Two major transitions in Swedenborg’s life and work.

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Two major transitions in Swedenborg’s life and work.

Messagepar Patrick » 25 Juin 2016 16:05

Patrick, june 23rd 2016.

Dear friends,

I was just thinking about to have a page in english on this forum (in spite of my very basic english) when a letter from Geoge Dole, who had been my superviser teacher as I was studing theology, arrived to me with many new and very interesting informations regarding Swedenborg, his writtings and teachings.

I immediately asked him if he would allow me to publish the result of his recent discoveries on the forum and I was just filled with happiness to get back an enthusiastic and positive answer.

George is one of the best specialist and translator of Swedenborg in the world, also to have him with us on the french network is not only of the greatest interest, but a true honour !

It’s also an amazing synchronicity, this forum with Geoge Dole to arrive just on the sixty-eighth anniversary of the Swedenborg Circle !

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Re: Two major transitions in Swedenborg’s life and work.

Messagepar Patrick » 25 Juin 2016 16:07

George, may 24th 2016.

Dear Patrick,

Through the Swedenborg Foundation, I got involved in translating the writings for the New Century Edition, and my current project is a study of The Word Explained, which Swedenborg wrote after his admission to the spiritual world but before Arcana Coelestia. It shows him to have had a vivid revival of his childhood faith—thoroughly, innocently Lutheran—and gradually discovering that his adult intellect had serious problems with it. It’s quite a story, and it’s a shame that we have ignored it for so long.

The latest development, though, is the discovery that there is a very coherent ”argument” running through The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrines, basically telling me that if I want to understand the Lord at all, I’d better find out who I am and get my life straightened out. It suggests a whole new way of presenting the theology ; and once I get The Word Explained book out of the way, I have that to look forward to. Don’t know how many years I have left, but they promise to be full ones.

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Re: Two major transitions in Swedenborg’s life and work.

Messagepar Patrick » 25 Juin 2016 16:11

Patrick, may 31th 2016.

Dear George

I was very interested to learn about your present work. The translating of the writings for the New Century Edition and your study on The Word Explained.

For me also to writte a complet biography on Swedenborg’s life and to read again in a much more attentive way the writtings in order to present his teachings made me to realize many things that I had not seen before and to discover much unexpected things. Never believe that we may know anything ! ...

I had also noticed the great changes that had happened in Swedenborg during the years 1745-1749, through his first tentative of giving a spiritual exegesis with his aborted Word Explained. I have written several things about that in the biography but I did’nt know at all about this process of moving from Lutheran theology to its inspired theology through The World Explained. You have made a very important discovery here for all of the biographical knowledge that we do have of Swedenborg.

Now I would have a futher question to ask you about this. What are in your sense the major changes that justified the fact that he never published this very big book, The Word Explained, to restart the all work with his "Arcana Cœlestia" ? What is the major change between both ?

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Re: Two major transitions in Swedenborg’s life and work.

Messagepar Patrick » 25 Juin 2016 16:25

George, may 31th 2016.

Dear Patrick,

Delighted to find that you are so productively engaged, and especially that you are taking The Word Explained so seriously. I’ve attached a talk I gave last year (See the following post : “Swedenborg’s Road To As If”).

I’m not sure at what point Swedenborg decided not to publish The Word Explained. You can see his doubts growing and the moment when he believed that everything he had done was worthless ; and you can also see the sketchy treatment of the historical books—clearly nowhere near ready for print. I find myself impressed at how diligently he kept pressing on long after it must have been obvious to him that the whole thing would have to be redone.

The more I read, the more I discover. One of the latest things is that when he abandoned Apocalypse Explained, he promptly addressed to very distinctly different readerships : Biblical literalists in The Four Doctrines, and non-biblical philosophers in Divine Love and Wisdom. His thought is so consistent that it is alarmingly easy to overlook such striking differences in the way it is presented.

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Re: Swedenborg's Road To As If

Messagepar Patrick » 25 Juin 2016 16:44

( 2015 )

The first two sentences of The Doctrine of Life bear close reading. "Everyone who has any religion knows and acknowledges that people who lead a good life are saved and people who lead an evil life are damned. That is, they know and acknowledge that if we lead a good life we think good things not only about God but also about our neighbor, which is not the case if we lead an evil life."

How do we live a good life ? We do not do it on our own. We do not regenerate ourselves. That is the message of the second chapter of The Doctrine of Life. Then the third chapter tells us that the key to doing genuine good is to turn our back on evils "as sins", that is, because the Lord forbids them. This seems to trigger a kind of inverse imputation—we give the Lord at least some credit for what really feels like our own righteousness.

This presents us with a paradox, a paradox that is presented very bluntly in Divine Providence 191 : "Our own prudence is nothing. It only seems to be something, as it should. Divine providence is all-inclusive, because it extends to the smallest details." Swedenborg never resolves it ; and if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that neither do we. By and large, we simply ignore it.

Swedenborg did not ignore it. In the next chapter of The Doctrine of Life he wrote :

Two things are required, though. First, we need to turn our backs on evil deeds because they are sins, that is, because they are hellish and diabolical and contrary to the Lord and to divine laws. Second, we need to turn our backs on evil deeds because they are sins as if we were doing it on our own and believe that it comes from the Lord. (§22, emphasis mine)

The phrase sicut a se, "as if of oneself ", occurs over one hundred and fifty times in the published theological works, which surely suggests that it is important. We should not ignore it. It was hard won.

For the past few years, I've been looking into the first work Swedenborg wrote after he received his commission to disclose the deeper meaning of the Word. In size, it is in the same league as Secrets of Heaven, and it was written while he was fully occupied with his highly demanding "day job" on the College of Mines. He never published it. It was finally published in Latin by J.F.I. Tafel under the title "Adversaria", or "Notes", between 1842 and 1854, and in eight volumes of English translation by Alfred Acton between 1926 and 1951 under the title : "The Word of the Old Testament Explained".

There is very little evidence that anyone has taken the time to read it. It does start with a serial presentation of the Word, beginning with Genesis and Exodus, and presumably on this basis there seems to have been a vague assumption that is kind of first draft of Secrets of Heaven. Why read the first draft when we have the final copy ? In her classic biography, Cyriel Sigstedt does recognize that Swedenborg went though some doubts, but minimizes their importance with the remark that "Some of the expressions - and to some extent even the ideas - of his previous works were taken from orthodox theology and embody the dogmas of the Lutheran church in which he had been raised" (p. 217). That dear friends, is the understatement to end all understatements.

Let me give you some samples. In commenting on the creation story, Swedenborg wrote, "The creation was done and accomplished by means of speech, or of the Word. The creation itself is credited to God the Parent, but the speech or the Word to the second Person of Divinity, his only-begotten Son, . . . while the efficient cause is the Holy Spirit" (§4). Commenting on Genesis 29 : 21, he notes that "God could have saved the world by an infinite number of means, but this was the only one : that the Messiah himself should take upon himself all forms of guilt and become the righteousness that is imputed by him to believers" (§ 585). As the story progresses, we find that the devil is a fallen angel (Volume II, §136, at Genesis 37), that the time will come for "a gathering of all in heaven and on earth, when God Messiah will come to judge the whole world" (Volume II, §503 at Genesis 40:19), and that when this happens, "all men will then rise from their graves simultaneously and in a moment" (2/1405, see also 2/1502). We find that "by faith alone we fix our minds on God Messiah, and at the same time on what God Messiah suffered. This insight is what makes it possible for us to reach him and acknowledge him, and so to reach Jehovah the Father through him, then God Messiah imputes his righteousness to [us]" (Volume II, §527, at Genesis 40-41). This is precisely the theology we find rejected in the later, published theological works.

In his introduction, Acton argues strenuously that Swedenborg is just using this kind of language because it is the only one his readers will understand, that Swedenborg himself never believed these "falses" ; but when you find him saying these things time after time after time, on page after page after page, never suggesting that they should not be taken literally, the question becomes irresistible : why does Swedenborg insist on saying things he doesn't believe, without even hinting that they aren't really true ?

