1902 Encyclopedia > Emanuel Swedenborg (Svedberg)

Emanuel Swedenborg
(Emanuel Svedberg)
Swedish scientist and theologian
(1688-1772)




EMANUEL SWEDENBORG, or SVEDBERG, (1688-1772), was born at Stockholm January 29, 1688. His father, Dr Jesper Svedberg, subsequently professor of theology at Upsala and bishop of Skara, was a pious, learned, and a brave man, who did not escape the charge of heterodoxy, and believed himself to be in constant intercourse with angels. Emanuel shared as a child his father's piety, and his parents thought that " angels spoke through him." His education embraced the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, and, above all, mathematics with the natural sciences, but seems to have been curiously defective in theology. Endowed with unusual intellectual powers and an iron constitution, he acquired vast stores of learning in all those branches. Having completed his university course at Upsala, in 1710 he commenced the customary European tour, visiting England, Holland, France, and Germany, studying especially natural philosophy, though alternating it with the composition of Latin verses, little of the poet as there was in his nature. In 1715 he returned to Upsala, and devoted himself to natural science and various engineering works. From 1716 to 1718 he published a scientific periodical, called Dsedalus Hyper-boreus, a record of mechanical and mathematical inven-tions and discoveries. In 1716 he was introduced to Charles XII., who appointed him assessor in the Swedish college of mines. Two years later he distinguished him-self at the king's siege of Frederikshall by the invention of machines for the transport of boats and galleys over-land from Stromstadt to Iddefjord, a distance of 14 English miles. The same year he published various mathematical and mechanical works. At the death of Charles XII. Queen Ulrica elevated him and his family to the rank of nobility, by which his name was changed from Svedberg to Swedenborg. The next years were devoted to the duties and studies connected with his office, which involved the visitation of the Swedish, Saxon, Bohemian, and Austrian mines. In 1724 he was offered the chair of mathematics in the university of Upsala, which he declined. Gradually his inquiring and philosophical mind led him to wider studies than those of his profession. As early as 1721 he was seeking to lay the foundation of a scientific explanation of the universe, when he published his Prodromus Principiorum Rerum Naturalium and had already written his Principia in its first form. Thirteen years later, in 1734, appeared in three volumes Opera Philosophica et Miner alia, the first volume of which (his Principia) contained his view of the first principles of the universe, a curious mechanical and geometrical theory of the origin of things. The same year followed Prodromus Philosophix ratiocinantis de Infinito et Causa Fincdi Creationis, which treats of the relation of the finite to the infinite and of the soul to the body, seek-ing to establish a nexus in each case as a means of over-coming the difficulty of their relation. From this time he applied himself to the problem of discovering the nature of soul and spirit by means of anatomical studies. He travelled in Germany, France, and Italy in quest of the most eminent teachers and the best books dealing with the human frame, and published, as the results of his inquiries, among other works, his (Economia Regni Animalis (Lon-don, 1740-41) and Regnum Animate (The Hague, 1744-45, London, 1745). But a profound change was coming over him, -which was to make of the scientific inquirer the super-naturalist prophet. Neither by geometrical, nor physical, nor metaphysical principles had he succeeded in reaching and grasping the infinite and the spiritual, or in elucidat-ing their relation to man and man's organism, though he had caught glimpses of facts and methods which he thought only required confirmation and development. Late in life he wrote to Oetinger that "he was introduced by the Lord first into the natural sciences, and thus pre-pared, and, indeed, from the year 1710 to 1744, when heaven was opened to him." This latter great event is described by him as "the opening of his spiritual sight," "the manifestation of the Lord to him in person," "his introduction into the spiritual world." Before his illu-mination he had been instructed by dreams, and enjoyed extraordinary visions, and heard mysterious conversations. According to his own account, the Lord filled him with His spirit to teach the doctrines of the New Church by the word from Himself; He commissioned him to do this work, opened the sight of his spirit, and so let him into the spiritual world, permitting him to see the heavens and the hells, and to converse with angels and spirits for years; but he never received anything relating to the doctrines of the church from any angel but from the Lord alone while he was reading the word (True Christian Religion, No. 779). He elsewhere speaks of his office as principally an opening of the spiritual sense of the word. His friend Bobsahm reports, from Swedenborg's own account to him, the circumstances of the first extraordinary revelation of the Lord, when He appeared to him and said, " I am God the Lord, the Creator and Bedeemer of the world. I have chosen thee to unfold the spiritual sense of the Holy Scripture. I will Myself dictate to thee what thou shalt write." From that time he gave up all worldly learning, and laboured solely to expound spiritual things. But it was some time before he became quite at home in the spiritual world. In the year 1747 he resigned his post of assessor of the college of mines that he might devote himself to his higher vocation, requesting only to be allowed to receive as a pen-sion the half of his salary. He took up afresh his study of Hebrew, and began his voluminous works on the interpreta-tion of the Scriptures. The principal of these is the Arcana Ccelestia in eight quarto volumes, which he printed in Lon-don between 1749 and 1756, professing to have derived the whole of it by direct illumination from the Almighty Himself, and not from any spirit or angel. His later work De Coelo et de Inferno (London, 1758) consists of extracts and portions of the Arcana. His MS. work Apocalypsis Explicata, expounding the doctrines of the New Church, was prepared in 1757-59. In 1763 appeared his Sapientia Angelica de Divino Amore et de Divina Sapientia, containing the most philosophical brief account of the principles of the New Church. The long list of his subsequent writings will be found in the works mentioned below. His life from 1747 was spent alternately in Sweden, Holland, and London, in the composition of his works and their publication, till his death, which took place in London, March 29, 1772.

