Scientific discovery of Spiritual Laws given in Rational Scientific Revelations

Marguerite Block

Related Glossary Entries:

What is Spiritual Psychobiology?  || New Church Mentality  || De Hemelsche Leer--A Spiritual Bombshell || Religious Psychology || Dualism in Science

Future articles will examine the methods by which New Church History may be researched. The importance of these details is due to the  principle that history recapitulates biography. Historical evolution of the New Church is a spiritual map of the regeneration process.



Most people with the church, which they know by his name, associate Emanuel Swedenborg, the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of whose birth is being cele­brated this year. There are many besides who appreciate that he was an eminent scientist, and one who may be properly classed as a genius. But there are few who have thought of him in connection with the great wave of thought known as the Romantic Movement. And yet, when the facts are ex­amined it appears that not only was he himself, in a remarkable way, a forerunner of that movement, but also that his writings have played an important part in its de­velopment. For many of the greatest names connected with Romanticism are found among those who, at some period in their lives, have come under his spell.

The eighteenth century, in which Swedenborg lived, was far from being a simple, unified whole, an Age of Reason in which the irrational impulses were held in subjection under the enlightened despotism of the intel­lect. Instead, we find a cleavage in the psyche of the century amounting to a sort of universal schizophrenia. For underneath the cold intellectualism known as the Enlightenment, with its materialism, empiricism, and classicism, there ran a strong wave of mysticism and sentimentality, never really submerged, and destined in the end to overflow and drown the Age of Reason. To quote the words of Professor Edward Scribner Ames, “This movement is variously described as emotionalism, or subjectivism, or romanticism, or naturalism.... It attained finally in the work of Herder and Goethe, to clarity and comprehensive definition as the naturalistic doctrine of the primacy of spontaneous individual impulse.” George Brandes, too, takes note of this tendency in the eighteenth century to hyper-sensibility, as seen in Werther and La Nouvelle Héloise: “There is undoubtedly something of the Romanticist before the days of Romanticism in this mysterious suffering which is so conscious of being interesting.” But perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of this counter-movement is to be found in a work by Professor Martin Lamm of Stockholm, Upplysningstidens Romantik* in which he makes the statement that Swedenborg, Zinzendorf and Rousseau are typical exponents of the eighteenth century (and not mere reactions against it) as much as Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists, for they mirror the inner movement of the century. Ironically enough, it was the Enlightenment itself, which forged the weapon for its own destruction, empirical psychology. For direct experience can be inner as well as outer, and “to feel,” “to apprehend,” “to behold” can very easily take on mystical meanings. Empiricism emphasized individual differences and gave to the irrational factors more importance than reason, thus aiding in the evolution of the main tenets of Romanticism.

According to Professor Lamm the two movements in the eighteenth century, which played the greatest part in the development of Romanticism, were the religious sects (especially Pietism) and the secret orders (especially Freemasonry). Pietism flourished in the first half of the century, and chiefly among the middle class; Freemasonry attained its full development in the second half, and found its adherents in the aristocracy. Thus the two movements supplemented each other, and aristocratic occultism took up the battle against the Enlightenment where bourgeois Pietism left off; moreover, it was a more dangerous enemy, for it drew its membership from the same class as the Enlightenment. Strangely enough, it is Emanuel Swedenborg who was the connecting link between the two, for his doctrines found adherents in both classes and appealed to interests, the religious and the pseudo­scientific occult. They played a part in the development of Freemasonry, as well as serving to form a new religious sect, which became the inheritor of the older Pietism.


Swedenborg’s connection with the Pietist movement began in his childhood, when he imbibed a few primary pietistic notions from his father, Jesper Swedberg, who, though a Lutheran bishop, was by no means unsympathetic to the teachings of Spencer. His precocious little son repudiated the extreme orthodox form of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and insisted that a good life is necessary to salvation. But as he grew up his religious interests were eclipsed by an overwhelming devotion to science, and it was not until middle age that they again became prominent in his life. It is significant that it was during the hectic period following Dippel’s visit to Stockholm, when pietistic clamor filled the air, that he began to have the strange dreams and visions, which finally changed the course of his life. And although he was personally antagonistic toward this later Pietism, with its hysteria and extravagances of all sorts, yet it is undeniable that the influence of Dippel’s teachings can be found, both in the mystical natural philosophy of Swedenborg’s Economy of the Animal Kingdom and in the later theological works. After the religious crisis, which he experienced in 1744, he allied himself for a short time with the Moravian Brethren in London, but was finally repelled by the fantastic elements in their faith. His own theology is in many points diametrically opposed to that of Zinzendorf, a fact that did not deter a great many pious Herrnhuters from becoming ardent readers of Swedenborg.

