THE MYSTERY OF COMMUNION
One basic problem in Christianity, is that it does not seem rational or logical that the human race should be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. So what does it mean, to be saved by the blood of Jesus? The problem here is that in ancient times, there were symbolic rituals, and blood was symbolic of something. But what? Over time many could not figure it out, so eventually a theology known as "vicarious atonement" was conceived by theologians, which posited a wrathful God that desired to see satisfaction of punishment upon an innocent life for the sake of others who were guilty. This, still, makes no rational sense. In order for "vicarious atonement" to work, one must also conceive multiple persons of the Godhead, which again makes no sense. Unfortunately, that is where most people are in their thought with the Christian churches, but rarely do people question the religion they have grown up with. Questioning like this was not encouraged, so it was simply called "a mystery of faith," and so the priesthood of the church closed up the rational mind of the followers, and in so doing, for many centuries scientific knowledge was also suppressed. Even to this day, these are "mysteries" and we are just supposed to follow what is said without understanding.
Salvation by blood is actually mentioned once each in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. And they all refer to the same incident: the establishment of the ritual of communion by Jesus during the last supper:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”So one question immediately comes to mind: was Jesus referring to his own blood, or to the wine of the cup which was a symbol for blood? Certain theologians would argue endlessly over this, not recognizing any sort of symbolism here, and even state when the priest blesses it, the wine really does become the blood of Jesus. Such are caught in the literalism of scripture and do not see the spiritual symbolism behind the words. It does have something to do with the body and blood of Jesus, for in the gospel of John, Jesus mystically speaks of this:
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 28:26-28)
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
Still, not very helpful in understanding. Obviously Jesus is not talking about cannibalism, but even in that day many who heard it thought Jesus was out of his mind and left from following him. This was the ancient way of teaching: by way of parable, by way of symbolic sayings and rituals. This is also the Sufi way of teaching. But why was Jesus putting the focus of salvation on his own flesh and blood? Redemption by blood is mentioned again several times in the letters of the apostles, but again no explanation for it is given, other than to say that the Jewish sacrifices of animals were a symbolic type of the sacrifice of Jesus, thus abolishing the ritual of animal sacrifices. One would think that among the Jews they understand the symbolism of the ritual, but they do not, most just follow the letter of scripture without understanding the spiritual meaning. Even to this day certain Jews want to rebuild the temple, and restore these ancient rituals, which long ago should have served their purpose.
THE SYMBOLISM OF FLESH AND BLOOD
There is a common saying, "You are my flesh and blood," said to those who were close relatives or friends. In a spiritual sense, "flesh and blood" signifies one's own self, what is derived from one's own will and thought. Thus what one loves most is said to be of one's "flesh and blood," for all are born into the love of their self and what pleases it. The self is called by Swedenborg the "human proprium," or what belongs to one self, as opposed to what is Divine. With Jesus, however, things were different, for as he was the Word of God in incarnate form, during his life he was in the process of subduing the body he inherited from his human mother and making it one with Himself - a Divine Human:
"With the ancients, flesh and blood signified the human proprium, because the human consists of flesh and blood; thus the Lord said to Simon, Blessed art thou . . . for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father Who is in the heavens (Matt. xvi. 17). The flesh and the blood, therefore, signified by the bread and the wine in the Holy Supper, are the Lord's Human proprium. The Lord's proprium itself, which He acquired to Himself by His own power, is Divine. His proprium from conception was what He had from Jehovah His Father, and was Jehovah Himself. Hence the proprium which He acquired to Himself in the Human, was Divine. This Divine proprium in the Human is what is called His flesh and blood; flesh is His Divine good (n. 3813), and blood is the Divine truth of Divine good." (Swedenborg, Heavenly Arcana, n. 4735.1)
This is the teaching that has been lost: flesh and blood, in their physical form, are physical manifestations of our will and thought. Our will pertains to what is good or evil in the actions of the body, and thought or soul is represented by blood. This is the ancient symbolism. In modern science we now now that it is blood which carries oxygen to the brain, and without oxygen there is no thought. Mystics understand this, and by slowing down the breath one can achieve higher states of thought.
The other lost teaching here is within the Christian Church itself: for many do not know that Jesus made his very body Divine with the resurrection. Some still hold onto the idea that he still has the body of a human, which is no longer true: he has the body of a Divine Human, and the process of making his human body Divine was the process by which the human race was saved.
