It’s been years since I first noticed the marked similarities between many of the teachings of Joseph Smith and Emanual Swedenborg. I’v read many of Swedenborg’s books and enjoyed all of them. His writing style is quite drawn out and laborious. I imagine some of the awfully verbose nature of his writing (especially his first work, Arcana Coelestia) might be because of his Swedish background? At any rate, I would have to say my views on his writings have changed a lot, the more I have read from the occult or mysticism movements. I meant to write an article on this a while back when I bought “Heaven & Hell” and began reading many of his other works on sacred-texts.com (see the Swedenborg library at http://sacred-texts.com/swd/).
I recently came across this essay compiled by Craig Miller and thought I would re-post it. It does a great job of going through the many similarities, although I don’t necessarily agree with which aspects arose from inspirational congruence and which were parroted doctrines.
One important note on on Millar’s essay below: It’s a common thing to hear that Joseph’s three degrees of glory are similar to (and possibly borrowed from) Swedenborg’s view of heaven. But this is a fairly uneducated assertion. It’s likely Joseph was familiar with Swedenborg (he supposedly owned a copy one one of Swedenborg’s many books). It’s also very likely the saints where influenced by Swedenborg in how they interpreted D&C 76, since It’s also true that Swedenborg taught of three degrees, and a ‘spirit world’. But they are not called Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial… and they don’t look anything like Joseph’s. Joseph’s three degrees in D&C 76 look a lot more like the Catholic view of heaven, hell and purgatory, than they do Swedenborg’s Celestial, Spiritual and Natural heavens. (which depending on how you read it…. may have been contrasted by three additional degrees of hell). Read D&C 76’s description of the “terrestrial” and compare it to St Ambrose’s purgatory… they’re almost synonymous. Likewise D&C 76:84, calls the telestial kingdom, “hell”. That is nothing like Swedenborg’s realms. Only those who know next to nothing about Swedenborg pass around that myth. (which is a lot of people).
Did Emanuel Swedenborg Influence LDS Doctrine?
by Craig Miller
Born in Sweden in 1688, Emanuel Swedenborg claims that at the age of 57 he was visited by the Savior and commanded to write the inner meaning of the scriptures and to explain life awaiting man after the death of the physical body. He claims to have been a citizen of both the physical and the spiritual world for approximately 27 years, conversing with angels on a daily basis. The Swedish mystic wrote thousands of pages explaining what he learned from angels and inspired insights into the scriptures and claims that he wrote only as the Lord directed.
Emanuel Swedenborg’s teachings, discussed later in more detail, are startlingly recognizable to the student of LDS theology. For example, he taught that there are three heavens, the celestial being the most inward and refined. There are three levels within the celestial glory and marriage for all eternity is an absolute requirement for entry into the highest of these heavens. He witnessed a marriage in heaven and stated that the husband was arrayed in the priesthood robes of Aaron and the wife wore apparel suggestive of a queen with a crown on her head.
Large portions of what many consider to be unique teachings of the LDS Church are found in the Swedish mystic’s writings. Nevertheless he is not a mirror of all LDS teachings since, for instance, he taught that God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are a single individual; concepts about a pre-mortal existence are a misunderstanding; and that our Lord did not make any payment for our sins on the cross; among other things.
Swedenborg shows us that God has his hand in many aspects of human history and is mindful of more than just his LDS children. Few LDS know of Emanuel Swedenborg, let alone his teachings, so that he seems nearly invisible in LDS writings and study. Perhaps we should heed the Doctrine and Covenants exhortation to Aseek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom. My study of the Writings has enriched my understanding of the gospel and its importance for mankind. From my own observations of his teachings I believe that the study of Swedenborg’s writings can help solve some of life’s knotty problems.
A Brief History of Emanuel Swedenborg
Swedenborg was an eighteenth century renaissance figure, who investigated and wrote extensively on areas ranging from scientific and philosophic matters to engineering and political economy. A member of the nobility, he was well known and respected in his time, and even today, for his scientific accomplishments. Having had a major spiritual awakening, he began to write books about the nature of God, the spiritual life, heaven and hell, a deeper meaning to the Bible, providence, marriage, and the second coming of Christ. He believed that his teachings were Divinely inspired and that they would be the foundation for the rebirth of Christianity.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, on the 29th of January, 1688, the son of a clergyman and professor of theology, Swedenborg grew up in a household filled with moral, political, intellectual and philosophical dialogue. The family also did well in worldly affairs. Their mine and land holdings could have comfortably supported Emanuel apart from any salary he received from his employment if he had chosen not to work.
After his formal education at Uppsala University, at the age of twenty-two, Swedenborg began to travel. While in England and Holland he immersed himself in studying many subjects, including: physics, astronomy, mathematics, anatomy, physiology, economics, metallurgy, mineralogy, geology, chemistry, watchmaking, bookbinding, and lens grinding, only a sample of the intense, self-directed program of education he embarked on in the early part of his life.
During this time of travel and scholarship, Swedenborg began his career of public service. In 1716, the King of Sweden appointed him Extraordinary Assessor in the Royal College of Mines. Also in 1716 he was hired by Christopher Polhem, recognized as one of Sweden’s greatest inventors. Christopher offered Emanuel the hand of his eldest daughter Maria, but Emanuel preferred Maria’s younger sister, Emerentia and employed some intrigues to avoid marrying Maria while keeping himself in everyone’s good graces. Unfortunately the brilliant and beautiful Emerentia preferred a younger gentleman, which deeply disappointed Emanuel. Matrimony is one area where Emanuel’s efforts ultimately went unrewarded, although he made more than one serious attempt.
In 1719, he took a seat in the House of Nobles (a part of the Swedish legislature), in which he served the Swedish government for some fifty years. Also, the King of Sweden, impressed with Swedenborg’s contributions as editor of Daedalus (a periodical dedicated to the discussion of natural sciences), asked Swedenborg to serve as his engineering advisor. In that capacity, Swedenborg devised numerous feats of engineering to aid the military and industry. He also designed many inventions. Although most were never built, they included a submarine, an airplane, a steam engine, an air gun and a slow-combustion stove. Befitting a man of his intellectual strength and fervor, Swedenborg published many books on a vast number of subjects. Two subjects that he made particular advances in were metallurgy and biology. Especially impressive is the work he did in connection with the nervous system; he is generally credited with being the first to accurately understand the significance of the cerebral cortex and the respiratory function of the brain tissues.
Throughout all this Swedenborg wasn’t satisfied with a purely physical approach to studying humanity and the universe. In particular, his ambition was to comprehend more fully the nature of the soul and to develop a new, more accurate cosmology than had ever before been proposed. Based upon his conviction that underlying all matter in the universe was Divine force, he wrote of the relationships between matter and energy, between the finite and the Infinite, and between God and humanity. Among the books he wrote on these topics were: The Economy of the Animate Kingdom, The Brain, The Senses, and Rational Psychology.
Then, in 1744, his life took an unexpected turn. He began to have vivid, disturbing, and exhilarating dreams and visions. Not knowing what to make of these odd experiences, he revealed them nowhere but in his personal journals. Moved partially by the need to understand his own recent experiences and partially by the direction his studies in cosmology and the human soul were taking, he began a meticulous study of the Bible.
In the month of April, 1745, Emanuel Swedenborg had an experience that forever changed his life – The Lord appeared to him and told him something amazing: a human person was needed to serve as the means by which God would further reveal Himself to humanity, somewhat in the manner of the Biblical visions of the Old Testament. So began Swedenborg’s life as a spiritual revelator.
From then until his death, Swedenborg studied the Bible, perfected his knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, and wrote numerous theological works which he claimed revealed the new Truths that have become the foundation for The New Church. Throughout this time, and confirming what the Lord was revealing to him, he was in periodic communication with spirits in Heaven and in Hell – exploring all the wonders of the world to come. In the numerous books, he revealed the hidden, inner meaning to the stories of the Old and New Testaments, the fundamental nature of God, Humanity and Creation, the truth about the afterlife, the keys to our own personal spiritual growth, the real meaning of the Book of Revelation, and the beautiful inner secrets behind true loving marriages, just to name a few things.
