Abridgement of R. H. M. Elwes's 1883 Introduction to
His Translations of
Spinoza's Books I  &  II
Only links, comments, and endnotes are abridged, not Spinoza's Works. 

Abridged and formatted for an eBook Reader conversion.
E-Book readers see Elwes's Introduction for the latest revision.

Elwes's Introduction is an introduction to his translations
of Spinoza's Works from the Latin to English. It serves as
an insightful biography of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677),
a Jewish-Portuguese-Dutch Philosopher.


1,    The text, scanned from Elwes's "Introduction", Book II:Page v, was written
       in 1883.

2.    Page numbers given refer to Books I or II, except where otherwise noted.

3.    JBY added the Paragraph Numbers and are shown thus [X]:pg.#

4.    Symbols:  
Curley's Book VIII comment or note 
       ]Shirley's Book XIII translation variance, comment, or endnote[ 
         <Parkinson's Book XV endnote> 
       {JBY comment or endnote} 

5.    Elwes's Footnotes, JBY Endnotes, Letters, Bibliography.

6.    Letters 1, 2, 3, 4, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 25A, 42, 49, 73, 74.

7.    The HTML version was abridged and formatted for conversion to an eBook.
       The abridged version is available to be read on various eBook Readers.

8.    This version was edited from "Elwes's Introduction" The unedited file
       has more definitions, much more commentary, many more links, and 
       latest revisions.

9.    Please report errors or suggestions to josephb@yesselman.com.



Original unpopularity of Spinoza's writings, their gradually increasing influence in Germany, France, Holland, and England

Authorities for the life of Spinoza: Colerus,

Birth, 1634, and education of Spinoza

His breach with the synagogue, 1656

Life near Amsterdam and at Rhijnsburg

Friendship with Simon de Vries

Removal to Voorburg and the Hague

Correspondence with Oldenburg, Leibnitz, Tschirnhausen, and

others. Publication of Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

Massacre of the De Witts, 1672. Indignation and danger of Spinoza

Completion of the Ethics, 1674

Later life of Spinoza

Death and burial, February, 1677

Opera Posthuma published 1677

Sketch of Spinoza's philosophy

{Spinoza's Dictum}

{The Foundation Rock upon which Spinoza's philosophy stands: [37].
 Posit: 1D6ONE.}

{Concluding Thought}

Scope of the present work

{The Highest Good is to know G-D. WHY?}


Elwes's Introduction
[1]:v.    A very few years ago the writings of Spinoza were almost unknown in this country. The only authorities to which the English reader could be referred were the brilliant essays of Mr. Froude, (v:1) and Mr. Matthew Arnold, (v:2), the  graphic but somewhat misleading sketch in Lewes's "History of Philosophy," and the unsatisfactory volume of Dr. R. Willis (v:3). But in 1880 Mr. Pollock brought out his most valuable "Spinoza, His Life and Philosophy," (v:4) likely long to remain the standard work on the  subject; Dr. Martineau has followed with a sympathetic and gracefully written "Study of Spinoza;" Professor Knight has edited a volume of Spinozistic Essays by Continental Philosophers; Auerbach's biographical novel (vi:1)  has been translated, and many writers have made contributions to the subject in magazines and reviews.

[2]:vi.    At first sight this stir of tardy recognition may seem less surprising than the preceding apathy, for history can show few figures more remarkable than the solitary thinker of Amsterdam. But the causes which kept Spinoza in comparative obscurity are not very far to seek. Personally he shrank with almost womanly sensitiveness from anything like notoriety: his chief work was withheld till after his death, and then published  anonymously; his treatise on Religion was also put forth in secret, and he disclaims with evident sincerity all desire to found a school, or give his name to a sect.  {Letter 19}

[3]:vi.    Again, the form in which his principal work is cast is such as to repel those dilettante readers, whose suffrage is necessary for a widely-extended reputation; none but genuine students would care to grapple with the serried array of definitions, axioms, and propositions, of which "The Ethics" is composed, while the display of geometric accuracy flatters the careless into supposing, that the whole structure is interdependent, and that, when a single breach {35} has been effected, the entire {34} fabric has been demolished.

[4]:vi.  The matter, no less than the manner, of Spinoza's writings was such as to preclude popularity. He genuinely shocked his contemporaries. Advances {36} in thought are tolerated in proportion as they respond to and, as it were, kindle into flame ideas which are already smouldering obscurely in many minds. A teacher may deepen, modify, transfigure what he finds, but he must not attempt radical reconstruction. In the seventeenth century all men's deepest convictions were inseparably bound up with anthropomorphic notions of the Deity; Spinoza, in attacking these latter and endeavouring to substitute the conception of eternal and necessary law, seemed to be striking at the very roots of moral order: hence with curious  irony his works, which few read and still fewer understood, became  associated  with  notions  of monstrous impiety, and their author, who loved virtue with single-hearted and saintly devotion, was branded as a railer against God and a subverter of morality, whom it was a shame even to speak of. Those from whom juster views might have been expected swelled the popular cry. The Cartesians sought to confirm their own precarious reputation for orthodoxy by emphatic disavowals of their more daring associate. Leibnitz, who had known Spinoza personally, speaks of  him, whether from jealousy or some more avowable motive, in tones of consistent depreciation.

[5]:vii.    The torrent of abuse, which poured forth from the theologians and their allies, served to overwhelm the ethical and metaphysical aspect of Spinoza's teaching. The philosopher was hidden behind the arch-heretic. Throughout almost the whole of the century following  his death, he is spoken of in terms displaying complete misapprehension of his importance and scope. The grossly inaccurate account given by Bayle in the "Dictionnaire Philosophique" was accepted as sufficient.  The only symptom of a following is found in the religious sect of  Hattemists, which based some of its doctrines on an imperfect understanding of the so-called mystic passages in "The  Ethics". The first real recognition came from Lessing, who found in Spinoza a strength and solace he sought in vain elsewhere, though he never accepted the system as a whole. His conversation with Jacobi (1780), a diligent though hostile student of "The Ethics", may be said to mark the beginning of a new epoch in the history of Spinozism. Attention once attracted was never again withdrawn, and received a powerful impulse from Goethe, who more than once confessed his indebtedness to the Ethics, which indeed is abundantly evident throughout his writings. Schleiermacher paid an eloquent tribute to "the holy, the rejected Spinoza." Novalis celebrated him as "the man intoxicated with Deity" (der Gottvertrunkene Mann), and Heine for once forgot to sneer, as he recounted his life. The brilliant novelist, Auerbach, has not only translated his complete works, but has also made his history the subject of a biographical romance. Among German philosophers Kant is, perhaps, the last, who shows no traces of Spinozism. Hegel has declared, that "to be a philosopher one must first be a Spinozist." In recent years a new impulse has been given to the study of the Ethics by their curious harmony with the last results of physiological research.

[6]:viii.    In France Spinoza has till lately been viewed as a disciple and perverter of Descartes. M. Emile Saisset prefixed to his translation of the philosopher's chief works a critical introduction written from this standpoint. Since the scientific study of philosophic systems has begun among the French, M. Paul Janet has written on Spinoza as a link in the chain of the history of thought; a new translation of his complete works has been started, and M. Renan has delivered a discourse on him at the bicentenary of his death celebrated at the Hague.

[7]:viii.  In Holland there has also been a revival of interest in the illustrious Dutch thinker. Professors Van Vloten and Land were mainly instrumental in procuring the erection of a statue to his memory, and are now engaged in a fine edition of his works, of which the first volume has appeared (viii:1). In England, as before said, the interest in Spinoza has till recently been slight. The controversialists of the eighteenth century, with the exception of Toland, passed him by as unworthy of serious study. The first recognition of his true character came probably from Germany through Coleridge, who in his desultory way expressed enthusiastic admiration, and recorded his opinion (in a pencil note to a passage in Schelling), that the Ethics, the Novum Organum, and the Critique of Pure Reason were the three greatest works written since the introduction of Christianity. The influence of Spinoza has been traced by Mr. Pollock in Wordsworth, and it is on record that Shelley not only contemplated but began a translation of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, to be published with a preface by Lord Byron, but the project was cut short by his death. It is said that George Eliot left behind her at her decease a MS. translation of the Ethics.

[8]:ix.    It may strike those who are strangers to Spinoza as curious, that, notwithstanding the severely abstract nature of his method, so many poets and imaginative writers should be found among his adherents. Lessing, Goethe, Heine, Auerbach, Coleridge, Shelley, George Eliot; most of these not only admired him, but studied him deeply. On closer approach the apparent anomaly vanishes. There is about Spinoza a power and a charm, which appeals strongly to the poetic sense. He seems to dwell among heights, which most men see only in far off, momentary glimpses. The world of men is spread out before him, the workings of the human heart lie bared to his gaze, but he does not fall to weeping, or to laughter, or to reviling: his thoughts are ever with the eternal, and something of the beauty and calm of eternal things has passed into his teaching. If we may, as he himself was wont to do, interpret spiritually a Bible legend, we may say of him that, like Moses returning from Sinai, he bears in his presence the witness that he has held communion with the Most High.

[9]:ix.    The main authority for the facts of Spinoza's life is a short biography by Johannes Colerus (Kohler) (ix:1), Lutheran pastor at the Hague, who occupied the lodgings formerly tenanted by the philosopher. The orthodox Christian felt a genuine abhorrence for the doctrines, which he regarded as atheistic, but was honest enough to recognize the stainless purity of their author's character. He sets forth what he has to say with a quaint directness in admirable keeping with the outward  simplicity of the life he depicts.

[10]:x.    Further authentic information is obtainable from passing notices in the works of Leibnitz, and from Spinoza's published correspondence, though the editors of the latter have suppressed all that appeared to them of merely personal interest. There is also a biography attributed to Lucas, physician at the Hague (1712), but this is merely a confused  panegyric, and is often at variance with more trustworthy records. Additional details may be gleaned from Bayle's; hostile and inaccurate article in the "Dictionnaire Philosophique;" from S. Kortholt's preface to the second edition (1700) of his father's book "De tribus impostoribus magnis:" and, lastly, from the recollections of Colonel Stoupe (1673), an officer in the Swiss service, who had met the philosopher at Utrecht, but does not contribute much to our knowledge.

[11]:x.    Baruch de Spinoza was born in Amsterdam Nov. 24, 1634?. His parents were Portuguese, or possibly Spanish Jews, who had sought a refuge in the Netherlands from the rigours of the Inquisition in the Peninsula. Though nothing positive is known of them, they appear to have been in easy circumstances, and certainly bestowed on their  only son—their other two children being girls—a thorough education according to the notions of their time and sect. At the Jewish High School, under the guidance of Morteira, a learned Talmudist, and possibly of the brilliant Manasseh Ben Israel, who afterwards (1655) was employed to petition from Cromwell the readmission of the Jews to England, the young Spinoza was instructed  in the learning of the Hebrews, the mysteries of the Talmud and the Cabbala, the text of the {Hebrew Bible}, and the commentaries of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides. Readers of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus will be able to appreciate the use made of this early training. Besides such severer studies, Spinoza was, in obedience to Rabbinical tradition, made acquainted with a manual trade, that of lens polishing, and gained a knowledge of French, Italian, and German; Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew were almost his native tongues, but curiously enough, as we learn from one of his lately discovered letters, (xi:1) he wrote Dutch with difficulty. Latin was not included in the Jewish curriculum, being tainted with the suspicion of heterodoxy, but Spinoza, feeling probably that it was the key to much of the world's best knowledge, set himself to learn it (xi:2); first, with the aid of a German master, afterwards at the house of Francis Van den Ende, a physician. It is probably from the latter that he gained the sound knowledge of physical science, which so largely leavened his philosophy; and, no doubt, he at this time began the study of Descartes, whose reputation towered above the learned world of the period.

[12]:xi.    Colerus relates that Van den Ende had a daughter, Clara Maria, who instructed her father's pupils in Latin and music during his absence. "She was none of the most beautiful, but she had a great deal of wit," and as the story runs displayed her sagacity by rejecting the proffered love of Spinoza for the sake of his fellow-pupil Kerkering, who was able to enhance his attractions by the gift of a costly pearl necklace. It is certain that Van den Ende's daughter and Kerkering were married in 1671, but the tradition of the previous love affair accords ill with ascertained dates. Clara Maria was only seven years old when Spinoza left her father's house, and sixteen when he left the neighbourhood.

[13]:xii.   Meanwhile the brilliant Jewish student was overtaken by that mental crisis, which has come over so many lesser men before and since. The creed of his fathers was found unequal to the strain of his own wider knowledge and changed spiritual needs. The Hebrew faith with its immemorial antiquity, its unbroken traditions, its myriads of martyrs, could appeal to an authority which no other religion has equalled, and Spinoza, as we know from a passage in one of his letters (xii:1), felt the claim to the full. We may be sure that the gentle and reserved youth was in no haste to obtrude his altered views, but the time arrived when they could no longer be  withhonesty concealed. The Jewish doctors were exasperated at the defection of their most promising pupil, and endeavoured to retain him in their communion by the offer of a yearly pension of 1,000 florins. Such overtures were of course rejected. Sterner measures were then resorted to.It is even related, on excellent authority, that Spinoza's life was attempted as he was coming out of the Portuguese synagogue. Be this as it may, he fled from Amsterdam, and was (1656) formally excommunicated and anathematized according to the rites of the Jewish church {sic}.