In order to show that eating flesh and blood in the spiritual sense does not literally mean eating flesh and blood, but rather that it signifies the appropriation of good and truth from the Divine, Swedenborg quotes the following passage from Ezekiel among many others:
"That blood signifies this holy, is evident from many passages in the Word, of which we may adduce the following: Son of man, thus saith the Lord Jehovih: Say to every bird of the heaven, to every beast of the field, Assemble yourselves and come; gather yourselves on every side to My sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, [of bullocks,] all of them fatlings of Bashan. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of My sacrifice which I will sacrifice for you. And ye shall be filled at My table with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war. . . . And I will set My glory among the nations (Ezek. xxxix. 17-21). The subject here is the calling together of all to the Lord's kingdom, and in particular the establishment of the church among the Gentiles; and by their eating flesh and drinking blood is signified appropriating to themselves Divine good and Divine truth, thus the holy which proceeds from the Lord's Divine Human. Who cannot see that by flesh is not meant flesh, nor by blood, blood, where it is said that they should eat the flesh of the mighty and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, and that they should be filled with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war?" (Swedenborg, Heavenly Arcana, n. 4735.5)
The "blood" of Jesus is what is holy that proceeds from his body, which is otherwise known as the Holy Spirit. That this is so we know from the fact that the Holy Spirit is also called the "spirit of truth" (see John 14:17, 15:26). The Holy Spirit began to flow from his body once he had glorified it in the resurrection:
"The blood of Thy covenant is the Divine truth proceeding from His Divine Human, and is the holy itself which, after He was glorified, came forth from Him. This holy is also what is called the Holy Spirit, as is plain in John: Jesus said, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. Whosoever believeth in Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they who believed on Him should receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified (vii. 37-39). That the holy proceeding from the Lord is the spirit, may also be seen in John (vi. 63).
"Moreover, that blood is the holy proceeding from the Lord's Divine Human, is plain in David: He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence; and precious shall their blood be in His sight (Ps. lxxii. 14) — precious blood standing for the holy which they would receive. In the Apocalypse: These are they who come out of great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (vii. 14); and again: They overcame the dragon by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death (xii. 11).
"The church at this day does not know otherwise than that the blood of the Lamb here signifies the Lord's passion, because it is believed that they are saved solely by the Lord having suffered, and that it was for this that He was sent into the world; but let this view of it be for the simple, who cannot comprehend interior arcana. The Lord's passion was the last of His temptation, by which He fully glorified His Human (Luke xxiv. 26; John xii. 23, 27, 28; xiii. 31, 32; xvii. 1, 4, 5); but the blood of the Lamb is the same as the Divine truth, or the holy proceeding from the Lord's Divine Human" (Swedenborg, Heavenly Arcana, n. 4735.5)
Note that the literal sense of scripture, where people believe to be saved by the literal blood of Jesus, is meant for the simple. Religion comes by way of progressive revelation. For in ancient times, they began to degenerate to the point of sacrificing humans and animals to a wrathful God; Moses replaced these practices with just animal sacrifices. Eventually these animal sacrifices became isolated to the temple of Jerusalem. Finally, Jehovah became incarnate and suffered violence at the hands of the Jews, that through this the simple would understand.
With further revelation, one reaches the higher spiritual understanding that one must be saved by doing the good by the truth that one knows, and acknowledging that all good and truth originates not from one's self but from God. That one is saved by learning and acknowledging spiritual truth, is even said by Jesus:
"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)
Where freedom comes when one acts by the truth against the slavery of sin, and one is born again with a new will. Note how Jesus had to first sanctify himself by the truth, before others could:
"Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." (John 17:17-19)
By "sanctifying himself" Jesus meant he had to conquer sin in his body before he could make his human Divine, which he had inherited from his mother Mary. And this is the other lost teaching of Christianity, for Catholics want to say that Mary was born without sin, thus Jesus was born without sin as well. The truth of the matter is that Mary was an ordinary human woman, from whom was derived a human child that had inherited sinful tendencies. When Jehovah became incarnate in such a body, it was all out war between God and all the spirits of hell, as he used his power to conquer all temptations in the body. For Jesus was the Divine truth incarnate:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
This is a lost teaching of Christianity, for in reality much of the theology of the Protestants have been inherited from the Catholics, though Protestants would be surprised to discover that. Strip away the external rituals of the Catholic church, and the two branches of Christianity are just about the same. Unfortunately, the Protestant branch has misinterpreted the writings of Paul, confusing works of charity with the external rituals of the Mosaic law, and creating a very complicated theology devoid of spiritual morality. When one reaches a true spiritual understanding, one understands that in most present day churches there is barely any remnant of the original truth. That this is so, was declared in the book of Revelation which mentions the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). In the spiritual sense, the "Lamb" is the Divine Human, to be "slain" is to be utterly rejected, and the "foundation of the world" is the foundation of the present day Christian churches.
