Commentary

Angels

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'Soul Carried to Heaven,' by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, a 19th-century French traditionalist.

The Writings offer a tremendous amount of material on angels. The book "Heaven and Hell" offers detailed discussions as it describes heaven; "Conjugial Love" has much to say about marriage and romantic love in heaven; "Divine Love and Wisdom" offers insight into how angels in their nature reflect the nature of the Lord. So we'll offer some basics here and recommend those books to those who want more detail.

(References: Divine Love and Wisdom 231; Divine Providence 60)


Basically, the Writings say that if people in this life open themselves to the Lord, follow the Lord's teachings and let the Lord change their selfish desires into generous loves, they will go to heaven as angels after they die. If they don't, and instead embrace their selfishness, they will go to hell as evil spirits. The Writings also say that this is the only source of angels and evil spirits - they were all once people. There is no separately created race of angels, no fallen angel Lucifer who is now the Devil; that belief is based solely on a few lines of misinterpreted scripture.

This makes sense if you look at it logically. If the Lord could create beings that would live in love and harmony with him with no possibility of evil, why would He have bothered with us? Why not just make more of them? The fact is, such beings would not have any choice in their actions, making them no better than animals. And ultimately, if they were purely good then they would really just be extensions of the Lord, so in loving them He would be loving Himself. The reverse is true of the idea of Satan or "the" Devil. The Lord creates us from love so that he can love us, bring us to heaven and make us happy. For Satan to exist, the Lord would have had to create him, and it would be contrary to His essence to create something that was not intended for heaven, for joy, and for union with the Lord.

So angels were once people, who got to be angels by embracing the idea of being good and followed the Lord's teachings as best they could. The Writings make it clear these people can come from anywhere, from any religious background. Some churches may have doctrine that is closer to the truth than others, but the point of any religion is for people to desire to be good and try to be good using the tools they have.

When those people die, they go first to a place called the "world of spirits." There everyone who has recently died can learn about the Lord and spiritual life and prepare for heaven. There also, people's inner affections start showing on the surface; those who are ultimately evil start losing the ability to cover it up, and the love starts shining through for those who are ultimately good. As this continues and as people learn more, they naturally start congregating with others who have similar loves. This way evil people eventually take themselves to hell, where they can be with others who share their evil. Good people, on the other hand, can be prepared for heaven.

Two important things have to happen for us to truly enter fully into heaven. First, the Lord will push aside our remaining evil desires, so they cannot hurt us or tempt us anymore; angels are in a marvelous state of peace, with no active evil to trouble them. Second, we will each be led by the Lord to the perfect married partner, the one whose soul matches ours, the one we can love blissfully to eternity. All angels are married, because the marriage of a man and a woman represents the marriage of love and wisdom in the Lord, and also the marriage of the desire for good and understanding of truth in each of us. Because of this, we can only fully receive and return the Lord's love as married partners, and heaven is suffused with the sphere of marriage and the love of marriage.

The angelic couples will find their way to communities of other angels whose loves match their own, people with whom they can share the deepest friendships imaginable. They will have houses which reflect the character of their loves, and will be given work to do that springs from their loves and fills them with joy. Beyond that, their lives are much as life might be in this world, though free of sickness and aging and boredom and conflict. They have bodies that are human in form - no wings! - but a beauty in face and form that reflects the good loves they have inside. They eat and drink and laugh and sleep and have parties and games; all filled with the delight of mutual love.

The Writings tell us the work angels do is varied far beyond what we can imagine, though they only describe a few aspects. Among other things, angels care for people in this life, passing on to them true ideas and desires for good from the Lord. They also teach those in the World of Spirits, greet those who have just died, raise those who died as children, keep order in hell and do many other things.

We would finally note that there are three degrees of angelic life, based on the loves people embraced in this life. The first, lowest heaven, called the "natural heaven," is filled by those who are in the love of service. Angels there love to do what's right because they know it is right. The second, middle heaven, called the spiritual heaven, is filled by those who are in the love of the neighbor. Angels there love to engage their minds with spiritual questions to gain an ever-deeper understanding of how to be loving to one another. The third, highest heaven, known as celestial, is filled with those who are in love of the Lord Himself. From that love they have such innocence that they look like children, and they instantly perceive what is true, in all its variety, from the light of that love.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 228, 454, 1802, 2551, 2572 [3-4], 5470, 6872 [2-3], 8747, 9503, 9814 [2], 10604 [2-4]; Conjugial Love 44 [6-10], 52; Divine Love and Wisdom 19, 63, 71, 115, 116, 202, Divine Love and Wisdom 321, 322, 334; Heaven and Hell 75, 133, 266, 267, 304, 311, 415; The Apocalypse Revealed 818)

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #6872

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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6872. 'You shall worship God beside this mountain' means perception and acknowledgement of the Divine springing from love. This is clear from the meaning of 'worshipping God' as adoration of the Divine, but when the expression is used in reference to the Lord the perception and acknowledgement of the Divine in the Human is meant; and from the meaning of 'mountain' as the good of God's love, dealt with in Arcana Coelestia 795, 796, 2722, 4210, 6435, 6829. From these meanings it is evident that the words 'you shall worship God beside this mountain', when used in reference to the Lord, mean a perception and acknowledgement of the Divine springing from love.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 795-796)


[2] What is meant by a perception and acknowledgement of the Divine springing from love must be stated. Everyone's character is recognized from his love. For the inner being (esse) of anyone's life is love; his very life emanates from it. Therefore the kind of love that reigns with a person determines the person's character. If self-love and a love of the world reign, and as a consequence the love of vengeance, hatred, cruelty, adultery, and the like, then that person is a devil so far as his spirit or interior man which lives after death is concerned, no matter what he may seem to be to outward appearance. But if a love of God and a love of the neighbour are what reign with a person, and consequently a love of what is good and true, and also of what is just and honourable, then he is an angel so far as his spirit which lives after death is concerned, no matter what he may seem to be to outward appearance. But when God's love reigns with someone - as it has done only in the Lord - that one is God. Thus the Lord's Human was made Divine when He received in His Human His Father's love, which was the inner Being (Esse) of His life. From all this one may see what is meant by a perception and acknowledgement of the Divine that springs from love.

[3] It is an unalterable truth that a person is entirely the same in character as his love. This is evident from angels in the next life who, when they are seen, look like forms of love. Love itself not only shines but also breathes out of them, so that you may say that they are in every respect embodiments of love. The reason for this is that all the interiors of an angel, like those of a person in this world, are nothing other than forms that receive life. And being forms that receive life they are forms that receive different kinds of love; for these constitute a person's life. Since therefore the love that flows in and the form that receives it are compatible with each other it follows that the character of an angel or a person in this world is determined by his love. This applies not only to the primary organic substances in the brain but also to the whole body, since the body is nothing other than an organism formed from its primary substances.

[4] From all this it becomes clear that a person is made completely new when he is being regenerated; for at that time every single part of him is being made fit to receive heavenly kinds of love. With man however the earlier forms are not destroyed but removed, whereas with the Lord the earlier forms which came from His mother were completely destroyed and rooted out, and Divine forms were received and replaced them. For God's love is incompatible with any form other than a Divine one; it casts all the rest totally aside. As a consequence of this the Lord was no longer Mary's son once He was glorified.

(References: Exodus 3:12)

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