Many of the philosophical principles, unfolded in the writings of Swedenborg, that sounded strange when first published to the world, because they were in advance of the age in which he lived, are now, after the lapse of a century, beginning to be admitted by men of science. Among these may be placed the principle that all things in the planetary worlds that compose our solar system, owe their origin to the sun. This is the scientific basis of the spiritual truth, that all things in the heavens derive their existence from the sun of that world, which is the proximate emanation of the Divine Love and Wisdom. This is a characteristic principle of his spiritual philosophy. A correct science is the foundation of a true spiritual intelligence. The natural sciences, or natural truths, are the basis of spiritual truths, and are vessels to contain them. (S. D. 5709.) Every true spiritual philosophy must have a correct scientific basis; for if it has not, it becomes visionary and fantastic,—a house without a foundation. The more Swedenborg’s doctrines are studied in the light of the improved science of the present age, the more evidence we shall gain of his Divine illumination: This opens a large and interesting field of investigation. Our limits will only permit us to glance at it.
The following is taken from one of the journals of the day, in reference to the origin of all terrestrial things from the sun: ” Recent investigations clearly establish the fact, that the atmosphere of the sun holds in suspension or solution many of the substances that exist on our planet only as solids—the metals, for instance. Of course, we trace this to the much higher temperature of the sun; and yet the fact is scarcely appreciable to our imaginations; and still more, that being so, we should be able to discover and discuss it intelligibly. A scientific writer on this subject says:—’ Our impoverished atmosphere still contains nothing but the elements necessary for the support of organic life—oxygen, azote, carbon, and water—-and our understanding can with difficulty accustom itself to the idea of an atmosphere charged with iron, with alkaline metals, with bodies the most different, in a state of combustion. It would require the pen of a Dante to portray that chaotic condition of nature, that rain of metallic fire, those luminous clouds darkened by the contrast of a still intenser light, that incandescent ocean of the sun, with its tempests, its currents, its rushing and gigantic waterspouts; such pictures set at defiance even imaginations the most enamored of the fantastic and the strange; and our streams evaporate as a drop of water before that blazing lava, that focus, that refulgence of the world, source of all warmth, of all movement, of all life.”
Youman, in the late edition of his Chemistry, remarks: ” Not only life, but all the grand phenomena of force with which we are familiar upon this planet, have their origin in the sun. His radiations govern the movements of terrestrial atoms, and in these the movements of masses take their rise. Should that body cease to give out emanations, the earth would speedily lose its heat; life would disappear, vapors condense, and liquids congeal.” (§ 1189.) In another place he says: “The earth is warmed, illumined, magnetized, and vivified by the sun. In the fall of the avalanche, the roar of the cataract, and the flow of rivers; in the crash of thunder, the glare of lightning, and the sweep of tornadoes; in the blaze of conflagration, and the shock of battle; in the beauty of flowers, of the rainbow, and of the ever-shifting clouds; in days and seasons, the silent growth of plants, and the elastic spring of animals; in the sail-impelled or steam-driven ship, and the flying train; in the heavy respiration of the laboring steam engine, and the rapid click of the telegraph ; in all the myriad manifestations of earthly power, we behold the transmuted strength of the all-energizing sun.” (§ 1195.)
Professor Henry, in a lecture before the Smithsonian Institution, makes the following observations: ” One of the most important general truths at which science has arrived by a wide and cautious induction, is that nearly all the changes which now take place at the surface of the earth, are due to the sun. If, therefore, the solar impulses were suspended, all motion on the surface of the planet would cease; the winds would gradually die away; the currents of the ocean would slacken their pace, and finally come to rest; and stillness, silence and death would hold universal reign.”
If it be true that all things subsist from the sun, they must exist from the same; for subsistence is perpetual existence.
In the Apocalypse Revealed, (n. 936,) we have a fine exhibition of the scientific correctness and almost mathematical exactness of Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondence. It is in relation to the correspondence of leaves and flowers. By leaves, he remarks, are signified rational truths; and rational truths are those that proximately receive spiritual truths, for the rational faculty of man is the first receptacle of spiritual truths. When the human mind is able to receive Divine truth, rationally apprehended, it stands upon the dividing line between the natural and spiritual state. Hence the Lord says to the natural man, “Come now, and let us reason together.” (Isa. i. 18.) The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations, and by those leaves are spiritually signified ” rational truths.” This marks the highest state the natural man can reach. When a man becomes spiritual, the leaves of the tree of life are transformed into flowers. The correspondence of flowers is higher, because they are more delicately organized than leaves. Flowers signify “primitive spiritual truths in the rational mind.” Leaves represent merely rational truths; flowers the first truths apprehended rationally by the spiritual man. They are rational truths transfigured, or seen in the light of the higher sun. Here is exactly the same difference between the correspondence of leaves and flowers, that there is in their physiological structure. It is a principle but recently admitted into botanical science, that the leaf is a ” typical form;” and all the organs of the flower, such as the sepals, the petals, the stamens and the pistils, are only modifications of the leaf. They are only the leaf-form more delicately organized, and metamorphosed into those organs respectively. The discovery of this truth was an era in Physiological Botany. But it was actually foreshadowed in Swedenborg’s Science of Correspondence.
