DEGREES ARE OF A TWOFOLD KIND,
DEGREES OF HEIGHT AND DEGREES OF BREADTH.
A knowledge of degrees is like a key to lay open the causes of things, and to give entrance into them. Without this knowledge, scarcely anything of cause can be known; for without it, the objects and subjects of both worlds seem to have but a single meaning, as if there were nothing in them beyond that which meets the eye; when yet compared to the things which lie hidden within, what is thus seen is as one to thousands, yea, to tens of thousands. The interiors which are not open to view can in no way be discovered except through a knowledge of degrees. For things exterior advance to things interior and through these to things inmost, by means of degrees; not by continuous degrees but by discrete degrees. “Continuous degrees” is a term applied to the gradual lessenings or decreasings from grosser to finer, or from denser to rarer; or rather, to growths and increasings from finer to grosser, or from rarer to denser; precisely like the gradations of light to shade, or of heat to cold. But discrete degrees are entirely different: they are like things prior, subsequent and final; or like end, cause, and effect. These degrees are called discrete, because the prior is by itself; the subsequent by itself; and the final by itself; and yet taken together they make one. There are atmospheres, from highest to lowest, that is, from the sun to the earth, called ethers and airs that are separated into such degrees; they are like simples, collections of simples, and again collections of these, which taken together are called a composite. Such degrees are discrete [or separate], because each has a distinct existence, and these degrees are what are meant by “degrees of height;” but the former degrees are continuous, because they increase continuously and these degrees are what are meant by “degrees of breadth.” [DLW184]
Each and all things that have existence in the spiritual world and in the natural world, have conjoint existence from discrete degrees and from continuous degrees together, that is, from degrees of height and from degrees of breadth. The dimension which consists of discrete degrees is called height, and the dimension that consists of continuous degrees is called breadth; their position relatively to the sight of the eye does not alter the designation. Without a knowledge of these degrees nothing can be known of how the three heavens differ from each other; nor can anything be known of the differences of love and wisdom of the angels there; nor of the differences of heat and light in which they are; nor of the differences of atmospheres which environ and contain these. Nor without a knowledge of these degrees can anything be known of the differences among the interior powers of the minds of men, thus nothing of their state as regards reformation and regeneration; nor anything of the differences among the exterior powers of the bodies both of angels and men; and nothing whatever can be known of the distinction between spiritual and natural, thus nothing of correspondence. Nor, indeed, can anything be known of any difference between the life of men and that of beasts, or between the more perfect and the less perfect animals; neither of the differences among the forms of the vegetable kingdom, nor among the matters of the mineral kingdom. From which it can be seen that they who are ignorant of these degrees are unable to see causes from anything of judgment; they see only effects, and from these judge of causes, which is done for the most part by an induction that is continuous with effects. But causes produce effects not continuously but discretely; for cause is one thing, and effect is another. The difference between the two is like the difference between prior and subsequent, or between that which forms and that which is formed. [DLW185]
That it may be still better comprehended what discrete degrees are, what their nature is, and how they differ from continuous degrees, the angelic heavens may serve as an example. There are three heavens, and these are separated by degrees of height; therefore the heavens are one below another, nor do they communicate with each other except by influx, which proceeds from the Lord through the heavens in their order to the lowest; and not contrariwise. Each heaven by itself, however, is divided not by degrees of height but by degrees of breadth. Those who are in the middle, that is, at the center, are in the light of wisdom; but those who are around about, even to the boundaries, are in the shade of wisdom. Thus wisdom grows less and less even to ignorance, as light decreases to shade, which takes place continuously. It is the same with men. The interiors belonging to their minds are separated into as many degrees as the angelic heavens; and these degrees are one above another; therefore the interiors of men which belong to their minds are separated by discrete degrees, that is, degrees of height. Consequently a man may be in the lowest degree, then in a higher, and also in the highest degree, according to the degree of his wisdom; moreover, when he is in the lowest degree only, the higher degree is shut, – but is opened as he receives wisdom from the Lord. There are also in a man, as in heaven, continuous degrees, that is degrees of breadth. A man is like the heavens because as regards the interiors of his mind, he is a heaven in least form, in the measure in which he is in love and wisdom from the Lord. That man as regards the interiors of his mind is a heaven in least form may be seen in the work Heaven and Hell (n. 51-58.) [DLW186]
From all this it can be seen, that one who knows nothing about discrete degrees, that is, degrees of height, can know nothing about the state of man as regards his reformation and regeneration, which are effected through the reception of love and wisdom of the Lord, and then through the opening of the interior degrees of his mind in their order. Nor can he know anything about influx from the Lord through the heavens nor anything about the order into which he was created. For if anyone thinks about these, not from discrete degrees or degrees of height but from continuous degrees or degrees of breadth, he is not able to perceive anything about them from causes, but only from effects; and to see from effects only is to see from fallacies, from which come errors, one after another; and these may be so multiplied by inductions that at length enormous falsities are called truths. [DLW187]
I am not aware that anything has been known hitherto about discrete degrees or degrees of height, only continuous degrees or degrees of breadth have been known; yet nothing of the real truth about cause can become known without a knowledge of degrees of both kinds. These degrees therefore shall be treated of throughout this Part; for it is the object of this little work to uncover causes, that effects may-be seen from them, and thus the darkness may be dispelled in which the man of the church is in respect to God and the Lord, and in respect to Divine things in general which are called spiritual things. This I may mention, that the angels are in grief for the darkness on the earth; saying that they see light hardly anywhere, and that men eagerly lay hold of fallacies and confirm them, thereby multiplying falsities upon falsities; and to confirm fallacies men search out, by means of reasonings from falsities and from truths falsified, such things as cannot be controverted, owing to the darkness in respect to causes and the ignorance respecting truths. The angels lament especially over confirmations respecting faith separate from charity and justification thereby; also over men’s ideas about God, angels and spirits, and their ignorance of what love and wisdom are. [DLW 188]
By creation the human being is such that he can be conjoined more and more closely to the Lord._ This becomes evident from what was shown about degrees in the treatise Divine Love and Wisdom, Part III, especially in the propositions: “By creation there are three discrete degrees or degrees of height in the human being” (nn. 230-235); “These three degrees are in man from birth, and as they are opened, the man is in the Lord, and the Lord in him” (nn. 236-241); “All perfection increases and mounts with and according to the degrees” (nn. 199-204). Evidently, then, man is such by creation that he can be conjoined with the Lord more and more closely according to these degrees.
 But one must know well what degrees are and that there are two kinds –discrete degrees or degrees of height, and continuous degrees or degrees of breadth; also how they differ. It must be known, too, that every human being has by creation and hence from birth three discrete degrees or degrees of height, and that he comes at birth into the first degree, called natural, and can grow in this degree continuously until he becomes rational. He comes into the second degree, called spiritual, if he lives according to spiritual laws of order, which are divine truths. He can also come into the third degree, called celestial, if he lives according to the celestial laws of order, which are divine goods.
 These degrees are opened in a person by the Lord according to his life and actually opened in the world, but not perceptibly and sensibly until after his departure from the world. As they are opened and later perfected a man is conjoined to the Lord more and more closely. This conjunction can grow to eternity in nearness to God and does so with the angels. And yet no angel can attain or touch the first degree of the Lord’s love and wisdom, for the Lord is infinite and an angel is finite, and between infinite and finite no ratio obtains. Man’s state and the state of his elevation and nearness to the Lord cannot be understood without a knowledge of these degrees; they have been specifically treated of, therefore, in the treatise Divine Love and Wisdom, nn. 173-281, which see. [DP32]
Author: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)