The first ten years of Swedenborg's occupation with his spiritual mission had been spent in virtual seclusion in his quiet suburban home. The next two years had brought him into public notice as an author of extremely remarkable views and claims and a man of undeniable psychic powers. The last ten years of his life were to be years of storm, attack, and bitter condemnation, the first salvo of which came from the German press.
It is often assumed that Swedenborg's works received little or no attention from his contemporaries. The truth is quite the opposite. He was noticed frequently in the periodical literature of the times, and this is as true of his theological writings as of his scientific and philosophical ones. The reviews of his later works, however, are disparaging. What else could be expected of books that contained such unwelcome spiritual "tidings"?
In order to insure the distribution of his works, besides putting them on sale in bookstores, Swedenborg sent copies to leading men and libraries, and to his relatives and friends. He may also have sent copies to journals for review, although this seems improbable. The Arcana Coelestia had received a not unfavorable notice in the "Neue Zeitungen" of Leipzig and another in the "Gelehrte Anzeigen" of Göttingen but - perhaps because of its anonymity - seems to have escaped general attention until 1760, after Swedenborg had issued the five London treatises. But no sooner had the latter come from the press than they were subjected to scathing denunciation.
The first attack and the most important, came from the celebrated scholar, Dr. Johann August Ernesti, in the opening number of his "New Theological Library" which he edited between the years 1760 and 1769. Ernesti was professor first of "eloquence," then of theology, at the University of Leipzig. He was a man of enormous learning, undeservedly called "the Cicero of the Germans," a title he owed more to sheer industry and a remarkable memory than to sagacity, and certainly not to eloquence, in which he is said to have been particularly lacking. This deep-dyed Lutheran and domineering leader of orthodox thought was a sneering controversialist and an indefatigable heresy-hunter. He steered his narrow sectarian course by the principle that the Bible must be rigidly explained by its own language, uninfluenced by human understanding, and above all must be kept free from mystical or allegorical interpretation.
It is easy to see how, to a man of such principles, Swedenborg's visions and liberating doctrines would be like the proverbial red rag to a bull. Ernesti insisted that Scripture should be viewed without the aid of enlightenment. Attention has been called to the vignette employed on the cover of Ernesti's "Theological Library" as being peculiarly descriptive of his exclusive devotion to the literal sense - the figure of a hideous emaciated bear emerging from the cavern where he has been hibernating and sucking his own paw! The inscription Ipse alimenta sibi (he is himself his own nourishment), could not have been more apt had Swedenborg himself suggested it, who says: "Bears signify the letter of the Word separated from its internal sense" and "they who only read the Word and derive thence nothing of doctrine, appear from afar as bears." One may imagine Swedenborg as smiling when he saw this bear on the cover of the magazine in which the revelation of the internal sense was for the first time attacked.
Ernesti had seen the five London treatises - Heaven and Hell, The White Horse, Earths in the Universe, The New Jerusalem, The Last Judgment - and he obtained for himself a copy of the Arcana so often referred to in them, because he felt it his bounden duty "to give his readers some idea of the contents of that work, well knowing that hardly any one hates his money to such an extent that he feels like throwing away thirty Thalers on ‘Heavenly Secrets.'" As for Ernesti himself, "he cares as little for mysteries as do the gentlemen of the medical profession." It was worth less to him than thirty pieces of silver, but Ernesti had missed the point that the purpose of the book was to solve mysteries, not to produce them!
Ernesti failed to find any orderly system in Swedenborg's Arcana and shudders at the thought of having everywhere to look for something "internal" which cannot be found in the plain letter of the Scriptures. He gives a concise and rather correct account of Swedenborg's system of interpretation, but when he comes to describing the article on the resurrection of man after death, Ernesti remarks, "All that he here relates he has learned in a state of trance. The narrative is so confused and obscure it is evident that, when writing it, he had not quite recovered his senses."
The review closes with the words: "We hesitate to trouble our readers with any further extracts from this work. It is not difficult to see that the author, under this fantastic form, endeavors to present naturalism and his own philosophical opinions. It is a romance of a new kind such as may perhaps be compared with Klimm's Subterranean Journeys. [A reference to the comedy by Ludwig Holberg, the H. G. Wells of that day.]
