THE SOUL AND ITS TRUTHS
An address by the Rt. Rev. Peter M. Buss
General Church - Education Council
June 23, 2004
How do you prove religious truths? There is no proof. You cannot see God, visit the after-life, prove that married love is eternal, that the souls of men and women are eternally different and perfectly complementary.
How do adults know that these are true? The deepest answer is that there is a message from within, from our souls, that lets us see that truth is true.
How do we choose what is good? What power can cause us to choose the inconvenient good over the much more convenient evil? What causes a mother to waken out of exhausted sleep at the cry of a child and go to its help? What causes a normally selfish man to put himself to great inconvenience for a distressed friend? The deepest answer is that the soul gives us the freedom to make these choices, and it inspires a desire to make the right choice.
How do little children respond to truths and see that they are good? Well, we might say, they tend to believe what trusted adults tell them. True. Or, we may say, the angels give them a delight in truths. Very true. But the deepest secret lies in their own souls. The thing the Writings call intellectual truth or celestial truth is speaking to them when they hear the truth their teachers speak. Perception is teaching them.
What do we mean by the soul?
In general, the Latin word refers to what is living, and thus often to the spirit that lives after death (Divine Love and Wisdom 394; cf 379; 383). In one passage the Writings say that the soul of something is just whatever gives it life. Thus, the soul of the body is its spirit, for from this the body lives. But the soul of the spirit is still more internal life, from which it has wisdom and understanding (Arcana Coelestia 2930).
The way I plan to use this term is that the soul is the inmost part of us, that unpervertable entrance of the Lord into us. This is the way the term is used very often, as for example in the following passage. Every person consists of three components which follow in order in him: soul, mind, and body. The inmost one is his soul. The intermediate one is his mind. And the outmost one is his body. Everything that flows into a person from the Lord flows first into his inmost component, which is the soul, and descends from there into his intermediate component, which is the mind, and through this into his outmost component, which is the body (Conjugial Love 101; cf. 158, 206, et al).
The degrees of creation
There are three amazing passages in The Arcana Coelestia which speak of the way in which the Lord creates human life on different levels, and how He accommodates Himself to them. The following diagram is an interpretation of Arcana Coelestia 1999, 7270, 8443.
THE SIX DEGREES OF TRUTH DIVINE IN CREATION: WHAT DEGREE OF THE MIND IS IN EACH
FIRST: In the first radiant belt, above the heavens
The human internal, or soul
SECOND: In the second radiant belt, above the heavens
The truth from the internal, or intellectual truth. Not conscious
THIRD: In the celestial heaven
The celestial or inmost rational
FOURTH: In the spiritual heaven
The spiritual or interior rational
FIFTH: In the natural heaven
The genuine natural rational or the external rational
SIXTH: On earth - specifically in the Word and thus in the church
The natural, divided into three degrees or planes:
A. The merely natural rational
B. The middle natural
C. The sensual
The Writings teach that the Divine flowing from the Lord is at first too full of love and wisdom to be received by any conscious thought and feeling. Therefore, in the heaven of human internals (Arcana Coelestia 1999) or the two radiant belts around the spiritual sun (Arcana Coelestia 7270) there are degrees of life which are not conscious, but through which the Lord acts into us. These are the realms of the soul.
The soul is the inmost dwelling place of the Lord in us. It is made of superior spiritual substances, and thus receives influx directly from God (Interaction of the Soul and Body 8). It is above consciousness. It is into the soul that the conjugial of love and wisdom or good and truth from the Lord first flows. They are imperceptible and hence ineffable, being delights of peace and at the same time of innocence. In their descent they become more and more perceptible - in the higher regions of the minds as blessings, in the lower as happiness, and in the bosom as the delights from these (Conjugial Love 69. See also Conjugial Love 16, 46, 69, 183, 203, 236, 302).
The important thing is that there is this hallowed place where the Lord can touch us, and we can't spoil it. The soul is in the image and likeness of God. The Divine truth flowing in from Him enters the soul and causes the soul to be what it is (Arcana Coelestia 6115:3). It is the love and wisdom from the Lord in us (Divine Love and Wisdom 395).
