Originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s newsletter Logos, in the spring of 2008.
As a prelude to the forthcoming release of the New Century Edition Secrets of Heaven volume 1, the Swedenborg Foundation has printed the first chapter of the volume as a stand-alone piece.
Chapter 1 of Secrets of Heaven is Swedenborg’s commentary on the first chapter of Genesis, which describes the correspondence of the six days of creation with the six stages of a person’s spiritual regeneration.
Before we regenerate, or achieve a spiritual life, we are in darkness and void, ignorant of the ways of the Lord. In the first stage, we realize that goodness and truth come from the Lord. In the next step, we realize the distinction between our inner and outer being; that is, between our spiritual lives and our secular lives. We begin to seek knowledge of truth and goodness and behave in a devout way. In the fourth stage, this “faith of the intellect” is replaced by faith of the heart—emotion trumps understanding. In the fifth stage, we start to speak and act from faith, to truly manifest the love of God. Finally, in the last stage, we become spiritual beings.
The sixty-four-page booklet containing this chapter was printed with a brief biography of Swedenborg, making it a good introduction for those who are not familiar with Swedenborg’s writings. The booklet was distributed to scholars at the recent American Academy of Religion/Society for Biblical Literature conference, and individual copies are available free of charge by contacting the Foundation. (There is a nominal charge of $0.50 per copy plus shipping and handling for orders of more than five copies.)
“To peruse the pages of Secrets of Heaven is to make a spiritual journey with one of the world’s most remarkable visionaries.”
Swedenborg’s own introduction to Secrets of Heaven, excerpted from the sample chapter:
The Word in the Old Testament contains secrets of heaven, and every single aspect of it has to do with the Lord, his heaven, the church, faith, and all the tenets of faith; but not a single person sees this in the letter. In the letter, or literal meaning, people see only that it deals for the most part with the external facts of the Jewish religion.
The truth is, however, that every part of the Old Testament holds an inner message. Except at a very few points, those inner depths never show on the surface. The exceptions are concepts that the Lord revealed and explained to the apostles, such as the fact that the sacrifices symbolize the Lord, and that the land of Canaan and Jerusalem symbolize heaven (which is why it is called the heavenly Canaan or Jerusalem [Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:16; 12:22; Revelation 21:2, 10]), as does Paradise.
The Christian world, though, remains deeply ignorant of the fact that each and every detail down to the smallest—even down to the tiniest jot—enfolds and symbolizes spiritual and heavenly matters; and because it lacks such knowledge, it also lacks much interest in the Old Testament.
Still, Christians can come to a proper understanding if they reflect on a single notion: that since the Word is the Lord’s and comes from him, it could not possibly exist unless it held within it the kinds of things that have to do with heaven, the church, and faith. Otherwise it could not be called the Lord’s Word, nor could it be said to contain any life. Where, after all, does life come from if not from the properties of life? That is, if not from the fact that every single thing in the Word relates to the Lord, who is truly life itself? Whatever does not look to him at some deeper level, then, is without life; in fact, if a single expression in the Word does not embody or reflect him in its own way, it is not divine.
Without this interior life, the Word in its letter is dead. It resembles a human being, in that a human has an outward self and an inward one, as the Christian world knows. The outer being, separated from the inner, is just a body and so is dead, but the inward being is what lives and allows the outward being to live. The inner being is a person’s soul. In the same way the Word, regarded from a purely literal standpoint, is a body without a soul.
The Word’s literal meaning alone, when it monopolizes our thinking, can never provide a view of the inner contents. Take for example this first chapter of Genesis. The literal meaning by itself offers no clue that it is speaking of anything but the world’s creation, the Garden of Eden (Paradise), and Adam, the first human ever created. Who supposes anything else?
The wisdom hidden in these details (and never before revealed) will be clear enough from what follows. The inner sense of the first chapter of Genesis deals in general with the process that creates us anew—that is to say, with regeneration—and in particular with the very earliest church; and it does so in such a way that not even the smallest syllable fails to represent, symbolize, and incorporate this meaning.
But without the Lord’s aid not a soul can possibly see that this is the case. As a result, it is proper to reveal in these preliminaries that the Lord in his divine mercy has granted me the opportunity for several years now, without break or interruption, to keep company with spirits and angels, to hear them talking, and to speak with them in turn. Consequently I have been able to see and hear the most amazing things in the other life, which have never before come into people’s awareness or thought.
In that world I have been taught about the different kinds of spirits, the situation of souls after death, hell (or the regrettable state of the faithless), and heaven (or the blissful state of the faithful). In particular I have learned what is taught in the faith acknowledged by the whole of heaven. All of these topics will, with the Lord’s divine mercy, be explored further in what follows.
“The critical introductions to this breakthrough edition of Swedenborg’s most foundational work shed new light on the rich design of Swedenborg’s magnum opus, and the graceful translation brings the reader into direct engagement with Swedenborg’s thought. Never before has Swedenborg’s biblical exegesis been offered to the public in such an accessible fashion.”—James Lawrence, Professor, Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley