Chapter 18



THE foremost and brightest of the Fourieristic Associations was that at Brook Farm. . . . But the remarkable fact, for the sake of which I am calling special attention to it, is that this Association brought before the public not only a new socialism but a new religion; and that religion was Swedenhorgianism.

Swedenborg is known as the eighteenth century seer and revelator, the founder of the New Church. His writings had long been circulating feebly in America. But during the period when Brook Farm was in the ascendant there was a movement of the public mind toward Swedenborg as palpable and portentous as were Millerism and the old revivals.

Swedenborgianism went deeper into the heart of the people than the socialisms that introduced it, because it was a religion. The Bible and revivals had made men hungry for something more than social reconstruction. Swedenborg's offer of a new heaven as well as a new earth met the demand magnificently. He suited all sorts. The scientific were charmed, because he was primarily a son of science, and seemed to reduce the universe to scientific order; the mystics, because he led them boldly into all the mysteries of intuition and the invisible worlds; the Unitarians, because, while he declared Christ to be Jehovah himself, he displaced the orthodox ideas of son-


ship and tri-personality; even the infidels favored him, because he discarded thirty-two of the sixty-six commonly accepted books of the Bible. Fourierism without a corresponding religion was too bald a materialism for the higher classes of its disciples, and the enthusiasts of Brook Farm made Swedenborgianism its complement.

The Harbinger displayed under its title a motto selected from the writings of Swedenborg, and its five semi-annual volumes contained between thirty and forty articles on Sweden-borg. The burden of all these was the unity of Swedenborgianism and Fourierism; the Swedenborgians insisted that Fourier discovered the divine arrangement of society which Sweden-borg foreshadowed, and the Fourierists that Swedenborg revealed the religion which Fourier anticipated. A most characteristic utterance of the Fourierists was the saying of John S. Dwight: "In religion we have Swedenborg; in social economy Fourier; in music Beethoven."

In 1845, when the movement toward Swedenborg was in full tide, George Bush, professor of Hebrew and Oriental Literature in the University of the City of New York and long a favorite oracle of the orthodox church, was converted and took the lead of it. He wrote me in October of that year:

"The system [of Swedenborg] is beginning to excite deep interest in this region. I have had crowded houses in attendance upon a short course of lectures on the subject in this city. Among my regular hearers are your old friends Boyle and Weld. They are both, I believe, confirmed receivers. They called together and had a long chat with me the other day. I know also that the Oberlin folks are entering upon the study of Swedenborg."

After several letters had passed between us I prepared an article for the press on Swedenborg's treatment of the Bible. It was short and to the point. I got my facts from Sweden-


borg's own books, and knew that they were sure and would tell. But how to get them before the public was the question. The Perfectionist had a circulation of only five or six hundred. I knew that the religious papers generally would not quote from it, nor would they print anything written by me if aware of the authorship. So we betook ourselves to stratagem. We printed the article on slips as newspaper proofs without date, place or signature, and sent them to all the religious papers in the country. The experiment succeeded. Professor Bush wrote me:

"Your industrious zeal in circulating the censure of 'Sweden-borg's Bible' has undoubtedly produced its effect. It has had a wide publication, and has riveted the prejudices of multitudes of minds. Yet I anticipate ultimate good from it. It will lead to deeper investigation of the central question of all theology, that of the canonicity of the Scriptures and the true nature of inspiration. The result will show on which side the genuine reverence for the Word as a truly Divine Writing is found."


There is one fact in relation to the writings of Swedenborg which ought to be known in these days of his increasing popularity. He excludes from his canon of the Word of God many of the most important books in the received Scriptures, particularly the writings of Paul. The following is his manifesto eX cathedra on this subject: "The books of the Word are all those which have the internal sense; but those which have not the internal sense are not the Word. The books of the Word in the Old Testament are the five books of Moses, the book of Joshua, the book of Judges, the two books of Samuel, the books of Kings, the Psalms of David, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniab, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; and in the New Testament the four Evangelists,


Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the Revelations." This list excludes Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the song of Solomon in the Old Testament; and the Acts, Paul's fourteen epistles, the epistle of James, the two epistles of Peter, the three epistles of John and the epistle of Jude in the New Testament.