At first, his books went largely unnoticed. He published them anonymously at his own cost, sending them to the learned people of his day, but the general public was still unaware of his newfound truths. This began to change after a strange occurrence in July 1759. Swedenborg was in Gothenburg, dining with friends at the home of a wealthy local merchant. During the dinner, he suddenly became pale and distraught-looking and withdrew from the table. When asked what was the matter, he replied that he had just had news that a horrible fire had broken out in Stockholm (which was 300 miles from Gothenburg), not far from his own home. Then, at around eight o’clock that same evening, he just as suddenly became relieved, explaining that the fire had been extinguished three houses down from his own home.
His words and behavior of that evening became the talk of the town just a few days later, when a messenger arrived from Stockholm with news about the fire Swedenborg had described. Upon questioning, it was discovered that his description of the event had perfectly matched, in much detail, what had actually happened that summer evening. Soon afterward, the first surge of interest in his theological writings began, spurred on not only by the strange story of his uncanny knowledge of the Stockholm fire, but also by several other episodes which demonstrated an ability to communicate with people in the spiritual world.
For the remainder of his life, Swedenborg visited the other world and published books revealing the truths he believed God had summoned him to write. He also maintained an active life in this world, taking part in political discussions in the House of Lords, of which he was a member, and writing on such diverse topics as Sweden’s monetary policy and how to inlay tables. Then, on Sunday, March 29th, 1772 at five o’clock in the afternoon, Emanuel Swedenborg entered into the Spiritual World for the final time, never to return again (incidentally, dying exactly when he had earlier predicted he would). Since then, his Writings have affected thousands of people, both directly and indirectly. The universal theology put forth in his works has contributed to advancement of religious thought all across the world, from Christianity to Buddhism, and has inspired many a great person, including William Blake, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Wesley, Helen Keller, Johnny Appleseed, and many others. Most importantly (at least, to people in the New Church) The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg have served as the foundation for a New Christian Church.
How LDS Teachings Compare with Swedenborg’s
The similarities between LDS doctrine and Swedenborg’s teachings are striking – and impossible for me to imagine as mere coincidences. Likewise, the differences are also just as outstanding and cause me to wonder how the similarities can coexist with such marked differences.
I list here some similarities which include a few ideas which are embraced by both Swedenborg and the LDS religion but which are far from a comprehensive list. Volumes could be written about each topic and how they compare. I will leave to the theologians of both the LDS Church and New Churches the in-depth examination of these concepts. The majority of my citations are from Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg’s most popular work.
Swedenborg numbered paragraphs in his writing so that no matter in what format they might be published, readers could follow the same numbering scheme. In his own works his references are always listed in this fashion. I have also adopted this system for the references to Swedenborg’s works. Other works are referred to by page number. Scriptures, LDS or otherwise, use standard scriptural notation.
Vocabulary differences between Swedenborgian writings and LDS scriptures should also be noted. In Swedenborg’s writings Mormons should generally substitute the word perdition for hell to understand the proper context. The spirit world, for Swedenborgians, includes perdition, heaven, and a realm of more-or-less recently departed spirits while the term ‘world of spirits’ in Swedenborg’s Writings refers to an intermediate realm between heaven and hell for the relatively recently deceased. Since world of spirits can be understood by both an LDS or Swedenborgian reader, this term is used throughout the text.
In the entire congregation of all historical Christian theologians the following similarities, according to the understanding of the author, are only found in the LDS religious tradition and the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. One such similarity would be an interesting coincidence, two completely unexpected, three a practical impossibility, and four a strong indication that there is something much more to the similarities than mere chance. An analogy might be that a unique gene in two otherwise very dissimilar individuals may still be an indication that common ancestry is a either a high probability or an absolute certainty.
1. There are three heavens (D&C 76, Heaven and Hell chapter 5). Swedenborg divided the heavens into three: celestial, spiritual, and natural, with divisions so absolute that direct communication is generally not possible without divine help. Those of lower heavens in general cannot see the inhabitants of the higher heavens. Communication does occur between higher and lower realms, but those of the lower heavens are, in general, not so aware of its occurrence. The communication originates from what Swedenborg calls correspondences, which are in the nature of the relationship of a symbol or allegory and which are a central feature of all creation, providing the means by which higher or more inner degrees of reality, beginning with God Himself, are related, typically in cause and effect fashion, to lower, more external degrees. The LDS parallel of Swedenborg’s heavens are the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial heavens. Swedenborg’s terms for the heavens are all biblical, and can be found in the scriptures that Mormons believe refer to these heavens, 1 Cor 15:40–42. The counterpart of Swedenborg’s spiritual heaven is the LDS terrestrial heaven, which despite its name, is not depicted as being earthlike in LDS scripture. To describe the lowest of the heavens Joseph Smith invented a new term, telestial. Swedenborg stated that the heavens were arranged in layers around the central Sun of heaven, or the Lord God Jesus Christ. The natural heaven is the furthest from the center.
2. Priesthood robes are worn in heavenly marriage ceremonies. Swedenborg witnessed a marriage ceremony in heaven in which the husband wore robes like those of Aaron while the wife was arrayed as a queen. (D&C 131:2, Conjugial Love 20, 21). LDS doctrine mostly speaks of two orders of the priesthood, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, but also speaks of the patriarchal order as another order of the priesthood (D&C 132). Swedenborg’s description of the attire of the heavenly couple in the marriage ceremony of Cojugial Love 21 will strike a chord with all Mormons who have witnessed a temple marriage.
3. There are three heavens in the celestial glory or kingdom (D&C 131:1, Arcana Coelestia 9993). Swedenborg states that there are three heavens, the celestial, spiritual and natural, and two kingdoms of heaven, the celestial and the spiritual. The organizational relationship between the three heavens and two kingdoms is complex and has long been a source of discussion among students of Swedenborg. In Arcana Coelestia 9993 , Swedenborg states that the celestial kingdom has three divisions, and also stated in Arcana Coelestia 5922  that the celestial kingdom is the celestial heaven. Through the Lord’s direction and by means of angels that communicate between them they act in unison. Mormons understand D&C 131:1 to mean that the celestial heaven, glory in D&C 131:1, is divided into three heavens. Swedenborg also used the word glory to refer to kingdoms, Arcana Coelestia 5922 . While, again, the exact interpretation of the three heavens-two kingdoms distinction remains a matter of discussion in the New Church, the parallels with LDS doctrine are still obvious.
4. You must be married in heaven to inherit the highest heaven (D&C 131:2, Conjugial Love 54(5), 155). Monogamy is central, according to Swedenborg, to all of heaven, although there are a few exceptions, such as sincere celibates and some Islamics in polygamous relationships, who live at the fringes or side of the lower heavens. Marriage mimics (or, in Swedenborg’s term and concept, “corresponds to”) the relationship between God and His Church since their ultimate destiny is approach unity. Again, Swedenborg states that an absolute requirement to inherit the highest heaven is heterosexual marriage. Marriage, according to Swedenborg, means the separate minds of man and wife become so closely spiritually linked that they become one mind (and married couples in heaven, seen from a distance, may appear on occasion as one individual). The Doctrine and Covenants simply states that the highest heaven in the celestial glory cannot be attained without eternal marriage (D&C 132:2). Without eternal marriage men and women cannot fulfill the purpose of their creation or reach the highest degree of spiritual attainment which is possible for them, or in Swedenborg’s words, “cannot approach the Lord” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.3, p.333, Conjugial Love 155). Swedenborg saw married partners in heaven as being two halves of good and truth or love and wisdom. The unity of these two is fundamental to creation, the husband bringing wisdom externally and love internally and the wife bringing love externally and wisdom internally to the union. LDS ideas aren’t so specific but similar concepts are hinted at in the temple.
