Originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s newsletter Logos, in the summer of 2003.
By Jonathan Rose, Series Editor, New Century Edition
Some places in this world we can get to on our own, some we need directions to find, and some we can only reach with a guide.
Even after Swedenborg had become familiar with the spiritual world through daily exploration, he found that, to reach some locations, he needed a guide. For example, he once wished to see the heaven of the earliest people. In response, an angel appeared and offered to guide him, explaining that it is impossible to reach that heaven without a guide, since it is surrounded and protected by a dense forest with a maze of pathways, most of which are misleading (Marriage Love §75).
The purpose of the New Century Edition is to make Swedenborg’s works more accessible to a modern readership. Fresh translations into clear modern English comprise the heart of this project, enabling readers to explore these unique and remarkable works “on their own.”
To give supplementary assistance in case readers wish for it, the New Century Edition also provides “directions” to individual works in the form of prefaces and introductions that give general background and annotations that provide clarification of individual points.
To cover broader issues pertaining to the entire series and to the exploration of Swedenborg’s works in general, the New Century Edition will also include a volume of essays—a kind of guide to the series. The hardcover version will be titled Emanuel Swedenborg: Essays for the New Century Edition on His Life, Work, and Impact (list price $49); a complimentary copy comes with every subscription to the New Century Edition. The same work in deluxe paperback will be titled Scribe of Heaven (list price $15).
Although the volume is still a work-in-progress at the time of this writing, the following list will give a general idea of its essays and some of the contributions they aim to make:
- An overview of the system of theology presented in Swedenborg’s published theological works, illustrated by a comparison of that theology with the symmetry and unusual features of Swedenborg’s garden
- A theory regarding the purpose of individual published theological works and the sequence in which they were presented to the world
- An accounting of Swedenborg’s unpublished theological drafts and manuscripts, discussing and diagramming how they relate to his published works
- An overview of Swedenborg’s life and its eighteenth-century context
- Four in-depth explorations of Swedenborg’s cultural, social, and intellectual influence. One, focusing on Scandinavia, highlights ways in which Swedenborg had a lasting impact on the Swedish Lutheran church. A second, focusing on continental Europe, shows the diversity of responses in various nations. A third, focusing on Britain and the United States, outlines the range of Swedenborg’s impact—which extended from new philosophical, religious, and social movements to new theories in the field of medicine and health, such as homeopathy and vegetarianism. The fourth essay adopts a uniquely topical approach, showing the shape Swedenborg’s ideas have taken in the minds of seminal thinkers and artists.
- istory of the four main church organizations that follow Swedenborg’s theology, as well as related institutions such as schools and publishing houses, with a map of the United States and Canada showing the geographical spread of Swedenborgian groups in those areas over the last two centuries
- A preliminary contribution to the study of the spread of Swedenborgian religious beliefs and practices around the world
- A thorough bibliography of Swedenborg’s works and a selected, annotated list of biographies, reference works, and other aids to research
The contributors include members of three main branches of institutionalized Swedenborgianism as well as independent scholars in the United States and Europe.
Who will want this book? Anyone who seeks broader knowledge of Swedenborg’s theological works or an understanding of how the concepts presented in his writings have permeated and transformed Western culture. While the new essay volume cannot pretend to be as sure a help as the angel who took Swedenborg to visit the ancients, its guidance is offered in a similar spirit. It is our hope that it will blaze a path for readers on their quest through Swedenborg’s theological works.
Books as Guides to Swedenborg: Continuing a Long Tradition
On June 5, 1886, The London Times made the following comment regarding the then-latest catalogue of the British Museum: “It will probably astonish most people to learn that the most energetic and active propagandists of modern religious sects are the Swedenborgians. The catalogue shows that there are four times more publications devoted to Swedenborg than to any other forms of belief.” A book published at the time of the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 (in which American Swedenborgians played a key organizational role) includes—after a description of the state of the organized New Church on each continent—a chapter titled “The Silent Missionaries”:
“Silent to the ear, yet appealing to the thought by means of printed characters, the literature of the New Church has won, and will increasingly win, triumphs of the most worthy kind.”From “Swedenborg in Continental Europe” by Jean-François Mayer, in Emanuel Swedenborg: Essays for the New Century Edition on His Life, Work, and Impact.
For Swedenborgians, spreading ideas is what really counts. And books have always been the best channels for fulfilling this mission.