Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


   The Transition from Human to Divine Philosophy

by Rev. Hugo Lj. Odhner

No science consists in terms but in the notion of the thing which is within the terms. - Swedenborg

In the interpretation of the Writings of the New Church it is sometimes important to take account of the relation in which these divinely given Books (which constitute the Second Advent of the incarnate and glorified Word) stand to the writer Emanuel Swedenborg and to the contents of his previous publications. It would evidently be both unwise and insufficient to deny the close relation which exists between the two sets of works, or to claim that Swedenborg's preparation for his unique mission was through his mistakes and that the methods of his lifelong study brought disillusionment at the end. On the other hand, to accept the scientific and philosophical works of Swedenborg indiscriminately as the ultimate truth upon which the structure of New Church revealed theology rests, is a position neither tenable nor satisfactory, since it ignores the laws of rational growth, involves us in impossible theories as to the "correlation" of things intrinsically heterogeneous, and confuses the understanding of the whole of Swedenborg's life, mission, and teachings.

The truth lies somewhere between these two positions, and should at once recognize the discrete distinction between human and Divine philosophy and show the positive crystallizing in the early works of a philosophy basic to the reception of a rational revelation in Swedenborg's mind. It should account for the fact that Swedenborg never repudiates his general principles of creation even after the Divine philosophy was formulated by his pen; although he restates the doctrine of degrees into a trinal system and condemns some of the concepts which he had apparently accepted in the earlier works, e.g. the mathematical point and simple substances. It must point out that the philosophy used in the `'Writings was Swedenborg's own philosophy in its matured form, and answer the question as to how he arrived at it, as to what evolution of thought it represents. Finally, it must clarify our understanding of the Writings, harmonizing their teachings and better revealing their significance.

Only a patient, sympathetic and - above all - unbiased inquiry into Swedenborg's mental environment and personal philosophic problems and aims will enable us to arrive at the true attitude towards his preparatory works. His mind, albeit providentially directed in a special way, was free and actively responsive to the scholastic and dogmatic atmosphere of his time. His avowed purpose was to find the Soul of the universe and the soul of man, and in his a posteriori search for these he was guided by an unswerving faith in God the Creator and in the Divine Word. It is the object of the present article to follow him on that pursuit in order the better to understand what he found at the end of his remarkable journey, which led him into heaven itself; observing the while Swedenborg's gradual mental and technical adjustment to new facts or phenomena, natural and spiritual.

In making a survey of some of the steps whereby the philosopher advanced, and the elements which moulded his rational mind, it would not do merely to judge by isolated statements. So to judge the progress of a human mind, yearning after elusive truths never before expressed, would be most unjust. I do not press the reader to agree with the conclusions drawn in this article; but the Swedish philosopher's works must be read and studied in their sequence, in utmost sympathy with his aims and with due appreciation of the advantages given and the limitations imposed by his early schooling at Uppsala and by the peculiar contemporary philosophic atmosphere that was due to the wane of Aristotelian scholasticism and the conversion of Cartesianism into a more general stimulus for empirical ambition.

My belief, formed from a modest chronological study of preparatory works, is that the tendency in the gradual shaping of Swedenborg's philosophy was to expatiate on the spiritual rungs of the ladder of degrees: The "soul," at first a relatively simple concept, comes at last to embrace in its compass several interior degrees and faculties. The "first aura," - in the Principia the adequate cause and origin of all creative actions, and the boundary and perhaps the vague symbol of that superior world of causes to which no philosopher dared aspire - becomes more and more detached from nature, is resolved into two constituents, and is finally absorbed into the Spiritual, disappearing from view in the systematic universe of the later works. (This is an error. The "celestial" aura is retained as the "first natural" atmosphere, but the two ethers (magnetic and terrestrial) are merged into a "middle ether". [Note by author (H.L.O.) in 1930])


The first-fruits of his efforts to grasp the soul of the universe, the final cause of creation, were not of more than transitional value. But these metallurgical, physical and mathematical paths of investigation led up to the cosmogonic system of the Lesser Principia (MS placed at 1721 or 1729). His first task here was to trace the process of first creation. Newton, we remember, had added dynamics to the higher mathematics when he began to regard curves as the result of the fluxion of imaginary points; and the idea of "the infinitely small" had already been of vast importance in the mathematical labors of Descartes and others. It may have been the new field of untested possibilities opened by such calculus which inspired Swedenborg to use the "point" as the symbol of the first of finition, by conceiving an ens "from infinite motion in a place infinitely small" (L Pr.I 7; cf. Pr.I. ii, 10) . The point was assumed "to be almost the same as the mathematical point" (L Pr.2; cf. Pr.Lii,2,7), and was trembling between infinity and finiteness: "Let the point be finite and the motion infinite," he suggests in a marginal note. Out of these points, the universe is then theoretically constituted into a series of particles of twelve kinds.

Of especial interest is the fact that the Lesser Principia, like the theological Writings, presents a virtual three-atmosphere universe, wherein the ultimates of every degree are actually formed by condensations or direct compressions such as are described in the Divine Love and Wisdom. But there were technical difficulties; and later, in the published Principia (1734), a new principle of composition was called into use to explain the steps whereby these particles could be derived one from another and coexist in stability without interference; and we find there a revised series of six finites and five elements which might be correctly referred to as a cosmogonic series of five finites and four atmospheres, the further formation of vapors and salts having to do with terrestrial physics. (See in THE NEW PHILOSOPHY, 1913, p. 136, an article by Prof. R. W. Brown, comparing the two "Principias.")

It is to be noted that Swedenborg did not take as a part of his project to explain the world of life - of the soul, the spiritual world. He distinctly states that such things as life, soul, reason, love, or instinct, and the Infinite itself, are not to be explained "by the known laws of motion." "There are innumerable things which are not mechanical, nor even geometrical," he states (Pr. I. i, 2).

Along his chain of degrees were distributed the causes of natural phenomena. The main problems to be solved were, first, the method of the creation of finite substance, and second, the assignment of substantial causes for all known natural laws and effects. Swedenborg therefore worked from both ends in building the series, and the vaguest and most problematic parts of the system therefore occurred where the two resulting chains of reasoning joined. The existence of three solar atmospheres providing residence respectively for the forces of gravity, light, and sound, was fairly indisputable.. In the Lesser Principia he had posited only these three atmospheres. But a fourth - the Primal Aura - was rather inferred, in the Principia of 1734, as a necessity in the process of finition itself, (See his reasoning in De Infinito, II., pp. 124-127, Wilkinson's translation. [pp. 191-197 in 1965 edition. Ed.]) as the first resting-plane of the creative effort, a plane of balance and equilibrium in which a second period of creation, commencing with the formation of the natural sun and its world, could begin. The functions of this aura were elastic. To it could be traced every effect for which no causative plane had as yet been fixed. Gravitation, universality, etc., are assigned to it. Yet we doubt whether Swedenborg was quite satisfied with his Primal Aura. He felt the need of an "aura of a purer and better world." His creative series accounted for the natural world, for things seen and heard and felt; it also showed the Infinite Substance as the sole cause of creation; but it left the nature of man as a spiritual being unaccounted for, and the spiritual world, the world of the Anima and its consciousness, was not definitely assigned.

In 1720, Swedenborg stressed the features of identity which motion and life had in common. In 1734, he had come to recognize intuitively the impossibility of making intelligence and life an intrinsic part of the series of finite or natural elements (Principia, 1912 ed., I. p. 3). This intuition was then but a seed, but it grew with his own efforts to grasp the universe geometrically. Although he tried to stress that geometry could only be applied by eminence and analogy to the higher finites, he could endow his finites and actives with all the motions of organic sensation and life, but not with life and intelligence themselves. And since he had no reason to conceive with Wolff of two series of finites or naturals, one of which was spiritual and intelligent, the other geometrical and mechanical, his logic in the Principia and the De Infinito, resting always in geometry, found no place for the spiritual as a plane of causes. (Inf. II, p. 163) Motion was the mode of finition, and Conatus, or pure and total motion, was the final cause.


In the De Infinito Swedenborg definitely enters into the question of a substance for the soul of man. He finds a place for the soul in the upper stretches of finition, composing it of the first and second actives, enclosed by a passive surface answering to the first elementary - a "membrane of superlative subtlety." While not elemental like that of brutes, the human soul is finite, but belongs to a purer and more perfect realm of nature, the entities of which subtler world are not mutable through accidental and external causes; wherefore the soul is immortal. He argues that all finite things are extended and mechanical, however purely so, and hopes that his geometrical definitions of the soul will agree exactly with that given by "those who love to claim it as spiritual and not material."

And after a life-long search for the realities of the invisible, Swedenborg found at last that he was right in this very first premise. For if anything is clear in the Writings, it is that spiritual things are substantially extended and corpuscular and finite and objective. This is the very burden of the Revelation of the New Church. Yet in the Writings we learn a further thing, that those dimensions which finite things in the spiritual world are spiritual dimensions and if measured by the natural mind are found only to be appearances, although in themselves they are the very origin of all substantial finition. This further distinction Swedenborg could not possibly have made in 1734. Reasoning with remarkable acumen and perseverance he finds the Infinite at the limits of motion, where conatus towards motion stands as the creative cause. That it is the .spiritual and not the Divine, which really appears as conatus towards motion (AC 5173), he could not have been expected to realize. And in a similar way, the beautiful logic which he uses to prove the immortality of the soul "to the very senses," is transformed for our use into a proof of the indestructibility of those "finest things of nature" which serve as the ultimate for the organics of the spirit. Beyond that inmost sphere of nature his arguments do not apply.

In his notes on Wolff's Psychologia Empirica Swedenborg exerts especial effort to reconcile his conception of the soul as mechanical and natural with the philosophy of Wolff which was then the last word in philosophy, as well as to align it with his Principia system of elements and finites (Psychologica n. 17). He now hopes to convince even the atheist of the existence of the soul, and pens the bold hope that "if we had the microscopes we might be able to see the entire structure both of the soul and the spirit." (Ibid. n. 75)

Swedenborg's daring aspirations did not escape contemporary criticism, Dr. Lamm (Swedenborg, by Martin Lamm, Stockholm 1915, p. 47 f. An important critical work not yet translated into English; reviewed in NEW CHURCH LIFE, 1927, pp. 586-602) records that the De Infinito drew a polite review from a writer in the Acta Eruditorum, 1735, wherein it is suggested that the idea of the soul as geometrical would lead to materialism, to the idea that matter can think, and is open to the charge that the soul is destructible, not being a simple substance .but a compound (op cit., p. 559).)


Passing over an interval of six years, we now find a more distinct concept of the spiritual in the Economy. The soul is there regarded as a "spirituous fluid" formed from the primal aura which is universal and is characterized by the celestial or perpetuo-vortical form. This essence is called a fluid only by way of analogy. It is moved by the primal aura, but its intelligence, wisdom, and life come to it not from nature .but from God as the Moral Sun, by the mediation of His Spirit. In this connection the Philosopher adds:

The sun of the world . . . is within nature, the Sun of life and wisdom above it; the one is physical, the other is purely moral; and the one falls under the philosophy of the mind, while the other lies withdrawn among the sacred mysteries of theology; between which two there are boundaries that it is impossible for human faculties to transcend (2 Econ. 251).

There are then two distinct principles that determine this spirituous fluid, assumed as the soul: the one natural, by which it is enabled to exist and be moved in the world; the other, spiritual, by which it is enabled to live and be wise . . . . The principle of motion, or the natural principle, flows in after one manner; and life after another; in fact, the natural principle, in this eminently organic and perfectly fluid substance, possesses its co-operant or mediant, viz., the first aura: but not so the latter, if there be no essential unition with the Spirit of life . . . . (2 Econ. 270).

We seem to envision here the first clear distinction between motion and life. The vital forms parallel to the elementals are subordinated .in a series which is called the Animal Kingdom, characterized by the reception and sensation of this life. Nature acts upon them as motion; God acts upon them as life. One operation is from without; the other is from within by the mediation of the Spirit of life.

THE FIBRE (1741)

In the Economy the soul is definitely associated with the celestial or first aura. Above this nothing definable is found. But in the next work, The Fibre, we meet with a somewhat distinct transition: the angels and our souls are said to be more perfect celestial forms meriting the name of "spirits" because of being accommodated to the Spiritual form immediately (n. 267)involving a slight adjustment of offices and degrees. The "simple fibre" (composing the nerve fibre) is called a vortical form (n. 259, 275). (That the organics of the soul are within nature is further stated in Periostium 7, and in The Soul and the Harmony between Soul and Body 73-77) The degree of the celestial ether, in which the organic basis of the soul itself is placed, is taken as the Simple and Supreme of all the forms of nature and is divested of ordinary predicates, such as magnitude, extension, figure, gravity, levity, parts and materiality (n. 266). It is the "Prima Materia, which is moved with a motion which consists in receiving form." The spiritual form, next superior to the celestial, is said to be hardly a form at all, but substances and powers, above all created nature. "Thus this form is the principle of existence, subsistence, action, life, understanding, and wisdom." (n. 267)


In the Rational Psychology our philosopher draws his "final" conclusions about the soul's nature and place. The soul is definitely identified with the spiritual form, which is immaterial without extension, motion, or parts (n. 486), and this position is retained in the Ontology. The celestial form, or the first natural form, is somewhat vaguely attributed to that Pure Intellectory of which he speculates that it will survive the body only to be eventually dissolved, perhaps on the Last Day (n. 495) when the soul in its purity will be set free from all lower things. Ignorance of the precise character of the heavenly aura left Swedenborg in admitted uncertainty about the form of the immortal soul; but he ventures to doubt that it will be in the form of the body or the `human form', inclining to regard it as in a more elastic state, in which it is free to materialize even on earth in any shape or form at pleasure by gathering elements from the atmospheres (R Psych 523).

