PLOTINUS AND SWEDENBORG

TRANSCRIBED BY JOHN HAMMELTON

The following is an imaginary dialogue between Plotinus and Emanuel Swedenborg as interpreted by a student of Plotinus living in the 21st century. The dialogue centers on one of Swedenborg’s theological treatises taken from "A Compendium of the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg," and begins with "Creation." The text taken from this treatise is from the original source and has not been altered.

Emanuel Swedenborg was born in 1688 of Swedish descent, and raised in the Christian faith, his father being a Lutheran priest. There is no indication that he ever contemplated a career in the church, although wrote extensively in the areas of theology, science, and psychology. He lived in the age of deism with contemporaries such as David Hume, Voltaire, and was influenced by the empiricism of Rene Descartes.

—Two Worlds, the Spiritual and the Natural.—

Swedenborg:

There are two worlds, the spiritual and the natural; and the spiritual world derives nothing from the natural world, nor the natural world from the spiritual world. They are altogether distinct, and communicate only by correspondences.

Plotinus:

We might begin by defining ‘correspondences’ more clearly since it has important implications. Vaguely it might mean likeness, or sameness, or in reference to something else. Or it could mean one thing being similar to another, yet separate. I might be in error here, but let me hazard an example. "I have an idea of a rock." There are two entities: the idea, and the rock. The idea ‘corresponds’ to the rock, but is not the rock; they are separate and distinct. The problem is that the example is very vague; there are many types of rocks with many different properties and qualities that would require many ideas, or many correspondences. This is a more precise example: "I have an idea of that rock." Perception is important in ‘correspondence’, I believe, because it gives an idea of a particular rock. The mental idea is perfectly united with the physical object, and is in precise correspondence with it. The former example might be considered a loose correspondence, while the latter an exact correspondence.

—Two Suns, by means of which all Things in the two Worlds were Created.—

Swedenborg:

There are two suns by which all things were created from the Lord, the sun of the spiritual world and the sun of the natural world. All things were created from the Lord by the sun of the spiritual world, but not by the sun of the natural world; for the latter is far below the former, and in a middle distance. The spiritual world is above and the natural world beneath it; and the sun of the natural world was created to act as a medium or substitute.

Plotinus:

Since the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘natural’ seem to be rather general terms, for the sake of clarity and emphasis we should think it acceptable to consider the words ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ as synonymous with ‘spiritual’ and ‘natural’. Therefore, we may also say: the sun of the mental world and the sun of the physical world.

Furthermore, it is difficult to understand where these different locations might be, since you have them placed in time and space, but they lack a reference system. You probably feel that this gives support to the idea that the two suns are not to be construed as connected in some way. In my system, the Three Hypostases work together as a unity in difference without need of any spatial coordinates. You say, "The sun of the natural world was created to act as a medium or substitute." We have agreement on the idea of an interaction through a medium, in some sense, but not interactions as a substitute, which makes the natural or physical world appear superfluous. Undoubtedly, this will become apparent with further discussion.

Swedenborg:

Spiritual things cannot proceed from any other source than from love; and love cannot proceed from any other source than from Jehovah God, who is love itself. The sun of the spiritual world therefore, from which all spiritual things issue as from their fountain, is pure love, proceeding from Jehovah God, who is in the midst of it. That sun itself is not God, but is from God, and is the proximate sphere about Him from Him.

Plotinus:

We have agreement on the source of love, although we use different names for our metaphysical descriptions. In mine, the ultimate principle, the One, is not only the source of love, but goodness as well. They work as an emanation much like your fountain. The placement of Jehovah God within the midst of the spiritual sun might work with my system, although Jehovah is a name for the Hebrew deity; I am not sure that this is how they would represent their God.

Swedenborg:

Through this sun the universe was created by Jehovah God. By the universe all the worlds in one complex are understood, which are as many as the stars in the expanse of our heaven.

Plotinus:

The first thing that comes to mind is the thought that the universe may be infinite, while we are discussing entities that suggest their properties have finite dimensions. In this case it would be logically impossible for a finite spiritual sun to create an infinite universe. It seems that we would have to turn the universe inside out for this to happen. From astronomical evidence collected in the 21st century it might be possible that very old large powerful stars, called Black Holes, may be an exception, but then we are talking about different cosmologies involving alternative views of creation.

