Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg



Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

Visitors to the cathedral of Uppsala, Sweden, where renowned citizens are interred, may see an impressive red granite sarcophagus on which the name Emanuel Swedenborg appears. The sarcophagus contains the remains of one of Sweden's most accomplished sons. As recently as 1910, when belated recognition was extended to this distinguished intellect, Gustav V, King of Sweden, led in paying him national tribute. Resting in public view has been reserved for kings, archbishops, generals, and prominent intellectuals. Only a score of Swedes have earned this distinction.

Who was Emanuel Swedenborg? What historical position did he hold to warrant such honor and attention? What were his major contributions? The great majority of cathedral visitors will doubtless have no idea of the answer to these questions. The flow of persons through the church will include the educated who may possibly remember Swedenborg's scientific and philosophic contributions to eighteenth-century European thought. A scattered few of Swedenborg's followers will look with awe upon the sarcophagus as the final resting place of the man they consider to have been a new prophet of God on earth (or as he stated, servant of the Lord).

Ancestors endowed this eminent Swede with multiple talents which determined the course and tenor of his life. On his mother's side Swedenborg's relatives had long been prominent in the mining industry; his father was a devout clergyman of intelligence and zeal. Into such a household, marked by a harmonious blending of the secular and the sacred, Emanuel was born on the 29th of January, 1688, in the city of Stockholm. Sara Behm, his mother, died when he was eight years old, but her quiet, benevolent spirit molded the character of her third child and second son. Six other children were born to Jesper and Sara Swedberg before her untimely death in 1696.

His father, professor of theology at the University of Uppsala and dean of the cathedral, later became Bishop of Skara. This post included elevation to the rank of nobleman by Queen Ulrika Eleonora. One result of this honor was the change of the family name from Swedberg to Swedenborg. The Bishop also served as chaplain to the royal family and thus had an entrée into the highest social and political circles of Sweden. From birth young Swedenborg experienced a family atmosphere characterized by reverence and even religious fervor. The Bishop's children, for the most part, were given scriptural names, to remind them of their duty to God and the church. Emanuel means "God with us" and Swedenborg's early years suited this theme. The family often discussed religious questions at dinner and other gatherings, and the young boy had opportunities to exchange ideas on faith and life with many clergymen. Years later Swedenborg recalled the influence of this early exposure when he wrote: "I was constantly engaged in thought upon God, salvation, and the spiritual sufferings of men . . ."

But theology, while it bulked large in the Swedberg home, did not eliminate all other subjects of conversation. Politics, war, philosophy, technology undoubtedly entered the family dialogues. In June of 1699 intellectual stimulation at home led logically to an early enrollment at Uppsala University. Young Emanuel showed high intellectual promise and a catholic outlook. At the time, the university offered four major fields of study: theology, law, medicine, and philosophy. Although Swedenborg majored in the last, his inquiring mind led him into many other fields as well. The faculty of philosophy then included science and mathematics, but he also took courses in law and, since most instruction at Uppsala was still in Latin, he learned this structured language, adding Greek and Hebrew the following year. Subsequent studies and travels enabled Swedenborg to acquire a knowledge of English, Dutch, French, and Italian in addition to his native Swedish and the scriptural languages. For relaxation he wrote poetry in Latin and studied music. Swedenborg also became sufficiently accomplished on the organ to fill in for the regular accompanist at the church. Versatility and imagination grounded in thoroughness and practicality characterized his academic career.

Upon finishing his formal studies at the university in 1709 he laid plans for an extended period of travel and further study abroad. In 1710, at twenty-two years of age, he went to England for the first time. With the encouragement and financial assistance of his brother-in-law, Eric Benzelius, he was able, either under learned individuals or on his own, to study physics, astronomy, and most of the other natural sciences. He also became intensely interested in practical mechanics and learned watchmaking, bookbinding, cabinet work, engraving, and brass instrument construction from skilled English craftsmen. When he went to Holland he studied the technology of lens grinding, then in its early beginnings. His later studies included cosmology, mathematics, anatomy, physiology, politics, economics, metallurgy, mineralogy, geology, mining engineering, and chemistry. In addition he became thoroughly versed in the Bible. Moreover, the avid student-scientist made successful efforts to meet recognized leaders in the world of knowledge. In an age when relatively few men became really learned, Emanuel Swedenborg spent the first thirty- five years of his life in a massive program of formal and self-directed education.

