The Arcana Coelestia describes two great judgments which fell upon the human race, the first being signified by the Flood at the end of the Most Ancient Church. The second judgment occurred in the spiritual world at the time of the crucifixion of our Lord, marking the end of the Ancient or Representative Church.
When Christ made His advent into the world the Scribes and Pharisees, the learned among the Jews, rejected Him and His teachings and only a handful of shepherds and a few simple fishermen were willing to recognize that the ancient prophecies had actually been fulfilled in their day. The persecution and rejection of Christ brought upon mankind the second great judgment, causing the doom of the Ancient Church as the Flood had brought to an end the Most Ancient. The Representative Church which had begun with Noah ended on the cross. The veil of the temple was rent, the power of animal sacrifices passed, ritualistic observances lost their meaning and the role of Israel ended. Worship by symbolic acts was destined to give place to true worship of the heart such as it had been in olden times.
A new church was then instituted, the Christian Church, which was founded upon the actual manifestation of God Himself in a divinely-human form. Charity was again restored, love and faith were to reign once more in the Kingdom of God. This was the high destiny intended by the Lord for His Own Church. But how did the church fulfill His command: "Ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another"?
The early Christians had, indeed, followed the new commandment, and the true spirit of charity poured out from them in good works. But the later history of the Christian Church is a tale of continual decline. For centuries the earth was drenched in blood as never before. The separation of Protestants from Catholics gave promise of reform by freeing the Bible and liberating human thought, but in time this new church also deteriorated. The Catholic church had tried to rule all the world in the name of religion. The Protestants beclouded the religious horizon with false dogmas that prevented spiritual light from flowing into the minds of men. Deceit, hypocrisy, corruption everywhere prevailed. The end was at hand. A third great judgment - prophesied by the Lord in Matthew and foretold in the Apocalypse - would shortly overtake the consummated Christian Church, and this would be followed by a Second Coming of Christ. Both of the preceding judgments had come about as the result of mankind's falling away from an orderly connection with heaven. Without connection with heaven no enlightenment is possible, and mankind will perish if this obstruction to spiritual life is not removed. The greatest judgment of all, Swedenborg says, was destined to overtake the fallen Christian Church, which had become externally powerful while it decayed within. Faith had become a formal belief and charity had come to consist in external deeds in whose name salvation was peddled by unscrupulous politicians.
The eighteenth century was indeed ripe for judgment, for never had the spiritual life of Europe reached a lower ebb. Cultured, intellectual people could no longer accept the irrational dogmas of current theology. "If one talks religion in the higher circles of society, everyone laughs," said Montesquieu in reporting his visit to England. Unbelief and immorality were unblushingly displayed from the highest social stratum to the lowest. Society was critical, polite; indifferent, sceptical of virtue and amused by simplicity. Bribery honeycombed politics, with complete disregard of conscience. Iniquity had broken out, like a disease, in profligacy and fearless commission of crimes. Masses of poor ignorant people were left to themselves with little moral or religious training by an idle and dissipated clergy who "hunted good livings and abhorred good lives." "The century was so steeped in falsity and impregnated with it to the very bone, that the measure of the thing was full," says Carlyle.
In France, where the Revolution was ripening to the bursting point, immorality, insincerity and unbelief openly prevailed. Swedenborg, during his earlier travels, had made some keen observations on the corruption of the Catholic clergy. The love of self and the pursuit of pleasure were in France openly proclaimed to be the mainspring of mental activity. To ask men to do good simply for its own sake was considered ridiculous. Everything spiritual was called a delusion and physical enjoyment was looked upon as the highest end of man. "Faith in the existence of a God is as groundless as it is fruitless," said La Mettrie. "The world will not be happy until atheism becomes universally established. There can be no philosophy but materialism . . . Immortality is an absurdity. The soul perishes with the body of which it forms a part. With death all is over: la farce est jouée!"
One of the most corrupt of all European countries was Sweden. "The Swedish nation is the worst in Europe," wrote Swedenborg, "except the Italian and the Russian." This was because, more than others, the Swedes were capable of inward thought, a faculty they had perverted. He was permitted to see this strikingly illustrated, he says, in the spiritual world where the sad state of the Christian countries was clearer to him that it could ever be to historians. For after death "the thoughts of everyone are communicated much more clearly than by speech in the world, and no one is allowed to speak otherwise than as he thinks and believes . . ." Once when his spiritual sight was opened Swedenborg looked upon a street called Stora Nygatan, then Stockholm's chief artery of trade. The houses there appeared to have no windows, and the angels informed him that all those who dwelt there were spiritually dead.
As a sign of ecclesiastical corruption Swedenborg saw the separation of one church from another because of doctrinal differences. " ... Whosoever believes differently from what their dogma teaches is cast out from their communion and is also defamed. But one who robs and without mercy deprives others of their possessions, if only he does not do it openly, one who schemes craftily against the neighbor . . . one who commits adultery, is nevertheless called a Christian, provided he keeps sacred observances and speaks in accordance with doctrine. From this it is evident that at this day it is doctrine, not life, that constitutes the church."
Corruption had reached its limit and the time had come when the ax was to be laid to the root of the tree. The world of spirits was filled with hordes of good, simple-hearted souls who had been led astray by civil and ecclesiastical rulers using the sacred rites of worship and the time-honored dogmas of the church to hold them in subjection. These patient, puzzled, suffering "souls under the altar" were to be released from their false faith by a drastic disclosure of the real nature of the hypocritical tyrants who held them in bonds. It was this disclosure that provoked the judgment.
The things related by Swedenborg in his Spiritual Diary are a confirmation of these conditions. They have seldom found their way into biographies of Swedenborg, perhaps because the stomachs of a former generation were too delicate to take them. But the children of today, less fastidious and more realistic, are not afraid to face distressing details. For ours is a generation brought up on announcements of atrocities, a race that has substituted for lullabies, bedtime stories of crime that would formerly have shaken a barroom crowd. We do not flinch at reading about the permanent concentration camps that Swedenborg describes, the walls of which men are daily forging with their own hands.
But if such things are distressing only to read about, how shocking they must have been to experience! The souls which Swedenborg describes having encountered were his own departed friends and relations, co-workers and associates. Most of them had. held high offices in the government. He says that in the course of a year he met as many as thirty of those whom he had known and an equal number of those whom he knew from history. They represented the entire gamut of evils into which humanity had fallen - the inordinate love of pleasure, of adultery, of hypocrisy, of domination, of deceit, and it was a harrowing as well as an extremely dangerous thing to witness their ultimate fate, for such spirits were often very malicious.
We wonder at his objective and apparently unemotional reports of these encounters, his seeming indifference to the miserable lot of various friends and acquaintances. But his mind was like a surgeon's hand which must be kept clean and steady for his dissection to be effective.
One of the first of those Swedenborg mentions meeting was an archbishop; another was a bishop, and a third was the celebrated Dr. Göran Nordberg, King Charles XII's chaplain, who published the memoirs of the king to which Swedenborg himself had contributed a section. Many of those he met were his associates on the Board of Mines, such as Adam Leyel, who died in 1744. Swedenborg says that outwardly Leyel had been a sound moral man, endowed with talent and prudence. During their association in the world he had known nothing of Adam Leyel but what was honest and upright, but in the other world he found him in very bad company. At first he had hopes of Leyel's reformation, because he was able to reason well and to see the truth. It became manifest, however, that he had led "a merely natural life." Since he had employed his reason to confirm evils and falsities, a long time would be required to reform him. "How much time is needed for the reforming of the upright, is known; how much more for such persons!" From this it was plain to Swedenborg that it is only the quality of a man's life that saves him and not any faculty of reasoning well and comprehending things.
In his earlier days Swedenborg was often sent on tours of inspection with another member of the Board of Mines, Assessor Johan Bergenstjerna. In this world Bergenstjerna was accounted a very honorable man who loved his neighbor, his country, the church and God. When Swedenborg met him, shortly after his death, his external sanctity had worn off - as merely outward piety always does there - and it was manifest that Bergenstjerna was a hypocrite, destitute of mercy, caring for no one but himself .
