|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©1999|
|The Swedenborg Foundation claims to represent the only true interpretation of “The Word.”|
Info at a Glance
Name: The New Church; The Church of the New Jerusalem; Swedenborg Foundation.
Purpose: To institute the New Church as God’s new plan for the world.
Founder: Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).
Source of authority: The writings of Swedenborg; “acceptable” portions of the Bible as interpreted by him (termed “The Word”).
Revealed writings: Yes.
Claim: To represent the only true interpretation of “The Word.”
Occult dynamics: Swedenborg engaged in regular spiritistic and necromantic contacts; many members today accept this possibility if certain conditions are met.
Key literature: Arcana Coelestia (12 vols.); The True Christian Religion (2 vols.); Posthumous Theological Works (2 vols.); Apocalypse Explained (6 vols.); Spiritual Diary (5 vols.); The Word of the Old Testament Explained (10 vols.); Logos newsletter.
Attitude toward Christianity: Rejecting.
“The falsities of the dogmas of the faith of the present Church must first be exposed and rejected, before the truths of the dogmas of the New Church are revealed and received.” —Emanuel Swedenborg
God: Unipersonal; modalistic and apparent pantheistic tendencies.
Jesus: Jehovah (The Father) incarnate as man.
Holy Spirit: An “operation” proceeding from God.
Trinity: Defined in terms of a triune nature within the One Divine Person.
Salvation: By faith and works.
Man: The “symbol” of God.
Satan: The personification of evil.
The Second Coming: Swedenborg’s writing.
The Fall: Symbolic.
The Bible: Contains the Word of the Lord but is authoritative only when interpreted by Swedenborg.
Death: Continuation of life on earth in the spirit world; its quality being dictated by man’s spiritual condition at death.
Heaven and Hell: Temporal “places” or states of mind.
Introduction and History
In 1743 Emanuel Swedenborg claimed he was visited by the Lord God Jehovah Himself and commissioned to reveal to humanity the true interpretation of the Word of God. This event is described by him in a letter written in 1771:
And as the Lord had prepared me for this from my childhood, He manifested Himself in Person before me, His servant, and sent me to do this work. This took place in the year 1743; and afterwards He opened the sight of my spirit, and thus introduced me into the spiritual world, granting me to see the heavens and many of the wonderful things there, and also the hells, and to speak with angels and spirits, and this continually for twenty-seven years.
The life of Emanuel Swedenborg is nothing short of remarkable—even if it was seemingly his spirit guides who were responsible for many of his achievements. He has been called “the Aristotle of the North,” and it seems he was able to master almost any subject he investigated. His breadth of knowledge was encyclopedic and, since his own era, in every generation, he has had an influence on notable persons. To many he was a genius.
Swedenborg excelled as an inventor and scientist. He spoke 9 languages and wrote some 150 works in 18 sciences. These included chemistry, engineering, metallurgy, crystallography, physics, mathematics, mineralogy, paleontology, cosmology, botany, physiology, anatomy, geology, astronomy, and empirical psychology. He invented crudely prefigured airplanes, submarines, hearing aids and other devices. He devised an air-based “machine gun” that discharged a thousand bullets per minute. He created the world’s largest dry dock as well as the first Swedish texts on algebra and calculus and the first comprehensive texts on metallurgy. He discovered the functions of several areas of the brain and the ductless glands. These are only a few of his accomplishments.
Practice and Teachings
Swedenborg, despite voluminous writings, presents us with the dilemma of saying too little. “Swedenborg’s many writings are characterized by great scholarship and by a fervent search for a synthesis of ancient wisdom and modern experience, empirical science, rationalistic philosophy, and Christian revelation.”
Swedenborg detailed a mystical philosophy of the world and a symbolic or allegoric, interpretation of the Bible. Although real, things were not as they seemed. The physical world was actually a symbol, or type, of the spiritual world, corresponding to it in the sense of being a crude reflection of its higher spiritual reality. Swedenborg saw the physical world as a cruder material reflection of corresponding parts in the spiritual world that had in fact given birth to them. In a similar fashion, the words of the Bible represented corresponding symbols of higher divine truths. In each case, there are supposedly deeper levels of realization, taking one ultimately back to their source in God.
Every portion of the spiritual world, every part of physical creation including man, and every word of Scripture, allegedly contains degrees of arcana coelestia, or heavenly secrets, which only the true mystic or spiritually enlightened can understand. Swedenborg attempted to harmonize this “disparity” between “nature” and “heaven” into one divine unity. He believed that nature (church doctrines, history, ritual and so on) were, in detail, a reflection of heavenly truths. His “system of correspondences” thereby provided a bridge to “join” the worlds of matter and spirit, as it did also the worlds of “outer” biblical teachings with their purported “inner secrets.”
- Emanuel Swedenborg, A Brief Exposition of the Doctrine of the New Church (London: Swedenborg Society, Inc., 1952), p. 88 (n. 96).
- Emanuel Swedenborg, Posthumous Theological Works of Emanuel Swedenborg, Vol. I (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, Inc., 1969), pp. 590-591.
- D. T. Suzuki, the influential Buddhist who brought Zen to the West and translated Swedenborg into Japanese, referred to him as the “Buddha of the North” in a book by that title: “For you Westerners, it is Swedenborg who is your Buddha, it is he who should be read and followed.”
- Paul Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 8 (New York: Macmillan Pub. Co. and The Free Press, 1967), pp. 48-50.