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25 The Scene of the Judgment

The outstanding fact about the "last judgment" revealed in the Writings is that it occurred in the world of spirits, not upon earth. It took place in the year 1757 A.D., commencing in the last days of 1756. The cause of the judgment was the deplorable condition of the Christian Church as to spiritual life; and the immediate occasion was the accumulation of crowds of evil spirits from Christendom in the intermediate region between heaven and hell; which threatened the spiritual freedom of spirits and men and prevented good spirits from finding the way to heaven.

That the judgment would occur in the spiritual world is sufficiently obvious, since John, in his vision of the future, "saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." That the judgment would not involve the destruction of the physical universe can also be seen from the facts that the Lord in His Divine providence looks to a continual growth of His heavenly kingdom from the human race, and that the Lord's infinite love could never be conceived as content to stop the procreation of the human race, which is the seminary, or seed plot, of the heavens. It is clear, further, that a general last judgment could take place only in the spiritual world where all can be together, since no problems of space can arise there, as would surely be the case if the scene of the judgment had to be on the earth. And besides, can we not better see the merciful purpose of the judgment if it prepared for a time when the human race of the future could live on in untold generations, and perform its celestial functions in a state of greater freedom and progressively greater enlightenment?

But the spiritual world is hidden from the eyes of men, and this for the sake of man's freedom; since, if he came face to face with spirits, his rational mind would be shaken. Yet the truth about the Last Judgment is necessary as a phase of that truth which shall make men free. Therefore the Lord prepared a man to bear witness of how it occurred. He was prepared, unknowingly, from his youth. He was trained to observe and to understand what he observed. He was first introduced into the sciences, like a spiritual fisherman, and strove patiently to see the design of God in nature and in the marvels of the human body. At the age of fifty-five he was intromitted into open intercourse with spirits and angels, always under the Lord's special protection and guidance. Daily he explored the arcane regions of the spiritual world, and after five years he was inspired to begin to publish a revelation of the spiritual contents of the Word, in the work called the Arcana Coelestia. When the Last Judgment came he was sixty-nine years old, a meek man, loved and respected of men for his learning and personality; a typical student, too astute to be imposed upon in anything having to do with experience, yet remarkably tolerant and incredibly diligent and patient. And despite the fact that he had then been in communion with spiritual beings for fourteen years, and had published volume after volume about the unseen world, he had managed to keep this his unique state entirely secret even from his most intimate friends. He pursued his financial affairs, planned and worked in his garden, took part in political battles and social engagements; and at the same time he wrote down his spiritual experiences with much detail in his diaries or journals.

Swedenborg's Record of the Last Judgment

From these journals, as well as from many statements in the Arcana Coelestia, we find that Swedenborg had long seen, in the confused and perturbed state of the world of spirits, the signs of an inevitable judgment. He saw this more than ten years before it came.* And when the judgment finally broke in sudden fury, he recorded what he saw from day to day in his journal. Seemingly he was so fully occupied in observing and reporting that he had time for little else. We have no record of any letters or memorials written by Swedenborg during this period.

His journal of every stage of the judgment enables us also to see its progress through his eyes. He mentions the fate of a number of historically known persons and what happened to many of his deceased friends, and describes how the very face of the world of spirits was changed and reformed amid the sometimes phantastic events which marked the destruction of the old order in that world.

This day by day recital, told by a trained observer in entirely objective fashion, not only confirms the actuality of Swedenborg's visions but provides us with a visualized basis for our thought about the spiritual world, and with illustrations of the working of spiritual laws. It also throws a new and interior light upon the character of many persons, institutions, nations and churches, and thus permits us to reinterpret history from the viewpoint of the Divine providence. And, finally, the bald matter of fact description serves to prevent the acceptance of the Writings by any who are not ready for it, and is therefore a protection against the profanation of the doctrine itself.

