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online, based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
11 THE DEGREES OF THE MIND AND THE THREE HEAVENS
The observation was made in a previous chapter that all the complex relationships of spirits and angels could not possibly be visualized in any one spatial concept — or in any single geographical image. The diverse fashions in which the Lord's life is received by spirits and angels cannot be expressed in the fixed forms of the natural universe. The world of spirits and angels is really made up of many worlds — and the heavens and the hells therefore sometimes appear as separate "expanses," one above another.1
The Writings make plain that the spirit of man, which survives the death of the body, is identical with the mind which inhabited that body, and that it is this mind that appears after death in the complete human form, equipped as before with all the organs needed for spiritual life and for sensing spiritual things. It is clear therefore, that we can understand the spiritual world only if we understand how the human mind is constituted, and reflect on what kind of intercourse human beings can have when they associate mind to mind, and no longer by the intermediacy of physical investments.
It would seem beyond doubt that it is the lowest or most external plane of the mind which is seen in the other life as the spirits external or as his spiritual body, and which would serve the spirit as the means by which he has contact with other spirits and receives knowledge of any events that are external to himself — thus enjoys a sensory life in which he sees, hears and feels his environment. As to this plane of the mind, all spirits and angels, whether good or wicked, are much alike, in that they are all equally possessed of a spiritual body with all its senses which — even with evil spirits — far surpass those of men. In the same way, all human minds are much alike as to the mental functions of memory and imagination — the memory serving as a sort of embodiment for all his character, and the power of imagination being really a form of internal sensation, which the doctrine calls "the interior sensual."
While the bodies of spirits and of angels indeed reflect their differences in inward character, and thus appear beautiful or ugly, shapely or deformed, it is in the interiors that their real dissimilarities consist. It is not in the memory or in the imagination, but in the rational, that human character is finally determined. "The human," the Writings repeatedly say, "begins in the rational."2 The rational mind is the scene of that choice which gradually builds up his personal virtues and vices and leads his free spirit to incline toward heaven or hell. The quality of his rational mind thus determines the quality of his spirit.
This free choice of man's rational mind is guaranteed by the Lord because man's spirit is placed in a spiritual equilibrium between heaven and hell; that is, man's spirit is acted upon by influences from both, or by spirits from heaven and by spirits from hell. Even while living on earth, a man is a spirit who is — unconsciously — present in the world of spirits, the intermediate or preparatory region of the spiritual world.3 He does not feel the presence of these attendant spirits except as states, affections or cupidities, arising in his own mind as if from his own heart; states which he can accept or reject, harbor or shun, confirm or disown by his own rational decision. As to his rational mind he is in a spiritual equilibrium — in rational freedom. Indeed, the rational is the first of man to be regenerated or reformed.4 And therefore it can be said that "the human" really begins in the rational.5
The Writings therefore state that "the rational mind, while it is in process of being formed, corresponds to the world of spirits; the things above it, to heaven, and the things below it, to hell."6 With those who look above themselves, to the Lord, and thus are preparing for heaven, the regions above the rational mind, or the interiors of the rational, are opened and formed in the image of heaven, while the regions below it — the imagination and the memory — are being gradually closed to the influx of evil and falsity and ordered so as to harmonize with the higher degrees.
These interior degrees, within or above the rational, correspond to the heavens. They are opened or formed by conjuncton with heaven, and through consociation with the angels there. But man's choice, by which he invites the angels to consociate themselves, is still carried on in the rational of his natural mind, in the course of his performance of his natural uses in the world. What he seems to himself to choose is to shun the evils of self-love and unworthy passions, and to do whatever seems to him good and useful, just and charitable, and to do it to the best of his ability, knowledge, and judgment. He begins by obeying the precepts which his church or religion sets before him as his duty, and this he does, not necessarily with pleasure, but because he recognizes it as right, just, and fair, and also because he realizes that his eternal happiness depends on such obedience. This motive of obedience to the things of his faith which he has learnt from others and simply accepts without much inquiry, conjoins his rational mind to the first or ultimate heaven. If he passes into the other life in such a state, he is eventually welcomed among natural angels, that is, among the good spirits of the natural heaven, which is the lowest of the heavens.
