What Has God Revealed?
by Kurt P. Nemitz
Thoughts about Teachings in Earths in the Universe
Had the astronauts been greeted by men on the Moon, there would be no problem for New Church people. But-as yet, at least-neither the Moon nor our adjacent planet seems to be inhabited, and so many New Church people feel a need to rationally reconcile current scientific knowledge with the teaching of the Divine Word. To this end I would offer some thoughts on the subject that have come to me as I have studied the doctrine.
At the beginning, however, I would like to make it very clear that the resolution of the problem that I shall propose is not definitive; it is merely tentative. As with all questions of faith, every man and woman of the church must find the answer for himself or herself, that is, he or she must go to the Lord, read and reflect upon His Word, and pray for enlightenment. The problem before us is, without question, essentially one of understanding the Word. As the late Rt. Rev. Elmo C. Acton observed during a discussion of this subject at the New Church Club in London a few years ago, "Everything in the Word is true-if properly understood."
My own thinking on the subject of inhabitants of other earths whom Swedenborg describes found its focus in the question, "How did Swedenborg know the names of the planets whose former inhabitants he met in the spiritual world?"
The answer that spontaneously suggests itself is that the spirits themselves told him which planet they were from. But Swedenborg never once says that this was how he knew where they came from. Of course, when one thinks about it, how could they have told Swedenborg that they were from a planet that he knew under the name of, for example, Mars? That would presume quite a bit of scientific knowledge, and we are told that those on other planets are all less scientifically developed than men on this earth. (SD 4663)
Another answer that readily suggests itself is that the angels told Swedenborg what planet various spirits were from. This again seems doubtful. What Swedenborg does actually say in one place is, "Some spirits came to me, and it was stated from heaven that they were on the earth nearest the sun, which on Earth is called the planet Mercury." (EU 10; italics added) Does this mean that the Lord spoke to him directly, the way a teacher would speak to a student? This does not seem probable; there is no account in the Heavenly Doctrines of truth ever being revealed to Swedenborg or even to an angel in that way. Here I would observe that we are inclined to assume that the angels have an immediate and perfect understanding of all things. An angel himself explains, however, "In this world we are taught what is good and true and what is just and equitable, not immediately from God, but mediately through others. Every angel, like every man, thinks truth and does good as of himself. . . ." (CL 207:4) This tells us that the angels did not have access to any other infallible source of knowledge than was available to Swedenborg. If they had ideas about the identity of the planets from which certain spirits had come, they must have based these ideas upon principles from the Word and their own rational analysis of physical data concerning these planets, gathered by themselves and others. These ideas would, therefore, be nothing more than merely human conclusions.
When Swedenborg says, "I was told by the angels" and "it was stated from heaven," I wonder consequently if these expressions may not be regarded as figures of speech. Possibly Swedenborg expressed himself in this way when he meant that he perceived something rationally on the basis of the knowledge he had of the matter at hand, for he knew that all truth flows into man from the Lord through heaven.
What this line of thought leads to is this: Swedenborg speaks, to be sure, with certainty regarding the names of the planets of which he writes, and there is no doubt that he felt he had drawn his conclusions about their identity correctly. But perhaps these conclusions about the specific names of the planets whose spirits he met have another validity and authority than the heavenly doctrine itself-since they were merely "scientific" conclusions.
A study of Swedenborg's notebook, the Spiritual Diary, affords an insight into the manner in which he came to the conclusion that certain spirits were from the Moon. When he first writes of his meeting with these spirits he says, "De spiritibus Lunae ita dicits," which means, "Concerning spirits said to be from the Moon." Then he explains,
"I thought they were from some other earth, as yet they were not recognized. . . . I spoke about what earth they were from [Did he perhaps inquire about their planet's physical characteristics?], and it was given me to understand that they were from the Moon. The thought occurred that they were not like the others because they did not have the same atmosphere-although I do not know what atmosphere they do have around them." (SD 3241, 3244)
Do we not here see Swedenborg beginning to draw a conclusion about the unknown planet's identity, using physical data concerning the atmosphere that he has gathered and compared with his own scientific knowledge? It seems significant that when he again writes about the Moon-men in Earths in the Universe, their way of speaking from their stomachs is explained to be on account of the lack of an atmosphere like ours; for this emphasizes his awareness of physical or scientific facts.
Swedenborg's notes about the spirits from Jupiter and Mercury also suggest that his conclusions about the identity of these planets from which certain spirits originated were of a scientific nature.
If then, Swedenborg's identification of these and other planets was of a merely scientific nature, this factual information must have another validity and authority, indeed a different significance, than the matters of spiritual doctrine in the New Revelation. Of this Divine doctrine Swedenborg clearly professes, "I testify that from the first day of my call, I have not received anything pertaining to the doctrines of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while reading the Word." (TCR 719) And so, if Swedenborg was mistaken about the identity of the planet from which certain spirits came, then this does not in any way throw into question the spiritual truths revealed by the Lord through him.
For what, I ask myself, does the Lord reveal and teach in His Word? Neither history nor science. In His Word the Lord is making Himself known to us, and the ways in which we may draw near to Him to enjoy the blessedness of dwelling eternally with Him. The historical and scientific descriptions of events and things with which we are presented in His Word are only like so many displays in which we can see and learn of our Creator and Savior. Just as it would be foolish for a student to reject the lessons in a teacher's model because of a defect in the materials which the teacher had to use for it, so it would be foolish for us, would it not, to reject the lesson of Divine revelation because of a merely factual inaccuracy on the part of the man used as the instrument through which the Lord gave a new vision of Himself. After all, does it really matter if Swedenborg made an honest mistake about the name of some planet?
Surely we should never lose sight of the fact that even if Swedenborg was mistaken (and he may well yet be proven right) in his identification of some of the planets from which spirits came, still the work, Earths in the Universe, brings to our inner sight glorious, illuminating truths about our Creator and Savior. For the testimony of the Lord's servant makes it brilliantly clear to our understanding that God's love is truly infinite, for the whole universe is indeed filled with earths (whatever their names) peopled with His children. And these men and women are everywhere of a different nature, each planetary type contributing to and completing the image and scheme of God's Divine Humanity in creation. Such are but a very few of the clear and indisputable truths brought to us through the work Earths in the Universe-and through similar material in other places in the Heavenly Doctrines.
This is one way of dealing with the apparent factual inaccuracies concerning the names of some planets mentioned in the Writings. But I would conclude by emphasizing that this is only a tentative solution. There is so much of both a scientific and spiritual nature that we do not know that it seems only wise to so regard it. Whatever the case, there is one thing that is certain. The Lord has spoken to us in the Earths in the Universe, and if we patiently and prayerfully inquire of Him as to its meaning and significance, He will make known His meaning to us.