Monday, August 8, 1989

Location - FNCA 1989

Earths in the Universe was the second work Swedenborg published as a theologian, the first being

Arcana Coelestia. This for me highlights the differences between the two. The most obvious difference

is in length, Arcana Coelestia comprising eight folio volumes in its first edition, and Earths in the

Universe being essentially a pamphlet. There are over ten thousand paragraphs in Arcana Coelestia to

one hundred and seventy-eight in Earths in the Universe. Beyond that, though, the second work focuses

almost exclusively on what is quite a minor theme in the first, and ignores the major theme of the

first almost entirely. Arcana Coelestia is about the Bible, and Earths in the Universe makes only

slight mention of Scripture. It seems to focus instead, as its title indicates, on the inhabitants of

other planets.

This is a radical shift in style, and I believe a conscious and purposeful one. On other occasions I

have presented evidence that when Swedenborg began his career as revelator, he viewed his task rather

narrowly, and expected to spend the rest of his life on the Arcana. He refers ahead to anticipated

treatment of passages in Joshua and Judges; and I am indebted to Steve Koke for pointing out that in

n. 66, he states that he will, if the Divine Mercy grants it, discuss the spiritual meaning of the

books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings in their order (in suo ordine). Equally telling is the

advertisement for the English translation of the second volume, a translation which Swedenborg

commissioned, which states, "This work is intended to be such an exposition of the whole Bible, as was

never attempted in any language."<1>

I do not want to delay this morning over the background of this supposition, except to say that it is

understandable in view of Swedenborg's Lutheran background. There is also evidence that Swedenborg had

difficulty deciding what to do with two other categories of material, one being the more philosophical

treatment of theology and the other being his spiritual experiences. In the Arcana itself, he resolved

this by including such material in the interchapter sections, but the primary focus of that work

remained consistently exegetical.

His mission, however, was not simply to publish. His mission was to communicate, to enlighten; and the

plain fact of the matter is that Arcana Coelestia failed. He subsidized its publication, so that it

was offered at bargain prices, but it did not sell. We may have come to treasure it, but he did not

know that this was going to happen, and he was concerned for the sad state of the world he lived in.

We have no record of what went on in his mind when he brought the Arcana to a close, but it is hard to

avoid the implications of the change between that work and Earths in the Universe. The Arcana is

written for the theologian's study, while Earths in the Universe is written for the airport bookrack.

It was a time when new discoveries were being made every day and were generating excitement, and the

book is clearly designed to ride an existing wave of interest.

Swedenborg was well aware that the Arcana would not be easy reading. In Earths in the Universe 27, he

notes that

Some spirits of Mercury who were with me while I was writing some material explaining the spiritual

meaning of the Word perceived what I was writing, and said that it was quite crude, that almost all

the expressions seemed materialistic. I was allowed to answer that even so, the people of our planet

would see what I was writing as subtle and lofty, and that most of them would not grasp it.

This observation is drawn from an entry in his Spiritual Diary dated September twenty-first, 1748--

before the first volume of the Arcana was published.

He was also hopeful that Earths in the Universe would have more popular appeal. He writes in n. 123,

However, the things I have already said and am about to say about angels and spirits are for the few

who are in faith. Still, so that others may also be brought to some acknowledgment, I am allowed to

tell the sort of story that gives pleasure and that appeals to curious people (talia, quae delectant

et allectant hominem sciendi cupidum), with the next stories being about planets in the starry


In Earths in the Universe, incidentally, Swedenborg neglects to mention the role that his own

interests had. In n. 519 of the Spiritual Diary, he had stated that "It was granted me to become

acquainted with the inhabitants of Jupiter as well, because of my desire to know what sorts of people

lived on other planets." The phrase translated "curious people" in the preceding quotation would

translate literally as "the person desirous of knowing."

I'll come back to this issue later. Right now I want to spend a little time describing how Swedenborg

went about the process of writing Earths in the Universe. Bruce Rogers, Durban Odhner, and Lisa Hyatt

(now Lisa Hyatt Cooper) prepared a very useful tool for this--an edition of the Latin text of Earths

in the Universe with related material from the Spiritual Diary and Arcana Coelestia in parallel

columns. They are laid out in chronological order, which makes it easy to see how the text came into

its final form. I'll restrict myself to some general observations, since a detailed analysis would be

long and boring.

In the Spiritual Diary, Swedenborg wrote accounts of his spiritual experiences as they happened, and

added his reflections as to their meaning. These entries are for the most part dated, and occur in

chronological order. Occasionally, then, there will be groups of paragraphs that deal with a single

topic, but for the most part the work seems to skip from subject to subject. Some of it is written in

a relatively informal style, with grammatical liberties taken that make it difficult reading. He was

even lazy enough to use a Swedish word or tho when the appropriate Latin did not come readily to mind.

