The Writings as the Word:
A Study in the History of Doctrine
by Alfred Acton
(Written between 1936 and 1948.)
It has been supposed by many persons that the teaching as to the Writings of
the New Church being the very Word of God originated with leaders of the Academy,
though attention has more than once been called to the early existence of this teaching.*
Indeed, from an historical point of view, it would be a more remarkable circumstance
and a matter for wonder if this doctrine had not been acknowledged until one hundred
years after the founding of the church. For it is difficult to imagine how men could
have the courage-not to say the hardihood-to proclaim that a New Church had come
upon the earth; to preach abroad that the present Christian Church has come to an
end; to institute a new priesthood, a new baptism, new worship; to do all this,
if they did not rest their teaching and their action on the authority of Divine
revelation, i.e., of immediate revelation from the Lord Himself. And equally difficult
would it be to imagine that the revelation could be accepted as from the Lord and
not at the same time be accepted as His Divine Word to the New Church.
* See, for instance, Odhner's Testimony of the Writings, pp. 35-36, and NEW
CHURCH LIFE, 1925, pp. 360-61.
But we are not called on to make any such strain on our imagination for from
the very commencement of the church, and many years prior to its external organization-indeed,
during Swedenborg's own life-the doctrine that the Writings are the Word of the
Lord has been openly proclaimed. History, moreover, shows that the first organization
of the New Church was based upon the acknowledgment of this doctrine.
The first known mention of the doctrine is made by a Swedish Lutheran clergyman,
in December 1771, when Swedenborg was still living, a year and a half after the
Royal judgment had been given in the Gothenburg Trial of Beyer and Rosen for "Swedenborgianism"
for bidding the importation or circulation of Swedenborg's theological writings.
Sven Schmidt was a pastor in the Skara Diocese, where formerly Bishop Jesper
Swedberg had been for many years the presiding Bishop. How Pastor Schmidt came to
read the Writings is not known. But it is a fact that hardly needs explanation because:
1) When it became known, in 1766, that Swedenborg claimed spiritual vision, the
matter was widely noised abroad in Sweden. 2) The trial of Beyer and Rosen in 1769
had made a great stir and had spread far and wide the fame of Swedenborg the theologian.
3) Even before this trial, as von Hopken testifies, "The clergy of Gothenburo and
Westgothland [containing Skara] are more infected [with Swedenborgianism] than is
generally believed."* And, finally, 4) the name of Swedenborg was highly honored
in the Skara Diocese because of the honored memory of the late Bishop Jesper Swedberg.
But-however and whenever Schmidt came to accept Swedenborg's Writings-accept them
he did, and this with absolute faith in their Divine authority. "He openly believed,"
says Sundelin in his Swedenborgianismens Historia in Sverige, p. 139, "that through
Swedenborg's writings the Lord had raised up a new doctrine and a new church body;
and even in the halls of the Consistory, he declared that this doctrine was in every
respect a Divine doctrine."
* NEW CHURCH LIFE 1898 p. 107.
In December, 1771, Schmidt, who was then thirty-two years old and had been in
the priesthood for eight years, was cited before the Skara Consistory to answer
the charge of heretical teaching. This was but the beginning of a long persecution,
and in the remarkably detailed official accounts of this trial-upon which Sundelin
based the opinion cited above-we find clear evidence of Schmidt's recognition of
the Writings as the Word of God.
In the Minutes of the Skara Consistory* for December 11, 1771, Schmidt was subjected
to the following examination: "Asked if it was true, as reported by Pastor Luth,
that he had burned up all his books; and if he had not used scandalous utterances
in the presence of Luth and others; he answered that the first charge was true,
and that, with the exception of Swedenborg's writings, none of these was left but
the Bible in its original languages and in Swedish translation together with the
Swedish Book of Church Law; that, as the Lord had raised up a new church body. so
the old must perish and there will be a new doctrine from the Lord through the writings
of the Honorable Assessor Swedenborg. In his opinion, these writings are the work
of the Lord, and are one and the same as the Holy Scriptures. This opinion Schmidt
had derived from the Lord through the Word."
* A transcript of these Minutes is to be found in the Academy Library. The
extract quoted above is taken from pages 577-78 of this transcript. (Jonkoping
MSS., pp. 577-78).
The testimony thus courageously given by Pastor Schmidt constitutes the first
recorded public statement that the Writings of Swedenborg are the Word of God equally
as are the Old and New Testaments; and being made while Swedenborg was still on
earth engaged in publishing his Writings, though Pastor Schmidt had never met him,
the utterance gives the stronger testimony that it was founded on an inner conviction
of the Divine truth of his Writings.
Soon after Swedenborg's death, the question of the status of the Writings was
actively discussed among his followers, and it was but natural that light should
be sought from Dr. Beyer who had been in intimate touch with the Revelator himself.