No, I believe that what we are seeing is the emotional impact of Swedenborg's encounter with a whole new world, a spiritual world of total authenticity in which mutual love and understanding are everywhere not only present but obvious. It is in so many ways, a stunningly beautiful world, and I believe that Swedenborg's encounters with genuine angels awakened first of all his own childhood feelings, including his lovely, trusting, childhood faith. Acton is quite right in pointing out Swedenborg's statement "I knew nothing of that learned faith" (which teaches the doctrine of the Atonement), but a childhood faith is not a "learned" one. The childlike mind is not literalist or pedantic. It has no trouble believing in a trinity of persons and believing that God is one. It can, after all, believe that one chubby Santa Claus in one night goes down millions of chimneys with a bag of presents that is always full. The child believes this not because it makes logical sense, but because it makes emotional sense - because it is beautiful.

The doctrine of remains is one of our favorites. The word "reliquiae" occurs 435 times in the published theological works. Of these, 416 are in Secrets of Heaven, starting with 143 in the first (Latin) volume and tapering off as the work progresses, with only eight occurrences in the final volume. In all the rest of the published theological works, the word occurs only nineteen times, and none refers to the "remains" that we all have within us from our infancy and childhood. 1 This reinforces my belief that, as Swedenborg started writing The Word Explained, Swedenborg was, so to speak, singing "Jesus loves me"; and that as he began to write Secrets of Heaven, he was still in the "afterglow" of that revelatory experience, which naturally faded as the years kept bringing other vivid and powerful experiences.

My Latin is not good enough to pick up emotional overtones, but there are obvious signs of excitement in the early pages The Word Explained. For years, I was uncomfortable with Joseph Proud's lines, "We wander now no more where darkening errors lead, but truth by light divine explore, and wonder while we read." It sounded arrogant. Eventually, though, it dawned on me that this was written when the new theology was really new. The wonder was real wonder. This is the thrill of discovery, and that, I believe, is what we find in the early pages of The Word Explained. We keep finding expressions like "obviously" (§119), "most clearly" (§197), "so clearly that . . ." (§264), "so obvious that . . ." (§267), "obviously" (§289), "clearly enough" (§291), "obviously" (§297), "beyond all doubt" (§378), "for sure" (§732), "so clear" (§2/128).

But the tone changes after a while. More and more, we find expressions like "so I think" (§§2/639, 2/1804), and "unless I am mistaken" (§2/989), and more explicitly "I do not yet know" (§§2/1853, 927, 1170, 1203, 2231), or some variant of "it is thus far obscure to me" (§§2/2142, 2206), to select just a few. His adult mind is making itself known. His faith is not as far above his reason as he had thought.

I would call particular attention to an indented paragraph (§2/411, while explaining Genesis 39 : 3-4). It is an extraordinary collection of "if’s" :

As touching the remaining points, these, as being clear indeed in themselves, but as yet obscure, 2 may be left for another time, God Messiah granting ; and, if it then be permitted, those things may be set forth in order which, by the divine mercy of God Messiah, have happened from the first time to the last - if so it be permitted ; and this in the way which is then pleasing to God Messiah ; namely, as concerns temptations and the things which follow after them in order ; but in a general way, if this be well pleasing. From these can then be drawn those things in the words of the present text and in those that follow which can be more distinctly expounded (emphases mine).

The density of conditional phraseology is striking : "if, if, if". There is a picture of a mind having seen something that looked quite clear at first but that is proving elusive on closer examination, a sense that something may or may not be pleasing to God Messiah, and a genuine uncertainty concerning God Messiah's future permission.

Eventually, the difficulty comes out into the open. §2/961 sounds an alarm :

As touching the reception of God Messiah's mercy and grace by faith, it is a question of the deepest investigation whether there is anything in us that enables us to accept this faith, or to apply ourselves to that acceptance ; or whether in these matters we bear ourselves as something dead ; . . .

Since it could not yet be clear to me how evil can then be imputed to us, and also our not accepting the faith offered us by mercy, these being questions of the deepest investigation, I have not dared to reason in such matters ("non ausim in his ratiocinari ").