Whence comes this nice discrimination of the spiritual significance of leaves and flowers ? Whence this scientific correctness of Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondence as applied to those organs of plants ? It is not probable that he was acquainted with the principle of Botanic Physiology, that the various parts or organs of the flower are only modifications of the leaf, for it is of recent introduction into Botany. What we have said in relation to leaves and flowers is only an illustration of what will be found to hold good of the correspondence of all things in the mineral, the vegetable, and the animal kingdoms, as their spiritual significance is unfolded in the writings of that wonderful man. The Science of Correspondence, as illustrated by Swedenborg, is a Divine idea, and one of the loftiest conceptions that was ever uttered by the mouth of mortal man; and it will be found to be based upon a correct and exact knowledge of the nature of things. The New Age has nothing to fear, but everything to gain, from the rapidly advancing light of modern science. Let that light shine with a thousand-fold splendor, it will only constitute the unshaken basis on which the Divine hand will rear the superstructure of the New Dispensation. The higher spiritual light that is now beginning to shine from out the descending heavens, will necessarily—such are the laws of the Divine order—ultimate itself in a corrected and improved science. And that science will be the solid foundation on which the walls of the New Jerusalem shall rise.
The scientific, and even mathematical exactness with which Swedenborg unfolds his spiritual doctrines, may be seen in the little work entitled “The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem respecting the Sacred Scriptures.” In coming to the knowledge of the spiritual sense of the Scriptures, there is great danger that the literal sense should be undervalued. To guard against so great an error, he lays down the proposition that in the literal sense of the Word, Divine truth is in its fulness, in its sanctity and in, its power. He gives us what may be appropriately called a geometrical demonstration of that spiritual truth. He does it by showing that the celestial and spiritual senses are simultaneously contained in the literal sense. He remarks, ” Both in heaven and in the world, there are two kinds of order ; successive order, and simultaneous order. In successive order one thing succeeds and follows another, from what is highest to what is lowest; but in simultaneous order, one thing adjoins to another, from what is innermost to what is outermost. Successive order is like a column with degrees from highest to lowest; but simultaneous order is like a work whose centre and circumferences have a regular coherence, all the way to the surface. We shall now show in what manner successive order becomes, in its ultimates, simultaneous order, which is thus: the highest parts of successive order become the inmost of simultaneous order, and the lowest parts of successive order become the outermost of simultaneous order, just as would be the case with a column of degrees, were it to sink down and become a coherent body in a plane. Thus what is simultaneous is formed from what is successive; and this is the case with all and everything in the natural world, and in all and everything in the spiritual world ; for there is everywhere a first, a middle, and a last; and the first, by means of the middle, tends and proceeds to the last. To apply, now, this reasoning to the Word; the celestial, spiritual and natural principles proceed from the Lord in successive order; and in their last, or ultimate, they are in simultaneous order: thus, then, the celestial and spiritual senses of the Word are simultaneously contained in the natural sense. When this truth is comprehended, it will be easy to see how the natural sense of the Word, which is its literal sense, is the continent, basis, and firmament of its spiritual and celestial senses: and also, in what manner Divine good and Divine truth, in the literal sense of the Word, are in their fulness, iu their sanctity, and in their power.” (Doctrine of Sacred Scriptures, 38.)
Such an illustration of a great and important spiritual truth must be adapted to the scientific mind of every country and age. He who comprehends it, will never be in danger of undervaluing the literal sense of the Holy Scriptures. The sense of the letter is of the same importance in its relation to the higher senses, that the body is to the soul. In Swedenborg’s doctrine of the Divine Word, we do not have a body without a soul, for that would be dead; nor a soul without a body, which would be equally valueless, even if such a thing could be conceived.
It may be proper to say a word in relation to Swedenborg’s method of imparting Divine truth. That method is in exact harmony with the laws of the mind. By an induction of facts, we arrive, according to the Baconian method of philosophizing, to the knowledge of general truths or laws. But in imparting to other minds the knowledge that has been revealed to us, we must pursue the opposite, or inverted order. First, general truths are made known, then particular, and then singular or individual truths. And as we descend from general, through particular, to singular truths, our knowledge becomes more perfect and satisfactory. This is the natural order of the mind’s development. This is the law of mental and spiritual progress, and must be to eternity. This is the order that everywhere prevails in the spiritual writings of Swedenborg, especially in his explanations of the Holy Scriptures. A casual glance at his works will convince us of this. The peculiar style of Swedenborg is what is first objected to by a reader of his works. But it is not difficult to show that his method is in harmony with the laws of the mind, and belongs to the revelation of new truths. His works are no ephemeral productions, but designed by Providence for future ages, as. well as for this. His peculiar terminology has the merit of expressing exactly the idea he would convey to the mind of the reader, which is of no small importance in imparting the truths of the New Dispensation. No scientific mind, no correct thinker, will object to his terminology, any more than they would to the technical terms employed in the Natural Sciences.
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)