Theosophy, Anthroposophy and Swedenborgianism - Their Societies and Churches

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The Theosophical Society was founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky in 1875 to solidify the universal knowledge of the wisdom of God found within all religions. The members of the Theosophical Society are said to study Theosophy, which literally means "God/Divine Wisdom". It is an interfaith society, with some dogma which originates in Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. 

Rudolf Steiner was a member of the Theosophical Society, and led the German section until 1913 when he split from the Theosophical Society due to differences of understanding about Christ within faith (which he thought was essential).

That split was developed into the Anthroposophical Society, the Anthroposophical Society is an interfaith society, however it values itself on trying to get to know Christ and so could therefore be seen as being liberally Christian in flavour. The members of the Anthroposophical Society are said to study Anthroposophy, which literally means "Human Wisdom" and is more accurately described as "spiritual science" by its adherents. 

Swedenborgianism is a philosophy based on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, an inventor who lived in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Swedenborgianism is much older than both the Theosophical Society and the Anthroposophical Society, and is more a philosophical school than a society. Swedenborg himself was a strong Christian with both Lutheran and Moravian connections, although he encouraged interfaith dialogue and is said to have studied the Tantric methods of Tibetan Buddhism.

Swedenborgianism is fundamentally Christian with very strong liberal and mystical elements, it influenced the likes of William Blake and Immanuel Kant. Rudolf Steiner was known to appreciate the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, and discussed his ideas within many lectures. 

What is the Liberal Catholic Church, The Christian Community and The New Church

Theosophy was then "Christianised" and "Churched" by James Ingall Wedgwood to form the Liberal Catholic Church, which has obtained Catholic Apostolic Succession via the Old Catholic Church (which, itself, split from the Roman Catholic Church many many years after the Reformation). Blavatsky played a crucial part in the formation of the Theosophical Society, but the Liberal Catholic Church was developed after her death. 

Anthroposophy was then "Christianised" and "Churched" by people such as Friedrich Rittelmeyer and Hugo Schuster to form The Christian Community. Schuster went to Rudolf Steiner asking many times for Christian Church rituals to perform for the members of the Anthroposophical Society.

Which does not have Catholic Apostolic Succession as it does not have an episcopal lineage, however it does originate from Lutheran and Old Catholic Churches. Steiner played a crucial part in the formation the Anthroposophical Society and The Christian Community. 

Swedenborgianism was always a Christian theology and philosophy, but the New Church was created to formalise Swedenborgian ideals into a Christian Church environment. The New Church does not have Catholic Apostolic Succession, however it has some similarities with the Lutheran Church. Swedenborg created Swedenborgianism and had some followers, but The New Church was established after his death. 

Theological and/or Philosophical Similarities

Rudolf Steiner and Emanuel Swedenborg both started life as very scientifically and rationally minded people. At the age of 38; Steiner had a vision of Christ and from then on his works became Christian orientated. In his mid-50's; Swedenborg had a spiritual awakening with Christ and from then on his works became incredibly Christian orientated. At the age of 27; Madame Blavatsky claimed to have been initiated into Buddhism while in India. 

Steiner was a member of the Theosophical Society, but disagreed with some of the emerging teachings of theosophy and wanted to revert to a core Christianity theology, this is when Anthroposophy (and the Anthroposophical Society) was developed. 

The sequence of development of these three strands is almost identical: a thinker develops a belief system, which was then taken further into the development of a Christian denomination with its own creeds and dogma. The three thinkers share some historical commonalities, the belief systems certainly share common elements and the Christian denominations are all bringing traditional creeds to the belief systems. 

All three belief systems, particularly Swedenborgianism and Anthroposophy focus on the experiencial perspective of Christianity. This has manifested itself in The New Church and The Christian Community which both focus on the Holy Spirit as a guide to new Christianity.

In these traditions, particularly The Christian Community, the Old Testament was focused on God the Father, the New Testament on God the Son (Jesus Christ), and our emerging era is now focused on God the Holy Spirit. The Liberal Catholic Church continues to focus on Christ as the guide for a unity of all religions. 

The New Church, The Christian Community and the Liberal Catholic Church are all open to Interfaith dialogue, where they are happy to have progressive conversations with other faiths and philosophical groups. 

The Christian Community and the Liberal Catholic Church are Trinitarian in theology. The New Church follows a more Unitarian/Oneness view which was asserted by Swedenborg, in that God has three aspects (entitled the Divine Trinity), which exists in one person (Jesus Christ) and is "called the Father as the Soul, the Divine Human called the Son as the Body, and the proceeding Divine called the Holy Spirit as the Spirit", and the Soul, Body and Spirit exists in all people. 

