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Successive Spheres of  the Spiritual Sun

"Bless the Lord, O my soul ... Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain!" - Psalm 104:1,2

In the preceding essay certain teachings were cited to show that the first of creation was the production out of the Divine Substance of the primary spiritual substance which is universal in everything finite, whether spiritual or natural; and which is called the spiritual Sun, because it is a medium by which the Lord proceeds into His creation, and this proceeding is sensed by angels as heat and light are perceived by our physical senses.

The spiritual Sun - as a universal substance out of which everything finite is formed - contains all potencies and varieties which can ever come into existence to eternity in both worlds. Yet in that Sun these "indefinite" things are as it were undistinguished, or unrevealed. It is not a most simple substance, but a substance most multiple, perfect, and full, and of indefinite adaptability or universal quality. It is beyond the limitations of space and quantity. Being spiritual, it is called "living," yet it has no life in itself, but lives from the Life which is God.

This suggestion was carried further in the comparing of the spiritual Sun, as to its created substance, with the spheres from men and angels, spheres which are deprived of the proper life of the man. Even as the spheres of the bodies of the angels still convey the activities of their life's love, so the spiritual Sun is at once a beginning of creation and a mode of Divine proceeding and of the revealing of the very life of God.

But no matter how perfect in potentialities the spiritual Sun might be, it does not by itself fulfill the ends of Divine Love. The purpose of creation is that the Divine may give of its life to others so that they may receive its gifts of love and wisdom. And such a purpose requires the creation of vessels receptive of life and responsive to it. Such vessels cannot be formed immediately, but are formed "from substances and matters" created by the Lord. It is the office of the first or universal substance of creation to serve as a source for all other finite things. It is a source for all varieties, for substances of all kinds of quality and all degrees of power.[68]

To produce such distinct varieties of substance, the first substance must assume limitations. The substance of the spiritual Sun must generate from itself lower substances in which specific properties are separately manifested, and which are thus able to serve more specific and defined uses.

Even the angels have a very vague idea about the substances of the spiritual Sun and its nearest derivatives. But it is revealed in the Writings that they clearly see this Sun before them, yet perceive its heat and its light - which in the Sun are one - as two distinct things, as qualities which affect them as it were separately. Moreover, they see their Sun encompassed with several radiant girdles or belts of flame which they know to be successive envelopments which temper and moderate the Divine fire to accommodate it for the heavens.

These radiant belts are not merely appearances. They are substances appearing. But their relation to the Sun as the prime substance of creation is not conclusively shown in the Writings. They are described as "devolutions of the infinite" or, elsewhere, as "infinite circumvolutions" which successively diminish the fire of the spiritual Sun.[69] One passage informs us that there are "many radiant circles, which are envelopments (involucra) one after another," to temper the Divine love;[70] another speaks of only one solar circle, in this case seen around the aspect of the Lord as Man;[71] which seems to identify the Sun itself - or its "primitive" substances - with these belts of flame.[72]

In the Arcana we find the teaching that "the truth which proceeds immediately from the Lord, being from the infinite Divine itself, cannot possibly be received by any living substance which is finite, thus not by any angel;" and that "therefore the Lord created successives by which as media the Divine truth which immediately proceeds can be communicated." "But," it is explained, "the first in succession from this (primum ex hoc successivum) is more full of the Divine than can as yet be received by any living substance which is finite, thus by any angel; and therefore the Lord created another successive through which the Divine truth that proceeds immediately might as to some part be receivable this successive is the truth Divine which is in heaven; the first two are above the heavens, and are as it were radiant girdles of flame which encompass the Sun which is the Lord . . ."[73]

This makes clear that, although there may appear many circles or belts about the heavenly Sun, yet there are two degrees of finite substance which are above the heavens. We gather - from the somewhat difficult language of the passage - that it is the third successive which carries the Divine truth down into heaven - to the heaven nearest the Lord. That this third successive is the same as the highest or first of the spiritual atmospheres seems borne out by other teachings.[74]

* * * * *

It is of interest to note that the knowledge of a spiritual Sun is not new in the Writings. Among the ancients, God was pictured as haloed by the solar circle. Pythagoras, who was trained in the temples of Egypt and Babylonia and redirected into Greek thought some of the mental currents of the older Orient, is said to have taught his adepts that our sun was only a faint reflection of the "central fire" around which all things moved .76 And in the Old Testament, the coming of the Lord is referred to as the rising of the Sun of justice with healing in His wings (Mal. iv. 2).

