The spiritual exposition of the Apocalypse : as derived from the writings of the Hon. Emanuel Swedenborg : illustrated and confirmed by ancient and modern authorities (Volume 1) online

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" According to the opinion of many (in the Church) the Apocalypse must altogether be incom-
prehensible without an especial revelation from God." — Pebeeius, Prol. Disp. i.

" All things which are written in this prophetic book are written concerning the Last Judg-
ment, but by representatives and correspondences." — Swedesbobg, Apoc. £x., art. 260.

" Most of the ancient Fathers and of the earlier Commentators on the Apocalypse followed
the system which explains the whol? book as. conc^mjng thg I^ast Jridgnnent." — Calmet, Apoc.

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- The method which Swedenborg adopts in his work^ entitled

' TJie Apocalypse Revealed,' and which forms the subject-matter

of the present volumes, is first to present the chapter in the

i Apocalypse ; secondly, a short interpretation of every verse ;

and thirdly, a larger interpretation founded on the shorter.

In the present volumes the shorter interpretation only is
retained, and in the place of the larger are substituted the au-
thorities of which the present volumes mainly consist.

The Apocalypse Revealed, which was published in 1766, has
now been for upwards of eighty years before the world; in the
course of which time numerous works on the Apocalypse have
appeared and many disappeared ; some of them meeting at first
with extensive reception, then as gradually declining in reputa-
tion, and not a few finally sinking into oblivion. The contrary
has been the case vrith Swedenborg's Apocalypse Revealed. Be-
ginning only with a small circulation, it has been gradually
extending its sphere of reception : instead of sailing down for a
time with the stream of popular favor, it has always been saihng
up against it ; and by the innate force of its statements, has made
its way in the minds of thousands through every opposition, ga-
thering fresh strength the farther it goes. It has now stood


the test of upwards of eighty years, and time so far from weak-
ening has only added to its authority. The Latin edition is
scarcely to be procured, two English editions have been sold,
and a third is just pubHshed.

In the meanwhile the question of interpretation has been
gradually coming to a crisis. '' It is impossible/' says Mr.
Harrison at the opening of his first Warburtonian Lecture,
" to observe with any attention the signs of the present times,
and not to perceive that we are arrived at what may be termed
an era, not only in regard to events affecting intimately the
welfare of the Christian church, but also especially — and as
arising naturally out of such a crisis — in regard to the interpre-
tation of sacred prophecy." In fact, it may with truth be
affii'med that the argument upon this subject has been well nigh
exhausted. It would seem as if nothing further could be said,
even by the best writers, than what has already been said ; and
stUl the interpretation of the Apocalypse is a desideratum, and
both in the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Oriental churches
may be regarded as an open question.

Although, however, it is generally admitted that Commen-
tators have failed to give any such interpretation of the Apo-
calypse as may upon the whole be regarded as the true one,
yet a knowledge of Swedenborg's exposition will lead us to
admit that every author of eminence in the Church from the
earliest ages of Christianity down to the present day, who has
in any degree been enlightened in the spiritual sense of Scrip-
ture, has contributed his own share to the true exposition ; and
that in this way the writings of ancient and modern authors,
instead of being an indigestible mass of useless and contradic-
tory comment, may be made to come out in orderly and sym-
metrical array, each author contributing his own portion to the
confirmation of the truth, and therefore being entitled to his
own share of our esteem. Hence it is that by a principle of in-


duction, applied not to Scripture but to the interpretations of
Scripture, we are led thi'ough an immense mass of testimony
ultimately to the exposition of Swedenborg, by the very au-
thority of the Chui'ch itself; so that he who rejects the one
must reject the other ; and he who receives the one must, to be
consistent J receive the other.

That which has been chiefly wanted in the Church has been a
clue to the real design of the Apocalypse ; for this being attained,
a clue is given to the interpretation, which directs us to some-
thing true in every spiritual exposition. The case is similar to
that which oftens occurs in natural science. Thus when in the
natural world a phenomenon occurs which nothing has hitherto
been able fully to explain, abundant hypotheses may be offered,
all perhaps differing from one another, yet all professing to ac-
count for the phenomenon ; and when the true cause is finally
discovered, something in every hypothesis perhaps may be found
agreeable to the truth, and thus aU may be more or less re-
conciled to each other. So in regard to the exposition of Swe-
denborg, we are not bound to reject altogether the labors of
those who in bygone years have toiled in the discovery of the
spiritual sense ; for although before the truth be known all may
be said to be wrong, . yet after it is known, many may in various
respects be found to be right, and to have left behind them nu-
merous valuable confimiations of the truth after it has been
finally discovered : and certainly no system has hitherto appeared
which is enabled to combine and harmonize in its favor so great
an amount of testimony, both ancient and modem, as that of

It may be rejflied that there is no difficulty, out of such a
multitudinous medley of materials as is presented in works upon
the Apocalypse, in finding something or other to sanction the
views even of the wildest fanatics ; and that it is easy to concoct
a system out of different authorities, so as to make out any mean-


itig an author may please ; nay, further, that such a method is
imfair, as it is making use of authorities in a way which was
never intended.

In reply to this it is granted, that like every other good
thing the system may be abused ; yet nevertheless it may be
employed as a just and legitimate method of exposition ; nay,
further, it is itself the very plan which some of the most emi-
nent commentators have already adopted. "VMierever Calmet,
for instance, perceives an author advocating his own views of
the meaning of a passage, he has no hesitation in quoting him,
although on other points the two may entirely disagree ; and
indeed imless a liberty of this kind Avcre granted, it is doubtful
whether a single exposition of the Bible* now extant could be
admitted ; certainly it would condemn to oblivion the greater
part of the best commentaries upon Scripture, both ancient and

Calmet, for instance, obsen'cs in his Preface to the Apoca-
Ijqise, art. ii. ; " We have not deemed it to our purpose to give
in full, at each particular verse in our Commentary, the explica-
tions of every one of these authors. Such a detail would be
almost impossible amid such a crowd of interpreters whose views
and methods are so different. . . . Experience makes me see, that
the expose of these varieties of explications produces in general
only confusion of ideas in the reader, and uncertainty in his
mind. One wishes to be fixed : it is for the author to take upon
himself the labor of examination and of discrimination between
the several opinions."

A similar method has been followed, though not always ac-
knowledged, in a very large portion of the Commentaries which
exist ; every commentator availing himself of the liberty of
choosing that which he thinks best calculated to illustrate and
explain, and rejecting whatever he considers to mislead. "What
he rejects is not supposed to invalidate what he approves, nor


what he adopts to countenance what he rejects ; even though
both proceed from the same author ; nor is any unfairness pre-
sumed to be shewn to an author by another selecting Jfrom his
writings only what he approves^ and regarding him as an au-
thority for the passage wliich is citedj and for the sense in which
it is cited.

Such then and no other is the liberty which is taken in the
present volumes ; and which has been requisite, in order to avoid
confusion and preserve uniformity of interpretation.

There is however a circumstance which it is here important
to notice. A great difference exists between the interpretation
of a prophecy and its application. Commentators may agree in
the interpretation, while they differ in the application, and vice
versa. The difference between Swedenborg and other commen-
tators is often not so much in the interpretation as in the appli-
cation ; hence where the application of the prophecy is different,
yet if the intei'pretation be the same, the author, or rather,
compiler, has felt himself justified in quoting the testimony.
For example ; one expositor, when treating of the smoke coming
out of the bottomless pit, maintains that it refers to Gnosticism ;
another, to Arianism ; another, to Mahomedism ; another, to
Romanism ; another, to Protestantism ; yet however differing in
this respect, they all agree in the interpretation, namely, that it
signifies false doctrine. So in the comments on the Eleventh
Chapter of the Apocalypse, one expositor affirms that the open-
ing of the Temple refers to the restoration of the Church in the
time of Dioclesian ; another, to its establishment in the time of
the Apostles ; another, to the Protestant Reformation ; another,
to the age of the Millenniiun, and so forth ; but they all agree
in this, that it signifies a revelation of the mysteries of the In-
carnation and of the Scriptures. In the ensuing pages, there-
fore, their testimonies are quoted in favor of this interpretation,
however authors may dift'er in regard to the application.


