BY JOHN WORCESTER
MASSACHUSETTS NEW-CHURCH UNION
THE peritonaeum is an extensive membrane, thick, soft, elastic, and on its inner surfaces very smooth, lining the walls of the abdomen, and by many folds and pockets investing its viscera. It unites in a common bond all the organs whose use it is to receive new elements for the nourishment of the body, to digest, strain, and prepare them for use, and to cast out all that refuse to be assimilated to the elements of the body; also to purify and sort the blood itself, restoring to the circulation, purer, cleaner, and more lively, whatever is capable of restoration, and straining out and rejecting whatever is worthless.
All these uses are parts of one use, -- the proper nourishment of the body; and the organs which perform them are combined in relations of mutual help and support by the peritonaeum. Besides serving as a common bond, the peritonaeum [p. 145] communicates to all the abdominal viscera the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax, which are essential to the proper functions of every viscus, and are received by the peritonaeum through the diaphragm.
It covers and adheres closely to nearly the whole of the under side of the diaphragm; it applies its cellular coat to the liver, investing it closely, and even following the blood-vessels through its substance -- its smooth, serous coat making easy the gentle, hepatic motions, and its connections with the diaphragm helping to support the liver in its proper place. As it passes to the stomach, it embraces the small omentum between its layers. It environs the stomach with a smooth, elastic coat, essential to its free movements. It encloses in its duplicature the great omentum, protecting it perfectly from the intestines, which lie immediately behind it. It sheathes the spleen and the pancreas; imbeds the kidneys, the renal capsules, and the receptacle of chyle, in its thickened, cellular coat. It surrounds the great, unruly colon, and [p. 146] holds it firmly in its place. It covers the small intestines, and within its folds offers a secure asylum for the mesenteric vessels and glands. It presses upon the bladder and the rectum, perhaps surrounding them with its cellular tissue, ready to concentrate all the power of the viscera upon them, and to assist in expelling their contents. It covers the uterus with a firm, elastic coat, and even extends a partial covering to the testicles. And it lines the whole of the front abdominal wall with a polished surface, within which the viscera move with perfect freedom, each according to its own nature.
The peritonaeum, with its contents, may be regarded as a single organ, the purpose of which is to prepare and purify nourishment for the body. Materials it receives through the oesophagus and the aorta; these it digests, strains, and sorts, like one large, complex gland, sending its profitable results to the heart through the vena cava and the thoracic duct, and discharging the unprofitable through the rectum and the bladder. And the [p. 147] various abdominal viscera, by the aid of the peritonaeum, are enabled to act as one organ, harmoniously, and with mutual support; no part either unduly exalting itself, or lying idle through lack of its proper stimulus of supply, demand, and alternate motion.
With this knowledge of the peritonaeum, we are prepared to see the truth of Swedenborg's description of the good spirits in the corresponding province of the Greatest Man: --
"Certain spirits came to me, but they were silent; still they afterwards spake with me, yet not as many, but all as one. I perceived from their discourse that they were such that they wished to know all things, and desired to explain all things, and thus to confirm themselves that it is so. They were modest, and said that they do nothing of themselves but from others, although it appears that it is from them. They were then infested by others; it was said that it was by those who constitute the province of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. They answered them modestly, yet still they infested and attacked them; for such is the nature of those related to the kidneys. Wherefore, [p. 148] because they could gain no advantage against them by modesty, they resorted to something which was according to their genius, namely, to expanding themselves and thus terrifying. Hence they seemed to become great, but only as one, who so enlarged his body that, like Atlas, he seemed to touch the heaven. There appeared a spear in his hand, but still he did not wish to do any harm except to terrify. In consequence the kidney spirits fled away. Then there appeared one who pursued them in their flight, and another who flew from in front between the feet of that great one; and also that great one seemed to have wooden shoes which he threw at the kidney spirits. It was told me by the angels that those modest spirits who so enlarged themselves were they who relate to the peritonaeum. The peritonaeum is the common membrane which encompasses and includes all the viscera of the abdomen, as the pleura all the viscera of the thorax; and because it is so extensive and respectively large and also expansible, therefore it is permitted them, when they are infested by others, thus to present themselves great in appearance, and at the same time to strike terror, especially towards those who constitute the province of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder; for these viscera or vessels lie in the folds of the peritonaeum, and are compelled by it. By [p. 149] the wooden shoes were represented the lowest natural things, such as the kidneys, ureters, and bladder absorb and carry off. ... In saying that they do nothing of themselves, they also resemble the peritonaeum, which likewise is such." (n. 5378.)
"It was also shown representatively how the case is when they who constitute the colon intestine infest those who are in the province of the peritonaeum. They who constitute the colon are puffed up, as the colon with its wind. When they wished to assail them, it appeared as if a wall were in the way; and when they endeavored to overturn the wall there rose up always a new wall; and thus they were kept away from them." (n. 5379.)
The spirits of the peritonaeum must be numerous, closely connected, and of such a nature that the impressions made upon any of them are communicated to all. Being intimately connected with the spirits who constitute the other abdominal provinces, and receiving impressions from them, they react upon them all, supporting them in their work, providing safe conduct from one province to another, conveying information of the common weal to all the parts, and uniting the [p. 150] efforts of all to furnish for the whole heaven good and well-instructed accessions, freed from the idle, vicious, and corrupt. They have no independent plans and wishes of their own, but have a strong love for all who are engaged in this use; and by holding to them all with generous and just appreciation, they compel them to work together as a band of brothers for a common purpose.
They combine all the parts of the great province whose function it is to prepare new spirits for heaven, and to separate from the heavens the evil. It is a work not of the most elevated kind, being mostly performed upon the interior natural plane; but it is a work of vital importance to the whole heaven and to every society of it.