To reiterate, then, it must be admitted that Swedenborg's purpose - gradually achieved throughout his labors - was to establish the soul as a real substantial entity. The soul was finite, because separate from God. Since the finite, as far as he could conceive, was coherent and in contact (contiguum), the soul must be found to be the "purest of the body" and be discoverable by the geometrical and mechanical method, which he finally (in The Fibre) crystallized as the "Doctrine of Forms." The soul was substantial. And this at first was made synonymous with its being material, in an unqualified sense (De Infinito, II). But later the definition ripens, and in the Ontology (nos. 47-49) it is shown that matter can be taken in two very different senses, either (1) as the `something' which is determined, or whatever is the origin and ground of qualities; or (2) as the opposite to the spiritual, i.e., as something gross, heavy, spatial and inert. In the first sense, the soul is matter, and is so called in the Infinite and the Economy and occasionally later when the philosophic usage of the term is called for: since form, without matter (in such a sense), would be a nonentity, an "ens rationis" (Ont. 6, 47, 48; cf. AC 1533). But in the second sense, the Ontology teaches, "the soul is not material, because it is void of parts, extent, figure and gravity." This immateriality is emphasized in the Rational Psychology. But Swedenborg advanced still further to the eventual perception that the soul is actually extended, although spiritually so (SD 2366 ff.; AC 444 ff.; TCR 29:2 ; DLW 7, etc.).

We should realize that in speaking of the soul an antithetical statement may be used. It is void of part, figure, and extent; yet it has all these. Relative to its spiritual substance it has a spiritual body, a spiritual or "substantial" extense, and spiritual parts and organs. This aspect is emphasized more and more after Swedenborg's experience of after-death conditions grows more common. But relative to natural substance, the soul is void of parts and extension (CL 220:2), for what appears as natural space in the spiritual world is not anything but spiritual extension and mental dimension (DLW 7) objectifying themselves as if they were natural space and even material substance (Wis. vii, 5, viii, 3, LJ post. 323). The principle of relativity in term values, which is consequent to different viewpoints, must thus be present as a necessary element in every sound interpretation of the Writings.

Let us here reflect that Swedenborg, in no wise different from other natural philosophers, looked at the spiritual world from below. He could see no more than what he conquered by power of thought and argument, and he fought heroically, vehemently, for the reality of the soul; beyond that limit, in every stage, all was infinite and indefinite and indistinguishable - all was an undiscerned One. Somewhere, that Oneness melted into the Divine itself. But what degrees that indefinite Oneness, as yet unanalyzed, contained, our philosopher could by no human means ascertain.

The first stage in this intellectual pilgrimage towards the seat of the soul, was then to gain a substantial predicate for the soul, by enthroning it on the top rung in the ladder of "natural," or created, degrees. The second stage was to divest this substance from materiality, extension, and aught that might limit the idea of its sublimity. And the third stage was to distinguish, within the entity and substance thitherto called the 'soul', the two great degrees of natural mind (animus) and spiritual mind (mens and anima).


It is in the second of these stages that we find Swedenborg in the work on the Senses, which was finished in 1744, after the completion of the first two volumes of the Animal Kingdom. The method by which he proceeds is here clearly evident. He separates (a) the soul considered as a supreme natural form, upon which are endued all the principles and laws of nature, from (b) the soul regarded as to its intelligence and life. In the Senses the elastic application of the Doctrine of Forms is seen, when the Spiral Form is applied to the air, the Vortical Form is assigned to the ether together with light and magnetism, and the "soul" is said to be of the Celestial Form, which thus becomes that of the aura formerly called the `second' (thereafter termed the celestial), which answers to the first of the three natural atmospheres outlined in the later Writings (n. 264, 318). ("No science consists in terms .but in the notion of the thing which is within the terms" (Senses 5). "In fact it is exceedingly trifling and empty to spend any great pains upon alterations in terminology." (AK 407, note t) Compare 1 Econ. 605.)

The soul (as to its organics or regarded as the first substance of its body) is thus "let down" a whole degree from the place it occupied in the Economy and the Fibre. The second aura is therefore marked as the seat of the soul or spirituous fluid, and is called a "certain superior or celestial atmosphere," its celestial form being that "of the whole universe and of nature, where the beginnings of the rest lie hidden." And the air, the ether, and that "celestial" aura, are then grouped together in the phrase, "There are three natural atmospheres . . ." ; while the primal aura of the Principia series is referred to in the next clause, ". . . to which is to be added a supreme," "the universal .spiritual which is supreme," (264). The latter. is here not classed as a natural aura, nor indeed as an "atmosphere" in the sense of the other three; it has now become the "universum Spirituale" - the Form by which the universe is ruled and from which are supreme principles. The attributes of this aura are thus exalted into the Spiritual Form, and it is no more the first of nature, as in the Fibre. A great and important shrift has occurred in the application of the Doctrine of Forms and Degrees.


The Worship and Love of God apparently endeavors to increase this discrete gap between Nature and Spirit. In poetic word-pictures it describes the genesis of the world. Three atmospheres are mentioned as issuing from the sun - the supreme, the middle, and the ultimate aura corresponding to the aura, ether, and air, and to the Celestial, Vortical, and Spiral Forms, here classed together as the forts of inanimate nature (nos. 22, note; 24, note q.; 6, note). The Celestial form is generally called the supreme form of nature (24, note). Above this is "the Spiritual Form, which contains nothing but what is infinite, flowing from the irradiation of the Sun of Life," the Supreme Deity, "as the other (i.e., the natural) forms flow from the irradiation of the sun of the world." (n. 2'4, q.) Swedenborg further shows that "there are two principles perfectly distinct from each other, the one natural, in itself dead, and the other spiritual, in itself living." The soul is defined as a substance, the essence and form of which is spiritual (33, 64, 66, notes) or supercelestial (90). The Mens, or intellectual mind, is represented as Celestial, and the Animus, or natural mind, as "Infracelestial." But the terminology is plastic and relative, and applied with some freedom. So, for instance, the term ‘celestial' is applied in one place, without close definition, to the substances which excite the solar focus itself and are contained in the particles of the solar aura (n. 10, note f) ; and elsewhere more consistently to the soul, which receives life from the Supreme Himself above the angelic heavens (n. 102). No contradiction is here involved. (The footnote f on page 20 of the 1914 English translation erroneously identifies "the supreme form in nature" with "the supra celestial." The translation should read, "the supreme form in nature which above (supra) is called celestial." (H.L.O.)) But in pace with a more objective grasp of the phenomena of the psychic life and in accord with his desire to emphasize the spiritual quality of the soul, the terms are subtly changing meaning under the author's hands. And this is also evident when we come to the next work.

