The Swedenborg epic

Table of Contents


Chapter 38 - True Marriage Love

The new work that Swedenborg was going to Holland to publish dealt with the subject of marriage. As all of his theological writings referred to the establishment of the Kingdom of God, each of them would seem to bear a special relation to this goal. Arcana Coelestia, with its painstaking, minute exegesis, showed that the whole Word of God, when regarded as to its internal sense, refers to that Kingdom. Heaven and Hell demonstrated the aspects of life after death. The Divine Love and Wisdom and The Divine Providence defined the nature of the guidance that leads man to the heavenly Kingdom, while The Four Doctrines and The Apocalypse Revealed described especially the nature of the New Church that was about to be established for the promotion of the Lord's Kingdom on earth. To these works Swedenborg now added one in which he describes the blessed reward awaiting those who reach the heavenly goal-the love from which heaven derives eternal joy and happiness-true marriage love. In order to give the subject a new and distinctive value and to set it apart from the common idea of love, he uses a new word to describe the work that discusses the nature of true marriage, he calls it Conjugial Love [sometimes translated Married Love.].[595]

It is not the moral aspects of marriage that Swedenborg primarily discusses in this work. Here, as everywhere else, he is concerned with the roots rather than with the branches. He considers at length the origin and nature of true marriage love which is, he says, the fundamental love of heaven and earth from which spring all other joys as sweet waters spring from their fountainhead. So rare is this love nowadays in the world that its nature must be studied from the lips of angels, who alone are in it.596 This love is holy, pure and clean above every other human love because its origin is spiritual and divine. It comes from the union of Divine Love and Divine Wisdom in the Lord Himself. With the most ancient people it was the very "love of loves." The reason that only a remnant of true marriage love still remains on earth is chiefly because marriage is no longer regarded as eternal. If there is no idea of eternity in marriage its main bulwark has been taken away and as a consequence love truly conjugial is in danger of perishing from the face of the earth.

The greatest obstacle to the idea of marriage in heaven comes from those theologians who insist that there is no meeting of souls until after the final resurrection. If there is no continuance of life after death there can, of course, be no continuance of marriage. Swedenborg's ideas cut a deep gash into orthodox theology. Life continues after death as before, he said, agreeing with the instinctive conviction of poets and lovers whose inward assurances tell them their love will surmount death and that they will live again and love again under a human form.

But in heaven there is no marriage, declared the orthodox clergy, citing Matthew XXII, 30: "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage," to prove that this was the teaching of Jesus.

Not so, said Swedenborg. The Scriptural statements refer not to true marriage but to the degraded ideas of it prevailing in the minds of Christ's listeners. Seen spiritually, the Lord's words have reference to regeneration, or the union of good and truth in the minds of men. Unless this has taken place while a man is still living on earth it can never take place after he has died.[597] Souls are encompassed with bodies even in the other world and sex characterizes the spirit as well as the body. "The love of the sex is the most universal of all loves, being implanted from creation in the very soul of man, from which the essence of the whole man is derived."[598]

He discusses the essential distinction between male and female. The male is born with a natural inclination for knowing, understanding and growing wise, while the female inclines to the love of that wisdom. The masculine is inmostly love, molded outwardly into the form of wisdom, while the feminine is inmostly the wisdom of the male, taking outwardly the form of love. Therefore from creation there is implanted in each sex a desire for conjunction so as to become one, symbolized in Genesis by God taking out one of the man's ribs and building it into a woman.

Love is not alike in any two persons. No one can see the infinite varieties of this love unless he knows what its quality was "when, together with life from God," it was implanted in every human being.

The reason why all delights from first to last are collected into this love is because of the superior excellence of its use, which is the propagation of the human race, and thence of the angelic heaven; and as this use was the chief end of creation it follows that all the beatitudes, satisfactions, delights, pleasantnesses and pleasures which the Lord the Creator could possibly confer, upon man, are collected into this his love.[599]

However, it is not possible that any love should be perfectly pure, either with men or with angels, and neither can marriage love. Nevertheless, since it is the intention of the will that the Lord primarily regards, so far as anyone intends well and perseveres in it, so far it becomes pure and holy with him. Every man is born corporeal, becomes sensual, afterward natural, and successively rational, and if his progress is not stopped he also becomes spiritual.[600]

Although conjugial love has been lost on earth Swedenborg promises that it will be restored in the New Church, which is to become a spiritual and truly Christian church. He discusses the means by which it is to be re-established among mankind. Its opposite must be shunned' as the very lakes of hell. "Scortatory Love and its Insane Pleasures" form the topic of the second part of this remarkable volume. Adultery is from hell and is in complete opposition to the chaste, heavenly love of marriage. The varieties of its perversion are here analyzed with the same discrimination and perspicacity that Swedenborg displayed in his anatomical works when analyzing the diseases of the fiber. Different degrees of unchastity are involved in "the pleasures of insanity." But no one can intelligently understand the opposite and its infernal nature, he declares, unless he first understands the character of genuine marriage love. Whereas adultery is the very opposite of conjugial love and the destroyer of it, fornication is an evil of the natural man, derived from his parents, which may be converted into truly human love.

