The Swedenborg epic

Table of Contents


Chapter 41 - Heresy Trial at Gothenburg

When Swedenborg arrived in Stockholm in the fall of 1769, his expectations that he would be well received by his distinguished friends and relatives-as he had written to Hartley-seemed entirely justified, and he was far from apprehending the persecution that his English friends feared. Writing to Dr. Beyer he says that he found high and low pleased to see him and favorably, disposed. He was invited to dine with his Royal Highness the crown prince (afterward Gustavus III) and had a long conversation with him and the crown princess. Afterward he dined with some of the senators and conversed With the leading members of the House of the Clergy, and all the bishops who were attending the Diet treated him with kindness - with one exception[661] (Stockholm, October 30, 1769).

We are informed by Major-General Tuxen that Swedenborg returned to Stockholm by way of Gothenburg. This overland route would also have been the shortest if his first destination was Norrköping, the place set for the meeting of the Diet. As he had left England in the beginning of September and did not arrive in Stockholm until a month later, he probably spent some days in Norrköping, where we shall see that he had important business. It is clear from his letter to Beyer that he had not met this friend, at least not long enough to have had much intimate conversation with him, for in this letter he refers to matters that would otherwise have been discussed between them orally. It was not necessary to wait for wind and weather, as when he was on a sea voyage, and he may have deliberately avoided a personal encounter with Dr. Beyer, on account of the undesirable effect this might have had on Beyer's standing in the Consistory. The situation in the western coastal town had ripened considerably, and tension there was high. Of this Swedenborg had been kept informed, and his presence might have been more embarrassing than helpful.

A bitter controversy had broken out in the Consistory involving not only the right and wrong of "the Swedenborgian doctrines," espoused by some of the teachers in the gymnasium but also the broader issue of the right to promulgate new ideas, in general, thus the very principle of freedom in matters of religion.

Bishop Lamberg and Dean Ekebom, who formerly were friendly toward Swedenborg - he always sent them his books and greetings - had become outright enemies of Doctors Beyer and Rosén, and it was fear of the consequences of free thought, even more than the ideas themselves, that had produced the change. As long as the new ideas concerned merely the question of a new Bible exegesis that opposed the pronouncements of the Council or Trent or the Formula Concordiae, quite a number of the faculty members were interested in them, especially Lectors Roempke and Gothenius. The former had read a synodical essay highly flavored with Swedenborgian ideas, and the latter had helped Dr. Beyer get out his volume of provocative sermons.[662]

Up to this time Swedenborg's works had circulated only among the learned who could read Latin. But after Rosen had published a review of The Apocalypse Revealed and Beyer had issued his Household Sermons in Swedish, the situation changed.[663] The new ideas in religion were finding popular expression, and that was quite another thing! High time that these heresies be drastically opposed before they found their way into the homes of the people, where the slightest deviation from sanctioned doctrines would upset the flock and embarrass the shepherds.

This was the view taken by Bishop Eric Lamberg, whom the records depict as a weak and rather vain individual, not greatly respected in his diocese, and also by the popular, hot-headed Dean Olof Ekebom, arch-enemy of the New Church and the active ingredient in the witches' broth that was brewing in the Consistory cauldron. "Our Dean needs to learn to know himself," wrote Gothenius, "that man has all the ignorant people among us as his worshippers . . . a superficial man, even in his chief subjects, an ignoramus."[664]

The blow fell on September 27, 1768, when a country parson named Peter Aurelius urged the Consistory to take stringent measures to stop the circulation of books containing doctrines that militate against God's Word and the dogmatic writings.[665]

On October 12 the Rev. Anders Kollinius, another country parson, prayed the bishop to enlighten the clergy as to how far the writings of Swedenborg really were objectionable. Do they contain merely innocent theological problems? Or were they actually heretical? If the latter, would it not be a crime for teachers to imbue others with such religious principles?

The Consistory cannily appointed Dr. Beyer as the one best informed, to submit a report, which he did, but not until the following February. Swedenborg, he said, was known as a virtuous citizen, a giant of learning, and one whose veneration for the Divine Word was unbounded. Surely the thoughts of such a man on matters of religion ought not to be rashly condemned without a thorough examination? If anyone will do the will of Him who has sent Jesus, he shall know whether a doctrine is of God, and thus Divine, or whether it has a merely human origin and so ought to be rejected (John vii, 17).

Dean Ekebom - who presided during Bishop Lamberg's absence at the Diet - expressed himself, a month later, in much stronger terms: "I am not acquainted with the religious system of Assessor Swedenborg, nor shall I take any trouble to become acquainted with it," he loftily declared, "but from conversations with the author and an examination of his Apocalypse Revealed ... I must confess that his doctrines appear to me corrupting, heretical, injurious and in the highest degree objectionable."

Particularly abhorrent to the dean was Swedenborg's contention that the Sacred Scriptures can not be understood without the doctrine of correspondences; that God is said to be one in essence and person; that justification by faith alone is denied; that the bread and wine of the Holy Supper must be spiritually understood, and many other points. He found Swedenborg "diametrically opposed to God's Word and the dogmatic writings of the Lutheran church, and full of the most intolerable errors which overturn the very foundations of faith in the Christian religion. They are consequently not merely schismatic but in the highest degree heretical, in most parts Socinian [The followers of Socinus acknowledged the human of the Lord while denying His Divine], and in every sense objectionable." Wherefore he advised the clergy of the diocese most earnestly to be on their guard against the theological writings published by Assessor Swedenborg, and he urged Pastor Kollinius to make a positive statement giving the names of those leading men who are reported as favoring these principles, "so that the innocent may escape suspicion and so that those who favor and promote false opinions may be treated according to law and the royal decrees." He advised that the bishop be instructed to report the matter to the House of the Clergy at the approaching Diet, so that they might not fail to take necessary steps to prevent the spread of Swedenborgian doctrines.

Beyer strongly objected to the Consistory passing judgment without an examination of Swedenborg's system and advised that the matter be submitted to no less a person than His Royal Majesty himself, who will graciously decide what further steps are to be taken. Dr. Rosen also objected to taking any hasty action before the writings of Swedenborg have been thoroughly studied.

Ekebom's condemnation reached Swedenborg while he was in Amsterdam. (See p. 374.) In great indignation, he wrote immediately to Beyer, enclosing a reply to the charges which he labeled untrue and evidently written by "a person who seems to have neither a bridle for his tongue nor eyes in his forehead." He suggested that his letter be printed, and threatened the dean with criminal prosecution unless he retracted his condemnation. The doctrine, he said, cannot be called  heretical, since it acknowledges the Divine Trinity, the sanctity of the Holy Scriptures, a Christian life, and so forth. He scores the dean for declaring the doctrine to be full of the most intolerable fundamental errors, "corrupting, heretical and injurious," while admitting that he has not read the books or become acquainted with Swedenborg's system. Ekebom's declaration that the doctrine is Socinian Swedenborg denounces as "a cursed blasphemy and lie," for Socinianism signifies a denial of the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. "I look upon the word Socinian as a downright insult and a diabolical mockery ... The dean's opinion may be taken for the flood which the Dragon cast out of his mouth after the Woman, to drown her when she was in the wilderness." (Amsterdam, April 15, 1769)[666]

Odium theologicum now took possession of the Gothenburg Consistory and two parties developed, one filled with extravagant zeal for orthodoxy, the other with anxiety on account of threatened persecution. As Beyer could not be brought to account for his Household Sermons - they were published under official sanction - and as Kollinius refused to give the names of the leading men under suspicion, the intrepid public prosecutor, Assessor Aurell, inspired with hatred and abetted by Ekebom, finally produced some of the notebooks of Beyer's students as evidence of heresy and summoned pupils before the Consistory to bear witness against their teachers. At private expense Aurell published the official minutes of the Consistory under the title: Minutes on Swedenborgianism and the so-called Household Sermons.[667]

If Lamberg and Ekebom were the master minds, the villain in the piece was their special friend, the lawyer Anders Aurell - son of the aforementioned Pastor Aurelius - a man "very amiable to those who agreed with him, but impatient with anyone who dissented." He is described as quarrelsome and unprincipled, rather than zealous for Christian truth. While he pretended to act from zeal for the church and for the purity of doctrine, all his actions bore the stamp of unscrupulous pettifogging. One of the reasons for his vindictive spirit seems to have been that he bore a personal grudge against Dr. Beyer. He was an artful antagonist. To win others over to his side, he employed flattery. Wrote Gothenius: "His love for me is so blind that he speaks of me, even in the presence of my colleagues here, as an incomparable man as to learning and such things, and when I think it over carefully the only reason for it is that I do not make any show of my qualities as he thinks a great many others do of theirs. As a friend, he is affectionate and faithful."[668]

Gothenius was a man of liberal but somewhat cynical turn of mind, as evidenced by his letters to Librarian Gjörwell. He was friendly to Beyer and often voted with him. "I should like to be where liberty of opinion is not too strictly circumscribed, as is the case at Lund, for instance, where I certainly should not wish to be. The condition of servitude there is so great that Dr. [Carl Jesper] Benzelius, that honest man, received a reprimand from one Engeström because he possessed a few volumes of Swedenborg's works . . . "[669]

In a burst of frankness, Gothenius discloses to his Stockholm correspondent a secret motive in the persecution of Beyer: "The Rev. Doctor Kullin's holy zeal consists in a desire to get Beyer out of the way and off the field, so that afterward he himself, as the senior lector of philosophy, may secure the prebendal pastorate which is the prerequisite for a chair in Theology." Professor Lorenz Kullin was Dean Ekebom's right-hand man in the prosecution.

Gothenius shied, nevertheless, at being identified with the new movement: "Do not believe of Gothenius that he is a Swedenborgian, or the pupil of a dreamer. But it is against his nature to do the man an injustice, by storming at him, without actually showing wherein he has transgressed against our confession of faith. It does not take a great deal of cleverness to shout ‘Swedenborg is a Socinian,' but it would probably be, for many, quite an embarrassing proposition to refute him, for in order to do this one must at least be acquainted with his opinions . . . "

Dr. Gabriel Andersson Beyer was at this time a man in his fifties who for twenty-two years had been teaching the sacred languages and theology in the college. This controversy was not an easy thing for him to bear, attended as it was with other hardships. Full of courage and tenacity when it came to defending the truth as he saw it, Beyer was not a strong man physically but, as he says, "enfeebled by a chronic disease of the chest accompanied with fever." In the person of Aurell he had an inveterate enemy perhaps, as one historian suggests, because he had formerly opposed him in a litigation.

In the autumn of 1769 Beyer's wife died, leaving him with five small children. Her death was attended with circumstances highly shocking to her husband. She had been induced to deny the new doctrines they had together acknowledged as true. Her husband wrote about this to Swedenborg who, in his reply, explained that her disordered state of mind was due to the presence, at her deathbed, of two clergymen - one of whom was Dean Ekebom himself:

What you relate respecting your wife in her dying hours, was caused especially by the impression of two clergymen who associated her in her thoughts with those spirits from whom she then spoke; it sometimes happens with some in the hour of death that they are in the state of the spirit. Those spirits that first spoke through her belonged to the followers of the Dragon which was cast down from heaven (see Rev. XII), and who then became so filled with hatred against the Saviour, and consequently against God's Word and against everything belonging to the New Church, that they cannot bear to hear Christ mentioned. When the sphere of our Lord descends upon them out of heaven, they become raving mad and seek to hide themselves in holes and caverns, and thus to save themselves, according to Rev. IV, 16. Your deceased wife was with me yesterday and informed me of many things which she had thought and spoken to you, her husband, and with those who led her astray. Were I at this time near you, I might relate to you many things on this subject, but I am not permitted to write about them . . .[670] (Stockholm, October 30, 1769)

The climax came when Dr. Beyer, in accordance with Swedenborg's suggestion, printed this letter. The Consistory was furious. They called up the printer and roundly berated him. They threatened Beyer and Rosen with the loss of their positions.

Such was the situation when Swedenborg landed in Sweden in the fall of 1769.[671]

* * * * *

The Diet that year was meeting in the coastal town of Norrköping instead of in the capital. The Cap party were then in power but were soon again to lose their supremacy to the Hats. They thought that by convening the Diet in a small town like Norrköping they would put a wholesome distance between themselves and the influence of the capital - with its foreign embassies and conservative office-holders - but this proved unavailing. The pressure groups packed their bags and followed the Diet to the southern city, where accommodations were so scarce that noblemen put up with living in huts and farmhouses in order to be near the political center - greatly to the advantage of the natives, who charged exorbitant prices for rooms sometimes too low to stand erect in.[672]

If Swedenborg attended the session, he took no active part in it. His interest in politics had by that time waned, for he was rarely seen in the House of Nobles, where partisanship and self-interest struggled for mastery. In the House of the Clergy, however, his name came up for discussion.[673]

Swedenborg had ordered a small box of books to be sent from London containing fifty copies of his work on Conjugial Love, which he intended to distribute' among the members of the Diet. When informed that the books had been confiscated, he inquired about this of various bishops. All of them answered that they knew nothing about it except that the books were being held in storage until his arrival, to prevent them from being scattered. That was what Bishop Filenius, the Speaker of the House of the Clergy, had announced. The matter had not been discussed and nothing had been entered on the minutes, so the House had no part in holding the books.

Bishop Filenius - to whom Swedenborg referred when he said that, with one exception, all the bishops had treated him kindly - was a connection by marriage, Filenius' wife, Ulrika Benzelstjerna, being the youngest daughter of Anna and Erik Benzelius. Swedenborg at once turned to this influential relative to get his box of books released, and Filenius assured him that he would attend to the matter. When his old uncle left, Filenius embraced him and kissed him. But when Filenius went up to the House, he was the one who most strongly insisted that the books should not be released. It is told that he won over a majority in the House "through cunning and craft."[674] When Swedenborg later discovered what Filenius had done he expressed great contempt for the bishop, whom he likened to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his friend with a kiss. A downright refusal, he said, would have pleased him much better than a false promise inspiring confidence.

Again he brought the matter up with Filenius and on October 6 he sent a memorial to the Diet demanding the release of his books. But again the bishop refused to deliver them, and he had his way in spite of Swedenborg's insistence that "Conjugial Love was not a theological work but mostly a book on morals."[675]

However, this matter was not of any vital importance to Swedenborg, for he had brought thirty-eight copies with him and had previously sent over five, and nearly half of these had already been distributed to people of prominence. "Those that are detained at Norrköping will be sent abroad where there is quite a demand for them," he wrote to Beyer.[676]

Perhaps the sole relative whom Swedenborg considered endowed with real spiritual intelligence was Bishop Lars Benzelstjerna, the younger, son of Emanuel's sister Hedwig and his fellow associate on the Board of Mines, Lars Benzelstjerna. Bishop Lars always showed a friendly disposition toward his uncle and Swedenborg held him in high esteem. He had sent copies of the Brief Exposition to this Bishop Benzelstjerna and to Count von Höpken with strict injunctions not to lend them to anyone else, because "theology is now in its winter, and here in the north the night lasts longer than in the southern parts wherefore, in their darkness, they kick against everything of understanding and reason in the New Church."[677]

In the same letter to von Höpken, he wrote:

It is certain that the Brief Exposition meets with adverse criticism, as was foreseen by your Excellency; yet only in the beginning, as long as men are in darkness on account of preconceived and false principles. However, since that which is rational has light within itself, even in theological matters, therefore the truth will gradually be seen and acknowledged, as has been the case in many places abroad. But as I am doubtful whether this change has already taken place in Stockholm, I have delivered only one copy to Bishop Benzelstjerna with strict injunctions that it is by no means to be communicated to any one else; for Benzelstjerna is, in my estimation, a rational man even in theology, and does not accept irrational things from obedience to faith . . . The purpose is to establish a universal church in all Christendom . . . The present church insists that reason shall be bound and placed under obedience to faith . . . Your Excellency's pleasure in my writings gladdens my heart . . . (Stockholm, Nov. 17, 1769)

It was not only a question of new views - it was a question as to whether the intellect was at all to be permitted to function in matters of faith, or whether opinions once established should hold sway and reign supreme and undisturbed forever. This question had been raised very early in Swedenborg's life, in fact his work On the Infinite in 1734 was a bold step forward in the championship of freedom for religious speculation. Here, too, he was the spearpoint of the age, by many years anticipating the French philosophers.

* * * * *

On December 4 Bishop Lamberg wrote from Stockholm, to his consistory in Gothenburg, that he had brought the Swedenborgian matter up in the Ecclesiastical Committee and that it would soon come up for discussion before the entire House of the Clergy. The heavy hand of authority was now to fall on such culprits as dared to introduce novelties into theology. "In future it will not be advisable for anyone who fills the public office of a teacher to defend this doctrine or to spread it among others," he stated. The scandal made by the printing of Swedenborg's "infamous letter" was indescribable and measures would be adopted for checking "the licentious spirit of our printing presses!"[678] "I intend to keep the strictest guard lest this cancer should spread," he wrote privately to Aurell. Swedenborg's doctrinal system was "plentifully tinged with Mohammedanism." (To accuse anyone of Mohammedanism in those days was equivalent to calling him a Communist in 1952!) The charge of Mohammedanism was leveled at Swedenborg by several reviewers. It arose from his description of heaven as a paradise of conjugal delights.