But there are three heavens. The reason for this is that man is so created that his mind contains from birth three discrete degrees, called the natural mind, the spiritual mind, and the celestial mind.7 These are part of every man's equipment, but at birth they are simply potentialities or substantial degrees through which the influx of life passes down to his body. The light of heaven passes through them, but until they are actually opened, the heat of love cannot be felt, for spiritual heat, like natural heat, cannot be felt except where the radiation of light is received, or where there is reaction.8
The natural mind begins to be opened at birth, and it is gradually infilled by knowledges and affections until man at last becomes rational.9 The doctrine shows, however, that from heredity the natural degree is pervert and self-centered and thus filled with lusts of evil that inflow into it from hell. Yet, because spiritual light can be received in the faculty of reason, the rational of the natural mind can be reformed and man be conjoined with the first heaven.
But the spiritual degree of the mind is not opened, and the Lord cannot conjoin man's spirit with the angels of the second or spiritual heaven, unless man can be moved by a new motivation, or a new love, which is devoid of the self-conscious, meritorious feelings which adhere to the love of obedience. This new motivation begins as love of truth for its own sake, and develops as a love towards the neighbor or as charity, a spiritual love and a life according to spiritual laws of order.10
The love of spiritual truth, or the spiritual affection of truth, is a selfless love. But even before the spiritual mind begins to be opened, a man may love some truth — love certain things of faith and doctrine — from the fact that that faith was the faith of his fathers in which he takes a pride. Such a faith is called "historical faith" or tradition. He is bound to it with natural affections. Perhaps he is by heredity of an intellectual temperament which inclines him to study doctrine and take delight in defending it as his own. The natural love of truth, with the well-disposed, recognizes truth as a guide, as something above himself, and can thus contain the seed of reformation and the promise of salvation. But it must be purified from self-interest and see truth in its own light and love truth for its uses, before man can receive any genuine spiritual motive, which is from the Lord, and which can thus open the spiritual mind. And this purification of man's love is not sudden but very gradual.11
When the love of truth is made spiritual, man is conjoined with the second heaven, which is called the spiritual heaven, and consociated with its angels who are also called angelic spirits. Such a man is inwardly regenerate. His spiritual mind is being filled by the Lord with heavenly wisdom and delight, yet he is not aware of this while on earth, nor does he reflect on any charity that he may have, but simply feels it as a zeal of performing uses.12 After death he loves to consociate with spiritual angels who also love to do uses of charity without calculating on rewards or praise. The life in a heavenly society of that kind has of course a type of blessedness which natural angels or good spirits could not appreciate and would not enjoy. They therefore live as it were on different planes. For the real differences between human beings lie not so much in what they do as in why they do it. Life becomes richer and more meaningful the more one conies to see the reasons why a thing should be done — the uses which it involves, the good that it does.
Even in our ordinary natural life we may see illustrations of how a thing done without thought of reward surpasses a similar act done from obedience with recompense in view. If any one should be instrumental in saving the life of another — as in the rescue of a drowning man — he would likely be offended if he was asked to send a bill for his services. The less clearly a man sees the purpose in the work that he does, the less delight does he take in it, and the more is he likely to demand recompense for it.
But the more he realizes the value and meaning of what he is doing, the more satisfaction does he gain from it, and the more does the recompense seem to him as an undeserved gift of Providence, a blessing from the Lord which enables him to continue his usefulness.
