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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Swedenborg, Emanuel

(1688-1772). Swedish scientist, philosopher and theologian, one of Sweden’s most learned and famous men. He was born in Stockholm on January 29, 1688, and was the second son of Jesberg Swedberg, a professor at Uppsala University who became bishop of Skara. The family changed its name to Swedenborg after it was elevated to the nobility in 1719. Emanuel was educated at Uppsala University. After graduating he traveled extensively and after returning to Sweden published a scientific periodical called Daedalus hyperboreus which was short-lived due to lack of funds. In 1716 King Charles of Sweden appointed Swedenborg Assessor Extraordinary to the Royal College of Mines and during the next thirty years he greatly improved his country’s metal mining industry.

In 1718 Swedenborg published the first Swedish language work on algebra and many other significant mathematical works followed. In 1732 he published his Opera philosophica et mineralia in three volumes and in this he showed great prescience, foreshadowing the discoveries of modern nuclear physics. Beginning in 1734, he published a series of scientific works, including studies of the animal kingdom, the human brain, and psychology, often anticipating later discoveries and inventions. However, in 1745 he experienced an expansion of consciousness in which he claimed “heaven was opened” to him and he resigned his royal post in 1747 to devote his time to spiritual matters.

It is to the field of theology that Swedenborg owes much of his lasting fame and some anecdotes suggest that he possessed clairvoyant powers. He is said to have seen the great fire of Stockholm when he was in Gothenburg. He rejected the Christian concept of the Trinity, considering it an impossibility. Just the same, he considered Jesus to be the vehicle of God, that is, that God came to the material world to liberate mankind from the thralldom of evil. He taught that all creation had its origin in divine love and wisdom and that the material world is a reflection of the archetypes in the spiritual world.

Swedenborg did not found a church, but after his death some followers founded the Church of New Jerusalem around 1784; although it remains of modest size, it has branches throughout the world, usually known as “The Swedenborgian Church.” His collection of writings have been translated into English, as well as numerous other languages, and include Heaven and Hell, Love and Wisdom, and True Christian Religion.

Although Helena P. Blavatsky held Swedenborg in high regard (CW XIV:444), she did ridicule his spirit visitants, “promenading in hats,” which, she suggests, were figments of his imagination (CW I:304). However, in her Secret Doctrine, she comments favorably on his “Vortical Theory,” quoting extensively from Clissold’s translation of Principia Rerum Naturalium, and commenting that his description “is Occultism pure and simple” (SD I:118 fn.).

P.S.H.

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