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VI. The Science of Correspondences

"The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." romans i. 20.

INQUIRER.—At the close of our conversation a few weeks ago, you spoke of our considering, at a future time, the subject of Correspondences. And I am very desirous to learn what you understand by Correspondences in the theological sense of the term.

MISSIONARY.—I am very pleased to hear that you are disposed to continue the investigation of the subject. How did you get on with the perusal of the little book

I.—I like it very much, indeed; and have read most of it several times over. There certainly is a great deal of instruction given in a small space. I have received some light on one of the grandest of themes; and shall not cease investigating, until my mind is perfectly satisfied.

M.—When we undertake to study any natural science, in order to make progress in a knowledge of the same, it becomes necessary for us to devote much time to it. The faculties and powers of the mind must be earnestly applied. Diligence and perseverance alone will be rewarded by the acquirement of the knowledges which are sought.

I.—Very true. If I do not exercise my arm and hand, they will soon become weak and emaciated. And if the mind be not employed in the examination of spiritual things, a person cannot surely expect to know anything about them.

M.—The Science of Correspondences is the Science of all sciences. It is, and always will be, the grandest of all studies to those who are in the effort to attain to a state of genuine intelligence and wisdom. In fact, genuine intelligence and wisdom are not attainable without the aid of the teachings of this Divine Science.

I.—It is evident that there is no other way to arrive at an understanding of things spiritual and heavenly, except according to the principles of what you call a Divine Science. It is to me a new idea that there is such a Science, which can be applied in the interpretation of the Scriptures; but there must be, because spiritual things are to be spiritually discerned."

M.—The Divine Word, as to its spiritual sense, consists of correspondences. It is written in a Divine style. All the natural objects mentioned therein have a spiritual signification, that is, they have a specific spiritual meaning. Thus, when we learn the spiritual principles to which the natural objects mentioned in the Word correspond, we can understand the particular ideas that are involved; and these ideas constitute the spiritual sense. They are the "spirit and life," which the Lord declares His words to be.

I.—The method of interpretation that enables us to rationally understand the essential meaning of the Scriptures, is indeed worthy of being called the Science of all sciences: I can see that. But tell us, if you please, more about correspondences.

M.—Correspondences are the actual relations existing between natural things and spiritual—between earthly things and heavenly—between the temporal and the eternal. The whole natural universe consists of effects. All effects are produced by causes; there cannot be effects without causes. And all causes are essentially of a spiritual nature, and originate in the spiritual world. The natural world is an outbirth from the spiritual. The natural world consists, we may say, of types and shadows of spiritual principles. And the spiritual world is a realm of most stupendous, substantial, and glorious realities.

I.—These are very different views from those generally entertained, even by the theologians of the day.

M.—They are not notions originating in any man's imagination. They are views taught in the spiritual Revelations which are given in the Writings of the New Church, and are for the enlightenment of the minds of those who are willing and able to receive them. Thus, from what is revealed to us, we learn that it is a universal law, perpetually operative, that spiritual principles are in the endeavour to ultimate themselves. The lord, the God of Heaven, the Omnipotent Creator, is All in all. The Divine Proceeding is momentarily operative, and is continually producing manifestations of the lord's mercy, which endureth for ever. The principles of heaven are always in the effort to find ultimate expression, in the things of even the physical world. Hence we may behold manifestations of the lord's infinite goodness, in all the innumerable forms of use and of beauty, which are the adornment of the realm of Nature. And how significant, therefore, is the sublime ascription: "Holy, holy, holy, is the lord of hosts; His glory is the fullness of all the earth!" (Isa. vi. 3).

I.—A new and most grand philosophical idea the New Church does certainly convey to the mind, according to your exposition of the Doctrine.

M.—Very true; it is a new philosophical idea, as regards its intelligible reception among men. But the principles of genuine philosophy are co-existent with the creation of the universe. Now, with reference to the principle of Correspondences, the spiritual philosophy contained in the Writings teaches us, for example, that all the substances, forms, elements, animals, birds,—all material things, whatever they may be,—have specific spiritual significations, and this according to the nature, use, quality, or function, of the particular things. Thus, from the manner in which, and from the connections in which, the objective things of the world are mentioned in the Word, we may know something of the meaning they are intended to convey to our minds; that is, we may learn the spiritual sense.

I.—It strikes me that you are stating the general principles of a most wonderful method of scriptural interpretation.

M.—I am merely stating what the Writings of the New Church teach on the subject. The lord, the Divine Teacher, spake in parables. And we are told that "without a parable spake He not unto them." And this is the same as saying that the lord's words, which "are spirit and life," were spoken in the Divine language of Correspondences. In this manner the lord taught the Divine Truth. There is a spiritual sense in every part of the Word; there are not merely figurative expressions occurring here and there; but all the lord's words "are spirit and life." By means of natural objects He teaches His followers concerning things heavenly and Divine. The natural language, being that of Correspondences, contains, in the inner sense, an infinite fullness of spiritual ideas. Thus the Word is an inexhaustible Fountain.

I.—It seems, then, that the more we study the Scriptures, and the better we learn to understand their true import, the greater the beauty, and the more perfect the divinity, that we shall be enabled to see in them.

M.—Precisely so. Your remark reminds me of the beautiful expression: "In Thy light shall we see light" (Ps. xxxvi. 9). This means, that by the acknowledgement of the lord, who is the Light of the World, and by the reception of the Divine truth from Him, we shall grow wise. And to become wise, in the true sense of the word, is, to learn to understand the character, attributes, and personality of the lord, our Father in the heavens, and our relations to Him as recipients of life and love and wisdom, and all things from Him.

I.—I should like to hear still more about correspondences; for I must say that the subject is wonderfully interesting to me: nothing could be more so that I know of.

M.—Well, I will try to give you a few more thoughts; for it is exceedingly pleasant to converse with one who can appreciate these things. I must endeavour to give you a few illustrations, in the line of thought that we have been pursuing, to show what is the essential nature of Correspondences. The method of the interpretation of the Word, which is in accordance with this Divine science, is absolutely free of everything of an arbitrary or inconsistent nature.

I.—That is a very decided way of putting it; but I do not doubt the truth of the claim. I am delighted to learn that there actually is such a method of interpretation given to mankind. Is it not inconceivable, that the prejudices of men will prevent them from accepting it, and enjoying the means of acquiring spiritual and heavenly wisdom? Is it not just what theologians require, to enable them to teach the doctrines of Christianity in a rational manner? And does not the progressive thought of the day—the steady advance of natural intelligence among men—demand a new and more comprehensive system for the interpretation of those profound spiritual things which are contained in the Sacred Scriptures? Have not the old dogmas, the antiquated notions, the illogical methods of preaching, become powerless to satisfy the minds of men who will make use of their privilege to think for themselves as regards matters of faith? And is it not high time that there should be promulgated a system of spiritual interpretation which shall arrest the progress of infidelity and atheism in our land?

M.—Your questions are very forcible, and must be answered in the affirmative. The lord mercifully provides that men may be brought to a knowledge of the truth as soon and as fast as possible, in view of the mental conditions and spiritual states in which they are. The development of the human mind is like the growth of a tree: man is in the Word compared to a tree. This is because all things as to the growth of a tree are correspondences of the spiritual unfolding of the faculties and qualities of the human mind. You can promote the growth of a tree, but you cannot hasten it. It cannot grow any faster than the law of growth and the physical conditions make it possible. In like manner you can promote the development of the human mind, but you cannot hasten it; it must have its time. The lord has given a grand system of Divine doctrine, in the Revelations He has made for His New Church; but He cannot hasten its reception on the part of mankind. The lord, according to His Divine order, can lead men gradually to become spiritually minded; but He cannot compel them. One person cannot be compelled to love another: nor can any one be forced to love the lord, that is, to do His will, and have his mind formed, by the reception of truth and good, in the image and after the likeness of the Divine.

I.—I can see very plainly that there is no use in being impatient. Your illustration has given me some new ideas with regard to an important matter—the reception of the truth, and the upbuilding of the Church, among men on earth. And what you said about man being like a tree, reminded me that you intimated that you would give me some illustrations to show the nature of Correspondences.

M.—I was just on the point of suggesting that we should return to the subject, and am glad you have done so.

I.—There are many things mentioned in the Scriptures, that I shoufd like to know the correspondence of, because I want to understand them. And I notice that when one learns the correspondence of anything in the Word, he obtains an intelligent idea of the sense involved. This is correct, is it not?

M.—Yes; the lord has opened the Word, by revealing a knowledge of the Science of Correspondences, which had been lost for some thousands of years. For, in the process of time, men became so natural-minded, that they ceased to know that the Word contains a spiritual sense: and to-day there are not a few who, not only know nothing about a spiritual sense in the Word, but positively deny that there is such a thing. Many persons have said to me that they "prefer to take the Bible just as it reads, without spiritualising its contents." But we are living in a materialistic age; and materialism and literalism are affinities.

I.—People often do not realize the absurdity of their positions. And they evidently do not appreciate the philosophy of the Apostle Paul, when he declares that "the letter killeth; but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. iii. 6).

