The Church; Sacraments; Earths in the
SWEDENBORG SAW THE CHURCH ON MANY LEVELS and
from different perspectives. This presents difficulties if
you look for one precise definition of what the church is.
You might be more successful, though ungrammatical, to look
for what the church "are," because Swedenborg has many
definitions, although he sees only one church. The different
definitions complement each other in a vast, multi-faceted
and inclusive picture of the church, one that is compatible
with the expansiveness of his total theology.
Perhaps the diversity of his conception will
appear more unified if you look at the different scales on
which the church exists (fully the church, on every scale),
at the grades of specificity or generality in which the
church can be recognized (the same church, at every level),
and finally, from a third perspective, the distinctions
between its material and spiritual realities.
The various scales of the church's existence
may be apparent only from a point of view that is uniquely
Swedenborgian. The center of the scale is not unfamiliar:
the church is a congregation; the church is the corporate
body throughout a nation or a particular tradition that
shares the same faith; and the church is also the body of
all in the world who share, and those (now in the spiritual
world) who have shared, that faith. Congregation,
denomination, the "communion of saints:" each of these is
the church, and all of them are the church. This is a common
Christian understanding of the church.
Swedenborg's largest and smallest scales are
distinctive. Beyond the Christians' communion of saints, the
church is the entire heaven—the angels of every church,
Christian and others, on this and every inhabited planet in
the whole universe. On the smallest, or most particular,
scale we find another original concept: the church is the
individual person in whom the church is a reality. In
Swedenborg's usage, this is not merely a figure of speech.
Each person who is truly a part of the church is also, just
as truly, the church itself.
This is strange mathematics, in which each
part is equal to the sum of the parts, but from the
Swedenborgian perspective, that's the way things are.
There is a glory in this perception, when
you wake up on a bright and beautiful morning and realize
that the church is alive! There's challenge and
responsibility in it, too: in each temptation that you face,
the Lord's church is threatened by evil or falsity. The
church is the church for Swedenborg, no matter at what size
or scale you choose to consider it.
Next, look at the grades of specificity and
universality in which the church can be recognized. Most
specifically, as on the smallest scale, the church is the
individual person, or the specific corporate body of people,
for whom three things are true: (1) the Lord is equally and
simultaneously divine and human, (2) the Holy Word is his
truth and presence, and (3) loving the neighbor—that is,
doing good for the neighbor for the Lord's sake—is all of
But such a specific reality of the church
occurs only in a few, and alone would be too restrictive a
concept to fit the place that the church has in human life.
So the church is found more generally—but still as the
church— with all who are regenerating. That is to say, all
who are striving toward the ideal of the most specific form
of the church, also are the church. But the church is
heaven, and if this generality were all of the church, then
everyone outside the Christian community would be excluded
from heaven, and only a fraction of the human race (and an
infinitesimal fraction of life in the universe) could be
However, the church also exists more
generally in all who really believe in the god that they
have heard of and who live as best they can according to the
principles of that religion. I think this was an original
concept in Swedenborg's time, and it still is unusual,
though no longer unique. There was a Catholic scholar,
Father Raymond Brown, who explained the ancient doctrine of
"no salvation outside the church" as referring to the
"church general," comprising "all who answer 'yes' to the
best they know," and outside of that circle there is no
salvation. This definition can be extended without
distortion beyond the confines of our planet; on that scale
it is a useful paraphrase of Swedenborg's definition of the
church in its most universal aspect.
Thirdly, consider the degrees of the
church's reality. In the highest, or heavenly, sense, the
church is the Lord, the conjunction of love and wisdom. In
the spiritual sense the church is heaven, the realm of
beings whose whole life is that love and wisdom of the
Lord's. At the opposite end of the scale, in what Swedenborg
calls the ultimate, or material sense, the church is the
good and truth of human lives in which that love and wisdom
are concretized and enacted.
