Originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s newsletter Logos, in the spring of 2001.
By Jonathan S. Rose, series editor of the New Century Edition
The New Century Edition, the Swedenborg Foundation’s set of annotated, fresh translations of Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological works, will fill twenty-five volumes.
Now that people are looking over the new Heaven and Hell, the first volume of the New Century Edition to appear in print, the question naturally arises how similar or different will be the other volumes in the set. Will they all use exactly the same vocabulary? The same cover color? If there are differences, what will provide unity for the set? Philosophical and practical issues of unity and diversity sparked the following reflections.
What is it that brings unity to any group of things or people? Is unity simply the result of sameness, of a lack of diversity? A sea sponge is a congregation of identical cells, each of which performs all life functions. The sponge, then, qualifies as a unity of sorts; but, if all the cells are more or less self-sufficient, what difference does it make if the sponge is cut into two? Or into a hundred?
Emanuel Swedenborg argues that unity or oneness increases as constituent elements become more diverse and distinct (Divine Providence 4:4–5). The differences between the human body and the sea sponge make this clear. The human form is composed of countless elements of mind-boggling diversity, yet we experience it as one entity. Its oneness is much more fragile than the sea sponge’s—it cannot be cut without loss of function, if not of life; but that same oneness gives us a sense of “self” that far exceeds that of a sea sponge.
Obviously, unity is not merely the result of diversity; there must be forces that hold diverse elements together. What, then, are the bonds that create unity?
Swedenborg identifies love and purpose (two closely related things) as the ultimate factors that unify. He asserts that the entire universe holds together because God had a single purpose in creating it all (True Christianity 13:1). Similarly, he asserts that there is really only one substance throughout both the spiritual and the physical universes—the sun that shines in the spiritual world, a sun of pure and everlasting love (Divine Providence 6:1). Pure love has an all-encompassing purpose or intent.
Swedenborg’s published theological works themselves display unity and diversity. Many people have commented on the astounding system of theology that runs throughout his works. Fewer, however, seem aware of the varieties of approach, style, and even terminology from one volume to the next, one passage to the next, sometimes one sentence to the next. These different works become a unity through their singleness of purpose. At heart, they all deal with the same themes and subject matter—the Lord, the Word, life after death, and the life here that leads to heaven.
Just as Swedenborg’s individual works are complete in themselves and have their own identity, each translation in the New Century Edition will be distinct. Although most vocabulary will be shared from one volume to the next, as is the case with the Latin originals, the New Century Edition Committee, which will oversee the entire project, has chosen not to insist that the translators utilize a set rendering for each Latin word.
Rather, we seek unity in three ways:
1) the translators, consultants, and committee members gather once or twice a year to discuss meaning, usage, and a range of equivalents for problematic Latin words and phrases;
2) the same three groups of people have repeated opportunities for commenting on and influencing a given translator’s work; and
3) we refer constantly to an extensive set of guidelines on issues of style, formatting, and design, created by the committee and other professionals over a period of several years leading up to publication of the first volume.
These measures alone, however, would not guarantee an acceptable uniformity across the volumes. As with Swedenborg’s originals, it is a singleness of purpose that ultimately unifies the New Century Edition.
The goal of the New Century Edition is to render Swedenborg’s Latin originals as faithfully and completely as possible to a readership unfamiliar with his works. In practical terms, this single goal leads to two main agendas. One is to keep Swedenborg’s original purpose, values, and practices in mind throughout the translation and presentation. The other is to keep the needs of new readers, as well as longtime readers, in mind in every decision, however great or small.
It is this purpose, this desire to make Swedenborg’s works accessible and inviting to as broad a readership as possible, that will create a oneness out of the different volumes and translations in the New Century Edition.