By Hugo Lj. Odhner

When Moses-learned in the sciences of the Egyptians and in the sacred lore of Midian-had led Israel out of Egypt, written down the Divine law at Mount Sinai, and prayed the while his followers fought their first battles, he ascended on Mount Pisgah and was buried by the Lord. He was indeed allowed to see upon the spreading horizons the extent of the promised land of Canaan, but his feet were never to touch the actual soil towards which he had led his people.

This might be a parable of the life of Emanuel Swedenborg. He saw little of the results of his work. He did not make any effort to become the founder of any new religious establishment. He optimistically reckoned (according to Tuxen) that there might be about fifty on earth who were inclined to the Heavenly Doctrine. For the rest, he knew that the Lord would in His own time establish His church on earth, even as it was being established in the heavens. Persecutions came towards the end of his life, in that Dr. Gabriel Beyer and Dr. Rosn, and later the Rev. Sven Schmidt, suffered in the disturbances centering around the events usually referred to as the Gothenburg Trial; but Swedenborgs own person was never involved.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 2 And when his labors of writing and publishing was, in the Lords view completed, he died peacefully in London on March 29th, 1772; a lonely old man as it seemed to the world, a man whose prophecies of a New Jerusalem here below had little chance to eventuate. But he died with perfect content, even though with something of incredulous wonder at the worlds present indifference. Swedenborgs work was over. The Lord, through the Writings, would build up His New Church.


The seed had been sown-was even then blowing over the world! Mostly it fell on the wayside, where the birds picked it up and consumed it; or on rocky soil where it grew amazingly quick and died as soon. Some fell among the thistles and thorns of shallow worldliness, where only as occasional stem could shoot forth into the sunlight without any chance to be reaped. Other fell into the little patches of good ground, and bore fruit, some only thirtyfold, some-after struggles of temptation-sixtyfold, and some an hundredfold.

Swedenborg anticipated that his Writings would be met by many with utter hostility, by minds which the truth could not possibly penetrate. But he also knew that some would receive the Writings as curiosities, as interesting ideas to be talked about, argued about, and laid aside. Still others would receive with quick intellectual appreciation, but would be faint-hearted about changing their habits of life. Yet some would be so persuaded that it would effect some improvement in their life.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 3 And some would receive with joy, and be confirmed. (SD 2955)

When we look at the European world of he late eighteenth century, we may not wonder at the character of the disciples and admirers which the Writings at first attracted. A few received with joy, forsook all else, faced penury and defamation, and were confirmed. We find these few and usually some of their descendants forming a nucleus of the future church. But before the infant New Church was stably organized, the readers of Swedenborg-in their varying degrees of enthusiasm and with widely different understanding-found themselves scattered in many countries, and were brought by their common interests to correspond with each other. Soon it was discovered that they were a most heterogeneous and often uncongenial lot of people! And in the several decades following Swedenborgs death we may observe a slow process through which the various elements begin to be segregated, and in which those who could form the New Church by degrees draw together-like a crystal which is formed in muddy waters and which, as it takes shape, rejects the impurities to the sides.

Swedenborg gave the warning, that the New Church could not come down from the New Heaven in a moment, but only as the falses of the former church are uprooted from mens minds (TCR 784); and that otherwise such confusion and such a conflict should result that nothing of the church would remain (BE 102). That this is so, proved itself amply in the days of the early church.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 4

Thus, in Germany, the first renowned receiver of Swedenborgs teachings was Oetinger, a prelate of fame whose correspondence with Swedenborg is preserved, and who translated and published a great many extracts from the Writings. Mystically inclined, he accepted Swedenborgs testimonies about the other world and many of his philosophical ideas (drawn from the Principia), but insisted on retaining much of the old church theology and using a literal interpretation of the Scripture. He also accepted with credulity tales of present day miracles and mystical experiences. The influence of Oetinger on many of the early receivers in Germany was most regrettable, and he prevented for some decades the rise of any New Church society there.

