My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.
Monday, March 29, 2010
I've been working on developing a chart for how to understand and apply the 10 commandments, based on some key doctrines I've been learning from the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Doctrines relating to the Lord's mercy, His love for the human race, and the true consequences of our choices and actions. This study stems from the Writings' assertion that it is the love of adultery, not necessarily the act of adultery, that condemns a person to hell (which - in more accurate terms, because the Lord personally condemns nobody to hell - means that a person will choose to live in hell.) The act of adultery is bad and harmful to oneself and one's neighbor, but it does not condemn a person unless they love it. (See Conjugial Love number 423 and also the chapter on 'Adultery in its Kinds and Degrees') I began to see how this holds true for all of the 10 commandments.
So I've started creating a chart with five columns. In the center is the 10 Commandments themselves. The column to the right of that is a column entitled, "Bad Things To Do Which Are Repentable and Forgiveable and Won't Necessarily Lead to Hell" I know it's a pretty long title, but there it is. In this column are listed the actual acts of disobeying the 10 Commandments: Killing, Committing Adultery, Lying, Stealing, Coveting, etc. These acts in themselves are bad, but won't necessarily send a person to hell. A person can repent of all of the acts of disobeying the 10 Commandments, and with the Lord's Divine Mercy get themselves to Heaven.
The column to the right of that one is called "Things That Will Lead To Hell." In this column are listed the loves of disobeying the 10 Commandments, as opposed to simply breaking them in act. Loving to kill, loving to commit adultery, loving to steal, loving to lie, etc. These things will send a person to hell, not simply the acts in themselves.
The column to the left of the center column is called, "Good Things To Do Which Won't Necessarily Lead To Heaven." In that column are listed all of the acts of literally obeying the 10 Commandments. Going to church, never taking the Lord's name in vain, not committing adultery in act, not killing, not stealing, not lying, etc. These are great things to do. But all of these things could be done from a sense of honor, reputation and personal gain. They could be done in act, but without a love for them. They are good in the sense that they keep a person from harming their neighbor. But if they aren't taken to heart, in themselves they will not get a person into Heaven.
The column to the left of that is called "Things That Will Lead To Heaven." In this column are listed all of the loves of obeying the 10 Commandments. Loving the Lord, loving one's neighbor, loving marriage, being honest, being content, etc. These are the things that lead to Heaven.
This is important to remember because we need to be careful about making spiritual judgments. If a person disobeys a particular commandments, we cannot assume that that act is filled with a love of Hell. Likewise if a person obeys a particular commandment we cannot assume that that act is filled with a love of Heaven. People in Heaven are filled with a genuine love of the Lord and the neighbor. People in Hell are filled with a genuine hatred of the Lord and the neighbor. The acts that we do or do not commit here on Earth, in themselves do not determine those loves. Good acts are definitely good. Bad acts are definitely bad. But salvation and condemnation are bigger than that.
The 10 Commandments are given primarily for us to judge ourselves. They are the guide for telling us where we are on our spiritual path.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Children need to learn how to read the literal sense of the Word, much like adults need to learn how to read the internal sense of the Word. When children are learning to read they often carefully and painstakingly sound out and pronounce every word without much expression. “The... ball... rolled... down... the... hill.” Our process is very similar. We carefully and painstakingly sound out the correspondences of the internal sense. “Horse means understanding... chariot means doctrine... sword means truth...” In time children come to learn to read with more expression, and we can recognize that they understand the meaning of the word and the story that they tell, and are no longer simply decoding the sounds within the letters. The same can eventually be true of us as adults. As we get more fluent in the genuine truths and the correspondences of the internal sense of the Word, we too have the hope of reading the internal sense more fluently and with expression, as we begin to understand the meaning of the spiritual and heavenly stories there.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
In the Christian world a minister is often called a 'pastor' referring to a 'shepherd' and the congregation is often called his 'flock.' This is for the reason that the pastor's job is to feed his flock spiritual food. But it's important to remember that in this analogy, what he is feeding them is not food that he has made or prepared, but rather it is straight from the Lord, available to all, as the grass of the fields is to sheep. The pastor's job is simply to lead the flock to where they can find and eat food for themselves; in the pastures of the Lord.
Monday, March 22, 2010
In the doctrines of our church there is the concept that when we read the literal sense of the Word, whether we understand it or not, it makes the angels happy. For a long time I have struggled with the concept. Isn’t the purpose of reading the Word for us to gain an understanding of the Lord and His Truths? Why does it matter if it makes the angels happy, if it doesn’t do anything for our own spiritual lives? And while I still believe that reading the Word with understanding is preferable and should be the goal, I have gained a new perspective on the additional use of angels being made happy by the reading of the Word, even if it is without our own understanding. It comes down to this: loving the neighbor. Reading the Word makes the angels happy, and this is good because it is an expression of love to the neighbor. The angels are our neighbors! And this scenario helps to illustrate two important truths of our church: 1. That the angels are people like us, and that thus they fall into the category of the ‘neighbor.’ And 2. that the angels are present with us, here and now, as opposed to being distant and ‘up’ in Heaven. Heaven is all around us, and therefore Heaven’s residents are our neighbors. Heaven is full of people, and thus we should love them as we are commanded to love all our neighbors. I find that often I believe that angels don’t need our love. After all they have other angels to love them; and in a much more perfect capacity than we are often capable of loving people. But here on earth we provide a very important function in that we are the foundation of Heaven. We ‘ground’ the Heavens. And even though we are not as regenerate as the angels are, we are capable of serving them as our neighbors. This includes reading the literal sense of the Word here on Earth. That is one of the ways which we can express love for our neighbors in Heaven.
A couple nights ago I attended a Feast of Charity here in Bryn Athyn. It was a wonderful chance for multiple generations of this community to get together and share ideas on what a community is, or should be. Despite the fact that my wife and I had to be chasing our four kids around a lot of the time, we did manage to engage in some good conversation. Many people shared some wonderful ideas with the whole group. During the course of the evening it started to become apparent to me that Good Community is based on Good Communication. It seems obvious when looking at the two words together, but I think it is important to remember. 'Love of the neighbor' is based on our ability to communicate with each other, and that is what creates good community.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Why did the Lord, in His first advent, come as a man and not as a woman? First I would like to address why I believe this is an important question to raise. In the General Church of the New Jerusalem we believe that the truths of the Lord's second coming as revealed by Swedenborg help us to grow closer to the Lord in His Divine humanity. We believe that the God of heaven and earth took on the merely natural form of Jesus Christ in the world. We also believe that, as it says in Genesis 1:27, both men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, and so God is the source of both masculinity and femininity. But because the language of the Old and New Testaments refers to God almost exclusively in a masculine way, it can be hard for women to feel close to the Lord, especially given that Jesus Christ was in fact male. For example, when a woman is giving birth, how easy is it for her to know that the Lord knows exactly what she is going through, if she is picturing Him in the masculine form of Jesus Christ? I personally know women who struggle with this issue. I hope that in the course of this study I can shed some light on this subject, so that women might be able to feel closer to the Lord, and so that all of us might understand our relationship with the Lord more clearly.
(The quotations in this paper are taken from the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg).
Purpose of the Advent
In asking why the Lord came as a man and not a woman, we must first examine why the Lord came at all. What was the purpose of the first advent? The Lord came into this world to save the human race from extinction. Because the Lord gave us freedom, and a sense that life is our own, we can get ourselves into trouble. As long as this trouble is balanced by goodness in the world, our freedom is maintained. But if the balance gets off, an intervention is required, because evil actually prevents good people from getting to heaven. So the Lord came to save us from our own eternal damnation. And He did this by pushing back and subjugating the hells, restructuring the heavens, and establishing a New Church (see True Christianity 84). He also saved us by glorifying His Human, which meant that He could then continually keep the hells at bay (see New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 293), and it also meant that He could then truly be conjoined with us (see Secrets of Heaven 2554). One might be tempted to think - in a stereotypical sort of way - that it was because the Lord came to fight that He must have come as a man. But I think there’s a lot more to it than that.
So how did the Lord accomplish this task? By means of Divine truth, and by means of His Divine Human. An intervention was required, but the Lord could not come to us in His full essence, or His sheer Divinity would have annihilated us. So He came as a part of Him; as Divine truth. He came as the part of Himself that can approach us, and can be approached by us. And He came as the part of Himself that had the power to fight back the hells without destroying them. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14). Jesus Christ was the bodily visible form of Divine truth, which in turn is the form of the Lord’s Divine love.
In my experience this is very often where we reach the end of the discussion: The Lord came as Divine truth, and men are forms of truth, while women are forms of love (see Married Love 90, 160, 187, 223; Secrets of Heaven 8337), so therefore the Lord had to have come in the form of a masculine man. But I think there is a lot more to it than that. For one thing: sometimes in the Word women represent truth. And in fact sometimes women represent Divine truth, as was the case with Sarah, Abraham’s wife (see Secrets of Heaven 2063). So it seems it was not simply the fact that the Lord came as Divine truth that meant that He had to be male.
Masculine and Feminine
Perhaps to understand this better we need to examine exactly what the relationship is between good and truth, and masculinity and femininity. What does the masculine represent?
"The inmost quality in masculinity is love, and it’s veil is wisdom, or in other words, it is love veiled with wisdom, while the inmost quality in femininity is that same wisdom, the wisdom of masculinity, and its veil the love resulting from it" (Married Love 32).
"A male is born intellect-oriented and ... a female is born will-oriented, or in other words, ... a male is born with an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise, while a female is born with a love for joining herself to that affection in the male" (Married Love 33).
So if the Lord was meant to be the Word made flesh, it makes sense that He would need to be born with an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise. And if the masculine is ultimately ‘love veiled with wisdom’ it makes sense that the Lord would also follow this pattern because the Lord is Divine love clothed with Divine wisdom. This all makes sense, but one still might wonder: if men and women are equal, and both are created in the image of God, then it seems out of balance for the nature of the Lord to be reflected in the spiritual structure of men, more than that of women. Again, there must be something deeper going on here.
The Divine Human
Perhaps a better understanding can be gained on this subject if we explore the nature of the Lord’s Divine Human and His Divine Natural. “After He assumed the Human in the world, He also became Man in ultimates,” (Doctrine of the Lord 36). Gender issues aside, it is important to know that when the Lord was born, His body was completely natural just like our bodies. This represents the fact that God is human and we are human because God is human.
"He has a body and every thing pertaining to it, that is, a face, breast abdomen, loins and feet; for without these He would not be a Man" (Divine Love and Wisdom 18).
A full understanding of this fact is what leads to a full understanding of the fact that God is human and has a personality. It prevents us from getting the false impression that God is an impersonal force. But at the same time we need to recognize that He is much more than a human body.
Here is an analogy that helps to explain this concept: The Lord was in a finite body, in a similar way that the Divine truth is contained in the Bible. The Bible as a natural, physical object is not Divine truth, but it contains within it Divine truth. In a similar way, Jesus’ body, as a natural, physical object was not Divine, but it contained within it Divinity.
