Heaven and Hell/59

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Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg
Chapter LIX, What Hell Fire Is, and what the Gnashing of Teeth Is

LIX
What Hell Fire Is, and what the Gnashing of Teeth Is[edit]

566. What eternal fire is, and what the gnashing of teeth is, which are mentioned in the Word in reference to those who are in hell, scarcely any one as yet has known, because the contents of the Word have been thought about only in a material way, and nothing has been known about its spiritual sense. So fire has been understood by some to mean material fire, by others to mean torment in general, by others remorse of conscience, and others have held that it is mentioned merely to excite terror in the wicked. Likewise some have supposed the gnashing of teeth to mean actual gnashing, and some only a horror, such as is excited when such a collision of teeth is heard. But any one who is acquainted with the spiritual meaning of the Word may know what eternal fire is, and what the gnashing of teeth is; for every expression and every meaning of the expressions in the Word contains a spiritual meaning, since the Word in its bosom is spiritual; and what is spiritual can be set before man only in natural forms of expression, because man is in the natural world and thinks from the things of that world. Therefore it shall now be told what is meant by "eternal fire" and "the gnashing of teeth" into which the spirits of evil men enter after death, or which their spirits, then in the spiritual world, endure.


567. There are two origins of heat, one the sun of heaven which is the Lord, and the other the sun of the world. The heat that is from the sun of heaven, that is, the Lord, is spiritual heat; and this in its essence is love (see above, n. 126-140); but the heat from the sun of the world is natural heat, and this in its essence is not love, but serves spiritual heat or love as a receptacle. Evidently love in its essence is heat, since it is love, in accord with its degree and quality, that gives heat to the mind, and thence to the body; and this man experiences as well in the winter as in the summer. The heating of the blood is from the same source. That the natural heat that springs from the sun of the world serves spiritual heat as a receptacle is evident from the heat of the body, which is excited by the heat of its spirit, and is a kind of substitute for that heat in the body. It is especially evident from the spring and summer heat in animals of every kind which then annually renew their loves.

[2] It is not the natural heat that produces this effect, but it disposes their bodies to receive the heat that flows into them from the spiritual world; for the spiritual world flows into the natural as cause into effect. Whoever believes that natural heat produces these loves is much deceived, for influx is from the spiritual world into the natural world, and not from the natural world into the spiritual; and as all love belongs to the life itself it is spiritual.

[3] Again, he who believes that any thing comes forth in the natural world without influx from the spiritual world is deceived, for what is natural comes forth and continues to exist only from what is spiritual. Furthermore, the subjects of the vegetable kingdom derive their germinations from influx out of the spiritual world. The natural heat of spring time and summer merely disposes the seeds into their natural forms by expanding and opening them so that influx from the spiritual world can there act as a cause. These things are mentioned to make clear that there are two kinds of heat, spiritual heat and natural heat; and that spiritual heat is from the sun of heaven and natural heat from the sun of the world, and that influx and consequent cooperation produce the effects that appear before the eyes in the world.[1]


568. Spiritual heat in man is the heat of his life, because, as was said above, it is in its essence love. This heat is what is meant in the Word by "fire," love to the Lord and love towards the neighbor by "heavenly fire," and love of self and love of the world by "infernal fire."


569. Infernal fire or love springs from a like origin as heavenly fire or love, namely, the sun of heaven, or the Lord; but it is made infernal by those who receive it. For all influx from the spiritual world varies in accordance with reception, that is, in accordance with the forms into which it flows, just as it is with the heat and light from the sun of the world. The heat from that sun flowing into shrubberies and beds of flowers produces vegetation, and draws forth grateful and sweet odors; but the same heat flowing into excrementitious and decaying substances produces putrefactions, and draws forth rank and disgusting stenches. In like manner the light from the same sun produces in one subject beautiful and pleasing colors, in another unbeautiful and disagreeable colors. The same is true of the heat and light from the sun of heaven, which is love. When the heat, or love, from that sun flows into good, as it does in good men and angels, it makes their good fruitful; but when it flows into the evil it produces a contrary effect, for their evils either suffocate it or pervert it. In like manner when the light of heaven flows into the truths of good it imparts intelligence and wisdom; but when it flows into the falsities of evil it is turned into insanities and phantasies of various kinds. Thus in every instance the result is in accordance with reception.


