Emanuel swedenborg (1688–1772)

Emanuel Swedenborg was perhaps the last of the Renaissance men—he was fluent in nine languages, wrote 150 works in 17 sciences, was expert in numerous crafts, and was a musician, a politician, and an inventor with dozens of major contributions attributed to his name. When his name is recalled today, it is usually as a Swedish mystic and medium who courted angels and cursed demons. Swedenborg claimed daily communications with the inhabitants of the unseen world, and his manifestations of remarkable psychic phenomena are well documented.

Emanuel Swedberg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 29, 1688. His father was a professor of theology at the University of Upsala, who later became the Lutheran Bishop of Scara in spite of certain opinions which appeared to challenge orthodox religious views. Emanuel completed his university education at Upsala in 1710, then traveled abroad in England, Holland, France, and Germany. In 1715, he returned to Upsala and gained a solid reputation as an engineer, leading to his appointment by Charles XII to the Swedish Board of Mines in 1716. In addition to his engineering duties, Emanuel published numerous works on mathematics, as well as mechanical engineering. Shortly thereafter, he was elevated to the rank of nobility by Queen Ulrica, and changed his name to Swedenborg.

As he sat in the House of Nobles, Swedenborg was much admired for his political views. Some of his opinions were a bit unsettling to his royal benefactors, however, for Swedenborg was openly in favor of a democratic form of government. Hardly content to pontificate in the House of Nobles, he published works on the nature of the universe, as well as papers on geology, physics, anatomy, zoology, and astronomy which were decidedly ahead of their time. In 1734, he published Prodomus Philosophia Ratiocinatrio de Infinite, which explores the relationship of the finite to the infinite and of the soul to the body. In spite of his mastery of the material sciences and mechanical engineering, it was becoming obvious to all his readers that Swedenborg's concept of the supreme effort of humankind was an intense study of the spiritual and the divine.

In 1743, when he was 56, Swedenborg had a vision in which he believed that "Our Lord" initiated him into the deeper spiritual meaning of the scriptures. The Bible was the word of God, he was told, but its true meaning differed greatly from its more apparent teachings. Only Swedenborg, with the help of ministering angels, could translate the actual message of scripture. After a series of dreams and visions, Swedenborg abandoned his life of politics and science to spend all of his considerable energy delving into the mysteries of the spiritual world. He immediately resigned all of his appointments and retired at half his pension. Not only had God revealed himself and the true spiritual essence of the scriptures to him, but Swedenborg felt that God wanted him to develop a new church. Swedenborg said that he could hear the conversations of angelic beings and could even participate in such otherworldly discussions. In time, he was given visions of both heaven and hell, and he developed the habit of lying in trance for several days and nights. His arguments with the evil spirits, the fallen angels, terrified his servants, but the gentle conversations with the benign angelic beings soothed their fears.

In 1759, Swedenborg had the vision of the great fire at Stockholm, which has been recorded as one of the first completely documented cases of clairvoyance in history and which has become well known throughout the Western world. In September, at about four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, Swedenborg arrived in Gotenburg, Sweden, from England, and was invited by a friend to spend some time at his house before returning to his home in Stockholm. While there, Swedenborg became restless and went outside for about two hours. When he came back inside, he informed his host and other guests that a terrible fire had just broken out in Stockholm (which was about 300 miles from Gotenburg) and that it was spreading rapidly. His friends did not know how to respond to such news, for they had no idea how Swedenborg could possibly know that such a dreadful conflagration was occurring at such a distance away.

Swedenborg remained agitated and restless and went outside often that day, only to return with additional dire news, as if he were somehow viewing the disaster as it occurred. Alarmed, he told the company that the house of a friend was already in ashes and that the fire was fast approaching his own home. At eight o'clock in the evening, he came back inside to announce joyfully that the awful fire had been extinguished—and that it had been stopped just three doors away from his house.

By Sunday morning, word had spread of Swedenborg's remarkable vision, and he was summoned to the governor, who questioned him about the disaster. The seer described the fire precisely, telling exactly how it had begun and precisely how it had at last been squelched. On Monday evening, a messenger dispatched by the Board of Trade during the time of the fire arrived in Gotenburg. In letters the courier had brought with him, the fire was described exactly as stated by Swedenborg, and the next morning the news was further confirmed by messages brought to the governor by royal courier. As the seer had proclaimed, the fire had been extinguished at exactly eight o'clock in the evening.

Swedenborg's conversations with the angels and spirits of the dead had informed him that humans possess two 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 from God into the human spirit was perfect, but the

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).
intervention of evil and the sins of humankind itself had interrupted this once-perfect communion. The purpose of religion is to accomplish good and to establish a connection between God and the human spirit. Swedenborg came to recognize that even though he had become an apostle of God for whom no mysteries were hidden, it was not necessary for him to form a new church. All sincere members of all existing religious systems were connected as one in a spiritual sense. In spite of this apparent change of focus, Swedenborgianism did become a religion, with churches established in England in 1778 and in the United States in 1792.

Swedenborg believed strongly in what he termed the Doctrine of Correspondence: that everything in the visible, material world has a counterpart in the unseen, nonmaterial world. To those who questioned the validity of his journeys and conversations in the spiritual world, Swedenborg responded firmly that his observations of these other dimensions had been recorded as strictly as any man of science among his detractors. It had been given to him, as a scientist and as a man of spirit, to be able to reach into two worlds—one of spirit, the other of matter.

From the time he was 55 until his death, Swedenborg spoke to spirits of the deceased and to angelic beings. According to his constant dialogues with such entities, he said that the spirit world was comprised of a number of concentric spheres, each with its own density and inhabitants. The existence of the spirits was quite similar to that of Earth, with houses, trees, parks, schools, and so forth. Those who died of disease or old age regained their youth and health in the spirit world. Everyone who arrived on those ethereal planes after death rested for a few days before regaining full consciousness. Because on Earth it takes a man and a woman to form a complete human unit, marriage continues to exist as a spiritual union on the other side. There is no such thing as hell or eternal punishment. Those spirits who find themselves in a hellish place after death can evolve toward a higher spiritual plane.

In spite of it being granted to him "to be constantly and uninterruptedly in company with spirits and angels," Swedenborg did issue a caution in regard to receiving counsel from just any spirit that might manifest with an alleged personal message. "When spirits begin to speak," he wrote in Miscellaneous Theological Works (1996), "care should be taken not to believe them, for nearly everything they say is made up by them.…They love to feign. Whatever be the topic spoken of, they think they know it, and if man listens and believes, they insist, and in various ways deceive and seduce."

From 1747 onward, Swedenborg lived at various times in Stockholm, Holland, and London, where he died on March 29, 1772. He was first buried in the Swedish Church in Prince's Square, then, later, at the request of the Swedish government, his body was sent to Stockholm for reinterment.

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