After the Lord was glorified, He put off the human from Mary, and put on the Human from the Father (see Doctrine of the Lord 35:2). And unlike us when we die (see Married Love 32, 44), the Lord did not retain His gender when He was glorified. He could not have, since He was now joined to His Divine soul which was the source of both genders. The Lord was no longer constrained by masculinity, just as He was no longer constrained by time and space. But once again, lest we imagine God as being without Person, we are taught that He rose “with His whole body,” (Doctrine of the Lord 35:9) and yet “His body was not now material, but Divine substantial.” (Doctrine of the Lord 35:10) So while this may be a comfort for some to know that the glorified Lord is no longer constrained by masculinity, we are still left with the problem of trying to picture God in a human form. (It is interesting to note that when Jesus was glorified, He became the ‘Holy Spirit’; a name which is not constrained by masculinity.)
In the first advent, the Lord gave us an image of His humanity and personality by coming to earth in human form. But we are caught in the paradoxical place of needing to recognize that while God Himself came to earth in the material body of Jesus Christ, God is no longer limited by the material body of Jesus Christ. However if we simply forget about the life of Jesus Christ in an effort to move away from the associated constraints of masculinity, then we also move away from the power of the life of the One who brought us salvation. On the other hand, if we recognize that God is in essence Divine love and Divine wisdom, and that in fact “the Divine is imaged in a pair who are in truly conjugial love,” (Heaven and Hell 374) then we are at risk of falling into the trap that the Christian world fell into when they separated God into separate persons. How do we picture one human God from whom comes both masculinity and femininity?
The Writings of Swedenborg help us with this problem by reminding us that we should:
"Think about God in terms of essence, and from this think about person. Thinking in terms of person about essence means thinking materially about essence too. But thinking about person in terms of essence means thinking spiritually also about person" (True Christianity 623:5).
So we should remember that the essence of God existed in the actual person of Jesus Christ, while not being constrained by the masculine nature of that person. We need to think about the Lord as being the First and the Last... at the same time. In heaven, when the angels read the Word, the story of Jesus Christ is not limited by mere masculinity for them as it often is for us. This is because they are thinking spiritually, and not naturally. This is not easy to do, but it is what we too should strive for.
Why Not A Woman?
While the above ideas may help us with the mental problem of trying to think spiritually about the Lord beyond the masculine body of Jesus Christ, we are still left wondering: why did the Lord choose a masculine body over a feminine body?
As was mentioned above, in the Word, Sarah represents the Lord’s Divine truth, so would it not have been possible for a female Messiah to embody Divine truth? We also find many references in the Word to imagery that paints the Lord in a feminine way. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He has mercy on us." (Psalm 123.2) For example in Deuteronomy 32:11-12, and Matthew 23:37 the Lord is compared to a female bird who wishes to protect her young under her wings. The Writings indicate that in both cases this represents the power and protection of Divine truth (see Apocalypse Revealed 245). In Deuteronomy 32:18 it says, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave your birth.” The Writings indicate that here too, the ‘Rock’ signifies the truth (see Secrets of Heaven 8581). In Isaiah we find these passages:
"Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb;" (Isaiah 44:24)
"Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by Me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save." (Isaiah 46:3-4)
"Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you." (Isaiah 49:15)
The Writings indicate that all of these passages have reference to the fact that the Lord is the one who regenerates us; or in other words the one who gives birth to us spiritually (see Apocalypse Explained 710:3,11,14). So if a woman could have represented Divine truth and also the one who regenerates us, why could the female form not have been appropriate for the Messiah?
A simple and not very satisfying answer is that even though perhaps theoretically the Lord could have come as a female Messiah, still He did not. So trying to picture God in the form of a woman actually distances us from the person of the Lord God Jesus Christ. But it is useful to remember that the reasons for why the advent happened the way it did, where it did, and when it did, are not only based on the Lord’s Divine plan, but also on His reaction to our natural choices.
If we try to answer the question by looking at natural reasons, it is pretty clear: The culture of that part of the world at that time would not have accepted a female Messiah. It was an extremely patriarchal society. Hebrew and Jewish women in Biblical times were subject to their fathers and husbands. They were not counted in the censuses of the Torah, or involved in many of the religious practices. Punishments were usually more harsh for women than for men. They were in many ways considered a form of property. Polygamy was common. There are numerous laws listed in the Torah which show how women were second-class citizens, and in no way socially equal to men. The few women who had power, such as Miriam, were usually still subject to men.
When Jesus came to that church, He radically changed the way that women were viewed by how He treated them. He spoke with women (even foreign women) in public, and He had women disciples and friends. He forgave a woman caught in adultery, and He encourage people to think differently about divorce, and many of the other laws of the Torah. The Lord treated women as equals, and paved the way for how women are treated today. If the Lord had come as a woman, the culture would not have accepted her as a leader and therefore society would not have changed.
This illustrates the fact that the way the Lord appears to us (both in our minds and in the actual advent) is largely dependent on our state of reception. (see Secrets of Heaven 2520:2, 2533.2) The limited understandings - and consequent culture - of the Jews paved the way for the necessity of a male Messiah. The language of the Word, and in fact the very history of the Word, reflects humanity’s limited understanding of God. Just as we can get stuck on the appearance that God is angry, we can get stuck on the appearance that God is male.
Our Relationship With The Lord
But I am still left with wanting a more satisfying answer regarding the spiritual reasons for why the Lord came as a male. There must be a way that the equal and complementary duality of masculinity and femininity is reflected in our understanding of the Lord. As I mentioned before, women can represent either good or truth in different circumstances. Perhaps a closer look at what those circumstances are will help us gain greater clarity on this:
"In the celestial church the husband was in good, and the wife in the truth of this good; but in the spiritual church the man is in truth, and the wife in the good of this truth" (Secrets of Heaven 4823; see also 5946).
In the Word, the Lord is often referred to as the Bridegroom or Husband of the church. This brings up the interesting point that in the Word,
"a bridegroom means the Lord in respect to Divine good, and a bride means the church in respect to Divine truth from the Lord. For a church is a church by virtue of its reception of the Lord's Divine goodness in the Divine truths that it has from Him" (Apocalypse Revealed 797).
But outside of the Word, in our actual lives,
"A husband does not represent the Lord and his wife the church, because both husbands and wives together form the church.... Rather, the correspondence rests with married love, insemination, procreation, love for little children, and other things of a similar sort that occur in marriage and result from it" (Married Love 116).
So how do we synthesize all of these teachings? And how does it help to answer our question of why the Lord came as a man?
All of these numbers point to the idea of a process. The Lord was born on this earth as Divine truth, but through the process of glorification He became Divine good; the Bridegroom of the church. We also have a process in us of learning truths from the Lord that eventually lead to good from the Lord. And that process eventually moves on from truths-leading-to-good (spiritual) to good-leading-to-truths (celestial). And our relationship with the Lord is ultimately like the process of marriage, while at the same time like the state of being parented. But these points need more cohesion. So to gain more clarity let us explore the nature of our relationship with the Lord as His church.
In the Word, the feminine usually represent the church in the sense of mere humanity. From the very beginning, with the creation of Eve, the form of a woman has represented our sense of self.
"The meaning of the woman as the church can be seen from the heavenly marriage described above in number 155 [Secrets of Heaven 155]. The heavenly marriage is a relationship in which heaven (and so the church) is united to the Lord through its sense of self. In fact heaven and the church are to be found in the feeling of independent existence, because without it there could never be union. When the Lord in His mercy infuses our selfhood with innocence, peace, and goodness, it still seems to be our own, but it becomes heavenly and full of the greatest blessings.... Because of the heavenly, angelic sense of self, the Word calls the church a woman, a wife, and a bride, young woman, and daughter." (Secrets of Heaven 252-253).
But in another sense the church is not us, but actually our relationship with the Lord:
"The church comes from the Lord and it exists in people who go to Him and live according to His commandments.... Love is what conjoins, and conjunction with the Lord is the church" (Married Love 129).
So in one sense the church is humanity: finite imperfect people. But in another sense the church is an ideal that is apart from us. We might even think of the Lord and His church (in the ideal sense) as the ultimate image of a conjugial couple, where they are no longer two but one. But there is more:
"While we call the total assemblage of angels heaven because they do make it up, what really makes heaven overall and in every specific instance is the Divine Nature that emanates from the Lord, flowing into angels and accepted by them.... If people are in heaven or in the church, they are in the Lord and the Lord is in them" (Heaven and Hell 7,11).
So in a third sense the church is the Lord. The church is the Lord with us. And in that sense, the Lord takes on a feminine form, in the form of the church.
Representation of Women
In the Word, women represent a number of different things, but they are always placed in the context of men. Regarding natural reasons, we might say that this is because of the history of male-dominated society. But regarding spiritual reasons we might say that this is because women represent conjunction. When a woman represents truth, she is representing truth in it’s conjunction with good. When a woman represents good, she is representing good in it’s conjunction with truth. “A female is born with a love for joining herself to that affection in the male” (Married Love 33). It can seem out of balance or unfair that when the Lord is Divine truth He is usually represented by a man, and when He is Divine good He is also usually represented by a man. But perhaps it is that ‘distinguishing into parts’ that is represented by the masculine. Perhaps the feminine represents the conjunction (rather than separation) of good and truth in the Lord?
The masculine likes to understand and distinguish. The feminine likes to conjoin. “For the intellect has to do with light, and love with warmth, and concerns that are matters of light are seen, whereas concerns that are matters of warmth are felt” (Married Love 168). We first come to know the Lord through His distinguishable elements. As we come to understand the Lord in this way, we ‘see’ Him. And because that understanding has to do with our intellect, He appears to us as masculine. But once we have moved out of that spiritual state into a celestial state, and we experience that conjunction of good and truth in us, in the Lord, and between us and the Lord, we ‘feel’ Him. And because that feeling has to do with our will, we experience the Lord as a marriage or conjunction that is very often represented by a woman (the church).
"It seems as though truth is the primary thing in the church, because it is its first concern in time.... The good of charity is nevertheless the primary thing in the church... Now because the good of charity is from the Lord, and truth of faith exists in a person as though it originated with him, and because these two form the kind of conjunction of the Lord with people and of people with the Lord... it is apparent that this conjunction is the church" (Married Love 126).
So why did the Lord not come as a woman? Because the form of a woman represents the Lord inside of us. We do not see or worship the Lord inside of us; we live the Lord inside of us! “The reason is that goodness is a matter of warmth rather than light, and warmth is not seen but felt” (Married Love 123). Picturing and worshiping the Lord as outside of us is an intellectual, spiritual thing to do, and is represented by the masculine. This is the first, and necessary step in the process, but the end goal is that we should feel and live the Lord! That is the loving, celestial thing to do, and is represented by the feminine.
So the Lord in His first advent came in the form of a man because the masculine represents that first step in our spiritual process, and that is what the advent is. But it is only an appearance that truth is the primary thing of the church, just as the masculine form of Jesus Christ was only an appearance of the full humanity of God. He also came in the form of a man because the masculine represents that spiritual awareness that God is outside of ourselves, whereas the feminine represents that celestial awareness of God living in us and conjoined with us. There is much more to be studied on this subject than is possible in the scope of this paper, but my hope is that some of these ideas will be useful to people in understanding our relationship with the Lord God Jesus Christ.
In the General Church of the New Jerusalem we stress the importance of a belief in one God and not a Trinity of persons in God. In doing so, I find that I often tend to avoid the subject of the Trinity entirely. But the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg clearly tell us that there is indeed a Trinity in God. And the more passages I read in the Writings about the Trinity and especially the Holy Spirit, the more I get a clearer sense of the true nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One Human God of Heaven and Earth.