On the other hand, where the application has been the same,
we have not hesitated, in some cases where it may be done, to
quote the authorities in favor of the application adopted by
Swedenborg, although they may diflFer from him in regard to
the interpretation. The question is, in this case, whether the
adoption of such a plan originates an incongruous system of
exposition. It is answered that so far from this being the case,
the plan has been adopted with a view to maintain uniformity of
interpretation and the order observed in the Apocalypse, the
continuity of which is accordingly never once interrupted ; the
whole being thus regarded as one consecutive prophecy, and the
interpretation and application being consistent and harmonious :
in fine, it may be justly affirmed, that, whether true or untrue,
no exposition has ever yet appeared characterized by so complete
a continuity of order, and uniformity of interpretation, as that
of Swedenborg.

There is another topic coimected with this part of the subject
which is of great importance ; viz., that of doctrine. It is a
commonly received maxim of the Church, that while the mean-
ing of a symbol may be an open question, yet the doctrines of
the Church are not open questions. Consequently, that while
authors may differ in regard to the interpretation and applica-
tion of symbols, the Church allows them no liberty to differ in
regard to doctrine ; that new interpretations and applications of
prophecy there may be, but new doctrines there must not : be-
sides, it is also a received maxim, that symbolical theology is
not argumentative.*

The best reply to this remark is an actual perusal of the
present work. As to symbolical theology, which is peculiar to
the Scriptures, why may it not stand upon as high gi'ound as
the metaphysical theology peculiar to the schools ? Perhaps in
respect of its being symbolical, not argumentative, it may claim
* See Petavius, Theol. Dogmat., vol. i., book i., chap. v.


the superiority ; for it will certainly cut short a great deal of
scholastic reasoning, and teach us that the highest truths of
theology are not argumentative, but intuitive ; and that the way
to true ideas of God is by the path of analogy presented by sym-
bol, rather than by the logic or metaphysics of the schools.

It may be objected that there is nothing more generally ad-
mitted, or more clearly stated in the Scriptures, than that in
the Last Days there shall arise false Christs and false prophets,
and that our Lord has warned us not to go after them ; that
the apostles Paul and Peter also have repeated these predictions
concerning evil men and seducers, deceiving and being deceived ;
and that hence it is added, " Continue thou in the things which
thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom
thou hast learned them."

But however true such a statement may be, it is not the
whole truth. For the whole truth is, that among the false pro-
phets which were to abound, there would arise also some one or
more true prophets whose office would be to interpret prophecy,
and to warn and admonish the Church.

So certain is this considered to be, that to reject it Bellarmine
considers to be almost a heresy. It is indeed admitted, that,
both in the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, authors
variously modify their opinions on this subject ; some conceiving
that there will be only one teacher, such as Elias ; others, that
there will be two, such as Moses and Elias, or Enoch and Elias ;
others, that the one teacher, or the two, are only the type of a
larger class of enlightened expositors of Scripture, to whom in
the latter times God will make known the hidden mysteries of
his holy Word. But whether regarded as one, two, or many, it
is nevertheless a tenet maintained by the Church as pai't of her
traditionary teaching, that she is destined to receive instruction
from some enlightened individual or individuals, cither before or
at the Second Advent of the Lord. This is the teaching both of


the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, which has therefore
induced some to interpret tlie Two Witnesses *as being those indi-
\iduals ; nay, Ribera goes so far as to say that in the Last Days
this office of prophetical instruction will devolve upon some one
individual, who may come not in the authority of the Church,
but in a private capacity, or as " privatus homo."