In the Economy o f the Animal Kingdom, Swedenborg, though as yet not initiated into the spiritual world, wrote far better than he at that time could have realized, when he penned the following paragraph:

"To know the manner in which ... life and wisdom flow in, is infinitely above the sphere of the human mind; there is no analysis and no abstraction that can reach so high for whatever is in God, and whatever law God acts by, is God. The only representation we can have of it is by way of comparison with light. For as the sun is the fountain of light and the distinctions thereof in its universe, so the Deity is the Sun of life and of all wisdom. As the sun of the world flows, in one only manner, and without unition, into the subjects and objects of its universe, so also does the Sun of life and of wisdom. As the sun of the world flows in by mediating auras, so the Sun of life and wisdom flows in by the mediation of His Spirit ... One sun is within nature, the other is above it; the one is physical, the other is purely moral; and the one falls under the philosophy of the mind, while the other lies withdrawn among the sacred mysteries of theology; between which two there are boundaries that it is impossible for human faculties' to transcend . . . "[76]

Swedenborg here speaks of the Moral Sun and notes that by its action life and wisdom are conveyed to man by the mediation of the Spirit of God. He also notes, in comment, that therefore the Scriptures liken the Holy Spirit to the purest aura.[77] Later, in the Theological Writings, this comparison is confirmed. But here a further distinction is made. The heat and light of the spiritual Sun are indeed specifically called the Divine Truth, which is the Spirit of God; for these, essentially, are God's love and wisdom, and thus infinite. But together with the auras of that Sun, which are spiritual, they (the heat and the light) are called "the Divine Proceeding. "[78] We cannot think of the Divine proceeding as heat and light apart from atmospheres; i.e., spiritual atmospheres. The Lord manifests Himself as to love by heat, as to wisdom by light, and as to use by the atmosphere.[79]

These two - the infinite Divine, which proceeds, and the finite, but spiritual, atmosphere which is the instrument by which the Lord operates - cannot be divorced in thought; and we may therefore speak as if they were one in act. Yet neither must they be confused: for one is infinite, the other is created.

In action and appearance they are a one. Therefore the Arcana, in speaking of the gold with which the portable ark and altar of the Tabernacle were overlaid, states that this gold signifies the sphere of Divine truth conjoined to Divine good which encompasses heaven in ultimates, and thus encloses heaven on all sides, and - like an atmosphere - operates around an angel and contains him with its benign spiritual pressure.[80] This Divine sphere prevents, in heaven, the irruption of evils. Indeed, it extends even into the hells and interiorly rules and mitigates evil. But in the externals of hell it is not operative, but is turned into a sphere of Divine truth separated from Divine good.[81]

It is notable that this sphere acts, like the atmosphere of our world, from without - and even in the ultimates or bounds of heaven. But it is specified that in the world boundaries refer to spaces, but in heaven to "goods conjoined with truths."[82] In the world, the pressure of the atmosphere is exerted upon a man's material body; but in heaven the Divine sphere maintains the spirit, the character, so that whatever marriage of good with truth has been effected within him, should never perish or dissolve. This is involved when it is said that angels are in the Lord and He in them and that "in Him we live, and move, and have our being."

It is, then, a spiritual sphere, like a universal spiritual atmosphere, in which heaven is founded, even as the physical universe is ordered and preserved by the force of gravitation: And further, we are told, it is through this same Divine sphere that "heaven came into existence, and was created," and through it is preserved: for "preservation is perpetual creation."[83]

Proceeding and creating are distinct in idea. Yet "what proceeds [from the Divine], this produces."[84] Therefore the Divine Proceeding was "formed successively into spheres, of which the last (ultima) is the atmosphere of the natural world."[85]

What, then, preceded? What spheres were formed before this "last"? The answer is given.

