DOCTRINE / SCIENCE
by Oliver R. Odhner, 2001
Back in 1984 in response to a general invitation to the congregation of the General Church of the New Jerusalem by its Executive Bishop Louis B. King for ideas regarding the reorganization of the General Church, I submitted some ideas I had developed regarding organization of businesses that I thought could apply just as well to the affairs of the church. My outline listed seven phases in the performance of a use: 1) Defining the purpose, 2) Learning the technology, 3) Acquiring the wherewithal (e. g., people, skills, equipment, fund.), 4) Performing the function, 5) Communication mutually with customers (e. g., worshipers), 6) Re-examining the use (e. g., R&D), and 7) Relating the use and its origin to the greater uses in society (and heaven). [See 1985 report on Church Organization]
When Bishop King retired, Bishop Buss formed a Governance Committee to continue the concern for a more appropriate organization of the General Church. During those years, I came to feel that my approach, though reasonable, was insufficient. I asked myself, "The church is the Lord's; how does He organize it?" The answer, of course, is, "In the Human Form". This, I now believe, is where we should start, regardless of its apparent difficulty.
The doctrine of correspondence taught in the writings of Swedenborg tells a lot about the relationship of the natural world to the spiritual world and the Divine Being. The human form, being divine in essence, is reflected throughout creation on all levels and in the greatest and least of its parts. We are told that the ancient churches saw this clearly, and developed the science of correspondences as a means of communication with heaven (e. g., seeCorrespondences of Egypt, by Carl Th. Odhner). This fueled a study of nature, and eventually natural science stole the stage from the science of correspondences as people drifted away from interest in spiritual things.
We now know that there was such a science, and that it decayed through the millennia. We have also seen natural science grow gigantic. Swedenborg, who was one of the leaders of 18th century science did not know about oxygen or hydrogen, much less what a gene is. And we, though we have the doctrine, do not know their correspondences. Let's find out!
And if we can manage to come close to an answer, what then? With a knowledge of the correspondence of a few atoms, and what we know from Swedenborg about some of the molecules, such as water, we would be able to infer the significance of other atoms and molecules until we may even be able to decipher the genes. Wow! I'm sure we will also gain insights concerning how uses function, and so, also, about the order and form of society, including the proper organization of the church.
We are warned that spiritual truth cannot be derived from natural truth. We should heed this warning. What we should try to do is see in the scheme of the human body, together with the light of revealed doctrine, divine, spiritual, and social order; and by knowledge of that order, see God, heaven, and society more clearly. We should be able to understand all things more clearly.
Doctrine or Science
We hold that the doctrine of correspondence as taught by Swedenborg has authority of revelation. This will not apply to our efforts to develop the science of correspondence. The life of the scientific method is a willingness, or rather, a determination to put truth above opinion. When we propose that a certain body part or function may represent a certain mental part or function, it must be demonstrated by doctrine and experience, and the demonstration itself must be open to the scrutiny of colleagues. We therefore call upon physiologists, chemists, physicists, sociologists, psychologists, theologians, etc. to participate. The correspondence of the body is with everything in creation, and can use every knowledgeable person to contribute.
When the people of the ancient church developed the science of correspondences, they had open communication with the angels in the spiritual world. The angels provided the meaning to symbols of nature, but the people of the church provided the symbols, or the scientifics which represented those spiritual things.
As a church, we do not yet appear to generally have open communication with heaven. However, we do have the heavenly doctrines that can provide the meaning to all things in creation. The Lord said, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatsoever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come." (John 16:12, 13). To me this implies that the Lord will enlighten our intuition so see spiritual and divine things in the Word and nature if we ask Him in humility.
Where do we start?
For a field of knowledge to be worthy of the name science it must submit to a significant degree of discipline. There must be agreement on definition of terms and exercise of logic. For example, I propose use of a specific dictionary for medical terms, such as Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary (on-line at http://www.intelihealth.com ) unless otherwise specified or agreed to. The meaning of a correspondence relationship between two concepts should be explicit. For example, symbolic relationships involving representation, signification, implication, denotation, and even the word meaning ought to be used in consistent ways within the field.
Another quality that needs to characterize a field of science is focus. Generally the learning process in science follows the pattern of progressing through seven phases of investigation. 1) A theory is posed, usually in the form of a question (which may imply a belief). 2) A search is made to determine what is already known about the subject. 3) A process (or experiment) is outlined to investigate reality to prove the theory true or false, and the means of executing the plan are acquired. 4) The process is performed and conclusions drawn. 5) The results of the process are communicated to colleagues (published) for evaluation and confirmation of the conclusions 6) Implications of the conclusions are drawn. 7) The value of the findings are released for use of the general public. This kind of focus can be applied to the study of correspondences. We don't want too many questions. What we want is answers. But, of course, we must start with questions.
Some examples of questions.
1)What is the correspondence of Oxygen? Swedenborg didn't know there was such a thing! Yet it is the major element in the breath of life. 2) And what about Hydrogen? It is the first element, and must have quite an important signification. 3) This leads us to the electron, which plays a major role in defining chemical composition of molecules. 4) To understand that role, more knowledge about the significance of integers will be needed. Hold on! Don't forget focus, and that requires a lot of discipline.