Among the papers preserved in the Nordenskjold family is a long letter written,
as shown by internal evidence, to Mr. C. F. Nordenskjold,* a young man of twenty-three
years who was then reputed the most intelligent and profound student of the doctrines.
The letter is written in response to several inquiries addressed to Dr. Beyer, the
most important of which concerned the status of the Writings in their relation to
the Old and New Testaments. It is with this question that the greater part of Dr.
Beyer's letter is concerned.
* NEW CHURCH LIFE, 1930, p. 324.
The new revelation, writes Dr. Beyer, "is not a new Divine Word but a disclosure
in the Word we had, which is the Crown of all Heavenly revelation." That the Doctor
did not mean this statement as in any sense derogating from the absolute Divinity
of the Writings as the Lord's revelation or Word to the New Church is clear from
the closing words of the paragraph cited, which characterize the Writings as "the
Crown of all Heavenly revelation." His true meaning is that the Writings are not
meant to replace the Divine Word; they are not a new Word in place of the former
Word; not a new literal sense of the Word. They are the internal sense of the Word,
and as such are the Word itself. For, says Dr. Bever, "the spiritual sense is the
Word itself and is what is holy in the Word." Therefore, as he truly declares, they
are "the crown of all heavenly revelation," and therefore the Doctor himself calls
them "holy books."
That this is the Doctor's meaning is clear from the whole tenor of his letter.
He divides the Writings into four general classes: 1. The Expository. 2. The Doctrinal
Parts. 3. Spiritual Experiences. 4. Philosophical and Scientific Principles Confirmatory
of the Divine Truth. And of all these, Dr. Beyer expressly says that what is written
is from the Lord alone and is infallible truth.
1. Of the expository portions, he observes that they are found in the Arcana
Coelestia, Apocalypse Revealed and in portions of the other Writings, and he
"The spiritual sense is the Word itself and is what is holy in the Word.
This has been dictated to the Assessor out of heaven (AC 6597), and therefore
it brings immediate communication with heaven. It is not a new Divine Word
but a disclosure in the Word we had, which is the Crown of all heavenly
The passage here referred to reads: "That the internal sense is such
as has been stated, is evident from the several passages that have been
explained, and especially from the fact that this sense has been disclosed
to me out of heaven" (AC 6597).
2. Of the doctrinal portions of the Writings, Dr. Beyer observes: "The doctrine
from the Word is the same as the understanding of the Word as to its inner meaning."
And again: "It must be well borne in mind that this Apostle [Swedenborg] did
not receive the least part of it from any angel but from the Lord alone (TCR
779; DP 135; AR Pref.). Consequently, the doctrine is Divine as to all its contents
and gives immediate communication with the new Christian heaven." In one of
the passages here referred to, the statement is: "No spirit has desired nor
angel wished to say anything, still less to instruct concerning anything in
the Word, or concerning any doctrine from the Word, but the Lord alone has taught
me' (DP 135). The word "alone" is used also in the same connection in the other
passages cited by Dr. Beyer, and this clearly is the reason the latter puts
such emphasis on that word.
It will be noted that the Doctor states that the doctrine revealed in the
Writings of Swedenborg "gives immediate communication with the new Christian
Heaven." That he intends this statement to claim the Writings as the Divine
Word for the New Church is indicated by what he says as to the doctrinal books
of the Apostles. These are not written in the style of the Word, he observes,
and he continues: "This style brings immediate communication with heaven; but
in the doctrinal books [of the Apostles] is another style which indeed has communication
with heaven but only mediately."
3. Turning to those portions of the Writings which reveal the nature of the
spiritual world. Dr. Beyer observes that Swedenborg's "every experience with
regard to the spiritual world is infallible truth."
4. Finally, of the philosophy and science in the Writings, he says that when
sciences are one with spiritual truth they become true and infallible. "Such
are they; they are all Divine."
Whatever, then, may be thought of the terms by which Dr. Beyer would express
the status of the Writings as compared with the Old and New Testaments, there can
be no doubt that he held them to be the Crown of Revelations, given by the Lord
alone, containing in their every word infallible truth, and bringing men into immediate
communication with the new heaven. Is it any wonder that in answer to the second
point in his correspondent's letter, he says: "There are no contradictions in the
Writings"; or that he says: "Writings revealed by the Lord, or a Divine Word, or
Divine Doctrine, have not existed in Europe except the books of the Old and New
Testament, the writings of the Apostles, and especially the writings of the Apostle
of the New Church."
It might be thought of this last quotation that Beyer classifies the Epistles
as the Divine Word, or else that he classifies the Writings with the Epistles. It
seems clear, however, from the whole tenor of his letter, that he makes a clear
distinction between the Writings and the Epistles-the one giving immediate communication
with heaven, and the other only mediate; the one being the works of Divine guidance,
the other the work of a Revelator.
