Swedenbog on Women PreachersWhat did Swedenborg say about women preachers? This is what he wrote in his spiritual diary:
Spiritual Experiences (Buss) n. 5936
5936. WOMEN WHO PREACH.
Women who think in the way men do on religious subjects, and talk much about them, and still more if they preach in meetings, do away with the feminine nature, which is affectional; owing to which they must be with married men: they also become material, so that affection perishes and their interiors are closed. They also begin to develop a tendency, as regards the thoughts, to take up with crazes; which takes place because the affection, being then destroyed, causes the intellectual to be crazy. In outward form, indeed, they are still able to appear like other women. In a word, they become sensual in the last degree. Woman belongs to the home; and she [becomes] of a different nature where [she engages in] preaching.
This is an article by Rev. Dr. Johnathan S. Rose on translation of the passage:
NEW CHURCH LIFE, Feb., 1997WOMEN WHO PREACH 1997
The Latin of Spiritual Diary 5936 will not support the current translation's phrase, "Woman belongs to the home." Although it is not entirely clear what Swedenborg was trying to say, it is clear that he did not intend to say this. Here is how the whole passage reads in the currently available translation:
Women Who Preach
Women who think in the way men do on religious subjects, and talk much about them, and still more if they preach in meetings, do away with the feminine nature, which is affectional; owing to which they must be with married men: they also become material, so that affection perishes and their interiors are closed. They also begin to develop a tendency, as regards the thoughts, to take up with crazes; which takes place because the affection, being then destroyed, causes the intellectual to be crazy. In outward form, indeed, they are still able to appear like other women. In a word, they become sensual in the last degree. Woman belongs to the home; and she [becomes] of a different nature where [she engages in] preaching [emphasis not mine].
The Latin for the italicized phrase is simply illa domi: "that at home." It does not say "woman" and it does not say "belongs to." It is italicized in the English because it is three-quarters underlined in the manuscript (although Swedenborg may not have underlined it himself in that he rarely underlines, and other editors have inserted marks here and there in the manuscript). The Latin simply means "that [feminine singular or neuter plural noun understood] at home." It is followed by a phrase so equally cryptic as to lead the English translator to insert four words and change a noun to a participle in order to make sense of it! The phrase is et alia ubi praedicationes: "and different/other/another [feminine singular or neuter plural noun understood] where preachings." The only way I can see to make sense of this both grammatically and in context is to take the illa and the alia as referring to the same entity: "that at home, and different where preachings." The closest preceding noun that could act as an antecedent is forma: "That [form] at home, and another where preachings." A stretch would be affectio, and an even greater stretch would be natura: "That [affection or nature] at home, and another where preachings. Although the translator takes "woman" and "she" as the understood antecedent, after nine verbs in the plural riding on the opening word "Women," it is unlikely that Swedenborg suddenly made an unsignalled shift to the singular with an unstated subject and an unstated verb. So I would not vote for, "[She is] that at home, and different where preachings." Therefore, although in any of these forms the phrase is elliptical, I vote for form as the most likely antecedent. None of the above gets close to saying, "Woman belongs to the home."
Here is how I would translate the passage:
On Women Who Preach
Women who think the way men do on religious topics and speak about them a lot, and still more if they preach in gatherings, lose their feminine nature belonging to the affection from which they will be with [their] husbands, and become so materialistic that their affection perishes and they close up inside.
They also begin to rave in their thoughts, which takes place because their affection, then destroyed, makes their intellect delirious. Admittedly, in external form they can appear like other women. In a word, they become sensual in the lowest degree. [Their form is] that at home, and another one where preachings [occur].
As to the question of women preaching, when Swedenborg went to index this passage he wrote something I might translate as follows: "Women who speak-intellectually-and-preach like men, lose their nature and become delirious." I use the hyphens to show that the "like men" is a governing phrase in the Latin. To me Swedenborg's passage above is not saying that women should not think about religious matters or preach; it is saying that they should not do so in a pseudo-masculine way. They can speak on religious subjects and preach in a feminine way, a way that is true to their nature rather than destructive of it. Otherwise the passage would lead to the untenable conclusion that women should not be allowed to preach or give elementary school worship or home worship or talk about religion or even think religious thoughts.