Although he immersed himself in the sciences and other secular pursuits, Swedenborg did not abandon his early religious training. He retained his acceptance of God as the all pervasive, causal force in the universe. All evidence indicates that he consistently followed the advice which his father gave to him upon leaving Uppsala to accept an appointment in another diocese: "I beg you most earnestly that you fear and love God above all else," the Bishop said, "for without this fear of God all other training, all study, all learning is of no account, indeed quite harmful."

In 1716, even before this period of travel and study ended, Swedenborg began a long career in public service. King Charles XII appointed the talented 28-year-old scientist to the post of Extraordinary Assessor in the Royal College of Mines. The position, though partly honorific, also carried varied duties connected with the supervision and development of mining, one of Sweden's most important industries. For thirty-one years Swedenborg served as a valued member of the Board of Mines. The Board met regularly and made decisions affecting all aspects of the mine industry. Swedenborg sometimes received leaves of absence for travel and study but attended Board meetings faithfully when he was in Sweden.

The post of Assessor became far more than a sinecure. Swedenborg's responsibilities included inspecting mines and rendering detailed reports on the quality and amount of mined ore. He spent most of seven different summers traveling around Sweden on these inspection tours, riding horseback or in carriages through miles of forest, staying at local inns, going down in all types of safe and unsafe mines. He was involved in personnel and administrative problems, hiring officials, arbitrating labor disputes, and submitting suggestions for improvements. He even had the unpopular responsibility of collecting national taxes levied on mining. His activities on the Board of Mines finally ended when he resigned in 1747 to give full time to more important tasks to which he believed he had been called.

Swedenborg's public career also included some fifty years of service in the House of Nobles, one of the four estates of the Swedish Riksdag or legislature. He first took his seat on the ennoblement of his family in 1719. From that time until a few years prior to his death in 1772, Swedenborg attended most of the sessions of the House of Nobles. Deep dedication to the welfare of Sweden led him to make special efforts to plan his travels abroad during times of legislative adjournment. He usually remained in Sweden when the Riksdag was in session, and though not a ready speaker, he repeatedly wrote pamphlets and resolutions on the important questions of the day. On a number of occasions he expressed views on the nation's economy and tax structure. Foreign policy and matters related to the proper development of Sweden's natural resources also drew his attention. His most pointed political contest occurred in 1760, during a period of economic stress in Sweden. The Councillor of Commerce, Anders Nordencrantz, became chairman of a special committee on finance. He was authorized to name all the members of his committee, and their report, not surprisingly, reflected Nordencrantz's thinking on the nation's financial crisis which he had detailed earlier in a lengthy published book. The Nordencrantz analysis contained some useful insights, but his proposals for reform threatened to sweep away the entire structure of the government of Sweden; many felt that his recommendations, if adopted, might tear the fabric of society apart.

Swedenborg, while not unmindful of the need for economic improvement, found Nordencrantz's views generally unacceptable. They put the entire blame for the crisis on government officials. Nordencrantz favored replacing all appointees other than those in church and military positions; these, in turn, would be replaced again every second year thereafter. In brief, Nordencrantz argued for reform by means of a continuous turnover of government officials. The most pernicious feature of his plan would have been vastly increased personal power for the King. Swedenborg's commentary to the Riksdag objecting to the Nordencrantz report argued that Sweden's problems were caused by a variety of factors in both the private and public sectors rather than simply by the corruption and stupidity of officialdom. He underscored the need for a just balance in criticism of the government in the interests of maintaining an effective structure within which social and civil freedom might gradually be expanded. "Mistakes occur in every country" he wrote, "and with every man. But if a government should be regarded simply from its faults, it would be like regarding an individual simply from his failings and deficiencies." In this contest, which he won, Swedenborg showed himself to be a man of moderation willing to work toward practical solutions of real problems.