Mr. C. F. Nordenskjold, to whom the above letter was addressed, was extremely
active with his brother Augustus in plans for the spreading of the knowledge of
Swedenborg's doctrine, and as he gathered around him other receivers, he undoubtedly
imparted to them the many things communicated to him by Dr. Bever. Beyer's position
with regard to the Writing he seems wholly to have accepted, and it is perhaps partly
due to his influence that some, at any rate, of the early receivers of the church
in England openly proclaimed the doctrine that the Writings are the Word. At any
rate, Mr. Nordenskjold was one of the editors of the NEW JERUSALEM MAGAZINE, where
this teaching was put forth.*
* See NEW JERUSALEM MAGAZINE, 1790, p. v.
In some "Hints for forming a Plan of a Consistorium Ecciesiasticum' by A. Nordenskjold,
printed in this magazine, we read: "On the table of the consistory are to be placed
all the theological writings of Swedenborg, and the English Bible; but on the president's
chair is to be placed the WORD in Hebrew, Greek and Latin*" (p. 122). In a footnote,
presumably by the editors of the magazine, we read: "*Concerning the Superscription
on the Cross. It is worthy of observation, that the Doctrine of the New Church is
written in the Latin Language, and in so easy and simple a manner, that a person
but little versed in the language may without difficulty comprehend it. With respect
to the Superscription on our Saviour's Cross in three languages-The reason is easily
perceived why it was written in Hebrew and Greek, which represent the Old and New
Testament: but no correspondence of its being also wrote in Latin could be ascertained,
until the New Doctrine appeared."
Another plain evidence of the belief that was held in the early Church in England
that the Writings are the Word, is given in an advertisement of a lately published
work, Swedenborg's New Year's Gift to His Readers for 1791.*
* See New Church Review, 1907, p. 181-very excellent article on Chastanier
by Mr. Hyde, who says (p. 205) An Adv. for "ES's New-Year's Gift" [etc.] is
on the back of the very rare circular "Proposals for printing by Subscription
ES's S.D. by a Society of Gentlemen. [London] 1791. Svo 8pp.
The editor [B. Chastanier] of this work writes in the advertising pages at the
"Some persons into whom this little work has fallen have found fault with
the Editor for pointing out some erroneous translation in the Arcana Coelestia;
to such he would observe that, believing the work of Emanuel Swedenborg to contain
nothing but the most important spiritual and celestial truth, and even as a
faithful witness to the Sacred Oracle, he considered it essentially necessary
that into whatsoever language they may be translated, they should be rendered
as genuine and as pure as possible. The conduct of the Romish Church has been
deservedly censured for having adulterated the Word of God in all their transactions;
can it therefore be wondered at that the Editor of the above sketch, who considers
Swedenborg's works as of Divine Authority, should be jealous of preserving them
as untainted with errors as it is universally acknowledged the books they expound
should ever have been."
In the earliest days of the New Church, however, there was a general agreement
as to the Writings being a Divine revelation, and beyond this the question of their
authority did not come up for discussion. The main theme of discussion in those
days was not the status of the Writings but the necessity of complete separation
from the Old Church. The first journals of the Church, 1790-1792, are filled with
articles on this subject. It may be noted, however, that both sides recognized only
one authority, the Writings, which are proclaimed as the crown of revelations and
as the internal sense of the Word.
Significant in this connection is the portrait of the Rev. Francis Leicester
which is printed as a frontispiece to volume II of the MAGAZINE OF KNOWLEDGE* of
which Mr. Hindmarsh was the editor. Mr. Leicester is shown holding two books, the
Word and the Arcana Coelestia, so placed side by side as to form two volumes of
a single Word-the Word in the letter and the Word in its internal sense. But we
are left in no doubt as to this being the meaning intended. The MAGAZINE OF KNOWLEDGE
was continued in 1792 as the NEW JERUSALEM JOURNAL, but after a single volume, this
also was discontinued** and no new periodical appeared until May, 1799, when the
first number of the AURORA was published.
Here we find an article by the Rev. Francis Leicester, written under the pseudonym
Philanthropos, "A Key to the right understanding of the theological Writings of
Baron Swedenborg. 'That he himself was prepared and commissioned by the Lord, to
write as he has done, and to open the Word in a threefold sense. . . . That his
theological writings are not a revelation independent of the written Word of God;
but the Word itself in its interior sense made manifest; as all the essential truths
and doctrines he has opened and explained, were dictated to him by the Lord, while
he was reading and attending to the written Word. Other things from the Lord, through
the medium of angels'" (pp. 78-79).
* This Magazine was the continuation of the NEW JERUSALEM MAGAZINE 1790 which
is called volume I.
** The whole tone of these three journals is of authority. Mr. Mather speaks
of the new revelation "from which I perceive the Son of Man speaking to me from
His throne" (N. J. Jour., p. 34).
