INSIDE AND OUT
Tuesday, August 8, 1989
Location - FNCA 1989
This is going to be about revelation in the general context of epistemology, epistemology dealing with
such questions as how we know and what knowledge is. I presume we would agree that the purpose of
revelation is to promote and guide the process of regeneration, and that the means of revelation
I want to start right in with one of my favorite quotations. There has been and still is a tendency in
our church to claim that through the writings we are in possession of divine truths. There is some
warrant for such a claim in the writings themselves, but the passage I am about to read sounds a
needed note of caution. I'm going to quote it at considerable length, but still with some omissions.
It's from Arcana Coelestia 3207, and Swedenborg is commenting on Genesis 24:65, where it states that
Rebekah "took a veil and covered herself."
That this signifies appearances of truth, is evident from the signification of the veil with which
brides covered the face when they first saw the bridegroom, as being appearances of truth; . . .
Brides veiled their faces on their first coming to the bridegroom, in order that they might represent
appearances of truth. Appearances of truth are not truths in themselves, but they appear as truths;
concerning which see below. The affection of truth cannot approach the affection of good except
through appearances of truth; nor is it stripped of appearances until it is being conjoined; for then
it becomes the truth of good, and becomes genuine in so far as the good is genuine. Good itself is
holy, because it is the Divine proceeding from the Lord, and flows in by the higher way or gate in
man; but in so far as its origin is concerned, truth is not holy; because it flows in by a lower way
or gate, and at first is of the natural man; but when it is elevated thence toward the rational man it
is by degrees purified; . . . Be it known however that neither with man, nor indeed with an angel, are
any truths every pure, that is, devoid of appearances; for all both in general and in particular are
appearances of truth; nevertheless they are accepted by the Lord as truths, provided good is in them.
To the Lord alone belong pure truths, because Divine; for as the Lord is Good itself, so He is Truth
itself. . . . There are however degrees of appearances of truth. Natural appearances of truth are
mostly fallacies; but with those who are in good they are not to be called fallacies, but appearances,
and even in some respects truths; for the good which is in them, and in which is the Divine, causes
another essence to be in them. But rational appearances of truth are more and more interior; in them
are the heavens, that is, the angels who are in the heavens (see n. 2576). In order that some idea may
be formed of what appearances of truth are, let the following examples serve for illustration. I. Man
believes that he is reformed and regenerated through the truth of faith; but this is an appearance; he
is reformed and regenerated through the good of faith, that is, through charity toward the neighbor
and love to the Lord. II. Man believes that truth enables us to perceive what good is, because it
teaches; but this is an appearance; it is good that enables truth to perceive, for good is the soul or
life of truth. III. Man believes that truth introduces to good when he lives according to the truth
which he has learned; but it is good which flows into truth, and introduces it to itself. IV. It
appears to man that truth perfects good, when yet good perfects truth. V. Goods of life appear to man
to be the fruits of faith; but they are the fruits of charity. From these few examples it may in some
measure be known what appearances of truth are. Such appearances are innumerable.
There are two points in this material that I should like to stress, and both bear quite directly on
the subject of revelation. The first is the obvious and primary point that as finite creatures we are
always dealing with appearances of truth, and never with "pure" or "divine" truth itself. My last
lecture this session will be about ways in which "truths from the Lord" are adapted to our
comprehension. The second point, which is emphasized in both the exposition and the examples of the
quote from Arcana Coelestia, is that "the good" plays a critical role in this matter of appearances.
The appearances are "accepted by the Lord as truths, provided good is in them." When it is conjoined
to the affection of good, however, "it becomes the truth of good, and becomes genuine in so far as the
good is genuine."
Let me save the first point for second. and expand a bit on the second point first. It is not saying
that the actual truth or falsity of a statement or an idea is not important. Apart from saying that
nothing our minds can grasp will be perfectly true, it is not dealing with that point. It is saying
that there is another factor that must be taken into account, something we might call the "truth
value," and that this depends on the way in which the appearance relates to our intentions. This
"truth value" is my own name for what Swedenborg refers to as "another essence," or being "genuine."