Thus in chap viii., 13, on the words, ' I heard the voice of
one* eagle flying,^ Ribera observes, that, —

" Inasmuch as he says not an eagle, but one eagle, a great sus-
picion enters my mind that some individual of that time remarkable for
his sanctity is indicated ; whether of the order of preachers, or some
private individual, whom God will then inspire thus to prophecy ; for
the just are called ' eagles ' by the Lord in Luke xvii. ; ' Wheresoever
the body is, thither shall the eagles be gathered together.' And he is
called an eagle, since he wiU swiftl}^, as we have said, and with great
power, proclaim to men the impending destruction. Nor ought any one
to wonder if both in this and other passages in the sequel, we say that
in the Last Times there will be prophets who will annovmce before-
hand the coming evils. For even if long before the ten tribes were
led captive by the Assyrians, and before Jerusalem was overturned by
the Chaldees and afterwards by the Romans, God sent so many pro-
phets to admonish that people that they might not be ignorant of the
calamity about to befall them ; if also, at the siege of the city, Je-
remiah prophecied in order to prepare the city either for repentance or
else for its certain and imminent destruction ; if, a little before the
city was laid waste by the Romans, Christ and John the Baptist fore-
told its desolation and captivity ; if also, a little before the siege and
while the city was beset by the Romans, there was announced, both
by prophecy, by many and great prodigies as related by Josephus, that
which shortly afterwards took place ; who can doubt that in so great a
difficulty of the times and of affairs, in so unwonted a pertiu-bation of aU
things, and calamities so great that all the preceding compared with it
will seem to be as none, the merciful God ^vill illustrate many by the

* The reading adopted by Ribera.


spirit of prophecy, the pious be confirmed by them to endure all things
to the end, and the impious excited by a salutary fear to repentance ?
This great prophet, of whom the apostle now speaks, he justly calls
an eagle ; as elevating himself aloft by sanctity of life, and beholding
the things of heaven ; and because by the similitude of an eagle pre-
sented to the mind of John, God declareth his love toward his children
— a love which in the eagle towards its young is remarkable, as Moses
teaches in Deut. xxxii."

So Kkewise Bishop Walmisley, another Roman Catholic writer,
speaking of the times of Antichrist in his General History of the
Christian Church, p. 272; —

" But if the Almighty through his special mercy to the Jews^ ap-
points them a teacher in Elias to bring them back into the path from
which they have so long strayed ; it is not to be imagined he leaves
the rest of the world without the same kind of assistance, A teacher
of extraordinary power and virtue will be the more wanted ; as iniquity
will abound in these times, and even the good will be exposed to dan-
gerous and most severe trials. To meet this exigency, the all-bountiful
God will send another agent, namely, Enoch."

Others again, in the Church of Rome, are of opinion that the
prophecy of Malachi, as referring to the times of Antichrist, is
not concerning Elias the Tishbite in his own proper person, but
" men who are endued with the spirit and power of Elias ; that
is, a chorus of prophets, heralds, and ministers of the Word of
God, who are to come in the time of Antichrist before the advent
of the Lord to judgment." With whom St. Jerome also agrees ;
" The Lord shall send in Elias (who is interpreted my God, and
is of the town of Tishbi, which indicates conversion and peni-
tence) a whole chorus of prophets." Thus Jerome. Malvenda,
De Antichristo, p. 462.

Pererius, also, says that Enoch and Elias are to come ; whose
office will be " to lay open, and undo the frauds of Antichrist,
to impugn his doctrine, repress his rage, repel his efforts, con-


firm believers in the faith of Christ, and recall to the truth those
who had been deceived by the error of Antichrist." Disp. x.

A similar interpretation is mentioned by Gaspar a Melo, as
having been given by some writers to ' the angel of the waters '
in chap. xvi. ; where he says, that by the waters are signified
the Scriptures, and by the angel of the waters, " some messenger
of God who is sent to explain the Scriptures." Cornelius a
Lapide suggests a similar interpretation in chap. xix. of the angel
standing in the sun, and asks whether he is a type of some
preacher of the Gospel : whether as the sun illuminates the
whole world with his light and fecundates it with his heat, so in
like manner this evangelical preacher will illuminate by his words
the blind minds of mankind, and inflame their disorderly wills
by his examples.

True it is that these are not the interpretations of the re-
spective passages in the Apocalypse which are given by Sweden-
borg ; but they serve to shew nevertheless the expectation pre-
vailing even in the Church of Home respecting some interpreter
of the Scriptures who is to be raised up in the Latter Days to
throw light upon their meaning ; an expectation founded partly
upon the general tradition concerning the coming of Elias, or
of Enoch, or both.