SO HOW DID JESUS SAVE HUMANITY?
So we come back to another basic question, why was it necessary for God to become incarnate in human form to save humanity? No one can understand this until one understands that we are all spiritual beings in an external physical body. We as humans are different from animals in that we have spiritual freedom. And what is spiritual freedom? It is the choice between good and evil. Where does this choice originate? Most scientists will simply say "the mind," but the mind is but a manifestation of spiritual thought. The truth of the matter, is that all thought originates from the spiritual world - good thoughts flow in from heaven, evil thoughts from hell. Evil and sin is repulsed by the truth. We are higher dimensional beings in three dimensional bodies, and these spiritual planes are something scientists cannot see.
By the time Jesus came, much spiritual truth had been lost, many fallen into idol worship, and hell had gained the ascendancy over mankind, even threatening the lower heavens. By becoming incarnate in human form, God could fight directly against all of hell by resisting sin and temptation in his human form. This happened gradually in stages, something that is spelled out in enormous detail in Swedenborg's massive work Heavenly Arcana (aka, Arcana Coelestia). And before someone screams, "hey this goes against vicarious atonement" - go look at the Orthodox church, for they hold to a similar belief, albeit more obscurely than how it is explained in the visions recorded by Emanuel Swedenborg. When Jesus rose from the dead, he had descended into hell and ascended into heaven, reordering these spiritual planes, for now mankind could have direct communion with Him through the Divine Human. The spirit which flows from this Divine human which relays to the truth to our minds, by which we are saved when we act according to the truth that we know.
For a similar blog post, see What is Blood Atonement or Vicarious Atonement?, or even better, Jesus the Shaman - Descent into the Underworld.
Explanation of the Lord about ‘eating His flesh and drinking His blood’ReplyDelete
Thanks Gunni. It would seem that many of Jacob Lorber's writings are similar to that of Emanuel Swedenborg. I honestly have not had time to assess Jacob Lorber's writings, for they are extensive. I am not sure if he arrived at these ideas independently or already had a knowledge of Swedenborg. Another good work on communion is True Christian Religion by Emanuel Swedenborg, I will just quote the heading at note 702, which begins a passage where he covers it in more detail, for in this ritual everything about Christianity can be summarized:Delete
"From known correspondences what is meant by the Lord's flesh and blood is known, and that the bread and wine have a similar meaning; that by the Lord's flesh and by the bread the Divine Good of His Love is meant, also all the good of charity; and by the Lord's blood and by the wine the Divine Truth of His Wisdom is meant, also all the truth of faith; and by the eating is meant appropriation."
Hi Günni D,Delete
What I find interesting in the selection from Lorber that you refer to is that Lorber interprets the flesh, or bread, as truth ("My word") and the blood, or wine, as love ("active love"). This is the reverse of Swedenborg's interpretation of the two elements of Communion.
I'm not necessarily saying Lorber is wrong. Swedenborg's first interpretation of blood in Arcana Coelestia is as good, or love. But it's interesting that Lorber interprets the two elements of Communion spiritually in a way similar to Swedenborg's interpretation, only reversed in their specific meanings.
Thanks for a solid article on a subject that is difficult to understand from a traditional Christian perspective.
The key to understanding Jesus' words is to be able to lift our minds above physical reality to spiritual and divine reality. God is not made of physical matter. So if we eat God's flesh and drink God's blood, what are we eating and drinking? It is not physical matter, but spiritual and divine substance.
And what is spiritual and divine substance? It is love. That's what God and spirit are made of. And it is expressed through truth. Accepting God's love and listening to God's truth are the real meaning of eating God's flesh and drinking God's blood.
This is what Jesus was pointing to when, immediately after telling the people that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have life, he said, "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).
I spoke on this subject recently when I led a communion service at the Swedenborg Chapel in Cambridge, MA. You and your readers might be interested in the written version, which is here:
Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood
Thanks Lee. Believe it or not, I posted this article in another forum and the reaction was that the blog post was "sad" with one user regretting even spending the time to read it. The other critiques were: it did not consider the Eucharist from a historical perspective, the original Christians had no understanding of the symbolism, it did not discuss the Greek words used in John 6, and that the symbolic interpretation is a distortion.Delete
This was a bit of a surprise, but I think this comes from very Orthodox Christians, or those who have a very literal understanding of the Eucharist. They often cite tradition and church teachings as absolute authority. It was an eye opener: many are just simply not ready to understand the inner spiritual meanings. They are stuck in the external literal sense of scripture. This has obviously been an issue of disagreement when it comes to understanding the meaning, most I guess just adopt a position of extreme literalism as described by transubstantiation.