So what is the Holy Spirit? To put it in the simplest way, “the Lord himself is in fact the Holy Spirit.” (TCR 139) The Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ. Just like when we die and put off our physical bodies and become a spirit, Jesus Christ also died, put off His physical body and became the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ’s personality without the constraints of space and time placed on Him while He was in this world.
Without those constraints of space and time, the Holy Spirit is essentially the Lord’s presence everywhere and all the time. The Holy Spirit is His proceeding, or His radiation (but this is a good kind of radiation which we want a heavy dose of.)
Did the Holy Spirit exist before Jesus Christ? In John it says that “the Holy Spirit was not yet in existence, because Jesus was not glorified yet.” (John 7:39) Prior to the 1st Advent, there was still a Divine proceeding, only then it was proceeding from Jehovah. After the Advent, Divine Truth had a Human form in Jesus Christ, and so the Divine proceeding came directly from Jesus Christ. Prior to the Advent, the Lord was able to be present with us only by means of heaven and the angels there. After the Advent the Lord was able to present with us by means of His own Holy Spirit. (TCR 158) God’s personality of Jesus Christ - which existed in time - forever changed the way that He interacts with this world, and that is why very specifically the Holy Spirit didn’t exist before He was glorified. Before He was glorified there was no Divine proceeding that came directly from the life of Jesus Christ.
In the Christian world, the Holy Spirit is thought of as a separate Person of God. Perhaps the Christian world went astray because it attempted to place the Trinity in the context of the dimension of space (three separate Persons), rather than placing the Trinity in the context of the dimension of time. “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8) The Lord existed before time and outside of time, as Jehovah. He existed in time in the life of Jesus Christ. And He exists for all time as the Holy Spirit. But in the same way that placing the Trinity in the context of space led to the false assumption of three Persons in God, placing the Trinity in the context of time could lead to the false assumption that God changes. God does not change. But the way that we are able to interact, communicate, and conjoin with Him makes it seem as though He does.
But despite the fact that the Lord doesn’t change, it’s important that we don’t have a static image of Him. The Lord is dynamic and active. The Lord’s action is in fact the Holy Spirit (TCR 138). When we think of someone who is very active, energetic, and dynamic, we often say that he or she has ‘got spirit!‘ In a very similar way, the Lord has got Holy Spirit!
Another way we could think of the Holy Spirit is as the mind of God. In the same way that we might think of our spirit as being the equivalent to our mind, we might also think of the Holy Spirit as being the equivalent to the Lord’s mind. (TCR 156) We might even say that the Holy Spirit is like the consciousness of God. It is the part of Him that thinks and acts based on His essence. As humans, we don’t think and act directly from our soul, we think and act from our conscious mind. It is the same with the Lord, and so His thoughts and actions are the Holy Spirit. And because in the spiritual world ‘thought brings presence,’ it is through the Lord’s thoughts (His Holy Spirit) that He is present with us.
So what are the Lord’s thoughts? They are the Word. (TCR 139) The Divine Truth itself. When the Lord came into the world “the Word became flesh,” (John 1:14) and when the Lord left the world, the Word became Spirit. The Lord told His disciples that ‘the Spirit of Truth’ would be coming. (John 16:13) This was the Holy Spirit. The spiritual sense of the Word. We might even say that in regards to the Word we have the Holy Letter and the Holy Spirit. And so it is through the Word, the Spirit of Truth, that the Lord inspires and enlightens us. (TCR 140). This is how the Lord has an effect on us.
True Christianity number 139 says that “The Holy Spirit is the divine truth and also the divine action and effect that radiate from the one God.” In a very real sense, the Holy Spirit is the effect that the Lord has on us. It’s the part of the Lord that we are filled with, when we turn to Him. We can’t be filled with the essence of His Divine Love and Wisdom or we would either be destroyed or become God. But we are made to be filled with a part of God, and that part is His Holy Spirit.
Another way to put it is that the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s Divine influence on us. (TCR 172). It’s the sphere of His thoughts and affections that affect us. It is the Lord filling us with his goodness and truth. (TCR 145) Or we might say, the Holy Spirit is the quality of the Lord that He is recognized by. For example to compare it with us, we might say, “Let’s do that in the spirit of Uncle Ned!” recognizing that the hypothetical ‘Uncle Ned’ had qualities or characteristics or motives that we would like to emulate. We often use the phrase, “That’s the spirit!” One could almost ask in response, “the spirit of what?” The reply might be something like, “the spirit of giving, or the spirit of determination, or the spirit of Christmas.” It’s the same with the Lord. When we say “the Holy Spirit,” we might ask, “the Holy Spirit of what?” The correct response could be, “the Holy Spirit of love, or wisdom, or usefulness.” When we are living the life of religion we hope to be living in the Holy Spirit of the Lord.
So the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s action and effect on us. What is that effect? How do we change? The effect and change is that we are reborn. I said before that God doesn’t change. But God changes us. That is the Holy Spirit at work. In New Church terms we call this reformation and regeneration. (TCR 142) Because the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ, we have the model for our own regeneration. In the same way that the man Jesus Christ became the Holy Spirit through glorification, we as people can become angelic spirits or angels through regeneration. And because the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s Truth, the Holy Spirit is “the force that reforms and regenerates us; then renews us, brings us to life.” (TCR 142) This is why the Holy Spirit is represented by a dove, because a dove represents regeneration. (TCR 144). This is also why ‘spirit’ means ‘breath,’ because the Lord’s Holy Spirit breathes spiritual life into us. (John 20:22) And this is also why the Holy Spirit is called the ‘Comforter,’ (John 14:26) because through regeneration the Lord comforts us and lifts our spirits.
The more we understand what is meant by the Holy Spirit, the more we can understand how real and present the Lord is with us. As was stated at the beginning of this article, the most important thing to remember about the Holy Spirit is that it is simply the Lord God Jesus Christ, Who is here with us right now.
The book 'Apocalypse Revealed' by Emanuel Swedenborg, reveals the hidden meaning of the Book of Revelation. It's interesting to note that even the numbers have hidden meanings.
“Numbers symbolize properties, or rather they serve
as a class of adjectives to substantives, assigning
some attribute to their subjects, because a number
in itself is a natural quantity. For natural things
are measured by numbers, but spiritual things by
properties and their states. Therefore someone
who does not know the symbolism of numbers in
the Word, and particularly in the book of Revelation,
cannot know the many secrets that it contains.”
Seven is the most common number in the book of Revelation (aside from the number one)
It occurs around 60 times in Revelation
It occurs in 15 out of 22 chapters.
The number 7 is - in many ways - a theme of the book of Revelation.
The number 7 appears in nature: 7 colors of the rainbow, 7 notes in the musical scale, 7 crystal systems in the mineral kingdom, 7 groups of elements in the Periodic Table.
The number 7 also appears in culture: 7 wonders of the Ancient World, 7 continents, 7 seas, the lucky number 7, and the 7 deadly sins.
The number 7 is one of the most common numbers in the Bible: 7 days of Creation, 7 fat cows and 7 lean cows, 7 branches on the candlestick in the Tabernacle.
"Seven symbolizes all things or all people, and so also fullness and completeness, and it occurs in the Word where the subject is something holy, and in the opposite sense, something profane." (AR 10)
In Revelation chapters 1 through 4, we find the 7 churches, the 7 angels of the churches, the 7 lampstands, the 7 stars in the Lord's hand, the 7 torches before the throne and the 7 spirits. All of these represent the New Church, or in a broader sense, all Christians who worship the Lord and read the Word.
In Revelation chapters 5 through 8, we find the opening of the 7 seals on the scroll, which represents that the Word was completely hidden, but then revealed by the Lord.
In Revelation chapter 5, the Lamb of God has 7 horns and 7 eyes, which represents that the Lord is all-seeing (omniscient), and all-powerful (omnipotent).
In Revelation chapters 8 through 11, we find the 7 angels and the blowing of the 7 trumpets which represented the Lord's manifestation of truth and the subsequent revealing of profanation in the church.
In Revelation chapters 12, 13 and 17, we find three different beasts (including the dragon) with 7 heads, representing the irrationality brought about by profanation in the church.
In Revelation chapters 15 and 16, we have the 7 angels with 7 bowls pouring out the 7 plagues, which represents the Lord's exposing of profanation by means of the Word.
In Revelation chapter 17 we have the 7 king and the 7 mountains which represent the complete profanation of the good and true things of the church.
In Revelation chapters 11 through 13 we find less obvious sevens in the nations trampling the Holy City for 42 (7x6) months (Witnesses). In Chapter 13: The beast of the sea exercised authority for 42 months. Both of these mean the complete end of the church.
The two witnesses will prophesy for 1260 days (7x180, 3.5 years, 1/2 of 7), and in Chapter 12: The woman is nourished in the wilderness for 1260 days. Once again, both of these mean the complete end of the church, and a new beginning.
In Chapter 11: After 3.5 days the two witnesses will come back to life, and in Chapter 12: The woman is nourished in the wilderness for time, times, 1/2 time (3.5)
Once again, both of these mean the complete end of the church, and a new beginning.
In Revelation chapter 13, the number 666 is mentioned, which represents profanation. It's interesting to note that 6 is completed by 7. One might think of 6 as humanity's number, and 7 as God's number.
All of these point out that the number 7 illustrates the theme of the book of Revelation as being about the end of the old church and the beginning of the new church. And that this Last Judgment was brought about by the holiness of the Lord exposing the complete profanation of the church.
Most of the book of Revelation features the number seven. But in the last few chapters the theme changes to the number 12, which addresses the nature of the New Church.
The story of the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation chapter twelve is a familiar one in the General Church of the New Jerusalem. But in our June 19th celebrations and pageants we very often only hear a limited amount of the internal sense of that story. In this paper I hope to explore the internal-historical sense in a little more depth, based on the correspondences (keys to Biblical symbols) in the book: ‘Apocalypse Revealed.’ by Emanuel Swedenborg. And by doing so, I hope to gain a better sense of the overall storyline of the internal sense of this chapter. I will also attempt to place the story in the greater context of the book of Revelation using the model of ‘Law and Order’ offered by the Rev. Dr. Andy Dibb. And I will also very briefly explore the regenerative sense of this story as illustrated in ‘Apocalypse Explained.’ also by Emanuel Swedenborg.
General exposition of the internal-historical sense of Revelation chapter twelve:
The story opens with a great sign appearing in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, which means that it was revealed by the Lord that there would come be a New Church in heaven and on earth (represented by the Woman), which would eventually be governed by love to the Lord God Jesus Christ (represented by being clothed with the sun), and that the doctrines and faith of the Church on earth would teach about that love (signified by the moon under her feet). (AR 532-533) The crown of twelve stars signifies that the people of the New Church will be intelligent and wise because of the truth and goodness that they learn from the Word. (AR 534) The fact that this pregnant Woman was experiencing labor pains means that the new doctrines of this church will be hard to accept for many people in the Christian world. (AR 535) The new doctrines teach that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One Human God of heaven and earth, and that faith and charity should be conjoined in a life lived according to the Word.