It is the soul that makes the body. Think of the incredible way in which the body operates - almost as if it is wise from itself. The Writings describe it thus: Unless the soul in universal and in singular flowed into the viscera of the body, nothing could take place in the body with order and regularity; but when the soul flows in singularly and thus universally then all things are set in order as if of themselves (Arcana Coelestia 6338:2; cf Arcana Coelestia 3570:4; 4727:2; Divine Love and Wisdom 269). Thus, conjugial love is implanted in the soul (Conjugial Love 46, 69, 183, 203, 236, 302). If fact there it is in its spiritual holiness and purity longing to flow down into our minds and bodies (Conjugial Love 482). For the genesis of conjugial love is the marriage of good and truth, and these are one in the soul. They are only separated as they descend lower into the mind, and are reintegrated in those who follow the Lord (Interaction of the Soul and Body 8e).
The soul is not life itself, but the first receptacle (Arcana Coelestia 1999, 1940; 2004; 2019; 2025:4). He gives life to us as if it were our own (Arcana Coelestia 1594:5). The soul is a form of all things pertaining to love, and all things pertaining to wisdom. Being the inmost human, it is the person himself, and therefore its form is the human form in all fullness and perfection. Yet it is not life but the nearest receptacle of life from God, and thus the dwelling-place of God (Conjugial Love 315).
All the love and all the wisdom....
Therefore, the soul is most loving and most wise. All the love of which we are capable has been written on our souls. That love has truth within it, married to it. It is called celestial truth, and is represented by Sarah in the Word, while Abraham represents celestial good. Celestial truth is said to be beauty itself (Arcana Coelestia 1470; cf 1598).
This love wisdom - though separated as they flow on down (See Interaction of the Soul and Body 8) - unceasingly look for an opportunity to be received in the mind. For until we willingly receive it, a love from the soul is not ours, but is in potential.
So, what do we receive from the soul? The Writings make it clear that the ability to be human comes from there, and the twin faculties that make humanity - freedom and rationality - flow from it. In addition, all delights spring from the soul, for the Lord through the soul activates them (Conjugial Love 461). Otherwise there would be no delight in the mind and body.
And what about our reception of truth? Well, living truth is from the soul. Knowledges and memories are not truths, the Writings say, they are receptacles of the living truth that flows from within (Arcana Coelestia 1469). And especially does the soul rejoice in the deepest truths - about the Lord and His kingdom, about love to Him and mutual love. These truths, the Lord says, become happy in the internal man, and delightful in the external man (Arcana Coelestia 1470; cf also 1495).
In summary, the soul is constantly seeking for a home for its loves and insights in the mind. To that end it inflows into true affections and vivifies them, and into knowledges which are genuine and gives them life. This is the meaning of the strong statement in the Writings that all instruction is simply an opening of the way for heavenly things to inflow. When the receptacles are there in the mind, the soul flows down and gives them life (Arcana Coelestia 1495) That is an essential principle of our educational philosophy. We don't teach. We open the way for the Lord to teach through the souls of our students.
When there is disorder in the mind, the soul won't support it, and separates itself from it. One passage simply points out that all external loves, if considered to be paramount, try then to dominate higher ones, and the higher ones won't allow it. They withdraw (Conjugial Love 235). The soul won't be ruled by the mind, so it cannot send down its messages, and this - a frightening, and inevitable consequence - produces separation from the Lord (Arcana Coelestia 1999:3). The soul can look down on disorder in the mind and dissents and disagrees with it (Arcana Coelestia 1999).
What happens then? Two things. First, when the soul as it were withdraws, then true delight is no longer felt. The pleasure we then feel is from some outside source - not from the true source of all love and joy but from some ancillary or collateral source. When the Lord gives us the power to love and we choose to love ourselves above others, then we are cut off from the purpose of that gift. The result is coldness - an absence of the internal warmth of life. As the Writings put it with regard to married love, the striving seated in souls for that love cant affect the person, and coldness results (Conjugial Love 238; 240, 236).
There is a second result. Because the soul is still trying to send its messages into the mind, there is a conflict between its activity and what a person has chosen. Evil is contrary to order, and the soul is trying all the time to produce order. So, the soul keeps sending its message of discontent into the mind, and that produces a state of unrest, and eventually of undelight in the evil one has chosen.
An ancient Jewish poet said, Evil shall wax old with them that glory therein (Ecclesiasticus: Book of Sirach 11:16). Swedenborg reflected in his work "The Rational Psychology" that the soul (or pure intellect) opposes disorder or evil in the mind and produces a loathing for that evil. This is reflected in the fact that evil delights lose their charm, and people plunge into deeper and deeper perversions.