THE ADVERSARIA (1745-1746)

In the Adversaria (Word Explained) we find the first use of the terms "natural and spiritual substance." The four faculties of man - the soul, the intellectual mind, the lower mind, and the sensations - have as their subjects the four principal substances of man. Natural substance with its faculty of corporeal sensation, is mortal. But

. . . the very substance, the essence of which is intermediate between natural and spiritual [substance], is first of all loosed from its connections with terrestrial things which are properly called the body, and is carried with him, because it includes that higher substance the essence of which is spiritual, and is called the intellectual mind . . . . And this at the same time includes in itself the principal and purer substance of man the essence of which is super-celestial, and is properly called the soul. (Adv. 11 1374) (WE 3058 in English edition. Compare 1148.Italics by H.L.O)

In comparing this terminology with that of the preceding work, we are bound to recognize that the connotation of the word `celestial' has changed. In April 1745 Swedenborg was called by the Lord for his new spiritual mission and gave up the study of all worldly science. "There were opened to me," Robsahm quotes Swedenborg as saying, "the world of spirits, heaven and hell, so that I became thoroughly convinced of their reality." (Docu. I, p. 36) And in consequence of this experience, "celestial" came to refer, thereafter, not to the form of the astronomical heaven, or the supreme of nature, but to the actual heaven of angels; and "spiritual" became the general term for what pertained to the afterdeath realm, the supernatural. "Supercelestial" thus came to mean that which is above the angelic consciousness. The statement also is made that the soul of the brute animal is "lower than heaven, and partakes of what is spiritual and natural." The lower mind, or animus, is infracelestial, therefore; yet if the languages of the Senses were employed it would now have been described as ‘supercelestial', being the intermediate between spiritual and natural substance, and thus being superior, in itself, to celestial physics. The more detailed doctrine of this intermediate degree is found in the Divine Love and Wisdom (257 and 388), where the "limbus" of the finest substance of nature is referred to as adjoined to the spiritual organics of the "natural mind," or to the spiritual body itself.

The main transitions evident from this brief survey of Swedenborg's preparatory labours seem therefore to be the following: (1) The membrane of precipitation, which (in De Infinito) he assumes as the passive of the soul, is ultimately defined in his mind as a limbus associated with the lowest spiritual substance in the mind of man and placed on the level of the second Principia aura, which becomes regarded as the supreme natural and therefore lays claim to the title of Celestial (Sens. 264). (2) The first Principia aura divides its attributes and loses its role of a philosophic necessity. The ‘Spiritual Form' of the Fibre is replaced (in the Worship and Love of God) by a substantial plane of spiritual essence entirely discrete from nature and directly flowing from the Sun of Life. (3) The soul, mind and animus as substantial realities are lifted out of nature into the realm of life, and are all joined into partnership for the enjoyment of immortality.

Yet note that all these changes flowed in a spontaneous way from the necessities of the progressive studies that Swedenborg was making. The original method of study was simply modified by the intrinsic nature of the subject of investigation. He had no reason to reject his former tenets, since he was now simply further along on the same road. In perception he was always in advance of his terms and proofs, for these delayed him from conscious acceptance of the eventual truth, as they are also apt to delay and confuse the student of Swedenborg's early works.


A new period of adjustments both in Swedenborg's knowledges and in his terminology now ensued.

The Senses and the Worship and Love of God stress the existence of three natural atmospheres, together with a "universal spiritual". Yet in a short paragraph in the Spiritual Diary (n. 222), an apparent brief return to the Principia outline is shown. And we are confronted with a fourth solar atmosphere.

The burden of this paragraph is that there are three solar atmospheres which govern the natural mind, and these are the ether, the magnetic aura, and the universal ether. The air makes up the total of four, but does not affect the mind. Leaving until later the interesting question of a reconciliation of this passage with the later Writings, it should now only be pointed out that Swedenborg, at this time (Oct. 27, 1747, Old Style), while seemingly content to assign natural atmospheres as the active forces which govern the natural mind, yet presses the fact that they could cause no reasonings or thoughts without the presence of a spiritual element which should give life and capacity for perception. And moreover, the first aura of this category is said to be natural and solar, and to act only on the natural mind. A special warning is appended that in the interior mind there is nothing natural, but there all is spiritual; and in the inmost mind all is celestial ; these spiritual and celestial spheres being produced by God Messiah alone as a Sun, and being living.

The existence of four natural atmospheres is also inferred in a note dated December 29th, 1747, where "threefold or fourfold atmospheres" are mentioned, of which the lower ones were composed out of the prior which thus "act both within and without upon the one proximately composed." A series of four is then recited (SD 418). The phrase "threefold or fourfold" can be construed to testify of a certain hesitation being entertained; especially as from this time onward Swedenborg never refers to four solar auras. The cogent fact is that a period of over ten years elapses, during which he writes and publishes the Arcana and a number of minor works, and witnesses the Last Judgment with the consequent reorganization of the .spiritual world, without once giving any definite number to the atmospheres, although frequently speaking of ethers and air, their function in the universe, and their aspect in the heavens.

And then, in the Apocalypse Explained (ca. 1757-9), n. 726, the series of three degrees of solar atmospheres, corresponding to a trinity of atmospheric degrees in the heavens, is outlined and described with the air of finality. That series is then confirmed in all the later works, such as the Last Judgment (post.), Divine Love and Wisdom, Influx and True Christian Religion, the trine always consisting of air (sound), ether (magnetism, light, and the terrestrial vortex), and aura (universality, gravitation).

The revelator had arrived at this concept without the urgency of any verbal inspiration. It was not forced upon him. But when once rationally realized it was adopted into the Revelation and sanctified as the proper thought - ultimate concerning discrete degrees, and as a focus into which the learning of the future might be poured with new perceptive light.


Let us now return to the transition stage marked by the famous "Number 222" of the Spiritual Diary. The main question in connection with the teachings there given concerns the reason for introducing a fourth atmosphere. (It would of course be premature to deny that some equivalent of the first Principia aura might not exist without having to be classed as an atmosphere in the strict trinal series of the Writings. It might exist, for instance, as a plane of internal stress in the ground substance which composes the supreme natural aura of the Writings. But since we can neither prove or disprove this suggestion, we must for the time ignore it). Quite aside from the question of the existence or nonexistence of the Principia atmosphere as a fourth natural aura, it is necessary to point out that the additional atmosphere mentioned in SD 222 was a philosophical requirement which at that time could not be lightly omitted. For it represented forces and powers which actually exist and which had to be accounted for in terms of some substance. Although Swedenborg, in 1747, perceives that spiritual influx is the essential of all mental activities, and although he definitely lifts the interior mind and the inmost mind out of nature, he does not yet assign spiritual atmospheres as the real plane of thought, reasoning, and recollection, but places successive natural ethers as the producers of these phenomena in the natural mind. He does not distinguish as yet the respective functions of interior nature and of spirit. The first of the auras is marked as a symbol of creative causation, uniting in itself certain of the powers of Divine proceeding, and mediating between undefined spiritual forces and the three natural atmospheres.