The opening of the spiritual mind and the entrance into the second or spiritual heaven may be regarded as the more interior entrance into spiritual uses, a close, more understanding cooperation with the Lord. The spiritual angels are thus in intelligence. By "faith" they mean truth clearly seen, and by "charity" they mean acting according to that truth from a love of it.13
The highest degree of the mind is the celestial, and the highest heaven is therefore called "heavenly" or celestial. While the lower heavens are said to be inhabited by "good spirits" and by "angelic spirits," the third heaven is made up of "angels properly so called."14
The celestial mind is said to be opened, when man's inmost motivations come from a love to the Lord or from a celestial love of uses. It is characteristic of this love that it causes man to turn away from evils as infernal and to apply the Lord's precepts to his life unhesitatingly and immediately, rather than after debating it in the understanding. For the understanding, with such, is already instructed and reformed and responds perceptively to truth when this is presented before it. After death, when such enter the celestial heaven, they become wise in a preeminent degree, yet their innocence causes them to appear simple as they have nothing of pride in their discourse, their entire interest being centered on the proper applications of the truths of wisdom.
Because of this, the celestial degree of heaven seems utterly discrete from the spiritual heaven, as a superior expanse. The celestial think from ends—and the arcana of their wisdom, the wisdom of life, are incomprehensible to the spiritual, who cannot sustain the light, nor breathe the air, of the celestial heaven.
"Every angel is being perfected in wisdom to eternity, but each according to the degree of the affection of good and truth in which he was when he left the world. It is this degree which is being perfected to eternity. Anything beyond this degree is outside the angel and not within him; and that which is outside of him cannot be perfected within him." Thus the spirit enters into that degree of his life which had been "opened," or secretly furnished, while he was on earth. This is the measure of his life.15
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Just as the mental life of the angels of each degree or heaven differs from that of the other heavens, so is this variance reflected in the outward aspect of their lives.
The natural heaven is so named, because it receives its quality from the natural degree of the rational mind, i.e., from the reformed rational. In appearance, the natural heaven therefore is a closer replica of the natural world than are the superior heavens. The indications in the Writings are that the natural heaven is very diverse and inclusive, containing groups of angels or good spirits who still maintain their racial or national distinctions. They are usually simple upright spirits, who never cultivated their understanding by interior truths. Those from Christian lands have doctrine received from the moral or internal-historical sense of the Word. They cannot raise their understanding much above the level of the thought which they had while in the world, or think abstractly from what they see; although they admit some light from the higher heavens. They think of persons, and only the more intelligent among them know that charity is to love what is good in the neighbor.16
With these good spirits only the natural degree of the mind has been opened; yet the spiritual degree has not been closed, and therefore they can respond to the influx from the higher heaven.17 The Writings relate that when spiritual angels were conversing about truths in their abstract way, there appeared before the natural angels corresponding beautiful objective representatives—with a perception of what they signified: so that they saw in natural or external forms or imagery the general idea of what the conversation was about. The prophets of Israel were allowed to see such spiritual imagery, but without their understanding its meaning.18 Such representations, although in the ultimate heaven they appear not as if pictured but exactly as in the world, are not "real" in any permanent sense, since they represent only the subjects then thought of by the superior angels. But they are real representations of these thoughts, not mere illusions or phantasies such as evil spirits delight in.19
Here it might be noted in passing, that the Writings have various definitions for what is real. In general it is shown that the things which spirits see and feel in the spiritual world "are not material, but are substantial from a spiritual origin, and yet are real things . . . Those things which are in the spiritual world are more real than those in the natural world, for the dead part that is added in nature to the spiritual, does not make reality but diminishes it."20 The spirit of man, after being freed by death, "is a substance much more real than the material substance" which it wore on earth as a garment.21
