The Pattern of Time
by Patrick Johnson
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
The Pattern of Time II
The Golden Age; Most Ancient Church; the Palaeolithic (Old Stone) Age; the Age of Adam, or Eden; "Infancy of humankind'; the time of 'Savagery', Kronos or Saturn, a 'Celestial' age when God was conceived as the Father/Creator. (Pre 8000 BC)
Officially the Golden Age is not taken seriously these days, and many have dispatched it, along with God and religion, to the realms of mythology, which are considered no more real than fairyland. Yet, on the other hand, we are taking mythology (even fairyland) with increasing seriousness. We are accepting it as a plane of consciousness that has a deeper reality than the material sciences are capable of understanding.
But even on the material plane the Golden Age - and the Most Ancient Church (or the 'Oldest Religion' as I would prefer to call it) - are becoming more and more plausible as Archaeology and Anthropology sift through the ever increasing evidence that is becoming available about our pre-historic past.
The Golden Age! What a dream-like picture it calls to mind. Consider the Roman Poet Ovid's description in his Metamorphoses'.
In the beginning was the Golden Age, when men of their own accord, without threat of punishment, without laws, maintained good faith and did what was right. .... Never had any pine tree, cut down from its home in the mountain, been launched on ocean's waves, to visit foreign lands: Men knew only their own shores. Their cities were not yet surrounded by sheer moats, they had no brass trumpets (for alarms).... no helmets and no swords. The peoples of the world, untroubled by any fears, enjoyed a leisurely and peaceful existence, and had no use for soldiers. The earth itself without compulsion, untouched by hoe, unfurrowed by any ploughshare, produced all things spontaneously and men were content with foods that grew without cultivation. They gathered berries and wild strawberries, cherries and blackberries.....or acorns fallen from Jupiter's spreading oak. It was a season of everlasting spring, when peaceful zephyrs, with their warm breath, caressed flowers that sprang up without having been planted. (From the Penguin Classics translation by M M Innes.)
In many ways this is not unlike the Biblical description of the Garden of Eden. It may have a fictitious ring, but most of it is true. Early Archaeological discoveries may have suggested that 'stone age' men were only wild cave dwelling hunters, but continuing research is showing that Palaeolithic people did happily 'gather' most of their food. Thus Ovid, and also Swedenborg, who said that his 'most ancients' lived in tents, are justified. If you live off the land, gathering the fruit of the trees etc., you soon exhaust local supplies and so have to move on. Hence you do not build houses. You make tents to carry with you or build disposable shelters from branches and large leaves, which are also very tent-like and might equally have prompted Swedenborg to use this term.
Archaeologists are discovering the faint traces of these shelters; they are usually found in small groups of rarely more than a dozen. The social structure of the Golden Age was the extended family, as Swedenborg also records (AC 471). This is still the case in hunter/gatherer society today. Children nevertheless marry outside the family and so a network of kinship is built up. Many Australian aborigines can readily recall relationships running into hundreds of cousins.
Archaeologists working on the frugal evidence of Palaeolithic times can tell us little about the mental characteristics of early man, but they do note with mild surprise that there was no difference in the size of, or the quality of ornaments etc. found in, male and female graves. In later ages graves or monuments of male kings and chieftains would become the bread and butter of archaeology, but both archaeology and anthropology seem to support Swedenborg's reports that the Golden Age was a time of sexual equality; a time when Swedenborg says Conjugial Love was common. Anthropologists, studying the most 'primitive' peoples report that women are valued and respected and monogamy is the usual norm. It was a time when children were loved, valued and accepted into, rather than separated from society.
More psychological traits are not apparent in the archaeological record; although the decoding of aboriginal painting and 'so called' ornament may have much to reveal. Anthropologists are, however, much impressed by the 'psychic awareness' of primitive tribes. You can never creep up on them unawares, they always know you are coming and they seem to communicate with one another over long distances.
This would not have surprised Swedenborg who tells us in Arcana Caelestia 607
It has been assumed that by 'internal breathing' Swedenborg was referring to a strange kind of respiration unknown to science, but the above quotation is obviously about 'speech'. In Swedenborg's day before the discovery of oxygen, and its part in fuelling the body, it was assumed that the primary purpose of breathing was to enable speech. Respiration as we know it had not yet been conceived, though Swedenborg came close to doing so in Divine Wisdom 121.
To use a modern word ancient peoples were telepathic. But they also used other means:
They were able to express ideas by means of countless alterations in their facial expressions and in their looks and especially by the lips, where there are innumerable threads of muscular fibres which are all knotted-up nowadays, but which had freedom of movement in those times. (AC 607)
Look at photographs of the faces of aborigines or bushmen and you will probably be struck by numerous wrinkles. But are they the wrinkles of old age or of muscular development? Do they not manifest faces that have spent much of their time communicating by facial expression?.
Awareness of Heaven
As well as these special ways of communicating with each other Swedenborg says they were also in communication with the angels, and were instructed by them. Certainly belief in future life and the practice of contacting spirits is and was more or less universal among 'primitive' people, though we have generally dismissed it as 'magic' and denigrated it. In time as Swedenborg and all religious traditions emphasise, the people of the Golden Age fell from grace and the spirits they contacted were probably correspondingly imperfect. Nevertheless there is evidence of a time when this heavenly intercourse was pure. The Australian Aborigines have a concept of the 'Dreamtime'; a happy period which has now passed away. Many generations ago, however, their ancestors were one with the people of the Dreamtime and they believe that they will go to join them at death.
There is no record of angelic instruction such as Swedenborg speaks of, but recourse to oracles has long been a habit which might lead back to times when we and the angels were on the same wavelength, and it would seem that such a time may be returning.
Correspondences and Symbols
Another characteristic that Swedenborg claims for his most ancients is an understanding of 'correspondences'. This is plausible enough, as all 'primitive' peoples have stories about natural objects and creatures that attribute to them human, or even superhuman qualities, hence suggesting that these objects or creatures are being used as symbols.
Less credible is Swedenborg's contention that his most ancients wrote on wooden tablets (CL 77) and yet Australian aborigines do use wooden tablets called tjuringa on which they carve symbols, thus creating maps and diagrammes. Shown a newly found tjuringa an aborigine may have difficulty is in explaining it to a
European, but will nevertheless study it with interest and become excited by its message. At one time it was considered that only civilised man could write, but the study of the evolution of writing is showing that symbolic pictogrammes have been used long before the dawn of civilisation as we know it.
It has been said of early man that he had no religion, yet also, that everything he did was religious. The paradox arises from the holistic approach of the Golden Age where nothing was put aside and separated into small compartments, but everything, both natural and spiritual, was part of one glorious God given unity.
Certainly there was no 'formal worship' in the Golden Age, no need of priests or temples. Man was in direct contact with heaven and needed no intermediaries. Such places as springs or hilltops (closer to 'heaven'), might acquire symbolic significance however. Nevertheless as the Age began to decay 'shamans' and tabooed sacred places did evolve.
Early reports suggested that early man was polytheistic, believing in many gods, but most tribes nevertheless do have an original father/creator God. Many Australian aborigines still attribute power to Baiame, the god in the sky (heaven), but other more earthbound gods representing more specific qualities may have superseded him.
Swedenborg has said that in time a church will 'fall' and must be 'vastated' before another is founded, so what we can find out about earlier churches in their purer classic form will be limited. Whereas love was characteristic of Most Ancient man, today fear seems to continually haunt many primitive tribes. 'Change and decay' must be expected. Nevertheless there is evidence enough to show that the Golden Age was not a myth.
There was an Eden-like time when God, man and creation were at one, living in harmony. When it began it is a matter too complicated to discuss here, but it lasted for thousands of years. It was not a large culture compared with later times, however. Only ten million
people were able to live 'off the land' on our planet at any one time, so its heavens, although higher and more perfect, may be no larger than those of the later ages.
The Five Churches and the Universal Church
I should, however, admit that Swedenborg, probably unconsciously influenced by Biblical concepts, locates the most ancient church in Canaan (the land between the Nile and Euphrates). If the purpose of creation is a heaven of angels, the limitation of the church to a particular area would seem strange. Swedenborg does, however, talk of the church being "specifically' where the Word is and perhaps, although a 'word' was not needed then (because angels could instruct men anywhere in the world), those angels in contact with the people of Canaan may have been more enlightened, so functioning as the 'Church Specific' did in later times to people all over the world.
