280. The fourth experience.
I once saw a long way off some walks between avenues of trees, and young men gathered together there in large groups; each of these was a meeting where people were discussing matters relating to wisdom. This took place in the spiritual world. I approached, and on coming near saw one whom the others reverenced as their leader, because he surpassed the rest in wisdom.
On seeing me he said: 'I was surprised when I watched you on your way here and saw you at one time becoming visible to me, at another dropping out of sight; now I saw you, now you vanished. You must surely not be in the same state of life as the people in our country.'
I replied to this with a smile: 'I am no actor, or Vertumnus 1
, but I am by turns sometimes in light and sometimes in shade to your eyes. So here I am both a stranger and native.'
At this the wise man gazed at me and said: 'What you say is unusual and strange. Tell me who you are.'
'I am,' I said, 'in the world where you once were and which you have now left, what is called the natural world. I am also in the world where you now are, what is called the spiritual world. Consequently I am in the natural state and at the same time in the spiritual state, the natural state when with people on earth, the spiritual state when with you. When I am in the natural state, I am invisible to you; when in the spiritual state, I am visible. I have been granted by the Lord the ability to be like this. You as an enlightened man are well aware that a person who belongs to the natural world cannot see one who belongs to the spiritual world, and vice versa. Therefore when I plunge my spirit into the body, you do not see me, but when I release it from the body, you do. This is the result of the distinction between the spiritual and the natural.'
 When he heard me mention the distinction between the spiritual and the natural, he said: 'What distinction is that? Is it not like that between what is purer and less pure? So what is the spiritual but a purer kind of the natural?'
'It is not that sort of distinction,' I replied, 'The natural can never become refined enough to approach the spiritual, so that it becomes spiritual. It is the sort of distinction there is between prior and posterior, which have no finite relationship. For the prior is in the posterior, as the cause is in its effect; and the posterior derives from the prior, as the effect derives from its cause. That is why one is not visible to the Other.'
To this the wise man said: 'I have pondered this distinction, but up to now in vain. I only wish I could grasp it.' 'You will,' I said, 'not only grasp the distinction between the spiritual and the natural, you will actually see it.' Then I went on: 'You are in the spiritual state among your people here, but in the natural state with me. For you talk with your people in the spiritual language, which is shared by every spirit and angel, but you talk with me in my native language. Every spirit or angel who talks with a man speaks his own language, French with a Frenchman, Greek with a Greek, Arabic with an Arab, and so on.
 'So in order to be aware of the distinction between the spiritual and the natural as they appear linguistically, do this: go inside to your people, say something there, and memorise the words; then come back keeping them in mind, and pronounce them in my presence.'
He did so and came back to me with those words on his tongue, and uttered them; they were words completely strange and foreign, not to be found in any language of the natural world. Repeating the experiment several times showed clearly that all in the spiritual world have a spiritual language, which has nothing in common with any natural language. Everyone comes of his own accord into possession of that language after his death. I once also discovered by experience that the actual sound of the spiritual language is so different from that of a natural language, that even a loud spiritual sound is inaudible to a natural person, and so is a natural sound to a spiritual person.
 Later I asked him and the by-standers to go inside to their own people, and write a sentence on a piece of paper, and then to bring the paper out and read it to me. They did so, and came back with the paper in their hands, but when they went to read it, they could not, since the script was merely composed of some letters of the alphabet with curly lines over them, each one of which conveyed as its meaning a particular matter. Since each letter of the alphabet there conveys a meaning, it is obvious why the Lord is called 'alpha and omega'. When they again and again went in, wrote and came back, they learned that the script entailed and comprehended countless things which no natural script can ever express. They were told that this is because the thoughts of the spiritual man are incomprehensible and inexpressible to the natural man, and they cannot be transferred to another script and another language.
 Then, since the by-standers were unwilling to grasp that spiritual thought is so far beyond natural thought, that it is relatively inexpressible, I said to them: 'Carry out an experiment. Go inside to your spiritual community, think of an idea, keep it in mind, and come back and expound it in my presence.'