The above citation may be found in a note appended to the 66th section of Swedenborg's Heavenly Doctrine. The same statement appears elsewhere several times in his writings, but it is not put forth into much prominence. He seems to have avoided all discussion of it, and to have chosen a silent rather than a violent and offensive method of ejecting the writings of Paul and others from the Bible. .

His estimate of the intellectual and spiritual attainments of the apostles and primitive Christians may be seen in the following extract from The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Respecting the Sacred Scripture, Section 24: "The reason why the science of correspondences, which is the key to the spiritual sense of the Word, was not discovered to later ages, [i.e. ages subsequent to the patriarchal period] was because the Christians of the Primitive Church were men of such great simplicity that it was impossible to discover it to them; for had it been discovered, they would have found no use in it, nor would they have understood it." .


Putney, October 13, 1845.

Dear Sir:
I purchased all the works of Swedenborg which you recommended to me, and some others. I have read the greater part of them, and shall finish the remainder as soon as my other duties permit. Meanwhile I have formed some opinions which, in accordance with your invitation, I will present to you.


I might say much of those things in Swedenborg's system which commend themselves to my understanding. But praising him to you would be "carrying coals to Newcastle." I shall therefore confine myself to fault-finding, in hopes that I shall either convince you that he is not a safe teacher, or that 1 shall be convinced by you that my criticisms are not well founded.

Before entering upon a discussion of particular doctrines an examination of the sources of Swedenborg's theology is in order. What relation does his system sustain to the Bible? My opinion bluntly expressed is that the Bible occupies in Swedenborg's works a position similar to that which it occupies in the Koran of Mahomet. Both alike stand independent of the Bible and above it, and both use it merely as an auxiliary to their own revelations.

Swedenborg makes the authority of the Bible secondary to his own in two ways: First, he takes upon himself to decide in a summary manner what part of the Bible is the Word of God and what is not. In the New Testament he finds but five books that belong to the Word, namely the four Gospels and the Apocalypse. The epistles of Paul and the other apostles are indeed allowed to be in some sense good books, but are excluded from all authority and are scarcely ever alluded to in his writings. Second, having excluded that part of the Bible which he could not well manage, he has taken full possession of the rest by his doctrine of the "internal sense." If the literal sense opposes him or does not answer his purpose, he ousts it without ceremony and tells us what the internal sense is. I have seen no evidence that the determination of the internal sense everi in his own mind is governed by any fixed laws. I do not believe that any of his followers, however well acquainted with his views, can develop for themselves the internal sense of any


part of Scripture and at the same time keep in consistency with him and with each other.

I have no quarrel with the idea that spiritual teaching takes precedence of the letter of the Bible. But this idea is to be applied only in private experience. A man who knows that he is in communication with God may set the inward above the outward word for himself; but not for another, because th communication of the inward word to another by speech or writing is itself nothing but an outward word.

Neither have I any quarrel with the idea that God may give new revelations in these times. But I assume that He will never contradict Himself, and that His former revelations are the nucleus of those to come. .

I agree with you that Swedenborg presents the great problems which the world is yet to study, but not that he has solved them; and this is the best thing I can say of him.

Respectfully yours,


Putney, November 6, 1845.

Dear Sir:
1 cannot for two reasons allow the "astonishing attributes" of Swedenhorg to drive me into reverence for him. In the first place I have seen so many signs and wonders in connection with false spiritualisms, that I have learned to abide in the nil admirari attitude. I cannot account fully for the astonishing attributes of Mahomet, of Jacob Behman, of Shakespeare, of Napoleon without looking toward superhuman sources, but I do not therefore receive those men as plenipotentiaries of God.

My second and principal reason for declining to pay Swedenborg the homage you think he deserves is the fact, that my admiration of that which is good and true in his writ-


ings is held in check by my clear perception of much in them which is bad and false. You would have me divest myself of all preconceptions. This I am by no means at liberty to do. I bring to the reading of Swedenborg only the same mind which I have previously brought to the study of a confessedly previous revelation. If I cannot trust that mind's past operations, I cannot trust it for the future. Would you have me divest myself of the preconception that the earth is a spherical body revolving around the sun? I might as well and as easily do this as divest myself of the preconception that the 24th Chapter of St. Matthew teaches a doctrine concerning the second coming of Christ which Swedenhorg denies. The same I may say of many other Scripture-certainties which I have obtained not by tradition nor by human teaching but by careful investigation and by demonstration of the spirit of truth. .

You insist that the question of Swedenborg's divine illumination is to be settled at the outset on its own merits. I object to this order of procedure. I find at the outset that he attempts to cashier Paul and supersede him. Paul's pretensions are as high as his. The very form and pressure of Swedenborg's claim bids me look well to Paul's claim; for if Swedenborg would have me lightly set aside pretensions to divine authority in one case, he teaches me to hold them loosely in all cases. The law favors possession. Paul is in possession of the field, and Swedenborg is the ejector. I insist then that the question to be settled at the outset is whether Paul was a true man or an impostor. Now I have long ago settled it in my mind that Christ revealed himself in Paul, and committed to him the dispensation of the everlasting gospel. I can truly say of Paul that I have found in his writings all the essential truths of Swedenborg and a great deal more; and I do not find in Paul the gross errors which I find in Swedenborg. Therefore in my view the balance is altogether in favor of Paul. . .


As to the problem of Swedenborg's character and pretensions I do not feel bound to solve it. I can leave it to be solved at the day of judgment. 1 know that there are principalities and powers in the spiritual world that have immense intelligence combined with immense spiritual wickedness. 1 have had experience of their incantations. I have seen their influences bursting forth in Puseyism, in Fourierism, in Shakerism, in Millerism, in Mormonism, and I may say in Perfectionism. If I cannot exactly fathom these portents, I can turn from them to Christ and the apostles, whose voice I know, and thus relieve my conscience of perplexity. .

But the problem of Swedenborg may not he wholly inexplicable. It may be that he was actually introduced into the spiritual world, and that many of the things which he reports were objective realities; but that he was introduced only into that apartment called in the Bible "Hades," which is below the resurrection state, and that his theology is the theology of Hades. To my mind many circumstances indicate that this was the fact. I am sure he never saw the resurrection sphere, for he believes in no resurrection distinct from continued existence in Hades after death. He knows nothing of the judgment and resurrection at the second coming of Christ. He reports nothing of that church which lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years while the rest of the dead lived not. He says that the angels told him this and that, but almost never reports what the apostles and primitive believers told him. Yet their testimony would go further than that of legions of angels. Those whom he calls angels are only the ghosts of men, and men without names. The statements of such witnesses are not to be received without cross-questioning, and his witnesses are all beyond the reach of cross-questioning. But perhaps the most decisive proof that his clairvoyance was limited to Hades is the fact that all the heavens he saw, even the inmost, were subject to a measure


of sin and suffering. Experience in Hades is a sublimated form of the Christian experience current in this world, an alternation of sinning and repenting, sadness and happiness. It is not resurrection experience.

The fact that Swedenborg saw the Godhead only in its unity, as it was seen under the Jewish dispensation, that he saw none but human angels, that he was in entire ignorance of the existence of the Devil, all tend to the same point and persuade me that, though he may have had real intercourse with the spiritual world and supposed he knew all about it, his range of acquaintance did not extend to ultimates in the direction either of good or evil. .

In all great outbursts from the spiritual world there is undoubtedly a confluence of good and evil. So I see heaven and hell coo~perating in the development of Swedenborgianism. But I am convinced nevertheless that as a system it is from an infernal source; and if I am asked, what motive the Devil could have for constructing with so much pains-taking and seeming benevolence such a vast, complicated engine, I answer unhesitatingly, that he might destroy the Bible. That is the hook, and all the wisdom, morality and beauty that cover it are only the bait.

Yours respectfully,

This letter discouraged Professor Bush. His subsequent letters were written not in pursuance of his original attempt to convert me, but to complain of some articles on Swedenborg which I published in The Perfectionist. The first of these articles was a long one on Swedenborg's Theory of the Internal Sense of Scripture. The reader has seen the substance of it, and 1 will not reproduce it. The next, presenting Swedenborg's doctrine of the Godhead, is summarized below:


The unity of the Godhead is as prominent an article in Swedenborg's creed as it is in that of the Unitarians. His doctrine is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the soul, body and spirit of one person. In effect this doctrine denies not only the divinity but the existence of the Christ described in the Evangelists, for that Christ constantly and in various ways represented himself as a person distinct from the Father. Unitarianism proper, while it denies the divinity of Christ, still leaves him standing as the greatest of men, in some sense mediating between the rest of mankind and God. But Sweden-borg takes him out of the way altogether by merging him in the only Jehovah. We have seen that Swedenborg annuls the commissions of the apostles. Who then is God's second? We hazard nothing in saying that it is Swedenborg himself. To him alone the arcana of both inner and outer universe were opened. To him was given the key of the internal sense by which a new Bible was ushered into the world. Can we doubt then that in his own view he occupies the place vacated by his annihilation of the Son as a separate person?