In France, similarly, there sprang up a remarkable movement under the Abb Pernety, which mingled Roman rites, Freemasonary, Alchemy, Animal Magnetism, and spiritistic practices with the teachings of Swedenborg. In 1760 he had established at Avignon a secret society-an Academy of the illuminated-which had adherents in high court circles and sent out emissaries to seduce the early receivers of England and Sweden to their mongrel theosophy. Among those who became associated with the society we hear of men of various nations, Boussie, an honest Englishman; Reuterholm, and impressionable Swedish courtier; a mysterious Pole who called himself Count Grabianka; and many others.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 5

The honest New Church people who had so recently found the light in the Writings, and gladly welcomed contacts with other potential New Churchmen, did not know what to make of these enthusiasts who cited the Writings as authority or guide for their practices. We of this age, can so easily laugh at their mistakes. Our orthodoxy is easy-after the Writings have all been translated and published, after more than a century of sifting and study, after many judgments have clarified all these issues, and after the work of an ordered priesthood has given us sound traditions and surrounded us with doctrines like clear and firm walls. But those early receivers, mostly isolated or in small groups, before the separate establishment of the New Church, had to draw their doctrines for themselves.

The conservative English temperament proved a useful barrier against the infection of the New Church movement therefore from the French virus. To be sure, there were some who were great students of Boehme and Law. Alchemy was not yet an outlawed science. Yet the main danger in England came from those who, like Clowes, were unwilling to separate from the Church of England although they were devoted and thorough students of the Writings and labored ardently for their spread.

In Swedenborgs own homeland it was different. There we discern two different types of receivers.

First, we find a great number of clergymen, especially in southern Sweden, whose interest in Swedenborg seems to have been directly connected with the work of Dr. Beyer and Dr. Rosn both of whom were teachers and writers associated with the seminary at Skara.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 6 Thus, in November 1789, a correspondent to the New Jerusalem Magazine, then newly issued in London, relates that in the diocese of Skara, Sweden, no less than forty-six respectable and profoundly learned clergymen had been introduced into the new doctrines, and that thirteen of them were openly and unreservedly preaching these doctrines-albeit with some prudence, because they are under the threat of severe persecutions. Six out of ten of the young ministers yearly sent out, turn out, he said, to be receivers of the New Church.

If Swedenborgianism-of varying shades and degrees, and in some cases sadly mixed with a sort of quietistic pietism-was so influential within the clergy, it naturally had a still wider adherence among the people of this province. Indeed, some very old New Church families stem from this movement which had, by force, had to go on, and which was rather generously allowed to go on, within the nominal confines of the State Church, since the law as yet provided no way for the establishment of a separate new Church. An informal bond of friendship and common zeal joined these receivers (or the more earnest among them) together. Those families whose records are preserved belonged to the landed gentry, the clergy, the professions, and the well-to-do merchants, and a few to the nobility. And these families intermarried-because of their faith. The three daughters of the Rev. Arvid Ferelius all married New Churchmen. (He was the clergyman who officiated at Swedenborgs last communion in London.) Dr. Beyers family and those of the Sturzenbeckers, the Odhners, the Knss, the Fhraeuss, the Wahleflts, the Gyllenhaals, the Schoenherrs-all became in time connected, however distantly, through intermarriage.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 7

In these early New Church homes, Swedish translations of the Writings were industriously copied by hand for private distribution; and in 1795 the Swedish True Christian Religion (in three volumes) was published in Copenhagen, and smuggled into the country.* The rising generation was afterwards sent for their confirmation-schooling to the New Church clergymen. The scions and friends of the New Church families very definitely influenced the thought of learned and literary circles in Sweden. A number of the great literary lights of Sweden-poets and philosophers, Upsala professors and inventors-were more or less Swedenborgian in outlook, and it seemed for a while as if a permeation was actually taking place. But gradually, the movement lost its initial boldness and was watered down with the mistaken idea that the childrens freedom would be injured by a New Church training. Most of the clergy began to hide their light under the bushel of human prudence. And only a few of these families have retained an interest in the New Church.

* The Translator was the Rev. John Pehrson Odhner. Among his descendants were eight clergymen, all ardently New Church.


A second type of receivers came to prominence in Sweden under quite different circumstances. These tried to supply the needed element of organization to the early Swedenborgian propaganda,-a thing vastly difficult in a land where freedom of religion and freedom of the press did not exist except by political connivance.

Some years ago I found time to translate into English a Swedish work published at Copenhagen in 1790 by August Nordenskjld, the most insignificant servant of Jesus Christ.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 8 It is entitled The Form of Society within the New Jerusalem. The Dedication addressed to Gustavus III of Sweden, pleads for religious liberty, and adds:

Our posterity will surely marvel that in a century that passes for the most enlightened since the beginning of the world, and in countries where the Christian religion has so long been the accepted one, a man petitions before a Christian king for protection and freedom for the most Christian Christianity.... Should ... the hard fate befall us, that this most humble request should meet with contempt or denial, then it behooves us to love our enemies, to do them good, to serve them, hoping for nothing again, that we may become the children of the Highest....


