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The Sequence of Creation

Before the mountains were brought forth or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.  - Psalm 90:2

The end of creation is not fulfilled by the formation of the spiritual atmospheres or even by the formation, in the termination of those atmospheres, of spiritual ultimates. For all these spiritual substances, while they indeed among themselves are discreted into degrees and are therefore in mutual relations of end, cause, and effect, yet taken together they are nothing but an intermediate world of causes - the "substantial" out of which can eventually be created all the glories of the heavens.

The Writings warn us of the impossibility of picturing to our imagination - which feeds on space-time imagery - this realm of purely spiritual causes. Our reason - if somewhat enlightened - can see that such a realm of spiritual causes is necessary, as a prior world. But our reason is also ready to confirm the doctrinal statement which immediately follows one of the accounts of the creation of the successive spiritual atmospheres and the three heavens: "But, because this spiritual universe cannot exist without a natural universe in which it might act out (ageret) its effects and uses, that at once then (simul tunc) the sun out of which all natural things proceed, was created, and through this, similarly, by means of light and heat, three atmospheres . . ."[110]

The spiritual universe "could not exist" unless a natural universe was also created. To 'exist' means to stand forth. It could indeed be, but not exist. Its powers could not be manifested or unfolded, its blessings not imparted, its varieties not revealed, unless nature was formed. The teaching is frequent that an interior degree, or a prior one, can exist and subsist without the exterior degrees, but not the exterior without the prior.[111] If this were not the case, the Writings show, man's spirit would perish when the body dies; nor could it be said that in the spiritual world there are not only all the things that are on earth, and in human minds here, but also untold more things which human eyes have never seen.[112]

Nature was not necessary for the bare existence or 'being' of the realm of spiritual substance! But nature was necessary to carry the spiritual into effect. Nature was created, we learn, that creation might be carried to a completion ;[113] that it might subsist in ultimates and be fixed;"' that its uses might continually persist and endure, which is effected by generations;[115] in other words, that the Spiritual might be terminated in effect by being clothed with correspondent forms which might serve for uses [116] Hence the two worlds are mutually interdependent.

In the places where the Writings describe creation, the accounts usually give a full description of the successive degrees of the spiritual atmospheres before mentioning the beginning of natural creation; as though the spiritual universe was first completed in all its degrees before the natural universe was begun. In a certain sense this must be true; otherwise it would be difficult to account for certain expressions used. Yet if we so interpret the teaching, we must bear in mind that creation in the spiritual world - in the beginning as now - is effected without reference to time, i.e., instantaneously; and also that in the inmost degree of spiritual substance is implied all derivative degrees. Perhaps it is in this sense that we must take the unique statement, in The Divine Love and Wisdom, that "the creation of the universe and of all things thereof cannot be said to have been wrought from space to space, nor from time to time, thus progressively or successively, but from eternity and from infinity";[117] suggesting that all things were to God complete before they began! Swedenborg adds, "I am aware that these things transcend the ideas of thoughts which are in natural light . . ."

But whatever we may say of spiritual substances, we must take account of the fact that their quality is such that they are not by themselves permanent as to form, or constant.[118] "Unless the Spiritual flow into and terminate in the natural, and rest therein, it is like a prior without a posterior, consequently like an efficient cause without an effect, and like an active without a passive - which would be like a bird flying in the air perpetually without any resting place on the earth."[119]

Here we are reminded of the principle that "in everything created, greatest as well as least, there are . . . an end, a cause, and an effect. "[120] When we take creation as a whole, the "end" is in the spiritual Sun; the causes, or means, are in the spiritual world; the effects, finally, are in the natural world. Yet end, cause, and effect, as a trine of degrees, are necessarily also in every created thing, in every detail of both worlds. This means that within the spiritual world there can be spiritual effects of spiritual causes. For there are "spiritual ultimates" which are - in that world - the effects of spiritual causes. But what must also hold true is, that everything spiritual tends to form, not only its own ultimate, but also a corresponding ultimate into which it may inflow and operate as into a fixed and permanent form; and such a correspondent fixed ultimate can exist only in nature.

It is not difficult to recognize the general truth that there is a complete correspondence between the spiritual and the natural worlds. Everything in nature is so formed that it corresponds or answers exactly to something spiritual. We might safely go further, and say that there was a correspondence in the processes by which the two worlds were and are formed. Therefore the two worlds - as to degrees and in appearance - are confusingly alike. Of course the essence and the internal aspect of the spiritual world, which does not possess space and time as properties, are totally different from the internal aspect and essence of the physical universe. The laws of each world therefore seem different - and the sequence of similar phenomena in each world tells the story of different sets of events; even as the sequences of mental states do not obey the laws of nature. But nevertheless they correspond, and the same processes are active in both, even the creative process.

It cannot be said of the natural universe that its creation took place apart from time; except, of course, in the sight of God. "Times were introduced by God with creation," and indeed with the creation of the natural world, where spaces and times are more than appearances [121]

In connection with the formation of nature, sequence and process therefore take on a more comprehensible and familiar meaning. When we read in the True Christian Religion that "then the sun from which all natural things proceed, was created, and, through this similarly, by the means of light and heat, three atmospheres encompassing the former [i.e., the spiritual atmospheres], as the shell does the kernel or the bark of the tree the wood; and finally, through these, the terraqueous globe . . . where men, beasts, fishes, trees, shrubs, and herbs were formed out of earths which consist of soils, rock, and minerals," - we can see certain very definite stages and periods in this complex process of formation.[122]

Yet we can also see some very clear confirmations of the truth that "all things which come forth in nature ... are correspondences. For ... the natural world ... comes forth and subsists from the spiritual world, and both from the Divine." "Everything which comes forth and subsists in nature by Divine order, is a correspondent."[123] We see, for instance, that as the spiritual Sun is the first of spiritual creation, and the source and only substance of its world, so the natural sun is the first, the origin, and beginning, of nature, from which, in due process, atmospheres are formed in a threefold order, again corresponding with the prior spiritual creation. That the expanse of the solar system is derived from the center (or from the sun) and not the reverse, is confirmed by the fact that the planets depend for their subsistence on the sun, and by the principle that "subsistence is perpetual existence."[124]

There is definite teaching that this sun of our world "is created by the Lord through the living Sun"[125] and is "from it,"[126] and that the fire of nature's sun "is from no other source than from the fire of the spiritual Sun ."[127]

"The actuality of the natural sun is not from itself, but from a living force proceeding from the Sun of the spiritual world." Indeed, if that living force should be withdrawn, the natural sun would collapse or perish ![128]

This does not imply that the sun of our world is not physical through and through, yea, dead and material, an ocean of pure fire from which everything of life has been utterly withdrawn! a nuclear furnace of purely physical or chemical activity. It is "death itself. "[129] Even its heat and light are entirely dead, and so are the atmospheres around it.[130] Indeed, the worship of this sun would be the most degrading of all cults ![131] That the sun has within it inconceivable stores of energy does not at all contradict the fact that from this their origin, all things natural are material and dead; or that the natural sun has no creative power whatsoever, for its chief attribute is inertia. But it does mean that the spiritual Sun utilizes the natural sun and its dead, motiveless energy, as an agent for its own living conatus.[132] It means that thereby our sun - and, of course, every other parent star - comes to correspond, in the physical world, to the spiritual Sun, and receives a specific influx which sustains its energy directly from the Sun of heaven - or, if you please, from the one original substance of finite creation! For influx is according to corresponding uses, and into them.

This same correspondence is observable in the relation of the natural atmospheres to the prior spiritual atmospheres. And since these two kinds of atmospheres correspond, those of nature become receptive to an influx from the spiritual, and also serve as "clothings" or - in a sense - embodiments of the spiritual atmospheres. The spiritual become as it were a "soul" to the corresponding natural. For "each and all things which are in the natural world" - however inanimate - "may be said to have a soul, which is the beginning (principium)," cause, or original source of the thing.""

The relating of the spiritual atmosphere as a "soul" to the natural auras does, however, not militate against other statements, which are to the effect that the natural are entirely dead and that "there is nothing interiorly in them from the Sun of the spiritual world"; for we learn that they are only "encompassed" or "girt about by what is spiritual,"[134] or that the spiritual simply is adjoined to, or accompanies, the natural.[135] So also is it said of the fire of our sun, that the Divine life is "outwardly in it," while of the fire of the spiritual Sun it is said that the Divine life is "inwardly in it."[136] Therefore the function of natural heat and light is nothing more than to "open and dispose the things of nature so that they may receive influx from the spiritual world."[137]

We shall return later to consider the fuller meaning of these teachings. Here we cite them only to show that although nature's sun is dead and its atmospheres are equally lifeless, yet the spiritual Sun has a particular relation to the natural sun, and the spiritual atmospheres stand in a similar special relationship to their natural counterparts. There are few clear teachings from which we can conclude their relations. All spiritual things are indeed the "causes" of natural things. But as to the mode or order in which natural creation resulted from these causes, only scant direct instruction is given.

