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Arcana Coelestia #8910

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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8910. 'You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, nor his male slave nor his female slave, nor his ox nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbour's' means that one must be on one's guard against self-love and love of the world, and so one must take care to prevent the evils contained in the preceding commandments from becoming present in the will and consequently going out of it. This is clear from the meaning of 'coveting' as a wanting that springs from an evil love. The reason why 'coveting' has this meaning is that all covetousness or craving exists as the result of some kind of love. For nothing is coveted unless there is a love of it, and therefore covetousness extends as a continuation from some kind of love, in this instance from self-love and love of the world. It is so to speak the life of what those loves breathe, for what an evil kind of love breathes is called covetousness or craving, whereas what a good kind breathes is called desire. The love itself belongs to one of two parts of the mind, which is called the will; for what a person loves, that he wills and intends. but covetousness belongs to both parts, to both the will and the understanding, that is, it is an attribute of the will within the understanding, to be precise. All this shows why it is that the words 'you shall not covet the things that are your neighbour's' mean that one must take care to prevent them from becoming present in the will, since what takes possession of the will becomes the person's own; for, to be sure, the will is the real person.

[2] The world believes that thought is the person. But there are two powers that constitute a person's life - understanding and will - and thought belongs to the understanding, the affection inherent in love being what belongs to the will. Thought without the affection inherent in love does not in any way at all constitute a person's life; but thought springing from such affection, that is, the understanding springing from the will, does constitute it. Those two powers are distinct from each other, which is evident to anyone who stops to reflect on the matter from the consideration that with his understanding a person can perceive that that thing is bad which his will desires, and that that thing is good which his will either does or does not desire. From all this it is plain that the will is the real person, not his thought, except so far as anything passes into it from the will. So it is that things which enter a person's thought but do not pass on through it into his will do not render him unclean; only those which pass through thought on into the will do so. The reason why the latter render a person unclean is that he takes them to himself then and makes them his; for the will, as has been stated, is the real person. The things which become part of his will are said to go into his heart and to go out from there, whereas those which are merely part of his thought are said to go into the mouth and to go out by way of the bowels into the sewer, according to the Lord's words in Matthew,

Not what enters the mouth renders a person unclean, but what comes out of the mouth, this renders the person unclean. Everything that goes into the mouth departs into the bowels and is cast out into the sewer. But the things which come out of the mouth come out of the heart, and these render a person unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, ravishments, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. Matthew 15:11, 17-19.

[3] From these words as from all the others the nature of the Lord's manner of speaking becomes clear. That is, its nature was such that internal or spiritual matters were meant, but they were expressed by means of external or natural things and in accordance with correspondences. For the mouth corresponds to thought, and so do all parts of the mouth, such as the lips, tongue, and throat, while the heart corresponds to the affection inherent in love, and so to the will. For the correspondence of the heart to these, see 2930, 3313, 3883-3896, 7542. Consequently 'entering the mouth' is entering thought, and 'going out of the heart' is going out of the will. 'Departing into the bowels and being cast out into the sewer (or latrine)' is going away into hell; for the bowels correspond to the way to hell, while the sewer or latrine corresponds to hell itself. Hell also in the Word is called 'the latrine'. All this shows what is meant by 'everything that goes into the mouth departs into the bowels and is cast out into the sewer', namely that evil and falsity are introduced into a person's thought by hell and are discharged back there again. Such evil and falsity cannot render a person unclean because they are discharged from him. For a person cannot help thinking what is evil, but he can refrain from doing it. As soon however as he receives evil from his thought into his will it does not go out but enters into him; and this is said 'to enter the heart'. The things that go out from here are what render him unclean; for what a person desires in his will goes out into speech and action, so far as external restraints do not inhibit him, those restraints being fear of the law, and fear of the loss of reputation, position, gain, or life. From all this it is now evident that 'you shall not covet' means that one must take care to prevent evils from becoming present in the will and consequently going out of it.

[4] The fact that 'covetousness' is a craving or lusting on the part of the will, and so of the heart, is also clear from the Lord's words in Matthew,

You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that if anyone looks at a woman 1 so that he lusts after her he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28.