[14]:xii.    Thus isolated from his kindred, he sought more congenial society among the dissenting community of Collegiants, a body of men who without priests or set forms of worship carried out the precepts of simple piety. He passed some time in the house of one of that body, not far from Amsterdam, on the Ouwerkerk road, and in 1660 or the following year removed with his friend to the head quarters of the sect at Rhijnsburg, near Leyden, where the memory of his sojourn is still preserved in the name "Spinoza Lane." His separation from Judaism was marked by his substituting for his name Baruch the Latin equivalent Benedict, but he never received baptism or formally joined any Christian sect. Only once again does his family come into the record of his life. On the death of his father, his sisters endeavoured to deprive him of his share of the inheritance on the ground that he was an outcast and heretic. Spinoza resisted their claim by law, but on gaining his suit yielded up to them all they had demanded except one bed.

[15]:xiii.    Skill in polishing lenses gave him sufficient money for his scanty needs, and he acquired a reputation as an optician before he became known as a philosopher. It was in this capacity that he was consulted by Leibnitz (xiii:1). His only contribution to the science was a short treatise on the rainbow, printed posthumously in 1687. This was long regarded as lost, but has, in our own time, been recovered and reprinted by Dr. Van Vloten.

[16]:xiii.   Spinoza also drew, for amusement, portraits of his friends with ink or charcoal. Colerus possessed "a whole book of such draughts, amongst which there were some heads of several considerable persons, who were known to him, or had occasion to visit him," and also a portrait of the philosopher himself in the costume of Masaniello.

[17]:xiii.    So remarkable a man could hardly remain obscure, and we have no reason to  suppose that Spinoza shrank from social intercourse. Though in the last years of his life his habits were somewhat solitary, this may be set down to failing health, poverty, and the pressure of uncompleted work. He was never a professed ascetic, and probably, in the earlier years of his separation from Judaism, was the centre of an admiring and affectionate circle of friends. In  his letters he frequently states that visitors leave him no time for correspondence, and the tone, in which he was addressed by comparative strangers, shows that he enjoyed considerable reputation and respect. Before the appearance of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, he  had published nothing which could shock the susceptibilities of Christians, and he was known to be a complete master of Cartesianism then regarded as the consummation and crown of learning. It is recorded that a society of young men used to hold meetings in Amsterdam for the discussion of philosophical problems, and that Spinoza contributed papers as material for their debates (xiv:1). Possibly the MS. treatise "On God, Man, and his Blessedness," which has been re-discovered in two Dutch copies during our own time, may be referred to this period.  It is of no philosophic value compared with the Ethics, but is interesting historically as throwing light on the growth of Spinoza's mind and his early relations to Cartesianism.

[18]:xiv.    Oblivion has long since settled down over this little band of questioners, but a touching record has been preserved of one of their number, Simon de Vries, who figures in Spinoza's correspondence. He had often, we are told, wished to bestow gifts of money on his friend and master, but these had always been declined. During the illness which preceded his early death, he expressed a desire to make the philosopher his heir. This again was declined, and he was prevailed on by Spinoza to reduce the bequest to a small annuity, and to leave the bulk of his property to his family. When he had passed away his brother fixed the pension at 600 florins, but Spinoza declared the sum excessive, and refused to accept more than 300 florins, which were punctually paid him till his death.

[19]:xv.    Besides this instruction by correspondence, for which he seems to have demanded no payment ("mischief," as one of his biographers puts it, "could be had from him for nothing"), Spinoza at least in one instance received into his house a private pupil (xv:1) generally identified with one Albert Burgh, who became a convert to Rome in 1675, and took that occasion to admonish his ex-tutor in a strain of contemptuous pity (xv:2). Probably to this youth were dictated "The principles of Cartesianism geometrically demonstrated," which Spinoza was induced by his friends to publish, with the addition of some metaphysical reflections, in 1663 (xv:3). Lewis Meyer, a physician of Amsterdam, and one of Spinoza's intimates, saw the book through the press, and supplied a preface. Its author does not appear to have attached any importance to the treatise, which he regarded merely as likely to pave the way for the reception of more original  work. It is interesting as an example of the method afterwards employed in the Ethics, used to support propositions not accepted by their expounder. It also shows that Spinoza thoroughly understood the system he rejected.

[20]:xv.    In the same year the philosopher removed from Rhijnsburg to Voorburg, a suburb of the  Hague, and in 1670 to the Hague itself, where he  lived till his death in 1677, lodging first in the house (afterwards tenanted by Colerus) of the widow Van Velden, and subsequently with Van der Spijk, a  painter. He was very likely led to leave Rhijnsburg by his increasing reputation and a desire for educated  society. By this time he was well known in Holland, and counted among his friends, John de Witt, who is said to have consulted him on affairs of state. Nor was his fame confined to his native country. Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the newly-established Royal Society of England, had visited him at Rhijnsburg, introduced possibly by Huyghens, and had invited him to carry on a correspondence (xvi:1), in terms of affectionate intimacy. Oldenburg was rather active-minded than able, never really understood or sympathized with Spinoza's standpoint, and was thoroughly shocked (xvi:2) at the appearance of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, {Letter 19}, but he was the intimate friend of Robert Boyle, and kept his correspondent acquainted with the progress of science in England. Later on (1671),  Leibnitz consulted Spinoza on a question of practical optics (xvi:3), and in 1676, Ludwig von Tschirnhausen, a Bohemian nobleman, known in the history of mathematical  science, contributed some pertinent criticisms on the Ethics, then circulated in MS (xvi:4).

[21]:xvi.    Amusing testimonies to Spinoza's reputation are afforded by the volunteered effusions of Blyenbergh (xvi:5), and the artless questionings of the believer in ghosts (xvi:6).

[22]:xvi    In 1670, the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was published anonymously, with the name of a fictitious printer at Hamburg. It naturally produced a storm of angry controversy. It was, in 1674, formally prohibited by the States-General, and, as a matter of course, was placed on the Index by the Romish Church. Perhaps few books have been more often "refuted," or less seriously damaged by the ordeal. Its author displayed his disinclination to disturb the faith of the unlearned by preventing during his lifetime the appearance of the book in the vernacular. {Letter 19}

[23]:xvii.    In 1672, men's thoughts were for a time diverted from theological controversy by the French invasion of the Netherlands, and the consequent outbreak of domestic faction. The shameful massacre of the brothers De Witt by an infatuated mob brought Spinoza into close and painful contact with the passions seething round him. For once his philosophic calm was broken: he was only by force prevented from rushing forth into the streets at the peril of his life, and proclaiming his abhorrence of the crime.

[24]:xvii.    Shortly afterwards, when the head-quarters of the French army were at Utrecht, Spinoza was sent for by the Prince de Conde, who wished to make his acquaintance. On his arrival at the camp, however, he found that the Prince was absent; and, after waiting a few days, returned home without having seen him. The philosopher's French entertainers held out hopes of a pension from Louis XIV., if a book were dedicated to that monarch; but these overtures were declined.

[25]:xvii.    On his arrival at the Hague, Spinoza was exposed to considerable  danger from the excited populace, who suspected him of being a spy. The calm, which had failed him on the murder of his friend, remained unruffled by the peril threatening himself. He told his landlord, who was in dread of the house being sacked, that, if the mob showed any signs of violence, he would go out and speak to them in person, though they should serve him as they had served the unhappy De Witts. "I am a good republican," he Added, "and have never had any aim but the welfare and good of the State."

[26]:xvii.    In 1673, Spinoza was offered by the Elector Palatine, Charles Lewis (xviii:1), a professorship of philosophy at Heidelberg, but declined it (xviii:2), on the plea that teaching would interfere with his original work, and that doctrinal restrictions, however slight, would prove irksome.

[27]:xviii.    In the following year {1674}, the Ethics were finished and circulated in MS. among their author's friends. Spinoza made a journey to Amsterdam for the purpose of publishing them, but changed his intention on learning that they would probably meet with a stormy reception {Letters 19 & 20}. Perhaps failing health strengthened his natural desire for peace, and considerations of personal renown never had any weight with him.

[28]:xviii.    To this closing period belong the details as to Spinoza's manner of life collected by Colerus. They are best given in the biographer's simple words, as rendered in the contemporary English version: "It is scarce credible how sober and frugal he was. Not that he was reduced to so great a poverty, as not to be able to spend more,  if he had been willing. He had friends enough, who offered him their purses, and all manner of assistance; but he was naturally very sober, and would be satisfied with little." His food apparently cost him but a few pence a day, and he drank hardly any wine. "He was often invited to eat with his friends, but chose rather to live upon what he had at home, though it were never so little, than to sit down to a good table at the expense of another man. . . He was very careful to cast up his accounts every quarter; which he did, that he might spend neither more nor less than what he could spend every year. And he would say sometimes to the people of the house, that he was like the serpent, who forms a circle with his tail in his mouth, to denote that he had nothing left at the year's end. He added, that he designed to lay up no more money than what would be necessary for him to have a decent burying. He was of a middle size; he had good features in his face, the skin somewhat black; black curled hair; long eyebrows, and of the same colour, so that one might easily know by his looks that he was descended from Portuguese Jews. . . If he was very frugal in his way of living, his conversation was also very sweet and easy. He knew admirably well how to be master of his passions: he was never seen very melancholy, nor very merry. . . He was besides very courteous and obliging. He would very often discourse with his landlady, especially when she lay in, and with the people of the house, when they happened to be sick or afflicted: he never failed, then, to comfort them, and exhort them to bear with patience those evils which God assigned to them as a lot. He put the children in mind of going often to church, and taught them to be obedient and dutiful to their parents. When the people of the house came from church, he would often ask them what they, had learned, and what they remembered of the sermon. He had a great esteem for Dr. Cordes, my predecessor, who was a learned and good-natured man, and of an exemplary life, which gave occasion to Spinoza to praise him very often: nay, he went sometimes to hear him preach.. . . It happened one day that his landlady asked him whether he believed she could be saved in the religion she professed. He answered: "Your religion is a very good one; you need not look for another, nor doubt that you may be saved in it, provided, whilst you apply yourself to piety, you live at the same time a peaceable and quiet life."        { Mark Twain }

[29]:xix.    His amusements were very simple: talking on ordinary matters with the people of the house; smoking now and again a pipe of tobacco; watching the habits and quarrels of insects; making observations with a microscope—such were his pastimes in the hours which he could spare from his philosophy. But the greater part of his day was taken up with severe mental work in his own room. Sometimes he would become so absorbed, that he would remain alone for two or three days together, his meals being carried up to him.

[30]:xx.    Spinoza had never been robust, and had for more than twenty years been suffering from phthisis, a malady which, at any rate in those days, never allowed its victims to escape. The end came quite suddenly and quietly, in February, 1677. On Saturday, the 20th,  after the landlord and his wife had returned from church, Spinoza spent some time with them in conversation, and smoked a pipe of tobacco, but  went to bed early. Apparently, he had previously sent for his friend and physician, Lewis Meyer, who arrived on Sunday morning. On the 21st, Spinoza, came down as usual, and partook of some food at the mid-day meal. In the afternoon, the physician stayed alone with his patient, the rest going to church. But when the landlord and his wife returned, they were startled with the news that the philosopher had expired about three o'clock. Lewis Meyer returned to Amsterdam that same evening.

[31]:xx.    Thus passed away all that was mortal of Spinoza. If we have read his character aright, his last hours were comforted with the thought, not  so much that he had raised for himself an imperishable monument, as that he had pointed out to mankind a sure path to happiness and peace. Perhaps, with this glorious vision, there mingled the more tender feeling, that, among the simple folk with whom he lived, his memory would for a few brief years be cherished with reverence and love.

[32]:xx.    The funeral took place on the 25th February, "being attended by many illustrious persons, and followed by six coaches." The estate left behind him by the philosopher was very scanty. Rebekah de Spinoza, sister of the deceased, put in a claim as his heir; but abandoned it on finding that, after the payment of expenses, little or nothing would remain.

[33]:xxi    The  MSS., which were found in Spinoza's desk, were, in accordance with his wishes, forwarded to John Rieuwertz, a publisher of Amsterdam, and were that same year brought out by Lewis Meyer, and another of the philosopher's friends, under the title, "B. D. S. Opera Posthuma." They consisted of the Ethics, a selection of Letters, a compendium of Hebrew grammar, and two uncompleted treatises, one on politics, the other (styled "An Essay on the Improvement of the Understanding,") on logical method. The last-named had been begun several years previously, but had apparently been added to from time to time. It develops some of the doctrines indicated in the Ethics, and serves in some sort as an introduction to the larger work.

