The Expanse of Nature
The Writings teach that the two worlds, the spiritual and the natural, "as to external face are altogether similar ... but as to internal face altogether dissimilar"; indeed, so altogether distinct from each other, that "they can in no manner be together . . . and have nothing in common with each other; yet are so created that they communicate, yea, are conjoined, by correspondences." And "because these two worlds are so distinct, it is necessary that there should be two suns, one from which all spiritual things are, and one from which all natural things are."
In so speaking, the Writings use our solar system as a pattern. There is only one spiritual Sun, for its substance is universal in creation and apart from the concept of space. But there are innumerable stars - each a natural sun, each a potential origin and center of a planetary system of its own. What the Doctrine stresses is the contrast.
One sun is living, the other dead. The dead sun itself is created by the Lord through the living Sun. The dead sun was created to the end that in ultimates all things may be fixed, static, and constant; "thus and no otherwise is creation founded. "
It is particularly noted in the same doctrinal context, that "everything was created through the living Sun, and nothing through the dead sun." "What is living disposes what is dead in submission to itself, and forms it for uses, which are its ends; but not the reverse."
What we see in the progress of natural creation is thus how the forces of creation - which are wholly spiritual - form nature as a tool for uses, thus for spiritual ends. There is no room for chance or accident in such a universe.
Owing to this fact, our point of view as New Churchmen must differ widely from that of secular science. For natural science is in the effort to analyze the actual motions of the dead forces of nature, predicting natural effects, and putting this knowledge to use. It has the function of describing the modes in which nature acts, and is not concerned with the spiritual causes and spiritual ends which give to nature its reason for existing. It is therefore often the fashion today to ignore those ends; to accept the physical world as a vast and unfathomable conundrum, which simply grows larger as the horizons of knowledge widen: to look upon it as an incredible yet actual work of blind and clumsy forces and relentless laws of motiveless energy which weave the infinitesimally small electrons as well as governing the inconceivable immensities of galaxies and island universes millions of light-years away.
Under such a concept, the formation of our own little solar system was but an accident among errant masses of matter. The competing theories of the formation of suns and planets need not here concern us. The Writings themselves say scarcely anything about the formation of the sun and its system. But the principle stands out that in each solar system the sun was formed first. A confirmer in the other world once suggested to Swedenborg and an angel guide, that "before the sun, there may have been something, and this everywhere in the expanse, and that this flowed together of itself into order, thus into a center." Swedenborg and the angel then addressed him from indignant zeal, and said, "Friend, you are beside yourself! . . . What is more indicative of insanity than to say that the center is from the expanse? By your center, we understand the sun, and by your expanse, we understand the universe; and thus that the universe would have existed without a sun. Does not the sun make nature and all its properties, which depend solely upon the light and heat proceeding from the sun through the atmospheres? ... Are not the atmospheres and all things which are upon the earth, like surfaces, and the sun as their center?" Their argument was, in brief, that subsistence is perpetual existence. Since all things now clearly subsist from the sun, it would follow that they existed from the sun. Otherwise the prior would come from the posterior, which is contrary to order and to the laws of nature, and to common sense. And, they added, was it by chance that the expanse flowed together into such wonderful order? as if nature could exist from nature? And their final word was that the sun of the world existed from the spiritual Sun (which was the center of an expanse of life, called the spiritual world), and that from the natural sun there existed the expanse of space, called the natural world.
Every sun, or star, thus became a vice-regent of the spiritual Sun, which is universal, and became the mother of the earths or planets of its system, and of their satellites. Again, the Writings themselves give only slight instruction as to the mode in which atmospheres and planets were formed. The fullest statement is the following, from the Apocalypse Explained:
That these atmospheres constitute three discrete degrees, is also clearly taught. The pure ether or "aura" is universal, but it alone immediately surrounds the sun. The "ethers less pure" are centered around the earths, and are therefore said to be farther away. The three are also distinguished as ‘aura,' ‘ether,' and ‘air.'
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Atmospheres alone cannot constitute the expanse of nature in which the uses of life are to become clothed. In order to express all spiritual potentialities, the natural world must fully correspond to the spiritual as to all its degrees, both discrete and continuous. And the final likeness between the spiritual and the natural worlds is confirmed by the statement that "there are, in each, atmospheres, waters, and lands, which are the generals through which and from which all and singular things exist with infinite variety."