These doctrines are hard to accept because most people in the Christian world believe in a trinity of persons, and that the Humanity and Divinity in Jesus are divided, and that faith alone saves. These ideas are represented by the dragon. These beliefs are capable of destroying the Church, like a dragon is capable of destroying a woman. These beliefs are also the most commonly accepted beliefs in the Christian world, and are therefore huge and pervasive compared with the doctrines of the New Church. And for many people these beliefs are upheld because they support a hellish love of self; believing they can do whatever they want and still be saved by faith. This is why the dragon is fiery red. (AR 537) But because the Word actually teaches faith and charity conjoined, and the worship of One God, these beliefs twist the meaning of the Word. These beliefs are also irrational when examined closely. How could there be three coequal gods? How can you really separate faith and charity? These beliefs turn what should be ‘one’ into ‘many’; like the seven heads of the dragon. (AR 538) But despite the irrationality of these beliefs, they have power in the world because they allow people to live irresponsibly “without any fear of hell.” This is represented by the power of the ten horns. (AR 539) And these beliefs are also backed up by the literal sense of the Word, and so to many people these beliefs appear crystal clear, like the seven jewels on the dragon’s seven heads. (AR 540) The dragon’s tail casting a third of the stars out of heaven represents that these beliefs have taken what once were good and true ideas (such as love to the Lord, and love to the neighbor) and cast them out of the Church. (AR 541)
These days, in a conversation about Christianity, any little hint of an idea contradicting faith alone is immediately criticized, which is represented by the dragon ready to devour the Child. (AR 542) But the new doctrine has now been born because of the second coming of the Lord to His Church. ‘The Child shepherding the nations with a rod of iron’ represents that this doctrine will be taught by means of the literal sense of the Word, and being ‘caught up to God and His throne’ means that it will be protected and nurtured by the Lord. (AR 544-545)
Until such time as this new doctrine will be accepted by many people, the New Church will exist both inside and outside of the Christian world in small numbers, represented by the Woman in the wilderness. (AR 546) It’s time will come - represented by the 1260 days - when enough people in the world no longer accept the teachings of faith alone and a trinity of Persons in God. (AR 547)
“And war broke out in heaven.” (Rev. 12:7) While the church is forming on earth, spirits in the old heaven are being instructed by angels about these new doctrines. These angels teach that God is One in the Lord’s Divine Human and that faith and charity are one in life. Spirits in that ‘heaven’ who believe in faith alone and a trinity of persons in God reject these new doctrines and cast themselves out of heaven. (AR 548-549) And in turning away from the Lord, they pervert “everything having to do with the church” (AR 551) These spirits of the dragon are ‘cast to the earth,’ which means they take up residence in the World of Spirits, and begin to try to convince other spirits (and by association: people on earth) that they are right in their beliefs. (AR 552)
Despite the fact that the story is not over, significant progress has been made. The Lord has now brought Heaven back into a state of order. Angels now fully acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God, without contradiction. And because Heaven is now in order, the Church can be brought back into a state of order too. This is joyful news to the angels of Heaven, and they proclaim it: “Now salvation, and power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ have come.” (Rev.12:10) (AR 553) Obstacles to the establishment of the New Church have been removed. And it was accomplished by means of the Divine Truths of the Word, which are represented by ‘the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.‘ (AR 555) Good Christians spirits could now fully enter into a state of love to the Lord, which is the state of this New Heaven. This is what is meant by “and they did not love their lives to the death.” (AR 556)
But at this point the state of the World of Spirits is still infested with people who believe in faith alone and a trinity of persons in God. And this is bad news for the New Church on earth. “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath.” (Rev. 12:12) (AR 558) These evil spirits in the World of Spirits do not want the New Church to grow because it threatens the power they have over people. And so “they harass the New Church” (AR 560) But the Lord protects these people from these evil spirits, by giving ‘wings of an eagle’ to the Woman. (AR 561) The time has not yet come for the New Church to be fully established. It needs to be nourished for ‘a time and times and half a time.’ (AR 562) The New Church can only be fully established when the threat of the dragon has been removed from both Heaven and earth. And so the Woman is hidden away. The New Church is not very well known.
And then the dragon attacks! He spews water from his mouth. People who believe in faith alone and a trinity of persons in God provide a steady stream of reasons for why their doctrine is true. (AR 563) But these reasons cannot persuade the members of the New Church who rationally understand the spiritual truths of the Word to be saying otherwise. And thus the reasonings are swallowed up by the earth. (AR 564) This makes the people of the dragon angry, and they turn their attention to persuading other people in their false doctrine. And so the dragon makes war with the Woman’s offspring too. (AR 565)
The chapter ends with John saying, “Then I stood on the sand of the sea.” In Revelation chapter twelve, the Lord had been showing John all of this taking place from the perspective of being in heaven. Now the Lord shifts John’s spiritual perspective to seeing things taking place below heaven, represented by standing on the sand of the sea. (AR 565) This sets the stage for the story in the next chapter.
How this might fit in the ‘Law and Order’ theory of the general structure of the book of Revelation:
So working with the ‘Law and Order’ idea for the structure of the Book of Revelation, up until now we’ve been following the work of the detectives in finding out exactly what the crime was, how it was committed and who the perpetrator was. The detectives have narrowed their field of suspects and determined that the Protestant faith was guilty. At this point in the ‘Law and Order’ show, the criminal often feels accused or cornered, and so he might act out irrationally. The criminal may even try to commit another crime, thinking that that will save him from being caught. This could be the case in story of Revelation chapter twelve. We shift our focus to the ‘Woman Clothed With the Sun,’ which represents the New Church, about to give birth to a baby Son, which is the doctrine of the New Church. Here is a picture of a new innocent character in our story who is suddenly in danger of being the next victim. The old Christian Church is dead, but the New Church is also in danger of being killed by the same criminal. And indeed the dragon of faith alone tries to attack. The dragon recognizes that these new characters, the Woman and her Baby, know that he is guilty, and so out of self-preservation, he tries to kill them too.
The Woman knows that the Law (which represents the Lord) can protect her, but first she needs to flee from the danger of the dragon who is trying to kill her. At this point in a ‘Law and Order’ episode there is often an exciting car chase or shoot-out, which is like the war in heaven of Michael and his angels fighting the dragon. The detectives and police are aware of the situation. They know that the Woman and her Baby are in danger, so they send out what in the ‘Law and Order’ universe would be called an ABP (All Points Bulletin) or BOLO (Be On the Look Out) which is like the loud voice from heaven saying, “woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that it has a short time.” (Rev. 12:12)
Finally we reach a climax in the police work where the criminal (the dragon) actually attempts to kill his new intended victim (the Woman), and he spews water out of his mouth. But it’s too late because the Woman is now under the protection of the Law (represented by the wings of the eagle, and the earth). Either the attempted murder fails because of this, or the dragon decides it’s not worth the risk, and so he flees. His eventual capture and conviction comes later in the book of Revelation, chapter twenty.
How this could apply to our own personal judgments in regeneration:
This story is a great reminder that even people who consider themselves part of the New Church are still in danger of being attacked by the dragon that destroyed the Old Church. We are not immune to believing and living the falsity of faith alone, or the trinity of Persons in God.
If we find ourselves defending a doctrine that supports our love of self, then that’s probably the fiery red dragon attacking us. True doctrine supports love to the Lord and love to the neighbor. There will be no place in heaven for us if we defend the truths of the Word and live contrary to what they teach. For example if we spend our time criticizing our neighbors for the way they choose to worship the Lord, then we are not living in charity, and we are being ruled by the dragon of faith alone.
When we do the spiritual work of rejecting the dragon of faith alone, then there is rejoicing in heaven, because we are allowing the Lord to be our King instead. And the Lord is Love Itself. And in reality, what we actually do is turn to the Lord by shunning evil, and then He alone has the power to cast out the dragon in us. When we turn to the Lord, we experience the joy of heaven. We also experience the enlightenment of understanding the internal sense of the Word, which is like the woman being given wings of an eagle. (AE 759)
Throughout our life we will periodically be attacked by our own love of self and pride of self-intelligence. But when we focus on loving the Lord and loving our neighbor, the falsities and evils of hell get swallowed up, which is like the water from the dragon being swallowed up by the earth.
So hopefully we now have a more comprehensive mental picture of the internal sense of this familiar story. This is a pivotal story, occurring roughly midway through the book of Revelation, which reminds us - in such a vivid exciting narrative - of the crucial reasons for the Last Judgment and the establishment of a New Church. It is a story of the Church as a macrocosm in the internal-historical sense, as well as the Church as a microcosm within each and every one of us. And in both cases it reminds us of what keeps the Church safe and healthy; namely: the doctrines that keep us focussed on love to the Lord and love to the neighbor.
When we look around at the world today we often see things that trouble us: Divorce rates climbing, children and adults being abused, men and women being unabashedly lustful and adulterous. It may even be our own marriages or relationships that are cold and unhappy. These do not seem like situations in which love is thriving. But wait; love is thriving in those situations, it just tends to be a selfish love or love of the world. So what is it that’s missing in those situations? What is actually missing is wisdom.
The book “Conjugial (or Marriage) Love” by Emanuel Swedenborg, is all about the true love that can exist between a man and a woman. Conjugial love is that love in marriage that conjoins a husband and wife so that they are “no longer two but one flesh.” (Matt 19:6) It is the real “true love” that is spoken of in fairy tales. What is it that makes conjugial love so special; that sets it apart from other loves? It is wisdom. The book is in fact called “The Delights of Wisdom relating to Conjugial Love.” So what is wisdom? What is its role in conjugial love? How can it help our marriages become better? How can it help the world become a better place? This paper will attempt to answer those questions.
Part 1: Wisdom in General
In the New Church we know that wisdom is one side of the proverbial ‘two-sided coin.’ Love and wisdom are the two parts of the duality that comprise everything. The Lord is the marriage of Divine love and wisdom. The Church is the marriage of faith and charity. We are regenerated through a marriage of our will and understanding in love and wisdom. The entire created universe comes about through the marriage of good and truth. These are all facts that are good to know. But how do we understand them? What does ‘wisdom’ mean? How is it defined?
Is Wisdom the Same as Knowledge?
The word ‘wisdom’ has a range of meanings. Someone who is considered wise could simply be someone who knows a lot of facts, such as a history professor. Or it could be someone who is really intelligent; someone who can think on their feet, such as a lawyer or a judge. It could be someone with a lot of experience, such as a wise old grandparent that we go to for advice. Or it could be someone who thinks about deep abstract things such as a philosopher or a sage. It could even be the kid on the street who is ‘street-wise’ and knows the ins and outs of a city. The Writings say that “people are capable of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. Knowledge has to do with concepts, intelligence with reason, and wisdom with life. Regarded in its fullness, wisdom has to do with concepts, reason and life at the same time.” (CL 130)
Knowledge vs. Life
So wisdom has more to do with life than simply with knowledge. One might recall the story from Genesis of the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:16,17). Just like Adam and Eve, we may be tempted to think that wisdom comes from eating of the latter, when it actually comes from eating of the former. Wisdom is of life, not simply knowledges, and so true wisdom involves a recognition that all life is from the Lord (eating of the Tree of Life) and not ourselves (eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). (See TCR 39, CL 135, 444, AC 128) Later in the paper we will discuss what a wisdom of life looks like.