In other, words, the creative causes, which were known to Swedenborg in 1760 as a trine of atmospheres arising out of the spiritual sun, appeared to him in 1747 as a single universal element arising by more or less direct derivation from the Infinite and forming an atmosphere about the natural sun. And the truth in this appearance is the law that in the process of creation all prior and successive act as a one. "The principal cause and the instrumental cause, when anything is being produced, appear as one, though they are distinctly two." (ISB 11) Causes can be distinguished only in their results. Sir Oliver Lodge and his adherents are for the same reason unable to distinguish from the "luminiferous ether" that other aura which is discretely higher. The "first aura" of the early Diary is the symbol of certain mental and physical powers, which are not as yet classified with finality.

In the Worship and Love of God it was unnecessary to assume such an aura. The three degrees of the natural-mind-functions were then not pressing for explanation. Now they were - since Swedenborg's introduction into the spiritual world; and in consonance with his general method he placed the cause in the form of the substance in which the effect was displayed. Three mental spheres of causation were sought, and were inferred to exist in the ether and in two still higher auras. For of course it was clear that the air could not be a psychic agent, since the grossly corporeal had no consciousness in itself. And so he had to suppose that, prior to the air, there were three natural auras which had accessory mental uses. It is certain that . the natural atmospheres outwardly affect the senses, and it is a matter of choice how far we should regard the interiors of the body as mental organics; if, as seems reasonable, we place the "purest things of nature" in the highest natural aura of the trinal series, we would have to acknowledge this aura, (he analogy in DLW 176 seems to confirm this.) but not the ether below it, as an agent modifying the "natural substances of the natural mind."

But how was Swedenborg, having postulated a "purest ethereal sphere" as an explanation of the modifications of the rational degree of the animus, justified in calling it a natural aura, proceeding from the sun of the world? The fact of course is that he was discussing external modifications of the natural organics of the mind, and such effects could be produced only by natural auras. The later doctrines distinguish more truly, when they note the effects of the atmospheres on the organism, but assign the production of thought and sensation to purely spiritual causes. In the two schemes presented below, the latter, constructed about 1760, shows, as our common sense must frankly admit, certain intentional adjustments.

The positions indicated in the diagram can be harmonized only by distinguishing Philosophy from Science. Philosophy, which is the real educator, has to do with doctrines of natural truth and with methods of thought; Science has only to do with the tools. Swedenborg was prepared by Philosophy (ISB 20), Science serving as his handmaid. The Philosophy of discrete degrees and of series is the same in both passages, but the data differ, the latter category having in view the appearances of forces in both worlds.

Swedenborg's information was gradual in the things of heaven as it had been in the things of worldly science. His inspiration, or his perception from the Divine, was not less actual in the early Writings, but it was accommodated to the state of his information. (Compare his mention of only seven planets.) His reason had to become responsive to each spiritual rational truth which he received by way of revelation. He explored and analyzed the spiritual realm by the same systematic methods that he had used in grappling with the truths of nature, and was in addition guided by an inspirational discrimination.

The changing order of the spiritual world coincident with the Last judgment in 1757, through which the natural heavens were organized as discrete heavens, displayed the trinal form of the heavens even as to substances and degrees, in a clearness which showed universality. About 1759, in the Apocalypse Explained, Swedenborg gives the first extended philosophical treatment of the forces which are involved in everything spiritual. And in this connection, having shown the existence of three spiritual degrees or heavens, he writes that below these there are also lower degrees of what is spiritual, viz., three spiritual degrees present and operative in nature and in the natural mind (1210, second draft). Plainly, this marks a distinction: the intellectual activities of the mind are here defined as spiritual, being caused by forces from spiritual substances.




LAST JUDGMENT, Post. n., 312-313

Celestial spheres produced by God-Messiah alone-act upon Inmost Mind. (Celestial)

"Three spiritual atmospheres arising from the Sun of heaven, which is the Lord." (312) These have life in them and affect the Spiritual Mind.

Spiritual spheres from the same origin act upon the Interior Mind (Spiritual) in which nothing is natural.

In these three spiritual atmospheres are the angels of the three heavens.

I Celestial kingdom

II Celestial kingdom

III Spiritual kingdom

Three ethers from the natural sun act upon External Mind. (Natural) These spheres are solar and thus natural:

Three ethers from natural sun have not life in them, for they originate from a sun which is pure fire and change according to laws of natural order.

Three lower spiritual atmospheres "below the sun of the world, constantly accompany the three natural" and enable men to think and feel.

1) Purest Ethereal Sphere (universal) produces a species of Thought.


2) Purer Ether (magnetic) forming the terrestrial orbit. Produces Reasonings in the Natural Mind.

1) Purer Ether <------------------
from which is all gravitation

IV Fourth spiritual atmosphere causes Thought.

Spiritual kingdom

3) Ether (visual): the first atmosphere reigning in Natural Mind, perhaps presenting Material Ideas.

2) Middle Ether <----------------
forming planetary vortex, conveys light

V Fifth spiritual atmosphere causes Imagination with men in the world.

4) Air produces Hearing.

3) Ultimate Ether<--------------

VI Sixth spiritual atmosphere causes perception with men.

In the next treatment, occurring in Last Judgment, post., written about 1760, these same "lower spiritual degrees" are spoken of as a second trinal series of spiritual atmospheres which "constantly (jugiter) accompany the three natural atmospheres, and which enable a man in the natural world to think and feel." (313) Thus six spiritual degrees are given for the psychic or conscious life of angels and men (ibid. 311), and the natural auras are relieved of the unnatural office of "producing" thoughts and ideas, as in SD 222. Yet the three lowest spiritual atmospheres really constitute the interior force within the corresponding natural, and are present in them as the kernel in the shell or the wood in the bark, to the point of provisional identity. So marked is the joint action of these two sets of atmospheres that Swedenborg places the psychic life of certain angels in the first of the three natural auras, only to amend the statement in the next paragraph with the obvious explanation that he has been talking about the atmosphere of life associated with the first aura. (See LJ post. 312-313.) Swedenborg's note in the early Diary about the mental functions of the natural atmospheres is thus explained, amplified, and justified; although it would not be justifiable for us to use that statement in such a way as to pit it against the later doctrinal dicta. The law of all revelation is that general truths are first revealed, but generals are explained and amplified by particulars, not vice versa; and from the particulars, not from the generals, are "universals" drawn.