The relation of Swedenborg to Freemasonry is of quite a different sort. It is probable that he himself was never a member of the order, though he might very well have been. Many of his friends and associates in political and scientific life were members of the rapidly growing Lodges, and during his long sojourns in England, France and Germany he must have come in contact with the leaders of the movement. But by temperament Swedenborg was not a “joiner,” and it is characteristic of him to keep aloof from all such commitments. The points of similarity between his theosophical system and that of Freemasonry can be accounted for by the Neo-Platonic, Kabbalistic soil from which they both sprung. But the influence of his writings on the Masonic doctrine is of utmost importance, especially in regard to the after-life. In fact, he became “the Baedeker of the spiritual world” for Freemasons. And in return it was Freemasonry, which served to awaken an interest in Swedenborg among the upper-class circles all over Europe.


In his own country Swedenborg’s influence operated along channels, the religious and the occult. During his lifetime he won adherents among the clergy and in the universities, but persecution by the firmly entrenched

State Lutheranism prevented the growth of a Swedenborg sect. However, a movement known as Skara-Swedenborgianism, originating among the high ecclesiastics of the diocese of Skara and spreading to the Universities of Lund and Uppsala, found enough adherents in high places to stem the tide of ecclesiastical opposition and to exert a liberalizing effect on theology. It was also through this group that Swedenborg began to influence Swedish philosophy and literature. Many to be the result of Swedenborgian influence, as exemplified in its chief exponent, Boström, concede the essential difference between Swedish idealism and that of Germany. Swedenborg himself had carried on the conflict with the philosophy of the Enlightenment begun by the Pietists. In his Economy of the Animal Kingdom, under the influence of Neo-Platonism, he had spiritualized the whole universe, and by means of his doctrine of correspondences had brought the material world into close relationship with the spiritual. He had attacked many of the pet tenets of the Enlightenment, such as the conformity of man with the animal world, and Helvetius’ idea of self-love as the basis of all human action. Thus the new Romantic philosophy from Germany found in Swedenborgianism a strong ally against all materialistic conceptions.

In the realm of literature his influence is very marked. His own little work, The Worship and Love of God, a bit of fantasy cast in the form of a Platonic myth, is a pure work of the new Romanticism born before its time. Neglected by its contemporaries, it remained in obscurity until discovered by Atterbom, who hailed it as an authentic work of true poetic genius. Its influence may be seen in the poetry of Franzén. It was Swedenborg’s glorification of human love into a divine relationship determined by spiritual affinity and destined for immortality, which was especially sympathetic to the new school of poets, - and his description of the life of wedded pairs in the spiritual world, which reads like a pastoral idyll in the rococo style I The most important of these Swedenborgian Romanticists was Thomas Thorild, who based his speculations on Swedenborg’s system of aesthetic philosophy as expounded in the Arcana Coelestia and Conjugal Love. Thorild called Swedenborgianism “reason’s religion,” and remodeled it into his own pantheistic monism.

Among Swedenborg’s first adherents were certain members of the court circle who had known him personally - his political associates in the House of Nobles. Two years after his death Augustus Nordensklöld, eminent chemist and mining engineer, and J. C. Halldin, the court poet, began to publish a weekly paper, Aftonbladet, devoted to Swedenborgian propaganda and to the works of the pre-­Romantic school. And in 1786 the Exegetic-Philanthropic Society was organized for the purpose of publishing his writings in foreign languages. Among its hundred and fifty distinguished members were the Prime Minister, Count von Höpken, Baron Gyllenhall, Count Ekeblad, and many others whose interests included alchemy, spiritualism, magnetism, Freemasonry and the new trends in literature. The court of Gustav III was a hotbed of all the “-isms” of the day, with the King himself playing the role of arch-magician. But this rising tide of occultism was strenuously opposed by the leaders of the State Church, who joined forces with the still active exponents of the Enlightenment. These, under the brilliant leader­ship of Kellgren, were carrying on a vitriolic campaign in the Stockholm Post. Unfortunately the Exegetic-Philanthropic Society fell a victim to the new furor for animal magnetism. They undertook to explain in. their journal, Samlingar for Philanthroper, the phenomena of Mesmerism in accordance with Swedenborg’s teaching regarding spirits, and thus brought down upon themselves the ridicule of the learned journals of various European universities. Both the Aftonbladet and the Samlingar were banned by the Consistory, and by 1791 the Society had succumbed to the onslaught of powerful enemies; but in the meantime a great part of Swedenborg’s philoso­phy of science, as well as his revelations of life in the spiritual world, had been absorbed into Freemasonry where it continued to influence the thought of the follow­ing century.


Into Germany Swedenborgian influence came through several different channels. The first disciple among the clergy was Prelate Oetinger, through whose later works Schelling became acquainted with Swedenborg. His persecution by the Church made it clear that Lutheranism would permit no such heretical views among its priests. In academic circles considerable interest was aroused by the new doctrines, and also much hostility. The university journals at Jena and Weimar had attacked the Society in Stockholm in the magnetism controversy. In Prussia the court librarian to Frederick III, Abbe Pernety, became a convert and began the publication of French translations of Swedenborg. With the introduction and spread of Freemasonry his doctrines began to reach the nobility everywhere. But it was the Pietists who furnished the largest numbers of readers—and among them Lavater and Herder, leaders of the Sturm und Drang. Roman­ticism in Germany began in Pietism, and was, funda­mentally, the result of a religious crisis. Its literary aspect, the revolt against French classicism, had its rise in the pietistic hymns of the Halle school—the first truly German literature. Among the leaders in the Romantic Movement who were also Pietists, or came from pietistic homes, were Hamann, Wieland, Klopstock, Novalis, and Jung-Stilling. And these were almost all earnest students of Swedenborg. But the most important figure, of course, was Goethe, who at the age of nineteen, while ill at Frankfort, began the study of magic, alchemy, Pietism, Herrnhutism and Swedenborgianism—an event apparently trivial in itself, but fraught with tremendous consequences for subsequent literary history.

The Goethe-Swedenborg problem is one, which has in­terested a number of scholars. Among these are Hans Schlieper, Max Morris, and Brieger-Wasservogel, all of whom find the influence of Swedenborg on Goethe’s scientific and philosophical thought to be of paramount importance. Apparently it was the Arcana Coc’lej-tia (contemptuously dismissed by Kant as “eight quarto folios of pure nonsense”), which first came into the hands of the youthful Goethe, and it was the revelations of life in the other world, which seem to have interested him especially. In a letter to Lavater he says: “No one is more inclined than I am to believe in another world besides the visible one; and I have imagination and vitality enough to feel that even my own limited ego can embrace a Swedenborgian conception of the spirit-sphere.” But it was Swedenborg’s organic conception of nature, which combined with the vitalism of Bruno, Leibnitz and Hailer, and the 1 pantheism of Spinoza, to form the natural philosophy of the mature Goethe. Whether or not the mysterious Nostradamus of the first Faust monologue stands for Swedenborg (as Max Morris believes) is of little moment—the fact remains that a great deal of Swedenborg f has found its way into Faust, and thence into much of the later literature of Romanticism.

Transcendentalism, the philosophy of the later Ro­mantic period, also bears the traces of Swedenborgian influence. The line from Swedenborg to Herder and Goethe, and thence to Schelling, is clear enough. But there is also another line of influence from the great original, Immanuel Kant himself. When rumors of the Swedish Seer’s remarkable clairvoyant powers, and of his journeys up and down the spiritual world, reached the ears of Kant, he became tremendously excited and went to considerable trouble and expense to have them confirmed by reputable authorities in Stockholm. He even wrote to Swedenborg seeking further information, but received in reply only a copy of the Treatise on Influx as an answer to his questions. When the Arcana Coelcstia was published, Kant became utterly disgusted and hastened to the attack. In his Dreams of a Spirit-Seer he treats Swedenborg with airy disdain, carefully keeping the skirts of his own philosophy clear of suspicions of mysticism. Nevertheless, as has been pointed out by Vaihinger and other Kantián scholars, his Inaugural Dis­sertation of 1770 was unmistakably colored by Swedenborg’s Treatise on Influx, and his Lectures on Psychology are even more Swedenborgian. Kant himself, in the words of Professor Walter M. Horton, was “too cautious to affirm the Swedenborgian creed as more than a great postulate of faith; but through Hamann, Oetinger, and other German mystics, it exerted a deep and fundamental influence upon the whole Romantic Movement in philoso­phy, which claimed Kant as its patron. Swedenborg must be named, along with Jakob Boehme and Spinoza, as one of the chief progenitors of the idea of the immanence of God, which flows through all the thought of the early nineteenth century.”




In France, also, it was the cultivated aristocracy who first embraced the doctrines of Swedenborg. Among these were Baron Breteuil, who had known Swedenborg per­sonally when he was in Stockholm as ambassador to Sweden, the Marquis de Thomé, and M. Moet, the royal librarian at Versailles, who translated some of his books into French. One of the most active propagandists was Captain Jean-Jacques Bernard, member of the Legion of Honor, who spread the doctrines among his fellow officers. Among his other converts were M. Oegger, First Vicar of the Cathedral of Paris, and confessor to the Queen, who resigned his post and gave up all connection with the Catholic Church. It was Oegger who brought Sweden­borgianism in France into active alliance with animal magnetism and spiritualism—an unholy alliance that did much to bring it to the attention of the new Romantic school. Bernard also introduced Saint Martin to the writings of Swedenborg—an acquaintance that bore fruit in Le Nouvel Horn me. And Frederic Oberlin, the philanthropist, too, became an admirer of the “Prophet of the North.”


The development of French Freemasonry along Swe­denborgian lines forms an interesting study. In 1760 Abbé Pernety and Count Grabianka, a Polish nobleman, founded a Lodge at Avignon, into which the Marquis de Thomé introduced his famous “Rite de Swedenborg.” This Lodge, later reorganized as the- Academic des Ii­luminés d’Avignon, became active propagandists sending missionaries into other countries to link up all Sweden­borgians with Freemasonry. And there was another Swedenborgian Lodge in Paris. At this time Swedenborg was at the height of his influence as a mystical philosopher, his name appearing constantly along with Paracelsus, Agrippa von Nettesheimn, Jakob Boehme and Saint Martin. And it was in this aspect, and not as a theologian, that he began to influence the French Romanticists.


Between the eighteenth century forerunners of the new movement, Rousseau and Chateaubriand, and the Roman­tic movement proper, stands the figure of Mme. de Stael— Janus-headed, facing both ways. It was she who, in her Dc l’Allemagne, introduced the new Romantic Movement in Germany to her French public. And it was through her German literary friends that she had become an ad­mirer of Swedenborg. It is in this connection that Balzac uses her as a character in his Swedenborgian novel, Louis Lambert. It is this novel, together with the exquisite and amazing Seraphita, which marks the apex of Romantic occultism in the work of Balzac. He had received his taste for mysticism early in life from his mother—a lady “ardente au mysterieux,” and personally acquainted with all the celebrated “magnetizers” of the day. But mysticism was no passing phase with Balzac—it was his lifelong religion. In a letter to Mme. Hanska he says: “Politically I am of the Catholic religion, before God I am of the religion of St. John, of the church mystical, the only one which has preserved the true doctrine.” And Balzac’s eclectic mysticism contained many elements derived from the Swedish Seer. Both Louis Lambert and Scraphita are filled with paeans of praise for Swedenborg, and lengthy discussions of his teachings. “Swedenborg undoubtedly epitomizes all the religions—or rather the one religion of humanity.... Though his books are diffuse and obscure, they hold the elements of a vast social conception. His theocracy is sublime; and his religion is the only one a superior mind can accept”—thus speaks Balzac through the mouth of his hero. Among the other Romantic writers who were readers and admirers of Swedenborg were Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Beaudelaire.



Swedenborg’s influence on the English Romantic movement came in a roundabout way, mainly from

Germany. For although it was in England that he found his first true disciples, in a religious sense, and there that the New Church was founded, the somewhat anomalous fact remains that he influenced English thought less directly than that of the other countries. This is due to the fact that there his followers, generally speaking, belonged to the middle class, and not to a cultivated aristocracy. Also the Masonic movement there was less influenced by his teachings, and magnetism and spiritualism were taboo in the higher circles. But among the London New-Church group was an artist, John Flaxman, the sculptor, who was a close friend of William Blake, and though him Blake made the acquaintance of Swedenborg. Although Blake’s mysticism was closer to that of Bochme and Paracelsus, nevertheless some of the loveliest creations of this fore­runner of Romanticism, both in the poetry and in his drawings, are saturated with the spirit of Swedenborg.


But it was primarily through their interest in German philosophy and literature that the English Romanticists derived their enthusiasm for him. Transcendentalism produced the intellectual atmosphere in which Swedenborg could best be appreciated and understood. By way of Goethe, Herder, Schelling, and the others, his doctrines gradually began to permeate the British school. Carlyle and Ruskin and Tennyson knew and admired him. Coventry Patmore embraced his doctrine of “conjugal love.” The Brownings, too, found in his teaching regard­ing the immortality of the true love relationship an answer to their own love’s deepest need. The following is pure


What if heaven be that, fair and strong

At life’s best, with our eyes upturn’d

Whither life’s flower is first disccrn’d,

We, fix’d so, ever should so abide?

