48. At this point I shall insert the following account of an experience. 1
Once I had a talk with two angels, one from the eastern and one from the southern heaven. When they perceived that I was pondering the mysteries of wisdom on the subject of love, they said: 'Don't you know anything about the contests of wisdom in our world?' 'Not yet,' I replied.
'There are many of them,' they said, adding that those who love truths with a spiritual affection, that is, love them because they are truths and are the way to wisdom, meet when the signal is given, to discuss matters requiring profound understanding and form conclusions about them.
They then took me by the hand saying, 'Come with us, and you will see and hear. The signal has been given for a meeting to-day.'
I was taken across a plain to a hill, at the foot of which there was an avenue of palm trees extending all the way to the top. We went into it and climbed the hill. On the top or summit of the hill we saw a wood, among the trees of which a rise in the ground formed a sort of theatre. Inside this was a flat space paved with pebbles of different colours, and around this were ranged seats in a square; these were occupied by the lovers of wisdom. In the middle of the theatre was a table, and a document secured with a seal lay on it.
 Those who were sitting on the seats invited us to occupy some which were still vacant, but I replied: 'I have been brought here by two angels to see and listen, not to take part in the session.'
Then the two angels went up to the table in the middle of the arena and broke the seal on the document; they then read out to the meeting the mysteries of wisdom written in the document, which they were to discuss and expound. It had been written by angels of the third heaven, and sent down to lie on the table. There were three mysteries: the first, 'What is the image of God and the likeness of God in which man was created?', the second, 'Why is man born without knowledge of what he should love, yet animals and birds, the highest as well as the lowest, are born knowing all their loves require?'; the third, 'What is the meaning of "the tree of life," "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and "eating of them"?'
Underneath was written: 'Link these three subjects into a single statement of opinion, and write it on a fresh sheet of paper; then replace it on this table, and we shall look at it. If the opinion appears well-balanced and fair, each of you will be awarded a prize for wisdom.' After reading this out the two angels went away and rose up into their own heavens.
Then those taking part in the session began to discuss and expound the mysteries set before them. They spoke in turn, beginning with those who sat on the north side, then those who sat on the west, then the south and finally the east. They took up the first subject for discussion, which was: 'What is the image of God and what is the likeness of God in which man was created?' First of all the following passages were read aloud from the Book of Creation:
God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and God created man in His own image, to be an image 2
of God He made him, Genesis 1:26-27.
On the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God, Genesis 5:1.
 Those who sat on the north side were the first to speak. They said that the image and the likeness of God are the two lives breathed into man by God, the life of the will and the life of the understanding. 'For we read,' they said,
Jehovah God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of lives 3
, and man became a living soul, Genesis 2:7.
This seems to mean that the will to do good and the perception of truth was breathed into him, which could be called the breath of lives. And because life was breathed into him by God, image and likeness mean his uprightness arising from love and wisdom, and from righteousness and the powers of judgment present in him.'
Those who sat on the west side supported this view, with, however, this addition, that the state of uprightness breathed into Adam by God, is constantly breathed into every person after Adam; but it is present in man as it were in a receiver, and a person is an image and likeness of God in accordance with his effectiveness as a receiver.
 Then the third group, who sat on the south side, said: 'The image of God and the likeness of God are two separate things, but in man they are combined from his creation. Some kind of inward illumination shows us that the image of God can be destroyed by man, but not His likeness. This is visible as it were through a screen from the fact that
Adam retained the likeness of God, after he had lost the image of God. For we read after his cursing:
See, man is as one of us, knowing good and evil, Genesis 3:22.
and afterwards he is called a likeness of God, but not an image of God (Genesis 5:1). But we would leave our colleagues on the east, who are therefore in better illumination, to say what the image of God and the likeness of God properly are.'