No summary of Swedenborg's public life would be complete without mention of the many occasions on which he put his mechanical genius to work for his country. King Charles XII asked him to serve as his engineering advisor after the King had been impressed by Swedenborg's contributions as editor of the scientific journal Daedalus, the first periodical devoted to the natural sciences ever published in Sweden. In the King's service, Swedenborg acted as construction supervisor on several important public works. His assignments involved creation of a dry-dock of new design, a canal, machinery for working salt springs, and a system for moving large warships overland. He also showed an inventive imagination in producing feasible sketches of futuristic machines including an airplane, a submarine, a steam engine, an air gun, and a slow- combustion stove.

Although no observer of nature in the 1700's had refined instruments to aid him, leading intellectuals developed the science of the times to a remarkable degree. The limited amount of knowledge made it possible for scholars to be conversant with a broader variety of studies than has been possible since, in the context of the explosion of scientific information during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Swedenborg's keen mind coupled with his extensive educational background placed him in the front rank of the learned scientists of the day.

In a century which was ignorant of the existence of oxygen, the circulation of the blood, the composition of water, the makeup of the earth's atmosphere, electricity, spectrum analysis, photography, the concept of the conservation of energy, and the workings of atoms, Swedenborg propounded some impressive theories along with making some incorrect speculations. As his mind developed he became more interested in generalizing from the findings of others rather than conducting extensive experiments of his own. His thinking exhibited a philosophic rather than an empirical bent.

Nevertheless, in metallurgy and biology he made experimental discoveries which rank him with the original thinkers of these two disciplines. In metallurgy his conclusions regarding the proper treatment of iron, copper, and brass advanced both the science and the technology involved.

In biology, his studies of the nervous system and the brain earned him credit for supplying the first accurate understanding of the importance of the cerebral cortex, and the respiratory movement of the brain tissues. Modern scholars conclude that Swedenborg's findings pointed the way to "most of the fundamentals of nerve and sensory physiology." He is also praised for his insight into the function and importance of the ductless glands, especially the pituitary."

Had he spent all of his mature years in metallurgy and biology he might have gone considerably farther in these two fields than he did. He refrained from extensive research because he felt that he was not especially gifted in this type of activity. Furthermore, he found that, when he did make a modest experimental discovery, he tended to let it draw him away from philosophical generalizations into one-sided explanations too extensively dependent upon his own observation. He believed that there were two main types of mind; on the one hand, there were those gifted in "experimental observation, and endowed with a sharper insight than others, as if they possessed naturally a finer acumen: such are Eustachius, Ruysch, Leeuwenhoek, Lancisi, etc." And then there were others "who enjoy a natural faculty for contemplating facts already discovered, and eliciting their causes. Both are peculiar gifts, and are seldom united in the same person."

Swedenborg had two central philosophic interests: cosmology and the nature of the human soul. From approximately 1720 until 1745 he studied, wrote, and published on these two subjects. His first significant philosophic work, entitled Chemistry and published in 1720, emphasized his developing view that everything in nature could be explained mathematically. He rejected the Newtonian concept of permanent, irreducible particles of matter and suggested that everything material was essentially motion arranged in geometric forms.

