Beauty, Innocence and Love
by Rev. Robert S. Jungé
We read: "And Abram said unto Sarai, his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon..."(Genesis 12:11). And later when the servant was lead to find a wife for Isaac, we read of Rebekah, "And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her." (Genesis 24:16). And still later we read, "Rachel was beautiful and well favored. And Jacob loved Rachel." (Genesis 29:17).
Thus the outstanding beauty of each of the wives of the Patriarchs is praised. Their stories firmly link three concepts together: Beauty, innocence, and love.
Love is so fundamental and so basic that the teaching of our lesson confronts us harshly. "Man knows that there is such a thing as love but he does not know what love is" (CL 34). Love can only be known through the forms it takes, for example: through its beauty and its innocence. Beauty is applied to three different women in our texts, each representing beauty on different levels of human life even to the inmost. It is so easy to think of beauty as a merely natural or physical thing, but there is a beauty we see in those we love which is hidden to others. On every plane of life, beauty and innocence are a fundamental inspiration to conjunction. Conjugial love descends from the union of the Divine and the Human in the Lord, of Whom it is prophesied, "Beautiful art Thou above the sons of men" (Psalm 45:2). And the Human was united to the Divine and became innocence itself. Thus beauty and innocence are one in the Lord and descend from Him.
In contrast, the terms beauty and innocence are used almost apologetically by many today, even within the Church. "Don't be so innocent," they say. Or, "Come down to reality." Yet through beauty and innocence a husband is drawn to his wife as to soul, mind and body.
We note first the following teaching: "No one can see the infinite varieties of (conjugial) love in any light of the understanding, though elevated, unless he first knows what that love is in its very essence and integrity; that is to say, what it was when together with life it was implanted in man by God" (CL 57). "Together with life." What an awe inspiring concept for the man of the Church to ponder, for we read: "That there is a conjugial sphere which flows in from the Lord through heaven into all things and everything of the universe, even to its ultimates" (CL 222). Then we read, "That sphere is received by the female sex, and through this is transferred into the male sex" (CL 223). And "where there is love truly conjugial this sphere is received by the wife, and by the husband solely through the wife." (CL 224). This is said to be a secret "and yet in itself is not secret, for the bridegroom and the newly married husband may know it," and it is also evident with those who live together in love truly conjugial (CL 224).
Let us think first of that beauty which operates celestially, spiritually and naturally. A wife puts on genuine beauty as step by step she resists her selfishness, her proprium. In the light of truth she chooses the forms that her love will express - the ideal for which she will stand as beautiful in her husband's eyes. In this way she manifests what is from the Lord in her. In part this ideal is formed from her own study, and in part it is a response to what she believes her husband cherishes - his wisdom. If he is a worthy husband, he will have shunned the pride of self intelligence and what he cherishes will be what the Word teaches. In this way through the Word, a true wife has the key to making him genuinely happy. And through the inspiration of her beauty patterned by the Word, he has the key to making her genuinely happy. Both are inspired to love what is from the Lord in the other. Thus the states of mutual wisdom alternate and grow in freedom, with the Word as the medium of conjunction.
The source of the attractive power of love is manifested in that beauty which the Word alone can reveal. We say the Word alone can reveal it, because "spiritual beauty is the affection of interior truth" (AC 4985). Unless both the men and women of the Church learn to think interiorly of beauty, the teachings of the Writings will be a constant source of grief. Consider for example the teaching, "A woman who does not wish to be beautiful is not a woman who wishes to love and be loved, and so is not truly a woman." (CL 330). A woman's natural endowment alone cannot fulfill that essential wish. Natural loveliness, even when present, slips away with the passage of time. Only spiritual beauty has the capacity to grow to all eternity. Every woman can cultivate the affection for truth and pattern her loves and manners according to the Lord's teaching. She will always strive for grace and to enhance the spiritual affection of truth within (cf. AE 555). But she can become genuinely beautiful, she can love and be loved, because to be truly a woman is spiritual, not natural.
For many years she may feel internally inadequate and awkward, almost like a spiritual adolescent. Yet these steps need encouragement and appreciation so that their true potential may be realized. The man of the Church must cultivate the spiritual eyes to see this gradually budding but genuine beauty. So we are taught, "Men are receptions according to the wisdom with them, especially according to this from religion, that the wife only is to be loved... When the wife only is loved, the love is concentrated; and as it is also ennobled thereby, it abides in its strength, is constant and enduring" (CL 161). By the best understanding of truth they can acquire, the men of the Church must defend feminine beauty because it is the means to the conjunction of good and truth. And inept or faltering though that defense may be, it should be graciously received by the feminine, if the circle of mutual love is to grow.
And yet how often is the fantastic and illusory pursuit of cupidity declared to be the real world, even beautiful. But the truth is that the idealism taught in the Writings is the one thing that can bring us step by step back to reality. And it is within reach, for though we falter, the Lord comes not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. His love and forgiveness are intrinsic to every ideal presented in His Word. A life according to these teachings, "by little and little" can and will restore the beauty and innocence of human love, that kind of love and tenderness we sometimes glimpse in the eyes of an older couple.
Yet so lowered is the concept of beauty today that even using the word seems to distort the precious truth that is involved in the moving story of Isaac's and Rebekah's courtship. But let us see if we cannot raise our concept of beauty as we consider "this damsel so very fair to look upon." We find Rebekah with vessels going down and coming up from the well, drawing water which represents the truth, giving it to the animals which means disposing the lower planes of life according to truth. The scene, centering around the well, describes a feminine affection disposing itself through the truths of the Word to become a form worthy to receive and inspire a genuine and faithful suitor.
What is described here is that feminine quality which in the deepest recesses of her heart, to the very depths of her spiritual being, strives to become "very fair to look upon." In doing so, her qualities can prepare in freedom for one who will cleave to her alone. And Rebekah graciously received the gifts proffered.
In a genuine state, a woman's internal and natural beauty do not turn in on self, but look to the happiness of another, and in doing so become his inspiration to their mutual use. She is beautiful because she is seen as the spiritual affection of truth (cf. AE 555). Think of the angel's reply to Swedenborg who asked, "What has a wise man or wisdom to do with woman?" We read, "They all smiled at this and said what is a wise man or wisdom without a woman, or without love?" But note they then lead the conversation to the cause of beauty of the female sex. One angel mentioned this cause: "That the Lord has taken the beauty and grace from the man and transcribed them into the woman; and for this reason the man without reunition with his own beauty and grace in woman is stern, austere, dry and unlovely: and is not wise unless for himself alone and such a one is foolish. But when the man is united with his beauty and grace of life in the wife, he becomes agreeable, pleasant, animated and lovely and thus wise..." The last angel to speak added, "The universe was created by the Lord a most perfect work; but nothing more perfect was created therein than woman, beautiful in countenance and charming in manner, to the end that the man may render thanks to the Lord for this bountiful gift, and repay it by the reception of wisdom from Him" (CL 56). Thus the essence and derivative beauty of the feminine inspires man's very reception of wisdom. Clearly physical beauty alone is not what is meant, rather a beauty of every idea of thought and every least impulse of affection. In fact, beauty is the dwelling place of the "delights of conjugial love with their perception" (CL 56).
"Good itself when it flows in from the internal man into the external, makes beauty; and from this is all human beauty... No one is affected by the face of another, but by the affection which beams forth from the face.... Thus it is the spiritual in the natural which affects, but not the natural without the spiritual...."(AC 3080).
Yet we also read of the response to that beauty: "Without that love there is no interior charm of life, for which reason to exalt their life by that love it devolves upon men to be complaisant to women; courteously kindly and deferentially wooing and soliciting them for this sweet addition by them to their life. " (CL 297). Sadly, accepting man's admiration, complaisance, courtesy, kindness and deference is somehow interpreted as demeaning by women today. Somehow through the New Church the spiritual inspiration of feminine beauty must be restored. To accomplish this in a day when the conjugial is so rare as to be almost unknown, love and' beauty must be courteously fostered on the natural plane and consummately treasured on the spiritual by both the men and women of the Church. Think of the mutual love, and think of the beauty which inspired it, when the angel wife said to her husband, "Speak if you please: And as he spoke the life of wisdom from the wife was perceived in his speech; for the love of it was in the tone of his voice" (CL 56).