So my point to them was (a) Jesus spoke in Aramaic, so dont get stuck in the literal sense of Greek words, and (b), consider the Jewish rituals, which were obviously symbolic but the Jews themselves had no idea what they meant. Well see where the discussion goes, but my next question to them is how would they interpret the saying if Jesus asked one to open the door so that he can come in and dine with him (Rev. 3:20), how do they interpret that? Obviously Jesus is not asking us to leave our doors open at night and wait for guests to come join us for dinner. Its ridiculous but thats the level of thinking for many who are stuck in literalism.
I more and more think that Swedenborg was right when he said that Christians (meaning traditional Protestant and Catholic Christians) would have a more difficult time accepting the teachings of the new church than non-Christians would. Once literalistic and false doctrines have been ingrained in the mind, it is very difficult to root them out.
I've come to rejoice at the general collapse of Christianity as a major intellectual force in modern Western society precisely because that old, false view of Christianity and the Bible must die in people's minds before they can accept a new and better understanding of Christian doctrine and life. (See my post "Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!")
I used to spend a lot of time debating traditional and fundamentalist Christians about doctrine. (If you're a glutton for punishment and have a lot of time on your hands, you can find some of that debate archived here.) It was good practice, but I no longer spend my time doing that. It's simply not a good field for evangelization.
When I write posts for my blog, I don't worry too much about what the literalists will think. I aim the posts at those whose minds are not already fixed on false and literalistic doctrines, but are open enough to understand the Bible more deeply and more spiritually.
When fundamentalists leave comments on my blog--as they do--I take each one on a case-by-case basis.
If they pose genuine issues or questions that beg for answers, I approve the comment and address the issues and questions they've raised.
However, if the whole purpose of the comment is to tell me I'm wrong, I'm a false teacher, I'm going to hell, and so on, I delete it. I'm not interested in debating them. As Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:60).
I recently posted a comments policy so that this practice of mine would be available for those who look for it. (So far I haven't figured out a way to have the comment entry function automatically provide a link to it.) I'm not interested in debating doctrine with people whose minds are already made up. I'm interested in reaching out to those who are looking for something deeper and more satisfying.
With religion, there is a certain persuasion that keeps the mind under certain bonds, where it will not go further. With traditional Christianity, it has been customary to suspend rational thinking and accept the beliefs as "mysteries of faith." The Orthodox faith is very traditional, they will point to history, tradition and authority. For some people this is good: it keeps the focus on love and mercy, and miracles still do take place. With the older faiths, one has to "bend" the belief rather than break it. Most in the church are in the very externals of it, and never ask the question why so? It is truth based on authority, rather than truth from reason. In older times it was not permissable to enter by reason into spiritual matters. Times have changed with this revelation.Delete
The only reason why I occasionally post in that other Christian forum is that it seems to be inhabited by a lot of atheists, and you do find the occasional seeker who asks the right question. Atheists tend to be more critical thinking, but critical to the point where they will deny anything to the positive. Many have a need to argue and debate, and if there were no Christians, they would have nothing to do. They love to take an irrational statement and tear it apart. I got into a discussion with one on morality and conscience, how the spiritual world flows in through the conscience. This he could not accept, stating all thoughts are merely the result of external stimuli and there was no need to posit heaven or angels. He said he would change his mind if there was ever a scientific experiment to the contrary. I then mentioned to him this experiment: Scientific Proof of Biological Precognition. He then proceeded to tear apart and attack the experiment, stating "it must be fraud." People develop persuasive mindsets and they are not easily broken.
Among the other religions, believe it or not, the only rational dialogue I have encountered is among the Jehovah's Witnesses. They know enough where they can see the theology of the majority of Christianity has an error in regards to the Trinity. Unfortunately they regard Jesus as an angelic avatar. Since they tend to know scripture, albeit with their limited doctrine, it does tend to lead to interesting discussions that end up with a changed opinion (to the dismay of their leaders).
I got a chuckle from your statement, "Many [atheists] have a need to argue and debate, and if there were no Christians, they would have nothing to do."
I've been amazed at how many atheists hang around unmoderated religious forums criticizing and tearing down everything they read there. You'd think they'd have better things to do. But they've got a never-ending axe to grind, probably because they were mistreated by fundamentalist churches, parents, and communities during their childhood and youth.
