The Rules of Life

rulesoflifestar.jpgIsaac Pitman (1813-1897), knighted by Queen Victoria in 1894, is famous for having developed a widely used form of shorthand, now referred to as Pitman shorthand.  In 1837 he published a small pamphlet on the subject titled Stenographic Sound-hand. Of interest to our readers is the fact that one of the texts he chose to use as an illustration of his shorthand method was Emanuel Swedenborg’s “Rules of Life.” Pitman, a member of the New Church in England, was very active in the dissemination of Swedenborg’s theological works.

rulesoflifemonel.jpgSwedenborg’s Rules of Life have been used by various New Church organizations since at least the mid-nineteenth century. Although they have been attributed to Swedenborg, no actual document containing them has ever been found among Swedenborg’s books and papers. The sole reference for the Rules is in the text of a eulogy for Swedenborg delivered by Samuel Sandels. In his address, Sandels states that he had found the Rules of Life among Swedenborg’s manuscripts, and proceeds to list them.*  The translated Rules are as follows (although it must be noted that slight variations exist between different translations):

rulesoflifecairnwood1.JPGrulesoflifeacanthus.jpg“Diligently to read and meditate on the Word of God.

To be content under the dispensations of God’s providence.

To observe a propriety of behavior, and to keep the conscience pure.

To obey what is ordered; to attend faithfully to one’s office and other duties; and in addition, to make one’s self useful to society in general.”

rulesoflifeexamples.JPGThe Academy of the New Church Archives in Bryn Athyn, PA, and the pages of New Church Life provide a clear picture of how the Rules were used through the years by New Church congregations and schools. The Rules were frequently printed on cards to be sold in bookrooms; a New Church Life ad from 1888 lists two different cards for sale at the Wallace Street bookroom in Philadelphia, for twenty-five cents and ten cents. A large collection of these cards is in the Academy of the New Church Archives at the Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn (see photo, left ). Swedenborg’s Rules of Life were often the topic of papers delivered at his birthday celebration, and New Church students learned to recite them.

A number of New Church artists have produced versions with beautiful calligraphy and hand-drawn or painted ornamentation surrounding the Rules (see photo, top ). Thyra Starkey presented one to the Immanuel Church School in Glenview, Illinois, in 1921, and in 1951 Winfred Hyatt designed one for Theta Alpha, an alumni organization for women graduates of the Academy (New Church Life 1921, 380; 1951, 455). Robert G. Glenn created two different versions of the Rules: one was given as a reward for achievement in religion lessons, and was hand-colored by him; a second design was left uncolored, to be colored by volunteers and given as a Ninteenth of June gift for children (Glenn family communication to Brian D. Henderson, 8/24/09).

rulesoflifecairnwood2.JPGRecently two framed copies of the Rules of Life were found in Cairnwood, the 1895 home of John and Gertrude Pitcairn in Bryn Athyn, PA; one most likely dates to the late nineteenth century, and the other to the early twentieth (see photo, left, and the first of the two photos above that are side by side). In addition, an elaborate monel metal plaque was commissioned in the 1920s by the Pitcairns’ son, Raymond, and hung in Cairnwood’s chapel. It is now in the collection of Glencairn Museum (see photo, above).

* The Academy Collection of Swedenborg Documents, Swedenborg Library Digital Collections, vol. IX, p. 473.

Photos: The artistic rendering at the beginning of this Fun Fact may be the work of Winfred Hyatt; the color photograph of it is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.The monel plaque commissioned by Raymond Pitcairn was made by John Joseph Walter, who also did metal work for Bryn Athyn Cathedral. It is in the collection of Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, PA (05.CR.101). The two framed copies of the Rules of Life are currently in storage at Cairnwood.  The card directly beside one of the framed Cairnwood copies, which is the same design, but with different colors, is also in the Academy Archives, as are the various cards shown together.

If you are able to identify the artists who created any of the versions of the Rules shown above, or have further information on how they were used, please contact the editors at

August 31, 2009 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact