Emanuel Swedenborg was born 29th Jan 1688 in Stockholm, to a Lutheran pastor. He studied medicine, astronomy, mathematics, natural sciences, Latin and Greek. Notable for his innovative intellect, he was hired as an assistant to Swedish inventor Christopher Polhem, and then introduced to King Charles XII, who appointed him to the Board of Mines.
Swedenborg initially published scientific and technical journals, such as Daedalus Hyperboreus, which contained many of his novel inventions like a flying machine. Further philosophical work included his Oeconomia Regni Animalis (Dynamics of the Soul’s Domain) in 1740, focusing on anatomy. His work demonstrated his pursuit to establish a relationship between the spiritual and physical spheres, through his notion of a 'spiritual fluid' in all living beings, originating from God.
While working on subsequent works on anatomy, he encountered a spiritual crisis, experiencing dreams and visions while sleeping, interpreting them as divine interaction. In April 1745 he began experiencing the same visions, but while fully awake. He subsequently began to record his experiences and asserted that he was in communication with the spiritual world. He attempted to write on his new knowledge from the visions, but he never published them, and refused a promotion and asked the King whether he could be disbanded from the Board of Mines so that he could continue his theological writing.
His first theological work, Arana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven) was published in 1749 in London, feeling London held the appropriate intellectual atmosphere for his new way of looking at religious scripture. Swedenborg explored the meaning of the Bible and asserts that it should not be taken literally, but that all aspects have an inner spiritual meaning, or as he calls is a “correspondence.” He further explored topics of the afterlife, extra-terrestrial activity, and his concept of the Last Judgement as a spiritual event for spirits who had intruded into heaven to be sent to hell. He claimed to have witnessed this Last Judgment event in 1757. Swedenborg’s works did not receive initial attention, and were published anonymously, but after 1759 Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences were more widely well-known. Public incidents involving his experiences placed him in the centre of Swedish debate, and led him to announce his authorship of his works.
Swedenborg went on to publish further theological works; Divine Love and Wisdom (1763), Divine Providence (1764), Revelation Unveiled (1766), and Marriage Love (1768). The first debates the nature of God, connecting with his early works, however the second explores free will and the nature of evil and suffering. The third further explores the Bible’s internal meanings, as well as including experiences of angels, devils, and spirits, for the first time in his work. The last title explores love between sexes, including non-marital relations and asserts the complimentary relationship between the masculine and feminine anatomies.
His works were written in Latin and published outside Sweden, in order to evade censorship, as he was legally not allowed to contradict any Lutheran teachings. Two of Swedenborg’s followers were charged with heresy in 1769 after translating some of Swedenborg’s ideas into Swedish. However, in 1770 it was concluded that his books did not display heresy. They were banned though, due to allegations that they contained 'errors of doctrine.' As a result of the charges, Swedenborg began writing True Christianity (1771) to explore the relationship between his theology and Lutheran ideals. Swedenborg argues there are five phases in spiritual history, from the ancient ‘spiritual infancy’ of humans, in touch with God, to the fourth phase where humans held Christian teaching but had been corrupted by human misinterpretation. In the fifth age, a new religion would evolve, containing a clear and direct understanding of spiritual truth.
Shortly after The Christianity was finished, Swedenborg had a stroke, and while he recovered, he then predicted his death correctly, dying on 29th March 1772.