The one only reality is the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord—"the veriest essential from which are all the essences of things in both worlds." It is the one only substantial reality.22Reality is therefore derived from the Divine truth. That which displays the truth, or represents something of it, is therefore genuine, real, true; and it is also substantial. When truth, as the light of the spiritual Sun, "inflows into the ultimate heaven, mediately and immediately, it is received substantially, and appears there as a paradise or in some places as a city with palaces."23 Such paradisal regions "are in the first heaven and in the very threshold to the interiors of that heaven."24
The appearances before the angels "are called real because they appear as they really are" or "because they really come forth" or because they "correspond" to the interior things.25 The garments that the angels wear, are "real substances and thus essences in form."26 They "do not appear as garments, but really are garments."27
Yet evil spirits can present illusions before other spirits and attempt "thereby to persuade them that nothing is real but that all things are ideal, even those that are in heaven."28 The phantasies of hell are not real, for they are untrue and false. But what is from the Lord is always real. So, for instance, we are told concerning the Lord's provision that the spiritual world also should have appearances of times and spaces, that although they are not material spaces and times corresponding to them, these appearances about the angels are yet "real, because constant according to their states."29 It may also be said that a spirit does not have matter, space, time or quantity "as subjects, but only as objects."30
The reality, then, is not the appearance, but what the angels perceive in the appearance which corresponds to the reality and testifies of it. It may be well to remind ourselves that it is things celestial and spiritual from the Lord that inflow into the nature of this world and there fashion the marvels of the organic kingdoms—of plants and animals and human bodies, and also the greater marvels of the human mind and its life. And it is precisely these same spiritual things which, inflowing into the receptive planes of the heavens, present there, with far greater reality and beauty, the living representations of human states and aspirations, in similar correspondent forms, and also present the forms of art and artifice—the palaces and homes which with precision correspond to angelic needs, structures that are wrought by the Divine architect of the universe. This fact would account for the otherwise cryptic statement that these angelic "representations are as it were the originals of the things that are in the world." Notice, not the copies or even replicas or reflections, but the originals!31 Or, as another passage puts it, "The representatives which are from the Lord are real, for all the things that are in nature and the world are derived from them."32
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The representative appearances of all the three heavens are not very different, as to essentials. "As to external face, each heaven is like our earth, with a difference as to excellence and beauty according to the degree . . ."33 There is, first of all, the spiritual Sun—although this is not seen except in modified form in the lower heavens. There are clouds, rain, winds, gravity, and other forces apparently like those in nature. There are greenswards, paradisal gardens, flowers and fields and fallowland, mountains and brooks, and even the seashore. The vegetation comes forth new each morning, according to the reception by the angels of love and wisdom from the Lord.34 There are remarkable representative atmospheres, also as it were living; and rainbow effects of unsurpassed splendor and awe. Strange fruit and flowers are seen—not possible on earth except as products of art: blossoms of precious stones, fruits of copper. In the second heaven, there may be found fruit and seeds of silver or silver leaved branches; in the highest heaven these may be of gold. The spiritual heaven abounds especially in magnificence—in ornate palaces and angels clad in brilliant attire, living in marvelous cities, amid works of artifice and skill, with gardens and arbors—where the fruits drop wine; whereas the celestial heaven has a simpler tone. For the celestial heaven, though its power is the greater, finds beauty in simple things, in the human form Divine, in nature's own spontaneous fairness; and places less value on the products or skills that spring from the understanding and its artificial role in human development. Yet there are unsurpassed gardens there, with golden fruits or fruits that drop fragrant oil, birds of paradisal plumage, and flowers that have captured the secrets of the stars, and purest mountain brooks that bring to these wise angels the message of a revelation to which others are unheeding. "Every angel receives the heaven that is outside of him according to the heaven that is within him."34a
For after all, these externals of the three heavens have value only for their representation—that is, for the truths they convey: truths about the Creator and His provisions, and about the states and needs of their fellow-souls. The object of life—here as well as hereafter—is to break the walls that hinder us from understanding each other; to escape from the shadows of pride and envy and misconception; and to let the light of truth shine info our souls so that we can recognize ourselves and our place and use in the commonwealth of spiritual life.