Thus Ambrose Ansbert on Apoc. xxii., 10, ' Seal not up the
words of the prophecy of this book ;' —

" Then will this Apocalj-pse be forbidden to be sealed when Enoch
and Elias appearing, the eyes of the faithful will be purged from the
darkness of ignorance. Nor is it any wonder if, as the future Judg-
ment approaches, the mystical truths of Scripture shall be presumed
to be more largely opened than at present, when false teaching every
where impugning the truth is raising its yell throughout the whole
world. This event will take place under a Dispensation distinguished
by great piety ; so that the light of truth will shew itself more mani-
festly at that time than it does now, when in the minds of the wicked
the dark night of universal falsehood is obscuring the world."


This topic has indeed been treated of at large by various
Roman Catliolic writers^ especially by the author of a work^
entitled A Defence of the Opinion of the Holy Fathers and Ca-
tholic Doctors upon the future return of Elias, and the True Un-
derstanding of the Scriptures ; also by Father Lambert^ the
author of a work entitled The Predictions and Promises made
to the Church. In the former, the reader will find a catena of
Fathers and Roman Catholic writers who maintain the opinions
above stated ; in the latter, he will find the peculiar office of the
expected Elias more largely treated of; as, for instance, in vol.
i., p. 149, where the fifth chapter is devoted principally to the
coming of Elias, and to shew that when he comes he will be
unknown and rejected by the entire moral body of Gentile

After observing that the advent of Elias is taught by all the
Fathers and all Catholic interpreters, he thus continues, p. 155, —

*' Nevertheless there are found in the bosom even of the Church,
certain rash spirits who have dared to treat as illusion and fanaticism,
the expectation prevailing wheresoever the Church is, of the powerful
aid which this holy prophet is destined to convey to it. But these per-
sons are Catholics only in name, and their ignorant audacity* has
excited only the contempt of all those who sincerely respect Scripture
and tradition. Others there are less hardy (but no better instructed in
the scheme of Jesus Christ in regai'd to his Church, the abounding of
her evils, the resources which her spouse has in preparation for her),
and who, by a necessary consequence of their blindness and insensibility,
listen to or read only with disgust what is said concerning the ministry
of Elias. Having only false ideas concerning the blessings and cala-
mities which have attended the Christian religion, and of the deplor-
able state to which it is reduced at this day (a.d. 1806), they have no
longer any inclination to occupy their thoughts with the grand renova-
tion which is promised to it in the Latter Times. They are pleased to

* The reader must pardon this language, for it is not mine ; it comes from a
writer of the Church of Rome.


put ofl' to tlie end of the world and to the approach of the Last Judg-
ment* the coming of this prophet and the exercise of his ministrj'.
They are even tempted to regard as enthusiasts and illuminati those
of their brethren, who, being vividly touched with the evils with which
the Church is inundated, sigh after the coming of a powerful restorer,
who is to re-establish all things, and renew the youth of the Church as
that of an eagle."

" Oh ! that for a moment they would come out of their indifference ;
that they would begin to feel a lively interest in the destinies of reli-
gion ; that they would judge of its goods and e\'ils not by the senses
but by faith ; and, justly alarmed at the perils which menace it and
the great scandals which dishonor it, would demand with a holy in-
quietude, whether there are not in the Holy Scriptures some means for
placing it in a state of safety, some remedies to restore it to its pristine
vigor and ancient glory ; that, deeply impressed with the subject, they
would open their minds and hearts to the promise which is made to it
of powei'ful succour in a day of storms and trials so terrible that even
the very elect would perish if such a calamity were possible. They
will see with humble acknowledgment that it is neither illusion nor
blind enthusiasm, but a considerable part of Christian piety, to occupy

Online LibraryUnknownThe spiritual exposition of the Apocalypse : as derived from the writings of the Hon. Emanuel Swedenborg : illustrated and confirmed by ancient and modern authorities (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 50)