[34]:xxi.    In considering Spinoza's system of philosophy, it must not be forgotten that the problem of the universe seemed much simpler in his day {1670's}, than it does in our own {1880's}. Men had not then recognized, that knowledge is "a world whose margin fades for ever and for ever as we move." They believed that truth was something definite, which might be grasped by the aid of a clear head, diligence, and a sound method. Hence a tone of confidence breathed through their inquiries, which has since died away, and a completeness was aimed at, which is now seen to be unattainable. But the products of human thought are often valuable in ways undreamt of by those who fashioned them, and long after their original use has become obsolete. A system, obviously inadequate and defective as a whole, may yet enshrine ideas which the world is the richer for possessing {and evolving}.

[35]:xxi.    This distinction between the framework and the central thoughts is especially necessary in the study of  Spinoza; for the form in which his work is cast would seem to lay stress on their interdependence. It has often been said, that the geometrical method was adopted, because it was believed to insure absolute freedom from error. But examination shows this to be a misconception. Spinoza, who had purged his mind of so many illusions, can hardly have succumbed to the notion, that his Ethics was a flawless mass of irrefragable truth. He adopted his method because he believed, that he thus reduced argument to its simplest terms, and laid himself least open to the reductions of rhetoric or passion. "It is the part of a wise man," he says, "not to bewail nor to deride, but to understand." Human nature obeys fixed laws no less than do the figures of geometry. "I will, therefore, write about human beings, as though I were concerned with lines, and planes, and solids."

[36]:xxii.    As no system is entirely true, so also no system is entirely original. Each must in great measure be the recombination of elements supplied by its predecessors. Spinozism forms no exception to this rule; many of its leading conceptions may be traced in the writings of Jewish Rabbis and of Descartes.

[37]:xxii.   The biography of the philosopher supplies us in some sort with the genesis of his system. His youth had been passed in the study of Hebrew learning {Endnote [37]}, of metaphysical speculations on the nature of the Deity. He was then confronted with the scientific aspect of the world as revealed by Descartes. At first the two visions seemed antagonistic, but, as he gazed, their outlines blended and commingled {synthesized} he found himself in the presence not of two, but of ONE, {James}; the universe unfolded itself to him as the necessary result of the Perfect and Eternal G-D {ONE1D6}.

{From "Jews, God and History", ISBN 0451628667, Pg. 339. Thanks to Tim Bagwell.}

The nineteenth-century Jewish Enlightenment was like a beam of light refracted through a prism into a spectral band of brilliant intellectual colors spread across Western Europe. The prism through which Jewish thought was refracted was a Jew born in Amsterdam in 1632, a Jew so modern in his thinking that the second half of the twentieth century has not yet caught up with him. Excommunicated by the Jews in the seventeenth century, abhorred by the Christians in the eighteenth century, acknowledged great in the nineteenth century, Baruch Spinoza will perhaps not be fully understood even in the twenty-first century. But perhaps by then Spinoza's philosophy will have become the basis of a world religion for neomodern man.}

[38]:xxii.    Other influences, no doubt, played a part in shaping his convictions; we know, for instance, that he was a student of Bacon and of Hobbes, and almost certainly of Giordano Bruno, but these two elements, the Jewish and the Cartesian, are the main sources of his system, though it cannot properly be called the mere development of either. From Descartes, as Mr. Pollock points out, he derived his notions of physical science and his doctrine of the conservation of motion.

[39]:xxiii.    In the fragment on the Improvement of the Understanding, Spinoza sets forth the causes which prompted him to turn to philosophy (xxiii:1). It is worthy of note that they are not speculative but practical. He did not seek, like Descartes, "to walk with certainty," but to find a happiness {better Peace-of-Mind}, beyond the reach of change for himself and his fellow men. With a fervour that reminds one of Christian fleeing from the City of Destruction, he dilates on the vanity of men's ordinary ambitions, riches, fame, and the pleasures of sense, and on the necessity of looking for some more worthy object for their desires. Such an object he finds in the knowledge of truth, as obtainable through clear and distinct ideas, bearing in themselves the evidence of their own veracity.

[40]:xxiii.    Spinoza conceived as a vast unity all existence actual and possible; indeed, between actual and possible he recognizes no distinction, for, if a thing does not exist, there must be some cause which prevents its existing, or in other words renders it impossible. This unity he terms indifferently Substance or G-D, and the first part of the Ethics is devoted to expounding its Nature.

[41]:xxiii.    Being the sum of existence, it is necessarily infinite (for there is nothing external to itself to make it finite), and it can be the cause of an infinite number of results. It must necessarily operate in absolute freedom, for there is nothing by which it can be controlled; but none the less necessarily it must operate in accordance with eternal and immutable laws, fulfilling the perfection of its own Nature.

[42]:xxiii.    Substance consists in, or rather displays itself through an infinite number of Attributes, but of these only two, Extension and Thought, are knowable by us; therefore, the rest may be left out of account in our inquiries. These Attributes are not different things, but different aspects of the same thing (Spinoza does not make it clear, whether the difference is intrinsic or due to the percipient); thus Extension and Thought are not parallel and interacting, but identical, and both acting in one order and connection. Hence all questions of the dependence of mind on body, or body on mind, are done away with at a stroke. Every manifestation of either is but a manifestation of the other, seen under a different aspect.

[43]:xxiv.    Attributes are again subdivided, or rather display themselves through an infinite number of Modes; some eternal and universal in respect of each Attribute (such as motion and the sum of all psychical facts); others having no eternal and necessary existence, but acting and reacting on one another in ceaseless flux, according to fixed and definite laws. These latter have been compared in relation to their Attributes to waves in relation to the sea; or again they may be likened to the myriad hues which play over the iridescent surface of a bubble; each is the necessary result of that which went before, and is the necessary precursor of that which will come after; all are modifications of the underlying film. The phenomenal world is made up of an infinite number of these Modes. It is manifest that the Modes of one Attribute cannot be acted upon by the Modes of another Attribute, for each may be expressed in terms of the other; within the limits of each Attribute the variation in the Modes follows an absolutely necessary order. When the first is given, the rest follow as inevitably, as from the nature of a triangle it follows, that its three angles are equal to two  right angles. Nature is uniform, and no infringement {miracle} of her laws is conceivable without a reduction to chaos.

[44]:xxiv.    Hence it follows, that a thing can only be called contingent in relation to our knowledge. To an inflnite intelligence such a term would be unmeaning.

[45]:xxv.    Hence also it follows, that the world cannot have been created for any purpose other than that which it fulfils by being what it is. To say that it has been created for the good of man, or for any similar end, is to indulge in grotesque anthropomorphism.

[46]:xxv.    Among the Modes of thought may be reckoned the human mind, among the Modes of extension may be reckoned the human body; taken together they constitute the Mode man.

[47]:xxv.    The nature of mind forms the subject of the second part of the Ethics. Man's mind is the idea of man's body, the consciousness of bodily states. Now bodily states are the result, not only of the body itself, but also of all things affecting the body; hence the human mind takes cognizance, not only of the human body, but also of the external world, in so far as it affects the human body. Its capacity for varied perceptions is in proportion to the body's capacity for receiving impressions.

[48]:xxv.    The succession of ideas of bodily states cannot be arbitrarily controlled by the mind taken as a power apart, though the mind, as the aggregate of past states, may be a more or less important factor in the direction of its course. We can, in popular phrase, direct our thoughts at will, but the will {Mark Twain}, which we speak of as spontaneous, is really determined by laws as fxed and necessary, as those which regulate the properties of a triangle or a circle. The illusion of freedom, in the sense of uncaused volition, results from the fact, that men are conscious of their actions, but unconscious of the causes whereby those actions have been determined. The chain of causes becomes, so to speak, incandescent at a particular point, and men assume that only at that point does it start into existence. They ignore the links which still remain in obscurity.

[49]:xxvi.    If mind be simply, the mirror of bodily states, how can we account for memory? When the mind has been affected by two things in close conjunction, the recurrence of one re-awakens into life the idea of the other. To take an illustration, mind is like a traveller revisiting his former home, for whom each feature of the landscape recalls associations of the past. From the interplay, of associations are woven memory and imagination.

[50]:xxvi.    Ideas may be either adequate or inadequate, in other words either distinct or confused; both kinds are subject to the law of causation. Falsity is merely a negative conception. All adequate ideas are necessarily true, and bear in themselves the evidence of their own veracity. The mind accurately reflects existence, and if an idea be due to the mental association of two different factors, the joining, so to speak, may, with due care, be discerned. General notions and abstract terms arise from the incapacity of the mind to retain in completeness more than a certain number of mental images; it therefore groups together points of resemblance, and considers the abstractions thus formed as units.

[51]:xxvi.    There are three kinds of knowledge: opinion, rational knowledge, and  intuitive knowledge. The first alone is the cause of error; the second consists in adequate ideas of particular properties of things, and in general notions; the third proceeds from an adequate idea of some attribute of G-D to the adequate knowledge of particular things.

[52]:xxvi.    The reason does not regard things as contingent, but as necessary, considering them under the form of eternity, as part of the Nature of G-D. The will has no existence apart from particular acts of volition, and since acts of volition are ideas, the will is identical with the understanding.

[53]:xxvi.    The third part of the Ethics is devoted to the consideration of the emotions.

[54]:xxvi.    In so far as it has adequate ideas, i.e., is purely rational, the mind maybe said to be active; in so far as it has inadequate ideas, it is passive, and therefore subject to emotions.

[55]:xxvii.    Nothing can be destroyed from within, for all change must come from without. In other words, everything endeavours to persist in its own being. This endeavour must not be associated with the "struggle for existence" familiar to students of evolutionary theories, though the suggestion is tempting; it is simply the result of a thing being what it is. When it is spoken of in reference to the human mind only, it is equivalent to the will; in reference to the whole man, it may be called appetite. Appetite is thus identified with life; desire is defined as appetite, with consciousness thereof. All objects of our desire owe their choice-worthiness simply to the fact that we desire them: we do not desire a thing, because it is intrinsically good, but we deem a thing good, because we desire it. Every thing which adds to the bodily or mental powers of activity is pleasure; everything which detracts from them is pain.

[56]:xxvii.    From these three fundamentals—desire, pleasure, pain—Spinoza deduces the entire list of human emotions. Love is pleasure, accompanied by the idea of an external cause; hatred is pain, accompanied by the idea of an external cause. Pleasure or pain may be excited by anything, incidentally, if not directly. There is no need to proceed further with the working out of the theory, but we may remark, in passing, the extraordinary fineness of perception and sureness of touch, with which it is accomplished; here, if nowhere else, Spinoza remains unsurpassed (xxvii:1). Almost all the emotions arise from the passive condition of the mind, but there is also a pleasure arising from the mind's contemplation of its own power. This is the source of virtue, and is purely active.

[57]:xxviii.    In the fourth part of the Ethics, Spinoza treats of man in so far as he is subject to the emotions, prefixing a few remarks on the meaning of the terms perfect and imperfect, good and evil. A thing can only be called perfect in reference to the known intention of its author. We style "good" that which we know with certainty to be useful to us: we style "evil" that which we know will hinder us in the attainment of good. By, "useful," we mean that which will aid us to approach gradually the ideal we have set before ourselves. Man, being a part only of Nature, must be subject to emotions, because he must encounter circumstances of which he is not the sole and sufficient cause. Emotion can only be conquered by another emotion stronger than itself, hence knowledge will only lift us above the sway of  passions, in so far as it is itself "touched with emotion." Every man necessarily, and therefore rightly, seeks his own interest, which is  thus identical with virtue; but his own interest does not lie in selfishness, for man is always in need of external help, and nothing is more useful to him than his fellow-men; hence individual well-being is best promoted by harmonious social effort. The reasonable man will desire nothing for himself, which he does not desire for other men; therefore he will be just, faithful, and honourable.

[58]:xxviii.    The code of morals worked out on these lines bears many resemblances to Stoicism, though it is improbable that Spinoza was consciously imitating. The doctrine that rational emotion, rather than pure reason, is necessary for subduing the evil passions, is entirely his own.

[59]:xxviii.    The means whereby man may gain mastery over his passions, are set forth in the first portion of the fifth part of the Ethics. They depend on the definition of passion as a confused idea. As soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of a passion, it changes its character, and ceases to be a passion. Now it is possible, with due care, to form a distinct idea of every bodily state; hence a true knowledge of the passions is the best remedy against them. While we contemplate the world as a result of the perfect Nature of G-D, a feeling of joy will arise in our hearts, accompanied by the idea of G-D as its cause. This is the intellectual love of G-D, which is the highest happiness man can know. It seeks for no special love from G-D in return, for such would imply a change in the Nature of the Deity. It rises above all fear of change through envy or jealousy, and increases in proportion as it is seen to be participated in by our fellow-men.