570. As infernal fire is the love of self and of the world it is also every lust of these loves, since lust is love in its continuity, for what a man loves he continually lusts after. Infernal fire is also delight, since what a man loves and lusts after he perceives, when he obtains it, to be delightful. Man's delight of heart is from no other source. Infernal fire, therefore, is the lust and delight that spring from these two loves as their origins. The evils flowing from these loves are contempt of others, enmity, and hostility against those who do not favor them, envy, hatred, and revenge, and from these fierceness and cruelty; and in respect to the Divine they are denial and consequent contempt, derision, and detraction of the holy things of the church; and after death, when man becomes a spirit, these evils are changed to anger and hatred against these holy things (see above, n. 562). And as these evils breathe forth continually the destruction and murder of those whom they account as enemies, and against whom they burn with hatred and revenge, so it is the delight of their life to will to destroy and kill, and so far as they are unable to do this, to will to do mischief, to injure, and to exercise cruelty. [2] Such is the meaning of "fire" in the Word, where the evil and the hells are treated of, some passages from which I will here quote in the way of proof:

Everyone is a hypocrite and an evil doer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For wickedness burneth as the fire; it devoureth the briers and thorns, and kindleth in the thickets of the forests, and they roll upward in the rising of smoke; and the people is become like food for fire; no man spareth his brother (Isa. 9:17-19).

I will show wonders in the heavens, and in the earth blood and fire, and pillars of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness (Joel 2:30, 31).

The land shall become burning pitch; it shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever (Isa. 34:9, 10).

Behold the day cometh burning as a furnace, and all the proud and every worker of wickedness shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall set them on fire (Mal. 4:1).

Babylon is become a habitation of demons. They cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning. Her smoke goeth up unto the ages of the ages (Apoc. 18:2, 18; 19:3).

He opened the pit of the abyss, and there went up a smoke out of the pit as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun was darkened, and the air, by the smoke of the pit (Apoc. 9:2).

Out of the mouth of the horses went forth fire and smoke and brimstone; by these was the third part of men killed, by the fire and by the smoke and by the brimstone (Apoc. 4:17, 18).

If any one adores the beast he shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God mixed with unmixed wine in the cup of His anger, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone (Apoc. 16:9, 10).

The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given unto it to scorch men with fire; therefore men were scorched with great heat (Apoc. 16:8, 9).

They were cast into a lake burning with fire and brimstone (Apoc. 19:20; 20:14, 15; 21:8).

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire (Matt. 3:10; Luke 3:9).

The Son of man shall send His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that cause stumbling and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:41, 42, 50).

The King shall say to them that are on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

They shall be sent into everlasting fire, into the hell of fire, where their worm shall not die, and the fire shall not be quenched (Matt. 18:8, 9; Mark 9:43-49).

The rich man in hell said to Abraham that he was tormented in flame (Luke 16:24).

In these and in many other passages "fire" means the lust pertaining to love of self and love of the world, and the "smoke" therefrom means falsity from evil.


571. As the lust of doing the evils that are from the love of self and of the world is meant by "infernal fire," and as such is the lust of all in the hells (as shown in the foregoing chapter) so when the hells are opened there is an appearance of fire with smoke, such as is seen in conflagrations, a dense fire from the hells where the love of self prevails, and a flaming fire from the hells where love of the world prevails. But when the hells are closed this fiery appearance is not seen, but in its place there is a kind of obscurity like a condensation of smoke; although the fire still rages within, as can be seen by the heat exhaling therefrom, which is like the heat from the burnt ruins after a fire, and in some places like the heat from a heated furnace, in others like the heat from a hot bath. When this heat flows into man it excites lusts in him, and in evil men hatred and revenge, and in the sick insanities. Such is the fire or such the heat that affects those who are in the above-mentioned loves, because in respect to their spirit they are attached to those hells, even while living in the body. But it must be understood that those who are in the hells are not in fire; the fire is an appearance; those there are conscious of no burning, but only of a warmth like that which they had felt when in the world. This appearance of fire is from correspondence, since love corresponds to fire, and all things seen in the spiritual world are seen in accordance with correspondences.


572. It must be noted that this infernal fire or heat is changed into intense cold when heat from heaven flows in; and those who are in it then shiver like those seized with chills and fever, and are inwardly distressed; and for the reason that they are in direct opposition to the Divine; and the heat of heaven (which is Divine love) extinguishes the heat of hell (which is the love of self), and with it the fire of their life; and this is the cause of such cold and consequent shivering and distress. This is accompanied by thick darkness and by infatuation and mutual blindness therefrom. But this rarely happens, and only when outbreaks that have increased beyond measure need to be repressed.