The account of the judgment may indeed be classed with other memorable relations which are found interspersed in the Writings. One of Swedenborg's friends, Count von Hopken, once asked him why he published such relations of his experiences in the other life, which would prove an obstacle to the reception of the doctrine. But Swedenborg then replied that the Lord had commanded him to publish them, although he realized that there would be those who would ridicule him for them and regard them as incredible.1

Men have a reluctance to picture the life of the spiritual world for fear of materializing it. Even Swedenborg himself went through a state, during the first few years after his spiritual senses had been opened, when he experienced repeated shocks at finding the spiritual world so substantially complete, so complicated, so confusingly like the natural world and yet so utterly different! Spirits had bodies, yet no bodies; they lived upon spaces, yet not in spaces; they were surrounded by nature, yet it was not nature. There were so many perplexing appearances and apparent contradictions!

Yet this spiritual world, which is more real than ours, more various and complex, and more truly substantial, was the scene of the Last Judgment. And we must therefore seek to understand what it is like if we are to understand Swedenborg's account.

Permanency and Change in the Spiritual World

The spiritual world is the realm of the Divine proceeding, the kingdom of Divine truth. All things, that is, all spiritual states and qualities, appear there in their true relations. There is no single phenomenon there that does not testify to a spiritual state; nor is there any appearance which does not have a significance that angels and intelligent spirits can sense. Every appearance corresponds to an actual spiritual reality. In heaven this is obviously so; but also below heaven even every false appearance or phantasy actually represents and manifests the perverted state which it is employed to hide, and it is only those who themselves are not in the light of heaven who cannot discern the real state that is represented.

What fixes relative positions in the spiritual world is the Divine truth. All spirits and angels appear located according to their reception of the Divine truth. Hence we read: "All places, wherever they are, are appearances of Divine truth in ultimates. Divine truth in ultimates appears in such forms as those of nature, and all places receive Divine truth variously."2 Spirits who have no belief, or have no certainty, are therefore seen to wander about, and "cannot be kept in any fixed place where Divine truth is."3

The source of all permanency is the Lord. The Divine love never alters, and neither do the gifts of His love or the truth which proceeds from Him. There are certain things in the spiritual world which may be called constants; like the spiritual Sun, and the atmospheres which proceed from it and act as His ever-living hands. Indeed, the spiritual atmospheres are the source of the eternal, basic substance of all the heavens; out of which all human and angelic minds are created as well as all things which appear in the spiritual world. But there are also certain other sources of permanency in the heavens. Angelic societies as such are permanent, and do not alter except by a continuous growth; and the things which angels possess and use remain constant, although "to the eyes of those who wander from society to society such things are changed according to consociations."4 Ruling loves are constant with spirits when once confirmed. And both heaven and hell are therefore permanent.

It is different in the world of spirits. For it contains elements which are in constant flux: mixed states, opposites striving for dominance, even as is the case in the natural minds of men. For the world of spirits is the intermediate realm between the heavens and the hells. That world is therefore constantly changing, according as it is occupied by spirits of different character.

Yet even here there is an inmost order, an underlying arrangement of states, so that all spirits may appear present with reference to their reception of Divine truths in ultimates. The Writings amply testify that the spiritual world in appearance is almost the same as the natural world. Not only are spirits perfect human forms with nothing lacking, but there are also hills and valleys, rivers and fields, vegetation and animal life, cities and houses, and all the objects that we see on earth. And as far as the world of spirits is concerned, it has the coherent features of an entire world. Many newcomers are impressed with its vastness, as if they had passed from a village into a great city.5 But it is seen also as a winding valley between mountains and rocky tablelands.6 It is said to be situated in the lower parts of the spiritual world, immediately below the heavens; and the heavens then appear as mountains rising round about, but subsiding when the evening state approaches.7 And below in the valley there are sometimes seen caverns or gulfs which are the gates of the hells, and which are opened when evil spirits choose to enter.

