Emanuel Swedenborg Biography

 

 Emanuel Swedenborg

"I bear true witness that the Lord has shown Himself in the presence of me, His servant, and sent me to perform this function. After this He opened the sight of my spirit, thus admitting me to the spiritual world, and allowing me to see the heavens and the hells, and also to talk with angels and spirits; and this I have now been doing for many years without a break. Equally I assert that from the first day of my calling I have not received any instruction concerning the doctrines of that [New Jerusalem] church from any angel, but only from the Lord, while I was reading the Word." --TCR 779

"It is to be held in general, that all things, which I have written in this book, are written, wholly from living experience from conversation with spirits and angels, from thought, like tacit speech, communicated [to me], also, I wrote when of the things insinuated by them who were then together, they experienced them to the fullest extent; and under their direction as to thoughts, writings, hand, so that everything which in these three books, and elsewhere is written, though occasionally incoherent, still pertains to experience, and everything in its manner [proceed] from spirits or angels; this is likewise directed by spirits next my head, for I have as often perceived their presence. - 1748, August 23." --Spiritual Diary 2894

 

Birth: January 29, 1688 in Stockholm, Sweden

Death: March 29, 1772 in London, England

 

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY

Swedish seer. He was trained as a scientist and became the country's leading expert in mining and metallurgy. He was also a military engineer, learned astronomer, reputed physicist, zoologist, anatomist, financier, political economist, and biblical student.

He was born January 29, 1688, at Stockholm, son of a professor of theology at Upsala, afterward bishop of Scara. Swedenborg graduated from Upsala University in 1710 and then traveled in England, Holland, France, and Germany, studying natural philosophy. He studied and was influenced by the work of the most famous mathematicians and physicians--Sir Isaac Newton, Flamsteed, Halley, and De Lahire. He made sketches of inventions as varied as a flying machine, a submarine, a rapid-fire gun, an air pump, and a fire engine. He wrote many poems in Latin, and when after five years of study he returned to Sweden, he was appointed assessor of the Royal College of Mines.

Originally known as Swedberg, nobility was bestowed upon him by Queen Ulrica, and he changed his name to Swedenborg. He sat in the House of Nobles, his political utterances having great weight, but his tendencies were distinctly democratic. He busied himself privately in scientific gropings for the explanation of the universe. He published at least two works dealing with cosmology remembered primarily as foreshadowing many scientific facts and ventures of the future. His theories regarding light, cosmic atoms, geology, and physics were distinctly ahead of their time.

In 1734 he published Prodomus Philosophie Ratiocinantrio de Infinite, about the relation of the finite to the infinite and of the soul to the body. In this work he sought to establish a definite connection between the two as a means of overcoming the difficulty of their relationship. The spiritual and the divine appeared to him as the supreme study of man. He searched the countries of Europe for the most eminent teachers and the best books dealing with anatomy, for he considered that science the locus of the germ of the knowledge of soul and spirit. Through his anatomical studies he anticipated certain modern views dealing with the functions of the brain.

At the height of his scientific career he resigned his office to devote the rest of his life to spreading spiritual enlightenment, for which he believed himself to have been specially selected by God. He showed signs of psychic power as a child. Even at an early age he could cease breathing for a considerable period and freely enter an altered state of consciousness, possibly trance. In his book Dreams of a Spirit Seer philosopher Immanuel Kant narrates several paranormal experiences from Swedenborg's early life. He had gifts of clairvoyance. Kant also investigated and reported as authentic the story that in Gothenburg Swedenborg observed and reported a fire that was raging in Stockholm, 300 miles away.

Swedenborg's real illumination and intercourse with the spiritual world in visions and dreams began in April 1744. He claimed that in a waking state his consciousness wandered in the spirit world and conversed with its inhabitants as freely as with living men.

In later experiences he heard wonderful conversations and sensed the eyes of his spirit were so opened that he could see heavens and hells and converse with angels and spirits. He claimed that God revealed himself to him and told him that he had chosen him to unveil the spiritual sense of the whole Scriptures to man. From that moment, according to Swedenborg, he eschewed worldly knowledge and worked for spiritual ends alone. Through the next three decades, he lived in Sweden, Holland, and London.