The intrepid prosecutor Aurell, in the true spirit of Torquemada, urged Filenius to leave no stone unturned:

"I entreat you to take the most energetic measures to stifle, punish, and utterly eradicate the Swedenborgian innovation and downright heresies by which we are encompassed . . . so that the boar which devastates and the wild beast which desolates our country may be driven out with a mighty hand," - the boar being presumably benign old Swedenborg and the wild beast Dr. Beyer!

"Rest assured that every Christian, prudent and severe measure will be taken to save from eternal damnation those souls whom Jesus has redeemed by His blood and death . . . " was Filenius' pious assurance, describing the amazement of the House of the Clergy at Swedenborg's "hallucinations."

In Gothenburg Ekebom used his gavel, threatened and scolded the erring lectors. He even insisted that their chairs should be removed so that they would have to stand while their case was under discussion until Rosen, in an eloquent statement, reminded him that Spanish inquisitions are forbidden in Sweden. Beyer was alarmed at the great ado made over the printed letter, and fearful of what might befall Swedenborg himself.

But the latter had no fears on his own account, and we have a slight suspicion that, like an old Viking, he was enjoying the storm! "Such a noise does no harm," he wrote, "for its effect is like that of fermentation in the preparation of wine by which it is cleared of impurities; for unless what is wrong is ventilated, and thus expelled, what is right cannot be seen and adopted . . . Two honorable friends in London have invited me to England and I am considering whether I shall go thither next spring," he informed him. . . . "I have been told by an angel from the Lord that `I may rest securely on my arms in the night,' by which is meant the night in which the world is now immersed in respect to the things of the church." (Stockholm, December 28, 1769)[679]

* * * * *

Swedenborg was at this time much in the public eye and frequently the butt of jokes. The newspapers printed articles about him. Verse writers made comical references to the controversy. A political satire bore the title: "An Address to the Cap party from the Kingdom of the Dead ... held per influxum during the author's visit in mundo Swedenborgiano . . . " and a writer entertained the Stockholm public with a description of how he could make nothing out of the Swedenborgian books until he shuffled the pages together like a pack of cards and read them off helter-skelter.[680] A popular humorist opened his latest book, My Son upon the Galley with these words:

At the time when Swedenborgian spirits were revealing themselves in printed protocols in Gothenburg; at the time when the dirt is thickest upon the streets of Stockholm, and when women rattle loudest in their Kitchens and Pantries; in a word: in the golden Sausage-time of the year 1769, I, who now am writing, received an order to present myself upon the Swedish East India Company's ship Finland, which then lay ready to sail for Canton…[681]

We do not know who the enterprising writer was that presented the Swedish public with the first collection of anecdotes, His Thoughts and Entertaining Stories about Herr Swedenborg's Conversations and Communications with Spirits, was published anonymously in 1770.[682] Similar collections were also issued in Germany and Denmark, usually containing accounts of the Stockholm fire, the lost receipt, and the queen's secret.

It was to this public agitation that Swedenborg referred when he wrote, in a letter to Beyer, that there was "a general disturbance" on the subject of his inspiration. He was considering the report about a boy from Skara who was said to be having visions and curing diseases. He found it unwise to discuss the boy's condition, he said, on account of the agitated mood prevailing all over the country. He nevertheless arranged with a rich family in the city to take the boy into their household and educate him, offering himself to provide his traveling expenses and to meet him and take him to the family, if he came. (Stockholm, November 14, 1769, and January 18, 1770)[688]

A proof of how high the emotional temperature had risen is contained in Count von Höpken's letter to Professor Samuel Älf : "I am one of those who have especially defended and protected Swedenborg against persecution," he says (Ulfåsa, December 10, 1769). But he feared that the old man, in his printed letter, has "unwittingly kindled a fire which will be extinguished God knows when! "[684]

"Swedenborg is here, setting fire to the Swedish Zion," is how Gjörwell expressed it, writing to Dr. Lidén. (Stockholm, December 26, 1769)685 And Lidén replied: "In Gothenburg they are simply mad. Three doctors of divinity have lost their reason and orthodoxy, and proclaim themselves Swedenborgians . . . " Lidén himself advised a policy of silence:

I should consider it best not to mention anything about the Swedenborgian battle which has unfortunately arisen. How can anyone argue with a man who writes everything ex visis et auditis, who in express words says that God Himself has been revealed to him, and that he writes at His command? Why should they always ring the alarm bell among us here? In England and Holland, where the assessor's books are printed, people are amused at them; no sect arises there. But just persecute the man, prohibit his writings, and then you may be certain that supporters will be found. For my part I would laugh at him but not write against him. We have a bishop who would like to burn up the whole city of Gothenburg, if he could, in order to root out Swedenborgianism there once and for all. Is that the right method? (Gothenburg, September 18, 1769)[686]

That personal danger actually threatened Swedenborg is indicated by a story which Robsahm tells, on rather good authority:[687]

A cunning stratagem was planned by certain members of the House of the Clergy, by which Swedenborg was to be summoned before a court of justice and, after examination, to be declared a man bereft of reason by religious speculations, whom it was most dangerous to leave at liberty and who ought therefore to be confined in a lunatic asylum.

As soon as a certain senator, a friend of Swedenborg, heard about this, he wrote the assessor a letter disclosing the scheme, and advising him to leave the country.

Thereupon Swedenborg became very sorrowful and,- going straightway into his garden, fell upon his knees and in tears prayed to the Lord, asking Him what he should do. He received the comforting assurance that no evil would befall him-as was the case; for his enemies did not dare to carry out their persecution when they considered that he was the head of a family and related to other influential families both in the House of Nobles and in the House of the Clergy.

Immediately after relating this Robsahm assures the readers of his Memoirs that his statements are true in every particular.

Another writer repeats an anecdote that is not so well authenticated. He states that during the session of this Diet, Swedenborg's life being in danger, he gave his servants orders to admit no one into his house, which seems credible enough when taken in connection with the incident just related.

The story runs that a young man came to Swedenborg's residence with the purpose of assassinating him. When the housekeeper told him that her master was not at home the young man would not believe her and ran into the garden to look for him. "God, however, provided means to protect him. As the young man was rushing into the garden, his cloak caught in a nail of the lock [of the gate] so that he could not disengage himself, and his naked sword fell to the ground. In this embarrassment the fear of being discovered took possession of him and he withdrew in all possible haste."[688]

This brings to mind Swedenborg's account of the violent opposition he once encountered in the spiritual world where, he says, a certain one came running up to him with threatening gestures and addressed him in a passionate voice: "Art thou the man who wishes to seduce the world by instituting a New Church and . . . endowing with love truly conjugial those who embrace its doctrines? . . . Is not this a mere fiction, and dost thou not hold it forth as a bait and enticement for others?"[689]

An anecdote, based on oral tradition, relates that the gardener and his wife once, in the middle of the week, appeared before Swedenborg in his study, attired in their best clothes, the housekeeper in tears, the gardener wringing his cap. Upon Swedenborg's inquiring what was the matter, Wessel said that they wished to leave his employment.

Swedenborg's surprise was great, since he knew of no reason for their wanting to leave him so suddenly after many years of faithful service.

"People say we ought not to serve you any longer, because you are not a proper Christian," said Maria, "You never go to church, for years you have not been inside St. Mary's."

"Do you believe that it is the steeple and the copper roof which make the church a holy place?" Swedenborg is said to have replied. "Is it holy for any one but him who has Christ's Church in his heart? Is it the walls, the organ and the pulpit that constitute its holiness?" "Oh no, sir. We know that well enough," Maria replied.

"Well then, in this room, or in the garden, or wherever a prayer is sent up to Him who is the Giver of all good, there is His Church. It is therefore here where I live sheltered from the world."

The two faithful servants bowed their heads while carefully Swedenborg explained to them a faith of which charity is the kernel; the outward forms of piety being merely the shell.

"My friends," he concluded, "look back upon the years you have daily seen me before your eyes, and then decide for yourselves whether I am a Christian or not. I submit myself to your judgment. Do what you deem to be right."

The next day they stood before him again, now in their week-day clothes, and he asked them how the examination had turned out.

"Oh, Master Assessor," said the couple, "we looked for a single word, for a single deed that was not in agreement with what the Lord has commanded us, and we could not find one!"

"I hope and pray that it may be so," Swedenborg said. "You will remain with me, then?"

"Yes, master."

("God must indeed have forsaken us when He allowed us to suspect our own Assessor of not being a Christian," added the old lady, many years later, as she finished her story.)[690]

* * * * *

On January 2 the Royal Council, to which the Gothenburg heresy case had been referred, handed in its decision that the members of the Consistory should report to His Majesty on the errors of Swedenborgianism and what measures they had taken to prevent them from spreading. They were warned not to circulate reviews and translations of Swedenborg's works which contained anything conflicting with the purity of doctrine.

In carrying out this decree, Dean Ekebom attempted to go a step farther than he had any warrant for doing, and warned the clergy of his diocese to suppress Swedenborgianism, labeling it "heresy" although not a word to that effect was contained in the royal letter.

Doctors Beyer and Rosen, like all the others, had to comply with the royal command to express their views on Swedenborg's writings and with trembling hands, but free and undaunted spirits, they did so. Rosen's short, vigorous declaration consisted almost entirely of Scripture quotations, cleverly handled. "Is there to be no prophet any more?" he asks, and "Shall we find no vision from the Lord? (Psalm XXIV, 9; Lam. II, 9, Sam. III, 1). If so, abandon Swedenborg and reject visions, yet . . . I know that Paul was `caught up,' and that heaven was opened for many. (I. John, I, 51; Acts VII, 56.) Why then should visions and spirits be foolishness to us, as the crucified Christ was unto the Greeks? (I. Cor. l, 23) . .. And if it be really a fact that spirits or angels have spoken with Swedenborg, I am not disposed to fight against God, nor am I willing to curse him whom God hath not cursed. (Acts XXIII, 9 and Num. XXII, 8.)"

Rosen amplified his views in a letter to Senator von Höpken: "The people call upon the Father, as one God, to be conciliated for the sake of a second, and to do certain things by the operation of a third, as our prayer books tell us. Are we not told that one God was angry and implacable, until the death of the second? How does this strike the more enlightened theologians ... ? I cannot see why, in a free nation, these doctrines should be maintained as infallible and pure . . . " He deplores it deeply if, after having served without reproach for so many years, he now has forfeited the royal favor and his privileges as a subject. It is a sad prospect, and this affair has plunged him into an abyss of misfortunes. "But a confession at the expense of truth, and by which the cause of truth is injured, I deplore more than all sufferings . . . " (Gothenburg, April 14, 1770)[691]

Beyer's Declaration is ample, mature and systematic.

Addressing his sovereign, he says that for a long time he has entertained a secret desire to lay before the most gracious father of his country, the Lord's representative on earth, a faithful confession of things so important for time and for eternity. He rejoices that the opportunity for so doing is now at hand, that those hitherto in ignorance may hear truthful testimony concerning them and that an end may be put to unpleasant controversies and hatreds. "Genuine truths require a calm, settled state of the mind, and cannot thrive amidst turmoil, but if they are of God, they nevertheless cannot be overthrown."[692]

He quotes the Confession of Faith as stating that "Holy Scripture is the sole judge, measure and rule by which, as by a touchstone, all doctrines must be carefully investigated and judged." He cites the nation's laws to the effect that clergymen are under oath not to entertain, spread, or preach any other doctrine than that which "God the Holy Ghost has Himself dictated and taught" in the Bible. He also cites the Royal Decree that proclaims for all the inhabitants of Sweden freedom in all matters of religion which are not opposed to the genuine confession of faith. "A doctrine is therefore pure when it is derived from the Word' and a confession is genuine when it agrees with such a doctrine."

After this Beyer proceeds to prove that Swedenborg's teachings are not opposed to the Word of God. "Although more than twenty years have now elapsed since these particular writings began to be published and distributed to the universities and libraries, and to the most learned men in most European countries, not a single valid refutation of them has so far, to the best of our knowledge, come to light . . . " He speaks of the remarkable consistency and mathematical logic of Swedenborg's works, and that the practical tendency of all of them is for the amendment of life, to make us fit and disposed for heaven. He argues that Swedenborg's teachings are in complete agreement with the Apostles' Creed, and based on the recognized rule that Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture. Every doctrine has been drawn from, and collected from the Word, and confirmed by its literal sense.

"Who dares to prohibit Divine Light from shining as much as it pleases?" he asks. He concludes that "Whoever is anxious to arrive at certainty in his investigation of the truth, must undertake a study of these books for himself." Appealing to the king for protection against enemies, haters and detractors, Beyer finally cites his long and faithful services in the college and refers to his motherless family of five young children, promising to respect and obey whatever the king orders him to teach or not to teach.

The days now became very bitter for Dr. Beyer. During his theological lectures, scenes of near-riot broke out in the classroom where the students - reflecting the general disorder - were stamping, groaning and howling in a most horrible manner, so that the more orderly of them complained they could not hear the voice of the teacher. Assessor Aurell informed the Consistory that Beyer was giving private evening classes to some of the students and merchants' clerks.[693]

A report reached Swedenborg that the two doctors were to be deprived of their offices and banished from the kingdom. He is amazed and cannot believe it! Not a single step had been taken to examine the real point at issue: - whether it is allowable to approach our Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ immediately, or whether we must approach Him through God the Father. In his letter to Dr. Beyer Swedenborg quotes still further from the Creeds, from the Word of God and even from the Swedish Hymnbook to prove that this direct approach is commanded:

By day and night I rest
Safely on Jesus' breast
In whom alone I trust.

"They call this doctrine Swedenborgianism," he says, "but I, for my part, call it Genuine Christianity . . . Were you to be removed from office and exiled, what could the present as well as future generations say but that this happened to you for no other reason than that you approached immediately Our Lord and Saviour?" (Stockholm, April 12, 1770)[694]

Swedenborg sent a copy of this letter to the Royal Council where, he says, it caused a change in the intended proceedings. The officials now saw that to go any farther meant only to fan the flames of controversy and to advertise Swedenborgianism throughout the land. They found it impossible to prove the new doctrines wrong, and had been glad enough to find, in Beyer and Rosén, victims that served the purpose of lifting the matter from Swedenborg's shoulders so as to meet and condemn his doctrines without having to deal with the man personally. There was nothing the councillors wanted less than to launch a personal attack on the venerated sage whom many of them loved and all knew to be virtuous. Besides this Swedenborg had powerful connections in the government and at court. It was distinctly understood that his person was immune from attack [695]

* * * * *

There was also another mitigating influence at work in Stockholm, a secret force for good which was like the unseen but powerful currents in air and water that cause important changes in the climate of a country. The prominent Gothenburg manufacturer Augustus Alströmer had influence in the Department of Justice. He was a personal friend of Swedenborg and one of the small group of readers of his writings that had been formed in Gothenburg and who met at the house of Nicholas Sahlgren. Alströmer thought Swedenborg solved many difficult points in orthodox theology; that he stimulated a profound reverence for the Word of God; that he promoted self-examination and discouraged self-love; and stressed the conviction that we must be of use in the world and that the love of our country was imposed upon us by God as a duty -things that strongly appealed to every virtuous citizen. Although he could speak in no official capacity, Augustus Alströmer quietly espoused the cause of Dr. Beyer, whom he admired for his sincerity and courage.

Augustus had a younger brother, Claes, who was secretary in the Department of justice where the Swedenborgian case was being tried. Augustus now wrote to Claes describing the risks that Dr. Beyer ran, on account of his conscientious convictions: "Were I myself up [at Stockholm] I should try to induce a favorable disposition toward Beyer on the part of the authorities. As it is, I must ask you to do it, in whatever measure you are able." (Gothenburg, February 17, 17 70)[696]

That Claes Alströmer agreed with his brother is patent from Augustus' other letters:

You are quite right in saying that nothing so easily causes schism in religions and sects as persecution ... If a new doctrine is allowed to be promulgated quietly it can never win [adherents] unless it has reason and a holy Light as guide and then, whatever the effects, they will never be dangerous . . . You may wonder at my taking so much interest in this case, but I do so from two principles. One is for the sake of toleration, which I hope will be advanced ... and the other is the fact that I know something of the works of this marvellous author, and I know that they do not deserve to be condemned, for his principles not only advocate a sound religion but they also would produce the best and most useful citizens in a country, so that no country could ever be more happy than the one where his religious principles gained conviction among the people. But as things are going, the public is concentrating all its attention upon his visions, disregarding what is really the essential . . . (March 3, 1770)

Neither Beyer nor Swedenborg denies the Trinity, but they say that the term "three persons" confuses the thought . . . In respect to the resurrection of the body . . . it is plainly stated in Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians that man will arise in a spiritual body and Paul calls him a fool who thinks otherwise ... (March 17, 1770)

Since I informed Beyer of his slim chances he has been quite worried, poor man, on account of his many children. He considers himself fortunate, however, under these circumstances, that he is a widower. He can never be expected to recant and deny a truth of which he is at heart convinced, but as I said before he is obedient to the commands of his superiors, so that if Swedenborg's principles are forbidden he will not introduce them in his official teachings.

