A Compendium of the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg/5 The Fall of Man


The Nature of the Fall.

"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." These words, together with those just explained, signify that it is allowable to obtain a knowledge of what is true and good by means of every perception derived from the Lord, but not from self and the world; or, that it is unlawful to inquire into the mysteries of faith by means of things of sense and knowledge, by which means his celestial quality is destroyed.

A desire to investigate the mysteries of faith by means of things sensuous and known, was not only the cause of the fall or decline of the Most Ancient Church, in the succeeding generation, but it is the cause of the fall or decline of every church; for hence come not merely false opinions, but evils of life also.

The worldly and corporeal man says in his heart, "If I am not instructed by the senses concerning faith, and the things relating to it, so that I may see them, or by means of knowledge, so that I may understand them, I will not believe;" and he confirms himself in his incredulity by the fact that natural things cannot be contrary to spiritual. Thus he would be instructed in heavenly and Divine subjects by the experience of his senses; which is as impossible as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. For the more he would grow wise by such a process, the more he blinds himself; till at length he comes to believe nothing, not even the reality of spiritual existences, or of eternal life. This is a necessary consequence of the principle which he lays down. This is to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; of which the more a man eats the more dead he becomes. But he who would grow wise by wisdom derived from the Lord, and not from the world, says within himself that he ought to believe the Lord, that is, the things which the Lord has spoken in the Word, because they are truths; and according to this principle he regulates his thoughts. Such a person confirms himself in his belief by things of reason and knowledge, sensual and natural; and things which do not confirm he rejects. (A. C. n. 126-128.)

The evil of the Most Ancient Church, which existed before the flood, as well as of the Ancient church founded after that event, of the Jewish church, and subsequently of the new church or church of the Gentiles after the coming of the Lord, and also the evil of the church of the present day is, that instead of believing the Lord, or the Word, they trusted to themselves and the evidence of their senses. Hence faith became annihilated, and when there was no faith there was no love to the neighbour, so that all was evil and falsity.

At this day, however, the evil is much greater than in former times, because men can now confirm the incredulity of the senses by knowledges of which the ancients were ignorant, which have given birth to indescribable darkness, at which mankind would be astonished did they but know how great it is. (ib. n. 231, 232.)

Loss of Internal Perception by the Fall.

The Most Ancient Church had a perception of what was good and true; the Ancient church had no perception, but in the place of it a different kind of internal dictate, which may be called conscience. But, what has hitherto been unknown to the world, and will perhaps appear incredible, the man of the Most Ancient Church had internal respiration, and none that was externally perceptible. They therefore did not converse so much by words as afterwards, and at the present day, but like the angels, by ideas which they were able to express by innumerable variations of the looks and countenance, and especially of the lips. For in the lips there are innumerable series of muscular fibres which at the present day are not developed, but which, being then unloosed, served so perfectly to set forth, signify, and represent their ideas, that in a minute they could relate what it would now require an hour to express by articulate sounds or words; and that more fully and evidently to the apprehension and understanding of those present, than can ever be by words, and series of combined sounds. This is perhaps incredible, but nevertheless it is true. There are also many others, not inhabitants of this earth, who have conversed and at this day converse in a similar manner. I have, moreover, been informed as to the nature of this internal respiration, and how in the progress of time it became changed. As they breathed like the angels—for they respire in a similar manner—so also they were in profound ideas of thought, and were capable of enjoying such perception as cannot be described; and indeed, were it done the description would be rejected as incredible, because it could not be understood. Among their posterity, however, this internal respiration gradually ceased, and with those who were occupied with direful persuasions and fantasies, it became so changed that they could no longer visibly express any but the most deformed idea of thought; the effect of which was that they could not survive, and therefore became extinct. (A. C. n. 607.)

The Image of God not actually Destroyed in Man.

The image of God and the likeness of God are not destroyed with man, but are as if destroyed; for they remain implanted in his two faculties that are called rationality and liberty. They became as destroyed when man made the receptacle of the Divine love, which is his will, the receptacle of the love of self, and the receptacle of the Divine wisdom, which is his understanding, the receptacle of his own intelligence. Thereby he inverted the image and likeness of God; for he turned away those two receptacles from God, and turned them round to himself Hence it is that they are closed above and open below, or that they are closed before and open behind, when yet by creation they were open before and closed behind; and when they are opened and closed thus inversely, then the receptacle of love or the will receives influx from hell or from its proprium; in like manner the receptacle of wisdom or the understanding. Hence arose in the churches the worship of men in place of the worship of God, and worship from the doctrines of falsity in place of worship from the doctrines of truth; the latter from their own intelligence, and the former from the love of self From these things it is manifest, that religion in process of time decreases and is consummated by the inversion of the image of God with man. (D. P. n, 328.)

