Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prenatal Humanity

An Answer to Glenn

Thanks for the thoughtful and  well-written responses to my blog post 'What is a Person?'. 

The New Church clergy view that dead fetuses disappear into nothing is not inconsistent with Swedenborg's writings, as you have so eloquently demonstrated.  Neither is the view that I have expressed inconsistent with Swedenborg's writings.   This is because much interpolation and extrapolation is needed to arrive at either view from Swedenborg's writings. Until I am instructed otherwise by the angels in the afterlife, I prefer the view that my sister's son, who died due to a miscarriage, has not vanished forever.

I must admit that the title of my earlier blog is a bit misleading. Like you,  I did distinguish between  potential persons and actual persons.  I did not try  to prove that a fetus is a person, soul or spirit or that is has a mind, understanding or will.  I hope that you will agree that a fetus is  a  'potential person' or a 'pre-person'.  I appreciate Sue's identifying passages in Swedenborg's writings that mention that a human fetus has 'receptacles' for understanding and will in a way that is different from a cat fetus or a gorilla fetus.  A human fetus is a non-person the same way as a chimpanzee fetus is. At the same time, a human person is a pre-person in a way that a chimpanzee fetus is not.

Back to the ineffable human essence.  I called it ineffable because It is not defined in terms of the faculties of understanding or will because it has none of these prior to birth. It is the nucleus around which these faculties and personhood accrete. Prior to birth, this essence is a plan or blueprint in God's mind.  It is not defined in every detail since God allows freedom of action and the automatic progression of nature to shape destiny. Consider it a broad framework with many possibilities. But God does have a very large, albeit finite, number of such blueprints that have existed in His mind since eternity past. Each of these is a unique potential person.  I call these blueprints, these artifacts of Divine Will,  human essences since we are not self-subsisting  and, before or after acquiring personhood,  our individual cores are simply God's will for us to exist as individuals. We are and we have always been individuals because the eternal Lord wills us into being as individuals. We come individual persons at birth.

Since God does not fail in His creative purposes, the demise of a fetus  does not mean that the distinct, individual essence or  potential person that was mapped into the fetal body simply disappears.  It was real in the manner in which the thoughts of God are real, even though it had no thought of its own. Its reality, its essence,  which is the Lord's broad framework for its being, is not frustrated by a miscarriage or abortion or ectopic pregnancy. It eventually finds expression by being mapped into another conception-event in this vast physical universe of billions of galaxies. Given that God's plans have a definitiveness (in addition to fluidity) of trajectory, it is quite likely that this will be a conception-event on the same planet. Further, statistically, it is not likely that a potential person  will have to endure a large number of failed gestations before it acquires personhood. Note that I am not advocating the theory of reincarnation because nowhere have I said that this essence or potential person  is a soul that gets a new physical body after is loses a physical body. Once it is born and breathes, then the physical body it is encased in will be its last.  Parenthetically, that does not obviate the fact that it will be associated with a spiritual body after death.

You mention: The human internals mentioned in AC 1999 as being in heaven under the Lord's view are the internals developed by way of reception of both love and wisdom from God through the will and understanding. That is, they exist subsequent to a physical birth, rather than pre-exist a birth which has not occurred.

AC 1999 unequivocally states that the internals are at a level higher than the inmost angelic heaven and are visible to the Lord only . Their existence is not contingent upon the birth-event. The internals in AC 1999 are not the same as the remains or remnants which are impressions implanted by God and the angels during infancy and childhood and which are a resource accessible to human beings. The internals are ineffable because we cannot view or access our or others' internals. Rather, these are the mechanism by which human beings receive life from the Lord. I have used the term essences for these internals because it resonates better with those who are not familiar with the technical vocabulary in Swedenborg  (e.g. vastation, correspondence, conjugial, scortatory etc.).

You ask: If a baby that dies within the womb is not gone forever, it must be somewhere. So, where is it?

If you are referring to the fetus' spirit or mind, its does not exist yet. But when we talk of  its spirit, what is the 'IT' whose spirit we are talking of?

The fetus' human essence is where your human essence and my human essence are this very moment. This essence is who we are at the core: beings who are not self-subsisting and who exist by virtue of the Lord's will and life. As such it is the channel through which God's life inflows.

You ask: If it is not, has not become or has not acquired 'a spirit', how can it be said to be in the spiritual world?

It is not in the spiritual world per se. It is at a plane higher than the inmost angelic heaven. This is the plane where our essences currently are.  This plane is near God but is not God. This is the plane where the essences of beings, good or bad,  in the spiritual world are. Note that I am using the word essence for the internals referred to in AC 1999. There is a plurality of human essences or internals, and these are not God Himself.

You mention in your ipso facto line of reasoning: Since there is no person, soul or spirit, there is nothing to survive the demise of the fetus.

It is true that there is no person, soul or spirit. But there is an essence  that will 'own' (in clumsy phraseology) the soul or spirit. This essence, this internal, is not the self-subsisting atman of the Vedanta. Not is it a pre-existing substance from which God forges a person. It exists in eternity past only as God's intentional blueprint for the future person. It exists post-gestation as God's will that we exist as individual persons. This essence  is the internal in AC 1999 that is above the heavens and near to God. This individual essence is  the reason why, as spiritual beings, we are the progeny of God and He is our Father. Our existence, our coming into being, is a consequence of the Divine Will more than the coming together of  a particular man and  woman at such and such time, and more than the decision of a particular woman to carry us to term.


  1. Roger,

    It has been acknowledged that it has been shown that the New Church clergy view is not inconsistent with Swedenborg's writings. I hope it is also to be acknowledged (in spirit; no words are needed) that, "What [was] not going on [was] an attempt to say that Roger's alternative position is wrong, incorrect or invalid."

    One sister-in-law had a miscarriage many years ago. Though she was distraught, my brother was inconsolable--to the point that some of us were alarmed. I asked him if he believed that Daniel, as he was to be named, was in heaven. He said that he did. I then said, "Well, if he's in heaven, then he's with God. And he got there before we did--assuming either of us will be going there. Why not be happy for him that he's with God?" He wasn't ready, however, to be anything but inconsolable. (They since have had twins, a boy and a girl.)

    I posed the questions that I did because I was hoping that responses to them might better enlighten me as to what it is that you have been saying. I'm not sure I'm quite there yet, though it seems that it isn't really a fetus that is being talked about, nor a person, soul or spirit, but something that belongs to God or the Lord, and through which it is that fetuses, persons, souls and/or spirits come into being.

    If this is the case, then I have to say that it was possibly misleading to express a disagreement with a statement, by the New Church clergy, about fetuses, persons, souls and/or spirits when the (so-called) counter position really hasn't anything to do with them.

    Whatever the case may be, I made an attempt to find out just what this teaching is that the New Church clergy is said to hold to, and I discovered two things.

    The first thing I found, which isn't likely to be of much interest to you, is that the thread I was following wasn't too far off the mark.

    And the second thing I find is that individual members of the clergy are not unanimous in their stance on the point in question.

    Below are links to two articles that may be of interest to you. In fact, I can well imagine that you'll find much therein to agree with.

    The articles are from a publication of the New Church, and that you'll find in these articles support for you position goes a long way, I would think, towards breathing easier in regard to the New Church's tolerance for diverse opinions.

    Though I wasn't planning on saying anything more--in fact, I had planned on not saying anything more--I thought it inappropriate not to share what was found.


    o That which can thus be conjoined to the Divine, can never die, for the Divine is with it, and conjoins it to Himself. LJ 25


  2. The promised links. For each link, once the page loads, edit/find can be used to locate the specific article.

    Eternal Life Of The Embryo
    Rev. B. David Holm
    New Church Life 1990

    Excerpt: It might also be good to add in the beginning that, while this point of doctrine here considered is regarded as most interesting, still it is not considered as vital. But this does not take away from the fact that it is felt that the conclusions here drawn from the teachings of the Writings are accurate. For while it is true that nowhere in the Writings is there a plain statement saying that the embryo or foetus which miscarries or is stillborn does enjoy eternal life, still it is felt that this is strongly implied in many passages which, when considered together, give confirmation to the conclusions drawn.

    Fate Of The Unborn
    Emily Jane A. Lemole
    New Church Life 2000

    Excerpt 1: In [an] article which asks about the fate of the unborn, Rev. Erik Sandstrom, Sr. replies: "Not only is this a delicate question, but also it is one where it cannot be said that the Word--in any of its three forms--gives a direct and unequivocal answer. We should nevertheless 'search the Scriptures.' Men and women have come to different conclusions, and our ministers have come to different conclusions[.]"

    Excerpt 2: There is a commonly held belief in the New Church regarding the fate of the unborn. Without a breath taken to ground it to the natural world, the unborn forfeits, or does not gain, spiritual life. The pre-born is not human until this stage is reached. So if by accident or design the breath is not taken, this unborn or pre-born entity, either at conception or stillborn, goes to nothing. This is the concept I learned in elementary school, high school and college. Later, however, I discovered that there are different views and various interpretations drawn from the Writings that do not conclude that the embryo/fetus has no spiritual life or eternal home. My dear wise Uncle George de Charms patiently answered my questions on this subject for the hundredth time, walked into his library and took a book down from the shelf. He put into my hand a slim green volume entitled The Soul and Its Representatives by Dr. Eldred Iungerich. "This is not my view," he said, handing it to me. "But it may be what you are looking for."

  3. Dear Glenn

    You mention:

    If this is the case, then I have to say that it was possibly misleading to express a disagreement with a statement, by the New Church clergy, about fetuses, persons, souls and/or spirits when the (so-called) counter position really hasn't anything to do with them.

    The alternate position did have to do with fetuses, essences, potential persons, potential souls, potential spirits. My attempt was to show that this position, which I espouse, is not counter-Swedenborgian. In layman's terms, it posits that the baby that died in the womb will be born into the physical universe and will have the same chance as the rest of us to choose heaven or hell.

    Thanks for posting the links! I am going to read the material carefully.

    Best regards, Roger

  4. I enjoyed Emily Jane Lemole's essay. Summed the whole thing up well.
    In the words of her wise Uncle George: "This is not my view," he said, handing it to me. "But it may be what you are looking for." Generous Uncle George.

    This is one of those times it's fine to think backwards - to draw a conclusion first and then develop a line of reasoning backward to Swedenborg. After all, it was Sw who encouraged us to have minds flexible enough to read a Bible from two different frameworks. Reasoning is the slave of truth and not vice versa. And as Rose implies in an article above Lemole's (REFLECTIONS ON THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE), we are each working with a slightly different truth:
    "People are allowed to go deeply into the true things of faith and the good things of charity only to the extent that they can be kept in them until the end of their lives" (DP 221).

    And, Glenn, it's so wonderful that that couple went on to have twins!