Who Was Emanuel Swedenborg?
Emanuel Swedenborg lived between 1688 to 1772. He was immersed in both the rational world of the physical sciences and that of Christianity. He lived during the Enlightenment.
During this period, intellectuals rejected simple faith in favor of science and reason. At first, he tried to understand spiritual things from a study of the physical world. He struggled with this idea. Eventually, he established a more direct relationship with the spiritual world. The validity of these experiences was questioned by many of his contemporaries.
Emanuel Swedburg was born in Stockholm in 1688. He was the second son of Jesper Swedberg. who was a pastor in the Lutheran church. When he was very young, he entered the University of Uppsala. He completed his degree in 1709. After he completed his degree, he spent some time in England, Amsterdam, and Paris studying various subjects such as geology and botany.
Emanuel then returned to Sweden more than five years later. He worked as an assistant to inventor Christopher Polhem. Through Polhem, Emanuel was introduced to the king of Sweden. The king was impressed by Emanuel and appointed him to a position at the Board of Mines.
This position gave him the opportunity to do the scientific research that he desired. After the death of the king, his sister ascended the throne. She continued the relationship with the Swedberg family. She also changed the family name to Swedenborg.
During this early period, most of Emanuel's energies were devoted to scientific inquiry. He published a scientific journal and wrote books on scientific subjects. One of these books was the first Swedish book on algebra. During this period, he published the Basic Principles of Nature. This laid the philosophical basis for his later investigations into the nature of the human soul.
He then wrote some works on anatomy. This included some attempts to understand the connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. Nature, in his view, derives life from a certain creative energy that belongs to God.
He continued his work on anatomy, but soon entered a period of spiritual crisis.
Starting in 1743, and continuing for a year, Emanuel had some intense dreams and visions during the night. He kept track of them in his diary. Many of these dreams surrounded a sense of unworthiness. He had a feeling that he needed to purge himself of sin.
Soon, he started to get visions during the day as well. He took these visions as contact with the spiritual world. At the same time, Emanuel began work on writing that concerned the inner meaning of the Bible according to what he had discovered from his spiritual visions. He requested from the king to be released from his obligations to the Board of Mines so that he could devote all of his time to theological writing.
Emanuel published his first theological work, Secrets of Heaven, in 1749. This book is a verse-by-verse discussion of the inner meaning of the Bible. He wrote that the Bible should not be taken literally. There is a inner spiritual meaning that he called “correspondence.”
Included in this book are explanations of principles that would eventually become essential parts of his theology. Topics covered included the correspondence between the physical world and the spiritual world, the structure of heaven and hell, and the interaction between the soul and the body.
He intended to go through the whole Bible in just this fashion. He never did so, however. Instead, he returned to London with five new books to publish. These were Heaven and Hell, White Horse, Other Planets, Last Judgment, and New Jerusalem. Except for Last Judgment, the content of the five books was taken from Secrets of Heaven.
Growth of Reputation
Beginning in 1759, Emanuel started to become well known for his connection to the spiritual world. This was based upon a string of events. Emanuel was attending a dinner party, when all of a sudden, he had a vision that a fire was threatening his home. His home was more than 250 miles away. He later reported that the fire had been extinguished. As it turned out, two days later messengers came from Stockholm and confirmed his vision.
In 1760, the widow of a recently deceased French ambassador to Sweden was presented with a bill for a silver service that her husband had bought. She knew that he had paid the bill but could not find the receipt. She asked Emanuel for help. She then had a dream that revealed the location of the receipt.
In 1761, the Queen of Sweden asked him to relay a message to her dead brother. Emanuel returned three weeks later and gave her the response to the communication with her brother. She was heard as saying that only her brother would have known what Emanuel told her.
These three incidents, and some others as well, made him famous in his country and in continental Europe. Up until now, his books had been written anonymously. At this point, he claimed authorship of the books.
In the time that followed those incidents, he published some more theological works. One work dealt with the nature of God and another dealt with the nature of free will and suffering. During this period, he wrote many works.
Charges of heresy
Emanuel published his works in Latin, outside of Sweden. He was worried that he might run afoul of the teachings of the Lutheran state church and be charged with heresy. Although he was never charged with heresy, two of his followers were charged with it in 1769 after publishing some material about his ideas. During the trial, his theological works also came under question. In 1770, it was declared that his books contained errors of doctrine but not heresy. His books became banned.
Partly in reaction to the news of these charges, he began writing True Christianity. This included a framework for the new church that he believed would develop.
He expressed no desire to be held as a prophet or to be the founder of a new religious movement. He merely thought that humanity would experience a shift in the way that it experiences and practices religion. In his various works, he describes five ages in mankind's spiritual history. The first age is when human beings were most in tune with God. Over time, people had grown to misinterpret the truths of scripture. In the fifth age, people will return to a clear understanding of the fundamental spiritual truths.
True Christianity was the last book that he published. Although the main text was printed in Amsterdam, he traveled to London to publish its supplement. The supplement was not printed while he was still alive. In 1771, he was in London and suffered a stroke. Although he somewhat recovered, he had a sense that he would not live much longer. In February, in response to a letter that suggested a meeting in six months, he responded that it would be impossible. He said that he knew that he would die on the twenty-ninth of the next month. He was correct. Emanuel died on March 29, 1772 at the age of 84.
The Veracity of Swedenborg's Claims
His transition from scientist to mystic has fascinated many people. His biographers have been both favorable and critical. Some propose that he didn't receive any true revelations. They claim that his sources were his father and other figures in the history of thought, such as Plotinus.