Originally published in the Swedenborg Foundation’s newsletter Logos, in the winter of 2004.
By Jonathan Rose
Imagine that you have written a book that focuses intensely on a crucial time of social upheaval that you happened to experience firsthand when you were a teenager. You are now in your sixties, but everything in your book takes the perspective of those moments decades ago. When the final proof is about to go back to the publishers, they call to ask you to include a current photograph of yourself for the cover. They explain their request by saying that readers will be curious to see what you look like now. (Of course, the fact that you happen to look very good won’t hurt sales either.) The photograph will serve as an implicit reminder that the events you narrate were in the past and that much has happened to you since then that the book does not and cannot record.
Like that imaginary book, the New Century Edition (NCE) is focused on an extraordinary event that occurred in the past: the writing and publication of the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg. And the NCE, too, has its “current photo” linking the present world with the moment in time when Swedenborg wrote. That “photo” is the additional volume of newly written essays that accompanies the series. This companion volume will contain a biography giving a fresh overview of Swedenborg’s life; essays surveying what he wrote and when, and even some thoughts about why; and essays discussing the impact that his life and work have had in the centuries since his passing.
The last category—essays on Swedenborg’s impact—is actually broken into two subcategories: one deals with how Swedenborg’s works influenced individuals conspicuous in Western culture and the other with how his works led to the formation of certain organizations. Although Swedenborg himself took no steps to institutionalize his theological perspective, all the same his writings did lead directly to the founding of a number of churches, publishing houses, and other institutions. These organizations possessed a sufficiently single-minded devotion to his vision to be justly labeled “Swedenborgian.” (Some feel that the term “Swedenborgian” inaccurately emphasizes Swedenborg as a person over his teachings themselves, but it can be a very useful label in identifying his teachings for people not familiar with them.) In addition, a great many individuals outside these organizations were significantly influenced by Swedenborg’s insights, in different ways and to varying degrees. Many of them went on to found movements on which the label “Swedenborgian” would not fit well. Therefore, although it is admittedly somewhat arbitrary and artificial, our volume of essays draws a line between “cultural” impact, meaning Swedenborg’s impact on “non-Swedenborgian” individuals and movements, and “organizational” impact, meaning Swedenborg’s influence on “Swedenborgian” institutions. There have been several previous volumes on each of these types of impact, but to the best of our knowledge, no single volume has covered both.
In addition, the essay volume will contain an exhaustive, detailed, and heavily cross-referenced bibliography covering all Swedenborg’s works and manuscripts. Although there have been several such lists before, including those by scholars such Tafel, Hyde, Stroh and Ekelöf, Whitehead, Wainscot, and Woofenden, we hope this bibliography will join that august company and be equally useful in a new way.
If this list of Swedenborg’s works is counted in the total, the volume contains three bibliographies with over one thousand entries in all, linked to the text by over 650 footnotes and countless in-text references. Our aim is to provide a detailed paper trail for students, scholars, and others who like to follow up on what they read. It also contains a map and list of Swedenborgian church groups in the United States over the past two centuries, five chronological charts detailing Swedenborg’s theological output, and several other illustrations.
For marketing purposes, the essay volume is to appear in two forms and under two titles. The hardcover version is titled Emanuel Swedenborg: Essays for the New Century Edition on His Life, Work, and Impact. The paperback is titled Scribe of Heaven: Swedenborg’s Life, Work, and Impact. The contents of each will be identical, however.
All those who subscribe to the New Century Edition will receive the hardcover essay volume free as part of their subscription. Others may purchase the hardcover or the paperback (or both) at the same usual low prices, which are discounted even further for those who are members of the Swedenborg Foundation.
Although the paperback version will have an eighteenth-century painting of Swedenborg on its cover, we like to think of the entire essay volume itself as a twenty-first century snapshot of how well Swedenborg has aged and the extent to which his impact is still felt in our world today.