The year is 1719, and Emanuel Swedenborg, the audacious young scientist, driven by the intellectual promise of the Age of Reason, begins what would become his life’s work with a little book entitled On Tremulation. Here we find the first discussion of action-at-a-distance: how something here could affect a change in something there, remotely, and yet strangely simultaneous.
I have a picture in my mind of Emanuel Swedenborg’s pretheological works in a set. A fair amount of work has already been done to publish Swedenborg’s pretheological works, but it has been somewhat haphazard, you might say. There has never been an effort to create a complete set, a “one-stop shop,” that you could find on a library shelf all laid out for you in a consistent way, according to consistent principles, with annotations, introductions, and diagrams to make this body of work accessible.
I’m here to offer some real-life examples of places in Swedenborg’s theological works where it’s been useful to have information from his scientific and philosophical works. Not all of them are mine; I’ve borrowed some from other translators. And not all of them are places where we’ve actually found something in Swedenborg’s pretheological works to explain something in the theological works, but they’re places where I think we could eventually find something useful.
I will propose two reasons why we need a better understanding of the pretheological works. These two reasons, taken together, will hopefully lead not only to a conference devoted to the difficult questions raised in these works, but also to a new annotated edition of them. The first reason has to do with strange and puzzling statements that are made in Swedenborg’s scientific and philosophical works, and the second has to do with the needs of students of Swedenborg’s thought.