Emanuel Swedenborg & Mary Baker Eddy

This is one of several posts exploring the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Ms. Eddy, as well as what may have influenced the writing of Science & Health. This, and future posts dealing with this topic will be tagged MBEPlagerism.

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Some time ago, I made a note for myself: WHO IS SWENDENBORG?! in the margins of my little black book. Why? The more I read about Ms. Eddy and her sources of inspiration, the more the name Emanuel Swedenborg keeps popping up. Dakin refers to Swendenborg in Mrs. Eddy. The biography of a virginal mind, Haushalter refers to him in Mrs. Eddy Purloins from Hegel,
he is mentioned in an interview with the Rev. Wiggian, and each time I am left with the feeling that I should know who Emanuel Swendenborg is.

So who is Emanuel Swendenborg? Wikipedia tells us Emmanuel Swendenborg was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian, revelator, and mystic best known for his book Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen (Latin name De Caelo et Ejus Mirabilibus et de inferno, ex Auditis et Visis) published in 1758.

It is worth noting that there is no mention of Ms. Eddy or Christian Science on either Swendenborg’s wikipedia page, or Heaven and Hell’s wikipedia page, however, Swendenborg is credited with influencing a

With such an impressive list, it seems likely that Swendenborg was in the public conscious during Ms. Eddy’s time, and that the contemporary sources I found would be aware of Swendenborg’s work, as would have their educated middle class audience — Christian Science’s primary demographic.

In my search for information about Ms. Eddy and Swendenborg, I came across an article by Henry M. Craig, M.D. in The New York Times dated August 18, 1907 (2). In addition to offering an interesting analysis of their respective works, it also offers a side-by-side comparison of Swendenborg/Eddy.

Swendenborg/EddyJohn Whitehead addresses the Swendenborg/Eddy situation in his book 1907 book The illusions of Christian science, its philosophy rationally examined (3). For brevity, and because I don’t want to slog through 247 pages of esoteric theological and philosophical discussions, I shall focus on the appendix which directly addresses Swendenborg and mental healers. In the appendix, starting on page 222, Whitehead addresses Craig’s assertions that Ms. Eddy borrowed from Swendenborg starting Rev. Wiggins perspective on the issue:

  • “No Swedenborg and all other such writers are sealed books to [Ms. Eddy]. She cannot understand such utterances and never could, but dollars and cents she understands thoroughly.” (McClure’s Magazine October 1907 p 69)

Whitehead goes on to provide an interesting analysis of Ms. Eddy’s sourcing techniques and comes to a similar conclusion as Dakin does with Ms. Eddy’s sourcing from Quimby*: she undoubtedly borrowed from Swendenborg, but her reinterpretation of his work is entirely her own. On p. 223, Whitehead describes Ms. Eddy’s method as “greatly changed in the transmission” and compares her work to a garden where Swendenborg’s idea-flowers have been “transplanted without roots.”

Whitehead goes on to compare teachings on Disease (p. 226-229), Medicine (p. 229-231), The Law of Healing (p. 231-236), Miracles (p. 236-238), and Claims (p. 238) which leads to several pages (239-241) of side-by-side passages comparing Swendenborg and Eddy’s work.

On p. 229, under the section on Medicine, Whitehead provides an interesting analysis of the contrast in teachings:

  • Mrs Eddy earnestly opposes the use of material remedies. To use them is a violation of Christian Science principles. She does indeed acknowledge that drugs have been received in her house but only for the purpose of killing vermin. Her position is that disease is a wrong belief and its true remedy is to destroy that belief. Swedenborg while teaching that the origin of disease is mental at the same time shows that it has its seat as a disease in the physical nature It must therefore be treated from both the spiritual and material planes. The spiritual cause would not manifest itself as disease in the corresponding material plane if the body by acts did not bring down the spiritual disorder into the physical nature … When the disease has gained a lodgment in the body it must be treated on its own plane.