External Respiration, and the Origin of Verbal Language by the Fall.

As internal respiration ceased, external respiration almost like that of the present day succeeded; and with this came the language of words, or the determination of the ideas of thought into articulate sounds. Thus the state of man became entirely changed, and he became such that he was unable any longer to have that perception enjoyed by the Most Ancient Church. But instead of perception, he had another kind of dictate, which, as it resembled so it may be called conscience, although it was intermediate in nature between perception and the conscience known to some in the present day. When the ideas of thought became thus determined into verbal expressions, the capacity of being instructed through the internal man, possessed by the most ancient people, ceased, and the external became the inlet to knowledge. Then, therefore, doctrinals succeeded to the revelations of the Most Ancient Church; which being first apprehended by the external senses were afterwards formed into the material ideas of the memory, and thence into the ideas of thought, by which and according to which they were instructed. Hence it was that this church, which succeeded to the Most Ancient, was of an entirely different genius; and unless the Lord had brought the human race to this genius or state, no man could ever have been saved. (A. C. n. 608.)

The Most Ancient Church, above all churches in the whole world, was from the Divine; for it was in the good of love to the Lord. Their voluntary and intellectual faculties made one, thus one mind. They therefore had a perception of truth from good; for the Lord flowed in, through an internal way, into the good of their will, and through this into the good of the understanding or truth. Hence it is that that church in preference to the others was called Man. But when that generation expired, another succeeded of a totally different character. Instead of discerning truth by good, or estimating the relations of faith by love, they acquired a knowledge of what is good by means of truth, and of love by the knowledges of faith; and with many among them mere knowledge was the desideratum. Such was the change made after the flood, to prevent the destruction of the world, (ib. n. 4454, 200.)

The Fall was Gradual and Successive.

From what is here stated respecting the first man, it is manifest that all the hereditary evil existing at the present day was not derived from him, as is commonly but erroneously supposed. . . . With respect to hereditary evil the case is this; Every one who commits actual sin acquires a nature conformable to it, whence evil is implanted in his children, and becomes hereditary. Consequently it is derived from each particular parent, from his father, his grandfather, his great- grandfather, and their ancestors; and is thus multiplied and augmented in each descending generation. And it remains with each, and is increased in each by actual sin; nor does it ever become dissipated or lose its baneful influence except in those who are regenerated by the Lord. Every attentive observer may see evidence of this truth in the fact that the evil inclinations of parents visibly remain in their children; so that a family, yea, an entire race, may be thereby distinguished from every other. (A. C. n. 313.)

The Nature and Extent of Hereditary Evil.

Hereditary evil from the father is interior; and hereditary evil from the mother is exterior. The former cannot easily be eradicated, but the latter can be. When man is regenerated, the hereditary evil inrooted from the next parents is extirpated; but it remains with those who are not regenerated, or not capable of being regenerated. This then is hereditary evil. This is evident to every one who reflects; and further, from the fact that every family has some peculiar evil or good by which it is distinguished from other families; and it is known that this is from parents and ancestors. It is so in regard to the Jewish nation which remains at this day; which it is very manifest is distinct and may be known from other nations, not only by their peculiar genius, but also by their manners, speech, and countenance. But few know what hereditary evil is. It is believed to consist in doing evil; but it consists in willing and thence thinking evil. Hereditary evil is in the will itself, and thence in the thought, and is the very tendency which is within it; and even adjoins itself when a man does good. It is known by the delight which arises when evil befalls another. That root lies deeply hidden, for the very interior form recipient of good and truth from heaven, or through heaven from the Lord, is depraved, and so to speak, detorted; so that when good and truth flow in from the Lord they are either turned aside, perverted, or suffocated. Hence it is that there is no perception of good and truth at this day, but instead of it the regenerate conscience, which acknowledges as good and true what is learned from parents and masters. It is of hereditary evil to love self in preference to another; to will evil to another if he does not honour self; to perceive delight in revenge; also to love the world, and all the lusts or evil affections thence derived, more than heaven. Man does not know that such things are in him; and still less that such things are opposite to heavenly affections. But yet in the other life it is manifestly shown how much of hereditary evil every one has attracted to himself by actual life; also how much he has removed himself from heaven by evil affections from it. (A. C. n. 4317.)

Every man is born, of his parents, into the evils of the love of self and of the world. Every evil which by habit has as it were contracted a nature, is derived into the offspring; thus successively from parents, from grandfathers, and from great-grandfathers, in a long series backward. Hence the derivation of evil is at length become so great that all man's own life is nothing else but evil. This continued derived [evil] is not broken and altered except by a life of faith and charity from the Lord. (ib. n. 8550.)