Perhaps the religion of the 'Most Ancient Church' was something 'specific', but it nevertheless seems highly probable that the men of the Golden Age, of Palaeolithic times and the Most Ancient Church, all shared a similar Celestial culture and psychology which prepared them to join the angels of the Celestial heaven if they so desired.
The Pattern of Time III
The Silver Age; Ancient Church; the Neolithic (New Stone) Age; the Agricultural Revolution, the Age of Noah, or the Childhood of Mankind; the time of 'Barbarism', or Zeus, a 'Spiritual' Age when God was conceived as a Lawgiver or Teacher.
Approximately 8000 BC - 4000 or 3000 BC.
History has been punctuated by numerous revolutions, in Russia in 1917, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, the Urban Revolution, each of which was to a greater or lesser extent a turning point for mankind, but there can be little doubt that the most significant was the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution. It was also the time of a spiritual revolution when Swedenborg says the 'Ancient Church' began.
For thousands - millions of years - people had shared with the animals the simple life of gathering or hunting for food, which the Lord seemed to provide in adequate, if not unlimited quantities. But round about 8000 BC, perhaps when there was a shortage of food, or an increase in the population, people seem to have felt a need for more productive or reliable food resources. No longer were they willing to accept only what God or nature could provide, they began to grow their own food, herd their own animals.
How this fundamental change came about is anyone's guess, though some primitive tribes give clues. For instance Laplanders no longer hunt reindeer, but live with a herd which accepts them, but goes where it wants to, the Laplanders having to follow. Around the world sheep vary from the original completely wild, through various stages of domesticity, to those who today are penned and given modern 'feed' not grass.
There is a similar variety now with cereals. Once people would just collect a few seeds to chew as they passed by certain grasses, then they might gather them in a bag and take them home. They would probably drop seeds near their camps and so concentrations of seed bearing plants would grow up around camps, and over centuries these patches would develop into 'fields' and the camps into 'farms'.
A change in attitude
So was all this just one big accident? The dogmatic evolutionist might be happy with such an answer, but most would accept that it was an accident people 'nurtured'. The people of the Silver Age were developing a different psychology, like the infant passing into childhood, they were growing more independent, wanting to do things their own way. They were losing their complete and innocent trust in God, and their intimate identity with nature. Something that God, the perfect parent, was willing to accept.
We in the New Church know the reason for this change. It has been revealed to us that when, towards the end of the Golden Age, people's hearts became full of hatred, the Lord moderated their evil tendencies by separating their wills from their understandings, so that the understanding could operate as a 'conscience'. Thus they were able to think twice when temptation assaulted their wills. When in late autumn Palaeolithic man saw food he consumed it all without a second thought. Neolithic man, however, would put half, even all of it, aside for the winter.
This difference is apparent when we compare Adam and Noah. The story of Noah and his ark is typically Neolithic in spirit. Noah is the prudent man who puts everything into the Ark against the rainy day that is to come, just as farmers do as winter approaches. Genesis 9:20 identifies Noah as a farmer and the first man to plant vines. Some mythologies such as the Celtic flood story identify their 'Noah figures' as the first farmer. (Cain and Abel also represent the progression towards the Ancient Church and are therefore a farmer and shepherd respectively. Noah's father Lamech was descended from Cain, as well as Adam's third son Seth, who represented the purer strain of the Most Ancient Church.)
The spiritual lesson of the flood story corresponds to the natural. Adamic man had perception and when he wished to do something the truth of the matter was immediately clear to him, but Noachian man had to learn truth. The animals and birds in the Ark are the affections and truths that we should learn and store away for future use when our conscience needs them.
But how was the truth to be provided, now that there was no longer contact with the angels, as in the Golden Age? It seems that during the later stages of the Golden Age, the angels teaching had been gradually encapsulated into collections of myths and fables that would be easily remembered, and that these were passed on to the Silver Age peoples. They were very much like the fairy stories we used to tell to children - indeed teachers and parents still read their children Greek, Red Indian or Maori myths because they are so well adapted to the mind of children who, psychologically, are passing through the Silver Age themselves. Part of that body of myths was the early chapters of Genesis.
A religion of the soil
The literal words of Genesis 9:20 (mentioned above) are that Noah was a 'man of the soil'. The correspondence of soil is 'the church' (as in the parable of the sower); which is also why Noah grows wine, representing the doctrine of the church. Swedenborg says that the people of the time understood correspondences and so it is not surprising that the soil or earth came to be particularly revered by Neolithic people and led eventually to the worship of 'The Earth Mother'. It is sometimes claimed she was the supreme or only god, but in most mythology, although perhaps central, she is wedded to the rain god, who is derived from the 'sky god' of more ancient times, who originally embodied the one true God. Thus the marriage of (he Lord and the Church was symbolised in the 'sexual intercourse' of rain and soil to produce the fruits of the earth. Early Sumerian poetry, which may date back further thousands of years, is often addressed to the 'Bridegroom', a happy concept that was sadly to be lost in the paternalistic religion of Judaism. (Although they did preserve the romantic Song of Songs for us, which Swedenborg attributes to the Ancient Church.)
The Neolithic Culture
The social structure of the Silver Age was that of the village, typically of a few hundred inhabitants, although they could grow much larger, particularly in areas where irrigation was possible and food production high as a result. Each village was economically independent, although trade did slowly develop and large religious monuments such as Avebury, in Wiltshire, suggest cooperation between many villages.
Though this agricultural or Neolithic culture was established in the Middle East in 7-8000 BC, it did not appear in Egypt until 5000 BC and was slow to move westwards into Eastern Europe, only reaching Britain in 6000 BC. At the same time if either spread eastwards, or evolved independently, in India and China, while a maize based culture began in Mexico around 5000 BC. But agriculture took several centuries to reach other areas and never reached places such as Australia until the 19th century.
It must be observed, however, that Chapter 10 of Genesis, often called the 'Table of Nations' listing the descendants of Noah, is a list of middle eastern and Mediterranean countries, which could be taken as defining the limits of the Ancient Church. On the other hand Swedenborg also suggests a more extensive geographical coverage for the church covering most of Asia and all of Africa (e.g. Coronis 39 ).
With the spread of agriculture seemed to go a body of myths, such as I mentioned above, (creation stories; flood stories; trees of life and so forth) which, though widely spread today, still have remarkable similarities. Though appearing to have an earthly sense - albeit often highly improbable - it seems fairly obvious that they have deeper symbolic meanings within, which may share even greater similarity. Swedenborg confirms such an impression and says that the 'ancients' had a revelation written in correspondences, which he calls the Ancient Word.
The Ancient Word
One's initial idea on hearing of an ancient word is to think of a book like the Bible. One has only to think more deeply about the Bible, however, to remember that it was written by many men, on innumerable and frequently revised rolls of parchment, so this Ancient Word would also have been made up of many fragmentary parts. As noted above Swedenborg says the Song of Songs was part of the Ancient Word, and also The Book of Job and the early part of Genesis were too. He also often quotes from the Greek Myths and. had there been a wider knowledge of mythology in the early 18th century, he might have quoted from the Norse myths of his own homeland, or the Rig Veda.
Swedenborg talks of the Ancient Word as if it had been literally 'written down', which is rather worrying as cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, only dales from 3100 BC. I would suggest that nevertheless these ancient myths were 'written', not on parchment, but on peoples' memories. One has to remember that although (he Norsemen had no writing, there is good evidence that the Norse Myths existed as early as 1000 BC; many centuries before they were first written down by Christian monks about 1300 AD. Even races that had writing, such as the Persians and Indians, refused to commit their sacred writings (o material paper, as to do so would be a profanation of something sacred. Still today practicing Islam pays scant respect to the written word and every Iman has to recite the Koran from memory in their services. And so I expect the Ancient Word was written, and lived in the minds of man; but we will return to this subject in our next chapter.
The Silver Age was more external than the Golden and formalised worship began to develop. Little sanctuaries can be found, or rooms set aside, in larger houses. They are small, however, and suggest private devotion, not group ceremonies. But buildings were not necessary. Swedenborg says that mountains and groves of trees were commonly used as sanctuaries, which is borne out by archaeological evidence. Indeed later buildings were based on such 'natural' sanctuaries; the Bronze Age Mesopotamian zigurats being artificial mountains, and (he Iron Age Greek temples, with columns on all sides, being artificial groves of trees.
But the Neolithic structures which impress us most today are probably their tombs. Swedenborg says that the 'ancients' saw death as the gateway to heaven and therefore celebrated it with elaborate tombs. They could be large structures, such as the communal 'passage graves' (long barrows) of western Britain and could contain beautiful tools and ornaments, though not as rich as those of the later more superstitious Bronze Age, when funerary practice got rather out of hand.