My next discussion in The Perfectionist concerned the second coming of Christ. I will reprint here only the concluding paragraphs:

"According to the extracts we have given from Sweden-borg's writings (Brief Exposition, Sections 70, 73; Heaven and Hell, section I; Last Judgment, section 45) the second coming of Christ was in fact nothing more than the advent of Swedenborgianism. Thus he says: 'That by the coming of the Lord is meant his coming in the Word, and at the same time the establishment of a New Church instead of the former, which is then brought to its consummation or end, evidently appears etc.' Subsequently he announces distinctly that he is the vehicle of the revelations necessary to the salvation of the world, and adds: 'That at this day such immediate revelation


exists is because that is what is meant by the coming of our Lord.'

In our view there is no better test of a man's pretensions to Bible-knowledge than the answer he gives to the question, What think you of Christ's second coming? If he misses the truth on this point, we are satisfied that he has no clue to the labyrinth of prophecy, no sound knowledge of the spiritual history of the world, and no profound sympathy with Christ and the apostles. As biblical knowledge advances we may be sure that Swedenborg's theory of the second coming will be seen more and more clearly to be the seal of his imposture."

After this article I tried to hurry through and get out of the discussion. I made a brief statement of Swedenborg's theory of regeneration, Christian experience, the new covenant, and the resurrection, and concluded with the following summary of his views on sexual morality:

Exclusive marriage, essentially the same as that practised in this world, exists in heaven in contradiction of Christ's words. Matt. 22 :30.

In his code of sexual morality for this world Swedenborg allows mistress-keeping in cases where it is not convenient for men to marry, and concubinage in cases where married men are not pleased with their wives. (Conjugial Love,sections 459, 460, 467-475.)


New York, January 24, 1846.

Dear Sir: . . .
I wish more particularly to request you to reconsider what you have said respecting Swedenborg's allowing of mistresskeeping. . .

See if you have not conveyed a wrong impression. See if strict Christian equity does not require you to proffer some


kind of amends to those of your readers (and I am one), who may feel deeply aggrieved by what they are fully satisfied is a groundless aspersion. If you are satisfied that you have spoken unadvisedly, I have every assurance that you will not shrink from a proper acknowledgment. At any rate I pray you will not leave it where it is. Tell your readers at least what he does say in its relation to the whole theme, that they may judge for themselves of the enormity.

Very respectfully yours,


NOYES IN The Perfectionist JANUARY 31, 1846

I have stated that Swedenborg "allows mistress-keeping in cases where it is not convenient for men to marry, and concubinage in cases where married men are not pleased with their wives." On account of the delicacy of the subject I have been unwilling to produce the proof. But there are so many denials of the facts, that it seems necessary to give our readers an opportunity of judging for themselves. . . . The proof, I fear, will be regarded as a heavy, disagreeable dose. [1]

Swedenborg seems not to have thought of providing for any interests but those of men. He leaves unmarried women without any reputable refuge corresponding to mistress-keepmg, though they have less advantage than men in choosing their own time of marriage. He does not permit married women to provide themselves with paramours, though husbands are liable to as many disqualifications as wives. His plan necessarily involves the immolation of a large class of women to the lusts of the other sex. Even admitting that the interests of men in the cases he describes actually require

1. Here Noyes presents extracts from Conjugial Love, sections 450, 455, 459, 462~476, upon which his statements were based.-G. W. N.


mistress-keeping and concubinage, it may still be asked whether the interests of women do not forbid them.

