THE CELESTIAL AGE OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS
Daniel. 2:32-45. You, O king, were seeing. And, behold, a certain great image! That great image stood before you with a brilliant brightness, and its form was dreadful. The head of this image was of fine gold, its breast and its arms were of silver, its belly and its thighs were of bronze, (33) its legs were of iron, its feet were partly of iron and partly of clay. (34) You continued until a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them to pieces. (35) Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were together broken to pieces, and they became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors. And the wind carried them away so that no place was found for them. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (36) This is the dream, and we will tell the meaning of it before the king. (37) You O king are the king of kings. For the God of Heaven has given you the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the honor. (38) And wherever the sons of men, the animals of the field, and the birds of the sky dwell, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold. (39) And in your place shall arise another kingdom lower than yours, and another third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule in all the earth. (40) And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron. Inasmuch as iron crushes and smashes all things, and as the iron that shatters all these, it will crush and shatter. (41) And as to that you saw, the feet and the toes were partly of potters’ clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided. But there shall be in it the strength of iron, because you saw the iron mixed with clay of the potter. (42) And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. (43) And as you saw the iron mixed with the clay of the clay, they shall be mixed with the seed of men. But they shall not adhere to one another, even as iron does not mix with clay. (44) And in the days of these kings, the God of Heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed. And the kingdom shall not be left to other people. It shall break in pieces and destroy all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. (45) Because you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold in pieces. The great God has made known to the king what shall occur after this. And the dream is certain, and the meaning of it is trustworthy.
Coronis 2. There have been four churches on this earth from the day of its creation:– the First, which is to be called the Adamic; the Second, the Noachian; the Third, the Israelitish; and the Fourth, the Christian. That four churches have existed on this earth since the creation of the world, manifestly appears in Daniel; first, from the statue seen by Nebuchadnezzar in a dream,…. the wise in the first ages, who knew the significations of metals, compared the ages, which were to follow one another from the first to the last, to those four metals, and called the first age “golden,” the second age “silver,” the third age “copper,” and the fourth age “iron;” and they described them thus according to goods and truths; and because genuine goods and truths are from no other origin than from the God of heaven, they described them according to the states of the church with those who lived in those ages; for from these, and according to these, all the civil states of kingdoms as to justice and judgment exist, flourish and live… by the “Stone” which smote the statue, and became a great rock and filled the whole earth, and whose kingdom shall stand to ages of ages, is meant our Lord Jesus Christ.
Arcana Coelestia (Elliott) 2895. As regards the Word particularly, it has existed in every age, though not the Word we possess at the present day. Another Word existed in the Most Ancient Church before the Flood, and yet another Word in the Ancient Church after the Flood. Then came the Word written through Moses and the Prophets in the Jewish Church, and finally the Word written through the Evangelists in the new Church. The reason why the Word has existed in every age is that by means of the Word there is a communication between heaven and earth, and also that the Word deals with goodness and truth, by which a person is enabled to live in eternal happiness. In the internal sense therefore the Lord alone is the subject, for all goodness and truth are derived from Him.
Arcana Coelestia (Elliott) 2896. The Word in the Most Ancient Church before the Flood was not a written Word but one revealed to each member of the Church; for they were celestial people and so, like the angels in whose company they lived, knew through perception that which was good and true.
To get a real sense of what the second coming is and so understand what the Heavenly Doctrines mean by the term New Church we have to first of all see the spiritual development of humanity in terms of a developmental life cycle that stretches across the history of its existence on earth. We are all familiar with the idea of the human developmental life cycle in which our life on this planet is made up. What we see in the Heavenly Doctrines is that the same stages of development of infancy, youth, adulthood, and old age mirrors what the human race has passed through in its collective spiritual development over the totality of its existence. What we find in the Heavenly Doctrines is that each developmental stage of the human race as a whole has been characterised by a duration of a particular type of spiritual awareness or consciousness.
Each of the durations of spiritual consciousness is an aeon or age, and so it is that we read in the Gospels that the Lord spoke about the “end of the age” or “aeon”. It’s unfortunate that the Greek word “aeon” was wrongly translated using the English word “world” particularly in earlier English translations of the Bible. This has led to people associating all kinds of incorrect theological meanings to passages in the Bible that deal with the “end of the age”. Rather than these passages being understood to refer to necessary phases of spiritual life and development that human beings must pass through both on an individual and larger collective scale they have been misunderstood as referring to a cataclysmic end to the material world. Now a focus on the world “out there” in relation to the Biblical text is a natural focus, not a spiritual one. The Biblical text is primarily a spiritual text which means it’s not so much concerned with the outer world but is very much concerned with the inner world and deals with peoples’ mental states. What the Heavenly Doctrines or the teachings for Spiritual Christianity provide us with is a way of understanding the Biblical text spiritually so that it can support us as we navigate the inner transitions that take place in the thoughts and affections of our life as we engage with truths from the Word.
