Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

Emanuel Swedenborg is a significant biography in intellectual and cultural history. An eighteenth-century Swedish natural philosopher with accomplishments in numerous emerging science fields as well as a productive member in Sweden’s national parliament for fifty years, the Nordic polymath underwent a dramatic mid-life spiritual crisis that resulted in a vocational change to biblical revelator and Christian prophet. Swedenborg lived during the age of reason in the European Enlightenment and was steeped in the philosophical frameworks of neo-Cartesian thought. His early religious formation had been shaped by the Pietist spirituality of his Lutheran bishop father, Jesper Swedberg (chaplain to the royal family, professor of theology and Dean of the cathedral at the University of Uppsala, bishop of Skara) and his brother-in-law, Eric Benzelius, head librarian at Uppsala and future archbishop, with whom he lived during his university days. Benzelius’s passion for hermetic philosophy and for the Jewish mysticism of kabbalah partly molded Swedenborg’s youthful interests in religion.

Emanuel Swedenborg

Portrait of Emanuel Swedenborg at age 75 by Per Krafft the Elder (1724-1793). The painting now hangs in Gripsholm Castle in Sweden.

Swedenborg’s aptitude in science and math helped his father abandon pressure on the son to enter a church vocation. In the first half of his professional post-university career, his prodigious style led to some 150 scientific works in an array of disciplines, but his spiritual crisis at age 57 spurred him to retire from physical science productions and retreat into a four-year seclusion preparing for a religious publishing program aimed at a thoroughgoing reformation of Christian thought. Over the final twenty-three years of his life he produced seven major theological works along with eight minor works and numerous unpublished manuscripts still extant (most posthumously published). Running to over 20,000 manuscript pages, his literary archives are located at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and comprise an archival treasure selected by UNESCO as one of two Swedish sources for its Memory of the World program.  To find a full list of his works for purchase in various editions please go to the Swedenborg Foundation website.

Secrets of Heaven, 8 vols. [1749-1756];

Heaven and Hell [1756];

Divine Love and Wisdom [1763];

Divine Providence [1764];

Revelation Unveiled, 2 vols. [1766];

Marriage Love [1768]; and  True Christianity [1771])

 

Select Bibliography

Lars Bergquist. Swedenborg’s Secret, a Biography, trans. Norman Ryder. London: Swedenborg Society, 2004/1999.

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. “Emanuel Swedenborg,” in The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Sten Lindroth. “Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772),” in Swedish Men of Science, 1650-1950, 50-8. Stockholm: The Swedish Institute, 1952.

Cyriel Sigstedt. The Swedenborg Epic: The Life and Works of Emanuel Swedenborg. New York: Bookman Associates, 1952.