The Essence of Swedenborg's Philosophy.
by Rev. Erik Sandstrom
It would be commonplace to say that Swedenborg was prepared under Divine auspices throughout his childhood, youth, and his years as scientist and philosopher for the office of revelator. He himself gives ample testimony in this regard, and all who believe his Theological Writings to be true accept his testimony without reserve. That preparation is the more conspicuous to those who have some knowledge of his pre-theological literary production. It is in the books themselves - where his thoughts are terminated and reflected - that we best see the gradual moulding of his mind. That mind was equipped from the start with an extraordinary capacity, and was - impelled by an indomitable zest for knowledge and understanding - infilled through the many years of probing into the boundless world of truth with riches matched in kind and number by few other thinkers, if any, and perhaps excelled by none. Later generations have marvelled, and continue to marvel, at the things contained in his books; and I think it would be true to say that the atomic age is not in advance of Swedenborg's concept of the interior things of nature.
For the purpose of the present address both the fact of Swedenborg's preparation and the end in view are taken as already accepted. Nonetheless, the subject before us is concerned with that preparation, but a particular aspect of it. The proposition is this. There is a special essence, a distinct focus, in the Theological Works themselves (commonly known to us as "the Writings of the New Church", or simply "the Writings"). That focus is the doctrine of the Divine Human; and the essence of all the doctrines, the essence throughout the Writings, is that Divine Human itself. If therefore Swedenborg was to be prepared - in his own words - for the office of "servant of the Lord Jesus Christ" in committing to writing the doctrines of the New Church, then it cannot be otherwise than that his preparation was peculiarly directed towards the chief and summary of all those doctrines. If hie thoughts as a philosopher had gone counter to the supreme doctrine in the Revelation that was to constitute the second advent of the Lord, how could it be said that his mind was being made ready? Must we not, in fact, expect the essence of the Writings and the essence of the philosophical works to be in mutual agreement and in internal accord? Our proposition, therefore, is to demonstrate this agreement with special reference to the doctrine of the Divine Human.
This is not to attribute equal authority to both sets of works. The essence of philosophy can pay humble tribute to its superior and offer full and willing services, and the essence of Revelation is able to accept the tribute with benevolent approval, without the one claiming or the other granting equality. After all, there is mutual agreement and internal accord between the Lord Himself and an angel or a regenerate man, and yet the one is Divine and perfect and the other finite and imperfect. Nor is it to ascribe to the philosophical works the role of a John the Baptist for the second advent. The Baptist was a prophet whose utterances were every one of them Divinely inspired. Only the Divine can prepare the way for the Divine. The letter of the Word, especially that of the New Testament, and in a particular way the Book of Revelation, was the Baptist of the second coming. But John in the wildernecs had friends and followers, who with him were awaiting the Messiah and who were looking to the deliverance of Israel. Swedenborg was indeed a friend of the letter of the Word - a friend and follower of the second Baptist who like the first was rejected by many, heeded by few, and in the end killed by the mighty of this world. Nor yet is it to make of the philosophical works a sine qua non - a necessary gateway without which there can be no entrance into the true realm of natural knowledge. Nature herself is that gateway. Only, it is not enough to rush in through the gate and to wander to and fro within the enclosure of nature's laws and phenomena. There must be both the gate and the guide. The guide is Divine revelation. For the secrets of nature cannot be rightly interpreted or rightly used unless there are the secrets of faith also. That is to say: the kingdom of nature cannot come into its own, unless it serve the kingdom of heaven.
Notwithstanding all this, all who love the work of God in the natural world and at the same time the work of God in the spiritual world will flock together and share their mutual interest and quest. Some of these will be teachers, others listeners and followers. Swedenborg was - and is - and I think always will be one of the great teachers. Swedenborg discovered profound truths, both in the macrocosm and the microcosm - both in the universe and in man; and truths never become antiquated. I cannot think otherwise than that future generations, more willing to listen than their forbears, will come to regard Swedenborg as one of the greatest thinkers of all times, probably the greatest of all. And he will always have a peculiar place in the lofty assembly of the wise, being the one among them who was chosen by the Lord and Master of all men to pen the Revelation provided for the Crown of the Churches.