Rev. Dr. Jonathan S. Rose
Huntingdon Valley, PA
TRANSLATING THAT PASSAGE
Editor's Note: We have asked two other scholars to supply translations of SD 5936. Here is one of them:
Women who think as men do about religious matters and speak a lot about them, and still more if they preach in assemblies, lose the feminine nature, which is one of affection. It is affection from which they should be [thinking and speaking] in company with their husbands. And [otherwise] they become material [minded] so that affection perishes and their interiors are closed.
Their thoughts also begin to get off track, which happens because the now destroyed affection causes the understanding to derail, although in outward form they may appear as other women. In short, they become utterly sensual. She is herself at home and a different woman when [engaged in] preaching.
Another translation of the same passage follows.
Women who think like men about religious matters and speak much about them, and still more if they preach in gatherings, lose their feminine nature, which is one of affection, which is why they should be married. They become moreover materialistic, so that their affection perishes, and their interior elements are closed. They also begin to rave in their thoughts, which comes to pass because their affection, having then been destroyed, causes their intellectual faculty to rave, although in outward form they may still appear to be of another character. In a word, they become in the lowest degree sensual. That is what she is at home, and of another character where there are people preaching.
The translator comments: "I think the passage as translated speaks for itself. I would add only that the contrast is between the character of such women as they are inwardly at home, that is, in private, and their character where there are people preaching, that is, in public. Inwardly and at home, i.e. in private, they become materialistic and sensual, entertaining irrational and incoherent thoughts, but in public may appear to be quite normal-another lesson in not judging by appearances."
As a footnote to Michael David's letter in the January issue is his comment on the above passage: "I do not think this passage is a generalization about all women, but about some women who 'think like men about religious matters.' How do men think about religious matters? Mostly they think falsely, according to what I read in the Writings. Maybe the real issue is the quality of men's thinking and its effect on some women. The last two phrases of this passage read: ' . . . illa domi: et alia ubi praedicationes.'
Different translations have been proposed for this. I would suggest that it might mean ' . . . they are of one nature at home and of a different nature where preaching is going on.'"
This article disagrees with Rose's translation:
NEW CHURCH LIFE, April, 1997PREACHING BY WOMEN Rev. WALTER E. ORTHWEIN 1997
Regarding the article in February's New Church Life about the translation of Spiritual Diary 5936, I think the real issue is a matter not of translation but of interpretation. There does seem to be somewhat of a translation problem with the phrase that was rendered "Woman belongs to the home," but the main point of the paragraph is women preaching, whether that is a good idea or not; and on this question there is no substantial difference among the several translations presented.
SD 5936 says: "Women who think the way men do about religious matters and speak much about them, and still more if they preach in gatherings, lose their feminine nature . . . . " Alternate readings given are: "in the way men do," "as men do," and "like men." But no matter how this passage is translated, the meaning seems very clear.
The suggestion has been made that "like men" is the operative phrase, the implication being that it is all right for women to preach like women or in a feminine style. I just cannot imagine that this is what Swedenborg meant. Such an interpretation reverses the obvious meaning. The Latin word order in Swedenborg's index may be such as to make such an interpretation possible, but it doesn't require it.
The proposed new interpretation just doesn't fit with the whole body of teaching, as I understand it, concerning the nature of the church, the use of the priesthood, and the distinctly different ways in which the feminine and masculine minds work. It is an error to examine SD 5936 in isolation because it is not an isolated statement; there are many other passages in the Writings which taken together present a picture with which SD 5936 agrees. We can't resolve this issue one passage at a time, but must discuss the subject in light of all the relevant teachings.