In the early years of the church, as the policy of separation from the Old Church
became established, there had evidently developed a difference of view between New
Church men, and much discussion was had as to church government-one party wishing
Episcopalian and the other a more democratic form. All agreed in acknowledging the
Writings as the second coming of the Lord. Thus, in the Circular Letter calling
the first General Conference of the New Church in England, it was stated as an article
"XXXIX. That Now is the second Advent of the Lord, which is a coming not
in Person but in the Power and Glory of the Sacred Scripture of His Holy Word
which is Himself.
"XL. That this second Coming of the Lord is effected by means of His servant
Emanuel Swedenborg, before whom He hath manifested Himself in Person, and whom
He hath filled with His spirit to teach the Doctrines of the New Church by the
Word from Him."
And the first resolution of the Conference itself, in 1789, was "That the Theological
works of the Honorable Emanuel Swedenborg are perfectly consistent with the Holy
Word, being at the same time explicatory of its internal sense in so wonderful a
manner that nothing short of Divine Revelation seems adequate thereto. That they
also contain the Holy Doctrines of the New Church signified by the New Jerusalem
in the Revelation; which Doctrines he was enabled by the Lord alone to draw from
the Holy Word while under the inspiration and illumination of His Holy Spirit."
Yet there was evidently some disquiet even then as to the status of the Writings,
for, whereas the proposition stated that the Second Coming of the Lord is effected
by means of His servant Emanuel Swedenborg, and that this Coming is now, the Conference
itself questions that the second Advent of the Lord which is a coming in the internal
sense of His Holy Word has already commenced.
These differences do not come out in the literature of the church, except as
they are manifested in the attitudes to separation from the Old Church and to priestly
government. But that they existed is specifically stated, and it would appear that
they first became definite about 1788 or 1789. In the AURORA for October 1799 is
a letter from a Mr. Robert Bernet of Kingston-upon-Hull, in which he writes: "I
have, in my journeyings from place to place, lately met with two very different
classes of the readers of the Hon. Baron Swedenborg's works: One class holding it
as a fixed principle with them, that the Baron's writings are really the Word of
the Lord, as positively as the writings of any of the four evangelists, Matthew,
Mark, Luke or John, as also of St. John in his Revelation, and thus seem to be exceedingly
offended when any one seems to depart from this their idea. The other class readily
allow the Baron to be a person highly illuminated by the Lord, and that his writings
are highly useful in opening the spiritual sense of the Word, and thereby the true
nature of the New Jerusalem church state; but still they cannot allow his writings
to be upon an equal footing with the Word itself; for, say they, this would be raising
the Baron and his writings rather above their proper place, for none can be the
Word, but the Lord alone" (p. 235).
Mr. Bernet continues that both classes appeal to the editors and writers of the
AURORA as favoring them, and therefore he asks the editors to declare "in the most
earnest manner" which class they "conceive to be most agreeable to truth."
In their reply, the editors, Sibley, Proud and Hodson, say that they, "and several
of their respectable correspondents, conceive that B. S., as to his theological
writings, is no more an author than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; but that as they
were, so is he, a scribe of the Lord; and hath written down that which he received,
was ordered, and appointed to write. We do not pretend to say the whole of his theological
writings are the Word of the Lord equally with those of Matthew. Mark. Luke, and
John. We say, That what he hath written is strictly true-his relations real facts-that
there is no error or mistake in them-that he was under the peculiar direction of
the Lord throughout the whole-and that his Arcana, in particular, is no other than
the Lord's own Word, opened and exhibited in its internal sense, its true spiritual
meaning, and therefore is infallible truth. It is the light and glory of the holy
Word, shining in superior splendor. The more we consider the writings in this light,
the less is E. S. exalted, for he is nothing at all but a mere scribe or medium;
but if he be considered in a lower light, as an expositor of the Scriptures only,
then the man is exalted, his own power and abilities are looked at, and he may be
idolized as a great and wonderful man: whereas in the other case E. S. is nothing,
the Lord is all, and to Him alone is given the praise" (pp. 236-237).
The editors' answer gave rise "to a discussion we did not expect" (ibid. p. 293).
The first public discussion of this question appeared in a letter written to the
AURORA by S. M. (Society at Manchester for publishing the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg),
dissenting from the editors' expressed a view of the Writings. They agree that the
Writings are without mistake or error and were written "under the peculiar direction
of the Lord throughout the whole," but could not agree "with you when you insinuate
that some parts of his Theological Writings are the WORD OF THE LORD equally with
those of Matthew. Mark, Luke and John, and that therefore he is no more an author
than any of these four Evangelists." Their own opinion is that the Writings are
"mere explications of the hidden Wisdom of the HOLY BOOK, adapted and brought down
to the capacity of man, but not containing any thing above that capacity." They
therefore "bear witness to the internal sense of the HOLY WORD, and teach in part
what that sense is"; but "they themselves are not THE WORD.' The second advent consists
in "the opening of the spiritual sense of the HOLY WORD in men `s minds, and its
operation in their lives." E. S. served as the instrument by "having his own understanding
first opened to the apprehension of the interior contents of the Sacred Volumes,
and by next being enabled to write and publish those heavenly doctrines, deduced
from the same divine source, which might be necessary to open the understandings
of others." The Writings, therefore, are not the Word but "doctrines derived from
the Word"; and the Word is internal truth but doctrine is external. The Evangelists,
furthermore, did not understand what they wrote, but E. S. was prepared and therefore
"apprehended and understood clearly everything which he himself has committed to
paper": and in this view of E. S., "we less exalt the man and more exalt the Lord,
than in supposing him to write as a mere Scribe" (ibid. pp. 295 seq.).
