By Dr. Young Oon Kim
Often people ask how I was able to accept the Divine Principle. There were several contributing factors. One of them is because I was greatly influenced by the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg and still treasure them deeply because they have continued to have lasting value in my spiritual life. Even though Swedenborg has been misunderstood and sadly neglected by most theologians, he enriched my faith and deepened my insights. So let me share with you some of his basic ideas; you will see how similar they are to our teaching.
First I will give you a brief picture of his life and times.
Secondly, we shall look at his doctrines of Scripture, eschatology and holy marriage. Once you hear what Swedenborg taught, you will understand how I could readily recognise the authenticity of Rev. Moon's teaching. Swedenborg provided me with a bridge between conventional Protestantism and the new revelation offered by the Unification Church.
Swedenborg was born in 1688 and lived until 1772. This means that he witnessed one of the most exciting periods of European history. Louis XIV ruled France during most of Swedenborg's life and made his court at Versailles a symbol of political power and cultural magnificence. Peter the Great was trying to reform and westernise Russia. And in the year that Swedenborg was born, the English rebelled against the absolutism of King James II, driving him into exile. England was on the road to democracy. As for Swedenborg's own nation, Sweden had become one of the major powers of Europe but was destined to lose its position because of a costly war with Denmark, Prussia, Poland and Russia. Swedenborg watched this take place. It was a great time to be alive.
Swedenborg's father was a Lutheran bishop and royal chaplain. Swedenborg went to school at the University of Uppsala and was awarded his doctor of philosophy degree when he was only 22 years old. Then he travelled abroad, spending most of four years in London where he studied languages and literature. Since he wanted to do something practical with his life he also learned watchmaking, copper engraving, book binding and lens grinding. When he returned to Sweden he edited a scientific magazine and worked as an engineer on a famous canal. In 1719, the family was elevated to the rank of nobility and Swedenborg took a seat in the Swedish Parliament which he kept for the remainder of his life. King Charles XII quickly recognised Swedenborg's scientific abilities and appointed him to the national Board of Mines. After an extensive study of the mining industry at home and abroad, Swedenborg published 3 big volumes on natural philosophy. Before he was 50 years old he wrote 33 scientific works while working in a government office and serving as a member of the Swedish legislature. His studies in geology, metallurgy, mathematics, physics and physiology were so highly regarded that he was elected a member of both the Swedish and Russian royal scientific societies.
Then came a remarkable change in his life. In 1743 at age 55 he had an experience of spiritual enlightenment. As he put it, heaven opened up completely to him and he became the channel for direct revelations from God. At divine dictation he wrote 4 volumes of a spiritual diary and 12 volumes entitled Arcana Coelestia ("Heavenly Mysteries"). Before he died at age 84, Swedenborg had written over 16,000 pages on theological topics alone, all based on his psychic experience of spirit world. For 28 years he claimed to be in constant communication with the Lord and His angels. During that period he published 30 books because, as he put it, the Lord had called him to reveal to the world the doctrine of His Second Advent.
Let me explain here that Swedenborg had a novel interpretation of the Second Coming. Unlike the orthodox Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists of his day he did not believe that Jesus would return to earth in a physical body to inaugurate the Messianic kingdom. Basing his theology on the Comforter passages in the Gospel of John, Swedenborg believed that the Second Coming referred to a new gift of the Holy Spirit, an outpouring of additional revelation which would lead Christians to understand the hidden spiritual meaning of the Bible and prepare them for a new age in God's dispensation. Although he never referred to himself as the Messiah, he did think of his own revelations from spirit word as the final truth needed to bring about the long-awaited Kingdom. Consequently, his admirers later organised a Christian denomination; they called it the Church of the New Jerusalem.
In spite of Swedenborg's unusual talents in many fields, he had no genius for organisation.
He expected the truth he proclaimed to win universal acceptance without the help of institutions. Nor when a denomination got set up to propagate his message did a new St. Paul come along to create a missionary organisation. As a result, today there are only about 40 Swedenborg churches in the United States with less than 10,000 members. The denomination is equally small elsewhere. On the whole Swedenborgians have relied on a ministry of the printed word, having translated Swedenborg's writings from their original Latin into more than 30 languages.