An illustration of this is that the devils of hell cannot enjoy their evils for long. The misers close to hell pretend that they possess all the wealth of the kingdom, but after a while they lose the ability to enjoy this phantasy, and they have to return to work. Through use of some kind, the soul sends new power into their minds, which they immediately pervert and now they can enjoy their evils again - for a short time. Then it grows cold again, and they have to go back to work once again. For it is only in use that the soul can continue to send messages to their minds (See Conjugial Love 268).
Two things separate the soul from the mind. The first is ignorance or unbelief. Far more important is the choice to follow the loves of self and the world, which when we get them out of order stand against the very pulse of heaven - that we should love the Lord and our neighbor (Arcana Coelestia 1594:1-3; cf. Conjugial Love 236, 238, 240).
Perhaps one may also say that the soul leads from without when there is disorder. The world that the Lord created is generally in order, and the Word itself is perfectly in order, and when these come into the mind, especially through sight and hearing (Arcana Coelestia 2557), the soul recognizes them. Then the person sees that his life and his feelings are discordant with what he is learning, and there is a feeling of fear or anxiety or perhaps depression - which spur him to reflect and perhaps repent (see Arcana Coelestia 5470).
The important thing to realize is that the soul is always seeking to express itself in the mind and body. A person's soul, being in the marriage of good and truth, is not only in a perpetual striving for union but also in a perpetual striving to be fruitful and produce a likeness of itself (Conjugial Love 355). When it can, there is peace. If it can't, then there cannot be peace.
Application to education
The love of the soul is turned into the natural delight in learning with a little child (Arcana Coelestia 1472; 1480). This is because learning is a means to the end of charity. Or, as the Writings say, learning produces first the ability to think, then the power to see the use of a truth, and finally the power to use it (Arcana Coelestia 1487).
So a little child feels a delight in sensing things. She or he didn't make that delight. That is the first touch of the soul. As a baby grows it finds an innocent joy in reaching out towards the world, feeling, touching, tasting, seeing, hearing. His joy in his senses is from his soul. He is learning. He is recognizing things - and it is the wisdom of the soul that recognizes them!
As he grows older he begins to want to know things. He enjoys learning to read and write, he delights in stories that tell him of lands he has never seen, events that he has not heard before. He imagines things, and often lives in a world of make-believe. He plays, and develops a kind of knowledge - or skill.
Why do children develop as they do? We take it for granted. It is because his soul is causing him to delight in learning. It is so very wise! It knows what things he cannot yet understand or appreciate, so it does not yet inspire a delight in those things. Have you wondered why all children show no interest in certain moral issues, or in reasoning or politics, or indeed in working eight hours a day when they are eight, but develop some of these things later? Well, it is partly because the child does not have the background to comprehend much of these things, but also because the soul takes care that first delights come first, and it is most sensitive to the ability of the mind to respond to it. With incredible wisdom it inspires the right affections in each age for the mind to grow.
So gently does the Lord allow the child's mind to grow. Working through the soul, He causes it to develop in an orderly way. As knowledges fill the mind the young boy or girl begins to be ready to bring various facts together, to reflect on them and to begin to reason about them. Before that he doesn't reflect. Now he begins to be able to do so, and to draw conclusions for himself. Does he always use that power wisely? Of course not, but the Lord works through the soul, and through angels and good spirits even in negative states. The soul works with the young man's pride and even his obstinacy to make him hone his reasoning skills and to seek for excellence in whatever field he is good at. Then it bends him, ever so slowly, towards wisdom and humility and the service of others.
There are many things that obstruct the work of the soul. If what a child is being taught is not true or what he is experiencing is not good, then there is a barrier to its work, and it labors to get its message through to the mind. On the other hand, when the child is learning good and true things in life, there is a beautiful harmony between the soul and the mind. The child's mind is growing in harmony with his own soul. It has truths in it which the soul can touch.
As we look at certain truths or falsities, think of the fact that the soul itself already knows the truth. It is wise; the Lord has implanted both love and its wisdom there. It does not teach directly, but it senses falsity in the mind and there is a lack of harmony with the soul whenever falsity is taught.
You can go to school in this world and learn all about Geography and nature and biology and these studies can illustrate how God made the earth. If so, the soul is delighted as a child learns these knowledges. It senses the truth in them, it supports them, it gives the child a deep delight in learning them.