This rule does not apply only in the matter of the atmospheres. In the early Diary, for instance, we find general characterizations of heavens, hells, patriarchs, and apostles, which later turn out to be truths about an appearance existing in the spirit-world before the judgment. These portions of the Diary are therefore different from the rest of the Writings, in their resemblance to the prophetic Scriptures; for the spiritual appearance is stated as if it were the corresponding reality, the interpretation being withheld for a time. This is the law of all revelation, and it invalidates authority in no sense whatsoever. The degree of information possessed by an inspired writer can in no manner affect the status of Divinity which attaches to his writings. But it should indicate the need of caution lest we divorce statements from their later explanations, and thus take the appearance for the final truth. Truth is a city built compact together, foursquare, organic. It is no longer important to argue as to what precise titles the canon of the New Church revelation should include, if we but realize that the Writings are the manifestation of the Divine Human as the Truth rising from the shadows of the letter and the appearances of natural thought, and forthstanding glorified - the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.

Swedenborg and his personal opinions are not ‘holy'. But his Writings are sacred, as the transparent verbal ultimate of Divine rational truth. Now we discern in these Writings, not only a body of Divine Doctrine, but the story of a man's spiritual experiences, his narrative of journeys into the world of spirits and into heaven. Signs are not wanting of his growth in insight and depth during the progress of his twenty-six years of instruction in the other world. He tells us of memorable things, of conversations with angels and devils. Some of his friends thought this personal feature of his books marred the whole, but he made it clear that the Lord, who had revealed the doctrine, also inspired the narrative element. Both therefore are equally the Lord's message. And coming from the Lord's mouth, this revelation is written in a Divine style, with a meaning which reaches into infinity. In its complete aspect, it becomes a spiritual epic of symbolic significance - a ,story prophetic of the pilgrimage which all New Churchmen should make, and involving at the same time the glorification of the Divine Truth in human thought. The appearance in the Writings of a personal and narrative and scientific element which forms a background for the abstract doctrine of the internal sense, constitutes the "letter" of the new revelation. By correspondential expressions the Divine Rational Truth is presented in the rational "appearances of truth." The Writings, no differently from any other revelation, ought therefore to be held superior to any invalidating criticisms founded on references to superficial errors whether textual or scientific. Such charges cannot invalidate our revelation; to think that it would implies, to my mind, only an ignorance of the character of revelation.


Always and forever Swedenborg held that the soul was the one and only substance of the body! That was his central perception for which he fought gloriously and victoriously throughout life. His idea of the immortal soul of man became progressively clearer in the preparatory period. His unique place in the history of philosophy is seen from the use he makes of contemporary terms. Swedenborg went from thought to terms, not vice versa (SD 1603; AC 4658:2). What is said of Aristotle (in the latter passage) is undoubtedly true of Swedenborg also; he could not think "distinctly" about the soul although from the first he held to the essential that it survives the death of the terrestrial body. Aristotle's idea of it was that of "a pneuma - an unseen vital something, as of ether." The schoolmen of the Christian church progressed no further than this. And Wolff (who in his appeal to Swedenborg's scientific mind, eclipsed all the intervening thinkers since Aristotle) founded his ontology on the same idea of the soul as "pneuma"; but interiorly in Wolff's mind this idea contained a denial of immortality and Deity (SD 4727), and therefore his system tended to make the thought of his followers sensual (LJ, post., 263).

Although the reasonings and the cosmology of Descartes, whose system had an extraordinary influence at Uppsala, seem to have been the starting point of Swedenborg's thoughts, yet the terminology of Wolff and others served him as models in giving them form. Even in the De Infinito, where the soul is claimed as frankly mechanical, there was still an implied reservation as to the vital presence of Essence and Life. He perceptively knew that life was anterior to matter, and he hesitated more and more to tie his thoughts to a "soul" which was material in any other sense than that it is a subject of substantial determinations and attributes (2 Econ. 311; Gen., 164).

Thus Wolff's description of the soul and the higher elements of the world as "simple substances," was adopted as a term, not as a thought; for Swedenborg knew that perfection must increase towards interiors, and his perception led him (With Leibnitz, LJ, post. 263) to see that there could be no ‘pure simple', but that a thing is divisible to infinity; and that a ‘first simple' (if capable of changes of state) must in reality be an infinite complex of substantial forces. Thus he drew up a Doctrine of Forms according to which forms rose from the angular and circular by the removal of limitations, infinitely approaching the Infinite by discrete degrees of perfection through the vortical, celestial and spiritual forms.

This doctrine was however no more final as an explanation of the origin of matter than was the doctrine concerning the origin of finition through the first natural point of the Principia, which had implied an entity nondivisible or simple; both doctrines being founded on the concept that geometrical motion was the formative thing within all finite substance. The difficulty with which we are met in the Doctrine of Forms lies in the perception that it is impossible, by simply complicating motions, to arrive at any but a material infinity, an infinite of refined space. Swedenborg states the real problem when he says that the question is to tell how the material qualities are to be abstracted from our thought of the spiritual (Gen. 164) . The Doctrine of Forms, to which he then refers, effects this in a mechanical way and arrives at the "center-in-every-point" stage of finites, where geometry suddenly gives out and analogue has to be brought in. For the gap between the Infinite and the finite refuses to be bridged by a scale of geometrical forms. But it could be bridged by recourse to a superior substantial plane of causation, perceptively realized, the forms of which do not act as motion, but whose activity is displayed towards lower planes as a conatus to motion. This he called the Spiritual Form. It was "infinite" as compared to the geometrical forms below it, standing in an infinite ratio to them; but it was neither an infinite of space, nor the "purely Infinite" or Divine. So it was that Swedenborg was delivered from confusing the Divine Infinite with an imaginary 'infinite of space' - which is the only cause to which a purely geometrical ontology would have led him. The story of his discovery that geometry, which had carried him so far, would not suffice to carry his natural thought into definitions of the spiritual forms of the after-life, is told in the Spiritual Diary (nos. 3482-4).

In reading his later condemnation of theories connected with simple substances (ISB 17) and with creation from geometrical points (TCR 20) it is therefore to be remembered that the underlying idea of a substance a quo, beyond geometry, marks Swedenborg's philosophy far apart, in perceptive value, from the theories thus anathematized, although his terms and formal ideas were necessarily borrowed from them. (It was the same ripening of his ideas under the cover. of false and inadequate terms which caused Swedenborg to retain the symbol of three divine persons in his natural thought (Adv. I, 4, 26 etc.), to the dismay of certain angels (TCR 26) ; and to retain various other natural ideas and expressions which were gradually eliminated from his mind and Writings. The Spiritual Diary, in its early part, illustrates this fact.)

Swedenborg's progression was not always direct. The Economy teaches definitely, from purely philosophical grounds, that the soul after death assumes the form of the body, and is "never again able to attract elements from the three kingdoms of the world"; nor is able to "migrate back into life by means of an ovum" according to the transmigration dreams of the old philosophers (2 Econ. 351) . But his reasoning was apparently quite reversed only a year later in the manuscript of his Rational Psychology where he considers that the soul may be of almost any other form than "the human." (RPsych 521 ff.)

