The Wisdom of Heaven’s Angels

An excerpt from Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg, sections #268–69 and 272–74)

We may gather how great angels’ wisdom is from the fact that in heaven there is a communication that involves everyone. The intelligence and wisdom of one individual is shared with another: heaven is where everyone shares everything of value. This is because the very nature of heavenly love is to want what is one’s own to belong to another; so no one in heaven regards his or her good as authentically good unless it is someone else’s as well. This is also the basis of heaven’s happiness. Angels are led into it by the Lord, whose divine love has this same quality.

I have also been granted knowledge, by experience, of this kind of communication in the heavens. Once some simple people were taken up into heaven, and after they had arrived, they arrived also at an angelic wisdom. They understood things they could not grasp before and said things they could not express in their former state.

Words are not adequate to describe the quality of angels’ wisdom—it can be suggested only by some generalizations. Angels can express in a single word what we cannot express in a thousand words. Further, in a single angelic word there are countless things that are beyond the capacity of human words to convey. In the details of angelic speech there are actually treasures of wisdom in unbroken connection, utterly beyond the reach of human knowledge. Then too, what angels cannot evoke with the words of their language they fill in with the sound, which embodies their sensitivity to the proper arrangement of things; for as already noted (§§236, 241), they express their affections through the sounds and the concepts derived from their affections through the words. This is why the things that people have heard in heaven are called ineffable.

Angels can also state completely in a few words the details that are written in a whole volume, giving each word something that raises it toward a deeper wisdom. Their language by nature agrees with their affections, and every word agrees with their concepts. The words actually vary in infinite shadings depending on the way they express in sequence things that are simultaneous in their thought.

The more inward angels can even tell a speaker’s whole life from the tone of voice and a few words. From the way the sound is differentiated by concepts into words, they actually perceive the speaker’s ruling love, in which, so to speak, the very details of life are engraved.

We can see from all this what angels’ wisdom is like. Relative to our wisdom, it is on the order of ten thousands to one. It is like the ratio between the motor energies of the body, which are countless, to some act that results from them, which to our senses seems like a single event. Or it is like the thousands of things we see through a perfect microscope compared to the one fuzzy thing we see with the naked eye.

I should also like to illustrate the matter with one example. An angel, out of his wisdom, described the process of regeneration and presented mysteries about it in their proper sequence, amounting to a hundred. He filled out each single mystery with concepts containing even deeper mysteries, and did this from beginning to end, explaining how the spiritual person is conceived anew; is carried in the womb, so to speak; is born; matures; and is gradually perfected. He said that he could multiply the number of mysteries into the thousands, and that the things he was talking about involved only the regeneration of the outer person. There were countless more about the regeneration of the inner person.

This and other things of the same sort that I have heard from angels have shown me how much wisdom they have and how much ignorance we have by comparison, with hardly any knowledge of what regeneration is and no awareness of a single step when we are being regenerated. . . .

There is still another reason, beyond the ones already given, why angels can accept so much wisdom, a reason that in heaven is actually the primary one. It is that they are free of any selfishness; for to the extent that people are free of selfishness they can be wise in divine matters. Selfishness is what closes off our deeper natures from the Lord and heaven and opens our outer natures and turns them toward ourselves. So all people in whom that selfish love predominates are in the depths of darkness as far as heavenly realities are concerned, no matter how much light they may enjoy in regard to worldly matters. In contrast, since angels are free of that love, they enjoy the light of wisdom. The heavenly loves in which they are centered—love for the Lord and love for their neighbor—open the deeper levels because these loves come from the Lord and the Lord himself is within them. (These loves constitute heaven in general and form heaven in individuals in particular: #13–19.)

Since heavenly loves open our deeper levels toward the Lord, all the angels turn their faces toward the Lord (#142): in the spiritual world love is what turns the deeper levels of every individual toward itself, and what turns the deeper levels turns the face, since the face there acts in unison with the deeper levels and is actually their outward form. Further, because love does turn the deeper levels and the face toward itself, it also unites itself to them, since love is spiritual union. Therefore it also shares what it has with them. It is from this turning and the consequent union and sharing that angels get their wisdom (all union in the spiritual world takes place according to the way people are facing, #255).

Angels are constantly being perfected in wisdom, but still they cannot to eternity be so perfected that there is any ratio between their wisdom and the Lord’s divine wisdom. For the Lord’s divine wisdom is infinite and the angels’ is finite, and there is no ratio between the infinite and the finite.

Since wisdom perfects angels and makes their life, and since heaven with its blessings flows into individuals according to their wisdom, all the people there long for it and seek it, much the way a hungry person seeks food. In fact, information, intelligence, and wisdom are spiritual nourishment the way food is natural nourishment. They correspond to each other.

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