During the 1720's he developed his thoughts on the process by which the universe exists and continues. A nearly 600-page manuscript called the Lesser Principia, published posthumously, was one product of these efforts, but the great work of his philosophical studies appeared in 1734. It contained three volumes under the general title Philosophical and Mineralogical Works. In Volume One, which he called The Principia, according to the habit of eighteenth-century philosophers, he presented his primary cosmological conclusions. He based his explanations of the "Principles of Natural Things" on experience, geometry, and reason and postulated the creation of a "first natural point" of matter. This first natural point, caused by divine impulse to action, consisted of pure motion. From this point of pure motion a series of finites descended, each series larger and somewhat less active than the preceding finite. Swedenborg's cosmology thus teems with energy from beginning to end. He argued that activity permeated all three natural kingdoms, animal, vegetable, and mineral. Any material substance emanated energy spheres which interacted with surrounding matter. His studies of magnetism, crystallography, phosphorescence, and metallurgy contributed to his belief in an active universe.

Modern experimentation, particularly in the field of atomic energy, has confirmed many of Swedenborg's cosmological speculations. Svante Arrhenius, noted Nobel-Prize chemist and founder of the twentieth-century science of physical chemistry, concluded that Buffon, Kant, Laplace, Wright, and Lambert all propounded systems of creation which had been suggested earlier in Swedenborg's Principia. The second volume of the Philosophical and Mineralogical Works dealt with iron and steel, and the third with copper and brass. In them Swedenborg treated not only the technology involved in the use of metals, but included further philosophical speculations regarding the makeup and operation of the universe.

Nothing in Swedenborg's Philosophical and Mineralogical Works indicated that purely material explanations of the universe satisfied him. His writings rest upon the assumption that divine force underlies all matter and his speculations next turned to the relationship between the finite and the infinite. His book-length essay on the Infinite published in 1734, carried the full title "Outlines of a Philosophical Argument on the Infinite, and the Final Cause of Creation and on the Mechanism of the Operation of Soul and Body." In this and similar studies, Swedenborg judged that although the finite could not know the infinite, reason compelled man to conclude that the human individual was the end of creation. Everything in creation contributed to man's functioning as a thinking being. The soul must be the link between God and man, the infinite and the finite, even though man could not see or measure that soul.

Swedenborg developed his search for the soul most comprehensively in a study which he called The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, published in two lengthy volumes in 1740 and 1741. As the title implies, he found the kingdom of life to be a marvelous unity, tautly structured according to some grand design consistent with the concept of the individual soul as the center of creation. His speculations, which made use of the best anatomical knowledge of the day, focused on the blood as the most likely carrier of the soul. Swedenborg came close to predicting the manner in which the lungs purify the blood at a time when the discovery of oxygen was fifty years in the future. He then drew upon his earlier studies of the brain and concluded that the operations of the brain and the body, by means of the blood, depended upon a "spirituous fluid" which, while it could not be "known" scientifically, must be the carrier of the soul. He pursued his search for rational explanations of the workings of the soul in a second book, The Animal Kingdom, and in other works. He hoped to disperse the "clouds which darken the sacred temple of the mind" and open a path to faith. Other books from this period, some published and some left in manuscript, include The Brain, The Senses, The Organs of Generation, and Rational Psychology.

The Economy of the Animal Kingdom drew praise from the scholars of the day. However, reviewers increasingly ignored later work in his search for the soul, and his unpublished manuscripts were, of course, unknown outside the circle of Swedenborg's intellectual intimates.

Swedenborg had gone as far as he could go in attempting to explain the great questions of human existence solely through the faith into which he was born and which was reinforced by his own reasoning powers. The results of his search left him dissatisfied, but a new phase of his life opened and the remaining years of his career must be viewed in a different perspective.

During 1744 and 1745 he had a number of dreams and visions which moved him profoundly. He sometimes feared and sometimes felt exhilarated by what he experienced. These were years of disquiet which he could not explain satisfactorily and, typically, he kept silent about them to others, although his Journal of Dreams and Journal of Travel written during this period recorded his experiences and emotions. He renewed his study of the Bible and began to write a book entitled Worship and Love of God.

Then in April of 1745 he underwent a penetrating experience. In London, while dining alone at an inn where he often went, Swedenborg noted that the room seemed to grow dark. He then saw a vision, and an apparition spoke to him. When the room cleared again Swedenborg went home to his apartment, considerably stirred by his experience. During that night he again saw the vision. A spirit reappeared and spoke with him regarding the need for a human person to serve as the means by which God would further reveal himself to men in somewhat the manner of the biblical visions of the Old Testament."