Beyer does not hold any secret meetings whatsoever. He associates only with some of his relatives, and because they live together on confidential terms and think, perhaps, that he is right, such reports as this are spread abroad ...

As a result of this decree, Beyer and Rosen, as well as the other members of the Consistory, have frankly stated their opinions according to their convictions. Would it be just to make this a criminal offence against them? In no wise! Rather, if His Majesty finds that they have been mistaken in their opinion, and if Swedenborg's writings are considered heretical, let this be a command for them to observe. If they offend after this, on the other hand, they do become criminal and the law defines their punishment. But the statements they have now made, at the king's order, can and ought not to be looked upon as either a relapse from the pure doctrine or as the propagation of a strange doctrine. (March 21, 1770)

By this it would seem that Augustus Alströmer’s view of the case, presented through his brother Claes, had some influence in moderating the decree of the Royal, Council.

Alströmer advised Beyer to make a journey to Stockholm and offered to help him with traveling expenses, but Beyer told him he had no patron there to whom he could address himself, and would hardly know how to comport himself in the presence of the aristocratic gentlemen who have his fate in their hands. He preferred to apply the words of the Psalmist, and "Trust in the Lord, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed." (Ps. xxxvii, 3) Swedenborg also advised him against the journey.[697]

When the Royal Council issued its decree on April 26, 1770, it was severe enough.[698] After considering the various declarations, the Council "totally condemned, rejected and forbade the theological doctrines contained in Swedenborg's writings." Lectors Beyer and Rosen therefore stood condemned. Their arguments that the new doctrines were in agreement with Sacred Scripture, the Council brushed aside since "there is scarcely one of the numerous sects that have rebelled in the Christian Church, from the first century after Christ to the present time, that did not base itself on the Sacred Scriptures." The Council insisted that doctrine be based on the Augsburg Confession and not on the good pleasure of any individual. The accused men were to be warned, however, and given time to repent before more vigorous measures were taken against them. In the meantime they were forbidden to give instruction in theology.

Another resolution required that any of Swedenborg's books that name into the country were to be confiscated and no imported books were to be released from the custom-houses before permission had been granted by the nearest Consistory.

Severe as was this decree, it could have been even worse, and Augustus expressed to Claes his pleasure that the Chancellor's report on the Swedenborgian case was so moderately and impartially written. " . . . I am rejoiced that you have been able to accomplish so much for Beyer's retention . . . When we consider what clerical hatred means . . . !" After April 26, 1770)[699]

When the Royal Decree was read in the Gothenburg Consistory on May 5, Bishop Lamberg ordered Beyer to cease all teaching of theology and the sacred languages and these subjects fell to Dean Kullin (who for so long had had his eye on the position). Rosen was warned not to mix Swedenborgianism into his lectures on Cicero and Terence. The two lectors were forbidden to make proselytes and to address either private or public gatherings.

When Swedenborg heard the sentence he was highly indignant. Why had he received no information as to what was going on? Why had he not been informed of the printed proceedings before they were sent to him by a friend in Denmark? (Tuxen) His books are declared to be heretical, he is declared to be speaking lies, and all this without a hearing! He addressed himself to the King:[700]

Most powerful and gracious King,
I feel compelled at this juncture to have recourse to Your Majesty's protection; for I have been treated as no one has ever been treated before in Sweden since the introduction of Christianity, and still less since the establishment of freedom here. I will first give you a brief account of things as they happened. Upon my return from abroad the last time I was informed that Bishop Filenius had confiscated my work entitled De Amore Conjugiali [Conjugial Love], which appeared in Holland and was sent to Norrköping . . . Immediately afterward the clergy from Gothenburg made a noise in their House about my books, and pushed matters so far that the House appointed a committee on Swedenborgianism, consisting of bishops and professors. This committee' sat for several months and at last reported handsomely and reasonably on the subject and thereby suppressed completely the disturbance which had been made . . . When the bishop and dean of Gothenburg, who are the torch and trumpet in this affair, discovered that they made no progress in the reverend House of the Clergy they - to stir up and kindle the flame anew - commenced a publication of twenty sheets or more about Swedenborgianism which is filled with invectives . . .

I received no more intimation than a child in the cradle of all that took place ... From beginning to end, all was done without my getting a hearing, when yet the whole matter was about Swedenborgianism, and the printed papers are filled with coarse and reprehensible language without touching materially the subject of Swedenborgianism, which is the worship of the Lord our Saviour. Of these printed papers I had no other knowledge than what I received from a general commissary of war at Elsinore701 and afterward from a friend here in Stockholm who lent them to me for a day ...

From a rumor which has spread here in town I have learned that my books have been altogether forbidden importation into this country, and further that the same office has stigmatized my revelations as untrue and false. In reply to this I humbly beg to make the following statement:

That our Saviour visibly revealed Himself before me and commanded me to do what I have done, and what I have still to do, and that thereupon He permitted me to have intercourse with angels and spirits, I have declared before the whole of Christendom . . . and on various occasions in this country before your Royal Majesties, and especially when I enjoyed the grace to eat at your table, in the presence of the whole royal family ... at which time my mission constituted the sole topic of conversation. Subsequently, also, I have revealed this before many senators; and among these Count Tessin, Count Bonde, and Count Höpken have found it in truth to be so, and Count Höpken, a gentleman of enlightened understanding, still continues to believe it . . . All this, however, the office of the Chancellor of Justice . . . declares to be false when yet it is the truth. Should they reply that the thing is inconceivable to them, I have nothing to gainsay, since I am unable to put the state of my sight and speech into their heads, in order to convince them; nor am I able to cause angels and spirits to converse with them, nor do miracles happen now . . If any doubt should still remain I am ready to testify with the most solemn oath that may be prescribed to me, that this is the whole truth and a reality, without the least fallacy. That Our Saviour permits me to experience this is not on my own account, but for the sake of a sublime interest which concerns the eternal welfare of all Christians ...

