Swedenbourg’s Heaven and Hell: Resonances with Mormonism

A friend of mine recommended Emmanuel Swedenborg’s classic Heaven, it’s Wonders and Hell, and I’ve been slowly working my way through it.   Swedenborg’s 18th century revelations about heaven anticipate many of the claims Joseph Smith would later make, including three degrees of glory, eternal marriage, and eternal progression.

Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, mystic, and theologian.  His early work as a scientist provided groundbreaking work on the anatomy of the brain and nervous system. Later in his life he began to have dreams, visions, conversations with angels, and various other psychic experiences.  He wrote many books on theological and mystical topics, of which Heaven It’s Wonders and Hell is the most famous.  He approaches his topics in a kind of rational, didactic way, as a scientist might.

His theology is beautiful and rich, and so much of it seems to fit naturally within the context of Mormonism.  Here are a few insights that resonated with me.

Heaven is within

The Book of Mormon says “you would be more miserable to dwell with a just God under the consciousness of your filthiness before him, then you would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.”  Swedenborg takes this concept a step further, suggesting that the spirits in heaven are free to go to whatever degree of heaven or hell they would like, but that they are truly miserable if they try to enter a heaven higher or lower than what they are prepared for in their spiritual interiors.

“These were permitted to enter among such angels.  But when they were there they could see no one, however much they searched, although there was a great multitude present; for the interiors of the newcomers not having been opened in the same degree as the interiors of the angels there, their sight was not so opened. Presently they were seized with such anguish of heart that they scarcely knew whether they were alive or not. Therefore they hastily betook themselves to the heaven from which they came, glad to get back among their like, and pledging themselves that they would no longer covet higher things than were in agreement with their life.”

“It can in no sense be said that heaven is outside of any one; it is within him.  For it is in accordance with the heaven that is within him that each angel receives the heaven that is outside of him.”

Facing God/ Facing each other

Among the angels in Swedenborg’s world, there is an idea that they are continually facing God, and receiving from Him, all good that is in them.  “They refuse all thanks for the good they do, and are displeased and withdraw if any one attributes good to them.”  As Jesus said to the rich young man, “why callest thou me good.  There is none good but God.”   All the good in the angels comes from God, from facing and receiving that good from Him, as heat and light from the sun.  Swedenborg says angels are called “gods” inasmuch as they have received God in them.

Likewise, all communication with other angels is done facing each other.  They do not hear the words in the form of sound vibrations from speech, but rather through receiving from the “aura” of the angel facing you, the nature of their “affections.”  It sounds to the listener like human speech, but in actuality, it is your own mind receiving the thoughts of another, and translating them into your own language.  I thought this was an interesting way to think about revelation.  When someone hears an audible or inaudible voice from heaven, how is that message exactly received?  Swedenborg’s analysis seems convincing.  Light and intelligence is directed into your mind, and your mind “hears” it and automatically puts it into it’s own language.

Auras in Heaven

“There are spiritual spheres of life emanating from and surrounding every angel, man, and spirit, by which their quality in respect to the affections of their love is known, sometimes at a great distance.  For with everyone these spheres flow forth from the life of his affection and consequent thought, or from the life of his love and consequent faith.  The spheres that go forth from angels are so full of love as to affect the inmost of life of those who are with them.”

This idea of “readable” auras in heaven also explains why hypocrites, or those who do good deeds and say good things, but don’t have good hearts cannot dwell in heaven: because the heart is an open book, and the ugliness of their aura is immediately perceived.  Everyone would immediately see them as hypocrites.

The presence of these auras constitute the reality and personality of each angel, in the same way that our physical appearance does here on earth.  In heaven, those with beautiful auras will be the most beautiful.  This also corresponds to the scripture “man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart.”

Good versus Truth

In Swedenbourg’s heaven, there are three degrees of glory: Celestial, Spiritual, and Natural.   The Celestial Kingdom corresponds to “good,” and the Spiritual Kingdom corresponds to “truth.”   Another symbol he uses: good=heat, truth=light.

“Truths apart from good are not in themselves truths because they have no life; for truth have all their life from good.  Thus truths apart from good are like a body without a soul.”

I find this a sobering indictment of my own emphasis on rational argument over kindness and love.  If Swedenborg is correct, I will eventually need to reorient entirely my approach to truth and good if I am to find myself in the Celestial Kingdom:

“The celestial angels do not reason about truths of faith, because they perceive them in themselves; but the spiritual angels reason about them whether they are true or not.  As soon as the celestial angels hear Divine truths, they will and do them, instead of storing them up in the memory and afterwards considering whether they are true.  They know at once by influx from the Lord whether the truth they hear is true; for the Lord flows directly into man’s willing, but mediately through his willing into his thinking.”

“The angels in the Lord’s celestial kingdom, from their more interior reception of the Divine of the Lord, far excel in wisdom and glory the angels that are in His spiritual kingdom; for they are in love to the Lord, and consequently are nearer and more closely conjoined to Him. These angels are such because they have received and continue to receive Divine truths at once in their life, and not first in memory and thought, as the spiritual angels do.  Consequently they have Divine truths written in their hearts, and they perceive them, and as it were see them, in themselves; nor do they ever reason about them whether they are true or not.  They are such as are described in Jeremiah: I will put my law in their mind, and will write it in their heart.  They shall teach no more everyone his friend and  everyone his brother saying, Know ye the Lord.  They shall know Me, from the least of them even to the greatest of them.  And they are called in Isaiah: Taught of the Lord.”

Anyway, I’ve written down many other things I’m learning from the book, and I’ll share more as I go along.  I’m about half way through.

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