Atmospheres, waters, and lands, are "generals." The tangible substances of our world exist in either of three conditions, in gaseous form, or as liquids, or as solids. Thus water vapor can be condensed as liquid water and finally as solid ice. And it might be the same with the ether and the aura! Yet more than this seems to be implied in the statement. Atmospheres are called "active forces," waters are called "mediate forces," and lands are called "passive forces." In both worlds, these are the generals of creation. But it is notable, that the atmospheres are said to be of three distinct grades, or of three discrete degrees. "It is a fallacy of merely natural sense ... that there is only one single atmosphere ... and that there is a vacuum where it ceases."
This is as yet unknown in the world. The only atmosphere within the certainties of science is the air - a mixture of gases surrounding the globe. That the air is relatively an "active force," is of course easily seen, from the fearful velocities of the wind, and the sound effects of its vibration and its varying pressure. Some scientists are inclined to believe in the existence of an "ether," but are unable to define its properties and therefore often regard it as merely something of a symbol of one's aversion to conceive of radiations in empty space! Also within the projects of science are studies of the magnetic fields of force which belt the earth.
But in defining atmospheres as "active forces," the Writings lift our minds into the realization that there are forces in nature which operate in discretely differing fashions, and yet cannot be divorced from substances. Thus we read
"The three natural atmospheres, originating from the sun of the world, are: the purer ether, which is universal, and from which is all gravity; the middle ether, which makes a vortex about the planets, in which also is light, in which are the satellites, and from which comes magnetism; and the ultimate ether, which is the air."
Each of these three represents forces which act in a discretely different way; so that "no quality of the air can be elevated to any quality of the ether, nor any of this to any quality of the aura; and yet an elevation of perfections to infinity is possible in each." The force of gravity is unique in its universality, and in the fact that no object or mass or substance in our universe seems to be opaque to its penetrating influence. Light and magnetism are classed together; and their close relationship seems indicated by the fact that recent tabulations of the types of "radiation" show that so-called "wireless waves," heat radiations, the spectrum of visible light, ultra-violet radiation, X-rays, -y-rays, and possibly some ‘cosmic' rays, are all parts of a continuous series of varying "wave-lengths." It is also true that matter, of some sort or another, stops all such rays. It is equally true that, as a class, they are utterly different from sound-waves in the air.
We also note that in recent physics all these natural forces are assigned their functions in the actual constitution of matter. Matter is not given any greater reality than light; even light has inertia and is apparently affected by gravitational influences; and often light is simply regarded as energy propagated through space! This is interesting to us here, even if we should be extremely skeptical about what science sometimes cautiously proclaims and her disciples loudly dogmatize. For the Writings - without shadow of doubt - state that atmospheres (yes, in each world), in their progression towards ultimates, decrease in activity and are converted into "substances at rest, and, in the natural world fixed, such as are in lands (terris) and are called matters."
It cannot be thought that the Writings were intended as a text book in physics. Yet it is one of the primary teachings of this revelation that there is a correspondence between the two worlds. Swedenborg could-from his Divinely granted knowledge of the heavens-see many of the things "deeply hidden in the sciences" which his day and age could not have known, nor yet ours. He had also been led by a singular Providence, since youth up, to study natural truths for the sake of the end that he might see principles of order in both worlds, see, not only the surfaces, but the underlying essences, of these two worlds.
We take it, then, that while we cannot obtain more than a very general and somewhat imaginative idea of what the Writings mean by "the atmospheres," yet, profoundly involved in such descriptions, rationally interpreted, we may, in each age, come upon new truths which shall bring us nearer to a real concept of the work of God the Creator, and of His laws-laws which correspond in both worlds.
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When the atmospheres of our world are called "active forces," this does not mean that they are "living" forces. For they have their origin and source in a sun which is "pure fire" and thus utterly dead and material. The natural atmospheres therefore are "dead forces," and "forces not living, " although they are "active," when contrasted with waters and lands.
The Writings explain this as follows: "There is a spiritual world; and that world is prior, interior, and superior to the natural world; consequently everything in the spiritual world is a cause, and everything in the natural world is an effect. Even in the natural world one thing exists from another in a progression, but this is done through causes from the spiritual world, for where the cause of the effect is, there also is the cause of the efficient effect; for every effect becomes an efficient cause in order even to the last where the force subsists as an effector; but this is done continually from the spiritual, in which alone that force is. This, therefore, is what is meant by [the statement that] nothing in nature exists except from the spiritual and by means of it."
This implies that although natural things are all of them mere effects of spiritual causes; yet effects among themselves can portray relations of cause and effect. One natural thing is derived from another, in endless progressions. Some natural things are more active, and are then called "efficient effects" because they seem to be effective causes of other natural things.
