True Christian Religion (Chadwick) n. 692

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692. At this point I will add some accounts of experiences, of which this is the first.*

When I was going home from the school of wisdom, I saw on the way an angel dressed in blue. He came and walked beside me, and said: 'I see you have come away from the school of wisdom, and that you took great pleasure in what you heard there. But I perceive that you are not fully in our world, because you are at the same time in the natural world, so you do not know about our Olympic contests. At these the wise men of antiquity meet, and learn from newcomers from your world what changes of state and what vicissitudes wisdom has so far undergone and is still undergoing. If you like, I will take you to the place where many of the wise men of antiquity live together with their sons, that is, their disciples.'

So he took me to a place on the border between the north and the east, and when I had a view in that direction from a piece of high ground, I caught sight of a city with two hills at one side, the one nearer the city being the lower of the two. 'This city,' he told me, 'is called Athenaeum, the lower hill is called Parnassium, the higher Heliconeum. They bear these names because in the city and its neighbourhood the wise men of ancient Greece live, men such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Aristippus and Xenophon**, with their disciples and recruits.'

I asked about Plato and Aristotle. He told me that they and their followers were in a different region, because they had taught rational arguments concerned with the understanding, but the people here had taught about moral issues which relate to life.

[2] He said that scholars from the city of Athenaeum were frequently sent on embassies to the educated Christians, to report what are their present thoughts about God, the creation of the universe, the immortality of the soul, the condition of man relative to that of animals and other subjects apposite to interior wisdom. He told me that the crier had announced a meeting for that day, a sign that their emissaries had met some newcomers from the earth and heard some interesting news. We saw a lot of people coming out of the city and its neighbourhood, some of them with laurel-wreaths on their heads, some holding palm-fronds in their hands, some with books under their arms, and some with pens tucked under the hair of the left temple.

[3] We joined them and went up together, and found on the hill an octagonal palace, which they called the Palladium. When we went in we found eight hexagonal recesses, in each of which was a bookcase, as well as a table at which those who wore laurels sat down. In the Palladium itself we saw seats carved out of stone, on which the remainder seated themselves.

Then a door on the left was opened and by it two newcomers from the earth were brought in. When they had been welcomed, one of those wearing laurels asked them, 'What news is there from earth?'

'The news,' they said, 'is that men have been found in forests resembling animals, or animals resembling men. They recognised from their faces and bodies that they had been born men, but that at the age of two or three they had been lost or abandoned in the forests. They said that these creatures could not voice any of their thoughts, nor learn how to make articulate sounds so as to utter words. Neither did they know what food was fit for them, as animals do, but they put in their mouths what grew in the forest whether clean or dirty; and much more of the same kind. From these facts some of our learned men made many guesses and some made many deductions about the condition of men relative to that of animals.

[4] On hearing this some of the wise men of antiquity asked, 'What were their guesses and deductions from these facts?' The newcomers replied that there was a great deal, but it could be reduced to the following:

1. Man by his nature and also from birth is more stupid and so more vile than any animal, and if not taught becomes like one.

2. He can be taught because he has learnt to make articulate sounds, and so to talk; and by this means he has begun to express his thoughts; and by degrees he has done so more and more, until he could put together the laws of living together, many of which, however, have been stamped upon animals from birth.

3. Animals equally with men are capable of reasoning.

4. If therefore animals could talk, they would reason as cleverly on all subjects as men. A proof of this is that they think from reason and prudence just as much as men.

5. The understanding is merely a modification of sunlight with the co-operation of heat by means of the ether, so that it is simply an activity of more inward nature. This activity can be raised to such a height that it looks like wisdom.

6. It is therefore useless to believe that man lives after death any more than an animal does, except that perhaps for a few days after death an exhalation of the life of the body may appear as a cloud in the form of a ghost, before being dispersed into nature. This is very much as when a twig picked out of the ashes of a fire may appear to retain the likeness of its shape.

7. Consequently religion, which teaches that life continues after death, is an invention so that the simple may be kept inwardly obedient by its laws, just as they are kept outwardly obedient by the civil law.

They added that these were the reasonings of those who were only clever, but not intelligent. 'What do the intelligent think?' they asked. The reply was that they had not heard, but they were of the opinion that they thought the same.

