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

Conjugial Love #44

Conjugial Love (Rogers translation)

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44. The second account:

I once saw three spirits newly arrived from the world, who were wandering about, exploring and asking questions. They were in a state of astonishment that they were living as people just as before and that they were seeing the same things as before. For they knew they had departed from the former or natural world, and they had believed there that they would not live as people until after the day of the Last Judgment, when they would be clothed with the flesh and bones laid in their graves.

To remove all doubt that they were still truly people, therefore, they alternately inspected and touched themselves and others, and handled the things they found, and in a thousand ways kept convincing themselves that they were now people as they had been in the former world, except that they were seeing each other in a brighter light and the things they found in a greater splendor, thus seeing them more perfectly.

[2] Then by chance two angelic spirits met them and stopped them, saying, "Where are you from?"

And they answered, "We have departed from the world and are again living in a world, so we have traveled from one world to another. At this we are now marveling!"

Then the three newcomers began asking the two angelic spirits about heaven. And because two of the three newcomers were adolescents, and from their eyes darted what seemed to be a spark of lust for the opposite sex, the angelic spirits said, "You have, perhaps, seen some of the women."

And they replied, "We have."

So, because the newcomers had asked about heaven, the angelic spirits told them the following:

"In heaven all things are magnificent and splendid, and are such as eye has never seen. There are also young men and women there, young women of such beauty that they may be called the very pictures of beauty, and young men of such morality that they may be called the very pictures of morality. And the beauty of the young women and the morality of the young men correspond to each other, as reciprocal and mutually adaptable forms."

The two newcomers then asked whether human forms in heaven are entirely similar to human forms in the natural world. And the angelic spirits answered that they are completely alike, with nothing taken from either man or woman.

"In a word," the angelic spirits said, "a man is still a man, and a woman is still a woman, in all the perfection of the form in which they were created. Step aside, if you like, and investigate in your own case whether anything is missing to keep you from being the man you were before."

[3] Again the newcomers said, "We heard in the world from which we departed that in heaven they are not given in marriage, because they are angels. 1 Is love between the sexes possible, then?"

The angelic spirits replied, "The love you mean between the sexes is not possible there, but an angelic love for the opposite sex is, which is chaste, free of any temptation arising from lust."

To this the newcomers said, "If love for the opposite sex is without temptation, then what is love between the sexes?"

And when they began to think about that love, they groaned and said, "How dry the joy of heaven is! What young man can then wish for heaven? Is not a love like that sterile and devoid of life?"

To this the angelic spirits laughingly replied, "Angelic love for the opposite sex, or the kind of love that exists in heaven, is still full of the deepest delights. It is a most pleasant swelling of everything in the mind and consequently of everything in the breast, and within the breast it is as if the heart were sporting with the lungs. From this sport comes a breathing, tone and speech which cause the companionships between the sexes, or between young men and women, to be heavenly sweetness itself, which is at the same time pure.

[4] "All newcomers on ascending to heaven are examined in respect to what their chastity is like, for they are introduced into companionships with young women - the beauties of heaven - and these perceive what the newcomers are like in regard to their love for the opposite sex. They perceive it from their tone of voice, their speech, their facial expression, their eyes, their bearing, and the atmosphere emanating from them. If the love is unchaste, the young women then run away and report to their friends that they have seen satyrs or lechers. And what is more, the newcomers undergo a change, and to the eyes of the angels they appear hairy, with feet like those of calves or leopards. They are also soon cast down, to keep them from polluting the atmosphere there with their lust."

Listening to this, the two newcomers again said, "Then there is no love between the sexes in heaven. What is chaste love between the sexes but love emptied of the essence of its life? Are the companionships of young men and women there not then dry joys? We are not made of stone and wood, but of living perceptions and affections!"

[5] When the two angelic spirits heard this, they indignantly retorted, "You do not know at all what a chaste love between the sexes is, because you are not yet chaste! That love is a true delight of the mind and so of the heart, and not at the same time of the flesh below the heart. Angelic chastity, which is found equally in both sexes, prevents that love from passing beyond the confines of the heart. But within those confines, and above them, the morality of the young man and the beauty of the young woman find delight in the delights of a chaste love for the opposite sex - delights which are deeper and richer for their pleasantness than can be described in words.

"But this is the love that angels have for the opposite sex, because they have only conjugial love, and conjugial love is not possible at the same time as an unchaste love for the opposite sex. Truly conjugial love is a chaste love, and has nothing in common with unchaste love. It is with one and only one of the opposite sex, with all others set aside, for it is a love of the spirit and consequently of the body, and not a love of the body and consequently of the spirit, that is, it is not a love that infests the spirit."

[6] On hearing this, the two adolescent newcomers rejoiced and said, "Then there is still love between the sexes in heaven! What else is conjugial love?"