Who was this man, who thus spake to his king-a king of unusual fickleness-and this in the most fateful year of 1790 when the Frenchified courts of Europe were bound to view any such democratic demands with nervous suspicion?

The Nordenskjlds belonged to an honored noble family which has included a governor of Finland (d. 1763), two admirals, an arctic explorer-Baron A. E. Nordenskjld, who in 1881 accomplished the first circumnavigation of Asia-and many other prominent people, scientists and diplomats.

August Nordenskjld was born in Finland in 1754. He attended the university of bo, completed his schooling in Stockholm, became assistant assessor at the College of Mines and was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences because of his researches in chemistry and metallurgy.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 9 In 1775 he accepted the Writings with an enthusiasm which he soon communicated to his father and to his younger brother, Charles Frederik. August was only twenty-one, then, but he became soon the fighting center of the large group of disciples which gathered from the nobility, the clergy, and the prominent citizenry of Sweden to espouse and perpetuate the cause of the new Revelation. About 1779 he attracted the attention of the King, Gustavus III, among whose favorites were counted the ex-premier, Count von Hpken, provincial governor Liljencrantz, the poet and Royal Secretary Gustaf Halldin, and many other avowed Swedenborgians. The king-inclined to mysticism, to ritualistic and secret orders, as well as being a patron of and a dilettante in the arts and sciences in the grand manner-became interested in Nordenskjlds faith in Alchemy. The king sent the young savant to England on a secret mission-to perfect his miraculous arts of making gold (Urim) from the Swedish iron, and eventually also diamonds (Thummin).

In London he contacted some of the earliest English receivers of the Writings. Finding that Dr. Messiter possessed the manuscript of the Coronis, he straightway had it published at his own expense. He returned the same year to set up a gold-laboratory for his king. For ten years-off and on-he labored with various other men in this futile work.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 10 His most faithful friend and collaborator through periods of poverty, hope, and despair, as Carl Fredrik Bergklint (1753-182?)-also an ardent New Churchmen who was on the whole conservatively inclined.

The king had the hope that through alchemy the power of Sweden would be restored, and this his own repute as a leader in the vanguard of research would be established. It must be remembered that science had its hinterlands, then as now, which only the braver spirits could explore; and in these borderlands lay alchemy and the knowledge, as yet vague, of hypnotism. King Gustavus was a naive, brave, charming, talented, but most fickle character, whose real yearning was for histrionic successes and opera-bouff heroisms. A lesser, more popular edition of Louis the XIV, there was good in him, despite his vanity and irresponsibility and misspent youth. He was seemingly sincerely moved for a time by what he learned of Swedenborgs doctrine-but his leading curiosity was in the wider field of mysticism which in this age of Cagliostro and Mesmer was most difficult to dissociate from true science and religion.

Swedenborg, with his usual discernment, had very gently poured cold water on the ardor for alchemy. But at the same time he had, in his philosophical period theorized that gold originated from the third finites of the sun. Nordenskjld, whose father and uncle before him had been students of the hermetic art, had probably not known of the warnings given by his admired Swedenborg.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 11 Yet in the opinion of Afzelius, the professor of chemistry at Upsala, August Nordenskjld was a skillful and thoroughly cultured man whose projects are not only possible, but agree with true natural and scientific principles.

The fact is that-first and foremost-August Nordenskjld was a New Church man. His expressed motives in pioneering for a new and more scientific alchemy, were to do away with poverty and oppression and thus to prepare for the regeneration of mankind on the civil plane. (The air of Europe and America was full of social hypotheses and plans in this era of revolutions.) An abundance of gold and silver corresponded to an abundance of good and truth! And while the English New Church people also were to harbor dreams of a new world order, look what a vision their Swedish brethren had! For Gustavus III, debonair and kindly, was almost a convert to some of the principles of the New Church-at least to the extent of having a fearless Swedenborgian priest, Olaf Fredell, preach to the court and damn the whole of old church theology, item for item, to the helpless chagrin of the archbishop. Might not this king become the appointed means for the establishment of the new social and religious dispensation? In court circles the doctrine of uses was seriously discussed, with a freedom quite in contrast with the fact that there existed a strict ecclesiastical ban on the printing, sale or import of Swedenborgs works. Even kings and their favorites had to proceed with caution!


