Christianity and Spinoza


Joseph B. Yesselman

Letters: L21, L22, L23, L24, L25, L25A, L73 & L74. 

Spinoza and Christianity, Steven B. Smith's Book XIA, Wayne Ferguson.


1. Unless otherwise noted all material herein is taken from the Web Pages of
    "A Dedication to Spinoza's Insights."

2. Symbols: 

3. My purpose is to show where, in my opinion, Spinoza's insights concur or disagree
    with Christianity.

Letter 73 -  Albert Burgh To Spinoza.

[Albert Burgh announces his reception into the Romish Church, and exhorts Spinoza to follow his example. The whole of this very long letter is not given here, but only such parts as seemed most characteristic, or are alluded to in Spinoza's {EL:L74(76)} reply. —(TR.)] 

I promised to write to you on leaving my country, if anything, note-worthy occurred on the journey. I take the opportunity which offers of an event of the utmost importance, to redeem my engagement, by informing you that I have, by God's infinite mercy, been received into the Catholic Church and made a member of the same. You may learn the particulars of the step from a letter which I have sent to the distinguished and accomplished Professor Craanen of Leyden. I will here subjoin a few remarks for your special benefit.

Even as formerly I admired you for the subtlety and keenness of your natural gifts, so now do I bewail and deplore you; inasmuch as being by nature most talented, page 411 and adorned by God with extraordinary gifts; being a lover, nay, a coveter of the truth, you yet allow yourself to be ensnared and deceived by that most wretched and most proud of beings, the prince of evil spirits. As for all your philosophy, what is it but a mere illusion and chimera? Yet to it you entrust not only your peace of mind in this life, but the salvation of your soul for eternity. See on what a wretched foundation all your doctrines rest. You assume that you have at length discovered the true philosophy. How do you know that your  philosophy is the best of all that ever have been taught in the world, are now being taught, or ever shall be taught? Passing over what may be devised in the future, have you examined all the philosophies, ancient as well as modern, which are taught here, and in India, and everywhere throughout the whole world? Even if you have duly examined them, how do you know that you have chosen the best? You will say: "My  philosophy is in harmony with right reason; other philosophies are not." But all other philosophers except your own followers disagree with you, and with equal right say of their philosophy what you say of yours, accusing you, as you do them, of falsity and error. It is, therefore, plain, that before the truth of your philosophy can come to light, reasons must be advanced, which are not common to other philosophies, but apply solely to your own; or else you must admit that your philosophy is as uncertain and nugatory as the rest.

However, restricting myself for the present to that book of yours with an impious title and S<not>S13:304 mingling your philosophy with your theology, as in reality you mingle them yourself, though with diabolic cunning you endeavour to maintain, that each is separate from the other, and has different principles, I thus proceed.

Perhaps you will say: "Others have not read Holy Scripture so often as I have; and it is from Holy Scripture,
the acknowledgment of which distinguishes Christians from the rest of the world, that I prove my doctrines. But how? By comparing the clear passages with the more obscure I explain Holy Scripture, and out of my interpretations page 412 frame dogmas, or else confirm those which are already concocted in my brain." But, I adjure you, reflect seriously on what you say. How do you know, that you have made a right application of your method, or again that your method is sufficient for the interpretation of Scripture, and that you are thus interpreting Scripture aright, especially as the Catholics say, and most truly, that the universal Word of God is not handed down to us in writing, hence that Holy Scripture cannot be explained through itself, I will not say by one man, but by the Church herself, who is the sole authorized interpreter? The Apostolic traditions must likewise be consulted, as is proved by the testimony of Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers, and as reason and experience suggest. Thus, as your first principle are most false and lead to destruction, what will become of all your doctrine, built up and supported on so rotten a foundation?

Wherefore, if you believe in Christ crucified, acknowledge your pestilent heresy, reflect on the perverseness of your nature, and be reconciled with the Church.

How do your proofs differ from those of all heretics, who ever have left, are now leaving, or shall in future leave God's Church? All, like yourself, make use of the same principle, to wit, Holy Scripture taken by itself, for the concoction and establishment of their doctrines.