This is yet another reason I'm happy to see traditional Christianity in decline and retreat. Swedenborg's occasional statements that the corrupted Christian church and its false doctrines would lead to atheism if not counteracted never made sense to me until I started running into the phenomenon of people who were brought up fundamentalist becoming ardent (and often angry) atheists as adults.
However, they, too, will not be amenable to new church thinking until they get the fundamentalist Christian influences out of their system. Most of them still think Christian doctrine is the same as what they were taught when they were young. It's just that now they reject it instead of accepting it. Telling them that those doctrines are not real Christianity generally doesn't make much headway with them. Like their still-believing fundamentalist brothers and sisters, they've been too heavily indoctrinated to think about religion from a fresh perspective.
There are many who are dissatisfied who have left the church. They call themselves "spiritually independent." The issue is, there are many who are simple in faith, and ministers are stuck in the box that the church doctrines have created for them and must cater to a general audience. However a simple faith does not address what is needed now, which is a rational faith. I would not say I am happy about it, it leads to a lot of doubt and stress to those who recognize the problem within the old churches. It reminds me of the passage in Matt. 24, when you see the abomination standing in the holy place (the church), flee to the mountains - which means, do not abandon the practice of love. Jesus warns, "the love of many will grow cold," and I see that a lot here in the U.S., where the focus is on individualism (e.g., selfishness), capitalism (materialism), and competition (jealousy).Delete
I used to be a minister stuck in the box that church forms and practices (not so much doctrine) created for me. I still thought--not from really thinking about it, but just from growing up with it--that the new church would look a lot like the old church, only with new doctrines.
Now I think of that as putting new wine in old bottles.
The old church must die out for the new church to take hold and grow. This means the forms and practices of the old church as well as the doctrines of the old church.
Swedenborg's statements about worship being prescribed by doctrine and performed according to it (such as in New Jerusalem #6) never meant much to me until I started getting far enough away from the traditional Christian forms of worship I'd grown up with in the organized New Church to be able to look at them with a more objective eye. Those forms of worship reflect the doctrines of the old Christian Church that they were developed to express. They are not appropriate to or expressive of the new doctrines of the new church. So they, too, must be left behind for the new church to come into its own.
This is just one more element of the general principle that the new church takes root and grows only as the old church dies.
That is why I no longer fret over the decline of the Christian church in modern life, or even about the decline of the organized New Church in which I grew up. Instead, I rejoice in that decline as one of the events that must take place before the new church can come into its own and become the major world religion that it is destined to be.
I'm still trying to figure out what the new church will look like in form and practice. But I have become convinced that it will not look like the old and dying Christian church.
One Swedenborgian minister once told me you can take these doctrines to any church you go to. You can't. You cannot mix the old theology and traditions with the revealed theology. When he said that I recalled that exact verse, you can't put new wine in old bottles. Tried, and it invariably ends with a false statement accepted as true, and then it recalls to my mind the scene from Pink Panther with the gauntlet on the chalkboard.Delete
The rituals of communion and baptism, however, are eternal. Roman Catholic church now allows both bread and wine among the laity, which is a step in the right direction. Swedenborg does state there is a need for a priesthood to have governance over spiritual matters. Priesthood celibacy should be abolished or made optional. Oddly, he said the priest should officiate at engagements, not the wedding. He also gave a favorable opinion to infant baptism, but I regard that as separate from an adult baptism where one makes a confession by faith. But I am not seeing a lot other than that in terms of rituals. I looked at NJ #6, perhaps a case can be made for having Easter close to the Jewish ritual of Passover, in which case, perhaps other rituals around the time of Pentecost and Tabernacles. As far as the Feast of Tabernacles goes, the only thing I can determine about that ritual is that it was the date of the year in which Jesus was born (which one can prove from a close examination of the gospel of Luke). In the gospel of John I think the disciples decide to go to Jerusalem for Hannakuh (a later ritual) and Jesus protested and said "I'm not going." Then he decides to go there in secret. Which shows that if you invent your own rituals, Jesus is only present in them obscurely.
As to why the New Church is small and among the few, that was the case as presented in Revelation, with the death of the 2 witnesses, and the woman and child fleeing into the wilderness, representing rejection and truth in obscurity. This is when it will be small, and prepared in secret. In Rev. 22:16 there is an interesting passage where Jesus calls himself "the bright and morning star" which some unusual individuals identify with Venus. Swedenborg makes this odd statement: this concerns the arrival of new light (symbolized by a star), BEFORE the coming of the New Church. So perhaps we are in that phase? In which case a small few would come to the truth, as represented by the wise men of the east who followed a star to find where Jesus would be born. There is some change in the future, what that is no one knows.
