Another Letter to V.C.
which contains a brief refutation of the Theological-Political Treatise, including a short appendix at the end about the intentions of Frans Kuyper’s book entitled The Secrets of Atheism Revealed …
Scholia In Epist. Ad V.C./ Scholia on the Letter to V.C.
Occasion and time of composition: More’s acquaintance with Spinoza is likely to go back to 1671, when he first mentioned him in his correspondence. In a letter to Robert Doyle, possibly dating from 4th December 1671, More relates how a friend, probably the Dutch Remonstrant Philippus van Limborch, who was instrumental in introducing the work of the Dutch rationalist in England, told him “that Spinosa, a Jew first, after a Cartesian, and now an atheist, is supposed the author of Theologico-Politicus” (Conway Letters, 519). In the same year, van Limborch also warned Oliver Doiley, another Cambridge divine, about Spinoza’s controversial critique of revealed religion. It is probable that in a letter to van Limborch of 1675, Henry Jenkes, a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College and a friend of More’s, had the Cambridge Platonists (or perhaps even More in particular) in mind when mentioning “Pious Readers and True Christians” opposed to Spinoza’s execrable teachings (Coli, Light and Enlightenment, 96). The Dutchman van Limborch and the Cambridge men Doiley and Jenkes may have been the “highly gifted men” mentioned in the introductory chapter of More’s Ad V.C. epistola altera who had been “persistently” entreating him to write a refutation of the Tractatus for some time (Epist. alt. 1 [Op. omn. II/1, 565]). Only in 1677, however, did More finally decide to give in to his European friends’ earnest entreaties and write the first major book-length refutation of Spinoza in the English language. At that time, the Flemish polymath Francis Mercury van Helmont (1614–1698), a friend both of More and his pupil Anne Conway, gave him a copy of The Secrets of Atheism Revealed by the Dutch collegiant Frans Kuyper, a refutation of Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise. While having the collection of loose sheets bound by the bookbinder, More chose to read Spinoza’s original work. Realizing how formidable an atheist onslaught upon rational Christian religion it contained, he proceeded to provide an in-depth refutation of both the original rationalist work and its fideist rebuttal:
“I come thus late to London by reason Cuperus his Confutation of Tractatus Theologicopoliticus which Monsieur Van Helmont gave me at Ragley from a friend in Holland, in quires, which while it was a binding at Cambridge I fell a reading Theologicopoliticus the better to understand Cuperus his confutation when it came from binding. But I found this Theologicopoliticus such an impious work, that I could not forbear confuting while a read him” (Conway Letters, 429).
It stands to reason that the common “friend in Holland” is van Limborch and that van Helmont himself is the anonymous V.C. or vir clarissimus to whom More’s refutation of Spinoza is addressed.
Context: The context of More’s first two works against Spinoza is of great importance and situates them firmly in two closely-linked controversies in early modern European intellectual history. For one thing, More’s two first anti-Spinozist writings are tied closely to his debates with Francis Mercury van Helmont, the first work’s likely addressee, and the network around him and More’s own “heroine pupil” Anne Conway at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire. His late anti-Spinozist writings postdate his earlier critiques of Jacob Boehme’s theosophy and the Lurianic Cabbala in his Censura Philosophiae Teutonicae of 1670 and a body of Kabbalistic commentaries on Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s magisterial textbook Kabbala Denudata (1677–1684) respectively. For another, More’s Epistola altera, as is clear from his critique of the volatile Dutch Remonstrant turned Socinian turned Collegiant Frans Kuyper (1629–1691), is a contribution to the Dutch Bredenburg Controversy raging over Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise. While a book of scandal raising an outcry in all of European Christendom right after its anonymous publication in 1670, the debate in the Netherlands was particularly vitriolic. Published in 1676, Kuyper’s own Secrets of Atheism Revealed against which More originally reacts in his first anti-Spinozist work is directed as much against Johannes Bredenburg’s An Anatomy of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus of 1675 as it is against Spinoza’s original work. Bredenburg (1643–1691), after whom the increasingly acerbic Disputes were named, was an important member of the Dutch Collegiant movement, a group of Christians who, prizing the inner light and the spirit of free and amicable enquiry over dogma, were originally renowned for their religious toleration. Spinoza himself had entertained close ties to the Collegiant movement and in the 1650s his friends Jari Jelles and Pieter Balling were figureheads of a radically rationalist group in its midst that was to give rise to the Bredenburg Disputes twenty years later. It was Bredenburg’s natural theology in his Treatise on the Origin of the Knowledge of God, circulated by 1673 and published in 1684, and, above all, his anti-Spinozist work Enervatio Tractatus Theologico-Politici of 1675 that sparked off the latent conflict. In the latter work, Bredenburg provided an exposition of Spinoza’s system which he believed to underlie his critique of revealed religion. Despite his best efforts, the author admitted to having failed to expose any non sequitur that undermined Spinoza’s naturalist and determinist philosophy of Deus sive natura. Bredenburg’s de facto concession that Spinoza’s philosophy was irrefutable made him the subject of scathing critique and scorn by his chief foe within the Collegiant community, Frans Kuyper, whose Philosophizing Boer of 1676, co-written with a like-minded friend, was the first of many works to accuse him of being a Spinozist and atheist himself. Kuyper’s own solution revolved around a fideism that denied reason any role in religious matters apart from a purely philological enquiry into the Holy Writ along Socinian lines. Bredenburg’s own radical solution hinged on a theory of double truth, one philosophical, one religious, which was to evoke the ire of van Limborch in the mid-1680s. Considering the European significance attaching to the Dutch Bredenburg debates, it is not surprising at all that van Helmont, given his and More’s joint work on the Cabbala and their discussions in Cambridge and at Ragley Hall, should have been interested in his friend’s view about Kuyper and Spinoza.
Sources and other References: The Treatise is the only work of Spinoza’s which More knew at the time of the composition of the Epistola altera. Having addressed the question of Spinoza’s probable authorship of the anonymous pamphlet several times, More acquired certainty only after purchasing and perusing the Opera Posthuma in London a year later. Besides the two works which he sets out to refute, More refers to several of his own earlier philosophical and theological works, notably his two philosophical handbooks, the Enchiridion Ethicum and the Enchridium Metaphysicum, and his principal theological work Grand Mystery of Godliness, as well as later exegetical commentaries on Ezekiel which are part of the large body of works devoted to the Christian Kabbalist project of Christian Knorr von Rosenroth and Francis Mercury van Helmont. The two handbooks contain More’s epistemology of the boniform faculty and of right reason and his ontology of divine space occupied by finite spiritual extensions, i.e. angels, humans, animals and plants, and finite material extensions or inanimate objects. Besides the basic tenets of his mature metaphysics, the latter handbook also provides an account of the spirit of nature upon which More explicitly draws in his critique of Spinoza. The theological works referenced, both the systematic Grand Mystery and the collection of exegetical commentaries on Ezekiel, contain the most comprehensive expositions of More’s Origenist Christology of the pre-existent Christ soul informed by the Logos or the Son of the Christian Trinity which he believed to be contained in the unadulterated authentic Mosaic Cabbala. Besides Spinoza’s and his works, More also draws on patristic authors, namely Justin Martyr and Origen, as well as contemporary Remonstrant biblical scholarship, notably Hugo Grotius.
Structure: The work’s clear tripartite structure reflects the original occasion of its composition. With the sole exception of chapter 5 which he dismisses as immaterial and innocuous, More subjects each chapter of Spinoza’s Treatise to criticism varying both in depth and detail. The structure of the Ad V.C. epistola altera, therefore, corresponds to the Tractatus’s division into a longer theological (1–36 [II/1, 565–587]) and a shorter political section (37–46 [II/1, 587–595]). The work’s final part contains a rebuttal of Kuyper’s The Secrets of Atheism (47–50 [II/1, 595–601]). It ends with a brief creed-like summary of the key tenets of More’s own mature rational theology (51 [II/1, 601). The scholia appended to the original work are divided into notes on Spinoza’s Opera Posthuma (II/1, 602–605) and a separate rebuttal of Francis Glisson’s Tractatus de Natura Substantiae Energetica seu de vita naturae eiusque tribus primis facultatibus (II/1, 611). More then added scholia on his additional observations of Spinoza and Glisson (II/1, 611–614).
Metaphysics and Religious Philosophy: In response to Spinoza’s rational theology of the Deus sive natura, More restates his Platonist notion of God as a supreme moral agent committed to univocal goodness as the first and most noble of his attributes. As such, God cannot be identified with the world, but must be transcendent to it. In his rebuttal of the two principal objections levelled against classical theism in Spinoza’s Treatise, namely God’s supernatural revelation and intervention in natural and human affairs, More first sets out to defend his concept of an intuitive insight into God. The chief power by which the prophets acquired the most sublime of truths about God, the soul and the world was their “boniform faculty” or, as the author chooses to term it in his Ad V.C. Epistola altera, a “natural sagacity” or an “internal sense” (20; II/1, 574). It is the power by which the soul, prior to any discursive reasoning, grasps or “touches” the infinity of God’s universal goodness in indisputable intuitive awareness. The prophetic soul’s boniform vision is one of a world proceeding from and guided by a God of universal goodness and beneficence. In revelation, God himself acts upon the prophet, imparting to him indubitable knowledge about his universal and disinterested goodness and his salvific designs. The soul’s innate epistemic power of “natural sagacity” by which it understands God’s goodness and grace is also invoked as the first principle of biblical hermeneutics. Salvation history, as laid down in scripture, rather than Spinoza’s Cartesian cosmology of a mechanistic world devoid of all spiritual presence is the chief source of the pious soul’s knowledge of a beneficent Deity. The God intuited in prophetic vision is one who intervenes in the world contrary to its laws. On the one hand, “the spirit of nature which embraces the common laws of nature in a living fashion” (18 [II/1,573]) is the principle whereby God displays his care and providence in law-governed organic processes in nature. On the other hand, however, God is at liberty to infringe its law in strict libertarian agency “as he sees fit”. Among the leitmotifs of the Epistola’s rational theology is the formulaic “as he sees fit”, which More invokes time and again to bring home the diverse modes of the Deity’s salvific agency in the course of history. To this chief theological end, More rejects the identification of divine will and understanding in God or nature in favour of a God who understands all possible worlds in the beginning, but wills and creates only one. In opposition to Spinoza’s deterministic cosmos, the world created is one of genuine contingency and agency in which free and responsible rational beings are called upon to adhere to the divine law inscribed in their minds by God himself in a process of soul-making: “Why should not God, if he exists and if he is a being distinct from worldly matter, be able to inscribe laws in the minds of men, doing it in such a way, however, that it is up to them to obey them or not and after their disobedience try in new ways to lead them to good fruits, as he is said to have done on Mount Sinai in giving the Laws to Moses?” (43 [II/1, 593]).
Theology: The Ad V.C. epistola altera contains an outline of More’s Origenist Christology which views Christ as a superior human being wholly informed by God’s spirit in perfect boniform vision. Like all souls, Christ’s pre-exists his earthly existence, acquiring moral and intellectual perfection prior to his union with the Son. In the vein of ante-Nicene Christology, More identifies the God of Old Testament theophanies with the Christ soul incorporated in a superior aethereal vehicle and sent to Israel at the Father’s behest. The God depicted as dwelling upon Mount Sinai is “the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos” (4 [II/1, 566]). While largely passing over chapter 5 of the Tractatus, More nevertheless provides a brief summary of his theology of the two sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist in that part of his work (17 [II/2, 572]). Both sacraments are closely tied to his religious ethics and epistemology of purgation and participation. In the Eucharist, the soul, reminded of Christ’s passion endured solely for our sake, is once again made a “living image of God”. Christ kindles in it “a divine love both of him and of each other” by which it is assimilated to God himself.
Ethics and politics: In the second part of his work, More provides a sustained critique of Spinoza’s political contractualism, arguing that man possesses a moral a priori preceding any political contract. Not only is his strict positivism of law and right at odds with Spinoza’s own professed innatism of a moral law, but it is also untenable on conceptual grounds. The very term “right” requires a “law”, which, in turn, is rational in character and, therefore, of necessity presupposes a rational agent enacting it. According to More, this law is the a priori of right reason rooted in the soul’s boniform vision of God’s own universal goodness. No rational being must infringe the innate law for the sake of personal expedience. It is this right alone granted by God and secured by his law that is transferred to the sovereign when citizens agree to enter into a contract to found a body politic. As a consequence, the sovereign and the subjects continue to be bound by the moral and legal force of the pre-existing universal law of right reason.
Fideism and panpsychism: In his refutations of Frans Kuyper’s Arcana Atheismi Revelata and Francis Glisson’s Tractatus de natura substantiae energetica More expands upon his critique of Spinoza in various ways. Identifying Kuyper as a materialist, he rejects the latter’s notion of a God inhabiting certain places of extended space as both preposterous and unbecoming of the most perfect being. Contra his fideism, he reasserts his practical rationalism, emphasizing the objective existence of goodness identified with God himself. More’s critique of the Cambridge physician and metaphysician Glisson’s audacious draft of panpsychism in his Treatise on Energetic Nature is remarkable on two grounds. For one thing, More, reasserting his doctrine of the spirit of nature, rejects panpsychism, emphasizing the now classic “combination problem”. Assuming that matter possessed life of itself, it would be hardly conceivable how various atom lives should coalesce to form higher organisms endowed with perception and intellection. For another, More is prepared to subscribe to his own variety of panpsychism. According to More’s later position, all reality, proceeding from God, resembles him in possessing life. However, only if there is an immutable divine intellect guiding these atoms of life to increasingly higher forms of conscious unity does panpsychism have explanatory power.
