Volume 10, Issue 2, Fall 2021
Swedenborg’s Religious Rationalism
This article argues that contrary to a received interpretation, Emanuel Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondences (scientia correspondentiarum), according to which each empirical reality has a corresponding spiritual reality, is closer to Spinozistic monism than Neoplatonic idealism. According to the former, there is only one substance: God, which we can cognize through its spiritual and material aspects. According to the latter, the material world consists of substances that receive their form through participation in the ideas of the spiritual world. The article will show that although some of Swedenborg’s claims can appear as expressing Neoplatonic idealism, his reading of the Bible as a guide for moral improvement, his rejection of the religious mysteries that cannot be rationally understood, his various examples of correspondences, his view that we can cognize God by studying the correspondences, and his definition of God as the only substance, make evident that he does not consider the spiritual realities ideas in the Neoplatonic sense. The article will interpret Swedenborg to think that the spiritual realities are learned concepts that enable us to describe and experience the world as having spiritual significance and thus acquire a fuller cognition of God.