Do not flatter yourself with the thought, that neither the Calvinists, it may be, nor the so-called Reformed Church, nor the Lutherans, nor the Mennonites, nor the Socinians, &c., can refute your doctrines. All these, as I have said, are as wretched as yourself, and like you are dwelling in the shadow of death.

If you do not believe in Christ, you are more wretched than I can express. Yet the remedy is easy. Turn away from your sins, and consider the deadly arrogance of your wretched and insane reasoning. You do not believe in Christ. Why? You will say: "Because the teaching and the life of Christ, and also the Christian teaching {Mark Twain} concerning Christ are not at all in harmony with my teaching." But again, I say, then you dare to think yourself greater than all those who have ever risen up in the State or Church of God, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, doctors, page 413 confessors, and holy virgins innumerable, yea, in your blasphemy, than Christ himself. Do you alone surpass all these in doctrine, in manner of life, in every respect? Will you, wretched pigmy, vile worm of the earth, yea, ashes, food of worms, will you in your unspeakable blasphemy, dare to put yourself before the incarnate, infinite wisdom of the Eternal Father? Will you, alone, consider yourself wiser and greater than all those, who from the beginning of the world have been in the Church of God, and have believed, or believe still, that Christ would come or has already come? On what do you base this rash, insane, deplorable, and inexcusable arrogance?

       *         *         *         *         *         *          *  
     {Shirley's Bk.XIII:305 continues with full Letter73(67) at this point.}

If you cannot pronounce on what I have just been enumerating (divining rods, alchemy, &c.),  why, wretched man, are you so puffed up with diabolical pride, as to past rash judgment on the awful mysteries of Christ's life and passion, which the Catholics themselves in their teaching declare to be incomprehensible{JBYnote1} Why do you commit the further insanity of silly and futile carping at the numberless miracle and signs, which have been wrought through the virtue of Almighty God by the  apostles and disciples of Christ, and afterwards by so many thousand saints, in testimony to, and confirmation of the truth of the Catholic faith; yea, which are being wrought in our own time in cases without number throughout the world, by God's almighty goodness and mercy? If you cannot gainsay these, and surely you cannot, why stand aloof any longer? Join hands of  fellowship, and repent from your sins: put on humility, and be born again.

[L73:10] {Elwes's Summary; for full text see Shirley's Bk.XIII:312.}

[Albert Burgh requests Spinoza to consider:

(i.)    The large number of believers in the Romish faith.

(ii.)   The uninterrupted succession of the Church.

(iii.)  The fact that a few unlearned men converted the world to Christianity.

(iv.)  The  antiquity, the  immutability,  the  infallibility, the incorruption, the unity, and the vast         extent of the Catholic Religion; also the fact, that secession from it involves damnation,         and that it will itself endure as long as the world. 

(v.)   The admirable organization of the Romish Church.

(vi.)  The superior morality of Catholics.
page 414
(vii.) The frequent cases of recantation of opinions among heretics.
(viii.) The miserable life led by atheists, whatever their
outward demeanour may be.]

           *        *        *        *         *        *  

I have written this letter to you with intentions truly Christian; first, in order to show the love I bear to you, though you are a heathen; secondly, in order to beg you not to persist  in converting others.

I therefore will thus conclude: God is willing to eternal damnation, if you will allow Him. Do not  doubt that the Master, who has called you so often through others, is now calling you for the last time through me, who having obtained grace from the ineffable mercy of God Himself, beg the same for you with my whole heart. Do not deny me. For if you do not now give ear to God who calls you, the wrath of the Lord will be kindled against you, and there is a danger of your being abandoned by His infinite mercy, and becoming a wretched victim of the Divine Justice which consumes all things in wrath. Such a fate may Almighty God avert for the greater glory of His name, and for the salvation of your soul, also for a salutary example for the imitation of your most unfortunate and idolatrous followers, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who with the Eternal Father liveth and reigneth in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, God for all Eternity. Amen.

Florence, (Sept. 3, 1675.) 
[Elwes's Note - There is a kind of  affectation consistent with the letter in the use of the classical calendar and Roman numerals for the date.]


[End of Letter 73.]  -   Albert Burgh To Spinoza.

Letter 74 in answer to Letter 73 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh. 

[Spinoza laments the step taken by his pupil, and answers his arguments.
The Hague, end of 1675.

