Emanuel Swedenborg

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Emanuel Swedenborg
BirthplaceStockholm, Swedish Empire
Mining engineer, anatomist, astronomer, nobleman, author

Swedenborg, Emanuel

(swēd`ənbôrg; āmä`no͞oĕl svā'dənbōrk`), 1688–1772, Swedish scientist, religious teacher, and mystic. His religious system, sometimes called Swedenborgianism, is largely incorporated in the Church of the New JerusalemNew Jerusalem, Church of the,
or New Church,
religious body instituted by the followers of Emanuel Swedenborg, who are generally called Swedenborgians. Knowledge of Swedenborg's teachings was spread in England largely by two clergymen, Thomas Hartley and John Clowes,
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, founded some years after his death. His father was Bishop Swedberg, professor at Uppsala Univ. The name became Swedenborg when the family was ennobled (1719). Emanuel traveled extensively and was made (1716) assessor of the Royal College of Mines; his engineering skill made him widely known. He took active part in the proceedings of the house of nobles, where he showed himself an ardent reformer. A series of scientific works by him began to appear in 1734. The first, Principia, was an attempt to trace the system of the world philosophically. He studied almost every field of scientific investigation and wrote copiously, anticipating in many instances later discoveries and inventions. His studies of man in works on the animal kingdom, the human brain, and psychology were published before 1747, when he resigned his post and gave himself to the contemplation of spiritual matters, especially to the work of making clear to mankind the true inner doctrines of the divine Word as he claimed that they were revealed to him by direct insight into the spiritual world after "heaven was opened" to him in 1745. Visions and communication with spirits and angels helped prepare him to set forth the teachings of what he termed the New Church, the inauguration of which he believed to have taken place in 1757 with the second coming of Christ. He claimed to have received from the Lord himself the true sense of the Scriptures. His expositions of Genesis and Exodus were published as Arcana Coelestia (1749–56). Of the many works that followed, a number have been published in English, among them Heaven and Hell; Divine Love and Wisdom; True Christian Religion, stating fully his system of doctrine; and the Apocalypse Revealed. His writings have been translated into numerous other languages. It was not Swedenborg's intention to establish a new sect. In his mind the New Church might include members of any Christian churches. The latter part of his life he spent partly in London, partly in Amsterdam and Stockholm. In 1810 a society was founded for publishing Swedenborg's works in English. In Stockholm lithographed facsimiles of his manuscripts were issued in 1869–70, and an 18-volume edition of his writings was published between 1901 and 1916.


See R. F. Tafel, ed., Documents Concerning Swedenborg (1857–77); biographies by G. Trobridge (4th ed. 1968) and C. S. Sigstedt (1971); studies by H. A. Keller (1927, repr. 1972), I. Jonsson (tr. 1971), and R. Larsen et al., ed. (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Swedenborg, Emanuel


Born Mar. 29, 1688, in Stockholm; died Mar. 29, 1772, in London. Swedish scientist and theosophical mystic.

Swedenborg studied at the University of Uppsala. He spent most of the period from 1710 to 1714 in Great Britain. From 1716 to 1747 he was an assessor at the Royal Bureau of Mines in Stockholm. In 1734 he was elected an honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Swedenborg wrote many works on mining, mathematics, astronomy, and other subjects (Operaphilosophica et mineralia, 1734). Among his many technical designs was one for a flying machine with fixed wings.

In his quest for an explanation of the system of the universe, Swedenborg initially developed a mechanistic conception influenced by Descartes, Newton, and Locke. Later, this conception gave way to a spiritualistic natural philosophy similar to Neoplatonism. During the 1740’s Swedenborg wrote a number of works focusing on the relationship between spirit and matter and touching on a wide range of problems in anatomy, physiology, and psychology (for example, The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, vols. 1–2, 1740–41).

The evolution of Swedenborg’s world view culminated in a spiritual and religious crisis (1743–45). He had “visions,” and he heard “voices.” As a result, Swedenborg became a mystic and clairvoyant. In his many subsequent works he endeavored to provide a “true” interpretation of the Bible (Arcana coelestia, vols. 1–8, 1749–56; abridged Russian translation under the title On the Heavens, the World of Spirits, and Hell, 1863), and he expounded a doctrine of precise “correspondences” between earthly phenomena and those of “the other world,” at times sharply criticizing the church. Swedenborg’s theosophy was strongly criticized by Kant in Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (1766).

Swedenborg had an appreciable influence on romantic writers, including W. Blake (Great Britain) and R. Emerson (the USA). Communities of Swedenborg’s followers became common in various countries, particularly the USA and Great Britain (about 30,000 members in 1970). Since 1810, the Swedenborg Society in London has been concerned with the publication of Swedenborg’s works.


Religiösa skrifter i urval. Stockholm, 1925.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. soch, fasc. 1. London, 1872.
O soobshchenii dushi i tela. St. Petersburg, 1910.
Uveseleniiapremudrosti o liubvi supruzhestvennoi. Moscow, 1914.


Myslivchenko, A. G. Filosofskaia mysl’ v Shvetsii. Moscow, 1972. Pages 71–75.
Lamm, M. Swedenborg: En studie öfver hans utveckling till mystiker och andeskådare. Stockholm, 1915.
Toksvig, S. Emanuel Swedenborg, Scientist and Mystic. New Haven, Conn., 1948.
Sigstedt, C. O. The Swedenborg Epic. New York, 1952.
Jonsson, I. Swedenborgs korrespondenslära. Stockholm, 1969.
Hyde, J. A Bibliography of the Works of E. Swedenborg. London, 1906.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.