5. The world of spirits is a place of preparation for either heaven or perdition (Alma 12:24, 34:32-34, 40:21, Heaven and Hell 421, 422). Both LDS doctrine and Swedenborg state that the world of spirits is the portal through which all mankind passes on to prepare for either heaven or perdition. This idea is distinct from the Catholic idea of purgatory in which only the righteous go who are destined for heaven. Purgatory is also seen as a place of punishment. Most of Christianity rejects the idea of purgatory, or a spiritual abode separate from heaven or hell, as being non-scriptural. Swedenborg taught that for newly arrived spirits, the world of spirits is nearly identical to this one. LDS doctrine refers to the world of spirits as a continuation of this life where men make decisions about their eternal outcome and eventually inherit one of the three heavens or perdition (Alma 12:24, Alma 34:32–34 where “this life” is taken to extend into the world of spirit). This is echoed in Swedenborg’s teachings as well, but for Swedenborg the ultimate fate of the soul is determined by the individual’s “ruling love,” or basic spiritual orientation toward good or evil, at the time of passing from mortality (Heaven and Hell 427). LDS doctrine states that men are not only judged by their actions, but the desires of their heart (Alma 41:3, Helaman 14:29–31, Mosiah 2:34–39; Doctrine and Covenants 137:9) . The LDS concept of the world of spirits allows a wide range of choice for those who have never encountered true principles during their lifetime. Mormons believe that a person may remain in the world of spirits for hundreds or thousands of years while Swedenborg generally limits this time of preparation to a mere thirty years (1 Peter 3:18–20, Heaven and Hell 426. It might be noted that Swedenborg teaches that there was an exception to the thirty year rule in past history, at a time when there existed “false heavens,” realms created in the spirit world which trap those who would otherwise progress to heaven or perdition, but that these were eliminated at the time of the Last Judgment, which Swedenborg states occurred in the year 1757 (Last Judgement 64). LDS teachers indicate that repentance is much easier in the physical realms than in the world of spirits while Swedenborg indicates that it is impossible anywhere but the physical existance (Journal of Discourses 3:230 and 3:371, Heaven and Hell 480).
6. There are angels who communicate between heavens (Doctrine and Covenants 76:86–88, Heaven and Hell 27, 35). Swedenborg states that higher heavens communicate with lower ones through intermediary angels and through correspondence (Heaven and Hell 35, 88). Swedenborg’s description of angelic communication between heavens is fascinating, “as is often done, angels are raised up by the Lord out of a lower heaven into a higher that they may behold its glory; for then they are prepared beforehand, and are encompassed by intermediate angels, through whom they have communication…” (Heaven and Hell 35). Communication is facilitated by raising the awareness of lower angels to that of the higher heaven so that the message can be perceived or understood. The Doctrine and Covenants states that “some” of the celestial heaven minister to those in the terrestrial (spiritual?) heaven, and “some” of the terrestrial (spiritual?) heaven minister to those of the telestial (natural?) heaven. Swedenborg describes societies of angels whose principal function is communication between the kingdoms of heaven (Heaven and Hell 27). Doctrine and Covenants 76:88 states that the angels who communicate to lower heavens are “appointed” for this task, paralleling the Swedenborgian idea that angelic societies tend to have a specialization.
7. Likens the celestial, spiritual (terrestrial?), and natural (telestial?) heaven to the sun, moon, and stars (D&C 76:50,71,81, 88:7-9, Heaven and Hell 117-120, 129, Apocalypse Revealed 65). I place this at the end of the list because there is a significant difference embeded in the similarity, namely that Swedenborg speaks of the heavens and their illumination while LDS scriptures speak of the bodies of the inhabitants of those heavens. Nevertheless, the aspects of the teachings that are similar are unique in Christianity and not clear in the King James version of 1 Cor 15:40–42. Allegorically, Swedenborg likens both the nature of each heaven as well as the illumination in the sky of each heaven to the sun, moon, and stars (Heaven and Hell 119). He states that the sun of the celestial heaven and the moon of the spiritual kingdom is the Lord (Heaven and Hell 118). Swedenborg states that the communities of the natural heaven appear as stars in the sky to inhabitants of the world of spirits (Apocalypse Revealed 65). In the Joseph Smith translation of I Cor 14:40–42 and in Doctrine and Covenants 76:70,71,81; the resurrected bodies of those in the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial heavens are likened to the sun, moon, and stars. In Doctrine and Covenants 88:7,8, the Lord is said to be the light of the sun and is in the sun and also the light of the moon and is in the moon. Verse 9 states that He is also the source of the light of the stars but does not state the He is in the stars. It could well be that these verses speak of the spiritual realms more than the physical.
These following similarities are interesting, but common to more than just LDS Church and New Church teachings. There are significant differences embedded in some of the similarities. These are explained as far as understood by the author.
8. The church Christ established has passed from the earth (Joseph Smith—History 16, etc., Last Judgement 33-39). Swedenborg stated that the first Christian church died spiritually, due to falling into falsities, ending its ability to serve as a spiritual link between heaven and earth. While Swedenborg lamented the loss of spirituality and truth, Smith emphasized the loss of authority. LDS doctrine teaches that the church established by Christ had ceased to exist on earth among mortal men due to apostasy, thus ending of transferring priesthood authority given by Christ to His apostles. Mormons believe the Lord’s Church has a link to heaven through this priesthood, which priesthood has the authority to act for God on earth and perform ordinances necessary for salvation, such as baptism. While this similarity will pique the interest of LDS readers, it should be noted that many protestant reformers also claimed that Christ’s church had ceased to exist among men.
9. The Lord will establish a New Church on the earth once more (D&C 1, the First Vision, True Christian Religion 647). The Lord’s Church would be reestablished, the truth would be taught again and serve as a link to heaven. To Mormons this link is revelation which is granted to the Lord’s servants, more specifically those that are ordained to the priesthood and who are called to guide the Church. New Church people believe that only Swedenborg received such revelation, not church members. The idea of a latter-day restoration of Christ’s church is not totally unique to LDS or Swedenborgian thought, however, since a number of Christian reformers stated that the church had fallen away and needed to be reestablished. What is unique about Swedenborg is that although he recognized the need for reestablishing Christ’s church on the earth, he did little to bring about its organization beyond publishing the Writings.
10. Little children who die, Christian or not, go directly to heaven (Moroni 8:7–10, Heaven and Hell 332). Swedenborg states that they still require instruction. Both Swedenborg and LDS doctrine states that small children are not capable of understanding the results of their actions are not therefore culpable. LDS doctrine holds that all little children who die are bound for the celestial heaven (Doctrine and Covenants 137:10). Swedenborg states that little children are immediately taken into heaven after death (Heaven and Hell 332).
11. Since God creates man in free will, God does not send man to heaven or perdition. Man makes this choice himself. (2 Ne. 2:26–30; 10:23; Alma 13:3; Hela. 14:31, Heaven and Hell 452, Conjugial Love 48b) Swedenborg taught that hell-bound individuals cannot bear to be in heaven’s proximity. Orson Pratt indicated that the wicked would rather be in hell than the presence of God (Journal of Discourses 16: 331).
12. Without “opposition in all things”, or what Swedenborg terms the equilibrium between good and evil, the universe would not exist and men would appear dead (2 Ne. 2:11–13, Mosiah 2:21, Heaven and Hell 589, 592, 594, Arcana Coelestia 2887). Opposition means, in the words of the Book of Mormon, the opportunity for mankind to choose either eternal life and liberty or captivity and death. In other words, all men at all times are attracted by good and evil during mortality and have the opportunity to choose one or the other. This opposition, or balance, allows men to be free to choose (2 Nephi 2:16, Heaven and Hell 589). Swedenborg also states that “without equilibrium… nothing can come forth and have permanent existence,” (Heaven and Hell 589) and “all things and each thing in the universe, that is, both in the natural world and in the spiritual world, endure by means of equilibrium” (Heaven and Hell 592). The Book of Mormon similarly states that without opposition nothing could exist “neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away” (2 Nephi 2:13). Both balance (Swedenborg) and opposition (LDS) seem to indicate the opposed play of forces discovered by science in the physical world which allows it to exist. Swedenborg states that men are constantly in touch with (though not conscious of) both angels and evil spirits and if this were to cease that men would appear dead (Arcana Coelestia 2887). The Book of Mormon similarly states that without opposition creation would “remain as dead, having no life neither death” (2 Nephi 2:11).
13. Man is not saved by faith alone but must show works from a changed heart (Alma 11:34–37, True Christian Religion 340-342, Heaven and Hell 427). Swedenborg taught that justification by faith alone is one of the great errors of Christianity. The Book of Mormon teaches that we are saved by grace AFTER all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23).
