Further concerning Naming the Planets
by Kurt P. Nemitz
Editor, NEW CHURCH LIFE:
I sympathize with the concern expressed by Mr. Nicholls, who recently wrote saying that he feels the faith of the New Church will be weakened by my suggestion that perhaps Swedenborg was mistaken about the name of the planets from which certain spirits he spoke with had originated.
Inquiries concerning the validity of certain things in the letter of Divine revelation must be made with reverent caution. Such investigations must be made with the heart-felt plea that the Lord will guide us to see the actual Divinity of His Word.
But such investigations have to be made, for needless to say there is a problem. Not only does it appear highly doubtful that there are people on our Moon-although Swedenborg thought he spoke with spirits from the Moon, the Heavenly Doctrines explanation about how the Lord instructs man make one wonder how the Lord, even through His angels, could have told Swedenborg the name of a planet. (The general teaching on this latter point being that "the Lord teaches everyone by means of the Word. He teaches from the knowledge which a man already possesses, and does not directly impart new knowledge.") (TCR 208)
And so, while Swedenborg does write that he was "told from heaven" which planet spirits came from, still his account in the Doctrine itself shows him gathering knowledge about this as if of himself. We read: "In a state of wakefulness I was led in the spirit by the Lord to a certain earth in the universe, accompanied by some spirits from this globe. . . . From their speech, and from their peculiar manner of apperceiving things earth; for they differed altogether from the inhabitants of our solar and explaining them, I discerned clearly that they were from another system." (EU 129) Here we see Swedenborg making observations and drawing conclusions about the identity of this particular earth, as if of himself. A bit of scientific deduction. But I am sure that when such a scientific conclusion flashed into Swedenborg's mind, devout man that he was he attributed it not to himself but felt it had "come from heaven."
And yet withal he may have made a sincere scientific mistake in his identification of some of the planets whose inhabitants he met.
A mistake in the Writings, which are the Word of the Lord of the Lord for His New Church! For a person who loves the Lord and His Word this may sound appalling, but is it? If there are scientific inaccuracies in the Writings, do these really detract from the Divinity and authority of the Heavenly Doctrines in their pages? Does it really matter after all if Swedenborg made an honest mistake about the name of some planet?
Of course not. For wherein lies the Divinity of the Writings-and of the first two Testaments for that matter? Is it not in the spiritual truth they contain?
It is the "spirit" that liveth and hath power with man, the spirit of Divine love and wisdom. This is what has been revealed in and is being communicated to man by the Divine Word.
It is explained in the Arcana Coelestia that
One wonders if that which is said about the identity of the planets mentioned in the Writings may not rightly be classed with those "many things in the Word . . . said according to the appearances, and indeed according to the fallacies of the senses"-which fallacies may (with internal men) be easily dispelled.
That such factual matters as now concern us are not the source of the Divinity of the Word is clear from the following explanation in the Arcana, where the Divinity of the details regarding Abraham's family is discussed:
Surely this principle applies also to the scientific facts in the literal sense of the heavenly doctrines which the Lord has sent down through His servant, Emanuel Swedenborg!
It would be truly (and sadly) irrational for a New Church person to let his or her faith in the divinity of the Heavenly Doctrines be shaken by the absence of men on the Moon and by possible other, similar inaccuracies or fallacies in their letter. "The posterior things of the Word," we are taught, "must be viewed from what is interior, if this is not done, nothing of what is Divine is seen." (AC 3416) "Unless a man's thought can be elevated above sensuous things . . . he cannot understand any interior thing in the Word." (AC 5089:2)
It is the spirit in the interior of the Word, that is, the very Truth of the Word, that is the source of the Word's Divinity and authority. And the Word is regarded as Divine by a mature adult and has authority with him insofar as that Spirit of Truth is perceived by him. We are told, "faith is an acknowledgment that a thing is so because it is true. For he who is in real faith thinks and speaks to this effect: 'This is true, and therefore I believe it.' For faith is related to truth, and truth to faith." (F 2) We believe what is said in the Writings not because Swedenborg has said that the matter is thus and so, but because we see that what is written through him is indeed the Truth. We are affirmative because it is the Lord speaking, but believe because - from Him - we see.
KURT P. NEMITZ,
P.S. Should anyone be interested in reading my address to the Council of the Clergy on this subject, I shall be glad to send him a copy of it.