As there is no New Church in my immediate vicinity, I started this blog, as well as a Google Plus community (called "New Jerusalem"). So for many, I think at this point it will have to be a home church of sorts among 2 or 3 and grow from there.
The word "priest" in Swedenborg shouldn't be taken too literally when he's talking about present-day (to him) ecclesiastical structures. Practically speaking, in that context it just means "clergy." A Swedish scholar told me that "priest" was just the standard word for clergy in Sweden in Swedenborg's day.
However, as you imply, Swedenborg really speaks very little about present-day ecclesiastical structure, polity, and practice. The vast bulk of what he wrote was correspondential interpretation of rituals and practices in Hebrew scripture. To take this and apply it to new church ecclesiastical structure as the General Church, in particular, has done, is a misunderstanding of Swedenborg's overall teachings about church and religion. Those forms were appropriate to a "representative of a church," but not to a genuine church, as the new church is supposed to be.
I've come to think that even what he did write about present-day religion largely applies to the culture of his day, which was still a part of the old Christian church. He was speaking practically about what existed in the society around him, not making prescriptions for how the new church must be run in the future. As the new church progresses, I believe it will approach closer and closer to conditions in heaven, where there are no priests, but rather "preachers," and the rituals associated with both Judaism and Christianity no longer exist.
Yes, the Holy Supper and baptism are exceptions to this. They will remain. But I don't believe they will continue in the highly ritualized fashion they have taken on in most of Christianity. They were not originally rituals so much as events. The Last Supper was a shared meal. Baptism involved gathering at the river to bathe. Turning these events into highly stylized rituals as has been done by the church robs them of much of their elemental power.
As for the priesthood and ministry, I believe it will be replaced by the system of disciples (learners) and apostles (those sent out to teach and evangelize) that Jesus instituted to replace the Jewish priesthood. In the new church we no longer require a priesthood to stand between God and the people, representing God to the people and the people to God. But we still do require those willing to study the doctrines of the church and teach them to the people. Most people simply do not have time to do this for themselves, and some people are more enlightened than others on spiritual subjects. It's part of the division of labor implied by the structure of the universal human.
Though I do still officiate at rituals from time to time, since I am ordained and commissioned to do so, and there is still some need and demand for those services, I have come to think of myself primarily as a spiritual teacher. This, I think, is far more needed than any ritual and sacerdotal services in today's day and age.
It strikes me that I cannot think of a single instance in which Swedenborg describes angels in heaven taking communion or baptizing someone.
In Marriage Love #23-25 he does describe a Sabbath and its divine worship, which consists entirely of a sermon followed by a prayer, delivered by a minister (elsewhere called a "preacher") in a temple (elsewhere called a "house of God") that consists of raised semicircular seating with a pulpit near the focal point in front, and a door behind the pulpit, to the left, through which the preacher enters. He does not describe any ritual or order of worship associated with the sermon and prayer. Aside from the pulpit, there are none of the usual trappings and sacred furniture of churches as we know them. What he describes would not even qualify as a church service in the minds of most people here on earth.
As for the rites and sacraments of the church, I can't think of a single instance in which Swedenborg describes one taking place in the spiritual world.
I think angels probably do engage in some form of baptism and Holy Supper. But I find it striking that Swedenborg apparently did not think this important enough to even describe their observance of these things for us.
From what I can tell, Swedenborg was almost entirely non-institutional and non-ritualistic. He himself didn't even go to church. Though he did discuss church rituals in relation to previous and existing churches and accounts of them in the Bible, and provided deeper, correspondential meanings for them, he provided almost no practical guidance at all as to how we are meant to observe them. Swedenborgians can't even agree on how often Communion should be taken because Swedenborg's few statements on the subject provide very little guidance. They are just passing references, and they don't necessarily agree with one another.
As far as I can tell, Swedenborg simply didn't think these matters of particular forms of external church polity and ritual had any great importance. For him, it was all about the spiritual realities behind them.