But while the latter is a harmless fiction the former author, because he abuses and perverts the Sacred Scriptures by the pretense of an inner sense, is in the highest degree worthy of punishment . . . "
Having thus disposed of the Arcana, Ernesti spares himself and his readers any consideration of Heaven and Hell and the other books. But three years later his denunciations of Swedenborg were resumed in the same spirit. Whether Swedenborg saw Ernesti's review at this time or not, and whether it had any influence upon the course of his work, we cannot say. But there is little doubt that Ernesti was "an obstructing spirit" of the kind that Swedenborg described as forming, in the other world, a dark cloud in the likeness of a Dragon, keeping spiritual light away from men on earth.
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In the spring of 1763 the magazine "Swedish Mercury," contained a notice that "Herr Assessor Swedenborg, famous for his learned works and peculiar ideas, despite his advanced age (75 years), left here by sea for Holland in the beginning of June," the purpose of his journey being to publish several more works on doctrinal subjects.
Before his departure on this, his eighth journey, Swedenborg received a visit from "a highly educated English gentleman," one Mr. Green, a friend of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Green had spent the previous summer at Königsberg where Swedenborg's supernatural experiences formed a lively topic of conversation.
Kant has been described as a sincere, truth-loving, high-minded thinker, intensely interested in studying the human intellect, asking: Is logic its only use? Are space and time mere delusions? Is the intellect furnished with the means of pure rational cognition, or is it impotent when it comes to things divine? His profound inquiries into the nature of knowledge had confirmed Kant in the idea that both reason and experience are unreliable as proofs of supersensory reality. Kant was not one to be impressed either by Ernesti's denunciations or by tales of marvelous occurrences. But the well-authenticated stories about Swedenborg's supernatural powers disturbed him and he had written the seer a letter inquiring into the grounds for his claim to intercourse with spirits. The letter had been delivered by the hand of an English merchant and the assessor had politely promised to answer it. No answer having been forthcoming, however, Kant had asked Mr. Green, who was about to make a visit to Sweden, to call on Swedenborg and find out the reason for the delay.
Green was very favorably impressed with the Swedish seer. When he reminded him of Kant's letter, Swedenborg replied that he would have answered it before were it not that he intended shortly to publish a book which would be, in every respect, an answer to Kant's letter.
In Holland, that year, Swedenborg published his Divine Love and Wisdom, in which he discusses the nature of spiritual substance and therefore furnishes an answer to those points which Kant may be thought to have brought up. This work has a special appeal to the philosophical mind, for in it Swedenborg draws upon his rich fund of knowledge in the physical sciences and anatomy to illustrate his theological tenets.
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It is difficult to believe that the things we see and handle are less real than those which are unseen, he argues, and yet a conviction of this truth comes with the investigation of causes. Love and wisdom are not some subtle entities floating in the ether but are real substances and forms - in fact, reality itself. The universe was indeed created out of the divine substance, but it is not God, for created things receive God by contiguity, not by continuity; that is, the Divine can flow into them but they can never become a part of the Divine; they are finite and not infinite. God, in His inmost essence, is incomprehensible and unapproachable either by angels or men. God himself is the only independent substance and reality, and creation was effected by the operation of His Divine Love by means of His Divine Wisdom. The opening sentence: "Man knows that there is such a thing as love, but he does not know what love is." God alone is love itself, because He is life itself, and angels and men are recipients of life. All things in the universe were created from the Divine Love, and all creation - animal, vegetable and mineral - has relation to man. Those who think nature is from itself, think from the eye and not from the understanding, but such reasoning is fallacious because "Thought from the eye closes the understanding while thought from the understanding opens the eye."
Creation was effected by means of a Spiritual Sun which is beyond space and time. The heat of this Divine Sun is love and its light is truth. From the Spiritual Sun proceed spiritual atmospheres, in three discrete degrees or steps. These atmospheres convey, temper, and adapt God's Love and Wisdom to finite beings even as natural atmospheres convey physical heat and light from the natural sun (no. 184).
Swedenborg's Principia affords rich material for illustration of these philosophical concepts. The orderly evolution of forms, from simple to complex, is of the very essence of Swedenborg's system, but any idea that man's intelligence itself developed from the mere evolution of nature is completely absent from his system here as it is in the scientific works.
The Divine Love and Wisdom treats at length of the various "discrete degrees," or distinct levels of the human mind, and how they are gradually opened.