Someday, as the conjugial is restored, the men of the Church will speak in such tones that the very life of wisdom from their wives will be perceived in their speech.
Natural beauty is a mediate good. It initiates and prepares for conjunction. The feminine mind only gradually becomes fair to look upon. The masculine acquires wisdom in the sweat of his face. Only through much gradual preparation will man feel these precious states as his own. We read: "Take also as an example conjugial love: the good which precedes and initiates is beauty, or agreement of manners, or an outward adaptation of the one to the other, or a condition equally suitable to both, or a desired condition. These goods are the first mediate goods of conjugial love. Afterwards comes conjunction of minds, wherein the one wills as the other. This is the second state; and then the former things, though still present are no longer regarded. Finally there follows a unition in respect to celestial good and spiritual truth, in that the one believes as the other, and the one is affected by the same good as the other. When this state comes, both are together in the heavenly marriage which is that of good and truth, and thus are in conjugial love... and the Lord then flows into the affections of both as into one affection... :(AC 4145).
We are pledged then to a future state which only a lifetime can bring to fruition. We so yearn for that appreciation from the opposite sex which alone the fullness of state can bring. We must learn by instruction to walk patiently that we may come to those states of "the most exquisite exploration which surpass all belief" (AC 3110). To point the way to this end the Word does not speak of Rebekah's beauty alone. It adds, "The damsel was a virgin, neither had any man known her" (text). She was a virgin, the symbol of that innocence which is so familiarly defined as willingness to be led by the Lord.
It is not a wife's beauty alone then, which inspires love, but her innocence as well. Nor is it her willingness to be led by her husband, but her willingness to be led by the Lord. As nothing else can, her innocence testifies to her husband of a profound need to understand the Lord's will that she may be lead by it. Thus her innocence becomes a call to the masculine use itself.
"The Word is the medium of conjunction because it is from the Lord and thus is the Lord" (CL 128). Only what is from the Lord can fulfill the trust of a virgin state.
One problem in understanding the inner states of feminine beauty is that we tend to think of all beauty as a gift, rather than as something acquired as if of self from within. It takes the deepest feminine perception and consummate prudence to moderate the inspiration of beauty and the dependence of innocence without seeking dominion (cf. CL 166). Like Rebekah, at times the states must be veiled. Only gradually are the appearances removed, as the conjunction takes place in genuine good (AC 3207). Unquestionably the Lord leads the women of the Church to this end through their own feminine understanding of the Word. It must be that through feminine eyes the Word is seen in a unique way. Through her own reflection on the Word she must be able to learn those forms which will serve the descent of the sphere of the conjugial, in herself and in the Church at large. She must be able to see the rational relationship of these qualities to heavenly use itself. Though a form of affection, in her own right she must possess sufficient light of truth to expose her proprium that she may serve her God. Thus we read, "There is feminine love to the Lord and there is masculine love to the Lord." Yet the passage continues, "The love is not full unless these are together" (1st Index, Sex). Thus "conjunction is inspired into the man by the wife according to her love; and is received by the man according to his wisdom" (CL 161).
Whether the women of the Church uphold spiritual innocence depends on choices between them and the Lord, which no one else can make for them. Whether the men of the church uphold the understanding of the truth of the Word depends on choices between them and the Lord which no one else can make for them. But through beauty and innocence the Lord has provided a sphere of tender love which can inspire two to become one. May the women of the Church prayerfully find ways to become living symbols of beauty and innocence with a feminine strength and dedication which every worthy man respects. May they learn to tenderly and gracefully accept man's efforts to become wise and to proffer worthy gifts. May the men of the Church in their turn dedicate themselves to the study of the Word that they may acquire the wisdom of life from its only Source. Through their reading and meditation may they provide for their partners in return a uniquely masculine inspiration from the Lord alone. If the men of the Church apply their hearts unto wisdom, the women of the Church will know that beauty and innocence do indeed have a home in this world. Together they will learn to warship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Words, even thoughts may fail to describe such a state, but perception will not fail as they enter into the very sphere of love itself.