From the spiritual Sun proceeded spiritual atmospheres, "one from another."[86] The sphere of the Divine truth, or the radiation of the Sun of heaven, created them, each one by means of the preceding; created them as "successives," and as the substance in which the angelic heavens were to be founded. "One thing was formed from another, and thence were made degrees."[87] Swedenborg thus states before the angels: "When I was in enlightenment, I perceived, that by means of the light and heat of your world, spiritual atmospheres, which in themselves are substantial, were created one from another; and because there were three, and thence three degrees of them, three heavens were made . . ."[88]

The same concept is borne out by the "angelic idea of the creation of the universe" already referred to

"The Divine proceeding that is nearest to the Lord appears before the angels as a Sun.... From that Sun ...proceed circles, one after another and one from another, even to the last where their end subsists at rest. And these circles, which are one from another and one after another, appearing as extended far and wide - are spiritual atmospheres through which the light and heat propagates itself to the last [circle] ; and in this last circle, by means of those atmospheres and afterwards by means of natural atmospheres which are from the sun of the world, the creation of the earth was accomplished and of all things upon it which are of use. . . . These angels (who knew that the universe, so created, was a continuous work from the Creator even to ultimates; and because it was a continuous work which depended, is moved and ruled, linked together as a one from the Lord who is the common Center) said that the Prime proceeding is continued even to ultimates through discrete degrees, just as an end is continued through causes into effects . . . and that the continuation is not only in, but also around, from the Prime and thence from all prior things into all things posterior even to the postreme . . ."

To these profound angelic observations - which are here quoted only in part - is added a postscript on the last page of the manuscript

"By means of that heat and that light [from the spiritual Sun] all things in the spiritual world and all things in the natural world have been created. ... There are three degrees of that light and heat to the ultimates of the spiritual world and afterwards three degrees to the ultimates of the natural world . . ."[89]

It is a firm principle in the Writings - a universal of thought - that no angels were created from the beginning, or before the natural world; no angelic hierarchy such as we read of in the Christian mythology depicted by Milton in his "Paradise Lost"! There are no angels or spirits who were not born men on some earth.

Nonetheless the doctrine is reiterated that successive spiritual atmospheres of three distinct degrees of perfection, were created "one from another" so as to become the ground or original substance for as many heavens!

Not only so. But these three spiritual auras are represented as the real cause and formative internal for the three natural atmospheres which are to follow: the latter are only clothings of the spiritual atmospheres, to carry their efficient power down into nature itself and thus complete there the ends of creation.[90]

Later we shall discuss the sequence of the processes of creation - the relation of natural creation to spiritual creation, especially as relates to time. But for the present, let us note that the formation of the series of three spiritual atmospheres or degrees, from the Sun of heaven, was effected by a process of discrete conformations, one degree from another; effected without stop until the third was reached, and effected "without nature" and thus "apart from the forces which serve as substitutes and aids from the light and heat from the sun of the world."[91]

That such successive formation of a series of discrete degrees is possible in a spiritual world and in a substantial essence which by its very origin and character is not in space and time, is beyond the imagination of the natural mind to picture. Yet doctrine and reason combine in leading us to acknowledge that spiritual things have finite relations which correspond to natural relations of space and time, and that spiritual things can therefore be said to combine and form degrees. Such spiritual compositions can be described, and are described in the Writings, as analogous to their corresponding natural entities.

Thus we read of the auras and atmospheres, which "emanate" from the Lord as a Sun: "These auras ... which are spiritual . . . when active in general exhibit heat, but when modified singly (singillatim) exhibit light," i.e., heat which in its essence is love, and light which in its essence is wisdom 82 "The atmospheres . . . are . . . similar in both worlds, . . . with the difference that those in the spiritual world are spiritual and those in the natural world are natural ... The spiritual atmospheres are discrete substances or least forms, originating from the Sun; and because they receive the Sun singly, its fire, divided among so many substances and forms, and as it were enveloped (involutus) by them, and by these envelopments tempered, becomes heat, adapted at last to the love of angels ... and spirits . . ."[93]

Here the inner and unseen constitution of the spiritual auras is described. Not any "appearance" which spirits and angels see, but the spiritual things themselves are named and described. Naturally we ask ourselves, How can a spiritual substance - which by definition has not extension, but only "impletion"[94] - be divided into entities and parts?