A sequel to The Divine Love and Wisdom is the work entitled The Divine Providence, published the same year. As the former treated of God's work of creation of the universe, the second treats of His preservation of it, because the Divine Providence is the government of His Divine Love and Wisdom. This work therefore rests upon the arguments presented in the foregoing treatise.
The purpose of Providence is that a heaven may be formed from the human race. Providence looks in all things to what is infinite and eternal, for the Lord does not act arbitrarily but according to His own eternal laws which promote human salvation. One of the laws of Providence is that a man should act in freedom according to reason. He should therefore put away the evils of his external life as if from himself. In this way and in no other is the Lord able to remove evils from man's internal life. He compels no one. It is man's voluntary co-operation with God that leads to his salvation, otherwise there would be nothing reciprocal in his conjunction with the Lord. Saintliness is not acquired by withdrawal from the world. "The life which leads to heaven is not a life of retirement from the world but of action in the world." True charity - that is, true spiritual life - consists in acting sincerely and justly in every situation, engagement, and work, from an interior conviction that it is agreeable to the Divine law. A life of mere piety leads away from heaven, not toward it, he contends.
Every man can be reformed and there is no such thing as predestination. The Divine Providence is operating continually to save man, from the day of his birth to the day of his death, and afterward to eternity. But there can be no instantaneous salvation from pure mercy or grace without repentance, because the mind is an organic structure and repentance involves a change in this structure. Repentance is a word devoid of meaning to one who believes he may be saved by mere mercy, no matter how he has lived. Salvation from pure grace would ascribe unmercifulness to the Lord, for one may ask, "How can He see so many damned in hell when He is able out of pure mercy to save them all in a moment?" (no. 340.)
The operations of Providence are not evident to man. It appears to him as if his good impulses and thoughts are his own when really they are the Lord's. "All who are led by the Lord's Divine Providence are raised above self and they even see that what is in man from the Lord is ever His and never man's. He who believes otherwise is like one who has his master's goods under his care and claims them for himself; . . . he is not a steward but a thief." (no. 316.)
Before publishing the two profound works which for lack of space have been so inadequately described above, Swedenborg also published four treatises known as "The Four Leading Doctrines," largely expansions of material contained in his unpublished Apocalypse Explained.
The first of these was The Doctrine of the Lord, which Swedenborg prefaced by the forthright announcement that the Lord is about to set up a New Church, because the old church has come to an end. After enumerating "the five little works published some years ago" - a reference to the London treatises, see p. 264 - he says: "Now, by command of the Lord, who has been revealed to me, the following are to be published: The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Lord; concerning the Sacred Scripture; concerning Life and concerning Faith, etc."
The Doctrine o f the Lord is dedicated to the proposition that the Lord Himself is the Word made flesh. God is one, both in person and in essence, and the Lord is that God - a bold attack on the accepted doctrine of the Trinity. (Everything stated in the Creed of Athanasius is, however, true, he says, provided that, instead of a trinity of Persons you understand a trinity of Person.) The Holy Spirit is the Divine that proceeds from the Lord and therefore is the Lord, His presence with man, enlightening and teaching him. The trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is all contained in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Swedenborg's explanation of the atonement was equally radical as a departure from orthodox teachings:
"It is believed in the church that the Lord was sent by the Father to make an atonement for the human race and that He propitiated the Father's vengeful justice by suffering on the cross," this merit being imputed to man merely by his believing in it. On the contrary, Swedenborg says, nothing of the Lord's merit can be imputed to man, but salvation can be awarded him after he has performed repentance and desisted from his sins. This the Lord made possible by fighting and conquering the hells and fulfilling all things of the Law even to the passion of the cross.
That these were revolutionary doctrines Swedenborg was fully aware. "That a renewal of the church in the spiritual world has been recently effected, and that a renewal of the church in the natural world will be effected, has been partly shown in the little work on The Last Judgment, and will be more fully shown in the Continuation of that work," he says at the close of this treatise.
In The Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture he proclaims that the holiness of the Word comes from its internal or spiritual sense. Until now this sense has been completely unknown to men and for this reason the inspiration of the Bible has come into doubt. When men read so much about worldly things such as hills and trees, goats and sheep, they ask themselves, "Can this be holy? Can this be divine?" Such doubts arise from ignorance of the doctrine of correspondences according to which the Sacred Scripture is written (nos. 1-6).
