I. The History Of The Doctrine Concerning The Writings
Some day, I suppose, there will be written for the New Church a history of Doctrine. Many such histories have been written for the first Christian Church, but naturally they deal with the interpretation of the New Testament, and of the Old Testament in the light of the New; that is to say, with doctrines drawn from those Testaments; such doctrines, for instance, as the Trinity, the Atonement, Faith and Charity, Baptism and the Holy Supper, etc. The genuine doctrine of the Old and New Testaments with respect to these subjects has been set forth in the Writings so clearly and unmistakably that there is no dispute concerning them among any who accept those Writings as a Divine Revelation. New Churchmen of every school of thought are wholly at one in seeing that there is one God only; that there are not three Divine Persons but that the Trinity is in the Lord Jesus Christ; that faith does not save without charity; that all men are predestined to heaven, etc., etc.
It was similar in the beginning of the Christian Church; Christians were in general agreement in accepting the genuine doctrine of the Old Testament as plainly unfolded in the New. Divisions arose not on this point but in respect to the true interpretation of their own revelation. Hence those disputes and schisms which have culminated in the countless sects of modern Christendom, and which differ from each other solely in their interpretation of the New Testament.
So in the New Church questions have arisen concerning the genuine interpretation of the Writings given to that Church, and many different views have been put forth during the years that have elapsed since its establishment. Indeed, few as these years are, the literature of the New Church dealing with the interpretation of the teachings of the Writings is rich in abundance and will afford a fertile field for the researches of the future historian of the development of doctrine.
Foremost among the questions which will be dealt with in such a history will undoubtedly be the doctrine concerning the Writings themselves, which is the question which I propose more particularly to discuss in the present study. In the absence of a history of that doctrine, let me commence with a brief outline of its development.
In the years 1771-1772, even when Swedenborg was still living, the Reverend Sven Schmidt, a clergyman of the Skara Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Sweden, openly proclaimed that the Writings are a new Gospel revealed by God, even as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had been revealed, and the claim was consistently maintained by Mr. Schmidt throughout the series of investigations to which he was subjected by the Bishop of Skara and his Consistory.1 It may be added that Mr. Schmidt seems to have stood entirely alone; for there is no evidence that he held any communication with other receivers of the Writings.
Some years later, in 1776, Doctor Beyer, in a letter to Nordenskiold,2 expressed his views concerning the Writings at some length. Of the portions of those Writings where the spiritual sense is expounded he says: " This sense is the Word itself and is the holy in the Word. The same has been dictated to the Assessor from heaven (A. C. 6597) equally as the Word in the letter was dictated to the Prophets. It is not a new Divine Word but an unveiling in the Word we have had, which is the crown of all heavenly revelations." As to the doctrinal portions, " the Apostle did not receive the least thing thereof from any angel but from the Lord alone (T. C. R. 779, D. P. 135, A. R. Pref.). The Doctrine is thus divine as to all its contents, and effects immediate communication with the new Christian heaven." Of the descriptions of the spiritual world, Doctor Beyer says that Swedenborg's preparation " gives full assurance of inerrant truth"; and in this connection he refers to the Writings as "holy books." Of their philosophy and science he says that " illumined by light from the other world . . . they become true and infallible."
1 A typescript copy of the Minutes of these investigations may be consulted
in the Library of the Academy of the New Church.
With the establishment of the Church in England, where in 1788 a new Priesthood was inaugurated " under the auspices of the Lord," there gradually developed two conflicting views of Swedenborg's Writings. By some those Writings were held to be " the Word of the Lord as positively as the writings of any of the four Evangelists others, however, while allowing that Swedenborg " was highly illuminated by the Lord, and that his Writings are highly useful in opening the spiritual sense of the Word," could not allow that they were " upon an equal footing with the Word itself; for none can be the Word but the Lord alone."