It is of course futile to attempt to show this adequately in the short space of time available at an occasion like this. Indeed, only Swedenborg's many and voluminous philosophical works themselves are in the position ultimately to prove or disprove the points made. Yet I hope to bring out some glimpses from these works, sufficient to lend some support for my chief points; which are: (a) That the essence of Swedenborg's Philosophy is the philosopher's unfailing endeavour to demonstrate that and how God created the world and all things in it, and that and how He is present in His work; (b) That this constant and humble endeavour prepared Swedenborg, as nothing else could, to receive the doctrine of the Divine Human; and so to be a suitable servant in revealing that Human in its Glory and Power.
The chief support, however, is found in the Writings themselves; for it is there recorded that Swedenborg was once asked "how from a philosopher he became a theologian," and that his reply was as follows: "In the same manner that fishermen were made disciples and apostles by the Lord; and I also from early youth had been a spiritual fisherman." The inquirer then asked further, "What is a spiritual fisherman?" and to this Swedenborg answered, "that a fisherman in the spiritual sense of the Word signifies a man who investigates and teaches natural truths, and afterwards spiritual truths rationally." (Infl. 20)
Returning now to our proposition, the argument requires that we first place the doctrine of the Divine Human before us, We cannot properly assess Swedenborg's philosophy except in its relation to that doctrine.
In its briefest form it is simply that the Lord Jesus Christ and the Eternal Father are the same Person. That implies that the Lord is Himself the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Comforter; thus that the Divine Trinity called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not with Him so that He is a party to it, but is solely in Him. This, as is well known in the New Church, is the doctrine of the Word throughout when read in its own context. The Trinity in the Lord is like that of Soul, Body, and Activity. That is why He could say that the Father was in Him, and He in the Father; that the Father, dwelling in Him, did the works; that the Word which was God became Flesh; that He would send the Holy Spirit from the Father; and so forth. Furthermore, we recall that in Old Testament times it was not permitted anyone to see God face to face. Moses desired that he might see His glory, but it was denied him. "Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me, and live" (Exodus 33:20). Against that background the deep significance of the Lord's words to Philip evolves: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:9). That is to say: He that has seen the Lord as He appears in His Body, with all its expressions, words, and acts, has seen His Soul also. In confirmation of this there is also the following: "No man hath seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18). In other words, it is impossible for any man or angel ever to see the Lord as to His infinite Soul itself; but the Soul nevertheless reveals itself through its own Body. And similarly the declaration: "No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (John 14:6).
In consequence of all this the ancient rule, that "there shall no man see God, and live," has been modified, inasmuch as the Infinite Father by His incarnation in the world took to Himself a Human that He did not have before, and that could be seen by men. This is what is called "the Only-begotten Son." This Human is also what the Lord glorified by means of victories in internal temptation combats, so making it Divine. The glory of the Human is none other than the glory of the Infinite Divine itself - the glory of His Soul. "O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self," He prayed towards the end of His sojourn on earth when His glorification was nearly completed (John 17:.5). That is why the glory that shone forth through His Human, and that forever shines forth through it, was and is the glory of the Father; and that is why it was, and is, possible after all to see the Father. "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father" (John 1:14). In the Apocalypse, which envisions the New Jerusalem - the New Christian Church among men - it is therefore said: "And they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads" (Rev. 22:4).
These teachings bring forth the truth that God is now visible. Obviously this, when recognized, is revolutionary to the spiritual life of man. Eternity, infinity, is full of what this means. And not only is our God visible as to His glorified Body, so that we can envision Him as He showed Himself on the Mount of Transfiguration, or to John in the Isle of Patmos, but He is visible, or knowable, as to His Divine Mind also. For the qualities of His love and wisdom too were revealed in the world; and still more have they been revealed in the Writings of the second advent. There His love and its purposes are clearly defined (TCR 43 et al.), and there the laws of His wisdom are stated and explained.
What we thus see is the Divine Human. Whether we say "the Divine Human" or "the Visible God" it is the same. The Divine Human is today the chief expression, the most holy name, in all true religion. The Rev. John Clowes, a Rector of the Church of England in Manchester and one of the earliest New Churchmen, was converted through those two words alone. He had casually noticed the phrase Divinum Humanum in the Latin edition of his recently purchased "True Christian Religion", but the implication of the phrase did not dawn on him until immediately thereafter he went on a journey. He took an abrupt leave from his host at the time; and, in his own words, "no lover ever galloped off to see his mistress with half the eagerness that he galloped home to read about Divinum Humanum" (Doc. II, p. 1168). He read, and accepted; and from that time he preached the doctrines of the Writings throughout the rest of his life.