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 12


August Nordenskjld, when he could, spent some time every day on Swedenborgiana. He and his brother Charles (who was now in the Foreign Office) were indefatigable workers in this field, corresponding with other New Church receivers, collecting documents, encouraging translations, etc. August had the MSS left by Swedenborg bound into codices, and by his own hand or that of the zealous young Swedenborgian, C. Johansen-made copies of a number of the MSS-Canons, De Charitate, and the Indices to the Arcana and to the Apocalypse Revealed. If for nothing else, he would live in our Churchs history because of the fact that the only extant texts of the lost MSS, De Athanasii Symbolo, Canons, De Dominio, Invitation, and Coronis are copies made under his charge; and the authenticity of these texts therefore depend on his fidelity and character! These copies were brought to London and were there published.

Denied the right to publish Swedenborgs doctrine in Sweden, Nordenskjld joined hands with the poet Halldin to publish a weekly journal called the Aftonbadet. Of this enterprise he wrote in a letter:

In Aftonbladet you will see much that is Swedenborigan, and we intend to go on as far as we possibly can. Between you and me,-the Government,-that is, Count Creutz, Baron Axelson, and others,-favor this paper quite strongly; and they even fooled Taube (the archbishop) to recommend it to all the ecclesiastical consistories in the kingdom; but now the priests are realizing their mistake, and are simply furious.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 13

The editors finally became reckless enough to publish Swedenborgs Doctrine of Charity (extracted from the Arcana) in the paper, and after eight months the paper died a violent death. That was in 1784. (It may be counted as the first New Church periodical!)

In 1786, November 1, Charles F. Nordenskjld, aided by his brother and by director Charles Bernard Wadstrm (a most sound New Churchmen), gathered about fifty admirers of Swedenborg, almost all of whom were prominent at court or in the Diet or in learning and art, and instituted the Exegetic and Philanthropic Society. This had as its avowed purpose to translate, publish, and promote the doctrine of the New Church. Governor Liljencrantz was president and maecena, and duke Charles, brother of the king, reputed as a Rosicrucian and an ardent seeker after mystical truth, was, a year later, invited (with some trepidation) to become a member and royal protector. The members agreed however to dress as they usually do even when he was to be present! In view of the galaxy of great names, domestic and foreign, upon its roll, it is astonishing to note the degree of New Church character that this society retained, and the amount of spade work that it accomplished. Translation were made and printed, documents collected and published, propaganda disseminated. The Nordenskjld brothers and a number of other members worked in the spirit of a new dispensation, utterly distinct from the old church. The society was permeated by a religious tone, not a secular one.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 14 My reading is that the faults of the movement (which presently emerged) came not so much from the great and worldly men who flirted with it and posed as patrons, as from a zeal to carry out the teachings of the new Revelation while as yet these teachings were unassorted and in some respects seriously misunderstood. In the records, we do not find much disposition to pick and choose which of Swedenborgs doctrines to accept and which to reject! For the predominant influence was that of a group of bold men who felt consecrated to an epoch-making work.

But they were children of an age of fanciful ideas, suddenly overwhelmed by the vision of a new world of mystery now disclosed, a new world of possibilities which they were, by some mysterious mercy of providence, sacredly called to explore and realize. They proceeded to put into practice the truths of the New Jerusalem, but had not had time to critically revise the old preconceptions already in their minds.

One of the means by which they proposed to find a use of charity for their society, was to prove most hazardous to its very existence.       On the basis of the doctrine of influx and the statements about the spiritual origin of diseases, they proposed to effect cures by prayer, exorcism, laying on of hands, and hypnotic suggestion, and at last sought to induce their patients into a trance-like state which they called somnambulistic, in which the patient, speaking subconsciously, became a medium of good spirits who were supposed to give good counsel, both remedial and spiritual, to these magnetizers.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 15 Johan Tybeck, a priest who later proved a veritable Michael for the New Church in Sweden, defending what later became known as the Academy principles, had already had some experience which encouraged belief in such spiritual cures. Practically all the active members of the Society came to the innocent belief that this might be their secondary mission; although some were more cautious according as they had given heed to the warnings given in the Writings against intercourse with spirits. All the Writings were not available to any one at that time. Undoubtedly also the Abb Pernety and his group at Avignon had a sinister influence on the Swedes; especially as France had long been the intellectual fashion-plate for the Swedes. Doubts developed later in many minds, however, when the Writings became more thoroughly studied and the steadying influence of the Church in England came to be felt.