As usual, if we look within the relatively general and apparently abstract language of our theology,
we find it in accord with our everyday experience. I have a particular example in mind. It occurred to
me last spring that there is a serious problem with the theory of individual reincarnation, if its
logical implications are followed. The theory implies that there is a perfect justice to everything
that happens. When it seems that a good person suffers unfairly, this is because of karma accumulated
during previous lives. It struck me very forcibly that this would mean abused children deserved the
abuse, an idea which I find utterly repugnant.
I have met a number of people who believe in reincarnation, and I have found them, in the main, to be
compassionate and concerned. There has been no evidence that they believed that abused children had
brought their troubles on themselves. There seemed to be "another essence" in their belief, which
prevented them from moving to this particular rational conclusion. This "other essence" would be quite
simply their love of children and their sensitivity to children's innocence. Whatever the theory might
say, they would regard child abuse as unjust.
For them, at least in this respect, then, the theory of reincarnation would be an appearance of truth.
It would not be more or less factually true because of their compassion, but it would be more or less
genuine, and for the truly compassionate soul, it would, in Swedenborg's terms, be "genuine." For
myself, I would rather say that it would function as a genuine truth for that individual, but then, I
may be a bit more cautious than Swedenborg.
The same principle, I should immediately add, applies with equal force in the opposite direction.
That is, statements we would regard as theologically true can be used destructively. Doctrine can be
wielded with anger and resentment, and it can hurt. I would argue that this is possible only because
doctrine as we know it is never "pure, that is, devoid of appearances." Pure truth, divine truth,
would not be susceptible to such misuse, because it is intrinsically and perfectly united to divine
I suspect that I do not need to give examples of the misuse of doctrine, that we are all aware of
having both suffered and inflicted such misuses. We inflict them whenever we use our theology to
justify ourselves rather than to be helpful, and none of us is in a position to cast the first stone.
This brings us back to the first of the two points I want to stress in the Arcana quote, namely that
neither now nor after death are we in possession of "pure" truths. This is an unwelcome idea whenever
our individual or institutional egos are threatened, and the latter seems to be the more subtle
temptation. The same mentality that wants to refer to our organization as "The New Church" wants to
claim for it possession of divine truths, and siezes on statements to that effect in the writings. On
this point, I want to read another extended quotation, but not, this time, from Swedenborg. This one
is from William Law, a contemporary of Swedenborg, and incidentally a writer whom John Clowes
appreciated, a writer who may well have paved the way for Clowes' acceptance of the writings. Again, I
will be omitting a fair amount.
Selfishness and partiality are very inhuman and base qualities even in the things of this world; but
in the doctrines of religion they are of a baser nature. Now, this is the greatest evil that the
division of the church has brought forth; it raises in every communion a selfish, partial orthodoxy,
which consists in courageously defending all that it has, and condemning all that it has not. And thus
every champion is trained up in defense of their own truth, their own learning and their own church,
and he has the most merit, the most honour, who likes everything, defends everything, among
themselves, and leaves nothing uncensored in those that are of a different communion. Now, how can
truth and goodness and union and religion be more struck at than by such defenders of it? If you ask
why the great Bishop of Meaux wrote so many learned books against all parts of the Reformation, it is
because he was born in France and bred up in the bosom of Mother Church. Had he been born in England,
had Oxford or Cambridge been his Alma Mater, he might have rivalled our great Bishop Stillingfleet,
and would have wrote (sic) as many learned folios against the Church of Rome as he has done. And yet I
will venture to say that if each Church could produce but one man apiece that had the piety of an
apostle and the impartial love of the first Christians in the first Church at Jerusalem, that a
Protestant and a Papist of this stamp would not want half a sheet of paper to hold their articles of
union, nor be half an hour before they were of one religion. . . .