[5] On hearing this all who were sitting at the tables said: 'What times they live in on earth now! What sad changes wisdom has undergone! It seems to have turned into foolish cleverness. The sun has set and is beneath the earth, diametrically opposite its noon position. How can anyone fail to know from the evidence of the people abandoned and then found in the forests, that this is what man is like if he receives no instruction? Surely he is what he is taught to be. By birth he is more ignorant than animals. He must then learn to walk and to talk. If he did not learn to walk, would he stand upright on his feet? And if he did not learn to talk, would he be able to utter any of his thoughts? Surely everyone is what he is taught to be, crazy if taught falsities, wise if taught truths? And if he is crazy from being taught falsities does he not imagine himself to be wiser than the man who is wise from being taught truths? Are there not foolish and deranged people who are no more human beings than those who were found in the forests? Are not those who have lost their memory like them?

[6] 'From both these sets of facts we draw the conclusion that a man is not a man without instruction, and is not an animal either, but he is a form capable of receiving in himself what makes a man human, so that he is not born a man, but becomes one. Man has by birth a form such that he can be an instrument for the reception of life from God, with a view to being a subject into which God can put all good, and by union with Himself make blessed for ever. We perceive from what you say that wisdom at the present time is so far extinct or turned to foolishness, that there is total ignorance about the terms upon which human beings live as compared to those on which animals live. As a result, they do not know either anything about how a person lives after death. But those who are able, but unwilling, to know about this, and so deny its reality, as many of you Christians do, can be likened to the people found in the forests. It is not that they have become so stupid through being deprived of instruction, but they have made themselves stupid by relying on the fallacies of the senses, which are the darkness that conceals truths.'

[7] But then someone standing in the middle of the Palladium and holding a palm-frond in his hand said: 'Please unravel this mystery. How could man having been created a form of God be changed into the form of a devil? I am well aware that the angels of heaven are forms of God, and the angels of hell are forms of the devil, and that these two are completely opposite forms, one of madness, the other of wisdom. Tell me, then, how could man created as a form of God pass from daylight into such a night as to be able to deny the existence of God and everlasting life?'

The teachers replied one after the other, first the Pythagoreans, then the Socratics, and afterwards the rest. But among them there was a certain follower of Plato, who was the last to speak. His opinion, which was adopted, went like this. The people of the age of Saturn, the golden age, knew and acknowledged that they were forms for the reception of life from God, and consequently they had wisdom written upon their souls and hearts, so that they saw truth by the light of truth, and truths enabled them to perceive good by the pleasure of its love. 'But,' he said, 'as in the following periods the human race retreated from the acknowledgment that all the truths of wisdom and thus all the good of love they had was continually flowing in from God, they ceased to be dwelling-places of God, and then too they stopped talking with God and mixing with angels. For the interiors of their minds were diverted from their previous direction, which was being raised upwards by God towards God, and they were turned further and further aside, outwards to the world, and so directed by God to God by way of the world. Finally they were turned in the opposite direction, which is downwards towards oneself. Because a person who is inwardly turned upside down or away cannot look to God, people separated themselves from God and became forms of hell, and so of the devil.

'It follows from this that in the earliest ages people acknowledged with heart and soul that all the good of love, and so all the truth of wisdom, came to them from God, and also that this good and truth were God's in them, so that they were purely receivers of life from God; which is why they were called images of God, sons of God and born of God. But in the following ages people no longer acknowledged this with their heart and soul, but by some incorrect belief, later by historical faith and finally merely professing it with the lips. Acknowledging anything of this kind merely by professing it with the lips is not acknowledging it, and is in fact denying it at heart.

[8] 'These facts enable us to see what wisdom is like on earth among present-day Christians. They can still be inspired by God as the result of a written revelation, while not being aware of the difference between man and an animal. Thus many people believe that if man lives after death, so too must an animal; or because an animal does not live after death, neither can man. Surely our spiritual light, which enlightens our mental vision, is in their case turned into thick darkness; and their natural light, which only enlightens the bodily vision, has become dazzling light to them?'

[9] After this speech all turned to the two newcomers and thanked them for coming and bringing their report; and they begged them to carry back to their brethren a report of what they had heard. The newcomers replied that they would strengthen their people in their belief in this truth, that in so far as they attribute all the good of charity and all the truth of faith to the Lord and not to themselves, so far are they human beings and so far do they become angels of heaven.

* This passage is repeated from CL 156a-156e (151-154 bis). ** Greek philosophers of the 6th, 5th and 4th centuries BC.

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