These two views were set forth in a letter printed in the Aurora (a New Church monthly) for September, 1799. In their comments, " the editors (of that journal) and several of their respectable correspondents conceive that E. S. as to his theological writings is no more an author than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but a scribe of the Lord. . . . We do not pretend to say that the whole of his theological writings are the Word of the Lord. We say that what he hath written is strictly true—his relations real facts—that there is no error or mistake in them —that he was under the peculiar direction of the Lord, and that his Arcana in particular is no other than the Lord's own Word opened and exhibited in its internal sense, and therefore is infallible truth."
These remarks called forth from the Manchester Society a protest which appeared in the Aurora for December, 1799. There it was held that the difference between the Word and the Writings is, that while the former " contains infinite treasures of Divine Wisdom which neither man nor angel can comprehend," the latter are " mere explications of the hidden wisdom of the Holy Book adapted and brought down to the capacity of man, but not containing anything above that capacity." They therefore " bear witness to the internal sense of the Holy Word and teach in part what that sense is." This proves that they themselves are not the Word just as the fact that John the Baptist bore witness to the Light proves that he was not the Light itself. The Writings are to be considered not as the Word but " as doctrines derived from the Word and instrumental to the opening of the internal spiritual sense."
In the same number of the Aurora appeared a letter from John Augustus Tulk in which he quoted numerous passages from the Writings, from which " it appears that the revelation contained in the above writings is an opening of the spiritual or internal sense of the Word, together with the genuine doctrine of the Word, and that by this revelation is understood the second coming of the Lord "; that Swedenborg disclaims taking anything from any other source than " from the Lord alone whilst he was reading the Word," and consequently that he is in no sense to be regarded personally in the revelation any more " than are the prophets or apostles "; that what is revealed through him is " the soul of the Word," the literal sense being its body. Both " are holy and divine as proceeding solely from the Lord through the instrumentality of men, and can in no wise be separated. Of the Word in the letter it may be said, Here is the Divine Word veiled; of its spiritual sense and of its genuine doctrine it may be said, Here is the same Divine Word in its power and great glory."
Mr. Tulk's letter was followed by a communication signed by fifteen members of the Kingston-upon-Hull New Church Society wherein they specifically identify themselves with those " who esteem the Writings really as the Word of the Lord itself, particularly his Arcana."
The subject was further discussed in the Aurora for January, 1800. There one correspondent asks, " Can any one suppose for a moment that the Word in its glory is less Jehovah because E. S. was its vehicle ? " And later he adds: " As the doctrines from the internal sense of the Word will establish a church that will be the crown of all churches, so the internal sense of the Word itself is the crown of all dispensations." The Manchester position is again presented in a communication declaring that while the Writings " contain a real revelation from the Lord," yet they are not the Word because they do not contain the supreme or inmost sense of the Word but only the internal sense. Moreover, in the Word all things are infinite and incomprehensible to men or angels, while in the Writings they are finite and comprehensible; and furthermore, the Word has an internal sense, while the Writings have no other sense than what is opened in the letter.
In the same number of the Aurora, the members of the Kingston-upon-Hull Society controvert the views of the Manchester School. But while holding that the Writings are the Word because written under the direction of the Lord, they yet add that they " ought not to be called the Word independent of or separate from the Sacred Scriptures, but the spiritual sense of the Word revealed by the Lord through the Sacred Scriptures."
The discussion is closed by an anonymous writer who points out in opposition to the Manchester School that the Writings are an " immediate " revelation from the Lord. But the particular interest of his letter consists in the notice he gives of a third view that had been put forth in the Church, namely, that the Writings are merely human writings like the Epistles. His adverse comments on this view indicate that he considered it to be essentially the same as that of the Manchester School.
