Most of the books written on eighteenth-century theologian and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg analyze his theology, detail his remarkable mystical travels, or investigate his influence on philosophers and artists who succeeded him. Distinguished Swedish scholar Inge Jonsson approaches Swedenborg’s oeuvre from the standpoint of the history of ideas and relates it to the intellectual milieu of the time. From the impact of Cartesian philosophy on eighteenth-century thinkers to the effect of Leibniz and his disciples on Swedenborg’s emerging views of science and spirit, Jonsson recreates the debates that electrified the Enlightenment.
Despite Swedenborg’s enduring fame as a mystic, his early reputation was firmly based on scientific treatises that he wrote during years when new theories of life were exploding through microscopic and anatomical research. In the first part of this study, Jonsson examines Swedenborg’s philosophy of nature, his cosmology, and physiological and psychological theories and shows how Swedenborg’s unique spiritual perspective was rooted in his early scientific endeavors and in agreement with contemporary science.
However, after a spiritual crisis in the years 1744-1745, detailed in the remarkable document The Journal of Dreams, Swedenborg turned his intellectual energies and scientific precision toward biblical exegesis and examination of spiritual nature. In the second half of this work, Jonsson investigates Swedenborg’s detailed and sensitive rendering of spiritual life in such works as Arcana Coelestia, Heaven and Hell, and Conjugial Love.