14. Swedenborg echoes concepts found in the LDS sacrament prayer. If these principles are followed, men are guided on earth and the spirit world (Moroni chapters 4&5, Heaven and Hell 528-535). We must live the commandments (Moroni 4:3, Heaven and Hell 528-535). We must take upon us the name of the Son, which to Mormons means to lead a life of charity and service (Mosiah 18:8–11). Swedenborg also speaks of taking upon us the name of Christ in similar ways which emphasize charity and service. (Moroni 4:3, , Heaven and Hell 528-535). We must think on heavenly things, or, more specifically, for Mormons, Christ or, for followers of Swedenborg, the Lord’s Divine Human (Swedenborg’s words) (Moroni 4:3, 5:2, Heaven and Hell 534).
15. One way to qualify for perdition is to know the truth and deny it, or in Swedenborg’s terms accept the truth and then later deny it (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pg 358, Heaven and Hell 456). According to Joseph Smith, knowing the truth and then denying it is not mere disagreement. He stated that the candidate for perdition “has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy.” Swedenborg explains that heavenly visions are withheld from man because “there is danger in confirming any thing by visions when men are in falsities, for they would then first believe and afterwards deny, and thus would profane the truth itself, since to believe and afterwards deny is to profane; and those who profane truths are cast down into the lowest and most grievous of all the hells” (Heaven and Hell 456).
16. Celestial beings incorporate the law of consecration into their lives. In Mormon vernacular this means that our goods, time, talents, and all else that we appear to possess in fact belongs to God. (LDS traditional teachings, D&C 42, Moses 7:18, Heaven and Hell 8, 408). Swedenborg states that heavenly beings believe that all the good they have is from the Lord, not themselves, and that their role is to be tools for use by the Lord.
17. The creation and the garden of Eden stories are allegories to our spiritual progress (Arcana Coelestia vol. 1). The LDS counterpart of this idea is found in the temple and cannot be described in detail here.
18. All things in the physical world exist due to existence of a spiritual quality cause that then brings about a physical world effect, by means of what Swedenborg terms “correspondence” of the spiritual to the physical entity (e.g. water has a correspondential origin in truth, with which it thus shares symbolic qualities) (Moses 3:5&7, Heaven and Hell chapter 12) Mormons typically believe that there exists an image of our world in the spiritual realms. Swedenborg teaches that this is mostly true for the recently departed (Heaven and Hell 493), but that at a deeper spiritual level, things in the physical realm are mere symbols for the profound truths found in heaven. Mormons also believe that the world was created completely in spiritual form before the physical creation. For Swedenborg, this is true through “correspondence” (Heaven and Hell 89), since the physical realm corresponds to the antecedent spiritual realm.
19. God is man. (Moses 6:57, 7:35, Matthew 16:13, Arcana Coelestia 9359, 9361, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 345) Swedenborg states that “God is very Man” (Divine Love and Wisdom 11, New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 1). According to Swedenborg the difference between God and man is that while God has assumed humanity, he remains infinite in power, love, intelligence, and glory, while man merely approaches that ultimate by degrees and is finite. Before his birth, Swedenborg maintains that God was invisible to man and was represented on earth by His angels, who assumed His form when speaking with men. After His birth the resurrected Christ appears as Himself to men (True Christian Religion 786, 787). To Swedenborg, the whole of heaven, each angel, and all men are created in the image and likeness of the Divine humanity of God (Heaven and Hell 78-86). In this Greatest Human Being we find the structures and functions of both sexes (Apocalypse Explained 985:2). Joseph Smith taught that God is a man and is now exalted but was once Himself a mortal on earth. While the humanity of God is a common element there are some major differences between Swedenborg’s and Joseph Smith’s concepts of God’s humanity, especially since the LDS concept appears to encompass the idea that God is finite. The LDS view of God’s humanity is echoed in the King Follett Discourse of Joseph Smith:
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,CI say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in formClike yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man….” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 345.
1. God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are a single individual in Swedenborg’s teachings. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22, True Christian Religion 6 ). Current LDS Doctrine on the nature of God is clear that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate deities within the Godhead.
“Latter-day Saints believe in God the Father; his Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost (Article of Faith 1). These three Gods form the Godhead, which holds the keys of power over the universe. Each member of the Godhead is an independent personage, separate and distinct from the other two, the three being in perfect unity and harmony with each other (Articles of Faith, chap. 2)” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Godhead.”
According to Swedenborg’s teachings, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three aspects of God in the same manner that man had a body, a spirit, and individual thought. One Swedenborgian minister summarized Swedenborg’s explanation of the triune nature of God as follows:
Father ‘ Divine Itself ‘ invisible God ‘ Soul
Son ‘ Divine Human ‘ visible God ‘ Body
Holy Spirit ‘ Divine Proceeding ‘ Operation/Activity
The Lectures on Faith, written in the first half of the 1830’s and later included in the standard works, teaches that the Father was a personage of spirit, the Son a personage of tabernacle, and that the Holy Ghost was their common mind. If it could be understood that two personages with a common mind are one individual, then we have almost an exact corollary to Swedenborg’s teachings. Dan Vogel presents evidence that the earliest conceptions of God in the LDS Church portray the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one individual, but that later teachings clearly contradicted this point of view. This eventually disappeared from LDS teachings until finally the idea that the Father possessed a body of flesh appeared in LDS scripture fully endowing the Father with a separate physical and spiritual identity.
To illustrate the importance of the unity of God Swedenborg claims that the angels in heaven can not even pronounce the word “gods” (True Christian Religion 6 ). Nevertheless, Swedenborg seems to affirm the LDS view that the Father and the Son may appear as separate beings while rejecting how Mormons would interpret outward separateness. Swedenborg states that often in heaven the Lord appears as an angel apart from the sun of heaven where the Lord dwells (Heaven and Hell 121). He also teaches that during Christ’s earthly ministry He altered between states of temptation, when God the Father appeared as remote from Himself, and states when it was clear to Him that “I and my father are one.” but that this alternation ended with the conclusion of His temptations at the crucifixion (True Christian Religion 104-105).
2. Polygamy, if continued past the spirit world, assures that you will not enter the highest heaven (D&C 132, Heaven and Hell 379, Conjugial Love 141, 332, 348) or, with a handful of exceptions, that you will enter heaven at all since the monogamous married relationship is “in the image of God” and fundamental to heavenly existence. (Swedenborg does mention an exception in the form of a separate heaven of sincere Islamics, but it is clear that the quality of this heaven is below that of the rest of heaven as a result.) LDS scripture indicates that women sealed to a man with proper authority will be married to him for the eternities and they will become gods. Swedenborg agrees that marriages are, again, fundamental to heaven, but that all, again except for some Islamics, are monogamous. As already noted, this is because marriage there melds two minds into one and the forces that allow this to happen do not operate outside a monogamous relationship. Swedenborg states, “Polygamy is not a sin for those whose religion allows it,” but seems to exclude Christians from this exception (Conjugial Love 332). Swedenborg classifies polygamy among Christians as adultery, so that a husband of a polygamous marriage must renounce that state and choose a single wife in order to come in to heaven and establish the unity that allows higher understanding.
3. The Church of God is not an earthly organization and encompasses the entire world with those who follow true principles. The true church’s membership, according to Swedenborg, is fundamentally spiritual and its membership known but to God. New Church people are always very careful to distinguish human organizations designed to implement such uses as religious instruction from the true spiritual church, despite the same word being used to refer to both. (Arcana Coelestia 8152, Apocalypse Explained 304). The earliest concept of “Christ’s Church” taught in LDS teachings was fairly close to Swedenborg’s teachings. The present LDS concept is that the Church of Christ is a specific organization places less emphasis on the nature of the members and gives far more importance to the institutional church (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30).