[60]:xxix.   The concluding propositions of the Ethics have given rise to more controversy than any other part of the system. Some critics have maintained that Spinoza is indulging in vague generalities without any definite meaning, others have supposed that the language is intentionally obscure. Others, again, see in them a doctrine of personal immortality, and, taking them in conjunction with the somewhat transcendental form of the expressions concerning the love of G-D, have claimed the author of the Ethics as a Mystic. All these suggestions are reductions to the absurd, the last not least so. Spinoza may have been not unwilling to show that his creed could be expressed in exalted language as well as the current theology, but his "intellectual love" has no more in common with the ecstatic enthusiasm of cloistered saints, than his "G-D" has in common  with the Divinity of Romanist peasants, or his "eternity" with the paradise of Mahomet. But to return to the doctrine (xxix:1) in dispute {xxix:1A}. "The human mind," says Spinoza, "cannot be wholly destroyed with the body, but somewhat of it remains, which is eternal." The eternity thus predicated cannot mean indefinite persistence in time, for eternity is not commensurable with time. It must mean some special kind of existence; it is, in fact, defined as a mode of thinking. Now, the mind consists of adequate and inadequate ideas; in so far as it is composed of the former, it is part of the infinite mind of G-D, which broods, as it were, over the extended universe as its expression in terms of thought. As such, it is necessarily eternal, and, since knowledge implies self-consciousness, it knows that it is so. Inadequate ideas will pass away with the body, because they are the result of conditions, which are merely temporary, and inseparably connected with the body, but adequate ideas will not pass away, inasmuch as they are part of the mind of the Eternal. Knowledge of the third or intuitive kind is the source of our highest perfection and blessedness; even as it forms part of the infinite mind of G-D, so also does the joy with which it is accompanied—the intellectual love of G-D—form part of the infinite intellectual love, wherewith G-D regards Himself.

[61]:xxx.    Spinoza concludes with the admonition, that morality rests on a basis quite independent of the acceptance of the mind's Eternity. Virtue is its own reward, and needs no other. This doctrine, which appears, as it were, perfunctorily in so many systems of morals, is by Spinoza insisted on with almost passionate earnestness; few things seem to have moved him to more scornful denial than the popular creed, that supernatural rewards and punishments are necessary as incentives to virtue. "I see in what mud this man sticks," he exclaims in answer to some such statement. "He is one of those who would follow after his own lusts, if he were not restrained by the fear of hell. He abstains from evil actions and fulfils God's commands like a slave against his will, and for his bondage he expects to be rewarded by God with gifts far more to his taste than Divine love, (Letter 49:[3]"and greater in porportion to his dislike to goodness.") and great in proportion to his original dislike of virtue." Again, at the close of the Ethics:269, he draws an ironical picture of the pious coming before God at the judgment, and looking to be endowed with incalculable blessings in recompense for the grievous burden of their piety. For him, who is truly wise, Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself. "And though the way thereto be steep, yet it may be found—all things excellent are as difficult, as they are rare."

[62]:xxxi.    Such, in rough outline, is the philosophy of Spinoza; few systems have been more variously interpreted. Its author has been reviled or exalted as Atheist, Pantheist, Monotheist, Materialist, Mystic, in fact, under almost every name in the philosophic vocabulary. But such off-hand classification is based on hasty reading of isolated passages, rather than on sound knowledge of the whole. We shall act more wisely, and more in the spirit of the master, if, as Professor Land advises, "we call him simply Spinoza, and endeavour to learn from himself what he sought and what he found."

[63]:xxxi.    The two remaining works, translated in these volumes {Books 1 & 2}, may be yet more briefly considered. They present no special difficulties, and are easily read in their entirety.

[64]:xxxi.    The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus:257 is an eloquent plea for religious liberty. True religion is shown to consist in the practice of simple piety, and to be quite independent of philosophical speculations. The elaborate systems of dogmas framed by theologians are based on superstition, resulting from fear.

[65]:xxxi.    The Bible is examined by a method, which anticipates in great measure the procedure of modern rationalists {1880's}, and the theory of its verbal inspiration is shown to be untenable. The Hebrew prophets were distinguished not by superior wisdom, but by superior virtue, and they set forth their higher moral ideals in language, which they thought would best commend it to the multitude whom they addressed. For anthropomorphic notions of the Deity as a heavenly King and Judge, who displays His power by miraculous interventions, is substituted the conception set forth in the Ethics:62 of an Infinite Being, fulfilling in  the uniformity of natural law the perfection of His own Nature. Men's thoughts cannot really be constrained by commands; therefore, it is wisest, so long as their actions conform to morality, to allow them absolute liberty to think what they like, and say what they think.

[66]:xxxii.    The Political Treatise was the latest work of Spinoza's life, and remains unfinished {Letter (84):357}. Though it bears  abundant evidence of the influence of Hobbes, it differs from him in several important points. The theory of sovereignty is the same in both writers, but Spinoza introduces considerable qualifications. Supreme power is ideally absolute, but its rights must, in practice, be limited by the endurance of its subjects. Thus governments are founded on the common consent, and for the convenience of the governed, who are, in the last resort, the arbiters of their continuance.

[67]:xxxii.    Spinoza, like Hobbes, peremptorily sets aside all claims of religious organizations to act independently of, or as superior to the civil power. {Where there are multiple Religions but not where there is a Universal Religion.} Both reject as outside the sphere of practical politics the case of a special revelation to an individual. In all matters affecting conduct the State must be supreme.

[68]:xxxii.    It remains to say a few words about the present version. I alone am responsible for the contents of these volumes, with the exception of the Political Treatise, which has been translated for me by my friend Mr. A. H. Gosset, Fellow of New College, Oxford, who has also, in my absence from England, kindly seen the work through the press. I have throughout followed Bruder's {1843 Latin} text (xxxiii:1) {xxxiii:J4, xxxiii:J5}, correcting a few obvious misprints. The additional letters given in Professor Van Vloten's Supplement (xxxiii:2), have been inserted in their due order.

[69]:xxxiii.    This may claim to be the first version (xxxiii:3) of Spinoza's works offered to the English reader; for, though Dr. R. Wiliss has gone over most of the ground before, he laboured under the disadvantages of a very imperfect acquaintance with Latin, and very loose notions of accuracy. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus xxxiii:J6 had been previously translated in 1689. Mr. Pollock describes this early version as "pretty accurate, but of no great literary merit."

[70]:xxxiii.    Whatever my own shortcomings, I have never consciously eluded a difficulty by a paraphrase. Clearness has throughout been aimed at in preference to elegance. Though the precise meaning of some of the philosophical terms (e.g. idea) varies in different passages, I have, as far as possible, given a uniform rendering, not venturing to attempt greater subtlety than I found. I have abstained from notes; for, if given on an adequate scale, they would have unduly swelled the bulk of the work. Moreover, excellent commentaries are readily accessible.

                                                                                          R. H. M. ELWES, 1883.

End of Introduction.

For a translation of the letters by Shirley, see Bk. XIII. For an introduction to Oldenburg correspondence see Bk.XIII:8.

From Bk.I:410
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 reply {Letter 74:414}. —(TR.)]

[1]    I promised to write to you on leaving my country, if anything, noteworthy 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.

[2]    Letter 73:410 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
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, 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.

[3]    Letter 73:411 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
However, restricting myself for the present to that book of yours with an impious title ("Tractatus Theologico-Politicus") and 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.

[4]    Letter 73:411 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
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 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 principles are most false and lead to destruction, what will become of all your doctrine,  built up and supported on so rotten a foundation?

[5]    Letter 73:412 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
Wherefore, if you believe in Christ crucified, acknowledge your pestilent heresy, reflect on the perverseness of your nature, and be reconciled with the Church.

[6]   Letter 73:412 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
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.

[7]    Letter 73:412 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
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.

[8]   Letter 73:412 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
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 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, 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, dareto 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?

*        *        *        *        *
{Elwes summarizes the remainder of the letter. For the full letter see Bk.XIII:305.}

[9]    Letter 73:413 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
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? 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.

[10]    Letter 73:413 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza - Elwes's Summary, for full text see Bk.XIII:307.

[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. ]Bk.XIII:310 note[

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

(vi.)  The superior morality of Catholics.

(vii.) The frequent cases of recantation of opinions among heretics.

(viii.) The miserable life led by atheists, whatever their outward demeanour may be.]

*         *        *        *        *

[11]    Letter 73:414 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
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.

[12]    Letter 73:414 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.
I  therefore will thus conclude: God is willing to snatch your soul from 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.) {The date is given in Roman numerals}
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]    Letter 73:414 - Albert Burgh To Spinoza.

From Bk.I:414
Letter 74 in answer to Letter 73:410.

Spinoza To Albert Burgh. ]Bk.XIII:44 note[

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

[1]    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.

[2]    Letter 74:415 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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.

[3]    Letter 74:415 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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.

[4]    Letter 74:415 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
As it is by this, that we know "that we dwell in God 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, justice and 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 on these points, you would not have ruined yourself, nor have brought deep affliction on your relations, who are now sorrowfully bewailing your evil case.

[5]    Letter 74:416 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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.

[6]    Letter 74:416 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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?

[7]    Letter 74:416 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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. 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 sound ad 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.

[8]    Letter 74:417 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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.

[9]    Letter 74:417 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
As to what you add of the common consent of myriads of men and the uninterrupted 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 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}, and  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 among others of a certain Judah called the faithful [Elwes's Note—Don Lope de Vera y Alarcon de San Clemente, a Spanish nobleman who was converted to Judaism through the study of Hebrew, and was burnt at Valladolid on the 25th, July, 1644], 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 0 God, I offer up my soul," and so singing perished.

[10]    Letter 74:418 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
The organization of the Roman Church, which you so greatly praise, I confess to be politic, and to many lucrative. I should believe that there was no other more convenient for deceiving the people and 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.

[11]    Letter 74:418 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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.

[12]    Letter 74:418 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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 demonstration 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 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 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.

[13]    Letter 74:419 - Spinoza To Albert Burgh.
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 (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.

[END]    Letter 74:419 -
             Spinoza To Albert Burgh.

Spinoza and Christianity:

From Bk.I:275
Letter 1 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
{Oldenburg correspondence}

[Oldenburg, after complimenting Spinoza, asks him to enter into a Philososphical correspondence.]

[1]     ILLUSTRIOUS SIR, AND MOST WORTHY FRIEND,So painful to me was the separation from you the other day after our meeting in your retreat at Rhijnsburg, that it is my first endeavour, now that I am returned to England, to renew, as far as is possible by correspondence, my intercourse with you. Solid learning, conjoined with courtesy and refinement of manners (wherewith both nature and art have most amply endowed you), carries with it such charms as to command the love of every honourable and liberally- educated man. Let us then, most excellent sir, join hands in sincere friendship, and let us foster the feeling with every zealous endeavour and kind office in our power. Whatever my poor means can furnish I beg you to look on as your own. Allow me in return to claim a share in the riches of your talents, as I may do without inflicting any loss on yourself.

[2]    Letter 1:275 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
We conversed at Rhijnsburg of G-D, of extension, of infinite thought, of the differences and agreements between these, of the nature of the connection between the human soul and body, and further, of the principles of the Cartesian and Baconian philosophies.

[3]    Letter 1:275 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
But, as we then spoke of these great questions merely cursorily and by the way, and as my mind has been not a little tormented with them since, I will appeal to the rights of our newly cemented friendship, and most affectionately beg you to give me at somewhat greater length your opinion on the subjects I have mentioned. On two points especially I ask for enlightenment, if I may presume so far; first: In what do you place the true distinction between thought and matter? secondly: What do you consider to be the chief defects in the Cartesian and Baconian philosophies, and how do you think they might best, be removed, and something more sound substituted? The more freely you write to me on these and similar subjects, the more closely will you tie the bonds of our friendship, and the stricter will be the obligation laid on me to repay you, as far as possible, with similar services.

[4]    Letter 1:276 -
        Oldenburg to Spinoza.

There is at present in the press a collection of physiological discourses written by an Englishman (Robert Boyle) of noble family and distinguished learning) They treat of the nature and elasticity of the air, as proved by forty-three experiments; also of its fluidity, solidity, and other analogous matters. As soon as the work is published, I shall make a point of sending it to you by any friend who may be crossing the sea. Meanwhile, farewell, and remember your friend, who is

Yours, in all affection and zeal,
London, 16/26 Aug., 1661

[End]    Letter 1:276 -
            Oldenburg to Spinoza.

From Bk.I:276 - With permission from Terry Neff
Letter 2 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
{Oldenburg correspondence}

[Spinoza defines "G-D", and "attribute" and sends definitions, axioms, and first four propositions of Book I. of Ethics. Some errors of Bacon and Descartes discussed.]

[1]    Illustrious Sir,—How pleasant your friendship is to me, you may yourself judge, if your modesty will allow you to reflect on the abundance of your own excellences. Indeed the thought of these makes me seem not a little bold in entering into such a compact, the more so when I consider that between friends all things, and especially things spiritual, ought to be in common. However, this must lie at the charge of your modesty and kindness rather than of myself. You have been willing to lower yourself through the former and to fill me with the abundance of the latter, till I am no longer afraid to accept the close friendship, which you hold out to me, and which you deign to ask of me in return; no effort on my part shall be spared to render it lasting.

[2]    Letter 2:277 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
As for my mental endowments, such as they are, I would willingly allow you to share them, even though I knew it would be to my own great hindrance. But this is not meant as an excuse for denying to you what you ask by the rights of friendship. I will therefore endeavour to explain my opinions on the topics you touched on; though I scarcely hope, unless your kindness intervene, that I shall thus draw the bonds of our friendship closer.

[3]    Letter 2:277 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
I will then begin by speaking briefly of G-D, Whom I define as a Being consisting in infinite attributes, whereof each is infinite or supremely perfect after its kind. You must observe that by attribute I mean everything, which is conceived through itself and in itself, so that the conception of it does not involve the conception of anything else. For instance, extension is conceived through itself and in itself, but motion is not. The latter is conceived through something else, for the conception of it implies extension.

[4]    Letter 2:277 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
That the definition above given of G-D is true appears from the fact, that by G-D we mean a Being supremely perfect and absolutely infinite. That such a Being exists may easily be proved from the definition; but as this is not the place for such proof, I will pass it over. What I am bound here to prove, in order to satisfy the first inquiry of my distinguished questioner, are the following consequences; first that in the universe there cannot exist two substances without their differing utterly in essence; secondly that substance cannot be produced or created—existence pertains to its actual essence; thirdly, that all substance must be infinite or supremely perfect after its kind.

[5]    Letter 2:278 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
When these points have been demonstrated, my distinguished questioner will readily perceive my drift, if he reflects at the same time on the definition of G-D. In order to prove them clearly and briefly, I can think of nothing  better than to submit them to the bar of your judgment proved in the geometrical method. I therefore enclose them separately and await your verdict upon them.

[6]    Letter 2:276 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Again, you ask me what errors I detect in the Cartesians and Baconian philosophies. It is not my custom to expose the errors of others, nevertheless I will yield to your request. The first and the greatest error is, that these philosophers have strayed so far from the knowledge of the first cause and origin of all things; the second is, that they did not know the true nature of the human mind; the third, that they never grasped the true cause of error. The necessity for correct knowledge on these three points can only be ignored by persons completely devoid of learning and training.

[7]    Letter 2:278 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
That they have wandered astray from the knowledge of the first cause, and of the human mind, may easily be gathered from the truth of the three propositions given above; I therefore devote myself entirely to the demonstration of the third error. Of Bacon I shall say very little, for he speaks very confusedly on the point, and works out scarcely any proofs: he simply narrates. In the first place he assumes, that the human intellect is liable to err, not only through the fallibility of the senses, but also solely through its own nature, and that it frames its conceptions in accordance with the analogy of its own nature, not with the analogy of the universe, so that it is like a mirror receiving rays from external objects unequally, and mingling its own nature with the nature of things, &c.

[8]    Letter 2:278 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Secondly, that the human intellect is, by reason of its own nature, prone to abstractions; such things as are in flux it feigns to be constant, &c.

[9]     Letter 2:276 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Thirdly, that the human intellect continually augments, and is unable to come to a stand or to rest content. The other causes which he assigns may all be reduced to the one Cartesian principle, that the human will is free and more extensive than the intellect, or, as Verulam himself more confusedly  puts it, that "the understanding is not a dry light, but receives infusion from the will." (We may here observe that Verulam often employs "intellect" as synonymous with mind, differing in this respect from Descartes). This cause, then, leaving aside the others as unimportant, I shall show to be false; indeed its falsity would be evident to its supporters, if they would consider, that will in general differs from this or that particular volition in the same way as whiteness differs from this or that white object, or humanity from this or that man. It is, therefore, as impossible to conceive, that will is the cause of a given volition, as to conceive that humanity is the cause of Peter and Paul.

[10]    Letter 2:279 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Hence, as will is merely an entity of the reason, and cannot be called the cause of particular volitions, and as some cause is needed for the existence of such volitions, these latter cannot be called free, but are necessarily such as they are determined by their causes; lastly, according to Descartes, errors are themselves particular volitions; hence it necessarily follows that errors, or, in other words, particular volitions, are not free, but are determined by external causes, and in nowise by the will. This is what I undertook to prove.

[End]  Letter 2:279 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.

From Bk.I:279
Letter 3 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
{Oldenburg correspondence}

[Oldenburg propounds several questions concerning G-D and His existence, thought, and the axioms of Ethics I. He also informs Spinoza of a philosophical society, and promises to send Boyle's book.]

MOST EXCELLENT FRIEND,—Your learned letter has been delivered to me, and read with great pleasure. I highly approve of your geometrical method of proof, but I must set it down to my dulness, that I cannot follow with readiness what you set forth with such accuracy. Suffer me, then, I beg, to expose the slowness of my understanding, while I put the following questions, and beg of you to answer them.

[2]    Letter 3:280 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
First. Do you clearly and indisputably understand solely from the definition you have given of G-D, that such a Being exists? For my part, when I reflect that definitions contain only the conceptions formed by our minds, and that our mind forms many conceptions of things which do not exist, and is very fertile in multiplying and amplifying what it has conceived, I do not yet see, that from the conception I have of God I can infer God's existence. I am able by a mental combination of all the perfections I perceive in men, in animals, in vegetables, in minerals, &c., to conceive and to form an idea of some single substance uniting in itself all such excellences; indeed my mind is able to multiply and augment such excellences indefinitely; it may thus figure forth for itself a most perfect and excellent Being, but there would be no reason thence to conclude that such a Being actually exists.

[3]    Letter 3:280 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Secondly. I wish to ask, whether you think it unquestionable, that body cannot be limited by thought, or thought by body; seeing that it still remains undecided, what thought is, whether it be a physical motion or a spiritual act quite distinct from body?

[4]    Letter 3:280 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Thirdly. Do you reckon the axioms, which you have sent to me, as indemonstrable principles known by the light of nature and needing no proof? Perhaps the first is of this nature, but I do not see how the other three can be placed in a like category. The second assumes that nothing exists in the universe save substances and accidents, but many persons would say that time and place cannot be classed either as one or the other. Your third axiom, that things having different attributes have no quality in common, is so far from being clear to me, that its contrary seems to be shown in the whole universe. All things known to us agree in certain respects and differ in others. Lastly, your fourth axiom, that when things have no quality in common, one cannot be produced by another, is not so plain to my groping intelligence as to stand in need of no further illumination. God has nothing actually in common with created things, yet nearly all of us believe Him to be their cause.

[5]    Letter 3:281 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
As you see that in my opinion your axioms are not established beyond all the assaults of doubt, you will readily gather that the propositions you have based upon them do not appear to me absolutely firm. The more I reflect upon them, the more are doubts suggested to my mind concerning them.

[6]    Letter 3:281 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
As to the first, I submit that two men are two substances with the same attribute, inasmuch as both are rational; whence I infer that there can be two substances with the same attribute.

[7]    Letter 3:281 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
As to the second, I opine that, as nothing can be its own cause, it is hardly within the scope of our intellect to pronounce on the truth of the proposition, that substance cannot be produced even by any other substance. Such a proposition asserts all substances to be self-caused, and all and each to be independent of one another, thus making so many gods, and therefore denying the first cause of all things. This, I willingly confess, I cannot understand, unless you will be kind enough to explain your theory on this sublime subject somewhat more fully and simply, informing me what may be the origin and mode of production of substances, and the mutual interdependence and subordination of things. I most strenuously beg and conjure you by that friendship which we have entered into, to answer me freely and faithfully on these points; you may rest assured, that everything which you think fit to communicate to me will remain untampered with and safe, for I will never allow anything to become public through me to your hurt or disadvantage. In our Philosophical society we proceed diligently as far as opportunity offers with our experiments and observations, lingering over the compilation of the history of mechanic arts, with the idea that the forms and qualities of things can best be explained from mechanical principles, and that all natural effects can be produced through motion, shape, and consistency, without reference to inexplicable forms or occult qualities, which are but the refuge of ignorance.

[8]    Letter 3:281 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
I will send the book I promised, whenever the Dutch Ambassadors send (as they frequently do) a messenger to the Hague, or whenever some other friend whom I can trust goes your way. I beg you to excuse my prolixity and freedom, and simply ask you to take in good part, as one friend from another, the straightforward and unpolished reply I have sent to your letter, believing me to be without deceit or affectation,

Yours most faithfully,
London, 27 Sept., 1661.

[END]    Letter 3:282 -
             Oldenburg to Spinoza.

From Bk.I:282 - With kind permission from http://home.earthlink.net/~tneff/let0404.htm#TOP

Letter 4 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
{Oldenburg correspondence}

[Spinoza answers some of Oldenburg's questions and doubts, but has not time to reply to all, as he is just setting out for Amsterdam.]

[1]    Illustrious Sir,—As I was starting for Amsterdam, where I intend staying for a week or two, I received your most welcome letter, and noted the objections you raise to the three propositions I sent you. Not having time to reply fully, I will confine myself to these three.

[2]    Letter 4:282 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
To the first, I answer, that not from every definition does the existence of the thing defined follow, but only (as I showed in a note appended to the three propositions) from the definition or idea of an attribute, that is (as I explained fully in the definition given of G-D) of a thing conceived through and in itself. The reason for this distinction was pointed out, if I mistake not, in the above-mentioned note sufficiently clearly at any rate for a philosopher, who is assumed to be aware of the difference between a fiction and a clear and distinct idea, and also of the truth of the axiom that every definition or clear and distinct idea is true. When this has been duly noted, I do not see what more is required for the solution of your first question.

[3]    Letter 4:282 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
I therefore proceed to the solution of the second, wherein you seem to admit that, if thought does not belong to the nature of extension, then extension will not be limited by thought; your  doubt only involves the example given. But  observe, I beg, if we say that extension is not limited by extension but by thought, is not this the same as saying that extension is not infinite absolutely, but only as far as extension is concerned, in other words, infinite after its kind? But you say: perhaps thought is a corporeal action: be it so, though I by no means grant it: you, at any rate, will not deny that extension, in so far as it is extension, is not thought, and this is all that is required for explaining my definition and proving the third proposition.

[4]    Letter 4:283 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Thirdly. You proceed to object, that my axioms ought not to be ranked as universal notions. I will not dispute this point with you; but you further hesitate as to their truth, seeming to desire to show that their contrary is more probable. Consider, I beg, the definition which I gave of substance and attribute, for on that they all depend. When I say that I mean by substance that which is conceived through and in itself; and that I mean by modification or accident that, which is in something else, and is conceived through that wherein it is, evidently it follows that substance is by nature prior to its accidents. For without the former the latter can neither be nor be conceived. Secondly, it follows that, besides substances and accidents, nothing exists really or externally to the intellect. For everything is conceived either through itself or through something else, and the conception of it either involves or does not involve the conception of something else. Thirdly, it follows that things which possess different attributes have nothing in common. For by attribute I have explained that I mean something, of which the conception does not involve the conception of anything else. Fourthly and lastly, it follows that, if two things  have nothing in common, one cannot  be  the cause of the other. For, as there would be nothing in common between the effect and the cause, the whole effect would spring from nothing. As for your contention that God has nothing actually in common with created things, I have maintained the exact opposite in my definition. I said that G-D is a Being consisting of infinite attributes, whereof each one is infinite or supremely perfect after its kind. With regard to what you say concerning my first proposition, I beg you, my friend, to bear in mind, that men are not created but born, and that their bodies already exist before birth, though under different forms. You draw the conclusion, wherein I fully concur, that, if one particle of matter be annihilated, the whole of extension would forthwith vanish. My second proposition does not make many gods but only one, to wit, a Being consisting of infinite attributes, &c.

[End]    Letter 4:284 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.

From Bk.I:290
Letter 15 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
{Oldenburg correspondence}

[Spinoza writes to his friend concerning the reasons which lead us to believe, that "every part of Nature agrees with the whole, and is associated with all other parts." He also makes a few remarks about Huyghens.] {Famous letter of "the little worm."}

Distinguished Sir,—For the encouragement to pursue my speculations given me by yourself and the distinguished R. Boyle, I return you my best thanks. I proceed as far as my slender abilities will allow me, with full confidence in your aid and kindness. When you ask me my opinion on the question raised concerning our knowledge of the means, whereby each part of Nature agrees with its whole, and the manner in which it is associated with the remaining parts, I presume you are asking for the reasons which induce us to believe, that each part of Nature agrees with its whole, and is associated with the remaining parts. For as to the means whereby the parts are really associated, and each part agrees with its whole, I told you in my former letter that I am in ignorance. To answer such a question, we should have to know the whole of Nature and its several parts. I will therefore endeavour to show the reason, which led me to make the statement; but I will premise that I do not attribute to Nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or deformed, ordered or confused.

[2]    Letter 15:290 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
By the association of parts, then, I merely mean that the laws or nature of one part adapt themselves to the laws or nature of another part, so as to cause the least possible inconsistency. As to the whole and the parts, I mean that a given number of things are parts of a whole, in so far as the nature of each of them is adapted to the nature of the rest, so that they all, as far as possible, agree together. On the other hand, in so far as they do not agree, each of them forms, in our mind, a separate idea, and is to that extent considered as a whole, not as a part. For instance, when the parts of lymph, chyle, &c., combine, according to the proportion of the figure and size of each, so as to evidently unite, and form one fluid, the chyle, lymph, &c., considered under this aspect, are part of the blood; but in so far as we consider the particles of lymph as differing in figure and size from the particles of chyle, we shall consider each of the two as a whole, not as a part.

[3]    Letter 15:291 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Let us imagine, with your permission, a little worm, living in the blood, able to distinguish by sight the particles of blood, lymph, &c., and to reflect on the manner in which each particle, on meeting with another particle, either is repulsed, or communicates a portion of its own motion. This little worm would live in the blood, in the same way, as we live in a part of the universe, and would consider each particle of blood, not as a part, but as a whole. He would be unable to determine, how all the parts are modified by the general nature of blood, and are compelled by it to adapt themselves, so as to stand in a fixed relation to one another. For, if we imagine that there are no causes external to the blood, which could communicate fresh movements to it, nor any space beyond the blood, nor any bodies whereto the particles of blood could communicate their motion, it is certain that the blood would always remain in the same state, and its particles would undergo no modifications, save those which may be conceived as arising from the relations of motion existing between the lymph, the chyle, &c. The blood would then always have to be considered as a whole, not as a part. But, as there exist, as a matter of fact, very many causes which modify, in a given manner, the nature of the blood, and are, in turn, modified thereby, it follows that other motions and other relations arise in the blood, springing not from the mutual relations of its parts only, but from the mutual relations between the blood as a whole and external causes. Thus the blood comes to be regarded as a part, not as a whole. So much for the whole and the part.

[4]    Letter 15:291 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
All natural bodies can and ought to be considered in the same way as we have here considered the blood, for all bodies are surrounded by others, and are mutually determined to exist and operate in a fixed and definite proportion while the relations between motion and rest in the sum total of them, that is, in the whole universe, remain unchanged. Hence it follows that each body, in so far as it exists as modified in a particular manner, must be considered as a part of the whole universe, as agreeing with the whole, and associated with the remaining parts. As the Nature of the universe is not limited, like the nature of blood, but is absolutely infinite, its parts are by this nature of infinite power infinitely modified, and compelled to undergo infinite variations. But, in respect to substance, I conceive that each part has a more close union with its whole. For, as I said in my first letter, L2):276 (addressed to you while I was still at Rhijnsburg), substance being infinite in its nature, Bk.I:48, it follows, as I endeavoured to show, that each part belongs to the nature of substance, and, without it, can neither be nor be conceived.

[5]    Letter 15:292 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
You see, therefore, how and why I think that the human body is a part of Nature. As regards the human mind, I believe that it also is a part of Nature; for I maintain that there exists in Nature an infinite power of thinking, which, in so far as it is infinite, contains subjectively the whole of Nature, and its thoughts proceed in the same manner as Nature—that is, in the sphere of ideas, (Elwes's Footnote 3:292). Further, I take the human mind to be identical with this said power, not in so far as it is infinite, and perceives the whole of Nature, but in so far as it is finite, and perceives only the human body; in this manner, I maintain that the human mind is a part of an infinite understanding.

[6]    Letter 15:292 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
But to explain, and accurately prove, all these and kindred questions, would take too long; and I do not think you expect as much of me at present. I am afraid that I may have mistaken your meaning, and given an answer to a different question from that which you asked. Please inform me on this point.

[7]    Letter 15:293 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
You write in your last letter, that I hinted that nearly all the Cartesian laws  of motion are false. What I said was, if I remember rightly, that Huyghens thinks so; I myself do not impeach any of the laws except the sixth, concerning which I think Huyghens is also in error. I asked you at the same time to communicate to me the experiment made according to that hypothesis in your Royal Society; as you have not replied, I infer that you are not at liberty to do so. The above-mentioned Huyghens is entirely occupied in polishing lenses. He has fitted up for the purpose a handsome workshop, in which he can also construct moulds. What will be the result I know not, nor, to speak the truth, do I greatly care. Experience has sufficiently taught me, that the free hand is better and more sure than any machine for polishing spherical moulds. I can tell you nothing certain as yet about the success of the clocks or the date of Huyghens' journey to France.

{Elwes's footnote 3:292 to Letter 15).}

I have given what seems to be the meaning of this passage. The text is very obscure: "Nempe quia statuo dare etiam in natura potentiam infinitam cogitandi, quae, quatenus infinita, in se continet totam naturam objective et cujus cogitationes procedunt ac natura ejus, nimirum idearum." M. Saisset in  his French translation says here, "In this place I rather interpret than translate Spinoza, as his thought does not seem to me completely expressed."—[Tr. Elwes]

[End]    Letter 15:293 -
            Spinoza to Oldenburg.

From Bk.I:296.
Letter 19 - Spinoza to Oldenburg. 
Reply to LT:L18(62). Oldenburg responds in following Letter 20.}

[Spinoza relates his journey to Amsterdam for the purpose of publishing his Ethics; he was deterred by the dissuasions of theologians and Cartesians. He hopes that Oldenburg will inform him of some of the objections to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, made by learned men, so that they may be answered in notes.]

Distinguished and Illustrious Sir,—When I received your letter of the 22nd July {1675}, I had set out to Amsterdam for the purpose of publishing the book I had mentioned to you. While I was negotiating, a rumour gained currency that I had in the press a book concerning G-D, wherein I endeavoured to show that there is no God. This report was believed by many. Hence certain theologians, perhaps the authors of the rumour, took occasion to complain of me before the prince and the magistrates; more over, the stupid Cartesians, being suspected of favouring me, endeavoured to remove the aspersion by abusing everywhere my opinions and writings, a course which they still pursue. When I became aware of this through trust-worthy men, who also assured me that the theologians were everywhere lying in wait for me, I determined to put off publishing till I saw how things were going, and I proposed to inform you of my intentions. But matters seem to get worse and worse, and I am still uncertain what to do.

[2]     Letter 19:297 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Meanwhile I do not like to delay any longer answering your letter. I will first thank you heartily, for your friendly, warning, which I should be glad to have further explained, so that I may know, which are the doctrines which seem to you to be aimed against the practice of religion and virtue {
religious virtue}. If principles agree with reason, they are, I take it, also most serviceable to virtue. Further, if it be not troubling you too much I beg you to point out the passages in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus  which are objected to by the learned, for I want to illustrate that treatise with notes, and to remove if possible the prejudices conceived against it.  Farewell.

[End]    Letter 19:297 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.

From Bk.I:297.
Letter 20 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Response to previous Letter 19.}

As I see from  your last letter, the book you propose to publish is in peril. It is impossible not to approve your purpose of illustrating and softening down those passages in the TractatusTheologico-Polticus, which have given pain to its readers. First I would call attention to the ambiguities in your treatment of G-D and Nature: a great many people think you have confused the one with the other. Again, you seem to many to take away the authority and value of miracles, whereby alone, as  nearly all Christians believe, the certainty of the Divine Revelation can be established.

[2]    Letter 20:297 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Again, people say that you conceal your opinion concerning Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, the only Mediator for mankind, and concerning His incarnation and redemption: they would like you to give a clear explanation of what you think on these three subjects. If you do this and thus give satisfaction to prudent and rational Christians, I think your affairs are safe. ]This is what I, who am devoted to you, wish you to know in brief.[    Farewell.

London, 15 Nov., 1675.

[End]    Letter 20:297 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
               {Spinoza responds in following Letter 21.}

From Bk.I:298.
Letter 21Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Response 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 which militated against the practice of religious virtue, and which you formerly mentioned. 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 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 in G-D {literally} and move in G-D, thus agreeing with Paul, (Acts 17:28,1 Cor 3:16, 12:6, and Eph 1:23)  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 (meaning by the latter a certain mass or corporeal matter), is wholly erroneous.

[2]    Letter 21:298 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
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 {i.e. all Christians}, by miracles, that is by ignorance, which is the source of all malice; thus they turn a faith, which may be true, into superstition. ]But I doubt very much whether rulers will ever allow the application of a remedy for this evil. {remember Roman rulers against change of their Pagan Religion}[ Lastly, in order to disclose my opinions on the third point, I will tell you that I do not think it necessary, for salvation 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 {Caution: Mark Twain's "Little Story"}.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.   Farewell.

[End]    Letter 21:299 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
                        {Note from Shirley's Bk. XIII:332} 
               {Oldenburg responds in following Letter 22.}

From Bk.I:299
Letter 22 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Response to previous Letter 21.}

[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 {ecessity  for all things and actions; if such is conceded and asserted, people 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. 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.

[2]    Letter 22:300 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
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?

[3]    Letter 22:300 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
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."

[4]    Letter 22:300 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Again, when you say that you cannot understand that God 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, and by His passion and death offered up the sacrifice for our sins, the price of the atonement. What you have to say concerning this without impugning the truth of the Gospel and the Christian religion, which I think you approve of, I would gladly learn.

[5]    Letter 22:301 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
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.

London, 16 Dec., 1675.

[End]    Letter 22:301 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
               {Spinoza responds in following Letter 23.}

From Bk.I:301
Letter 23 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Response to previous Letter 22.}

[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 God'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.

[2]    Letter 23:301 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Further, this inevitable necessity in things does away neither with Divine nor human laws. The principles of morality, whether they receive from God Himself the form of laws or institutions, or whether they do not, are still 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.

[3]    Letter 23:302 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Men are only without excuse before G-D, because they are in God's power, as clay is in the hand of the potter, who from the same lump makes vessels, (Romans  9:21) some to honour, some to dishonour. 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.

[4]    Letter 23:302 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
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, ]Bk.XIII:338 - belief in miracles inevitably leads to disbelief in the existence of G-D.[ but to ignorance. But, if I mistake not, I have sufficiently explained my opinion on miracles in the Theologico-Political:81 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 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, I 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 ]Bk.XIII:339 - Spinoza avoids a detailed interpretation of the New Testament for want of a knowledge of Greek[. 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 of God (Cf. Matt. xxvi:60; Mark xiv:58) 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." But I have said enough on the subject.

[End]      Letter 23:304 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
Oldenburg responds in following Letter 24.}

From Bk.I:304.
Letter 24 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Response to previous Letter 23.}

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

You hit the point exactly, in perceiving the cause why I did not wish the doctrine of the fatalistic necessity of all things to be promulgated, lest the practice of virtue should thereby be aspersed, and rewards and punishments become ineffectual. The suggestions in your last letter hardly seem sufficient to settle the matter, or to quiet the human mind. For if we men are, in all our actions, moral as well as natural, under the power of God, like clay in the hands of the potter, with what face can any of us be accused of doing this or that, seeing that it was impossible for him to do otherwise?  Should we not be able to cast all responsibility on God {JBYnote1}? Your inflexible fate, and your irresistible power, compel us to act in a given manner, nor can we possibly act otherwise. Why, then, and by what right do you deliver us up to terrible punishments, which we can in no way avoid, since you direct and carry on all things through supreme necessity, according to your good will and pleasure? When you say that men are only inexcusable {excusable - Translator} before God, because they are in the power of G-D, I should reverse the argument, and say, with more show of reason, that men are evidently excusable, since they are in the power of God. Everyone may plead, "Thy power cannot be escaped from, O God; therefore, since I could not act otherwise, I may justly be excused."

[2]    Letter 24:305 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Again, in taking miracles and ignorance as equivalent terms, you seem to bring within the same limits the power of God and the knowledge of the ablest men; for God is, according to you, unable to do or produce anything, for which men cannot assign a reason, if they employ all the strength of their faculties.

[3]    Letter 24:305 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
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.

London, 14 Jan., 1676.

[END]    Letter 24:305 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.

Letter 25:305 in Bk.I, Letter 78 in Bk.XIII.
From Letter 78 in Bk.XIII:347 - Spinoza to Oldenburg. {Response to previous Letter 24.}

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

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

[1] Most noble Sir,
When I said in my previous Letter 23:301 that the reason why we are without excuse is that we are in G-D's power as clay in the hands of the potter, I meant to be understood in this sense, that no one can accuse G-D for having given him a weak nature or a feeble character. For just as it would be absurd for a circle to complain that G-D has not given it the properties of a sphere, or a child suffering from kidney-stone that G-D has not given it a healthy body, it would be equally absurd for a man of feeble character to complain that G-D has denied him strength of spirit and true knowledge and love of G-D, and has given him so weak a nature that he cannot contain or control his desires. In the case of each thing, it is only that which follows necessarily from its given cause that is within its competence. That it is not within the competence of every man's nature that he should be of strong character, and that it is no more within our power to have a healthy body than to have a healthy mind, nobody can deny without flying in the face of both experience and reason.

[2]    From Bk.XIII:347 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
          {Letter 25 in BK. 1:306}
"But," you urge, "if men sin from the necessity of their nature {
Bk.XIII:335}, they  are therefore excusable." You do not explain what conclusion you wish to draw from this. Is it that G-D cannot be angry with them, or is it that they are worthy of blessedness, that is, the knowledge and love of  G-D? If the former, I entirely agree that G-D is not angry, and that all things happen in accordance with his will. But I deny that on that account all men ought to be blessed; for men may be excusable, but nevertheless be without blessedness and afflicted in many ways. A horse is excusable for being a horse, and not a man; nevertheless, he needs must be a horse, and not a man. He who goes mad from the bite of a dog is indeed to be excused; still, it is right {natural} that he should die of suffocation {from lockjaw}.
        Finally, he who cannot control his desires and keep them in check through fear of the law, although he also is to be excused for his weakness, nevertheless cannot enjoy tranquillity of mind and the knowledge and love of G-D, but of necessity he is lost. I do not think I need here remind you that Scripture, when it says that G-D is angry with sinners, that he is a judge who takes cognizance of the actions of men, decides, and passes sentence, is speaking in merely human terms according to the accepted beliefs of the multitude; for its aim is not to teach philosophy, nor to make men learned, but to make them obedient {by pedagogical means}.

[3]    From Bk.XIII:348 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
          {Letter 25 in BK. 1:306}
Again, I fail to see how you come to think that, by equating miracles with ignorance, I am confining  G-D's power and man's knowledge within the same bounds.

[4]    From Bk.XIII:348 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
          {Letter 25 in BK. 1:306}
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 (2Cor 5:16).

[5]    From Bk.XIII:348 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
          {Letter 25 in BK. 1:307}
I am most grateful to you for the catalogue of the books of the distinguished Mr. Boyle. Lastly, I wait to hear from you, when you have an opportunity, about the present proceedings of the Royal Society.

Farewell, most honoured Sir, and believe me yours in all zeal and affection.

The Hague, 7 February 1676.

[End]    From Bk.XIII:348 - Spinoza to Oldenburg.
               {Letter 25 in BK. 1:308}

From Bk.I:307.
Letter 25A - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Response 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.

In your last letter written to me on the 7th of February, there are some points which seem to deserve criticism. You say that a man cannot complain, because God has denied him the true knowledge of Himself, and strength sufficient to avoid sins; forasmuch as to the nature of everything nothing is competent, except that which follows necessarily from its cause. But I say, that inasmuch as God, the Creator of men, formed them after His own image, which seems to imply in its concept wisdom, goodness, and power, it appears quite to follow, that it is more within the sphere of man's powers to have a sound mind than to have a sound body. For physical soundness of body follows from mechanical causes, but soundness of mind depends on purpose and design. You add, that men may be inexcusable (excusable—Trans.), and yet suffer pain in many ways. This seems hard at first sight, and what you add by way of proof, namely, that a dog, Bk.I:308, mad from having been bitten is indeed to be excused, but yet is rightly killed, does not seem to settle the question. For the killing of such a dog would argue cruelty, were it not necessary in order to preserve other dogs and animals, and indeed men, from a maddening bite of the same kind.

[2]    Letter 25A:308 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
But if God implanted in man a sound mind, as He is able to do, there would be no contagion of vices to be feared. And, surely, it seems very cruel, that God should devote men to eternal, or at least terrible temporary, torments, for sins which by them could be no wise avoided. Moreover, the tenour of all Holy Scripture seems to suppose and imply, that men can abstain from sins. For it abounds in denunciations and promises, in declarations of rewards and punishments, all of which seem to militate against the necessity of sinning, and infer the possibility of avoiding punishment. And if this were denied, it would have to be said, that the human mind  acts no less mechanically than the human body {exactly}.

[3]    Letter 25A:308 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
Next, when you proceed to take miracles and ignorance to be equivalent, you seem to rely on this foundation, that the creature can and should have perfect insight into the power and wisdom of the Creator: and that the fact is quite otherwise, I have hitherto been firmly persuaded.

[4]    Letter 25A:309 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
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. 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. {Endnote:FaithVersusPhilosophy}

[5]    Letter 25A:309 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.
These few points I wished again to submit in the interest of my liberty of philosophizing, which I earnestly beg you not to take amiss.

Written in London, 11 Feb., 1676.

I will communicate with you shortly on the present studies and experiments of the Royal Society, if God grant me life and health.

[End]    Letter 25A:309 - Oldenburg to Spinoza.

From Bk.I:360. Taken with kind permission from http://home.earthlink.net/~tneff/let4237.htm#TOP.

Letter 42—Spinoza to I. B.  ]to Johan Bouwmeester[

[Concerning the best method, by which we may safely arrive at the knowledge of things.]

Most Learned Sir and Dearest Friend,I have not been able hitherto to answer your last letter, received some time back. I have been so hindered by various occupations and calls on my time, that I am hardly yet free from them. However, as I have a few spare moments, I do not want to fall short of my duty, but take this first opportunity of heartily thanking you for your affection and kindness towards me, which you have often displayed in your actions, and now also abundantly prove by your letter.

[2   Letter 42:360 - Spinoza to I. B.
I pass on to your question, which runs as follows: "Is there, or can there be, any method by which we may, without hindrance, arrive at the knowledge of the most excellent things? or are our minds, like our bodies, subject to the vicissitudes of circumstance, so that our thoughts governed rather by fortune than by skill?" I think I shall satisfy you, if I show that there must  necessarily be a method, whereby we are able to direct our clear and distinct  perceptions, and that our mind is not, like our body, subject to the vicissitudes of circumstance.

[3   Letter 42:361 - Spinoza to I. B.
This conclusion may be based simply on the consideration that one clear and distinct perception, or several such together, can be absolutely the cause of another clear and distinct perception. Now, all the clear and distinct perceptions, which we form, can only arise from other clear and distinct perceptions, which are in us; nor do they acknowledge any cause external to us. Hence it follows that the clear and distinct perceptions, which we form, depend solely on our nature, and on its certain and fixed laws; in other words, on our absolute power, not on fortunethat is, not on causes which, although also acting by certain and fixed laws, are yet unknown to us, and alien to our nature and power. As regards other perceptions, I confess that they depend chiefly on fortune. Hence clearly appears, what the true method ought to be like, and what it ought chiefly to consist innamely, solely in the knowledge of the pure understanding, and its nature and laws. In order that such knowledge may be acquired, it is before all things necessary to distinguish between the understanding and the imagination, or between ideas which are true and the rest, such as the fictitious, the false, the doubtful, and absolutely all depend solely on the memory. For the understanding of these matters, as far as the method requires, there is no need to know the nature of the mind through its first cause; it is sufficient to put together a short history of the mind, or of perceptions, in the manner taught by Verulam.

[4   Letter 42:361 - Spinoza to I. B.
I think that in these few words I have explained and demonstrated the true method, and have, at he same time, pointed out the way of acquiring it. It only remains to remind you, that all these questions demand assiduous study, and great firmness of disposition and purpose. In order to fulfil these conditions, it is of prime necessity to follow a fixed mode and plan of living, and to set before one some definite aim. But enough of this for the present, &c.

Voorburg, 10 June, 1666.

From Bk.I:364
Letter 49 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio. The rough copy of this letter is still preserved, and contains many strong expressions of Spinoza's indignation against Velthuysen, which he afterwards suppressed or mitigated.

[A defence of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. (The Hague, 1671.)]

Most learned Sir,—You doubtless wonder why I have kept you so long waiting. I could hardly bring myself to reply to the pamphlet of that person, which you thought fit to send me; indeed I only do so now because of my promise. However, in order as far as possible to humour my feelings, I will fulfil my engagement in as few words as I can, and will briefly show how perversely he has interpreted my meaning; whether through malice or through ignorance I cannot readily say. But to the matter in hand.

[2]    Letter 49:364 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
First he says, "that it is of little moment to know what nation I belong to, or what sort of life I lead." Truly, if he had known, he would not so easily have persuaded himself that I teach Atheism. For Atheists are wont greedily to covet rank and riches, which I have always despised, as all who know me are aware. Again, in order to smooth his path to the object he has in view, he says that, "I am possessed of no mean talents," so that he may, forsooth,  more easily convince his readers, that I have knowingly and cunningly with evil intent argued for the cause of the deists, in order to discredit it. This contention sufficiently shows that he has not understood my reasons. For who could be so cunning and clever, as to be able to advance under false pretences so many and such good reasons for a doctrine which he did not believe in? Who will pass for an honest writer in the eyes of a man, that thinks one may argue as soundly for fiction as for truth? But after all I am not astonished. Descartes was formerly served in the same way by Voët, and the most honourable writers are constantly thus treated.

[3]    Letter 49:365 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
He goes on to say, "In order to shun the reproach of superstition, he seems to me to have thrown off all religion." What this writer means by religion and what by superstition, I know not. But I would ask, whether a man throws off all religion, who maintains that G-D must be acknowledged as the highest good, and must, as such, be loved with a free mind? or, again, that the reward of virtue is virtue itself, while the punishment of folly and weakness is folly itself? or, lastly, that every man ought to love his neighbour, and to obey the commands of the supreme power? Such doctrines I have not only expressly stated, but have also demonstrated them by very solid reasoning. However, I think I see the mud wherein this person sticks. He finds nothing in virtue and the understanding in themselves to please him, but would prefer to live in accordance with his passions, if it were not  for the single obstacle that he fears punishment. He abstains from evil actions, and obeys the divine commands like a slave, with unwillingness and hesitation, expecting as the reward of his bondage to be recompensed by God with gifts far more pleasing than divine love, and greater in proportion to his dislike to goodness and consequent unwillingness to practise it. Hence it comes to pass, that he believes that all, who are not restrained by this fear, lead a life of licence and throw off all religion. But this I pass over, and proceed to the deduction whereby he wishes to show, that "with covert and disguised arguments I teach atheism." The foundation of his reasoning is, that he thinks I take away freedom from G-D, and subject Him to fate. This is flatly false. For I have maintained, that all things follow by inevitable necessity from the Nature of G-D, in the same way as all maintain that it follows from the nature of God, that He understands Himself: no one denies that this latter consequence follows necessarily from the divine nature, yet no one conceives that God is constrained by any fate; they believe that He understands Himself with entire freedom, though necessarily. I find nothing here, that cannot be perceived by everyone; if, nevertheless, my adversary thinks that these arguments are advanced with evil intent, what does he think of his own  Descartes, who asserted that nothing is done by us, which has not been pre-ordained by God, nay, that we are newly created as it were  by God every moment, though none the less we act according to our own free will? This, as Descartes himself confesses, no one can understand.

[4]    Letter 49:366 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
Further, this inevitable necessity in things destroys neither divine laws nor human. For moral principles, whether they have received from God the form of laws or not, are nevertheless divine and salutary. Whether we accept the good, which follows from virtue and the divine love, as given us by God as a judge, or as emanating from the necessity of the divine nature, it is not in either case more or less to be desired; nor are the evils which follow from evil actions less to be feared, because they follow necessarily: finally, whether we act under necessity or freedom, we are in either case led by hope and fear. Wherefore the assertion is false, "that I maintain that there is no room left for precepts and commands." Or as he goes on to say, "that there is no expectation of reward or punishment, since all things are ascribed to fate, and are said to flow with inevitable necessity from G-D."

[5]    Letter 49:366 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
I do not here inquire, why it is the same, or almost the same to say that all things necessarily flow from G-D, as to say that God is universal; but I would have you observe the insinuation which he not less maliciously subjoins, "that I wish that men should practise virtue, not because of the precepts and law of G-D, or through hope of reward and fear of punishment, but," &c. Such a sentiment you will assuredly not find anywhere in my treatise: on the contrary, I have expressly stated in Chap. IV., that the sum of the divine law (which, as I have said in Chap. II., has been divinely inscribed on our hearts), and its chief precept is, to love G-D as the highest good: not, indeed, from the fear of any punishment, for love cannot spring from fear; nor for the love of anything, which we desire for our own delight, for then we should love not G-D, but the object of our desire..

[6]    Letter 49:367 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
I have shown in the same chapter, that God revealed this law to the prophets, so that, whether it received from God the form of a command, or whether we conceive it to be like G-D's other decrees, which involve eternal necessity and truth, it will in either case remain G-D's decree  and a salutary principle. Whether I love God in freedom, or whether I love Him from the necessity of the divine decree, I shall nevertheless love G-D, and shall be in a state of salvation. Wherefore, I can now declare here, that this person is one of that sort, of whom I have said at the end of my preface, that I would rather that they utterly neglected my book,  than that by misinterpreting it after their wont, they should become hostile, and hinder others without benefiting themselves.

[7]    Letter 49:367 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
Though I  think I have said enough to prove what I in tended, I have yet thought it worth while to add a few observations—namely, that this person falsely thinks, that I have in view the axiom of theologians, which draws a distinction between the words of a prophet when propounding doctrine, and the same prophet when narrating an event. If by such an axiom he means that which in Chap. XV. I attributed to a certain R. Jehuda Alpakhar, how could he think that I agree with it, when in that very chapter I reject it as false? If he does not mean this, I confess I am as yet in ignorance as to what he does mean, and, therefore, could not have had it in view.

[8]    Letter 49:367 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
Again, I cannot see why he says, that all will adopt my opinions, who deny that reason and philosophy should be the interpreters of Scripture; I have refuted the doctrine of such persons, together with that of Maimonides.

[9]    Letter 49:368 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
It would take too long to review all the indications he gives of not having judged me altogether calmly. I therefore pass on to his conclusion, where he says, "that I have no arguments left to prove, that Mahomet was not a true prophet." This he endeavours to show from my opinions, whereas from them it clearly follows, that Mahomet was an impostor, inasmuch as he utterly forbids that freedom, which the Catholic religion revealed by our natural faculties and by the prophets grants, and which I have shown should be granted in its completeness. Even if this were not so, am I, I should like to know, bound to show that any prophet is false? Surely the burden lies with the prophets, to prove that they are true. But if he retorts, that Mahomet also taught the divine law, and gave certain signs of his mission, as the rest of the prophets did, there is surely no reason why he should deny, that Mahomet also was a true prophet.