To put it more simply, if we are incapable of doing right, how can we be held responsible for doing wrong ? This would give us a spreadsheet on which we must record all our liabilities but cannot record assets. Swedenborg is trying to hold his reason captive to faith, but reason is straining at its leash, and the thought of letting it loose is, with good reason, frightening. If there is one biblical verse that was central to Lutheranism, it was Romans 3 : 26 : "For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from the works prescribed by the law." This is unquestionable. Any serious threat to it can only come from Satan.

The whole matter comes to a head when Swedenborg comes to the point in the Joseph narrative where the years of famine have driven the Egyptians to sell their cattle, their land, and even themselves to the Pharaoh in order to buy grain. Swedenborg writes :

"These words may be applied to every natural man specifically," and "In man, in place of cattle, . . . are all those internal faculties whereby men become cattle and animals of servitude" (§2/1062) : after which there is a startling change.

2/1063. The cognitions themselves are signified by silver. These are of no use without application to things spiritual. They are the first things to be taken away, so that the cognitions, which have hitherto been made, thus serve no use, being without application to things heavenly. (If I am deprived of these, as now appears, then the cognitions hitherto granted me by the divine mercy of God Jesus Christ are of no use; thus up to now the labor has been in vain, this being a consequence).

Suddenly, "every natural man specifically" is as specific as it can be. It is Swedenborg himself. He continues :

2/1064. Cattle and the like, together with horses, also signify interior cognitions, like horses; here, they signify the pleasures and cupidities of the world. (These also are taken away from me, so that I dare nothing, I know nothing, as to whither I shall go.)

There's that word, "dare," again.

2/1065. The land is the intellect belonging to the mind. This is taken away at the same time, so that I understand almost nothing; for so do evil spirits obscure me, and the things, which I may be able to write, are given me piecemeal. 3

2.1066. This is my state today, exactly as was presignified to the man of Egypt. What further these words mean, I know not. I await thy salvation, God Messiah ! (§§2/1063-66)

At this point, a bold line is drawn across the page, and the remainder is left blank.

Those closing words, "I await thy salvation, God Messiah", clearly refer to Genesis 49:18, where the plea "I wait for your salvation, O Lord" (NRSV) comes as a surprising first-person interjection in Jacob's third-person blessings of his sons. 4 It follows immediately the description of Dan as "a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels, so that he falls backwards."

In his commentary on this verse, Swedenborg understands the serpent and asp to represent scientia roughly, secular erudition (§2/1273) ; the horse to represent the human intellect (§2/1274) ; the rider as the actual individual ("ipse homo", §2/1275) ; the path to represent the object of erudition and human reasoning (ratiocinatio, §2/1276) and Dan to represent "those who, by reasoning, . . . wish to scrutinize and search out things superior, such as things spiritual and celestial . . . and this from their own daring ("ex proprio ausu")" with the result that the reasoner "falls backward and lapses into continual errors, this being what is properly meant by falling backward." (§2/1279).

He continues :

2/1281. "Since this is so dangerous, therefore, of the divine mercy of God Messiah, it has been granted me to dare 5 to do this, not from my own daring, but from the inspiration of God Messiah . . . Still, I should confess that whenever I have desired to consult the understanding in those things which are celestial, 6 I seemed to myself to fall backward, and on such innumerable occasions, that unless, by the divine mercy of God Messiah, I had been at once returned to the way, I would quickly have fallen backward."

This, he now sees, is what has been happening in the recent stages of his exegesis - a repeated, frightening falling toward secular skepticism, and repeated rescues. I have long been fond of the passage in Secrets of Heaven 7298 : 2 concerning the value of doubt :

"[N]o one", Swedenborg wrote, "should be instantly persuaded of the truth . . . truth inculcated in this way . . has no stretch and no give. In the other life, this kind of truth is portrayed as hard, impervious to the good that would make it adaptable. This is why, as son as something true is presented by open experience to good spirits in the pother life, something opposite is presented soon thereafter, which creates a doubt. So they are enabled to think and ponder whether it is true, and together reasons and there y lead the truth into their minds rationally. This gives their spiritual sight an outreach in regard to this matter, even to the opposite."