We have no real knowledge as to how far the Nordenskjld brothers took part in this phase of the societys activities. August was absent during much of the time; Charles joined Bergklint in condemning this animal magnetism, which was discontinued about 1789. Charles was indeed a conservative, and frowned also at his brothers alchemistic connections. He himself, however, has been assigned by some authorities as the author of a book published in 1783, Oneironmatien, on the art of interpreting dreams. But it matters little who the author was.* It has been condemned merely from its fanciful title.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 16 For while the author did believe (as most of Sweden then and perhaps millions in America still) that dreams have meanings, and occasionally may foretell future events, the book is actually a Dictionary of Correspondences written with an attempt to bend the mind of the dreamer away from material fulfilments and make dreams an occasion for self-examination by interpreting them as spiritual symbols. Besides this, he anticipates and far surpasses Freud in his psycho-analysis. The lurid title sounds as if the book was a brief for Metempsychosis and alchemy, astrology and mysticism; but the text-on the contrary-seeks to refute these very fallacies. It pleads for rational thinking and for tolerance, cries out against the moral corruptions of the day, and somehow manages to present all the main doctrines of the New Church.

* The Rev. C. T. Odhner assigns its authorship of Olaf Fredell, on the information given in Westens History of the Clergy of Stockholm (vol. I. part iii., p. 644).

Charles Frederik Nordenskjlds labors had a quite orthodox New Church purpose, and his real interest was in promoting the publication of the Writings in Swedish and in French. The Journal of the Exegetic Philanthropic Society in 1787 was the first distinctively New Church journal ever printed. Having unwittingly made fun, in one of his papers, of a verse written by the king, under a pseudonym, he lost royal favor, and he was glad to leave Sweden in 1791 because he was utterly disgusted with some of this fellow members in the Society, which now unfortunately came under the power of Baron K. G. Silfverhjelm.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 17

August, his brother, fared badly also. His gold-plant was moved to Finland in 1785, and later it had a precarious existence. Count Munck, a scoundrel who had gained the kings confidence, was appointed as superintendent, and moved the plant to Stockholm with the secret intent of converting it to counterfeiting. The culprit was finally punished and exiled, and the two Swedenborgians were exonerated of any complicity; but the enterprise had gone up into very expensive smoke. August was returned to favor, in that the king in 1789 sent him abroad to London, to interest the government and men of wealth there in a scheme for prospecting for gold in unknown Africa-at the reputed Gold Coast. If gold could not be made, it might at least be mined!


Whatever the kings expectations, the scheme was part of a long cherished effort, openly advocated, to establish on the coast of Africa, a free colony, a black Atlantis, as a center of opposition to the slave-trade. In this colony the Doctrine of the New Church would be applied in its fullness, to government, to religion, to social life, to morals.

The story is this: In 1799, at Norrkping, Sweden, a number of the readers of Swedenborg met together-the first meeting of New Church people of which we know.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 18 Because of what Swedenborg states about the Africans and the impression which he gives that a New Church was being instituted there, these New Churchmen-possibly with Swedenborgs own map before them-believed that the real future of the Church lay in Africa; some at the meeting even thought that Timbut (Timbuktu) may be the special center that Swedenborg referred to. Forthwith these receivers, with Charles Bernard Wadstrm in the lead, organized a movement against the slave trade. Subsidized from the royal purse, Wadstrm actually went to Africa in 1787 on an exploratory expedition, and later a colony was planted there with the help of interested foreign groups. But that is a different story, centering around Wadstrm, whose place in history is assured because of his notable initiative and work in facilitating the abolishment of the slave-trade. This stroke for human freedom thus actually originated as the first-fruits of the faith in the Writings.

Augustus Nordenskjld was closely associated with Wadstrm in these efforts. To judge from a certain letter, he was present at the significant meeting in Norrkping in 1779. He was the author of the Plan for a Free Community upon the Coast of Africa, under the protection of Great Britain but entirely independent of all European Laws and Governments. This work was printed at Robert Hindmarshs in 1789. It was a severe expos of modern society with its moral abuses and its civic injustices. It pleaded for the sanctity of marriage, for truer economics, for greater religious and civil liberties. It openly advocated the Writings of Swedenborg as the source of spiritual enlightenment and of insight into the practical needs of social charity and political order.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 19

In 1790, the New Jerusalem Magazine (which then counted Nordenskjld among its editors) was full of the proposed expedition and of what Swedenborg has written about the Africans. August had received New Church baptism in 1789 and associated himself fully with the new Great East Cheap society and its work. In May of that year, however, a serious split occurred in the society, which withdrew from six of her members-from Robert Hindmarsh, C. B. Wadstrm, A Nordenskjld, H. Servant, Robinson, and Wilderspin. The pages of the Minute book which cover these events were however torn out, and even Hindmarsh keeps total silence about it is his Rise and Progress. (Or possibly this chapter might have been edited out when the manuscript of this book was printed after its authors death.) It is surmised, however, that the cause of the disturbance may have been August Nordenskjld, who-in his imprudent zeal to stress the laws of permission spoken of in Conjugial Love,-thus created the first skeleton for our New Church closet. Certainly the scandal (if such there was) was merely academic. The separation was apparently effected in relative amity, and, in the case of Hindmarsh, was only technical, since he continued to function as before as secretary, pamphleteer, and general factotum in the society.