That, which I could scarcely believe when told me by others, I learn at last from your own letter; not only have you been made a member of the Romish Church, but you are become a very keen champion of the same, and have already learned wantonly to insult and rail against your opponents.

At first I resolved to leave your letter unanswered, thinking that time and experience will assuredly be of more avail than reasoning, to restore you to yourself and your friends; not to mention other arguments, which won your approval formerly, when we were discussing the case of Steno [Elwes's Note - A Danish anatomist, who renounced Lutheranism for Catholicism at Florence in 1669.] in whose steps you are now following. But some of my friends, who like myself had formed great hopes from your superior talents, strenuously urge me not to fail in the offices of a friend, but to consider what you lately were, rather than what you are, with other arguments of the like nature. I have thus been induced to write you this short reply, which I earnestly beg you will think worthy of calm perusal.

I will not imitate those adversaries of Romanism, who would set forth the vices of priests and popes with a view to kindling your aversion. Such considerations are often put forward from evil and unworthy motives, and tend rather to irritate than to instruct. I will even admit, that more men of learning and of blameless life are found in the Romish Church than in any other Christian body; for, as it contains more members, so will every type of character be more largely represented in it. You cannot possibly deny, unless you have lost your memory as well as your reason, that in every Church there are thoroughly honourable men, who worship God with justice and charity. We have known many such among the Lutherans, the Reformed Church, the Mennonites, and the Enthusiasts. Not to go further, you knew your own relations, who in the time of the Duke of Alva suffered every kind of torture bravely and willingly for the sake of their religion. In fact, you must admit, that personal holiness is not peculiar to the Romish Church, but common to all Churches.

As it is by this, that we know "that we dwell in G-D and He in us" (1 Ep. John, iv.13), it follows, that what distinguishes the Romish Church from others must be something entirely superfluous, and therefore founded solely on superstition. For, as John says {1 John, iv. 7 & 8}, justice and 
page 416 charity are the one sure sign of the true Catholic faith, and the true fruits of the Holy Spirit. Wherever they are found, there in truth is Christ; wherever they are absent, Christ is absent also. For only by the Spirit of Christ can we be led to the love of justice and charity. Had you been willing to reflect ]meditate[ on these points, {Deut 6:4-7, The Shaw-ma' } you would not have ruined yourself, nor have brought deep affliction on your relations, who are now sorrowfully bewailing your evil case.

But I return to your letter, which you begin, by lamenting that I allow myself to be ensnared by the prince of evil spirits. Pray take heart, and recollect yourself. When you had the use of your faculties, you were wont, if I mistake not, to worship an Infinite G-D, by Whose efficacy all things absolutely come to pass and are preserved; now you dream of a prince, God's enemy, who against God's will ensnares and deceives very many men (rarely good ones, to be sure) whom God thereupon hands over to this master of wickedness to be tortured eternally. The Divine justice therefore allows the devil to deceive men and remain unpunished; but it by no means allows to remain unpunished the men, who have been by that self-same devil miserably deceived and ensnared.

These absurdities might so far be tolerated, if you worshipped a G-D infinite and eternal; not one whom Chastillon, in the town which the  Dutch call Tienen, gave with impunity to horses to be eaten. And, poor wretch, you bewail me? My philosophy, which you never beheld, you style  a chimera? O youth deprived of understanding, who has bewitched you into believing, that the Supreme and Eternal is eaten by you, and held in your intestines? {Religion and Mark Twain's "Little Story"}  

Yet you seem to wish to employ reason, and ask me, "How I know that my philosophy is the best among all that have ever been taught in the world, or are being taught, or ever will be taught?" a question which I might with much greater right ask you; for I do not presume that I have found the best philosophy, I know that I understand the true philosophy {Hampshire:11}. If you ask in what way I know it, I answer: In the same way as you know that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles: that  this is sufficient, will be denied by no one whose brain is page 417 sound and who does not go dreaming of evil spirits inspiring us with  false ideas like the  true. For the truth is the index of itself and of what is false.

