Key Concepts in Swedenborg’s Theology: Love

Swedenborg sees love as the fundamental energy and substance of all human beings, with wisdom as its means. Ultimately, we will believe what we want (“love”) to believe and understand what we want to understand. Our purposes, rather than our knowledge, determine our character—we are our love.

Swedenborg distinguishes a hierarchy of loves: love of God as the Lord, love of others, love of the world, and love of self. All are necessary, and when they are in this order of priority, all are good. Love of self (or of the world) becomes harmful only when it dominates the higher loves rather than serving them. In practical terms, this means that Swedenborgian theology provides no warrant for asceticism or “renunciation of the world,” but rather calls us to care for our own well-being, and values all moments of genuine joy, whether physical or spiritual.

This affirmative stance is particularly clear in his treatment of marriage. He sees marriage as offering an opportunity for the most complete uniting of love and wisdom, so that the fully married couple is “distinguishably one” with no hint of domination by either one or the other. As the two become more and more one, each becomes more perfectly defined—the husband more a man, the wife more a woman.


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