The editors admit the letter but say: "It does not carry any conviction that
the definition we gave of the Barons character was wrong." Since the Lord Himself
dictated to Swedenborg, therefore "the Arcana Coelestia is not to be considered
as his Exposition or Interpretation of the Holy Word; but it is the WORD ITSELF
in its Internal Sense opened by the LORD HIMSELF." The editors then cite Swedenborg's
letter to the King of Sweden, as follows: "The Lord our Saviour commanded me to
write what has already been done, and what I have still to do" (ibid. pp. 293-94:
cites also AR preface and AC 64; see 2 Doc. 375). We may note here that this letter
was written in 1790. It does not appear, however, whether the editors of the AURORA
were led by this to extend their judgment of the Writings as the Word to more than
the expositionary portions.
In the same number of the AURORA. John Augustus Tulk writes: "In the opening
of his letter, it would appear that the difference of opinion on this subject was
a new development in the church: for he says that from Mr. Bernet's letter, it appears
that a difference of opinion subsists between two classes of readers, etc." He writes
further that the Writings max' speak for themselves. After quoting HH 1, TCR 779,
AR Pref., TCR 851, CL 1, TCR 850, Infl. 20, AR 820, ND 7, TCR 230, AR 1. etc.. as
to internal and external sense of the Word, he concludes that Swedenborg's own testimony
on the subject is that "the Revelation contained in the Writings is an opening of
the spiritual or internal sense of the Word, and of the heavenly secrets therein
contained, together with the genuine doctrine of the Word which are now revealed
from the Lord for the purpose of establishing His New Church; and that by this revelation
is to be understood the second coming of the Lord. That Emanuel Swedenborg was especially
prepared and appointed by the Lord from his youth to this office; that he disclaims
having taken any thing with regard to the spiritual sense, or the doctrine, from
himself, or even from any angel, but from the Lord alone whilst he was reading the
Word; consequently that he is to be looked upon as a mere instrument, and in no
respect to be regarded personally in the revelation, any more than are the Prophets
or Apostles, who wrote the Word in its ultimates by inspiration or by dictation.
That the spiritual or internal sense of the Holy Word and its genuine doctrine thus
revealed by illumination from the Lord alone through His Word, is to be regarded
as the soul of the Word, and the literal or external sense as its body; and that
to consider this revelation of the Lord's Word for the use of His New Church in
any other point of view than what is displayed in the New Revelation itself, or
to consider it in any comparative point of view which might tend to elevate or depreciate
the external or literal sense at the expense of the internal or spiritual sense,
or vice versa, would be inconsistent with a just view and with truth, and would,
as it were, be separating the soul from the body in its intimate connection, and
thus destroying the man.
In short, the internal or spiritual sense, and the external or natural sense
of the Word, exist in indissoluble union; they may indeed be separated in idea,
but cannot in reality, any more than the Lord, who is the life of the Word, can
be separated from His Word, which, as to the Divine Truth it contains, is the Lord
Himself; or, in other words, the Divine Truth now given and contained in the spiritual
sense of the Word is from the Lord alone, and respects and manifests Him alone and
the things of His kingdom, and as to its Divine Truth is also the Lord Himself;
and this internal sense rests in or dwells in the literal sense of the Word, which
for the same reason is also the Lord Himself; consequently both senses are holy
and divine as proceeding solely from Him, though through the instrumentality of
men, and can in no wise be separated or divided in themselves, without doing injury
to and depreciating the Word itself, and thus destroying its integrity. Of the Word
in the letter it may be said, Here is the Divine Word or Divine Truth veiled, as
it were, with clouds; of its spiritual sense and of its genuine doctrine, it may
be said, Here is the same Divine Word or Divine Truth in its power and great glory"
(ibid. pp. 300 seq.).
Following Mr. Tulk's clear exposition of the subject comes a letter signed by
fifteen members of the New Church at Kingston-upon-Hull, who describe themselves
as being of those who esteem the Writings "really as the Word of the Lord itself,
particularly his Arcana Coelestia" (ibid. pp. 305-306).
The subject evidently attracted much attention, for in the next number of the
AURORA it is again discussed by several correspondents.
