Emanuel Swedenborg Biography
SWEDENBORG, Swed. pron. svā'den-bŏryí, Emanuel (1688Ė1772). A Swedish scientist and theologian. He was born in Stockholm and died in London. He was educated at Upsala and traveled for four years in England, Holland, France, and Germany. On his return to Sweden he was appointed by Charles XII to an assessorship of mines. Swedenborg was ennobled in 1719, and the family name changed from Svedberg to Swedenborg. Swedenborg published short treatises on various topics in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, physics, and chemistry. He devoted himself for eleven years to the duties of his assessorship and to a systematic description of mining and smelting, and the construction of a theory of the origin of creation. The result appeared at Leipzig in 1734, in three massive folios, entitled Opera Philosophica et Mineralia, of which the first volume was called Principia. This was followed in the same year by a treatise on The Infinite, and the Final Cause of Creation; and the Mechanism of the Operation of the Soul and the Body, carrying the doctrine of the Principia into higher regions. Dissatisfied with his conclusions, he determined to track the soul to its inmost recesses in the body. His studies in human anatomy and physiology, with this end in view, appeared as Ćconomia Regni Animalis, in two volumes (1741), and as Regnum Animale, in three volumes, unfinished (1744Ė45).
At this point his course as scientist was arrested and he entered on his career as seer, by which he is known in history. After 1745 he professed to have had his spiritual senses opened. His recorded experience was unique in that he did not claim to have communication with spirits, as does modern spiritualism, nor to have visions merely, but he claimed to be himself consciously an inhabitant of the spiritual world as if he had died, and thence to be associating with the people of that world as one of them. In 1749 he made his first public appearance in his new character in the issue in London of the Arcana Cúlestia, completed in 1756 in eight quartos. It is an exposition of the internal, or spiritual, sense of Genesis and Exodus. Adam signifies the most ancient church, and the flood its dissolution; Noah, the ancient church, which, falling into idolatry, was superseded by the Jewish. The spiritual sense pervades the Scriptures, with the exception of Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles. By reason of its symbolism of the inward sense, the letter of Scripture is holy in every jot and tittle. The Jewish dispensation having reached its period, God appeared in Jesus Christ. He assumed human nature in its lowest condition in the Virgin, wrought it into conformity with himself, "glorified and made it divine." There is a Trinity, not of persons, but of divine essentials, consisting of the Father, or God as He is in Himself, and thus incomprehensible to man; the Son, or God as revealed to man in Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit, or divine operation thence. It is imaged in man by his soul, his body, and their operation. The Church which Christ established at his advent in the flesh came to an end in 1757. Then commenced a new dispensation and a new church, signified by the New Jerusalem in the Revelation, of which church the writings of Swedenborg contained the doctrines.
The distinctive principle of Swedenborgian theology, next to the doctrine of the divine humanity, is the doctrine of life. God alone lives. Creation is deadóman is dead; and their apparent life is the divine presence. God is everywhere the same. It fallaciously appears as if He were different in one man and in another. The difference is in the recipients; by one He is not received in the same degree as another. There is an inmost or highest degree or plane of manís reception of the divine life, called the celestial or love plane; there is a second or lower degree of receptivity, called the spiritual or wisdom plane, and there is a third, called the natural or plane of obedience. The life of evil is the perversion of divine life into disorderly forms. These degrees of manís reception of Godís life are entirely separate from each other and can never be commingled. They are related by correspondence, by which each lower degree derives its existence and its life from the plane above. The relation of correspondence is complete, there being nothing in a higher plane which is not represented by something corresponding to it in the plane below; and there is nothing in the lower plane which does not exist from some corresponding thing in the plane above; and all this to the most minute detail, even to the things on this earth. Earthly things beautiful and useful manifest spiritual good; and earthly things ugly and hurtful, spiritual evil. The Scriptures are written according to correspondences, and by the aid of that science their mysteries are unlocked. By it, too, the constitution of heaven and of hell is revealed. There are three heavens in which there live three orders of angels, the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial; they are three planes or degrees of manís receptivity of divine life described above. All angels were once men, and have lived on this or some other planet. They marry and live in societies, in cities and countries as in the world, in outer appearance differing only in the vast superiority and glory of these things there. But the similarity between the life of angels in heaven and that of men on earth is of the outer appearance only, while the differences between them are internal and radical; for it is not in degrees of outer perfection and glory that the life in heaven and the life on earth may be compared truly, but in their capacity to supply a field for the realization of the inner life of the soul. To the angels the images presented to their senses are the expressions of ideas and emotions which are by this means revealed to them; and so concerned are they in these meanings, that they are unconscious of the objects of their senses, or of their own bodily life, as such. To them their sense life therefore is made only a concrete spiritual life. There is no denominational favoritism with God; all in whom the love for God and man prevails in any degree whatever, irrespective of their church or religious connection, go to heaven after the death of their bodies. Between heaven and hell there is an intermediate state called the world of spirits, where all those who pass into the spiritual world are prepared for their final states. Hell is not merely a place of punishment for the sins done in the body, but is a provision of divine love, and the necessary state and condition of the unregenerated natural man. No one is sent there, but the unregenerated seek a place there of their own accord. Hell as a whole is called the devil, or Satan; there is no supreme individual bearing that name. There are three hells opposite the three heavens.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XXI (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 725-726.