But to this the angelic spirits replied, "Think more deeply, weigh the matter, and you will see that the love you mean between the sexes is a love outside of marriage, and that conjugial love is altogether different, being as different from the love you mean as the wheat is from the chaff, or better, as different as human life is from animal life.

"If you were to ask women in heaven what love outside of marriage is, I assure you they would respond, 'What is this? What are you saying? How can such a thing that so offends the ears come out of your mouth? How can a love not created in the first place be engendered in a person?'

"If you then asked them what truly conjugial love is, I know they would answer that it is not a love for the opposite sex, but love for one of the sex, which arises only when a young man sees a young woman provided by the Lord, and the young woman the young man, both feeling an inclination to marry kindled in their hearts, and perceiving, the young man that she is for him, and the young woman that he is for her. For love then presents itself to love and causes them to recognize each other, at once joining their souls, and afterwards their minds. From there it enters their hearts, and after the wedding goes on beyond. And so it becomes a full love, which daily grows into union, even to the point that they no longer are two, but virtually one person.

[7] "I know, too, that these same women would swear that they are not acquainted with any other love between the sexes. For they say, 'How can there be love between the sexes unless it is so honest and reciprocal that it aspires to eternal union, which is that the two may be one flesh?'"

To this the angelic spirits added, "In heaven they do not know at all what licentiousness is, not even that it exists or is possible. The angels grow cold with their whole body at unchaste love or love outside of marriage, and on the other hand, they grow warm with their whole body as a result of chaste or conjugial love. In the case of men there, all their sinews sink at the sight of a licentious woman, and grow taut at the sight of their wife."

[8] The three newcomers, hearing this, asked whether there is the same love-making between married partners in heaven as on earth.

The two angelic spirits answered that it is entirely the same. And because they perceived that the newcomers were wanting to know whether they had the same end delights in heaven, they also said that these are entirely the same, but much more blissful, since the perception and sensation of angels is much more exquisite than the perception and sensation of people.

"Moreover, what is the life accompanying that love," the angelic spirits asked, "if it does not stem from an underlying condition of ability? If this ability fails, does that love not fail and cool? Is this power not a real measure, a real progression and real foundation of that love? Is it not its beginning, support and fulfillment?

"It is a universal law that the primary elements in a series exist, subsist and persist on the basis of the final elements. So also with that love. Consequently, without the end delights, there would not be any delights in conjugial love."

[9] The newcomers then asked whether as a result of the end delights of that love, children are born in heaven. And if children were not born, of what use those delights were.

The angelic spirits replied that they do not have any natural offspring, but spiritual offspring.

"And what are spiritual offspring?" the newcomers asked.

The angelic spirits answered, "By the end delights the two partners become more united in a marriage of goodness and truth, and a marriage of goodness and truth is a marriage of love and wisdom, and love and wisdom are the offspring that are born of such a marriage. Because the husband in heaven is a form of wisdom, and his wife is a form of the love of it, and both moreover are spiritual, therefore no other than spiritual offspring can be conceived and begotten there.

"That is why, after experiencing these delights, angels do not become depressed as some do on earth, but joyful, and they have this characteristic as a result of a continual influx of fresh vigor to follow the first - fresh vigor that rejuvenates and at the same time enlightens them. For, all who come into heaven return into the springtime of their youth and into the powers of that age, and so they remain to eternity."

[10] When the three newcomers heard this, they said, "Does it not say in the Word that there are no marriages in heaven, because they are angels?" 2

To this the angelic spirits replied, "Look up into heaven, and you will receive an answer."

They then asked why they should look up into heaven.

"Because," the angelic spirits said, "we have all our interpretations of the Word from heaven. The Word is inwardly spiritual, and the angels, being spiritual, must explain its spiritual meaning."

Then, after some time, heaven opened over their heads and they caught sight of two angels. And the two angels said, "There are marriages in heaven, as on earth, but only in the case of people there who already possess a marriage of goodness and truth. They are the only ones who become angels. Therefore spiritual marriages are meant in the Word, which are marriages of goodness and truth. These spiritual marriages take place on earth and not after death, thus not in heaven. So it is said of the five foolish virgins - even though they, too, were invited to the wedding - that they could not go in, because they did not have a marriage of goodness and truth, since they had no oil, but only lamps. 3

"Goodness is meant by oil, and truth by lamps. And to be given in marriage is to enter into heaven where that marriage is."

The three newcomers were glad to hear this explanation, and were filled with a longing for heaven and the hope of being married there. And they said, "We will strive for morality and a decent and proper life, that we may obtain the object of our prayers."

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Footnotes:

1. See Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35, 36.

2. See Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35, 36.

3. See Matthew 25:1-12.

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(References: Matthew 25:1-10)

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