Swedenborg

Born in 1688 to a Lutheran bishop and his wife in Sweden, as a young man Emanuel Swedenborg excelled in math, science, engineering and language skills, among other things. He was an inventor of some renown, both a practical man and an intellectual at the same time. He was also deeply religious, but as he studied his religion (traveling also throughout Europe) he found many inconsistencies and contradictions in the faith, and he became especially concerned about the link between the natural and the spiritual in his work.

For example, even before he turned to theology as a special focus he wrote several extensive books about human anatomy and physiology, both elucidating the work of others and adding his own unique discoveries. Increasingly, however, his interest turned toward the body as the seat of the soul, and he wondered how the soul and the body were precisely integrated.

About this time he also began to have rather disturbing dreams, and he wondered what symbolic meaning those dreams held for him. Finally, in 1743 he experienced a vision of the Lord Himself, which convinced him to set out on a particular study of the Scriptures as the means of answering his most troubling questions. His approach was meticulous and scholarly. He read both Hebrew and Greek, and so was able to do his research in the original languages of the Bible. He studied intensely, comparing passages and compiling an extensive index of texts for reference in his expository works.

Finally, in 1749, he published the first of what would be 8 volumes in Latin (10 or 12 when translated into English) systematically explaining the spiritual meaning or "internal sense" of every single verse of the books of Genesis and Exodus. He called the work Arcana Caelestia, or Secrets of Heaven. After this he compiled and added to the information in the "Arcana," publishing several works of a topical nature, including perhaps his best read book, Heaven and Hell, a book about the Last Judgment, and a book summarizing New Church teachings. Then there were books about creation and providence, the Lord, the Word, life, faith and the spiritual aspects of marriage, and two separate and extensive treatments of the biblical book of Revelation, all carefully documented from his studies.

His last major work, The True Christian Religion, was published in 1770, following a year in which the Swedish state church brought him to trial on charges of heresy. But since his work was so thoroughly documented from the Scriptures he was exonerated, and the ensuing book is a vigorous defense of the new theology. He died peacefully as he predicted on March 29th, 1772.

Unlike many religious writers Swedenborg made no attempt to start a new religious organization, though he explains the principles of the New Church in great detail, especially in the exposition of the symbolism in John's vision of the Holy City, New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven (Rev. 21-22). Early readers thought that this new approach to the Scriptures would take hold within established denominations and inspire a complete renewal of the Christian Church. But it was not to be. So, gradually, momentum built for the establishment of an entirely new church, first in England, then America, and now in dozens of countries around the world.

You can read more about Swedenborg on many of the websites listed under "Other Resources," including Wikipedia, which gives a pretty fair treatment of the man. Note also the long list of tributes paid to him by famous intellectuals from around the world, on www.swedenborg.ca.