In September of 1789 Nordenskjld turned up again in Stockholm, but incognito, apparently on a royal mission. On his way back to England he stopped off in Denmark, partly to visit Swedenborgs old friend, General Tuxen, from whom he collected information about the Revelator.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 20 And it was there that he wrote his famous Constitution,-Frsamlings Formen uti det Nya Jerusalem. On November 10th and 18th, 1789, he sent from Elstaor to the New Jerusalem Magazine (which was about to be launched on its brief career of six months) an outline of his ideas as to the organization of the New Church, stating as his premise the need for new receivers totally to separate themselves from the old Christian church. The proposed Constitution itself was however published in Copenhagen in Swedish early in 1790, and the Exegetic and Philanthropic Society actually presented a copy to the king on February 20th. The king forthwith ordered all copies confiscated. For owing to the satanically clever satires of the post Kellgren, the society had been literally laughed out of court; besides which the king had become jealous of his brother, Duke Charles, who had been their special patron. Nordenskjld was probably at a safe distance-on his way back to London. But this brave act, imprudent and even impudent though it was, bespoke the distinctively New Church endeavor of the society.


For this treatise, entitled The Form of Society with the New Jerusalem, contained the first unequivocal printed announcement that the Writings of the New Church are the Word of God.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 21 Nordenskjlds New Church canon was quite clear:

The Lords Word, both the Hebrew and the Greek as well as the Latin which the Lord has revealed to us through Swedenborg, is the most holy which we possess in our Church; it is our most holy Book of Law and the Lord Himself among us. Therefore no one can be regarded as a Member of our Church who does not accept all these Books of the Word as the very Word and Revelation of the Lord, as the sanctuary itself of all writing and speech, as an absolute law, most holy in every sense, word, and letter, yea, as containing the understanding of the Lord, far surpassing all human understanding, with inexhaustible wisdom within wisdom, both for angels and for men. (Para. 1).

He then enumerates the books of the Word and of the Writings (taking those written since 1747), classing them together as the Sacred Scriptures; but his logic momentarily breaks down in his attempt to distinguish the Writings as Doctrine from the Word, or as our Spiritual Mother. (Para. 3).* He further proposes that the presidential chair in the nether room of a New Church meeting house should be occupied by no man, but by copies of the Word in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The Word, he says, represents and is the only Absolute Power, which no man dare claim.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 22 (Perhaps this is the origin of the fatuous rumor that New Church people set a chair for Swedenborg!)

*In the New Jerusalem Magazine (p. 122) he adds a note calling attention to the inscription on the cross, which was written in Latin as well as in Hebrew and Greek.

The Nordenskjld brothers were no doubt familiar with the views of Dr. Gabriel Beyer concerning the Writings. According to Dr. R. L. Tafel, it was to Charles F. Nordenskjld* that the Doctor addressed the letter of February 10, 1776, in which he says that the internal sense given in the Writings is the Word itself-not a new word, but the same Word, unveiled. The doctrine, he held, was Divine in all its contents and effects immediate communication with the New Christian Heaven. It is the summary explanation of the Word; not written in the style of the Word by correspondences, representatives, and appearances, but so written that, by means of expositions agreeable with reason, it falls within the understanding and comprehension of men living in time, in nature, and the world. He calls the Writings holy books, containing inerrant truth; all are Divine, in part immediately, in part mediately.

* Internal evidence seems to me to point to Augustus as the recipient. Charles himself claimed in 1786 that the bandage had been torn from the eyes only eight years before; which would date his real conversion to the New Church as 1778.

Although Beyers concept is not free from obscurities, yet (so far as we know) no such expressions had as yet been used in the statements of any English New Churchman. When Augustus came to England in 1780, no New Church society had as yet been formed there. When he returned there in 1789, the society in London was only two years old. In 1790 two Swedes had been among those who, along with Hindmarsh, were separated-probably for peculiar views which they regarded as logical consequences of an unflinching acknowledgment of the Writings as the Word.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 23 In the same year, Nordenskjld collaborated with Servant in the New Jerusalem Magazine on behalf of a new society, called the London Universal Society for the promotion of the New church. In its pages he presents his ideas about how the New Church should-after the second separation-be organized on the basis of a sound ecclesiastical government.

