Way back in April I mentioned that I was reading Schelling and Swedenborg, a book about the influence of Swedenborg on Schelling. It was an interesting book since I honestly don't know much about either figure, beyond various comments I've encountered while studying other things. Now anti-Mormons have long hitched onto the idea that Joseph Smith cribbed a lot of ideas from Swedenborg. Of course as with many cases of parallelitus, more is given to the parallels that perhaps is deserved. For instance three degrees of glory hearkens back to a lot of Platonic and neoPlatonic notions as well as various Jewish taxonomies. Likewise many parallels, such as Swedenborg's notion of a spirit world with a prison and paradise overlook the rather different conceptions of these worlds within Swedenborg. Of course one also can't help but point out that if something is true we ought to expect to find other people arriving at the same notions: especially those who are attempting to learn from God.
The interesting thing to me isn't just Swedenborg but the philosophical considerations of Schelling. Schelling was, of course, the important figure in the period between Kant and more "modern" German idealism, such as Hegel or even Nietzsche. While Schelling was definitely influenced by Swedenborg, one must point out that so were many others including William James, Emerson, and even to a degree Kant. (Despite his attacks on Swedenborg, he later admitted a lot similarity between his ideas and Swedenborg's)
I don't want to delve into Schelling here. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a rather good entry for him. Rather I want to focus in on a few of the interesting beliefs of Schelling that seem to be relevant to Mormons. I confess that I'm limited in analyzing them, having really not read much Schelling. However this has inspired me to read more of him. I've put quite a few books on my "to read" list. I thought, however, that a few elements perhaps might be of interest to readers of the blog.
One obviously interesting aspect to Schelling's thought, from a Mormon perspective, is his idea that God develops. For God to have a personality, to be a person, he must hold within himself as a limiting factor those things that define personality. Perhaps I'm misreading him, but this sounds remarkably similar to some musings I'd made a few months back. Of course Schelling, as with many proponents of process thought, sees the issue more as defending a real sense of freedom for both God and man.
One big difference between Kant and Schelling is that Kant famously made the spiritual realm "off limits" for knowledge. It was a transcendent world unknown and unknowable in a strict sense by sensory knowledge. Schelling, in contrast, made the spiritual and transcendent realm a proper object of knowledge. Schelling felt that the physical world was also spiritual and the spiritual corporeal. In that he definitely parallels Mormon belief in which the spiritual is a kind of material. Whereas for many theists, the spiritual realm is a realm of pure being with no becoming, for Schelling there is always the aspect of becoming, including that of the divine realm. While Schelling is definitely influenced by Platonism, the way that spirits are conceived of in say Aquinas isn't present. Rather we have a conception of the spiritual realm very much closer to the LDS view.
Schelling's view of the resurrection and death were very much in keeping with Swedenborg, and thus somewhat different from LDS views. Still he broke with Swedenborg on various points and his analysis once again is interesting to the LDS philosopher. "Death is the . . . freeing of the inner life from the outer, which has oppressed it. (Clara, 55) "Eventually the individual must gain his true Esse and be freed from the relative non-Esse. This happens by his being transferred completely into his own A2 - in a word, through death or through passing into the world of spirits." (Stuttgart Letters, 475). The point is that we have an essential "inner" person who is freed at death. This inner person isn't inner in the sense of say a spirit ala Aquinas (or even perhaps the LDS notion of a spirit). Rather the idea is that we choose an essential nature but within this world are a mix of those things that are essentially us and those things that aren't. For instance a murderer may love his mother and be nice to animals. But their essential nature, by their choice, is to be evil.
This notion is actually fairly close to the dualism we find in the Book of Mormon. "...for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world." (Alma 34:34) The same notion is expanded upon in Alma 41 where the meaning of restoration is to restore good to those who choose good and evil to those who choose evil. The dualism that bothers many people in the Book of Mormon thus might be seen as humans determining their essential nature, but being unable to achieve their essential nature. That bringing us to our essential nature takes place at death. For Schelling we literally become, in a pure sense, what we desire.
As for Mormons, death isn't losing all body. Rather it is losing part of our body (if we consider our material spirit as the other part of our body). Death doesn't lead to being an abstract thought or a Thomist spirit.
Death is not a total separation of the spirit from the body, but only a separation of the spirit from that element of body that is in opposition to it. . . . Consequently it is not just a part of the person that is immortal, but the whole person as regards the true essence, death being a reduction to essence. [The deceased is therefore] an absolutely real being, far more real, in fact, than we are in this life. (Stuttgart Lectures, 476)
Interestingly, as do Mormons, Schelling appeals to 1 Cor 15:44 to deal with this. He conceives the spiritual body "not only as a finer form of the physical" but a true spiritual form in which the outer and inner are in harmony. It is us as our essential selves. Once again also paralleling certain theological views of Joseph Smith, the soul is the bond between two opposites: spirit and body. This can't happen. I'd note, of course, that for Joseph while the soul is the spriit and body, the spirit and body in that context are the spirit body and physical body and thus doesn't parallel exactly Schelling. For Schelling all three components are always present whereas for Joseph they are ideally present, but the body is lost while we are dead. of course the difference is due to speaking of spirit equivocably. If we look at the word as Schelling uses it, then we do have something much closer to what Joseph gets at with his notion of material spirits.
