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In his exploration of the fundamental nature of the cosmos, eighteenth-century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg took a moment to have a look at Marriage Love. Join hosts Curtis Childs and Jonathan Rose to find out why.
Jonathan believes that what makes a good relationship is the same stuff that makes a good person: put other people ahead of yourself, assume positive intent, monitor your behavior, and be willing to make sacrifices.
For Curtis, love is all about setting aside selfish things. Love looks like living for someone else—no matter what you might get in return. And at the same time, you’ve got to be willing to acknowledge when someone else is trying their best, even if they fall short.
Swedenborg Book Club
Marriage Love (aka – Conjugial Love, Married Love, or Love in Marriage) takes readers through not only “the delights of wisdom concerning marriage love” but also “the pleasures of insanity concerning promiscuous desire,” not unlike the way Heaven and Hellis structured.
A headline for Marriage Love might go a little something like this:
“The spiritual underpinnings of earthly relationships”
While there are many self-help books that deal with the nature of relationships, Swedenborg talks about relationships as they pertain to God and heaven. In some ways, every relationship we have can tell us something about the cosmic order of things.
So what’s inside?
Marriage Love stands out from a lot of Swedenborg’s other works in that it’s not directly about things acknowledged as spiritual in most places. He wrote it as an 80-year-old bachelor, yet he still saw marriage as an integral piece of the puzzle.
Throughout the years, Marriage Love has been read in entirely different ways, and the book remains as controversial today as it has been since it was written in 1768.
Swedenborg opens the book with a sort of disclaimer about his spiritual experiences:
I anticipate that many who read the following descriptions and the accounts at the ends of the succeeding chapters will believe they are figments of my imagination. I swear in truth, however, that they are not inventions, but actual occurrences to which I was witness. Nor were they witnessed in any condition of unconsciousness but in a state of full wakefulness. For it has pleased the Lord to manifest Himself to me and send me to teach the doctrines that will be doctrines of the New Church, the church meant by the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. To this end He has opened the inner faculties of my mind and spirit. As a result, it has been made possible for me to be in the spiritual world with angels and at the same time in the natural world with [people], and this now for twenty-five years.
And he ends it with the following conclusion:
That one ought not to take the appearances in marriages or the appearances in acts of licentiousness and infer from them [that] someone [does or does not have] conjugial love.
To get a sense of the scope of the material, we’ll take a look at three relevant passages.
An earthly person desires and longs merely for superficial connections and the physical pleasures that go with them; but the spiritual person desires and longs for a deeper connection and the spiritual well-being that goes with it, and realizes that this can happen only with one wife with whom he can be perpetually more and more joined into one person. The more closely they are joined, the more he notices his well-being is increasing in the same degree, and this continues to eternity. The earthly person, however, does not think this way, and that is why we now specify that it is marriage love that continues for people who go to heaven, namely, those who have become spiritually minded on earth. (Marriage Love §38)
So to have a good relationship, it’s important to have a spiritual attitude toward life. Swedenborg talks a lot about what we now might call “soul mates”—the idea that one couple could stay married for eternity in the spiritual realm.
I need first to make clear what promiscuous desire in this chapter means. It does not mean the desire of fornication that precedes marriage or that happens after one’s partner has died. . . . It does not mean the milder forms of adultery or even the more serious forms that are followed by a return to one’s senses, since the latter do not end up being opposed to marriage love and the former are not opposed. . . . Rather, the kind of promiscuous desire that is in opposition to marriage love in this case means a desire to commit adultery when we do not regard it as a sin, as evil, or as shamefully irrational, but regard it as acceptable and excusable. This kind of promiscuous desire not only equates itself with marriage love, it even diminishes that love, destroys it, and ultimately renders it nauseating. . . . By promiscuous desire I mean a desire to commit adultery that is destructive of marriage love. (Marriage Love §§423, 424)
Swedenborg had to be very clear in his use of terminology when describing marriage love and its opposite, as his understanding of these ideas does not always agree with how they are traditionally understood.
The states of mind characteristic of marriage love are innocence, peace, serenity, a most profound friendship, absolute trust, and the mutual desire in soul and heart to do everything good for the other person. All these lead to bliss, happiness, gladness, and pleasure, and the eternal enjoyment of these leads to heavenly happiness. The reason all these states of mind occur in and therefore as a result of marriage love is that their source is the marriage of goodness and truth, and this marriage comes from the Lord. It is the nature of love to want to share its joy with another whom it loves deeply, indeed to bring joy to that individual and in so doing actually secure its own joy. How much more infinitely is this true, then, of the divine love the Lord has for us, whom he has created as vessels capable of receiving the love and wisdom that radiate from him. (Marriage Love §180)
While some elements of this eighteenth-century perspective can feel dated, it’s still an insightful view into how the universe works, how spiritual growth can be achieved, and how relationships can improve.
During this live show, viewers chatted in their questions. Just click a question to see the answer:
- How can we overcome self ego and pride?
- Does Swedenborg ever discuss a way to evaluate how we are doing on our spiritual journey in receiving divine love and wisdom?
- What separates the hells from each other? What prevents the devils in the most evil hell from crossing into the less evil hell and attacking all the satans?
Thanks for joining us—we’ll see you next week!
Related Swedenborg & Life Videos
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Love in Marriage (a contemporary translation of Conjugial Love)
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About Swedenborg & Life
In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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