But not until nine years later is there, in English print, any mention of the Writings as the Word. Then it occurs in the Aurore, a magazine edited by Sibley, Proud, and Hodson, who now strongly maintain the position that Swedenborg was no more an author of the Theological Writings than the four evangelists were authors of the Gospel (Ibid. p. 236); that the Writings are inerrant; and that-while not pretending to say that the whole of his theological writings are the Word of the Lord....-the Arcana in particular is no other than the Lords own Word, opened and exhibited in its internal sense, its true spiritual meaning, and therefore is infallible truth. This statement is of especial note, since these editors do not speak for that class of receivers which, with Nordenskjld, held as their fixed principle that the Barons Writings are really the Word of the Lord, as positively as any of the four evangelists.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 24

Hindmarsh desired to see the infant Church peacefully established, and he therefore prudently refused to press such issues as the status of the Writings and the interpretation of the second part of Conjugial Love. But Samuel Noble, in 1802, published a pamphlet through the Aurora Press, which claimed the internal sense, as now revealed, to be the Word; but, like Sibly, he avoided the idea that it was a new Word. Bishop Benade, at first, did the same. While not denying the need for certain obvious qualifications in defining the Writings as the Word, we wish to point out that Augustus Nordenskjld was the only one who, before the time of Benade, put into public print the Academy doctrine in its unqualified form.

Nordenskjld believed in most of the fundamental Academy positions, although he makes his own peculiar applications of them. He considered the old church, since 1757, as forsaken by the Lord, so that it is at this time no longer a church of the Lord, but only a copulation and dwelling for human fiction and lie. (Para. 41). New Church baptism he regards as the only gate into the Church for infants or for adults. In fact, he wants the distinctiveness of the New Church protected by allowing the votes of those who are married to New Church partners and have at least three children to count more than the rest. If a baptized member marries outside of the Church he is excluded as unworthy.*

* Augustus Nordenskjld had married in 1779. His wife was very cultured but not intellectual, and was an inept as her husband in practical affairs. Nor was the marriage one of spiritual harmony. At his death, the wife was left with three daughters. (Arppe, Finska Alchemister, pp. 21, 92.)


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 25

His idea of the Priesthood is peculiar. Ordinations would take place by congregational action, the laying on of hands being performed by a child. Four counselors were to compose the Consistory-a bishop and three priests-of whom each is responsible for the teaching of some specific doctrinal department. The Bishop officiates in marriages, Baptism, and the Holy Supper, and nominates candidates for the priesthood. Each priest is responsible before the Bishop, and he before them all.

Nordenskjld criticizes the tendency at Great East Cheap (London) of making the sermon the chief thing of worship. That was simply the old Protestantism, to him. He had no use for emotionalism, but felt that Worship and Instruction should center about the two sacraments.

Private study of the Writings is the first requisite of New Churchmanship. Clubs or gymasia for the public discussion of the Doctrine would abrogate the necessity for theological seminaries! And any male member of the church should be eligible to give instruction from the revealed doctrine of discourse on truths, under priestly guidance: a set of paid speakers on spiritual subjects was obnoxious to Nordenskjld! On the other hand, the lay congregation should have no part in the discussions of motions in society-meetings, but only in the voting.

Having had sufficient experiences of ecclesiastical oppression and court intrigue, Nordenskjld differs from Robert Hindmarsh whose system of church government seemed to parallel the Divine right of kings.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 26 Democracy as of and from the Devil, in the eyes of Hindmarsh, who not only was an Englishman shocked by the extravagancies of the French revolution and smarting with the recent American debacle, but who considered himself ordained by the Divine auspices of the Lord and believed that priests should appoint their successors. (That the people should give consent to such appointments was seemingly not necessary to his mind.)

It is very apparent that both these men were acting and thinking from the normal prejudices of their own genius and experiences, and that it was impossible at that time to find an ecclesiastical order which would fill the needs of the New Church. Nordenskjlds constant error in laying down fixed procedures with an air of finality proceeded from his zeal for an entirely new Christian society. There was every evidence that the old order was crumbling-as in France and America. Everything old was wrong; yet it was not easy to conceive anything totally new!

Augustus therefore fell back on the early Christian concepts of a church-simple and unembellished, utterly sincere and unafraid of its mission. And his sympathy with secret orders and brotherhoods caused him to insert the injunction that after a man has once become a member, he has a right to call on his brethren for assistance in all his needs and anxieties. It was to be a union of one for all and all for one. (Para. 44).


