Sunday, October 24, 2010

SWEDENBORG ON ST. PAUL


Probably the most vigorous Christian message carrier in history, Saul of Tarsus, also known as “Paul the Apostle” and “Saint Paul”, was born circa 2-10 AD in Tarsus in what would now be south central Turkey. He died circa 62-68 AD in Rome executed by beheading during the reign of Nero. He was Jewish of the tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee. Prior to his spectacular conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus, circa 33-36 AD at the age of perhaps 34, he was a violent persecutor of the followers of Jesus.

In his posthumously published Spiritual Diary, now known by the title “Spiritual Experiences”, Swedenborg makes several references to experiencing the apostle Paul in the spiritual world. These direct experiences of “Saint Paul” appear to have occurred between the years 1749 and 1752. Much later on (1766), in letters to Beyer and Oetinger, Swedenborg also mentions his experiences of Paul in the spiritual world with reference to the quality of his writings and teachings.

St. Paul first appears in a pair of diary entries dated 10 July 1749 (SE 4321 and 4322). In SE 4321, there is a ‘certain devil’ who was discovered by Swedenborg to have been controlling Paul (without Paul’s being aware of it at first) and ruling ‘everything about him’. This devil had the fantasy that he was ‘as a god’ and Paul came to want him ‘as a companion, and to go with him, and make him a god.’ Paul and the devil ‘became companions’ but ‘were rejected wherever they went.’ In that same entry Swedenborg talks about his being personally ‘attacked by adulterers’ in his sleep which attack was aided by Paul and the devil-god. The adulterers and the two assistants (Paul and his companion) were punished for their attack by ‘being dashed together, back and forth’. This showed Paul to be of a ‘wicked character’ according to Swedenborg who ‘spoke with Paul about this.’ The diary entry ends by saying that Paul is now ‘among robbers who wander around, almost where the desert is.’

In the next entry of the pair (SE 4322), Swedenborg apparently has a doctrinal discussion with Paul about the impossibility of ‘miraculous’ salvation apart from Divine means. They agreed that the evil can be subdued ‘by the removal of societies’ - meaning the removal of the influence of evil societies from the individual - but that doing so would make the individual become ‘like a little child’ that knows neither how… ‘to speak, nor to think, [but] only to move its hands like a new-born babe.’

The next pair of diary entries referencing Paul occur as best I can tell about 15 months later circa October of 1750. They are undated so I have to base it roughly on Swedenborg’s apparent rate of diary entry production at that time of about 5.75 entries per month. I will include both diary entries here in full since they are packed with information which appears to require little explanation.

4412. “Paul is among the worst of the apostles, as has been made known to me by much experience. The love of self, by which he had been ensnared prior to his preaching of the Gospel, remained with him even afterwards, and because he was then almost in the same state, he was prompted by that love and by his nature to want to be in crowds, doing everything with the motive of being the greatest in heaven, and judging the tribes of Israel. That he remained of this nature afterwards is shown by much experience, for I spoke with him more than with the others. In fact he is such that the rest of the Apostles in the other life rejected him from their company, and they no longer acknowledge him as one of them - this for the reason also that he allied himself with one of the worst devils, who wants to control all things, and pledged himself to him in order to achieve this… There were many other points, which would be too much to recount. If all the things I know about Paul should be described, it would fill sheets. The fact that he wrote the epistles does not prove his good character, for even the impious can preach well, and write letters. It is one thing to be, and it is another to speak and write, as was also said to him. Moreover, in his epistles he did not mention the least word about the Lord, or what He taught, nor does he mention a single parable of His, so he received nothing from the life and preaching of the Lord - which was also said to him, whereas in the Evangelists is the very Gospel itself.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Spiritual Experiences 4412, written circa October 1750)

~and~

4413. “There was a certain one who had no feeling for the inner meaning of the Word, because he wanted to place merit in deeds (Paul). For a long time he was at a distance from me, also among worse spirits. Now he allied himself with the worst devils, now he wanted to form a heaven for himself [of spirits] to whom he would give joy from his own power - but one of passions and enjoyments which he indeed attempted to do, but it only made him worse, and upset. I spoke with him then, saying that this was not a heaven, but a hell, and it was turned into a black hell. He wanted especially to recruit hypocrites, about whom I spoke with him. For several days there had been hypocrites with me, which I could tell on account of the toothache [they brought on]. They constantly pressed upon me in silence, and I realized and said that this came from Paul, who hates the inner meaning [i.e. of the holy Word], and then the anger from that hatred has this effect of summoning hypocrites, and in this way they are connected, for hypocrites believe nothing [of the inner meaning], but still value the literal meaning of the Word, because they are able to take from it many passages to persuade the common people, and to make themselves appear as pious.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Spiritual Experiences 4413, written circa October 1750)