It is only since my immersion in The Word Explained that I have been able to see the strong autobiographical dimension of this description.

Shortly after his Delft vision in 1744, Swedenborg had written in his Journal of Dreams, "At last it was granted to me by the grace of the Spirit to receive faith without reasoning, a real assurance of it. . . . Faith then appeared to me far above the reach of reason . . . we must make our understanding captive to the obedience of faith" (April 18, 1744). That could well represent an adult's effort to preserve a childlike faith.

Now, though, he finds himself called by God Messiah to follow this most dangerous path, "to search out things spiritual and celestial by means of natural sciences," not because he is confident of his own intellectual prowess but because he believes that God Messiah will be guiding his use of it, inspiring him along the way.

He knows what he needs to do. He has recognized that.

. . . at this day, when men think themselves to live in such great light as to things intellectual, they are yet in such dense shade that nothing can be denser. Hence, as soon as they consult any philosophy they fall into the worship of nature and are turned backward; and order itself is so perverted that there is no faith. Thus [the state] is almost irremediable, unless all their philosophy is first shaken out of their minds. Faith, therefore, must be opposed to that state of mind [which believes] that there is no faith, for knowledge must come first. It must be known what is to be believed, for without the knowledge of these things, faith is not possible ; it would then be believing without understanding and reason, and this is not human.

He does get back to work, obviously. He does not wait until he has everything figured out. There is a long road ahead of him, and after another; less severe crisis in the middle of Leviticus, the story is going to have a happy ending when it gets to Isaiah. I feel that I know where he is headed, and need to find out how he gets there. At this point, as he moves through Exodus, I find him staking out some solid ground - nothing earthshaking, nothing objectionable to either an open-minded theologian or to a scientist, and beginning to realize that what he has tended to see as almost instantaneous conversion is actually a step-by-step process. I'm currently trying to trace his path from there, but I don't want to leave you in suspense, so I'll skip the journey and take you straight to Leviticus, and then to Isaiah.

Leviticus 25 : 24 reads, "Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land."

This prompted the following series of cryptic "one-liners" : 7

2/6305. So the land must be redeemed, that is, what is meant by the land, namely the slaves (see verse 55).

No problem so far - this is perfectly good Lutheran doctrine.

2/6311. The produce or the fruit, though, is what comes from heaven - that is, from the possession, and therefore from the Possessor, God Messiah.

2/6312. [The fruits] are then faith, charity, and the works of charity.

2/6313. Anyone can sell this as produce, for we do seem to be able to distribute this, that is, to teach it.

Now we're on dangerous ground. This seems to be saying that our works are in some way our own.

2/6314. "The poor" are said to be those who either sell these things or go into slavery; so the possession too, or the land, which is the same as the person, can go into slavery. Slavery is working and meriting a salary under the banner of God Messiah.

But even what we do "under the banner of God Messiah" is slavery if we think we merit a salary for doing it.

2/6315. Redemption has to do with the produce, not the possession.

2/6315. The produce is charity and the works of charity: we are redeemed and saved depending on these.

So his childhood faith was dead wrong and dead right at the same time. Our salvation depends on our works, but our works do not earn us heaven.

2/6316. These matters are most obscure to me so far, and there is no way I can understand them. So I lay them aside, for I have never been so distressed, so perplexedly distressed.

The fact that this was a landmark event is underscored by the fact that it is one of the very few that is dated. It happened on July 22 1746, over a year after his call. It is not his faith that is now being challenged, though, but his reason. This does not bring him to a screeching halt, convinced of the worthlessness of all that he has done. This is something he can lay aside for the time being.

It is, of course, one of the central issues in the history of Christian doctrine, the tension between law and grace. Luther had seen the Catholic Church as erring on the side of law, with a bookkeeping system of red ink sins and black ink penances (and the church as the Auditor). He had tried to switch the emphasis to simple trust in the grace offered by Jesus Christ, but that "trust" had been represented as "faith," and faith had gradually become been equated with orthodox belief rather than with childlike trust in Jesus.