4. Christ redeems the world, but there is no vicarious payment for the sins of others (True Christian Religion 132, 133). LDS doctrine and mainstream Christianity state that Christ was slain for the sins of the world (D&C. 29:40-45; 2 Nephi 9:6–9; 2 Nephi 11:3). According to Swedenborg, the idea that God would be sufficiently angry with the human race to withhold his blessings until he killed his own Son to appease that anger is more characteristic of a monster than a gracious God. According to Swedenborg, Christ came to reset the good-evil equilibrium among men, since it had become unbalanced in the direction of evil as a result of men’s actions over history up till that time and so was interfering with free agency. In his system, anyone who goes to hell does so, not because of being punished for sins in the world, even terrible ones, but because, if he is of a hellish nature, he will want to continue such sinning in the other world. And the only place you can do that is hell. Christ’s temptation and suffering, according to Swedenborg, was primarily on the spiritual plane and continued from the moment of his birth, though only manifested externally (and correspondingly) at the end. As part of what Swedenborg terms the glorification process, Christ eliminated all of his human nature derived from the Mary-based heredity and brought about a new level of union with the Divine. Swedenborg states that Christ restored the hells to order through his life and sacrifice reopened the spiritual link of men with the heavens to operate on the earth through men once more (True Christian Religion 116). LDS doctrine holds that despite the intervention of Christ in behalf of mankind, we must still reform our lives and obey laws and ordinances (Rev. 13:8; Heb. 5:8–11; Matt. 7:21; 2 Ne. 2:22–27). LDS doctrine represents something a midpoint between Swedenborg and mainstream Christianity since LDS doctrine maintains that the atonement was mainly accomplished in the Garden of Gethsemane (2 Ne. 9:21, JC, p. 613, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Atonement, Vol 1). Rather than viewing the atonement as a vicarious punishment, LDS doctrine sees it as Divine assistance, allowing men to be resurrected (an LDS term which means to inherit one of the heavens or hell after being reclothed with flesh, 2 Nephi 2:8, 9:6-7, 9:12, Mosiah 3:11), nullifying the sin of Adam. LDS doctrine also contains the traditional Christian understanding that Christ was punished vicariously for our sins to satisfy the demands of justice imposed on mankind by the Father (2 Nephi 9:26, Alma 34:8–10, 16, Alma 42:22–24) which Swedenborg declares is incorrect.
5. We should strive to become one with God, not gods. Swedenborg lays great emphasis on the first commandment, and says that the idea of multiple gods in the Christian church’s concept of the trinity was so fundamentally evil that it brought about the spiritual death of that church (Heaven and Hell 391, 508, 535, Conjugial Love 264) Mormons believe that God is infinite, possesses all things and created all things that were created. They also believe that God can share all things with His children, allowing them to be co-creators and act His stead and call this state godhood (D&C 76:58, 132:20). Swedenborg equates those who believe they are gods in the afterlife with those who indulged in self-love in this life, and are consequently in hell in the eternities (Conjugial Love 262, 264). Swedenborg agrees with the current LDS view that when Bible says “gods” it can refer to heavenly beings (Heaven and Hell 8). According to Swedenborg, referring to angels (inhabitants of heaven) as “gods” in no way implies that they are worthy of worship.
6. Resurrection does not require the reconstruction of the physical body (Arcana Coelestia 4459, 4783, Divine Love and Wisdom 221, Heaven and Hell 445, 447, 456, Divine Love and Wisdom 221). For Swedenborg, resurrection occurred as a spirit enters the world of spirits immediately after death. In this state the spirit discovers that they exist with a body and feelings and lives exactly as before, with the exception that the body and all the surroundings are spiritual, that is, made out of spiritual rather than physical substance. Swedenborg says that the sharper senses of those in the spiritual realm make it far more clearly sensed to be “real” than is possible in the physical realm. The corporeal nature of the spirit being is so much like its former state that some spirits are not immediately aware that they have died. Swedenborg denies that a physical resurrection occurs with one exception, Christ (Divine Love and Wisdom 221). He indicates, however, that the nature of Christ’s body has become spiritual as physical aspects are purged from it. LDS doctrine has similar ideas with respect to the sameness of the human existence immediately after death (Alma 40) and that the body after the resurrection is spiritual by nature (Doctrine and Covenants 88:27). Many LDS scriptures speak of the reuniting of the spirit and body (Alma 40:15–18) and are understood to mean that the deceased physical frame shall be reconstructed and reunited with the spirit. Mormons interpret scriptures like Matt. 27:52 and 3 Ne. 23:9–10 which speak of graves being opened to be further evidence of a physical resurrection. Mormons claim that 1 Cor 15:41–42 (“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the starsY. So also is the resurrection of the dead”) and those in Alma mean that the resurrection happens immediately before our entry into one of the heavens or hell. Swedenborg specifically addressees belief in a physical resurrection as being typical of Christianity and incorrect (Heaven and Hell 456). Alma agrees somewhat with Swedenborg’s definition of the resurrection by speaking of entering the spirit by stating “Yea, I admit it may be termed a resurrection” (Alma 40:15, Heaven and Hell 445, 447). Alma goes on to explain that he feels that the resurrection is more than that, implying a physical resurrection.
7. Swedenborg indicates that the spirit commences its existence at conception, but is not fully formed until its first breath is drawn (Moses 3:5, Arcana Coelestia 3570). According to Swedenborg, being born in heaven would remove free agency since there would be no choice but to follow good and truth. The LDS concept is that in the preexistence we make choices concerning life experiences, family, etc. Otherwise, God Himself is responsible situations in which we find ourselves in life.
8. It is our motives and our thoughts and actions derived from those motives that take us to heaven, rather than ordinances (nearly all of Swedenborg’s works). This is largely a matter of difference of emphasis between the teachings of Swedenborg and LDS doctrine since LDS ideas echo that baptism cannot allow evil people to enter heaven or the lack of baptism will not be an absolute obstacle for the righteous. For example Heber C. Kimball stated, “You might as well go and be baptized for a devil as for a man who will not receive the Gospel in the spirit-world” (Journal of Discourses, Vol.5, p.90). It should be remembered that all LDS ordinances are covenants that require performance on the part of the individual who partakes of them.
9. Swedenborg said that no children are born in marriages in heaven because to be born in heaven would eliminate free will (Heaven and Hell 382b). There are, however, correspondential equivalents of children in heavenly marriages, in the form of the “birth” of new goods and truths.
History and Possible Influence
The question of whether Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from Swedenborg is implied by the many similarities between the teachings of the two men and the fact that Swedenborg’s work was written and distributed prior to Joseph Smith’s lifetime. The mix of similarities and differences raises the question of whether Joseph Smith filtered a great deal and extrapolated the rest to come up with what we today recognize as LDS doctrine. Whether Joseph Smith actually knew much of Swedenborg’s teachings, however, is difficult to answer. I found that Joseph Smith could have had access to all of Swedenborg’s teachings but whether he was significantly influenced by those teachings cannot be proven from the evidence I have gleaned. Any influence would not detract from the reality of the experience of either Joseph or Swedenborg but might add additional insight into how the Lord helped the latter-day work along.
New Church members in New York conducted a media campaign during Joseph Smith’s era using newspapers to inform the public about Swedenborg and his teachings. These efforts may have born fruit in Joseph’s home area because a piece on Swedenborg appeared on the front page of the Canadaigua newspaper, a town some 12 miles from the Smith home, in 1808. This may have been submitted to the paper by New Church members rather than being the work of the paper’s own editors since, according to Brooke, interest in Swedenborg in this area was not great. However, it is unlikely that this influenced the Smiths greatly since they did not move to New York from Vermont until 1816.
A mail-order newspaper advertisement for Heaven and Hell appeared in the Canadaigua newspaper in 1826. New Church members used this book as a missionary tract, and the fact that it was being sold for a time does not necessarily mean that it was causing a great stir or attracted much interest, since some LDS researchers could find no evidence that the local library owned a copy. The individual who placed the ads may have been Charles Harford, a Swedenborgian who moved to Rochester, New York in 1826 and stayed till 1834. Rochester is about 24 miles from Palmyra on today’s roads. I could find no evidence that Mr. Harford ever had any communication with anyone from the LDS population other than the advertisements which appeared in local papers.
Swedenborg’s works were distributed to the public and at least 7,000 copies of Swedenborg’s works were produced in the United States prior to the organization of the LDS Church in 1830. It is likely that these were mostly Heaven and Hell. Michael Quinn, a well known Mormon historian, indicates that Joseph Smith did read books that contained information about Swedenborg and his doctrines, about 20 pages which seem to have been digested from Heaven and Hell. but does not indicate that Joseph had access to works written by Swedenborg himself.
Could Joseph have obtained knowledge about Swedenborg’s teachings from someone intimately acquainted with “The Writings?” Some estimate of the possibilities can be gained by trying to determine where New Church members may have been located in the area.
