense of the letter of the Writings. Even those in the New Church who deny to the Writings Divine Authority in any real sense, yet cite the letter of those Writings as their supreme authority. This must necessarily be the case. For were the New Church to confine its teaching to what can be drawn out of the sense of the letter of the Old and New Testaments, it could advance not one step beyond the possibilities opened to the first Christian Church.
And yet, as I have said, many New Churchmen interpret the general teaching that doctrine must be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word as referring exclusively to the Old and New Testaments; and they refuse it any wider interpretation when applied to the drawing of doctrine by the New Church. There is manifest confusion and contradiction here. Thus it is a doctrine of the New Church that only those books of the Old and New Testaments are the Word which have an internal sense, and these books are enumerated. I will not dwell on the obvious question, How can we draw this doctrine from the sense of the letter of the Old and New Testaments; but I will ask whether it is reasonable to imagine for a moment that the lower can thus dictate the status of the higher?
Furthermore, it is obvious that the only doctrines that we can draw from the sense of the letter of the Old and New Testaments are those which are already so abundantly set forth in the Writings, and on which there is no disagreement within the borders of the New Church. I have never heard of any genuine doctrine being drawn from the Old and New Testaments that has not already been drawn therefrom and openly set forth in the very letter of the Writings; indeed, the genuine doctrines of these two Testaments, form a large part of that letter.
But as I have already observed, in addition to these doctrines, doctrines which were within the reach of the first Christian Church, the men of the New Church have gathered from the words of the Writings, that is, from the sense or meaning of those words, a host of doctrines peculiar to the New Church and which it would not be possible to draw from the sense of the letter of the Old and New Testaments. If you say that in the light of the Writings we can see them in those Testaments when unfolded, I will not object. But that is not drawing the doctrine from those Testaments. We have first drawn it from the Writings. But why belabor the obvious? It cannot justly be denied that the doctrines distinctive of the New Church—those doctrines which make it the crown of churches—are to be drawn from the Writings, that is, from the genuine meaning of their letter.
The teaching that the doctrine of the church must be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word, is a general teaching applicable to all churches founded on the Divine Word. And since there have been several churches founded on different revelations, therefore in the specific application of the teaching, the term " the Word " must be understood in accordance with what is meant by " the Church." Applied to the Ancient Church, the teaching would be that the doctrine of that Church is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Ancient Word; applied to the Jewish Church, that its doctrine is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Old Testament. Applied to the Christian Church, that the doctrine of that church is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the New Testament; and applied to the New Church, that the doctrine of the New Church is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Writings; in a word, that each church must draw its doctrine from the sense of the letter of the revelation given to that church. By the sense of the letter, as I have already said, I mean the genuine meaning of the letter when read as a Divine Revelation and with a view to receiving instruction from the Lord.
Naturally the Writings also are the letter of the Word. Why should this startle us? Those Writings are certainly a Divine Revelation; it is equally certain that they are written in words or letters, and that in these words the Lord teaches us only so far as we see their sense or meaning.
We read that " the doctrinals of the church must first be learned, and then exploration must be made from the Word as to whether they are true. For they are not true because the leaders of the church have so stated and their followers confirm it. . . . When this is done from the affection of truth, the man is then enlightened by the Lord, so that, without knowing whence, he sees what is true and is confirmed therein according to the good in which he is " (A. C. 6047, S. S. 59).
Here again we have a general statement applicable to all churches, which must be understood according to the rule of interpretation previously referred to. Applied to the New Church, the teaching obviously means that the doctrinals taught by the leaders in that church must first be learned, and then exploration must be made from the Writings as to whether they are true. Manifestly it cannot be doubted that those who are able should themselves test the truth of what the leaders of the New Church preach as the genuine doctrine drawn from the Writings; for that doctrine is not true because the leaders of the church so declare it, and their followers confirm. It is equally manifest that the test can be made only by going to the Writings themselves as the final court of appeal. As to the truths taught by those Writings themselves, it is clear that when one acknowledges those Writings as a Divine Revelation, it would be superfluous, not to say presumptuous, to test their teachings by an examination of the Old and New Testaments. Such a test is called for only when the purpose is to ascertain whether the Writings are truly a revelation from God.