"In nature there are two mediate causes by means of which every effect, that is, every production and formation there, is accomplished. These mediate causes are light and heat. Light modifies substances and the heat moves them, each from the presence of the sun in them. The presence of the sun that is manifested as light causes an activity of the forces or substances of every particle according to the form that it has from creation. This is modification. The presence of the sun which is perceived as heat expands the particles and produces the acting and effecting forces according to their form, by actuating the conatus that they have from creation. This conatus, which becomes by means of heat the acting force even in the minutest forms of nature, is from the spiritual acting in them and into them."
From such teachings it is clear that nature progresses by causes and effects toward the creation of planets and the formation of their ultimate constituents.
The atmospheres are composed one from another, and it is through the natural atmospheres that the terraqueous globe was formed. This leaves us to enquire as to the manner of this formation. The Writings - as we have seen - hint at the process. But in his scientific works Swedenborg had developed a general principle which accords with these hints. The sun, he shows, surrounded itself with atmospheres, the single particles of which had a shell-like exterior within which the fiery particles of the solar substance were active; and when the volume of these atmospheric particles had reached a certain limit, the pressure was so intense that at the margin of the sun the atmospheric units broke down, their active internal being as it were pressed out and the passive exterior being pressed together into a relatively solid unit which no longer was atmospheric in nature, but was a grosser, passive substance at rest; which was thus available for new formations, some parts being employed in the building of a lower type of atmospheric particles, other parts becoming matter such as formed the kernel of the earth. The process, in somewhat varying ways, is repeated, until matters of several other degrees have been compounded by means of the atmospheres around the planets, which atmospheres are also subject to similar compression.
In the published Principia, which was an Introduction to his trilogy on the "Subterranean or Mineral Kingdom," Swedenborg also gives a theory of the formation of the planets. A modified form of the same general theory is given in the "Worship and Love of God," the last of his philosophical works. In essential outline the theory simply is that the sun was first created as a center of most active finites of fiery units of highest type, then put forth an atmosphere, which in turn by pressure condensed into a passive matter encrusting the sun. It was such matter which became the source of the core of the planets: for due to the revolution of the sun around its axis, this heavy matter was gathered as a belt around its equator and finally broke up into various masses which were - by centrifugal force - hurled out into the solar vortex, as planets and satellites. These various planetary masses also exuded their atmospheres. First, a far-reaching sphere, the ether, in which the satellites also are included. Second, an ultimate atmosphere, called air, which closely hugs the surface of the earth. The inference is that the terrestrial atmospheres also by compressions gave rise to matters which added themselves to the earth.
In the "Lesser Principia," a variant method of creation had been suggested. A first atmosphere is formed from the sun, and by compression of its parts a first matter, which is promptly used up in the formation of a second atmosphere, or ether. This ether forms itself into whirling volumes, which travel out into space, each ether volume destined to be formed into a planet with a definite and balanced orbit around the sun. Towards the center of such a volume or such a tellurian vortex, the ether particles become compressed into a second type of passive matter, which in turn is used up in the formation of a third atmosphere, the air. The air as it increases in volume, becomes also compressed toward its center, and forms there a third type of matter, which Swedenborg identifies with water. Afterwards this globe of solid water at its center generates, by the intense pressure, various solid substances, such as now compose the earth.
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We have cited these theories from the early works of Swedenborg without claiming any critical knowledge of the technical, physical, mathematical and astronomical problems involved; but merely in the hope that they might suggest some clue to a better approach to some of the principles of creation.
Similarly, the early history of the globe - on which scientists are not agreed - is pictured by Swedenborg in several early works; and especially in his "Worship and Love of God," where his descriptions are given in a semi-poetic, semi-scientific vein which brings up many principles later reiterated in the Writings. Such a study of the progress of physical creation "does not properly enter" into a theological system. Yet it gives us a suggestive background such as must have been in Swedenborg's own mind when he later received Divine instruction in the spiritual laws of influx which rule all the operations of nature.
Swedenborg thus portrays the globe as it was traveling in widening orbits from the sun, as a naked planet, veiled from the sun's rays by the ether and the air. Over its central core lay the primeval ocean. By compression in the boiling depths of this abyss there were formed various "salts," and from these, by combinations of the interpenetrating ether and the water and the fragments of salts and the minerals of the core, a storehouse of chemical substances. Many of these floated up to form a dense crust of richest variety over the original ocean - a scarless plane perforated only by warm rivers, bathed by a dewy mist, and fathered by the air and wind.
But as it neared its destined orbit its years grew longer and its native heat decreased; yet a perpetual spring ruled in this perfect infancy of the earth.