'Lusting for' is used here to mean desiring in the will, and - but for the fears acting as external restraints - also doing. This is why it says that one who looks at a woman so that he lusts after her has committed adultery with her in his heart.

[5] Lusting after what is evil is also meant by 'the right eye causing one to stumble', and lusting after what is false by 'the right hand causing one to stumble' in the Lord's words, again in Matthew,

If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you; for it will be better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body be cast into gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away from you; for it will be better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body be cast into gehenna. Matthew 5:29-30.

From these words the Lord's way of saying things is again clear. That is to say, He was speaking from the Divine, as in every other place in the Word, in such a way that He expressed inward and heavenly matters through outward or natural ones in accordance with correspondences. In this instance He expressed an affection for evil or lusting after it by 'the right eye causing one to stumble', and an affection for falsity or lusting after it by 'the right hand causing one to stumble'. For the eye corresponds to faith, the left eye to the truth of faith, and the right eye to the good of faith, or in the contrary sense to the evil of faith, so that 'the right eye causing one to stumble' corresponds to lusting after what is evil, 4403-4421, 4523-4534. But the hand corresponds to the power that truth possesses, the right hand to the power of truth coming from good, or in the contrary sense the power of falsity coming from evil, so that 'the right hand causing one to stumble' corresponds to a lusting after it, 3091, 4931-4937, 8281. 'Gehenna' is the hell of lusts, cravings, or covetousness. Anyone may see that here 'the right eye' was not used to mean the right eye or that it was to be plucked out; also that 'the right hand' was not used to mean the right hand or that it was to be cut off, but that something other was meant. What this is cannot be known unless one knows what is really meant by 'the eye', in particular by 'the right eye', also what is meant by 'the hand', and in particular by 'the right hand', as well as what 'causing to stumble' really means. Nor can the meaning of these expressions be known except from the internal sense.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3563)


[6] Lusts, cravings, or covetous desires are what spring from an evil will, thus from a heart that is such; and according to the Lord's words in Matthew 15:19, murders, adulteries, ravishments, thefts, false witness, blasphemies come out of the heart or will, that is, the kinds of evils contained in the preceding commandments of the Decalogue. In all this lies the reason for saying that this - 'you must not covet the things which are your neighbour's' - means that one must take care to prevent the evils contained in the ''receding commandments from becoming present in the will and consequently going out of it. The reason why 'you shall not covet the things which are your neighbour's' also means that one must be on one's guard against self-love and love of the world is that all the evils composing covetousness well up from those loves as their source, see 2045, 7178, 7255, 7366 7377, 7488, 8318, 8678.

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Footnotes:

1. Following the version of Sebastian Schmidt Swedenborg adds a word which implies that the woman is another man's wife.

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(References: Arcana Coelestia 7366-7377; Exodus 20:17; Matthew 5:27-30)

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Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 8925, 9050, 9385, 9398, 9460, 9817, 10301, 10336

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 81


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 109, 167


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 Spiritual Paths
Each person is on a spiritual journey. The actions a person chooses lead the person closer to heaven or to hell.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17


Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.

Commentary

 

What is Evil?      

The Torment of Saint Anthony, by Michelangelo

Evil is the inversion of what is good. It is basically to receive life from the Lord, as all created beings do, yet to turn it primarily towards oneself, making our self the only focus. In the process of doing this, we engender fear, hatred and the love of dominating others. The state of hell is based on evil and its various manifestations.

But if the Lord is good and perfect, how did He let evil come to exist? Why does He let it continue to exist? The answer to these questions actually has to do with what the Lord is, in essence, and what His goals are.

The essence of the Lord - what He's made of; what he actually is - is love. It's perfect love, boundless and pure and complete. Love, of course, innately desires an object. We can't just love in a vacuum; we want to love someone or something, and in loving them we want to be close to them and conjoined with them. To fulfill Himself, then, the Lord created the universe and ultimately us so that he could have something outside Himself to love.