They went inside, thought and, keeping the thought in mind, came out; and when they went to expound what they had thought, they were unable to do so. For they could not find any idea of natural thought capable of matching an idea of purely spiritual thought, so they could not find any words to express it, for the ideas of thought become words in speech. Thereupon they went back inside, came back, and convinced themselves that spiritual ideas were far above natural ones, inexpressible, unutterable and incomprehensible to the natural man. Because the spiritual ideas excelled the natural ones so much, they said that spiritual ideas or thoughts, compared to natural ones, were ideas of ideas, and thoughts of thoughts, and could therefore express qualities of qualities and affections of affections. It followed that spiritual thoughts were the beginnings and origins of natural thoughts. This also showed that spiritual wisdom is the wisdom of wisdom, and so incapable of expression by anyone, however wise, in the natural world.
 Then they were told from the higher heaven that there is a still more inward or higher wisdom, called celestial, which stands in the same relationship to spiritual wisdom as this does to natural wisdom. These forms of wisdom flow in regularly, depending upon which heaven is concerned, from the Lord's Divine wisdom, which is infinite.
At this point the man conversing with me said: 'I see this, because I have perceived that a single natural idea is a container for many spiritual ideas; and also that a single spiritual idea is a container for many celestial ideas. This leads too to this conclusion, that what is divided becomes not more and more simple, but more and more complex, because it approaches closer and closer to the infinite, in which everything is at infinity.'
 At the conclusion of this conversation I said to the by-standers: 'You see from these three experimental proofs the nature of the distinction between the spiritual and the natural. Likewise, why the natural man is invisible to the spiritual, and the spiritual man to the natural, although either of them has a complete human form. Because of this form it seems to each as if one could see the other. But it is the interiors, which are mental, which constitute that form, and the mind of spirits and angels is composed of spiritual elements, whereas the mind of men, so long as they live in the world, is composed of natural elements.'
After this a voice was heard from the higher heaven saying to one of the by-standers, 'Come up here.' He went up, and on his return he said that the angels had not previously known the differences between the spiritual and the natural, because they had never before been given the opportunity of making the comparison with a person who was simultaneously in both worlds; and these differences can only become known by making a comparison and examining the relationship.
 Before we parted we had another conversation on this subject, and I said that these distinctions arise solely, 'because you in the spiritual world are substantial, not material, and substantial things are the starting points of material things. What is matter but a gathering together of substances? So you are at the level of beginnings and therefore singulars, we, however, are at the level of derivatives and compounds. You are at the level of particulars, we, however, at that of general ideas. Just as general ideas cannot enter into particulars, so natural things, which are material, cannot enter into spiritual things, which are substantial. It is just as a ship's rope cannot enter or be pulled though the eye of a sewing needle, or just as a nerve cannot be introduced into one of the fibres which compose it. This then is the reason why the natural man cannot think the thoughts of the spiritual man, and therefore neither can he express them. So Paul calls what he heard from the third heaven "beyond description."
 'A further point is that thinking spiritually means thinking without using time and space; thinking naturally involves time and space. For every idea of natural thought, but not of spiritual thought, has something of time and space clinging to it. This is because the spiritual world is not in space and time, as is the natural world, though it has the appearance of both of them. Thoughts and perceptions also differ in this respect. For this reason you can think of God's essence and omnipresence from eternity, that is, of God before the creation of the world, because you think about God's essence with no idea of time, and about His omnipresence with no idea of space. Thus you grasp ideas which are far beyond the natural ideas of men.'
 I went on to relate how I had once thought about God's essence and omnipresence from eternity, that is, about God before the creation of the world, and because I could not yet banish space and time from the ideas I thought about, I became worried, since the idea of nature entered my mind in place of God. But I was told: 'Banish the ideas of space and time and you will see.' Then I was granted the power to banish them, and I did see. From that time on I have been able to think about God from eternity, without thinking of nature from eternity, because God is non-temporally in all time and non-spatially in all space, but nature is temporally in all time and spatially in all space. Nature with its time and space must inevitably have a beginning, but not so God, who is not in time and space. Therefore nature is from God, not from eternity, but exists in time together with its properties of time and space.
1. A Roman god believed constantly to change shape.
2 Corinthians 12:2-4)