The contrast of Eddy and Swendenborg’s approach continues, from The Law of Healing (p. 235)

  • Swedenborg’s teaching in regard to disease shows the necessity of the physician having a thorough knowledge of the physical structure and of diseases of their symptoms and causes of materia medica and the proper remedy for each disease. He should also have an extensive knowledge of the mental nature and its influence on the body This cannot be attained by three weeks instruction … When Swedenborg ascended to the spiritual plane he stood on the solid ground of his previous scientific attainments [emphasis mine]

There is no doubt that Ms. Eddy’s contemporaries felt she had sourced from Swendenborg, and the Swendenborg Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to help people learn about Emanuel Swedenborg, shares these views, crediting the 17th century scientist with influencing Ms. Eddy as well. From their website, under “Cultural Influence” (4) they discuss

  • One of the most enduring movements involving spiritual healing was initiated by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910). Mrs. Eddy’s ideas, and even her very wording, are in some instances so similar to Swedenborg’s that many people have concluded that Christian Science is derived from Swedenborgianism. While Swedenborg never advocated exclusive reliance on spirit to heal the physical body (as did Mrs. Eddy), he did write voluminously on the interconnectedness of soul and body—an awareness that is now gaining ground in modern medicine. Thus Swedenborg’s influence continues to be felt today—especially among artists, spiritual seekers, and people who like to think “outside the box”! (emphasis mine)

The Swendenborg Foundation is not the only one to note these similarities, the What is happening blog which is “Blogging the beginning of Chicago’s Christian Science fellowship” has a post dated March 27, 2010 entitled What do Mary Baker Eddy and Emanuel Swedenborg have in common? (5) as part of an Interfaith meeting. This is one case where reading comments on the internet is not only okay, I acutally encourage it.

  • .. the founders of these two Christian denominations – Emanuel Swedenborg and Mary Baker Eddy – have more in common than that. They both experienced profoundly spiritual awakenings and began writing books about their spiritual insights. They both interpret the Bible from deeply spiritual perspectives and consider their teachings to be divinely inspired.

The Fellowship’s post inspired me to research Swedenborgianism, the church founded on the teachings of Swendenborg. From the church’s official website:

Key elements of Swedenborgian belief include:

  • God is infinitely loving and at the center of every life.
  • Truth is love in action. Actions performed out of love are genuine expressions in a physical form of what love means.
  • There is one God whose essence is Divine Love and Wisdom. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all aspects of God just as body, mind, and soul are all aspects of one person.
  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God that provides inspiration and help to lead better and more fulfilling lives. The literal sense of Scripture tells the story of the people of God, and contains a deeper meaning that illumines the journey of the human soul.
  • People are essentially spirits clothed with material bodies. At death, the material body is laid aside and the person continues to live on in the world of spirit choosing a heavenly life or a hellish one, based on the quality of life choices made here.
  • God gives everyone the freedom to choose their beliefs and live their lives accordingly. Salvation is available for people of all religions.
  • The Second Coming has taken place—and in fact still is taking place. It is not an actual physical appearance of the Lord, but rather his return in spirit and truth that is being effected as a present reality.
  • God is infinitely loving and at the center of every life.

The parallels with Christian Science are undeniable, however I find myself agreeing more with Whitehead (and Wiggins) analysis of the final product.


Further Reading

* Yes, I know, I need to write a post on Quimby

End Notes

  1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven_and_Hell_%28Swedenborg%29
  2. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B01E5DC1F30E233A2575BC1A96E9C946697D6CF
  3. James Whitehead The Illusions of Christian Science, Its Philosophy Rationally Examined: With an Appendix On Swedenborg and the Mental Healers http://books.google.com/books?id=Qiw3AAAAMAAJ&dq=Swedenborg+Eddy&source=gbs_navlinks_s, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=FZc-AAAAIBAJ&sjid=91kMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4996%2C1747829
  4. http://www.swedenborg.com/emanuel-swedenborg/influence/
  5. http://whatishappeningchicago.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/what-do-mary-baker-eddy-and-emanuel-swedenborg-have-in-common/
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4 thoughts on “Emanuel Swedenborg & Mary Baker Eddy

  1. spindrifter says:
    • kat @ kindism says:

      “The cult never tried to lure her back.”

      I agree, forgiveness is something we should all be working on, however, I think it is often easier to forgive when they’ve let you go on your own path without trying to lure you back. When you’re constantly being reminded of the past you’re trying to leave, it can be a bit harder.

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