There is therefore a catholic spirit, a communion of saints in the love of God and all goodness, which
no one can learn from that which is called orthodoxy in particular churches, but is only to be had by
a total dying to all worldly views, by a pure love of God, and by such an unction from above as
delivers the mind from all selfishness and makes it love truth and goodness with an equality of
affection in every man, whether he is Christian. Jew or Gentile. He that would obtain this divine and
catholic spirit in this disordered, divided state of things, and live in a divided part of the church
without partaking of its division, must have these three truths deeply fixed in his mind. First, that
universal love, which gives the whole strength of the heart to God, and makes us love every man as we
love ourselves, is the noblest, the most divine, the Godlike state of the soul, and is the utmost
perfection to which the most perfect religion can raise us; and that no religion does any man any good
but so far as it brings this perfection of love into him. This truth will show us that true orthodoxy
can nowhere be found but in a pure disinterested love of God and our neighbour. Second, that in this
present divided state of the church, truth itself is torn and divided asunder; and that, therefore, he
can be the only true catholic who has more of truth and less of error than is hedged in by any divided
part. This truth will enable us to live in a divided part unhurt by its division, and keep us in a
true liberty and fitness to be edified and assisted by all the good that we hear or see in any other
part of the church. . . . Thirdly, he must always have in mind this great truth, that it is the glory
of the Divine Justice to have no respect of parties or persons, but to stand equally disposed to that
which is right and wrong as well in the Jew as in the Gentile. He therefore that would like as God
likes, and condemn as God condemns, must have neither the eyes of the Papist nor the Protestant; he
must like no truth the less because Ignatius Loyola or John Bunyan were very zealous for it, nor have
the less aversion to any error, because Dr. Trapp or George Fox had brought it forth.
The more I read this, the more I feel that it could be taken as a commentary on the Arcana quote I
read earlier, a commentary that makes the same basic points in a more concrete and striking fashion
for most of us. The essence of the matter is for William Law precisely where it is for Swedenborg--on
the intent. And is there anyone in the room who did not recognize the institutional syndrome? "And
thus every champion is trained up in defense of their own truth, their own learning and their own
church, and he has the most merit, the most honour, who likes everything, defends everything, among
themselves, and leaves nothing uncensored in those that are of a different communion." The man had
style, and he had something to say with it. There is a passion there, an urgency, which is part of its
As I reflect, I am more and more convinced that only our own pedantry has blocked us from finding the
same passion and urgency in Swedenborg's words. He did not, it is true, use dramatic language very
often, but let us pay closer attention to what he does say. For example, in the first quotation there
was the statement that "The affection of truth cannot approach the affection of good except through
appearances of truth; nor is it stripped of appearances until it is being conjoined; for then it
becomes the truth of good, and becomes genuine in so far as the good is genuine." The image is
actually very vivid. It is the image of the bride coming veiled to the groom, and removing the veil
only for the comsummation of the marriage. That might serve as a clue as to the underlying passion
But even apart from that, the only way we can regard the statement itself as abstract is by treating
affection itself as an abstraction. The moment we attend to the reality that is being described, the
emotional content is inescapable. The affection of truth is a longing to understand. It involves,
often, frustration with confusion and unclarity, and it issues in earnest and urgent questions. The
affection of good is care and concern for other human souls, distress at their alienation and pain,
and joy in their happiness. The appearances of truth are our own partial understandings of what is
going on and what it all means, and the conjunction is that rare and wonderful moment when it all
comes together for us.
Let me try an example. A friend comes to you in distress, with a personal problem that needs working
through. You are acutely aware of the distress, and feel inadequate to deal with it. You listen
intently, with a kind of subliminal awareness that the friend is groping, and does not know exactly
what the difficulty is. Then from some inaccessible source comes a thought that both suits the
circumstances and affirms your friend. It is not judgmental, not condemning, but supportive of the
friend's earnest efforts to work things through. It is not just cheerleading, but shows the problem in
a different light. That is, your affection for your friend and your affection for honest understanding
have come together, and the veil has been taken away.
To move back toward a more explicit focus on revelation, there seem to be individuals in every
generation who have trouble with the idea of the eternity of the hells. The trouble is not, strictly
speaking, an intellectual one. It seems to come down to a sense of dissonance between the idea and
their love of people, and no logical argument gets to the heart of the matter. Such individuals, I
believe, are closer to "genuine truth" than people who accept the idea of the eternity of the hells
out of a feeling that evil people should get what is coming to them.
The principle underlying this belief is stated quite baldly in n. 8149 of the Arcana:
The doctrinal things of the Church with those who are in evil of life are called doctrinal things of
falsity, although they may be, in part, less or more, truths; the reason is that the truths with those
who are in evil of life, in so far as they are concerned, are not truths; for, by means of application
to the evil which is of the life, they put off the essence of truth, and put on the nature of falsity;
for they look to evil, with which they conjoin themselves.
