SWEDENBORG THE ACTIVIST - Part III
Friday, March 3, 1992
Location - FNCA 1985
In my last lecture, we got to the point when, in about 1759, Swedenborg decided not to finish The
Apocalypse Explained. I suggested that the reason for this decision was that the book was not working,
and that the primary reason it was not working was that other matters were surfacing in Swedenborg's
mind with considerable urgency. I also noted his continued concern for practical politics, by way of
indicating his continued awareness of his own immediate world and his responsibilities in it.
In the years 1762 and 1763, at the age of seventy-four or so, Swedenborg published seven books. This
in itself is remarkable. It had taken him some six years to complete the eight volumes of the Arcana,
and two years not quite to finish The Apocalypse Explained. Now, about three years after dropping this
last work, and at an advanced age, he saw through the press two major volumes and five smaller ones.
We can best look at the nature of these publications by beginning with his prefatory note to what was
presumably the first of them, The Doctrine of the Lord. It reads in part as follows:
Some years ago I published five small works, which were
1.Heaven and Hell
2.The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem
3.The Last Judgment
4.The White Horse
5.Earths in the Universe
in which a number of matters hitherto unknown were made public. Now by the command of the Lord, who
has been revealed to me, the following are to be published:
The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Lord
The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning Sacred Scripture
The Doctrine of Life for the New Jerusalem from the Precepts of the Decalogue
The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning Faith
A Continuation on the Last Judgment
Angelic Wisdom about Divine Providence
Angelic Wisdom about Divine Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience, Infinity, and Eternity
Angelic Wisdom about Divine Love and Divine Wisdom
Angelic Wisdom about Life
There are two interesting discrepancies between these lists and the facts. The first is that his list
of previous publications omits the Arcana. The second is that he was to publish just seven of the nine
titles here commanded by the Lord. The works on omnipotence etc. and on angelic wisdom about life
never came to press, and no manuscripts fitting that description have been found.
Swedenborg later explained at least part of the latter discrepancy to Dr. Beyer in a letter. He had
decided to work the material on omnipotence into other material, he said, because by itself it would
be so abstract that few people would be able to make sense of it. He offered no explanation for the
absence of a work on angelic wisdom about life.
If this seems a casual way to dismiss a task commanded by the Lord, it may be that we have to revise
our notions about the way in which Swedenborg heard these g like the photism he had experienced while
working on The Economy of the Animal Kingdom-- some sign of confirmation when he was on the right
The other discrepancy is equally interesting. There is nothing wrong with omitting the Arcana, since
he does not claim that this is a complete list of publications, but the Arcana was by far the largest
of his printed works and, as we have seen, the one most closely fulfilling his avowed mission to
disclose the spiritual meaning of Scripture. I would suggest that the omission indicates that he kept
Scripture exposition in a class by itself, in Class A, so to speak, and that since the works listed as
forthcoming were in Class B, he listed only his previous publications in that class.
We need now to look at the actual works published in this particular spate.
The Doctrine of the Lord is less a systematic exposition of that doctrine than a presentation of the
Biblical basis for its major features. There is scarcely a page without a quotation from Scripture,
and there are pages and series of pages containing nothing else. As a rough yardstick for future
comparison, the text occupies eighty-seven pages in the second Latin edition, and the index of
Scripture citations a little over ten.
The Doctrine of Sacred Scripture is more about the Word than drawn from it. There are fewer citations
(the "page to index" ratio in the same edition is eighty to four), and many of them are illustrative
rather than authoritative. For example, obscure passages are quoted to make the point that there must
be spiritual meaning present because there is no discernible literal relevance.
The Doctrine of Life rests more heavily on Scripture for direct support. The ratio is fifty to three,
which is between The Lord and Scripture, but it needs to be noted that eight of the fourteen sections
are dealing directly with commandments of the Decalogue.
The Doctrine of Faith is the briefest-- thirty-two pages in the same edition, and its index of
Scripture citations covers less than a single page. Scripture is cited more as one evidence among
other than as the sole authority. In paragraph 62, in fact, Swedenborg sets out to show that the goats
in Daniel 8 and Matthew 25 refer to people in faith separated from charity, drawing on four sources as
(i) From experience in the spiritual world
(ii) From the Last Judgment (and the people) on whom it was carried out
(iii) From the battle between the ram and the he-goat in Daniel
(iv) And finally from the lack of charity of the people described in Matthew
The Continuation on the Last Judgment takes quite a different approach. After four sections of general
information, with about ten Scripture quotations and four references without quoting, the remaining
nine sections describe the lot of various peoples in the spiritual world-- the English, the Dutch,
Catholics, Catholic saints, Mohammedans, Africans, Jews, Quakers, and Moravians. Needless to say, the
evidence is drawn from Swedenborg's own experience.
These five small works, then show some variety in their attention to Scripture. We can at least say
that Swedenborg is not rigidly attached to a single mode of presentation. He can on occasion quote
Scripture exhaustively and authoritatively, and he can on other occasions rest his case on his own
I mention this, and assemble these rough statistics, because we are now ready to look at a quite
different work, namely Divine Love and Wisdom. I should first make it clear that I suspect this is
essentially the work whose urgency sidetracked Swedenborg from the completion of The Apocalypse
Explained. The "continuations" in that work gravitate more and more toward the themes of DLW, and as
we shall see, once it and its sequel, Divine Providence, were completed, Swedenborg was able to return
to his exegetical task with a single mind.