But when we consider our own experience with the spiritual things within our minds, do we not find that our, states, our thoughts, our affections, are complex organizations and orderings of multiform spiritual elements? Do not a great many separate intentions combine and concentrate into some one more general purpose? And this despite the fact that the whole plane of the mind and the spirit, contrasted with our physical world, seems like a continuous and non-spatial something without parts or physical dimensions.

When the Writings describe spiritual substances as being finite forms, and the spiritual auras as composed of discreted forms, they describe those elements out of which our spirit, our soul, our spiritual states, our affections and our thoughts, are constructed! Unless there was a substance the inconceivably subtle modifications of which made possible the varieties of the mental life of man, there could be no thought, no consciousness, no mind at all.

This is implied when it is stated that thought is a modification of the spiritual substances of the mind, and does not come from the physical substances which also are associated with the natural mind as it operates in the body." "The spirit of man . . . also is created from finite things . . . The finite things from which it is, are spiritual substances which are in the spiritual world . . ."[96]

It is clearly taught that the whole spiritual world around an angel is not a place but a state. The things seen there and felt there are appearances or manifestations, not of physical things or of the conditions of space and time, but of spiritual states, or of forms of love and wisdom.

In the spiritual world, these indescribable variations of states of love and wisdom, charity and faith, are seen and touched by a spirit or angel. But such states are not unoriginated. They do not simply happen! They could not exist unless the Lord was continually giving life to the angels, but life modified in a created and finite medium in which those finite changes or states could occur. Therefore we read that "all these things are from a spiritual, and none from a natural origin. A spiritual origin is life from the Lord."[97] And Swedenborg further testifies: "In the other life, everything that is there is - not as some suppose, empty and void - but is the substantial itself, which is the origin of all the substantial things in nature; a living substantial is there, or a most pure ethereal: this is formed by the Lord into such marvelous things that they can scarcely be described; it is enough that I have seen them, and this often. I have been there!"[98]

The spiritual atmospheres are contrasted with the natural ethers: for the natural are dead, but the spiritual "are in themselves active" and "have life in them."[99]

These spiritual atmospheres were "created for the transmission even to the angels of light and heat ... accommodated to the life of both their minds and their bodies, in order that from the light they might receive intelligence, and also see, and, according to correspondence might also breathe . ... and in order that they might receive love from the heat, and have sensation, and that also, according to correspondence, their hearts might beat . . ."[100]

But the immediate use of these atmospheres - before there were any angels - was to serve as a means of further creation. One atmosphere came from another and one after another. There were steps and stages in the creation. It occurred by discrete degrees, or by the formation of successives.[101]

Only by conceiving of these spiritual auras as having finite constituents, can we conceive of this process; for it is a process of composition, in which the first degree (or original substance), by a congregation or concentration of its units, takes on a new and less perfect form, to serve a more general use.

A common illustration of discrete degrees is the muscle, which is composed of small fascicles and these of still finer fibrils. An even clearer example is found in the three natural atmospheres: the aura, the ether, and the air. And if we resort to modern instances, the relations of the molecule to its component atoms, and of these to their constituent electrons, protons, etc., might carry out the same idea of discrete planes of composition. In his cosmological treatises, Swedenborg shows various methods by which the lower atmospheres might have been compounded from higher elements.

The distinctness of discrete degrees is indicated when it is stated that "no quality of the air can be elevated to any quality of the ether, and no quality of this to any quality of the aura; and yet elevation of perfections to infinity exists in each of them" on their own plane.[102] In some series of degrees of a common origin, there is greater divergence of quality than in others. So the relation of the spiritual to the natural - or of thought to speech, of affection to gesture - are used as an instance of the difference, but at the same time the harmonic correspondence, between two discrete degrees.

