Something a bit different…

What does it mean to be a woman? What are we essentially? How are we different from men?

This week we are publishing an excerpt on these topics from the book Married Love (aka Conjugial Love) by Emmanuel Swedenborg and asking our readers to share their thoughts in comment form. The more variety of opinions, the more robust the conversation so if these passages strike you in any way, please join the discussion.

Married Love 32

A male is then still a male, and a female still a female. Since a person lives as a person after death, and people are male and female, and since it is one thing to be masculine and another to be feminine, with the two qualities being so different that one cannot be converted into the other, it follows that after death a male still lives as a male and a female still lives as a female, each of them being a spiritual person.

We say that masculinity cannot be converted into femininity, nor femininity into masculinity, and that after death a male is consequently still a male, and a female still a female. But because people do not know what masculinity consists in essentially, and what femininity consists in essentially, therefore we must say a few words about it here.

The difference essentially consists in this, that the inmost quality in masculinity is love, and its veil wisdom, or in other words, it is love veiled over with wisdom, while the inmost quality in femininity is that same wisdom, the wisdom of masculinity, and its veil the love resulting from it. This second love, however, is a feminine love, and it is given by the Lord to a wife through the wisdom of her husband, whereas that first love is a masculine love, which is a love of becoming wise, and it is given by the Lord to a husband according to his reception of wisdom. Consequently, the male is a form of the wisdom of love, and the female is a form of the love of that wisdom. Therefore from creation there was implanted in both male and female a love of uniting into one. But more on this subject will be said later.

Testimony that femininity is derived from masculinity, or that woman was taken out of man, appears from these verses in Genesis:

“Jehovah God…took one of the ribs of the man, and closed up the flesh in its place. And the rib which He had taken from man He fashioned into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And the man said: “She is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. Therefore she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:21-23)

Elsewhere it will be said what a rib symbolizes, and what flesh symbolizes.

33. It is owing to this original formation that a male is born intellect-oriented and that a female is born will-oriented, or in other words, that a male is born with an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise, while a female is born with a love for joining herself to that affection in the male.

Furthermore, because interior qualities form the exterior ones to their likeness, and the masculine form is a form of the intellect while the feminine form is a form of the love of the intellect, therefore the male has a different look, a different sound, and a different physique from the female. Namely, he has a tougher look, a rougher sound, and a stronger physique, and moreover his lower face is bearded. In general, he has a less beautiful form than the female. The two sexes also differ in behavior and manners. In short, nothing in the two sexes is the same, although there is nevertheless a capacity for conjunction in every detail.

Indeed, masculinity in the male is masculine in every part, even in the least part of his body, and also in every idea of his thought, and in every bit of his affection. So, too, with femininity in the female. And because one cannot as a consequence be converted into the other, it follows that after death a male is still male, and that a female is still female.

9 thoughts on “Something a bit different…

  1. I feel that the context here is important. Swedenborg is describing ‘Marriages in Heaven’ (after death) and so it is worth reading this whole chapter of Conjugial Love, before evaluating CL 32. Here follows my sense of what is being revealed. I have drawn on my personal experience as well as a theolog lesson by Rev. Andy Dibb back in Nov 2006 (Buccleuch, South Africa).

    In CL44:10, two angels from heaven say ‘There are marriages in heaven, as on earth, but only in the case of people there who already possess a marriage of goodness and truth. They are the only ones who become angels.’ If a man and a woman want to experience true married love together, each must first be conjoined with the Lord in a spiritual marriage. This can only happen on earth. (CL41:2) Personal spiritual growth is what forms us anew or allows us to become human; increasingly more male or female.

    CL 33 states ‘that a male is born intellect-oriented … with an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise …’. Often, this can exhibit itself as a pride of intelligence or the accumulation of knowledge for its own sake. However, ‘… a female is born will-oriented … with a love for joining herself to that affection in the male.’ A woman can inspire and kindle a true love of wisdom in a man, if she becomes capable of recognising it. How can she facilitate this process of growing towards each other? An important contribution a wife can make is to curb her gift of bending her husband to her (old) will and allowing herself instead, to be led by the Lord in this matter. In so doing, she creates a space for her husband to flourish. She also learns to respect her husband’s qualities more, while he gains purpose. Both partners begin to look outside of themselves, towards pleasing the other.