In respect to Doctors Beyer and Rosén of Gothenburg, I have given them no other advice than that they should approach our Saviour, Jesus Christ, to whom all power has been given in heaven and on earth (Matth. XXVIII, 18); ... nevertheless, for this acknowledgment alone they have become, to a certain extent, martyrs, at least so far as regards the cruel persecutions by the bishop and the dean of that town. The same expression also I apply to my books, which I regard as my own self when, nevertheless, all that the dean of Gothenburg has poured out against them consists of sheer invectives, which do not contain a particle of truth . . . (Stockholm, May 25, 1770)

Wishing his friends in Gothenburg to know what he had written to the king, Swedenborg sent Augustus Alströmer a letter enclosing a copy of his petition, which he had written "in order to break the force of the malicious comments, which will no doubt issue from the mouths of certain persons, originating in their interior stupidity and perverseness."

He continues:

Two gentlemen of the Supreme Court of Appeals told me that the Privy Council was the pontifex maximus in religious matters. At the time I did not make any reply. If, however, they should repeat this statement to me I should say that, far from being the pontifex maximus, they are simply the vicarius vicarii pontificis maximi, [Meaning that the Privy Council was simply the vicar of the vicar of the one in highest authority], since Christ our Saviour alone is pontifex maximus . . .

I have not yet received any answer from the Privy Council . . . I am well aware that they strike me upon my right cheek, but how they will wipe off what the other cheek is anointed with, I cannot tell ... [702](Stockholm, July 19, 1770)

To the friends in Gothenburg Swedenborg also sent a copy of a letter which he had addressed to the Universities of Upsala, Lund and Åbo.[703] In another letter he announced his intention to depart for Amsterdam to publish "The Universal Theology of the New Church," (The True Christian Religion), the foundation of which is the worship of the Lord our Saviour; on which foundation if no temple be now built, brothels (lupanaria) will be erected . . . " He complains that the Privy Council has accepted the judgment of the Gothenburg Consistory in the matter of the religious trial, "without being aware of the fact that this trial has been the most important and the most solemn brought before any council during the last 1700 years, since it concerns the New Church which is predicted by the Lord in Daniel and in the Apocalypse, and agrees with what the Lord says in Matthew XXIV:22. (Stockholm, July 23, 1770)

"When our adversaries enter the other life," he wrote to Dr. Beyer, "they will have their places assigned to them. I pity them."[704]

* * * * *

On December 7, 1771, the Royal Council ordered the accused to be treated with mildness and Christian charity, without reproaches for the past. They finally tired of the case, which had added nothing to the government's credit, admitting that "there is much that is true and useful in Swedenborg's writings." The whole case was finally referred to the Gotha Court of Appeals in southern Sweden, where the wearisome trial dragged on for three more years. This court in turn agreed to suspend judgment until the universities had been heard from. (The way to handle a hot potato is to pass it on to someone else!)

The Upsala professors evidently became convinced that they, too, were unable to prove Swedenborg's writings to be either heretical or illogical, for we look in vain for any trace of a final report from them. The accusations 'which had been raised against the Consistory members in Gothenburg could not be answered and, finding it highly distasteful to put a bishop and his entire Consistory on trial, Upsala finally managed to get permission "to be excused from the duty of presenting the results of their inquiry." The universities had been unable to show that Swedenborg was wrong.

So ended this most important trial for spiritual freedom. Many years later the people of Sweden were granted complete freedom of religion. Swedenborgianism took hold in Westrogothia, where much liberty of thought has been traced to its energetic, venerated one-time bishop, Jesper Swedberg. The diocese of Skara became the center of a vital movement. Martyrs were not lacking. Mention should be made of the Rev. Sven Schmidt, who was deprived of his office, declared insane and imprisoned because he insisted on teaching the Swedenborgian tenets.[705] Among the complaints of local pastors was the amusing one that:

"A number of old ladies who have not been married in this world are said to be ;greatly enamoured of these doctrines, because Swedenborg promises a happy marriage to everybody in the eternal life, contrary to the words of our Saviour in Matthew XXII:29, 30." But the Chancellor of justice looked leniently on this lapse in orthodoxy, observing that "the old ladies deserved pity rather than notice." He advised the king to let the matter rest, suggesting that the Skara pastor "look for some more worthy subject for his pen . . . "[706]

Johan Rosén did not live to see the close of the religious trial in which he had played so prominent a part. He fell ill in August, 1773, and died the following month.

In February, 1779, Dr. Beyer was granted permission to resume instruction in theology! But a promotion which he esteemed even more highly, awaited this learned and patient worker. He was relieved of his earthly burdens and could join his friend Johan Rosen and his revered teacher, Emanuel Swedenborg, in another and better world. For thirteen years Dr. Beyer had been steadily at work on a large folio volume, his Initial Index to Swedenborg's Theological Works, which was elegantly printed in Amsterdam.[707] When he had sent the last sheet off to the printer, he sickened, took to his bed and died, after a few days' illness.

* * * * *

Some time before his departure on his last journey abroad, Swedenborg again saw King Adolf Frederic. His Majesty was very gracious and referred in a friendly way to Swedenborg's petition of protest about his treatment by the Department of Justice.

"The Consistories have kept silent on the subject of my letters and of your writings," said the king, laying his hand upon Swedenborg's shoulder, and he added: "We may conclude, then, that they have not found anything reprehensible in them and that you have written in conformity with the truth."[708]

to Chapter 42