What if we still ride on, we two

With life forever old yet new,

Changed not in kind but in degree,

The instant made eternity...


And the entire atmosphere of Coleridge is saturated with him. In his strange dream world we feel the strongest waves of psychic emanation from the “spiritual world” as described in Heaven and Hell. It almost seems as if the following lines might express the feeling of awe inspired in many by Swedenborg himself:


And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread,

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.




And what of America? What influence has our Seer had on the thought of that New World in which all human dreams, even his own, may yet be realized? The answer must be sought in several different directions, the first and most obvious being that of the New Church itself. From the very beginning its members have been indefati­gable in their efforts to spread the “Heavenly Doctrines” by means mainly of the printed word. Thousands of copies of Swedenborg’s writings and thousands of copies of various collateral works have been distributed broad­cast. And thousands of volumes of New-Church periodi­cals have gone through the press. Add to this an earnest personal proselytism, and some results are obliged to be forthcoming. In tracing the influence of Swedenborg on various writers of the Romantic Era we find that they were generally induced to read him by some Sweden­borgian friend. Both Edgar Allen Poe and Sidney Lanier became interested in this way, and Thomas Holley Chiv­ers was himself an ardent Swedenborgian. Poe also re­ceived the Swedenborgian influx at second hand through Coleridge, and found for himself a dwelling place in that “mystic mid region of Weir” which seems to lie some­where in Swedenborg’s spiritual world midway ‘twixt Heaven and Hell! And numbers of the minor poets of the period were also readers of Swedenborg.

But it was, of course, in New England—in that glorious flowering of literary genius so ably described by Van Wyck Brooks—that Swedenborg reached his highest peak of respect and influence. Emerson received him at first hand from his friend Sampson Reed, whose little book, Obscurations on the Growth of Mind, was of so much in­terest to Carlyle. And it was Emerson who introduced Swedenborg to the intellectual world by means of lec­tures and published works. The Brook Farm Transcen­dentalists became earnest students of “the Writings” both through their friends and through their studies in Ger­man philosophy. Quite a few of their number called themselves Swedenborgians, though not members of the New Church. Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Ellery Channing, and many others yielded to his spell. From the Transcendentalist center the circle widened, touching many others here and there, —Whittier, Hawthorne, Mel­ville, —and down the line to Emily Dickinson, Vachel Lindsay, and Robert Frost.


In accounting for Swedenborg’s popularity during our nineteenth century, S. Foster Damon says: “Swedenborg’s great strength lay in his powers of introspection, which revived consciousness of subjective experience...In a new land eager for fresh and authentic accounts of the soul his works were read and understood widely...One of the dominant impulses of American literature has been an awareness of psychological fact.” This last state­ment seems to furnish a clue to a sudden revival of interest today in the life and work of Swedenborg, —a psycho­logical interest emanating from the new psychoanalytic school.


Emanuel Swedenborg, contemporary with Immanuel Kant, was born at Stockholm, January 29, 1688, and died at London, March 29, 1772. Despite years of activity as a mining expert and also as a member of the Swedish Parliament, Swedenborg was a man of ideas far more than of action. His powerful mind moved steadily over the field of human knowledge. Combining scientific investigation and philosophical reflection, he made his way to the frontiers of inquiry in mineralogy, metallurgy, physics, anat­omy, physiology and psychology, often projecting ideas, which have only recently been verified by empirical science. The range and the penetration of his studies were so great that only specialists in the various fields can fully assess his contributions. A profound religious experience brought an unexpected turn in his career. In the latter thirty years of his life he devoted all his powers to questions of religion, restating Christian teaching and expounding the Scriptures. Again it can be said of this labor, that theologian and biblieist have yet to evaluate it fully. A silent penetration of Christian thought by his views is widely attested.

(From the Invitation to the Commemoration Dinner in New York City.)


* Vals., Stockholm, 1918, 1920. (I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness to Professor Lamm for much of the material in this article.)

(end of quoted article)

A related article in the Swedenborg Glossary is titled spiritual psychobiology.

Related Glossary Entries:

What is Spiritual Psychobiology?  || New Church Mentality  || De Hemelsche Leer--A Spiritual Bombshell || Religious Psychology || Dualism in Science

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