    Now to CL 32. When a man is being reformed through spiritual growth, his new will and understanding present themselves as a ‘love of becoming wise’ (a new choice) and he begins to speak and behave wisely in externals. As a woman grows internally, she becomes less controlling and more receptive; enabling the Lord to uncover her innate qualities of humbleness and innocence, that embody wisdom. When she recognises or hears this same wisdom brought forth by her husband, a wife quietly rejoices; conjoining with it through affirmation and becoming more loving towards him. Her femininity or new reformed self presents itself on the outside as love; internally motivated by her uncovered wisdom. The warmth of this love and favour, feeds her husband’s wish to becomes more wise to further enflame her loving new shape.

    In essence then, the blossoming of conjugial love here on earth and even more so in heaven, is founded on the same love in both men and women – the love of wisdom. In a heavenly conjugial marriage, yet another new creation is formed by the Lord as the two become one; looking like one angel from a distance. The man is formed by his reception of wisdom and the woman by her loving response to his being wise. Individually, they might look like the husband and wife described by Swedenborg in CL 42:3,4. Where true married love exists between them, a husband becomes more of a husband and a wife, more of a wife to eternity. (CL 200)

    In addition to their independent growth from the Lord, a couple on earth can support their marriage by practicing the principles of conjugial love revealed in His Second Coming. Growing closer might also involve an individual or joint repentance process in respect of the understanding of and then love for, the sanctity of marriage. In addition, we have so many effective teachings and examples of good marriages to draw on in our New Church environments. Each and any of these actions may reinforce and inspire a marriage to new heights. Even if only one partner is experiencing the deeply satisfying spirit of the conjugial, the effect on the marriage is wholesome and nurturing.

    CL32 is truly a beautiful teaching; encapsulating our inmost abilities as men and women to conjoin in harmony with our opposite gender. As women, we are charged and challenged to bring love into being.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this Karin! I’m going to have to read through it a few times to take it all in. But I really liked your reminder to read the passage in the context of the whole chapter and the whole work. I think sometimes we take quotes that sounds very powerful but then carry the wrong weight because of being taken out of context.

  2. So long as society continues to hold masculine qualities of greater value than feminine ones, we women will be at a disadvantage. Contrary to what the modern feminists desire, I don’t think we will ever be able to keep up intellectually with a gender who are intellect-oriented when we are will-oriented. And why SHOULD we? I believe the real error in the gender-equality debate is the assumption that to be as valuable as men we must “beat them at their own game.” Instead I strongly feel we should strive to honor and Bring awareness to the value of our feminine qualities and the uses we are uniquely designed to contribute. Talk about society running at “half-strength!”

  3. In number 33 it says “that a male is born with an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise, while a female is born with a love for joining herself to that affection in the male.”

    I like this as something to look for in a partner. That he has an affection for these things that he is developing, and that that is an affection that you want to become more and more conjoined to. Part of why I like it is that there is such a huge variety of what that looks like. That there are many ways to have an affection for knowing, understanding and becoming wise. And that it provides for the differences in people. Not that there is only one affection that all women should be looking for in the perfect man, but more that whatever way or direction the man is developing those affections, part of your job is to join with that, so finding someone who has an approach that you respect and agree with is a good starting place. Something that is perhaps obvious on more natural level, but I appreciate the depth this brings to it.

  4. Wow…. As Abby said, thank you, Karin, for your perspective on this! -and for the reminder to keep it in context. [Like Abby, I will need to read through your comments more than once to be able to soak it all in!]

    Eden, I agree that we (western society) are going about gender-equality stuff the wrong way. Part of the problem is that women are trying to proclaim that “we’re equal to men” in the sense that we are the same, when we need to be perceived as equally valid – *in our own ways* – with different strengths. As you said, we’re trying to beat them at their own game, which just isn’t working, and won’t work, as we aren’t equal in that sense, we aren’t THE SAME.

    As for the essence of CL32, I agree (as evidenced in a previous article 😉 ) that women are born to love, to conjoin with others. I totally dig that. I also believe that people have these inclinations to different degrees, some women being more feminine and more drawn to conjoining than others who are more intellectually-minded; and I don’t want to get into the whole ‘gender ambiguity’ stuff right here or right now. ….Where my neck hairs start to bristle is how male-centric the entire passage is! -That our inmost quality is ‘the wisdom of masculinity,’ that our love is given to us ‘through the wisdom of [our] husband[s]’ and that ‘the female is a form of the love of [the male’s/her husband’s] wisdom’ –?! :\ I really want to understand this fully, because I really want to trust and believe that THE LORD IS NOT SEXIST! …I think part of the problem arises from the translation from Latin, and partly from the era in which Swedenborg penned these thoughts; and I’m really not a feminist (in the ‘femi-nazzi’ kind of way) and love my husband and the union between men and women *dearly* – I’m all for this ‘conjugial love between one man and one woman’ stuff. I just don’t get some of what the LORD is telling us, here, yet. :\


    1. ok, Jenn…i’ll bite:
      I’ll admit to being totally biased against modern secular values as well as highly irritated by fundamentalist Christian ones. so, for me, I view the HD and the teachings of the New Christianity in general as offering a third option, if not always opposed to, at least strongly unaligned with either of the current polarizing “conservative” or “liberal” perspectives.

