Emanuel Swedenborg the Mystic by Lewis Spence 1920
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Swedenborg, Emanuel, 1688-1772: One of the greatest mystics of all time, was born at Stockholm in Sweden on the 29th January. His father was a professor of theology at Upsala, and afterwards Bishop of Scara, and in his time was charged with possessing heterodox opinions. Swedenborg completed his education at the university of Upsala in 1710, after which he visited England, Holland, France and Germany. Five years later he returned to his native town, and devoted much time to the study of natural science and engineering, editing a paper entitled Daedalus hyperboreus which dealt chiefly with mechanical inventions. About 1716, Charles XII. appointed him to the Swedish Board of Mines. He appears at this time to have had many activities. He published various mathematical and mechanical works, and even took part in the siege of Friederickshall in an engineering capacity. Originally known as Swedberg, he was elevated to the rank of the nobility by Queen Ulrica and changed his name to Swedenborg. Sitting in the House of Nobles, his political utterances had great weight, but his tendencies were distinctly democratic. He busied himself privately in scientific gropings for the explanation of the universe, and published at least two works dealing with the origin of things which are of no great account, unless as foreshadowing many scientific facts and ventures of the future. Thus his theories regarding light, cosmic atoms, geology and physics, were distinctly in advance of his time, and had they been suitably disseminated could not but have influenced scientific Europe. He even sketched a flying-machine, and felt confident that although it was unsuitable to aerial navigation, if men of science applied themselves to the problem, it would speedily be solved. It was in 1734 that he published his Prodomus Philosophia Ratiocinantrio de Infinite which treats of the relation of the finite to the infinite and of the soul to the body. In this work he seeks to establish a definite connection between the two as a means of overcoming the difficulty of their relationship. The spiritual and the divine appear to him as the supreme study of man. He ransacked the countries of Europe in quest of the most eminent teachers and the best books dealing with anatomy, for he considered that in that science lay the germ of the knowledge of soul and spirit. Through his anatomical studies he anticipated certain modern views dealing with the functions of the brain, which are most remarkable.
About the age of fifty-five a profound change overtook the character of Swedenborg. Up to this time he had been a scientist, legislator, and man of affairs; but now his enquiries into the region of spiritual things were to divorce him entirely from practical matters. His introduction into the spiritual world, his illumination, was commenced by dreams and extraordinary visions. He heard wonderful conversations and felt impelled to found a new church. He says that the eyes of his spirit were so opened that he could see heavens and hells, and converse with angels and spirits: but all his doctrines relating to the New Church came directly from God alone, while he was reading the gospels. He claimed that God revealed Himself to him and told him that He had chosen him to unveil the spiritual sense of the whole scriptures to man. From that moment worldly knowledge was eschewed by Swedenborg and he worked for spiritual ends alone. He resigned his several appointments and retired upon half pay. Refreshing his knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, he commenced his great works on the interpretation of the scriptures. After the year 1747 he lived in Sweden, Holland and London, in which city he died on the 29th of March 1772. He was buried in the Swedish Church in Prince's Square, in the parish of St. George's in the East, and in April, 1908 his bones were removed, at the request of the Swedish government, to Stockholm.
There can be no question as to the intrinsic honesty of Swedenborg's mind and character. He was neither presumptuous nor overbearing as regards his doctrines, but gentle and reasonable. A man of few wants, his life was simplicity itself—his food consisting for the most part of bread, milk and coffee. He was in the habit of lying in a trance for days together, and day and night had no distinctions for him. His mighty wrestlings with evil spirits at times so terrified his servants, that they would seek the most distant part of the house in refuge. But again he would converse with benignant angels in broad daylight. We are badly hampered regarding first-hand evidence of his spiritual life and adventures—most of our knowledge being gleaned from other than original sources.
