Philadelphian Society

An early English dissenter group merging mysticism with Christian universalism.

Religion: Christianity
Founder: John Pordage
Founded: 17th century
Location: England
Other Names: Society of the Woman in the Wilderness, The Philadelphian Society for the Advancement of Piety and Divine Philosophy

The Philadelphian Society, also known simply as the Philadelphians, was a 17th-century religious group that emerged from the Christian dissenting community in England. Organized around John Pordage, an Anglican priest with unconventional views that led to his temporary ejection from his parish, the society was deeply influenced by the mystic teachings of Jakob Böhme, a Lutheran theosophist and Christian mystic. This society was marked by its openness to esoteric Christianity and was notably led by Jane Leade, a visionary who experienced numerous spiritual visions.

The society’s origins trace back to a group of followers who gathered around Pordage, among whom were Ann Bathurst and the notable mystic Jane Leade. Officially founded in 1694 as The Philadelphian Society for the Advancement of Piety and Divine Philosophy, its name was inspired by the Philadelphians mentioned in the Book of Revelation. The society distinguished itself by not identifying as a church but rather a society, with its members maintaining their affiliations with existing churches while sharing beliefs akin to Panentheism and Nondualism. This perspective underscored the omnipresence of God in all things and the existence of the Holy Spirit within every individual’s soul, advocating that enlightenment and illumination could be attained through a virtuous life and the pursuit of divine wisdom​​.

Central to the society’s beliefs were the visions of Jane Leade, who became a Christian Universalist around 1694, challenging the prevailing doctrines of eternal damnation in favor of a belief in purgative, rather than punitive, punishment after death. This shift towards a more inclusive understanding of salvation reflected the society’s broader commitment to esoteric and universalist principles. Despite drawing up a formal confession of their beliefs in 1703, the society began to decline following Leade’s death in 1704, with its formal activities ceasing shortly thereafter​​.

The Philadelphian Society held connections with continental Europe, briefly revitalizing in 1706 through interactions with the French Camisards. While it eventually faded into obscurity, its teachings and writings, especially those of Jane Leade, continued to influence a range of spiritual movements across Europe and America. Leade’s work resonated within Radical German Pietism, particularly among the Moravians under Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf, as well as within German Romanticism and the works of figures like Emanuel Swedenborg, William Law, and William Blake. The legacy of the Philadelphian Society’s views persisted among Behmenists, Pietists, Radical Pietists, Christian mystics, and Esoteric Christians, influencing groups such as the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness, the Ephrata Cloister, and the Harmony Society​.

Jane Leade’s spiritual visions and literary output, deeply influenced by the mysticism of Jakob Böhme, spanned a range of Christian mysteries, including the nature of Christ, redemption, the existence of Sophia or divine wisdom, and the apocalypse. Her vision of Christianity was inclusive, envisioning the ultimate reconciliation of all beings to God and advocating for a purgative concept of the afterlife over the traditional view of eternal punishment. Leade’s numerous writings, which include treatises on the Christian mysteries, personal journals of spiritual experiences, and messages to the Philadelphian Society, reflect her profound spiritual insights and her contributions to the development of Christian mysticism and universalism​​.

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