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Emanuel Swedenborg

1688-1772. Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian. Born in Stockholm, he was the son of a minister who was later appointed bishop of Skara. Emanuel was a keen student who studied the classics and Cartesian philosophy at Uppsala and became interested in mathematics and natural sciences. In 1709 he went abroad to study languages and mechanics at London, Oxford, Amsterdam, and Paris. After his return to Sweden (1715), he was appointed an assessor of the royal Board of Mines, a post he held until 1747 when he resigned to study the Scriptures. In 1719 he was made a noble by Queen Ulrika Eleanora and assumed the name “Swedenborg.” He described his mining and engineering accomplishments in a large work, Opera Philosophica et Minerazia (3 vols., 1733), which explained the origin of the universe in a mechanical manner. Swedenborg abandoned the materialist view, however, and the next year he published A Philosophical Argument on the Infinite and Final Cause of Creaton, which followed the Neoplatonic teachings of the seventeenth-century Protestant mystics.

From this time he applied himself to discovering the nature of the soul and spirit by means of anatomical studies. For this purpose he studied at Paris, Venice, and Rome (1736-39) and published his results in the Economy of the Animal Kingdom (1739). Here he developed his doctrine of series and degrees which states that the soul must descend into matter by four degrees. Swedenborg experienced strange dreams and visions which increased in frequency after 1739. This led to a profound spiritual crisis (1743-45) relieved by a vision of Jesus Christ which he felt confirmed his interpretation of Christianity. Thereafter he spent the rest of his life expounding the ideas of the true Christian religion-in reality a Neoplatonic philosophy which admitted the historical Jesus Christ.

His first exegetical work was the Heavenly Secrets (8 vols., 1749-56), followed by many others, including The True Christian Religion (1771). In these works characterized by vivid descriptions of his experiences in the spiritual world, Swedenborg teaches the existence of spirits and angels, denies the Trinity and vicarious atonement, and describes God the invisible spaceless timeless One as manifesting himself on earth as Jesus Christ (the soul being the eternal Father, the body the son of Mary, and the Holy Spirit the action caused by the union of two). He held that man's spirit lives after death according to its earthly justification-good men gather in heaven, and the selfish seek their kind in hell. He also believed that the churches over the years had destroyed the original meaning of God's word and the Swedenborgian mission was to restore its primary sense. This message marked the transition in 1757 to a new age foretold in Scripture by the statements about the return of Messiah and the foundation of the New Jerusalem. Swedenborg did not try to win converts, however, but confined himself to publishing his revelations. His influence has been considerable, particularly on the Romantic movement and psychical science. In 1787 his religious followers organized into a group known as the New Church, or New Jerusalem Church.*

J.J.G. Hyde, A Bibliography of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg, Original and Translated (1906); M. Lamm, Swedenborg (1915); E. Benz, Emanuel Swedenborg: Naturforscher und Seher (1948); S. Toksvig, Emanuel Swedenborg: Scientist and Mystic (1948); C.S.L.O. Sigstedt, The Swedenborg Epic (1953); G. Trobridge, Swedenborg: Life and Teaching (4th ed., 1955).