In previous posts I have shown how the Christian church had declined before 1757. In this post I will show how and why the second coming took place in the enlightenment period.
On earth, after 1758 CE, the spiritual world was returned to order and great vibrancy, the events described in Revelation were accomplished, and, consequently, greater light come into the natural world. So, now if one looks at history, it is not hard to see that the second coming correlates to the period of the Enlightenment. In this essay I will show how in thousands of ways the enlightenment marks the time when people began to have an internal view of God and religion, and began to turn away from the external ways of the past. This is a consequence of the revealing of the internal sense of the Word which is he essence of the second coming.
One of the main characteristics of the Enlightenment is that its leading figures sought to reclaim individual authority from within to reason about God and life, rather than accept dogma from the church only. Descartes led the way by seeking to discipline himself to reason and intuit about knowledge of God. He carefully observed and examined his own ability to think. He made step-by-step arguments to find how one could establish certainty in God. He wrote long philosophical treatises, such as Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking for Truth in the Sciences, as did others like Spinoza, who wrote, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. Wolff wrote similar treatises. They disagreed with each other on many points, but the thrusts of their efforts were very similar.
Swedenborg’s emphasis on the importance of mans rationality is key to the development of the inner faculties. In the seventeen- and eighteen-hundreds, when Swedenborg and other philosophers used the terms ‘rationality’ and ‘intellect,’ they were referring more to the whole soul’s ability to comprehend and ‘become,’ moreso than a purely intellectual activity as we tend to think today. For Swedenborg and the Enlightenment philosphers, a human’s rational ability and his or her ability to will are the means to salvation. The exercising of these inner freedoms took a sharp turn upward in the collective psyche at this time.
The idea of freedom is an important theme for all of these writers. Essentially, Swedenborg’s idea of true freedom is to use one’s rationality and will to be led by the Lord. There is no genuine freedom except that which leads to the Lord. We are free to participate in evil, but this, in the end, leads to spiritual slavery, which he calls infernal freedom. Swedenborg emphasizes that human freedom is at one and the same time entirely real, – yet an appearance. In other words, as far as we humans are concerned it is totally real and complete, (otherwise it would not be freedom); – while freedom is also a gift that the Lord provides by maintaining equilibrium between heaven and hell by his might alone. The Cartesian idea of freedom may not articulate it to this degree but is in harmony with Swedenborg’s view. Descartes gives a very high value to inner freedom:
“In the case of God I understand each faculty to be boundless. It is only the freewill or free choice that I experience to be so great in me that I cannot grasp the idea of any greater faculty. This is so much the case that the will is the chief basis for my understanding that I bear a certain image and likeness to God… When viewed in itself formerly and precisely, God’s faculty of willing does not appear to be any greater…In order to be free I need to be capable of being moved each direction…Nor indeed does Divine grace or natural knowledge ever diminish one’s freedom: rather they increase and strengthen it”. (Philosophical Essays and Correspondences, 124-125)
Descartes, Spinoza, and Wolff wrote from about 1640 to 1700 CE, which predates Swedenborg’s date for the second coming; which is also true of much of Swedenborg’s writing. Swedenborg’s crisis and commission from the Lord took place in 1744 CE, and had almost a ten-year period leading up to it. This is nevertheless consistent with our theme in that there is a preparatory period before, and there is also the lingering of the old ways after. This is just the nature of life and the world.
Compared to the refined light of the spiritual world, history on earth reflects the second in a more faltering way because earth life is mixed with evil. During the 17th century, people thinking along the lines of internal development were the minority. The times were still dominated by dogma and fanaticism. Witch-hunts were practiced, Protestants and Catholics fought each other as evils, and censorship and slavery were widely practiced. But the change in history was nevertheless clear and dramatic.
Enlightenment thinking spread through Europe and gradually took hold in the governments of England and France. In England, John Locke was a champion of democracy when he countered Hobbes’ idea that, because he is self-serving, man had to have a single intimidating ruler. In Two Treatises of Government, Locke argued for a representative government. In the years after this, the Protestants ousted the Catholic James II and installed William and Mary. Then, the English government ratified a new Bill of Rights that granted more personal freedoms. Baron de Montesquieu elaborated Locke’s work in France. These events and more like them are consistent with what Swedenborg describes as happening in heaven. It is interesting also that Denis Diderot, even though he had no revolutionary aspirations, compiled his 35 volume Encyclopodie and helped a great deal to spread Enlightenment knowledge.
It is also true, of course, that writers like Voltaire, and some of Kant’s writings, in their desire to undermine religious dogma, put forth arguments attacking the fundamentals of religion, such as the incarnation of God as Christ. Kant reacted to Swedenborg’s writings by saying he was insane. Voltaire led a band of writers known as the philosophes who furthered the attack on Christianity. Many of their writings were included in Diderot’s Encyclopedie. This, and similar events may have expanded tolerance, but can be seen as germs of more destructive ways of thinking that led to relativism and atheism, perhaps over-reactions to the oppression of the Church.
The enlightenment was also a time of great scientific progress. After Descartes and Francis Bacon revised the scientific method, scientists like Newton made many revolutionary discoveries. There was a sudden exponential increase in scientific knowledge. Before his religious crisis, Swedenborg also was a great scientist, an essential part of the ‘Age of Reason,’ making many discoveries in several fields. He met and worked with many of the great scientist of his time, such as Leibniz, Newton, Pierre Varignon, Papin, Flamsteed, Sir Edmond Halley and many others.