As far as these ages are concerned the Heavenly Doctrines present them by taking in a full sweep of the progressive phases of spiritual consciousness that the collective human mind has passed through over the course of its existence. They show how the stories of the Biblical text when read in accordance with their deeper meaning unfold the details of these phases of psychological and spiritual development. In total the spiritual history of the human race is depicted in terms of 5 broad ages of spiritual consciousness. The first four being, infancy, youth, adulthood and old age and there is a fifth which we will deal with at another time. For now our focus with be on the first four ages.
Now these 4 ages or phases of spiritual consciousness are described in the Biblical text using a number of different forms of corresponding imagery of which the developmental stages of human growth is but one. Others include the times of the day, morning, noon, evening and night, another is the seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter, we also find imagery that uses the points of the compass, east, south, west and north, all these being representative of the ages the human race passes through collectively and individually. But perhaps the most vivid representation is found in the visionary dream of Nebuchadnezzar that the biblical character Daniel is called upon to give an interpretation. In this vision we have the use of metals, gold, silver, bronze and iron and of course we are all familiar with the idea of these metals having reference to different ages of human development for in wider society we find the use of the terms iron age, bronze age, silver age and golden age.
But there is another term used in the Heavenly Doctrines to refer to each of these ages and it is the term “ecclesia”. This term is Greek and has come across into Latin and is translated into English using the word “church”. As far as I am aware the use of the term ecclesia or church to describe the spiritual ages of human kind is something unique to the Heavenly Doctrines. In most other contexts the term “church” is used to refer to places of worship and it is highly likely that the association will be with Christian places of worship specifically. This is an important point, for it means that the use of the word “church” in the Heavenly Doctrines carries a much broader meaning than our common use of the word. In fact it is used to refer to all religions where the Divine Being is acknowledged and charity exists. So what many Christians would call pagan or heathen religions and would generally regard as excluded from being in the “church” the Heavenly Doctrines embrace in its use of the word “church”. What we find when we begin to look at this word is that in its universal meaning or use it embraces large historical segments of human history where human history is regard in terms of the races ongoing spiritual development. But the word encompasses much more than this in that it is used to describe the very spiritual atmosphere that permeates the mind of each and every individual human being within a given period of culture. We can therefore think of the term church as a general term describing the spirit of a given age in the progression of collective human spiritual development. Each age differs from every other age as a result of the unique spiritual quality that predominates within it and in order to mark these differences the Heavenly Doctrines offer the following terms as a means of providing us with a way of classifying them.
The first of the four ages is classified as The Most Ancient Church, this was followed by The Ancient Church, then by what is termed the Hebrew/Israelitish/Jewish Church, and finally we have what is called The Christian Church. We will deal with the use of the phrase The New Church at another time. For now we will take a look at what is said of The Most Ancient Church. The quality that characterised The Most Ancient Church was innocence which is why this age is referred to as Infancy and its leading quality is called celestial.
Now the quality of a church age is a direct reflection of the understanding it has of spiritual realities by which the Lord makes His presence with them. What this means is that the clearer sense people have of what is good and true from the Lord as individuals and so as a group the more a church is a church. What gives a church its spiritual life as a church is the quality of the Divine presence manifest within it. The truer the ideas held regarding the Divine by people the more fully present the Divine can be in those ideas from which people draw out their mode of life. What is clear from this is that for people to have ideas of the Divine that reflect its true nature they need to be able to receive these from the Divine itself. For this reason every age or church is given ideas as to who and what the Lord is that are tailored or accommodated to their level of comprehension and state of being. It is these ideas that make the presence of the Divine conscious for people and as such they are the Word with them or the Lord’s human. Every age has had a Word through which the Divine can be known.
The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the celestial state of consciousness found in the Most Ancient Church was such that those who possessed it were able to perceive or intuit divine realities directly and so had open communication with the spiritual world. They lived in the world as to their bodies but the things of the world were not seen as objects like those we see around us. The structure of celestial consciousness is such that what enters by way of the senses isn’t processed in the same way as it is with us.
