Enlightenment thought brought many threats to eighteenth and nineteenth century religious movements. It made those who emphasized spiritual impulses not only have to dispute “what is true?” but also “what is rational?” What had been fundamental beliefs like God’s intervention in human lives, direct communication from heaven, and Angelic visitations were now contested as being unreasonable and improbable. Leigh Eric Schmidt does an excellent job exploring this issue in his important book, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment. In it, he wrote that,
The very idea of a God who speaks and listens, a proposition integral to Christian devotionalism, became a “monstrous belief” to men like [Thomas] Paine, and the voice of reason was offered as a mechanically reliable replacement for these divine attributes. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, divine absence, far more than presence, had to be constructed, and philosophical argument alone was insufficient material: the rules and practices of auditory experience had to be reshaped as a condition of heaven’s silence.
However, even with the increase of enlightenment critiques, Schmidt would also argue that “the modern predicament actually became as much one of God’s loquacity as God’s hush.” But, religious movements would now be obligated to attempt to meet new enlightenment guidelines: “a significant number of American Christians continued to absorb the mental habits and disciplines of the Scottish Common-Sense philosophy well into the nineteenth century; and evangelicals, Spiritualists, and Swedenborgians all scrambled to put themselves on respectable scientific footing.” I’m sure Schmidt would gladly add nineteenth century Mormonism to that list as well. (In fact, he does make that connection several times in his book, though never with deep analysis.)
The usage of angels was one way religious leaders attempted to “put themselves on respectable footing,” and Joseph Smith and Emanuel Swedenborg provide excellent examples of it.
Both Smith and Swedenborg had the audacity of claiming personal encounters with angelic beings. Starting in the 1740s, Swendenborg developed the ability to “converse with angels and spirits in the same manner as I speak with men,” and his continual communications with angels was the main foundation for his knowledge and authority. Many of his followers came to see him as introducing “a more intimate fellowship with saints and angels,” implementing a time when “angels shall converse with men as familiarly as they did with Adam before the fall.” Likewise, Smith also bragged of his experiences with angelic beings. In a letter written to the Church in 1842, Smith jubilantly proclaimed the many angelic visitors who had tutored him in the restoration of the gospel:
Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received?…Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be reveal’d…The voice of peter, James & John, in the wilderness, between Harmony, Susquehanna County, and Colesvill, Broom County…And the voice of Michael the archangel—the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michale or Adam, down to the present time; all declaring each one their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty & glory.
Both viewed their angelic messengers as not some foreign specimen completely other-worldly than us, but rather as individuals who had once lived on the same Earth that we walk on today and were just at different phases of there post-mortal progression. Schmidt noted that the enlightenment made it necessary for those who believed in angels to present them in a more reasonable framework. During this time, Schmidt argued, “the voices from the spirit-land that people desired were increasingly materialized and incarnated,” a distant cry from the “wholly other” type of ministers traditional Christianity was used to. To both the Swedish and Palmyra Seers, angelic beings were much more personal, and therefore much more rational.
When Swedenborg described the angels he was used to conversing with, he presented a vision of celestial beings not too dissimilar from common humanity:
The Angels converse together, as we do on earth, and in like manner on various subjects, whether of a domestic, civil, moral, or spiritual nature…The speech of angels is equally divided into words with our’s, and alike sonorous and audible, for they have mouths, tongues and ears, as we have.
It is not difficult to see rationality used to give credence to his supernatural claims.
Joseph Smith and the early Mormons also hoped to present a more “rational” type of angel. He taught that angels did not have wings because they were merely people just like us who had passed to the other side of the veil. In Nauvoo, he even explained a process in which a person could “test” the vitality of an angelic visitor. Even more, Smith used the idea of angels as a rational way of proving his movement’s authority: because of the apostasy, and therefore loss of authority, that occurred after Christ’s apostle’s death, the only way to restore that authority was to get it from those who previously held it. Joseph Smith’s solution to the problem of fallen Christianity included bringing back those involved with the original before it was lost. As Jack Welch has argued, “[Smith] relied not only upon biblical authority to recover the past, but upon the past to recover authority.”
While many enlightenment thinkers still rejected outright angelic claims—Statesman Benjamin Rush specifically pathologized those who “see and converse with angels”—these attempts to combine the supernatural and rational did provide a workable “footing” for many religious seekers of their day. They offer a vivid example of the struggle for a reasonable foothold for religion in an increasingly enlightened environment.
 Leigh Eric Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).
 Ibid, 6.
 Ibid, 11.
 A Brief Account of the Life of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Servant of the Lord and the Messenger of the New-Jerusalem Dispensation (Cincinatti: Looker and Reynolds, 1827), 15-19.
 “Preface by the Translator,” in Swedenborg, A Treatise Concerning Heaven and Hell, and of the Wonderful Things Therein, as Heard and Seen by the Honourable and Learned Emanuel Swedenborg (Baltimore: Miltenberger, 1812), 5-10. As a quick side-note, Swedenborg had a considerable advantage as being considered “rational” when compared to someone like Joseph Smith because, as the title of this treatise hints to, he was a well respected scientist before becoming a visionary. Thus, because of his “rational” background, it became a little harder to merely dismiss his “supernatural” claims.
 Smith, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:473-474.
 Schmidt, Hearing Things, 201.
 Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell, 234-236.
 Sam MB spoke on this very concept at this last year’s MHA, so hopefully he can drop by and correct my mistakes.
 John W. Welch, “Joseph Smith and the Past,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2006), 112, emphasis in original.
 Benjamin Rush, Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind (Philadelphia: Kimber and Richardson, 1812), 138.