Who Was Emanuel Swedenborg?
The Wayfarers Chapel is a National Monument to Emanuel Swedenborg
Emanuel Swedenborg was born in 1688 in Stockholm, Sweden, and died in 1772. He lived at the dawn of the “Age of Enlightenment” when Europeans were stressing the importance of scientific reason and rationality. He is celebrated as an accomplished scientist, engineer, philosopher, mystic, and theologian.
Swedenborg did not found a church or invent a religion. What was revealed to him through his spiritual experiences was an understanding of the nature of true religious life and life in general. His hope was to influence the clergy and religious people of his day to help deepen their understanding of Christian Theology. Swedenborg presented his theological ideas logically with examples from everyday life to prove the truth of his words, always asking his readers to judge for themselves. Enthusiastic readers of his works started reading circles which eventually led to the development of various “New Church” denominations around the world.
The Search For A Greater Fulfillment
A Leading Scientist
Young Emanuel was educated at the University of Uppsala where he demonstrated his rare gift in science and mathematics. Extensive publication established him by 1734 as one of Europe’s leading scientists in such diverse areas as mathematics, geology, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, astronomy, and anatomy. According to numerous authorities, many of Swedenborg’s insights in these fields anticipated revolutionary scientific discoveries and theories of our own time.
An Uncommon Man
Emanuel Swedenborg achieved success in three distinct careers as a scientist, statesman, and theologian. He also served as a member of the Swedish House of Nobles where he authored advanced monetary and fiscal policies.
Emerson called him “a colossal soul” and counted him as one of the “representative men” of the world such as Plato, Montaigne, Shakespeare, and Goethe. In addition, Swedenborg learned such crafts as bookbinding, watchmaking, lens grinding, carpentry, engraving, and drafting by taking up residence in the homes where the crafts had been perfected. His breadth of interests and prolific studies made him an exceptionally uncommon man.
Swedenborg’s all-consuming desire for scientific knowledge began to find a companion–a desire for religious understanding. He examined the relationship between the body and the soul, attempting to discover the nature of the spiritual being residing within human personality. After a profound spiritual experience in his mid-fifties, he devoted the rest of his life to writing about the nature of the spiritual world.
Swedenborg viewed God as an infinitely loving entity who is at the very center of our being. He viewed our time here on earth as continuous cycles of regeneration in which we grow and develop as spiritual beings. He read the Bible as having an inner spiritual meaning that tells the story of our lives here on earth that can be used to help us to learn and grow and serves as a guide for us in how to live our lives.
He held a strong conviction that life continues following the death of our physical body. He believed that at the time of our death, we transition into the spiritual world where we are enter into an eternity of growing fulfillment. The community that we enter into in the spiritual world is based upon the choices that we had made here on earth.
In preparation for his subsequent work, Swedenborg studied the Bible in its original languages. In reading his theological works his experience and training as a scientist is clear in not only his writing style but also his precision and attention to detail. He wrote volumes on numerous portions of the Bible and on other subjects of Christian theology. The latter part of his religious search, writing, and publishing was done in London where he died in 1772.
A Useful Life
The height, breadth, and depth of Swedenborg’s life and thought sweep the widest possible range of human life from our inner, mystical experiences to everyday lives of usefulness. From his writings, we find an inspiration to search for a greater fulfillment of our God-given potential through the cultivation of heightened awareness, holistic living, and rational intuitive knowledge. At the same time, Swedenborg’s theology reminding us of our duty to lead a useful life, doing practical things to meet our neighbors’ needs and striving to co-create God’s kingdom on earth.
Many well-known figures in history have been influenced by Swedenborg’s writings and ideas including:
Francis E. Abbot, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Honore de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Daniel Carter Beard, Henry Ward Beecher, Eric Benzelius, Hector Berlioz, Hon. John Bigelow, William Blake, Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac S. Britton, Phillips Brooks, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert, Luther Burbank, Claire Louise Burnham, Daniel Burnham, George Prescott Bush, Thomas Carlyle, Andrew Carnegie, Viscount Cecil, John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), Lydia Maria Child, Thomas Holley Chivers, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Calvin Coolidge, Marie Corelli, Dr. Frank Crane, Samuel Crompton, Charles A Dana, Lydia Fuller Dickinson, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry Drummond, Wilson van Dusen, Mary Baker Eddy, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Flaxman, Benjamin Franklin, Friedrich Froebel, Robert Frost, Margaret Fuller, Amelita Galli-Curci, Paul Gauguin, Henry George, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Dr. Wilfred T. Grenfell, Edgar A. Guest, Edward Everett Hale, Sir Martin Harvey, Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Heinrich Heine, Johann Herder, John Haynes Holmes, Walter M. Horton, Julia Ward Howe, William D. Howells, Elbert Hubbard, Victor Hugo, Harriot Kezia Hunt, Winfred Hyatt, George Inness, Henry James, William James, Henry James Jr., Joseph Jefferson, Sarah Orne Jewett, Carl Gustav Jung, Toyohiko Kagawa, Immanuel Kant, Helen Keller, Count Hermann Keyserling, Basil King, Sidney Lanier, Mary Lathbury, Johann Lavater, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Abraham Lincoln, Vachel Lindsay, Sir Oliver Lodge, Henry W. Longfellow, Malcolm Lowry, George MacDonald, J. Ramsay MacDonald, Maurice Maeterlinck, Edwin Markham, Frances Millet, Czeslaw Milosz, Oscar V de Lubicz Milosz, James Moffat, Dr. Raymond Moody, Sidney H. Morse, Anna Cora Mowat, John Muir, Ellen Spencer Mussey, Joseph Fort Newton, August Nordenskiöld, John Frederic Oberlin, Selma Ware Paine, Theodore Parker, Walter Pater, Coventry Patmore, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Charles Sanders Pierce, William Lyon Phelps, Sir Isaac Pitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Christopher Polhem, Hiram Powers, Alice Putnam, Howard Pyle, Sampson Reed, Frederick W. Robertson, George F. Root, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, Herbert Dingle, S. Sc., George Sand, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Garrett P. Servis, George Bernard Shaw, Ednah Silver, Sundar Singh, Jessie Willcox Smith, Mrs. E.D. Southworth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Rudolph Steiner, Robert Louis Stevenson, August Strindberg, DT Suzuki, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Frederick Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Augustus Tulk, Paul Valery, Bishop John H. Vincent, Carl Fredrik von Breda, Carl Bernhard Wadström, Alfred Russell Wallace, David A. Wasson, John Weiss, H.G. Wells, Walt Whitman, John Greenleaf Whittier, Canon Basil Wilberforce, William Wilberforce, James John Garth Wilkinson, Frances E. Willard, Lois Burnham Wilson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Samuel Woodworth, Thomas Wright, William Butler Yeats.
“All religion relates to life, and the life of religion is to do good”
~ Emanuel Swedenborg, The Doctrine of Life, §1
To read a more in-depth overview of Swedenborg’s professional life and influence, click here.