Wisdom is Innocence
If we think we are wise, then we probably are not, because wisdom has nothing to do with having pride in the intelligence of ourselves (CL 193, 331). But rather wisdom has to do with being humble (SS 91), and being willing to be led by the Lord, which is a state of innocence. And the Lord is Wisdom Itself (CL 414, HH 341).
Wisdom Comes From The Church
Since wisdom comes from the willingness to be led by the Lord, then where do we go to be led by the Lord? We need to go to the truths of His Word in the Church. Wisdom “is inseparably bound up with the church [because]... concerns that have to do with the church and are called spiritual have their seat in the inmost recesses in a person, because they are connected with heaven and through heaven with the Lord.” (CL 130) As Moses said,
“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom.” (Deut. 4:6)
Wisdom is a Useful Life
So what are the spiritual concerns that the church teaches? What is the life of wisdom?
In brief summary, it is this: to refrain from evils because they are harmful to the soul, harmful to the civil state, and harmful to the body, and to do good things because they are of benefit to the soul, the civil state, and to the body.” (CL 130)
‘Doing good things’ is also known as ‘useful service.’
Useful services are spiritual when they have to do with love toward God and love for the neighbor.... People who concern themselves with the first useful services, which are spiritual... these people are wise.” (CL 19)
In many ways wisdom is more like a verb than an noun. It has to do with how we live our life.
Wisdom is the Form and Container of Love
And so we come to find that wisdom has to do with love, specifically love to the Lord and love to the neighbor. True wisdom has these loves within it. Wisdom is the form and container of these loves. Wisdom is the expression of love (Cl 493). Wisdom is the way of love and the way of spiritual life. Wisdom is the means by which love can do its job. “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.” (Psalm 107:43)
So we have now determined that true wisdom is a recognition that all life and all truth is from the Lord through His Word in the Church, and that it is not only about acquiring knowledges and intelligence from that truth, but it is about applying these things to a life of useful service which is an expression of love the Lord and the neighbor.
Part 2: The Specific Wisdom that unites with Conjugial Love
So if wisdom is the way that love is expressed, then what is the way that conjugial love is expressed? It must also be wisdom. But since conjugial love is a specific love, there must be a specific wisdom that expresses it. This leads us to the nature of the difference between men and women.
Forms of Love and Wisdom
‘Conjugial Love’ number 32 states that the nature of masculinity is that it is love clothed with wisdom, while femininity is that wisdom clothed with love. So men - in their outer, conscious self - are focused on wisdom. And that wisdom stems from an innate love of growing wise. While women - in their outer, conscious self - are focused on love. And that love stems from an innate wisdom of their relationship with men. Thus men tend to be focused on truths and the relationships of ideas, while women tend to be focused on emotions and the relationships of people. (CL 168) Even the scientific world is aware of this difference between men and women. Studies have shown that men and women use their brains differently, and that women tend to have E-brains (Empathizing), and men tend to have S-brains (Systemizing).1
This is how men and women operate individually. But because men and women are predominantly intellect-oriented, and will-oriented, respectively, there is a recognition of there being an imbalance. There is a recognition that the other has something which they do not, and that true balance come with a sharing of what they have. “Therefore from creation there was implanted in both male and female a love of uniting into one.” (CL 32) Though it might not be conscious, this desire to be united is because love is not truly loving without wisdom, and wisdom is not truly wise without love. (CL 65)
It should be said here that everyone receives love and wisdom from the Lord, and is capable of having that love and wisdom united in their will and understanding. But there is a specific love that only women receive from the Lord. That love is conjugial love. (CL 224) That is the love that unites a husband and wife in marriage. Men can experience that love in their marriage to their wives, but it is not innate in them, as it is with women.
Because women have this specific love from the Lord, there must also be a specific wisdom in men which balances it, and unites with it. From the examination above, we know that this wisdom in general must involve the willingness to be led by the Lord into His truths, and love for growing wise in those truths that lead to a life of useful service. (CL 130, 183:8) But this is the wisdom that unites with true love in general. What is the specific wisdom that unites with conjugial love? To find out, we need to briefly examine what conjugial love is.
Conjugial love is “nothing else but the wish of two to be one.” (CL 215). On a philosophical, general sense, this is talking about the wish for love and wisdom to be one. But in a specific sense this is talking about the wish of one man and one woman to be one. This is the specific love that is given to women. So the specific wisdom that unites with that love must be the wisdom that leads to a life of conjoining with one spouse.
The Expression of Love for One Wife
Men tend to like to think about abstract ideas. This is the intellect at work. But wisdom comes when those ideas are applied to life. In a similar way, men can use their intellect to discover that the Lord teaches about the benefits and usefulness of conjugial love. This is the man using his rational wisdom. And when the man then applies that wisdom to life, it is an expression of his moral wisdom. Women are attracted first to the moral wisdom, but innately within them they recognize that their ability to unite with a man as a husband must stem from his rational wisdom, or in other words from his ability to recognize truths as coming from the Lord alone. (CL 102, 163-165) Women therefore conjoin externally to the life that men lead (moral wisdom), as well as internally to the awareness in men that their moral virtues are inspired by higher principles (rational wisdom). Its interesting to note that the word ‘virtue’ stems from the Latin word ‘virtus’ which also means ‘manliness.’
So taken in its entirety (a man’s moral wisdom containing within it rational wisdom), this wisdom expresses itself in the desire to unite with just one woman in marriage. In other words, a man who loves the life of monogamy has rational wisdom. (CL 217, 293)
In the 1999 movie entitled “The Bachelor,” a wise elder gentleman describes two imaginary places to live: Bachelorville and Husbandtown. Most men want to live in Bachelorville. Even some husbands want to live in Bachelorville. But as he says in the movie, “A good proposal comes not only from love, but from the desire to be a husband.” A man who has rational wisdom is a man who wants to live in Husbandtown.
Conjugial Love Depends on Wisdom
Women have a love for conjugial love directly from the Lord. Men have the ability for rational wisdom directly from the Lord. When a husband and wife love each other in marriage from this rational wisdom and conjugial love, they then experience the delights of conjugial love. The Writings even say that conjugial love is the “offspring of wisdom.” (CL 145) In reality conjugial love can only actually exist between two people. And the experience of that love depends on wisdom. (CL 69, 98, 161) There’s even a test to determine if one has true conjugial love or not:
A husband’s receiving the conjugal atmosphere solely through his wife is the mark by which true married love is recognized and differentiated from married love that is illusory, feigned, or cold.” (CL 224)
And the only way for a man to receive conjugial love from his wife is if he provides the proper form for it to exist in, namely: rational wisdom, or living a life that expresses love for one wife.
What About Wisdom in Women?
“What does a wise man or wisdom have to do with a woman?” Swedenborg asked this question of some angels in heaven. The angels laughed at this and said, “What is a wise man or wisdom apart from a woman or apart from love? A wife is the love of a wise man’s wisdom.” (CL 56). Just like the experience of conjugial love in the couple depends on rational wisdom from the husband, the experience of rational wisdom in the couple depends on conjugial love from his wife. It is a mutual, reciprocal, organic process. A man can experience conjugial love because of his wife, and a wife can experience rational wisdom because of her husband. The Writings even say that “wives still have these things [rational wisdom] in them inwardly.” (CL 165)
And along with that shared experience of rational wisdom (a life based on spiritual, monogamous principles), women also have their own special innate wisdom relating to the particular affections and delights of conjugial love in both themselves and their husbands. (CL 155 repeated, 208) The counterpart to that innate wisdom in women, is very likely mens’ innate love for growing wise.
Part 3: Wisdom in Married Couples
It was said above that conjugial love is the offspring of wisdom. This is the first step in the process. The next step is that more wisdom is then the offspring of conjugial love. It is an upward spiral. Conjugial love opens people’s minds to more spiritual growth. (CL 302)
“A capacity for growing wise increases with those who are in a state of true married love, because it is as a result of wisdom and in accordance with it that this love exists in married couples.” (CL 211)
So through the intimate relationship that a husband and wife have in conjugial love, they are each capable of becoming more wise. “In the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)
How Can Wisdom Bring Love Back To My Marriage?
The book, “Conjugial Love” is full of truths that can be applied to life, which then creates a life of wisdom that is capable of receiving conjugial love. As an example, let us look at the chapter on ‘Cold States, Separation, and Divorce,’ (CL 234). If conjugial love is dependent on a state of wisdom, then it follows that cold states, separation and divorce are dependent on states of foolishness (to varying degrees). We may often complain that we don’t feel love in our marriage any more. Since love is dependent on wisdom (a religious way of life), we can determine that the reason or cause for why love isn’t felt anymore is a lack of wisdom. And we also now know that the feeling of love can return if we return to a life of wisdom; if we give that love a place to live. This is why things like reading the Word together, praying together, attending marriage support groups and marriage counseling are so important. This is also why the things we say to our spouse should always be guided by religious principles. For example, are the things we say kind, true, and useful?2 These are methods by which we can be reminded of the fact that the life of wisdom is what conjugial love unites itself with. If we can get ourselves back into the ways of the wisdom of life, then we can again become forms receptive of conjugial love, and so then we can eventually feel and experience the delights of it.
Every chapter in the book, “Conjugial Love,” talks about some form of wisdom to adopt in order to receive conjugial love, or some form of foolishness or insanity to avoid in order receive conjugial love. And shunning evils is just the first step. After that we also have to love the life of good, or specifically in this case, we have to love marriage. (CL 139, 217)
Wisdom and Foolishness in Society
“It may appear to a great number of people what monstrous and destructive ruinations of society and dissolutions of marriage would result if divorcings of wives were at the good pleasure of husbands prior to death.” (CL 276)
In some ways the above passage describes our current society all too well. It describes the problem; but fortunately the Lord is hard a work on the solution. Even people who have never read “Conjugial Love,” (but are arguably still within the sphere of the New Church) are catching on to the wisdom that is needed for true love to exist. And so we see books like, “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus,” “The Five Love Languages,” “The Case for Marriage,” and many more. These are both secular and religious books that contain elements of the wisdom needed for true conjugial love to thrive in couples. With the presence of the Lord’s New Church, people are starting to catch on that a life and society without marriage love, is not wise.
“Only those people know the blissful delights of married love who reject the horrible delights of adultery. And no one can reject these except one who is wise from the Lord, and no one is wise from the Lord unless he performs useful services from a love of doing them.” (CL 137)
And the specific useful service that provides for conjugial love is: living a life based on religious principles from the Lord that expresses a love for marriage with one spouse. That is the wisdom of conjugial love. Wisdom provides a place for true love to live, in both a single married couple, and also our society in general.
“The marital union of one man with one wife is the precious jewel of human life and the repository of Christian religion.” (CL 457)
The purpose of this paper is to examine the process of conjugial (or marriage) love. This paper will attempt to answer the following questions: What is conjugial love? Where does it come from? How is it a process? What does this process look like? How does one go about doing it? Who is involved in this process? How does this process relate to the process of regeneration, both with individuals and the church as a whole?
The terms “good and truth” have many synonyms and other terms for related ideas. So in this paper the terms: good, love, will, charity, conjugial love, and women have a relation to each other. And likewise, the terms: truth, wisdom, intellect, understanding, faith, rational wisdom, and men have a relation to each other.
What is Conjugial Love?
