The Book That Made Heaven Rejoice

Our weekly readings this week and for the next few weeks is from the short work traditionally known as “Brief Exposition.” The Swedenborg Foundation has now published a new translation under the title “Survey.” This has been discussed in New Church Life and also in two “Inside Off the Left Eye” podcasts (“The Hidden Agenda of the Book that Made Heaven Rejoice” and “How God Sends Us Messages Through Scripture” November 7 and 14, 2021). The title in Latin is “Summaria Expositio Doctrinae Novae Ecclesiae.”

The surprising thing about this book, which is not quoted frequently in sermons or doctrinal classes, is that its publication was celebrated in heaven. This is not something said about any other book. Here is what Swedenborg wrote:

“When BRIEF EXPOSITION was published the angelic heaven, from east to west and from south to north, appeared purple colored with the loveliest flowers; this happened before my very eyes and before those of the kings of Denmark, and others; on another occasion it appeared as if it were on fire, and beautiful. ‘The Coming of the Lord’ was written on all the books in the spiritual world; by command I therefore wrote this in the same place in two copies (of Brief Exposition) in Holland.” (Ecclesiastical History 1)
“When this preliminary treatise was finished, then, in the world of spirits, the whole heaven, from east to west and from south to north, was seen by me, covered with beautiful crimson roses to the admiration of all who were present there - which was the testification of the New Heaven's consent and pleasure.” (Letter to Count von Hopken, November 17, 1769)

Brief Exposition was the second-to-last book that Swedenborg published, coming right after Conjugial Love and Apocalypse Revealed, and just before True Christian Religion. It is actually little more than an advertisement for True Christian Religion, letting people know what to expect from this much larger work which was soon to be published. So how do we explain the warmth of its reception in heaven? The answer may be in a puzzling aspect of the book. It begins by briefly laying out the contents of the upcoming work (True Christian Religion). This work will be divided into three sections. But although the promised first and second sections end up being fairly accurate descriptions of the contents of True Christian Religion, the third part does not appear to exist in the book at all – and yet it makes up almost the entire contents of “Brief Exposition.” This missing third part was to have been about the “disagreements between the dogmas of the present church and those of the New Church” (Brief Exposition 16). What happened to it? That is the topic of the articles and podcasts mentioned above.