There is evidence from the future, just mentioned, that our concepts of the size and complexity of the universe, from our differing points in history, were not very adequate. New insights from the 21st century have made me rethink different aspects of my original views. It seems that the sciences of the future have become very sophisticated, and through precise mathematical measurements, secured by powerful telescopes, and other sources of data that have been analyzed, the universe is vast and complicated beyond anything we could have understood, or imagined. From the fourth century of my time to the seventeenth century of your time concepts of solar systems, and galaxies were never seriously considered. The sun-planet system is huge compared to the relative size of the planets, and the sun is a very small part of a much bigger family of stars called a galaxy. The point is that the size of the universe, if it even has a size, is virtually beyond comprehension. So how could a finite God create anything outside of something that cannot be adequately described? Unless, of course, God is infinite, but then we are led into perplexities and paradoxes way beyond the scope of our present discussion.

Swedenborg:

The center and expanse of nature are derived from the centre and expanse of life, and not the contrary. Above the angelic heaven there is a sun, which is pure love, of a fiery appearance like the sun of the world. From the heat proceeding from that sun angels and men derive will and love; and from its light, understanding and wisdom. All things derived from that sun are called spiritual; and all things proceeding from the world’s sun are containments or receptacles of life, and are called natural.

Plotinus:

It will be taken for granted that ‘life’ refers to physical life on the planet, such as organisms, and that somehow ‘nature’ derives from life, "and not the contrary"; although this seems to preclude other things from existing, such as mountains and rivers, etc. That the spiritual sun has a fiery ‘appearance’ like the sun of the physical world is appropriate, but heat and light are physical properties of stars, and only possible with the sun of the natural world. So, we have to question whether love, will, understanding, and wisdom come from appearances or heat and light. That life is contained within a physical organism is, I believe, a normal and natural state derived from the sun of the physical world.

Swedenborg:

The expanse of the centre of life is called the spiritual world, which subsists from its sun; and the expanse of the centre of nature is called the natural world, which subsists from its sun.

Plotinus:

Wait a minute. You stated previously "The centre and the expanse of nature are derived from the centre and expanse of life, and not the contrary." Which is to say that life gives rise to nature. Now you are saying that life subsists from the spiritual sun, which may be true for such qualities as love, will, understanding, and wisdom. But we have already established that living beings subsist from the physical sun. To be consistent with your idea that the spiritual world and the physical world derive nothing from each other, and only communicate by correspondences, is to drive a wedge between the organism and the life that animates it.

In the philosophy of the Three Hypostases, the One, which is equivalent to your spiritual sun, bestows, love, goodness, beauty, and wisdom onto men and women born, raised, and nourished by the physical sun. Our metaphysical systems are not that much different; we both recognize that there are two suns, and that they are counterparts of the same thing. But your religion places Jehovah God outside His creation apart from it, and this forces your two suns to stand at a distance from each other, some how or other, and then you segregate them further by stating that they derive nothing from one another. In my system they require each other; they form a perfect unity, although the physical sun is in space/time and the spiritual sun is not. The One, or the spiritual sun, and the sun of the natural world act in concert; they are as one. At best your two suns form a very weak and loose correspondence. On the other hand, in my system, when the spiritual sun is perceived through the physical sun, they form a perfect correspondence; the idea of the sun of the spiritual world and the physical sun of the natural world are in exact correspondence. Think of an individual person; thoughts of love, goodness, and beauty ought not be separated from their physical body; they are without a doubt unique living beings.

Swedenborg:

Now, as spaces and times cannot be predicated of love and wisdom, but instead of them states are predicated, it follows that the expanse around the sun of the angelic heaven is not an extense; and yet it is in the extense of the natural sun, and is present there with all living subjects according to their reception; and their reception is according to their forms and states. The fire of the sun of the world is derived from the sun of the angelic heaven; which is not fire, but the Divine love proximately proceeding from God, who is in the midst of it. Love in its essence is spiritual fire; hence fire in the Word, or Holy Scripture, according to its spiritual sense, signifies love. This is the reason why priests, when officiating in the temple, pray that heavenly fire may fill the hearts of those who worship; by which they mean heavenly love.