This does not mean that Swedenborg has not had some very prominent admirers. Let me merely mention Thomas Carlyle, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Helen Keller and Henry Jamess Sr., the father of the novelist Henry James and the philosopher William James. When Emerson gave a series of lectures on eminent men he chose Swedenborg as the representative mystic. Furthermore, since his father was an ardent Swedenborgian, was no accident that William James would become a patron the Society for Psychical Research. Even so, Swedenborg's influence among the theologians and clergy has been minimal. There has never been a major Swedenborgian theologian since Swedenborg's death and far too little attention has been paid to his writings Protestant or Catholic leaders.
In his own time Swedenborg won considerable fame because his ability as a psychic. One might fairly compare him in this respect to Jean Dixon, Edgar Cayce Jane Roberts, the medium who has been recently publishing Speaks. Of course, none of these modern psychics has anything like the scholarly abilities of Swedenborg. It is unfair to compare them on that score. Yet it is also true to say that because Swedenborg claimed to base his system on direct revelation, this has led the theologians to dismiss his writings rather than give them a fair examination. However, now that large numbers of people are at last willing to give psychics a hearing, it's a good time to be reminded the greatest past master of the art of extrasensory perception.
Some have said that Swedeborg suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 55 and that so-called communications with spirit world resulted from a serious emotional disorder. There is no evidence at all for such an accusation. Nowhere in his writings after 1743 are there any signs of mental derangement. He wrote as always in a careful, logical and methodical style. There is nothing ecstatic, irrational or abnormally emotional in his theological works. After his psychic illumination he simply changed the direction of his investigations. He was the same sort of man that he had been when he wrote books on metallurgy for the Board of Mines and papers on finance for the Swedish parliament. During his last years in London, it is true that there were times when he did not leave his room for days and was subject to extended periods of trance. But to those around him he never appeared to anything more than a "kindly old gentleman" whom his contemporaries held in esteem and the children of the neighbourhood loved. No one ever accused him of being "strange," "wild" or "eccentric."
Swedenborg was gifted with several extraordinary psychic abilities. At a dinner party he "saw" a fire which had broken out in Stockholm several hundred miles away. He told an aristocratic lady of secret correspondence which she had had with her brother about which he could not possibly have known through normal means. He was able to locate lost or hidden objects through conversations with the dead. When the German philosopher Immanuel Kant heard of these strange happenings, he made a careful investigation of them and concluded that the reports were true. This confirmation of Swedenborg's psychic abilities is especially noteworthy because Kant -of all people- had no liking for psychic or mysterious phenomena.
What could Swedenborg have meant by saying that his new revelations from the Lord represented the fulfilment of Christ's promise of the Second Advent? Of course, it is possible to say that he was mistaken, as psychics often are. There is, however, another possible explanation which merits consideration,
According to Swedenborg, there is a correspondence between what takes place on earth and what occurs in the other world. When Swedenborg lived, Europe was in the middle of an age of momentous change: political, economic, scientific and religious. For example, as a result of the disastrous wars of religion, men were critical and sceptical of traditional Christian orthodoxy. The Age of Reason had begun. Newtonian science looked like an enemy of God, though this was far from the belief of Sir Isaac Newton himself. It was also an age of Revolution. The "glorious revolution" of 1688 which drove the English monarch into exile foreshadowed the American and French revolutions which took place within a few years of Swedenborg's death. So in many ways the Scandinavian scientist lived at the end of an age. Possibly then God gave Swedenborg a special revelation for such a time. It was to prepare men for a new kind of Christianity and a new church, as Swedenborg believed, even if it was not the final revelation intended for the Last Days. In other words, Swedenborg was the prophet for his own time, preparing Christians for vast changes in their theology if their religion was to survive. As has been said of the early Christians, he had the right faith even if he had the wrong timetable.
A well-known American theologian once wrote of Swedenborg that he was "as great an adventurer and discoverer in theology as he obviously was in science a real Columbus of the Spirit." At the same time he confessed that Swedenborg's potential contribution was far greater than his actual influence in Christian theology. To remedy this situation we should begin with Swedenborg as a theologian before we consider his special claims as a seer and Biblical expositor.
Because Swedenborg is best remembered for his claims to direct knowledge of the afterlife, he has been criticised or ignored by most Christians. Yet the fact is that his theological system has considerable merit simply on the basis of its reasonableness and moral worth, quite apart from the controversial question of his reliability as an expert on parapsychological phenomena. We therefore have every reason to examine his theology on its own merits without considering whether he was open to special knowledge of the spirit world from conversations with angels and the Lord, as he believed. We will look at Swedenborg the theologian much as we would look at any other Christian thinker, like Calvin or Barth, for example.
Christianity has often been described as a trinitarian faith. In his doctrine of the Trinity Swedenborg stresses the oneness of God rather than the separateness of the three divine persons. He specifically denies that God is a society of three individual substances which are one because they share a common essence and belong to the same class. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not like John, James and William, three persons who are examples of the single species, man. There was also no trinity of persons in the Godhead before the world was created, says Swedenborg. That notion is not to be found in Scripture, cannot be accepted by enlightened minds, and was not invented until the Nicean council of the 4th century A. D.
What then does Swedenborg mean by the trinity? As man contains a body and soul as well as activities which are characteristically human, so the one God is made up of His deity (the Father), His incarnation (the Son) and His operation (the Holy Spirit or Divine Truth). Hence, instead of three distinct persons there is one person with three characteristics. He believed that Jesus Christ was God made flesh, the Divine Human.
The rest of Swedenborg's doctrine of God is more conventional: God is one; God is personal; He is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. However, Swedenborg does strike a new note in his explanation of the Divine essence. Instead of defining God's inmost character in terms of self-existing being and omnipotent will, he describes the essence of God as a union of divine love and divine wisdom.
Love is the underlying substance of God, he says, and wisdom is God's form. As man has 2 faculties-understanding and will -so does God. God is the source of mans wisdom and His love is the cause of our will toward goodness. What does it mean to say God is love? God 1) loves others out of Himself, 2) desires to be one with them, and 3) make them happy. He longs to give men blessedness, eternal life and unending delight. By making divine love and wisdom the starting point for his theology, Swedenborg was able to correct many features of traditional thought.
For me, Divine Principle's idea of the polarity in Godsounded like Swedenborg's idea of God's dual essentialities: divine wisdom and divine love. Since man is a representative image of wisdom and woman is a representative image of love, there is need for them to have a reciprocal relationship. Isn't this like our Unification theologies emphasis upon the polarity of man and woman and the need for give and take?
To emphasise the supernatural power of God, many Christians have said that God created the universe ex-nihilo. Swedenborg disagrees. It is impossible for anything to be made out of nothing. God created the universe out of Himself. As God is the only substance prior to creation, from His being was derived all things that exist. The created universe is not God yet comes from God. Creation is so full of divine love and wisdom that it could be called their image, Swedenborg wrote.
Man and the universe are microcosm and macrocosm. There is a correspondence of all things in the universe with all things in man. Like man, all animals have affections or desires. Like man, all vegetables have a will to live and grow. And like man, the mineral kingdom has a lastingness and stability which resemble our concern to be related to the ultimate. So when seen spiritually, the created universe is "an image representative of God Man."
There are two worlds, the spiritual and the natural. These are distinct, yet similar. Spirit world has trees, mountains, cities and societies, just as does the natural world. The only difference is that each thing in one world is spiritual which is natural in the other world.
Why did God create the world? Its universal purpose is that there might be an eternal conjunction of the Creator and the creation. He wants men to be His habitations, so every created thing is finally designed for the sake of man. Creation is in continual progression toward an ultimate end. God seeks men to elevate themselves to their Creator and conjoin themselves with Him.
After creation had been accomplished, God's government of it by love and wisdom is called His Providence. He did not create the universe for its own sake but for the sake of men. He sought to create "a heaven which shall consist of men become and who are becoming angels." Providence therefore refers to God's means by which man might be turned from hell and led to heaven.
For Swedenborg, Providence works to save all men, whether they are Christian or not. Everyone who lives by the principles of the Ten Commandments is saved. Even if some are totally ignorant of God yet live a charitable life, they are instructed by spirits after death and receive a spiritual principle into their moral life in heaven. Or in the case of Islam, that faith was raised up by providence in order to destroy idolatry and give some knowledge of the Lord before Muslims should come into the spirit world, Swedenborg claims.