There were three congregations of New Church members in Spencer, Platkill, and Newburgh, about 75 miles from the Smith home. As previously stated, New Church records also show a member in Rochester, New York, about 24 miles from the Smith home in Palmyra. In 1817 a census of the New Church showed that in New York city there were 45 members. By 1830 the membership of the New Church had nearly doubled. New Church members tended to be found mostly in larger cities or other refined metropolitan areas, not in small towns like Palmyra. I could find no record of New Church presence in the Palmyra area, unless Rochester and its member are counted.
One potential New Church acquaintance was Hannah Holland. When the Smith family resided in Sharon, Vermont, a New Church member from Holland, Hannah Holland, lived about twenty miles away in Woodstock Vermont. She moved there in 1775 and later married a man named Smith. Hannah brought all of Swedenborg’s works in Latin from the Old World. Some of her ten sons later migrated across the country to Cincinnati to establish a New Church society in that area. Had the Smiths known Ms. Holland they would have had access to all of Swedenborg’s writings, but Hannah would have been required to explain the Latin versions. I could find no evidence that Hannah Holland had any connections with the Smiths or the Church at any time. Since the Holland children were later effective ministers and the family had the training to read the Writings in Latin, they must have been very enthusiastic and willing to speak to others. This could eventually be one link to the Smith’s, but firm documentary evidence is slim.
One other interesting connection between Swedenborg and Joseph Smith is through Sarah Cleveland, a plural wife of Joseph Smith who, according to the historian Todd Compton, was sealed to him around 1842. At the time of her plural marriage, Sarah Cleveland was married to John Cleveland, a Swedenborgian who apparently knew nothing of her plural marriage to Joseph Smith. Sarah joined the LDS Church in 1835 and in 1836 she and her husband moved to Quincy, Illinois. When Nauvoo became the center of Mormonism in 1839 after the saints were expelled from Missouri, the Clevelands found themselves living near the center of the Church. The Smiths and Clevelands became friends after Emma Smith and her children lived with the Clevelands for a short time in 1839 while Joseph was in jail. Joseph rewarded the Clevelands with a plot of land in Nauvoo. There is no mention in Todd Compton’s documentation of this story that Joseph had any conversations with Mr. Cleveland about Swedenborg’s teachings, nor did Mr. Compton mention that Sarah exhibited any interest in Swedenborg after her baptism.
Individuals with Joseph Smith’s educational and financial background were generally not interested in or exposed to the teachings of Swedenborg, nor did they have the social connections to introduce themselves to Swedenborgian teachings. Marguerite Block writes concerning the growth and popularity of the New Church, “This rather slow growth was due to the nature of the doctrines themselves, which required a fairly high degree of education and intelligence for their comprehension, as well as considerable leisure for their perusal.” To be truthful, from my own experience, Swedenborg’s writings are not an easy read, and require a high degree of dedication to grasp what is written. Joseph Smith was neither highly educated nor endowed with a great amount of leisure time, which would appear to make him an unlikely candidate to be reading the sage’s teachings.
Joseph Smith’s only quote about Swedenborg made in 1839 is rather cryptic, “Emanuel Swedenborg had a view of the world to come, but for daily food he perished.” This was directed to Edward Hunter, a Swedenborgian convert who later became a presiding bishop of the Church. Brother Hunter took this to mean that Swedenborg’s teachings were lacking and from that point on gave Swedenborg’s teachings no credibility. Edward Hunter converted to the LDS Church in 1839 after protecting the Mormon elders when they came through the area preaching the gospel. Joseph stayed with Edward for three days and discussed a number of topics, among them the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. From these conversations Joseph may have received all of the information required to give this opinion before they parted.
There are no close associates of Joseph Smith who mention Swedenborg or his teachings who give any indication that they had actually read, first-hand, anything he had written. For example, Orson Pratt stated the following.
Did Swedenborg, Irving, Wesley, or any other person, not only teach a pure system, but at the same time did they declare that it was committed to them by an angel from heaven? If not, however pure and holy their teaching, they were not divinely authorized to administer in ordinances. Divine Authority No.1, pg 3
Swedenborg claimed many times to have spoken with angels; which indicates that Orson Pratt had little knowledge of his writings. His other comments reveal his belief that Mormonism is true, and that all others are false, which was common among Church leaders of that time. Brigham Young, who spoke his mind freely on numerous topics, never mentioned Swedenborg in any recorded talks. In Parley Pratt’s only statement about Emanuel Swedenborg he claims that Swedenborg denied the resurrection. It seems that early LDS Church leaders and members had dismissed Emanuel Swedenborg without a great deal of thought. It also seems that their knowledge about Swedenborg may have come from unsympathetic third parties who summarized Swedenborg’s teachings with a negative slant.
I did investigate whether Joseph Smith may have learned of Swedenborgianism through Masonic ritual, but discovered this would have been very unlikely and present the evidence here for future researchers. Emanuel Swedenborg was a Mason from the age of eighteen and actively involved until 1740 with the exception of a visit in 1769 to a Lodge in France. After Swedenborg published his first theological works, former associates came to him wanting to know his opinions of the Masonic order and what errors he might wish to correct in its teachings. He replied to these queries and in 1769-1770 wrote to the Royal Society of Stockholm in which he explained Egyptian hieroglyphics by means of his new system. Eventually the modified ritual in Sweden had an influence on Masonry in the United States, but not until 1859, which would have been too late to have been of any importance to the beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Not many others have delved into these similarities. Recently Brent and Wendy Top wrote Beyond Death’s Door, which quoted many pages of Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell and revealed many similarities with LDS doctrine. Before that time a historian who has studied Swedenborgians, Mary Ann Meyers, wrote Death in Swedenborgian and Mormon Eschatology, in which she outlines some of Swedenborg’s teachings and hints that Joseph Smith may have borrowed from him. BYU Studies has included some articles which briefly mention Swedenborg. D. Michael Quinn dedicated a few pages to Swedenborg in Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, but evidently never read much of Swedenborg’s writings or he would have covered more similarities than just the three heavens.
If Swedenborg’s teachings did have a profound influence on Joseph Smith, I find it unlikely that Joseph Smith would have received all his information about Swedenborg’s teachings from reading the Writings first hand. First, his mother states that by the age of eighteen he hadn’t read the Bible through and was less inclined to reading than any other of the Smith children. Secondly, most New Church members have only read a few of Swedenborg’s works because, though interesting, they are not an easy read. Joseph Smith may have been exposed to Heaven and Hell in English during his lifetime or a digested review of Swedenborg’s teachings. A digest or Heaven and Hell would seem an unlikely source for some of the detailed information like the use of priesthood robes in heavenly marriage or the division of the celestial heaven/kingdom into three, neither of these ideas being found in Heaven and Hell nor are these common topics of study among students of Swedenborg.
If there has been influence from the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg on the teachings and writings of Joseph Smith, to me the most likely scenario may be that Joseph Smith knew a well read New Church member or members who were very familiar with the “Writings.” At least one of these individuals would have had to have known Joseph Smith before the Book of Mormon was written. We don’t know how brushes with individuals who were acquainted with the Swedish mystic’s teachings such as Hannah Holland of Vermont who possessed a complete edition of the “Writings,” the missionary minded Charles Harford of Rochester, the converts Edward Hunter or Sarah Cleveland may have influenced Joseph. I did not make a serious attempt to determine how much Emma Hale Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, or others closely associated with the prophet may have known of Swedenborg’s teachings.
I’m sure that as researchers dig further more possible connections will be found, all of which probably still not prove a positive connection with Swedenborgianism. Given the uniqueness of some of the ideas found in Swedenborg’s and Joseph Smith’s teachings, it still seems likely that some sort of connection between the two must exist. Is this is as the result of Joseph becoming aware of the Swedish mystic’s teachings or another connection with influences beyond the veil?
Perhaps Joseph Smith has copied portions of Swedenborg’s teachings. Certainly the information provided here cannot rule that out. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to remember that simultaneous discovery is common in science. A look at history reveals a number of instances where ideas pop up at nearly the same time in far flung locations on the earth, known in philosophical circles as a “zeitgeist,” or spirit of the times. This can be observed in spiritual matters as well. Consider, for example, others whose teachings were similar to LDS or Swedenborgianism but who have no obvious connection with the LDS Church or Swedenborg. Allow me to illustrate one example.