Swedenborg came to believe that God had called him to bring a new revelation to the world, and from 1745 until his death twenty-seven years later he spent the bulk of his time adding theological works to his already lengthy scientific and philosophical writings. Few transcendent experiences recorded in human history encompass such a sweeping claim.

He spent the two years immediately following his 'call' in further close study of the Bible. He wrote some 3,000 folio pages of unpublished commentary and prepared an extended Bible Index which he used in all of his further works on theology. He perfected his knowledge of Hebrew and Greek in order to study the Bible in the original texts, and, in effect, made a new translation of many of the books of both the Old and New Testaments.

In 1747 he began publication of his most extended theological work, Arcana Coelestia-Heavenly Secrets. This study of the books of Genesis and Exodus runs to more than 7,000 pages or about three million words. The subtitle of this multi-volume work asserted that the "heavenly secrets" it contained "are in the Sacred Scripture of the Word of the Lord disclosed" and were presented along with "wonderful things which have been seen in the World of Spirits and in the Heaven of Angels." Theological writings continued to flow from Swedenborg's pen. He wrote eight volumes explaining the book of Revelation, single volumes entitled Divine Providence, Divine Love and Wisdom, and The Four Doctrines, i.e., the Lord, the Holy Scripture, Life, and Faith. He presented an account of experiences in the other world in the highly descriptive volume titled Heaven and Its Wonders and Hell. In 1768 he published a long volume on the subject of marriage under the title The Delights of Wisdom Pertaining to Conjugial Love after which follow the Pleasures of Insanity Pertaining to Scortatory Love. Shorter works dealt with a variety of subjects."

There are several aspects of the theological phase of Swedenborg's career. First, for much of the period, he wrote and published anonymously, and therefore few, even among his close friends, knew the nature of the theological studies as they evolved. Second, he invested a considerable amount of his own funds in the process since none of his theological studies enjoyed any significant circulation. He gave away many copies anonymously, to clergymen, universities, and libraries. Third, he lived a normal though sometimes secluded life during the early theological years. Unmarried, he was much alone with his books, often in a small summerhouse which he built at the back of the garden of his Stockholm property. Fourth, experiences in his last years reversed the anonymous and secluded pattern of his life as his works became widely diffused in learned circles. Finally, he remained convinced that the Lord had commissioned him to bring a new revelation to men. Fulfillment of this commission depended upon a dual existence in both the spiritual and natural worlds alternately, for year upon year as his commentaries multiplied.

Swedenborg made no effort to establish a religious sect or to induce people to form themselves into a church following. In fact, his efforts to remain anonymous with regard to his theological works lasted until 1759. In that year an incident occurred in Sweden which brought him considerable notoriety and which eventually led many to connect Swedenborg for the first time with his unusual theological works, particularly Heaven and Hell. In July, in the city of Gothenburg, approximately 300 miles from Stockholm, while he dined with friends at the home of William Castel, a wealthy local merchant, Swedenborg became pale and disturbed, withdrew for a time to the garden, and returned with news that a great fire had broken out in Stockholm not far from his home. He said that the fire was spreading rapidly and he feared that some of his manuscripts would be destroyed. Finally, at 8:00 p.m. he spoke with relief: "Thank God! The fire is extinguished the third door from my house!"

Persons present, disturbed by the incident since some had homes or friends in Stockholm, were impressed by Swedenborg's apparent clairvoyance. The same evening one of them told the story to the provincial governor and he, in turn, requested that Swedenborg render him a full account. The next day, Sunday, Swedenborg gave the governor details regarding the nature and extent of the fire and the means by which it had been extinguished. News of the alleged fire spread widely in the city of Gothenburg and the subject became the general topic of conversation.