Of a former friend he says:
Of all the evils that beset humanity the love of ruling for the sake of dominion is the most destructive to oneself and to others. This diabolical urge can so obsess a soul that finally he wishes to' govern not only the earth but the entire universe, and to be like God Almighty. An example of this in the spiritual world was King Charles XII, a man who on earth was an example of virtue, piety and keen intelligence. In his younger days Swedenborg knew the king very well, being with him daily at Lund, Wennersborg and Strömstad. Everything that had occurred between them in the bodily life was recalled in the spiritual world and it then became evident that had not the King's disposition toward Swedenborg turned from favor to anger, Swedenborg's immortal soul would have been in danger of destruction, so strong was his attachment to this hero. Swedenborg's letters from that time make it clear that he had a quarrel with the king whom he had so greatly admired. (See p. 51.) In the spirit world, he says, it was manifest that the king, in his insane love of glory, regarded his country and its people as nothing. He was the most obstinate of mortals, never desisting from a purpose once resolved on. His obstinacy was so great that nothing as intense exists "within the limits of this planet," and for that reason his associates in the other world were spirits of another earth in the universe. Charles XII's mate was a woman of a disposition similar to his own, but even more stubborn, who finally reduced him to subjection.
In order that Swedenborg might know the force of the expression "Babel" and "Babylon," so often used in the Bible, he was shown a man whom he had known very well in the life of the body - Anders Swab, the administrator of the mining district of Fahlun, an intelligent and modest man gifted with great powers of persuasion. All who were favorable to him Swab had rewarded, but anyone who opposed him he had persecuted. He had sown discord and enmity in every community that he governed. Before Swab's time. the people of Fahlun had been simple and sincere, but he had so corrupted them by bribery that the inhabitants of that district became inwardly more wicked than any others.
Swedenborg found Swab in the other world trying by subtle means to regain control over those whom he had governed in the world. While living on earth Swab and his associates had prevented people from reading the Word by telling them that he and his followers were the only ones who understood it, thus using spiritual things to acquire power. He was like a poison which penetrates and corrupts the blood stream. This experience gave Swedenborg an insight into the nature of Babel, that is, the state of men who wish to be worshiped and obeyed as God.
One of the most deceitful men whom Swedenborg had ever known was the brother of Erik Benzelius, Archbishop Jacob Benzelius, who died in 1747, one of the most powerful men in Sweden, held in high esteem for his learning. Inwardly, however, this seemingly good man was steeped in deceit and had the effect on others of taking away their spiritual insight. After suffering many hardships on account. of his deceit, Jacob Benzelius began to long for release and for heaven. Since in the other world all wishes are granted - everything there being governed by affections - he was permitted to visit different societies. But nowhere was he contented. He was allowed to stay for a while in a society of simple good spirits but could not refrain from trying to govern them. When he began to instruct them they listened to him because they were good and did not want to reject him, but after he had been with them for some time they complained of his depressing effect on their spirits, so the archbishop was obliged to depart .
After that he persuaded certain spirits, "on the threshold of the second heaven," to help get him into the society where Swedenborg was staying. Pretending to be an angel of light, he began to infest Swedenborg, appearing with an infant in his arms to counterfeit innocence. When his deceit was discovered he was cast out of this heaven too. No matter how much he was punished he still retained his evil disposition, appearing as it were on fire with the delight of tormenting others. Such spirits at last become like charred skeletons, we are told.