The world of spirits may thus appear wider and more inclusive, or more confined, according to the different states and points of view of different spirits. Heaven, to the novitiate spirit, seems as if in the clouds, because to him it is an unattainable state. But sometimes the heavens seem nearer, within the horizon of thought; and when a spirit is prepared a narrow, well guarded road may open by which he may travel to his home in the mountains of salvation.

Here we discern a spiritual law by which spiritual things are visible and tangible only in so far as the spirit is able to appreciate their significance and use. All things in that world are visible to spiritual sight, but only as much appears as the Lord permits. And we may recognize that this same law governs the human mind, for that only becomes present before our thought which is pertinent to our state or belongs to our active affections.

The Six Expanses of the Spiritual World

It is, of course, utterly impossible for the intricate relationships of all the spiritual states of all spirits and angels to be comprehended in one geographical concept or represented in any one picture taken from the natural world! For this reason the various relationships of the heavens and the hells to spirits in the intermediate world have to be represented in differing and paradoxical ways. Space or the appearance of space, for there is no actual space in the other world is merely the sense perception of spiritual states, spiritual conditions. Newcomers, that is, novitiate spirits, are therefore instructed that heaven is above them, and that the hells are below their feet, under the ground on which they stand.8 The heavens are not ordinarily apparent, except as mists or bright clouds overhead. But the ground under the heavens and the world of spirits is said to be as it were hollowed out to accommodate the hells; and there is a hell situated beneath each angelic society.9

The spiritual world as a whole is represented as six "expanses" or strata. The heavens appear to spirits as three atmospheric expanses, one above the other, and the hells also as three, below the earth of the world of spirits.10 Yet these expanses, including the intermediate one of the world of spirits, form one globe containing concentric globes one within the other.11 We find in this description a peculiar resemblance to the ancient idea of the universe, with the earth in the center, while the planetary spheres, in concentric orbits about it, were conceived as the abodes of the blessed dead and of the gods. Hades and Tartarus were then imagined to be in the center or on the nether side of the earth. And indeed this idea conveyed to the ancients a certain truth about the spiritual world.

The physical truth about each solar system is that its center is the sun, around which all the planets move. And when we think of the Lord as the source of all things of our lives, we must visualize Him as the Sun and center of the spiritual world. Yet the earth or globe of the spiritual world does not appear to move or revolve, because the relations of spirits and angels to the Lord are fixed by death, since their ruling loves cannot thereafter be changed. The Lord as a Sun is omnipresent, but appears to the angels as constant in the sky before them at an angle of forty-five degrees, and appears bright or dim, or hidden by clouds, according to their states of reception.

But when it comes to representing the relationship of spirits and angels with each other, the laws of the spiritual world cause this to be seen in many different ways. The "expanses" or levels represent the discrete degrees in which the angels or spirits principally live as to ruling affections and conscious life; and these degrees answer to the various degrees of the human mind which, on the basis of life on earth, had become educable and open. For it is a man's mind that is his immortal spirit.

Each "expanse" or degree separates those who can associate together in the other life from others with whom there can be no mental community or social contact. Yet each expanse is a world as it were by itself, and is marked by great variety. So, for instance, the world of spirits is said to have its zones of climate relatively frigid or tropical or temperate.12 It has also its quarters, to which Swedenborg gives the same names as ours; but they are always oriented, not by the north, as on our maps, but by the east "where the Lord is."

Consociations and Societies

There are also other physical parallels. There are continents in the world of spirits which distantly correspond to the continents of our earth but are not in the same proportions, since they do not mark geographical relations or distances but human relations or spiritual proximities.

