Emanuel Swedenborg: Scientist and Mystic

By Signe Toksvig | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Stories from Beyond

BY 1765, seventy-seven years old, Swedenborg was well under way with the formulation of that body of spiritual laws which is also known as a religion--no more original with him than with other mystics, but stamped of course with his personality and the circumstances that had formed him. This was to be the religion of the New Church or the New Jerusalem, not at all another dissenting sect but a set of "doctrines" or teachings that were meant to be cleansing and revivifying to all "churches"--all condensations of man's spiritual endeavors, which Swedenborg sometimes simply called "the church."

As he saw it, whenever "the church" became corrupt, it was largely because of overwhelmingly bad influences from the spirit world, and men's giving in to them. Then there had to be a "judgment" in the spirit world, not necessarily the last, though it was so called. There had been several such, Swedenborg said. After the one he insists he observed in 1757, he believed that man was much freer to think spiritually (he had after all seen the eighteenth century burst many orthodox bonds), and Swedenborg used the new freedom to come out openly against what now seemed to him the wicked doctrine of the vicarious atonement and the bewildering, faith-choking doctrine of the Trinity. He also attacked the Lutheran doctrine, as he saw it, of "faith" as sufficient for salvation. (If he called the Roman Catholics "Babylon" for what he considered their lust of dominion over men's souls, he called the Protestants "Philistia" for their "faith without works" and general self- righteousness, as well as other striking names.)

The English reception of the five books which Swedenborg had published in London in 1758, those drawn from the Arcana Celestia, had been discouraging. When he had his new books nearly ready for the press he went with them to Amsterdam, in 1762, left them with the printer, returned to Stockholm the same year, and went again to Amsterdam with more copy in 1763, 1 having, in the

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