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Swedenborg generally uses this term in contrast to the terms "spiritual" and "natural." The celestial level (of heaven, of the inner meaning of the Bible, etc.) is that which is most concerned with the Divine and with love. It is the inmost or deepest degree.

Think of it this way: in some ways, the Lord is simplicity itself since, taken in His essence, He is love. His attitude toward us is also simplicity itself: He loves us. And He expresses that love in an unending stream that works completely and constantly to get us to freely accept and return His love. When you start looking at how that process works, it can start to seem complicated. But in essence, it could hardly be more simple.

It makes sense, then, that the best state we can achieve as humans is the celestial state in which we receive the Lord’s love and love Him back. It is the highest, best, purest, most innocent, and most joyful state human beings can experience, one powered by love of the Lord. It is also the state of the highest, inmost heaven, and is in some degree present in everyone as the recipient of the Lord’s love.

Not all of us receive and manifest the Lord’s love in the same way, though (in fact, none of us do), so the pure simplicity of the celestial state gets complicated as people open themselves up only partway to the Lord and redirect His love toward lesser things. Swedenborg’s works tell us that this results in three distinct “levels” of existence, based on what people love. The celestial is the highest of these levels, based on love of the Lord; the “spiritual” is based on love of other people, and the “natural” is based on the delight we feel in being good. The spiritual is more external and less pure then the celestial, and the natural is more external and less pure than the spiritual.

Each of those levels is further divided, however, between those who are led directly by the level’s defining love and those who are led by the ideas that spring from that love. Some celestial angels, then, are led by the love of the Lord itself, while others are led by the exquisite concepts that express love to the Lord. Unfortunately, Swedenborg also uses the words “celestial” and “spiritual” to identify that division, with “celestial” representing the love of each level and “spiritual” representing the truth and wisdom of each level. So the celestial level - centered on love of the Lord - has a celestial aspect and a spiritual aspect. The spiritual level - centered on love of other people - also has a celestial aspect and a spiritual aspect. And the natural level - centered on the delight of being good - has a celestial aspect and a spiritual aspect.

That might sound awfuly complicated - maybe even unnecessarily complicated - but it makes sense if you think about it. We all know people who are simply motivated by the desire to be good and to do things the “right” way. That’s an example of the natural level of existence, focused largely on external things, but aligned with the Lord’s wishes. Within that group, there are those who do what’s right pretty much by instinct, following their good affections; they would be the celestial natural. There are also those who like to know the rules and think about the instructions, so they can know intellectually that they are doing things right; they would be the spiritual natural. There are similar distinctions on the spiritual level and the celestial level.

One other thing is worth noting: Swedenborg’s works say that very few in the modern world are capable of reaching the celestial level, due to the amount of knowledge we have, the external nature of our lives and the need we have to use our minds to advance spiritually. The celestial heavens are largely populated by people from ancient times, who were able to live in closer, more direct communion with the Lord. As we understand the Lord’s wishes on a deeper and deeper level, though, we can open up greater possibilities for ourselves and for future generations.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3246 [2]; Divine Love and Wisdom 237 [2])

From Swedenborg's Works


Arcana Coelestia #3887

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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3887. In heaven or the Grand Man there are two kingdoms, one called celestial, the other spiritual. The celestial kingdom consists of angels who are called celestial and are those who have been governed by love to the Lord and so by all wisdom. For they more than all others abide in the Lord and so more than all others experience the state of peace and innocence. To others they look like young children, for the state of peace and innocence gives them this appearance. Everything there is living so to speak in their eyes, for that which comes directly from the Lord is living. Such is the celestial kingdom. The second kingdom is called spiritual. This consists of angels who are called spiritual and are those who have been governed by the good that flows from charity towards the neighbour. The delight of life is considered by them to lie in being able to do good to others without reward. To them being allowed to do good to others is itself a reward. And the more this is their will and desire the greater the intelligence and happiness they experience, for in the next life the Lord confers intelligence and happiness on everyone according to the use which he performs from the affection that belongs to his will. Such is the spiritual kingdom.

[2] Inhabitants of the Lord's celestial kingdom all belong to the province of the heart, and those of His spiritual kingdom all belong to the province of the lungs. The influx from the celestial kingdom into the spiritual kingdom is similar to the influx of the heart into the lungs, and also to the influx of all things belonging to the heart into those belonging to the lungs. For the heart reigns in the whole of the body and in every individual part of it by means of the blood vessels, as do the lungs in every individual part by means of the breathing. Consequently throughout the body there is so to speak an influx of the heart into the lungs, but this is dependent on the forms there and on the states. This is how all sensation arises and also all activity which belongs properly to the body. This point can also be proved from embryos and new-born infants. These cannot have any bodily sensation or any act of individual will until the lungs have been opened for them and an influx consequently takes place of heart into lungs. It is similar in the spiritual world, the difference being that bodily and natural things do not exist in that world but celestial and spiritual, which are the good of love and the good of faith. With them therefore motions of the heart are determined by the states of love, and respiratory motions by the states of faith. The influx of one into the other causes them to have sensations of things in a spiritual manner and to act in a spiritual manner. These ideas are bound to seem paradoxical to man because he has no other idea of the good of love or of the truth of faith than that they are some abstract qualities which have no power to effect anything. In fact the contrary is the case; that is to say, they are the source of all perception and sensation, of all energy and activity, including those in man.

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