The Lord's kingdom on earth then consists of all good men. As for the church, it serves as mankind's heart and lungs. Those who are not Christians by profession are therefore like the parts of the body kept alive by the heart and lungs. In history the Church has taken 4 successive forms: the Most Ancient Church from Adam to the flood, the Ancient from Noah to Moses, the Israelites from the revelation of Mt. Sinai to the coming of Jesus, and the Christian church, which will last until the second coming of the Lord. When an old church perishes for lack of faith and charity, Providence establishes a new one to take its place. Swedenborg believed that Christianity had already degenerated so badly in his own time that it would soon be replaced by a new Church: the Church of the New Jerusalem based on his writings.
Orthodox Christians assert that God the Creator begot a Son from eternity. This eternal Son became incarnate to redeem mankind. Swedenborg condemns such a view as "fabulous." In his opinion, God Himself descended and became human in Jesus Christ. God is one and He became man to accomplish our salvation. God is both divine good and divine truth. He descended to save men as divine truth. Christ then was "Jehovah Himself clothed with the human."
Jesus inherited hereditary evil from his mother but be was free of the more internal hereditary sin which comes from the father because his father was God. Since be was born of Mary, Jesus bad infirmities and temptations like any other man. Gradually, however, Jesus put off everything human in his nature until nothing remained of what be had derived from his mother. By overcoming numerous temptations, he achieved glorification or complete union with God. His whole life had been a continual temptation. From his childhood until his death be was assaulted by evils and conquered them. He fought against all the forces of hell and subdued them entirely, Swedenborg claims.
What was the redemption Jesus accomplished? He subjugated the hells. He established order in the heavens. And he prepared for a new spiritual church. However, he did not redeem the world by his blood, as popularly thought. He saves men only because of the powers of his life, lived according to the precepts of faith and charity.
Swedenborg criticises false explanations of the atonement. In orthodox Protestant theology, God is said to have become enraged by men's actions so the Son had to suffer the cross in order to appease God's wrath. But God is mercy and pity, love and goodness. He therefore cannot look upon men with anger and decree our damnation. Christ came not to appease God's anger but to fight against the powers of evil, subjugate them and restore, order to the universe. Christ redeems men by opening their minds to heaven so that they can dwell in love to the Lord and practice charity toward the neighbour.
Swedenborg also corrects the traditional doctrine of the resurrection. Jesus' physical body was not resurrected. By overcoming the last trial -the crucifixion- Jesus was completely glorified. He "made the very corporeal in Himself Divine." That is, he no longer had a human body like ours.
Swedenborg also denies the Pharisaic idea that all men will be physically resurrected at the last day. Actually, every man rises again immediately after death. He thinks he still has his body, exactly as it was on earth. The corporeal form however, is no longer of use to him. He henceforth sees spiritually and feels spiritually, because he uses his internal rather than external senses. Thus, Swedenborg rejects the idea of physical resurrection in favour of the immortality of the human soul.
Orthodox Lutheranism maintains that Christ gained enough merit from his voluntary sufferings to satisfy God's demand for just punishment for man's sin and that Christ can transfer his merits to whomever he wishes as an act of grace. This, doctrine of imputation was denounced by Swedenborg as an "abominable error." Why? Because it implies that "God does not heed the doings of a man's life, but only the faith inscribed on the interiors of his mind." For the same reason Swedenborg denied the ideas of predestination and justification by faith alone. Salvation requires actions on man's part and cannot be granted as a free gift from Christ. To enter heaven a man has to exhibit charity, piety, the desire for a new life and exercise the free faculty of doing good. Therefore the merit of Christ infused from God cannot justify the wicked, as Lutherans teach, because the afterlife is determined by one's own love, faith and works. Christ's work was not to satisfy God's wrath bur to subjugate hell, establish order in the heavens and institute the Christian Church.
From the beginning Protestants upheld the supreme authority of the Bible. In reaction to the allegorical method used by Catholics, Luther insisted upon the literal interpretation of the Scriptural text. According to Swedenborg this literalistic method obscures the real message of the Bible. If the Word is divine, it must have a spiritual meaning. As God reveals Himself in 3 ways and there are 3 heavens corresponding to these, so in Scripture one can find celestial, spiritual and natural meanings. The literal sense is the foundation for the higher interpretations but is the least important. In the spiritual sense, we find God's message to the church and in the celestial sense, we discover things chiefly about the Lord. Since the supreme message of Scripture concerns the marriage of divine good and truth, the spiritual sense reveals divine truth and the celestial sense shows divine goodness. In Swedenborg's opinion his major work was to prepare a detailed explanation of the hitherto concealed spiritual and celestial meaning of the Bible. In this respect he has often been compared to the Jewish Philo and the Christian expositor Origen of Alexandria. However, Swedenborg would say that his exegesis was superior to theirs because it was based on direct communication with the Lord and the angels.
For Swedenborg the Last Judgment refers to two distinct events: 1) the immediate judgement of each soul at death and 2) the end of a church. Let us briefly look at each.
As mentioned earlier, man does not stay in the grave until some far distant day of judgement and resurrection of the body. A man enters the spirit world as soon as he dies. Since the traditional doctrine of hell and eternal damnation has always been a matter of controversy, it will be worthwhile to examine Swedenborg's ideas on the subject.
If men did not possess free will, God would be the cause of evil. But God is all-loving and all good. What happens is that man turns into evil the good which constantly flows from God. Men turn away from God and to themselves. The Adamic Church fell because of its sensuality, lusts, and corporeality, Swedenborg declared. So the delight of good which God intends becomes man's delight in evil. Hell originated from man's love of self and the world.
According to Swedenborg there is no one devil called Satan but myriads of self-centred men in this world who opposed the Divine and became devilish spirits when they died. The Lord does not cast anyone into hell. He never turns His face from man, becomes angry with no one and damns not a single soul, because He is goodness, Love and mercy. As man causes his own evil he makes his own hell.
Men do not thrust themselves into hell instantaneously but gradually. They commit more and more sins until they have nothing left in themselves except evil. Infernal spirits become the embodiment of their own evils so upon death they go to live in societies of those who are like themselves. In the light of heaven these satanic spirits look like monsters but among themselves they continue to look like ordinary men.
The Scriptures speak of the everlasting fires of hell. These infernal fires refer to the lusts of men; and when the Bible talks about how the damned gnash their teeth this refers to the inevitable disputes caused among self-centred men. What else can one expect in a society of egotistical spirits but continual discord and anger?
Orthodox theologians are mistaken to say that the sufferings in hell are caused by pangs of conscience. Completely evil spirits have no conscience. They suffer in hell simply because they lack the power to do as much evil as they desire. Demonic spirits punish each other in their efforts to dominate. Their only pleasure comes from tormenting each other and they feel pain because God frustrates their efforts. So God does not punish the damned. Rather, the wicked inflict pain upon their own kind. Hell is filled with fury because evil men are constantly fighting among themselves and continually torturing each other.
As there are different kinds of good men who go to appropriate heavens, so there are different varieties of evil men who are consigned to hells which suit their Condition. Hells are as numerous as there are evils to which men dedicate their lives. Nevertheless God does not allow sinning to run unchecked. For example, evil spirits are restrained from becoming worse. That is, they are not allowed to go beyond the level of wickedness reached in their earthly existence. Furthermore, when evil becomes so all-pervasive that it threatens the balance between heaven and hell, the Lord founds a new church to restore the cosmic order.
Hence, in the apocalyptic sections of Scripture the idea of a coming Last judgement means the end of the established church and the inauguration of a new one. For example, the last judgement of the Most Ancient Church came at the flood. That of the Ancient Church occurred when most men became idol-worshippers. The Hebrew Church was judged at the time of the Babylonian captivity and the Jewish Church was condemned by God during the disastrous revolts against Rome. In the same way, the orthodox Christian Church will be replaced by the arrival of the second advent.
So the doctrine of the last judgement -in Swedenborg's view- does not mean that heaven and earth will perish. Instead it means that a new church will appear both in heaven and on earth to carry out the Lord's purpose. The new creation refers to a reformation of the human Condition the natural will become spiritual. Nor will mankind perish in the last judgement, as literalists believe. According to Swedenborg the human race will continue for all eternity because it is the basis upon which heaven is founded. Every work of God -like the creation of man- has an eternal purpose. The human race is "the seminary or heaven" and the perfection of heaven requires that it must be filled up with good spirits. Without the human race, the angelic heaven would be like a house without any foundation.