"All religion is of life, and the life of religion is to do what is good," says Swedenborg in The Doctrine of Life. He demonstrates what is acknowledged by all men, namely, that he who leads a good life is saved and that he who leads an evil life is condemned but, he maintains, no one can live a good life until he first shuns evils as sins. Consequently it is not faith that saves man, for he can have faith only in the proportion that he is spiritual, that is, has shunned evils. "The faith of an evil man is an intellectual faith in which there is nothing of good from the will." (no. 46) But as far as anyone shuns murder or hatred, he has love toward the neighbor; to the extent and in the proportion that he shuns adultery, he loves chastity; in the proportion that he shuns theft he loves integrity and in the proportion that he shuns false witness he loves the truth. If evils are shunned by a man for any other reason than that they are sins, he does not really shun them but merely prevents them from appearing before the world. This doctrine left no possible peg on which to hang the theory of salvation by faith alone.
The same point is carried further in The Doctrine of Faith. Faith is an internal acknowledgment of truth which no one can possess unless he is imbued with charity. Swedenborg recognizes no faith that a man does not intellectually comprehend, blind faith having no place in heaven. Spiritual ideas can be understood by anyone, simple or learned, provided he is affected by truth. To be enlightened is nothing else than to perceive that this or that is true.
"If anyone should think within himself, or say to someone else, `Who is able to have the internal acknowledgment of truth which is faith? Not I!' Let me tell him how he may have it: Shun evils as sins, and come to the Lord, and you will have as much of it as you desire." (no. 12)
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Published next in Amsterdam was the Continuation o f the Last Judgment, in which Swedenborg describes the judgment on the Reformed as in the previous work he had described that on the Catholics. It was the doctrine of faith alone - portrayed in the Book of Revelation as a great red Dragon fighting against Michael and his angels - that caused the doom of the Protestant churches of that day. After the Last Judgment, and not sooner, Swedenborg says, revelations were made for the New Church, because of the spiritual obstacles that before then intervened between the Divine Truth and the minds of men.
One of the principal reasons for publishing this pamphlet was to disclose the state of the world after the Last Judgment. He tells of his many encounters, in the world of spirits, with people of various religions such as Mohammedans, Africans, Jews, Quakers and Moravians.
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After Swedenborg had attended to the publication of these works in Amsterdam he went to England, taking with him copies which he presented to the members of the Royal Society of London. An idea as to how he thought they would be received is indicated in the Spiritual Diary, number 6098, which describes an encounter with an English bishop in the world of spirits, who told Swedenborg that his works would be utterly rejected in England. The bishop then disclosed the various crafty methods he had used successfully to nullify the effects of Swedenborg's works among the English lords and the Oxford priests.
It has been thought that this rejection of his former writings by the clergy and leading men of England, to whom he had sent copies of Heaven and Hell and the other treatises, was what induced Swedenborg to have his later works printed in Amsterdam. Another reason is that his former printer, John Lewis, had died. Swedenborg saw him in the other life and describes him as insincere; for him the road to heaven was blocked off with cross beams.
Lewis' partner, Mr. Hart, the man who had done the actual setting up of Arcana Coelestia, had also recently died. Mr. Hart was of quite a different character from Lewis. He was a personal friend with whom Swedenborg, when in London, often spent an evening. He was fond of Mr. Hart's little granddaughter, then about ten years old. So it was natural that when Swedenborg came to London he should call at Mr. Hart's house in Poppins Court. He was met by the printer's son, who relates that, after letting him in at the street door, he told him that his old friend, Mr. Hart, was dead, to which Swedenborg replied:
"I know that very well, for I saw him in the spiritual world whilst I was in Holland; also whilst coming over in the packet to England, He is not now in heaven, but is coming round and is in a good way to do well."
The widow and her son were astonished. They knew that Swedenborg would not have spoken an untruth to save his life.
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Swedenborg must have returned from his eighth foreign journey in the late summer of 1764, for in August he addressed a letter from Stockholm to Archbishop Mennander.505 By this time the works published in Amsterdam had been reviewed in several foreign journals. It is not surprising to find Ernesti returning to the attack and subjecting them to a scathing critique as soon as the treatises were off the press, nor that his condemnation of The Four Doctrines was as contemptuous and unjust as his former criticism of Heaven and Hell. Neither in this review nor in the preceding one does Ernesti mention Swedenborg by name, although he declares that he knows who is the author.506
It is Swedenborg's system of the Godhead that Ernesti cannot endure. He says the author of these doctrines ridicules ordinary Christians with their "triplicate divinity," and instead declares "that God is one in person and essence, and that He is the Lord." To Ernesti it was evident that this is a deplorable misconception which does away with the whole point of the atonement, for "if Christ is God, there is no God left capable of inflicting punitive vengeance on the human race."
