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 #9814

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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9814. 'And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother' means a representative sign of the spiritual kingdom lying adjacent to the celestial kingdom. This is clear from the meaning of 'garments' in general as truths, and more particularly as truths clothing good, dealt with in Arcana Coelestia 5954, 9212, 9216. The meaning of 'garments' as truths owes its origin to things in heaven, where angels appear dressed in clothes in keeping with the truths they have that spring from good, Arcana Coelestia 165, 5248, 5954, 9212; and from this it may be recognized that Aaron's garments represented the Lord's spiritual kingdom lying adjacent to His celestial kingdom. For Aaron represented the Lord in respect of the Divine Celestial, Arcana Coelestia 9810, and therefore the garments he wore represented the Divine Spiritual adjacent to the celestial kingdom like clothing next to the body, the Divine Spiritual being Divine Truth emanating from the Lord's Divine Good. It presents itself in heaven as light, indeed it is the light which illuminates both the outward and the inward powers of sight that angels possess. Modifications of this light - which are determined by the subjects, that is, the angels, that receive it - produce different visible phenomena, such as clouds, rainbows, and various colours and brightnesses; they also produce shining garments about the angels. From all this it may be recognized that the Lord's spiritual kingdom was represented by Aaron's holy garments. For there are two kingdoms into which the heavens are divided, the celestial kingdom and the spiritual kingdom, regarding which, see Arcana Coelestia 9277. Those in the celestial kingdom appear naked, but those in the spiritual kingdom appear in clothing. From this it is again clear that Divine Truth, or the Divine Spiritual, which appears as light, is that which serves to clothe.

[2] But who would ever credit it that, even though the Word exists within the Church and consequently enlightenment regarding Divine and heavenly realities, ignorance reigns there, so great that no one knows that angels and spirits take on the human form, appear to themselves as human beings, and see, hear, and talk to one another? Still less does anyone know that they appear clothed in garments. The idea that they do so is met not merely with doubt but also with complete denial on the part of those so blind to everything other than external things, that they think that the body alone lives, and that what they cannot see with the eyes in their body or touch with the hands on their body has no existence whatever, see Arcana Coelestia 1881. But in actual fact the heavens are full of human beings, who are angels, and these are clothed with garments shining in varied degrees of brightness. But these beings cannot at all be seen by a person on earth through the eyes of his body, only through the eyes of his spirit, when the Lord opens them. The angels who were seen by the ancients, such as Abraham, Sarah, Lot, Jacob, Joshua, Gideon, and also the Prophets, were not seen by those persons' bodily eyes but by those of their spirit which had been opened then. The fact that they would also have appeared clothed in robes is clear from the angels sitting at the Lord's tomb, whom Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James saw, and who were wearing shining white garments, Matthew 28:3; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4, and in particular from the Lord Himself when seen in His glory by Peter, James, and John, in that His clothing was dazzling white and like the light, Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:29. This clothing too represented the Divine Spiritual, or the Divine Truth that emanated from Him.

[3] All this makes clear what 'white garments' means in the Book of Revelation,

You have a few names also in Sardis, who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white ones, for they are worthy. He who conquers will be clad in white garments. Revelation 3:4, 5.

'Garments' here are spiritual truths, which are truths springing from good, as shown above; and 'white' is authentic truth, Arcana Coelestia 3301, 4007, 5319. The following words that occur elsewhere in the same book are similarly made clear,

I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse; and He who sat on it was called faithful and true, and in righteousness He judges and goes into battle. His armies in heaven were following Him, clothed in linen white and clean. Revelation 19:11, 14.

And elsewhere again in that book,

On the thrones I saw twenty-four elders, clad in white garments. Revelation 4:4.

(References: Exodus 28:2; Revelation 3:4-5)

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