For better or worse?
So we have the Silver Age, a step down the spiritual ladder or an evolutionary advance? World population rose from 10 million to 200 million; material for a bigger, but perhaps not a better heaven? If heaven is perfected by variety, however, perhaps larger groups opened up more space for individuality? People had permanent roofs over their heads, but were probably more dependent on rainfall for their harvests. They could save corn or rice through the winter, but their diet lacked the variety of the hunter/gatherer peoples.
Spiritually people had begun to take control of their own destinies, rather than place complete trust in the Lord. It might seem a dangerous option; but if people were to be free individuals, capable of returning his love openly and willingly, it was an option they must be allowed to take. In his wisdom the Lord had allowed them to follow this path; but had provided guidebooks, in the form of the myths they were able to commit to memory, to lead them down that path towards the heaven that he hoped they would share with him throughout eternity.
The Bronze Age
The Pattern of Time IV
The Bronze Age; the 2nd Ancient Church; the Church of Heber, 'the later childhood of mankind'; a 'Spiritual/Natural' Age, when God was a Lawgiver. Approximately 3000 - 1500 BC.
A Different Social Structure
I have suggested that Golden Age society lived in camps and that Silver Age people developed villages; now with the Bronze Age one sees the development of towns or cities. But the differences here are not just those of size, a Neolithic village could well be bigger than a Bronze Age town.
The Palaeolithic community was the extended family. The Neolithic village was a group of such families, working together at the tasks of agriculture; even as farmers in England may still work together at harvest time. A few specialisation's, such as priests and soldiers, began in the Neolithic Age and older folk might concentrate on pottery and weaving, while unmarried girls with slim fingers were used as 'spinsters'. But in the Bronze Age community this specialisation went much further and everyone began to 'learn a trade'. Every one, that is, in the Bronze Age town; though alongside it, out in the countryside there were still Neolithic style villages, and away in the hills and forests perhaps Palaeolithic hunting communities. These other communities might nevertheless participate in the Bronze Age world by coining 'to market' to trade agricultural produce, or furs and skins.
In all this we can see the Lord's purposes being fulfilled, and our own childhood development mirrored, as we become interested in wider fields of uses. Also we become part of a larger community and the potential for 'neighbourly love' is given greater scope.
The Second ? Ancient Church
When Swedenborg began his exposition of Genesis and Exodus in the Arcana Caelestia, it seemed pretty clear that he intended to divide history into a neat symmetrical pattern of five ages, with a 'celestial, spiritual, natural, spiritual, celestial' pattern. When he reached paragraphs 1136-7, and later 1238, of the A C, commenting on the birth of the patriarch Heber (or Eber; ancestor of the Hebrews), however, he inserted a Second Ancient Church, a "Spiritual/Natural church', between his original Ancient and Jewish churches (see my first article in this series). You may wonder why?
fundamental change from the Silver or Neolithic Age and suggesting it is strictly a continuation of the earlier period. Bronze tools never replaced stone to the extent that iron did. Using the comparison with the stages of our personal development, it is a bit like the transfer from primary to secondary education. Do we actually change much then, or do schools force change upon us?
One may also doubt if there is a real difference between the civilisations of the Bronze and the succeeding Iron Age? We tend to think of the 'Old Kingdom' and 'New Kingdom' of Egypt, or the Minoans and Classical Greeks, as stages of the same cultures, but they were distinct in many ways, and divided from one another by a century or more of chaos and warfare. Separate Bronze and Iron Age phases are also apparent in the Mesopotamian empires such as Sumeria and Assyria, and similarly in India, China and Central and South America. The great monuments of the Bronze Age such as the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge have a sublime dignity superior to those of the Iron Age. The way of life of those who built the Palaces of Crete, or the highly sanitary baths and drainage systems of the Indus Valley culture, seem more civilised, closer to heaven, than the commerce and dirt of the towns of later times. The changes between the Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages were less momentous than those between the Golden and Silver Ages, but there were even so, significant changes, so that Swedenborg seems to have it right in sometimes grouping the later three as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Ancient Churches.
But for Swedenborg, concerned primarily with his 'churches', the significant change between his 1st and 2nd Ancient Churches was their approach to worship. He notes a shift to more external worship, later deteriorating into idolatry. The former spiritual ideas are still there, but veiled in symbolic form, especially in the offering of sacrifices. In the scenario of our own lives it is comparable with the change from the happy spontaneity of children, to the grudging obedience of early youth. It is also noteworthy that early youth is the time when, like the people of the Bronze Age, we are most liable worship 'idols' such as soccer and pop stars.
The Culture of Metallurgy
Culturally the Bronze Age was a complex of new features - urbanisation, metallurgy, crafts, writing, monarchy etc. - all of which added together amounted to the early forms of civilisation. Often, however, a culture only displayed one or two of the features of civilisation, yet was nevertheless classified as 'Bronze Age'. The Bronze Age periods of Britain, Spain or West Africa were primitive when compared with Egypt or Crete. Mexico had no bronze, yet a similar culture.
Though not essential, the development of metallurgy, including bronze of course, was a very significant milestone. Carpentry, pottery and weaving were still more essential, but through nails and pins etc., metallurgy extended their usefulness considerably. Gold and silver could be worked in their 'cold state' but copper must be worked in a 'molten' state. It was not until potters developed kilns, that the possibility of melting copper ore was discovered. But, being a softish metal, even copper has relatively few advantages over timber. Not until someone found that tin could be mixed with copper to form bronze, which is much harder than wood, were the real advantages of metals appreciated. Bronze heads could be added to ploughshares, spears and other tools, increasing their life and effectiveness. But copper and tin ores were not common, so bronze was expensive and few could afford it. Those who could afford it became more efficient or powerful and able to acquire yet more riches, thus bronze began to undermine the democratic equality of the Golden and Silver Ages.
Before leaving the subject of metals it is worth remembering their correspondence. Stones correspond to simple hard facts. Metals, however, are malleable and can be moulded to man's purpose and correspond to 'principles'. Once a principle is grasped in one field, one can modify and apply it elsewhere and so peoples' ideas and the variety of God's heaven could widen. A newly appreciated principle can be used creatively to good ends, though Bronze Age man was also tempted, when it suited him, to bend truths to his own purposes. Especially priests and kings would claim that the power and authority appropriate to God could be transferred to them and thus justify their less than Divine actions.
One could write at length about the increasing number of new vocations that people were offered as the Bronze Age developed, but for the moment let us concentrate on those that unified and controlled all the others; the priests and monarchs who were closely linked and might be the same man. Such persons might become so closely identified with the God they worshipped, and so powerful that, as Swedenborg notes, they became, by accident or intention, to be regarded as Gods themselves. The classic case of this was the Pharaohs of Egypt; Mesopotamian kings only claimed to be 'appointed' by their Gods. Swedenborg comments that ancestors came to be venerated in a similar way. Also that God was worshipped as the Sun or Moon, and that images originally made only to symbolise divine attributes of God, were later worshipped as independent Gods. This is well documented and I do not need to quote examples of such 'gods', but relatively few historians seem to realise that polygamous worship was the practice of decaying material cultures, who originally knew of the Lord's true unified nature.
Priests might have as much, or even more authority than Kings, which originally was exercised with due humility, when the priest only saw himself as the custodian of the law. Or they might, like those of Israel, be guided by inspiration from spirits - good or bad. They saw themselves as the fathers of their people, were looked up to and did their best to guide their people. But gradually the balance of what - as you will remember - Swedenborg calls a Spiritual/Natural Chinch, moved more and more towards the Natural and concentrated on acquiring wealth and exercising material power, rather than representing spiritual authority. They thought of God as an earthly king, and probably genuinely felt it was necessary to amass wealth to build an impressive temple suitable for him to dwell in. Certainly the magnificent temples of the greater cities of the Bronze Age show they held God in the highest esteem, even if they gradually adopted him as their own national patron god, rather than the creator of all mankind. But it was a material view. At best they now saw him as a just lawgiver and at worst just a provider of wealth.
Religion was still seen as an integral part of life, but the priests had rather taken it over and the ordinary citizen had become a mere spectator. The offering of sacrifices had become central and although the people might be expected to provide the sacrifice, it was offered by the priests, perhaps even in the secrecy of the temple, out of public view. It is not surprising that, parallel to the official faith, private religion was also developing and 'family gods' are often found in the corners of the rooms of the houses the archaeologists excavate. The ordinary people may well have felt a closer affinity with these 'gods' and, it has been suggested, that Yahweh chose to present himself to Abram as such a family god, rather than as the imposing deity living at the summit of the ziggurat in Ur, from which Abraham had come.