It is as the Visible God the Lord now rules His kingdom in heaven and on earth. As such, thus as God-with-us, God operating visibly and understandably together with men, He exercises the infinite power of His love and wisdom; as such He reveals the glory of His Divine. The reference is to the Divine Human when we say, as we are taught: "Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever."
Divine and Human - both! This is the centre of the angelic heaven, and the centre of the New Church on earth. What we see and comprehend is not the bare, unveiled infinite. In its highest application the ancient law is as true as ever: "There shall no man see Me, and live." What we see is a finite vision; what we comprehend are finite ideas. How could it be otherwise? But the vision and the ideas are moulded from Divinely given revelation; in consequence of which the infinite and eternal Divine can nevertheless shine through to man: veiled by the means whereby He showed Himself to men in His first advent, and by the more interior means through which He makes known His Divinely Human qualities in His second advent. Accordingly we have instruction such as the following: "Men cannot be in love to God if they look to the infinite, and worship a hidden God, unless by some idea they make that infinite finite, or present the hidden God as visible within themselves by finite intellectual ideas" (AC 4075:3). And further: "Without an idea derived from finite things, and especially an idea from the things of space and time, man can comprehend nothing of Divine things, and still less of the infinite" (AC 3938). His finite intellectual ideas, however, must by no means arise from his own unguided speculation. They must fetch their material only from the finite linguistic forms of Divine Revelation, and then submit this material at the feet of the Master of all disciple's, so that He may guide in the proper use of it. In other words, there must be the language of Revelation, and at the same time enlightenment from the Lord. "Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear" (Matt. 13:16). Such in a broad outline is the doctrine of the Divine Human; but the life of that doctrine is discerned v/hen we reflect that no man can become, in his mind and his life, an image of the Lord after His likeness, unless he first sees and understands the Divine qualities he is to image. This is in the words of the Lord: "Follow Me."
I hope it is not felt that this summary review of the doctrine of the Divine Human is outside the scope of our subject. We are inquiring into the essence of Swedenborg's philosophy; and we are accepting that the Lord led him in that philosophy. But unless we envision the goal towards which the Divine Providence secretly conducted the arduous and faithful thinker, the road on which he travelled must lose most of its interest.
Now for that road itself. Possibly it might sound like a platitude if I say that Swedenborg was unique as a philosopher. Yet, who else has combined in his system a real all-permeating acknowledgment of one personal God; an unfaltering conviction that that God never operates save by eternal and immutable laws, all of which spring from infinite love and take form from infinite wisdom; that these laws and their inherent life can be received by the human understanding and the human will, because the mind of man has been created to be a receptacle of nothing else; that the Divine veils itself by coverings or degrees as it descends towards the ultimate, all these degrees communicating with each other by virtue of correspondence and being kept alive, the one from the other, by means of influx; that consequently all creation is a theatre of the Divine love and wisdom; and that man may enter into the secrets of creation - the palace of wisdom - by the light of the Word of God, if he employs these three means: experience, geometry, and reason? (See Principia Chap. I: "The Means Leading to True Philosophy.") Who else has entered into the hidden things of nature guided by all these and other analogous principles? We owe much to the great antique thinkers, over whom hovered the spirit of the genius of Socrates; and to mediaeval leaders of thought like Francis of Assisi; and to sages nearer to Swedenborg's time like Descartes and Newton; and even to materialistic thinkers in more modern times like Darwin; but they did not identify themselves with all the above principles. Their systems were like a chain that either did not reach to the top or else did not come all the way down to the bottom: some important links were missing. Socrates comes nearer in spirit to Swedenborg than any I can think of; but through no fault of his own he lived before the time of the Lord, thus before the Visible God was revealed. And there were more than two thousand years between those two thinkers. Moreover, none can exhibit such a universal command of knowledges in all fields of learning as can Swedenborg. Leonarda da Vinci has also earned a reputation of universal genius, and so has Michelangelo; but I understand that their contribution beyond the realm of art was essentially one of registering the marvels of creation as these appeared to the eye. They did not trace the ultimate things of order step by step back to the Infinite and Final Cause of Creation (which is also the title of one of Swedenborg's works). On a broad front Swedenborg tackled the hidden mysteries, leaving to the world an explanation of the Universe - the Macrocosm -and a philosophy of the human soul and its operation in and through the brain - the Microcosm - both immensely satisfying to reason. Above all, no other man was peculiarly led in his hungry searches, his meticulous assemblage of factual knowledge, and in his ordered meditation, for the specific purpose that he might serve as an instrument of giving to all ages the last of all written revelations: one that was to be at once Divine and rational. Swedenborg was unique.