An occasional correspondent communicates the results of a private conversation
"above a year ago, before any apprehension was entertained that the subject would
come in a questionable shape from any society." This writer says: To accomplish
the manifestation of the glorified Human, "the human mind in one man was made the
vehicle of the internal sense of the Word in a series, or of the Lords second coming,
as the human body in one woman had been made the vehicle of the Word made flesh,
or of the Lords first coming. By the first coming, our Lord became visible to mortal
eyes . . . by the second coming He is rendered visible to the mental sight . . .
and for the first time completely unfolds the mystery of the resurrection.
Those who would separate in point of heartfelt veneration, the Word now opened
in the series of its internal sense from the Word previous to this brighter manifestation,
separate the Son from the Father, and make two Gods not equally worshipped . . .
by making the Arcana Coelestia a stream only from the literal Word as its fountain,
they do not allow the celestial and spiritual Word to be the essential spirit of
the latter, and thus lessen the divinity of the Father. . .
"Can any one suppose for a moment that the Word in its glory is less Jehovah,
because B. S. was its vehicle? as well might he suppose that Jesus Christ was
not Jehovah, because the Virgin Mary gave him birth." The only effect
of the opposite position on those who hold it would be that the literal Word
"lies equally open to their private interpretation in its spiritual and celestial
sense as it did to E. S"; thus reducing the divine and infallible Word in its
glory, dictated by the Lord to E. S., to a human comment." He continues: "I
consider the Arcana to be the very Word in its internal sense, revealed to E.
S. by the Lord alone and the doctrines of the Theology to be the doctrines of
that very Word dictated by the Lord, and the memorabilia to be faithful narratives
of fact that relate to discoveries and correspondences in the spiritual world,
written by command from the Lord, agreeable to the repeated declarations of
"As the doctrines from the internal sense of the Word will establish a Church
that will be the crown of all churches: so the internal sense of the Word itself
is the crown of all dispensations.
". . . We do not contemplate the scribe . . . but the Lord alone. We do not
look up to Moses who received the commandments . . . nor to the prophets who
wrote the prophecies as dictated to them viva voce, nor to the evangelists who
wrote the Gospels, nor to John who wrote the Apocalypse, nor to F. S. to whom
has been revealed, from the Lord alone, the internal sense of his own Word,
which is his second coming"; and more to the same effect (pp. 329 seq).
In this same number of the AURORA. the Manchester Society replies to the editors
and their supporters. It agrees that the Writings "contain a real Revelation from
the LORD of the internal sense of THE WORD, and of the Doctrines of His New Church,'
and that these were both dictated from the LORD to the mind or spirit of E. S. whilst
he was reading the HOLY WORD." But the distinction between the Writings and the
Word is such that the former "can never with any propriety or truth be called THE
WORD." In the Word is an inmost sense, but none in the Writings which have only
the internals. In the Word all things are infinite; in the Writings they are finite,
since the internal sense was revealed only in a finite way. In the Word are things
incomprehensible to men or angels, in the Writings all things are comprehensible
even to men; so Swedenborg himself comprehended all he wrote; the distinction between
the Word and the Writings is as between the Lord Himself and a celestial angel or
a celestial man. The Word is the Divine Human, the Writings are the spiritual-rational
Again, the Word was dictated even as to its expression in the letter; the writers
merely writing what was spoken to them by Jehovah "in so many words." Not so the
Writings: they were not dictated by the Lord to E. S. "as to the expressions or
language," but only as to the internal sense of the Word and doctrine; neither did
the Lord find illustrations and confirmations, but both the expressions, the illustrations
and confirmations were all found by E. S., who had been previously prepared. If
they were the real WORD, no previous preparation would have been necessary The writers
add that if they chose, they could get "many hundreds' of subscribers to their letter;
there not being "a single member of the New Church in Manchester, Bolton, Stockport,
Whitefield, Worsley, Wringley, etc. but what rejects altogether the idea; that the
Writings of E. S. are the WORD' (ibid. pp. 332 seq.).
"Abdiel" also contributes a short letter to support the Manchester Society by
the statement that, while the Word has an internal sense, the Writings "have no
other sense than what is expressed in the letter" (ibid. p. 338).
But a member of the Kingston-upon-Hull Society answers the Manchester Society.
He can see no difference between writings in which, as the Manchester Society admits,
"there is no error or mistake, and written under the peculiar direction of the Lord
throughout the whole," and the Word of the Lord. "We believe," he says, "the Writings
of Baron Swedenborg to be the Word of the Lord equally [as the Gospels], because
in writing them he was under the peculiar direction of the Lord throughout the whole"
(ibid. pp. 338 seq.).
Another correspondent introduces his letter by the statement that this subject
is the most important that has ever been introduced to the members of the church.
The Manchester Society, he continues, has reduced the question to this: "Is the
internal sense of the Sacred Scriptures, as now opened by E. S., of equal sanctity
with, or is it a part of, the HOLY WORD?" The Manchester Society answered, No, because
in the Arcana Coelestia, the internal sense is written distinct from the letter,
and the Word can be called such only when in its fullness. But, says the writer.