As far as official religion was concerned, the concept of a loving God was tending to fade. Other human and spiritual values were fading too. Slavery was developing. Marriage was still respected in the laws of Egypt and Mesopotamia, women had their rights; but though some might manage shops or be priestesses, it was becoming clear the place for most was 'in the home'. Women and children were still important in agriculture, but it was men who operated the increasingly important ploughs and bullocks who drew them. Generally it was Men who controlled the world outside the home and the benefits that came from the urban way of life.
The new urban way of life, with specialists providing goods and services for one another, was one that demanded records of who had provided what and how much. Notches on tally sticks worked for a time, but gradually the need for more flexible recording developed and writing evolved to fill the need. Writing was to revolutionise trade, science and literature and become an essential element of most civilisations, even though the Celtic and American cultures got along without it. But its greatest use, though it is not always recognised by historians, was for revelation. Pictogrammes had developed in China and Egypt but it was in the Middle East, close to Canaan, that the Sumerians developed 'cuneiform' and the Phoenicians the much more flexible alphabet.
Swedenborg says the availability of writing was the reason why the Lord chose to be born on our planet. As he writes in Arcana Caelestia 9351:
The main reason was for the sake of the Word, which was able on our planet to be set down in writing. Then, having been written, it could be disseminated to all parts of the planet and preserved for all future generations.
And so the Ancient Word which had been carried in people's minds during the Silver Age could now be written down. The memories of pre-literate people were infinitely more efficient than ours, but even so they would forget bits and with the best of intentions add inaccurate explanations. But a written word was much less liable to be altered and so a relatively 'faithful' record could be passed down the generations and, as Swedenborg noted, could be 'disseminated to all parts of the planet'; even if it needed translation.
The Ancient Word again
But where is this Ancient Word, what has happened to it you will ask? In True Christian Religion 275 Swedenborg tells us that it spread 'to the Indies and the adjacent islands, and by way of Egypt and Ethiopia to the Kingdoms of Africa; and from the coasts of Asia to Greece and so to Italy'.
Why is it we have never found a copy? In the last century New Churchmen were happy to accept Swedenborg's information that it was 'lost', but today when archaeologists have discovered so much literature from these times, this is rather difficult to swallow. I would suggest it has been lost only in the sense that its original text has been distorted. Also, as Swedenborg points out, it was written in 'correspondences'. Like the spiritual sense of the Hebrew Word, the Ancient Word was hidden in an inner allegorical sense. So just as we have difficulty finding the Spiritual Sense of Biblical passages without promptings from the Writings, similarly it would be difficult to spot whether an ancient legend contained revealed truth within its symbols or not. The somewhat distorted echoes of the Ancient Word can probably be found within the allegories in the mythology of Sumeria, Egypt, Greece and the other ancient cultures. Indeed Swedenborg frequently refers to Greek myths and practices, and C Th Odhner, in his books The Golden Age and The Mythology of the Greeks and Romans, shows how the Ancient Word could have 'spread from the coasts of Asia... to Italy'.
There is even a chance that we might find a less 'modified' version of the Ancient Word, for Swedenborg said in Apocalypse Revealed para. 11 that it was still 'preserved' in Great Tartary. But as Great Tartary was the contemporary name for the whole of northern Asia, a lot of searching may be necessary. As, however, all that is essential from it is contained in the Old Testament, this is no great tragedy. The main point we need to realise is that a form of the Word was available to people much earlier than our culture realises.
The Church of Heber
But even if its teachings did reach Great Tartary, did the Church of Heber? Did it like the Most Ancient and First Ancient churches spread over most of the Old World and probably the New? Its characteristics seem to me to be reflected in Early Greek, Indian and perhaps Chinese religious ceremony in the third millennium BC, though not in its original forms. Religion was becoming more complex and the time has come to think more carefully about Swedenborg' comments:
'..the Lord's church exists throughout the whole world, although it is specifically located where the Lord is acknowledged, and the Word is known.' New Jerusalem 244. or consider;
'The church is one thing and religion another. The church is called a church from doctrine; and religion is called religion from a life according to doctrine. Where there is doctrine, but no life, there is no church. (Apocalypse Revealed 923).
As the 'churches' become more natural or external, it is difficult to know to what extent the true church was alive among the people who built the great temples and monuments of the later Bronze Age.
Was the Second Ancient Church, as a Spiritual body more limited in its geographical spread than its predecessors? The Bible does not locate Heber. For reasons which are not clear Swedenborg initially locates this 'church' in Syria (AC 1137), but later says it 'spread far and wide' (AC 1238). There is a tendency to think of Syria as being on the Mediterranean coast, but most of Syria lies eastwards in the upper Euphrates valley; towards Chaldea in the lower part of that valley.
There are two points mentioned in Genesis that do suggest specific locations, the Tower of Babel story, which seems to be about the Ziggurats built in the Mesopotamian basin; and the information that Abram came from 'Ur of the Chaldees'. In Genesis the Babel story is thrown into the middle of the Ancient Church genealogical lists rather arbitrarily, so that it might appear to belong to either the first or second Ancient Churches. In A.C. 13272, however, Swedenborg says 'it is also clear that the kind of worship called Babel was not prevalent in the first Ancient Church but in those that followed when people started to be worshipped in place of gods, especially after they had died.' It seems therefore that Babel, be it Ur or any other archetypal Mesopotamian city, was symbolic of the Church of Heber. Babel is often equated with Babylon, but if Babel was intended to be Babylon, it is an anachronism, as Babylon was only a village at the apparent tune of the story (3000 - 2000 BC) (see also AC 1283).
To me, Sumeria seems a more likely birthplace for the Second Ancient Church than Syria. It is generally thought that Sumeria was the birthplace of civilisation and writing and so would fit the bill better than Syria.' Nevertheless, the culture of Sumeria was transported to the cities of Man and Ebla in Syria, which could also have been likely candidates for the cradle of this Church. Abram's journey from Ur to Syria and then to Canaan is probably a mythical recording of the quite slow movement of that Church to these areas. Neither the Bible or Swedenborg give us much information on this subject, but in time archaeology may offer more.
And so, we see a further step forward in the Divine Plan, a step downwards perhaps, but also outwards, one could say. Bronze brought variety, unproved technology and art forms, but it also brought better weapons and potential for class differentials and domination by individuals, factors which sadly we shall find developing yet further in the following Iron Age and the 'Natural' Church of the Jews.
The Iron Age; the Classical Age, the 3rd Ancient Church; the Israelitish or Jewish Church, the youth or adolescence of mankind; a 'Natural' Age, when God was conceived as a Leader.
Approximately -1500 BC to AD 1.
The Iron Age? The Golden and Silver Ages had glamour; the Bronze Age was acceptable, but Iron? We have had the Iron Curtain, the Iron Lady, we use such terms 'as hard as nails' referring to this metal. If its character has any appeal, it is only to the inflexible, those who hold that one has to be 'cruel to be kind'.
Posterity did not think much of the Iron Age either. In his Works and Days the Greek writer Hesiod cries out despairingly ' 1 wish I were not of this age, that I had died before, or had not yet been born.' The Roman author Ovid says of it in his Metamorphoses that ' all crime broke loose; modesty, truth, and loyalty fled. .... War came...men lived on plunder.' For Astrologers it is the Age of Aries, god of war; for Zoroaster the age of the 'Creation of Evil'. In the Hindu Dvapara Yuga or Age, discontent, lying and quarrels abound. A Babylonian poem The Just Sufferer blames evil on the gods. For Swedenborg Iron corresponds to natural truth, or to truth without good, and in his rare mentions of the Iron Age has nothing good to report.
Nevertheless, this was the much celebrated time of Classical Greece and Rome, the Egyptian 'New Kingdom', when the great Wessex hillforts and round barrows took form; also when the Old Testament and the works attributed to Confucius and the Buddha were written down. All was not for the worse by any means.
Sources of Information
In the previous articles in this series we have just had to compare the information in the Writings with the historical record, but in considering the Swedenborgian approach to the Iron Age we also have to take into account the Old Testament, as an authoritative historical document. But although the O.T. is the most detailed and informative source available on Jewish History, from a strictly factual point of view it is not perfect. It has been 'mythologised'. As its stories were passed from mouth to mouth and from scribe to scribe the 'lily was gilded' as we say. This was just as well, for the dry everyday facts of Jewish History would never have made a suitable basis for a 'correspondential' or symbolic revelation. Dry Jewish History needed a bit of editing in order to become the vehicle for Divine Revelation; a bit more human interest.