After initially reviewing his knowledge of the Hebrew language, Swedenborg began his great works on the interpretation of the Scriptures, which were to dominate the rest of his life. A man of few wants, his life was simplicity itself, his food consisting for the most part of bread, milk, and coffee. He was in the habit of lying in a trance for days, and day and night seemed to have no distinction for him. He regularly conversed with angels in broad daylight, he said. At other times, his wrestlings with evil spirits so terrified his servants that they would seek refuge in the most distant part of the house.

Swedenborg speaks of the nature of his visions and communications with the angels and spirits in his book Heaven and Hell:

"Angels speak from the spiritual world, according to inward thought; from wisdom, their speech flows in a tranquil stream, gently and uninterruptedly--they speak only in vowels, the heavenly angels in A and O, the spiritual ones in E and I, for the vowels give tone to the speech, and by the tone the emotion is expressed; the interruptions, on the other hand, correspond with creations of the mind; therefore we prefer, if the subject is lofty, for instance of heaven or God, even in human speech, the vowels U and O, etc. Man, however, is united with heaven by means of the word, and forms thus the link between heaven and earth, between the divine and the natural.

"But when angels speak spiritually with me from heaven, they speak just as intelligently as the man by my side. But if they turn away from man, he hears nothing more whatever, even if they speak close to his ear. It is also remarkable that several angels can speak to a man; they send down a spirit inclined to man, and he thus hears them united.''

From his ongoing conversations with the angelic beings, he wrote a number of books. These may be divided into expository books, notably The Apocalypse Revealed, The Apocalypse Explained, and Arcana Celestia; books of spiritual philosophy, such as Intercourse between the Soul and the Body, Divine Providence and Divine Love and Wisdom; books dealing with the hierarchy of supernatural spheres, such as Heaven and Hell and The Last Judgment; and books outlining the teachings of the new church, such as The New Jerusalem, The True Christian Religion, and Canons of the New Church.

Of these works, his Divine Love and Wisdom most succinctly presents his entire religious system. God he regarded as the divine man. Spiritually God consists of infinite love, and corporeally of infinite wisdom. From the divine love, all things draw nourishment. The sun, as we know it, is merely a microcosm of a spiritual sun emanating from the creator. This spiritual sun is the source of nature; but whereas the first is alive, the second is inanimate. There is no connection between the two worlds of nature and spirit unless in similarity of construction. The causes of all things exist in the spiritual sphere and their effects in the natural sphere, and the purpose of all creation is that man may become the image of his creator, and of the cosmos as a whole.

Swedenborg believed that man possesses two vessels or receptacles for the containment of God--the will for divine love, and the understanding for divine wisdom. Before the Fall, the flow of these virtues into the human spirit was perfect, but through the intervention of the forces of evil, and the sins of man himself, it was interrupted. Seeking to restore the connection between himself and man, God came into the world as Man, for if he had ventured on Earth in his unveiled splendor, he would have destroyed the hells through which it was necessary for him to proceed to redeem man, and this he did not wish to do, merely to conquer them.

The unity of God is an essential of Swedenborgian theology, and Swedenborg thoroughly believed that God did not return to his own place without leaving behind him a visible representative of himself in the word of Scripture, which is an eternal tripartite incarnation--natural, spiritual, and celestial. Of this Swedenborg was the apostle. Nothing seemed hidden from him; he claimed to be aware of the appearance and conditions of other worlds, good and evil, heaven and hell, and of the planets. "The life of religion,'' he stated, "is to accomplish good. . . . The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of uses.''

Central to understanding his system is the doctrine of correspondences. There are two realms of created existence, the spiritual, which is real and substantial, and the physical, a mere reflection of the spiritual, according to this doctrine. Everything visible, Swedenborg argued, is the shadow of an appropriate spiritual reality. Between the two realms is an exact correspondence.

