A Compendium of the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg/17 The Church


The Church Universal.

The church of the Lord is scattered over the whole terrestrial globe, and thus is universal. All they are in it who have lived in the good of charity according to their religious belief. (H. H. n. 328.)

As regards the Lord's spiritual church, it should be known that it is throughout the whole terrestrial globe. For it is not limited to those that have the Word, and from this have obtained a knowledge of the Lord, and some truths of faith; but it is also with those who have not the Word, and are therefore entirely ignorant of the Lord, and consequently do not know any truths of faith (for all truths of faith refer to the Lord); that is, with the Gentiles remote from the church. For there are many among them who from rational light have come to know that there is one God; that He created all things, and that He preserves all things; as well as that all good, consequently all truth is from Him, and that similitude with Him makes man blessed; and who live, moreover, according to their religious belief, in love to God and in charity towards the neighbour; who from an affection for good do the works of charity, and from an affection for truth worship the Supreme. It is those that are of such a character among the Gentiles who are in the Lord's spiritual church. And although ignorant of the Lord while they are in the world, yet they have within them the worship and tacit acknowledgment of Him, when they are in good; for in all good the Lord is present. (A. C. n. 3263.)

The Specific Church, and its relation to the Church Universal.

It is called the church where the Lord is acknowledged and where the Word is. For the essentials of the church are love and faith in the Lord from the Lord; and the Word teaches how a man must live in order that he may receive love and faith from the Lord. (H. D. n. 242.)

They that are without the church, and acknowledge one God, and live in a certain charity towards the neighbour according to their religious belief, are in communion with those that are of the church; for no one who believes in God and lives well is condemned. It is therefore clear that the church of the Lord is everywhere in the whole world, although specifically it is where the Lord is acknowledged, and where the Word is. (ib. n. 244.)

By means of the Word there is conjunction of heaven with those also who are out of the church, where the Word is not; for the Lord's church is universal, and with all who acknowledge a Divine [Being] and live in charity. And furthermore, after death they are instructed by the angels and receive Divine truths. The church universal on earth is in the sight of the Lord as one man, just as heaven is; and the church where the Word is, and where by means of this the Lord is known, is as the heart and lungs in that man. (H. H. n. 308.)

By means of the church they are saved who are out of the church. None but those that are within the church are in the faith of charity; for the faith of charity is truth of doctrine adjoined to the good of life. For the case is this: The Lord's kingdom on earth consists of all that are in good; who although scattered over the whole earth are yet one, and as members constitute one body. . . . The church on the earth is like the heart and lungs; and they that are without the church are as the parts of the body which are sustained and kept alive by the heart and lungs. It is clear from this that without a church somewhere on earth the human race could not subsist; just as the body cannot without the heart and lungs within it. (A. C. n. 2853.)

Unless there exists somewhere on earth a church where the Word is, and where by means of it the Lord is known, there cannot be conjunction with heaven; for the Lord is God of heaven and earth, and without the Lord there is no salvation. It suffices that there be a church where the Word is, although it consist of a few comparatively; through this the Lord is yet present everywhere throughout the whole earth, for through this heaven is conjoined with the human race. (S. S. n. 104.)

It is known that [the character of] a church is according to its doctrine; and that doctrine is from the Word. But yet doctrine does not establish a church; but the integrity and purity of the doctrine, consequently the understanding of the Word. (T. C. R n. 245.)

The Lord is present with man through the reading of the Word; but He is conjoined to him by means of and according to his understanding of truth from the Word. And in proportion as the Lord is conjoined to man, the church is in him. (S. S. n. 78.)

Where the Specific Church is.

The church is nowhere else than where the Word is rightly understood; and such as is the understanding of the Word among those who are in the church, such is the church. (S. S. n. 79.)

That there may be a church there must be doctrine from the Word; because without doctrine the Word is not understood. Yet doctrine alone does not constitute the church with man, but a life according to doctrine. From this it follows that faith alone does not constitute the church, but the life of faith, which is charity. Genuine doctrine is the doctrine of charity and of faith together, and not the doctrine of faith without the other; for the doctrine of charity and of faith together is the doctrine of life, but not the doctrine of faith without the doctrine of charity. (H. D. n. 243.)

Who Constitute the Specific Church.

It is one thing for the church to be with a nation, and another for the church to be in a nation. As for example, the Christian church is with those who have the Word, and from doctrine preach the Lord; but yet there is nothing of the church in them unless they are in the marriage of good and truth; that is unless they are in charity towards the neighbour, and thence in faith; or unless the internals of the church are within the externals. (A. C. n. 4899.)

He who is not in spiritual good, that is in the good of charity, and in spiritual truths, that is in truths of faith, is not of the church although he was born within the church. . . . They that do not live according to the Word, or according to doctrine from the Word, so that it is the rule of life, are not of the church, but are out of it; and those who live in evil, thus who live contrary to doctrine, are farther out of the church than the Gentiles who know nothing at all of the Word, of the Lord, and of the Sacraments. For, since they know the goods and truths of the church they extinguish the church within them; which the Gentiles cannot do because they do no not know them. (A. C. n. 6637.)

The Church is one thing and Religion another.

The church is one thing and religion another. The church is called a church from doctrine; and religion is called religion from life according to doctrine. All doctrine is called truth; and its good also is truth, because it only teaches it. But everything of life according to those things which doctrine teaches is called good; doing the truths of doctrine likewise is good. Thus is the church distinguished from religion. But where there is doctrine and not life it cannot be said that there is either a church or religion; because doctrine looks to life, as one with itself,— just as do truth and good, faith and charity, wisdom and love, understanding and will. There is therefore no church where there is doctrine and not life. (A. R. n. 923.)

Who are meant by Gentiles?

In many places the Word refers to those that are in darkness, in the shadow of death, and in thick darkness, whose eyes the Lord will open; and by them the Gentiles are meant, who have been in good works but not in any truths, because they have not known the Lord, neither were in possession of the Word. Precisely similar to these are they in the Christian world who are in works alone, and in no truths of doctrine, and who therefore cannot be called anything else than Gentiles. They know of the Lord it is true, but yet do not approach Him; and they possess the Word, but do not search after the truths therein. (A. R. n. 110.)

The Good and Truth among the Gentiles is not constituent of the Church.

That the good of life may be [constituent] of the church there must be doctrinals from the Word which are implanted in that good. Without doctrinals it is indeed the good of life, but not yet good [constituent] of the church; thus not yet truly spiritual, save only as to its capacity to become so. Such is the good of life among the Gentiles who have not the Word, and therefore do not know of the Lord. (A. C. n. 3310.)

The Gentiles who are out of the church can be in truths, but not in truths of faith. . . . Truths of faith are all doctrinals concerning the life eternal, concerning the Lord's kingdom, and concerning the Lord. These cannot be known to them, because they have not the Word. (ib. n. 2049.)

The Necessity that there should always be a Church.

The human race, even those who are out of the church, derive life from the church of the Lord on earth. The reason is entirely unknown to any one. But that something may be known of it, it may be stated that the whole human race on earth is like the body with its parts, in which the church is as the heart; and unless there were a church, with which as with a kind of heart the Lord might be united, through heaven and the world of spirits, there would be a disjunction; and if there were a disjunction of the human race from the Lord it would instantly perish. This is the reason why from the first creation of man there has always been some church; and that as often as the church began to perish it still remained with some. This also was the reason of the Lord's advent into the world. Unless in His Divine mercy He had come the whole human race on this earth would have perished; for the church was then at the point of destruction, so that there was scarcely any surviving good and truth. The reason why the human race cannot live unless it is conjoined with the Lord, through heaven and the world of spirits, is because in himself regarded man is far viler than the brutes. If he were left to himself he would rush headlong to his own destruction, and that of all others; for he desires nothing but the ruin of them and himself. His order of life should be that one should love another as himself; but now, each loves himself more than others, and consequently hates all others. With the unreasoning animals it is quite different. It is their order, according to which they live. Thus they live entirely in agreement with the order in which they exist; but man altogether contrary to his order. Unless therefore the Lord should have compassion upon him, and conjoin him to Himself by the angels, he would not be able to live a moment. Man does not know this. (A. C. n. 637.)

The Church in Heaven could not subsist without a Church on the Earth.

It should be known that there is a church in the heavens as well as on earth; for the Word is there; there are temples, and preachings in them; there are ministerial and priestly offices. For all the angels there were men; and their departure out of the world was only a continuation of their life. They also are therefore perfected in love and wisdom, every one according to the degree of affection for truth and good which he took with him from the world. The church among them is meant here (Rev. xii. 1) by the woman clothed with the sun, who had upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And because the church in the heavens cannot subsist unless there is also a church on earth, which is in concordant love and wisdom, and because this was about to be, therefore the moon was seen under the feet of the woman: by which here in particular a faith is signified,—of such quality as it is at the present day,—by which there is no conjunction. The reason why the church in the heavens cannot subsist unless there is a church on earth, in conjunction with it, is that heaven where the angels are and the church where men are act as one, like the internal and external in man. And the internal in man cannot subsist in its state unless an external is conjoined with it; for the internal without the external is as a house without a foundation; or as seed upon the ground and not in the ground; and so like anything without a foothold; in a word as a cause without an effect in which it may exist. From these considerations it may appear how absolutely necessary it is that there should be a church somewhere in the world, where the Word is, and by means of it the Lord is known. (A. R n. 533.)

When a Church is near its End a new Church is raised up.

When the end of a church is at hand, it is provided by the Lord that a new church shall succeed; because without a church in which the Word is, and in which the Lord is known, the world cannot subsist. For without the Word, and the knowledge and acknowledgment therefrom of the Lord, heaven cannot be conjoined to the human race; nor therefore can Divine truth proceeding from the Lord flow in with new life; and without conjunction with heaven, and thereby with the Lord, man would not be man, but a beast. Hence it is that a new church is always provided by the Lord when an old church comes to its end. (A. E. n. 665.)[1]

There have been in general four Churches on the Earth.