If therefore, in what follows, I appear to ignore or contradict the Bible, please remember that I am writing about history, rather more than theology or revelation.
The Iron Age and the Jewish Church
The Golden and Silver Ages equate nicely with the Most Ancient and First Ancient Churches, but one is less sure comparing the Bronze Age with the Second Ancient Church. In the Iron Age the relationship with the Jewish Church is yet more tenuous. I think Swedenborg felt so too and avoided any direct comparison between the two entities. Whether this was for theological reasons or because 18th century historical knowledge was inadequate, I must leave you to judge. In fact Swedenborg's Classical education gave him a far wider knowledge of Greece and Rome than most of us have today, and they were part of this Age, yet he does not seem to associate them with it.
In a memorable relation in Conjugial Love, No 78 Swedenborg visits some spirits from the Iron Age. They do come from Asia and have had access to the Ancient Word, but there is no suggestion that they are Jews.
Specific and Universal Churches
We have come to a time when Swedenborg's condition that 'the Church is where the Lord is acknowledged and the Word is.' (New Jerusalem 242) becomes particularly meaningful. The Jews were the most typical example of what we Swedenborgians call a 'Specific Church', a term drawn from Swedenborg's statement that 'the Church of the Lord is everywhere in the whole world, although specifically it is where the Lord is acknowledged and where the Word is. (New Jerusalem para. 244) The Jewish Church was always small, but it fulfilled these conditions. It came to posses a 'word', a revelation that would be the most influential written work the world has known. The Ancient Word of the Silver and Bronze Ages was still around in the Iron Age, but few understood its symbolic meanings; so the Lord was preparing a new revelation; the Word, as we know it. It was in a new language, Hebrew, which would be an ideal and secure vehicle for Divine Truth.
Unlike the people of the Golden and Silver Ages, and we of the New Age, the Jews were disinclined to accept symbolic forms of revelation. They were only interested in dry material facts, or what they believed were dry material facts - fortunately lack of scientific knowledge allowed them to accept miracles as facts. Their Word told them not only that David and Abraham were their ancestors, but that their ancestry went back through Noah to Adam and thus their Creator. This seemed a satisfactory reason to accept Jehovah.
One feels inclined to laugh at the Jews for being blindly materialistic - natural people as Swedenborg would say - but even today some people never read anything but the newspaper, because they only want facts (or purported facts). We are all like this at times and perhaps more so in adolescence. Young people can be suspicious and sceptical; it is no good offering them myths and symbols. So the Lord prepared a factual revelation and a religion grounded in historical fact for the Jews, but hiding the symbolism within. It served them well over the centuries and it has served similar minded Christians, particularly fundamentalists, well too. Something concrete they feel they can hang on to.
The origins of the Jewish Church
According to Swedenborg, the story of the Jewish Church begins with Jacob. It is interesting that he chooses Jacob rather than his nominal grandfather Abraham. Historians are worried about the relationship between these two patriarchs, as the Biblical text suggests that they lived in different periods and cultures. The Abraham legends suggest a Syrian background and mention donkeys, while the Jacob story seems to come from Trans-Jordan and he uses camels. Big changes seem to have taken place in two generations (not unusual today perhaps, but innovation was much much slower in the past). So Swedenborg's odd suggestion that the new Jewish Church started with Jacob, bang in the middle of one of his favourite Celestial, Spiritual, Natural trines, is excused by history.
History also agrees that Iron Age culture is first found about the time of Jacob. It would not agree, however, that the Israelites entered the Iron Age at this time. It is usually assumed that the Iron Age in Canaan begins at the time of the Israelites invasion, about 1200 BC, well after Jacob. However, the recent studies of David Rohl, Peter James and others have extended the Jewish Bronze Age until the reign of Solomon, which Rohl places about 925 BC, thus leaving Jacob well inside the Bronze Age.
The Bronze Age and the Jews.
The suggestion that the Israelites were still happily in the Bronze Age tends to be born out by the substance of the Bible 'histories', which have some similarities with Homer's Bronze Age epics. The siege of Jericho has similarities with that of Troy, the Samson stories are comparable with those of Hercules, and David and Goliath's confrontation has an Homeric ring too.
Indeed one can go further and suggest that the Children of Israel's epic went through a complete re- enactment of history after the Exodus from Egypt. In the wilderness they became Palaeolithic hunter/gatherers living on manna and quails. As they approached Canaan, however, they seem to be Neolithic pastoralists; Reuben and Gad noting that the pastures east of Jordan would be good for their flocks. Passing through the Bronze Age in Joshua and Judges, they were soon to pick up Iron age technology from the Philistines.
All this is uncertain and controversial at the present time, but the precise dates matter little for our purposes. The era of the Jewish Church that interests us is the time when the Old Testament was fully received and written down - the time when the function of the Church Specific was most important. This was quite definitely in the Iron Age, as late as the exile to Babylon about 586 BC, when, separated from their land, the Jews religion became of especial value to them. Then the books of the Old Testament began to be systematically edited. This was when the Jews began to forge their especial identity and they became the epitome of an Iron Age people. 'A stiff-necked people' the Lord called them. Hard, obstinate and intensely conscious of their national identity. Yet like we patriotic British they had become real mongrels, culturally and probably racially, as fate dragged them around the Middle East.
As their saga develops it brings in ideas from Sumeria via Abram, Syria, Egypt via Moses, Canaan again, early Greek ideas via Philistia and Phoenicia, then more ideas from Assyria and Babylon and finally Daniel absorbs Persian ideas when it is conquered by Persia. It is a wonderful hotchpotch of ideas salvaged from lands where the knowledge of the Ancient Word had been, from which the Lord was able to recreate a new more enduring form of revelation.
A Unique Church
As Swedenborg says it was a 'Natural' church. As I noted above the new revelation needed to be based on apparent fact. The Jews needed to be convinced that God had spoken to Abraham and Moses and had made 'covenants' with them. The Jews may have been lacking in love and wisdom but they valued a contract. Obedience was a virtue, they bound copies of the commandments in little boxes (phylacteries) on their heads and hands, even if they did have difficulty in obeying them, needing constant reminding by prophets.
They represent our adolescent stage; our youth when we draw up covenants or contracts with society by passing exams and obtaining qualifications. When we particularly face the problems of obedience and expressing ourselves. Armies value young men for their obedience and sense of duty, yet our prisons are full of the rebellious and disobedient. Obedience has short term strength, but long term weakness, unless it can be backed up by wisdom. This is why our Lord only used a Natural Church for a short time with one nation.
But by carrying out all the instructions of the 'Law of Moses' to the letter; the requirements of the religious calendar, the scrupulous instructions about sacrifices, dress, eating and drinking, the Jews unknowingly preserved the correspondential message of the Word, whether their hearts were in it or not.
Iron Age Culture
But why the Iron Age? The discovery of iron was the crucial factor in the development of a new way of living. Iron ore is the most common metallic ore, although it needs very high temperatures to melt it. Once the necessary iron technology had grown out of pottery and bronze technology, man found himself with a metal as useful as bronze, which was cheap to produce. Metalwork was a special skill, however, and 'smiths' became a very special trade, looked upon almost as magicians. Smiths worshipped, and were protected by, special gods, such as Vulcan and Thor, and the West African god Ogun.
Cheap iron could now be used for all the purposes that expensive bronze had served. On the good side more fanners could have ploughshares and sickles; so food production rose and more labour became free for other tasks. With more food available world population grew from 40,000,000 to nearly 200,000,000. In the home knives, cooking vessels, pins and needles assisted women. But on the bad side, as the ancient historians noted, it was used for swords and spears, for helmets and armour and so encouraged aggression. The Bronze Age had been rather like the situation with nuclear weapons today, where atom bombs are the perquisite of the more civilised, who hesitate to use them. Similarly the civilised kings of the Bronze Age were prudent in their use of warfare. But once knowledge of ironworking spread, any minor chieftain could, and did, arm their tribes with cheap weapons and raid the nearest richer kingdom carrying off cattle, goods and women. The Bronze Age cities did resist, but their civilisations were complex and their 'infrastructures' were easily disorganised by the brutal simplicity of the hit and run attacks of marauding tribes.
