One of the major difficulties confronting the New Church in the modern world is that it finds itself in a context in which virtually every link between what is spiritual and what is natural has been torn apart. It is a difficulty on two counts. Firstly, Swedenborg constantly refers to the fact that the natural world is the final resting-place of all things spiritual: the foot-stool of heaven, primaries in ultimates, influx, and so on. But our own age is one in which what is called the physical world is exclusively determined by forms of thought that deny such things from the outset, and this denial is carefully fostered to maintain that perspective. Secondly, when we read “God created the heavens and the earth,” the word “created” no longer carries the connotation of “preparation,” nor that “heaven and earth” are more correctly translated as “heaven/earth.” Consequently, the notion of a link that existed from the outset has now gone, and much speculative thought is given over to the separate natures of heaven and earth, with little regard to a link between them, nor any reference made to preparation. The result, of course, is plain literalism, creation versus evolution, and so on. These have become the mainstay of intellectual discussion and debate, and not a single word of any value has emerged from it since at least the mid-nineteenth century, if at all.
In this article we focus on the epistemological relationship between free choice and omniscience and try to contribute an increment to existing knowledge in that area. Of broader interest and perhaps more immanent for human salvation, is the related subject of Divine providence and human free choice. Divine providence is the government of Divine love and wisdom in human affairs (DP 2) and is therefore a dynamic relationship between God and His people. As evidenced by the activity described in endnote #1, and in other Swedenborgian journals, there have been many discussions of human free choice centered on the role of Divine providence with secondary attention to Divine omniscience. While our essay cannot exclude considerations of the effects of Divine providence, the focus will be on free choice and omniscience in a more narrow way.
My object tonight is three-fold: to comment briefly on Swedenborg as a writer who faced the daunting task of transposing spiritual experience into natural language; to offer a partial listing of the many writers who were influenced by him; and then to focus on six of these writers: a marooned diplomat who read from the Arcana Coelestia largely out of boredom, a brash Frenchman who wrote a novel about an androgynous angel, a depressed Swedish dramatist who clung to his sanity by reading descriptions of hell, a highly imaginative Argentinean poet and master storyteller who made the Spanish-speaking world aware of Swedenborg, an Eastern Orthodox priest and Buddhist scholar whose spiritual journey was invigorated by his study of the Writings, and lastly a Mexican physician who translated the Writings for thirty years without receiving payment or seeing them published, and yet he went on with his solitary project, like a character out of a Borges story.
A short article like this can hardly do justice to presenting a detailed overview of these times, but one thing that stands out clearly as Enlightenment thinking is the development of the experimental method in natural philosophy. This evolved into what we call science, and these times were its point of origin.
Where do the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg fit into this picture? For the New Church they constitute revealed truth, directly from God. Their implications for how we ought to regard war are enormous. So what exactly do they say? From this author’s study, it would seem that the Writings espouse a form of “Just War Theory.” They indicate that if soldiers fight only to halt aggression, and to defend the innocent, they are fighting in the service of charity. In short, soldiers should wage war only to end war. Perhaps the ancient conception of war as a beast is the best one of all. The New Church soldier’s true enemy is not the people of another country, but war itself.