Again, Swedenborg kept at it. It seems that the third turning point, the resolution, came a little over a year later; and as we might expect, it came in the course of his further study of the Bible. At some point, he started an index of Genesis. He soon abandoned this, and used the same pages for an index of Isaiah. While there is no direct indication of why he discontinued it, at the top of the first page of that index there is a most intriguing sentence: "A change of state in me, into the celestial kingdom, in an image. 1747, Aug 7, Old Style."

It seems likely that what prompted the change of course was the change of state, but I'd classify that as no more than "probably not a bad guess". It may not be coincidence, though, that he abandoned his Genesis index shortly after finishing Genesis 12, in which Abram is commanded, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Genesis 12:10). Given his practice of identifying with the biblical characters, what would that have said to him about his own loyalty to his father's faith ? What expectations might it raise concerning the land that the Lord was promising to show him ?

I want to pause just a moment and note that Swedenborg did not resign from his "day job" on the College of Mines until June 1747. At that point, he had been offered the post of Councillor, effectively, the presiding officer of the College. He had arrived. In the words of biographer Ernst Benz, his scientific publications "had brought him European fame. The learned periodicals of all lands discussed his new books; the academies opened their doors to hem; and he had come closer to his goal of being received within the Olympus of European learning than he had every hoped" (Benz, p. 102). On the brink of his admission to "the celestial kingdom," then, he turned his back on his prodigious and brilliant scientific output, and left unpublished everything he had written on the spiritual sense of he Word.

This introduces what I take to be the conclusion of "the missing chapter," which is signaled right next door to the statement about his change of state. At the top of the basically blank page facing that first page of the index he wrote, "How our regeneration is expressed in the outer, inner, still more inward, and inmost sense of the Word of God Messiah, and how it is believed by people who are outer, inner, still more inward, and inmost, so how outer things are lifted up step by step to the inmost. See adjuvare (which means "to help"), Isaiah 43 : 17" (44 : in modern Bibles). This sounds very much like the enlightenment that comes when the inner is opened so that we see "from within" (Secrets of Heaven 10551 : 2).

It of course sends us to the entry for adjuvare in the index that immediately follows, and since adjuvare begins with the letter "a", there are not too many pages to turn. Bear in mind, though, that the index was not written in alphabetical order. He would have started with chapter 1, verse 1, and proceeded verse by verse, and it would have taken quite a while to get to chapter 43.

We can take the shortcut, though, and when we do, this is what we find. The verse in question reads as follows : "Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you." Swedenborg's comment :

"Adjuvare", "to help", for providing assistance so that we may be reformed. In its outer sense, it is for people to whom it seems as if their own efforts contribute to their reformation ; in a deeper sense, for people who demand something of themselves for their regeneration ; in a still deeper sense, for people who know in theory that they are capable of nothing but still think they are somehow involved, and in the inmost (or deepest) sense for people who claim no credit whatever for themselves.

The "as if " paradox has been set in the context of a process. We necessarily start with the belief that our salvation is all up to us because we pretty much fill our own horizon, so to speak. Even so, if we lead good lives, we are enabled more and more to "think good things not only about God but also about our neighbor." Swedenborg lived this by repeatedly getting back to work at the job he had been commissioned to do; and surely his entry into the celestial kingdom was his introduction to the state of the angels of that heaven, who "feel the inflow of divine love and wisdom from the Lord, and since they feel it and in their wisdom realize that these constitute their life they say that their life comes from the Lord and not from themselves." (Divine Providence 158).

This does not resolve the paradox, though—it intensifies it. In the words of Divine Providence (§42), "The more closely we are united to the Lord, the more clearly we seem to have our own identity, and yet the more obvious it is to us that we belong to the Lord" - and obviously, this feels heavenly. The "happy ending" is the beginning of a new life.


Notes :

1. Of the nineteen, thirteen are in biblical quotations, two refer to the physical "remains" of saints revered by the Catholic church, two refer to "remains" of fading Churches, one is from the Augustana Confession, and one refers simply to the physical remains of the dead.