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 27 A similar reversion to primitive Christian practice is seen in the Communion service which was to be held in the upper or inner room of the Societys building, the communicants gathered monthly around an oval table, a man or woman was selected by lot as celebrant and then this person washed the feet of all present, even as the Lord had said, ...Ye also ought to wash one anothers feet (John 13:14). The celebrant would then pass around the bread and the crystal flagon of wine, and give an appropriate address if able to do so. A woman would delegate the address to the priest.

The marriage ceremony was modeled after the marriage ceremony described (in CL 20) as having taken place in heaven; but a priestly blessing in properly added. Only marriages within the church are orderly, and these are celebrated by annual renewals of the vows, at which times the bishop or one of the consistory would give instruction on the sacred covenant.

The final paragraph lays down a procedure whereby a man who unavoidably came under the laws of permissions spoken in Conjugial Love (444a-477) could obtain a written priestly absolution without losing his status in the society. Nordenskjld was of course unable to see that the very care with which he thus would guard against the abuse of this debated law of permission, would defeat the Divine intent of placing upon men a rational responsibility for their moral life.

In itself, this last paragraph was enough to damn the proposed Constitution in the eyes of most English New Churchmen-who probably did not like written constitutions anyway.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 28 Even Clowes departed from his celestial self on reading about the washing of feet, which, he falsely claimed, Nordenskjld made sacramental. Clowes was also mistaken in saying that the Plan was produced as revealed to Nordenskjld says, is: After I had written this, and desiring to know whether it pleased the Lord and thus came from Him, I found this passage....-quoting Mark vi. 11 and Luke ix. 30-31.

I believe that despite all the strange points against which the common sense of British New Churchmen quite rightly rebelled, the Plan-or the general spirit of it-did please the Lord. Nordenskjlds free and soaring mind, his wide sympathy with the oppressed, made him envision the New Jerusalem as an actual accomplishment-and also dream of the time when Civil Society should be a City of God!

In 1790, Nordenskjld, utterly discouraged after three months in England, went to Paris. He stayed in France for four months, but was suddenly recalled by the king because of the rumor that he had participated in the celebrations of the revolutionists. It is a mystery how he came again into the kings good graces; but in 1791 he was again commissioned to go to England on a three month mission in the cause of alchemy. In January, 1792, however, we find him embarking from Bristol, having offered his services gratis as mining expert for an African expedition.*


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 29 He started out despite poor health and insufficient resources, and reached Sierra Leone after a hard voyage. His work was to be the prospecting for mineral wealth in the district. Ill advised and over-zealous, he started into the interior during the rainy season, by river, but had to make a twelve mile march by foot, and was robbed of his supplies. He contracted a severe illness, being brought home unconscious. Two weeks later, on December 10, 1792, he died at Port Lago, at the house of his friend Professor Afzelius, who was the botanist of the colony. Augustus Nordenskjld was then only thirty eight years of age.

* The Sierra Leone Company was chartered and had over two thousand original subscribers. It had a capital of ,150,000, and was sponsored by Wilberforce and other prominent Englishmen. The colony operated under English law, and no slavery was tolerated.

The colony was later raided by the French. C. B. Wadstrm was appointed to lay complains before the French National Convention; and he ended up at Paris, high in the confidence of the Directorate. Charles Frederick Nordenskjld, living abroad, continued to work in the interests of the New Church. On the assassination of king Gustavus III, he returned to Sweden to receive a good diplomatic post at Hamburg. He died in 1828.


August Nordenskjld was not without faults. He was moody and vehement, stubbornly absorbed by his enthusiasms.


Augustus Nordenskjold p. 30 He was too revolutionary and modern in his political and moral outlook to avoid censure by the conservatives of his age. He had staunch friends, but also made enemies. Even his brother Charles Frederick-himself a bitter critic, as may be seen from his condemning all things English-regarded August as a neer-do-well and in some respects somewhat of a sinner. Later New Churchmen, such as Dr. Rudolph Tafel, express horror for some of his views. But Nordenskjlds fervor had much in common with the spirit of the Academy, which also was capable of innocent mistakes and imprudent excesses of zeal for future critics to harp upon. Augustus saw visions and rushed to meet them. To my mind, he must have been a happy man to see the end of his rainbow always so close at hand! Into all that he did for the New Church (and it was not a little) this remarkable man put a courageous heart which could never conceive that Gods work could possibly fail.