In the other world Swedenborg encountered his friend and neighbor Count Frederick Gyllenborg, president of the Board of Mines. On two occasions he had sold the Count property inherited from his mother and his stepmother. Gyllenborg was a lively, cheerful benevolent man, one of the most powerful politicians in the Hat party and an influential courtier. To the end of his life he remained in the acknowledgment of God, and in the other life he fervently prayed to God for everything he wanted - not, however, to the Lord Jesus Christ, but to "God the Father." This man, who had done much good to the neighbor and had always spoken piously and sanely, was totally devoid of conscience. His benefactions had been done from selfish motives, and after death it appeared that he really cared for no one but himself. Were the whole country to perish and all his neighbors to be murdered it would have meant nothing to him if only he were allowed to rule and to profit by it. All whom the Lord protected he tried to persecute. Swedenborg he hated with a deadly hatred and sought every opportunity maliciously to infest him and destroy him by persuasive arts. He had nothing against him personally, he said. What he wanted was to take away the influx from heaven, so that Swedenborg would be unable to write "those things which had to be written." This pernicious spirit was finally carried away into a cave, where he sat half dead, among other spirits who were being divested of their earthly glamour.
Worst of all spirits, in the other world, are the sirens, evil women who by fantasies induce on themselves the lovely forms of virgins and with a beauty almost angelic lure men to destruction. "Those women become sirens who devise how to enter into the affections of men over whom they wish to rule and profit, by enticing their self-love and self-esteem . . . when yet in their hearts they wholly despise them." Most of the sirens had lived in the world, in elegant indulgence, wholly absorbed in outward decorum, while inwardly they were devoid of conscience. Veiled with innocence and artfully adorned, "they deliciously insinuate themselves into a man's good affections," captivating him without his being aware of their dire purpose to snatch away his goods, deceive him and ruin him. By persuading their victims that they are decent and pious, the sirens are able almost to seduce the angels themselves. "One of them tried to carry me down with her into hell," says Swedenborg. They introduce themselves by such pleasures as attend true marriage love, turning this heavenly love into a thing so frightful that nothing human remains of it. "Let no one be so insane as to think he can withstand them." "The only hope of escaping them is by the help of God." "No man who has once esteemed adulteries and such things as allowable can ever escape being held captive by the sirens to the end of his life ... wherefore let men beware of actual evils!" For acts bring on habits, habits increase, and men are carried away by the sirens as a piece of wood is carried in a rapid stream.
In the other world the sirens wander about as a vast lawless horde. They are hard to root out because they employ magical arts, mixing holy things with profane ones. Sirens come from lands where Christianity prevails, and not from Gentile regions. The numbers of such wandering witches is multiplied at the present day, says Swedenborg, far beyond former times. They dwell together in caverns on a western mountain whence they infest all round about. Their evil acts bring on them tortures that last for hours. Twisted and rent asunder, they finally resemble corpses with masses of hair and black, inhuman faces.
While the faces of the evil lose human form in the other life and become monstrous, the good have beautiful faces. Swedenborg once saw his tutor, Johan Moraeus, and Hans Björck, one of the assessors on the Board of Mines. They appeared with faces quite different from their former ones, and when Swedenborg was asked whether he recognized Björck he at first replied "No." Björck had a bright comely face and was seen seated in a carriage because he was then meditating on the doctrine of love.
For no one did Swedenborg have greater affection than for Erik Benzelius, who died in 1743, just after having been appointed Archbishop of Upsala. Swedenborg notes that he appeared, in the other world, "outwardly proud, yet inwardly good." At first he suffered severely because he was inclined to ascribe all wisdom to memory, which produced a hardness in his brain that had to be removed to bring out his inward state which was good. It was a painful ordeal and after it Benzelius was like a little child ready to be instructed by the angels.
Quite different was the condition of Swedenborg's old friend and neighbor Christopher Polhem, the mechanical genius of Sweden. Polhem was ninety-three years old when he died on August 31, 1751. Swedenborg's report on his condition in the other life is not encouraging.
"Polhem died on Monday. He spoke with me on Thursday; and when I attended his funeral, he saw his coffin and those who were there and the whole procession, and how his body was laid in the grave. In the meantime he conversed with me, asking why they buried him when yet he was alive. He afterward asked why the minister said that he should rise at the Last judgment, when yet he had been resuscitated for some time," at which he marveled.