Here we may add by way of parenthesis that a distinction must be made between the doctrine of the church as drawn from the sense of the letter of the revelation to that church, and the revelation itself. The latter is the Word, and this is the Doctrine of Divine Truth (A. E. 612), and, in the case of the Writings, the Heavenly Doctrine revealed out of heaven (N. J. H. D. 7). The former, the doctrine of the church, is man's finite perception of the sense of the letter of revelation; and being finite it is variable; it may even be false, and at best it is always subject to improvement, clarification, development. Every distinctive body of the New Church has drawn from the Writings the doctrine which distinguishes it. This is a plain fact and is quite independent of whether or not the doctrine so drawn is justly drawn, or even of whether the Writings are acknowledged as a Divine Revelation in any real sense of the term.
And now I will quote a passage which to my mind leaves no doubt that by the sense of the letter from which the doctrine of the New Church is to be drawn is meant the clear and genuine meaning of the words of the Writings. This passage is one of a series wherein is expounded the Apocalyptic description of the New Jerusalem. It reads: " Having a wall great and high signifies the Word in the sense of the letter from which is the doctrine of the New Church; for this sense protects the spiritual sense which lies within, as a wall protects a city and its inhabitants.
. . . The doctrine of the church is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word and to be confirmed by it. . . . That the Word in the sense of the letter is signified by a wall, is clearly manifest from what follows in this chapter which treats much of the wall, its gates, foundations and measures. The reason is because the doctrine of the New Church which is signified by the city is solely from the sense of the letter of the Word. ... By the twelve foundations of the wall are signified all things of the doctrine of the [New] Church, by foundations being signified doctrinals, and by twelve all.
. . . And he measured the wall of it a hundred and forty-four cubits signifies that it was shown what the quality of the Word is in that church, that from it are all her truths and goods. ... By the wall is signified the Word in the sense of the letter. . . . And the building of the wall of it was jasper signifies that all the Divine Truth of the Word in the sense of the letter with the men of that church is translucent from the Divine Truth in the spiritual sense " (A. R. 898, 902, 909, 911).
In reading this teaching, three things should specially be borne in mind:
I should like now to add some further observations as to the necessity of drawing the doctrine of the New Church from the sense of the letter of the Writings.
The Old Testament, and to a less degree the New, were written partly in language which so deeply concealed the spiritual sense within, that it could not be penetrated by the men of the church, and partly in language from the sense of which, when read holily, the truths of heaven could be seen. In contrast with this, the Writings are written in language the sense or meaning whereof everywhere reflects the spiritual arcana within, and reveals them to man so far as he approaches the Lord from the love of truth for its own sake. Here are no cryptic utterances, no impenetrable veils, no dark sayings. True, we find in the Writings apparent contradictions, passages the import of which we may but faintly comprehend; all these, however, are but the different facets of the one truth, and when, by further study of the sense of the letter of the Writings, we see this truth, they not only become clear but, and this should well be noted, these apparently contradictory or obscure statements are then seen as necessary elements to the full comprehension of the truth. I suppose most New Church students have experienced this in their own studies, have pondered over seeming obscurities and contradictions, and then when light has come to them, have seen that the obscurities were merely the effect of their lack of understanding, and that the contradictions were not contradictions but statements necessary for the presentation of the complete truth.
The same thing is true of the sense of the letter of all revelation; I mean the sense of the letter from which the church to which the revelation is given can draw its doctrine. The reason is, because Divine Truth is presented in a form adapted to all manner of states, and so is necessarily presented in many appearances. Take, for instance, the statements in the Old Testament, that God is angry with the wicked every day, and that He is slow to anger. One who sees the truth which is thus presented in the sense of the letter does not reject either of these statements, for he sees that both are necessary for the full comprehension of that truth, and that when the truth is seen both statements remain.
This is not the case with those portions of the Old Testament where the letter deeply conceals the truth within. Thus if we read of the wars of the Jews and are told that they represent the combats of the Lord with the hells, then if we are to contemplate the truths which are thus concealed under the description of these wars, sometimes with cruel details, we must dismiss the picture of the wars; it does not remain as a facet of the truth, but like a garment which is no longer of use, must be dismissed when the truth is seen. The letter must die that the spirit may live.
How different is it in the Writings. The letter of the Writings is made up of doctrinals drawn from the sense of the letter of the Old and New Testaments, of rational arguments, of illustrations taken from nature and the sciences, of relations concerning the spiritual world, and here and there of statements where the deeper arcana of heaven are set forth to plain view. And every statement, every expression, every argument, is a necessary part in the setting forth of Divine Truth to be seen in the sense of the letter. There should be no difficulty in seeing this; for the language of the Writings is manifestly designed to explain the truths of heaven, not to hide them; to make them clear to the rational mind, not to present a cryptic veil.
It is because of this that the Revelation now given to the New Church is the crown of revelations and the final one. The whole of the Heavenly Doctrine is now revealed; it remains for men to draw it forth from the sense of the letter of that revelation, according as the Lord gives them enlightenment. They are to draw from an everlasting fountain; and the more they draw, the more clearly will they see the Divine Truth in the sense of that letter which constitutes the Revelation to the New Church.
It should not be a matter of wonder that the doctrines of the New Church are to be drawn solely from the sense of the letter of the Writings; for the men of the New Church must be taught by the Lord alone, and the Lord teaches only in the sense of the letter of His revelation. " It is most important for man to study the Word in the sense of the letter (say the Writings) ; thence only is doctrine given " (S. S. 56). If there is other teaching than what is plainly set forth in the sense of the letter of revelation, then either it will be the product of human imagination, and so have no power and no authority; or it will be a new Divine Revelation; for, as we have already noted, when truth is deeply veiled and concealed in the language of correspondences, it is the Lord alone who can reveal it.
Here we have the reason why the nature of the Writings is such that those Writings everywhere set forth the Divine Truth in the sense of their letter; that they are written in no other language of correspondences than that natural correspondence which clearly reflects the Divine Truth in the sense of their letter; that it is from the sense of their letter that doctrine is to be drawn, and not from correspondential interpretation. It is because of this their nature that it is said of the Writings that they are a revelation which " surpasses all the revelations that have hitherto been made since the creation of the world "(Inv. 44).
And now I would touch on a phase of this subject to which I have already adverted and which is dealt with in the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture when developing the teaching that doctrine is to be drawn from the sense of the letter of the Word. I refer to the statement that:
Genuine Truth, Which will be of Doctrine, does not Appear in the Sense of the Letter of the Word to any but Those who are in Enlightenment from the Lord(S. S. 57).
This statement involves that the Writings are not the naked spiritual truth or internal sense of the Word, but that they are written in human language so adapted that the sense of its letter contains the genuine truth of heaven. Any intelligent man can see the sense of the letter of the Writings, but only those who are in the genuine love of truth can see the spiritual truth within. Whether a man belongs to the one class or the other can be known only to the Lord; we cannot distinguish between them.
The Writings are written in the language of rational thought, with illustrations and confirmations such as pertain to rational thought. Any man can see the truth of their statements and can see the ramifications and extensions of that truth, provided he has the necessary education and intelligence, and provided also he lifts his understanding above the light of the world and sees in the light of heaven. Indeed, in such case, those who are endowed with keen mental vision can see more clearly than others, and if gifted also with the art of expression, can set forth what they see so that it may be the means of instruction and of progress in the church. Yet unless such a man has the love of spiritual truth, he sees nothing more than the rational forms with which, in the Writings, such truth is clothed; he is blind to the truth itself which lies within the rational ideas that he so clearly sees and so eloquently presents to the view of others; and these others may see and be affected by the spiritual truth within, of which the teacher himself has no perception, and by which he is not affected. For while the preacher may set forth the Word, it is the Lord alone who causes man to see the truth (D. P. 172).
As an illustration of this, I might point to the ability possessed by all men, when thinking above the light of the world, to see the truths concerning life delivered by the Lord in the Gospels. The more intelligent of such men can also proclaim these truths with clearness, force, and eloquence. And yet it is possible that they have no sight of the truths themselves. Other illustrations might be given. Thus, an evil statesman, if he is also intelligent, may clearly see and eloquently set forth the truth that the love of country demands that a man shall be willing to lay down his life for the sake of his country; and yet the statesman himself may be in the love of his own glory, without any perception of the spiritual truth which lies within the words which he so convincingly pours forth.
The indication of what it is that a man really sees is to be found in the manner in which it affects him. If a keen judge of the beauty of poetic imagery admires the language of Isaiah but is blind to the spiritual truths which here and there shine out therein, it is a sign that he sees merely poetic form and the beauty of natural truths. So if a man of keen perception reads the Writings and admires the rational form of the truths there set forth, but is unaffected by the Divine Truths which thus present themselves that they may lead to love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor, it is a sign that he sees, and it may be, can eloquently present, the sense or meaning of the letter of the Writings, but is blind to the spiritual truths there revealed. He sees the meaning of the Writings merely because it is rational, but not because it is heavenly.
Here let me note that no one can see the rational truths set forth in the Writings unless his mind is elevated into the light of heaven. This is true whether the man does or does not see, that is, is or is not affected by, the spiritual truths which lie within the rational statements. A man can see natural facts, their order and sequence, and the natural law of cause and effect, merely from worldly light, and this by virtue of the gift of rationality which is the human birthright. But to see, that is to say, to understand, the rational forms of spiritual truth, even if he sees no more than the forms, he must elevate his sight into the light of heaven. In the light of the world no one can see that God is a Man; for in that light man can think only of a corporeal man and in space. But if he elevates his mind above the light of the world, he can see that God is a man apart from space; and he can see this as a rational truth, even though he has no love of God.
It is a well-known teaching of the Writings that man can elevate his understanding into the light in which the angels are; and this teaching has been frequently interpreted as meaning that man can see spiritual truths as the angels see them. There is, however, one passage (T. C. R. 588) and perhaps more than one, which states that he " can elevate his understanding almost into the light in which the angels of heaven are." The word almost has its significance here, and should not be ignored. In effect it means that man cannot elevate his understanding into the light in which the angels are, but that he can appear to do so, the appearance being so strong that he almost does so in fact. This " almost" becomes clear when we consider that an evil man can so elevate his mind as to see in the light of heaven the rational forms of truth wherein the Divine reveals itself, and this even to confession; yet without any perception of the Divine Truth thus revealed.
He may for a time even see the latter, and thereby be moved to a sort of repentance, but if he does not shun evils as sins, this is merely the effect of angelic spheres acting upon his external mind. It is no interior seeing. The reason is that the seeing of truth depends on the influx of the light of heaven into the mind, but so long as the mind does not receive the heat of heaven, there is no reception of the interior activity or determination which makes the form of truth. Consequently, the essential truth, which in itself is the determining activity of good, is not seen and the man is not affected by it. He sees truth separate from good, and such truth is a mere form without its soul.
The seeing of the rational forms of truth is a real seeing by the understanding, and so long as that understanding is elevated, the seeing continues, even though the man may be in evils. This is well known; for a man can condemn himself even while he is in the will and actual intention of committing evils.
This ability to elevate the mind almost into the light of the angels of heaven, is possible not only because of the God-given gift of rationality but by virtue of the fact that in the sense of the letter of the Word, the forms of Divine Truth are set forth. The evil can see these forms from the rational which is open to every man. But the good see and are affected by them not merely as rational forms, but as truth proceeding from good, that is, as truth proceeding from the Lord for the salvation of man.
This, as it seems to me, is what is meant by a striking teaching given in the Arcana Coelestia nos. 2496 seq., to the effect that the doctrine of charity and faith " is a spiritual doctrine from a celestial origin, and not from the rational."
The doctrine of charity and faith revealed by the Lord in his Word must be acknowledged not because it is seen to be rational but because it is seen to be true—to be the law of God; and it is so seen by all who read the Word holily to the end that they may be instructed by the Lord. Men who thus read the Word are affected by the spiritual and celestial truth within the sense of the letter, and so are enlightened by the Lord. Yet, being human, their sight is limited; it must be enlarged by confirmations drawn from the sense of the letter, and, it may be, by rational considerations. Their faith, however, is based not on rational arguments but on the perception of the genuine truth which appears in the sense of the letter of the Word. Thus their doctrine is a spiritual doctrine from a celestial origin but not from the rational. Yet to make it possible for men so to see the Divine Doctrine, the latter is always set forth " in a rational manner adapted to the comprehension of man " (A. C. 2533), and so can be confirmed by the rational.
On the other hand, if the truths of the Word are seen merely because they are rational, that is to say, if the forms of truth are seen without any perception of the Lord within them, then those truths are not " spiritual doctrine from a celestial origin," and do not conjoin man with the Lord. They may afford a palliative remedy and may hold the man in a state in which he may afterwards be led to the Lord; but they cannot themselves effect any real cure.
" Doctrine is to be procured only from the Word (says our revelation), and by no others save those who are in enlightenment from the Lord . . . that is, who love truths because they are true. All things belonging to doctrine are to be confirmed by the sense of the letter of the Word . . . because in the sense of the letter, Divine Truth is in its fullness; for that is the ultimate sense and in it is the spiritual sense. Therefore, when doctrine is thence confirmed, the doctrine of the church is also the doctrine of heaven, and conjunction is effected by correspondences " (A. E. 356 fin.).
By the Sense of the Letter of the Word there is Conjunction with the Lord and Consociation with the Angels(S. S. 62-9)
It is frequently supposed that the conjunction and consociation here referred to is effected by man reading the Old or New Testament holily without regard to whether or not he enters into the meaning of what he reads. I have already treated very fully of this matter and need not here repeat. I would, however, again emphasize the fact that what conjoins and consociates is not the letter of the Word but the sense of the letter and the reception of that sense. The mere reading of the letter is not enough. It may bring presence but not conjunction. Thus we are told that " the Lord is present with a man by the reading of the Word; but He is conjoined with him by the understanding of truth from the Word" (S. S. 78) ; and furthermore, " All the wisdom of the angels is given by the mediation of the Word . . . when this is read by man, and when there is thought from it" (S. D. 5187).
Therefore consociation with angels, and conjunction with the Lord can be brought about only when a man reads the Word with some acknowledgment from the heart that it is the Lord's teaching. This acknowledgment causes him to see the presence of the Lord in ultimates, and it is this perception that constitutes the reciprocal act which effects conjunction with the Lord and so consociation with angels.
This is involved in the very first of the passages which deal with the heading now under consideration. " That by the Word there is con junction with the Lord (we read) is because He is the Word, that is, the Divine Truth and Divine Good therein. That the conjunction is by means of the sense of the letter, is because in that sense the Word is in its fullness, in its holiness, and in its power. This conjunction does not appear to the man, but it lies in the affection of truth and in the perception thereof" (S. S. 62). The sense of the letter of the Word is then defined by a reference to a previous passage (n. 6—which we have already quoted), where it is said that "in its ultimate sense the Word is natural, in its interior sense spiritual, and in its inmost celestial; and in every sense it is Divine." Thus when man reads the Word, and, from the affection of truth, understands the sense of the letter which is the divine natural sense, the angels are in the spiritual or celestial senses. This is then illustrated by passages from the Word, and the very nature of these passages clearly indicates that what conjoins man with the Lord is not the letter but his understanding and perception of the genuine sense of the letter. For whereas in a former chapter (nos. 5-26) showing that there is a spiritual sense in the Word, the examples taken from the Word are all passages where the spiritual sense is deeply veiled, in the present case where the subject is conjunction with the Lord by means of the sense of the letter, the illustrating passages taken from the Word are without exception passages in which the spiritual sense shines out in the sense of the letter, namely, Honor thy father and thy mother; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not bear false witness.