But you, who presume that you have at last found the best religion, or rather the best men, on whom you have pinned your credulity, you, "who know that they are the best among all who have taught, do now teach, or shall in future teach other religions. Have you examined all religions, ancient as well as modern, taught here and in India and everywhere throughout the world? And, if you have duly examined them, how do you know that you have chosen the
best" since you can give no reason for the faith that is in you? But you will say, that you acquiesce in the inward testimony of the Spirit of God, while the rest of mankind are ensnared and deceived by the prince of evil spirits. But all those outside the pale of the Romish Church can with equal right proclaim of their own creed what you proclaim of yours.

As to what you add of the common consent of myriads of men and the uninterrupted { ii } ecclesiastical succession, this is the very catch-word of the Pharisees {or the Pagans}. They with no less confidence than the devotees of Rome bring forward their myriad witnesses, who as pertinaciously as the Roman witnesses repeat what they have heard, as though it were their personal experience. Further, they carry back their line to Adam. They {The Jews} boast with equal arrogance, that their Church has continued to this day unmoved and unimpaired in spite of the hatred of Christians and heathen. They more than any other sect are supported by antiquity. They exclaim with one voice, that they have received their traditions from God Himself, and that they alone preserve the Word of God both written and unwritten. That all heresies have issued from them {as has their heresy issued from the Pagan}, an that they have remained constant through thousands of years under no constraint of temporal dominion, but  by the sole efficacy of their superstition, no one can deny. The miracles they tell of would tire a thousand tongues. But their chief boast is, that they count a far greater number of martyrs than any other nation, a number which is daily increased by those who suffer with singular constancy for the faith they profess; nor is their boasting false. I myself knew page 418 among others of a certain Judah called the faithful, who in the midst of the flames, when he was already thought to be dead, lifted his voice to sing the hymn beginning, "To Thee O God, I offer up my soul, {Thou hast redeemed me, O the Lord, Thou God of truth." Psalm 31:6} and so singing perished.

The organization of the Roman Church, which you so greatly praise, I confess to be politic, and to many lucrative. I should believe that keeping men's minds in check, if it were not for the organization of the Mahometan Church, which far surpasses it. For from the time when this superstition arose, there has been no schism in its church.

If, therefore, you had rightly judged, you would have seen that only your third point tells in favour of the Christians, namely, that unlearned and common men should have been able to convert nearly the whole world to believe in Christ. But this reason militates not only for the Romish Church, but for all those who profess the name of Christ.

But assume that all the reasons you bring forward tell in favour solely of the Romish Church. Do you think that you can thereby prove mathematically the authority of that church? As the case is far otherwise, why do you wish me to believe that my demonstrations are inspired by the prince of evil spirits, while your own are inspired by God, especially as I see, and as your letter clearly shows, that you have been led to become a devotee of this Church not by your love of G-D but by your fear of hell, the single cause of superstition. Is this your humility, that you trust nothing to yourself, but everything to others, who are condemned by many of their fellow men? Do you set it own to pride and arrogance, that I employ reason and acquiesce in this true Word of G-D, which is in the mind and can never be depraved or corrupted? Cast
page 419 away, this deadly superstition, acknowledge the reason which G-D has given you, and follow that, unless you would be numbered with the brutes. Cease, I say, to call ridiculous errors mysteries, and do not basely confound those things which are unknown to us, or have not yet been discovered, with what is proved to be absurd, like the horrible secrets of this Church of yours, which, in proportion as they are repugnant to right reason, you believe to transcend the understanding {refuge of ignorance}.

But the fundamental principle of the "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus," that Scripture should only be expounded through Scripture, which you so wantonly without any reason proclaim to be false, is not merely assumed, but categorically proved to be true or sound; especially in chapter vii., where also the opinions of adversaries are confuted; see also what is proved at the end of chapter xv. If you will reflect on these things, and also examine the history of the Church {Christian Dogma} (of which I see you are completely ignorant), in order to see how false, in many respects, is Papal tradition, and by what course of events and with what cunning the Pope of Rome six hundred years after Christ obtained supremacy over the  Church, I do not doubt that you will eventually return to your senses. That this result may come to pass I, for your sake, heartily wish. Farewell,  &c.

Signature added.}
Spinoza to Albert Burgh
The Hague, Dec. 1675 

[END] Letter 74 in answer to EL:L73(67)

1:49 (p. 19)  
Moses, Ezra, Jesus, Spinoza, and Einstein were "a light unto the nations" as charged; (add Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and many others; all 'wrestled' with G-D, all were persecuted.

