Swedenborg, Emanuel (1688-1772)
Swedish scientist, theosophist, and mystic, a pioneer in both scientific, religious and spiritual thought.
For most of his life Swedenborg pursued a conventional, albeit brilliant, career. Educated at Uppsala University he first became a natural scientist and official with the Swedish Royal College of mines (1710-45), concentrating on research and theory. His foremost scientific writing is 'Opera Philosophica et Mineralia' (Philosophical and Mineralogical Works, three volumes, 1734), a unique combination of metaphysics, cosmology, and science.
A first-rate scientific theorist and inventor, Swedenborg, in some of his insights, anticipated scientific progress by more than a century. Visited by a mystic illumination in 1745, Swedenborg claimed a direct vision of a spiritual world underlying the natural sphere. He began having dreams, ecstatic visions, trances and mystical illusions in which he communicated with Jesus Christ and God and was granted a view of the order of the universe that was radically different from the teachings of the Christian church.
Swedenborg resigned his job to concentrate full-time on his ecstatic visions and transcribing the knowledge imparted to him from the spiritual world. His voluminous works from this period are presented as divinely revealed biblical interpretations. In his system, best reflected in 'Divine Love and Wisdom' (1763), Swedenborg conceived of three spheres: divine mind, spiritual world, and natural world. Each corresponds to a degree of being in God and in humankind: love, wisdom, and use (end, cause, and effect). Through devotion to each degree, unification with it takes place and a person obtains his or her destiny, which is union with creator and creation.
Unlike many mystics, Swedenborg proposed an approach to spiritual reality and God through, rather than in rejection of, material nature. His 12-volume compendium 'The Heavenly Arcana' (1747-56) represents a unique synthesis between modern science and religion. In response to a vision of the 'last judgment' and the 'return of Christ', Swedenborg proclaimed the advent of the New Church, an idea that found social expression in the Swedenborgian societies and in the foundation of the Church Of The New Jerusalem in England in 1778, and in the United States in 1792. Many of his views were adopted by 19th century spiritualism and many of his ideas were also disseminated in the works of writers and poets such as William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Henry James.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Ephraim, Chambers, Cyclopaedia (An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences), Rivington et al Straham (1778).
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