From Swedenborg’s ‘minor diary’, which is simply a set of Spiritual Diary entries which were written in a different book while his regular books caught up with him in his travels, we find three entries which include references to Paul. These were also apparently written in the fall of 1750. They summarize Paul’s attitude while he lived in the world in regard to the next life and the role he would play in it. Basically he had, according to Swedenborg, an attitude of superiority over others and self-glorification – that he would be the greatest in the other life (SE 4651 minor) and would be able to steal Peter’s role as the holder of the ‘keys of the kingdom of the heavens” (SE 4631 minor). He felt that he deserved to be the key-holder to the kingdom because he had “labored more” than Peter (SE 4631 minor). Paul saw Peter basically as an evangelistic slacker. Swedenborg wrote that Paul told him “that he wished to be the introducer, and that the Lord would accept those whom he introduced” which, as Swedenborg noted, “is ridiculous, since introduction is not arbitrary, but the result of one's life, which no one knows but the Lord” (SE 4631 minor). According to Swedenborg, Paul (like a good biblical literalist) had, “rejected the inward parts of the Word, because they are contrary to worldly glory, and contrary to merit (4651 minor).” This contributed to his making for himself “a separate, hellish heaven” (4651 minor)” which did not last long for Paul. Swedenborg wrote that “Paul was finally given a dwelling by himself… but he still in turns wanted to cause a turmoil. At length he was brought lower down, where he does not know that he had been Paul (SE 4652 minor).”

All of the above spiritual diary entries were made before what readers of Swedenborg refer to as the “last judgment.” After the last judgment, Saint Paul was doubtless settled into his final niche in the Universe. Here is Swedenborg’s statement about the last judgment for the reader’s edification. It may come as a shock to some of us still waiting for it to happen.

“THE LAST JUDGMENT HAS TAKEN PLACE. It was shown in the chapter on this subject above [28-32] that the Last Judgment is not to take place on earth, but in the spiritual world, where all are gathered who have lived since the beginning of creation. This being so, no human being could possibly be aware when the Last Judgment took place. For everyone expects it to happen on earth with everything in the visible sky and on the earth being changed at the same time, and affecting human beings on earth. So to prevent people in the church living with that belief out of ignorance, and those who think about the Last Judgment perpetually waiting for it, which would eventually result in people disbelieving what the literal sense of the Word says about it; and to prevent more people losing their faith in the Word, I have been allowed to see with my own eyes that the Last Judgment has now taken place. I have seen the wicked cast into the hells, and the good raised to heaven, thus restoring all to order and so re-establishing the spiritual equilibrium between good and evil, or between heaven and hell. I was allowed to see how the Last Judgment took place from beginning to end; and also how Babylon was destroyed, and how those who are meant by the dragon were cast into the abyss; and then again how the new heaven was formed, and the new church meant by the New Jerusalem was set up in the heavens. I was allowed to see all this with my own eyes so that I could bear witness. This Last Judgment started at the beginning of last year, 1757, and was fully completed by the end of the year.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Last Judgment 45:VIII)

Swedenborg also offers commentary on the quality of Paul’s writings and doctrines. Two spiritual diary entries (SE 4824 and SE 6062), both written quite apart from each other in time, and two letters (one to Beyer and one to Oetinger) provide Swedenborg’s view of Paul’s work.

Since the Epistles of Paul do not have an internal sense they are not, as Swedenborg puts it, the “Word of the Lord” or the “holy Word.” They have been permitted by the Lord, Swedenborg explains, to be in the Christian church so that “those who are of the Church [cannot] work evil to the [actual] Word of the Lord, in which is the internal sense.” Therefore it is clear why Paul was not permitted [i.e. by Providence] “to take one parable, not even a doctrine, from the Lord, and to expound and unfold it; but he took all things from himself.” (SE 4824) Swedenborg wrote that, “if man lives ill, and yet believes in the holy Word, then he works evil to heaven…” (SE 4824)

The reformed Christian doctrine of salvation by faith alone “apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28) is thus a divinely-inspired protection of the actual Word of the Lord until such time as the human race can appropriately handle the internal sense without doing damage to it. Swedenborg points out that “the Church, indeed, explains the Word of the Lord, but by means of the Epistles of Paul; for which reason also it everywhere departs from the good of charity, and accepts the truth of faith…” (SE 4824) Since it ‘departs from the good of charity’ the same remains safe from an as yet not completely evolved human race.