1:50 (p. 19)  From Steven B. Smith's Bk.XIA:104109 — Affirm or deny. 

Letter 21(73)  -   Spinoza to Oldenburg. Nov. or Dec.,1675
Reply to previous Letter 20.}  

Distinguished Sir,—I received on Saturday last your very short letter dated 15th Nov. In it you merely indicate the points in the theological treatise, which have given pain to readers, whereas I had hoped to learn from it, what were the opinions {morals} which militated against the practice of religious virtue, and which you formerly mentioned {Shirley:332362}. However, I will speak on the three subjects on which you desire me to disclose my sentiments, and tell you, first, that my opinion concerning G-D differs widely {New Wine in Old Bottles} from that which is ordinarily defended by modern Christians. For I hold that G-D is of all things the cause immanent, as the phrase is, not transient. I say that all things are {literally} in G-D and move in G-D, thus agreeing with Paul {1 Ep. John 4:13}, and, perhaps, with all the ancient philosophers, though the phraseology may be different; I will even venture to affirm that I agree with all the ancient Hebrews, in so far as one may judge from their traditions, though these are in many ways
corrupted. The supposition of some, that I endeavour to prove in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus the unity of G-D and Nature {Pantheism} (meaning by Nature a certain mass or corporeal matter), is wholly erroneous. {Pantheism is simply awareness that all parts are bound into an organic interdependence for the life of the organism. Think heart-lung interaction.}

As regards miracles, I am of opinion that the revelation of G-D can only be established by the wisdom of the doctrine, not by miracles, or in other words by ignorance. This I have shown at sufficient length in Chapter VI. concerning miracles. I will here only add, that I make this chief distinction between religion and superstition, that the latter is founded on ignorance, the former on knowledge; this, I take it, is the reason why Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world, not by faith, nor by charity, nor by the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, but solely by their opinions, inasmuch as they defend their cause, like everyone else, by miracles, that is by ignorance, which is the source of all malice; thus they turn a faith, page 299 which may be true, into  superstition. ]But I doubt very much whether rulers will ever allow the application of a remedy for this evil.[  [3] Lastly, in order to disclose my opinions on the third point, I will tell you that I do not think it necessary, for salvation {PcM} to know Christ according to the flesh: but with regard to the Eternal Son of God, that is the Eternal Wisdom of G-D, which has manifested itself in all things and especially in the human mind, and above all in Christ Jesus, the case is far otherwise. For without this no one can come to a state of blessedness, inasmuch as it alone teaches, what is true or false, good or evil. And, inasmuch as this wisdom was made especially manifest through Jesus Christ, as I have said, His disciples preached it, in so far as it was revealed to them through Him {as a teacher}, and thus showed that they could rejoice in that spirit of Christ more than the rest of mankind. The doctrines added by certain churches, such  as that G-D took upon Himself human nature, I have expressly said that I do not understand;
in fact, to speak the truth,
they seem to me no less absurd than would a statement, that a circle had taken upon itself the nature of a square. This I think will be sufficient explanation of my opinions concerning the three points mentioned. Whether it will be satisfactory to Christians you will know better than I. {I think not, see Mark Twain's "Little Story."} Farewell.
Signature added.}
Spinoza to Oldenburg
Nov. or Dec.,1675
Oldenburg replies in following Letter 22(74):299.} 

[EndLetter 21(73)

L21(73) Note from Shirley's Bk. XIII:332

page 299
Letter 22(74)Oldenburg to Spinoza. London, 16 Dec.,1675
Reply to previous Letter 21(73):298.}  

[Oldenburg wishes to be enlightened concerning the doctrine of fatalism, of which Spinoza has been accused. He discourses on man's limited intelligence and on the incarnation of the Son of God.]  