2. Acton inserts, "[to me]".

3. The manuscript reads "frustratim", a word otherwise unattested. Acton, followed by Chadwick, emends to "frustatim", "in pieces," which in view of the sudden shifts of focus in these pages makes good sense. I cannot help wondering, though, whether Swedenborg may not be echoing the adverb "frustra", "to no purpose, in vain," given the "of no use" ("nullius usus") and "in vain" ("incassum") of §2/1063).

4. In Latin, the reference is unmistakable.

5. "Ausim", which Acton translates as "venture," though he translates "ausu" as "daring" in 2/1279.

6. "Coelestia", which Acton translates as "heavenly," despite having translated it as "celestial" in 2/1279. "heavenly." By choosing to use different words to translate what in Latin are the same words, Acton slightly obscures the clarity with which Swedenborg is identifying himself with the "ipse homo", the actual individual, represented by Dan.

7. Which Acton, sadly to my mind, compresses into a single paragraph.
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Re: Two major transitions in Swedenborg’s life and work.

Messagepar Patrick » 25 Juin 2016 16:51

Patrick, june 15th 2016.

Dear George

I red with a lot of interest your attached talk "Swedenborg Road to As If". I am just very impressed with the incredible precision and richness of your inquiry, and with all what you have been bringing out to light.

I will correct, in the biography, the wrong assemption about Swedenborg’s real intention to published its Word Explained, and I will try to resume into a short paragraph what you have discovered about this crucial period of his life, 1746-1747.

Now I have the same question about Apocalypse Explained (1757-1759) in regard to Apocalypse Revealed (1766). What is, for you, the main changes that have justified the fact that he finally never published the first one, to restart seven years later all of this big work ? What happened in between both ?

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Re: Two major transitions in Swedenborg’s life and work.

Messagepar Patrick » 25 Juin 2016 16:54

George, june 17th 2016.

Dear Patrick,

It is most rewarding to me to find that what I have sent is useful for you, and heartening to know that such good and thoughtful work is being done in France.

As for Swedenborg’s decision not to publish Apocalypse Explained (1757-1759) think it is fairly obvious that he was ”led elsewhere.” The ”continuations” that he started in chapter fifteen (I think) gradually get longer and longer, and his treatment of the biblical text gets shorter and shorter. By the time he stops, his explanation of the biblical verse may be no more than a sentence or two ; and if you compare this with the pages and pages he would spend on a single phrase in earlier chapters, the change is striking.

If you look at the very end, §1229, he gives the biblical text just one sentence, and then lays out a program for dealing with the nature of divinity. It’s pretty obvious what is first and foremost in his mind. What amazes me is that he has been making a fair copy for the printer to within a couple of sections of the end.

At the very end, he lays out a outline for dealing with the nature of divinity, and the first proposition of that outline is echoes in the first sentence of Divine Love and Wisdom (1763). However, he did not start right in on DLW, but first wrote and published The Four Doctrines (1763). These are clearly addressed to a readership that takes the Bible very seriously and quite literally. In sharp contrast, DLW makes almost no use of Scripture at all, and is clearly addressed to the speculative philosophical mind.

I find myself thinking that as he worked through the Book of Revelation, he began to become more ”reader-conscious,” began to who would actually read this long and rambling work, and finally decided that he had been on the wrong track. It must have been a very hard decision to make, considering the amount of time he had dedicated to it.

I’d like to read through Apocalypse Explained with this in mind, to see whether there are signs of distraction. I’m fortunate to own a set of the first Latin edition (published by John Hindmarsh), and spend some time with it in the coming year or three.

What has turned me on must recently is the realization that the order of chapters in The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine (1758) is really worth close attention. This dawned on me as I was checking my translation for the New Century Edition ; and I've attached something I sent to the editors for their consideration. A condensed version will be in the Translator’s Preface, so this version is not copyrighted. I’m thinking of a book-length Introduction to Swedenborgian theology following this outline, and think that in general, it would be a good way to present the teachings to new readers.

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