Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Early in his life, Emanuel Swedenborg established a lasting reputation as a scientist in many scientific fields, including physics, astronomy, mathematics, engineering, and human anatomy. His research in several of these fields culminated in important publications that showed him well in advance of his time. His work in anatomy, for example, anticipated some of the later theories of physiology, including those involving the functions of the ductless glands.
With respect to his later writings in religion and theosophy, Swedenborg’s reputation is a mixed one. Between 1743 and 1745 he suffered a mental and religious crisis that changed his life and his work. During the crisis, according to his own report, he underwent mystical experiences in which he believed he was given access to the spiritual world. He saw visions of that world, heard and took part in celestial conversations, and received divine instruction. In 1745, during a third great spiritual experience, Swedenborg reported having witnessed the second advent of Christ and having been instructed to establish a “New Church.” From his visions and the instructions he purportedly received grew Swedenborg’s theosophical writings, for which he used Latin. Although he wrote voluminously on his doctrines, Swedenborg did not found a sect, for he believed that members of any church could follow his doctrines. Later his followers did constitute the Church of the New Jerusalem, or New Church.
Like all theosophical writings, those of Swedenborg depend for their importance on how seriously readers are willing to take the author’s reports of divine inspiration and revelation. If this is accepted, the writings assume tremendous, even cosmic, significance, for Swedenborg did not attempt to disguise or conceal the supernatural source of his doctrines. He stated as fact that his doctrines were the results of visions granted to him by God, and he calmly and routinely noted certain facts and points either overheard in conversations among the angels or witnessed during the times he was transported spiritually to heaven. He regarded his mission seriously, sincerely believing that he had been commanded to interpret the spiritual world and explicate the Bible’s true spiritual intent to humankind.
Swedenborg’s most important theosophical work is Divine Love and Wisdom, in which he stated his system most comprehensively and succinctly. The premises of his doctrine are that God is Man (or God-Man) and that God is Love. The conception of God as Man is held in all the heavens: because heaven as a whole and in every part resembles the human form,...
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Bergquist, Lars. Swedenborg’s Secret: The Meaning and Significance of the Word of God, the Life of the Angels, and Service to God, a Biography. London: Swedenborg Society, 2005. Comprehensive biography, placing Swedenborg’s life and work within the context of Sweden’s declining power in the eighteenth century. Explains Swedenborg’s core ideas, defining him as a founding father of modern spirituality and Western philosophy.
Dole, George F., ed. A View from Within: A Compendium of Swedenborg’s Theological Thought. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1985. A discursive and thorough survey of Swedenborg’s theology by a respected scholar. Well-organized and helpful to any serious student. For a more concise rendition of his biography and key concepts see A Scientist Explores Spirit: A Compact Biography of Emanuel Swedenborg, with Key Concepts of Swedenborg’s Theology. West Chester, Pa.: Swedenborg Foundation, 1992.
James, Henry. The Secret of Swedenborg: Being an Elucidation of His Doctrine of the Divine Natural Humanity. 1869. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1983. Still an essential guide to Swedenborg’s understanding of the multifold symbolic and allegorical relations between God’s love and human nature.
Lachman, Gary. Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg. London: Swedenborg Society, 2006. Examines Swedenborg’s ideas about mysticism, sexuality, and radicalism and their relationship to modern philosophy.
Morris, Herbert Newall. Flaxman, Blake, Coleridge, and Other Men of Genius Influenced by Swedenborg. Norwood, Pa.: Norwood, 1975. Aids in understanding various literary and cultural figures who were influenced by Swedenborg’s philosophy.
Swedenborg, Emanuel. Angelic Wisdom About Divine Love and About Divine Wisdom: Angelic Wisdom About Divine Providence. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester, Pa.: Swedenborg Foundation, 2003. In addition to the text of Swedenborg’s book, this edition contains an introduction and extensive annotations. Like many of the editions published by the Swedenborg Foundation and the Swedenborg Society, this one is authoritative.
Trobridge, George. Swedenborg: Life and Teaching. 5th ed., rev. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1992. Important biography of Swedenborg, with a lucid discussion of his belief system.