When Swedenborg used this kind of material in the Arcana, he rewrote it fairly thoroughly; and when

one runs across one of the more cryptic passages in the Diary, it can often be deciphered by

discovering from the Arcana what Swedenborg intended it to mean. It is a little like having someone's

notes from a lecture, and not knowing what they mean without having access to a transcript of what the

speaker actually said.

Other sections are written in a more formal and disciplined style; and some of these are lifted

virtually intact for publication. There are indications that Swedenborg was considering publication of

the Diary in some form or other, and that his final decision to include selected information in

interchapter sections of the Arcana was a kind of compromise.

From time to time, there will be information in the Arcana version that is not represented in the

Diary. We must presume, in these cases, either that the information is from experiences which he did

not record, or that it represents further reflection on experiences which were imperfectly understood

as they occurred. I'll be mentioning a couple of changes that strike me as particularly interesting or


Swedenborg's adaptation of the Arcana material for Earths in the Universe was not casual. He

rearranged sections, omitted some points and added others, and rewrote sentences here and there.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the seriousness with which he took his task is the fact that he

revised his "footnotes"--references to related material in the Arcana--adding some, deleting others,

and on occasion subdividing general topics into more specific subtopics. This is not the sort of labor

one does for fun.

I've chosen a few examples of revision, paying particular attention to one of the issues Bill raised

in his first lecture, namely how Swedenborg decided which planet given spirits were from.

Arcana Coelestia 6807, for instance refers simply to "spirits from (literaly, "of") Mercury." The

parallel passage in EU 11 reads, ". . . spirits, and I was told from heaven that they were from the

planet nearest the sun, which on our planet is called Mercury." In the latter instance, Swedenborg is

being more careful or more precise about the source of his information. There is further information

in n. 1422 of the Spiritual Diary, information not carried over into either of the other works. I


When I asked what planet they came from, since I could tell that they were not from ours, they did not

want to tell me or even to admit that they had been clothed with bodies, since they did not want to

think of themselves as being on any particular earth or as clothed with bodies because this went

against their principles . . . .

This inquiry continues three paragraphs later, as follows:

When various planets were represented to them (since they could not tell which one they were from),

they said that they knew that there were many planets, and that they were informed about their

inhabitants, since they took particular delight in being well informed. And when I represented to

them, in a spiritual way, the planets called Mercury and Venus, they directed my sight to the planet

Venus. However, I could tell that they were trying to conceal something, and therefore that they were

from the planet nearest to the sun, where the people do take particular delight in being well informed

. . . .

The identification of spirits from Jupiter is less well documented. In both the Diary and Arcana

Coelestia, Swedenborg contents himself with the simple assertion that that planet is their home. In

EU, he adds to the introductory paragraph (n. 46) the statement that "The fact that they came from

there was apparent to me from many things, and was also told me from heaven." This is perhaps the more

remarkable because there is a good deal of material about spirits from Jupiter, and because one of

their characteristics is a very subtle, almost unnoticeable approach.

There is one distinct inconsistency. In SD 872, he refers to "a certain spirit from those of Jupiter."

In the parallel account in the Arcana, he refers to this spirit as being "from another planet,"

meaning other than Jupiter, and in EU 79, he simply says, "a spirit of this sort (talis spiritus).

This would seem to be an instance in which further reflection led him first to reject his initial

interpretation, and finally simply to leave the question unresolved. Similarly, spirits presumed to be

from Jupiter in SD 3488 (autumare potui quod ex tellure Jovis, "I could fathom they they were from the

planet Jupiter") are identified as Martian in AC 7359 and EU 87. The editors of the parallel texts set

up another contrast of the same sort between SD 3489 and AC 7477/EU 91; but the subject matter is so

general (the oneness of God) that it is difficult to be sure that these are indeed parallel passages.

There is a distinct but perhaps less substantial inconsistency between SD 3881, where Swedenborg says

he was instructed "through spirits" that particular people were from Mars, and AC 7745/EU 95, where he

says he received the same information "from angels." Lastly, while in AC 7745 and EU 95 he speaks of

having been taught "by angels," in the parallel in SD 3881 he describes this as "by angels through


When we turn to the moon, we find a somewhat similar situation. In SD 3244, he writes, "I talked with

them about what planet they came from, and it was granted me to perceive in a particular way

(quodammodo) that they were from the moon." AC 9233 and EU 111, in a different context, both note that

he was given this information by angels.

What I would suggest is that it was no easy or routine matter for Swedenborg to identify the home

planets of the spirits he encountered. He shows consciousness of the problem, and there is evidence

that in some instances he rethought his intial conclusions, or took more care to qualify his

assertions. He did not simply copy what he had written and let it go at that.

I have a distinct feeling, though, that if he were here with us, he would tell me that I was wasting

my time, that all this was not really important. He would rather have me tell you what the book has to

say about the Lord and about regeneration, and that is precisely what I propose to do next. It has so

much to say that I will have to content myself with simply listing to topics.

The first and pervasive point is that ours is but one planet among many because the purpose of

creation is a heaven from the human race and because the Lord is infinite. As far as Swedenborg is

concerned, it is smug to assume that we are it, and that the whole universe is for our benefit.