Plotinus:

The angelic heaven now enters the discussion as an active process that seemingly falls between the spiritual sun and the natural sun. The angelic heavens, being a spiritual entity from which Divine love flows would, according to your two-sun theory, belong to the spiritual sun as this is from Jehovah God. But at the same time, we hear, that the angelic heaven "is in the extense of the natural sun." In fact, the angelic heaven must be the medium that acts between your two suns. Without seeming to realize it, you introduce a very important third principle that is not a correspondence, but an actual process by which love and wisdom, as states, are passed to the natural world in time. In this case your system is starting to look more like mine. Your Angelic Heaven is equivalent to my Second Hypostasis, the Intelligible Realm. In the system of Three Hypostases— the One, the Intelligible Realm, and the World Soul— the One is an undifferentiated unity, nothing can be said about it, yet it cannot remain self-contained; by its own necessity it goes out of itself into its otherness. Love, goodness, and wisdom become differentiated entities, like Plato’s Forms or archetypes, in the Intelligible Realm; again, dynamic tension between the Hypostases brings these ideals from possibility to actuality in the World Soul, its lowest level being physical matter. Of course, the three hierarchies or principles are not separate, although they tend to overlap from higher to lower; they are not spatially distinct but contained within themselves. The World Soul is within the Intelligible Realm, and the Intelligible Realm within the One. The power to generate life is from the physical sun, but the Ideals of reality are from the spiritual sun, and it is difficult to think of them as separate and in different places. Your theory is consistent with what you believe, and that requires Jehovah God to be outside His creation standing as a transcendent God. My beliefs make the One the creative principle and power within creation and all living things, an eminent source, a star in a universe of many others.

Swedenborg:

The sun of the natural world is pure fire, and therefore dead; and since nature derives its origin from that sun, it also is dead. Creation itself cannot in the least be ascribed to the sun of the natural world, but all to the sun of the spiritual world, because the sun of the natural world is wholly dead; but the sun of the spiritual world is alive, being the first proceeding of the Divine love and the Divine wisdom; and what is dead does not act from itself, but is acted on. Therefore to ascribe to it anything of creation would be like ascribing the work of the artificer to the instrument with which the hand of the artificer operates . . . The actuality of the sun of the natural world is not from itself, but from the living power proceeding from the sun of the spiritual world. If therefore the living power of the latter sun were withdrawn or taken away the former sun would perish. Hence it is that the worship of the sun is the lowest of all kinds of worship of a God; for it is as dead as the sun itself. And therefore in the Word it is called an abomination.

Plotinus:

While the World Soul may be the last stage of the Three Hypostases, it also partakes from within the spheres of the higher levels, but the lowest level of the World Soul is where soul mixes with the realm of matter, which is wholly and completely lifeless, or dead, as you wish to say. Whereas the Good is from the One, its opposite is evil, and the material world can become the source of evil for human beings, being physical-spiritual entities. When it comes to speaking of all the living things of the world, the idea of correspondence in which the spiritual world and natural world derive nothing from each other makes no sense, since life cannot be thought of as dead. For example, I see a man and a woman walking down a path discussing the living beauty of the trees, grass, and flowers. I could not see them if it were not for the dead matter making up their bodies, yet their words and ideas of beauty can never die; they belong in the eternal realm of the spiritual world. Of course, the trees, grass, and flowers will wither and pass back into the earth as matter. It might be possible to say that there is some correspondence between life and matter if we think of it as an exact correspondence, but that takes an act of perception, which is a physical sense coming from a physical source of an idea that belongs in the realm or extense of the mental world, what you call the spiritual sun. Yes, worship of the sun is an abomination, and a waste of time as well. It is idolatry of course, but there may be something in the symbolism itself that might be recognized as significant, since our whole discussion centers around the sun.

I hear that you also have had mystical experiences, and that a few of them have gained the benefit of independent corroboration. If you have had insights of the angelic heaven, then you probably came to a realization that the light, or appearance of light, may have had something to do with stars, or in our case the sun. In any event, my student came upon your works, and was struck by your inclusion of the sun into the metaphysics of creation, especially a spiritual sun. Our systems would be in harmony with only one sun, a sun with unique and distinctive qualities that entail both aspects that describe your two-sun theory. It is even possible that from the future as far away as the 21st century, all past theories of theology and philosophy might come together with modern science as pieces of a puzzle to complete a picture of one reality, one explanation that describes everything. We must watch, for what a wonderful moment that will be.

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