He was a man who won the respect, confidence, and love of all who came into contact with him. Though people might disbelieve in his visions, they feared to ridicule them in his presence. His manner of life was simple in the extreme ; his diet consisted chiefly of bread and milk and large quantities of coffee. He paid no attention to the distinction of day and night, and sometimes lay for days together in a trance, while his servants were often dis-turbed at night by hearing what he called his conflicts with evil spirits. But his intercourse with spirits was often perfectly calm, in broad daylight, and with all his faculties awake. Three extra-ordinary instances are produced by his friends and followers in proof of his seership and admission into the unseen world. But there exists no account at first hand of the exact facts, and Sweden-borg's own reference to one of these instances admits of another explanation than the supernatural one. The philosopher Kant was struck by them in 1763, but in 1765, after further inquiries, concluded that two of them had "no other foundation than common report (gemeine Sage)." See Kehrbach's edition of Kant's Träume eines Geistersehers (Leipsic, 1880).





Swedenborg's theosophic system is most briefly and comprehensively presented in his Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. The point of view from which God must be regarded is that of His being the Divine Man. His esse is infinite love ; His manifestation, form, or body is infinite wisdom. Divine love is the self-subsisting life of the universe. From God emanates a divine sphere, which appears in the spiritual world as a sun, and from this spiritual sun again proceeds the sun of the natural world. The spiritual sun is the source of love and intelligence, or life, and the natural sun the source of nature, or the receptacles of life; the first is alive, the second dead. The two worlds of nature and spirit are perfectly distinct, but they are intimately related by analogous substances, laws, and forces. Each has its atmospheres, waters, and earths, but in the one they are natural and in the other spiritual. In God there are three infinite and uncreated "degrees" of being, and in man and all things corresponding three degrees, finite and created. They are love, wisdom, use; or end, cause, and effect. The final ends of all things are in the Divine Mind, the causes of all things in the spiritual world, and their effects in the natural world. By a love of each degree man comes into conjunction with them and the worlds of nature, spirit, and God. The end of creation is that man may have this conjunction and become the image of his Creator and creation. In man are two receptacles for God,—the will for divine love and the understanding for divine wisdom, _—that love and wisdom flowing into both so that they become human. Before the fall this influx was free and unhindered, and the conjunction of man with God and the creation complete, but from that time the connexion was interrupted and God had to interpose by successive dispensations. At last the power and influence of the spirits of darkness, with whom man associates himself by his sin, became so great that the existence of the human race was threatened, and Jehovah was necessitated to descend into nature to restore the connexion between Himself and man. He could not come in His unveiled Divinity, for the " hells " would have then perished, whom he did not seek to destroy but only to subjugate. Another purpose of Jehovah's incarnation was the manifestation of His divine love more fully than ever before. Swedenborg wholly rejects the orthodox doctrine of atonement; and the unity of God, as opposed to his idea of the trinity of the church, is an essential feature of his teaching. Another distinc-tive feature is that Jehovah did not go back to heaven without leaving behind Him a visible representative of Himself in the word of the Scripture. This word is an eternal incarnation, with its threefold sense—natural, spiritual, celestial. And Swedenborg is the divinely commissioned expounder of this threefold sense of the word, and so the founder of the New Church, the paraclete of the last dispensation. That he might perceive and understand the. spiritual and the celestial senses of the word he enjoyed immediate revelation from the Lord, was admitted into the angelic world, and had committed to him the key of " correspondences " with which to unlock the divine treasures of wisdom. Swedenborg claimed also to have learnt by his admission into the spiritual world the true states of men in the next life, the scenery and occupations of heaven and hell, the true doctrine of Providence, the origin of evil, the sanctity and perpetuity of marriage, and to have been a witness of the "last judgment," or the second coming of the Lord, which took place in the year 1757. It was then that the New Church, or the New Jerusalem, was inaugurated, and Swedenborg claimed to be the divinely appointed prophet and teacher of its doctrines, and maintained that his revelations excel all that preceded them.

Swedenborgianism.—Swedenborgianism, as professed by Swedenborg's followers, is based on the belief of Swedenborg's claims to have witnessed the last judgment, or the second advent of the Lord, with the inauguration of the New Church through the new system of doctrine promulgated by him and derived from the Scriptures, into the true sense of which he was the first to be introduced. The doctrines of the New Church are those of the internal sense of the word as revealed to Swedenborg, who received them into his understanding and published them through the press and not as a preacher. They are briefly—(1) that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only God, that in Him there is the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Father being His infinite divine nature or soul, the Son His glorified human nature or divine body, and the Holy Spirit the life proceeding from His divine humanity for the salvation of man ; (2) that the Father in His eternal humanity descended as the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth, assuming fallen human nature, that in it he might conquer hell and deliver mankind from its influence ; (3) that the Sacred Scriptures are the true word of God, accommodated to the understanding of angels and men, and constituting the perpetual medium between heaven and the church, the law of correspondence having been revealed by the Lord to Swedenborg as the key for their interpretation ; (4) that man is not saved by faith alone but by a life according to the word, the summary of which is the decalogue ; (5) that heaven is made up of those who keep God's commandments and love Him and His kingdom, and hell of those who love themselves and the world ; (6) that the spiritual world—heaven and hell—holds the same relation to the natural world and its inhabitants as the soul to the body, being in and around the natural world and its life, and that after the death of the body the spirit continues to live in the spiritual world it had previously though unconsciously inhabited. Swedenborgians now constitute a widely spread and considerable society, with a regularly constituted ecclesiastical organization and a zealous missionary activity. Soon after Swedenborg's death students of his works in England and Sweden began to translate them from the Latin and to spread his views. First in time and activity amongst these early Swedenborgians was the Rev. John Clowes, rector of St John's, Manchester, who translated the whole of several treatises. The first public meeting of Swedenborgians, from which dates the foundation of the society, was held in London December 5, 1783, and was attended by five persons. The separation of the society from the ''old church" as a religious body, with its distinct creed, worship, and ecclesiastical organization, took place May 7, 1787, and its first place of worship was in Great Eastcheap, London. The first general conference of the New Church was held April 17, 1789, in this chapel, when a series of resolutions concerning the creed, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical order of the society were adopted. At the same time churches began to be formed in various towns in England and in America. Towards the end of the century Swedenborg's doctrines obtained a considerable degree of acceptance on the Continent, separate societies having arisen here and there. Meantime the Manchester Printing Society, under Mr Clowes, printed and distributed Swedenborg's works in large numbers. In 1810 a London Printing Society was formed, which has been very active in the same way to the present time. In 1817 a convention of the American New Church was held in Philadelphia, which gave proof of the growth of the body in the United States. The same year the tenth general conference of the English section of the church was attended by twenty-seven delegates and ministers of various societies, and in 1821 there were upwards of fifty-two of these in Great Britain. At the general conference in 1885 it was reported that there were sixty-five societies or churches in Great Britain connected with the con-ference, having 5700 registered members, the net increase of the year being 119. The names of thirty-two ordained ministers appear in the report; the investments of the society amount to £60,453; and there are a dozen educational and missionary institutions in connexion with it. Some of the New Church day schools are amongst the largest and most efficient in the kingdom. From the same report it appears that the New Church has societies or institutions in most British colonies as well as in the principal countries of Europe. The report of the General Convention of the New Jerusalem in the United States, 1885, gives the names of 116 societies in America, with nearly the same number of ordinary ministers. In Italy, Sweden, and Prussia there is a Swedenborg mission sustained by help from England and America. In South Germany there exist congregations of the New Church, and the librarian of the university of Tubingen, Dr Immanuel Tafel, was exceedingly active until his death (1863) in the publication and translation of Swedenborg's works, and in the vindication of the doctrines of the New Church. In Austria, Norway, and Switzerland also there are congregations. But, in addition to full converts to Swedenborgianism, a considerable number of prominent theologians and other thinkers have been attracted by Swedenborg's works and parts of his system. While the extravagant anthropomorphism, the mechanical materialism, the theological narrowness, the wild allegorizing, the entire absence of historical knowledge, and the astounding prophetic claims of the man and his system,—in a word, the Gnosticism of Swedenborg and his followers,—must be offensive to philosophical minds, they can discover in his writings and the drift of his thought fine ethical views, profound glances of insight into the depths of the universe,—God, nature, man, and his destiny. The names of Oetinger, Herder, Goerres, Coleridge, Emerson, J. D. Morell may be given as proof of this. Such thinkers were attracted by one or more of the dominant and pervading principles or tenden-cies of his extraordinary mind. For he felt, if he did not adequately expound, the harmony of the universe, the fundamental unity of being and thought, of knowledge and will, of the divine and the human ; and his wild system of allegory, with his equally wild communications with the unseen world, failed to conceal a deep moral and intellectual revolt against the most irrational forms of traditional orthodoxy, while his deep spiritual nature spurned the shallow intellectualism of the rationalists of the 18th century.