Heaven is vast, and we on this earth are relatively external members of it. We distinguish ourselves

by our fascination with the material world, and it would be well if we learned to see ourselves in


The second, and equally pervasive, point is that the Lord is the God of the entire universe.

Swedenborg makes the astonishing statement that people on other planets worship the Lord--astonishing

because by "the Lord" he regularly means the Lord Jesus Christ. He also indicates that spirits from

other planets are surprised to learn that the Lord actually became flesh on our world, which means

that a knowledge of the incarnation is not necessary for belief in the Lord. What is essential is to

worship the invisible God in visible human form, and that the quality of that human be the marriage of

love and wisdom in use. As it is stated in AC 6700 (slightly revised in EU 7), "because they worship

the Divine in human form, they worship the Lord."

In dealing with the spirits from Mercury, Swedenborg gets well into the subject of knowledge for its

own sake, and as I mentioned above, notes that from their point of view, the Arcana was rather crude

and materialistic. He also says a number of significant things about life after death, our retention

of our essential character and of our memories. In connection with the Mercurians' delight in

information, he embarks on a substantial excursus on Aristotle and the Scholastics. The introduction

to this is particularly revealing. It begins with an encounter between Mercurians and Christian Wolff,

and continues, "Since this offers the opportunity (lit., "provides a handle"), I should like to relate

how it goes for scholars in the other life . . . ."

Elsewhere, he deals with such subjects as imperialism, war, tyranny, monogamy, the spiritual sense of

the Word, the Most Ancient and Ancient Churches, the Universal Human, will and understanding,

innocence, wisdom, the difference between animals and humans, spiritual space and changes of state,

proprium, spheres, spiritual sight, and the difficulties of seeing physical events from a spiritual


The most extensive doctrinal material, however, comes from the closing sections on planets outside our

solar system. With these, there is relatively little description of the spirits and their cultures.

Instead, Swedenborg tends to plunge quite directly into discussions of the doctrine of the Lord, with

particular emphasis on the folly of tripersonalism. This is occasioned, in one particular instance, by

the fact that this planet has been visited by someone from our earth, a man who had been a missionary

monk an who after death was still at work trying to convert people to traditional trinitarianism.

In other words, there is quite a lot of solid theology worked into this interplanetary travelogue.

The book has two faces, so to speak--travelogue and theology--and I'll give you three guesses which of

these two Swedenborg would have regarded as most important. Before you leap to a conslusion, though, I

want to remind you of a quote I used earlier in this talk.

However, the things I have already said and am about to say about angels and spirits are for the few

who are in faith. Still, so that others may also be brought to some acknowledgment, I am allowed to

tell the sort of story that gives pleasure and that appeals to curious people (talia, quae delectant

et allectant hominem sciendi cupidum), with the next stories being about planets in the starry


I have little doubt that Swedenborg believed he had spoken with spirits from the moon, Mars, Jupiter,

Saturn, and so on. I believe there is internal evidence that these identifications were not simple,

foregone conclusions; and we have his own testimony that his own interests played a role in

determining what he experienced. To repeat another quote from earlier on, "It was granted me to become

acquainted with the inhabitants of Jupiter as well, because of my desire to know what sorts of people

lived on other planets." It is all very well for Mr. Elphick to talk about truth through angels being

still truth from the Lord: this begs the question. The question is not simply what was said by whom,

but what Swedenborg heard, and this was limited by what Swedenborg knew and wanted to know. His

knowledge and his interests were vehicles for the communication of information especially about how to

become an angel.

In specific, I believe we should regard the information about other planets not as an end it itself

but as a device for the conveying of important information--information about the Lord, the spiritual

world, and the life of charity. We should use it to see ourselves in a more universal physical

perspective, perhaps, but primarily to see ourselves more clearly in the context of the purpose of

creation, the formation of a heaven of angels from the human race.

And to hammer this point home, I should like to conclude with one more quotation. As seems often to be

the case, somewhere along the way Swedenborg manages to mention the purpose of what he is writing, or

at least to give some clues. Since he rarely does this in a preface or introduction, such statements

may be overlooked. I have already mentioned his statement that this material is for "those few people

who are in faith," which is pretty simple and straightforward. This next one is from slightly later

(EU 127). It is a bit more involved, but I think it makes its point.

. . . people who think from the sensory level of their spirit, slightly removed or detached from the

sensory level of their body, can be led to believe and to grasp, because their thinking is not

preoccupied with space and time but instead with the sources of space and time. The material that

follows on planets in the starry heavens is for people like this and not for others, unless they are

the kind who will let themselves be taught.




<1>:. Robert Hindmarsh, Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church in England,

America, and other Parts: Particularly in Reference to its External Manifestation

by Public Worship, Preaching, and the Administration of the Sacraments, with Other

Ordinances of the Church (London, Hodson & Son; 1861), p. 2.

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