 Then, when there was silence, those who sat on the east side rose from their seats and looked up to the Lord. Then they sat down again and said that an image of God was a receiver of God, and since God is Love itself and Wisdom itself, the image of God is the receiving of love and wisdom from God in the man; but the likeness of God was the perfect likeness and complete appearance of love and wisdom being present in man and of belonging to him. 'For man does not know but that he loves and is wise of himself, or that he wills good and understands truth of himself. In fact not a whit is of himself, but from God. It is only God who loves of Himself and is wise of Himself, because God is Love itself and Wisdom itself. The likeness or appearance that love and wisdom, or good and truth, are present in man as if they belonged to him is what makes a man human, and thus able to be linked to God and so to live for ever. The consequence of this is that man's humanity is the result of his ability to will good and understand truth exactly as if he did so of himself, while at the same time knowing and believing that he does so from God. For to the extent that he knows and believes this, God places His image in man; it would be otherwise if he believed it was of himself and not from God.'
 After saying this, their love of truth made zeal overcome them and this led them to say: 'How can a person receive any love and wisdom, keep it and reproduce it, unless he feels that it is his own? And how can he be linked with God by love and wisdom, unless he is granted some reciprocal function to permit linking? No linking is possible without reciprocation, and the reciprocal function is man's loving God and doing His will, as if he acted of himself, yet believing that these things come from God. Again, how can a man live for ever, unless he is linked to the everlasting God? So how can a person be human, without that likeness in him?'
 All applauded this speech and asked for a conclusion to be drawn from what had been said. The following statement was adopted: 'Man is a receiver of God, and a receiver of God is an image of God. Because God is Love itself and Wisdom itself, man is a receiver of both of these. The receiver becomes an image of God to the extent that he receives them. Man is a likeness of God by virtue of the fact that he feels in himself that what he receives from God is his as if it belonged to him. But still that likeness makes him an image of God to the extent that he acknowledges that the love and wisdom, or good and truth, in him are not his, and do not come from him, but are present only in God and therefore come from Him.
 They then took up the next subject for discussion, 'Why is man born without knowledge of what he should love, yet animals and birds, the highest as well as the lowest, are born knowing all their loves require?'
First they established the truth of the proposition by various observations. For instance that man is born without any knowledge, not even knowing about conjugial love. 4
They made enquiry and heard from researchers that a baby does not even know its mother's breast from birth, but learns about it by having it repeatedly offered by its mother or nurse; it only knows how to suck, and that is because it has learnt this by continually sucking in its mother's womb. Later on, it does not know how to walk, or to adapt the sounds it makes to form any human word, not even how to express its emotions by sounds as animals do. Moreover, it does not know what food is suitable for it, as animals do, but grabs anything it finds, whether clean or dirty, and puts it in its mouth. The researchers reported that without instruction man knows nothing of the manner of sexual intercourse, and not even young men and women know about this without being told by others. In short, a man is born a mere bodily being like a worm, and bodily he remains unless he learns from others to know, understand and be wise.
 They then established that both the higher and lower animals, such as land animals, the birds of the air, reptiles, fish and insects, are born knowing all their loves require in order to live; for instance, everything they need to know about feeding, about where to live, how to copulate and produce young, and about how to bring up their young. They established these facts by remarkable observations which they recalled to mind from what they had seen, heard and read during their previous life in the natural world, where the animals that exist are not representative but real. When they had fully approved the truth of the proposition, they turned their minds to seeking and finding the reasons which would allow them to explain and elucidate this mystery. They all asserted that it must inevitably be due to the Divine Wisdom, that a man is a man and an animal an animal, and thus the imperfection in the birth of man becomes his perfection, and the perfection in the birth of an animal is its imperfection.
 The northerners then began to state their opinion. They said that man is born without knowledge, so that he can receive all kinds of knowledge. But if he acquired these by birth, he could never receive any others than those he acquired by birth, and then neither could he make any his own. They illustrated this by a simile. Man at birth is like soil in which no seeds have been planted, but which can receive every kind of seed, grow them and bring them to fruiting. But an animal is like soil which has already been sown, filled with grass and plants, and unable to receive any seeds other than those implanted. If others were sown, it would choke them. That is the reason why it takes man many years to grow up, a period long enough to allow him to be cultivated like the soil, and to bring forth, so to speak, all kinds of crops, flowers and trees. An animal, however, takes only a few years, because it does not need time to be cultivated to produce anything but what it possesses from birth.
