Someone asked me recently whom I would wish to meet someday. I answered Emanuel Swedenborg, because I think he played an intrinsic role in establishing the intellectual and cultural environment of Joseph Smith. Let me explain.
In studying the Transcendentalists, I was intrigued by Emerson's numerous references to Emanuel Swedenborg. By the almost reverential veneration that Emerson gives him (no small feat!), I assumed that Swedenborg had to be an important person--and I set out on a research hunt. It turns out that Swedenborg is one of the intellectual and spiritual giants of the 18th century that no one really talks about anymore. That's a shame, because he was the first man to discover atomic theory (several centuries before Einstein) and was known as one of the most brilliant scientists of his time.
But Swedenborg's life takes an interesting turn when he is 57. He claims to have had heavenly visions, where he was able to view heaven, speak to angels, and even describe the Last Judgement. He faithfully wrote down these visions, which allegedly happened for 27 years, instigating both fascination and contempt. One of the most interesting visions that Swedenborg explains is marriage in heaven, a goal that was possible for men and women who had the appropriate spiritual language or "conjugial love." As Mormons believe in marriage being able to continue on after this life, Swedenborg's view of marriage in heaven is perhaps the most obvious link to Mormon theology. His story may also sound familiar to Mormons as well, since his heavenly manifestations made him believe that the true church of Christ was not on the earth, leading his followers to establish "The New Church" (still in existence today).
But I think that Swedenborg left an even greater impact on Mormonism than we might think.
Joseph Smith's theology has already been connected with both Romanticism and Transcendentalism, as both movements divorced from the
classic view of man's fallen state and considered how knowledge could be acquired by means other than rationality: experience, intuition, and human imagination. Both emphasized the obtaining of a relationship with the divine, often achieved through a oneness with nature.
Swedenborg, however, was an important precedent to these beliefs outlines above. His series of visions defied what was considered "rational"; he was acquiring knowledge of heaven through a means that no one else had. Moreover, it was Swedenborg, not Emerson, who first taught of the intrinsic link between nature and man's soul. Robert Sampson, a Harvard theology student and Swedenborgian, gave a sermon in Boston that included the need for men to understand nature, where Emerson happened to be in attendance. Little wonder that his first treatise, Nature, was published several years later.
I would argue that Swedenborg was a perpetrator of the Romantic and Transcendentalist air that Joseph Smith was a part of. When Joseph is 14, he certainly uses a sense of rationality in believing that James 1:5 applied to his situation, as he sought knowledge for himself. But in believing that God would give him an answer, as well as going into nature to acquire knowledge, he also shows himself as adhering to more recent, burgeoning intellectual traditions. Moreover, in claiming to have a divine manifestation, Joseph was also showing an adherence to Swedenborgian thought, as he also believed to be heaven's spokesman.
As a Mormon, I believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I also believe that God works on a macro-level, as He helps work to propel certain intellectual movements, such as Romanticism and Transcendentalism, to accomplish his purposes. I also believe that Swedenborg was an important progenitor of the Restoration--and he deserves more credit than history has given him.