The New Philosophy Vol 103 No 1-2, January-June 2000
When the philosophical mind asks itself about the source of knowledge, it does so—at the outset at least—with the implicit faith that truth exists, else how could the question arise in the first place. Denying all would naturally cause the mind rather to ask, “What is responsible for the illusion we term truth?” However truth is defined, it depends upon knowledge, and it is the source of knowledge that is the concern of this paper. “What is the source of knowledge ?” is a profound question. It is the problem of epistemology which permeates the whole of the history of philosophy. The pursuit of its answer has consumed many of the best work-years of the most responsible philosophers.
Swedenborg has quite a lot to do with Zürich, namely, by virtue of the fact that the most important prelate and Christian author of his time, whose activities were centered here in Zürich, namely Lavater, the Pastor of St. Peter’s, was most strongly influenced by him. From the outset of his career Lavater had directed close attention to the visionary phenomena in the religious life of his time, and made the state after death a principal subject of his studies. Especially in his work Aussichten in die Ewigheit (Prospects for Eternity—4 parts 1768–78) he studied the life and orderly arrangements in the spiritual world, and was most strongly inspired by Swedenborg’s teachings on the subject of the spiritual and celestial world.
One of life’s most exhilarating experiences is to see an old, familiar thing in an entirely new light. When we become too enamored with our own discoveries and insights, it is sometimes both refreshing and humbling to find that others have arrived there before us and may even have surpassed us in the acuity of their observations. The “ancients,” to whomever that generic title applies, were far more profound in their thinking than we moderns have supposed. For many decades we viewed the scattered monoliths of Stonehenge and other megalithic sites only as products of dark and primitive superstitions. We looked upon the pyramids of Egypt as megalomaniac endeavors of pharaohs to erect impenetrable barriers to desecration of their remains. Yet these structures show extraordinary engineering skills, and we still do not know exactly how and why they were erected or what scientific principles might have been commonplace in those days. In our ignorance we tend to dismiss the ancient structures as quaint tourist attractions.
There are several shades of meaning in the word “devolution.” In one sense, it means to transfer something from one person to another. So “devolutions of the Divine” would be the means whereby the Lord gives life from Himself to others. Such means are vital; there has to be something between the Infinite and the finite, by which they can be connected. As the natural atmospheres temper the radiant energy from our sun so that we may receive it without harm, so the “radiant circles” and atmospheres emanating from the spiritual sun serve to accommodate the life flowing out of that sun so it can be received by finite creatures—angels and people on earth—without overpowering them. The phrase “devolutions of the infinite” indicates that these means are provided by, and derived from, the Infinite; they are not a property of nature or the product of any human thought or effort.
What is of particular interest about this is that it includes an article titled “Swedenborg’s Description of English Iron-making” by Jeremy Hodgkinson and Anne Dalton