Indian mystics call the Christian heaven, hell, and world of spirits the “astral world.” The heavenly realm is divided into three regions. The middle region and lowest region also appear to have three divisions. In the highest realm can be found “Alakh Niranjan” or the Unknowable God. The lowest three regions (chakras) involve a focus on wealth, power, sex, and violent battles. Barbara Brenan in Hands of Light also mentions that beings in the afterlife occupy spiritual realms related to the nine major chakras. Brenan also stated that she does not observe spirits who are related to the first three levels. However, this may be because those beings avoid healers, or as Swedenborg noticed, spirits from the hells (the lowest 3 levels of the spiritual realms) tend to turn away from spiritual light. Ms. Brennan did not get this particular piece of information from other sources since she stated that she could not find a reference to these nine levels in any literature. To me, these ideas sound very similar to both the “Writings” and LDS doctrine, more so than they would be to traditional Christian philosophy. The question of who copied from whom may well mask another connection between all these teachers – the possibility that they all have knowledge which arises from personal experience.
Why all the differences? People at the scene of an accident will report all sorts of stories about the same events. From our own experience we know that personal perception of any truth is flawed. More flaws creep in when we attempt to describe that perception to someone else not present at the time of the accident. Perhaps for this reason, the Lord has stated that out of the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every ecclesiastical case or accusation be established (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19). Perhaps a similar standard should be established for verifying spiritual truth since those who claim spiritual experience seem to vary in their witness as well.
In the end our conclusion about whether Joseph was influenced by the Swedish mystic will be a personal one, illustrating the teaching of Swedenborg and the Book of Mormon which state that we are suspended at all times between opposing choices (Heaven and Hell 591, 2 Nephi 2:11). My own bias is that while Swedenborg may have influenced LDS teachings, that Joseph Smith was also the recipient of his own unique spiritual experience. Nevertheless, this information is not presented to persuade the reader, but rather to help illustrate the importance of a little known Servant of the Lord from a far off land in Northern Europe.
Block, Marguerite Beck, The New Church in the New World, Swedenborg Foundation, 1984.
Brennan, Barabara Ann, Joseph A. Smith (illustrator), Hands of Light, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1988.
Beswick, Samuel, The Swedenborg Rite, Kessinger Publishing Company, photographic reprint of an 1870 version.
Dole, George F., and Robert H. Kirvin, A Scientist Explores Spirit, Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.
Gladish, Richard, New Church Life, Oct 1947, pgs 473-474.
Hunter, William E., Edward Hunter, Faithful Steward, ed. Janath Russell Cannon, Mrs. William E Hunter, 1970.
Meyers, Mary Ann, “Death in Swedenborgian and Mormon Eschatology,” Dialogue 14 (Spring 1981), pages 58-64.
Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, LDS Collectors Library, InfoBase, 1997.
Pratt, Orson, Divine Authority, LDS Collectors Library, InfoBase, 1997.
Puri, Prof. Raj Lekh, Radha Soami Teachings, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1993.
Quinn, D. Michael, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Signature Books, 1998.
Quinn, D. Michael, The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power, Signature Books, 1994.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, translated by Rev. John Elliot, Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg Foundation, 12 Volumes, 1998.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, translated by John Whitehead, Apocalypse Explained : According to the Spiritual Sense in Which the Arcana There Predicted but Heretofore Concealed Are Revealed, 6 Volumes, Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, translated by John Whitehead Apocalypse Revealed : Wherein Are Disclosed the Arcana There Foretold Which Have Hitherto Remained Concealed, 2 Volumes, Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, translated by Samuel M. Warren, edited by Lois H. Taffel, The Delights of Wisdom Pertaining to Conjugial Love : After Which Follow the Pleasures of Insanity Pertaining to Promiscuous Love, Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, translated by John C. Ager, Angelic Wisdom Concerning Divine Love and Wisdom, Swedenborg Foundation, 1995.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, translated by George F. Dole, Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg Foundations, 1994.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, Rotch edition, The Final Judgement and the Destruction of Babylon, All the Predictions of the Apocalypse Now Fulfilled from Things Heard and Seen, Massachusetts New-Church Union, 1955.
Swedenborg, Emanuel, translated by John C. Ager, True Christian Religion, 2 Volumes, Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.
Widstoe, John A., Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book Company, 1993.
Yogananda, Paramahansa, Autobiography of a Yogi, Self Realization Foundation, 1994. Significant contributions were made to this article by devoted followers of the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. My sincere thanks to Kurt Simons who corrected numerous errors and suggested many rewrites and to Victor Odhner who waded through one of the first drafts. Carroll Odhner, Swedenborg Library Director for the College of Bryn Athyn, PA (a sort of Brigham Young University for Swedenborgians) and John Odhner, a Swedenborgian minister from the Los Angeles area, made contributions to the text as well. All have shown great patience in helping prepare the information presented here.  “For it has pleased the Lord to manifest Himself to me, and to send me to teach those things which will belong to His New Church, which is meant by >the New Jerusalem’ in the Apocalypse. For this purpose He has opened the interiors of my mind or spirit, whereby I have been permitted to be in the spiritual world with angels, and at the same time in the natural world with men, and this now during twenty-seven years.” True Christian Religion 851.  Doctrine and Covenants 88: 188.  Swedenborg’s works are often referred to as “The Writings” by those who study his works.  For a more in-depth but still fairly brief overview read A Scientist Explores Spirit by George F. Dole and Robert H. Kirvin, Swedenborg Foundation, 1997, and for the definitive biography, see C.O.Sigstedt, The Swedenborg Epic (New York: Bookman 1952, reprinted 1981) The text of this section has been mostly directly extracted from the www.newchurch.org webpage.  Swedenborg stated that the Lord would establish a New Church, referring to a spiritual entity. The churches which follow the teachings of Swedenborg use this as a term to refer to their organized bodies in the world as well.  Heaven and Hell, part of Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets), the Last Judgement, The Heavenly City: A Spiritual Guide Book, and parts of Conjugial Love, and True Christian Religion are available online at http://members.iserv.net/midminc/. A searchable version of Swedenborg’s complete works is available at the NewSearch web site at http://www.ns98.org. A CD-ROM version of NewSearch is also available for $25.  It is interesting to note that Swedenborg never refers to 1 Corinthians 15:40–42 in any of his discourses and his followers generally don’t see the three heavens in the words of these scriptures. The reference to three heavens in these scriptures seems to only be clear in the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible where Joseph has added the Swedenborgian idea that those in the three heavens should be compared to the sun, moon, and stars.  From Acton’s translation of Conjugial Love 21, >One of the wedding guests, a wise man, then asked them, “Do you understand what the things you have seen signify?” They answered, “A little.” They then asked him why the bride-groom, now the husband, was arrayed in such apparel.
