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Chapter 6 the Doctrine of Degrees

In this chapter we approach an important and interesting subject. The doctrine of the three distinct degrees or planes of mental being is charactaristic of the philosophy of Swedenborg, who has thrown more light upon the subject of our inner self, than any other writer. The doctrine of degrees, in the form in which he presents it, is entitely new, not being found, nor anything but a distant approach to it, in any of the older philosophers.

It is true, we often meet with a three-fold arrangement or classification of the mental powers, as into intellect, sensibility, and will. But this is a widely different conception from the doctrine of degrees, as unfolded in the writings of the swedish seer, and northern Apocalyptist.

In the prevailing systems of mental science, the intellect is not viewed as a complete mind, having all the powers and faculties of mind, but is simply intellect, no more nor less. The same may be said of the sensibility. It is not conceived to be a complete mental organism. It is only one branch or department of the inner nature. And so of the will. But in the spiritual science of Swedenborg, each degree of the mind is complete in itself, rounded out to the full proportions of an interior manhood, with nothing wanting to complete the fullness of a distinct mental existence. It has will and understanding, affection and thought, memory, reason, and imagination. Each lies within the other, like concentric circles, and the more external is evolved from the internal.

The lowest or outermost degree is called the external or natural man, or what amounts to the same, the external or natural mind, as we make no reference to the material body. This is the degree of mind we have in common with animals, and might with propriety be denominated the animal mind, though it is found in man more complete than in the the lower orders.

So far as any one lives only on this plane of mental life, he is only a higher animal, having the same desires, affections, and appetites, as control the lower orders. To this degree belong the senses. This external mind is well defined to consciousness. Its phenomena come distinctly under the cognizance of the higher or interior range of the soul’s action. Each interior degree is endowed with a powcr of perceiving what transpires in the next outer circle of existence.

The animal desires and appetites, and the external thoughts stand out with prominence, and are as distinctly seen by some power lying further inward, as the material objects around us are by the senses. What we call consciousness is but the observation the inward degrees of mind take of what transpires in the plane external to them.

But is this a distinct and complete degree of the mind, or, in other words, is it a mind by itself? A little reflection will convince us that it is so. There are those in the world (and they are not an exceptional few), in whom no other range of mental life has been unfolded. The spiritual mind is still in its chrysalis state. They are sensual and corporeal, mere fleshly men. All their thoughts and desires and enjoyments are material and sensuous. They believe in nothing that is not apprehended by the senses. The world of infinite reality lying further inward, is to them a terra incognita, an unknown land. The spiritual, the supersensuous, is beyond their mental grasp, and to them unreal and intangible. They are described by Paul in the following passage: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned!”(1Cor. ii. 14.)

This degree of the mind is called in the New Teststament psychology, the flesh. The Greek philosophers, as Plato, denominated it psyche, and those who were in that degree only, were called psychical men, in opposition to the pneumatikoi or spiritual men, those in whom the next higher range of mental existence had come to be developed. When one lives only on this lower plane, the other degrees are closed, or are in a state of quiescence. They are like the unborn fetus. These embryonic powers await a birth to a higher and diviner life.

The second or interior degree may be characterized as the rational mind or man. But it does not consist of reason alone, for on the first plane of the mind reason is developed more or less. Even animals exhibit something akin to it. The knowledge of the external mind is sensuous, that of the interior rises above the range of the senses, and is a spiritual intelligence. The intellect becomes emancipated from the bondage of sense, and soars above the limitations of time and space. This degree of the mind comes into activity in the somnambulic or clairvoyant state. New powers of sense, that act independently of the bodily organs, are opened. There is vision far-reaching, and penetrating, when the outward eye is closed. There is hearing, when the natural ear receives no impression. The sounds of the inner world are borne a by a more refined medium than the atmosphere we breathe, and affect the inward auditory sense. The eye is illumined with a purer light than emanates from the sun.

Spiritual realities to this degree of the mind, become as objectively real as the outward scenes of beauty and grandeur are to our ordinary vision. This spiritual mind is at home in the higher clime, the land of perpetual spring. Sometimes these spiritual senses and powers are developed normally and by a gradual unfolding, and a man exhibits the phenomena of a double consciousness and existence. He becomes an inhabitant of two worlds at the same time, and is as much at home in one as the other. Supersensuous things are not creations of fancy to him but vitally real. In such a state was Swedenborg for twenty-six years of his life. The solid realities of another and higher sphere of life were as familiar to him as the landscapes of his native land.

The external mind, through the sense of vision, sees things in the material universe — the sun, the stars, the clouds in the atmosphere, also the trees, fruits and flowers. The interior mind, the spiritual man, takes cognizance of a diviner creation, and a world that is a blank to the outward senses.

It is to be observed that this degree of the mind is complete in itself. There are loves and affections that belong to it. In the natural mind there is the love of food; in the spiritual mind, the love of truth. These are entirely distinct, and perfectly defined to the consciousness.

All genuine progress is an evolution, a bringing out of what is within men. There is in every man the unfolded germ of all that is good and true. Great futurities are hidden in the mysterious depths of our inner being. The divine life itself is there. Progress is an education of our powers, using the word in its radical sense, of the educinq, or drawing forth of what is within. When the highest or inmost degree of the mind has come to conscious activity and freedom one attains to angelic perception. Higher and diviner powers are unfolded. All knowledge and truth become self-evident, and the slow and tardy process of reasoning is exchanged for intuition.

The arcane powers of nature and hidden properties of things are brought distinctly to view. Such a one has risen above the control of the selfish animal instincts to a state of self-forgetting purity of love. He walks in the mild radiance of the celestial light, and has attained to a fellowship of life with the angelic heavens. He reads the characters of men by a sort of spiritualized instinct. All deception is impossible in his presence. He gains knowledge, not from books, but drinks in the living light of heaven, as flower imbibes the light of the sun. He is conscious of intellectual perceptions, and states of feeling, beyond expression in any external language. He sees and feels unutterable things. He comes to a conscious knowledge of the Divinity within. “The Father is in him, and he is in the Father.” He has communication with the indwelling divine light and life. He walks and talks with God, and receives truth from its sempiternal source. For it is this degree of the mind that has fellowship with the Divine. The Light itself is now revealed, and he walks in it.

It may be difficult to believe there are such men, but human history has been able to give the world a few examples, so as to disclose the undeveloped possibilities of our nature. But these have towered so far above the sensuous populations, among whom they dwelt, as to be misunderstood in the generation in which they lived, but attained the honors of divine worship in subsequent ages.

It is remarked by one, in whom these hidden powers were evolved, and who has been accepted by some as “a man sent from God,” “The internal of man is that principle by virtue of which man is man, and by which he is distinguished from brute animals. By this internal he lives after death, and to eternity; and by this he is capable of being elevated by the Lord among the angels: it is the very first form by virtue of which he becomes, and is, a man. By this internal, the Lord is united to man.” (Arcana Celetia). By it, the Infinite Life, comes to finite limitations, and God is manifest in the flesh.

The unfoldment of these interior degrees of spiritual life and light, it is devoutly hoped, will not be infrequent in the New Age, now in the order of Providence dawning upon the world. We are in the feeble light of a higher day, the opening morn of the “good time coming” which kings and prophets waited for, but died without the sight.


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