Sacraments and Rites

The difference between a Sacrament and a Rite is defined by each church. Generally (and based on my own experience), a sacrament is a special ritual in order to communicate with God, and a rite is a ritual which confirms faith within our current physical lives.

Here is a table representing the sacraments of the Liberal Catholic Church, The Christian Community and The New Church compared with the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Please note the difference in names in addition to the difference over the consideration of what is a sacrament and what is a rite. 

  • Anglican/Episcopal Church
    • Holy Eucharist / Holy Communion / The Lords Supper
    • Baptism / Christening
    • Confession and Absolution
    • Holy Matrimony (Marriage)
    • Confirmation
    • Holy Orders (Ordination)
    • Anointing of the Sick / Healing / Unction
  • Roman Catholic Church
    • Holy Eucharist / Holy Communion
    • Baptism / Christening
    • Penance (Confession)
    • Matrimony (Marriage)
    • Confirmation
    • Holy Orders (Ordination)
    • Anointing of the Sick
  • Liberal Catholic Church
    • Holy Eucharist
    • Baptism
    • Absolution
    • Holy Matrimony (Marriage)
    • Confirmation
    • Holy Orders (Ordination)
    • Holy Unction
  • The Christian Community
    • The Act of Consecration of Man
    • Baptism
    • Sacremental Consultation
    • Marriage
    • Confirmation
    • Sacrament of Ordination
    • The Last Annointing
  • The New Church
    • Holy Supper
    • Baptism
    • Rite: Matrimony
    • Rite: Confirmation
    • Rite: Ordination
    • Rite: The Burial of the Dead (a funeral service)
    • Rite: The Rite of Betrothal (a preparation for marriage, which could be seen as a formal engagement)

An additional note is that some Anglican/Episcopal Church, particularly those of an evangelical persuasion would consider there to be only two sacraments (that of The Lords Supper and Baptism) and the others here could be considered as rites. The majority of Anglican/Episcopal Churches, particularly those of a Traditional or Anglo-Catholic persuasion, will consider all seven rituals to be sacraments. Healing in all of the above churches, may be seen as either (or both) the "Laying on of Hands" for the living, or the ritual done for the sick, suffering or terminally ill. 

Membership

The New Church is part of Swedenborgianism and therefore all members of The New Church are by definition Swedenborgian. The Christian Community and the Liberal Catholic Church, although based on Anthroposophy and Theosophy respectively, do not require members to believe in Anthroposophical or Theosophical belief systems and therefore do not require members to join the respective societies, Anthroposophical Society or the Theosophical Society.

The Christian Community has it's own seperate membership scheme which is a separate process to the Confirmation sacrament (i.e. it has the stage of Baptism then Confirmation then Eucharist and finally the application for Membership). 

Other interesting facts

Rudolf Steiner was also the founder of Biodynamic Agriculture (a method of organic farming), Eurythmy (a performance art and movement therapy which is reminiscent of a slow-flowing dance), Waldorf Education (there are now Steiner-Waldorf Schools all around the world). 

Emanuel Swedenborg heavily influenced the poet William Blake. Blake wrote "And did those feet in ancient time" as an inspiration of Swedenborgian thought, which was then put music to and became the very well known Church of England hymn "Jerusalem".

Swedenborgianism also influenced the development of a small fringe masonic order called the Swedenborg Rite, little is known about it other than it was influenced by Swedenborgian philosophy and the ritual of the Ancient Rite of Memphis-Misraim, it was never very popular and has almost definitely become dormant in modern times. 

Annie Besant (an early president of the Theosophical Society), James Ingall Wedgwood (founder of the Liberal Catholic Church, member of the Theosophical Society and member of the famous Pottery family) and Charles Webster Leadbeater (member of the Theosophical Society, ordained priest in the Church of England, and early Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church) were all early key figures in the formation of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry (Le Droit Humain) - a Masonic Order for Men and Women. 

There are declarations stating that Emanuel Swedenborg and Rudolf Steiner were Freemasons, however there are no records or other evidence to state whether they ever attended lodges (be they "regular" or "irregular").

However, Steiner did create the "Misraim Service", which is a ritual for Anthroposophists loosely based around the universal truths told within Freemasonry and Christianity but does not use any of the ritual found therein. Steiner did however receive a charter from the Grand Master of the Ancient Rite of Memphis-Misraim in order to use the "Misraim" name, however, it must be noted that his "Misraim Service" was not at all Masonic and never used Regular Masonic Ritual, Memphis Ritual nor the Misraim Ritual. 

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