And in visualizing the world of spirits as the scene of the Last Judgment it is important to remember that when spirits first enter the other life they retain all the natural affections, tastes and temperaments that they had on earth, and also the same convictions and beliefs, the same loyalties and habits, the same talents and ambitions. It is natural, therefore, that spirits should congregate in societies of their like and especially in communities of their own religious faith and practices: Catholics with Catholics, Protestants with Protestants, and so on. It is also natural that national loyalties and common social habits should create separate groups, for common concepts of civic government and interests born of similar education create a unique genius in those of the same nation. And this is true even of citizens of the same town, who have the same kind of social customs. To add to this, common professions, offices or occupations bring many together after death. And, finally, friends, or those who like similar diversions or pleasures, are naturally attracted to each other after death when they meet as spirits.

All this is according to spiritual laws which operate in both worlds. Even on earth "birds of a feather flock together," as the saying is. But in the spiritual world there are no material obstacles as on earth; no distances, no need for money to travel, no lack of time! All that is needed in order to meet with kindred souls is a definite desire and the pertinent knowledge. There are, however, laws that are peculiar to the spiritual world, and that bring about an order there quite different from that of the natural world.

The Four Quarters

One of these laws has to do with the four quarters, which in the spiritual world represent general states and have no connection whatever with the quarters of our earth. Our four quarters are determined by the meridian, or by the sun. But the spiritual quarters are not from the Lord as a Sun, but from each angel according to reception.13 There is no space in heaven, and yet there are definite relations. The Sun, which is omnipresent and is always thought of as the East, appears before his face wherever an angel turns! In the eastern quarter of heaven dwell those who are in an interior good from love to the Lord and thence in a clear perception. In the west of heaven live angels who are in the good of charity and thence in a more obscure perception. The south is the abode of those who are in intelligence and wisdom from conjunctions of good and truth; and in the north dwell those who are in relative ignorance, in obscure light of truth or doctrine, and who may even be in falsities and yet long for truth.

Such is the arrangement of societies in heaven. And it would be the same in the world of spirits if that world were in a state of order. But when evil spirits predominate, as they did before the Last Judgment, considerable confusion is bound to arise, since the external affections of spirits may bring them into quarters where they do not internally belong. And thus we find from the Writings that evil and abominable spirits came to occupy sites in all the various quarters. Spirits who were in a direful and selfish love of dominating through religion, usurped places in the eastern quarter, and those who sought to maintain power by keeping the multitudes in ignorance established themselves in the north. The learned who wanted to rule through false dogmas had strongholds in the south, and in the western quarter were those who exercised command by means of cunning and malice and a supreme love of possessions.

The "Middle Space" of the World of Spirits

But there is another spiritual law which throws light on the general arrangement of spirits in the world of spirits. For it provides that the "middle" or central region of the world of spirits shall be occupied by those spirits who possess and read the Word and worship the Lord, and thence have somewhat of spiritual light; in other words, those who are of the Lord's specific church. This means that before the judgment in 1757 the middle of the world of spirits was occupied by those nations which, owing to the Protestant Reformation, had access to the Old and New Testaments; and in the most central portions were those among them who were in the good of faith and charity and could still maintain some of the uses entrusted to the Lord's specific church. They enjoyed, we are told, something of spiritual light. Spiritual light in its essence is the Divine wisdom, which enters the understanding of man as far as man has knowledges, and from these the faculty to perceive it.14

It is especially mentioned in this connection that spiritual light does not pass through spaces, or natural atmospheres, as is the case with light from the sun of the world; but it passes "through the affections and perceptions of truth" and thus is transmitted instantaneously "to the last limits of the heavens." We take this to mean that spiritual light is transmitted through those spirits who have the knowledge of religious truths to other spirits, and these can receive the enlightenment as far as they have some religious ideas to be awakened. Spirits in the world of spirits can thus serve as media through which enlightenment reaches other spirits, or they can take away or prevent the enlightenment of others and thus arrest their spiritual life. Something like this, of course, happens also among men. But in the world of spirits where there is no space, no distance it is provided that from those who are in the greatest enlightenment from the Word spiritual light can spread, as from a center, to all nations and gentile peoples, however distant they may appear to be, in proportion as they can receive.