Under such circumstances, it may be permissible to resort to something of theorizing, so long as the theories are borne out by general principles. The most relevant theory is simply that all spiritual things advance - or, rather, progress - toward their least of activity, by continuous decrease, until they are changed into "substances at rest" or "ultimates." The same happens to each atmosphere of the natural world. Since there are three atmospheres in each world, the terminal substances are also of three degrees in each world; which would hardly be the case unless each atmosphere in turn produced its own "ultimate." But let the Writings speak for themselves

"The atmospheres, which are three in each world, the spiritual and the natural, close in their ultimates in substances and matters such as are in lands.

"It has been shown in Part Three (n. 173-176) that there are three atmospheres in each world, the spiritual and the natural, which are distinguished inter se according to degrees of height and which, in their progress towards lower things, decrease according to degrees of breadth. And because atmospheres decrease towards lower things, it follows that they become continuously more compressed and inert, and finally in ultimates become so compressed and inert as to be no longer atmospheres but substances at rest, and in the natural world fixed such as are in lands and are called matters. As such is the origin of substances and matters, it follows, first, that these substances and matters are also of three degrees; secondly, that they are held in mutual connection by surrounding atmospheres; thirdly, that they are accommodated for producing all uses in their forms."[138]

If we may here invoke the principle that "all creation is effected in ultimates," or that "all Divine operation extends to ultimates, and therein creates and operates,"[139] it may be seen that no new discrete degree can be derived until the prior degree, by continuous decrease, becomes a plane or ultimate from or in which a new creative action may commence. On such a premise we assume that the substance of the spiritual Sun formed such a plane of relative inactivity, before the first spiritual atmosphere could be formed; and that that first atmosphere likewise in its ultimate formed the plane for the creation of the second, and so on until the ultimates of each degree had been formed. This principle is variously expressed in the Writings:

"All order proceeds from primes to ultimates ; and the ultimates become the primes of some following order; moreover, all things of the middle order are the ultimates of the prior, and the primes of the following order . . ."[140] "Divine influx is from primes into ultimates, and through the connection with ultimates, into mediates."[141]

Ultimates, of course, mean the last things created and the lowest, and therefore refer principally, and usually, to the material world, and indeed to the lowest and grossest parts of that world. Still, every series has its 'last' or its ultimate. We speak of the "ultimate or first heaven," of the "ultimate spiritual atmosphere," of the ultimates of the Lord, or the "ultimate Divine." And of the spiritual world we read that the "idea of state" which the angels have, as well as "the derivative idea of the appearance of space and time, is not possible except in the ultimates of creation there, and from them. The ultimates of creation there are the lands upon which the angels dwell . . ."[142] All things in both worlds have been created by means of the heat and light of the spiritual Sun which progress by three degrees "to the ultimates of the spiritual world" and afterwards by three degrees "to the ultimates of the natural world. "[143] "As there is nothing which has not its ultimate, where it ceases and subsists, so also the Spiritual . . ."[144]

We conclude then, that there are spiritual substances at rest, which are terminations of every degree and series of spiritual things. But let us here note the principle that the ultimates of one order can become the primes (or firsts) of another order. It is in this sense, that it is said quite definitely that the spiritual or "substantial" is the beginnings (initia) of material things"[145] and that "the substantial is the primitive of the material."[146] "The natural draws its origin from the spiritual, and in its existence it is nothing other than congeries congregated out of spiritual things."[147] There is nothing in nature which is spiritual.[148] Yet it may be said of nature that "its essence out of which it comes forth (existit) is the spiritual . . ."[149]

From this it would seem to follow that natural creation is a by-product of spiritual creation; or that the ultimates of the spiritual realm, by a new creative direction, become the substantial cause and thus the "primitives" of a lower type of substance which is called matter, and which is not spiritual, because not at all living.

