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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 read them!

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.



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Writing the Arcana

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