We shall not here describe the details of the progressions of creation as they are recounted in the Worship and Love of God. Let it suffice to say that when all conditions were ripe, the surface of the earth, like an egg, contained all the wealth of prior nature, and waited only for the advent of life. The earth - i.e., the mineral kingdom-was as it were full of tiny eggs, charged with the powers latent in the atmospheres and in the minerals themselves; eggs which needed only the fertilizing spirit before developing or unfolding into forms of life. And it is said, that "these seeds or beginnings lay . . . one folded up in another, namely, the vegetable kingdom within the mineral kingdom which was to be the matrix, and the animal kingdom in the vegetable kingdom which was to serve as its nurse and nourisher . . ."
The account goes on to show that it was the three types of nature's atmospheres - the aura, the ether, and the air - which, in the reverse order, were the tools for mediating life to the vegetable forms - flowers, shrubs, and trees - which now turned the barren earth into a paradisal grove. Rich loam covered the ground like a soft couch, leaves sheltered it from the sun's heat. And nature was ready for another step.
For - in this romance of creation - instead of merely producing its own kind, the plants of every species became pregnant with corresponding species of animal life. At first the lesser herbs, from their seedpods, transmuted into ovaries or wombs, brought forth insects and humble reptiles. At a later period the birds were hatched from nobler plants; and finally, from viviparous forests, whose sap by Providence was richer, were born mammals of every kind.
A miracle, you may say? Yet not so complete a resort to miracle as was the orthodox idea of Christians in Swedenborg's day-the idea that God disregarded all means, all methods, in His creative acts, and simply called each thing into existence by the mere command from His mouth
The principle which draws our attention, however, is involved in one of the footnotes to this story. The account itself is obviously written in a somewhat playful mood, and is embellished by fancy and symbolism. But in the footnotes we find the sober philosopher. The philosopher distinguished carefully the origin and nature of the plant kingdom from that of the animal kingdom. The form of plants is natural, and the medium of their formation is the natural atmospheres. But the animal kingdom has the form of life, and the forces which mediate its life are spiritual. Thus he wrote:
"From the very series of productions, it may be evident whence came the souls of brutes, which are said to have been ingenerated in the seeds of the vegetable kingdom; for as the seeds of plants arose from the conjunction of the active powers of nature with the inert powers of the earth, through the medium of the radiation of the sun of the world, so these seeds, which are animated, arose from that form or spiritual essence which is spiritual and living, infused into the forms or active powers of nature, through the medium of the radiation of the Sun of life."
The Writings give no teaching about the emergence of the animal kingdom from the womb of the vegetable world. Yet observe how the distinction between these two kingdoms as made in the Worship and Love of God approximates the revealed doctrine which we find in the Apocalypse Explained.
"There are two general forms, the spiritual and the natural; the spiritual is such as belongs to animals, and the natural is such as belongs to plants. This is why all things of nature, except the sun, the moon, and the atmospheres, constitute three kingdoms, the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral; and the mineral kingdom is simply a storehouse, in which are contained and from which are taken those things which compose the forms of the other kingdoms ...
"The forms of the animal kingdom, which are called, in a single word, animals, are all according to the flow of spiritual substances and forces; and, from the conatus that is in these, this flow tends to the human form, and to each and all things of it from head to heel; thus it tends in general to produce the organs of sense and the organs of motion, also the organs of nutrition and the organs of prolification. For this reason the entire heaven is in such a form, and all angels and spirits are such a form, and men on earth are in such a form, and all beasts, birds, and fishes, for all have like organs. This animal form derives its conatus to such things from the First from whom all things are, who is God, because He is Man. This conatus and consequent determination of all spiritual forces can be given and exist from no other source, for it is given in things greatest and in things least, in first things and in things last, in the spiritual world and therefrom in the natural world; but with a difference of perfection according to degrees.
"But the other form, which is the natural form, and which is the form of all plants, has its origin in the conatus and consequent flow of natural forces, which are atmospheres and are called ethers; and in these this conatus is present from a determination of spiritual forces, which is into the animal form, and from a continual operation of spiritual forces into natural forces which are ethers, and through these into the materials of the earth, of which plants are composed. That its origin is such is clear from what has been said above, that a certain semblance of the animal form is evident in them. That all things of nature strive after that form, and that the ethers have impressed upon them, and so implanted in them, an effort to produce that form, is evident from many things . . ."
But the end of creation is not the formation of the earth, or the rearing of a paradise, or even the raising up of animated forms of life. The inmost endeavor which is involved and hidden in all created forms, dead or alive, is the end of use, use to man. It is for the sake of man that every degree was formed, every step and process effected. For in man, and in him only, can uses return into spiritual life. Only in him and through him, can nature give thanks to its Creator.