Swedenborg, Emanuel the founder of the New Jerusalem Church (q.v.), was born in Stockholm, Sweden, Jan. 29, 1688. His ancestry were not noble, but of high respectability among the miners of the great Stora-Kopparberg, in the province of Dalecarlia. His father, Jesper Swedberg (q.v.) or Svedberg, married Sarah, daughter of Albrecht Behm, assessor of the Royal Board of Mines. Emanuel was their second son and third child. After the elevation of the father to the prelacy as bishop of Skara, the name was changed and the family ennobled by queen Ulrica Eleonora in, 1719. Reared amid pious influences, the accounts we have of his earliest years seem to indicate a childhood of unusual thoughtfulness and susceptibility to religious impressions. He says of himself, "From my fourth to my tenth year my thoughts were constantly engrossed by reflecting on God, on salvation, and on the; spiritual affections of man. I often revealed things in my discourse which filled my parents with astonishment, and made them declare, at times, that certainly the angels spake through my mouth." Great care was bestowed on his education, which was acquired principally at the University of Upsala, where he took his degree of Ph.D. in 1709, in his twenty-second year. He then visited England, spending a year at Oxford and three more on the continent of Europe. At this time he was already a member of the Royal Society of Sciences of Upsala, corresponding with it while abroad. He sought everywhere the society of the learned, and commenced publishing works almost immediately on his return, some of them poetical, others mathematical. His mind took an industrious and practical turn, and for many years he was almost wholly employed in scientific pursuits, in mining, engineering, and physiological studies. His family connections were influential — one sister married Eric Benzelius, afterwards archbishop of Upsala; another was the wife of Lars Benzelstierna, governor of a province, whose son became a bishop; while other members of the family rose to ecclesiastical and civil dignities. He had a large circle of friends among the nobility and higher classes, and enjoyed abundant patronage at court. His rank entitled him to a seat in the Swedish Parliament, and about 1721 he was appointed by Charles XII assessor of the Board of Mines, which made him also a member of the Cabinet. In 1724 he was solicited to accept the professorship of mathematics in the University of Upsala, but preferred the position he already occupied.
Twelve years later we find him beginning to publish his philosophical works, first, Opera Philosophica. et Mineralia (Leipsic and Dresden, 3 vols. fol.), under the patronage of the duke of Brunswick; afterwards, his Principia: The Principles of Natural Things, or New Attempts at a Philosophical Explanation of the Phenomena of the Elementary World: — then came Outlines of a Philosophical Argument on the Infinite, and the Final Cause of Creation, and on the Intercourse between the Soul and the Body: — followed, a few years later, by the Economy of the Animal Kingdom (Amsterdam, 2 vols. 4to); and the Animal Kingdom (vol. 1, at the Hague; vol.. 2, Lond. 1745). There were many other tracts, essays, and volumes of minor importance, his last work of this nature being the Worship and Love of God. These works are generally acknowledged as belonging to the highest order of philosophical thought. His declared object in all his investigations was to behold the wisdom and goodness of the Creator in all his works; giving his life to the discovery of truths, determined to rise through their different degrees to those of the highest order, for the sake of doing something useful to mankind and advancing the best interests of society. The accounts show him to have been at this period a man of solid virtue, piety, and decorum. These are the "rules of life" which he wrote down and preserved for his own guidance:
1. Often to read and meditate on the Word of God.
2. To submit everything to the will of Divine Providence.
3. To observe in everything a propriety of behaviors and always to keeps the conscience clear.
4. To discharge with fidelity the functions of my employment and the duties of my office, and to render myself in all things useful to society. He was a member of the principal scientific and philosophical societies of Northern Europe.