The reason for this change of view can be ascertained by no other than the historical method. Swedenborg had at last placed the soul as a spiritual form, which he fully defines as "immaterial, without extension, motion or parts" (n. 498) ; although he complained that unless an idea of analogy [or correspondence] is preserved, "one cannot avoid, in the above definition, the idea of nothing." The soul is freed from lower predicates, and along with them the animus is relegated to partake eventually of the death of the body: the rational mind and the intellect perish at once; the "Pure Intellect," which is in the celestial form and therefore beyond the reach of ordinary accidents, possibly remaining until the "conflagration of the world," i.e., the last judgment, when it would be consumed by a most pure elementary fire (RPsych. 495, 524).

It is easy to see how this view would follow from the general position regarding mental properties as inseparably appertaining to the mortal natural forms wherein they manifested themselves.

A second retrogressive idea is also given in the Rational Psychology, viz., that the soul, as a free spiritual form, disembodied and nonextended, is said to be able to materialize at pleasure in any shape, by assuming a body from the elements. This directly contradicts the conclusion drawn in the Economy; but it accounts for the many biblical instances of angels appearing to men, and is therefore retained in the Adversaria, to explain how Jacob could have wrestled with an angel (Adv. I: 1457). Needless to say, it is the Economy position that is confirmed in the Writings, the net gain from the Psychology hypothesis being a truer realization of the discrete sublimity of the risen soul, and its entire freedom from the limitations of natural substance. Swedenborg's own criticism of the view that he had of the soul at this time seems to be the subject of certain interesting comments in the Arcana:

1533. Before my sight was opened, the idea which I cherished concerning the countless things that appear in the other life differed but little from that of others, that is to say, that in the other, life there could be no light and such things as exist from light, together with the things of sense; a notion derived from the phantasy entertained by, the learned respecting the immateriality which they so strongly predicate of spirits and of all things of their life; from which no other conception could be had than that, because it was immaterial, it was so obscure that no idea of it could be grasped, or that it was nothing; for the immateriality involves such things; when yet the case is quite contrary; for unless spirits were organic and angels organic substances they could neither speak, nor see nor think. [Cf. SD 1719 and CL 207].

The term ‘immaterial' was therefore not a good word to use for the quality of the soul, since its connotation was `something without substance'. The very sphere of the word discouraged all analytic thought about the soul. And to distinguish between matter and immaterial substance, the Adversaria begins to speak of "natural and spiritual substances"; and the terms of the Doctrine of Forms pass into disuse.


Swedenborg's introduction into the spiritual world rendered beyond dispute the existence of distinct substances superior to our entire solar world. His mind had long been miraculously aided by an unearthly light, (As early as in 1740 during the writing or planning of the little article called "Corpuscular Philosophy," a sign or confirmation was given him from some spiritual source. (See WE 6904f.)) and now its source stood revealed to him as an objective world beyond time and space - a new world, above mechanism, a world of causes rather than of effects. (ISB 17) Yet he draws no sudden conclusions, but accepts it cautiously as a philosopher should. And there was need for such caution, for the opening of his spiritual eyes was attended with a number of problems that gave him cause for reflection. (Cf. SD 1622)

It is a fact that spirits and angels are not capable of reflecting on the relations of spiritual and natural substances. But Swedenborg, as a man living on earth and in the spiritual world simultaneously, was equipped to reflect on the contrast between the two realms and thus to perceive their relations (CL 327; Wis. vii, 5) . It was a reflection in spiritual rational light that prepared him for the reception of a divine rational revelation. Experience, and reflection on it, prepared for illustration; his opened eyes were not attuned to the light of the heavens at once, ,but by stages and degrees (AC 1972).

Apart from the dreams and signs of the earlier period (which are recited in SD 2951), his first acquaintance with the other world came as the visible and audible presence of individual spirits, probably appearing apart from their environment and seen in their personal relation to Swedenborg. They, and other contemporaneous visions of a more "representative" kind, seem to have been seen projected into the field of the seer's natural vision and sight-memory. These were spirits in that peculiar state of "being with men," i.e., adjoined to himself more or less nearly. They thought themselves to be Swedenborg, until he addressed them. They desired him to want certain foods, garments, etc., as if they were living in the world still. They possessed his memory and imagined themselves to be in the material body, viz., Swedenborg's; and only specific experiments could convince them to the contrary, for many of them were among the corporeal spirits who, at the time before the Last judgment, had accumulated in that part of the world of spirits which was in closest contact with men. Many of them were in the "lower earth," either newcomers or "souls under the altar"; others were from various other of the many mixed strata in the unjudged spirit-world.

Swedenborg, although himself professing ignorance (SD 355, 2917, 3472) of the quality of the bodies of the spirits with him, took pains to deliver them from the phantasy that they were still material men. He knew that while they appeared and felt like material men, yet they were "spiritual essences" in "spiritual and celestial forms." From his point of view, their garments were quasi-garments, and it seemed to him absurd for spirits to claim to have hands or lips or viscera. And the spirits in their turn fully accepted the constant testimony of their senses that they were fully equipped, but were unable to argue the point since they saw only one side of the question. And besides, many of them were entirely unprepared to think of human life such as their own apart from the material body. Some spirits believed that at least they had the external shape of a man, whether they had the interior viscera or not (SD 355) , and Swedenborg himself, aided as he .was neither from the orthodox learning of Christendom nor from his own Rational Psychology, seems to have come to the tentative and conservative conclusion that spirits at least had the 'representations of material lips, eyes, feet, etc.; suggesting that the apparential bodies of spirits were some sort of projection from their minds, determined by their own idea of themselves (SD 355, 1342; cf. AC 8989:3). This explanation of course contains the general truth, provided we allow for the substantial character of the mind. These spirits were in an un stable sphere of "representatives" and phantasies, and Swedenborg warns spirits against phantastic sight (which is sensed like the reality), while at the same time urging them to believe in their senses (SD 3058, cf. 2386e, and AC 969e). Phantasy was from falsities harboured about spiritual things. The sensation that the material body was retained was a phantasy; and to convince spirits of this, other phantasies, still more impossible, were induced. (SD 2985) The persuasion that their bodies were material was sufficient to keep a spirit in the miseries of the "lower earth" (SD 2306e, cf. 4485) and to give him into the power of punishing spirits (SD 4207). Whatever the body of a spirit was, it became increasingly obvious to the seer that its underlying substance was organic and not mere "thought." (SD 3470-2 ; AC 444-6) Swedenborg was searching for the truth, and was not satisfied with appearances. He confesses his ignorance. Surely spiritual and celestial forms or essences living a heavenly life (he reflected) culd not have need for arms and and feet (SD 3472; Rpsych. 521-2). These things are such "a it would seem could never fall to the lot of spiritual essences or spirits; whereas that such is the fact is so trite that all heaven is in the affirmation o f it." (SD 1715) Common perception instinctively demands a distinct difference in the angelic form, and is not satisfied in making the reality identical with the appearance. And Swedenborg then calls to mind the higher natural organisms as they exist in the brain - glands, central to the transcendental circulation of life in the body, and suggests them as an effigy of the "form" (not shape) of the organism of the angelic body.