Because Polhem had been constantly thinking about the construction of mobile machinery, the imaginative power which he possessed in the body still persisted in the other life. He there taught others how to create such things as birds, mice, cats, and so forth out of thoughts and ideas. Swedenborg later saw Polhem with a white linen band wrapped around his head as a sign of his strong persuasion that whatever he said and thought was true, since he was the wisest of all men and knew everything. Spirits of such a nature lose all intelligence.
Similar to Polhem was the spirit of the celebrated German philosopher, Christian Wolff, who died in 1754. Even on earth Wolff had been condemned as naturalistic, but on being reinstated at the University of Halle he pretended piety for popularity's sake. After death it became clear that he believed in no other God than Nature and has sought to captivate the minds of theologians by his theories about simple substances created immediately out of nothing. God has never been seen or heard, he argued, and if there were a God He would show Himself before men. The soul was nothing but a breath, dissipated at death; it was vain to expect a Last Judgment; the stars could not fall from heaven, as predicted, because they were larger than the earth. This man, who loved to be called "the Light of Europe," now lives among fools and simpletons, says Swedenborg. He has the appearance of a chimney-sweep, his learning turned into suffocating dust.
Very significant are Swedenborg's statements about "the book of life," which he says is written into the nature of every man. All his thoughts, words and deeds, down to the most minute particulars, are inscribed in this book. He witnessed an inquest upon several public officials whose "books of life" were opened. One of them, Assessor Porath, was found to have stolen sums of money from individuals and the public treasury amounting to some 39,000 rix-dollars. Another, Assessor Cederstedt, had stolen three or four hundred separate sums from various persons. For the space of an hour all this was read out of his memory and he recalled and acknowledged everything down to the last detail. Swedenborg was amazed to hear each item recounted in due order without a single error. All witnesses and even the guilty man himself were amazed that such a "book of life" exists, written out in such detail. (Compare the marvelous resources of the subconscious memory recognized in modern psychology! )
Among the documents bearing on Swedenborg's early life are the voluminous records of a lawsuit with his aunt, Brita Behm, over his rights in the smelting furnace at Axmar. (See p. 96 ff.) This wealthy sister of Swedenborg's mother, who for the most of her eighty-five years lived a widow in Stockholm, was a shrewd, energetic woman, praised by Bishop Swedberg as a capable manager of her large estate. Swedenborg, in one of his memorials, expresses surprise that this otherwise righteous lady should .have acted so unjustly toward him, and suggests that she may have been instigated to it by others. He was apparently reconciled with his aunt later on and mentions once dreaming pleasantly of going to a dinner with her riding in a magnificent carriage. Brita Behm died in 1757 and Swedenborg says that he conversed with her three days after her death and that through his eyes she saw her funeral, which must have been an imposing affair after the manner of those days.
His surmise that Brita Behm was led on by someone else to undertake the lawsuit against him was confirmed in the other life when he met his colleague, Lars Benzelstjerna, the husband of his sister Hedwig. Lars, before his death in 1755, became a royal councillor, and president of the Royal Academy of Sciences. Although not possessing the outstanding qualities of his father and his three archepiscopal brothers, Lars was accounted a man of deep learning endowed with unusual powers of persuasion. Swedenborg seems, on the whole, never to have had much liking for him. As joint owner in the Starbo iron work's, Emanuel found him "somewhat unpleasant." He evidently acted unjustly in the division of the paternal inheritance, and Emanuel's brother complains bitterly that Lars deprived him of his rightful share and refused to answer many urgent letters begging for a fair settlement.
In the Spiritual Diary Swedenborg's first comment on Lars Benzelstjerna is that he was one of those who acted unjustly from innate hatred, and persecuted all but his own friends. He was able to draw many simple spirits to his side merely by assuming a tone of sincerity and bidding them, "Do me this favor!" Toward Swedenborg he harbored a deadly hatred and in the other world, where he became the leader of a crew of thousands of evil spirits, he sought by magical arts to destroy him.