      Fundamentalist doctrine believes that when we die, we are gender-neutral and Swedenborg is directly attacking this falsity–a necessary precursor to the highly “unChristian” idea that a man is only half of a person and incomplete without a wife.

      Independence is central to the makeup of men. And given the masculine-centric nature of both the fundamentalists and the secularists, I find that “independence” is more highly valued than “dependency” in modern society. Women, who receive married love directly from the Lord have a built in desire to conjoin rather to remain independent. Much of the book CL is spent in explaining to its male audience that it is a man’s natural tendency, as receivers of wisdom, to fall into an unhealthy love of themselves and their own intellegiance (a habit which leads towards Hell). The remedy for this is for a man to choose to love a woman–who is already hard-wired to strive for true married love and to love a man’s wisdom for him.

      So i suspect part of the challenge with this passage is our cultural sense that an individual who is hard-wired for dependency is less appealing than the independent individual. But they are equally valuable! Without our built in desire for conjunction, marriage would not happen; men can only receive married love indirectly through a woman-never directly from the Lord as we do. But without a man’s independence/love of wisdom, our marriages would be at a stale mate since the quality of our love is dependent on the quality of our husband’s wisdom. And so their is this partnership of a man choosing to love a woman. A woman continually seeking to conjoin herself to that man. A man seeking greater Wisdom from the Lord which allows the woman’s love to conjoin on a deeper level and bring the two closer and closer.

      There I have summarized my current understanding of the entire book! Anyone have some wrenches to throw into my theories?

      1. Wow, Eden! “[O]ur cultural sense that an individual who is hard-wired for dependency is less appealing than the independent individual. But they are equally valuable!”… You’re so right; I had never thought of that, before. a) You’re so right that independence is so much more highly valued than dependence. b) They are equally valuable…. I believe that you’re right, but my brain is kind of caught up on this because I’m so not used to thinking this way! Thank you, very much, for this perspective. Food for thought… for sure.

        {Nope, no wrenches, here. 😉 Just appreciation for your input!}

    2. Jenn, I really like the point that you make here. I had a similar reaction, but couldn’t quite put it into words. The way it is phrased is so male centric, and we can’t know exactly all the factors that went into the language of the passage.

      Eden, I always like your theories. 🙂 What I like is the way you’ve described the independence and dependency. What makes sense to me about that is that I am plenty independent about a LOT of things. Sort of stubbornly so at times. And yet that is surface. I can feel that far more important and core than that is my desire to be truly connected to other people, especially my husband. That is a dependence that I long for. And I can feel what that passage means if I look at it this way in a different way.

      1. It is so good to read all of your thoughts and quotes from the writings. These selected teachings addresses the core of who we are in regards to our gender and they are trying to teach us more about ourselves, our purpose and our God.
        I have read the leading quote may times before, and usually I get the sense that there is a divinely designed ying yang between men and women, and that it creates a beautiful wholeness which reflects a deep aspect of the Lord. I believe that a man and a woman can strive to complement each other perfectly and in balance. But I feel that the quotes do not present these truths in a very balanced way and I wish they did. It is so useful to be taking about this with you all.
        I like what the Lord is seeming to tell us. The more we women love our chosen husbands for the wisdom that he is embodying in his life, the more we will be enriching our deepest selves, deep wisdom. The love that is in him and in us nourishes one another. The wisdom that has been collected through his pursuit of knowing the truth and then put into his life, that is attractive.
        When I read the additional passages that Karin shared it brought so much light to the small understanding I had before. I really appreciate what you shared. Thanks you.
        As for the feminine power struggle that has been going on since the beginning of time, I do not often get upset about it. It’s a topic that can waste energy. Trying to argue your way into making the genders more balanced and important, it feels like it is just pointing out the differences and making them a negative. I know there are a lot of imperfect areas in life. They will always be there. If we feed the positive and share the truths that we know- they will grow and become more apparent. Men and women need each other and we can respect and love and live together in an incredibly intimate and bonding way.
        I love when we have opportunities to grow in our understanding and live happier more powerful lives. And I love when the Lord tells me to do something and gives directing. “We are charged with this task”. So much easier to move forward in life.

Comments are closed.