…(celestial people) did indeed see worldly and earthly things with their eyes or apprehend them with one or other of their senses; but from and through those things their thoughts were of celestial and spiritual things. In this and no other way they were able to communicate with angels, for the things that exist among angels are celestial and spiritual, and when these come down to man they descend into such things as exist with man in the world. Arcana Coelestia 2896.
Where celestial consciousness is concerned, when objects in the natural world stimulate the senses the mind perceives not the objects of the natural world but rather what they correspond to spiritually. Now because the things of the natural world in the senses of a celestial state of mind only stimulates affections and thoughts of a heavenly quality creation itself was the means by which the Divine revealed itself in human consciousness. And because creation was able to serve this function there was no need for a written Word as we have to make the Divine presence conscious for us as creation itself was the Word through which the Divine could be known.
Swedenborg relates a personal spiritual experience he had that goes some way to illustrating how one can be in the world and function while ones perception is on a different plane of reality all together. We find this first hand experience described in the work Heaven and Hell #441…
While I was walking through city streets and through the countryside, absorbed in conversation with spirits, it seemed exactly as though I were just as awake and observant as ever, walking without straying, though all the while I was in visions. I was seeing groves, rivers, mansions, houses, people, and more. After I had been walking for some hours, though, I suddenly found myself back in consciousness of my physical sight and realized that I was somewhere else. I was utterly stunned by this, and realized that I had been in the state of people described as being led by the spirit into another place; for as long as it lasted I was not thinking about my route, even though it might have been many miles, or about the time, though it might have been many hours or even days. I was not conscious of any fatigue, either. This is how we can be led by ways we know nothing of all the way to some predetermined place, without straying.
The state of spiritual infancy and innocence that characterises the celestial age gradually declines as self interest begins to asset itself. The arising in this pristine spiritual atmosphere of self consciousness with self interest and its concerns eventually sees the ego or proprium become so dominant that the mental atmosphere that sustained the simplicity of infancy is polluted to the point where it can no longer draw breath or be maintained. The celestial perceptual faculties are suffocated as desires to assert oneself and find ones own life apart from what the Lord provides becomes prominent in human consciousness and so in this way the state of infancy begins to give way to the onset of a new spiritual state called youth. The story of the rise of this celestial consciousness and its decline is found in the work the Arcana Coelestia where the inner meaning of the stories of creation and the fall in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis are expounded.
The celestial state of life was a life that was inwardly focussed. So much so that external things merely provided the means by which the senses could be stimulated so as to ground inner spiritual realities within the conscious plane of the mind where they could be perceived and form a person’s perceptible world. In this celestial world everything is alive and filled with the divine love and wisdom and perceived to be so. Spiritual life is drawn from the perception of inner realities belonging to the things of the mind with its good affections and true thoughts and so this state of life is described in the Heavenly Doctrines as consisting of an internal form of breathing. When this inner perception of celestial realities began to be lost due to the rise of self consciousness and its tendency to look outward for its sense of life, so the ability to access the intuitive perceptual faculty of what was good and true also began to be lost.
As things decline in this way so the things of creation can no longer function to bring into consciousness states of heavenly life within the mind. The result of this is that the ability to stay in touch with the internal realities that the objects of the natural world stimulated was lost and with the loss of celestial perception the objects of the world began to take on a new significance and to have value in and of themselves. This decline in the celestial state of mind meant that the things of creation could no longer give form to the inflowing divine presence and so could no longer serve as the Word. This decline culminated with self love flooding the perceptive faculties of the mind and suffocating access to the Lord and the celestial state of life. This state is shown in the Arcana Coelestia to be what is meant by the story of Noah and the flood. In the Heavenly Doctrines there is a statement that the internal breathing or internal perception that characterised the Most Ancient Church then ceased.
Celestial consciousness at its height is a truly blessed state, a veritable Garden of Eden. At its worst it is nothing short of diabolical for when it passes a certain point in its decline nothing from the Lord can break into it by way of inner perception to pull it back from its slide into the worst evils and falsities that self love can produce. For this very reason we find that something occurred within the collective human consciousness that marked a miraculous shift that was able to arrest this decline and facilitate the move from a state of infancy to one of youth represented by the Ancient Church that arose as the Most Ancient Church or age declined. That shift in consciousness involved the giving of a new form of the Word through which the Lord revealed Himself. Every time the Lord makes His presence known to human consciousness He makes an Advent and with that coming as the Word a new spiritual age arises as the old passes away. What occurred and how this shift was made possible will be considered next time as we look at what the Heavenly Doctrines have to say regarding the state of consciousness that followed that of the Most Ancient Church.