Life of Swedenborg
II. Seer and Revelator
After completing his anatomical and physiological studies at the University of Paris, Emanuel Swedenborg returned home to Stockholm (in 1740) and for three years continued writing his great multi-volume work on the human body. He called it Regnum Animale, meaning, "The Kingdom of the Soul" (from animus, the soul.) Unfortunately, translators have introduced confusion by calling it The Animal Kingdom, which is something altogether different .
It was now 1743. He was 55 years of age, and accounted one of the most learned men alive. He was deeply religious; but this was not particularly noticed, because in those days piety was fashionable. It had probably never entered his head that he would become a great religious reformer, let alone a seer and revelator. But strange things were beginning to happen.
He was now on the move again, travelling to Amsterdam and London to publish some of his thousands of sheets of manuscript. (Sweden lacked the resources for producing works of this magnitude.) While in Holland he began to experience psychic changes, which at first he resisted. Heavy dreams—some beautiful, some horrific; fainting fits, and long periods of unconsciousness. His breathing changed. He heard voices at night and saw lights. He was assaulted by evil spirits, until he sweated in agony. He felt that his vast knowledge of the sciences was ebbing away into forgetfulness, leaving him as ignorant as a child; then he received it back again, as a gift from God. He realized he was being called and prepared for a new work that would necessitate his giving up the further publishing of his scientific works, but he did not wish to do this, as he was hungry for fame for himself. Actually he did proceed with the publication of three large volumes, two in Amsterdam and one in London.
The Beatific Vision
The progressive opening of Swedenborg's spiritual sight is described in some detail in his diary of 1743-4, later published under the title Swedenborg's Journal of Dreams. He is here shown passing through what might be called the phase of mysticism—a kind of Freudian dream-world associated more with the psychic consciousness than with the spiritual. And, as with other mystics, his inner experience included a beatific vision of our beloved Lord Jesus.
It was on the night of April 6, 1744, shortly after Easter. He was in a hotel in Delft, near the Hague, Holland, when he found himself, after agonized temptation and deep prayer, actually sitting in our Lord's bosom, seeing Him face to face. He reports, "Though I cannot describe his face, it was a countenance of holy mien, and smiling. I believe that He had had such a countenance while He was in the world. He spoke to me and asked me if I had a bill of health. I answered, 'Lord, Thou knowest better than I.' He said, `Well then, do it!' This I supposed to mean, 'Love Me truly,' or 'Do what you have promised.' (O God, give me grace for this.) I awoke, trembling."
Unfortunately, Swedenborg did not continue his journal into 1745, but we hear from other sources that the Lord appeared to him again the following April 1745 while he was having dinner alone in his room in a London hotel. Evidently by that time his inner eyes were fully open, for the Lord commissioned him to give to the world a new revelation of truth for the building-up of a new church. From that day onwards, for 27 years until his death in 1772, he was an inhabitant of both worlds. While living a normal life on earth as to his natural body, he was also conscious of his spiritual body in the spiritual world. He met and talked familiarly with angels in Heaven, newly awakened spirits in the intermediate region and with devils and satans in Hell. He visited them in their homes, shared their lives and discussed every kind of subject with them. At the same time, the Lord was enlightening his mind so that he could understand and convey to the world the spiritual sense of God's holy Word.
Preparing for his New Work
Abandoning his current scientific writings, Swedenborg returned home to Stockholm and began his new work. He learned Hebrew and read the Bible through in its original languages (Hebrew and Greek). He wrote thousands of pages of notes on the spiritual meaning of the Word as it was gradually being unfolded to him. He began a Spiritual Diary, which he continued to keep for many years, recording the day-by-day events that he experienced on the "other side." In 1747 (age 59), he retired from the Board of Mines and placed himself full-time at the Lord's disposal.
The five years we have been considering, from 1743 to 1747 (ages 55-59), were a period of change: a dawn between night and day, a time of half-light, during which he was becoming accustomed to his new complex life-style. What he wrote during these five years was experimental. He was feeling his way, learning as he went. But, on entering his 60th year, his preparation seems to have been complete. After that, he wrote on doctrinal matters with a new authority. There was nothing of verbal dictation or automatic writing; his own highly-trained, rational mind was employed to the full. But he was now so fully enlightened that he was able to claim that his theological writings were "from the Lord alone."
The Writings of the New Church
Swedenborg spent the last 27 years of his life writing and publishing the great works which contain the "Heavenly Doctrines." They were written in Latin, like most learned books in those days. Swedenborg also wrote a number of important theological works which he did not publish. These have been printed since his death and so are called "posthumous." See an annotated list of the all these titles of the Writings.
Living a Normal Life
During all this period, Swedenborg's outer life in the world appeared to be quite normal, giving no clue as to what was going on within his soul. He travelled extensively, staying in England, Denmark, Holland and Germany. When at home in Stockholm, he took an active part in the government of his country, his advice being frequently sought on political and economic affairs. He was a keen gardener, importing exotic plants from the West Indies and America, and his garden was open to the public. When the British Admiralty offered a prize of £20,000 for a method of ascertaining a ship's position at sea, Swedenborg travelled all the way to England to present the method he had devised and was keenly disappointed when he failed to win the prize! He was on intimate terms with the Swedish royal family and a regular visitor at the palace. Everybody agreed that he was a charming and dignified old gentleman, with a clear brain and a remarkable knowledge on almost every subject.
His Abnormal Psychic Powers
Yet all this time he was living another life in continual intercourse with angels and spirits in the spiritual world. We shall hear later how he witnessed the Last Judgment in the year 1757. He was able to obtain information from a "dead" man as to the whereabouts of certain missing documents. He told the Queen of Sweden the contents of a letter she had secretly received from her brother the King of Prussia, at a time when Sweden and Prussia were at war. He reported the murder of Peter III, Emperor of Russia at the time it occurred, before anyone else knew about it. He told the people of Gothenburg, soon after his arrival there from England, of a fire that had broken out in Stockholm 300 miles away (this was before telephones or railways!). And he correctly foretold the date and time of his own death.
He "died" in London on March 29, 1772, aged 84. His physical body was interred in the Swedish Church in London. When this church was demolished in 1908, the coffin was taken to Sweden and placed with honor in a magnificent marble sarcophagus in Uppsala cathedral.
In recent times, interest has been aroused about Swedenborg's skull. It is true that, while the body was lying in the vaults of the Swedish church in London, the skull was removed by a Swedish sailor, who hoped, in vain, to make a lot of money by selling it as a relic. After the thief's death in Sweden, the skull was returned to London, but before being put back in the coffin, it was exhibited, together with other skulls, in a phrenological collection. The story goes that the wrong one was actually replaced, while the genuine skull was put up for sale in an antique shop! Probably the truth or otherwise of this allegation will never be known for certain; but to a New-Church member it matters not at all! Swedenborg himself taught us that the physical body is of use only for life in this world, and that after death it is laid aside like a worn-out garment, never to be taken up again; the spirit moves on, clothed with immortality.
How Swedenborg would chuckle if he heard in the other world that his one-time skull, or something purporting to be his skull, had been on sale by auction at Sotheby's for a large sum of money!