The work of explaining the correspondences, said Swedenborg, begins with the Scriptures; hence the prodigious amount of time he devoted to his voluminous Scripture commentaries.

Swedenborg died in London on March 29, 1772, at Prince's Square, in the parish of St. George's in East London, on the very day he had earlier predicted in a letter to Methodist leader John Wesley, who had sought an audience with him. In April 1908 his bones were removed, at the request of the Swedish government, for reburial in Stockholm.

Swedenborg wrote at a time when heretical ideas were taken seriously by state and church officials. To avoid any sanctions for his increasingly divergent ideas he initially published his works without his name. It was not until 1760, with the publication of the Treatise on Four Doctrines, that his authorship was acknowledged on the title page. Also, he wrote in Latin and argued that he was writing for the intelligentsia and church leadership and had no intention that his new approach would have a following until judged by his colleagues. Nevertheless, in his later years he found it convenient to reside outside his native land.

In England Swedenborg's ideas found some popular support, and beginning in the 1770s his major works were translated. The Church of the New Jerusalem was founded there in 1774, moving to the United States in 1792 soon after the Revolution.

 

Sources:

  Sigstedt, C. O. The Swedenborg Epic: The Life and Works of Emanuel Swedenborg. New York: Bookman Associates, 1952. Reprint, London: Swedenborg Society, 1981.

  Swedenborg, Emanuel. Arcana Coelestia. 12 vols. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1905-1910.
  ------. Heaven and Hell. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1979.
  ------. The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine. London: Swedenborg Society, 1938.
  ------. On the Divine Love and on the Divine Wisdom. London: Swedenborg Society, 1963.
  ------. The True Christian Religion. London: Swedenborg Society, 1950.
  Woofenden, William Ross. Swedenborg Researcher's Manual. Bryn Athyn, Penn.: Swedenborg Scientific Association, 1988.

 

   The above writeup was reproduced by permission from "Emanuel Swedenborg." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 5th ed. Edited by J. Gordon Melton, 2001.

 

Other key material is:

Tafel, Rudolph L., ed., Documents concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg (3 vols., 1875-1877).

Dole, George F., A scientist explores spirit: a compact biography of Emanuel Swedenborg with key concepts of Swedenborg's theology, New York; West Chester, Pa.: Swendenborg Foundation, 1992.

Keller, Helen, Light in my darkness, West Chester, Pa.: Chrysalis Books, 1994.

Spalding, John H., Introduction to Swedenborg's Religious Thought (1956).

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, Swedenborg: buddha of the North, West Chester, Pa.: Swedenborg Foundation, 1996.

  Toksvig, Signe, Emanuel Swedenborg, scientist and mystic, New York, N.Y.: Swedenborg Foundation, 1983.

Trobridge, George, Swedenborg: Life and Teaching (4th ed. 1968).

 

 

The Works of Emanuel Swedenborg

As seen on the Internet

NewCenturyEdition.org - The Latest Translations (3 of them)

HeavenlyDoctrines.org - The most complete set of translations

NewEarth.org - A smaller collection of translations

TheisticScience.org - Another small collection of translations

Swedenborg.org - A few .txt translation files

SwedenborgDigitalLibrary.org - A nice set of books on Swedenborg

Swedenborg Works and "Glossary" - Professor Leon James

NewChurch.org - Audio collection of sermons in downloads section

 

Biographies

The Swedenborg Epic by C. Sigstedt

Emanuel Swedenborg: Prophet, Seer, and Revelator by Bijhan Nasser-Faili

The Essential Swedenborg by Sig Synnestvedt [excerpt]

Swedenborg: A Biography by Jane K. Williams-Hogan

An introduction to his life and writings by George Dole

Swedenborg: A Herald of the New Age? by Jean-François Mayer

and a few more

 

Bibliographies

International translations (auf deutsch)

Swedenborg's works (lightly annotated)

 

Glossary

Words in Swedenborg by Frank Rose (.doc)