The Writings show that it is most necessary that there should be on earth a church where the Word is read and the Lord is known. For from such a church there are continually maintained in the world of spirits societies which are in spiritual light. At the time of the Last Judgment there were still such societies there, from the Reformed nations, through which the Word could enlighten all regions of the world of spirits "by a spiritual communication."15 But the Writings also disclose that the Christian Church at that time had come to its consummation and end; and that it had, as a whole, come into a spiritual darkness because increasingly men had ceased to acknowledge the Lord as the God of heaven and earth, and because they had separated faith from charity, so that the Word was no longer understood and the light of truth was almost extinguished.16

For this condition there could be no healing from within the Christian Church itself. Its light had failed, and only a flicker remained among those faithful few who had been gathered in the "center" of the world of spirits. Even among them spirits had insinuated themselves who sowed discord and false ideas. Yet all the Protestants of whom there was still some hope of salvation because they lived at least a moral life were, as the judgment drew near, led into the so-called "middle space," where they were distributed according to countries and nationalities, in cities and societies resembling their own on earth. Thus the Germans, the Dutch, the English, the Swedes, each dwelt in separate regions of the middle space. But surrounding the dwellings or cities of the sincere Christians, and also above them, there were immense multitudes of spirits on all sides who were Christians only in form or by external habit, and who, from their self-love and worldliness, made nothing of evils of life. And at the outer borders of the Protestant middle space were the openings of various hells."

The Outer Circuits

What has just been described as the middle space, or the region of the Reformed or Protestant nations which still enjoyed something of spiritual light, was, the Writings tell us, surrounded on all sides by a vast region or circuit inhabited by those of the Papist religion. These were outside the middle space because the Word, although known, was not read among them, and therefore their spiritual light was feeble. In fact, the Writings do not include the papal church among the "churches in the Christian world," but call it "Christian gentilism."18

The Moslems, whose holy book is the Koran, which contains stories borrowed in distorted form from the Old Testament and the Gospels, were assigned a district still farther from the middle space. And around this Mohammedan district, and stretching to a remote distance, was the circuit or region of the gentiles or pagans, who were in deep spiritual ignorance.

These almost geographical descriptions of the arrangements of the spirits in the world of spirits may make us forget that there is no space in the spiritual world. Yet whenever the relationship of various groups of spirits comes into question, space appears! And does not the same occur in the private spiritual world of our own minds? In our thought of persons, liked or disliked, admired or despised, do we not think of them as near or remote, as above or below? Some things are accessible and familiar to our minds, whereas other fields of thought seem to belong to a foreign world, strange and forbidding. And are there not, in our minds, fearful undercurrents of anger and passionate ambition which seek to overwhelm the mind with phantasies, and which make our suffering conscience pray for a judgment and cry out, "How long, O Lord"? Are there not heights of pure ideals which we can vision vaguely in the form of doctrine, with a cherished hope for a loftier and freer and more abundant life; yet fail to visualize in detail, and picture far above us as if in a distant cloudland?

What happens in the mind of man so continuously occurs on a tremendous scale in the collective mind of the human race in the world of spirits. That world is the true mirror of the internal state of the race on earth.

How that world was precipitated into a convulsive judgment in the last days of December in the year 1756, we will attempt to relate in the next chapter.


* SD 1316,488, 4371, AC 1850:4, 2121ff, 2243:7, 4057

1 Docu. 6:27

2 SD 5363

3 SD 5373

4 TCR 78

5 TCR 475, LJ 27

6 HH 429

7 SD 4923

8 5 Mem. 10, CL 461, HH 422

9 HH 583, 588, 541

10 AE 702:2,1133:6, LJ 27, AR 260, 879, et al.

11 Ibid.

12 TCR 185, SD 5144-5147, 4383

13 DLW 126, SD 5527ff

14 CLJ 14

15 SS 110

16 SS 112

17 LJ 48, LJ post. 2, 142

18 AE 955:5, AC 3447:2


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25. Scene of Judgment

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