So far from attempting to found a new church, or otherwise tamper or interfere with existing religious systems, Swedenborg was of the opinion that the members of all churches could belong to his New Church in a spiritual sense. His works may be divided into: expository volumes, notably The Apocalypse Revealed, The Apocalypse Explained, and Arcana Celestia; books of spiritual philosophy, such as Intercourse between the Soul and the Body Divine Providence, and Divine Love and Wisdom; books dealing with the hierarchy of supernatural spheres such as Heaven and Hell and The Last Judgment; and those which are purely doctrinal, such as The New Jerusalem, The True Christian Religion, and Canons of the New Church. Of these his Divine Love and Wisdom is the volume which most succinctly presents his entire religious systems. God he regards as the Divine Man. Spiritually He consists of infinite love, and corporeally of infinite wisdom. From the divine love all things draw nourishment. The sun, as we know it, is merely a microcosm of a spiritual sun which emanates from the Creator. This spiritual sun is the source of love and knowledge, and the natural sun is the source of nature; but whereas the first is alive, the second is inanimate. There is no connection between the two worlds of nature and spirit unless in similarity of construction. Love, wisdom, use; or end, cause and effect, are the three infinite and uncreated degrees of being in God and man respectively. The causes of all things exist in the spiritual sphere and their effects in the natural sphere, and the end of all creation is that man may become the image of his Creator, and of the cosmos as a whole. This is to be effected by a love of the degrees above enumerated. Man possesses two vessels or receptacles for the containment of God—the Will for divine love, and the Understanding for divine wisdom. Before the Fall, the flow of these virtues into the human spirit was perfect, but through the intervention of the forces of evil, and the sins of man himself, it was much interrupted. Seeking to restore the connection between Himself and man, God came into the world as Man; for if He had ventured on earth in His unveiled splendour, he would have destroyed the hells through which he must proceed to redeem man, and this He did not wish to do, merely to conquer them. The unity of God is an essential of the Swedenborgian theology, and he thoroughly believes that God did not return to His own place without leaving behind him a visible representative of Himself in the word of scripture, which is an eternal incarnation, in a three-fold sense—natural, spiritual and celestial. Of this Swedenborg is the apostle; nothing was hidden from him; he was aware of the appearance and conditions of other worlds, good and evil, heaven and hell, and of the planets. "The life of religion," he says, "is to accomplish good." "The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of uses." One of the central ideas of his system is known as the Doctrine of Correspondences. Everything visible has belonging to it an appropriate spiritual reality. Regarding this Vaughan says: "The history of man is an acted parable; the universe, a temple covered with hieroglyphics. Behmen, from the light which flashes on certain exalted moments, imagines that he receives the key to these hidden significances—that he can interpret the Signatura Rerum. But he does not see spirits, or talk with angels. According to him, such communications would be less reliable than the intuition he enjoyed. Swedenborg takes opposite ground. 'What I relate,' he would say, 'comes from no such mere inward persuasion. I recount the things I have seen. I do not labour to recall and to express the manifestation made me in some moment of ecstatic exaltation. I write you down a plain statement of journeys and conversations in the spiritual world, which have made the greater part of my daily history for many years together. I take my stand upon experience. I have proceeded by observation and induction as strict as that of any man of science among you. Only it has been given me to enjoy an experience reaching into two worlds—that of spirit, as well as that of matter.'
"According to Swedenborg, all the mythology and the symbolisms of ancient times were so many refracted or fragmentary correspondences—relics of that better day when every outward object suggested to man's mind its appropriate divine truth. Such desultory and uncertain links between the seen and the unseen are so many imperfect attempts toward that harmony of the two worlds which he believed himself commissioned to reveal. The happy thoughts of the artist, the imaginative analogies of the poet, are exchanged with Swedenborg for an elaborate system. All the terms and objects in the natural and spiritual worlds are catalogued in pairs. This method appears so much formal pedantry. Our fancies will not work to order. The meaning and the life with which we continually inform outward objects—those suggestions from sight and sound, which make almost every man at times a poet—are our own creations, are determined by the mood of the hour, cannot be imposed from without, cannot be arranged like the nomenclature of a science. As regards the inner sense of scripture, at all events, Swedenborg introduces some such yoke. In that province, however, it is perhaps as well that those who are not satisfied with the obvious sense should find some restraint for their imagination, some method for their ingenuity, some guidance in a curiosity irresistible to a certain class of minds. If an objector say, 'I do not see why the ass should correspond to scientific truth, and the horse to intellectual truth,' Swedenborg will reply, 'This analogy rests on no fancy of mine, but on actual experience and observation in the spiritual world. I have always seen horses and asses present and circumstanced, when, and according as, those inward qualities were central.' But I do not believe that it was the design of Swedenborg rigidly to determine the relationships by which men are continually uniting the seen and unseen worlds. He probably conceived it his mission to disclose to men the divinely-ordered correspondences of scripture, the close relationship of man's several states of being, and to make mankind more fully aware that matter and spirit were associated, not only in the varying analogies of imagination, but by the deeper affinity of eternal law. In this way, he sought to impart an impulse rather than to prescribe a scheme. His consistent followers will acknowledge that had he lived to another age, and occupied a different social position, the forms under which the spiritual world presented itself in him would have been different. To a large extent, therefore, his Memorable Relations must be regarded as true for him only—for such a character, in such a day, though containing principles independent of personal peculiarity and local colouring. It would have been indeed inconsistent, had the Protestant who (as himself a Reformer) assayed to supply the defects and correct the errors of the Reformation—had he designed to prohibit all advance beyond his own position."