On the last page of one of the diaries there is a fragment that contains a long list of the infamies of this man. It was indeed Lars who had incited Brita Behm to the Axmar lawsuit. His unjust actions in inheritance cases were noted. He had accepted bribes; he had ruined a maiden; he once had tried to destroy Swedenborg by running down his sleigh as they were driving across the ice; another time he plotted to have him stabbed to death; and other dreadful things. The recital of these hidden intentions is evidently a part of Benzelstjerna's "book of life."
In the midst of such discouraging explorations it is a relief to read about a certain Bishop Rhydelius who was a good man and very intelligent. In the other world he dwelt at first in a city given over to the doctrine of faith alone, for like others he had supposed that man could be saved instantaneously by faith alone even at the last hour of life, no matter how he had lived, heaven being a gift of pure mercy. Surrounded by good spirits and thus "tempered" for his own protection, Rhydelius was led to a heavenly paradise where he beheld many things that amazed him. Those who lived there wished him to remain with them, but he was not yet prepared for this. He could stand the light of heaven, but he was tortured to the point of anguish by its warmth. Asked whether he wished to remain in heaven, Rhydelius had then replied, "Not in the least!"
Swedenborg states that in the spiritual world where various animals often appear - birds and sheep, horses and camels, elephants and dogs he once saw a noble horse pacing back and forth at a swift trot. It was Bishop Rhydelius, who appeared in this shape because he was meditating about the will and understanding.
"It seems as if the truth of faith is in the first place," he was thinking, "but then, in another way, it is evident that good comes first." His deliberations, this way and that, made him appear before Swedenborg's spiritual eyes like a horse running to and fro. But when he asked him how he appeared to himself, the bishop replied that he had noticed nothing - he was a man in his own chamber as before.
Senator Sven Lagerberg was also among the blessed. He possessed a powerful "sphere of truth" and, protected by this, was able to travel about in the hells and describe what he saw in the dark hells of the magicians, the poverty-stricken hells of the lascivious, the infernal, specter-haunted caverns of profaners. The evil fled or were rendered powerless to harm him-such power does a man possess who is principled in truth. Swedenborg compares Lagerberg to Aeneas who was let into the Elysian fields.
It was well with Lagerberg, Swedenborg says, because he had wished well to his country and striven to benefit it, but not out of pride - as was the case with so many members of the Senate whose pride prevented them from seeing political issues as they really were and thus discerning what was good for their country and what was harmful to it. In the world the chests of noblemen are decorated with the badges of knighthood - the order of the Seraphim, the Sword and the Northern Star. But in the other world those who work only for such things as will promote their own importance are deprived of honors, expelled from their offices and forced to beg for alms. The badges of knighthood, we are told, have had an evil influence upon the Swedish nobility. Sven Lagerberg discovered that whenever he put on his badges he was unable to think freely, but when he returned home and discarded his official robes his former judgment immediately returned. This was because when he wore the emblems of knighthood he was under the influence of vainglorious spirits. Many Swedes of good family affect dignities and titles solely in order to be distinguished, Swedenborg observes.
Among those of a good disposition whom he describes meeting in the other world was William Penn "from whom Pennsylvania derives its name." Penn had an exalted station and spoke well. He was not of the perverse quality of many Quakers who succeeded him.
Queen Christina is described as dwelling in an elegant house and having lively arguments with the Roman cardinals, bantering them to make them, confess that the Lord was both Divine and Human and superior to the popes.[417a] Saint Genevieve is described as having a face glowing with holiness and beauty. She deplores that she is accorded worship when yet she was no more than an ordinary woman. Once was seen the Virgin Mother Mary in a snow-white garment, passing by! She said that the Lord was born of her, indeed, but that He put off all the maternal human and became God, wherefore she now adores Him as her God.
Swedenborg spoke also with his own mother and stepmother, who lived happily in the other world, and, whenever he so desired, with Emerentia Polhem. Her sister Maria, seems to have been among the unhappy, for she had placed the delight of her life in the refinement of luxurious living.