“Conjugial love in its essence is nothing else but the wish of two to be one.” (CL 215) When a husband and wife wish to be truly one, then they are looking towards the ideal of conjugial love. But simply wishing to be one isn’t enough to actually become one. There is also a process involved in becoming one. “Love regarded in itself is nothing but a desire for and consequent effort to conjunction, and conjugial love is a desire for and effort to conjunction into one.” (CL 37) So the process involves effort towards conjunction. In this paper we will examine that process.
The Origin of Conjugial Love
Conjugial love has its origin from the marriage of good and truth from the Lord, and the marriage of the Lord and His Church. (see CL 60-64, 222) And conjugial love ‘descends as an offshoot’ from these two marriages. (CL 64) Because conjugial love comes from these two marriages in origin, and in fact corresponds to them, it shares similar qualities with them. Later in the paper we will examine how they relate.
The Marriage of Love and Wisdom in a Husband and Wife
So if conjugial love has its origin in the marriage of good and truth (or love and wisdom), then what does that look like in the marriage of a husband and wife? How do a man and a woman in marriage come to be an image of the union of love and wisdom?
“When love is added to wisdom or united with it, then love becomes loving. And when wisdom conversely is added to love and united with it, then wisdom becomes wise. True conjugial love is nothing but a union of love and wisdom. Two married partners who have this love between them and in them at the same time are a reflection and image of it.” (CL 65)
So love and wisdom - or good and truth - are really not true and complete unless they are conjoined into one.
Men and women as individuals each have a will and understanding that are capable of receiving love and wisdom from the Lord. So both men and women already have love and wisdom in them. But at first the love and wisdom are not conjoined and not balanced. They are not conjoined because the will and understanding are at first not married. They become married (in love and wisdom) through the process of regeneration. But they are also not balanced. They are not balanced because men are oriented or formed in one way, and women in another way. Men are forms of love clothed with wisdom, and women are forms of wisdom clothed with love. (See CL 32-33) So men are intellect-oriented, and women are will-oriented.
But all the parts (love, wisdom, will, understanding, men, women) are only forms and images of the reality. Men and women are forms of what is truly human, and they only become truly human when united together. They only become truly loving and wise when united together. God is the perfect marriage of love and wisdom. We are only potential and/or imperfect marriages of love and wisdom. Thus women being one form and men being the opposite or complementary form. They each only approximate the perfect marriage in God.
Fortunately, these puzzle pieces have a desire to be put back together. “Wives are forms of love, and husbands its receivers.” (CL 161) The way that love and wisdom fit together is that wisdom is the expression of love, and love is the essence of wisdom. So because women are forms of love, they need a specific wisdom (expression of love) to fill their specific love. That wisdom comes from their husband, beginning with his pursuit of her. Likewise, because men are forms of wisdom, they need a specific love (essence of wisdom) to fill their wisdom. That love comes from their wife, beginning with her consent to him. The specific love that women provide for their husbands is conjugial love, and the specific wisdom that men provide for their wives is rational wisdom. “An intellect-oriented form does not have the capacity to develop a marital warmth on its own, but can do so only from the associated warmth of another in whom this has been implanted from creation.” (CL 223) So wives introduce their husbands into the warmth of conjugial love from the Lord, and husbands introduce their wives into the light of rational wisdom from the Lord. And by doing so they each become more human.
Nouns or Verbs?
In the Writings the words ‘love and wisdom’ are often used as nouns. Love has to do with something’s substance, while wisdom is its form. But as we know, love is also a verb. “I love you” is a statement using a verb. But it is not just about having an affection for someone. In the Writings, the word ‘love’ as a verb has more to do with an effort to conjoin. Can wisdom also be a verb? Wisdom is a way in which one lives one’s life:
“The question arises, what wisdom of life is. In brief summary, it is this: to refrain from evils because they are harmful to the soul, harmful to the state, and harmful to the body, and to do good things because they are of benefit to the soul, to the civil state, and to the body. This is the wisdom that is meant by the wisdom to which conjugial love attaches itself.” (CL 130)
So the marriage of love and wisdom is the way in which one lives one’s life in order to conjoin with people and the Lord. And this is a process which is chosen by us, and completed by the Lord in us.
Conjugial Love and Regeneration
The fact that conjugial love is a process may become more clear when it is related to the process of regeneration or rebirth.
“People know that every person is merely flesh-oriented at birth, and that from being flesh-oriented he becomes more and more deeply natural, and thus rational, and finally spiritual. The reason for such a progressive development is that the fleshy element is the soil, so to speak, in which natural, rational, and spiritual qualities are planted in turn. A person thus becomes more and more human. Almost the same sort of thing happens when one enters marriage. A person then becomes a more complete human being, because he is united with a partner with whom he may act as one person. In the first state, however, this is reflected in a kind of image, as mentioned before. In similar fashion he then starts from the fleshy element and progresses into the natural, only this time in respect to married life and so union into one.” In the case of spiritual people, “the first state of marriage is an introduction to continuing states of happiness, which advance as the spiritual rationality of the mind and consequently the natural sensuality of the body in one partner join and unite with these same qualities in the other.” (CL 59)
Conjugial love, like regeneration, is a process that makes a person more and more human (see also CL 316, 432). The process by which a person is regenerated (the marriage of good and truth in an individual) is affected by means of religion because it is a spiritual process. And because this is true, the process of conjugial love is also affected by means of religion, because it too is a spiritual process. In the Writings it is said that:
“The origin of the church and the origin of conjugial love have the same seat in a person, and that they are locked in a continual embrace.... People were created to be able to become more and more interior beings, thus to be introduced or elevated nearer and nearer to a marriage of good and truth and so into conjugial love, to the point that they feel its state of bliss. The only means by which they can be introduced or elevated is religion.” (CL 238)
The only means by which we can have conjugial love, be regenerated, and be saved is religion. This makes perfect sense when we think about what the word religion means: Religion comes from the Latin “re-ligare” meaning “to reconnect.” Religion is what reconnects good and truth. Religion takes things that should be married and shows them how to be married.
The Creation Story as a Model
Religion is what teaches us how to regenerate. The Writings of the New Church explain that the 6 days of Creation are a symbol for the 6 stages of our regeneration. (AC 6-13) Though the Writings only talk about this story as a model for regeneration, knowing that conjugial love is a process related to regeneration we might speculate on how that story applies to the process of conjugial love as well: The first day there is light, when we first become aware of the ideal of conjugial love. On the second day, when the waters are separated, we begin to recognize that conjugial love is not the love of the sex. On the third day when plants are created, we begin repentance and speak of living the life of conjugial love (though it is not actually living yet, but merely inanimate like plants). On the fourth day with the sun and moon, we are affected in some way by actual love and wisdom, perhaps in our own marriage. On the fifth day when birds and fishes are created, we begin to actually live the life of conjugial love. And on the sixth day when animals and humans are created, we actually love the life of conjugial love.
The second chapter of Genesis also offers us a model for regeneration and conjugial love in the creation of Eve. “A woman is actually transformed into a wife according to the description in the book of creation.” (CL 193)
“It follows from this that woman was created from man by a transmission and replication of his distinctive wisdom, which is formed from natural truth, and that man’s love for this wisdom was transferred to woman so as to become conjugial love; moreover, that the purpose of this was to replace love of self in man with love for his wife, who, from a nature innate in her, cannot help but turn the love of self in man into his love for her.” (CL 193)
So with both the process of regeneration and conjugial love, there is a replacement of love of self with a love for the neighbor, and in the case of conjugial love: a love for one’s closest neighbor which is their spouse.
The Process of Conjugial Love Aids the Process of Regeneration
Because regeneration and conjugial love are related processes, they aid each other. They are both processes by which we become more human. That the process of conjugial love aids the process of regeneration is apparent from the following statements:
“Marriage is the completion of a person, for by marriage a person becomes a complete person.” (CL 156)
“The more a person is in a state of conjugial love, the more spiritual he is; and the more spiritual he is, the more human he is.” (CL 230)
“There is, moreover, no love... which opens the interior recesses of minds more forcefully and adeptly, than conjugial love.” (CL 302)
“The marital union of one man with one wife is the precious jewel of human life and the repository of Christian religion.” (CL 457)
A repository is a receptacle where things are stored. So the Christian religion (which is arguably all about regeneration) is stored in the marriage of husbands and wives.
The Process of Regeneration Aids the Process of Conjugial Love
The process of regeneration, in which one prays to the Lord, reads the Word, and shuns evils as sins against the Lord, is the same process that introduces people into conjugial love.
“No others come into this love and no others can be in it but those that go to the Lord and love the truths of His church and do the good things it teaches; that this love comes from the Lord alone, and consequently is found in people who are of the Christian religion; and that this love depends on the state of the church in a person, because it depends on the state of his wisdom.” (CL 458)
When the process of regeneration is applied to a husband and wife, then the couple can have conjugial love. When they are both looking to the Lord, reading the Word, and shunning adultery, this allows for them to be in conjugial love. The process of regeneration is a process in which people become spiritual, and since conjugial love is a spiritual (and celestial) love, it requires people to be open to the spiritual level of their minds. (See CL 145)
“There are in human minds three regions, the highest of which is called celestial, the intermediate one spiritual, and the lowest one natural. A person dwells by birth in the lowest region, but he ascends into the next higher one, called spiritual, by living according to truths of religion, and into the highest one by achieving a marriage of love and wisdom. All kinds of evil and lascivious lusts reside in the lowest region, which is called natural. In the next higher region, however, which is called spiritual, there are not evil and lascivious lusts, for this is the region into which a person is led by the Lord when he is born anew. And in the highest region, which is called celestial, one finds conjugal chastity surrounded by its love. A person is raised into this last region by a love of serving useful ends, and because marriage serves the most excellent ends of all, by conjugial love.” (CL 305)
The Marriage of the Lord and His Church
As was mentioned above, conjugial love has its origin from the marriage of good and truth, and the from the marriage of the Lord and His Church. As we have discussed, both the processes of regeneration and conjugial love depend on religion. And religion is also related to the marriage of the Lord and His Church. So all three processes are intricately intertwined.
“The church is formed by the Lord in the man, and through the man in his wife. And after it has been formed in the two together, the church is complete, for then a full conjunction of good and truth takes place, and the conjunction of good and truth is the church.... The inclination to conjunction, which conjugial love is, exists in the same degree as the conjunction of good and truth, which is the church.” (CL 63)
Comparing Conjugial Love, Regeneration, and the Marriage of the Lord and His Church
So now we can see this spiritual process even more clearly when we compare all three:
Conjugial love is the wish of two to be one (CL 215), just as regeneration is the conjoining of love and wisdom in the will and understanding, and the Lord’s wish is to be conjoined with His Church. (CL 68, 386)
Conjugial love is introduced by the love for the opposite sex, just as we are encouraged to regenerate by the promise of heavenly happiness. There are mediate goods and ‘intermediate steps’ in all of these processes. (CL 98)
If neither married partner is spiritual, then conjugial love cannot grow, however it is not closed off to them unless they choose to love adultery. Similarly, if a person is in ignorance as to truth, and also has hereditary evils in their will, heaven is not closed off to them unless they choose to act evilly. (see CL 282)
In natural marriages there is often a power struggle between the husband and wife over who should be in charge. This is similar to the power struggle within us during regeneration over who is in charge: the will or the understanding. If the old will is in charge then we will do evils. If the understanding is in charge, but the will is still selfish, then we will be critical and judgmental of others. A conjunction is only possible when both parties represent love and wisdom. Similarly in the church, faith alone is destructive, as is indiscriminate charity, and the concept of salvation by merit alone. (see CL 291)
In the process of conjugial love, the man must court the woman, just as in the processes of regeneration we must first learn truths from the Word, and then learn to live the life of heaven. “Rationality thus opens,” and so the church becomes a true Church by means of conjunction with the Lord in His Word, and our will becomes a new will by being conjoined with our elevated understanding, and the woman becomes a wife by means of conjunction with her husband. (see CL 102, 122, 168)
“An image of the husband is formed in the wife” (CL 173). Likewise, an image of the Lord is formed in His Church. An image of wisdom is formed in our loves. An image of the understanding of truth is formed in our new will. An image of faith is formed in our acts of charity.