The style of Swedenborg is clear-cut and incisive. He is never overpowered by manifestations from the unseen. Whereas other mystics are seized by fear or joy by these and become incomprehensible, he is in his element, and when on the very pinnacles of ecstasy can observe the smallest details with a scientific eye. We know nowadays that a great many of his visions do not square with scientific probabilities. Thus those which detail his journeys among the planets and describe the flora and fauna, let us say, of Mars, can be totally disproved, as we are aware that such forms of life as he claims to have seen could not possibly exist upon that planet. The question arises: Did the vast amount of work accomplished by Swedenborg in the first half of his life lead to more or less serious mental derangement? There have been numerous cases of similar injury through similar causes. But the scientific exactness and clarity of his mind survived to the last. So far as he knew science he applied it admirably and with minute exactness to his system; but just as the science of Dante raises a smile, so we feel slightly intolerant of Swedenborg's scientific application to things spiritual. He was probably the only mystic with a real scientific training; others had been adepts in chemistry and kindred studies, but no mystic ever experienced such a long and arduous scientific apprenticeship as Swedenborg. It colours the whole of his system. It would be exceedingly difficult to say whether he was more naturally a mystic or a scientist. In the first part of his life we do not find him greatly exercised by spiritual affairs; and it is only when he had passed the meridian of human days that he seriously began to consider matters supernatural. The change to the life of a mystic, if not rapid was certainly not prolonged: what then caused it? We can only suspect that his whole tendency was essentially mystical from the first, and that he was a scientist by force of circumstance rather than because of any other reason. The spiritual was constantly simmering within his brain, but, as the world is ever with us, he found it difficult to throw off the superincumbent mass of affairs, which probably trammelled him for years. At length the fountains of his spirit welled up so fiercely that they could no longer be kept back; and throwing aside his scientific oars, he leaped into the spiritual ocean which afterwards speedily engulfed him. There is perhaps no analogy to be found to his case in the biography of science. We cannot altogether unveil the springs of the man's spirituality, but we know that they existed deep down in him. It has often been said that he was a mere visionary, and not a mystic, in the proper sense of the word; but the terms of his philosophy dispose of this contention; although in many ways it does not square with the generally-accepted doctrines of mysticism, it is undoubtedly one of the most striking and pregnant contributions to it. He is the apostle of the divine humanity, and the "Grand Man" is with him the beginning and end of the creative purpose. The originality of his system is marked, and the detail with which he surrounded it provides his followers of the present day with a greater body of teaching than that of probably any other mystical master.
The following extracts from Swedenborg's works will assist the reader in gaining some idea of his eschatology and general doctrine:—
"The universe is an image of God, and was made for use. Providence is the government of the Lord in heaven and on earth. It extends itself over all things, because there is only one fountain of life, namely, the Lord, whose power supports all that exists.
"The influence of the Lord is according to a plan, and is invisible, as is Providence, by which men are not constrained to believe, and thus to lose their freedom. The influence of the Lord passes over from the spiritual to the natural, and from the inward to the outward. The Lord confers his influence on the good and the bad, but the latter converts the good into evil, and the true into the false; for so is the creature of its will fashioned.
"In order to comprehend the origin and progress of this influence, we must first know that that which proceeds from the Lord is the divine sphere which surrounds us, and fills the spiritual and natural world. All that proceeds from an object, and surrounds and clothes it, is called its sphere.
"As all that is spiritual knows neither time nor space, it therefore follows that the general sphere or the divine one has extended itself from the first moment of creation to the last. This divine emanation, which passed over from the spiritual to the natural, penetrates actively and rapidly through the whole created world, to the last grade of it, where it is yet to be found, and produces and maintains all that is animal, vegetable, and mineral. Man is continually surrounded by a sphere of his favourite propensities; these unite themselves to the natural sphere of his body, so that together they form one. The natural sphere surrounds every body of nature, and all the objects of the three kingdoms. Thus it allies itself to the spiritual world. This is the foundation of sympathy and antipathy, of union and separation, according to which there are amongst spirits presence and absence.
"The angel said to me that the sphere surrounded men more lightly on the back than on the breast, where it was thicker and stronger. This sphere of influence, peculiar to man, operates also in general and in particular around him by means of the will, the understanding, and the practice,
"The sphere proceeding from God, which surrounds man and constitutes his strength, while it thereby operates on his neighbour and on the whole creation, is a sphere of peace and innocence; for the Lord is peace and innocence. Then only is man consequently able to make his influence effectual on his fellow man, when peace and innocence rule in his heart, and he himself is in union with heaven. This spiritual union is connected with the natural by a benevolent man through the touch and the laying on of hands, by which the influence of the inner man is quickened, prepared, and imparted. The body communicates with others which are about it through the body, and the spiritual influence diffuses itself chiefly through the hands, because these are the most outward or ultimum of man; and through him, as in the whole of nature, the first is contained in the last, as the cause in the effect. The whole soul and the whole body are contained in the hands as a medium of influence. Thus our Lord healed the sick by laying on of hands, on which account so many were healed by the touch; and thence from the remotest times the consecration of priests and of all holy things was effected by laying on of hand. According to the etymology of the word, hands denote power. Man believes that his thoughts and his will proceed from within him, whereas all this flows into him. If he considered things in their true form, he would ascribe evil to hell, and good to the Lord; he would by the Lord's grace recognise good and evil within himself, and be happy. Pride alone has denied the influence of God, and destroyed the human race."
In his work Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg speaks of influence and reciprocities — Correspondences. The action of correspondence is perceptible in a man's countenance. In a countenance that has not learned hypocrisy, all emotions are represented naturally according to their true form; whence the face is called the mirror of the soul. In the same way, what belongs to the understanding is represented in the speech, and what belongs to the will in the movements. Every expression in the face, in the speech, in the movements, is called correspondence. By correspondence man communicates with heaven, and he can thus communicate with the angels if he possess the science of correspondence by means of thought. In order that communication may exist between heaven and man, the word is composed of nothing but correspondences, for everything in the word is correspondent, the whole and the parts; therefore he can learn secrets, of which he perceives nothing in the literal sense; for in the word, there is, besides the literal meaning, a spiritual meaning—one of the world, the other of heaven. Swedenborg had his visions and communications with the angels and spirits by means of correspondence in the spiritual sense. "Angels speak from the spiritual world, according to inward thought; from wisdom, their speech flows in a tranquil stream, gently and uninterruptedly,—they speak only in vowels the heavenly angels in A and O, the spiritual ones in E and I, for the vowels give tone to the speech, and by the tone the emotion is expressed; the interruptions, on the other hand, corresponds with creations of the mind; therefore we prefer, if the subject is lofty, for instance of heaven or God, even in human speech, the vowels U and O, etc. Man, however, is united with heaven by means of the word, and forms thus the link between heaven and earth, between the divine and the natural."
"But when angels speak spiritually with me from heaven, they speak just as intelligently as the man by my side. But if they turn away from man, he hears nothing more whatever, even if they speak close to his ear. It is also remarkable that several angels can speak to a man; they send down a spirit inclined to man, and he thus hears them united."
In another place he says:—"There are also spirits called natural or corporeal spirits; these have no connection with thought, like the others, but they enter the body, possess all the senses, speak with the mouth, and act with the limbs, for they know not but that everything in that man is their own. These are the spirits by which men are possessed. They were, however, sent by the Lord to hell; whence in our days there are no more such possessed ones in existence."
Swedenborg's further doctrines. and visions of Harmonies, that is to say, of heaven with men, and with all objects of nature; of the harmony and correspondence of all thing with each other; of Heaven, of Hell, and of the world of spirits; of the various states of man after death, etc.—are very characteristic, important, and powerful. "His contemplations of the enlightened inward eye refer less to everyday associations and objects of life (although he not unfrequently predicted future occurrences), because his mind was only directed to the highest spiritual subjects, in which indeed he had attained an uncommon degree of inward wakefulness, but is therefore not understood or known, because he described his sights so spiritually and unusually by language. His chapter on the immensity of heaven attracts more especially because it contains a conversation of spirits and angels about the planetary system. The planets are naturally inhabited as well as the planet Earth, but the inhabitants differ according to the various individual formation of the planets. These visions on the inhabitants of the planets agree most remarkably, and almost without exception with the indications of a clairvoyant whom I treated magnetically. I do not think that she knew Swedenborg; to which, however, I attach little importance. The two seers perceived Mars in quite a different manner. The magnetic seer only found images of fright and horror. Swedenborg, on the other hand, describes them as the best of all spirits of the planetary system. Their gentle, tender, zephyr-like language, is more perfect, purer and richer in thought, and nearer to the language of the angels, than others. These people associate together, and judge each other by the physiognomy, which amongst them is always the expression of the thoughts. They honour the Lord as sole God, who appears sometimes on their earth."
"Of the inhabitants of Venus he says:—'They are of two kinds; some are gentle and benevolent, others wild, cruel and of gigantic stature. The latter rob and plunder, and live by this means; the former have so great a degree of gentleness and kindness that they are always beloved by the good; thus they often see the Lord appear in their own form on their earth.' It is remarkable that this description of Venus agrees so well with the old fable, and with the opinions and experience we have of Venus.
"The inhabitants of the Moon are small, like children of six or seven years old; at the same time they have the strength of men like ourselves. Their voice rolls like thunder, and the sound proceeds from the belly, because the moon is in quite a different atmosphere from the other planets."
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