There was no further public discussion of the status of the Writings until 1802 when an anonymous author published a pamphlet entitled " Two Discourses on the Internal Word of the Lord as opened in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg." Here the writer shows that the essential Word is the internal sense of the Word and not the Letter; " therefore, as in the Writings we have that internal sense, or meaning dictated by the Lord himself, surely that which constitutes its sanctity which the Lord himself dictates or speaks, and which approaches nearest to its essential divinity and origin, must be as much the Word of the speaker as that which is the most remote from its essence and is only deemed holy because it contains such divinity." It " does not cease to be divine because of its natural clothing. It cannot be less the Word of God, less the internal sense thereof, because the Lord has delivered it by means of an enlightened and inspired mind in natural language." The Lord has not given a new Word, but by means of Swedenborg He has opened the interiors of that same Word which was given in ultimates by the Prophets, and has brought down heavenly truths to the capacity of the rational mind. It is the internal sense and not the letter which is the Word of the Lord in the heavens, and by this internal sense now opened to the New Church " we may have communication with heaven, with angels, and with the Lord." The writer therefore has no hesitation in declaring that Swedenborg " was as much illuminated and inspired to understand and open the internal sense of the Word of God, as any of the prophets and evangelists were to speak and write the letter or ultimate thereof "; that " they were really dictated from the Lord," and consequently " are as much the Word with respect to its spiritual sense as the writings of the Evangelists are with respect to its literal sense; for it appears that the Lord dictated to their mind or brought to their remembrance all things whatsoever he had said unto them. And whatsoever the Lord dictates whether to the spiritual or rational mind, is His Word."
The author's reasoning, which is fortified throughout by an abundance of quotations from the Writings, concludes with an appeal to the members of the New Church: " Let us who have this Word acknowledge it as the Word and use our utmost endeavors to propagate the glad tidings of salvation therein contained! Let us boldly own the Lord in his second coming. . . . ' He that hath a dream, let him tell a dream '; but we who have the Lord's Word, let us speak this Word faithfully."
The reading of the discussion here reviewed leaves one with the impression that the belief that the Writings are the Word found many adherents among New Churchmen in England. Yet the event shows that it was the Manchester School of thought that finally prevailed; for after 1802 nothing more is said of the question and the New Church both in England and America contented itself with the general acknowledgment that the Writings are a Divine Revelation of the internal sense of the Word.
This position of affairs continued until the early sixties when, owing to the activities of Mr. Benade and his associates, the status of the Writings became a very active question in the Church. Mr. Benade and his group of sympathizers stood for the Divine Authority of the Revelation. Indeed, Mr. Benade went further. In 1861, he openly stated to the Pennsylvania Association that the Writings are the Lord's Word to the New Church; and in 1873, the statement was repeated before a meeting of Convention ministers in Cincinnati.
With the establishment of the Academy in 1876 and the appearance of its journal, Words for the New Church, the question of the status of the Writings became more than ever a subject of active debate in the Church. The Academy, however, did not specifically claim that the Writings are the Word. Its position was rather that they are an immediate Divine Revelation and so are the sole authority for the guidance of the Church. Yet the logical conclusion that the Writings are the Word was not ignored, and in private correspondence, conducted in the early 1880's, one of the leaders of the Academy expressed the opinion that the Writings should be openly proclaimed as the Word. Publicly, however, except in the New Church Tidings of which we shall speak presently, emphasis was not laid on the Writings as the Word but on their Divine Authority—which essentially amounts to the same thing. This continued until the establishment of the General Church of the New Jerusalem. The latter body, almost from its inception, has steadily preached the doctrine that the Writings are the Word for the New Church, preaching it as the one and only logical consequence of the doctrine of the Divine Authority of the Writings.