In the 18th century, thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau came to prominence. Although these two had major differences, mostly based on class, they also shared some of the major ideals of Enlightenment thinkers such as the rejection of dogma and orthodox Christianity; they viewed the absolute monarchy as dangerous; they passionately encouraged freedom of thought. Voltaire discredited democracy, while Rousseau fought for more democratic thinking and government in many fields of life. Rousseau’s’ ideas, which championed intuition and feeling in fields such as education, can also be seen as a reflection of the greater inner light available to man. He at once fought for greater self-rule and a government of equality empowered by the people. It is also pointed out that some evils come from the ideas of Rousseau and his like in the form of an overemphasis on humanism at the expense of recoginition of God as the source. These ideas from the Enlightenment are very much still alive today. The movement toward democracy at this time can be seen as a consequence of the effect of the second coming.
Many of the leaders of the American Revolution were highly influenced by the English and French Enlightenment thinkers. Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and Paine put a high value in God as he source for inspiration and trust. Core American values of natural law, inherent freedoms, and self-determination originate in the Enlightenment. The triumph of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution added a new dimension to the Enlightenment. These documents were founded in the authority of God and birthed from intense desire for freedom and liberty, and they manifested in an expansive new land. The enlightened documents sought to tether America to God. This reliance on God has its spiritual origin in the pilgrims who settled here and made a sacred covenant with God to be good stewards in the new land.
In America, a great vibrancy and variety in religion gradually grew that has to continued in our core values to this day and has ultimately impacted the whole world. Of course, it has been much battered, muted, and troubled. Nevertheless, writers, peoples, denominations of all kinds have been able to flourish in the time of our forefathers and today. A lot of this was due to the seemingly limitless space in America, which made it so much easier to be tolerant. In the continent of Europe, religion has remained moslty stagnant, although in parts of India and Africa, in some ways, there has been more of a continued vibrancy from a long way back. On the American continent, there was a sudden renewed form of government and religion in society. In the Last Judgment in the year of 1758 CE, Swedenborg writes:
“I have had various converses with the angels respecting the state of the church hereafter. They said that they know not things to come;…but that they know the slavery and captivity in which the man of the church was until this time, has been removed; and that now,…he can better receive interior truths, if he desires to perceive them, and thus become more internal; but yet they have slender hope of the men of the Christian church, but much of some nation distant from the Christian world, and therefore removed from infesters, a nation which is such that it can receive spiritual light, and become a celestial-spiritual man. And they said that interior Divine truths are at this day revealed to that nation, and are also received in spiritual faith, that is in life and heart; and that they worship the Lord.”
In this long sentence, Swedenborg can only be talking about America. At the time he wrote, many of the events mentioned above leading up to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were taking place. I believe the covenant the Pilgrims made with God to form a society in America was from this spiritual-celestial inspiration; the genius with which the forefathers wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence was from ‘interior divine truths at this day revealed to that nation’, as well as the extremely unlikely (and painfully and precariously won) victory that George Washington led the revolutionary army to achieve – all of these were touched by the providence of the Lord so that America could be a ‘light to the world’. The seemingly limitless space at the time in America was a physical expression of the spiritual-celestial freedom that the country was born in, where people could start anew in the new world. With this also came well known evils; namely the atrocities put upon the native American Indians who occupied the land for thousands of years. In this brief sketch of history it can be seen that with good comes new seeds of evil, that heretofore were not known. These evils are tragic and must be fully acknowledged; at the same time, in looking at the whole picture it is important to not throw away the baby with the bath water.
The forming of the US was different than any nation before it; it was not based on ethnicity, but on a God given ideal – that of bringing diversity together under God in democracy and capitalism. These ideals have been corrupted and exploited by the greedy, tarnishing the purpose of the forefathers; nevertheless the core values of America have provided much needed light to the world. All of these breakout events for Mankind are a direct result of the second coming. As siad, it is the way of things, that the new goods that came with the second coming, also contained new seeds of evil. Simularly evil events come with seeds of good.
As we see from the quotes above, Swedenborg’s role in the second coming was essential to, and directly commissioned by, the Lord. His particular purpose was to bring to light by written explication the inner sense of the Word. In this sense, he was the primary agent of the second coming on earth. He is not the second coming; he is merely an agent of its communication. The second coming is the light of the Lord being made available in its fullness for the understanding and liberty of humanity, and this was received and communicated by many men and woman that shared this light in thousands of creative ways. Swedenborg’s role is primary for two reasons. For the last thirty years of his life, he was given the great gift of being raised into the light of heaven; in this capacity he travelled the realms of heaven so that he could communicate to humanity the wisdom of heaven. Secondly, he was tuaght by revelation from the Lord the internal sense of the Word in enormous detail. He was commissioned by the Lord to publish what he learned, and he did so with unprecedented, tireless dedication. Here is a rare quote from Swedenborg explaining the nature of his role:
Since the Lord cannot manifest Himself in Person, as shown just above, and yet has foretold that He would come and establish a New Church, which is the New Jerusalem, it follows that this will be effected by means of a man, who is able not only to receive the doctrines of that into his understanding, but also to publish them by the press. I testify in truth that the Lord manifested Himself to me His servant, and sent me to this office; and that afterwards He opened the sight of my spirit, and so intermitted me into the spiritual world, and has granted me to see the heavens and the hells…from the first day of that calling I have not received anything whatever relating to the doctrines of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone, while I was reading the Word. (True Christian Religion, n. 779,780)
In all history, have bolder words been spoken?