As you seem to accuse me of excessive brevity, I will this time avoid the charge by excessive prolixity. You expected, I see, that I should set forth  those  opinions in your writings, which seem to discourage the practice of religious virtue in your readers. I will indicate the matter which especially pains them. You appear to set up a fatalistic necessity for all things and actions; if such is conceded and asserted, people page 300 aver, that the sinews of all laws, of virtue, and of religion, are severed, and that all rewards and punishment {Mark Twain} are vain. Whatsoever can compel, or involves necessity, is held also to excuse; therefore no one, they think, can be without excuse in the sight of God. If we are driven by fate, and all things follow a fixed and inevitable path laid down by the hard hand of necessity, they do not see where punishment can come in {Oldenburg expresses the pedagogical usefulness.}. What wedge can be brought for the untying of this knot, it is very, difficult to say. I should much like to know  and learn what help you can supply in the matter.

As to the opinions which you have kindly disclosed to me on the three points I mentioned, the following inquiries suggest themselves. First, In what sense do you take miracles and ignorance to be synonymous and equivalent terms, as you appear to think in your last letter?

The  bringing back of Lazarus from the dead, and the resurrection from death of Jesus Christ seem to surpass all the power of created nature, and to fall within the scope of divine power only; it would not be a sign of culpable {deserving blame or censure} ignorance, that it was necessary to exceed the limits of finite intelligence confined within certain bounds. But perhaps you do not think it in harmony with the created mind and science, to acknowledge in the uncreated mind  and  supreme Deity a science and power capable of fathoming, and bringing to pass events, whose reason and manner can neither be brought home nor explained to us poor human pigmies? "We are men;" it appears, that  we  must  "think  everything  human  akin  to ourselves."  

Again, when you say that you cannot understand that G-D really took upon Himself human nature, it becomes allowable to ask you, how you understand the texts in the Gospel and the Epistle to the Hebrews, whereof the first says, "The Word was made flesh," John 1:14, and the other, "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham." Heb. 2:16. Moreover, the whole tenor of the Gospel infers, as I think, that the only begotten Son of God, the Word (who both was God and was with God), showed Himself in human nature ] 1Tim 2:5-6 and Mat.20:28 [ , and by His passion the atonement. What you have to say concerning this without impugning the truth of the Gospel and the Christian religion {JBYnote1}, which I think you approve of, I would gladly learn.

I had meant to write more, but am interrupted by friends on a visit, to whom I cannot refuse the duties of courtesy. But what I have already put on paper is enough, and will perhaps weary you in your philosophizing. Farewell, therefore, and believe me to be ever an admirer of your learning and knowledge.

[End] Letter 22(74) - Oldenburg to Spinoza. London, 16 Dec.,1675
Spinoza replies in following Letter 23(75).} 
                                           {Series begins with Letter 19(68):296.} 

page 301
Letter 23(75)  -  Spinoza to Oldenburg. Dec.,1675
Reply to previous Letter 22(74):299.}  

[Spinoza expounds to Oldenburg his views on fate and necessity, discriminates between miracles and ignorance, takes the resurrection of Christ  as spiritual, and deprecates attributing to the sacred writers Western modes of speech.] 

Distinguished Sir,—At last I see, what it was that you begged me not to publish. However, as it forms the chief foundation of everything in the treatise which I intended to bring out, I should like briefly to explain here, in what sense I assert that a fatal necessity presides over all things and actions. G-D, I in no wise subject to fate: I conceive that all things follow with inevitable necessity from the Nature of G-D, in the same way as everyone conceives that it follows from G-D's Nature that G-D understands Himself. This latter consequence all admit to follow necessarily from the Divine Nature, yet no one conceives that G-D is under the compulsion of any fate, but that He understands Himself quite freely, though necessarily.

Further, this inevitable necessity in things does away neither with Divine nor human laws. The principles of morality, whether they receive from G-D Himself the form of laws or institutions, or whether they do not, are still page 302 divine and salutary; whether we receive the good, which flows from virtue and the divine love, as from God in the capacity of a judge, or as {immanently} from the necessity of the Divine Nature, it will in either case be equally desirable; on the other hand, the evils following from wicked actions and passions are not less to be feared because they are necessary consequences. Lastly, in our actions, whether they be necessary or contingent, we are led by hope and fear.  

Men are only without
excuse before G-D, because they are in God's power, as clay {302:J1} is in the hand of the potter, who from the same lump makes vessels, some to honour, some to dishonour {Therefore No praise, no blame}. If you will reflect a little on this, you will, I doubt not, easily be able to reply to any objections which may be urged against my opinion, as many of my friends have already done.