An other interesting parallel between Joseph and Schelling is the idea of the same society existing in the world of spirits as exists here. Further the highest society is that of the Adamaic church, whose laws are the highest. Once again there are important differences. Thus within heaven we have gradations of glory based upon law. When a spirit attempts to move into a sphere with a higher glory it is repelled, as if by electric repulsion. While this was described in an allegorical "vision" against a philosophical foe of Schelling named Jacobi, it does offer many interesting parallels to both Nephi's vision as well as LDS conceptions of heaven and degrees of glory.
Now exactly how much Schelling really is relevant to Mormons I can't say. Certainly many will have grave difficulties with the particular form of idealism his philosophy took, just as some undoubtedly have problems with Leibniz, Kant or others. As I've said, I'm simply not familiar with Schelling's views enough to really criticize them or comb them for nugets of worth. The above, however, did seem quite interesting. Some commentaries note that in a way Schelling's philosophy wasn't that original, in a way amalgamating Fichte's and Spinoza's philosophies.
Thanks for this interesting discussion. I have not studied much philosophy, so some of the names here are new to me -- but I appreciated learning about some of the ideas advanced by some of these philosophers and how they might be related to Mormon doctrines/principles.
Craig Miller has long been discussing possible influences on Swendenborg-L, and the best one can come up with is "could have been in contact with so-and-so....".
Can anyone point me to information on one Sherman Russell Lloyd and a group identified only as "LDS Scripture Researchers" ("Also known as the Believe God Society and Doers of the Word"), said to combine LDS doctrine with Swedenborg's teachings? It seems to me that it would be VERY hard to reconcile Mormon teachings on the Godhead with the New Church doctrine of one Lord in one person. The Directory of Religous Bodies gives no address beyond "Salt Lake City".
Is there a public archive of Swedenborg-L?
By the way, for those interested I found Craig Miller's paper. Note that I'm more focusing in on Schelling, not Swedenborg. Schelling was influenced by Swedenborg, but also Kant, Spinoza, Fichte, as well as neoPlatonism.
One last bit, the FARMS review of Brooks The Refiner's Fire mentions a bit about Swedenborg. I think a lot of their comments are quite apt, although I think they downplay the book too much.
"Michael Quinn," Professor Brooke reports, "has noted that the idea of three heavens, or degrees of glory, was available in Emmanuel Swedenborg's cosmic system, in which three heavens—topped by a "celestial kingdom'—were associated with the sun, the moon, and the stars" (p. 205). But Michael Quinn also knows that "the idea of three heavens, or degrees of glory, . . . associated with the sun, the moon, and the stars" can be derived from 1 Corinthians 15:40-42 and 2 Corinthians 12:2. Is Professor Brooke unaware of this?
I'd note that Schelling appeals to 1 Corinthians on this point. I think it a reasonable interpretation of that passage.
Brooke himself recognizes a serious potential flaw in his overall argument. While insisting on hermetic antecedents for Mormon ideas, he admits that "Smith . . . did not have unlimited resources at his command in the 1820s. His family was poor and struggling, without much money to spare on expensive volumes of theology." Furthermore, "it is unlikely that they could have used" the Manchester Library (p. 207). Thus, Joseph "did not have a copy of the Corpus Hermeticum at hand" (p. 204). Likewise, Brooke admits that "it would be difficult to argue that they [Swedenborgian texts] were widely known among the rural peoples of the early Republic" (p. 99). Since Brooke is essentially admitting that Joseph did not obtain his crucial hermetic ideas from identifiable texts, how did he get them?
This overlooks the influence the ideas had independent of owning the book. A lot of Mormon apologists unfortunately do this. To make an analogy most Americans don't know much about Newton, but their worldview and terminology is thoroughly influenced by them.
That's a good point, Clark. But I wonder: if these ideas were so prevalent, why is it that Joseph was recognized as a prophet for revealing them? Was it because of his synthesis of them?
Well, I suppose people thought him a prophet not because the ideas were necessarily that unique, but because he gave them the divine stamp of approval, as it were. But of course Swedenborg was more or less considered a prophet by some. Or at least a visionary.
But that is a good question. A lot of the innovations in the church after the initial period could be found in the culture of early 19th century America. But I think them far less common than I think Quinn or Brookes suggest. Just because they could be found in commentaries, within some of the associations of masonry, and so forth, doesn't mean they were quite as ubiquitous as say general notions of physics are today. Further I think where Brookes and Quinn err is in not providing alternative explanations to "contextualize" the "evidences" they bring. The 1 Cor 15 reading is one example, but there are others.
As I mentioned on Times and Seasons though, I think Mormon apologists sometimes fall prey to the same sort of reasoning. A lot bring up Jewish parallels that overlook the differences and ignore how esoteric many are. (Those who bring up Kabbalism are great examples, although I admit I find Kabbalism interesting for a variety of reasons myself)