In the spiritual world, discrete degrees are displayed more openly than here on earth. The different heavens are each founded in a different discrete degree;[103] and they sometimes appear, on this account, as one above the other, and thus without any discernible mode of contact. And the statement is even made that the angels of the three heavens dwell respectively in the "regions" of the three spiritual atmospheres: the celestial aura, the spiritual ether, and the spiritual-natural air.[104]

Such a statement would have no meaning unless we realized that these atmospheres were spiritual in essence and function. The "celestial aura" is that created veiling of the Divine love and wisdom which enables the Lord to communicate celestial love with its practical wisdom of innocence. This is received by the highest angels consciously in their interior rational mind; but with other angels it is the origin of their power to will and think spiritually. The "spiritual ether" serves to bring the angels of the middle heaven the love called charity and the rich gifts of spiritual intelligence, because their exterior rational degree is open to receive them; but with all the angels, and all spirits, it empowers spiritual sight! And lastly, the "spiritual-natural air" is formed to give the angels of the ultimate heaven the blessings of faith and obedience because their life is conducted in the interior natural degree; which is the only spiritual plane on which they can be responsive; but at the same time, the same spiritual "air" enables all spirits and angels, high and lowly, to enjoy spiritual hearing and spiritual breathing ![105]

Angels, as well as men, live on solid ground. They think, they see, they hear and breathe. They also eat and drink, and enjoy the fruits of the soil. But it is a spiritual soil - a land of spiritual origin, which is "life from the Lord" ![106] Nor is it so impossible to transpose the full and complete range of human life into spiritual terms. Some time we will have to do so. We might do well to make the attempt by degrees so far as we are able!

The three atmospheres from the spiritual Sun are not insubstantial abstractions. They are media of creation, substantial and discrete degrees which in their descent become more general, more defined or finited as to potential variations and uses. The lowest spiritual atmosphere does not have the same conatus nor the universality which the highest possessed. It conveys a more general, a less intense, less keen, less intelligent life! It cannot impart the highest, most universal purposes or desires. Yet it is still spiritual and "alive"!

But here we must note that creation - in every series - always proceeds towards its ultimates. And we read that it is so with the atmospheres in both worlds. These atmospheres are distinguished among themselves according to discrete degrees or "degrees of height." But in their progress to lower things they "decrease according to degrees of breadth," i.e., they become gradually and imperceptibly less active and "more compressed and inert, and finally in ultimates so compressed and inert that they are no longer atmospheres but substances at rest . . ." The consequence is the formation of "substances at rest," quiescent substances; which, because they originate in the three atmospheres, are also of three degrees.[107] This could only occur - we believe - if each atmosphere so decreased and formed a corresponding degree of quiescent substance.

This process takes place, so we read, in both worlds. But in the natural world, the terminations or endings of the various atmospheres are fixed and inactive matters; a process very well illustrated in Swedenborg's Principia, and especially in his "Lesser Principia." On the contrary, spiritual atmospheres do not so terminate in "fixed matters," but in "substances at rest," of three degrees; and the suggestive statement is made in this connection, that "the Spiritual . . . is living in intermediates but is not living in its ultimates. In ultimates the Spiritual retains no more of life than is sufficient to produce a likeness of what is living."[108] This is said with reference to plants which - in correspondence to angelic states - germinate and spring up upon the lands of the spiritual world. "The lands there," we are informed, "are spiritual from their origin": and are "the ultimates" of the forces of acting, creating, and forming, which inhere in everything spiritual.[109]

But our spiritual universe, so far as we have followed its creation, is as yet but in process - unrelated to another element which enters into the work of the Creator, namely, the production of the natural world. Before nature and mankind came into being the world of spiritual causes can only be imagined 'as empty of inhabitants, barren of uses; but full of potentialities, rich in provisions, complete in its range of degrees from the Infinite through the spheres of the spiritual Sun and down to the ultimates of its own series. What the function of those ultimates might be, in the further progress of creation, will be the subject of our next essay.

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Successive Spheres

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