"Men may unconsciously be infested by the dead who have cherished hatred toward them," he says. There was a certain woman who in the life of the body had deceived herself with the imagination that Swedenborg wanted to marry her. Upon finding herself disappointed in this, Sara Hesselia was seized with a deadly hatred and after her decease once infested him with the desire to grasp a knife and put an end to his life.
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These and many other remarkable things Swedenborg noted down while writing Arcana Coelestia. Some of them he inserted into the printed book without, however, giving any names. Would the world believe him?
Every year, now, a new volume came from John Lewis' London press. And still no one knew who was the author of these remarkable books. After the first advertisement there is no record of any further attempts to attract attention.
The German magazine Neue Zeitungen von Gelehrten Sachen reviewed the first volume of the Arcana in a four-page article, not unkindly but with the observation that it must have been written in a state of ecstasy by some pious visionary.
In the third volume of Arcana Coelestia Swedenborg began an explanation of the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew in which the Lord predicts the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the age [The Authorized Version renders this phrase "the end of the world."]. Jesus had told His disciples, when they showed Him the buildings of the temple from the Mount of Olives, "There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down." When they demanded, "Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the consummation of the age," He spoke of wars and rumors of wars, of nation rising up against nation, of famines and pestilences and earthquakes and great tribulations, and of the darkening of the sun and the moon and that the stars should fall from heaven. "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. . . " (Matthew XXIV, 1-7, 29.) These words, said Swedenborg, have reference to the end of the church. The darkening of the sun means that love and charity will be extinguished; the failure of the moon to give her light, and that the stars should fall from heaven means that faith and the knowledges of faith will perish. The exposition of the internal sense of this chapter of Matthew is Swedenborg's first systematic treatment of the predicted Judgment.
The last volume of Arcana Coelestia left the press in 1756 and Swedenborg was now engaged on the making of a detailed subject index. This led him to extract all those passages that refer to the prophecy: "I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire; and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written that no man knew but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and his name is called the Word of God . . . " (Apocalypse xix, 11, ff.)
Thus, Swedenborg says, was represented the Lord as to the Word, and the disclosure of its internal sense. It was by means of this disclosure that the predicted judgment was to be brought about. The collected passages were later published as a brochure under the title The White Horse.
Also from the Arcana he extracted, in systematic form, all the scattered teachings about the New Church later published as The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrines: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband . . . " (Apocalypse XXI, 1, ff.)
It would seem to have been after this work was drafted that Swedenborg testified to the stupendous changes in the spiritual world, declaring that the event for which all Christendom had been waiting for seventeen hundred years had taken place there! "The Last Judgment has already been accomplished. I have seen it with my own eyes . . . "
Many, he stated, have expounded the prophetical book called "The Apocalypse" but hitherto no one has understood that its prophecies refer not to historical events but to the state of the Christian Church. Many have denied the Last Judgment, thinking in their hearts:
The Last Judgment does not occur on the earth, Swedenborg declares, but in the spiritual world, where all who have lived from the beginning of creation are gathered together.
It fell first upon the Papists, then upon the Mohammedans and the Gentiles, and lastly upon the Reformed. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen!" Babylon comprises all those who desire to rule by means of religion, who use Divine things as a means to power, as do the Papists who transfer to themselves the Lord's Divine power of saving souls. They sell salvation and remit sins, and claim that their Pope is Christ's vicar on earth, acknowledging a divinity in the decrees of Rome superior to the Divine in the Word of God; they perform masses in a foreign tongue, extinguishing the light from heaven. They place the all of worship in devout externals, idolizing saints, bones and relics, performing miracles to turn away minds from the worship of God to the worship of men.
It is impossible here to relate even a small portion of the stupendous drama which Swedenborg describes in the work on the Last Judgment. Much of it reads like a description of modern warfare. He tells how "the Babylonish nation" extended over large areas of the spiritual world and he describes their cities and mountain strongholds, their hidden treasures and magnificent displays.
