Swedenborg, Emanuel

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Swedenborg, Emanuel

Emanuel Swedenborg (swēd´ənbôrg; āmä´nōōĕl svā´dənbōrk´), 1688–1772, Swedish scientist, religious teacher, and mystic. His religious system, sometimes called Swedenborgianism, is largely incorporated in the Church of the New Jerusalem, founded some years after his death. His father was Bishop Swedberg, professor at Uppsala Univ. The name became Swedenborg when the family was ennobled (1719). Emanuel traveled extensively and was made (1716) assessor of the Royal College of Mines; his engineering skill made him widely known. He took active part in the proceedings of the house of nobles, where he showed himself an ardent reformer. A series of scientific works by him began to appear in 1734. The first, Principia, was an attempt to trace the system of the world philosophically. He studied almost every field of scientific investigation and wrote copiously, anticipating in many instances later discoveries and inventions. His studies of man in works on the animal kingdom, the human brain, and psychology were published before 1747, when he resigned his post and gave himself to the contemplation of spiritual matters, especially to the work of making clear to mankind the true inner doctrines of the divine Word as he claimed that they were revealed to him by direct insight into the spiritual world after "heaven was opened" to him in 1745. Visions and communication with spirits and angels helped prepare him to set forth the teachings of what he termed the New Church, the inauguration of which he believed to have taken place in 1757 with the second coming of Christ. He claimed to have received from the Lord himself the true sense of the Scriptures. His expositions of Genesis and Exodus were published as Arcana Coelestia (1749–56). Of the many works that followed, a number have been published in English, among them Heaven and Hell; Divine Love and Wisdom; True Christian Religion, stating fully his system of doctrine; and the Apocalypse Revealed. His writings have been translated into numerous other languages. It was not Swedenborg's intention to establish a new sect. In his mind the New Church might include members of any Christian churches. The latter part of his life he spent partly in London, partly in Amsterdam and Stockholm. In 1810 a society was founded for publishing Swedenborg's works in English. In Stockholm lithographed facsimiles of his manuscripts were issued in 1869–70, and an 18-volume edition of his writings was published between 1901 and 1916.

See R. F. Tafel, ed., Documents Concerning Swedenborg (1857–77); biographies by G. Trobridge (4th ed. 1968) and C. S. Sigstedt (1971); studies by H. A. Keller (1927, repr. 1972), I. Jonsson (tr. 1971), and R. Larsen et al., ed. (1988).

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