Dr. Rose concludes that reading the passage without understanding "like men" to be the governing phrase "would lead to the untenable conclusion that women should not be allowed to preach or give elementary school worship or home worship or talk about religion or even think religious thoughts."
But the church has read it this way for over a hundred years without concluding any such thing. The uses mentioned-such as leading elementary school worship-are things women in the church routinely do. I think the church has taken it for granted all these years that giving worship for little children is not the same as the kind of "preaching" meant by the passage. And the concern that the traditional reading of the passage would forbid all thought or talk by women on religious subjects is shown by long experience to be unfounded.
When it comes to specific applications of general principles drawn from the Word we often feel that our understanding is obscure. The Writings don't give us a pharisaical rule book to tell us what to do in every situation. I wouldn't want to try to assign "gender appropriateness" to every task in life. But in this case I think it is clear that preaching is meant to be a masculine use.
I think SD 5936 means that the activity of preaching itself is destructive of the feminine nature, not just the manner in which a woman might do it. Women can and should think about religious things, of course; but the kind of thought which is appropriate to public deliberations about religious topics, especially with a view to preaching, is distinctly masculine. If the statement read: "Women shouldn't chop firewood with an ax like men do," I wouldn't interpret that to mean they should chop it with a kitchen knife, but that they shouldn't chop firewood. It wouldn't make sense to say they should chop it, only not with an ax the way men do, because an ax is the appropriate thing to use.
But I don't think all of this hair-splitting is really necessary to see what the passage is saying.
A big part of the issue here, of course, is what we mean by "preaching." I believe that in the General Church the use of preaching has been understood as a rational exposition of doctrine from the Word.
Based on that idea of preaching as a priestly use, I do not think this passage can possibly mean that it is all right for women to preach as long as they don't do it "the way men do." I certainly do not mean by this that women lack rationality, only that the special kind of rationality men have is the kind needed for the exposition of doctrine from the Word.
Perhaps the word "rational" has connotations of "cold" and "abstract," but this is not what I mean by it. By "rational" I simply mean seeing a relationship between the spiritual and the natural; and this seeing is, at heart, a matter of love. The application of spiritual principles to natural life by a priest must be inspired by a love for the people's spiritual welfare.
Not every male person is able to be a preacher, obviously, but one of the requirements (the most basic) for engaging in that use rightly is a masculine mind. This is not a matter of general intelligence or skill, in which a woman may well excel over a man, but of the way the mind works. The appearance is that a woman can do most of the same things a man can do, and vice versa. But just as a man lacks the distinctive kind of perception women have, so women lack the light or judgment needed for the right performance of those uses designated as masculine-of which preaching from doctrine is perhaps the most distinctive of all. This is explained in Conjugial Love 175. Preaching is not identified there as a masculine use, but both the nature of it in the New Church and the fact that this activity is said to be destructive of the feminine makes me think it is. Such teachings as CL 125 confirm this view: " . . . the church is implanted first in the man and through him in the wife, because he receives its truth in the understanding, while the wife receives it from him."
Many people in the world around us have no understanding of the spiritual distinction between male and female; they base their ideas on appearances, and imagine that the distinction is primarily physical. They think of masculine and feminine as being ranged along either side of a continuum, with individuals placed somewhere along the scale, more toward one side or the other.
It is popular today to speak of everyone as having both a "masculine side" and a "feminine side," and this idea is even creeping into the church. A Convention minister recently made the amazing assertion that "of course it is abundantly clear in Conjugial Love that every person has both (masculine and feminine) principles active within themselves" (The Messenger, Nov. 1996, p. 142). But it is explicitly taught in that very book that this is not the case: " . . . the masculine is one thing and the feminine another, and they are so different that one cannot be changed into the other . . . " (CL 32). The male is born one way, and the female another, and "nothing whatever is alike in them," so that even after death "the male is a male and the female is a female" (CL 33). The masculine mind and the feminine mind are absolutely distinct. There is conjunction, but no blending.
