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:;o Book Reviews / ARIES .

 () –
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, :oo, DOI: 10.1163/156798909X444879
Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Swedenborg, Oetinger, Kant: Tree Perspectives on the
Secrets of Heaven, Westchester: Te Swedenborg Foundation :oo;. 1;1 p.
ISBN ,;8-o-8;;8¡-¡:1-¡.
Tis excellent monograph is essentially an introduction to Emanuel Sweden-
borg’s Secrets of Heaven (Arcana Coelestia) and its early reception. Hanegraaff
begins by rejecting approaches that attempt to situate authors in terms of sim-
plistic dichotomies (e.g., “religion vs. reason” or “the Enlightenment vs. the
occult”), in favor of an approach that involves ‘clarification by means of com-
plexification’. Swedenborg is a complex and multifaceted figure who does not
easily fit into ready-made categories.
Te book moves from the complexities of Secrets of Heaven, to a different
sort of complexity: the complicated history of Oetinger’s response to Sweden-
borg. Tis story is essentially one of a man who was drawn to Swedenborg,
struggled with him, and eventually rejected him. Te complexity involved in
Kant’s reception of Swedenborg, with which the book ends, is of an entirely
different order. Kant too struggled with Swedenborg, and like Oetinger was
attracted and repulsed by him. Kant’s Dreams of a Spirit-Seer documents this
ambivalence. But Hanegraaff’s account of the work leaves the reader with the
strong impression that, beneath a great deal of often vulgar ridicule, Kant is
telling us that he sees something valuable in Swedenborg, and that he is in
fact open to the possibility of “spirit seeing”. In short, Hanegraaff offers us
complexities within complexities, but his approach is highly illuminating.
Te first “perspective” on Secrets of Heaven is provided by Swedenborg him-
self, with the assistance of Hanegraaff. In 1;¡1 or 1;¡: Swedenborg wrote
a short work entitled A Hieroglyphic Key to Natural and Spiritual Arcana by
way of Representations and Correspondences. Tis work, as Hanegraaff points
out, is in fact a key to understanding Secrets of Heaven. It sets up three “levels
of meaning”: the natural, the human, and the divine (this is, in reality, not so
much a hermeneutic distinction as it is an ontological one). Swedenborg argues
that fundamental concepts pertaining to the natural world have a conceptual
(or categorical) analogue in the human world, and another in the divine. For
example, in the natural world the concept of conatus (motion) is analogous
to human will (action), and to divine providence (divine operation). Sweden-
borg develops twenty further examples to illustrate this analogical relationship
between the three “realms”.
Each realm is distinct and irreducible to the others. Further, Swedenborg—
in keeping with his strict dualism—argues that knowledge of the natural realm
teaches us nothing about the human soul or about God. However, knowledge
Book Reviews / ARIES . () – :;;
of the human realm can provide us with a kind of “second best” knowledge
of the divine. Swedenborg believes that there are in fact two ways to know the
divine: by direct, mystical contact with the divine itself, and through the inter-
pretation of the Bible, God’s word as expressed to humanity. Needless to say,
the former kind of knowledge is the privilege of a small elect. Terefore the sec-
ond route is the one most accessible to human beings, if they have the patience
for it. Swedenborg believes that through the discovery of the inner meaning
of each scriptural verse we can achieve through human language an indirect
knowledge of the divine. He rejects the Enlightenment approach of reading
scripture as allegory. Instead, Swedenborg regards the Bible as a kind of divine
“code” in which every word or phrase has a symbolic significance that may be
wholly different from its mundane meaning. Te bulk of Secrets of Heaven is
occupied with this exegesis, which constitutes Swedenborg’s exploration of the
second or “human” realm, and indirect exploration of the divine (the natural
realm having been thoroughly canvassed by Swedenborg the scientist in his
younger days). His direct exploration of the divine realm is represented by the
sections of Secrets of Heaven entitled “Accounts of Memorable Occurrences”, in
which Swedenborg details the “mystical visions” or unmediated acquaintance
with the divine for which he is famous. Hanegraaff points out, correctly, that
the real source of Swedenborg’s appeal is these visions, not his extraordinarily
detailed Biblical exegesis.
Approximately half of Hanegraaff’s book is devoted to an account of Secrets
of Heaven, using the Hieroglyphic Key as a framework. Tis portion of the book
is self-contained and makes an excellent brief introduction to Secrets of Heaven.
Enter Friedrich Christoph Oetinger. A Boehmean and Christian Kabbal-
ist, Oetinger was partly attracted to Swedenborg because he saw in him a
fellow opponent of the allegorical school of Biblical exegesis advocated by
Leibniz and Wolff. No doubt Oetinger, like many others, was also intrigued
by Swedenborg’s visions. However, from the beginning Oetinger’s relationship
to Swedenborg was ambivalent, and Hanegraaff’s text explores the twists and
turns of their relationship—and the toll it took on Oetinger’s life and repu-
tation. To begin with, Oetinger could not accept Swedenborg’s dualism: his
strict separation of the natural and spiritual realms. Oetinger, like Boehme,
was a panentheist who believed that nature is a moment of the being of God.