“It follows from this that conjugial love has its seat in chaste wives, but that their love depends on their husbands.” (CL 216 repeated) Similarly, regeneration has its seat in the changing of the will, but it depends on the truths of the understanding. And the church has its seat in a life of charity, but it depends on the truths of faith.
“Where conjugial love exists, this atmosphere is received by the wife, and by the husbands solely through the wife.” (CL 224) The love that conjoins the will and understanding comes through the will being opened to and by the Lord. Salvation comes through living a good life, and not by faith apart from that life.
And so the process is complete in which conjugial love, regeneration and the marriage of the Lord and His Church have all been achieved, and these all coexist in heaven within people.
We have now examined the process of conjugial love in relation to its origin in the marriage of good and truth from the Lord, and we have also seen its relationship to the process of regeneration, and the process of the Lord’s conjunction with His Church.
“Conjugial love is a desire for and effort to conjunction into one.” (CL 37)
The purpose of this paper is to attempt to answer some of the questions people may have about the doctrine of the Trinity, both inside and outside of the New Church. We will look at the historical origin of the doctrine of the Trinity. We will examine why the interpretation of the Trinity as three Persons doesn’t work, from the perspectives of authority, reason, and experience. We will examine the true interpretation of the Trinity of Person, based on the truths of the Lord’s 2nd Coming, and why it is so important for the Church to understand this interpretation. And we will find out what our responsibility is in explaining this doctrine, both for ourselves and for others.
First, what are some of the questions people have about the doctrine of the Trinity? From those who are unfamiliar with the New Church perspective on this doctrine, some of the question might be: Is the Trinity a doctrine that the New Church espouses or rejects?
Doesn’t the literal sense of the Bible describe 3 different persons as God?
Why doesn’t it work for Jesus to simply be God’s son; a separate Divine Being?
What’s wrong with thinking there could be 3 persons in 1 God? He is infinite isn’t He?
Why is God indivisible?
People who are familiar with the New Church perspective on the Trinity might also have questions. Some of these might be questions directed towards people who are unfamiliar with the New Church doctrine: Can you really think of the Trinity as three separate Persons, and not picture three gods in your head?
If you are acknowledging each Person as God, how can you be adding Persons and not be adding gods?
Where does the idea come from, that Jesus and His Father might be at odds with each other?
Some questions might be directed inward, as an attempt to understand our own doctrine:
Is the Trinity a doctrine that the New Church espouses or rejects?
Why did Jesus talk to the Father as if He was someone separate from Himself?
Why is the language Jesus used in the Gospels confusing on this subject?
What examples can we use that might help to explain this mystery?
Why is this such an important topic? We will attempt to answer these questions in this paper.
Where does the doctrine of the Trinity come from?
“The Apostolic Church knew no trinity of persons. The idea was hatched by the Council of Nicaea.” (TCR 163) The Council of Nicaea first met in 325 A.D. One of it’s purposes was to define the Church’s official doctrine about who Jesus Christ was. And the doctrine later became ‘set in stone’ as it were, by the Athanasian Creed around 500 A.D. in it’s insistence that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were separate Persons. (see Lord 56) This was confounded further by the existence a something known as the Trinity Shield, which states that the Father is not the Son, and is not the Holy Spirit, and so on. (See Trinity Shield image at the end of this paper)
Even the Apostles’ Creed of 180 A.D., and the language of the Epistles and the Gospels of the 1st century, definitely described a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit, even though it was not described as a Trinity of Persons back then.
Why the Doctrine of a Trinity of three Persons in God does not work.
So where did people get the idea that the Father and the Son might be separate persons? Very likely from the language of the Gospels and the words of Jesus themselves:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16)
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38)
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27)
“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:39)
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46)
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
All of these examples give the impression that Jesus had a will that was separate and maybe even at odds with the will of the Father, and thus that they were separate persons. (And yet the subject matter of what Jesus was saying was always that He was doing the will of His Father and NOT His own will. More on that later.)
Jesus Himself told His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19) Notice however that He used the word “name” and not “person.”
“Take for example the appearance... in the New Testament that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead. It is to be observed, however, that nowhere in the four Gospels is the term ‘person’ used in reference to the Lord; on the other hand, it is true that the Lord spoke of the Father as if of another, and that He referred to the Holy Spirit as One who was to come in His place.” (Pendleton, pp 42,43)
The Epistles frequently refer to “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Col 1:2, emphasis added), and yet at the same time the Apostles believed that Jesus Christ was fully God, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col 2:9) There is even a sense that the Apostles equated Jesus Christ with the God of the Old Testament:
“Moreover brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:1-4)
And finally, there are numerous quotes from the Gospels that indicate that Jesus and the Father are one and the same.
“Philip said to Jesus, ‘Show us the Father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Those who see Me see the Father. Why then are you saying, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’” (John 14:8-11) “Jesus said, ‘I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30)
(see also TCR 188:5)
From all of this we can see that the language of the literal sense of the Word is confusing on this topic. “The Word in the sense of the letter is such that it distinguishes things which are one, as if they were not one.” (Lord 55)
So let’s move on and examine the problem with our ability to reason. Does the doctrine of a Trinity of three Persons make sense, or not? Let’s begin by asking the question, “Is God divisible?” If we think about the nature of God being Infinity, or being the Source of everything, or being all Goodness; is that concept really divisible? Is it possible to divide Goodness, and say that something is half of Goodness, and another thing is the other half of Goodness? Doesn’t that actually lessen the Goodness? “We would be splitting a divine essence that is actually unified and indivisible. We would have made none of the three fully God; we would have given each one only a third of the power - an arrangement that a sound intellect has no choice but to reject.” (TCR 168) When in reality, I think we would all acknowledge that God cannot be lessened by being Infinite. The fact that He is omnipresent, doesn’t mean that He is ‘spread too thin.’
So then the question we might ask other Christians becomes, ‘If each Person in the Divine Trinity is fully God, then why do you call them separate Persons?” The doctrine of the New Church, and our own reason tells us that it doesn’t make sense:
“The truth is that dividing God or the divine essence into three persons, each of whom is individually a god in his own right, causes denial of God,” (TCR 15:2)
“For the Divine is not divisible; and to make three one by essence or substance does not take away the idea of three Gods, but only conveys the idea of unanimity between them.” (Lord 57)
“Just think. If one body had many heads, and each head had it’s own agenda based on it’s mind and its volition, could the body survive? There could be no unanimity among them the way there is with a single head.” (DLW 25)
This leads into the next major problem with the idea of a Trinity of Persons in God, which is that, in our minds, it then becomes possible for these Persons to be at odds with each other. The doctrine of the Trinity of Persons describes a scenario where Jesus intervened on our behalf and gave His life as a ransom, or payment for our sins. Payment to whom? Payment to the Father? Why would the Son need to pay the Father for something? Don’t they have the same goals in mind? (See above where I spoke of ‘separate vs. united wills’) “If we saw the Father as assigning spiritual credit or blame, [and] the Son as mediating,” (TCR 168) then there is no true unification between them.
As children we may remember a time when we went to our mother and asked for something, and she said, ‘No,’ and so then we went to our father and asked for the same thing, and he said, ‘Yes.‘ If you have ever been a parent, you know that this creates strife in the family. The parents are then not on the same page. There is no unified front. “Every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matt 12:25). So how can the Persons of God be a divided front, and still govern the Universe effectively? They can’t. God is never a divided front. Therefore God is not divided into Persons.
However, many people still try to rationalize this idea. “They use various phenomena in plane geometry, solid geometry, arithmetic, and physics, as well as folding pieces of clothing and pieces of paper.” (TCR 184) C.S. Lewis, in his book, ‘Mere Christianity,’ uses the compelling analogy of finite persons as being like squares in two dimensions, and the Persons of God as being like squares that make up one cube in three dimensions. (See Lewis p. 162).
So lets play this game. I’ve heard Christians say that it’s not a matter of 1+1+1=3, it’s a matter of 1x1x1=1. I think this is actually fairly enlightened. But I don’t think that people fully realize how it actually doesn’t support the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons, but rather it supports the doctrine of a Trinity of Person. A multiplication problem is spoken in this way: 1x1x1=1 which means: One God, one time, and again one time, equals One God. It does not mean: one Person times another Person times a different Person equals One God. Any mathematician will tell you that this is true. This then becomes a great illustration of the nature of the Lord: God existed before time (the Father, the Creator), He exists in time (the Son, Jesus Christ), and He will continue to exist in all time (the Holy Spirit, Divine Proceeding); 1x1x1=1.
Another way that this doctrine is misunderstood is when people think that one person’s soul could be in another person’s body. But I think when examined carefully, people can recognize that that idea is only imaginary. It doesn’t actually work, because our bodies are shaped by our souls. (see TCR 171)
And finally, if there really were a Divine Family, that was yet one essence; wouldn’t God be guilty of selfishness, or in other words, of loving Himself?
“In regard to God, loving and being loved in return are not possible in the case of others who have some share of infinity or anything of the essence and life of intrinsic love or of Divinity. If there were within them any share of infinity or anything of the essence and life of intrinsic love - of Divinity, that is - it would not be others who would be loving God. He would be loving Himself. What is infinite or divine is unique. If it were in others, it would still be itself; and it would be pure love for itself, of which there cannot be the slightest trace in God. This is absolutely opposite to the divine essence.”
We have now shown that for Christians who are not aware of the truths of the 2nd Coming, the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons, is confusing; both from the perspective of authority and reason. How does it fare when seen through the lens of experience?
Really examine yourself: Can you think of the Trinity as separate Persons and not picture three gods in your head? I submit that you cannot. The Athanasian Creed says that “there are three persons, each of whom is God and Lord.” (TCR 172:2) Try saying that without making it an addition problem. ‘The Father is God, the Son is God, AND the Holy Spirit is God.’ Whenever you use the word ‘and,’ it’s an addition problem. And so according to the above statement you are really adding three gods. It doesn’t work. We cannot picture three Persons without picturing three gods. “The infinite things in Him should not be called ‘infinitely many’ or ‘infinitely all,’ because of our earthly concepts of ‘many’ and ‘all.’’ (DLW 17) Because we can only think spatially (since we are beings that exist in space) we therefore naturally think in numbers, and numbers don’t apply to infinity.