While in general branding as "obscure and barbarous" most of the argument in The Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture, Ernesti admits that there are certain things in it "not so badly put." The Doctrine of Life, too, has in it much that is good, even though it is, in his opinion, "founded on the erroneous principle that it is the virtuous life which is the cause of eternal blessedness." But Swedenborg's Doctrine of Faith is all wrong! The true order of faith and charity is inverted by him, says Ernesti:
Notices soon began to appear in other journals also. A three-page review of the newly published volumes appeared in the "Bibliotèque des Sciences et des Beaux Arts" at the Hague, in the fall of 1763. It opens with the following statement:
"Never has theology merited more attention and respect than this if it is true, as the author very often repeats, that it has been inspired by an immediate revelation."
The reviewer calls particular attention to the memorable relation in which Swedenborg describes his meeting in the spiritual world with King Louis, the great-grandfather of the reigning king of France. Louis XIV was a sincerely pious man while he lived in the world and he has great dignity in the spiritual world where he governs the best society of the French nation, said Swedenborg.
Another French periodical commenting on the same theme "could not imagine the motive for publishing this work or its many strange reveries."
In London, The Monthly Review sarcastically ridiculed the new works. "Our readers may have heard of theatrical pieces being exhibited by their Majesties' command, and at the particular desire of several persons of quality; but we presume they have never heard before of a book being published by the express command of the Lord . . . " The article ends with the surmise that "were a Middlesex jury to hold an inquest on the body of this work, we make no doubt that since, `Great wit to madness is so near allied,' they would be unanimous in bringing in their verdict, lunacy." 
This review had dire consequences. It brought to public notice the Continuation of the Last Judgment, in which the spiritual state of the Moravians of that day is described. The author states that he has had many conversations, in the spiritual world, with the people called Moravians or Herrnhutters. They talk glibly about being the remnants of the Apostolic Church, he says, and salute each other as brethren, claiming to love the Lord better than the rest of mankind, and that they are therefore the true Christian Church. But all the while their inward thoughts run in a contrary direction. They cherish little of charity toward the neighbor or of love to the Lord; they make out that the Old Testament is worthless and have slight use for the Evangelists. When their secret doctrines were exposed in the other world, Swedenborg declares, the Moravians were banished from the Christian world and sent out into a desert.
Swedenborg is not mentioned by name as author of the treatise, but his former Moravian acquaintances would have known very well whose work it was. Christopher Springer, one of Swedenborg's intimate friends in London, informs us that Brockmer, his former landlord, "could not forgive Swedenborg for what he had written against the Moravian Brethren" in his article "Continuation concerning the Spiritual World" and that he swore to avenge his sect for the injury inflicted upon it. "Sectarians do not like to be unmasked," is Springer's comment. The infuriated Moravians revenged themselves on Swedenborg after his death. (See Epilog).
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The Swedish press dealt more kindly with Swedenborg's theological works. The first notice appeared in Samuel Alnander's Select Theological Library, and the next in the January issue of Carl Christoffer Gjörwell's "Swedish Mercury" for 1763. Gjörwell was assistant librarian at the Royal Library in Stockholm and the editor of Sweden's first literary magazines, a modest man whose contribution to the history and general information of his native land was poorly rewarded during his lifetime.
Gjörwell then gives the titles of Swedenborg's first six theological works, the first public acknowledgment of Swedenborg's authorship of these books. The following year, when there were four more of them, Gjörwell, always a careful reporter, decided it was time to pay the renowned author a visit, to get firsthand information about so remarkable a man.
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So, on August 28, 1764, the librarian climbed the heights to South Stockholm and was ushered into the assessor's courtyard, flower-filled and pungent in the late summer sunshine with its clipped boxwood pyramids lately imported from Holland.512 Swedenborg was now advanced in years but he still enjoyed tending his garden, where Gjörwell found him at work among the flowers.
They had a good talk and immediately after his return to the Royal Library, Gjörwell committed to writing an account of this visit which he dated and signed. This document has peculiar interest and value because it gives an authentic picture of Swedenborg at the venerable age of seventy-six.