In a spiritual diary entry that was primarily about the Moravian bishop Zinzendorf1 in the other life, Swedenborg offers some comments on the quality of Paul’s inspiration. He wrote that the Lord, while He was on the earth, “spoke from Divine Wisdom Itself, by correspondences, exactly as He also spoke by the prophets, consequently from His own Divine; and that Paul indeed spoke from inspiration, but not in the same way as the prophets, to whom every single word was dictated but that his inspiration was that he received an influx, according to those things which were with him, which is quite a different inspiration, and has no conjunction with heaven by correspondences.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, Spiritual Experiences 6062)

The letter to Oetinger simply states that Swedenborg talked to Paul in the other life “for a whole year, and even about what he wrote in Romans 3:28” which is that on which the doctrine of justification (and therefore salvation) by faith alone is based.

Romans 3:28 reads, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”

In his letter to Beyer dated 15 April 1766, Swedenborg explains why he did not include the writings of Paul and the apostles in his work entitled Arcana Coelestia (or “Heavenly Secrets”). He said, “they are doctrinal writings, and so are not written in the style of the Word as are the Prophets, David, the Gospels, and the Revelation. The style of the Word wholly consists of correspondences, on which account it effects an immediate communication with heaven. In the doctrinal writings, however, there is another style which indeed communicates with heaven, but mediately.” The other important point in the letter to Beyer is as follows, “That the words of Paul concerning justification by faith, Rom. iii 28, have been completely misunderstood, is shown in the APOCALYPSE REVEALED n. 417, as may be seen. It follows that the doctrine concerning faith alone as justifying, which constitutes the theology of our day in the Churches of the Reformed, is built on an entirely false foundation.”

Apocalypse Revealed 417 is LONG (over 2,000 words) and is what is known to readers of Swedenborg as a ‘memorable relation’. A memorable relation in Swedenborg’s writings is a description of an event in the spiritual world, usually educational in some way, which was ‘memorable’ to Swedenborg. They are interspersed throughout many of Swedenborg’s doctrinal works. I will spare you the task of actually reading this somewhat tedious piece of Swedenborgian text and just try to give the gist of it here. You can see it in full on the internet at this link: http://www.smallcanonsearch.com/read.php?book=ar&section=417.

It is probably important to note that, in the above letter to Beyer, Swedenborg is not saying Paul’s message was one of salvation by faith alone but that subsequent members of the “Churches of the Reformed” are responsible for completely misunderstanding Paul’s doctrine.

The doctrine of salvation by faith alone tends to extinguish in a person’s mind the importance of the basic spiritual practice of repentance on which true faith depends. If all I have to do is say that I believe that Jesus is my savior, why make any effort to live in a good way or to change for the better? As the angel in Apocalypse Revealed 417 said:

“… do the work of repentance, and look to the Lord, and you will have faith; faith before that, is not a faith in which there is anything living." (Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Revealed 417:4)

This is the way to a faith that works – rather than the attitude expressed by the clergy in the spiritual world at the end of the Apocalypse Revealed memorable relation:

"Faith alone! faith alone, it will live still." (Emanuel Swedenborg, Apocalypse Revealed 417:10)

1 Born May 26, 1700 Dresden Died May 9, 1760 (aged 59) Herrnhut. Occupation theologian, priest, Bishop of Moravian church
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3 comments:

  1. I love this post. I love the Lord and I thank God for letting me know Him through Swedenborg's writing.
    I heard before that Swedenborg wrote that Paul was in the hell. I was shocked. Because of this, I had a lot of struggles, about both Swedenborg and Paul. Thank God for guiding me to read this post. Glory our Lord !

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    1. Salvation by faith is not so much salvation through intellectual belief as salvation through TRUST - trust in the saving grace of God through Christ. This is what Paul taught. I don't believe that Paul is in hell. If Swedenborg spoke to a spirit who claimed to be Paul, my thought is that it was an imposter spirit from the darker regions of the spiritual world. As Swedenborg himself taught, these spirits lie and may even have deluded themselves, so just because a spirit claimed to be Paul or Calvin or David, or even Jesus for that matter, does not necessarily mean that they were. What about the Moon-men and Martians with whom Swedenborg claimed to have conversed? These must have been either figments of his imagination or else lying spirts from the hells. But if THEY deluded him, what else was he mistaken about? Worth prayerful consideration I believe!

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    2. If salvation was by works, a perfect God could only accept those who are as perfect as Himself. That means that the only person worthy of Heaven is Jesus! Just a single evil thought is enough to banish us from Heaven, because God cannot accept even the "smallest" sin and remain perfect - and if He ceases to be perfect, He ceases to be God!
      This is where salvation through faith comes in. We imperfect beings have faith in the saving ministry of the perfect One - Jesus. But that does not mean that we can go on sinning. Chrst saves us from sin - not just the penalty of sin - and progressively brings us into His own perfection. This perfection is not reached until Heaven, but if we are truly in the saved state, it begins here on earth and the desire for it is planted within us by the Holy Spirit. Works are the outward expression of inward faith, but it is faith (as the inward spiritual working) which comes first.

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