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Who was Emanuel Swedenborg?

Born: 1688 (in Sweden)
Died: 1772 (in London aged 84)
Nationality: Swedish
Occupations: Scientist/Engineer, anatomist, philosopher, theologian, mystic
IQ: 205+ beyond measurable genius – Berkeley University of California

Emanuel Swedenborg is a difficult man to describe, partly because his life was so unusual, varied and full, but also because much of it may be viewed by many of us as verging on fantasy; yet his character and achievements are well documented as being sound and true. His writings are vast. There are many biographies on Swedenborg which can be accessed on the internet.

Swedenborg was born as Emanuel Svedberg in Stockholm in 1688, His name was later changed to Swedenborg because his family was ennobled by the Monarchy. He attended university in Upsala in Sweden and soon afterwards took up residence in London and parts of Europe in order to widen his learning. He became an ‘Assessor’ to the Swedish Board of Mines and continually improved the mining processes upon which Sweden’s economy was so dependant. In his fifties, he began to have visions and was convinced by certain events in his life that the Lord wanted him to write the theology of the New Church. So he retired from the Board of Mines in order to write theology full time.  This he did for around thirty years until his death.

Leading up to his ‘conversion’, he determined to find the ‘seat’ of the human soul and so he began by understanding the human body and studied anatomy at very great depth, using all the knowledge of anatomy then in existence and taking it further. Around this time he also expanded current knowledge of philosophy and effectively invented psychology. From all this he came up with a philosophical explanation of the nature, origin and seat of the soul. We may get a hint of the quality of Swedenborg’s thinking from a comment on his work on the soul from Dr Spurgin, a former President of the Royal College of Physicians who declared it to be: “a production unparalleled in the whole compass of human philosophy; ..” The famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge referred to it also in terms of the highest praise. But Swedenborg wasn’t happy with it and continued to develop his philosophy of the soul as he gleaned more information from his visits to the spiritual worlds.

Swedenborg was clearly one of the greatest geniuses in history. His mind was engaged in religious, mystical and spiritual things as well as excelling in all the known academic subjects of his time, including mathematics, physics, metallurgy and chemistry, engineering, philosophy and anatomy. His leanings were always directed towards the ‘practical’; to what use all his efforts could be put for the temporal and eternal benefit of mankind. He was proficient in most of the European languages and also Hebrew, Greek and Latin. In the latter part of his life he was ‘tasked’ (he says by the Lord Himself) to write a completely rational Christian theology. His whole life’s work had led up to this, and a trail of books running through his whole adult lifetime – scientific, philosophical, psychological and religious – culminated in his final work “The True Christian Religion” which he completed only months before his death in 1772. Swedenborg’s rational theology is entirely comprehensive and in it, apparent inconsistencies in the Bible are explained.

His works integrate religion, philosophy, psychology and science so that they become inseparable disciplines which are completely dependent upon one another. On this basis he explained a completely rational Christian religion as well as describing how all religions are valid and relate to each other.

This integration is made possible by the “Science of Correspondences” which was – according to Swedenborg – the chief education of the ancient peoples of this Earth; going back perhaps many tens of thousands of years; it was almost totally lost by the time the Lord incarnated as Jesus Christ. Its last remnants are hinted at by the Wise Men who attended Jesus with three gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh which he says represent a good heart, a good understanding and good works from these: a good heart, a good head, and a good hand. This science was/is based upon the belief that every natural object which exists and process which occurs in this material world has its origin in a spiritual cause in the eternal world of spirit. One of the simplest examples of this is that light represents or corresponds to wisdom and heat to love. so that the spiritual cause of the material sun in our sky, which gives out heat and light, is the spiritual sun in the spiritual world which gives out Love and Wisdom, or what is the same ‘Lifebecause the Lord God is within or behind the spiritual sun.