Not until Monday evening did a messenger arrive, from the Stockholm Board of Trade, with details on the fire. Since they agreed with those Swedenborg had given, the general curiosity aroused made him a public figure, and not long afterwards his authorship of Heaven and Hell and the Arcana Coelestia became known. A variety of prominent persons, curious to meet with a man who claimed to be able to see into the spiritual world, began to write accounts of Swedenborg and his habits. Those who had not yet had an opportunity to meet him tended to conclude that Swedenborg had become insane. After meeting and talking with him they found him, on the contrary, to be quite reasonable. They frequently ended in a quandary, not willing to accept his sweeping claims, yet convinced of his sanity.

In the spring of the following year another incident occurred that further revealed Swedenborg's strange powers. The widow of the Dutch ambassador in Stockholm, Mme. de Marteville, became interested in Swedenborg's alleged power to converse with spirits. She hoped that he might be able to help her in a practical matter. A silversmith had presented her with a large bill for a silver service which her husband had purchased before his death. She felt sure that her husband had paid the bill, but could find no receipt. Swedenborg agreed to ask her husband about it if he saw him in the spiritual world. A few days later Swedenborg reported that he had seen her husband and that the ambassador had told him that he would tell his wife where the receipt was hidden. Eight days later Mme. de Marteville dreamed her husband told her to look behind a particular drawer in the desk. She did so and found not only the receipt but a diamond hairpin which had been missing. The next morning, Swedenborg called on the widow, and, before she told him of her dream and discovery, he reported that he had again conversed with her husband the preceding night and that the ambassador had left the conversation to tell his wife of the missing receipt.

An even more striking incident concerned the "Queen's secret." In the fall of 1761, Count Ulric Scheffer invited Swedenborg to go to the court with him to visit Queen Lovisa Ulrika who had become interested in Swedenborg through hearing of Ms varied abilities. The Queen asked if he would communicate with her late brother Augustus William who had died two years before. Swedenborg agreed to do so and a few days later called at the royal residence, presented the Queen with copies of some of his books, and then in a private audience at the far end of the room told her some secret that caused her to show great amazement. She exclaimed that only her brother could have known what Swedenborg told her. The incident became widely known and discussed in Swedish social circles.

These three examples of Swedenborg's clairvoyant abilities, along with lesser incidents, served to spread his fame. He continued to live and write as before, but curious persons often interrupted his studies; many sought to visit with the man who claimed, in a calm and reasonable way, to be able to converse with angels.

The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant's reaction to Swedenborg's visionary powers is of interest in this connection. Although Kant never met Swedenborg himself, he wrote to him and also sent personal messages through mutual friends. Kant, the great rationalist, tended to discount all stories of mystical experience but the persistent and authoritative reports on Swedenborg's powers gave him repeated pause. At times he wrote favorably; at times quite the reverse. However, Kant's continuing interest is indicated by a variety of evidence. Even his most critical survey, Dream of a Spirit-Seer, published in 1766, in which Kant attempted to denigrate Swedenborg, reveals doubts regarding the basis for his own ridicule. In short, Kant must be numbered among those intellects of Swedenborg's day who experienced difficulty explaining satisfactorily the theological phase of Swedenborg's distinguished career.

During Swedenborg's final years a variety of old friends and new acquaintances wrote accounts of their impressions of him. His claims seemed preposterous to many, yet few who met and talked with him had anything really adverse to say of him. They were perplexed at his accounts of conversations with spirits, but found him otherwise to be a gentle, humorous man with a relaxed, benign air. Occasionally, when callers tried to make fun of him, Swedenborg spoke cuttingly, but in general he was the perfect host.