Literature.—A rich collection of materials for a life of Swedenborg is Docu-ments concerning the Life and Character of Swedenborg, Collected, Translated, and Annotated, by Or. R. L. Tafel, in 3 vols., Swedenborg Society, 1S75-77. Of English lives the principal are—Emanuel Swedenborg, a Biography, by J. J. G. Wilkinson, London, 1849; Swedenborg, a Biography and an Exposition, by E. Paxton Hood, London, 1S54 ; Swedenborg, his Life and Writings, by William White, 1856, rewritten in 1867 and in 1868; Emanuel Swedenborg, the Spiritual Columbus, a Sketch, by U. S. E., 2d ed., London, 1877. A useful handbook of Swedenborg's theology, consisting of extracts in English from his numerous works, is the Compendium of the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, by the Rev. Samuel Warren, London, 1885. Brief summaries of his system and writings are given in all the above biographies and in Edmund Swift's Manual of the Doctrines of the New Church, London, 1885. Important critiques from independent points of view are "Emanuel Swedenborg," in the Prospective Review, May 1850; 11 The Mystic," in Emerson's Representative Men, 1850; Kant's Träume eines Geistersehers, 1766 (the best edition by Kehrbach, Leipsic, 1880); Herder's "Emanuel Swedenborg," in Iiis Adrastea {Werke zur Phil, und Gesch., vol. xii. pp. 110-125) ; Goerres's Emanuel Swedenborg, seine Visionen und sein Verhaltniss zur Kirche, 1827 ; Dorner's Gesch. d. Prot. Theol., Munich, 1867, pp. 662-67. For the history of Swedenborgianism, see Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church in England, America, and other Parts, by Robert Hindmarsh, edited by E. Madeley, London, 1861. The chief apologetic work is Noble's Appeal, 10th ed. 1881, London. See also National Review, April 1858. (J. F. S.)







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