The Pattern of Time I
More detail can be found in my article 'Round the World in Five Ages' in the Swedenborg Society Magazine (No 2) for December 1986 P L J
The table on the opposite page contains more ideas and detail than I intend to comment on now, (it will be enough if you can digest the sections in heavy type) but I have included it to show how widely spread across the globe is the idea of a pattern of time, similar to that we have in the Writings. A division of the centuries of history into five - or perhaps six - great ages each with a special character marking it off from the others.
Swedenborg was brought up on the Bible and writers such as Hesiod and Ovid, so for him, the idea of these five 'ages' was quite routine; just schoolboy history. Most ancients were acceptable in the 18th century. What he presents in the Writings, however, is a much more detailed picture of the ages than he was taught, or can be found elsewhere. Nevertheless it must be admitted that he never quite sorted the idea out, and has left us with some contradictions; though in his very last half completed book The Coronis, it seems clear that he was trying to leave us a fuller account. To achieve this, however, one would need a clear picture of the historical and pre-historical background, which sadly was not available at the time. We today, benefiting from the past two hundred years of archaeological and historical research, are probably able to grasp the full meaning of the concept more clearly than was ever possible in the 18th century.
But this is not just an historical matter. This same five fold pattern, which I feel clarifies and illuminates history, can also be applied to the span of our own shorter lives. We pass through five ages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and maturity. Though we do not all pass from one age to the other on exactly the same birthday, of course. Also it may be that we get stuck in adolescence, or never enjoy the peace of maturity - indeed I doubt that anyone reaches full maturity in every aspect of the human potential.
Similarly I think our human activity is constantly passing through five comparable stages as we conceive, plan and execute ideas, plans or projects; and then stand back and assess them, and if satisfied, finally enjoy the fruits of our labours. Again, however, we often fail to execute what we conceive or plan, and if we are only doing such things for mere show, we won't bother to assess if we could do still better, or stand back and absorb the fuller delights of our creations.
Looked at on the material plane, where time seems so all important, these historical, lifelong and short term sequences, may not seem to have much legitimate similarity. It is only when one considers them on the spiritual plane, where we are told there is no time, that the links are clearer. In the heavens, and in our deeper consciousness, instead of time, Swedenborg says there are 'states' - states of mind.
Swedenborg names these states of mind celestial, spiritual and natural - states of love, wisdom and usefulness. In today's common usage, the conditions when we feel influenced most by either our emotions, by our intellect, or by practical considerations. The fivefold pattern is an extension of this trine resulting in a celestial, spiritual, natural, spiritual, celestial pattern.
The 'regenerate' pattern, in which, like the prodigal son, we leave, but eventually return to our father.
The other pattern of time
Or do we always return? Sometimes when we reach the natural state we stick there; and worse, in order to justify our staying there, we may build up intellectual arguments for our position, thus entering the spiritual or intellectual stage again, but on false grounds. We may even find indulgence in natural pleasure so alluring that we go on into the perverse celestial or emotional state of evil and hatred. This second unregenerate pattern inspired by the 'Satanic' and 'Demonic' hells, is a headlong descent, not the inverted 'V' of the regenerate pattern.
The overall pattern of history will, through the Lord's love, follow the regenerate pattern, and through the ages many people have followed this pattern in their own lives and so formed the Church on earth. Towards the end of each age or church, however, more and more people were failing to follow the regenerate path and eventually they dragged the churches down with them. Thus looking back in time the successive ages seem to follow the other descending pattern of time. You get this impression when reading Daniel, or the Greek, Roman and Hindu myths, where things get worse and worse all the time. It is not the complete story, however, for also within these decadent churches and cultures, there has been a remnant of the good and faithful, who have been following the regenerate pattern, with whom the Lord has established a 'new' church and new cultures.
The pattern of each age has therefore been cyclic like the pattern of the day, or the year. As the wonderful summers of each age have passed into their decadent autumns and dying winters, it has seemed that all was lost. But each time there has been a new spring. The Lord, using the dying age as its foundation, has launched a new and in one way or another a better age. The silver and golden ages were descending to lower planes, but every plane has advantages to offer and it is good that we pass through them all. God himself chose to come on earth during the natural materialistic age for good reasons. I hope in future issues to discuss the nature and history of each of the five - or is it six? - world ages. P L J