Swedenborg is an instance of perversion of mind brought about by the worldly atmosphere in which he lived. The morality exhibited in the extracts we have presented is a morality prepared for kings, for noblemen, for cities. No man out of the sphere of court and city usages would ever have thought of such a sexual philosophy. In the discourse on concubinage will be found a clue to the secret influences that gave shape to Swedenborg's lucubrations. To prove that the spiritual effects of concubinage pass away and leave no harm after death he says: "That it is so I have heard from communication with some in the spiritual world, even from kings there, who in the natural world had been in concubinage from real and sufficient causes." Let it be remembered that Swedenborg was himself a nobleman, that he was high in honor with kings and courts, that he spent his life in great cities, and it will seem quite natural that he should make his sexual morality a "soft raiment fit for those in kings' houses."


NOYES IN The Circular FEBRUARY 3, 1868

Christ was amphibious. He lived in this world and at the same time in the world of spirits. During his fast in the wilderness he had open intercourse with angels and devils. The scene on the Mount of Transfiguration shows that he was familiar with the Hadean heavens. He introduced his disciples to the souls of departed prophets. To Nicodemus he spoke of himself as the "Son of man which is in heaven," and professed to be able to t~l him of "heavenly things" as well as "earthly things." Living thus in two worlds he propounded a scheme of sexual relations for each.

His scheme for this world enforced the marriage-relation in


its fullest rigor. Instead of relaxing the conjugal system which he found among the Jews, he insisted on a higher standard of faithfulness between man and wife. His word was, "He that looketh on a woman to lust after her bath committed adultery," "Whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery." These are plain words, and Christ's theory of sexual morality for this world cannot be misunderstood.

His scheme for the heavenly world was scarcely less simple and intelligible. He said: "The children of this world marry and are given in marriage; but they that shall be accounted worthy to obtain that [other] world and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God." His last prayer for his disciples, that they "all might be one," and the communism of the day of Pentecost indicate what takes the place of marriage in the heavenly world.

Christ then, standing in two worlds, assigned to them opposite sexual conditions; and he reconciled those conditions in his own example by abstaining during his earthly life from marriage on the one hand and from extra-matrimonial freedom on the other. He "made himself a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake."

For a contrast with this turn now to Swedenborg. He too professed to be amphibious. He said that he lived for twenty-six years in open intercourse with all the heavens and hells, conversing daily with angels, devils and the souls of the dead. Living thus in two worlds he also propounded a scheme of sexual relations for each.

For this world his doctrine was, that "the legitimate, just and sufficient causes" of divorce and concubinage were at least fifty. A man might put away his wife and take a concubine for


scores of such causes as a bad breath or old age as well as for fornication.

For the other world his doctrine was that marriage was still the foundation of society. His saints and angels were devoted husbands and wives. He told about the courtships of heavenly lovers, and professed to have been present at their weddings. In short, marrying and giving in marriage were the principal bliss of his heavens.

But Swedenborg in his scheme for this world did not content himself with the largest liberty of divorce and concubinage for married men. He gave a supplementary license of select fornication to unmarried men who could not contain and could not conveniently marry. No toleration of fornication can be found in Christ's teachings nor in any part of the New Testament. Paul prescribed marriage as the only refuge for those who could not contain. Like Christ Paul abstained from marriage in deference to the superior claims of the heavenly life, but did not turn to fornication. Swedenborg abstained from marriage, but be did not make himself "a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake." Mr. White, his biographer, cites the testimony of two witnesses, Tuxen and Robsahm, both intimates of Swedenborg, who separately alleged that at some period or periods of his career he kept a mistress.

Although marriage in heaven according to Swedenborg follows the fashion of this world in prescribing strict dualism and exclusiveness, it differs from earthly marriage in that it does not recognize any public law as its essential sanction, but is altogether an affair of affinities discoverable only through successive trials. "Separations take place," he says, "and afterwards new conjunctions with those who are similar and homogeneous, unless they had been provided on earth, which is done for those who from an early age have loved, have wished, and have asked of the Lord a legitimate and lovely connection with


one, and have scorned and shunned wandering lusts." Conjugial Love, section 49.

To sum up, Swedenborg's scheme virtually dissolves most marriages on earth and casts distrust on all of them. At the same time it ties every man as by decree of eternal fate to one unknown woman, "with whom he may perpetually be more and more conjoined into one," and makes it his first duty to roam and try till he finds her. Conjugial Love, section 38.


Chapter 19: Freelove | Contents