By Hugo Lj. Odhner
Not only the philosophical works of Emanuel Swedenborg, but also the theological Writings (in their external or biographical aspect) testify that Swedenborgs mind was in a state of constant growth and contained the record of the continually new knowledge which he acquired by reflection upon the phenomena of both worlds. In the Writings we thus find not only a new Divine revelation of spiritual truths for the New Church, but also the evidence of a final development of Swedenborgs own understanding of philosophical principles.
In the Writings, many of these principles are given a Divine imprimatur as a vehicle of revealed doctrine, and certain new natural truths are introduced without which the doctrine would be meaningless. But a philosophy is a very personal thing: it is a way of thinking, by which a man explains to himself his own varied experiences and reconciles his knowledge with the inmost perceptions of his faith and conscience. As such, a philosophy cannot be merely transferred from man to man, by total adoption. The factual data which Swedenborg had to explain, differ from those which confront us; his knowledge was both greater and less than the knowledge we call ours. His faith his religious grasp underwent many changes that find only vague parallels in our own development. His philosophy, therefore, at no point is so definite that any two New Church men can adopt it with like assurance.
Yet certain stated principles of a mans philosophy can be of untold benefit to others who struggle with similar problems. In the New Church we know that Swedenborg, as he advanced in knowledge, was being led by the Lord towards a definite end, so that his rational mind might be equipped and enlightened to recognize and formulate the very truths of heaven given by Divine inspiration in the Writings. For this reason we may expect to see, even in the rich record of his preparatory studies, the principles or beginnings (principia) of a philosophy which may help to lead us also out of the confusion and darkness of a skeptical age into the light of a real understanding.
These principles, or fundamentals of thought, are not so easily listed. For example, the work published in 1734 as the first volume of Swedenborgs studies of the Mineral Kingdom and entitled The Principles of Natural Things, or New Attempts to Explain Philosophically the Phenomena of the Elementary World cannot as such be regarded as his final conclusion con the subject or as an Open, sesame to all the mysteries of the Writings; and we must distinguish between the things therein which are theoretical and mathematical calculations about the constitution of matter, and those which are statements of permanent philosophical value. Indeed, in all Swedenborgs preparatory works, including the extensive physiological treatises, philosophical principles are invoked and formulated; yet the bulk of his writing is occupied with purely scientific citations and analyses. It would be unwise to discourage the study and acceptance of any of his scientific data and conclusions, some of which have indeed anticipated modern findings; but if we accept them, we must do so on scientific grounds and not confuse them with universals of thought.
In the Divine providence, Swedenborg was led to perceive certain universals which took an ever clearer form as lie progressed in his studies. They came to constitute a philosophy which was finally tested and matured in the light of heaven, and which, by its nature, cannot be disturbed by new factual research. Such perennial principles and premises are as essential to us as they were to him, and may be called doctrines of rational philosophy. We find these, clearly stated or clearly implied, in the Writings. But in order to see them more distinctly, we should also see them in their formative stages, as they take shape successively in Swedenborgs earlier works when the need for them first dawned upon him.2
What are these doctrines? Every student must be free to distinguish for himself the subtle line where science stops and philosophy begins. For the very object of philosophy is to fill the breach and to unite Religion with Experience. Swedenborg regarded philosophy as ancillary to faith as the handmaid of religion.3
To view religion, with its revealed spiritual truths, in the light of human philosophy, is to subvert the proper order. But it is never forbidden to confirm the truths of faith and spiritual things by the things that are in nature....4 For perfect order to exist, celestial and spiritual truths should be inrooted in natural truths....5 Such natural truths include not only the symbols of the letter of Scripture, but the laws of the order of nature, in the world and in man.6 An affirmative attitude which acknowledges the doctrine drawn from the Word leads to all intelligence and wisdom and can be confirmed rationally and scientifically by innumerable things which bring a fuller grasp of the subject.7 The Writings thus show that there are two foundations of truth the first being the revealed Word and the second the truths of nature. These two agree with one another, and the sciences which have shut up mens understanding may also open it with those who live according to the Word. But nothing can be founded on scientifics unless it be previously based upon the Word.8
Every philosophy must take a position as to the acknowledgement of Gods existence and as to the nature of man. The primary postulate in all New Church thinking is the truth that there is one God who is Divine Man, infinite Love and infinite Wisdom.9 This is a necessary idea.10 It is also necessary to conceive that God-Man reveals Himself in the symbols of nature, in the written Word, in His incarnation on earth, and in the Spirit of Truth which leadeth unto all truth.
The following brief outline contains what the present writer sees as the general, but also the most fundamental principles which should constitute the new philosophy that can serve the New Church in its future progress. It utilizes both ancient and modern truths. It should embody an acknowledgment of all the universals which Reason has ever perceived, and requires the balancing of these universals into a whole logical system, a synthesis in which each must receive its true value and application.
The guiding concepts here listed are taken primarily from the Writings11; but where similar ideas are discussed in Swedenborgs philosophical works, references to these are often noted, if not in the text, yet in the footnotes.
For the sake of convenience we classify these principles under certain conventional categories. The theology of the Writings is partly couched in old terms which are used with specific new meanings that can be understood only when the entire doctrine is studied. We refer to words such as regeneration, conjugial love, influx, the rational, the Divine Human, glorification, discrete, celestial, ultimate, etc. Well known philosophical terms, such as subject, predicate, esse, essence, existere, substance, form, etc., are also used, because they are unavoidable if certain ideas are to be simply and concisely named without circumlocution.12 Without words adapted to the subject, nothing can be described.13 But the human mind is confused rather than clarified when it thinks not from ideas but from scholastic terms or by artificial rules and misapplied syllogisms.14