It is the combination of metaphysics and physics in Swedenborg's philosophy that would seem peculiarly designed to prepare him for the supreme doctrine: the doctrine that sees the Divine and the Human as one in the Lord. Swedenborg thought from last things in an analytical way, basing his observations on experience and observation; but did so in order to discover as in a mirror the origin of things, using the law of correspondence to deduce not only the immediate origin but also the final or supreme Origin itself: the Infinite; and then having found the universal characteristics of the origin he viewed the derived things in a synthetic way. In other words he looked for the causes of things, and the more he knew of the causes the more he inquired into their method in producing the effects. It is extraordinary for a philosopher not only to know that the whole universe is mechanical and geometrical, but also that the living God alone operates in that universe with His love and wisdom; thus that mechanical and geometrical laws are laws of love and wisdom. It is unique to think from first things and last things at the same time, to embrace empiricism, rationalism, and religion in one system. Although it was left to the revelator to formulate the law that the Lord operates "from primes by means of ultimates" (AE 41, 328:5, 726:5), nevertheless it was given to the philosopher to apply that law in his own thinking. Swedenborg knew that the Creator is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; but his philosophy was devoted to showing how, in terms of the Divine laws of creation, this was so.
This, I feel, is the essence of Swedenborg's philosophy: a study of the nature of the Divine operation both in the macrocosm and the microcosm - a study of the means employed by the Divine in flowing in with life to produce the ultimate effects, and to shine forth with spiritual blessings through those effects. And is not a knowledge of that operation the best preparation for a true vision of Him who operates - the Lord in His Divine Human?
Perhaps Swedenborg's heredity somewhat pre-disposed him for this at once interior and exterior mode of approach; for he derived from his father, Bishop Jesper Swedberg, a strong religious awareness of the reality of the spiritual world (the world of causes) and of the presence of God in all things; and from his mother Sarah Behm, a daughter of a family of mining engineers and soldiers, a most practical sense. And of course Swedenborg himself was a mining engineer, apart from being philosopher and revelator! In any case, his was the grand vision, the grand thesis: the functioning of primes, ultimates, and intermediates together.
Possibly some of my listeners may have reflected that perhaps the philosophical laws advanced by Swedenborg were in my presentation given names borrowed from the Writings themselves, rather than the pre-theological works. The doctrine of influx; the doctrine of correspondences - are not these peculiar to the Writings? And true, these doctrines have their celestial pulse only in the Writings, for there alone are they applied to the Word. But we must remember that even as all written Divine revelation relates to the spiritual world, thus to the truly human kingdom of God, so the unwritten Divine revelation which is nature pertains to the natural world, thus the material kingdom of God. In each case the same God is revealed; in each case His image is displayed; in each case the operating laws are His. Thus it is that laws peculiar to the Word are to be found, in a correspondential form, in nature also; and thus it was that the philosopher, prior to his call as revelator, discovered, in their natural application, such laws as those mentioned.
Another way of saying this is that the philosopher was concerned in showing the glory of the Lord in creation; whereas the revelator was inspired to set forth the glory of the Lord both in the Word and in creation.
We cannot now use much more time for this dissertation. Yet let us if only for a moment, by way of illustration, listen to some formulations by the philosopher himself.
With regard to the three means leading to true philosophy.
With regard to influx.
With regard to correspondences etc. -
Concerning the analytic and the synthetic way of approach.-
This must suffice. The Swedenborg that comes to view from glimpses like these, and of course still more from his works themselves, is very different from the mystic or dreamer that biased or ignorant scoffers, and consequently a blind popular opinion, have made him out to be. Swedenborg was a philosopher with his head in heaven, but his feet solidly planted on the soil of the earth.
That is how he could see first and last things together; deducing the former from the latter; and, having found the things of the superior order, then trace their mode and motion in their descent to things below. And that is how he was able to demonstrate to reason itself the glory of the Creator by means of the descending scale of the finite things of creation; even as the doctrine of the Divine Human reveals the glory of the Creator, Redeemer, and Saviour Jesus Christ by means of the finite things of the spiritual world and the finite ideas incorporated in the language of Divine Revelation.
And so Swedenborg was the fisherman required by the Lord - one who "investigated and taught natural truths, and afterwards spiritual truths rationally."
SWEDENBORG SOCIETY, 150th Anniversary Lectures, 1961