Because the ultimate plane in which the delights of each love terminates is the same, [therefore] in the extremes, adulterous caresses and conjugial caresses are perceived as similar, although in internals they are altogether dissimilar . . . The delights of adulterous love begin from the flesh and are of the flesh even in the spirit; but the delights of conjugial love begin in the spirit and are of the spirit even in the flesh . . . The reason why the delights of adulterous love are pleasures of insanity is that none but natural men are in that love and the natural man is insane in spiritual things, for he is contrary to them, and therefore he embraces only natural, sensual, and corporeal delights . . . The love of the sex is like a fountain from which both conjugial and adulterous love may be derived . . .[601]

While encouraging the loftiest ideals of personal purity, the author recognizes the fact that lusts are nevertheless indulged by men, and he discusses the degrees of these evils. Here, as everywhere else, is seen the characteristic teaching of Swedenborg that motive, intention and end are the criteria by which all acts should be judged, for this is how the Divine mercy operates. For a man to have sexual relations .with a woman to whom he is not married is always an evil, but the evil is the greater in proportion as it discourages the longing for a love that is truly conjugial. Such is the saving -power of the Lord that He is able to reach down into the disorderly states of a man's life to find and establish there those remnants of good that make it possible for him to be saved: This hope, which Swedenborg gives in his study of the misdirected relations between the sexes, is based on whether or not an individual can stand the test of a love for the spiritual and eternal in marriage, the marriage of the spirit being the only marriage that is genuine in the sight of heaven. In the Church Truly Christian are only such souls as have become regenerated, that is, have been delivered from the dominion of selfish and worldly loves and have become imbued with supreme love to God and with mutual love for one another.[602]

Married partners usually meet after death and live together again as in this world. But those who are not of the same inward quality eventually separate and are given suitable mates. A man's real quality is seen when he puts off his outward self, his hypocritical and insincere external, and enters upon the kind of life he inmostly desires. This takes place with everyone after death.

But first of all, What is eternal happiness? Widely divergent are the ideas as to what constitutes the joys of heaven. Some believe it to consist in endless conversation, others in boundless power. Some hope for an everlasting rest, some for a never-ending round of feasts with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Some picture heaven as a paradise, others look forward to a perpetual sabbath of church-going. Whatever it is, in the other world, everyone is permitted to experience the kind of heaven he has imagined and longed for. Their experiences show spirits that heaven is not a place but a state of mind, and that happiness, there as here, consists in the faithful performance of the services of one's employment. In the mind of every individual there is an urge to do something for others, to "perform a use." When this urge or desire is put into act he is happy and indeed is in his heaven. Then it is that he lives in paradise, then it is that his spiritual body is nourished; and that he "reigns with Christ" in His heavenly "kingdom of uses."[603] The sublime nature of conjugial love is described in the Memorable Relations inserted between the chapters of the book, where Swedenborg relates his conversations with angelic pairs.[604]

On a time when I was meditating on conjugial love, lo! there appeared at a distance two naked infants with baskets in their hands and turtle-doves flying around them. On a nearer view they seemed as if they were handsomely ornamented with garlands; chaplets of flowers decorated their heads and wreaths of lilies and roses of a hyacinthine blue, hanging obliquely from the shoulders to the loins, adorned their bosoms; and round about both of them there was as it were a common band woven of small leaves interspersed with olives.

But when they came nearer, they did not appear as infants, or naked, but as two persons in the prime of their age, wearing cloaks and tunics of shining silk, embroidered with the most beautiful flowers. And when they were near me there breathed forth from heaven through them a vernal warmth attended with an odoriferous fragrance like that which arises from gardens and fields in the time of spring.

They were two married partners from heaven, who had been living together joyfully for ages, always in the prime of life. After visiting the homes of such married partners, Swedenborg says:

These wives, who now seem like young virgins, were in the world infirm old women; and their husbands, who now seem in the springtime of youth, were in the world decrepit old men; and all of them were restored by the Lord to this prime of their age because they mutually loved each other and from religious motives shunned adulteries as enormous sins.

No one knows the blessed delights of conjugial love unless he rejects the horrid delights of adultery; and no one can reject these delights unless he is under the influence of wisdom from the Lord; and no one is under the influence of wisdom from the Lord unless he performs uses from the love of uses.

"I am aware that many who read the following pages and the Memorable Relations annexed to the chapters will believe that they are fictions of the imagination," he said in his Preface, "but I solemnly declare they are not fictions but were truly done and seen, and that I saw them not in any state of the mind asleep but in a state of perfect wakefulness."