[10]    Letter 49:368 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
As regards the Turks and other non-Christian nations; if they worship G-D by the practice of justice and charity towards their neighbour, I believe that they have the spirit of Christ, and are in a state of salvation, whatever they may ignorantly hold with regard to Mahomet and oracles.

[11]    Letter 49:368 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
Thus you see, my friend, how far this man has strayed from the truth; nevertheless, I grant that he has inflicted the greatest injury, not on me but on himself, inasmuch as he has not been ashamed to declare, that "under disguised and covert arguments I teach atheism."

[12]    Letter 49:368 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.
I do not think, that you will find any expressions I have used against this man too severe. However, if there be any of the kind which offend you, I beg, you to correct them, as you shall think fit. I have no disposition to irritate him, whoever he may be, and to raise up by my labours enemies against myself; as this is often the result of disputes like the present, I could scarcely prevail on myself to reply—nor  should I have prevailed, if I had not promised. Farewell. I commit to your prudence this letter, and myself, who am, &c.

[End]    Letter 49:368 - Spinoza to Isaac Orobio.


v:1    "Short Studies in Great Subjects," first series, art. "Spinoza."

v:2    "Essays in Criticism," art. "Spinoza and the Bible."

v:3    "Benedict de Spinoza; his Life, Correspondence, and Ethics." 1870.

v:4    But in 1880 Mr. Pollock brought out his most valuable "Spinoza, his Life and Philosophy". I take this early opportunity of recording my deep obligations to Mr. Pollock's book. I have made free use of it, together with  Dr. Martineau's, in compiling this introduction. In the passages which Mr. Pollock has incidentally translated, I have  been  glad to be able to refer to the versions of so distinguished a scholar.

vi:1     "Spinoza: ein Denkerleben." 1855.

viii:1   "B. de Spinoza, Opera. I." The Hague, 1882.

ix:1    The main authority for the facts of Spinoza's life is a short biography by Johannes Colerus (Kohler), Lutheran. Originally written in Dutch (1706). Translated the same year into French and English, and afterwards (1723) into German. The English version is reprinted in Mr. Pollock's book as an Appendix A, Page 409.

xi:1    Letter 32:331  {Spinoza to Blyenbergh—Spinoza answers with his usual courtesy the question propounded by Blyenbergh in Letter 31:327.}

xi:2    A translator has special opportunities for observing the extent of Spinoza's knowledge of Latin. His sentences are grammatical and his meaning almost always clear. But his vocabulary is restricted; his style is wanting in flexibility, and seldom idiomatic; in fact, the niceties of scholarship are wanting. He reminds one of a clever 
workman who accomplishes much with simple tools.

xii:1    Letter 74:414  {in answer to Letter 73:410}

xiii:1    Letter 51:370  Leibnitz to Spinoza;  Re: Optics.
           Letter 52:371.   Spinoza to Leibnitz;  Reply. ??

xiv:1    Letter 26:309;  Simon De Vries to Spinoza.

xv:1    Letter 26:309; L27:313. Same as above.

xv:2    Letter :L73:410.

xv:3    The full title is, "Renati des Cartes Principiorum partes I.et11. more geometrico demonstratae per Benedictum de Spinoza Amstelodamensem. Accesserant ejusdem cogitata metaphysica. Amsterdam", 1663.

xvi:1    Letter 1:275, sqq. {Oldenburgh and Spinoza correspondence; carried on from Letter I:275 to Letter 25a:307.

xvi:2    But Tschirnhausen seems to have brought Oldenburg and Boyle to a better mind. {Letter:65:396.}

xvi:3    Letter 51:370.  See xiii:1

xvi:4    Letter 61:389, sqq.

xvi:5    Letter 31:327, sqq.

xvi:6    Letter 55:375, sqq.

xviii:1   Letter 53:373.

xviii:2   Letter 54:374.

xxiii:1   These observations are not offered as a complete exposition of Spinozism, but merely as an indication of its general drift.

xxvii:1  It may be worth while to cite the often-quoted testimony of the distinguished physiologist, Johannes Muller:—"With regard to the relations of the passions to one another apart from their physiological conditions, it is impossible to give any better account than that which Spinoza has laid down with unsurpassed mastery."- Physiologie des Menschen, ii. 543. He follows up this praise by quoting the propositions in question in extenso.

xxix:1  The explanation here indicated is based on that given by Book XII - Mr. Pollock, "Spinoza: His Life and Philosophy", ch. ix., pg. 288, to which the reader is referred for a masterly exposition of the question.-Pollock on Eternity of the Mind.

{xxix:1A. [60]:xxix From Bk.XIV:2:3084-Wolfson on Eternity of the Mind.}

Page xxxiii
xxxiii:1  "B. de Spinosa Opera quae Supersunt Omnia," ed. C. H. Leipzig (Tauchnitz), 1843. {xxxiii:J4, xxxiiiJ5}

Page xxxiii
xxxiii:2  "Ad B. D. S. Opera quae Supersunt Omnia Supplementum." Amsterdam, 1862.

Page xxxiii
xxxiii:3   While these volumes were passing through the  press, a translation of the Ethics appeared by Mr. Hale White (Trubner and Co.). The Tractatus Politicus:279 was translated in 1854 by W. Maccall, but the book has become so rare as to be practically inaccessible.

For Letter 25A from Bk.I:307
Potestas, as distinguished from potentia—the  word just  above translated power—means power delegated by a rightful superior, as here by God. So it is rendered here "sphere of power," and in Tract. Politico generally "authority." It would not be proper to say that the "image of God" implied potestas.

From Bk.I:308
See Letter 25. Oldenburg misunderstands Spinoza's illustration, because he takes "canis" in the phrase, "qui ex morsu canis furit," to be nominative instead of genitive; "a dog which goes mad from a bite," instead of "he who goes mad from the bite of a dog."

From EL:Bk.XIII:335365 on L22(74):299.                           { Mark Twain }    { Free-will }
Oldenburg is interpreting Spinoza as a fatalist rather than as a determinist.      { Sham }
See our notes to EL:L60(56):385.      


Quoted from "The Divine Philosophy of Baruch de Spinoza" with the kind permission of the Endeavor Academy.

Another translation is given in Bk.XII:18. From: Ethel Jean Saltz <nietgal@airmail.net> The source is a photo of the original which is at the Jewish Portuguese Community in Amsterdam.

The Excommunication of Baruch de Spinoza.

After the judgment of the Angels, and with that of the Saints, we excommunicate, expel and curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of all the Holy Congregation, in front of the holy Scrolls with the six-hundred-and-thirteen precepts which are written therein, with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho, with the curse with which Elisha cursed the boys, and with all the curses which are written in the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out, and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not pardon him; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses which are written in the Book of the Law, and the Lord will destroy his name from under the Heavens, and the Lord will separate him to his injury from all the tribes of Israel with all the curses of the firmament, which are written in the Book of the Law. But you who cleave unto the Lord God are all alive this day. We order that nobody should communicate with him orally or in writing, or show him any favor, or stay with him under the same roof, or within four ells of him, or read anything composed or written by him.

{See also State ban.}

{Two reasons for the excommunication are:

1.   Spinoza violated Aben Ezra's dictum of "silence." This violation is seditious in that it tends to break down a functioning society. It takes an existing faith away without quickly replacing it with a new faith; only evolution can do this peaceably. This resistance to change is the society's stability.

Another example of the "silence" violation: inquisitorial denunciation of Galileo in 1632.

Spinoza is like a soldier violating an order, but in so doing wins the battle. Should he be condemned or commended? The answer is, I think, both—but you can't have it both ways.

2.   The Jewish Authorities feared the wrath of the fundamentalist Christians against the Jewish community. I say this because the Jewish Authorities did ".... endeavour(ed) to retain him in their communion by the offer of a yearly pension of 1,000 florins ," if he would not set forth or teach his ideas publicly. }

Reprinted with permission from "Spinoza, Benedict de," EncyclopædiaBritannica, 15th edition. Copyright © 1998 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Spinoza,  Benedict de (English),  Hebrew  forename BARUCH, Latin forename BENDICTUS, Portuguese BENTO DE ESPINOSA (b. Nov. 24, 1632, Amsterdam— d. Feb.21, 1677, The Hague),  Dutch-Jewish philosopher, the foremost exponent of 17th-century Rationalism.

Early Life and Career:
(...) His studies so far had been mainly Jewish, but he was an independent thinker and had found more than enough in his Jewish studies to wean him from orthodox doctrines and interpretations of Scripture; moreover, the tendency to revolt against tradition and authority was much in the air in the 17th century. But the Jewish religious leaders in Amsterdam were fearful that heresies (which were no less anti-Christian than anti-Jewish) might give offense in a country that did not yet regard the Jews as citizens. Spinoza soon incurred the disapproval of the synagogue authorities. In conversations with other students, he had held that there is nothing in the Bible to support the views that God had no body, that angels really exist, or that the soul is immortal; and he had also expressed his belief that the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was no wiser in physics or even in theology than were they, the students. The Jewish authorities, after trying vainly to silence Spinoza with bribes and threats, excommunicated him in July 1656, and he was banished from Amsterdam for a short period by the civil authorities. There is no evidence that he had really wanted to break away from the Jewish community, and indeed the scanty knowledge available would suggest the opposite. On Dec. 5, 1655, for example, he had attended the synagogue and made an offering that, in view of his poverty, must have been a rare event for him, and, about the time of his excommunication, he had addressed a defense of his views to the synagogue.


From  "In Spinoza's Rijnsburg"

xxxii:J4    Book XI:1.  From Tractatus Theologico-Politlicus:1
Introduction by BRAD S. GREGORY.

xxxiii:J5    Book XI:45 - Translator's Foreword by Samuel Shirley.

xxxiii:J6    See photocopy of Title Page of the first edition of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus:46 with sub-title omitted by Elwes. The translation is given in Book XI:47 and is as follows:


containing a number of dissertations, wherein it is shown that freedom to philosophise can not only be granted without injury to Piety and the Peace of the Commonwealth, but that the Peace of the Commonwealth and Piety are endangered by the suppression of this freedom.

                  John Epistle 1 Chap. 4, v.13.

"Hereby we know that we dwell in God and He in us, because He has given us of his Spirit."

                         Published by Henry Kunraht 1670.

Endnote [37]—From HirPent: Lev 19:18 - "....but thou shalt love thy neighbour's well-being as t'were thine own: I am G-D."

Even summaries of the biblical ethic, such as the golden rule ( Matt. 7:12; cf. Tob. 4:15) or the twofold law of love to God and love to one's neighbour (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18), in which the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) is comprehended (Mark 12:29-31; cf. Rom. 13:8-10), involve casuistic interpretation (fitting general principles to particular cases) when they are applied to the complicated relations of present-day life.

Matt. 7:12  Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Deut. 6:5   And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Lev. 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Mark 12: (29) And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: (30) And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. (31) And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Rom 13: (8) Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

From Evolutionary Ethics—Simpson, however, contends, in the article "Logical Sciences," in "The Great Ideas Today" (1965):

Endnote [34]—Realm of Science.
From Book XVII:8 Last Line

Letter 23[3]:302:J1

KJV Romans 9:21   "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?"

KJV Jeremiah 18:6   "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel."  {Mark Twain and Spinoza}

From the Artscroll Day of Atonement prayer book, 0899066771, Pg. 121.

Like the clay in the hand of the potter –
he expands it at will and contracts it at will –
so are we in Your hands, O Preserver of kindness, look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser, {Unrightous Adversary}.

Like the stone in the hand of the cutter –
he grasps it at will and smashes it at will –
so are we in Your hand, Osource of life and death, look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the ax-head in the hand of the blacksmith –
he forges it at will and removes it at will –
so are we in Your hand, O supporter of poor and destitute, look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the anchor in the hand of the sailor –
he holds it at will and casts it at will –
so are we in Your hand, O good and forgiving God, look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the glass in the hand of the blower –
he shapes it at will and dissolves it at will –
so are we in Your hand, O forgiver of willful sins and errors, look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the curtain in the hand of the embroiderer –
he makes it even at will and makes it uneven at will –
so are we in Your hand, O jealous and vengeful God, look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

Like the silver in the hands of the silversmith –
he adulterates it at will and purifies it at will –
so are we in Your hand, O Creator of cure for disease, look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

JBY Endnote on Letter 25A:309 - Faith versus Philosophy

{Oldenburg's defense of Christianity would not stand-up in a court, but that does not matter:

In the sense that Religion is an hypothesis, I disagree that faith and philosophy have nothing to do with each otherrather, the two are synthesized.

It may have been Spinoza's way of not getting into an argument with the powers-that-be or breaking-the-faith in a transcendent god which has brought Peace of Mind to many (unthinking and thinking) people.}

For complete bibliography and book ordering see Glossary and Index:


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