In order to encourage you to further investigate Swedenborg and the New Church, here follows a number of quotations from famous people about Swedenborg and his work; to give a sense of the breadth of appreciation there is around the world for his work. These are well documented amongst the many biographies which exist both in book form and in fragments on the internet:

Helen Keller(1880-1968) American Author
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“I had been told by narrow people that all who were not Christians would be punished, and naturally my soul revolted, since I knew of wonderful men who had lived and died for truth as they saw it in the pagan lands. …. But in Heaven and Hell [by Emanuel Swedenborg] I found that "Jesus" stands for Divine Good, Good wrought into deeds, and "Christ" Divine Truth, sending forth new thought, new life and joy into the minds of men; therefore no one who believes in God and lives right is ever condemned." …. So I grew to womanhood... I took more and more to the New Church doctrines as my religion. No one encouraged me in this choice, and I cannot explain it any more than anyone else. I can only say that the Word of God freed from the blots and stains of barbarous creeds has been at once the joy and good of my life…" … ”Swedenborg was an eye among the blind, an ear among the deaf …. one of the noblest champions true Christianity has ever known.” …. "Swedenborg’s message is like the rock smitten by Moses, yielding sweet streams of healing water, even an abundance of truths for those who hunger and thirst in their pilgrimage through an age of materialism and selfishness. The doctrines set forth by Swedenborg bring men by a wondrous way to God’s city of light. I have walked through its sunlit ways of truth, I have drunk of its sweet waters of knowledge, and the eyes of my spirit have been opened, so that I know the joy of vision which conquers darkness and circles heaven."  …. “Were I but capable of interpreting to others one-half of the stimulating thoughts and noble sentiments that are buried in Swedenborg’s writings, I should help them more than I am ever likely to in any other way. It would be such a joy to me if I might be the instrument of bringing Swedenborg to a world that is spiritually deaf and blind.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson(1803-1882) American Writer
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“The most remarkable step in the religious history of recent ages is that made by the genius of Swedenborg. … One of the mastodons of literature, he is not to be measured by whole colleges of ordinary scholars. His stalwart presence would flutter the gowns of a university. Our books are false by being fragmentary...but Swedenborg is systematic and respective of the world in every sentence. All the means are orderly given; his faculties work with astronomic punctuality, and this admirable writing is pure from all pertness or egotism.”
Henry James Sr(1811-1882) American Author
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“Emanuel Swedenborg had the sanest and most far-reaching intellect this age has ever known…”
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) President of the United States
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“In a world in which the voice of conscience seems too often silent and weak, is need for spiritual leadership of which Swedenborg is a particular example.”
Arnold Schoenberg(1874-1951) German Composer
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“The unity of musical space requires an absolute and uniform perception. In this area, as in the heavens described by Swedenborg, there are neither absolute depths nor left, right, forward or backward.”
Anton von Webern(1883-1945) German Composer
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In a letter to Arnold Schoenberg in 1913 Von Webern wrote: “I am now reading Swedenborg. It's breathtaking, exorbitant. I was expecting something great, but this is even more!”
William Butler Yeats(1865-1939) Irish Poet
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“It was indeed Swedenborg who affirmed for the modern world, as against the abstract reasoning of the learned, the doctrine and practice of the desolate places, of shepherds and midwives, and discovered a world of spirits where there was a scenery like that of the earth, human forms, grotesque or beautiful, senses that knew pleasure and pain, marriage and war, all that could be painted upon canvas or put into stories.”

A Brief List of ‘THEOLOGICAL’ Swedenborg Books

  • Heavenly Secrets (or Arcana Caelestia)
  • The White Horse
  • Divine Love and Wisdom
  • Divine Providence
  • Heaven and Hell
  • The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Teachings
  • Teachings on The Lord
  • Teachings on Sacred Scripture
  • Teachings on Faith
  • Teachings on Life
  • Charity
  • Apocalypse Revealed
  • Conjugial Love
  • The True Christian Religion