* * * * *

The work on conjugial love afforded great satisfaction to Dr. Beyer. He had known the venerated author only a few months when he expressed his ardent desire that Swedenborg make a study of marriage, a subject few understood.[605]

The minds of Christians were confused on this subject by the flagrant examples of the violation of marriage that were constantly presented to them by the civilized world of the Eighteenth century. France under Louis XV had come to be virtually governed by the king's mistresses, whose vanity and spitefulness led to the final collapse of the country, bankrupt as it was of the gold of domestic virtue. The corrupt court life of France under the Louises was the accepted model for England under the Georges, and other European countries followed suit. Woman's place was degraded, unbridled prostitution was the order of the day.

It was not hard to demonstrate Swedenborg's contention that "only a remnant of true marriage love remained." But would men agree with him that "unless this is preserved, the Church on earth cannot exist"?

It seems possible that Swedenborg stopped at Gothenburg on his way to Holland in the spring of 1768. It was his firm intention to see his friends there on the return voyage from England two years before, and he had left his carriage in Dr. Beyer's charge:

I send you herewith a complete set of the Arcana Coelestia.. . . I thought at first of bringing them to you myself but I changed my mind about travelling to Gothenburg, as an opportunity offered of going to Stockholm directly . . . Should any one be able to make use of my travelling carriage on his way to Stockholm, or should any one wish to buy it, it may be left to them (London August 22, 1766).[605a]

As the intended visit had then to be deferred, it would seem likely he carried out his intention of stopping at Gothenburg on the next trip, although there is scant evidence to prove this. In his first letter to Dr. Beyer from Amsterdam, he sent his regards to the bishop, the Dean, Burgomaster Petterson and Dr. Rosén, which of course he would do if he had recently been entertained by them. Tradition furthermore attributes two anecdotes, illustrating his supernatural powers, to Swedenborg's visit to Gothenburg, which seem to belong to a period later than the date of his first encounter with Beyer and Rosén. He also refers, in his letter, to "the friends in Gothenburg" who might wish to have a copy of his latest work (October 1, 1768)[606]

Among the latter were Councillors Wenngren and Hammerberg and the manufacturer Augustus Alströmer, a prominent citizen married to the daughter of Nicholas Sahlgren, at whose house Swedenborg had been dining nine years before when he saw the fire at Stockholm. Augustus was the son of an old friend of the Swedenborg family, Jonas Alströmer, known as "the father of Swedish industry" because he introduced the machine-weaving of silk and woolen goods into Sweden. Augustus Alströmer was an intelligent, freedom-loving individual who acknowledged that he received great light from the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. The Assessor numbered him among "those who believe in our Saviour."[607]

So it has been supposed that a society for the study of the new doctrines was formed in 1768, in Gothenburg, meeting at the Sahlgren house. But whether or not this conclusion can be drawn from the meager data at hand, certainly there is no ground for supposing that Swedenborg himself was a member of such a society.[608]

It was, however, in Gothenburg that the first signs began to appear that the new doctrines had taken root. This may not have been unexpected by Swedenborg. He had noted in his Spiritual Diary, many years before, that in the world of spirits the good among the Swedish nation - that is, those who had been uniformly honest in the life of the body - were associated together in a city like Gothenburg.[609] This western coastal town, devoted to commerce and manufactures, was less under the narrowing influence of domestic provincialism than the capital city and, as is always the case with a thriving port, it was more open to the broadening effects that come from contact with the minds and customs of other lands.

When in Gothenburg, Swedenborg was often invited to dine out, and from one such occasion an anecdote has come down to us as related by the granddaughter of the manufacturer Bolander, owner of extensive cloth mills. During a dinner attended by a large number of guests, Swedenborg turned suddenly to the host and said sharply:

"You had better go to your mills, sir!"

Mr. Bolander, very much surprised at the tone of voice in which Swedenborg addressed him, which was anything but polite, nevertheless rose from the table and went at once to his factory, as he had been instructed. On arriving there he discovered that a large piece of cloth had fallen down near the furnace and commenced to burn. Had he delayed only an instant longer he would have found his property in flames.

After removing the danger Bolander returned to the company and thanked his guest, telling him what had happened. Swedenborg smiled and said that he had seen the danger and as there was no time to be lost, he had addressed him so abruptly.[610]

A grandson of Dr. Rosén also tells of an occurrence which may have taken place at this time. The story has every appearance of being genuine.

Swedenborg was present one evening at Dr. Rosén’s in company with several colleagues. Rosén’s wife, also in the room, occupied with her knitting, did not, of course, understand anything of the discourse carried on in Latin.

A dispute arose about a certain book which was not at hand, and Rosén regretted that he did not have a copy of it in his library.

"You have it," said Swedenborg, "not here, but in the attic." And he described exactly on what shelf and in what spot the book stood.

Dr. Rosén, greatly wondering how Swedenborg could possibly know that the old book was in the attic - but still not wishing to neglect the advice - asked his wife to go up and look for it. Mrs. Rosén took a lantern and went upstairs. When she came down again she held the volume in her hand.[611]

to Chapter 39