M.—It is a very emphatic and significant statement of the truth. If a man will undertake to formulate a theory on any subject, from the literal sense of Scripture alone, it will prove to be a mere heresy, and not a rational doctrine. Paul is perfectly correct. The notions of men which are based on the letter alone, when critically examined, are seen to .-be altogether false. Thus the rational understanding of any subject is destroyed, or killed, by the perversion of the truth. You can confirm the most monstrous ideas from the letter of the Scriptures. And then you can find another class of passages to confirm the very opposite.

I.—Such a method of interpretation is simply puerile. And is it any wonder that many intelligent people of these days reject it? In one place, for example, we read that "the earth and the works that i are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter iii. 10). Peter seems to describe a universal conflagration, which is to take place sooner or later. And then in another part of the Bible we read that the generations pass away by dying, and others come into the world by being born; but that "the earth abideth for ever" (Eccles. i. 4).

M.—The true method for the interpretation of the Word, which the lord has revealed in the Writings of His New Church, harmonises all contradictions. The lord alone could reveal the Divine doctrine, contained in the Word. And when we obtain a knowledge of the genuine Doctrine, which is given to mankind by the Revelation of the spiritual sense, respecting any subject whatever, then we find that it can be confirmed by very numerous passages from the letter of the Scriptures.

I.—I remember a statement in the little book on the Sacred Scripture, which says: "The doctrine of the Church is to be drawn from the literal sense of the Word, and to be confirmed thereby;" and your explanation makes the matter plainer. Since we have the Doctrine of Divine Truth revealed from the lord Himself in the Writings of the New Church, we need no longer depend upon the notions of men, for information on spiritual subjects. This is to my mind satisfactory. For. after all, one man's opinion is about as good as another's. What we want is Divine teaching from the lord: He is "the true Light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John i. 9).

M.—What you say has the ring of the true metal. It seems you have caught something of the spirit of the New Gospel, by the perusal of the work on the Sacred Scripture, And the more you read these spiritual Writings, the more thoroughly will your mind be satisfied with knowledges concerning heavenly things. As a matter of fact, those who have become, or are becoming, receptive of the genuine truth of the Word, can never be satisfied with anything else. They will always be seeking, until, in the good Providence of the Lord, they are made happy by finding the inestimable treasures of spiritual wisdom, which are at this day revealed.

I.—Inestimable they certainly are. It is an inexpressible delight to study religious subjects, when one is not only permitted, but admonished and encouraged, to exercise his faculties in the doing of it. Just now the recollection comes to me that you said the knowledge of Correspondences had been lost for some thousands of years. Am I to infer from this that the people of ancient times understood the Science of Correspondences?

M.—Yes; the people of the Most Ancient Church were celestial; and it was perfectly natural and easy for them to understand spiritual things. They were in a state of perception, and had no occasion to stop to reason about a thing, in order to decide as to its nature or quality. They understood the correspondences of all the objects of nature, just as soon as they looked at them. "Man in a state of integrity was master of all the sciences," says Swedenborg. The people of the Most Ancient Church, who are meant by Adam, or Man, in Genesis, were in a state of integrity. They were interior, as to both their thoughts and affections. They could read the Book of Nature in a far more comprehensive manner, than we can read the Book of Revelation. To them the mountains and hills and valleys, the oceans and lakes and rivers, the trees and shrubs and flowers, the sun and moon and stars, the birds and beasts and insects,—in a word, all things of the material world,—had a most sublime and beautiful spiritual significance. The Divine Attributes of God, and the human qualities of man, were to them visibly represented in the wonderful and magnificent things of Creation.

I.—According to your idea, then, the Ancients were, in the true sense of the word, scientists and philosophers.

M.—Yes, they were; and, indeed, from a spiritual principle. But when man fell from a state of integrity, the knowledge of Correspondences was gradually lost. The more that men degenerated—the more external and natural they became—the more they ceased to understand this Divine science, until, in the process of time, all knowledge of it was lost.

I.—And the restoration of the same is certainly a most interesting circumstance.

M.—It is, indeed; and the more one learns respecting the matter, the more interesting it becomes. The lord, our Father in the heavens, always provides, most fully and abundantly, for the moral, intellectual, and spiritual needs of His children. As a matter of fact, it would have been quite impossible for anyone ever to understand rationally, the first chapter of Genesis, the Apocalypse or Revelation, or, for that matter any portion of the Divine Word, if the lord had not revealed the spiritual sense, and thereby restored a knowledge of the Science of Correspondences.

I.—From the very little that I have already learned, I can see that it must be even so. For it is evident, to my mind, that without such a system of interpretation, it is totally impossible to understand rationally what is meant, in the second chapter of Genesis, by the creation of the woman out of the rib taken from the man (Gen. ii. 21-23). Certainly no rational man can imagine the circumstances there mentioned are meant to describe something that took place literally. And the first portions of Genesis are full of just such statements, as, in the mere literal sense, are destitute of any sense. Take, as examples, the following: The vegetable kingdom being created on the day before the sun came into existence (Gen. i. 11-13); the serpent holding a conversation with the woman, and persuading her to eat fruit from a tree called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. ii. 17, and iii. 1-5); Eve being called "the mother of all living," and yet Cain, after killing Abel, going out from the presence of God, dwelling in the land of Nod, marrying a wife in that country, their raising children and building a city (Gen. iii. 20, and Gen. iv. 16-18); and many other strange things, as we find in the story of Noah's Ark and the Flood (Gen. vi. 14-22, and vii. 1 to the end, and viii. 1-19); the building of, the Tower of Babel (Gen. xi. 4-9), and the like.

M.—A knowledge of Correspondences makes all these things perfectly plain. They can be rationally understood. They contain an infinite fullness of spiritual and Divine truths. There are interior and beautiful ideas, in connected series, in all the expressions of the sublime portions of the Scripture which you have quoted from; although according to the mere letter those things are altogether inexplicable. As you have just said, in the mere literal sense they are destitute of any sense; and this is because the early chapters of Genesis consist of purely symbolic language. They were never intended to be regarded as describing things which took place literally.

I.—I should like very much to hear from you an explanation of all the points I have quoted; but it is impossible to learn everything at once. I shall therefore have to be content to learn the meaning of these strange things in Genesis, by degrees.

M.—You have a wide and grand field of study before you. In the Arcana Coelestia the first chapters of Genesis are definitely explained as to the spiritual sense, according to Correspondences. The problems have been solved, which have perplexed the devout students of bygone ages. And men who earnestly seek for enlightenment respecting spiritual verities, will surely find that which will satisfy them. For, over the gate of the magnificent Temple, wherein beams the Divine Glory representing the Opened Word, is the legend written: Nunc licet, signifying, "now it is allowable to enter intellectually into the mysteries of faith!" (T.C.R. 508).

I.—I must read the Arcana; but perhaps you can give me a general idea of the meaning of some of the passages I have quoted, before we close our present talk.

M.—I will with great pleasure try to do so. In the first place, then, permit me to repeat, that the early chapters of Genesis consist of purely symbolic language. This language can only be made intelligible by the spiritual interpretation, which the lord has given, in the Writings of His New Church, namely, according to the law of Correspondences. The first chapter of Genesis, therefore, does not contain an account of the creation of the material universe. It was never written for the purpose of describing the formation of the physical earth, or the heavenly bodies. Indeed, the things there written, cannot by any literal method of interpretation, be harmonised with the facts of the sciences of astronomy and geology. The natural universe was not created in six days of twenty-four hours. Nor was the vegetable kingdom formed before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars.

I.—Certainly not; the idea is absurd. For we know that not a blade of grass, or a leaf upon a tree, or any form of the vegetable kingdom whatever, can be produced except by means of the heat and light of the sun. And, surely, since the lord the Creator is an immutable Being, it follows that the laws and operations of nature have been the same from the beginning.

M.—It is a logical conclusion. In the spiritual sense, the subject treated of in the first chapter of Genesis, is, the formation and regeneration of the human mind. By the heavens and the earth, are signified the internal and the external planes of the human mind. The earth being without form and void, is man as yet in an undeveloped state, both as to his thoughts and affections. The light is the correspondent of the Divine Truth, or Wisdom, the reception of which is essentially necessary, in the formation of the mind. The waters called seas, are things scientific. The grass and herbs yielding seed, are the principles of natural truth and good which take root in the mind, in the early stages of man's regeneration. The sun represents the Divine Love. The moon is the symbol of Faith. And the stars signify knowledges of things heavenly and Divine. Thus, all the natural objects mentioned are correspondences of spiritual principles. The six days of creation are six states of regeneration, this being a progressive work in man, which is completed on the seventh day—the Sabbath, or day of rest.

I.—It seems to me these things must be wonderfully instructive, when one has an opportunity of studying them, and of understanding them thoroughly. What an amazing state of ignorance there is, in this world of ours! Here I have lived for more than half a century, without the slightest knowledge that there was such an interpretation of Genesis in existence!

M.—I have given you merely a few very general hints, as to the contents of the first chapter. When you come to read the Arcana, you will obtain definite information; and you will be able to pursue the subject and learn particulars, ad libitum.