In 1768, Swedenborg, eighty years of age but in excellent health and spirits, set out on the next-to-last extensive journey of his life on earth. Many previous trips had taken him all over Europe including Italy, France, Germany, Holland, and England. On this occasion he went first to France and then to England, where he took lodgings with a young couple in Wellclose Square, London. During the summer he spent many hours working on his last great theological work, a study entitled True Christian Religion. He also enjoyed walking in the nearby parks, talking with acquaintances, and visiting friends. One associate said of him during this period, "Someone might think that Assessor Swedenborg was eccentric and whimsical; but the very reverse was the case. He was very easy and pleasant in company, talked on every subject that came up, accommodating himself to the ideas of the company; and never spoke on his own views unless he was asked about them."

In 1769 he returned to Sweden, partly to answer charges of heresy which had been leveled against him by some of the prelates of the Lutheran state church. He had been informed by friendly correspondents that his theological writings were the cause of much controversy in the Lutheran Consistory in Gothenburg. By this time several of Swedenborg's works had been translated into Swedish, and followers, both among the clergy and the laity, spoke out in favor of his theology.

In September, 1768, a country parson precipitated a decisive debate by introducing a resolution in the Gothenburg Consistory calling for measures to stop the circulation of works at variance with the dogmas of Lutheranism. The parson objected particularly to Swedenborg's writings. While some members of the Consistory insisted that no judgment be rendered until all members had thoroughly studied the works in question, Dean Ekebom, the ranking prelate, announced that he found Swedenborg's doctrines to be "corrupting, heretical, injurious, and in the highest degree objectionable." Although he confessed that he had not read any works other than the Apocalypse Revealed with any care, he concluded that Swedenborg's views on the nature of the Divine, the Bible, the Holy Supper, faith, and other basic teachings should be suppressed as dangerous to established religious concepts. He charged Swedenborg with Socinianism or refusal to accept the divinity of Christ.

On being apprised of these charges Swedenborg wrote vigorously in his own defense. The Socinianism charge particularly upset him, and he wrote, "I look upon the word Socinian as a downright insult and diabolical mockery." One of Swedenborg's most carefully argued lines of theological reasoning directly refutes Socinianism and argues for the acceptance of Christ as God on earth.

The dispute became inflamed and shifted to the political level when the matter was brought up in the national Diet. The Dean's legal advisor and chief prosecutor urged that "the most energetic measures" be taken to "stifle, punish, and utterly eradicate Swedenborgian innovation and downright heresies by which we are encompassed . . . so that the boar which devastates and the wild beast which desolates our country may be driven out with a mighty hand." The Royal Council, appointed through the Diet, finally rendered its report in April, 1770. The anti-Swedenborgians won most of what they were seeking. Swedenborg's clerical supporters were ordered to cease using his teachings, and customs officials were directed to impound his books and stop their circulation in any district unless the nearest consistory granted permission. In its own words, the Royal Council "totally condemned, rejected, and forbade the theological doctrines contained in Swedenborg's writings."

While the dispute dragged on for three more years, Swedenborg continued to protest the decision of the Council and petitioned the King himself. The Royal Council referred the matter to the Gotha Court of Appeals, which asked several universities, including Swedenborg's alma mater, Uppsala, to make a thorough study of Swedenborg's ideas. The universities, however, asked to be excused. Their theological faculties found nothing which they felt they should condemn, but, on the other hand, they had no inclination to put bishops and entire consistories on trial for false accusation, the only means by which the anti-Swedenborgian decisions could be reversed. The matter quieted down. Some clergymen preached Swedenborgian ideas; most did not. Emanuel Swedenborg continued to write and speak as he pleased in his few remaining years on earth."

Completion of the crowning work of his theological period engrossed him. Although 82 years of age, he undertook his final, eleventh, foreign journey to promote this effort. Apparently he felt he would not return to Sweden for he made farewell calls on the members of the Board of Mines, supporters, and close friends. He arranged a pension for his faithful housekeeper, made lists of his possessions for estate distribution, and told his long-time friend and neighbor, Carl Robsahm, "Whether I shall return again, I do not know, but . . . this I can assure you, for the Lord has promised it to me, . . . I shall not die until I have received from the press this work . . . now ready to be printed." He referred to the manuscript to be published in 1771 in Holland under the title True Christian Religion.

