Writing the Arcana
A Challenge to Explorers
by Brian Kingslake
To read the Writings of Swedenborg is to enter a new
world, a continent of indescribable variety and beauty: with mountains and
hills, forests and rivers and waterfalls, and (let's admit it!) some obscure
jungles and dry sandy deserts - enough to challenge the most intrepid explorer,
though rather daunting to the casual sight-seeing tourist!
There is (I recognise) a lot of repetition in the
Writings, which some readers find tedious. But there is repetition also in
Nature: the same old trees - oaks, beeches, pines, hazels, and the same old wild
flowers and ferns, repeated over and over again. Swedenborg's Writings are like
a great wide open countryside, not a botanical garden.
But there is magic and enchantment in this spiritual
landscape. On a certain long sea-voyage to Africa, I read a chapter of the
Arcana every night in my bunk before going to sleep (using the compact
paper-back edition). I am wondering, now, whether I was actually in a ship at
sea, or with the angels in the sunny uplands of heaven!
Opening the Bible
The Arcana Caelestia is basic to the whole
corpus of New-Church Doctrine, because it opens up the Divine Word of God -
admittedly only Genesis and Exodus, but, by implication and cross-reference,
most of the rest of the Word also. (Had Swedenborg continued through the whole
Bible on that scale and with such verbal detail, "I suppose that even the world
itself could not contain the books that should be written.") Contained also in
the A.C. are the exceedingly valuable inter-chapter monographs, covering in
embryo almost all the major doctrines of the New Church.
Only when all these had been set down in writing could
the Last Judgement take place in the Spiritual World in 1757.
Ten thousand paragraphs
Think of the actual bulk of the work. In the 12
volumes of the current Swedenborg Society edition, there are no less than 6,358
pages (10,837 paragraphs). And, if we are impressed by the amount of sheer
labour performed by John Elliott and his team in translating all this Latin into
English, just imagine Swedenborg's task in originally writing the Latin! - and
doing it twice over, with a fair copy for the printer! Remember, he had no
typewriter, and could not use a biro or fountain pen, nor even an old-fashioned
nib. He worked with a goose-feather quill: and if you have ever tried to
do this, you will realise how awkward and scratchy it was. He wrote on long
narrow sheets of paper 13" x 4", and on every page or so his writing got so
thick he had to sharpen his quill with a "pen-knife" which lay beside him on his
desk. (Our word "pen" actually means a feather.) During the long Swedish winter
months, light to see by was often a problem. Lacking electricity or gas, he
depended on the dim smoky light of a whale-oil lamp or tallow candle, which must
have made a cosy kind of smell in the shadowy room. Warmth? A white porcelain
stove reaching from floor to ceiling, burning wood or charcoal. In the luminous
summer days, Swedenborg loved to work in the little square summer-house at the
end of his fruit tree lined garden. Containing a desk and, surprisingly, a small
pipe organ, on which he would occasionally play to unwind his worn nerves.
Since it took Swedenborg such a titanic effort to
produce the books - even granted Divine Inspiration, surely we must expect to
exert ourselves a little to study them? It takes time and discipline to reach
the point when the Writings begin to grip you. After that, you are hooked; no
more effort is necessary, and the rewards pour in. Why not read this new
translation of the Arcana Caelestia?
To the end of his life, Swedenborg believed that the
revealing of the Internal Sense of the Word was the key project to which he had
been called by the Lord, and for which his eyes had been opened into the
Spiritual World. It was nothing less than the appearing of the Lord at His
Second Advent, the GLORY of the Spiritual Sense shining forth within the CLOUD
of the letter. Clasp these volumes in your arms and realise that they are the
vehicle of something tremendous! Better still, plan a schedule for yourself, and
First published in Lifeline, organ of the
New Church in Britain, at the publication of the first volume of the New AC.
The late Rev Brian Kingslake was a prolific writer who had held pastorates
in Britain and the USA and worked as a missionary in Africa too.
Republished in Things Heard and Seen, the Newsletter of the Swedenborg Society, London,
No. 1 (Spring 2000) p. 4.