Meanwhile, Conference and Convention continued in their general acknowledgment of the Writings as a Divine Revelation. With the rise of the Academy, however, they naturally could not remain static in this position. If the Writings are acknowledged as a Divine Revelation, and yet are not the Word, something must be said in explanation of what appeared to be two contradictory positions. Therefore, in 1902, the Reverend James Reed, acting on behalf of a committee appointed by the ministers of the Convention, propounded the doctrine that the Writings are a Revelation not of all the internal sense of the Word but only of some part, being that part which is understood in the natural heavens;
and that, being thus limited, they are inferior to the Word though superior to all other books. This position was tacitly though not formally accepted as the position of the Convention. What has subsequently come up in the Convention with regard to this question has all tended in the direction pointed out by Mr. Reed and his committee; and at the present time, while some in the Convention hold that the Writings are of Divine Authority, yet the leading position seems to be that they merely give us the method of drawing out the internal sense of the Word, and that, with this before us, it devolves upon us to go to the Word for ourselves, and there to discover further arcana.
Going backward a few years, we find that in the early 1890's, the Reverend E. S. Hyatt, writing in the New Church Tidings, of which he was the editor, taught not only that the Writings are the Lord's Word to the New Church, but that, being the Word, we must apply to them all that they themselves teach concerning the Word. Mr. Hyatt judiciously added that this application must be made with due reserve, his meaning being that in certain passages the term " Word " is evidently used only of some specific revelation. But although Mr. Hyatt's position was set forth and illustrated in a number of articles appearing in the Tidings, it is a curious fact that practically no notice was taken of this position by the journals of the Church, including New Church Life. The silence of the latter is probably due to the fact that the Tidings and the Life were engaged in a common cause, the upholding of the absolute Divine Authority of the Writings, as against opponents in the Convention. Mr. Hyatt's position was tacitly accepted as being the logical development of the Academy position and implicit in that position. It was probably for this reason that the editors of the Life did not make any note of it. I myself remember both reading Mr. Hyatt's articles and discussing them with him; I remember also that his position came to me not as something strikingly new but as a natural extension of the doctrine that had long been familiar to me.
It was this same position that I maintained in 1920 in an address delivered in Colchester, England, and I remember that in writing this address I had no thought that it contained anything fundamentally new.
Previous to 1920, the Life had occasionally discussed the implications of the doctrine that the Writings are the Word, and had shown that they must therefore be considered as having been written by correspondences and as having an internal sense— not, however, in the same way as the Old and New Testaments. Their correspondences were the correspondences between natural and philosophical truths on the one hand, and spiritual truths on the other; and their internal sense was to be sought not in the interpretation of symbolic language but in the deeper meanings and implication of the truths plainly revealed.
In recent years, a new position has been taken, a position which its proponents hold to be the orderly development of the doctrine of the Academy and the General Church. It is also claimed that this new position is closely related to the position taken by Mr. Hyatt in the New Church Tidings. But this claim fails to note a vital distinction between the two positions. While Mr. Hyatt held that what the Writings said concerning the Word must be applied to themselves, but with due reserve, the new position abolishes every reservation. According to the new position, the Writings are a revelation written in the language of correspondences in the same way as the Old and New Testaments; they are a dense veiling of the Divine Truth; and the veil can be pierced only by expounding the language of the Writings in the same way and according to the same laws that are necessary for the expounding of the Old and New Testaments; only thus, says the new position, can we possibly arrive at the spiritual truths which are to characterize the New Church.
To some, this position may seem to be the logical consequence which must follow if the Writings are indeed the Word; and we can well imagine that there are not wanting those who, when they see that this new development is opposed by ministers of the General Church, experience a sense of humor at what they regard as the reductio ad absurdum of a position to which they themselves have been steadily opposed.
My object in the present study has been to ascertain, in the light of the Writings, what truly is involved in the doctrine that the Writings themselves are the Word. For this purpose I have deemed it to be sufficient to review the predicates of " the Word" as given in the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture. This I shall do under the principle of interpretation that when the term " the Word " is used as meaning Divine Revelation, what is said of it is applicable to all forms of Divine Revelation; hut not so when it is used specifically of some particular revelation. This is the " reserve " to which I have already referred as having been maintained by Mr. Hyatt. Before entering on this examination, however, I should like to make some general observations, first on the relation of the Writings to former revelations, and second, on the term " the Word " as applied to the Writings.