It is not to be doubted that the representative creations, homes and furnishings, around the angels of each heaven are permanent and constant, so far as they are the correspondences of the affections of the love—the ruling love—of the angels there.35 But there are also continually given other representations that involve the deepest arcana of wisdom. These are especially given with the angels who attend man when he is reading the Word, and who then perceive the internal glories of the spiritual sense in the form of representative ideas and correspondences.36 In the first heaven the representations are much like the imagery which is given in the sense of the letter—such as the prophets saw. But in the second heaven the representatives appear "such as they are in their internal form"—thus with far more manifold imagery, far deeper content and meaning. And in the highest heaven they appear in an inmost form, with indescribable particulars and a perceptive depth of wisdom and of happiness.37
In these representatives from the Word, the lower angels have a perception of the Lord's presence, but remotely. The spiritual angels see the Lord more nearly represented. But they who are in the third heaven see the Lord Himself.38
And what is it that is represented to the senses and the minds of all in the spiritual world, unless it is the presence and operation of the Lord and the reception of His love and wisdom in the human minds of angels and spirits?
The world of nature displays the gifts which the Creator offers to mankind as the means of eternal happiness. But the spiritual world reveals the measure in which men finally make use of these gifts—for good or for ill. The world of men is like a field where the Sower plants the seeds of truth. In the spiritual world comes the harvest, which may be thirtyfold, or sixtyfold, or a hundredfold; but which also contains the tares and thorns and poison things which the enemy has planted.39 The heavens and the hells and their innumerable societies—separated and distinguished in most discriminating detail—are perceived by the spiritual senses in their common relation to the Lord and to each other. All the phenomena of the spiritual world conspire to reveal this internal relationship, to represent how each soul receives the Divine seed of life and responds to it by filling a place—freely chosen—in the kingdom of eternal uses.
One phase of this reception of the Divine love and wisdom is represented in the three heavens, which mark the degree to which men have attained in their life of regeneration, or how far their rational minds have been opened interiorly. The three heavens represent successive states, therefore, as well as final achievements. A salvable spirit might therefore be introduced first into "the heaven of spirits," then into "the heaven of angelic spirits," and eventually into "the angelic heaven," before he has found his eternal home.40
Since there are three degrees of life within man's rational which are reached by the life of reformation and regeneration; and three degrees of the natural mind which man can pervert, it is clear that the three heavens, like the three hells, are present as potentialities in every man. But there are divisions of the spiritual world which do not seem thus to depend on the degree of man's response or to man's choice and freedom, but to other factors over which man has little or no control. For it is revealed that heaven is distinguished in general into two kingdoms, more specifically into three heavens, and in particular into innumerable societies.41
1 Coro. 16, 17, AE 1133:5f, HD 4, AR 876
2 Cp DLW 258, AC 2106e, 2194e
3 HH 292, 298, 438, DP 307
4 AC 3671, 3570:4, 3321, 3493:2
5 AC 2106e, 2194e, 2767, 4612:2
6 HH 430, SD 5163, 5167f
7 DLW 236-239
8 DLW 242
9 DLW 67, 237ff
10 DLW 237, DP 32:2
11 DP 233:5, 6
12 DLW 252, AE 625:5, SD min. 4547
13 DLW 428, F 4
14 AC 1752
15 DP 334
16 AE 834, cp 405:2
17 DLW 253, AE 624:2
18 AE 260e, 513:2, SD 4214f, AC 3342, 3475, 4528, 10276:3
19 AC 3485, SD 4360e, 4599, 4214
20 AE 1218e
21 AC 3726:4
22 AC 8200, 5272:2, 6880, 7004
23 AC 4411
24 AC 4528
25 AC 4882, AE 553:2, HH 175, 178
26 AC 2576
27 HH 181
28 AC 4623e
29 TCR 29
30 Wis. vii. 5
31 SD 4215, cp AC 1632, 1808
32 AC 1881
33 AE 1082:9
34 Wis. xii. 5
34a HH 54
35 TCR 78:2
36 SD 5607ff, SS 67
37 AC 3475
38 AC 3475e, AR 926
39 Matt. 13
40 SD 835, 293, AC 978
41 HH 20