If this is difficult to understand, we may derive some comfort from the fact that we are assured that, aside from a few statements which describe this process, "the origin of earths from the spiritual Sun through the atmospheres as media" can be expressed only through spiritual ideas, and these "do not fall into any expressions of natural speech," wherefore "it is enough" if it to some extent be "perceived naturally !"[150]

Speaking naturally, and thus in terms of time, we can see that the substance of the natural sun might be formed from the spiritual Sun - in the sense that the first material substance, the inmost of nature, was created as a final and fixed ultimate in space and time for the substance of the spiritual Sun. The sun of the world - it would thus seem - is the first and only substance of nature and all other material things are derivations thence.

Similarly, the lower things of nature - the three natural atmospheres and their fixed terminations - are the by-products in time and space of the successive spiritual atmospheres and their ultimates. We shall leave it to others to question whether the lower spiritual degrees might have been created only after the prior natural degrees had been formed. Such an order - which introduces definite periods into spiritual creation - is suggested by the language of the "Angelic Idea," in which it is said that the spiritual spheres were formed one after another: since time was properly introduced only with the beginnings of the natural world, this expression suggests that the natural world already had commenced. But to us, this question seems unimportant.

The real difficulty, however, lies in conceiving how spatial, physical matter can possibly originate from some substance beyond space and time. Yet even in his early treatise on "The Infinite," Swedenborg recognizes that this must be so. "For extended entities must originate and subsist ultimately from non-extended . . ." (Wilkinson's translation, p.10). And later Swedenborg exclaimed before the angels: "What is matter, unless a congregation of substances?"[151]

It is possible that future scientific research into the nature of matter may show that - while it is itself spatial - it is yet of a non-spatial origin. Space and time, and the quantitative properties which attend them, are very real in their own sphere. But the substances which are the inner realities that sustain nature in its greatests and leasts, have nought to do with space and time as such. Space and time - the deadness that is added to the spiritual in nature - "does not make reality (reale), but diminishes it."[152]

On the other hand, the Doctrine warns us against thinking that matter is made up of what philosophers have called "simple substances" which if divided would fall into nothing; that is, "a substance so simple that it is not a form from lesser forms; and that out of that substance, by massings, there exist . . . composites, and finally substances called matters."[153]

Spiritual substances are not "simple" in that sense, but are highly composite. For perfection increases towards interiors. "Those who terminate the ideas of their thought in the atoms of Epicurus, the monads of Leibnitz, or the simple substances of Wolff, close up their understandings as with a bolt, so that they cannot even think from reason concerning spiritual influx ... "[154] Such ideas cause spiritual substance to be regarded as "merely a subtle natural substance." It leads to the notion that the original substance of creation was so simple that it "can be likened to a point of no dimension and that from infinite such [points] the forms of dimension arose."[155]

This is a fallacy originating from the idea of space. The constant truth is that "the simpler and purer a thing is, the more [eminent] and the fuller it is."[156] The most perfect, beautiful, complex, and marvelous forms are found in the interior constituents of things.[157] Among the idle fancies about creation which enter the mind if one does not realize that God is the first substance and form, is that the substances and forms of creation originate "from points, then from geometrical lines, which, because they are of no predication, thus are in themselves not anything."[158]

The appearance is as if Swedenborg here repudiated the theory which he had published in his Principia ten years before his enlightenment. But let us note that what he rejected was the concept of indivisible "mathematical points" which have no form, no qualities, and no content, but are - in fact - nothing.

The more physical matter is examined, the more elusive is the substance of it. Once it was thought that the world of nature was made up of uniform indestructible units; later these units were conceived as multiform - as elements; a further revision allowed that the units or atoms also were composites; still later research found it easier to view matter as virtually bundles of energy, in a most complex organization.

In his scientific works, Swedenborg already recognized this nature of matter. He spoke of the elements of the world as forms of motion - and showed how the laws of mechanical motion demanded degrees and series of such forms. He saw that the more gross and inert matters of the earth were but compositions of more active and perfect forms. And the inmost constituent form of such energic motion - the first form of motion from which all the rest came - he called the "first natural point."