The Lord's goal for us, then, is to accept His love and to be conjoined with him. For that relationship to work, though, there are two essential elements. First, we have to have a choice; if we didn't have a choice it would be compulsion, not love, and would be no more meaningful than the instinctive love a dog has for its master. Second, we have to remain separate from the Lord; if we became part of Him, he would be loving Himself.

The first of those elements creates the potential for evil to exist. To give us a choice, the Lord created us with the ability to refocus His love and turn it on ourselves - to use the power and life He freely gives us to love and worship ourselves instead of loving and worshipping Him. That is pretty much the definition of evil, and the Writings tell us that it is the state we are all in from birth and the state we would all return to instantly if it were not for the loving influence of the Lord.

Many find that idea upsetting. Why would the Lord let us be born into evil? Shouldn't we be essentially neutral if we are to have a choice? And surely we can't be saying that babies are evil!

In a way, though, the fact that we're born into evil is the Lord's way of balancing things out. He is pouring love on us constantly, leading us toward good in countless ways; if we were not innately evil we would be overwhelmed by His love and would lose our ability to choose. As for babies, the Writings do say that babies and young children have a degree of natural goodness, which shows as a love for their parents and kindness toward other children. As they get older and begin to be more rational, the Lord draws this into their interiors so He can continue to affect them as they grow. They are also innocent, lacking the ability to choose either good or evil.

But for all their innocence and sweetness and the powerful love they inspire in us, children are, if you think about it, deeply self-centered. And that self-centered state often persists through adolescence into adulthood, when real choices begin.

This means that we all enter adulthood with some degree of self-love, love of wealth, love of dominating others, love of being in charge, pride in our intelligence and a sense of entitlement. It might not be dominant, but it's there. What do we do?

Well, remember that the Lord is pouring love on us constantly; our problem is that we are full of evils and there's no place for that love to attach itself. What we need to do, then, is start attacking those evils. If we can uproot them, the Lord will fill the space with love.

And that, the Writings tell us, is the work of our lifetimes. We are called on to learn what is good and use that knowledge to shun evils - to push them aside so the Lord can replace them with desires for good. Do it long enough and diligently enough and the Lord will set the evils aside permanently and fill us with love – the state of angels. We will then go to a society in heaven to be with people whose loves are similar to ours.

There are a few points worth making about this process:

- It is slow. Our loves are our life, so if the Lord simply took all our evils away at once it would kill us. It's a process.

- We have to know evil to fight it. The Lord has given us the capacity to know what is right even while we desire what is wrong; we can use that power to examine ourselves and identify our evils so we can combat them.

- Temptation is key. The only way to really uproot an evil love is to fight it, and the battle can only come when that evil desire is active, eating at us, calling to us, trying to drag us away. This is not to say we should seek temptation – the Lord will provide it at the right time – but we can recognize it as an opportunity to grow spiritually.

- We can't make ourselves good. Only the Lord can do that; our part is to try not to be bad and ask for His help.

- We're not necessarily responsible for evil thoughts. Just as the Lord is constantly leading us toward goodness and light, the hells also want us to join their ranks in evil and darkness. One way they do this is by bombarding our minds with evil thoughts. But our thoughts are not our life; our loves are. If we let evil thoughts go on by us and don't make them part of what we intend to do, we're not responsible for them.

- We're not necessarily reponsible for evil intentions or actions. Some people are raised without any knowledge of right and wrong, and have no idea that things they desire are evil. Those evils don't become a permanent part of them unless they embrace them while knowing they are wrong.

And if we fail, then what? Well, that's a mirror image of the "going-to-heaven" process – if we choose to embrace evils and knowingly make them our own, we will ultimately go to hell to be with others who have similar evil loves.

But here's an interesting point: The Writings say that the Lord never really takes our evils away, even if we become angels in heaven. He pushes them aside and negates their power, but he doesn't remove them. Why?

The answer lies in the second of the two elements we mentioned earlier, that we have to stay separate from the Lord in order to be loved by Him. If the Lord actually removed our evils and made us fully pure and good, He would also remove the element that makes us separate, the part of ourselves that is not part of the Lord. The Lord can't be evil, so the evil in us will always be outside Him. This maintains our identity even in the most exalted angelic state we could reach.

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