You can go to school and learn the same things, yet they exclude the idea of God. They make the child feel that the universe happened by accident, that the original form of nature was chaotic, unplanned, that the disorders of nature point of harshness in creation, not to a loving God. If a child is taught this, his soul grieves. It can't work together with the mind as it wishes. How can the soul, which is the Lord's first gift to us, rejoice in knowledges which deny Him?
Take another kind of falsity. People are sometimes taught that if they do something wrong God is looking for a way to punish them. Therefore, if they get sick or if a loved one dies they assume it is because God was angry with them for some evil and this is their punishment. That's not true. The Lord doesn't dream up cruel ways to punish His children. But if a loved one dies in an accident, and a person believes this was Gods way of punishing her, there is a barrier to the deepest healing powers from within.
Wherever there is grief the soul labors to heal. Its work is so much harder when people are oppressed by false notions. It doesn't have the corresponding truth in the lower mind with which to work. But if a person loses a loved one, and knows the true God as a loving, merciful One who works every second to bring good, even despite evil; if she knows that the Lord provides true and everlasting happiness to His faithful children and that tragedy is only for a period of time, she can be healed. Her soul can find these truths, truths that harmonize with its own wisdom, and slowly bring peace back to the mind.
We can teach a student the Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would that they do to you. But we can teach it backwards. We can make him think that being nice to others is a good plan because others will be nice back to him. The soul cannot rejoice in teaching like that; but it does rejoice if he learns that it is good to treat others in a way that he would like to be treated.
When the teaching is true, there is a harmony between the soul and the mind. The person has a peace with him, peace between his deepest sensitivities and those things he is being taught. That doesn't mean he won't have to fight battles in life, or that everything will be plain sailing. But what it does mean is that those who teach him on earth are doing the same kind of work that the heavens and his own soul are doing. They are making it easier for him to find the path to heaven and to choose it himself.
And, of course, the wonder of the Lord's glorification is that the truth of the Word He made flesh is perfectly attuned to that life that inflows through the soul. It is that truth which the soul recognizes as its God, and it worships it.
That is why in the New Church we feel so very deeply about the proper education of our children. We want to work together with the Lord Himself in guiding our children's minds, so that He and the child's soul, and the truths of the Word and the truths of nature may be in harmony.
What more precious gift can we give to our children than truths which the soul can reach down and touch? It can make them live, make them delightful, cause them to grow strong. What better way can we show our love for them than by allowing them to learn things which delight their deepest beings, and induce a harmony on the mind?
We are told that the truths which the soul loves above all are those which teach mutual love and charity (Arcana Coelestia 1999). That should be the goal in all that we introduce them to - for all knowledge looks to love and to use. It is a momentous challenge, for we are very ordinary people, prone to all the uncharitable failings there are. We are bound to look at our efforts and at the many times we don't come anywhere close to such an ideal, and get discouraged. We know that our goal should be that mutual love is taught in all we say and do: that is a large challenge.
What we don't see is the secret, the deep success of our teaching if we are sincere. It must often seem that all we do is teach and instruct, and maybe the children do get these deep messages and maybe they don't. But we wonder what we've done to affect the outcome.
To encourage us the Lord has told us of the incredible effect on the mind if it is the truth that is taught, with charity. It does matter. It matters very much, for when we teach the truth, from a love of truth and the goodness it produces, the result far exceeds anything we did. We communicate an idea and a feeling about it. But the heavens and the soul and the Lord Himself take over. They take that truth and store it up safe and sound. They give it a delight. They arrange it in the proper place of the mind so that it is there, ready for use at the appropriate time.
So, when the child becomes a young man or woman and decides to follow the Lord there are riches beyond compare present to speed her or him on the way. That is what we are a part of doing.
The education of our children in the truth - any truth, whether natural or spiritual - if done with gentleness and the sphere of mutual love, bears fruit beyond our wildest dreams. There are forces mightier by far than we are which ensure that. And we do have a power - to let our children drift through the world, learning values sometimes true, sometimes false, learning about the world without any connection to Him who made the world - or to dedicate ourselves to providing them with the truths which the soul can touch and quicken to all eternity. It makes a difference!
This is our dream. And in seeing the effect on the minds of those we teach we find our reward. Whoever gives to one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward (Matthew 10:42).