by Jonathan S. Rose
At the very beginning of the New Century Edition project, one of the goals that we envisioned was a set of Deluxe volumes that readers could place on their shelves in chronological order. This would not seem like a great challenge, or even something worth talking about, but in fact it has never been done before.
Many of the publishers of Swedenborg seem to have approached his works as if they were randomly interchangeable, and as if nothing differentiated his early work from his late, or even his unpublished from his published work. There is indeed astonishing consistency across the corpus, but just as no art historian would think of studying Picasso without considering the different phases and periods of his paintings, no serious reader of Swedenborg should lack awareness of the sequence and time frame in which his works were published.
The New Century Edition’s desire to avoid this pitfall led to what might at first seem to be some strange bedfellows, however. In particular, the year 1769 saw two new volumes by Swedenborg appear in print: what we title Survey (traditionally titled Brief Exposition) and Soul-Body Interaction. Because Soul-Body Interaction is extremely small, at only twenty-three pages in the first edition, we could not have issued the work by itself, especially in our Portable paperback format. So it has always been our plan to bind it with Survey.
The thing is, though, that these are two extremely different works. And that has always bothered us a little. They scarcely seem to have been written by the same author, although of course they were.
Let me explain.
Survey has 132 biblical quotations and many more citations of scriptural references. Soul-Body Interaction has just 14. Even when adjusted for their relative sizes, the one has well over triple the amount of such quotations and citations as the other. And the biblical quotations in Soul-Body Interaction are short, while those in Survey are sometimes half a page long. Survey also repeatedly cites and quotes from the Christian creeds, The Book of Concord, the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent, the Canons of Dort, and the Belgic Confession. Perhaps more than any other work of Swedenborg’s, Survey makes its intended readership explicit. Three times in one passage, “theology professors” are specified as a target audience; “less highly educated clergy and lay people” are mentioned as well (Survey §20).
Soul-Body Interaction instead speaks of Aristotelian, Cartesian, and Leibnizian philosophy and discusses theories about the interaction between the soul and the body—a topic of greater interest to philosophers of the time than to theologians. And in Swedenborg’s day, the term philosophers included “natural philosophers,” or what we would today call scientists. No wonder Swedenborg presented a copy to the Royal Academy in Great Britain, one of the premier scientific organizations of his day.
One thing in common between the works is that they challenge existing views and “set the record straight” about their respective topics.
Although we have long thought of these two works as strange bedfellows, I am coming to see them as actually well suited to each other. They show that in that one year, at a time when science and religion were already alienated from one another, Swedenborg felt called to address the adherents of both fields. In doing so, he adopted quite different methods and sources to challenge misconceptions popular in each. Perhaps the two works, when considered in combination, even represent an effort to bring the disparate fields back together by demonstrating that scholars need not be limited to science alone.
Furthermore, at the very end of Soul-Body Interaction, the second of the works, Swedenborg records his answers to someone who questioned him as to how he went from being a philosopher (or “scientist”) to being a theologian—in effect, how did he go from being a member of the first group to being a member of the second? And so at the end of the later, philosophical work, we are brought full circle from philosophy to theology again, and both interests remain united across Swedenborg’s life story.
In any case, whether it is important to the individual reader or not, it will finally be possible to arrange Swedenborg’s works on a shelf in chronological order.
From Philosophy to Theology
From Soul-Body Interaction §20:4:
My questioner exclaimed, “Now I can understand why the Lord called and chose fishermen to be his disciples, so I am not surprised that he has also chosen you. As you just said, in a spiritual sense you have been a fisherman from your earliest youth—that is, someone who inquired into truths on the earthly level. The reason you are now inquiring into spiritual truths is that earthly truths serve as their foundation.”
He went on to say (since he was a man of reason) that only the Lord would know who was well suited to grasping and presenting the teachings that are part of his new church, whether that would be one of the church leaders or one of their servants. Besides, who among Christian theologians did not first study philosophy in college before they were introduced to theology? How else would they have developed their intelligence?
Jonathan S. Rose is the Series Editor of the New Century Edition. The slim volume containing Survey and Soul-Body Interaction will be issued in Portable paperback format soon.