I have taken miracles and ignorance as equivalent terms, because those, who endeavour to establish God's existence and the truth of religion by means of miracles, seek to prove the obscure by what is more obscure and completely unknown, thus introducing a new sort of  argument, the reduction, not to the impossible, as the phrase is, but to ignorance. S<Bk.XIII:338370 - belief in miracles inevitably leads to disbelief in the existence of G-D.<S. But, if I mistake not, I have sufficiently explained my opinion on miracles in the Theologico-Political treatise. I will only add here, that if you will reflect on the facts; that Christ did not appear to the council, nor to Pilate, nor to any unbeliever, but only to the faithful; also that G-D has neither right hand nor left, but is by His essence not in a particular spot, but everywhere; that matter is everywhere the same; that G-D does not manifest himself in the imaginary space supposed to be outside the world; and lastly, that the frame of the human body is kept within due limits solely by the weight of the air; you will readily see that this apparition of Christ is not unlike that wherewith God appeared to Abraham, when the latter saw men whom he invited to dine with him. But, you will say, all the Apostles thoroughly believed, that Christ rose from the dead and really ascended to heaven: I do not deny it. Abraham, too, believed that God had dined with him, and all the Israelites believed that God descended, surrounded page 303 with fire, from heaven to Mount Sinai, and there spoke directly with  them; whereas, these apparitions or revelations, and many others like them, were adapted to the understanding and opinions of those men, to  whom God wished thereby to reveal His will. I therefore conclude, that the resurrection of Christ from the dead was in reality spiritual, and that to the faithful alone, according to their understanding, it was revealed that Christ was endowed with eternity, and had risen from the dead (using dead in the sense in which Christ said, "let the dead bury their dead" (Matt. 8:22 & Luke 9:60), giving by His life and death a matchless example of holiness. Moreover, He to this extent raises his disciples from the dead, in so far as they follow the example of His own life and death. It would not be difficult to explain the whole Gospel doctrine on this hypothesis. Nay, 1 Cor. ch. xv. cannot be explained on any other, nor can Paul's arguments be understood: if we follow the common interpretation, they appear weak and can easily be refuted: not to mention the fact, that Christians interpret spiritually all those doctrines which the Jews accepted literally. l join with you in acknowledging human weakness. But on the other hand, I venture to ask you whether we "human pigmies" possess sufficient knowledge of Nature to be able to lay down the limits of its force and power, or to say that a given thing surpasses that power? No one could go so far without arrogance. We may, therefore, without presumption explain miracles as far as possible by natural causes. When we cannot explain them, nor even prove their impossibility, we may well suspend our judgment about them, and establish religion, as I have said, solely by the wisdom of its doctrines. You think that the texts in John's Gospel and in Hebrews are inconsistent with what I advance, because you measure oriental phrases by the standards of European Speech; though John wrote his gospel in Greek, he wrote it as a Hebrew. {The Greeks took literally what the Hebrews take figuratively.} However this may be, do you believe, when Scripture
says that God manifested Himself in a cloud, or that He dwelt in the tabernacle or the temple, that God actually assumed the nature of a cloud, a tabernacle, or a temple? Yet the utmost that Christ says of Himself is, that He is the Temple page 304 of God John 2:19, because, as I said before, God had specially manifested Himself in Christ. John, wishing to express the same truth more forcibly, said that "the Word  was  made  flesh" {John 1:14}. But I have said enough on the subject. 

[End] Letter 23(75)Spinoza to Oldenburg. Dec.,1675
Oldenburg replies in following Letter 24(77).} 
                                  {Series begins with Letter 19(68):296.}  

Letter 24(77)  -  Oldenburg to Spinoza. London, 14 Jan.,1676
Reply to previous Letter 23(75).}

[Oldenburg returns to the questions of universal necessity, of miracles, and of the literal and allegorical interpretation of Scripture.] 



Again, the history of Christ's passion, death, burial, and resurrection seems to be depicted in such lively and genuine colours, that I venture to appeal to your conscience, whether you can believe them to be allegorical, rather than literal, while preserving your faith in the narrative? The circumstances so clearly stated by the Evangelists seem to urge strongly on our minds, that the history should be understood literally. I have ventured to touch briefly on these points, and I earnestly beg you to pardon me, and answer me as a friend with your usual candour. Mr. Boyle sends you his kind regards. I will, another time, tell you what the Royal Society is doing. Farewell, and preserve me in your affection.