A dark age in history ensued between 1200 and 800 BC. Armed with iron, the Celts spread across Europe, the Dorians replaced the Myceneans in Greece; the Hyskos took over Lower Egypt and the Aryans conquered northern India. Dozens of other intruders caused chaos elsewhere, small tribes such as the Israelites and Phoenicians took the opportunity to set up minor kingdoms, becoming an empire in the latter case.
Stability was gradually reinstated, however. In 1350 BC Rameses II established the 'New Kingdom' in Egypt, which came to rival the Bronze Age 'Old Kingdom'. The Phoenicians built a trading empire stretching to Carthage. The invading 'Greeks' built on the foundations of Mycene, and borrowed the Phoenicians alphabet and trading know-how, to launch the culture we still call 'Classical'. The Assyrians took over Mesopotamia, the Iranians Persia, the Aryans India, and the Shang Dynasty China. Lesser events could be noted in Africa and Europe. The new stability was not based on Love or Wisdom as in earlier Ages, but on 'Discipline'. The Greek 'Hoplites' were the first professional soldiers, rather than warrior heroes. They had defensive armour, as well as weapons and fought in close ranks. Eventually they enabled Alexander to conquer the World as they knew it. Other nations adopted their methods and eventually the Romans perfected them and subdued the Mediterranean World.
These well organised armies resulted in yet bigger wars, but also peace, trade and culture within the boundaries of those empires. Men such as Cyrus of Persia and Alexander of Macedonia were ambitious to spread their empires, but also diffused civilisation and culture. Cyrus spread Zoroastrian ideas and treated subject nations tolerantly, repatriating the Jews who were captive in Babylon. Alexander, who had been educated by Aristotle (whose wide knowledge covered all manner of subjects) suddenly opened up the whole middle east to Greek influence. This too affected the Jews and the New Testament was then written in Greek.
But what about the religion of the other nations of the Iron Age World? They certainly seem to have lost the conception of a single loving God and polytheism was rife. Yet even within their complicated Pantheons or families of Gods there is hidden truth, as C Th Odhner shows in his Mythology of the Greeks and Romans. Not only do they echo the pattern of the patriarchs in Genesis, the four generations of gods confirm again the four Ages. This Pantheon is also found in other Aryan religions and surprisingly in Iron Age West Africa. Swedenborg says that the polytheism of these times derived from the practice of recognising the many attributes of the Lord in giving him a different title for each attribute. In time, however, each attribute or name began to be worshipped separately and resulted in their being thought of as separate beings.
Swedenborg mentions the Iron Age a number of times, but never accords it any spiritual status. Iron he says corresponded to mere 'Natural' truth; truth which ignored good and hence lacked the essential marriage of love and wisdom The Jews were still linked to heaven because their sacrifices and worship 'corresponded' to true spiritual worship, although their hearts were preoccupied with material matters. Other nations had lost this link, but they still had 'natural truth', which though of little value by itself if unrelated to love and good, still had potential value when those qualities could be wedded to it.
Just as the Jews preserved the Word of God, so other nations preserved other presentations of truth that may well have come from the Ancient Word. In Persia Zoroaster reiterated the message of early Aryan teachings. In India the Buddha re-interpreted some of the classical Hindu legends and in China Confucius set out his systemisation of ancient Chinese religion. In less religious mode the Greeks preserved in Dramas, Philosophies and other forms, the wisdom of the 'Homeric' Bronze Age. As a 'Christian westerner' I believe that the Jewish version is the purest and nearest to the true 'Word of God', but perhaps it is only so for 'westerners', maybe other peoples have different perceptions and needs.
So the opinions I have quoted denouncing the Iron Age have to be set against others who also see it as a time of enlightenment. Historians highlight the 6th century BC when Isaiah, Zoroaster, Buddha and Confucius were alive and active as perhaps the most significant in the spiritual history of mankind. But perhaps these men did not originate so much as revive their ideas, and more important, did so at a time when both writing, and more disciplined verbal recording, were becoming important. In the next Age we will see how their teachings helped change the course of history.
The Christian Age
The Pattern of Time VI
With the Christian Church we find ourselves well and truly into the time of written history, with plenty of material from Roman times to document the course of our story (not to mention the New Testament). So, as you can read it all elsewhere, it is arguably a waste of time to go on with my 'Five/six Age' series. Certainly what I can write in only two or three pages, will be a far less comprehensive impression of this age than I was able to give of earlier ages. So I think it best if I concentrate on one or two particular aspects of Christian Church history on which Swedenborg's Writings cast a different light, to that shown by conventional History. Controversial suggestions such as that the Christian Church began declining early in the 4th century, or that it ground to an end in the 18th.
Preparing the Ground
We also have more detailed information about the centuries prior to the Christian period (which are not covered in the Bible) and can see that there was a period of preparation paving the way for the establishment of that 'new' age. We are well aware of the Hebrew prophecies of the Old Testament, but the scene was also made ready in other ways, by other cultures. The dominant culture in the Middle East around this time was the Greek civilisation, spread by Alexander the Great's conquests. We all know that the New Testament was written in Greek, but it isn't always realised how strong Greek culture was in Jerusalem. For instance the architecture of Herod's Temple, where Our Lord preached, would have been Greek. The Greeks had been developing a new language with a more flexible grammar and extended vocabulary, suitable for drama, science and philosophy. So the apostles had the perfect means of expression for the message of the new revelation, and all the literate inhabitants of the Eastern Mediterranean would be able to read and understand it.
Politically, however, Rome dominated the scene. As we know from the Christmas Story in Luke, Caesar Augustus was ruling, and he well deserves his mention in the Bible, for after years of war and conflict he had established a period of peace that we now call the Pax Romana. This period was to last for several centuries, during which, the Christian Church could spread and become securely established.
So we find the three 'classical' cultures of our Western Civilisation laying down a foundation for the Church. And as it is often pointed out, at Our Lord's crucifixion the title 'The King of the Jews' was carved
in their three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, as if to symbolise this fact. They are, of course immediately recognisable as corresponding to love, wisdom and power, or shall we say order, in this particular case.
A new age? But what new age?
So everything is ready for a new age, but we do have a problem. In the previous 'ages' we examined, the spiritual ages coincided with material ages. The beginning of the Ancient Church was accompanied by the Agricultural Revolution and the Jewish Church by the beginning of the Iron Age. The New Church too coincided with the Industrial Revolution, but what of the Christian Church? There was no great material change in our way of living in the 1st century AD. Nevertheless, in a way, the Christian Church was also a material change; it was a different sort of church.
Since the latter part of the Bronze Age, most religion had been integrated with nationality and government. If you were born a Jew, Persian, or whatever, you followed the religion of those nations, and with rare exceptions, such as that of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, kings faithfully maintained these religions. State, or race, and religion were interdependent. But now for the first time we begin to find religions setting up on their own, independent of race and politics; claiming to be on a plane above such things, to be truly spiritual in their outlook. And, Christianity was not the only instance of such a religion.
It is remarkable that just at the time that Isaiah began to make prophesies about the Our Lord's coming, Zarathustra in Persia, the Buddha in India and Confucius in China, were putting forward not dissimilar kinds of doctrines. These prophets lived in times of war but then in the 1st century AD came a time of peace, when Christianity began to take shape; as also did Zoroastrianism, Mahayana Buddhism and Confucianism. They all suddenly begin to expand outside the smaller groups of religious devotees with whom they had first taken root - later there was Islam. Hence my sub-title to this chapter 'The Age of Religions', as these other faiths also reflected the life of the new heavens. And to some extent this was reflected in the establishment of new Empires; the Parthian in Iraq and Persia; the Kushan in India; and the Han in China. Each of these powers, like Rome, kept the peace in their areas for the next two centuries, while these religions established themselves as Christianity was doing.
Historians can only remark on the coincidence, but we know that the wars before AD1 reflect the conflict inspired by the hells at the close of the Jewish (3rd Ancient) Heaven; while the peace after AD 30 resulted from the order established by Jesus in the spiritual world at the beginning of the Christian Heaven.
In his last incomplete work, the Coronis, Swedenborg says that each Church or Age went through periods corresponding to morning, noon, evening and night. Though vague in the case of other churches, he does say that the morning of the Christian Church only lasted a century, the noon period two and that from approximately 300 AD the Church started to go downhill. That is just when it became recognised as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and before it had even reached most of Western Europe. Looking at it from a Western European point of view, he is claiming that decay was endemic in our branches of the Church before it even started.
We should realise, however, that the Western European view may be somewhat biased. We now look on the Eastern Mediterranean countries as part of the third world, but then, before soil erosion had set in, they were the most prosperous, densely populated and cultured areas of the world. So any movement located there during those three centuries may well have been a major spiritual and material force. Indeed it must have been so to persuade the all powerful Roman Emperors to accept it as their official religion.