In 1745, at the age of fifty-seven in the full maturity of his powers, in the enjoyment of honorable station, and of an enviable reputation at home and abroad for worth, learning, and extraordinary capacity he ceased from his other labors and began to devote himself to theology, to the promulgation of the doctrines of the New Jerusalem Church. Having been, as he declared, called by the Lord to be the messenger of a New Dispensation of Heavenly and Divine Truth, he was no longer at liberty to pursue his former courses of occupation and study, but thenceforward applied himself, with all the diligence of his character, to the duties of his new office. The following are some of his own words with respect to this "call" and mission, written to Rev. Dr. Hartley, rector of Winwick, England, in reply to inquiries. After speaking of the circumstances of his previous career, he continues, "But I regard all that I have mentioned as matters respectively of little moment; for, what far exceeds them, I have been called to a holy office by the Lord himself, who most graciously manifested himself in person to me, his servant, in the year 1743, when he opened my sight to the view of the spiritual world, and granted me the privilege of conversing with spirits and angels, which I enjoy to this day. From that time I began to print and to publish various arcana that have been seen by me or revealed to me as, respecting heaven and hell, the state of man after death, the true worship of God, the spiritual sense of the Word, with many other most important matters conducive to salvation and true wisdom.' The only reason of my later journeys to foreign countries has been the desire of being useful, by making known the arcana entrusted to me." At another time, late in life, he writes, to the landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, "The Lord, our Savior, had foretold that he would come again into the world, and that he would establish there a new Church. He has given this prediction in the Apocalypse (Re 21; Re 22), and also in several places in the evangelists. But, as he cannot come into the world again in person, it was necessary that he should do it by means of a man, who should not only receive the doctrine of this new Church in his understanding, but also publish it by printing; and so the Lord had prepared me for this office from my infancy; he has manifested himself in person before me, his servant, and sent me to fill it. This took place in the year 1743. He afterwards opened the sight of my spirit, and thus introduced me into the spiritual world, and granted me to see the heavens and many of their wonders, and also the hells, and to speak with angels and spirits, and this continually for twenty-seven years. I declare, in all truth, that such is the fact. This favor of the Lord in regard to me has only taken place for the sake of the new Church which I have mentioned above, the doctrine of which is contained in my writings." Except in this chief object and in the character of his writings, his habits of life underwent no change. His outward demeanor remained the same, with an increase of spiritual piety and prayerfulness, the same dignity and quiet urbanity of manner marked his intercourse with others, the same solid sense and enlightened intelligence characterized his conversation. His intercourse with the best society of the realm and the most eminent men of his time was uninterrupted. He retained his seat in the Swedish Parliament, and became more prominent in State affairs than he had ever been before.
Swedenborg's first theological publication, and his largest work, is the Arcana Calestia, or Heavenly Mysteries, a commentary, in eight quarto volumes, on the book of Genesis, with a large part of Exodus; in which, with many other observations and doctrines, the text is unfolded as to what he calls its "'spiritual sense." The design seems to be to discover a Christian meaning and application in all things of the "law and the prophets;" the method pursued does not appear to be much unlike that of other Christian commentators, except in the extent to which the principles of symbolism are carried and the results arrived at. He maintains that such a secondary sense runs through all the books given by immediate divine dictation Law, Former Prophets, Later Prophets, and Psalms-and that these books are written according to a uniform law, called that of "correspondence," or the law of universal analogy between spiritual and natural things, which law it is one great object of his writings to unfold. His citations and comparison of Scripture texts are remarkably full and exhaustive.
From the time of his alleged "call," he wrote and published almost constantly until his death. The Arcana was finished in 1756. His succeeding works are, An Account of the Last Judgment, and the Destruction of Babylon.; showing that all the Predictions in the Apocalypse are at this Day Fulfilled: Being a Relation of Things Heard and Seen (Lond. 1758): — Concerning Heaven and its Wonders, and concerning Hell; from Things Heard and Seen (ibid. 1758): — The Four Leading Doctrines of the New Jerusalem, viz. Concerning the Lord, Sacred Scripture, Faith, and Life (Amster. 1763) Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom (ibid. 1763): — Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Providence (ibid. 1764): — The Apocalypse Revealed, wherein are Disclosed the Arcana there Foretold, which have hitherto Remained Concealed (ibid. 1766): The Apocalypse Explained according to the Spiritual Sense; in which are Revealed the Arcana which are there Predicted and have been hitherto Deeply Concealed (published after his death, in 5 vols. 8vo), a much larger and fuller work than the preceding: — The Delights of Wisdom concerning Conjugal Love; after which follow: — the Pleasures of Insanity concerning Scortatory Love (Amster. 1768). The True Christian Religion, containing the Universal Theology of the New Church, Foretold by the Lord in Daniel 7:13,14, and in Revelation 21:1, 2 (ibid. 1771), contains his body of divinity, and is divided into fourteen chapters, under appropriate heads. There are also a number of minor treatises and tracts. All these works were written originally in Latin, and were distributed by the author to the principal universities and seats of learning.
In addition to his philosophical acquirements, Swedenborg was learned also as a Hebrew and Greek scholar. He died in London, March 29,1772, maintaining to the last the truth of his alleged disclosures. He did not attempt to collect congregations, nor organize a church. For an account of the followers of his doctrines, SEE NEW JERUSALEM CHURCH. (W.B.H.)