Do not the celestial angels have the Word though they know nothing of the letter?
And will anyone say that the kernel is not a part of the nut because the shell is
taken off? The Writings "are not a New Word [here we recall Beyer's words] nor an
addition to the Old Word," but they are that part of the same Word which before
was sealed. They are one with the letter by correspondence.
The writer then addresses himself to a printed letter from a member of the Jerusalem
Chapel at Birmingham (Rev. H. B. Peacock) which contains "the most erroneous and
dangerous ideas of E. S. and of his Writings" that have ever come from a professed
reader of the Writings. It will not be necessary to enter into the able argument
of this writer, but we cannot forbear giving the reference to his parallel column
(AURORA. pp. 342 seq.). This is the last contribution to the discussion. For the
editors of the AURORA, conceiving that it had been fully ventilated to the just
limits of discussion, closed it. They added, however, that other letters had been
received besides those published.*
* See Messenger of Wandsbeck, AURORA, vol. 2, p. 219; Letter to a Friend
in Latin, ibid. p. 224.
The reading of these letters reminds one of the discussion that took place many
years after on the same subject. The same argument, the same passages.
For a year the subject is not again mentioned in the AURORA, though one can at
times see that the idea of the Writings as the `Word is present in the minds of
some of its contributors, as, for instance, when "Semi-Homo" recommends the utmost
exactness in translating into English the "sacred works' of Swedenborg [ibid. v.
2, p. 190]. But in October 1800, the subject is again openly spoken of, though not
in controversial form. The mention is from the pen of the Rev. Francis Leicester,
to whose utterances we have already referred, in a most excellent article, "The
Writings of Swedenborg Their own Evidence." His whole argument is based on the implied
thesis that the Writings are the Word. Thus he notes that some object that they
are hard to understand. Cannot the same thing be said of the written Word itself?
observes Mr. Leicester. "It is a proof rather of the divinity of them both." Again,
he speaks of those who hold that the canon of Scripture is sealed and settled forever,
and that no new revelation can be expected; and he observes that a revelation contrary
to the Word cannot be expected; "but if these invaluable writings are agreeable
to, illustrative of, and, in the judgment of many, the interior Word itself made
manifest, the objection is of no force" (AURORA, vol. 2, pp. 190 seq.).
In December, also, a writer again refers to the subject by way of expressing
regret that [by] the editors "so early a period was put to that important question
respecting the internal sense being the very Word-a subject of all others the most
essential to be discussed since we are particularly told in the Arcana Coelestia,
no. 1834 that however the members of the church may differ in doctrinals, there
must be no denial of 'the fundamental principles, that is, the Lord, the Word and
eternal life.' And as our enlightened Scribe has positively declared that his Arcana
Coelestia 'is the Internal Sense' (AC no. 64), and that 'the Internal Sense is the
Word to the angels' (no. 1929), doubtless what is the `Word to angels in the spiritual
heavens, must be equally so to the spiritual mind on earth. But as you have dismissed
this subject, I must not revive it" (ibid. pp. 273-274).
The AURORA was discontinued in 1801, and for a time there was no periodical in
the New Church But the subject of the Writings, once started, would not be downed.
In 1802, Mr. Samuel Noble, then a young lay member of Mr. Proud's society in London,
published anonymously Two Discourses on the Internal Word of the Lord, to show clearly
what is meant by asserting that the Writings of the New Jerusalem messenger are
the internal Word.
Mr. Noble first establishes that, while the Word is in its fullness on earth,
yet it is equally the Word in the heavens where the letter is unknown. He then asks,
Do we have this Word?-a question which he says is of most serious import; "for if
we have the real internal of this blessed Word revealed to us in natural language,
and yet consider it as a mere commentary and human exposition . . . how is it possible
that we can advance in divine wisdom? `He that hath a dream, let him tell a dream;
but he that hath My WORD, let him speak My WORD faithfully, saith the Lord!' [Jer.
23: 28]" (Two Discourses, etc. p. 12).
He continues that the letter is not made void by the revealing of its interior
senses "neither must we conclude that the internal sense now manifested is not the
Word, because the correspondence thereof, or its true spiritual import, is made
known to us in natural language, distinct from that of the original letter, and
because, in viewing the internal, we for a time lose sight of the external"; for
the union of the Word is not a "hypo-statical union" but a union of correspondence.
The first Discourse concludes that the New Church has "the Lord's Word in a more
distinguished manner than any preceding Church was ever favored with" (ibid. pp.