The Swedish scholar may be correct on the word meaning level. However a priest is not exactly the same as just clergy. Priests are those who represent the highest celestial heaven or the Divine good, where they officiate over rituals. In the lower heaven, they don't have priests, but preachers:
"All the preachers are from the Lord's spiritual kingdom, and none from the celestial kingdom. That they are from the spiritual kingdom, is because angels there are in truths from good, and all preaching comes from truths. That there are no preachers from the celestial kingdom, is because there they are in the good of love, and from that they see and perceive truths, but do not speak about them." (Heaven and Hell, n. 225)
That there are distinct order of priests, preachers, and perhaps those who serve from the laity, is shown in the passage where Swedenborg discusses the priesthood of Aaron, his sons, and the Levites, as successive orders (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10017). However Swedenborg may not always be distinct as he is with scripture, and may call all of them "priests" in certain passages.
The critique that the Catholic and Orthodox churches have against the Protestants is that they tend to have no sacerdotal priesthood, just preachers. And the spiritual reason for that is: Protestants separate faith from charity, so the emphasis is more on preachings than ritual. That there are symbolic rituals in heaven, Swedenborg recounts many of them, such as in ML 25, TCR 751, HH 223).
So I would hope that the New Church not follow the Protestant churches in this manner. Other groups devoid of ritual would include Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses where they place emphasis on knowledge. However since the New Church is so small, for now perhaps volunteers from the laity help lead, and start home churches.
One eye opener I had was when I attended a service of the Egyptian Coptic Church - they belong to the eastern Orthodox. It was completely ritualistic. Emphasis is placed on experience, not thinking. And after a while, going through the chanting, the incense, the songs, your mind goes to a different place and its quite relaxing. I like the way they put scripture in the "Holy of Holies," taking the place of the ark and the 10 commandments. It is after the ritual, they then have a short preaching. In one of Swedenborg's visions he saw the Word in a sacred room, similar to the Orthodox churches, so I think a similar setup or ritual would make sense for the New Church, where the Second Coming has taken place in the revelation of the Word.
Point in mind here is, God not only gave us free will, but free will in how we should worship, and He loves variety.
Swedenborg is quite clear in Heaven and Hell #226 that the preachers in heaven are not called "priests" because heaven's priesthood is the heavenly ("celestial") kingdom. In other words, there are no priests in heaven as commonly understood. It is more like the concept of the "priesthood of all believers," except that it is actually the "priesthood of all lovers"--meaning those who act from love, who make the heavenly kingdom.
Drawing on Aaron, his sons, and the Levites to devise a trinal order of the priesthood for the new church is precisely the error I was referring to, made by the General Church. They have a whole book on it. It is a complete misunderstanding of what Swedenborg was talking about. He was not talking about how to set up a church and a priesthood. He was talking about how the ancient Jewish priesthood represented higher spiritual realities. That priesthood itself has been abrogated. It was a mere representative of higher things.
Yes, people can worship as they please. But most religious people are currently part of one of the older churches, not part of the new church. In this, I include most of the organized New Church, which is largely old church in practice, even if it may intellectually be new church in doctrine.
You say, "That there are symbolic rituals in heaven, Swedenborg recounts many of them, such as in ML 25, TCR 751, HH 223).”
However, all three of these sections describe the aforementioned divine worship in heaven. As I said previously, it is completely devoid of ritual. It consists entirely of a sermon followed by a brief prayer. It seems to be the ultimate example of what Catholic and Orthodox Christians criticize in Protestant services: a complete lack of priestly functions or ritual, but only preaching.
Have you come across any sections in Swedenborg that describe rituals in heaven? The only one I can think of offhand is the description of a wedding in heaven in the opening memorabilia of Marriage Love. That does contain some simple ritual elements. However, it is not presided over by any type of clergy.
More accurately, I should say there are symbolic rituals on earth only. In the spiritual world, the ideas in fact become the reality, and things appear or are arranged according to our spiritual state of mind and will at the time. thus when angels are discussing spiritual matters, gardens appear. So no, there is no symbolism, it is a spiritual reality that corresponds. So baptism is a symbolic ritual signifying the removals of evils through the Divine truth, symbol of an entrance into the church, communion is a symbolic ritual of one's entrance into heaven as one appropriates good and truth in one's life from Divine love and wisdom. It is in fact from visions of the spiritual world that these ancient symbolic rituals were originally derived.Delete
In the New Church, I dont see much ritual except for baptism and the eucharist. The most symbolism in the New Church comes from reading the Word itself.
Ritualistic services on earth I see as a symbol of the celestial heaven, where there is no talking, just doing and experiencing. Preaching, as is common in Protestant type services, I see a symbol of the lower spiritual heaven where they talk a lot. Celestials angels are volitional and do, spiritual angels are intellectual and talk, then do. At the lowest level you have those who are just following the rules out of simple obedience.