Oldenburg to Spinoza
London, 14 Jan.,1676

[End] Letter 24(77)  -  {Spinoza replies in following Letter 25(78).} 

Letter 25(78)  -   Spinoza to Oldenburg. The Hague, 7 Feb.,1676
Reply to previous Letter 24(77).}  

       To the noble and learned Henry Oldenburg, from B.d.S.

(Spinoza again treats of fatalism. He repeats that he accepts  Christ's  passion, death, and burial literally, but His resurrection spiritually.) 




The passion, death and burial of Christ I accept literally, but his resurrection I understand in an allegorical sense. I do indeed admit that this is related by the Evangelists with such detail that we cannot deny that the Evangelists themselves believed that the body of Christ rose again and ascended to heaven to sit at God's right hand, and that this could also have been seen by unbelievers if they had been present at the places where Christ appeared to the disciples. Nevertheless, without injury to the teaching of the Gospel, they could have been deceived, as was the case with other prophets, examples of which I gave in my last letter. But Paul, to whom Christ also appeared later, rejoices that he knows Christ not after the flesh, but after the spirit
2 Cor 5:16).


[End]  Letter 25(78)  -  Spinoza to Oldenburg.
                                       The Hague, 7 February 1676.

Letter 25A(79)  -  Oldenburg to Spinoza. London, 11 Feb.,1676
                                     { Reply to previous Letter 25. } 

[Oldenburg adduces certain further objections against Spinoza's doctrine of necessity and miracles, and exposes the inconsistency of a partial allegorization of Scripture. ] 

To the most illustrious Master Benedict de Spinoza
Henry Oldenburg sends greetings.




Lastly, where you affirm that Christ's passion, death, and burial are to be taken literally, but His resurrection allegorically, you rely, as far as I can see, on no proof at all {True, Oldenburgh and Spinoza simply have different "world views". One is playing checkers, the other chess; different games, different  paradigms}. Christ's resurrection seems to be delivered in the Gospel as literally as the rest. And on this article of the resurrection the whole Christian religion and its truth rest, and with its removal Christ's mission and heavenly doctrine collapse. It cannot escape you, how Christ, after He was raised from the dead, laboured to convince His disciples of the truth of the Resurrection properly so called. To want to turn all these things into allegories is the same thing, as if one were to busy one's self in plucking up the whole truth of the Gospel history. 

{JBY Note 1Useless Correspondence:


Oldenburg to  Spinoza
Written in London, 11 Feb., 1676.


Spinoza and Christianity  


From Steven B. Smith's Book.XIA — Synthesis, Harbinger, This-worldly.

One answer is that the contrasts between Judaism and Christianity
represent something more than anti-Semitism or Spinoza's desire to seek revenge for his excommunication. They were intended as markers of historical progress. Spinoza sets up the figures of Moses and Jesus to mark the change from an ethic of law and external authority to one of love {need} and individual moral autonomy. Judaism and Christianity are way stations on the road from sacred to secular history. Both are theologically aufgehoben in Spinoza's own dialectical synthesis.  

But Spinoza does more than prepare the reader
for the overcoming of Judaism by Christianity. As I suggested earlier, he prepares the reader for the overcoming of both Judaism and Christianity by the secular democratic state. After depicting Christ as the teacher of a universal rational morality (a kind of Spinoza avant la lettre), he shows how Christianity did not possess the true moral teaching. In particular, he shows that Christianity, not Judaism, became the cause of the persecution and intolerance to which the Treatise takes itself to be the answer. In Spinoza's recasting of sacred history, if Christ takes the place that Maimonides had accorded to Moses, Spinoza now assumes the place that had previously been accorded to Christ. He {Spinoza} is the bringer of a new theologico-political dispensation every bit as far-reaching as the historical religions that he claims to overcome 

From John H. Hick's "Philosophy of Religion"; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; © 1990
        ISBN: 0136626289;
Pages 120, 1, 2 — The Immortality of the Soul {I posit mind=soul.}.
                                                                            {Durant 647, E5:Curley:60613., Britannica.}


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