Again, it may help to apply Swedenborg's apparently abstract language to the example. The evil of life
in the case in point is vindictiveness or self-righteousness. The essence of the truth of the eternity
of the hells is that it is actually possible for people to prefer evil to good, hell to heaven, which
is precisely what the vindictive person is doing. So that essence, which is the use of the truth for
the sake of regeneration, is "put off"--we might say, blocked out--and the outward form of the truth
is applied to the vindictiveness. The individual feels justified in the spirit of condemnation. Or as
Swedenborg writes in Arcana Coelestia 3605.3, "The Divine is mercy; but when this flows in with
someone who is in evil, and who runs into the punishment of evil, it then appears as hatred."
It might be a good idea at this point to digress for just a moment, and say a word about this
vindictive individual. Swedenborg writes sometimes about "the evil person" and sometimes about "the
person who is involved in evil," and it seems to make little difference. I would suggest that we avoid
any impression we may gain that the human race is composed of the good guys and the bad guys, and
focus instead on our own experience. We find ourselves having ups and downs, caught up at times in the
worst side of our nature, "involved in evils." We find ourselves feeling vindictive, and if we reflect
on the thought processes that go on at such times, we will see quite vividly and concretely what is
meant by "putting off the essence of the truth." We find ourselves at other times caught up in
affection for someone dear to us, and similar reflection will enable us to see what is meant by "being
involved in the good." As this kind of thought becomes habitual, it enables us to deal helpfully with
the ups and downs of other people.
With that caveat out of the way, I need to return to the main topic, and try to wrap things up. Let me
begin by repeating part of the first quotation,
Be it known however that neither with man, nor indeed with an angel, are any truths every pure, that
is, devoid of appearances; for all both in general and in particular are appearances of truth;
nevertheless they are accepted by the Lord as truths, provided good is in them. To the Lord alone
belong pure truths, because Divine; for as the Lord is Good itself, so He is Truth itself. . . .
There are however degrees of appearances of truth. Natural appearances of truth are mostly fallacies;
but with those who are in good they are not to be called fallacies, but appearances, and even in some
respects truths; for the good which is in them, and in which is the Divine, causes another essence to
be in them.
What we are offered in both Scripture and the writings are appearances of truth. They are not, in the
case of the writings, "natural appearances." Those we may find more in Scripture, when for example the
Lord is described as angry or vengeful. Swedenborg more directly addresses our rational capacities,
and we might be mindful of another bit of the same quotation: ". . .in so far as its origin is
concerned, truth is not holy; because it flows in by a lower way or gate, and at first is of the
natural man; but when it is elevated thence toward the rational man it is by degrees purified; . . ."
He does not and cannot convey "the essence of the truth." That essence is the good, and "Good itself
is holy, because it is the Divine proceeding from the Lord, and flows in by the higher way or gate . .
. ." Revelation is offered to us in a written form, which we apprehend through our eyes and ears,
through "the lower way or gate." Revelation happens to us when the love that is constantly flowing in
from the Lord, through "the higher way or gate," is united with that apprehension.
There is a big gap between our physical senses and our deepest loves. For the two to meet, the love
must move out toward action, and the words must move in toward understanding. The written form, the
words of finite human language, are themselves a veil; and in fact our own literal understanding of
the words is a veil. Only when the love itself, the concern for others, is united to the meaning of
the words, is the veil put off. Then there is an essence within the appearance that makes it
"genuine." Or, in the terms I suggested earlier, then we have access to the "truth value" of the
I hope at this point that the pointlessness of claims or arguments about "divine truth" is fairly
obvious. The divine content of the revelation cannot be established by reasoning, because it does not
reside primarily in any kind of literal accuracy. It resides essentially in usefulness, which must be
demonstrated and not just talked about. For the usefulness to be demonstrated, there must be the union
It is a truism in expository writing that appropriate examples are a major help to communication. It
is no less valid for our less formal efforts to convey the value of the writings. Nothing helps more
than an example; and in our everyday dealings with each other we have opportunities that are not so
obvious in lecture halls or pulpits. In our everyday dealings, we are not restricted to talking about
examples. We can be examples. In fact, we inevitably are examples of one sort or another, with our
actions disclosing our personal definitions of "the good." The more consistently the truth from the
lower way meets the love from the higher way, the more clearly we will convey "the genuine," the
"other essence." We may not become professional theologians, but our limited understandings of the
meaning of the writings will be "accepted by the Lord as truths," because of the good that is in