Saturday, October 10, 2009

Joseph Priestley on the Swedenborgs

You can read Priestley's collection of letters to the Swedenborgs here. I'm not the first person to find these. A book in 2007 nicely sums up their contents.

Here is what Priestley writes on page two of the book:
We view with equal horror the doctrine of the trinity, consisting of three persons in one God, as equally absurd and blasphemous; constituting, in fact, three gods. For such you agree with me in thinking that three persons, each possessed of every attribute of divinity, must necessarily be, and that this doctrine is as contrary to the uniform sense of scripture, as it is repugnant to reason and the plainest common sense, though sanctioned by the most solemn decrees of councils from that of Nice to that of Trent, and by the united force of all the civil powers, in most unnatural alliance with the church of Christ.

We also agree in reprobating the whole system which has now obtained the name of calvinism, though it originated with Austin, and has been introduced into all the established creeds; a system which represents the whole human race as so fatally injured by the sin of Adam, that they retain no natural power of doing the will of God; so that had none of them been exempted from the sentence of condemnation by an arbitrary decree, they must all have been doomed to the pains of hell for ever;...
The Swedenborgians were neither unitarians nor trinitarians but believed (if I understand them right) the Trinity existed in ONE person -- Jesus Christ. They believed in other odd doctrines that merited them the label "heretic" (just as with Priestley).

6 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Uh-huh. And Priestley would have loved Mormonism too, I'm sure.

Via the Wiki:

Swedenborgianism is the belief system developed from the writings of the Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772). Swedenborg claimed to have received a New Revelation of Jesus Christ with differences from Pauline Christianity. It is claimed by its followers as a new form of Christianity. The movement was founded on the belief that God explained the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures to Swedenborg as a means of revealing the truth of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Followers believe that Swedenborg witnessed the Last Judgment in the spiritual world, along with the inauguration of the New Church. Some Swedenborgian organizations teach that the writings of Swedenborg (often called The Writings or The Third Testament) are a third part of the Bible, and have the same authority as the Old and New Testaments. Other names for the movement include Swedenborgism, New Christians, Neo-Christians, The New Church, and Church of the New Jerusalem.

Pinky said...

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It is easy enough to understand the position Priestly took.
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Calvinism and its vestiges have pretty much silenced every opposition to their rise to power to be the controlling factor in America's religious scene.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

It's funny though, if you read further, Priestley them explains to the Swedenborgs why their founders' visions were not legitimate and encourages them to be unitarians like him.

He would probably do the same to the Mormons.

Gregg's point though, would be, ultimately, if the Swedenborgs, like the Mormons believed in God and produced good people, that's what mattered. The rest is harmless irrationality (or bad icing on the cake). Priestley would argue for replacing their bad icing with his good icing of unitarianism.

Though we do see a bit of schizophrenia with unitarians like Jefferson and Priestley. One day they term the Trinity a harmless irrationality (something that does NOT standing in the way of unity among all Christians), the next day they rail against it as a pernicious corruption.

Pinky said...

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And, like beauty, understanding is in the mind of the beholder.
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That's part of the thinking behind Spiritual Li8berty defenders.
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Is any one familiar with this anthology of articles edited by Shain?

http://www.amazon.com/Nature-American-Founding-Constitutionalism-Democracy/dp/0813926661

It's very helpful in understanding our thinking.
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Pinky said...

subscrting to this thread.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Though we do see a bit of schizophrenia with unitarians like Jefferson and Priestley. One day they term the Trinity a harmless irrationality (something that does NOT standing in the way of unity among all Christians), the next day they rail against it as a pernicious corruption.

Wouldn't that be the difference between the political and the theological?

As Jonathan Rowe pointed out [stirring up a little trouble between the sects]

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2009/08/christianist-mormons-and-early.html

...evangelical [fundamentalist?] pastor Frank Pastore vehemetly opposed Mitt Romney's Mormonism theologically.

Still, Pastore allowed he could still vote for Romney based on shared values: GOP, conservative, "family values," whathaveyou, certainly as opposed to voting for most Democrats.

I think this illustrates the real line, the real delineation, between the political and the theological, reflected in the "theistic rationalist" discussion that we do often around here.

A "theistic rationalist" vs. a hardcore Bible-thumper? A mellow non-jihadist non-sharia Muslim vs. a stark materialist like Peter Singer? Richard Dawkins vs. Mike Huckabee?

_________

Is any one familiar with this anthology of articles edited by [Barry] Shain?

http://www.amazon.com/Nature-American-Founding-Constitutionalism-Democracy/dp/0813926661


I for one am not, Phil. Please do share what you've got from it.