Further, Oetinger came to believe that Swedenborg’s brand of Biblical exe-
gesis, while not as vulgar as that of the rationalist allegorists, was nevertheless
fundamentally in error. One of the great merits of Hanegraaff’s book is that
it reminds us that in addition to being a theosopher Oetinger was also, oddly
enough, a Protestant Biblical literalist who believed that Christ would return
:;8 Book Reviews / ARIES . () –
(bodily) in 18¡o. Ultimately, Oetinger came to see that Swedenborg’s exege-
sis and that of the rationalists had something fundamental in common: they
both asserted that the Bible meant something other than what it actually said.
Te last straw for Oetinger was Swedenborg’s True Christianity (1;;1). In this
work, Swedenborg argues vehemently against the idea of a literal return of
Christ, and instead maintains that the “second coming” refers to the final rev-
elation of the true meaning of Scripture. In other words, the second coming
of Christ is the publication of Secrets of Heaven! By the time he actually came
to register his rejection of Swedenborg in print, Oetinger’s wary dalliance with
the Swedish seer had cost him dearly. Oetinger’s 1;o¡ book Swedenborg’s and
Other’s Earthly and Heavenly Philosophy had been condemned and confiscated
by the civil authorities and Oetinger banned from publishing.
As always, Immanuel Kant was more careful. In 1;o¡, Kant was contacted
by one Charlotte von Knobloch who prevailed upon him to look into the
widely-circulated stories about Swedenborg’s clairvoyant abilities. Tis simple
request seems to have resulted in Swedenborg’s becoming, at least briefly, a
minor obsession for Kant. He went to the trouble of purchasing, at consid-
erable expense, the eight volumes of Secrets of Heaven. Ten, in 1;oo Kant
published Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, which consists partly in a treatment of Swe-
denborg. Kant appears to have been prompted to write this work because his
interest in Swedenborg had become widely known, and he feared for his reputa-
tion. Tis hypothesis finds some support in the fact that while Kant’s comments
about Swedenborg in Dreams are gratuitously nasty, in his correspondence and
lectures (as recorded by student notes), his treatment of Swedenborg is far more
respectful and even positive.
As Hanegraaff correctly points out, Swedenborg is in basic agreement with
Kant’s epistemology: both men believe that ‘it is impossible for human beings
to discover the truth about heaven by themselves, for our common human
faculties are simply inadequate’ (1o¡–1o¡). Te difference is that Swedenborg
believed it was possible for some men to learn the truth about heaven, if heaven
cooperated by meeting them halfway. Tis was not Kant’s positive belief—but
nothing in his philosophy precludes it, and Kant knew this. Since we cannot
know what the noumena are (merely that they are) we cannot categorically
deny the possibility that some noumenal beings might be capable of commu-
nicating with humans, and that certain gifted humans might be able to receive
their communications in some extra-sensory fashion. And Kant did believe in
the possibility of influxes from the noumenal. Our knowledge of the moral
law must be attributed to such influxes, since it derives neither from empirical
data nor from fantasy (if the latter, we would not feel bound by it). Further,
Book Reviews / ARIES . () – :;,
Kant believed in the possibility of non-human intelligences, including spiri-
tual ones. When he articulates the moral law, he makes it “binding upon all
rational beings”, not “binding upon all men”. Tus it appears that Kant was
extremely intrigued by the possibility that Herr Schwedenberg (as he delib-
erately misspells his name in Dreams) might have received far more elaborate
influxes. Ultimately, Kant seems to have concluded that he did not. But the
tone of Dreams misleads the reader—most likely deliberately—into believing
that Kant is wholly dismissive of the possibility of “spirit seeing”. Tis was how
Kant escaped the fate of Oetinger (though he would run afoul of the censors
in 1;,¡ due, ironically, to his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone).
Trough his treatment of the Hieroglyphic Key, and his account of the
reactions of Oetinger and Kant, Hanegraaff illuminates different aspects of
Swedenborg and Secrets of Heaven. Te resulting complexity is, as he promises,
clarifying. Beyond this, it is also a fascinating story. Hanegraaff’s scholarship is
meticulous (the endnotes to this short book occupy more than twenty pages,
and are quite interesting in themselves). Te style of the book is also highly
readable and engaging. Since it appears as a volume in the Swedenborg Studies
series it will most likely be read by Swedenborg scholars and Swedenborgians.
Kant scholars would also greatly benefit from this work, but since Kant has
succeeded so well in misleading most of them with his irony they are likely to
ignore it.
Glenn Alexander Magee