The second Discourse emphasizes the importance of the question: "This is not
a mere speculative enquiry but it is a matter of the most serious concern to every
member of the Lord's Church; and so important does the acknowledgment of this Internal
Word appear, that next to the essential articles of salvation, it might be considered
a proper test of admission into church-fellowship" (ibid. pp. 27-28). The question,
namely, "Have we, in the Writings . . . this internal sense of the Word . . . ?
or do we believe that this Servant of the Lord was as much illuminated and inspired
to understand and open the internal sense of the Word of God, as any of the prophets
and evangelists were to speak and write the letter or ultimate thereof?" Do we believe,
"that the internal sense thus revealed to us in natural language, is...equally the
Word with the revelation of the literal sense? I answer for myself, I do. . . .
If these Writings are not the Word opened . . . this is not that dispensation or
state of the Church, described in the Scriptures by the New Jerusalem; for in that
Church it is promised that 'the seals of this book shall be opened'"; and this,
"not by man . . . but by Him 'whose name is The Word of God.'" If the Writings he
not the Word, he continues, "but only the exposition or commentary of a man . .
. they cannot be considered as an infallible standard for the Church to go by."
(ibid. pp. 28-29)
He then approaches the oft since discussed question of drawing doctrine from
the Word. "If the Arcana Coelestia, or Spiritual Sense . . . be not the Word of
God, as well as the letter or literal sense . . . we are guilty of worse than idolatry
in our present estimation of them. For as we are taught to consider the letter of
Scripture as the standard from whence the doctrines of the Church are to be derived,
so are we directed (even by those who deny them to be the Internal Word) to look
up to these Writings as the infallible guide from whence our spiritual interpretation
of those doctrines, and even of the Word Itself, is to be obtained. And thus we
are taught to look to the acknowledged Word of God for the natural and external
signification thereof; but to the word of Man for the heavenly, the celestial wisdom
contained in the internal of the VERY WORD OF GOD" (Ibid. p. 30).
Third: "if the Writings are [as admitted by the Manchester Society in the AURORA]
strictly true," with no error; if Swedenborg was "under the peculiar direction of
the Lord throughout the whole"; if "they contain a real revelation of the internal
sense of the Word, and were really dictated while Swedenborg was "reading the Word
. . . it follows that they are as much the Word with respect to its spiritual sense
as the writings of the evangelists are with respect to its literal sense . . . Whatsoever
the LORD dictates, whether to the spiritual or rational mind, is His Word" (ibid.
In the New Church "there wants no new dispensation of a literal Word, for it
is to be an internal, a spiritual church . . . Therefore the same Essential Divine
Truth proceeding immediately from the Lord is now given to us mediately in its spiritual
signification. The New Jerusalem Messenger was the medium of the spiritual sense
as the prophets were of the literal. But surely the medium does not render the one
more or less divine than the other, and the spiritual sense must be the Word of
the Lord at least equally with the letter" (ibid. p. 32). The Word, moreover, is
holy, not from its literal but from its spiritual sense, and "as in the Writings
we have that internal sense . . . dictated by the Lord Himself, surely that which
constitutes its sanctity . . . and which approaches nearest to its essential divinity
. . . must be as much the Word of the speaker as that which is the most remote from
its essence and is only deemed holy because it contains such divinity" (ibid. p.
In an Appendix, the author answers some objections that had been raised. First
the objection, that the "acknowledged Word of God" was "dictated, . . . even as
to the expressions in the letter," but not the Writings, where the expressions,
illustrations and confirmations were all found by Swedenborg in his own mind. He
answers that Moses, Daniel, etc. were not ignorant men, yet an idea seems to prevail
that they were idiots. "There is no proof whatever that the Word was always dictated
to them even as to the expression, etc." Furthermore, it requires proof that the
Writings "were not dictated as to the expressions"-he refers to Swedenborg's nice
and exact use of words.
"A second objection is, 'That in the Word all things are . . . INFINITE,
but in the Writings all things are finite," because he could not "comprehend
its infinities." This objection, if weighty, would apply still more to spiritual
and celestial angels. But while the infinite cannot be revealed to a finite
creature, yet it is within what is revealed. The letter only was revealed to
the prophets, yet it is none the less the Word of God because they could not
comprehend it. Doubtless Swedenborg knew "much more of the internal of the Word
than what is declared in his writings, as well as the apostle John was acquainted
with many more works which Jesus did whilst upon earth." John's words: "If they
should be written every one, I suppose that the world itself could not contain
the books that should be written," may in a degree be applied to Swedenborg.
"But will any one assert that what John hath written is not the Word, because
he did not write what the world could not contain?" (ibid. pp. 39- 43).
After this full and able exposition that the Writings are the Word, the writer
concludes with an astonishingly illogical statement. It is not contended, he says,
that the Writings are "a new and distinct Word, as that of the New Testament is
from the Old," or the Old Testament from the Ancient Word, but only that the Writings
"are a part of that Word which hath been given to all preceding churches, inasmuch
as they are the opening or manifestation of that spiritual divine truth which the
other churches had sealed up in this volume" (ibid. pp. 43-44) - a distinction without