Did Eddy read the works of Swedenborg?

April 8, 2019

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was a theologian and philosopher. His teachings influenced The New Church, or Swedenborgian religious movement, that began in the late eighteenth century.

The earliest known contact that Mary Baker Eddy had with the teachings of Swedenborg was in 1878, while she was preparing the second edition of her book Science and Health. Reverend Abiel Silver of the New Jerusalem Church (Swedenborgian) in Boston Highlands (then a suburban district of Boston), had severely criticized Science and Health.1 On April 11, 1878, the Christian Scientist Association read Silver’s commentary and a reply that Eddy had made. They voted to publish this response as a 30-page pamphlet.2

But Eddy decided instead to include her response in the second edition of Science and Health, as a new chapter titled “Reply to a Clergyman.” The chapter was later renamed, first as “Reply to a Critic” and then as “Some Objections Answered.” In an undated manuscript, perhaps from around that time, she wrote that there was “somewhat…. in Swedenborgianism, that I like because it is progressive, in sentiment, at least.”3

Documents in the Library’s collections indicate that Eddy’s views changed over time. Although she never specifically mentioned Swedenborg or Swedenborgianism in her published books, she occasionally responded to questions on the topic. In 1888 she told Fremont D. Snider, a student in New York, that “Swedenborgianism is as remote from [Christian] Science as Congregationalism is.”4 In 1893 Samuel Seibert, a Congregational minister, asked Eddy, “What do you think of the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and his claim of divine seership?”5 She replied through her secretary Calvin Frye, “I have not read them extensively & would not care to give opinion about them but know they are not [Christian] Science.”6

Two articles that mention Swedenborg appear among the several thousand clippings that Eddy and her staff kept in scrapbooks. It is unclear who selected these particular articles. The first is titled “Where did the spiritualists get their doctrines?” from the January 7, 1899, issue of The Literary Digest.7 The second is a letter in the April 3, 1907, issue of the New York Sun, titled “Swedenborg on Hypnotism.”8

In 1907 Swedenborgian minister John Whitehead wrote a book that claimed that Eddy “was at one time a reader” of Swedenborg’s works and that she borrowed his ideas.9 We have found no evidence supporting Whitehead’s claims.

In 1910 Fanny Byse, a New Church adherent, wrote to Eddy asking if she had studied Swedenborg. Adam Dickey, a secretary for Eddy, responded:

In reply to your letter asking if Mrs. Eddy had ever studied the works of Swedenborg, I have it from her own lips that she knows nothing of the teachings of that writer, and none of his ideas are in her works so far as she knows.10

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  1. “Science and Health,” c. 1878, Subject File, Mary Baker Eddy – Writings – Science and Health – Public Reception.
  2. Christian Scientist Association, meeting minutes, Vol. 1, 11 April 1878, EOR10.
  3. Eddy, manuscript, n.d., A10592.
  4. Eddy to Snider, 7 September 18888, L06044.
  5. Siebert to Eddy, 17 March 1893, IC710aP1.85.022
  6. Frye to Siebert, 17 March 1893, L17706.
  7. Eddy, scrapbook, SB024.01, 35.
  8. Eddy, scrapbook, SB021.01, 206.
  9. John Whitehead, The Illusions of Christian Science, Its Philosophy Rationally Examined, (Boston: The Garden Press, 1907), 8.
  10. Dickey to Byse, 11 June 1910, L12128.