I dont think there is a "priesthood" as we know it on earth, but there are higher level angels who govern and guide those who surround them, and are in the inner sanctum of their respective spiritual societies. In one society it was a bunch of ancient wise men, in another he had the title of a prince. So it will depend on the society. Some of these I think will reflect the actual forms of worship on earth to guide the simple, until they move on. So if there is a priesthood in heaven, it will only be an appearance, or a temporary role taken on.
Also, Secrets of Heaven #10017 is a perfect example of what Swedenborg does not say about Aaron, his sons, and the Levites: he says nothing about establishing any earthly priesthood using that model. The entire number is about the spiritual significance of those three elements in the Biblical narrative. It's all about the Lord's salvation of people at the three levels of heaven. Drawing on that to build an earthly priesthood according to the ancient Jewish model goes entirely outside of anything Swedenborg says in that number, or anywhere else that I'm aware of. It is human-derived doctrine that has little or no basis in anything Swedenborg actually wrote.ReplyDelete
The main reason I don't want to be drastic and say lets abolish a ritualistic priesthood, is that I have some hope for a few of the older churches. Some enlightened priests may come across Swedenborg and see their role and rituals in a new light. its better to bend rather than to break. Also, in church services there just has to be order. There is the occasional nutcase that tries to disrupt the services in some churches. So if there is a choice between a priest and a nutcase, I will pick the priest.Delete
As for note #10017, had no idea the General Church wrote a whole book on it and I have no idea what discussion they had on that particular passage. If there is any ritual, it must be based on revelation and doctrine, thus the old ritual of the Jewish Passover was transformed into the Christian Easter.
I understand that there will still be a need for priests as long as the remnants of the old church persists. I don't believe those remnants are evil. They perform a service to many people, and they are to be honored to the extent that they do.
I simply think that as the new church comes into its own, those remnants will gradually fade away, just as the early Jerusalem Christians, with their remaining attachments to the former Jewish church, faded away as the Christian church became established and grew among the gentiles.
In other words, I believe that the remnants of the old church, and the organizations of the new church that were founded in the image of the old church, are transitional and temporary.
I was punting from memory on the General Church writing a book about the trinal order of the priesthood. In fact, the work I was thinking of predates the General Church, but was written by one of its early champions, the Rev. Richard de Charms. I managed to track it down on Google books, if you're interested. However, be warned that this "report" runs to over 700 pages. It is amazing that so many words can be spilled in defense of a faulty premise.
Anyway, here is the link (which I hope will work for you):
Report on a Trine to the Central Convention (1848)
700 pages? Ok that is really overkill.Delete
Probably what will happen in the future, is that there will be no religion and no formal church. People will live it and know the truth. The "New Church" was probably not meant to be a church as we know it. But we are a long way off from that. I feel like we have time traveled backward into a primitive society, with the way things are now. But the old church must go, and I have seen prophecies to that effect but have not published them.
I tend to agree that formal church and religion will fade away in the future. There was no formal religion in the most ancient church. The new church will, in time, reach a similar state, except that it will be engaged in the innocence of wisdom instead of in the innocence of ignorance. (Though applying that latter term to the people of the most ancient church is a bit tricky.)
I would say that we're in a mixed period right now. Many people have already abandoned organized religion, and (if they are spiritually oriented) focus their lives on personal spirituality and living a good life. So some elements of that new church are already here. Meanwhile, of course, many people are still engaged in organized religions that remain from the previous spiritual era. So during this transitional time, both exist simultaneously.
What is still very weak is the "knowing the truth" part. There is certainly a lot more readily available spiritual teaching than at any time in previous history. However, it's a mixed bag. There's a lot of fallacy and misinformation out there, which people readily pick up and embrace as "higher truth."
This is why my own focus and goal has moved more and more toward being a spiritual teacher, and finding ways to disseminate genuine spiritual truth to a wide audience of spiritual seekers. In order to do that, we must use the powerful new media of information exchange that have been developed in the last century and in the last few decades.
Speaking of which, I'm now putting together a video recording setup. At first I plan to simply do video readings of some of my more popular existing blog posts, and possibly of new blog posts as they come out. This will give people the option of watching, or just listening, which can be done while doing other things. Some people also prefer to listen over reading.
Over time I hope to produce more full-featured videos. And eventually I hope and plan to host a regular show on spiritual subjects. But that is a little farther down the road.
You might be interested in some responses I made today to a recent comment on my blog, in which I briefly take up the issue of priesthood, and then go on to deal mostly with faith, works, and salvation. The thread starts here.
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