 The westerners spoke next. They said that man has by birth, not knowledge like an animal, but ability and inclination, the ability to know and the inclination to love. He has by birth not only the ability [to know, but also to understand and to be wise. Also he is born with the most perfect inclination not only] 5
to love what is his own and worldly, but also what is God's and heavenly. As a result man is born an organ which lives with difficulty and dimly by its external senses, and he has by birth no internal senses, so that he may by stages acquire life and become first a natural man, then a rational and finally a spiritual man. This would not happen, if he were endowed by birth with knowledge and loves, like animals. For inborn knowledge and affections of love limit that progress, but mere abilities and inclinations can be inborn without limiting it. Consequently man is capable of becoming more perfect in knowledge, intelligence and wisdom for ever.
 The Southerners followed on with their statement. They said that it is impossible for man to acquire any knowledge from himself, but he must do so from others, since he has no inborn knowledge. 'Since he cannot acquire any knowledge from himself, neither can he acquire any love, since where there is no knowledge, there is no love. Knowledge and love are inseparable companions, and can no more be divided than will and understanding, or affection and thought, indeed no more than essence and form. Therefore as a person acquires knowledge from others, so love attaches itself to him as his companion. The universal love which attaches itself is the love of knowing, and later on the loves of understanding and being wise. Only man has these loves, animals have none; they flow in from God.
 'We agree with our colleagues on the west that man has by birth no love and consequently no knowledge, but only the inclination to love, and consequently the ability to receive knowledge, not from himself, but from others, that is, by way of others. We say "by way of others," because neither have they received anything from themselves, but in origin all knowledge is from God. We also agree with our colleagues on the north that man immediately at birth is like soil in which no seeds have been planted, but where fine as well as worthless seeds can be planted. That is why man (homo) is so called from soil (humus), and is called Adam from adama, which means soil. 6
We would add that animals have by birth natural loves, and consequently the kinds of knowledge that correspond to them, yet this knowledge does not enable them to know, think, understand and be wise, but they are guided to this knowledge by their loves, almost like blind people being guided through the streets by dogs. As far as their understanding is concerned, they are blind, or rather, like sleepwalkers who do what they do by blind knowledge while the understanding is asleep.'
 The last to speak were the easterners. 'We are in agreement,' they said, 'with what our brothers have said, that man knows nothing from himself, but only from others and by way of others, so that he may recognise and acknowledge that all he knows, understands and is wise about he owes to God. Man could not in any other way be born and be created by God, and become His image and likeness. For he becomes an image of God by his acknowledgment and belief that he has received and continues to receive all the good of love and charity and all the truth of wisdom and faith from God, and not a whit from himself. He is a likeness of God by his feeling these things in himself as if from himself. He has this feeling because he has no knowledge from birth, but receives different kinds of knowledge, and it seems to him as if he received them from himself. Man is permitted by God to have this feeling so that he should be a man and not an animal, since by willing, thinking, loving, knowing, understanding and being wise as if from himself he receives different kinds of knowledge and sublimates them into intelligence, and by using them into wisdom. Thus God links man to Himself, and man links himself to God.
These things could not happen if God had not provided that man was born in a state of complete ignorance.'
 After this statement there was a general move to draw a conclusion from the matters discussed, and the following was adopted. 'Man is born without any knowledge so that he can acquire knowledge of all kinds and advance to intelligence and through this to wisdom. He is born without any loves so that he can acquire all kinds of loves, by putting to use his knowledge derived from his intelligence, and acquire love to God by means of love towards the neighbour. Thus he may be linked with God and so become fully man and live forever.'