Further evidence came, bringing the three elements of essence, appearance, and phantasy, into clearer relief. Swedenborg's sight was extended to include deeper vistas. The familiar intercourse of the "spirits who are with men" no longer distracted his attention. He went exploring throughout the spiritual world under the Divine auspices. In waking vision he saw spirits and angels of various degrees, in their own representative environments, and in their mutual relations, even as is told in the memorabilia.

His terminology changed. A certain world of "souls," at first called hell, is distinguished as the "lower earth" which is above hell. The "heavens" of the early Diary are later given entirely new names - a subject into which we will not enter. The "heaven of spirits" became the "world of spirits" yet involving the lowest heaven as well (AC 978). "The world of spirits" is first mentioned in SD 1609, in which context it is shown that it occupies (presidet) the interiors of corporeal things and corresponds to the sensual things of the body. He learns its subdivisions and its inhabitants. He learns to distinguish the representative things which appear before spirits from the more permanent representations which appear in the heavens. (Cf. AC 3368 : 3) In SD 1796-7 the garments apparent in the other life are called "phantasies which do not exist in the heavens"; and this is of course true, in the sense that the representations which the spirits see do not so exist in the heavens. But in the same statement it is reasonably clear that Swedenborg's personal understanding of the appearances of the other life had not reached the point where he could say of the garments of angels that "these are real substances, and thus essences in form" (AC 2576). It is equally obvious that the problems in his mind were being solved, for he writes with greater assurance. To corporeal spirits, it is a "phantasy" that they and other spirits have lips and legs and use food and garments, since their ideas of body were drawn from space and matter, not from form and use. But to normal spirits, he soon finds, the same sensation is not phantasy, but appearance - or a testimony to their possessing spiritual equivalents to all material organs and externals. To angels, moreover, it is not only a correspondent appearance, but a sublime and profound truth. To all, allowing for subjective conditions, the facts are always the same: sensation is necessary for all consciousness; and spiritual things, sensed by a spiritual subject, are indistinguishable in consciousness from the corresponding material things sensed by a material organ as a subject (LJ post. 323). Those who have once and for all seen and accepted this simple universal law need have no further fear in describing the spiritual sensation in terms of the correspondent natural phenomenon. Thus Swedenborg, when he had entered fully into the realm of angelic realities, never more hesitated in ascribing reality and substance to the "appearances" of the spiritual world, any more than we do in describing matter in terms of phenomena. He gives us a definite thought-basis about the spiritual world. He insistently teaches that all things of earth's four kingdoms do also exist in heaven, delusively the same, although existing from a more direct origin: - atmospheres, human bodies with brains and blood and viscera, animals, plants, minerals, works of art and artifice, things visible as well as things invisible, In all spiritual forms of use, the substantial takes the place of the material (Wis. ii, (3) : 4).

And he entirely ceases to enquire into the "quality" of the forms of the spiritual essence which thus is manifested as sense effects. For he knows that so to do is vain and unprofitable, since that form is expressible only in terms of life, as life-conditions which are imperceptible to the natural mind apart from sensitive awareness. It is so that also the angels grasp them even though the angels think of them from use and spirit, differently from men.

In fact, his problem is solved, and is dismissed from his mind!

Yet one thing needs be noted. Spiritual substance was manifested as if conditioned by space and matter and time, but only to the senses, not to the reason - only to corporeal spirits, not to angels: The enlightened reason easily sees the difference between the substantial and the material, in that space and time were not properties of the living substantial, although this was organic and finite: "Whereas the material was dead, and in itself not organic, having space and time and motion as its main properties."


Throughout his philosophical studies, Swedenborg deferred certain problems, and these crucial ones, until he could develop his "doctrines" of series, forms, and degrees, etc., and in particular, until he would arrive at the "universal mathesis" or the philosophy of universals, a "science of sciences" or a synthesis of all sciences which was to coordinate their . results into mental equations and thus present truths as the, soul of man sees them. "Unless the soul were furnished with such a science it would be wholly unable to inflow into our thoughts and to infuse as it were the power of understanding and expressing higher things." (RPsych. 563) But on account of the difficulties and uncertainties involved in this universal mathesis, Swedenborg says,

I forbear to make the attempt, and in place of it I have desired to propose a certain Key of Natural and Spiritual Mysteries by Way of Correspondences and Representations which more directly and certainly leads us into bidden truths; and upon this doctrine, since it is as yet unknown to the world, I ought to dwell at somewhat greater length. (Ibid., conclusion).

This new doctrine, first developed in the Hieroglyphic Key, stands as the culmination of Swedenborg's philosophic labors, in that it determined their drift and application to spiritual things. (A review of the Hieroglyphic Key may be found in NEW CHURCH LIFE, 1921, pp. 99-104.) The law of correspondence is truly the key to the understanding of the spiritual world into which Swedenborg was shortly thereafter introduced. It was the link that joined the two worlds (Wis. xii, 41), for it showed that spiritual things can be interpreted to human consciousness, whether here or hereafter, no otherwise than in its own terms, which are the same in both worlds. It was the science of the soul. It demonstrated that because the two worlds answered to each other in every detail, therefore their substances were mutually inexpressible. It is a wise philosophy which thus takes account of its limits of expression without surrendering its power of deducing truths; and still reserves for the reason the acknowledgement of the distinction between the spiritual and the material of substance. For this distinction is deducible from the laws governing phenomena in the two worlds, although not from isolated sense-percepts.


In an article later published (Journal of Education, vol. xxii, No. 2, Jan. 1925 ) (Unfortunately, with many printer's errors! (HLO)), the present writer has somewhat fully discussed the antithesis which thus results in our conception of spiritual substance; this substance being totally different from matter in its essence and source of determination, yet being sensed in the same terms (HH 172). We would deprecate any attempt to belittle or evade this all-important fact, whether by "explaining" spiritual substance in terms of motion or matter, or by "explaining" matter in terms of spirit. The history of Philosophy, as generally known, shifting between materialism and idealism, has been a constant effort to evade the fact; and Swedenborg, by virtue of peculiar preparation and unique spiritual experiences (CL 327), stands first in boldly accepting the new and Divine Philosophy that matter and spirit exist substantially discrete, yet are by virtue of a common origin apperceptively similar. The historical method used in the present thesis should pave the way for an affirmative consideration of the claim, that the theological Writings, as thus interpreted, are philosophically solid and intelligible.

(This article was written in 1921 as an introduction to the study of spiritual substance later published in the Journal of Education, Jan. 1925. (H.L.O.) [It seems that the author from time to time added notes to the article and possibly revised the original text. Ed.])

-The New Philosophy 1974;77:43-71


Revelation Anthology


• Back • Home • Up • Next •

Human to Divine

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com