That there have been four churches in general on this earth since its creation, one succeeding another, can be seen both from the historical and prophetical Word; especially in Daniel, where these four churches are described by the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in a dream (chap, ii.), and afterwards by the four beasts coming up out of the sea (chap. vii.). The first church, which is to be called the Most Ancient, existed before the flood; the consummation or end of this is described by the flood. The second church, which is to be called the Ancient, was in Asia, and in part in Africa; this was consummated and destroyed by idolatries. The third church was the Israelitish, which began with the promulgation of the decalogue upon Mount Sinai, and continued through the Word written by Moses and the prophets, and was consummated or ended by the profanation of the Word; the fulness of which profanation was at the time when the Lord came into the world,—and therefore Him who was the Word they crucified. The fourth church is the Christian, established by the Lord through the evangelists and apostles. Of this there have been two epochs; one from the time of the Lord to the council of Nice, and the other from that council to the present day. But in its progress this church was divided into three parts, the Greek, the Roman Catholic, and the Reformed. They are all however called Christian. Besides, within each general church there have been several particular churches, which, although they have withdrawn have yet retained the name of the general; as the heresies in the Christian church. (T. C. R n. 760.)

General Character of these four Churches.

In the most ancient times men were informed concerning heavenly things, or the things which relate to eternal life, by immediate intercourse with the angels of heaven. For heaven then acted as one with the man of the church, for it flowed in through the internal man into their external; whence they had not only enlightenment and perception, but also converse with the angels. This time was called the golden age, from the fact that men were then in the good of love to the Lord; for gold signifies that good. These things are also described by the Garden of Eden in the Word. Afterwards information concerning heavenly things, and concerning the things that relate to eternal life, was given by such things as are called correspondences and representations; the knowledge of which was derived from the most ancient men, who had immediate intercourse with the angels of heaven. Heaven then flowed into these things with them and enlightened them; for correspondences and representations are external forms of heavenly things. And men were then enlightened in proportion as they were in the good of love and charity; for all Divine influx out of heaven is into the good in man, and through the good into truths. And because the man of the church at that time was in spiritual good, which good in its essence is truth, those times were called the silver age; for silver signifies such good. But when the knowledge of correspondences and representations was turned into magic, that church perished; and a third succeeded, in which all worship was indeed performed by things almost similar, but yet it was unknown what they signified. This church was established among the Israelitish and Jewish nation. But as information concerning heavenly things, or the things which relate to eternal life, could not be communicated to them by influx into their interiors, and thus by enlightenment, therefore angels from heaven spoke by the living voice with some of them, and instructed them concerning external things; and little concerning internal things, because they could not comprehend them. Those who were in natural good received these things devoutly; and those times were therefore called the brazen age, for brass signifies such good. But when not even natural good remained with the man of the church, the Lord came into the world and reduced all things in the heavens and in the hells to order; to the end that man may receive influx from Him out of heaven, and be enlightened, and that the hells should not prevent and let in thick darkness. Then a fourth church began which is called Christian. In this church information concerning heavenly things, or concerning the things that relate to eternal life, is communicated solely by means of the Word; through this man has influx and enlightenment. For the Word was written by pure correspondences and pure representatives, which signify heavenly things,—into which the angels of heaven come when man reads the Word. Hence by means of the Word a conjunction of heaven with the church is effected, or of the angels of heaven with the men of the church; but only with those therein who are in the good of love and of charity. But because the man of this church has even extinguished this good, he cannot therefore be informed by any influx, and by enlightenment from the Word,—except concerning some truths which are not connected with good. Hence these times are what are called the iron age; for iron denotes truth in the ultimate of order. But when truth is such it is of the quality described in Daniel: "Thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay; they shall mingle themselves by the seed of man, but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay" (ii. 43). From these facts it may be seen how revelations have succeeded from the most ancient times down to the present; and that at this day revelation is only given through the Word. But genuine revelation is with those who are in the love of truth for the sake of truth, and not with those who are in the love of truth for the sake of honour and gain as ends. For, if you will believe it, the Lord is the Word itself, since the Word is Divine truth, and Divine truth, because from the Lord, is the Lord in heaven. They therefore who love Divine truth for the sake of Divine truth love the Lord; and heaven flows in with those who love the Lord, and enlightens them. But they that love Divine truth for the sake of honour and gain as ends, turn themselves away from the Lord to themselves and to the world; and therefore with them there can be no influx and enlightenment. They also, because in the sense of the letter they keep their minds fixed upon themselves and upon their own fame and glory, interpret that sense in conformity with such things as favour their loves. (A. C. n. 10,355.)

  1. The church cannot be raised up anew in any nation until it is entirely vastated. (See page 745.)