Emanuel Swedenborg

Charges of Heresy

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In 1769 he returned to Sweden, partly to answer charges of heresy which had been leveled against him by some of the prelates of the Lutheran state church. He had been informed by friendly correspondents that his theological writings were the cause of much controversy in the Lutheran Consistory in Gothenburg. By this time several of Swedenborg's works had been translated into Swedish, and followers, both among the clergy and the laity, spoke out in favor of his theology.

In September, 1768, a country parson precipitated a decisive debate by introducing a resolution in the Gothenburg Consistory calling for measures to stop the circulation of works at variance with the dogmas of Lutheranism. The parson objected particularly to Swedenborg's writings. While some members of the Consistory insisted that no judgment be rendered until all members had thoroughly studied the works in question, Dean Ekebom, the ranking prelate, announced that he found Swedenborg's doctrines to be "corrupting, heretical, injurious, and in the highest degree objectionable." Although he confessed that he had not read any works other than the Apocalypse Revealed with any care, he concluded that Swedenborg's views on the nature of the Divine, the Bible, the Holy Supper, faith, and other basic teachings should be suppressed as dangerous to established religious concepts. He charged Swedenborg with Socinianism or refusal to accept the divinity of Christ.

On being apprised of these charges Swedenborg wrote vigorously in his own defense. The Socinianism charge particularly upset him, and he wrote, "I look upon the word Socinian as a downright insult and diabolical mockery." One of Swedenborg's most carefully argued lines of theological reasoning directly refutes Socinianism and argues for the acceptance of Christ as God on earth.

The dispute became inflamed and shifted to the political level when the matter was brought up in the national Diet. The Dean's legal advisor and chief prosecutor urged that "the most energetic measures" be taken to "stifle, punish, and utterly eradicate Swedenborgian innovation and downright heresies by which we are encompassed . . . so that the boar which devastates and the wild beast which desolates our country may be driven out with a mighty hand." The Royal Council, appointed through the Diet, finally rendered its report in April, 1770. The anti-Swedenborgians won most of what they were seeking. Swedenborg's clerical supporters were ordered to cease using his teachings, and customs officials were directed to impound his books and stop their circulation in any district unless the nearest consistory granted permission. In its own words, the Royal Council "totally condemned, rejected, and forbade the theological doctrines contained in Swedenborg's writings."

While the dispute dragged on for three more years, Swedenborg continued to protest the decision of the Council and petitioned the King himself. The Royal Council referred the matter to the Gotha Court of Appeals, which asked several universities, including Swedenborg's alma mater, Uppsala, to make a thorough study of Swedenborg's ideas. The universities, however, asked to be excused. Their theological faculties found nothing which they felt they should condemn, but, on the other hand, they had no inclination to put bishops and entire consistories on trial for false accusation, the only means by which the anti-Swedenborgian decisions could be reversed. The matter quieted down. Some clergymen preached Swedenborgian ideas; most did not. Emanuel Swedenborg continued to write and speak as he pleased in his few remaining years on earth."

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- by Sig Synnestvedt

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