This has nothing to do with either sex being superior or inferior, except in the sense that men are inferior to women in the performance of uses which depend upon the genius of women, and vice versa.
I assume that our customs have been influenced to some degree by the customs of the world around us; the church as a human organization is not a perfect expression of pure heavenly ideals.
So it is right that we should reconsider our practices from time to time; they might be wrong. And if we think about them in light of the truth the Lord has revealed for the New Church, then we can move ever closer to the ideal. The question I hope we ask in regard to every proposed change is whether it represents a move away from worldly thought toward our Divinely revealed doctrine, or away from doctrine toward the way of the world. The church must change as it grows and (one hopes) becomes more perfect, so I am not against change; but I tend to consider any major change very carefully because the founders of our body of the New Church who established its order and organization impress me as such deep and careful and sincere students of the Writings. No doubt they were influenced by the times in which they lived, as well as their own heredity; and, yes, times change and the church must change with them. Let's just be sure that each change is for a good reason, and not just to keep up with the times.
Personally, I have thought about this issue as fairly and with as open a mind as I am capable of, and still conclude that there is a good doctrinal basis for maintaining a male priesthood. By "doctrinal" I don't mean just theoretical, but human; doctrine is nothing more than truth applied to human life. We can be confident that an order based on principles drawn from the truth the Lord has provided for us will prove the most humane and happy for all the people of the church.
And this is the thing-it is not just a dogged determination to "stick to the doctrines" that I feel most strongly, but a concern for the human life and happiness of our church if we ordain women to preach the Word (which, I believe, is the main purpose of ordination). I think the proposed change would hurt the women of the church the most, and diminish their real influence and power. This, above all, is why I oppose it.
The benefit some hope to gain by ordaining women would be to bring a feminine voice into the Council of the Clergy, but if engaging in the work of the clergy (doctrinal deliberation and preaching) are destructive of the feminine nature, then we would be destroying the very thing we hoped to benefit from.
The church's policy is not based solely on SD 5936; that statement merely confirms the order of things which follows from the teaching of the Writings generally. Until recently I think the church as a whole saw this and was agreed on it, the women as well as the men. I have to question whether the new thoughts on this subject reflect a deeper understanding of the Writings, or whether they represent influences from the world around us, which seem bent on erasing all distinctions between the sexes.
Some advocates of women preaching have noted that the first people to carry the message of the Lord's resurrection were women. To my mind this is not an argument in favor of women priests-I wouldn't call what those women did "preaching"-but this story does provide a quite telling and beautiful picture of how the church should be ordered. Those faithful women who loved the Lord, who sat at His feet and listened, who washed His feet with their tears, who would not abandon Him even after He was killed-such women are the life of the church, the will of the church. Their task is not to preach; it is something far deeper, purer, and more vital-it is to love the truth, and to inspire the men of the church with their more immediate and living perception of the life of that truth, so the men will join with them in putting flesh on it and bringing it into actual life. The women on Easter morning didn't preach. They simply reported what they had seen; then the Apostles, those poor frightened men hiding in their room, went forth, and when they had seen for themselves, they set out to preach the Gospel.
In an individual, the will whispers to the understanding, giving rise to thoughts. The deepest thoughts are perceptions of ends, of purpose, of the life the Lord wills for us; from these come other thoughts, which in turn are expressed, more or less clumsily, in words.
In this progression of life from the inmost to the spoken words, the will's perception is the most profound and immediate and perfect. But because its influence is deeper than the thoughts which appear to the understanding, and far deeper than words, the appearance is that the will isn't so important. Yet the will is primary; it forms the understanding, and the understanding does nothing on its own (see DLW 409, 410). If the will's voice is a still, small voice in the church, then we need to listen to it more attentively. But don't ask it to speak more openly and loudly, lest in that endeavor it should abandon its first love.
Will and understanding, heart and lungs, women and men-both elements are necessary, reciprocally conjoined, working together, while remaining distinct. I think of the angel saying of his wife, "She is my heart; I am her lungs" (CL 75). She is my heart. The contribution of women to the life of the church is not less vital because they don't preach, but more vital.
If the women are the heart of the church in a special sense, then the men are its lungs in a special sense. (I say a "special sense" because of course everyone has will and understanding; the difference is in which predominates with each sex.) Preaching is a "lung" use. Just as the heart's blood needs continual purification and enrichment in the lungs, so the will's affections must be processed in the understanding. But the heart is primary; it is the first and last thing to move in the body; if we men, the lungs of the church, have turned away from the heart, hurt the heart, failed to serve the heart faithfully and well, this must change. The question is how. One way is for the heart to attempt to take on the work of the lungs, but that's no good for either or the body as a whole.
Words from a Golden Age Couple: The husband said, "Her life is in me, and my life is in her . . . . Her love outwardly clothes my wisdom, and I am the wisdom of her love" (CL 75).
This article supports Rose's interpretation:
NEW CHURCH LIFE, May? 1997WOMEN WHO PREACH Gail Walter Steiner 1997
I want to thank Rev. Dr. Jonathan Rose for his clarification of Spiritual Diary 5936 in the February issue of New Church Life entitled "Women Who Preach," and to respond to Rev. Walter Orthwein's article in the April issue entitled "Preaching by Women." It is interesting to see how much liberty was taken by former translators to fill the gaps in the original Latin text to make sense of a sketchy statement. Perhaps it made sense to early translators, set in their particular culture and decade, to say that "woman belongs to the home." In today's world and in many cultures such a statement does not make sense.
But what is even more interesting to me is why, for so many years, the emphasis in the opening phrase, "Women who think . . . in the way men do," has never been placed where it apparently belongs-namely, on in the way men do. Women, being completely feminine, cannot think, preach, behave, or even throw a baseball "in the way men do." Does that mean they shouldn't do those things in the way women do? What Swedenborg seems to be saying is that if women try to act like men, they'll go crazy. Women can act only like women; it is impossible to do otherwise.
As Dr. Rose says, to interpret this passage in the traditional way, without the emphasis on "in the way men do," implies that women shouldn't even think about religious things, which is in direct conflict with New Church teachings encouraging people to think for themselves and move from historical to genuine faith.
Mr. Orthwein is right when he says that the issue of women preaching cannot be resolved "one passage at a time," that it must be discussed "in light of all the relevant teachings."
There are many issues involved, including the role of preaching. The duties of a priest are to "teach the truth and lead to the good of life" -teaching is only one part of the job; perhaps it could even be considered the "masculine" part of the job. Maybe the unique perceptive qualities women have would be well used in "leading to the good of life," the "feminine" part of the job. What would it look like if every New Church society had two "ministers"-a man who did the preaching and a woman who nurtured the congregation (not every society could afford to pay for two ministers, but the job could be split)? There would be plenty of room for women's special gifts to be used in the leadership of a congregation.
Referring to the traditional interpretation of the SD passage, Mr. Orthwein states that, "Until recently I think the church as a whole saw this and was agreed on it, the women as well as the men." I do not think this is true. I know many women who, even as young girls, were bothered by this church's policy about women in the priesthood, women who felt called to be ministers but either abandoned their dreams, left the church, or changed their idea of what a minister was to fit their calling. As an ANC College student, I was called a "heretic" because I confessed my ambition to be a minister in the New Church (I soon abandoned that!). Just because there hasn't been much public discussion about this topic in the church until recently, it doesn't mean that people have been in agreement. For decades prior to the Civil Rights movement in the United States, black people sat only in the backs of buses and gave up their seats to white people-this does not mean they were in agreement with the policy that kept them at the backs of the buses.
I agree with Mr. Orthwein that "times change and the church must change with them. Let's just be sure that each change is for a good reason . . . . " I hope we can continue to explore this issue and be open to the Lord's leading.
Gail Walter Steiner
Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania