In 1915, the General Church underwent a crisis stemming from a debate surrounding the nature of spiritual substance. The ideas, events, and people that made up the spiritual substance debate are as fascinating as they are confusing. The primary purpose of this essay is to help people gain entry into the basic issues, rather than provide solutions. Consequently, this is essentially an historical account, attempting to clearly represent the positions taken by the major players, as well as recount some of the events which transpired between 1900 and 1915.
No philosopher is mentioned more often in Swedenborg’s theological works than Christian Wolff. Wolff (1679–1774) was one of the major influences on Swedenborg’s writing, and thus on the revelation made through him.
The doctrines of the Church of the New Jerusalem have more to say about the reality of the spiritual world than any theological system before or since. Not even the overtly mystical traditions of Kabbalah or Hermeticism have been able to duplicate the systematic observations of the spiritual world by Emanuel Swedenborg over the many years of his lifetime. No tradition can offer the scientifically precise descriptions of the things he saw there (HH 1). But documenting the reality of this other world does not automatically explain the mechanism by which the two worlds interact.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was a famous Swedish religious thinker and mystic. He also wrote extensively on brain function. Many of his writings on the brain remained unpublished for 100 years or more; none had any effect on the development of neuroscience. Yet they contain many extraordinary insights that did not recur until late in the 19th century. He was particularly prescient about the functions of the cerebral cortex, the corpus callosum, and the pituitary gland. This article reviews Swedenborg’s ideas on the brain in the context of 18th century knowledge and considers where they came from and why they were ignored. NEUROSCIENTIST 3:142–147, 1997
The work of N. Newton is a further confirmation of the vitality of Swedenborgian philosophical reflection, which is difficult to assimilate into a systematic type of thought and which, for this very reason, does not cease to give rise to new considerations and ideas and provides reasons and stimuli destined to be taken up in even recent contexts which are both philosophical and scientific as well as literary.