It is worth noticing that these descending
degrees of the church's reality do not go so far as to
include what most of us call "the church"—the building in
which worship is experienced. That is because the church,
even in its smallest, most particular and tangible form, is
a person or a person's life. The church is the Lord's
presence among men; he is present in you, if you are a
church. The buildings that we erect may represent the Lord's
church for us, but they do not correspond to it (remember
Chapter 7?) because they do not include any of the Lord's
living reality. A building that we call a church more nearly
corresponds to the outer clothing of the life that is a
church (and men have built some beautiful overcoats); the
most magnificent edifice of human construction, even if it
is filled with thousands on Sunday morning, is only a bundle
of sticks or a pile of stones unless the worshippers
themselves are churches and are the church.
These perspectives on the church are,
indeed, different. The church on any scale—individual,
worldwide or cosmic—can be recognized in all levels of
specificity and generality, and all degrees of reality. The
church that is envisioned from these three perspectives as a
whole is indeed a many-splendored thing.
Another ancient definition of the church is
this: "The church is where the Word is read and the
sacraments are administered." Historically, that definition
has sometimes been combined with others into a sort of
"Catch 22" in which church discipline was enforced by threat
of exclusion from the sacraments. By definition, that meant
exclusion from the Church, and since there is "no salvation
outside the Church," that was a pretty serious threat!
Without such exclusionary uses, however, the definition of
the church as being where the Word is read and sacraments
are administered would not be inconsistent with Swedenborg's
concept of the church at certain levels, from certain
perspectives. That is, sacraments belong to the "church
specific" (not the most specific alone, but not too general
a church, either), in the natural or ultimate level of the
church's reality. Sacraments are essentially
correspondential acts with correspondential substances. As
such, they occur only on the natural, or ultimate, plane of
reality where material substances and physical actions are
found. In the spiritual world, where a person can be
cleansed by truth itself, there is no need for baptism with
water as a correspondence of truth (in fact, there is no
water there, except truth which has the appearance of
water). Likewise, our eating bread and drinking wine
corresponds to taking good and truth into ourselves and
incorporating them into our being. We do this
correspondentially because we are not aware of performing
the spiritual act with spiritual substances—an awareness
that is as common a daily occurrence in purely spiritual
life as ordinary eating and drinking are in ours.
In practice, we celebrate the sacraments
only in what might be called the lower-middle scale of the
church, that is, in a congregation. In Swedenborgian
practice, sacraments are not celebrated by one person: their
celebration consists in their administration by a minister
to a congregation. Both are essential, because the communion
of the communicants with each other and with the celebrant
is part of the correspondence of the communicant's communion
with the Lord. In that sense, the celebrant becomes a
communicant too, when he or she partakes of the bread and
the wine. When communion is celebrated by a minister and
only one person (as in hospital rooms), the individual
usually is a part of a congregation, separated from the
others in space but not in spirit. At the other end of the
scale, "World-Wide Communion" is not one sacrament but many,
except to the extent that individual communicants can reach
out in spirit to embrace the larger fellowship.
Finally, Baptism and Holy Communion are
celebrated in the middle range of specificity of the church.
It is not limited to the most specific, for it is
instrumental in the efforts of those who are regenerating.
At the other end of that scale, practices differ. I am not
aware that Swedenborg specifies unequivocally either that
Communion would be open to all who seek it or that it should
be closed to all except those within the specific church of
the celebrant's ministry. In the past, some Swedenborgian
congregations have maintained closed communion; some do
today. Some, especially in the General Church, practice a
slight variation of closed communion. At the 1970 World
Assembly, for example, members of all Swedenborgian churches
were welcomed to the General Church's celebration of the
sacrament (the issue of non-Swedenborgians did not arise).
However, the celebration could take place only "in the
sphere of the General Church"—which translated in practice
to only in the building where General Church worship is
commonly held. In local and less formal situations, the
practice is more flexible than that. The General Convention
is not uniform in this, but my subjective impression is that
the majority of Convention's ministers regard the Communion
table as the Lord's table, open to all who seek him. Many
ministers' invitation to the sacrament includes a formula
with the words, "Whether you are of this church, or of
another church, or of no church . . . ." The assumption
behind this practice is that anyone partaking of the
sacrament insincerely or unworthily (whatever that might
mean in a particular conception) deprives himself or herself
of its full benefits, but does not detract from the benefits
Baptism is also a function of the middle
range of specificity. It is administered to those who are
only beginning their growth toward full specificity as a
church; by definition, as well as in practice, it excludes
those who do not seek a Christian life. Baptism's three
functions apply to three separate scales of the church. The
cleansing from sins occurs in the individual baptized; the
sign that the person is a Christian is given to the
participating congregation and, by implication, to the
worldwide church; and the introduction into the Christian
heavens refers, of course, to the church on the largest
The concept of life throughout the universe
is central to Swedenborg's vision of the church, as has been
noted in discussions of the larger scales of the church, and
the broader reaches of its generality or universality.
However, the concept has presented a difficulty of a
different kind for many Swedenborgians. Swedenborg describes
the appearance of people living on the moon, for example,
and our astronauts tramped around quite a bit without seeing
any sign of them. Data from Mars is less conclusive, so far,
but not very helpful, either.
Several approaches have been employed to
deal with this inconsistency between Swedenborg's statements
and our experienced reality. One is that Swedenborg's
revelation concerned truths of faith that are necessary for
salvation and did not extend to matters of merely physical
fact. Another is that nothing in Swedenborg's spiritual
experience gave specific indications as to when life existed
on the different planets or on what scale. Therefore,
astronauts could have reached the moon long after the time
of life he spoke of, or could have overlooked it if its
physical form were on microscopic scale or smaller. A third
approach (which appeals to me, mostly for subjective
reasons) is that the spirits who lived on different planets
of different galaxies met Swedenborg outside of space, as
well as outside of time, so their descriptions of their
physical origins were translated through their physical
concept of astronomy and then through Swedenborg's as well:
the moon they spoke of could have been in another galaxy,
CHAPTER 8 ASSIGNMENTS
Read the following passages from Swedenborg.
For further reading in other published versions, see the
passages listed just below:
New Jerusalem 202-208, 210-214, 241-245
Other Planets 1-45,113-126
PASSAGES FROM SWEDENBORG:
The Church; Sacraments; Earths in the
Baptism was instituted as a sign that a
person belongs to the church and is in the process of being
born again. The washing of baptism is nothing else than
spiritual washing, which is new birth [which the church
All new birth is accomplished by the Lord
through the truths of faith and a life according to them.
Your baptism testifies that you have given yourself to the
church and therefore can be born again....
The Lord teaches this in John 3:5:
Unless one is born of water and spirit, one cannot enter the
kingdom of God. In the spiritual sense, "water" is
what is true of what is believed from the Word. "Spirit" is
living according to that truth. "Being born" is being born
again by living out that truth.
Everyone who is being born again undergoes
temptations, which are spiritual combats against things that
are evil and false. Therefore, the water of baptism also
signifies these struggles.
Since baptism is a sign and memorial of all
this, an infant may be baptized. If not baptized as an
infant, a person may be baptized as an adult.
Therefore, those who are baptized should
know that baptism itself does not give faith or salvation.
Rather, it testifies that they may receive faith and be
saved, if they are regenerated.
The Holy Supper was instituted by the Lord
so that there might be an intimate connection between the
church and heaven—thus a connection with the Lord.
Therefore, it is the most holy thing in worship.
Those who do not know the internal or
spiritual sense of the Word do not understand how that
connection is formed, since they do not think beyond the
external sense, which is the sense of the letter. From the
internal or spiritual sense of the Word, we know what is
signified by the "body" and "blood," and the "bread" and
"wine"—as well as what is signified by "eating."
In the spiritual sense, the Lord's "body,"
"flesh," and the "bread" signify the good of love. The
Lord's "blood" and the "wine" signify the good of faith.
"Eating" is making something a part of oneself, forming an
intimate connection. The angels accompanying a person who
goes to the Sacrament of the Supper understand those things
in no other way, for they perceive everything spiritually.
This is why the holiness of love and the holiness of faith
flow into us from the angels at that time—which means they
flow into us through heaven from the Lord. This is how an
intimate connection is established.
It can be seen from all this that when we
eat the bread, which is the Lord's body, we are intimately
connected to the Lord by means of the good of love to him
and from him. When we drink the wine, which is his blood, we
are intimately connected to the Lord by the good of faith in
him and from him. However, you should know that only those
who do what is good because they love to do it, and have
faith in the Lord that comes from the Lord, achieve intimate
connection with the Lord by the sacrament of the Supper.
With them, the Holy Supper effects intimate connection. With
others, there is presence, but not intimate connection.
The Holy Supper includes and embraces
everything of divine worship that was instituted in the
Israelitish Church. The burnt-offerings and sacrifices (of
which the worship of that church primarily consisted) are
called "bread" in one expression [in the Word], so the Holy
Supper is the completion of that worship.
What constitutes heaven in our lives is what
constitutes the church: love and faith constitute heaven
just as they also constitute the church....
The church is said to be where the Lord is
acknowledged and where the Word is, for the essentials of
the church are love and faith in the Lord from the Lord, and
the Word teaches how we must live in order to receive love
and faith from the Lord.
There must be doctrine from the Word for the
church to exist, since without doctrine the Word is not
understood. Doctrine alone, however, does not constitute the
church with us; our living according to doctrine is what
constitutes the church. Therefore, it follows that faith
alone does not constitute the church with us: the life of
faith (which is called compassion) constitutes the church.
Genuine doctrine is the doctrine of compassion and faith
together, not the doctrine of faith separated from
compassion. The doctrine of compassion and faith together is
the doctrine of life.
People outside the church who acknowledge
one god, who live according to their religious principles
and have compassion toward their neighbor, are in communion
with people who are within the church. No one who believes
in God and lives well is condemned. So it can be seen that
the church of the Lord is in the whole world, although it
exists specifically where the Lord is acknowledged and the
Everyone with whom the church exists is
saved, but everyone in whom the church does not exist is
By the Lord's divine mercy, inner aspects of
things have been opened to me (aspects involving my spirit)
and this has permitted me to talk with spirits and
angels—not only those around our planet, but also with those
around other planets. Because I wanted to know if there are
other worlds, what they are like, and what their inhabitants
are like, the Lord has allowed me to speak and converse with
spirits who live on other planets. I have spoken with some
for a day, some for a week, and with others for months.
These spirits have taught me about the worlds on which or
near which they live. They have told me about the lives,
customs, and worship of the inhabitants of those planets,
and various other things worth mentioning. Because I have
come to know all this in this way, I am permitted to report
some of what I have heard and seen.
All spirits and angels are from the human race, live close
to their own world, and know what goes on there. People
whose inner aspects are opened enough to enable speech and
conversation with spirits and angels can learn from them.
This is because people are essentially spirits, and their
inner aspects are together with spirits. Therefore, when
their inner aspects are opened by the Lord, they can speak
with other spirits just as with other people. This
experience has been given me daily, for twelve years now.
In the other life, everyone whose love of
what is true—and love of use stemming from it—leads them to
want to speak with spirits from other worlds is given the
ability to do so. Therefore, it is well known that there are
many planets with people living on them and spirits and
angels from them. These spirits' experience confirms that
there are many worlds and informs them that the human race
is not from one world only but from innumerable worlds. They
know the talents, lifestyles, and characteristics of divine
worship in each world.
I have talked about this now and then with
spirits of our world who said that anyone with an able mind
can conclude from many things that there are other planets
and inhabitants on them. You can conclude on the basis of
reason that masses as great as the planets (some of greater
magnitude than this world) are not empty masses created only
to be carried in their revolutions around the sun, and to
shine with their scanty light for a single world. Their
purpose must be more significant than that. If you believe
(as everyone should) that the Divine created the world for
no other purpose than the existence of the human race and
heaven from it (for the human race is the seminary of
heaven), you must also believe that wherever there is a
planet there are humans.
The planets which are visible to our eyes because they are
within the boundaries of our solar system are worlds, as may
be evident from the fact that they are bodies of earthy
matter because they reflect the light of the sun, and when
seen through optical lenses they appear not as stars
glittering from their own flame, but as soils variegated by
darker portions. Further to the same point, the
planets—including Earth—are conveyed around the sun and
advanced through the zodiac. From this motion they have
their years and seasons of the year—spring, summer, autumn,
and winter. Also like our earth, they revolve on their own
axes, which gives them their days and times of day—morning,
noon, evening, and night. Moreover, some of them have moons,
called satellites, which revolve around their spheres at
regular intervals as our moon does around our earth. Also,
the planet Saturn, because it is so far from the sun, has a
large luminous belt which supplies that world with much
light (even though it is reflected). Who, knowing these
things and thinking reasonably about them, can say that they
are empty bodies?....
Concerning divine worship in general, as
practiced by inhabitants of other worlds, all those who are
not idolaters worship the Lord as the one God. Indeed, they
worship the Divine not as invisible but as visible for the
same reason: when the Lord appears to them, he appears in
human form—as he appeared to Abraham and others on this
earth. Also, everyone who worships the Lord in human form is
accepted by the Lord.
They say, too, that no one can properly worship God—much
less be joined to him—without comprehending him by some
idea; and God cannot be comprehended except in human form.
If he is not comprehended in this way, interior sight—which
is an aspect of thought concerning God—is dissipated as
eyesight is dissipated when looking upon the boundless
universe. In this case, thought can do nothing else but sink
into nature, and worship nature as God.
When they were told that the Lord assumed
human form on our earth, they mused awhile and presently
said that this happened for the salvation of the human race.
It is a mystery not yet known in the world
(but which I have clarified [in
Secrets of Heaven 59
(Chapter 10) and elsewhere]) that all of heaven calls to
mind a single human form, called the Universal Human. In
total sum and in every detail, inside and out, we correspond
to that human—or heaven. The structure of the Universal
Human requires spirits from many worlds; those from our
earth, being few compared to the whole, are not enough. The
Lord provides that whenever there is a deficiency anywhere
as to the quality and quantity of correspondence, spirits
are called immediately from another world to fill the
deficiency so that proportion is preserved and heaven's
It was disclosed to me from heaven that
spirits of the planet Mercury stand in relation to the
Universal Human as involving memory, specifically memory
abstracted from worldly and merely material objects....
Some spirits came to me, and it was
announced from heaven that they were from the world which is
nearest the sun, which on our earth is named the planet
Mercury. Immediately on arriving, they inquired of my memory
I knew. Spirits can do this most ingeniously. When they meet
anyone, they see everything contained in that person's
memory. While they were searching mine—looking for various
things, such as cities and places where I had been—I noticed
they did not wish to know anything about temples, palaces,
houses, or streets. They only wanted to know about what I
knew to have happened in those places, what I knew about the
government there, the inclinations and customs of the
inhabitants, and similar things. Ideas like that are related
to places in a person's memory, and when a place is
mentioned, they are brought to mind.... I asked them why
they disregarded the magnificence of the places and only
paid attention to events and actions happening there. They
said they had no delight in looking at material, bodily, and
earthly things. They only enjoyed looking at real things.
This confirmed that in the Universal Human, spirits of that
world are related to what is abstracted from the memory of
material and earthly things.
I was told about the life of the inhabitants
of Mercury. They do not care about earthly and corporeal
things, but only about the nations of their world— their
statutes, laws, and governments—and about innumerable
heavenly things. I was further informed that many people of
that world speak with spirits and know a lot about spiritual
things and the states of life after death. That also
explains their contempt of bodily and earthly things,
because people who confidently know and believe in life
after death care about such heavenly things as being eternal
and happy—not about worldly things, except to the extent the
necessities of life require. The inhabitants of Mercury are
that way, so the spirits from there are, too.
They were eager to search out and take in
all I knew about the kinds of things that were raised above
the physical senses in my memory. I could tell this was the
case because when they looked into what I knew about
heavenly things, they skimmed hastily through them all,
commenting that this and that were so and so. Indeed,
whenever spirits approach a person, they enter into the
person's memory, stirring up anything there that interests
them. Really, I have often observed them reading such things
as if reading a book. These spirits did so quickly and
easily because they did not pause at heavy and sluggish
things which confine the internal sight and slow it down—as
all earthly and corporeal things do when they are regarded
as goals (that is, when they alone are loved)—and looked
instead directly into things. The fact is that things which
are not stuck in worldly concerns carry the mind upwards
into a broad field (material things, on the other hand,
carry the mind downward, limiting and closing it off). Their
eagerness to acquire knowledge of things, enriching their
memories, was demonstrated in the following experience.
Once, when I was writing something about things to come—and
they were at a distance and could not look into them from my
memory (because I was not willing to read them in their
presence)—they became indignant. Contrary to their normal
habits, they wanted to attack me, call me "the worst" and
things like that. To be sure I was aware of their
resentment, they induced a painful contraction in the right
side of my head as far as my ear. Such things did me no
harm. Nevertheless, having done something bad to me, they
moved away to a greater distance; but soon they stopped
moving, wanting to know what I was writing. That's how
curious they are.
More than other spirits, spirits from
Mercury know about things related to this solar system and
to planets in other galaxies. They remember everything they
have learned, recalling it as often as anything similar
occurs. This also demonstrates that spirits have memory and
that it is much more perfect than ours. Moreover, they
remember everything they see, hear or comprehend, especially
the kinds of things that delight them—since these spirits
especially enjoy knowing about things. Whatever causes
delight and affects the love, flows in, as if spontaneously,
and remains in their memory....
Spirits from Mercury do not stay long in one
place or around spirits of one planet but wander through the
universe. The reason is that they are related to the memory
of things and this memory must be enriched continuously.
Therefore, they are allowed to wander around, learning
things for themselves in every place....
There were certain spirits who knew from
heaven that a promise had once been made to spirits from the
planet Mercury that they would see the Lord. Therefore, they
were asked by spirits around me whether they still knew of
that promise. They replied that they did still know of it,
but they did not know whether it had been promised in such a
way that it was beyond doubt. While they were talking with
each other about this, heaven's sun appeared to them.
Heaven's sun, which is the Lord, is seen only by those who
are in the inmost or third heaven. Others see the light
derived from it.
On seeing it, they said it was not the Lord
because they did not see a face; they continued talking with
one another but I did not hear what they said. But suddenly
the sun appeared again, with the Lord, encompassed with a
solar circle, in the midst of it. On seeing this, the
spirits from Mercury humbled themselves profoundly and
subsided. Then the Lord also appeared to spirits from
Earth—spirits who, during their life on earth, saw him in
the world— and they all (one after the other, and thus many
in sequence) confessed that it was the Lord himself. They
made this confession in front of the whole crowd. Then the
Lord, out of the sun, appeared to spirits from the planet
Jupiter. They declared aloud that it was the same Lord they
had seen on their earth when the God of the universe
appeared to them.
EXTENDED READINGS FOR CHAPTER EIGHT:
New Jerusalem 202-208, 210-214, 241-245;
Other Planets 1-45, 113-126.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR CHAPTER EIGHT:
How do you place the world's New Church or Swedenborgian
ecclesiastical organizations in the range of specificity and
generality in which the church appears?
Considering the correspondential
significance of marriage (see Chapter Six), why do you (if
you do) think marriage is a rite, rather than a sacrament?
Is an unbaptized child denied the ministry
of heavenly angels? Explain why, or explain the importance
of baptism regarding introduction into the Christian
What questions or issues does the lesson
raise for you?