573. Since infernal fire means every lust for doing evil that flows forth from the love of self, this fire means also such torment as exists in the hells. For the lust from that love is a lust for injuring others who do not honor, venerate and worship oneself; and in proportion to the anger thereby excited, and the hatred and revenge from that anger, is there a lust for venting one's rage upon them. When such lust is active in everyone in a society, and is restrained by no external bond, such as the fear of the law, and of the loss of reputation, honor, gain, and life, everyone from the impulse of his own evil rushes upon another; and so far as he prevails subjugates the rest and subjects them to his dominion, and vents his rage with delight upon those who do not submit themselves. This delight is so intimately united with the delight of bearing rule that they exist in the same measure, since the delight of doing harm is contained in all enmity, envy, hatred, and revenge, which as said above, are the evils of that love. All the hells are such societies, and in consequence everyone there bears hatred in his heart against others, and from hatred bursts forth into cruelty so far as he has power. These cruelties and their torments are also meant by infernal fire, since they are the effects of lusts.


574. It has been shown above (n. 548) that an evil spirit casts himself into hell of his own accord. It shall now be told in a few words how this comes about, when yet there are in hell such torments. From every hell there exhales a sphere of the lusts of those who are in it. Whenever this sphere is perceived by one who is in a like lust he is affected at heart and filled with delight, for lust and its delight make one, since whatever one lusts after is delightful to him; and because of this a spirit turns himself hellwards, and from delight of heart lusts to go thither, since he does not yet know that such torments exist there, although he who knows it still lusts to go there. For no one in the spiritual world can resist his lust, because his lust belongs to his love, and his love belongs to his will, and his will belongs to his nature, and everyone there acts from his nature.

[2] When, therefore, a spirit of his own accord and from his freedom drifts towards his hell and enters it, he is received at first in a friendly manner, which makes him believe that he has come among friends. But this continues for a few hours only. In the meanwhile he is explored in respect to his astuteness and consequent ability; and when this has been done they begin to infest him, and this by various methods, and with gradually greater severity and vehemence. This is accomplished by introducing him more interiorly and deeply into hell; for the more interior and deeper the hell the more malignant are the spirits. After these infestations they begin to treat him cruelly by punishments, and this goes on until he is reduced to the condition of a slave.

[3] But rebellious movements are continually springing up there, since everyone wishes to be greatest, and burns with hatred against the others; and in consequence new uprisings occur, and thus one scene is changed into another, and those who are made slaves are delivered that they may assist some new devil to subjugate others; and again those who refuse to submit and render implicit obedience are tormented in various ways; and so on continually. Such torments are the torments of hell, which are called hell fire.


575. Gnashing of teeth is the continual contention and combat of falsities with each other, consequently of those who are in falsities, joined with contempt of others, with enmity, mockery, ridicule, blaspheming; and these evils burst forth into lacerations of various kinds; since everyone fights for his own falsity and calls it truth. These contentions and combats are heard outside of these hells like the gnashings of teeth; and are also turned into gnashings of teeth when truths from heaven flow in among them. In these hells are all who have acknowledged nature and have denied the Divine. In the deeper of these hells are those that have confirmed themselves in such denials. As such are unable to receive any thing of light from heaven, and are thus unable to see any thing inwardly in themselves, they are for the most part corporeal sensual spirits, who believe nothing except what they see with their eyes and touch with their hands. Therefore all the fallacies of the senses are truths to them; and it is from these that they dispute. This is why their contentions are heard as gnashings of teeth; for in the spiritual world all falsities give a grating sound, and the teeth correspond to the outmost things in nature and to the outmost things in man, which are corporeal sensual.[2] (That there is gnashing of teeth in the hells may be seen in Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28.)


  1. There is an influx from the spiritual world into the natural world (n. 6053-6058, 6189-6215, 6307-6327, 6466-6495, 6598-6626). There is also an influx into the lives of animals (n. 5850). And into the subjects of the vegetable kingdom (n. 3648). This influx is a continual endeavor to act in accordance with the Divine order (n. 6211 at the end).
  2. The correspondence of the teeth (n. 5565-5568). Those who are purely sensual and have scarcely anything of spiritual light correspond to the teeth (n. 5565). In the Word a tooth signifies the sensual, which is the outmost of the life of man (n. 9052, 9062). Gnashing of teeth in the other life comes from those who believe that nature is everything and the Divine nothing (n. 5568).