It is to be noted that he did not ascribe to the whole of nature anything really substantial of its own. Nature's so called "substances" were only forms of motion. In conceiving how this could come about he had the same difficulty as we do. "Still," he writes, "it follows from reason and experiment, that motion is the only medium by which anything new can be produced. Motion itself, which is merely a quality and a mode, and nothing substantial, may yet exhibit something substantial . . ." (Princ., I., ii, 24).

Swedenborg's "first natural point" was thus a symbol, only a symbolic name for the beginning and the vanishing point of material qualities. Yet it is important to note that this was no merely geometrical concept. On this account he abandoned the expression 'first natural point' after publishing the Principia in 1734. He defined his point not only as the beginning of motion - thus giving it a dynamic quality; but also as a focus or concentration point of what he termed conatus!

'Conatus' means endeavor; which belongs not to motion, or matter, or space or time, but to the world of life. Conatus is a spiritual thing. The Writings state, "Endeavors result from living forces, and produce in objects acting forces."[159]

"Motion is nothing but continual endeavor; for when endeavor ceases, motion ceases; and therefore there is nothing essential in motion except endeavor."[160] "Endeavor produces act and motion."[161]

We are also aware that the spiritual, when it appears in the natural world - as for instance in the body of man, or in the growing plant appears only as an "endeavor" which produces action and growth. Hence the definition is given, that "that which is from the spiritual world in natural things, . . . is an endeavor, on the cessation of which action or motion ceases. . . . This endeavor . . . in action or motion is the spiritual in the natural: for to think and will is spiritual, and to act and be moved is natural. "[162] "The conatus is from influx; from the conatus is force; and from the force there is effect."[163]

All the indefinite effects in nature are thus the results of the endeavors or the conatus that are the inmost essence of each thing therein. Heat and light, by their action, have the effect of "actuating the conatus" which by creation is continually inflowing into each earthly thing. "This conatus . . . is from the spiritual acting in them and into them."[164]

Conatus is spiritual. It is the potentialities of spiritual things coming into focus and expression. In the human body, a simple action is prompted by the confluence and congregation of untold mental endeavors and states, both conscious and unconscious. These concentrations of many ideas into a focus is shown in speaking or in writing.

The spiritual world, in its whole range, is a world of conatus. It is the influx of that world which causes all action and motion in the world of nature, all organic life, and all the speech and act with men, thus all changes. But there are conatus of many degrees.[165] In the creation of matter, the potentialities of the various degrees of this spiritual realm were not at first segregated or specific, but that world acted from its ultimates where spiritual forces had as it were interlocked in a neutralized state of relative passivity, and where each spiritual series acted in general. And "in generals," or in ultimates, the conatus of the spiritual is not a conatus to what is living; not a conatus to release its inward spiritual potentialities and varieties as is done in organic forms or in the human mind; but a conatus which is merely a general prompting to motion - motion without specified "motive" or distinct, evident purpose. It is a conatus which in comparison might be regarded as non-living. "Motion is nothing else than continuous conatus; for when endeavor (conatus) ceases, motion ceases; and therefore there is nothing essential in motion except endeavor.... Endeavor in man is will, and motion in him is action; they are so called in man because in him endeavor and motion are living."[166]  Thus the Doctrine makes clear that not all endeavors are properly called "living." For there are endeavors of "life's ultimate forces."[167] The atmospheres become in ultimates such forces, from which dead matter is formed and maintained; in order that from matter there may eventually be fashioned the clothings for life's more interior forces, so that the inflowing life may - in the form of uses - return to its origin.

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Crown of Revelations
Rebirth, Reincarnation
The Holy Center
Salvation in the Gospels
Psychology of Marriage
Precious Stones
The Human Mind
The Moral Life
Saul, David & Solomon
Bible Lost & Found
The Human Soul
Genesis and Exodus
City of God
Swedenborg Cosmology
Ultimate Reality
The Pattern of Time
Means of Salvation
NC: Sex and Marriage
Book with Seven Seals
My Lord and My God
Philosopher, Metaphysician
Inspiration of Genesis
Words In Swedenborg
Book Expo
Missionary Talks
Tabernacle of Israel
A Brief View of the Heavenly Doctrines
Ancient Mythology
Odhner: Creation
Ten Commandments
Christ and The Trinity
Discrete Degrees
Body Correspondences
Language of Parable
The Ten Blessings
Creation in Genesis
The Third Source
Noble's "Appeal"
Life After Death


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Sequence of Creation

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