I have already spoken of the universal law which underlies the teaching that conjunction with the Lord is by means of the sense of the letter of the Word, namely, that the Lord reveals himself to man in ultimates, where alone man is in the free choice of reception. It is by means of ultimates that the Lord teaches man, enlightens the angelic heaven, and holds the universe in order. Therefore the Lord came on earth that He might be in firsts and at the same time in lasts, and so might exercise all power in heaven and on earth. " Conjunction with heaven and by heaven with the Lord (we read) is not given by the spiritual sense but by the sense of the letter; for divine influx of the Lord is through the Word from firsts through ultimates" (De Verbo 15). And further: " It is the sense of the letter of the Word from which and by which communication with the heavens is effected; likewise from which and by which man has conjunction with the heavens. . . . Without that basis, the wisdom of the angels would be like a house in the air. ... It is the sense of the letter of the Word by which man is enlightened by the Lord, and by which he receives answers, when he wills to be enlightened; it is the sense of the letter of the Word from which everything of doctrine in the earth is to be confirmed " (A. E. 1066). Thus the conjunction is not effected by the mere letter but only by the sense of the letter, that is to say, only when man sees the Lord appearing in the sense of the letter. Therefore we are told that " there is no communication (of man with heaven by means of the Word) if the Word is comprehended merely according to the letter and not at the same time according to some doctrinal of the church which is the internal of the Word" (A. C. 9410). In other words, there are no means by which man can be conjoined to the Lord, save by the sense of the letter of the Word, whether of the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Writings; for it is only from the sense of the letter, that the doctrinals of the church can be formed.
In the Writings the Lord himself appears. There He speaks to man from Divine Love and Divine Wisdom clothed in a letter which constitutes a body of rational truth. There, if man will, that is, if he read the Writings from the love of truth, he can be conjoined to Him, and consociated with the angels of heaven.
But the Writings have something more; they not only are the means by which man may be conjoined with the Lord and consociated with the angels, but they are also the means by which man can himself enter into the interior spiritual arcana of the Word; can think with the angels and as an angel, even while on earth. It is this that characterizes those Writings as the crown and fullness of Divine Revelation.
The Word is in all the Heavens, and Angelic Wisdom is from it(S. S. 70-5). The Church is from the Word and is such as is the Understanding of the Word (S. S. 76-9)
These points need no comment since they do not immediately concern the question under consideration.
As to the first, however, we may note that the Word which appears in heaven is not the same in external form as the Word as we know it. In the words of the Writings, " it is written in a spiritual style which is wholly different from the natural style" (S. S. 71). It is the same Divine Truth which with us is presented as the written Word, but it appears in a form which differs in the different heavens. Moreover, this form, though verimost reality, is yet dependent on the ultimate existence of the Word among men. For the Lord instructs both angels and men only by means of ultimates. " All the wisdom of the angels (we read) is given by the mediation of the Word, because in its internal and inmost sense is Divine Wisdom, and this is communicated to angels by means of the Word when the latter is read by man, and when there is thought from it" (S. D. 5187).
We note also that the Writings were seen in the spiritual world. Thus the Arcana Celestia and the Dunne Love and Wisdom were seen there on a cedar table (T. C. R. 461, A. E. 875). There were also in the spiritual world copies of the Brief Exposition, on all of which was written the inscription, " This book is the Advent of the Lord " (Eccles. Hist. 8). So Heaven and Hell and the Last Judgment were seen in the spiritual world, and were twice read by a certain spirit from Holland (S. D. 5908); and Heaven and Hell, the Last Judgment, the Earths in the Universe, the White Horse, and the New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine were given to certain Africans in the spiritual world (S. D. 5946).
As to the second point, to quote from the Writings, " that the church is from the Word is not a matter of doubt " (S. S. 76). That the quality of the church is according to its understanding of the Word, follows from all that has thus far been said. Again to quote from the Writings: " The Word is spirit and life, according to the understanding of it; for the letter without the understanding of it is dead " (S. S. 77). Apply this to the New Church, and it is obvious that the quality of the New Church depends not on its possession of the Writings but on its understanding thereof. " Since a man has truth and life according to his understanding of the Word [and with the New Churchman, according to his understanding of the Writings], he also has faith and love according to it. . . . And since the church has its being by means of faith and love and according to them, it follows that the church is a church by means of its understanding of the Word; a noble church if it is in genuine truths, ignoble if not in genuine truths, and destroyed if in truths falsified " (S. S. 77).