Conjugial Love is perhaps Swedenborg’s most controversial work. Following up his consistently maintained theological stance that angels are not a separately created race of genderless beings, Swedenborg asserts that gender characteristics are part of one’s spiritual substance and thus survive death. In contrast to most Christian thinkers, he says not only that there are marriages in heaven, but that such unions involve supremely pleasurable sexual experiences. Here marriage is linked to the deep substructure of the universe by correspondence (Swedenborg’s system of interaction between the spiritual and the material) and achieves a preeminence rarely accorded it today. For example, in Swedenborg’s view, chastity is an attribute that can be possessed to a greater degree by the married than by the celibate.
Idealistic in placing a premium on sexual abstinence before marriage and monogamy afterward, the work also takes a realistic look at the dark aspects of human sexuality. Though its eighteenth-century perspective naturally provides challenges for the twenty-first century reader, Conjugial Love is in many respects a powerful advocate of the equality of the sexes and of the possibility of lasting, and even ever-increasing, love between married partners.