Alas we know very little about this early church. Western culture,, the only area where much historical research is carried on, sees little reason to study eastern Christianity and the academic authorities in that area are now dominated by Islam, so that there is little interest there either. But in any case there is no reason not to accept Swedenborg's view, indeed it is shared by a number of historians who feel that once the Church had to compromise with the official policies of the Empire it was bound to go downhill spiritually. Feminists also point out that although women had played an important part in the apostolic church, they were ignored after about 300 AD.
Nevertheless out of it all the Church had evolved and spread in all directions, not just westwards as we are taught to assume. For a while the Church grew in Jerusalem as a Jewish sect. Most early Christians were Jews so the Church spread wherever Jews were found. There were far more Jews in Babylon, or in Alexandria than Jerusalem. From Spain to India you could find their trading communities and Christian missionaries followed their migration, spreading the new religion; based of course on the Jewish Word.
The Christian Church was consolidated in Greece and, as the Orthodox Church, spread up into the Balkans and Russia. Christianity went northwards to Antioch, into Turkey to form the Armenian Church. It went Eastwards, as the Nestorian Church, through Babylon to Persia, India (where it is still alive as the
Malabar Church) and even reached China. One wonders if these Christians may not have had some influence on eastern religions. To the south, through the Jews of Alexandria, the Coptic Church was formed in Egypt and may well have been the most scholarly and well informed of all the branches. Within it the first monasteries evolved and the New Testament probably took shape. To the south the Ethiopian Church grew, and all along the then populous and fertile north coast of Africa the Church spread and flourished.
So the Western Church that dominates our history books was not all important, and perhaps it contributed less to the Christian Heavens than the Eastern Churches. Nevertheless it did have a unique and important part to play, because it was destined to form the 'remnant', from which a new church, the New Church was to grow. I think one can sense this quite early on its history in the 5th century, when the Pope commissioned Jerome to collect the various Hebrew and Greek writings the Church had been using until now and translate them into Latin. Thus was formed what we call the Bible, which, although it included the 'Apocrypha' which Luther and the Protestants later rejected, was basically the book that would become the best-seller of all time. A book that fifteen hundred years later, in the era of the New Church would be printed in millions, sent all round the globe and translated into every popular language.
For the time being, however, the newly handwritten Bible probably led a rather precarious life, existing in relatively few copies, kept in monasteries that were very much at the mercy of barbarians sweeping down from the north. Nevertheless many copies were preserved; possibly the most significant being those treasured by the monks of the Celtic Church, safe on unnoticed islands away from the vandal hordes. In time these Celts brought the Bible and its teachings back to Northern Europe, where Charlemagne and other Germanic Kings would establish Christianity, albeit in a diluted and polluted form, in the new and developing lands of Northern Europe.
Providence uses the decadent Church
The Roman Church had many weaknesses. Its Popes and leaders may have been power hungry; they may have lent spiritual respectability to numerous bloody wars and have burnt innumerable innocent souls who dared to question whether their authority was less than divine. Nevertheless it preserved an organisation that kept the Word and the Worship of the Lord alive, albeit in a somewhat confused form and alongside the idolatry of Mary and former pagan deities disguised as saints. But it was tempted to swell its riches and among other practices used hit on the idea of selling 'indulgences' by means of which the rich could purchase the forgiveness of their sins and so buy entrance to heaven. The transparent immorality the idea was more than the more honest of the clergy could accept and became the immediate cause of Luther's rebellion.
The Reformation of the North European Churches had much to commend it. Indulgences and similar practices were banned, the priesthood was pinged of materialism and priests were allowed to marry; if only to avoid the sexual temptations Roman clergy were openly lax about. Most significant, however, was the translation of the Bible into German, English, Dutch, Swedish etc. so that the Word could be read in a language that people understood. Services also were no longer held in Latin, so that lay people could form their own conclusions about religion. It was an important step towards the New Church when it would 'be permitted to enter intellectually into the things of Faith'.
In Luther's desire to abolish indulgences, however, he went too far and also claimed that 'works of charity', which were perhaps often done in an insincere and ostentatious manner, were as worthless as the money given for indulgences; that the only route to heaven was through 'faith' and belief. The intentions of the Lutherans were no doubt good, but they opened the way for falsities that were equally bad if not worse than those of Catholicism. The idea that one could get away with a life of evil as long as you believed, even to the extent of supporting the efficacy of 'death-bed repentances'.
Not only was the Church misusing its influence, however, but it was also loosing it, especially among the more intelligent and powerful - though this was not altogether a bad thing in the circumstances. Knowledge was growing in the time we call the enlightenment and people, not unlike Swedenborg, were finding it difficult to accept the falsified picture of God and Religion offered by the Churches. Such questioning was not unhealthy, but led to spiritual instability where a true understanding of truth was not available from the few teachers who still had some inkling of truth.
There were still honest and good people about, as stories such as Fielding's Tom Jones show, but the good and bad are very confused; the good mischievous and the evil hypocritically righteous. It reflected the state of the World of Spirits where simple spirits were in a state of contusion and hypocrites were organising 'false heavens' in which to recruit the confused.
Time for Change
The time had arrived when the Lord would again have to restructure the heavens, when he would free them to open up another level of our minds. The Christian Church corresponds to our adulthood when we come to think more seriously about religion and have to make more decisions about how to apply it - the stage when we feel less in awe of God and can accept him as our friend. If we pass through this stage successfully the Lord can lead us into the final stage of regeneration when friendship blossoms into fullness of complete understanding and love; the spiritual environment of the New Church; the beginning of which we will consider in the next article of this series. The last chapter of this 'pattern of time' which I hope is helping readers to make purposeful sense of the long and confused panorama of history.
The New Age
The Pattern of Time VII
The New Age; the Industrial Revolution, the maturity of mankind; to be a 'Celestial age', when God will come as the Bridegroom of the New Church
From 1750 onwards, in his work the Arcana, Swedenborg began noting that the end of the Christian Age was near (nos 900, 9312, 18504, 2121) and finally claimed to witness a Last Judgement on that age in 1757, which he recorded in his book of that title. Little notice was taken of the date for many years, though when the New Church was established, its members took it very seriously and some started dating their letters etc. by both the First and Second Advents, i.e. 1757=1, 1760=4, 1800=44 etc.. William Blake, having read Swedenborg, and having himself been born in 1757, was also happy to go along with the idea.
I don't know that anyone else took much notice of the date until recently. Writing as late as 1926, Trevelyan notes many interesting things concerning Church and society in the mid 18th c., but fails to label the time as pivotal. Churchill, predictably, does recognise the significance of the Seven Years War (1756-63) as the first 'World War', but goes no further.
Support for Swedenborg's date of 1757
But recently the concept of a critical change about 1757 has been growing, and we can now back up this wild Swedenborgian fancy with reasonably persuasive arguments. When historians consider the 18th c. today, it is to label it as a time of unprecedented change. Andrew Graham Dixon in his recent TV series on British Art said, 'During the late 18th century, Western civilisation changed profoundly and forever'. I like quoting the beginning of J M Roberts section on the 'Great Acceleration' in his History of the World (1976);
'In the middle of the 18th c. most people in the world could still believe that the world would go on much as it seemed always to have done. ..But;../ the next century and a half change was to come thick and fast...a world once regulated by tradition was on a new course....continuing and accelerating transformation.'
The massive four volume Chronology of the World published by Helicon, chooses to start Vol 4 entitled The Modern World, in 1763 (the end of the Seven Years War); and the penultimate chapter of A J Toynbee's last book Mankind and Mother Earth (c. 1970) also picks 1763 as a starting point. The Oxford History of Art chooses the years 1700-1830 for one of its volumes, to cover 'an Era of Unprecedented Economic Growth'. One can go on quoting titles: European Society in Upheaval; Social History Since 1750; The British Revolution 1750-1970; or Britain Transformed; The development of British society since the mid-eighteenth century. Everybody is beginning to go along with Swedenborg's date, even if they wouldn't agree with his reasons the for choice. Any critic of Swedenborg has to accept that, although he didn't have the benefit of hindsight, he was bang on target when he nominated this by no mean obviously special year of 1757.
Of course none of these history books mention the beginning of a new spiritual age, they are primarily concerned with the material plane, but we know that the two planes are interrelated. Swedenborg notes in his Last Judgement paragraph no.73, that some things will go on as before, such as 'politics, peace-treaties, alliances and wars', but that 'The future state of the Church will not be the same'. (The Editor won't let me quote the whole paragraph, but look it up if you can.) I am interpreting, but I believe, that between these extremes of politics and the Church, there is a wide spectrum of activities that Swedenborg does not mention, but which will be also be changed; if to greater or lesser extents. In particular, in so far as they touch on spiritual or psychological matters, I would suggest that music, art, literature and social matters would, to use Swedenborg's words: 'not be the same....because people in the church will henceforward have more freedom in thinking about matters of faith, and so about spiritual matters which have to do with heaven, because of the restoration of spiritual freedom.' (L.J. 73)
Preparing for the New Church,
The 'restoration of spiritual freedom' was what the New Church and Age was all about - 'freedom of thought'. In the first three quarters of the Second Millennium, in most of Europe and the World, people accepted the ideas their priests and rulers imposed upon them. Then in the 15th c. in Italy, even in the heart of the Catholic Church and with the encouragement of the Popes, the Renaissance was born. A return towards Classical ideas and a willingness to see things from another point of view; a warm 'humanist', rather than the cool ecclesiastical, scholastic, point of view.
The Renaissance challenged Catholic attitudes, but not the authority of the Pope himself. In the 16th c. this further step was taken by the 'Reformation' in Northern Europe, through Luther's insistence on the supreme authority of the Word. But religion was still firmly in control, particularly in Calvinist circles.
In the 17th c. however, the aristocrats and intellectuals of French-dominated Europe launched the 'Enlightenment'. They ceased to take the Church seriously; although they invented Deism, a religion without the Church and not very much morality. On the emotional and practical planes they may have had their faults, but intellectually the men, and women, of the Enlightenment were earnest seekers after truth. They took a delight in scientific discovery. Swedenborg, born in the period, was very much a child of the Enlightenment. But without Divine Revelation they could only find material truth. After much searching in science, anatomy and philosophy, Swedenborg too had reluctantly discovered this. But as he reached this point, he was offered exceptional spiritual awareness and began to accept a higher enlightenment, which could prepare the world for a New Age or Church.
Signs of a New Age?
I don't need to repeat all that Swedenborg writes about the Last Judgement. I just want to see if history confirms his claim that something important happened in 1757 when he said it occurred. Swedenborgians have noted that such general movements as the Industrial Revolution, Modern Democracy, Universal Education, and Female Emancipation began at this time. Note that these are all practical movements affecting large numbers of people; not just the theoretical discoveries of the scientists or philosophers of the Enlightenment which might not have any immediate wider application.
The publication of historical research in popular form now permits us to identify specific events, as well as the general movements noted above. I would suggest that much depended on the ease with which the spirits of the new heavens could 'inspire' the minds of those willing to exercise the 'freedom of thinking' that Swedenborg tells us was now possible. Probably the smoothest transitions were of feelings rather than ideas, so that the Arts tended to change more quickly than the Sciences. Especially music, which derives its very name from the assumption that it is inspired by 'muses', the Greek goddesses who cared for the Arts.
I dealt with this subject recently in the October '96 issue of Lifeline, so I won't elaborate on the subject. I note, however, that after the creative period of Bach and Handel in the 1740s and 50s there was a dark period when little music was composed, and that in the year 1757 nobody seems to have written any music at all. But almost immediately after the 1757 we find Haydn, Johann Christian Bach, James Boyce, and then Mozart blossoming forth into a new youthful exuberance of excitement and melody that was soon to settle down into a new pure and elegant classicism, and eventually the power and the glory of Beethoven.
Frozen music from heaven?
Another form of art that may, because of its abstract nature, be easily influenced by the heavens is architecture (sometimes poetically called 'frozen music'). Architecture too undoubtedly changed in the latter half of the century, with the sudden dismissal of the elaborate and rather frivolous Rococo style and its replacement by the simple and pure Neoclassical style (for Englishmen 'Regency' style). Again the year 1757 has its significance as the Pantheon (or Church of St Genvieve) in Paris was conceived that year. Its story is interesting. Great symbolic significance could be placed on the fact that in 1757, Louis XV King of France, then the most powerful man in the world, appeared to be dying; the despair of his doctors. He did not lack faith, however, and turned to God, vowing to rebuild the ruined church of St Genvieve if he could live on. Perhaps God was impressed; certainly Louis lived on and began the construction of the Church. (It was completed in the French Revolution, when the atheist government used it as a mausoleum for their 'new age')
Within a few decades buildings in the same style appeared all over Europe, and America too. The same pure, simple style also inspired furniture design, clothes fashion, painting and sculpture. In the latter cases we can claim some Swedenborgian connection as John Flaxman, the first Professor of Sculpture of the Royal Academy and member of the Swedenborg Society Council, was one of its most influential exponents. His books of illustrations to Homer, in simple confident line drawing, became the standard text book in art schools all over Europe.
Rather more slowly - though very rapidly compared with earlier times - literature, education and social awareness also developed in new ways. Scientific knowledge greatly increased and turned craft into the 'technology' that has so changed our everyday life. One could quote many familiar and unfamiliar examples, but we haven't space here.
Politics, war and language.
Even in the fields where Swedenborg did not predict change it has been very apparent. In the political field the American and French Revolutions had provided a firm basis for modern democracy. Wars did continue, but tended to have more positive outcomes. To return to 1757, there was the Seven Years War, often ignored by English history books as it had no glorious English victories such as Blenheim or Waterloo. It began as a small conflict in Silesia between Prussia and Austria in 1756. But in the critical year of 1757, it escalated into the first world war, when Austria sought assistance from France, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Saxony, while Prussia involved Hanover and Britain. Britain avoided the bloody continental conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers died and towns and villages without number were laid waste, but helped Prussia with finance and by creating diversions in India and Canada, where France had colonial interests. After six years of suicidal battling the European war dragged to a halt with the Peace of Paris in 1763 (which you may remember was the date most frequently mentioned in the history books). At the cost of a generation of young men Prussia gained Silesia, the only real winner was Britain who gained dominance over France in India and North America and so became the world's leading colonial power. As a result, although the then population of France was double that of Britain; today ten times as many people speak English as talk French. The language in which the vast majority of New Church literature has come to be written is now found everywhere.
Britain, America, Africa, and the New Church
Swedenborg never predicted a successful political future for Britain, but he tells us that at that time, because of their respect for the Word, the British occupied the centre of the earth's heaven. In time, however, he said the African's would come to occupy this position. Today, the dominant cultures of the USA, the world's leading nation, are English and African.
America is very much a Christian nation; (yet tolerant of Judaism). Like Judaism the Christian Church did not die with the Christian Age and though beleaguered keeps going. It has, however, changed and many of those changes began in the late 18th century and gradually moved Christianity in a Swedenborgian direction. Methodism got underway and spread enthusiasm and change into other denominations. In America they speak of 'The Great Awakening' at this time, when evangelical preaching became popular. Innumerable sects blossomed in America, perhaps reflecting variety in the New Heavens. Colonialism also enabled Christianity to become the most widespread world religion and by 'meeting' African and Asian cultures to develop yet more variant forms.
Reformed Judaism also began around this time, thus ensuring the conservation of the Old Testament text for the New Age. There have been less obvious revivals and transformations among the Eastern religions and merging of ideas between faiths.
As you read about these major events in history books, if you are very, very lucky, you may come across a short mention of a certain Swedenborg or the New Church. Most historians suspect they are a passing phenomenon, yet few are disrespectful. This tiny privileged group, and their unassuming prophet, without much deliberate missionary effort, have somehow spread themselves all around the world. They turn up in all sorts of theological, scientific and cultural situations; they are still alive and well, if suffering from a seemingly permanent identity crisis. Are they and their doctrines going to inherit the earth, or are they like the Jews, the custodians of the Old Testament, destined to a subordinate yet probably eternal future? To what extent I wonder, will they, like their Jewish predecessors, gain strength from their realisation of the nature of their special, if uncelebrated, place in history?
And so I must leave any one who is still reading this series somewhat in mid-air. The New Age has barely woken up - it doesn't as yet seem to be the 'maturity of mankind'. It is only half aware that it has passed through our Series of Ages and even less alive to the realisation of how different the New Age is. Things are moving so fast that one has little time to find out where one is, but I hope these articles may have helped readers to gather time into some sort of perspective. Most of all I hope that it will have confirmed you in the belief that the Lord has planned 'the pattern of time' and that His Providence is, and always has been, in control of the course of history.