One of the difficult things about the language of the Gospels is that Jesus often talked with the Father as if He was someone other than Himself. Can our experience shed any light on this? Yes. Very often, we humans talk to ourselves as if we are talking to someone other than ourselves. We might even say, “Solomon, don’t do that, you know you shouldn’t!” That’s like the Lord saying, “Not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:39) Jesus’ Divine Soul (The Father) was His conscience. And as He was glorified - like when we are regenerated - His will and understanding became conjoined. And at that point He didn’t have to be governed by His conscience as if it was someone other than Himself. His conscience was Himself. “I and My Father are one.” (John 10:30) He no longer had to talk to Himself. He was truly Himself. But without understanding the nature of the Lord’s glorification, the idea that Jesus ‘talked to himself’ or that He ‘talked with God’ could indicate to people that He wasn’t really God, since He was behaving more like we do at times. So the only alternative left for people was to believe in three Persons of God. And this leads into the next point.
If the Trinity of Persons is a bad idea, then why did the Lord let it happen?
The answer can be found when we look at what the Council of Nicaea was reacting against. A man named Arius was trying to encourage a doctrine that denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
“From this it is manifest that it was of Divine permission that Christians in the beginning should receive the doctrine concerning three Persons, provided they also accompanied it with the belief that the Lord is the infinite God, the Almighty, and Jehovah. For if they had not received this, the Church would have perished, since the Church is a Church from the Lord, and since from Him, and from no other, is the eternal life of all.” (Lord 55:4)
So the doctrine of three persons was better than not acknowledging the divinity of Jesus at all, which is what the Arians wanted to do. It allowed for simple Christians to still believe in God.
“Those who believe these things in simplicity according to the doctrine and do not confirm themselves in the idea of three Gods, but who consider the three as One, are after death instructed by the Lord through angels that He is that One, and that Trine.”
But according to the doctrine of the New Church, the Trinity of three Persons is still not an accurate description of God. In the next section we will look at what a true interpretation of the Trinity is according to New Church doctrine.
Why the doctrine of a Trinity in the One Person of God does work.
Willard D. Pendleton, in his book, ‘Education for Use,’ gets to the heart of the problem with this question:
“How there can be three Infinites and three Uncreates is a mystery, and by definition a mystery is that which cannot be explained. From this and from many other mysteries implicit within the letter [of the Bible], it seems evident that if these two Testaments are indeed the Word of God, they must contain a yet deeper meaning within the text.” (Pendleton, p. 17)
So we need to ask ourselves, ‘What does it mean for something to be true? When we say that ‘a light bulb went off in our heads’ is that a true statement? Well yes, and no. It’s true because it’s an analogy for having an idea. However, an actual lightbulb couldn’t go on in somebody’s actual head without killing them. Is it a lie to make a statement like that? No, but it’s also not factually true. This is like the truth of the Trinity of God. Though the literal sense of the Bible seems to indicate that there are three Persons in God, it’s not literally true. It’s simply illustrating a deeper truth, which is that there are three aspects of the one Person of God.
Swedenborg even indicates that the Athanasian Creed could be reworded, or better understood if the idea of ‘Person’ is not thought of literally. (see Lord 58, TCR 188:5)
In the New Church, the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg are considered to be authoritative in the sense that they give the correct interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. So given that that is true, what is the correct interpretation of the doctrine of the Trinity?
There are many attributes or qualities of the Lord God Jesus Christ that are represented in the Word by the ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit.‘ The Father represents God as the Creator, the Son represents God as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and the Holy Spirit represents God as the Divine Activity in our lives. (see TCR 163) And yet the key difference being that these are not different Persons, but different jobs or roles of One God.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit can also represent the soul, body and action of God. Our reason will confirm that even we humans (created in the image of God) have a soul, body and mind or activity; but that these are not separate ‘persons’ within us, but rather separate parts of one person. (see TCR 163)
Another triune represented by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is that God is Divine Love, Divine Wisdom, and Divine Usefulness. (see DLW 296) And there are more: End or Purpose, Cause or Means, and Result or Effect (see DLW 230). Origin, Manifestation, and Influence (see TCR 172). Essence or Substance, Form, and Expression or Proceeding. (see DLW 14, 40) And there are parallel triunes that appear in creation and in humanity because of being an image of God, for example: Heat, Light, and Atmosphere (see DLW 296) and the Celestial or Heavenly realm of the mind, the Spiritual realm of the mind, and the Natural realm of the mind (see DLW 232). All of these examples illustrate the deeper meanings that can be contained in the words ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit.‘
Does this make sense to us? Can reason confirm these ideas? I think some Christians today, who are enlightened, think that the use of the word ‘person’ is somewhat an issue of semantics. “Surely all wise people, though, think to themselves that ‘person’ here does not mean person at all. It means the attribution of some quality.” (TCR 173) They might actually have more of a New Church concept of the trinity than might be thought based on their religion. “After that [Last] Judgment, that is, now, every person who desires may become enlightened and attain wisdom.” (Lord 61) Therefore, as always, an examination of the assumption of what terms mean is key to true communication. But the important thing is that we need to not only understand in a philosophical sense how God contains a Trinity without being three Persons, but we also need to picture God in our heads as One Person.
As was said above, the idea of a soul, mind and body existing in one person is something that we can grasp. It’s easy to apply that to us and see how it is true. But even though we can apply it to the Lord, we are still left wondering why the language of the Bible is confusing. And so we need to delve a little deeper.
Why couldn’t Jesus simply be God’s Son? What’s wrong with that idea? Aside from the obvious polytheistic ideas that arise, it also just doesn’t work. Jesus’ soul came from God, and His body came from Mary. If it had stayed that way He would have continued to be distinct from God (the Father). But the Word says that His body didn’t stay mortal and finite, but that His body became Divine. (see TCR 170) The Lord went through varying state of glorification and emptying out (see DLW 234) that meant that He became less and less merely human and more and more Divine as His life went on. This is not a process that describes the formation of a new Divine Being, but rather it describes the process of the formation of the Lord’s Divine Human. While that subject is the topic of another paper, what we need to remember is simply that Jesus Christ is God Himself, and that He came to this earth for the purpose of making the connection we have with Him more personal. The doctrine of the Trinity of three Persons gets in the way of that purpose, because our attention is then divided.
Think about the Father as the soul of God, and the Son as the body of God. This helps us think more clearly about the various names of God. A soul cannot exist in two bodies. So the Father can only exist in the body of the Son. The Father does not have a body other than the Son. “The notion that a soul can exist and think and be wise without a body is an error that stems from deceptive appearances.” (see DLW 14) This helps to remove the mental image of three Persons.
So why does Jesus use the language of ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit’? Why couldn’t He have just used the words ‘Soul,’ ‘Body,’ ‘Activity’?
“Bear in mind, then, that these three elements - love, wisdom, and service - are in the Lord and are the Lord. Bear in mind also that the Lord is everywhere, is in fact omnipresent. Then consider that the Lord cannot make Himself manifest to any angel or to us as He really is and as He is in His sun. This is why He makes Himself manifest by means of things that can be accepted, doing so as to love in the form of warmth, as to wisdom in the form of light, and as to service in the form of an atmosphere.” (DLW 299)
We might take this idea further and surmise that this is why He makes Himself manifest by means of things that can be accepted, doing so as to love in the form of a Father, as to wisdom in the form of a Teacher (Jesus), and as to service in the form of a Holy Spirit.
Because the purpose of the Lord’s coming in the world was so that we could have a personal relationship with Him, it’s important to understand what the word ‘person’ really means when used correctly.
“By ‘person’ we have reference to qualities and characteristics which through experience we have come to identify with man[kind]; for example, love, wisdom, understanding, sympathy, affection, the ability to communicate, and many other attributes.” (Pendleton, p. 23)
If we start splitting God up into ‘Persons,’ then we actually begin to lose the very things that make Him a Person. God has a Human Personality, and He wants us to know Him. When we start to get caught up in assigning specific attributes to specific Persons, we lose the Humanity of God. We start picturing Greek gods with their specific powers, rather than One God with every power. And the Greek gods were not human. The Lord God Jesus Christ is Human.
My personal experience is that I like to picture the Lord God Jesus Christ as He is pictured in Revelation 1:13-16. Almost as if He was a 60-year-old Jesus. “He is in fact God the Father in human form.” (TCR 180). “Those who have seen Me have seen the Father.” (John 14:7,9) I believe that everyone can and will picture God in different ways, but the important thing is that we picture Him as One Person.
Why is the doctrine of the Trinity so important?
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the main doctrines that sets the New Church apart from other Christian churches. The Christian church’s misunderstanding of this doctrine is what led to the decline of the whole church.
“If you carefully examine the church’s individual teachings - for example, on God, the person of Christ, goodwill, repentance, regeneration, free choice, the selection of the chosen people, the purpose of the sacraments of baptism and the Holy Supper - you will clearly see that there is a trinity of gods in each one of them. If some teaching does not make the Trinity completely apparent, it still flows from the Trinity the way water flows from a spring.” (TCR 177:2)
One of the main purposes of the New Church is to set this straight for the world. I think that that is why the very beginning of ‘Heaven and Hell’ (which could be considered an introduction to the doctrines of the New Church) discusses the false doctrine of the Trinity of Persons in God. (see HH 2) It’s a defining doctrine.
Since the Lord came to earth and glorified his Human, He created a situation where He allowed for true worship to again take place. That worship is the recognition of His Divine Human, and that is why Christ is the only door to the sheepfold. (TCR 174) The Jewish church was able to truly worship Jehovah because they were simply a representational natural church. But to move on to becoming a spiritual and celestial church, we have to recognize the Lord’s Divine Humanity. It’s not that we can’t worship the Lord as our Father (After all Jesus told us to in the Lord’s Prayer), it’s simply that we need to recognize that our Divine Father has a Divine Human nature. “For us to gain access to the Father [the thoughts and loves of God], we have to go to His human manifestation [the words and deeds of God], since this is how Jehovah God puts Himself in the world and made Himself visible to human eyes. Through this He became accessible.” (TCR 188:6)
I think it’s important in our church that we don’t shy away from the doctrine of the Trinity, or say that we reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Sometimes Swedenborgians are called nontrinitarian (look up ‘Nontrinitarianism’ on Wikipedia). To the extent that that means we believe in one indivisible God, then that is true. But to the extent that that means we reject the Trinity within God, then it’s untrue. There are a number of other churches that are also labeled as ‘nontrinitarian’ yet who have very different beliefs than we do, and we need to be ready and able to explain our particular doctrine as distinct from theirs.
People are not going to feel welcomed into our church if we say we reject the doctrine of the Trinity with no explanation. The New Church explanation of the Trinity doctrine could be exactly what many Christians need or want to hear. Simply “using oral confession of one God to wipe out a belief in a trinity of gods is... impossible” (TCR 173) We need to explain ourselves clearly. We need to get into the habit of not only saying that we believe in one God, but saying that we believe in the Trinity within God, and then explain what that means in a charitable way.
By learning about, and better understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, we not only help ourselves to have a better relationship with the Lord, but we can also be in a position to help others to have a better relationship with the Lord.
We have now examined why this doctrine is so important, what a true interpretation of the Trinity looks like, where the misunderstandings about the Trinity come from, and we have also found answers to some common questions about the Trinity.
“The divine Trinity ought to shine like a lighthouse in the minds of people in the church, since God with His trinity and with the unity in His trinity is essential to all that is holy in heaven and in the church.” (TCR 169)