He answered: “The bridegroom, now the husband, represented the Lord, and the bride, now the wife, represented the Church, because in heaven a wedding represents the marriage of the Lord and the Church. That is why he wore a miter on his head and was arrayed in a robe, a tunic, and an ephod, like Aaron; and why the bride, now the wife, wore upon her head a crown and was attired in a mantle, like a queen. But tomorrow they will be clothed differently, for this representation lasts only today.”‘ Swedenborg’s definition of what is meant by the term “church” is not a matter of worldly organization. Thus, in his Arcana Coelestia 8152. “From this it is evident that the Lord’s Church is not in this particular location or in that, but that it resides wherever people lead lives in keeping with the commandments of charity, both within the kingdoms in which the Church exists and outside them. So it is that the Lord’s Church is spread throughout the whole world, and yet is one; for when life constitutes the Church, and not doctrine separated from life, there is one Church. But when doctrine constitutes the Church there are many.”  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 375 speaks of apostasy as the loss of authority and priesthood. Arcana Coelestia 4717 speaks of apostasy or falling away in terms of not living in accordance with truth.  “I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. . . .I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it.” E.G. Schweibert, Luther and His Times, p. 509; and John M. Todd, Martin Luther, p. 188. American poet and editor William Cullen Bryant, in discussing an early religious group in Providence, Rhode Island, wrote: AMr. Williams continued to be its pastor for only four years, when he withdrew, not only form his official relations, but also ceased any longer to worship with his brethren, having come to the conclusion that there is ‘no regularly-constituted Church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance; nor could there be, until new apostles were sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming he was seeking.'”– In William Cullen Bryant, ed., Picturesque America, vol. 1, pp. 500, 502  “ Who does not see that “the name of the Lord” in these usages does not mean merely His name, but the acknowledgment of Him as being the Redeemer and Savior, together with obedience, and finally faith in Him? … therefore a man’s taking the name Christian means his quality, – that he has from Christ faith in Christ and charity toward the neighbor.” True Christian Religion (Ager) 682. “And My new name, signifies that they will also acknowledge the Lord’s Divine Human. This is evident from the signification of “I will write upon him My new name,” as being that they will acknowledge the Lord’s Divine Human.” Apocalypse Revealed 224. Swedenborg says much more about the name of the Lord in the context of these
passages, and elsewhere, such as in Apocalyse Explained 102, Apocalypse Revealed 81, 148, Arcana Coelestia 2009, 6674, 9310, 2724. Swedenborg often stated that the animal world is symbolic of heavenly principles (Conjugial Love 418, True Christian Religion 12, Arcana Coelestia 3000).  John Odhner, personal communication. See True Christian Religion 2, 26, 92(4), Heavenly Doctrine 290, 293. Swedenborg also equates “spirit” (for example: the Holy Spirit) with mind, making the parallel even stronger. “A person’s spirit is his mind, and whatever comes from it.” (True Christian Religion 156).  Lectures on Faith, pg 48. “There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made, whether visible or invisible, whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son — the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or rather man was formed after His likeness and in His image.” Thomas Alexander who wrote AThe Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine,” Sunstone, June 1999, Volume 22:3-4, Issue 115-116, pg 16, indicates that the earliest conception of the Holy Spirit as understood from the Lectures on Faith was as the common mind of God shared by the Father and the Son.  Dan Vogel’s article, “The Earliest Mormon Concept of God,” in Line Upon Line, by Gary James Bergera, Signature Books, 1989, pp17-33. He indicates that many passages in the the Book of Mormon identify the person of Christ with the Father (for example: Ether 3:14, 16, 4:12, 1 Ne 11:18 [original edition which states that the Lamb of God is the very Eternal Father], Alma 11:28–29, Mosiah 15:1–5, 7). In Luke 10:22 (Joseph Smith translation) “No man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.” A religious debate between the Mormon Elder, Stephen Post and Oliver Barr of the Christian Connection portrayed the LDS view as believing that the Father and the Son were one individual and that the Son provided a tabernacle for the Father (pgs 25, 26) .  D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power, pgs 5-7. Before the organization of the LDS Church in 1830, Doctrine and Covenants 10 equated “my people” with a non-institutional “my church” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:40, 46, 52). No ordinance requirements for belonging to the Lord’s church were referred to here except, “Behold this is my doctrine-whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:67). As evidence that this was a change perceived by the members of the Church, David Whitmer voiced his discomfort with the concept that after April 6, 1830 that the concept of the Lord’s church changed from a community of believers to an institutional organization.  Immanuel Kant and Mary Baker Eddy apparently did this. The influence of Swedenborg on Kant is discussed in “Under the Influence” by Scott McLemee in Lingua Franca, May/June 1998 and in a number of articles in the scholarly Swedenborgian journal, The New Philosophy. Kant only spoke negatively of Swedenborg in public while borrowing heavily from his philosophy privately. In a more directly parallel situation to that of Joseph Smith, there is some evidence that Mary Baker Eddy may have been influenced by Swedenborg, via possible influence of Swedenborg on the thinking of Phineas Quimby, on whose system Ms Eddy based Christian Sciene (Marguerite Beck Block, The New Church in the New World, New York: Holt, Rinhhart & Winston, 1932, reprint, Octagon Books, 1968)  Block, op.cit., page 94.  D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, pg 153. “Swedenborg’s testimony of his own theophany had already been published on the front page of the Western Repository of 6 December 1808, at Canandaigua, a few miles from Palmyra.”  Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire, page 99.  According to Carroll Odhner, Director of the Swedenborg Library at the Bryn Athyn College (a Swedenborgian oriented college), the advertisement for Heaven and Hell was usually a mail order offer if no one lived in the area. Otherwise the address of the New Church member living there would be given. Since Michael Quinn indicates that the advertiser was a book store it appears likely that the individual who placed the advertisement did not live in the immediate area.  Personal communication with Brent Top, 1998. Also Michael Quinn, controversial Mormon historian, who was looking for such books and did not find them. However, Quinn did find books that spoke about Swedenborg and his teachings.  Journal of the General Convention of the New Jerusalem. This information was provided by Carroll Odhner, library director for the Bryn Athyn College.  Block, pg 75, 78.  In the library near the Smith home (possibly Canadaigua) Sibly’s Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences, which Michael Quinn claims is a source for the family’s magic parchments, stated, “There are three degrees in man corresponding to the three heavens,” as part of its twenty-page summary of Swedenborg’s teachings about “spirits and departed souls of men,” and heaven and hell (Sibly 1784, 1062-81, esp. 1071n)” Quinn also notes that a three volume text on religions of the world had an article on Swedenborg.  Personal communication with Brent Top in 1998 who mentioned that he commissioned a study of whether books written by Swedenborg appeared in libraries near the Smith home.  Block, page 100.  Ibid. Pg 170.  Ibid. Pg 173.  Richard Gladish, New Church Life, Oct 1947, pgs 473-474 and also Edna Silver, Sketches, pg 289. My thanks to Carroll Odhner, Library Director, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn College for this information.  Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature Books, pgs 275-278.  Block, page 171.  Hunter, William E., Edward Hunter, Faithful Steward, 1970, pg 51. Joseph Smith was visiting members on his trip back from Washington, D.C. where he had just visited Pres. Buchanan seeking relief from the mobbings.  Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, Ch.12, p. 121  Samuel Beswick, The Swedenborg Rite, pg 1 gives Swedenborg’s age as eighteen in 1706 when he was initiated into the Scottish Rite in Lund, Sweden. Page 56 explains that from about 1740 to 1769 Swedenborg did not meet with the Masons. In 1769 he met with a science related lodge in France, pg 56.  Ibid. pg 69.  Beswick, pg165.  Dialogue 14 (Spring 1981), pages 58-64.
 Ms. Meyers noticed that Joseph Smith’s and Swedenborg’s teachings about life after death were very similar, something which has been outlined in the pages of this article. In addition their insights into the meaning of the “last days” are similar.  Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pg 82.  Radha Swami Teachings, pg 189. Autobiography of a Yogi, chapter 43.  Radha Swami Teachings, pgs 189, 190. Here Radha Swami equates each of the realms of the astral world with the nine chakras studied in the Sikh system. The top three regions (chakras) are seen as the first stage of saints. The bottom six are not of concern to those who are on a spiritual path to know God.  Swedenborg divided the world of spirits into three levels and the hells into three levels (Heaven and Hell 491, 542). In yoga, the first three chakras are associated with wealth, power, survival, and sex (Radha Swami Teachings, pg. 194, and any other yogic manual covering the chakras) and are not considered a destination or a focus for the saintly, although in life these may be able facilitate spiritual progress in the devoted seeker as do all things in the universe. See also Heaven and Hell 545-564, 586 which describes hell in great detail. In Heaven and Hell 586, hell is described as a place where humans dwell upon these lusts and desires.  Radha Swami Teachings, pg 191. Paramahansa Yoganada claims that on of Christ’s destinations after His agony on the cross was the highest region of the astral realm, an astral planet far removed from the earth. Swedenborg states that Christ is “in” the sun but is not the sun of the heavens.  Radha Swami Teachings, pg 194. Autobiography of a Yogi, chptr 43, “Among the fallen dark angels expelled from other worlds, friction and war take place… These beings dwell in the gloom-drenched regions of the lower astral cosmos, working out their evil karma.” Swedenborg mentions these conflicts in Heaven and Hell 574, 575, and 586.  Barabara Brennan, Hands of Light, pgs 51, 230-233.  Ibid. pg 230.  Swedenborg, Apocalypse Explained, 78, “When evil spirits, however, who have not yet … become fixed in their ruling love, enter any angelic society, then because the Divine of the Lord is there present they are direfully tormented, and not only turn away but even cast themselves down into the depths, where no light from heaven enters; some into dark caverns of rocks; in a word, into the hells (see what is shown in the work on Heaven and Hell, n. 54, 400, 410, 510, 525, 527). This turning away and removal from the Lord is what is called spiritual death..”  Brennan, pg 54.