I.—I presume it is no trouble to you to give a reply to the question: "Who was Cain's wife?" It has often been asked without being answered.

M.—In the light of the New Church doctrine there is no difficulty at all about that point. By Adam is not to be understood a single individual, but mankind collectively. Adam is a representative name, signifying the people of the Most Ancient Church. And here we have a striking instance, of how the literal sense of the Word can be applied, to confirm the doctrine of the Church. We read: "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God created He him: male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam" (Gen. v. 1, 2). In the spiritual history of our race, therefore, which is treated of in the first portion of Genesis, there may have been many millions of men, women, and children, who were all members of that Most Ancient Church.

I.—I see. That makes the point very plain. And I must confess, that I have never heard a satisfactory explanation of it before. It seems that you can give a reasonable interpretation of almost any subject one could think of.

M.—Yes; when we become familiar with the Writings of the New Church, we find that all things that come within the range of human investigation, are therein expounded. By the diligent study of the Heavenly Doctrines, revealed in these Writings, we may obtain knowledges that are rational, comprehensive, and perfectly satisfying. We are not left in the dark concerning anything that is a proper and useful subject of inquiry, and can promote our mental culture, our spiritual advancement, our attainment of genuine happiness, and our growth in intelligence and wisdom.

I.—I should like to ask whether you have any works that treat especially on the subject of Correspondences?

M.—We have a book entitled, "A Dictionary of Correspondences, Representatives, and Significatives, derived from the Word of the lord."

I.—It must be a very instructive book, according to the title.

M.—It is a book of reference to the Writings of our Church, and is a considerable help to the student of the Word, in the light of the Heavenly Doctrines, contained in the Writings. The natural objects and expressions, mentioned in the Word, are arranged alphabetically; the spiritual signification is briefly given; and the references to the passages in the Writings, where the subject is more fully explained. The book was especially useful to me during the early years of my study of the Doctrines. Read, for instance, that wonderful twelfth chapter of the Revelation, which begins with a description in most striking and magnificent symbolism: "And there appeared a great sign in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."

I.—It is wonderful language, and I am sure it is totally impossible for me to understand what can be the meaning of it, without explanation.

M.—The whole of the Apocalypse is a sealed Book, and cannot be understood, except by those who accept, rationally, the lord's own explanation of the same. We read that a mighty angel proclaimed with a loud voice: "Who is worthy to open the Book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no one in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the Book" (Rev. v. 2, 3). And then it is further said: "Behold, the Lion which is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the Book, and to loose the seven seals thereof" (Rev. v. 5).

I.—"The Lion of the tribe of Judah," evidently means the lord. And do the words, "hath prevailed, to open the Book, and to loose the seven seals thereof," refer to the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word?

M.—Yes; they mean that the lord alone knows the internal states of all, and has power to judge all according to their state; and these words also have reference to the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word. The spiritual sense of the Word is the Divine Truth, or the Glory of the lord; and this the lord alone could reveal. You are, therefore, quite correct in saying that you could not understand the sublime symbolism of the twelfth chapter of the Revelation without some explanation.

I.—I hope to understand these things better, in the course of time. I intend to investigate them.

M.—Your efforts will be richly rewarded, I have no doubt. Solomon says: "How much better is it to get wisdom than gold; and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!" (Prov. xvi. 16). I was about to say, with regard to the "great sign in heaven" (Rev. xii. 1), that by reading the passages in the Writings referred to in the Dictionary of Correspondences, under the heads of "woman," and "sun," and "crown," and "moon," and "stars," you would get an explanation sufficiently full and clear, I think, to satisfy your mind. The way to obtain a comprehensive knowledge of the Divine Science of Correspondences, is, to read the spiritual revelations— these beautiful interpretations of the Holy Scriptures— which the lord Himself has given, systematically, at the same time always looking to the lord for light to illuminate the mind. To go to the Writings for spiritual instruction, is to go to the Word; for they are entirely derived from the Word. The Divinely commissioned Scribe of the New Church, near the close of his theological works, solemnly declares that he wrote nothing respecting the Doctrines but what came from the lord alone, while he was reading the Word (T.C.R. 779). To receive the Divine teachings in the revelation of the internal of the Word, is to follow the lord in His Second Advent. It is to see Him in that Divine beauty, in which He manifests Himself to His finite creatures. It is to come into a state of true enlightenment; and thus into an ever more perfect appreciation of the meaning of that sublime passage of the Word: "And the glory of the lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see together; for the mouth of the lord hath spoken" (Isaiah xl. 5).

Previous: V. The Inspiration of the Word Up: Missionary Talks Next: VII. The Origin of Evil

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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