A skeptical but generally friendly observer visited Swedenborg in Amsterdam during the printing of True Christian Religion and reported that the seer, in spite of his advanced age, worked "indefatigably' and even "in an astonishing and superhuman way," reading proofs and returning them to the publisher. He found Swedenborg convinced that he served, as the title page stated, in the capacity of "Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ."

When the book was printed Swedenborg left Amsterdam and crossed the Channel to England. He arrived in London in early September of 1771 and again rented quarters with a family named Shearsmith in Great Bath Street. Although his health declined he continued to work at his books. But in December, he suffered a stroke which destroyed his ability to speak and rendered him unconscious for most of three weeks. During January and February he gradually recovered and again talked with visitors.

He wrote to John Wesley, the noted English minister, and told him that he would be happy to discuss religion with him if Wesley could come to London. Swedenborg mentioned that he had learned in the world of spirits that Wesley wanted to talk with him about theology. Wesley expressed his great surprise to friends regarding Swedenborg's invitation because he did not recall having told anyone of his interest in the Swedish seer. Wesley answered Swedenborg's letter with hopes that he would be welcomed upon completion of a six months' journey on which he had just embarked. When he received Wesley's reply Swedenborg remarked that six months would be too long since he, Swedenborg, would permanently enter the world of spirits on the 29th of March, 1772. The maid who attended Baron Swedenborg during his final months also reported that he predicted the exact date of his death.

Several friends visited Swedenborg during March and urged him to make a final statement regarding the truth or falsity of the new revelation which had been flowing from his pen for so many years. Swedenborg answered pointedly: "I have written nothing but the truth, as you will have more and more confirmed to you all the days of your life, provided you keep close to the Lord and faithfully serve Him alone by shunning evils of all kinds as sins against Him and diligently searching His Word which from beginning to end bears incontestable witness to the truth of the doctrines I have delivered to the world." On another occasion, in answer to a similar question, Swedenborg said: "As truly as you see me before your eyes, so true is everything that I have written; and I could have said more had it been permitted. When you enter eternity you will see everything, and then you and I shall have much to talk about."

On Sunday, March 29, 1772, Mrs. Shearsmith and Elizabeth Reynolds, the maid, observed Swedenborg, waking from a long sleep. He asked the women to tell him the time of day. They replied that it was five o'clock. "That is good," Swedenborg said. "I thank you. God bless you!" He then sighed gently and died.

Shortly after Swedenborg's death, an energetic Londoner named Robert Hindmarsh, came upon a copy of Heaven and Hell. Upon reading it he became a convert and organized the first group of followers of Swedenborg. Meeting regularly in London, the Hindmarsh circle began to expound the tenets of Swedenborgian theology. Swedish followers organized under the leadership of Johan Rosen and Gabriel A. Beyer, two noted intellectuals who had been reading Swedenborg for some time. James Glen, a sometime member of the Hindmarsh group in England, brought copies of Swedenborg's writings to Philadelphia in 1784, and Swedenborgianism in America dates from Glen's efforts to establish Swedenborgian reading circles in the Quaker city and elsewhere. Although the total number of Swedenborg followers has never grown large, there are active adherent groups all over the world.

Swedenborg's teachings exert a clear and direct influence on those who regard themselves as followers of the new faith. Swedenborgians study his theological writings and, like members of other religious sects, they attempt to put the principles expressed into effect in their own lives. The less tangible evidence of Swedenborg's influence - his effect on the mainstream of world thought - remains to be evaluated. Scholars who attempt the task may conclude, with Arthur Conan Doyle, that they have a "mountain peak of mentality" under scrutiny.

- from S. Synnestevedt, The Essential Swedenborg (New York: Swedenborg Foundation 1970)

For a full biography, see C.O. Sigstedt, The Swedenborg Epic (New York: Bookman 1952), available online at The Swedenborg Digital Library.




• Home • Up • Next •

Swedenborg Biography

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com