 Then they took up the document again and read out the third subject for discussion. This was: 'What is the meaning of "the tree of life," "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and "eating of them"?' They all begged those on the east to expound this mystery, since it required a more profound understanding, and those who are from the east enjoy a flame-like light, that is, the wisdom of love. This wisdom is what is meant by "the Garden of Eden," in which those two trees were placed.
'We will tell you.' they replied, 'but since man gets nothing from himself, but from God, we shall draw our statement from God, but still speak as if it were we ourselves who were speaking. "A tree,' they went on to say, "Means man, and its fruit the good of life. So "the tree of life" means a man who has life from God. And since love and wisdom, charity and faith, or good and truth make up life from God in man, "the tree of life" means the man who has these qualities from God, and thus everlasting life. "The tree of life" from which people will be given to eat (Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14) has a similar meaning.
 "The tree of the knowledge of good and evil" means a man who believes that he has life from himself, and not from God; and so, that love and wisdom, charity and faith, that is, good and truth in him are his and not God's. He believes this because in what he thinks and wills, says and does, he seems and appears to behave exactly as if he did so of himself. So since he goes so far as to persuade himself that he is God, the serpent said:
God knows that on the day you eat of the fruit of that tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil, Genesis 3:5.
 "Eating" from those trees means receiving and making one's own. "Eating of the tree of life" means receiving everlasting life; "eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" means receiving damnation. "The serpent" means the devil, a personification of self-love and pride in one's own intelligence. Self-love is the owner of that tree, and people who are proud of that love are those trees. It is therefore a huge error if people believe that Adam was wise and did good of himself, and this was his uncorrupted state, when in fact Adam himself was cursed for holding that belief. For this is the meaning of "eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." He therefore fell from his uncorrupted state, which he had by virtue of his belief that he was wise and did good entirely from God and in no respect of himself; for this is what "eating of the tree of life" means. Only the Lord, during His life on earth, had wisdom from Himself and did good of Himself, because the Divine itself was in Him and was His from birth. Therefore by His own power He became the Redeemer and Saviour.'
 From both these points they reached the following conclusion: "The tree of life" and "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and "eating of them" mean that life for a person is having God in him, and then he enjoys heaven and everlasting life; and that it is death for a person to be persuaded and believe that life for a man is not God but himself, for thus he finds hell and everlasting death, in other words, damnation.'
 Then they looked at the document the angels had left on the table and read the words written at the bottom: 'Link these subjects into a single opinion.' Then they brought the three subjects together and saw that they hung together in a single series. This series or opinion was as follows: 'Man has been created so that he may receive love and wisdom from God, yet it appears exactly as if he did so from himself, which is to allow him to receive them and so be linked; therefore man is born without any love or any knowledge, without even the ability to love and be wise of himself; therefore if he attributes all the good of love and all the truth of wisdom to God he becomes a living man, but if he attributes them to himself he becomes a dead man.'
They wrote these words on a fresh sheet of paper and laid it on the table. Suddenly the angels appeared in a shining cloud and carried the document off to heaven. When it had been read there, those who sat on the seats heard the words, Well done, well done, well done. At once there appeared one as it were flying; he had two wings at his feet and two more at his temples. He brought as prizes gowns, hats and laurel-wreaths. He came down and gave those who sat on the north gowns of iridescent colour; to those on the west gowns of scarlet; to those on the south hats decorated at the rim with bands of gold and pearls, and on the raised left side with diamonds cut into the shape of flowers. To those on the east he gave laurel-wreaths decorated with rubies and sapphires. All who had taken part in the contest of wisdom went cheerfully home resplendent in their prizes.
1. This is repeated from
Conjugial Love 132-136.
2. The Latin has 'likeness', but the author's copy has this corrected to 'image' in keeping with the Hebrew, cf.
Conjugial Love 132.
3. The Latin follows the Hebrew in using the plural 'lives' here.
4. Or marriage love.
5. These words are missing in the original, but are supplied from
Conjugial Love 133 where this account was first printed.
6. This Latin etymology is supported by expert opinion; the Hebrew word for 'soil' or 'ground' is adama.