Also, the doctrine of correspondences implies that men must live forever. There is a mutual and reciprocal conjunction between men and angels. No angel subsists without man and no man can exist without a spirit or angel.
When does a last' judgement occur? When evil reaches its maximum height and is consummated. Gradually evil increases over good as man turns from God to love the self and the world. When evil expands its domain, many men go to hell and few are fit to enter heaven. The cosmic order is thrown off balance. So God establishes a new Church to restore the proper equilibrium in the world. This last judgement takes place in the spirit world as well as on earth. Until then each soul lives in a heavenly society suitable to his religious beliefs and practices. With the coming of a new church, all these separate heavenly societies are united. All spirits then become conjoined with the Lord in love and wisdom. Thus, there will be a new heaven as well as a new earth.
Among the many doctrines of the Christian faith, one of the most important for Swedenborg concerns the meaning of holy marriage. Men and women are inclined for "conjunction into one" as part of God's plan for creation. However, there are two kinds of marriage:.the natural or biological kind and the spiritual. Swedenborg stresses the significance of the higher type. Man was created by God to understand truth, whereas woman was created to be an affection of good. Thus spiritual marriage refers to the masculine understanding of truth united with feminine goodness. The male represents the wisdom of love and the female symbolises the love of wisdom. The holiness of marriage is derived from their union.
As man is born intellectual and woman is created affectional, when male and female become one, their union signifies man in his fullness. To use Swedenborg's language, when earthly marriages come from love of goodness and truth, the kingdom of the Lord on earth corresponds to His kingdom in heaven. Marriage originates with God, fills humans with heavenly love and makes them in the image of the Lord.
When God's goodness and truth flow down to the human level, the minds of men and women become united. As these divine energies reach the physical level, marriages take place. Sexual love belongs to the natural man and conjugal love to the spiritual man. Higher than the biological desires is conjugal love, which cements internal relationships and provides spiritual satisfactions.
So far Swedenborg has not gone far from the usual Christian doctrine of marriage. However, he does just this when he argues for the continuance of the married estate to the afterlife, in contrast to the usual interpretation of Jesus' words that heaven is free of sexuality, Swedenborg points out that even angels are sexual. Thus, there are marriages in heaven corresponding to those on earth. Heavenly marriage refers to the happy union of male understanding and female will. In heaven a married couple become so interrelated that they are called one angel rather than two. Spiritual nuptials take place on earth and are continued in the afterlife. However, the union of husband and wife in heaven does not produce more offspring but rather procreation of more love and truth.
When a husband and wife die they meet in heaven and live together for a time. If their reunion is one of sympathy and concord, they remain together. However, if not, they discontinue their conjugal life. Separations occur because many earthly marriages are entered into for purely external reasons. Hence in heaven there is an opportunity to unite with truly suitable partners. Men and women in heaven therefore become young again so that they can fully enjoy the delights of a marriage for the love of good and truth with each other.
According to Swedenborg, conjugal love is the highest kind of relationship because it expands the innermost things of both mind and body. In heaven there is no domination of one partner by the other. Husband and wife experience the joy of mutual sharing, and delights exceed all others. Thus, genuine conjugal love is an image of heaven.
Having examined Swedenborg's ideas on four or five major theological topics, one can see how gifted he was as a theologian, quite apart from his claims as a psychic. Simply as a thinker he ranks favourably with many of those who have exerted far greater influence upon the mainstream of Christian doctrinal development.
Walter Marchall Horton of Oberlin, one of the few contemporary theologians who has studied Swedenborg's theology, says that it should be interpreted as a response to the scientific world view identified with the name of Sir Isaac Newton. While this is true, Swedenborg's theological endeavours should also be seen as valuable preparation for the liberal Protestant theologies of the 19th and 2Oth centuries.
But Swedenborg's spirit is far more important than his theological conclusions. All he believed and all he wrote were outward signs of his genuine love for God and fellow men or his personal kindness and basic goodness. Summing up his life and thought are two brief sentences taken from his exposition of the Book of Revelation: "Worship does not consist in prayers and in outward devotion, but in a life of charity . The primary part of worship is a life of charity, and its secondary is praying." That shows the real Swedenborg of which his theology was a natural by-product.