The first step in the judgment he calls "visitation" during which the evil were explored as to their inner character. In the next step the good were separated from the evil and removed to a place of safety. This was followed by earthquakes and violent tremors as the evil were apprehended. Those in the cities ran to and fro, hiding in crypts and caves, carrying with them their treasures. Whole mountains collapsed and were swallowed up or subsided into great yawning chasms. Finally a violent east wind shook the land to its foundations and myriads of evil spirits were cast into the black waters of the western sea. Darkness covered the heavens. Some of these spirits had dwelt in their strongholds since the Middle Ages, ruling over the simple in heart by the power of their devout rituals. The sirens, however deeply hidden, were cast out of their mountain haunts.
The world of spirits was by this means freed from infestation and the angels rejoiced because of the liberation of the just. All inwardly good souls were taken up into heaven for instruction, and it is now no longer permitted for societies to be formed in the world of spirits where the evil can rule over the good by means of devotional appeal.
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Last to be affected by the great Judgment were the Protestant or Reformed churches who had their magnificent strongholds in the center of the spiritual world. They were in possession of faith and yet had led wicked lives, and appeared like demons fighting about religion.
Congregations, of corrupt Protestant spirits formed, we are told, an obstructing cloud that eclipsed the Spiritual Sun and cut off its light so that men were no longer able to be enlightened, "for all enlightenment comes to men from the Lord through heaven and enters by an internal way." It was this "internal way" that had become obstructed by such vicious congregations of spirits.
Then the Lord was seen in a bright cloud and all who were about to perish appeared: together in the likeness of a great dragon whose tail extended in a curve toward heaven. "It was granted me to see this representation," says Swedenborg, "so that I might know and make known who are to be understood by the dragon in the Apocalypse, namely all who read the Word, hear sermons and attend the rites of the church but make no account of the lusts of evil which beset them, and who inwardly meditate thefts, frauds, adulteries and obscenities, hatred and revenge."
The angels visited them, exhorting them to desist from their evil doings, but they rushed upon them and treated them abominably. After the judgment their splendor vanished. Their palaces were turned into vile huts, their gardens into stagnant pools, their temples into heaps of rubbish. The very hills they inhabited turned into mounds of gravel in correspondence with their depraved dispositions. Concussions followed and the evil were cast into stagnant lakes and barren deserts and were finally locked up in an abyss, "the bottomless pit," spoken of in the twentieth chapter of Revelation. Into this gloomy cavern were thrown many of those hypocrites and profaners, personal acquaintances of Swedenborg, who had "fulfilled the measure of their evil." Here they have only one another to torment.
After the Last Judgment had thus been fully accomplished, there was joy in heaven and light such as had never before been in the world of spirits, because the infernal societies had been removed that had interposed themselves between heaven and earth. "A similar light then arose with men in the world, giving them new enlightenment." "Then I saw angelic spirits in great numbers, rising from below and elevated into heaven. They were the sheep, there reserved and guarded by the Lord for ages back, lest they should come under the malignant influence of the Dragonists, and their charity be suffocated. These are they who are understood in the Word by those who went forth from the sepulchres, also by the souls of those slain for the testimony of Jesus ... " The pamphlet describing the Judgment on the Protestants was not published until 1763.
The state of the mundane world will continue much the same as before, Swedenborg says, for the great change brought about in the spiritual world by the Last Judgment does not produce any change in the natural world as regards its outward form. Affairs of state, war and peace will exist, in the future as they have in the past. It is he mental world that will be affected, for this judgment took place in the world of man's spirit. And after this men will be able to think more freely on matters of faith. Spiritual freedom has now been restored, and all things have now been reduced into order. The Lord alone knows the future, but spiritual captivity has been broken and man can now better grasp interior truths if he will. But still "the angels have more hopes for the acceptance of the new doctrines" by certain natives of central Africa than by the Christians of his own day, Swedenborg says, alluding to such individuals as are primarily in faith, as contrasted with Gentile nations who are foremostly in charity.
Reflecting on the credibility of what he has related in such great detail, he exclaims, "What man can draw such things from himself?"