Significance and reception: More’s Epistola altera is an important and influential work. Historically, it marks the beginning of the critical reception of Spinoza’s rationalism on English soil. More himself went on to build upon his earlier refutation, adding to it a response to the Spinozist panpsychism of Francis Glisson’s Energetic Nature and the whole-scale naturalism of Spinoza’s own Ethics a year later, publishing his trilogy of anti-Spinozist writings in his Opera Omnia II/1 of 1679. The corpus of More’s anti-Spinozist writings also left its mark upon the Dutch Bredenburg Disputes in which the epistolary treatise originated, intended initially as a refutation of Kuyper’s The Secrets of Atheism Revealed. In a remarkable turn of events, Frans Kuyper, much to the chagrin of van Limborch who warned More against the schemes of his theological archfoe in a letter from 1680, approached the renowned Cambridge Platonist to enlist him in his ongoing struggle against Bredenburg. Kuyper’s polemical treatise of 1686 entitled Proof that neither the Creation of Nature nor the Miracles which the Holy Scripture describes are in any way contrary to Natural Reason. Against the Atheistical Principles of Johannes Bredenburg clearly witnesses to their shared theological concerns in their struggle against Spinoza and his (alleged) contemporary disciples. Significantly, More’s critique and his correspondence with Conway on the subject are referenced in the Bredenburg faction’s Some Considerations or Observations on the Writtten Discussion between Professor Philippus van Limborch and Johannes Bredenburg written in response to Kuyper’s attack in the same year. Not surprisingly, the English philosopher’s dismissive remarks about Kuyper are cited. Kuyper, in turn, retaliated by accusing his opponents of having misunderstood the judgement of Dr Henry More referenced in the work’s title: Proof that J.D. Verburg himself admits that he has treated F.K. with the greatest untruth … together with the judgement of Dr Henry More, which is untruly represented and published by J.D.V. (Colie, Light and Enlightenement, 102). When he finally got More’s permission to print his Dutch translation of the Confutatio in 1686, he falsely attributed to him a large section of sustained polemics against his own opponent Bredenburg allegedly put forward in omitted parts of More’s original treatise. More continued to be cited as a principal authority in the Dutch debates until the end of the 17th century. It is testimony to his European renown that Pierre Bayle references Kuyper’s Dutch translation of More’s Confutatio and the controversy that gave rise to it in the hugely influential Spinoza entry of his Dictionary Historical and Critical of 1697, thus ensuring that More continued to be a household name in the subsequent European reception of Spinoza. Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that Friedrich H. Jacobi, when listening to Gotthold E. Lessing lecture about his belief in Spinoza’s hen kai pan, could not help but think of “Henry More and F. Merc. van Helmont, philosophus per unum in quo omnia” (Scholz, Pantheismusstreit, 62).
In terms of its philosophical and theological contents, the Ad V.C. Epistola altera cannot be dismissed either as a work mainly polemical in contents or ignorant of the allegedly great elective kinship between Spinozism and his own Platonism. Instead, More, for all his polemics against his philosophical opponent, repeatedly recognizes Spinoza’s metaphysical genius. Above all, the Epistola altera provides a perceptive analysis of the major differences between Spinozism and Cambridge Platonism, notably on the key concerns of divine goodness and human freedom. More’s critique of Spinozist contractualism in particular is among the most important texts of the Cambridge Platonists’ unduly neglected political philosophy.
I have finally done in part, V.C., what several other highly gifted men have been requesting me to do as frequently and as persistently as you yourself have. Thus, I read through the Theological-Political Treatise and, while reading, set down observations and notes on almost every single chapter. I believe I would never have done so had not a certain friend from overseas sent me Fr. Kuyper’s Confutation on several loose sheets of paper as a gift. Having had those sent to a bookbinder to tie them together, it occurred to me that it might not be amiss first of all to peruse that book which Kuyper refutes before reading his Confutation. If it had not been for that, I think, I would never have read the Treatise, since I had so often felt in reading Pomponazzi, Cardano, Vaninus, Hobbes and other men of that same kind that absolutely everything these atheists and enemies of religion advance in their cause comes to naught (even though I do not mind admitting that I found in the author of this Treatise a mind a little more complex and astute than in those others mentioned above). However, going quickly through each of the chapters and recalling to mind my abovementioned notes, I shall briefly show you how it is all unfounded. However, I will not examine every single aspect treated, but only the strongest arguments and once these have been demolished, the rest that are based upon them will likewise come tumbling down and the impious author will fail in his nefarious design, which is no other than the utter destruction of revealed religion. It is to this end that he endeavours to subvert the faith which is owed to the prophets and prophecy, to miracles and to all the books of the New and Old Testaments alike.
1. However, we shall now look at how groundlessly and impudently he sets about doing this. The first chapter is about prophecy. There, in order to disqualify prophecy as being on the same level as natural knowledge, he first gives a false definition of it, saying it is a “certain knowledge about something revealed to men by God” (1,1, p. 15). However, as God, either directly or indirectly, is the most general cause of absolutely everything, all knowledge, therefore, would be a prophecy or revelation provided only it was certain, like “The part is smaller than the whole”, “Every number is either even or odd”, etc. This is exactly what this author babbles. That this definition is too wide for the thing defined is manifest from the consent of all moralists who recognize prophecy only where a revelation is beyond human powers or at least beyond the powers of the man who is given the revelation. Hence, the apostles are rightly said to “prophesy” in various different languages, even though they spoke in languages that others had learned and acquired by nature and practice, but they spoke them without any of that prior practice or teaching. This clearly shows that a supernatural power assisted them and this event was an excellent testimony of divine providence acting freely, as the circumstances required. To complete the definition, therefore, we need to add a reference to this supernatural power: prophecy or divine revelation is the certain knowledge of something beyond the human faculties (or at least beyond those of the person who is given a revelation), revealed by God either directly or indirectly through a good angel. Hence, it is manifest that even though prophets had a human mind as well as a human body, something greater than human must nonetheless have assisted their minds in a special way. Nor need anyone imagine that their minds were of a different kind from that of other mortals, as Spinoza jests (if indeed he is the author of the Treatise, as almost everybody believes).
2. It is clear from this, moreover, that the first and principal source of divine revelation, contrary to what Spinoza says, cannot be the human mind and that the natural idea of God in us alone cannot achieve this without special divine help.
3. As to the causes of prophecy, it seems to be a just demand at first that we must look for them solely in Scripture, as we cannot say anything about things that exceed the limits of our intellect except for what we learn from the prophets’ speech or work. However, he himself does not trust them, for a little later he concludes that in scriptural Hebrew, not everything that God says to somebody must be considered a prophecy or supernatural knowledge, but only that which Scripture expressly calls, or which the circumstances of a story show to have been, a prophecy or a revelation. This amounts to a carping criticism of prophetic certainty since we would not know whether something had been divinely inspired or not unless the prophets said so. Nor can we gain any certainty as to their supernatural inspiration from their own declarations, since in the Hebrew usage ordinary and natural things tend to be referred to God as well. Against his will, however, he has shown that whenever something is revealed to the prophets which is beyond ordinary human (or their own) faculties, something greater than human assisted them and that, hence, they were inspired. And we may rightly attribute that which exceeds the bounds of our intellect to a divine or supernatural agency. To this, however, Spinoza is very much averse.
4. About God’s conversation with Moses he philosophizes as follows: “What if God had manipulated Moses’s lips (but why Moses and not some animal?) to pronounce the same words and say, ‘I am God’, would they have understood the existence of God from that? Also, Scripture unequivocally states that God himself spoke (and descended from heaven to Mount Sinai for this purpose), and not only did the Jews hear him speaking, but the elders also saw him (see Exodus, ch. 24)” (1,12–13, pp. 18–19). Spinoza says that with a most wicked intention, implying that Moses had admitted God to be corporeal. “Moreover”, he says, “Scripture clearly affirms that God does have a shape, and that when Moses was listening to God talking, he actually caught a glimpse of him, but saw nothing other than God’s back” (1,13, p. 19). I do not know what mystery Spinoza says is hidden here. I do believe, though, that there is a hidden mystery and that Christ, the Son of God and equally God himself and man, i.e. man not yet incarnate and still in his ethereal state, is being hinted at in these places. Since I have already discussed this in a great many places in my works, it will suffice here to call this to your mind. It was through the presence of that θεάνθρωπος that the Israelites came to grasp God’s existence according to the saviour’s word: “Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me” (Jn. 12:45). I know well enough, however, that no-one, neither Spinoza nor any other, can destroy the truth of the θεανθρωπία of Christ. And hence, they should stop marvelling at the places in Moses that represent God as having a body and a shape and as spiritual and invisible, since the God of Israel himself was the soul of the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos, as I have shown in more detail in my Exposition of the Vision of Ezekiel.
5. As to the modes in which God reveals himself to the prophets, he argues that they are either external or internal. By internal ones he understands either imagined voices or representations, by external ones real external images or representations or a real external voice upon which, he contends, Moses alone relied, which is why he is said “to have conversed with God face to face” (Ex. 33:11). Yet, this must be understood of the frequency of his conversations as no-one else spoke to God in such a familiar way, i.e. so frequently. However, he restricts prophecy to these modes in order to drag it beneath human intellect, as the following makes clear, even though nothing hinders but that God communicated to Moses the reason of all things together with the things themselves. He might also have confided to him the origins of the Jewish Cabbala – let Spinoza, that petulant would-be philosopher, who so much despises the cabbalists by profession, laugh as much as he pleases.
6. However, while he has restricted Moses and the other prophets to the four modes of revelation just mentioned, they being too stupid and the sort of people he secretly condemns as being completely unfamiliar with philosophy, he does acknowledge nevertheless – the courtesy so characteristic of him – that “God’s decrees … were revealed to Christ directly, without words or visions, so that God revealed himself to the apostles through Christ’s mind, as he had done to Moses by means of an aerial voice. And hence, the voice of Christ, like that which Moses heard, can be called God’s voice” (1,18, p. 21). And a little later he adds: “What I have just said, I infer from Scripture. For nowhere have I read that God appeared to Christ or spoke to him. Therefore, if Moses spoke with God face to face as a man with his friend (that is, through the mediation of two bodies), Christ communicated with God from mind to mind” (1,19, p. 21). While his words certainly seem pious, he nevertheless tacitly and treacherously mocks both Moses and Christ; Moses, for one, for having introduced a God with a body and a form, talking to himself, and Christ, for another, for having wanted to be a prophet, even though God never talked to him in a prophetic fashion, but only acted upon his mind. The mind, however, as Spinoza has insinuated a little earlier, cannot perceive anything that is not included in the first principles of human knowledge. He therefore tries hard to subvert all semblances of prophecy and revelation. Yet, it is not without a deeper reason that God is nowhere said to have appeared or spoken to Christ, as he had to Moses before whom, as it says, he gave the law, for he was already incarnate as that very God who spoke to Moses, i.e. the God of Israel, speaking to the apostles and the other disciples from a human body and dictating the divine oracles, anointed with divine unction in the most abundant degree. Hence, that which he dictated nevertheless came from nothing but a divine principle, even though it is in accord with purified human reason. However, miracles, voices from heaven, the resurrection, the ascension, the sending of the Holy Spirit and the fulfilment of apocalyptic visions provided most abundant evidence that he was who he professed to be, namely the Son of God.
7. The following eight pages are devoted to an enumeration of various meanings of the word “spirit”, where he falsely asserts that “spirit” sometimes denotes the Law of Moses. Above all, however, he exults in the fact that the addition of the expression “of God” to things, as when it says “mountain of God”, “cedar of God” or “wind of God”, does not signify a difference in kind, but only a more than usual size or intensity. As a consequence, the “spirit of God” in the prophets, though called “spirit”, may likewise be human or natural only, albeit outstanding, unique and beyond the common measure, thus not differing in kind, but only in its unique and eminent degree. And finally, he adds that the prophets were said to possess the “spirit of God”, because people were ignorant of the causes of prophetic knowledge and admired it, hence attributing it to God like other portents and calling it knowledge of God. He thereby clearly implies that the gift of prophecy is not divine, but natural and need not be ascribed to God’s power in the common sense of the word. “Indeed”, he says, “because the power of nature is nothing other than the power of God itself, it is certain that we fail to understand the power of God to the extent that we are ignorant of natural causes. Therefore, it is foolish to have recourse to this same power of God when we are ignorant of the natural cause of some thing, which is, precisely, the power of God” (1,27, p. 28). Here he plainly confounds God and nature, making them one and the same thing, or rather acknowledges no other God than nature. However, since we have proven in our Enchiridium Metaphysicum time and again that not only matter, but also the spirit of nature is beneath God and distinct from him, I refer you to this work lest this present short letter swell too much in size. And since the innate apparatus of human souls reaches solely to the universal reasons of things, not to singular things or individuals or events in the distant future, as contained in the predictions of Daniel and the Apocalypse, it is manifest, I say, that it is something greater than human, either a good angel or God himself, who reveals such things to the prophets. Meanwhile, however, you can observe that Spinoza only dictates his delirious words without even trying to give any proof. And that is it for chapter one.
8. In the second chapter, he enquires how the prophets gain the certainty about that which they perceived only through the imagination and not from certain principles of the mind. Then, he divides their certainty into three aspects, viz. “vivid imagination”, “sign” and “a mind directed exclusively to the good and just” (2,5, p. 31) as if images were only internal and not occasionally external like voices. When pseudo-prophets, however, experience vivid impressions of the imagination and signs, he wants the power of this certainty to consist entirely in all of them combined. I do not doubt, however, that true and pious prophets possess an absolutely indubitable and firm certainty about their revelations, which, moreover, stems from different principles, and which is based less on external signs or the power of the imagination than on an ineffable strengthening of the heart through the power of the Divine Spirit dwelling there as in its own shrine. Being lived, rather than imagined, this constancy and firmness of a revelation, its nature, is beyond anyone save the prophet himself. Let us, in the meantime, take a look at this second chapter where he says that he will discuss the “certainty of the prophets”, but restricts himself to vilifying them.
9. For, firstly, he concludes from the preceding chapter that prophets were not endowed with a more perfect mind, but solely a capacity for more vivid imagination and that those who have the best imaginative abilities are less capable of a pure understanding of things.
Secondly, as simple imagination does not provide certainty by its nature, the prophets, hence, could have been certain about their revelation of God only through signs, but false prophets experienced signs as well.
Thirdly, prophecies differed not only in respect of a prophet’s imagination and his body’s temperament, but also in respect of the opinions which he had had before, and hence, “no prophecy ever made a prophet more learned” (2,12, p. 35).
Fourthly, prophecy, in this respect, is inferior to natural knowledge which requires no sign, but provides certainty by its very nature, prophetic certainty not being mathematical, but solely moral.
Fifthly, it is true that “God never deceives the pious and elect, but uses the pious as instruments of his piety” (2,4, p. 31) and veracity, as is shown by the example of Micaiah and the false prophets of his time. However, “since nobody can justify himself before God or claim to be an instrument of divine piety, the certainty of a prophet can still only be a moral certainty” (ibid.).
Sixthly and lastly, it is nothing but a rash assumption that (as everybody is convinced) “the prophets knew everything that human understanding can attain” (2,13, p. 35).
To the first, however, I reply: here Spinoza philosophizes foolishly und thoughtlessly, ascribing the gift of prophecy to a particularly vivid power of the imagination. But it is rather due to the quietness and tranquillity of the imagination and its passivity that someone shows himself more apt to receive revelations than to its vivacity and vigour. And what, I ask, could the power or vigour of the imagination do if there were nothing directing it to anticipate future events? Since this is beyond human faculties, it must be at least angelical, if not divine. And hence, it is credible that Elisha asked for an instrument to prepare himself for the prophecies so that his imagination was soothed to the extent of Malachi’s, as it were, or the undisturbed surface of a calm sea. He was therefore able to receive the images of the prophetic impressions, which are reflected only imperfectly in a disturbed mind, more easily and more reliably. And those who can soothe themselves till they reach this tranquillity of mind are more capable of a pure understanding of things if they focus upon the latter.
To the second I reply that even though there usually tend to be external signs, prophets may nevertheless be equally certain without them because of a higher principle dwelling in their hearts, namely the most inward operation of the divine spirit that stirs a faith stronger than all imagination, reason or external sign. There is no reason, however, why we should worry too much about the certainty which the prophets themselves had about their predictions, since the events themselves confirmed those which are relevant to our religion so conspicuously and so miraculously, as I prove in great detail first in The Grand Mystery of Godliness and then in the Prophetic Synopsis. However, Spinoza, in his blind and inebriated temper, charges at things of which he is the least capable judge in an impious assault.
Against the third: many things, though minor and superficial, fall under this point. As to the temperament, even though cheerful minds may incline their possessors to imagine pleasant things and sad minds sad things, what does this have to do with their anticipation of the exact circumstances of a long succession of events both pleasant and sad, as happens in Daniel and St. John? One who philosophises so frivolously and tiresomely about prophecies cannot be entirely ignorant of matters prophetical. As regards the differences in style, his inference that they all prophesied by their own power since they all have their unique style, Isaiah’s being courtly and Ezekiel and Amos’ rustic, is an altogether ill-informed one. It is as if one were to infer that horses had found their way to this or that location by their own power and guidance and not by the horseman’s, since each has its own gait, the first a trotting one, the other an ambling one, etc. Just as the horseman, hence, directs the horse, sometimes allowing it its own gait, so the Divine Spirit directs the sense of the prophet, though sometimes allowing him a mode of speech that is either rustic or courtly. He ascribes the obscure mode of prophetic representations to the imagination as well, complaining that the representation of God’s glory in Isaiah differs from that in Ezekiel – as though it necessarily always had to be represented without any variations in the same fashion and reported in full detail everywhere! However, he is wrong in saying that Isaiah saw seraphim each with six wings and that Ezekiel saw animals each with four wings because the animals had six wings too, as I have noted in my Exposition of the Vision of Ezekiel. Nor is it absurd in any way that the representations of certain prophets should be more obscure than those of others. It suffices that they all surpassed the human faculties, as I have pointed out in my definition of prophecy. The words heard by Daniel (ch. 10), he asserts entirely groundlessly and foolishly, were solely imaginary, for it is absolutely clear from the text that the conversation was external and that it is ridiculous to ascribe the obscurity of Daniel’s prophecy to the weakness of his imagination. Here, however, this impious prankster thinks that all the prophets’ revelations were their own imaginings only, as he secretly believes that there are neither angels nor even a God distinct from nature. And to make fun of the prophets’ testimonies about them, he fantasizes that they were completely dull people and that only such things were revealed to them as they could understand, i.e., that their prophecies were adapted to whatever ridiculous opinions or imaginings they entertained. As evidence for that he foolishly cites the example of Joshua praying that the “sun stand still upon Gideon” (Josh. 10:12), a common figure of speech which even a Copernican could use in his prayers to God, and also the sign of the shadow moving backwards in Isaiah (Isa. 38:7–8), to which almost the same reasoning can be applied. For, first of all, these utterances (or at least one of them) are to be called prayers, rather than revelations. Moreover, from the fact that the Divine Spirit permits them to use common figures of speech and ordinary expressions to denote things which appear like this to almost the whole of humankind, and which for all of them express a universal truth about appearances, it does not follow at all that it does not correct certain peculiar errors about highly significant things lest they lose their whole credibility by mixing right and wrong. However, it is because of his ignorance of the text itself that he ascribes the miracles of the sun standing still and going back to some ice or parhelia (2,13, p. 36), since Scripture says that the sun stood still for a whole day and that the shadow went backwards for about ten degrees in Ahaz’ dial, i.e. for about ten hours (2 Kings 20:11). Hence, it must have seemed like an enormous miracle to Justin Martyr on the basis of the Ptolemaic hypothesis that the sun itself stood still or moved backwards. However, it seems in fact to have been a lesser miracle, a divine nod having hindered the daily motion of the earth with its atmosphere for so many hours or turned it in a contrary motion. For by this means he would have least disturbed the order of the universe, nor would the earth’s annual motion have thereby been affected in any way. However, it is not necessary here to give any clear description, stating only that this would not be beyond the power of the God of Israel who initially imposed order upon the elements of the earth’s globe.
However, turning now to the common and false opinions which he attributes to the prophets about whom he would like us to believe that they have never experienced such external appearances or divine revelations at all, owing everything to the workings or their own imagination instead – “God spoke to him in his imagination” [2,14, p. 38]), as he expressly says about Abraham’s conversation with God –, almost everything that he deems absurd about these appearances will vanish at once on adopting the following hypothesis: the God who is reported to have appeared to the Patriarchs was the soul of the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos. For, as he was both truly God and an ethereal man, he could, thus, both be called God and nevertheless also be called whatever is beneath God. In this way, all his banters can be disposed of with ease, as you can see for yourself, since it would take too long to apply this to every single case and you can easily solve the contradictions between the prophets’ opinions which he makes up. For I have already said more about this chapter than I had intended to. However, I cannot but note once again that it was almost solely due to one thing that he succumbed so much to this figment of the imagination, namely that the revelations were all adapted to the prophets’ capacity and that their errors were not corrected by any revelations. Therefore, nothing could be established from their revelations about the existence of spirits and angels. For, in his impudence, he goes so far as to declare about Christ that when he says to the Pharisees: “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself, how, then, should his kingdom stand?” (Mt. 12:26), “he meant only to rebut the Pharisees on the basis of their own principles and not to teach men that demons or a realm of demons exist. Likewise, when he said to his disciples: ‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven …’ (Mt. 18:10), the only thing he intends to teach is that they should not be proud” (2,19, p. 43). Oh, this impudence of that dirty would-be philosopher! As if the Saviour were to put forward an entirely false and fictitious argument so emphatically to prove something!
Lastly, he is obviously wrong in saying that “no prophecy ever made a prophet more learned” (2,12, p. 35), which is manifest from the philosophic cabbala of the first three chapters of Genesis. It is very fitting that Moses should have received it from God together with the story. And as to the vision of Ezekiel, even though he did not understand its philosophical meaning, being the rustic man he was, it is nevertheless evident, since it is so deep and apt a symbol of so many and so sublime philosophical mysteries, that it cannot have been born from the prophet’s own imagination, but must rather be a representation truly divine and beyond the prophet’s faculties. Hence, some power more potent than man sometimes mingles in human affairs. To that, however, Spinoza’s dirty and abject mind is very much averse.
To the fourth I reply that the greatest part of natural philosophy, even that which he extols above all others, namely the mechanical philosophy or Cartesianism, does not require a sign, and nor does it have one, which makes it entirely unstable, as I have proved in great detail in the Enchiridium Metaphysicum. And since I have already pointed that out above, it is not necessary to repeat that not every prophecy requires a sign. And if its certainty is only moral, not mathematical, it nevertheless suffices for a pious life. However, it was also due to an internal sense, I say, that the prophets were absolutely certain and we, on the other hand, are certain due to the events corresponding to their predictions.
Against the fifth: although there is no true prophet who would boast of being the instrument of God’s piety, he nevertheless cannot but feel intensely, whether he wants to or not, that he is one of those, that all of this is for God’s glory only and that he is given a certainty beyond moral certainty. Incidentally, this exceeds the earthly capacity of Spinoza’s intellect by far.
Lastly, however, I should very much like to reject with Spinoza himself that common misunderstanding that those who are made prophets know everything that the human intellect is capable of attaining to. Their prophetic knowledge is restricted to what is divinely communicated to them for the benefit of the people or the church of God, as required by the circumstances. And this is pretty much everything that I have thought worth noting about this second chapter. You should see quite clearly from all of this that Spinoza says nothing of any import that might take away from the Hebrew prophets’ dignity and credibility.
11. However, he attempts to achieve this by new means in the third chapter in which he concludes that “the prophetic gift was not peculiar to the Jews, but common to all peoples” (3,9, p. 53). Here I do not disagree as such, though I do beg to differ sharply about the extent. For prophets were rare among the gentiles if the history books are to be trusted in any way, and they prophesied about matters of lesser import. However, the Hebrew prophets, as Spinoza admits, were not only sent by God to their own nation, but to others as well. In order to show that, he cites Ezekiel, Obadiah, Jonas and Jeremiah. And it is obvious that Daniel not only prophesied clearly about the kingdom of Christ, but also about the four monarchies, that he predicted all the vicissitudes of the Christian church after the Messiah in general and that he revealed the year of the latter’s crucifixion 500 years before it occurred. I want to pass over in silence that the Mosaic economy, the tent, the brazen serpent, and the sacrifices were all types of things pertaining to Christ and his church or that St. John, born of a Jewish tribe, foretold in most splendid prophecies the state of the Christian world and also other peoples from the beginning of Christianity to this very day and beyond, indeed up to the very end of the world or the conflagration of the earth. No other peoples possess or have ever possessed something comparable to that. This is how unwarranted Spinoza’s vilification of the Hebrew prophets is.
12. Moreover, not being content to subject the whole Jewish people to quite some scorn, he denies that they had any special election as God’s people before all the other nations regarding any matter of great significance. To understand this more clearly, you must first note what Spinoza understands by “God’s direction”, which phrase he uses in this chapter and by which, as one will notice soon, he understands that “fixed and unalterable order of nature or the interconnectedness of natural things”; “the universal laws of nature according to which all things happen are nothing other than the eternal decrees of God and always involve truth and necessity and whether, therefore, we say that all things happen according to the laws of nature or are ordained by the decree and direction of God, we are saying the same thing; and therefore, whatever human nature can do by its own power to preserve itself, that can be rightly called God’s internal aid, and whatever proves useful to man from the power of external causes, that can be rightly called God’s external aid” (3,3, p. 46). These are his words. From this everyone who has not lost his nose entirely can smell what his conviction is, namely that there is no God except for the material nature of the things themselves, of which we are part, and that, therefore, our power is God’s internal power und all things are likewise God. “And from this”, he says, “we can readily understand what is to be understood by ‘God’s election’”, namely “everything acts and moves in accordance with the predetermined order of nature, that is, the eternal direction and decree of God” (or the necessary and mechanical motion of worldly matter) (ibid.) and that, therefore, every other people areas much God’s chosen people as the Jews. These are his words, uttered from his impudent mouth, although he does not even try to prove them with any arguments.
Since, however, everything that we sincerely wish for relates to a good and secure life and a healthy body, the very nature of this election and preference of the Hebrew people before all other nations, he claims, consists wholly in these things, namely, in the temporary happiness of their state and the external commodities of life. But he only asserts that repeatedly, I say, without giving any proof and in obvious defiance of Paul’s express opinion. After asking, “What, then, is the advantage of the Jew?”, he answers at once: “Much every way, chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rm. 3: 1–2). If these did not contain any wisdom except for that common to all nations or did not contain it in some better way, it would certainly have not been a privilege. Hence, they prefigure and predict the way of our eternal salvation through Christ, not to mention the philosophic cabbala of the Jews hidden in Bereshit and Mercava, the most rational rules of life confirmed by divine authority, the frequent examples of God’s providence acting either against or above the laws of nature, as the situation requires, and the workings of his angels, the knowledge of their existence and of a God distinct from nature being of great concern to humankind. But these truths are too sublime for this blind apostate from both Moses and Christ to comprehend, as he impudently defies both of them with the inane boasting of his philosophy. There is no doubt, however, that the true philosophy, penetrating as it does into the most inward being of things, has established as absolutely certain the existence both of a God distinct from nature and of angels, which Moses and Christ insist upon so much, as I have proven everywhere in my works. And these are the salient points which I thought worthy of note in chapter three.
13. For the things said at the beginning of this chapter, that Moses or God connived at the Jews’ enviousness, impressing on them that they had been chosen by God before all others as a special people, endowed with quite excellent privileges, are childish banter. Lucretius judges far more generously and more appositely about the pleasure accruing to us when we compare our own state to another more miserable and less happy:
‘Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds
Roll up its waste of waters, from the land
To watch another's labouring anguish far,
Not that we joyously delight that man
Should thus be smitten, but because 'tis sweet
To mark what evils we ourselves be spared.
Thus, the Jews are made to be very much aware of their privileges vis-à-vis all other peoples not in order to delight in the other peoples’ shortage of goods, but rather in their own abundance thereof, which they perceived more fully by comparing them with the others’ shortage, thereby binding themselves further to God. But these petulant and perverse lemurs always have the habit of mocking and ridiculing the holiest and most solid things.
You might believe you are listening to an angel of light in this fourth chapter, as he sings wholeheartedly in such praise of the divine law, of God, of the knowledge of God and the love of God or the highest good. But it will be worth our effort to look at his words more closely to understand their meaning. “Law”, he says, “is a rule for living which people prescribe to themselves or others for some purpose. It is twofold, human and divine, the sole purpose of the former being the protection of life and state, the latter looking only to the highest good, that is, to the true knowledge and love of God” (4,2–3, pp. 58–59). And up to this point he expresses himself quite nicely excerpt for the fact that he makes man the founder of the divine law. However, he continues: “Our highest good consists in the perfection of our understanding. The understanding is perfected by the knowledge of God. The more, however, we learn about natural things, the greater and more perfect the knowledge of God we acquire or, since the knowledge of an effect through its cause is simply to know some property of the cause, the more we learn about natural things, the more perfectly we come to know God’s essence, which is the cause of all things” (4,4, p. 60). Here you can clearly see that he implies that the effects or phenomena of nature are properties of the divine essence, thereby establishing quite openly once again that there is no God but nature itself. Thus, when he says that it is both “the sum and the highest precept of the divine law to love God as the highest good”, that “the knowledge of love and God” is “the highest aim to which all our actions are to be directed” and that “the carnal man cannot understand this” and that “it seems foolish to him, since he finds in it nothing that he can stroke, gorge on”, etc. (4,5, p. 60–61), who can refrain from laughter or at least indignation, since it all ends in the knowledge of nature, which devils are as capable of acquiring as good men and which, as is equally evident, cannot be the highest good unless you want even devils to be happy in the highest degree? It is certainly something more divine, holy and blessed than the understanding, as I have proven in the Enchiridion Ethicum, so that it is not necessary to repeat it here.
15. What he adds in praise of this natural knowledge of God is completely intolerable, however: “Belief in historical narratives, however certain, cannot give us any knowledge of God nor, consequently, love of God either” (4,6, p. 61). Assuming that all the historical narratives in the Old and New Testaments are certain, do they not give us knowledge of God, that is to say, that he is the creator of all things, that he is omnipotent, omniscient as well as a just and very benign observer of human affairs? There is no greater demonstration of divine benignity than the history of our blessed Saviour. Does not his revelation kindle our love of God more strongly than the knowledge of natural things, from which, if one holds on to Cartesian philosophy, which Spinoza admires so much, we cannot conclude whether there is a God or not, whether he is good and wise or not? For with him it is motion and matter that do everything. However, he adds: “Love of God arises from knowledge of him, and knowledge of him must be drawn from universal notions that are certain and known in themselves” ( ibid.). But since he everywhere confounds divine power with the power of nature in this way, I suspect that he must refer to some universal and immutable laws of nature here, which he calls eternal, but by which, as we shall see shortly, he obscures the divine nature. It is true that we cannot know nature without general laws of nature. However, we can better understand God’s providence, goodness, forethought and his free use of his power, as the circumstances require it, from the credibility and certainty of the historical narratives than from nature. For there is in all humankind a certain and infallible sagacity of mind by which they derive indubitable knowledge of God from such historical narratives and come to worship his justice, power and goodness.
16. Two questions are dealt with in the rest of the chapter, firstly “whether by the natural light of reason we can conceive of God as a legislator or a prince who prescribes laws to men” and, secondly, “what Scripture itself teaches about the natural light of reason and this natural law” (4,7, p. 62). To resolve the first question, he makes up something absolutely absurd, that the will of God and his intellect are in reality one and the same thing and that God, hence, “has decreed and willed from eternity that the three angles of the triangle are equal to two right angles. From which”, he says, ”it follows that God’s affirmations or negations always contain an eternal necessity or truth” (4,8, pp. 62–63). Here the premises and the conclusion as well as how they are connected are absurd. For, even if I do not mention how incongruous it is to say that the eternal ideas are in God essentially insofar as he wills, as though they depended upon his will and did not originate in his essence insofar as it is intellectual, as they most truly do, it would follow that God either did not know, or willed, the sins of men and angels, either of which is utterly absurd. Nor, moreover, does it follow from the fact that God’s will and intellect are the same thing or that this mathematical proposition is an eternal truth that all of “God’s affirmations and negations always contain an eternal necessity or truth”, for even though God’s will and intellect are the same thing, they can nevertheless be concerned with particulars, that is, God can will and perceive particulars. From the fact that this mathematical truth is an eternal affirmation in God, it does not follow that there are not certain affirmations in him which are not eternal. For, as long as Socrates was on earth, the affirmation that Socrates was here, but had not been here before and would not be here thereafter was in God, unless you would rather hold that God did not know when Socrates was on earth, which contradicts the idea of God as an absolutely perfect being, of course. It is a greater perfection, then, to know all truths, both eternal and transitory ones, than solely the eternal truths. And from this it is manifest that neither Moses nor any other of the true prophets falsely pretended to have received from God certain things to pass on to the people as laws, nor did Moses falsely imagine God to be a benign and just ruler, lawgiver and king, but that he is in reality all of that. Not all of his decrees and volitions are eternal truths, nor is such a knowledge of God our highest good that teaches that human affairs are unknown to God, both our prayers when they are said and our repentance and conversion to good fruits when it is brought about. Such a knowledge of God is nothing but an “abyss of darkness” (Gen. 1:2) in which vicious and nefarious men want to hide from God in order to indulge in their lusts more freely. I need not spend too much labour on his second question, but note only briefly that he foolishly cites those places in Solomon as if the latter treated the natural light, even though he obviously refers to the wisdom inspired by God, as is clear from ch. 2, v. 6. I gladly recognize, however, that Paul teaches that we may attain to the knowledge of God’s existence through the light of nature, but it does not follow from that that all of Moses’s and Christ’s supernatural revelations and miracles were in vain, which is so clear and obvious that I need not dwell on it any longer.
17. There is nothing in chapter five that is much worthy of note. I cannot pass over in silence, however, that he falsely asserts that Christ was only sent to teach the universal law and moral instructions, even though he gave instructions for life which are beyond the natural light and cannot be perfected without the power of the Spirit which he himself promised, not to mention the immortality of the soul and the existence of angels, which he plainly taught despite the disbelief of this blind would-be philosopher. Add, finally, those rites or practices of baptism and the Lord’s supper, which were not, as he makes up, “instituted only as external signs of a universal church” (5,13, p. 76) as though they were things without any import for happiness, but rather as instruments and remembrances of Christ’s love and the Spirit’s mission to the truly faithful to restore their hearts into the living image of God and Christ. For we are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, the potent mediator with the Father who has the power of sending the Holy Spirit into the heart of the faithful, of eradicating all vice and impurity and of restoring us, as I have said, into the living image of God. Since the Lord’s meal, moreover, serves as a commemoration of the passion of Christ, it kindles in us a divine love both of him and of each other. There is nothing greater and nothing more divine and blessed that human nature could be given. As this devotion is kindled, we truly swallow the celestial bread and the true manna that Christ preached was his own body and we are nourished and strengthened by it. But why cast these pearls before a swine that knows and understands nothing higher than the dry and barren knowledge of nature? I deliberately pass over the rest of this chapter, as it has some semblance of truth and honesty in it and does not look as atrocious.
18. The sixth chapter is wholly about miracles where he first makes fun of two opinions chiefly held, as he has it, by the common people. The first is that that “they imagine two powers numerically distinct from one another, i.e. the power of God and the power of natural things which is determined by God in a certain way or (as most of them” he says “rather tend to see it nowadays) created.” The second is that “God’s power and providence are most clearly evident when they see something happen contrary to the usual course of things” and “imagine the power of nature to be subdued by God, as it were” (6,1, p. 81). However, since he taunts these opinions as “opinions of the common people”, he obviously believes them to be errors, even though they are highly reasonable and true doctrines, not at all unworthy of the wisest of philosophers. For it is manifest from the very idea of God, at which Spinoza grumbles so often here, that nature was created by God. Otherwise, he would not be an absolutely perfect being. God and creation, however, are numerically distinct from one another and, consequently, their powers are numerically distinct from one another as well unless you wanted to imagine creation and, hence, the whole of nature to be created without any other power involved, which would be an insane delusion. Hence, it is evident that the power of God and the power of nature are two powers numerically distinct from one another. And therefore, since the divine power is greater than that of nature and one that can give orders to nature, as it sees fit, there can be real miracles. And the other opinion which he calls an “opinion of the common people” is likewise true, i.e., as regards divine providence, it is most clearly evident that the divine nature is really distinct from matter and the spirit of nature which embraces the common laws of nature in a living fashion. And Spinoza did very badly, trying so much and so hard to destroy this opinion about miracles from men’s minds.
19. He then tries to achieve the latter in the following four ways. Firstly, he proves that “nothing happens contrary to nature, but the latter maintains its eternal, fixed and immutable order” (6,2, p. 82). Secondly, “we cannot know either of God’s essence and existence or, hence, his providence from miracles” (ibid.). Thirdly, he shows from several examples of Scripture “that Scripture itself understands by God’s decrees and volitions and, hence, by providence nothing other than the order of nature itself, which necessarily follows from his eternal laws” (ibid.). And fourthly and lastly, he adds “a few remarks on how to interpret the miracles in Scripture” (ibid.), etc. He pretends that the first can be proven in the following way: if something happened in nature that really contradicted its universal laws, it would necessarily contradict the divine decree, intellect and nature as well, i.e.: “If God were to do something against the laws of nature, he would also necessarily act against his own nature, because the universal laws of nature are God’s decrees which follow from the necessity and perfection of the divine nature. For nothing is true”, he says, “except by the necessary divine decree alone. However, everything that is true is such only by divine decree, because in God understanding and will are the same thing, God’s understanding not being distinct from God’s will” (6,3, pp. 82–83). However, this last principle to which the whole proof boils down is utterly false, as I have proven above, for God understands the evil order of things, but he does not will it. He understands all the possible varieties of universes that he could create, even though only a single kind exists in actuality. According to this principle, however, all of them would exist, since – assuming he understood nothing without also willing it – he would will all of them to exist, which is an obvious contradiction. Rather, since he has inserted into matter or the spirit of nature certain universal laws of nature, understanding that real miracles are contrary to these laws, he, therefore, wills real miracles and, hence, they occur occasionally. Behold the impious sophist caught in his own ties! As God and nature are two distinct things, the one created by the other, and as matter is moved by the created spirit of nature according to certain universal laws inserted into it, it is manifest (unless someone deliberately seeks to blind others) that God, who is infinitely more powerful than nature, can suspend or alter the operations of these laws as he sees fit. However, I suspect that Spinoza has secretly cherished in himself this monstrous error all along that there is no God but nature. In fact, he states it most bluntly in another scrap of an argument in the following words. He says: “The same thing could also easily be shown from the fact that the power of nature is the divine power and virtue itself and the divine power is the very essence of God, but this I am happy to leave aside for the time being” (ibid., p. 83). I leave it to everyone who still has a little wit left to judge whether he prays to anything other than motion and matter and what they produce, especially since a little later he attributes to nature an infinite power: nothing can be imagined that is superior to or more divine than it. And yet, to conceal this impiety and adapt his argument to the common people, he says it would be unworthy for “God to have created a nature so impotent and with laws and rules so feeble that he must continually give it a helping hand if he wants to preserve it so that things keep going according to his wishes, etc.” (6,4, p. 83). To this I reply that nature has deliberately been created by God in such a way that it obeys its creator and his pleasure as well as the free ministers of his providence in departing from its accustomed order, as these ministers see fit, for the existence of God, the angels and divine providence to be made all the more evident by the fact that not everything depends upon nature alone. However, nature, as it is, is sufficiently perfect in its kind, and God need not “give nature a helping hand for its preservation”, but for the salvation of those who have fallen, nearly all of them understanding God’s existence and providence better from miracles than if nothing were to happen above the powers of nature. Spinoza, however, takes a different view, claiming in the second place that “from miracle we cannot know either of God’s essence and existence or, hence, his providence” (6,2, p. 82).
20. Let us see now by what arguments he seeks to prove that. The point of the first argument, put briefly, is this: “Since the existence of God is not known of itself, it must necessarily be deduced from concepts whose truth is so firm and unshakable that they cannot be changed by any power. For if we could conceive that they might be changed by some power, we could not be certain about God’s existence. Furthermore, we know that nothing conforms to nature or conflicts with it except what agrees or conflicts with those certain principles. Therefore, if we could conceive that anything in nature could be brought about by any power whatsoever which conflicts with nature, it would be in conflict with those notions and would therefore have to be rejected as absurd, or else we would have to doubt the most certain notions and, hence, God’s existence itself. It is manifest from that that, far from proving God’s existence, miracles, on the contrary, call it into doubt” (6,6, pp. 84–85). However, I deny “that nothing conforms to nature or conflicts with it except what agrees or conflicts with those most certain, necessary and absolutely immutable principles”, for the universal laws of nature do not arise from the divine intellect with the same necessity as that of a triangle having three angles equal to two right angles. Instead, they are inserted into the spirit of nature at the same time as it is created by God and, therefore, geared towards the good of the universe with the divine intention that even though they are to work in one and the same manner all the time unless something impedes them, their operation, is to be suspended or altered once it is impeded by a free agent. However, God, that uncreated free agent, can with infinitely more ease do what even created free agents can do. When, then, there is such a suspension or alteration, which has evidently not been caused by anyone nor by any other visible and perceptible natural cause, the effect may not unreasonably be ascribed to the work of angels or to God himself. A huge rock gently rising from the earth into the air without any preceding earthly wind, for example, would be something contrary to the law of nature and would manifestly have to be ascribed to some angel or to God.
This is his first argument taken from the nature of a miracle insofar as it is contrary to the laws of nature. The second one refers to it as “a work that surpasses human understanding” (6,7, p. 85), for from “a work that surpasses our understanding” nothing can be understood, he asserts. This argument is certainly very slight and risible. In the example of the rising rock just cited, the effect is very well-known to us and the universal law of nature concerning the descent of heavy things towards the centre of the earth is equally well-known. This does not surpass our understanding. However, since we perceive all the other circumstances of the phenomenon so clearly, we can rightly conclude that it would surpass our understanding if it were not for the work of either God or angels. And it is according to our understanding or the faculties of the human mind that we must pronounce or be silent on this. However, to be silent in such an obvious matter would be a sign of utter bafflement, especially if it happened after some pious man’s prayers or in some magician’s exorcism.
The third argument is far more solid, as it emphasizes that, since “a miracle is a limited phenomenon and never reveals anything more than a fixed and limited power, we cannot from such an effect infer the existence of cause whose power is infinite” (6,8, p. 86), i.e. the existence of God. To this I reply: all created power is finite, since the world itself is finite, as I prove in the Enchiridium Metaphysicum, and from the universal laws of nature the existence of an infinite cause cannot be inferred in this way. And as far as our knowledge is concerned, it would be like this even if the world were infinite, as we can perceive only a finite part of it. And yet, even though no effect that we have sufficiently understood is adequate to God’s infinite power, the constitution of the human mind is nevertheless such that its natural sagacity (provided only that the existence of an intelligent spiritual essence that gives worldly matter its laws or of some indivisible intellectual substance like angels has been established), whether it wants or not, carries it to the firmest assent that there is a first being of supreme and absolute perfection which we call God. This shows with sufficient clarity the utility of miracles in stirring in our minds the belief in God’s existence, even though they are limited works and can only express a “limited power”. Take the above-mentioned example of the rising stone: granted that by itself it only demonstrates the power and existence of angels, nevertheless the whole of religion will then enter through this window alone. This is why atheistic and godless people are so hostile to stories about angels, spirits and all those events that refute them, doing everything they can to rob them of their credibility.
Lastly, he adds a fourth argument, but one that is extremely feeble and lame, namely that it is evident from Scripture that miracles do not contribute anything to the knowledge of God and his providence, as it assumes that false prophets can likewise perform miracles to seduce the people into defecting to other gods. “The Israelites were not able to form a sound conception of God based on miracles. Instead – oh, shame! – a calf was their idea of God. Asaph doubted God’s providence”, etc. (6,10, p. 87). To that I reply only briefly, however, that even the miracles of false prophets contribute to the knowledge of God in that this leads to the knowledge of angels, as I have mentioned above, and reveals divine providence as something by which God tests his people. It also implies that there is something that is to be considered more holy and divine than power. If it is lacking, not even miracles deserve credit as infallible signs of the truth. And although the Israelites did not quite learn the perfect and philosophical idea of God from miracles, they nevertheless came to know that there is an intelligent being watching over human affairs which philosophers, who despise the common people so much, doubt more often than is warranted. It is a rude lie on the part of a malicious would-be philosopher that the Israelite idea of God is a calf. And what if Asaph and other good men acquainted with the history of the Mosaic miracles did indeed doubt providence for some time? No more does this annul the efficiency and utility of miracles than a temporary illness of certain people does that of the best medicines. However, it would be tedious to dwell on such immaterial sophisms any longer.
21. I proceed to the third way in which he wants to show from Scripture that Scripture itself understands by “God’s volitions and decrees” and, hence, by providence “nothing other than the order of nature itself”. His first argument for this runs as follows: there are many places in Scripture which indicate most clearly that God’s decree, order, utterance and word are nothing other than the work and order of nature itself. Hence, it is not to be doubted that everything related in Scripture happened in a natural way even when referring to God. I reply, however, that I find it quite reasonable that the work and order of nature itself should be called the order, decree or word of God, since I view the spirit of nature in which the laws and order of worldly matter are contained, flowing from there into it, as the external word of God, as you can see in my writings. Therefore, I do not mind admitting at all that God’s general providence is contained in the laws and order of this spirit of nature and can thus be rightly called a part of divine providence. However, what I insist upon most emphatically is that besides that there is also God’s special providence, one that is administered by himself or through his ministers or angels, as they are generally called. Moreover, it is entirely erroneous to conclude from the fact that the actions of the spirit of nature are called the orders or decrees of God that there are no other divine orders or decrees besides those. And even though Saul’s being sent by God to Samuel might have been due to ordinary causes, the fact that the prophecy of the latter’s coming was communicated into Samuel’s ear a day before he came was clearly above the order of nature and so were all of those many special prophesies about the things that Samuel told Saul would happen to him on the street on his return as well as the appearances of the God of Israel and his angels to the Patriarchs and Moses and the various miracles wrought by Moses.
Nor does it follow – and this is the second of his arguments – from the fact that Moses made use of something natural in performing his miracles that they were caused by the power of that natural item. Rather, they were wholly caused by divine power. And it is utterly ridiculous to imagine that because Christ used spittle and mud in the healing of a blind man, he performed this miracle by means of the natural power of that spittle and mud! Add to that that most of Moses’s miracles were wrought solely by the raising of his staff or hand. It is evident, however, that neither a hand nor a staff can have the natural power to elicit such a variety of miracles. And although the winds which brought and chased away the locusts from the land of Egypt were natural, their motion, by contrast, was supernatural on that occasion, following God’s nod, as Christ is said to have ordered the roaring sea and the winds to be calm. And yet, in defiance of such manifest light, he “concludes without reservation” nonetheless “that all things that are truly reported to have happened in Scripture necessarily happened according to the laws of nature, as all things do, and if anything is found that can be demonstrated conclusively to contradict the laws of nature or which could not possibly follow from them, we must accept in every case that it was interpolated into the Holy Writ by blasphemous people”, which is testimony to this blinded would-be philosopher’s most foolish rashness and stubbornness. For this mindless assertion he advances only one lacklustre argument, namely that “whatever is contrary to nature is contrary to reason” (6,15, p. 91) – as though it were not in accordance with the best of reason that God’s prophets, whom that bright man, like others before him, seeks so hard to disfigure in darkness, should, as occasion arose, perform such works as would rouse the people’s faith in a God distinct from nature.
22. But let us proceed to the fourth and final argument, namely his way of interpreting the arguments in Scripture. In this context, he makes three points: firstly, the narrators intruded their own opinions into their accounts of miracles. Thus, “in Joshua’s time, the Hebrews were not simply told that the day lasted longer than usual, but also that the sun and moon stood still”. Secondly, “many things are related in Scripture as real, although they were nothing but figures and imaginary things, for instance that God descended from heaven, that Mount Sinai was smoking because of that, that Elijah ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot with fiery horses”, etc. Thirdly and finally, “the phrases and prophetic figures of speech, if we are not careful, may make us view things as miracles in Scripture which its authors never intended to interpret as such” (6,20, p. 93).
To the first of these points I reply that there is nothing absurd about a writer relating a miracle according to the common-sense truth of appearances, since the truth of the miracle may likewise be established even from that. For, irrespective of whether the motion of the earth or the sun was suspended for the length of four hours or a very long summer day, as the text clearly intimates, it is a miracle all the same, albeit not an equally big one. And yet Joshua’s words, apparently spoken either from his own knowledge or divine inspiration, were in complete accordance with the Pythagorean hypothesis. What else was necessary to stop the moon’s course when the sun itself was to provide sufficient light? When the earth’s daily motion is suspended, however, the moon’s daily visible motion will necessarily be suspended at the same time as well. However, Spinoza’s fiction of the sun’s light being refracted by ice is very foolish here since it is certain that a day could never be extended by so many hours in this way. As for his second point, Spinoza’s assertion that God’s descent onto Mount Sinai is something imaginary is entirely groundless and impious, as is crystal clear from the text. His assertion that God cannot move from one place to another is certainly true in reference to his bodiless deity. However, the God of Israel was the soul of the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos, as I have pointed out above. The cases of Elisha’s face and Elijah’s coat, however, provide sufficient testimony that Elijah was truly taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot and by fiery horses. And it is lack of belief in Spinoza’s mind, deeply immersed in the filth and dirt of his body, which makes him deny such obvious things. Finally, as regards his third point, it is true that it may have happened sometime that certain people, because of their ignorance of the prophetic style, viewed things as miracles that were in fact not related as such by Scripture. Now, however, the prophetic style is sufficiently well-known and there is no longer any danger of such an error. The rest of the chapter is so feeble and pathetic that I do not find it worth commenting on, especially since I seek to be as brief as possible.
23. The seventh chapter is about the interpretation of Scripture where that sworn enemy of God and religion assembles a great deal of material to deride the interpretation of the Scriptures as a hopeless and ridiculous endeavour. However, despite this chapter’s prolixity, brevity does not permit us to adduce too many examples. We shall hence be content with only a few, though principal ones. His “general rule for interpreting Scripture is to claim nothing as doctrine of Scripture that we have not derived, by the closest possible scrutiny, from its own history” (7,5, p. 99). However, history, for him, includes roughly the following aspects: knowing the language in which the Scriptures are written, collecting both clear and ambiguous sentences and noting apparently obscure and mutually contradicting ones. By clear and obscure sentences he understands those whose sense is such because of the context of a passage, not those whose truth is understood easily or with difficulty by reason, since they can occasionally be false, as that pious man assumes, declaring bluntly that “he is concerned with the sense of expressions, not their truth” ( ibid., p. 100). Moreover, this history includes the contexts of the books of all the prophets, i.e. the life, character and learning of the author of each book, who he was, and on what occasion, at which time, for whom and, finally, in which language he wrote. And finally, though it is the upshot of it all, he says that “when searching for the sense of Scripture we must take care especially not to be prejudiced by our own reasoning insofar as it is founded on the principles of natural knowledge, but lest we confuse the genuine sense with the truth of things, we must investigate it solely from the use of the language or from reasoning which accepts no other foundation than Scripture itself” (ibid.). Here at last is what he wants us to concede to him if only he could obtain it! Oh, how exultantly this laughing lemur would like to leap onto the Scriptures’ shoulders! For this way one might find quite a few false sentences on the sacred pages provided one understood the words only in the proper sense in which they are usually taken by the common people, as when God is called fire in the OT and light in the NT and the like. However, this demand is not only unfounded, but absolutely mindless and insane! For, as the method of interpreting nature cannot do without logic – artificial or at the very least natural – so the true method of interpreting the Scriptures cannot do without it either. Otherwise, even cows would be equally capable interpreters of either if they could read! And yet, besides the history of Scripture itself, not only the principles of logic are necessary to interpret it correctly, but also the knowledge of rhetoric. The interpretation of nature is different since its language consists not of words, but of things and it is thus not obscured by metaphors and figures of speech. From this it plainly follows that when interpreting the Scriptures we must apply to it more than merely “the use of the language or a reasoning that accepts no other foundation than Scripture itself.” Some rudiments of logic and rhetoric are likewise necessary for its interpretation which is distinct from both, as everyone with an unprejudiced mind will easily see at first glance. And lastly, considering that the makeup of human nature is such that it has its own metaphors and figures of speech, those places in Scripture which, if they were interpreted according to the simple rules of grammar, would otherwise conflict with the physical and metaphysical principles of sound philosophy, may, and indeed must, be resolved in this way if a rhetorical analysis shows them to be compatible with those principles. It is most legitimate and most consonant with reason to assume that the Scriptures, having been dictated by the Holy Spirit, do not say anything wrong anywhere. And if something does turn up somewhere that really conflicts both with sound reason and sound philosophy and cannot be resolved in either way, Scripture must have been subject to mistakes due either to the lapse of time or the fault of scribes. However, it is clearly madness to maintain that we must not make use of the principles of true philosophy or those of rhetoric and logic, even though the very Spirit that dictated the Scriptures also knew that all of that was part of human nature. This shows how much and how desperately he desires that Holy Scripture be exposed to everyone’s contempt and laughter and that it be conceded to him that it abounds in sentences that, as the intolerable impiety of that vainglorious would-be philosopher would have it, are entirely wrong and at odds with true philosophy. Nor is he ashamed of repeating that “the prophets disagree among themselves in metaphysical matters” (7,8, p. 104), as though he had already proved that. We have already shown above how erroneous this arrogant claim of his is. Meanwhile, on top of that, he declares that his method of interpreting the Scriptures teaches us to investigate only what the prophets really saw or heard, not what is meant and represented by their hieroglyphs. Thus, we must have recourse to philosophy at this point or cannot gain any understanding through these hieroglyphs, not to mention the fact that not only biblical history but the history of pagan antiquity is necessary to explain their predictions. Here you have the insane babbling of that very Spinoza who would not permit anything to be applied to the interpretation of Scripture but what is to be found in Scripture itself!
24. However, let us proceed to other difficulties in the interpretation of Scripture of which Spinoza adduces a great multitude and which we shall treat briefly, among them: 1. a complete understanding of the Hebrew language which is limited nowadays. 2. the peculiar cases of ambiguity in the same language, even if our understanding were complete. 3. that the guttural letters ה , ח, ע, א may be indiscriminately taken one for another. 4. that ך and כי have countless completely different meanings. 5. That verbs in the indicative mood lack a present, perfect, past perfect and future perfect, etc. tense. 6. That Hebrew does not have letters for vowels. 7. That texts are not separated by punctuation marks. 8. ”That ambiguities in a text cannot be explained by comparing one text with another, since no prophet wrote with the express intention of explaining either another’s words or his own” (7,14, p. 109). 9. That the authors of many books are unknown, as are the occasions and times in which they wrote. 10. That we do not know either “into whose hands all these books came or in whose copies so many variant readings occur, nor whether there may not have been many additional readings in others” (7,15, p. 109). 11. And that, lastly, there are books which we do not have in the language in which they were originally written. As regards these difficulties, he concludes by pronouncing them to be of such magnitude that he does not hesitate to say that we either do not know the genuine sense of a great number of places in Scripture or can only guess at it without any certainty.
“The mountains will be in labour and a ridiculous mouse will be brought forth.” I do admit that it is true that we do not understand the sense of Scripture in many places with certainty. What great evil, however, will follow from that if all the while it offers the highest possible certainty in matters of the greatest import and significance to our eternal salvation without any verbal ambiguity obscuring their certainty? This same Spinoza admits himself that “all these difficulties only prevent our understanding the prophets’ minds in matters that are incomprehensible and which we can only imagine and not those things that are accessible to the intellect and of which we can readily form a clear conception. For matters that by their nature are easily grasped can never be so obscurely phrased that they cannot be readily understood, nor do we need a complete knowledge of the language to understand the mind of Euclid with certainty” and many more things of that kind (7,17, p. 111). We readily concede that to Spinoza, while also firmly holding, however, that the same applies to miracles, the appearances of angels, the immortality of human souls and other such things, to which the mind of Spinoza is so much averse. For all of this is clearly enunciated or described in such places in Scripture which neither a merely limited knowledge of Greek or Hebrew nor the abovementioned petty objections can in any way prevent us from understanding with certainty. Thus, that very tunnel that was dug to subvert religion has now buried him!
Let us now address these difficulties at once. 1. Even though the knowledge of Hebrew is limited nowadays, we must consider that this language has a very small and limited scope, namely only the affairs of the biblical Hebrews and that the same words recur in these various little books so frequently that their sense can be established with the greatest possible degree of certainty and that if there is any uncertainty, it bears upon things of hardly any significance at all. 2. The same argument may also take away most of the force from the argument from the causes of ambiguity peculiar to that language. 3. Likewise, his objections regarding the gutturals are slight. While they may hardly differ in pronunciation, the same does not at all hold true for spelling, in which, most significantly, they can be told apart. 4. And although the conjunctions ך and כי may both have various different meanings, the context of a text will readily make clear the most fitting ones. 5. And the same will hold true for the meaning of the tenses. 6. It is not entirely true, however, that the Hebrews did not have letters for the vowels, for they did have י, ך and א, which Martinus calls matres lectionis. 7. And even if diacritical marks and points are a more recent invention, they have nevertheless been inserted according to the most ancient way of reading and distinguishing words, especially in things of some significance. Hence, it matters little with the brighter sort whether מטה is read as מִטָּה or מַטָּה. 8. And although no prophet wrote with the express intention of explaining either another’s words or his own, providence may nevertheless have directed affairs in such a way or the nature of things may be such that one expression may shed light on another in a comparison. 9. We shall shortly look at the number of books whose authorship we are ignorant of, but even if the authorship is unknown, the difference between the history of Samson and the story of Orlando Furioso or between Elijah ascending to heaven in a fiery chariot and Perseus flying through the air on a winged horse to come to Andromeda’s rescue cannot for all that escape any intelligent reader. Nor does this foolish philosopher indulge in his jests so much because of the parallels between the stories, but because he does not believe in miracles at all and revels in this blind unbelief of his. 10. And it is of little relevance “into whose hands all these books came” as long as we see that they have left their hands again unharmed and treated with such care and reliability that they have not even forgotten to note various alternative readings. The Jews’ incredible care in these matters, bordering as it does on the superstitious, is universally known. 11. As to the fact, finally, that there are books which we do not have in the language in which they were originally written, those are very few in number, if there are any. And should there be any indeed, since books so holy are translated with such diligence and care, there cannot be any danger in any matter of any significance. Hence, his lamentations about the much-bemoaned difficulties of Scriptural interpretation, put forward by that greedy pelican in so sorrowful a voice, are in reality nothing but childish complaining!
25. And here I could certainly put an end to my remarks on this chapter were it not for some certainly shrewd, but false remark of Spinoza’s about supernatural aids in interpreting Scripture to which I need to devote my attention now: “Those”, he says, “who seek a supernatural light to interpret the minds of the prophets and apostles truly seem to be lacking in natural light themselves. So far are they from having that supernatural divine gift in my estimate” (7,19, p. 113). This conclusion, however, is drawn principally from the following premises: 1. The interpretations of those who purport to have been granted a supernatural light turn out to be “very similar to those of others, i.e. human ones found in the hard work of intense thinking” (ibid., p. 112). 2. “The difficulty of Scriptural interpretation is not due to a lack of natural light in men, but only to their carelessness in neglecting the history of Scripture, even though they could have reconstructed its history” (ibid.) 3. From the very fact that “the supernatural light is believed to be a divine gift granted only to the faithful” (ibid.), it is manifest that it is a mere figment of the imagination, since “the prophets and apostles used to preach not only to the faithful, but primarily to unbelievers and impious persons” (ibid., pp. 112–113).
To the first I reply that the interpretations composed by means of human skill and assiduity may well have been arrived at with divine help, prompting the mind of the interpreter, not to mention the fact that the divine spirit may inspire human work, assisting and directing it. As to the second, it is obviously due to his lacking the power of natural light that Spinoza denies miracles to have been wrought by a supernatural power and that he believes the appearances of angels to have been mere figments of the prophets’ and patriarchs’ imagination. For in these matters, the history of the Scriptures is so perfect and plain that no proposition or proof in Euclid could have been put forward with any greater clarity and lucidity. It is due to his lacking the power of natural light, then, that Spinoza does not understand the divine truth from such places in the Holy Writ, but instead interprets them wrongly owing to the immersion of his wretched soul in the lowly body and on account of his arrogance and infatuation with false philosophy. To the third, finally, I answer that whilst it is true that the supernatural light is a divine gift only granted to the faithful, the prophets and apostles still did not preach to the unbelievers and to the impious in vain since they also preached things which the unbelievers and the impious were able to understand, namely, that they were to repent and turn away from evil works and that Christ had been crucified, risen from the dead and ascended to heaven in the sight of his disciples. They could certainly understand all of that, although the experience of the mysteries of regeneration and the works of the promised spirit were still concealed from them.
26. As regards the view of Maimonides about which Spinoza makes such a fuss, it is doubtless much more sacred and sound than his. And it is manifestly true that if Scripture itself is true, then true reason and true philosophy cannot conflict with it. Since Spinoza, however, has imbibed the falsest principles of philosophy, confounding the powers of nature and God, he would rather that the prophets and patriarchs were deranged (oh most mindless impudence!) than that his reason (how little it is should by now be pretty clear to everybody except himself) and the principles of his false philosophy, that crass ignorance that he has chosen to adopt for himself, should waver. But I am loath to continue beating that stinking dung heap. I shall go through the remaining chapters more swiftly.
27. In the following three chapters, he seeks to prove with great effort and little wit that most of the sacred writings of the Old Testament are not autographa, i.e. books (for such he believes them to be) written by the authors whose names they bear. Thus, contrary to common belief, the five books of the Pentateuch are not by Moses himself because, for one thing, several events in those books cannot have been related by Moses himself, but by someone living at a later time and, for another, the Pentateuch mentions exactly how many books Moses wrote: the book about the war against Amalek (Ex. 17:14), which is identical with the Book of the Wars of God in Num. 21:14, the Book of the Covenant which, he says, “contains very little, simply the commands of God which are set out in that same book from ch. 20.22 to ch. 24” (8,5, p. 122) and, finally, the Song of Moses. Thus, Moses wrote in total no more than these three books and not the entire Pentateuch. To the first, however, I reply that from the fact that several events in particular books of the Pentateuch presuppose a more recent hand than Moses’s such as Ezra’s, it does not follow at all that they were not written by Moses and especially not those events which do not involve a more recent hand. The reports about Moses’s death and the Israelites’ grief about it and about the encomia on him were in all likelihood added by Joshua himself. However, the main body of each work, stripped of those little details which Ezra may indeed have added for the sake of clarification, does not support Spinoza’s argument and proof that they were not written by Moses himself. The substance at least is Moses’s, even though the frequent changes in the narrative from a first-person to a third-person narrator in those places that deal with Moses may be due to Ezra or perhaps Moses himself.
As regards his second argument, he seems to me to be constantly wavering, since nowhere does Scripture state either that those books were the only ones that Moses wrote or that they were in fact distinct from the Pentateuch. Thus, in Ex. 17:14, Moses is only ordered by God to record the defeat of Amalek “as a memorial” and what he planned to do to him, and this is set down in this very chapter following God’s command. Therefore, it is not necessary to invent any other work. And the book mentioned in Num. 21:14 which is entitled Book of the Wars of God is obviously some poem which is older than any which Moses could have written, as is clear from the comments of Drusius and Grotius on this place. It is manifestly clear, moreover, that the Book of the Covenant and the Song of Moses are likewise part of the Pentateuch. Nor does it by any means follow from the fact that Moses, in Ex. 24, is related to have written the Book of the Covenant for immediate use, i.e. so that he could read it to the people the following morning, that he did not write any other part of Exodus apart from that. Such incongruous and sluggish reasoning is appalling and yet he advances the very same weak argument again. Since Moses is said in Deut. 31 to compose the aforementioned song on the occasion given and on God’s orders, teaching it to the Israelites, he, therefore, did not write any of those things recorded as happening in Deuteronomy. Hence, it is manifest that either Moses wrote no separate books in the duration of forty years or that those are the books of the Pentateuch, as everybody admits.
28. Furthermore, the arguments by which he seeks to prove that the Book of Joshua was not written by the latter are of the same sort and thus the same answer lies ready for them as well. It is no problem at all to admit that the younger Ezra had a hand in it and that the same applies to the Books of Judges, Samuel and Kings, i.e., that all these books were transcribed with the books of the Pentateuch by one historian, as it were, and arranged in the continuous order in which we now find them with a view to tracing the antiquities of the Jews from their first origin up until the first devastation of their city. If this was done by Ezra, which not even Spinoza denies, i.e. by an extremely pious and virtuous man with a matchless knowledge of the Law and Jewish antiquities, I for one can certainly not see how that should in any way detract from the credibility of these writings. Nor, certainly, can his other objections concerning the loss of some canonical books, the fragmentary state of the writings of several prophets, the failure to establish the date and authorship of some of them, the numerous chronological and other mistakes that have crept into the texts, the divergent readings recorded or other such things impress any sensible person as long as the examples he cites or the claims he makes are not such as can rob those scriptural places that are intact of their credibility. Compared to these places, the uncertain ones are of hardly any import whatsoever. Hence, while it happens indeed that parts of old paintings by the greatest masters, because of their old age, may be damaged and marred, they are nevertheless, on the basis of what remains, readily recognized by an experienced spectator to be a work by a Titian or Apelles. And finally, to sum up, what Spinoza says about the writings of Euclid in chapter 7 – that to be certain about their true sense we need not have a perfect knowledge of the language in which he wrote them or of the author’s life, education and character, nor in which language, for whom and when exactly he wrote them, nor the fortunes of his books and its different variant readings or how and, finally, on whose authority it became canonical – the same can clearly be said about those things in the Old Testament which are of the highest relevance to the confirmation of the Christian religion. If we compare the stories about Christ which we know to be most true with the Mosaic types and predictions of the prophets, the events themselves prove that these books are divinely-inspired, thereby conferring due credibility upon the historical narratives in Moses and the inspired writings of the prophets. Contrary to what Spinoza claims, they show clearly and conclusively that ministering angels as well as miracles and predictions and God’s special providence for his people really exist. Hence, he has utterly failed in his design and what he says in this chapter does not contribute anything whatsoever to the undermining of religion.
29. In order to deprive the letters of the apostles of their credibility, he denies in chapter 11 that they were prophets, holding that they were only teachers. For 1., theirs is not a prophetical style containing formulas like “Thus says God”, “Thus says the Lord of hosts”. 2. Instead, however, Paul uses expressions indicative of a mind that is unsure, like “we believe” or “I believe”. 3. Likewise, he says that “he does not have a commandment of the Lord, but says what he thinks as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful“ (1 Cor. 7:25). And at the end of that chapter, he says: “In my opinion, I think also that I, too, have the Spirit of God.” (7:40). 4. Moreover, the apostles reason everywhere so that “they seem not to make prophecies, but to advance arguments” (11,2, p. 152). 5. And “they submit those to everybody’s judgement: ‘I speak to ye as to wise men. Judge ye what I say’ (1 Cor. 10:15)” (ibid.) 6. Not only do they reason, but “they also mix their advice with courtesy: ‘I have written unto you more boldly than the usual Paul, brothers’ (Rom. 15:15)” (11,4, p. 153). It was not on divine command that they wrote their letters, nor were they sent to this or that place. 8. Paul asks Philemon for something instead of giving him an order. 9. There was a row between Paul and Barnabas. 10. And “Paul termed another apostle’s foundations ‘alien’” (11,7, p. 157), differing from James in the doctrine of justification by faith. That is what this ever-assiduous and malicious enemy of religion accumulates to prove that the apostles wrote not on the basis of divine inspiration, but from their mere natural light and that they were not prophets, but only teachers. However, we shall see shortly how utterly his assertions will come to naught after we have called to mind that prophecy is not only about the prediction of future things. Rather, everyone who is ruled by God’s special assistance in his words and writings in such a fashion that he cannot err in any way may rightly be said to prophesy or not to write on the basis merely of his natural light. Such, I contend, is the case with the apostles.
To the first, then, I reply that while they do not use the old prophetic style, thus not introducing their words with a “Thus says the Lord”, they do nevertheless make it clear in the prefaces to their letters that they are apostles whom Christ, as he has promised, assists in a special way, guiding them to every truth. Take Paul himself, for instance, who, while not present at the miraculous coming of the Spirit on Pentecost day, was nevertheless called to the apostleship through a special miracle as Christ talked to him in a loud voice and converted him to faith. Hence, it is absolutely impossible that Christ, after showing to the whole world in such a special manner that he had called them to be his apostles, should abandon them in matters of importance to the Christian faith or leave them to their own errors. This is most clearly the case since they themselves point to that in the prefaces to their letters where they declare that they are the appointed apostles of Jesus Christ. It is clear from that that they wrote their letters not on the basis of their mere natural light, but with divine assistance. 2. That Paul, moreover, sometimes uses terms like “we believe” and “I believe”, i.e. λογιζόμεθα and λογίζομαι, is in fact not a sign of an unsure or doubting mind, but obviously rather of one concluding something by virtue of firm and divine reasoning. For why should that eternal Logos not as well be able to illuminate our reason as strengthen our faith and heart through his spirit? Furthermore, the fact that Paul says that he has not received from Christ a rule concerning virgins, but only gives advice or guidance according to the just and the good, which he says about himself in all modesty so as not to arouse envy, confirms all the more that where he forgoes such μειωτικαί formulas, he teaches not solely by virtue of the natural light, but with infallible and plainly divine authority. 4. Nor does the fact that the apostles reason prevent them from being ruled by the divine spirit, as I have already said in my reply to the second objection, and from making use of divine reason. It is because those would-be philosophers, by contrast, are so far estranged from the Christian faith that they ἐματαιώθησαν ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς αὐτῶν, that “they have become vain in their reasonings“ (Rom. 1:21), that their human reason wavers so much here, lacking the aid of the Spirit. Hence, it is falsely and absurdly concluded that since the apostles reason, they are, therefore, not inspired. 5. And since their reasoning is sound, they rightly appeal to the “judgement of wise men” and not the impudence of would-be philosophers whose judgement has been clouded by their quest for hollow glory and their vicious way of life. 6. And if they mix their advice with courtesy, this is by no means ill-fitting for a certain divine prudence and a moderate mind seeking to win the people’s goodwill. 7. Nor does it make any great difference whether the apostles were commanded to write their letters in the very same way the prophets had been in order to spread the word of the Lord long before. However, as divine providence called them, God making sure by special means that they should not err, they began to write and the work of the Spirit within them through whose power they came to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God with such certainty was never idle. Nor was it necessary for them to be sent to this or that place as they had the right to preach to all nations, though they were occasionally sent to several places according to the newly-made revelation. Thus, Paul was called to Macedonia in a nocturnal vision that had appeared to him (Act. 16). And if they felt impelled by love to depart for some of those places more quickly than they were then able to, how should this affect the doctrine which they taught in preaching or in writing? For in these matters at least infallibility was promised to them. 8. And the place where Paul asks Philemon instead of ordering him, which he could have thanks to his authority, he declares that he does it “for love's sake“ (Philemon 9), which is the most divine of all the “fruits of the spirit” (Gal. 5:22). 9. Moreover, the row between Paul and Barnabas was not about things of faith, but about the more suitable companion on the journey. Even Spinoza admits and ridicules the opinion of the common people that nothing at all is concealed from inspired men. 10. And finally, by what he calls an “alien foundation” in Act. 15:20 he obviously understands the foundation of another apostle by which he understands not the latter’s doctrine, but his work – as though the apostles did not teach the same doctrine, as this impudent jester would have it! It was Paul’s holy ambition to spread one and the same gospel, though not in the same places where the others had already preached, as Scripture says: “To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see …“ (Rom. 15:21). Likewise, it is absolutely wrong that Paul differed from James in the doctrine of justification, for both Paul and James demand works for justifying faith. Thus, Paul states clearly that “in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6). You can see, then, which works Paul rules out, namely the works of the law or the works of the carnal man, not the works of the regenerated man or the works of the spirit of Christ. A faith bereft of those works is dead and cannot justify anybody, as both apostles hold.
30. In the twelfth chapter, he once again puts on the appearance of an angel as he praises the law inscribed in our heart so as to seem all the more entitled to trample wickedly upon Scripture at will, which – oh impiety! – he claims will cease to be sacred if we cease to be pious. By that same argument he could also prove that the divine voice of conscience in us was neither holy nor divine or God’s own law when we disobey it, as if the law depended upon our obedience. And yet the law stands firm, whether we obey it or not. Otherwise, we would make ourselves immune to sinning by sinning, there being no sin where there is no law. Hence, it is wrong that “Scripture is holy and its discourses sacred only as long as it moves people to devotion towards God” (12,6, p. 161) since they are intended to move us even if we hinder ourselves from doing so. Indeed, this claim is as reckless as if someone were to say that the proofs of Euclid would not be true if we neglected them and viewed them as sophisms. These truths would not therefore become lies by any means. Neither would prophecies, miracles and the other records of God’s providential care for the church cease to be such divine records useful to religion by their very nature, even though people might rise to such heights of impiety as to disregard them altogether. We can see from that, then, how sacred Scripture is by itself. However, this is not to be understood of the “ink and paper”, but of the sense disclosed by them and of the knowledge of the aforementioned records of divine providence. It is to be understood of the “ink and paper” inasmuch as they preserve all of that. And it is one thing to say that the temple of Solomon, the ark of the covenant and the like have to perish, but an entirely different one to say that the Holy Scriptures do. For one thing, the former were all works of human contrivance, not of the Spirit of God and his supernatural power. For another, their form and memory have come down to us because of these very Scriptures.
31. Since Holy Scripture, moreover, is called the word of God, he takes this as an occasion to show the reasons why Scripture bears this name. He claims that there are three: 1. Firstly, it teaches the universal divine law “of which the eternal God is the author”. 2. Further, “it recounts predictions of future things as decrees of God.” 3. And finally, “those who were its actual authors, for the most part, taught these things not by the common natural light of reason, but by a light peculiar to themselves and portrayed God as uttering them”. 4. And he adds that “although there is much besides in Scripture which is merely historical and to be understood by the natural light, its designation as God’s word is taken from the more excellent part” (12,7, p. 166). 5. Moreover, he claims that God is to be seen as the author of the Bible because of the universal divine law also called the true religion. 6. Furthermore, this true and truly catholic and most natural religion is taught in the Old Testament as well as in the New. However, whereas it is taught “as the law of the country and according to the covenant entered into at the time” in the Old, the apostles preach it to all people everywhere as the catholic law and by virtue of Christ’s passion alone in the New. “Nor was it anything new then except to those people who did not know it” (12,8, p. 163). He proves this opinion of his with the following word of St John: “He was in the world and the world did not know him” (Jn. 1:15).
We shall now briefly examine these claims one by one. 1. Thus, his claim that Scripture is called the word of God because of the “universal divine law”, which he also calls “most natural” and “of which the eternal God is the author”, is certainly entirely erroneous in the sense in which he takes it, namely as the “most natural law” inscribed in human minds. For it is not in this sense that the word of God, as contained in the Scriptures, bears this name, but insofar as holy men, inspired by the Spirit of God in a supernatural fashion and furnished with miracles meant to establish that it was God himself who spoke through them, communicated it to the people. Not only is this undoubtedly most true, but it is also of great and ineffable utility indeed, for fallen humankind is not left to the doubtful and disabled remnants of their corrupted conscience. Instead, that light of conscience, once inscribed in us with utmost clarity, but now obscured and almost eradicated by the fall, is revived, strengthened and invigorated by God’s admonitions. And it is certainly very inopportune and absolutely intolerable that Scripture, insofar as it is called the word of God in this sense, should be esteemed to be of so little value in this age, in which the principal part of philosophy, for far too many, consists in the denial of the difference between good and evil. In addition to that, the manifestation of the supernatural life through Christ in those whom he regenerates through his spirit is not included in Spinoza’s “most natural law” either, on which it would be superfluous to dwell here any longer. And this is the proper cause why the New Testament is called the word of God. And lest in general those sound and solid laws for life contained in the Old Testament as well as in the New be solely looked upon as dictates of a somewhat darker melancholy (if we be permitted by our own conscience to put it like this after our descent and fall into these earthly bodies) and be derided on that account by the impious, God’s wisdom and pity, in order for fallen humankind to be restored to pristine bliss, resolved to demonstrate by means of miracles that these laws for life (once written into our hearts, but now almost completely obliterated) were his own word spoken through the prophets and, above all, through Christ and the apostles and that he had really spoken through Moses and Christ and the apostles. For people were not to despise the good dictates of their conscience or, falsely believing them to be private and their own, as it were, choose of their own accord to heed or slight them or, finally, attribute them to melancholy or some other intemperance. 2. As to the second cause, moreover, that it “recounts predictions of future things as decrees of God”, his view about that is apparent from what he has babbled about “Prophets and Prophecy” above, which I have already refuted there. Hence, it need not be repeated here. 3. And the same is to be said about the third cause: you can easily see what he means by “and they portrayed God as uttering them” from what he says about “Prophecy” and “Miracles”. Since we have already refuted that above, let us quickly move on to his other points. What I have just said proves sufficiently how absolutely necessary and how enormously useful it is that there be both prophecy and miracles. What he adds in the fourth place at least is quite sound. I only want to remind you in passing that by “merely historical and to be understood by the natural light” he understands that part of history in which no real miracles occur. 5. In the fifth place, he goes on to imply that there is no true religion except for the “universal divine law”, which all people embrace by virtue of the natural light, thereby blotting out the whole Christian religion in its proper sense with one single stroke. And yet, he only keeps on saying it impudently and blasphemously without proving it. We, however, have proven the solidity of the Christian religion properly so-called with irrefutable arguments in our Grand Mystery of Godliness. 6. In the sixth place, he likewise states things time and again without giving any proof unless one were to consider that place in John a sufficiently compelling argument to prove that the Christian religion was not new in the times of Christ: “He was in the world and the world did not know him” (Jn. 1:15). If this refers to the Christian religion, it will follow that the world was created through the Christian religion, for the verse, in its entirety, runs: “He was in the world and the world was made through him and the world knew him not“ (Jn. 1:10). And yet, is there anything at all that this jester dare not do? Meanwhile, we say, however, that Spinoza could not possibly stray any further from the truth in saying that Christ founded a “most natural religion” and one that we could acquire by virtue of the natural light. So deep has humankind, in fact, fallen that it could never attain to it by virtue of its own natural powers. Hence, what is specific to Christianity and new about it is that it contains in itself the promise of the Spirit made by Christ to those who truly believe that our souls will be renewed in the image of God. And since Christ died for us and through his death reconciled us to the Father, it is indeed an indispensable part of justice and gratitude and, equally, of the true religion that we worship him as the Son of God and our powerful “advocate with the Father” (1 Jn. 2:1) and never defect from him. It is said that this blasphemous author has done this, even defecting both from Moses and Christ. It is especially clear from this book, however, that he has either always been a Sadducee or has relapsed into Sadducism (to use no stronger word to characterize him).
32. The rest of the chapter is devoted 1., first, to proving that “Scripture is properly termed the word of God only with respect to the universal divine law” and 2., then, to showing that “this word of God has come into our hands uncorrupted” (12,10, p. 164). Before that, he seeks to prove it with five or six arguments which I deliberately pass over as being based upon his false premises which have already been refuted above. However, all of that, taken together, is meant to show that no matter how much of either their authority or their corpus the Old and New Testaments may lose, this universal divine law nevertheless still remains, which is why the latter is rightly to be called the word of God in the proper sense. Nevertheless, it is clear beyond doubt that if it were not for miracles and prophecies by which, as is manifest, God himself, through men inspired by the Divine Spirit, pronounced it and proved it, this universal and most natural divine law could not be the word of God in the proper and Scriptural sense, but the law of human nature, inscribed in it by God in creation. And it is the soul itself, not God who speaks in it, as in men inspired by the Divine Spirit. However, this word of God properly so-called is added to it lest the soul in impious, feeble, hypocritical and enthusiastic people deceive itself in any way in this fallen state, stating false things. Hence, if all the books both of the Old and New Testaments were to be re-examined, that examination would not require that the examiners must additionally have a prior knowledge of the word of God properly so-called, but only knowledge of the traditional law of human nature or reason (unless you assumed the examiners to be given something new and divine, as the occasion arose).
And as regards his oblique and perverse quibble: “Who will believe that God wanted to recount Christ’s history four times?” (12,9, p. 164), it is certainly uttered either ignorantly or wickedly, as though God himself wrote this history! It suffices that he, as all-seeing, cannot fail to do, supervises a writer, foreseeing and approving of the truth and utility of his historical narratives. However, this is all too ludicrous to be deserving of a refutation.
His other claim is that what he terms “the word of God properly so-called has come into our hands uncorrupted”. He first reviews its single parts, i.e. that “one must love God above all things and one’s neighbour as oneself” (12,10, p. 165) and both those things which follow from this first part of its foundation, “that God exists, that he provides for all things, that he is omnipotent, that he has decreed that the pious will fare well and wrongdoers badly and that our salvation depends upon his grace alone” and that which flows from the other part, namely to “defend justice, assist the poor, not to kill, not to covet other men’s property, etc.” (12,11, p. 165). Certainly, if you take a look at the letter of Scripture, the following doctrines have likewise “come into our hands uncorrupted”, namely that the affairs of the church and of good people are assisted through the ministry of angels, that prophecies about things separated by long periods of time are communicated by God to holy men, that miracles can sometimes be wrought by God above and against the laws of nature, that a state of happiness awaits the pious after their death, etc. And if these are not accepted and believed on the authority of Sacred Scripture, the earlier ones cannot be either, nor can they be called the word of God in respect of Scripture at all. However, insofar as they are principles naturally inscribed in our minds, they are not properly the word of God, but rather our own word that our mind speaks to us of its own nature. The word of God, by contrast, is what God himself, who is distinct from our soul, indicates to us through divine inspiration, an external voice or other miracles, as being his own and, thus, as coming from himself in some miraculous and supernatural fashion, not from ourselves. However, Spinoza either fails to mention the things I have just enumerated or denies them to be part of the word of God at all. Yet, he is obviously wrong in saying that those other things are part of the word of God because they are recognized by all people as the true rules for life and God’s decrees, as is testified – alas, alas! – by the unhappiness of the present world. Of the many abominations brought forth by the world, the principal one is to be considered the above-mentioned part of philosophy which does not recognize any difference between good and evil. Indeed, nothing sound is to be found anywhere in this chapter.
33. The author thinks so highly of the two following chapters that he asks the reader at the end of the latter that he should think it worthwhile “to read them with some attention and to reflect on them time and again” (14,14, p. 180). This is exactly what I did and while reading them, it certainly seemed to me that I was listening to some bright devil philosophizing or rather making a speech. For when he drives home justice and love so much, everything seems bright, the speaker bathed in angelical brightness and splendour. However, when after that I read his suggestion, or rather blunt statement, that “we must not consider truth in matters of religion, but only obedience” (13,9, p. 172), I shudder at the very voice of this despicable evil demon! But let us take a quick look at the aim of these two chapters. The first of the two shows that Scripture teaches only “simplest matters” (13,1, p. 167) – for this is the warmed-up cabbage that he forces upon us here once again – and only aims at obedience, nor does it teach anything else about the divine nature other than “what men can imitate in a clear way of life” (13,8, p. 170). In support of this, he refers to what he said in chapters 2, 5, 6 and 7, to which I have already replied and which I shall pass over here. However, he apparently wants to add further arguments, namely 1. that the prophets did not preach to the learned only, but to absolutely all Jews, the same holding true for the apostles. He thereby falsely derides all those who expect philosophical mysteries in the Scriptures. 2. It is clear from the Scriptures that no knowledge of God is required of the prophets other than that of his justice and love. For he revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob only as El Shaddai, whereas he was not known to them under the name of Jehovah, which indicates God’s nature and essence. And from the testimony of Jeremiah, Moses and John it is clear that the all the knowledge of God required of us is “that God is supremely just and supremely merciful or the one and only exemplar of true life” (ibid.). 3. The Scriptures do not expressly teach any definition of God and thus people are free to conceive of God as they may. 4. The Sacred Volumes often speak about God in an improper way, “attributing to him hands, feet, eyes, ears, mind and locomotion, even passions of the soul like jealousy and grace”, etc. (13,9, pp. 171–172). 5. All of this is not to be interpreted metaphorically, for “then Scripture would have been composed not for common folk and uneducated people, but only for the most learned and philosophical” (ibid., p. 172). 6. Lastly, “were it really impious to believe God to be all those things piously and in simplicity of heart, the prophets would have been wary of such expressions and taught God’s attributes clearly and explicitly” (ibid.). This is about everything that he has mustered to prove that God required of man no knowledge other than that of his justice and love. 1. My reply to the first of these runs as follows: from the fact that the prophets preached to absolutely all Jews, as did the apostles to all kinds of people, it is more credible that they communicated what appealed to the minds of the learned and the unlearned alike lest the word of God be exposed to contempt. And the Bereshith of the prophet Moses as well as the Mercava of Ezekiel furnish sufficiently clear evidence that the most sublime and noble mysteries are concealed in the writings of the prophets. And Paul states explicitly that “he speaks wisdom among the perfect” (1 Cor. 2:6). 2. As for the second, what he says is obviously wrong. For knowledge of his omnipotence is likewise required, as he is described as the creator of heaven and earth in Moses and the other prophets and thus his substance is shown to be distinct from heaven and earth and, above all, of the whole of nature. It is not at all surprising that Spinoza passes that over here, as he confounds God and nature. As regards the names of El Shaddai and Jehovah, the meaning of that place can be easily and clearly seen to be the following: the name “My Sufficiency” alone is known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, because I can give them the Promised Land in any event. However, as that which is promised actually comes to be and exists, Moses comes to realize God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises and giving them what he has promised, which is alluded to in the etymology of the name of Jehovah derived from היה, “to exist”. And the reason why Moses, Jeremiah and John preach and praise God’s justice and love so much is not because no knowledge of God other than that is required. For not only his justice and benignity, but also his unity, eternity, immensity, omnipotence and omniscience are celebrated everywhere in the prophets and also in the apostles. 3. And likewise, even though he [i.e. God] is not defined in one particular place in Scripture, such a definition, in answer to his third objection, can be readily inferred from the Scriptures. Indeed, our Saviour himself has expressly given a definition of his general nature when he says that “God is spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (Jn. 2:24), i.e. venerate that eternal mind with a pure mind. And hence, we are not “free to conceive of God as we may”, but as it is worthy of God and as it befits his divine majesty. 4. As to his fourth point, I have already remarked above that the God of the Israelites was the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos and those things must not be referred to the bodiless deity. When Spinoza, however, counts mind among things improperly attributed to God, it becomes patently obvious what he conceives God to be, namely either nature, which he tends to confound with God, or nothing at all. 5. To his fourth point I answer that Scripture has been written for the common people and the learned alike. Hence, the learned may interpret it metaphorically if such expressions refer to the bodiless deity. The many, by contrast, if it does not diverge from the truth, understand it without metaphors as referring to the God of Israel, as we have stated above. 6. Finally, it is not necessary that prophets should be wary of such phrases since they wanted to move the people’s minds as strongly as possible, without leading them to errors about the God of Israel to which they always referred with the aforementioned phrases. And this, meanwhile, confirms the Christian belief in the divinity of Christ to an even greater degree.
34. Let us now move on to the next chapter where he defines what faith is, who the faithful are and where the fundamental principles of faith are determined. 1. First of all, on the basis of the preceding chapter, he assumes that “it is the sole aim of Scripture to teach obedience” (14,3, p. 174). Obedience, however, consists solely in “our loving our neighbour as ourselves” (ibid.). 2. Hence, secondly, he defines faith as “assuming things about God ignorance of which makes impossible our obedience to God, and which are necessarily found wherever there is this obedience” (14,5, p. 175). 3. A first corollary of this is that, as he says, “faith does not lead to salvation in itself, but only by virtue of obedience” (14,6, p. 175). 4. Another is that the only faithful are those who are obedient. 5. Thirdly, “faith requires not so much true as pious dogmas, i.e., such as move the mind to obedience” (14,8, p. 176). 6. The most notable corollary of the aforementioned definition, however, is the right definition of the fundamentals of faith, of which, he states, there are seven in total: “I. There is a God, that is, a supreme being, who is supremely just and merciful or an exemplar of true life. II. He is one. III. He is present everywhere, and all things are manifest to him. IV. He possesses supreme right and dominion over all things. V. Worship of God and obedience to him consist solely in justice or love of one’s neighbour. VI. All those who obey God in this way of life, and only those, are saved, whereas those who live under the sway of pleasures are lost. VII. Finally, God forgives the repentant their sins” (14,10, pp. 177–178). 7. Lastly, he adds as a final corollary of this whole enquiry: “Theology and Philosophy could not differ more in their aims and in their foundations, for the aim of philosophy is nothing other than the truth, that of faith nothing other than obedience”, etc. (14,13, p. 179).
Let us answer them one by one. 1. As regards the first point, the love of our neighbour does not exhaust our obedience, for not only reason itself, but Scripture, too, requires the love of God as well as sobriety and moderation. Not only are we to live justly in this present world, but also piously and soberly. However, we cannot love God if we do not know him. Hence, seeking true knowledge of God is part of our obedience and Scripture itself witnesses that χωρὶς ἐπιστήμης ψυχὴν οὐκ εἶναι ἀγαθόν, that “a soul without knowledge is not good” (Prov. 19:2). 2. As regards the second, it is to be asked what kind of faith this is which he defines, since it is neither Mosaic nor Christian (i.e. as far as his definition goes). For there are many infidels ignorant of both the Mosaic and the Christian faith who have nevertheless shown love to their neighbour. Indeed, this definition of faith does not even give a true and comprehensive account of natural religion since by “obedience to God” he understands nothing other than “justice and love of our neighbour”, passing over love and justice towards God, which includes his most lawful worship and worthy opinions about the divine majesty. Hence, it is obvious that this definition of faith, as it is understood by its author, is incomplete, wrong and totally inadequate in reference to natural religion, let alone Christianity. 3. That first corollary is quite apposite on the whole. 4. The other, however, is not, if by “the faithful” we are to understand those who profess the right faith. For someone may profess all those “principals of faith” which he lists later on, and nevertheless disobey the law of fraternal love. 5. It clearly becomes apparent from the third corollary that the author has given his definition of faith in jest only, while mocking and subverting all true religion in so doing. For what could be more ridiculous than that an object of faith might not only be uncertain, but wrong or perhaps even impossible? For he must allow for such things on his definition if those are conducive to the love of one’s neighbour. From this you can already gauge how serious he was in writing down his principals of faith. I. And certainly, he clearly acknowledges in other places that this first principal is wrong and that God can be neither just nor merciful. And had he put this forth in earnest here, he would have had to add God’s purity and holiness in a place where he describes God as an “exemplar of true life”, as Scripture says: “Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16) and again: “He that hath this hope in him purify himself, even as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3). Yet, what does one who, as I have shown above, confounds God with nature have to do with God’s purity? II. “That he is one” can only be proven from the perfection of his nature, although, I admit, it may be an object of belief. However, as for the reason given by Spinoza for why it is to be counted among his principals, namely that they evoke “supreme devotion, admiration and love towards God” (14,9, p. 177), the other perfections of God such as immensity, immateriality, omniscience, etc., although their proof is beyond the understanding of the common people, must likewise be believed and professed as fundamentals of faith. III. Spinoza himself acknowledges this too to be false by counting the term ‘mind’ among the things attributed to God improperly, as we have noted above. IV. And if this cunning sophist were not merely playing here, he could also have added God’s absolute dominion over nature itself in working miracles against or above its laws. Never, however, will he care to do that since he confounds God with nature. V. We have already above shown it to be false that the worship of God consists solely in justice and the love of our neighbour. All of this could certainly be rightly called obedience to God if it were done with regard to his commandments. The worship of God is addressed to him directly and those points which he lists along the second principle may rather be considered part of it, namely “supreme devotion, admiration and love towards God.” Add to that prayers and thanksgiving. It is not surprising at all that Spinoza omits them from the worship of God whom this mindless would-be philosopher denies to be mind, thereby making him incapable of such worship. VI. In this fundamental, he does not nearly go far enough, being silent upon future salvation or perdition after this life and stating only that people will be saved or lost here. For he is an unbelieving Sadducee in matters of a future life and hence you can frequently see him censure the Pharisees in this treatise. VII. He supposes that this final principle can be added as a pious fantasy. Yet, if God is no mind, as he says he is not, it is impossible to believe that the forgiving of sinners or the chastising of them could in any way be related to him. Hence, it is clear that he has put forward all of that in jest only, not as truths, but as something adequate for the obedience of the common people, whilst he, meanwhile, believes that there is neither a God nor any difference between good and evil, as will soon become clear. 7. And lest you still doubt that, he finally adds a last corollary to the effect that “the aim of philosophy is the truth, whereas that of faith is nothing other than obedience” (14,13, p. 179) and that it does not matter whether that which is conducive to this is right or wrong. Thus, with one grin, as it were, he subjects both the Mosaic and Christian religions to derision and mockery. It is not necessary here, however, to refute his blasphemous unbelief in these matters, as I have already done this in both my philosophical and theological writings. My observations so far must have made clear how pleasingly Spinoza has played the role of a white devil in these two chapters and how easy it is for people to use beautiful and pious words which entirely lack the senses and meanings of the things designated.
35. That was just an afterthought, however. Let us now move on to chapter 15, where the following things are discussed, firstly, “whether theology is subordinate to reason or rather reason to theology”, and secondly, “how we are persuaded of the authority of Holy Scripture”. However, the sense of the first question is “whether the sense of Scripture should be accommodated to reason or rather reason to Scripture” (15,1, p. 180). Moreover, for a fuller understanding of this question, it should have been added that by “reason” we must understand right and certain reason, and by the “sense of Scripture” its clear and evident sense. Or rather we must distinguish between certain and right reason, probable reason and, likewise, between a clear and evident sense of Scripture that has one certain meaning and an uncertain one that may have various different meanings according to the known grammatical or figurative usage of a word or a common figure of speech of which Scripture deigns to make use for the sake of the ordinary people. Having established this, deciding this question strikes me as very easy: if the sense of Scripture is ambiguous or may have various different meanings, it must be accommodated to right and certain reason and determined by it. And if reason, on the other hand, is uncertain or only probable, it must be accommodated to a clear and certain sense of Scripture,
… and so
each needs the other’s friendly assistance.
If it happens that a clear and indubitable sense of Scripture should indeed conflict with right and certain reason, it is obvious that owing either to the passing of time or to the inadvertence of the scribes some mistake has crept in, as when it gives certain conflicting numbers. However, only an impious person loathed by God and all virtuous men alike can say that the prophets themselves were mistaken in their accounts. However, that which Spinoza asserts here once again about God’s jealousy and his descent to Mount Sinai can in reality be attributed to the God of Israel, i.e. the soul of the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos, as I have replied time and again. And the prophet Baruch witnesses to this very God: “This is our God and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of him. He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob, his servant and to Israel, his beloved. Afterward did he shew himself upon earth, and conversed with men” (Bar. 3:35–37), namely after he had assumed our flesh. Why, therefore, should not the one who descended into the womb of the Virgin be said to have been able to descend to Mount Sinai? Since, moreover, he is said to have handed over to “Israel, his beloved” “all the way of knowledge”, I should very much like to point out here that the mysteries of the philosophical cabbala were likewise included if it were not for the fact that the ears of that unbelieving Sadducee cannot endure that.
Since everything else that he asserts here is almost the same as that which he has said before and since I have already replied to that there, I shall hasten to proceed to the next question. However, the only thing that must be mentioned beforehand is the arrogance with which he ridicules all theology and religion in that pretentious, albeit wrong, resolution of the question: “Reason is to reign over the domain of truth and wisdom, theology over that of piety and obedience” (15,6, p. 184). But this is a blind and shadowy reign, covered in worse than Egyptian darkness, as he plainly excludes truth and wisdom from piety and obedience entirely, even though Solomon stated that “a soul without knowledge was not good”. And the latter himself clearly recognizes that it is completely at odds with reason that “people may be happy by obedience alone without any knowledge of things” and that “theology should prescribe nothing other than this or order nothing but obedience” (ibid.). For by theology he [i.e. Spinoza] understands “revelation insofar as it indicates the aim of Scripture” (ibid.), i.e. justice and love. And he adds – even though he contradicts himself in this – that “theology, taken in this sense and considered with regard to its precepts and commands, agrees with reason and is universal to all men” (ibid.), an expression I want you to pay particular attention to. Anyway, whatever his opinion on the present controversy, our definitions given at the outset are sound and solid and clear to everybody with an unprejudiced mind. Let us then illustrate their use. Opinions like the following are only probable at best: that there are no angels and their actions, that there are no miracles in the proper sense, i.e., such as are brought about either above or against the general laws of nature, that there is no immortality of the soul, etc., to all of which this author is very much adverse and for the sake of which, above all, he wants the prophets to be nothing but teachers of piety, not truth. If these opinions strike someone as probable, they must yield to the clear and indubitable sense of Holy Scripture and human assumptions must give way to divine revelation. And this is the proper use we are to make of Holy Scripture. It is by Holy Scripture that we are to learn about those things about which certain people, owing to the soul’s immersion into this earthly body, cannot establish anything certain, even though they long to know them with certainty, thereby being confirmed in the true faith. Those, however, who are immersed too deeply in the dirt and viciousness of the body, bridle in impotence and impudence even at this most efficient medicine of all. I did not think it extraneous to the matter to point this out briefly.
36. I shall now proceed to the next question which is occasioned by the author, who holds as “a fundamental principle of theology” that “men are saved by obedience alone”, which, however, “cannot be proven by means of reason”, which (he notes) raises the objection “why, therefore, should we believe it” (15,7, p. 185). However, he replies that this principle has only a “moral certainty”, as did the prophets themselves, their certainty consisting in these three things only, namely “a clear and vivid imagination, a sign and a mind devoted to justice and goodness” ( ibid.). And he briefly concludes that for this reason we are obliged to obey Scripture, i.e. the prophets, namely because of their sound doctrine in matters of character, as confirmed by signs. “For since we see”, he says, “that the prophets commend love and justice above all and plead for nothing else, we conclude from that that they were sincere and not deceitful in teaching that men were made happy by obedience and faith, and since they also confirmed this with signs, we are convinced that they were not speaking without reason nor were mad when they prophesied. We are further persuaded of this when we note”, and again I want you to pay special attention to his choice of words, “that they offered no moral teaching that does not most clearly accord with reason. For it is not without reason that the word of God in the prophets agrees completely with the word of God itself speaking in us. And these things”, he says, “we infer from the Bible with as much certainty as the Jews in their time understood them from the living voice of the prophets. For Scripture, as”, he claims, “we have shown, has come into our hands uncorrupted in its doctrine and the principal historical narratives” (ibid.). And nearly all of that, he says, can be understood as having a sound sense if it has come from a sound heart. However, what certainty the prophets themselves were able to attain concerning their prophecies I have already pointed out above and it is not necessary to repeat it here. Yet, we are privileged over the Jews in that we may have faith in Moses and the prophets because we understand that what they preached came true in reality as not only their predictions, but also those many different prophetic types in Moses have so evidently been fulfilled in the works of Christ and his church. When he says that “men can become happy by obedience and faith alone”, he slightly alters the question. But the sense of this expression could be sound if by “faith” he understood the conviction about doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture which must be believed and of which we have some knowledge with certainty and which are proven true by the fact that they are the utterances of people renowned for their signs and miracles by which they showed that they were sent by God (to pass over that Spinoza admits the moral utterances of the prophets to accord with our reason). Hence, it is obvious that men are saved by reason and knowledge as well as by obedience. As regards signs and miracles, since he holds elsewhere that there are none, it is clear as well that he only jokes and equivocates about them here, contradicting himself and philosophizing with an insincere and dishonest mind. And he wants those so-called “principal historical narratives” to be part of those which do not include any real miracles.
However, as regards his statement towards the end of the chapter: “But no spirit other than reason gives testimony about the truth and certainty of things that are purely matters for speculation and reason, as we have already shown, claims the realm of truth for itself” (15,8, p. 188), it is an assertion about which I want to make two comments before I proceed to the next chapter. Firstly, there are few things in the Holy Scriptures, if any at all, “that are purely matters for speculation”. Rather, they are also meant to fortify our faith and our actions in some way. Secondly, reason itself can be illuminated and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This is most true and the same that, if I am not mistaken, I have touched on in my replies to some other matters in preceding chapters, and hence I shall hasten to the next chapter.
37. In accordance with the title Theological-Political Treatise, he [i.e. Spinoza] assumes the role of the politician in this chapter after acting that of the theologian up to this point, for here he treats of the “foundations of the state”. He deals with three kinds of right, namely each person’s natural right and civil right and the right of the sovereign powers. His principal teachings about each person’s natural right are the following: 1. The natural right consists in “the rules of the nature of each individual thing according to which it is naturally determined to exist and behave in a certain way.” 2. “It is certain that any individual nature, considered absolutely in itself, has a sovereign right to do everything it can do, because the power of nature is the very power of God, who has supreme right to do all things and the power of each individual is part of the latter’s universal power.” 3. “It is the supreme law of nature that each thing strives to persist in its own state as far as it can, taking no account of another’s circumstances, but only of its own.” 4. As regards the right of nature, “there is no difference between human beings and other individual things of nature, nor between those human beings who are endowed with reason and those who are ignorant of it, nor between fools or lunatics and the sane”, for all individuals have the natural right to fulfil their desires. “This is precisely what Paul says when he teaches that there is no sin where there is no law (cf. Rom. 7:8)”. 5. “Hence, each person’s natural right is determined not by sound reason, but by desire and power. And those “whom nature has denied the power of living according to sound reason are no more obliged to live by the laws of a sound mind than a cat is by the laws of a lion’s nature” (16,2).
These are his main principles concerning “each individual’s natural right”. We may in general observe about them that it seems to be something of a privilege of those who teach the most absurd things possible that they can safely teach such things, since they leave nothing even more absurd by which they could be disproven and refuted. But let us briefly go through them one by one: 1. Firstly, it is clear from the fourth axiom that it is a general definition of the natural right, pertaining to all natural things both animate and inanimate like stones, animals and human beings. However, let us now examine the sense of the definition. A right, according to the most general notion of a right, presupposes a law, which in turn presupposes reason. The rules of each individual’s nature must therefore be commands or decrees of some law and also of some kind of reason. However, I ask whether this reason originates with necessity in the very nature of each thing or is inserted into it by some higher cause that watches over all natural things. It cannot originate with necessity in individual things because all individual things in the universe move as if they were directed by one general plan that cares for all things. It has therefore been inserted into it by some higher cause, namely by Divine Reason to which every right can be reduced. That Reason is the supreme law and the source of every right. Nor does anything have any right to action that is not derived from this source, even though it may have the power (or rather lack of power) to diverge from this law, but then it does not act naturally, but against nature. If the rules of nature are not understood in this way, the definition is wrong and at odds with the phenomena of the world. And if the word is understood in such a way that it excludes free will, the definition is too narrow to include human beings. 2. The second principle is obviously wrong, since the laws of nature have been given by Reason which cares for the good of the universe and hence no individual nature has the right to do anything against the good of the universe. Moreover, the reason that he gives for this principle is the most erroneous and impious of all, since he clearly confounds nature and God, indicating that there is no other God than nature, as I have already noted more than once in the above. However, I have given abundant evidence in my writings that God is distinct from nature. 3. The third principle is likewise wrong and at odds with natural phenomena. For most animals possess in them a law that makes them care more about their offspring than about themselves, and they also have body parts whose makeup and desires are evidently not directed towards the good of the individual, but towards the good of the species and the conservation of its particular part of the universe. And this is obviously why birds do not shy away from incubating their eggs, and undertake the labour of searching for food for their young, etc. It is the law of nature to provide for the common good and no particular nature has any right to violate it. 4. As to the fourth point, what blind and angry impulse is it that makes the would-be philosophers of this age babble whatever they like, no matter how impious, no matter how unsound and contradictory? For this principle obviously conflicts with the one immediately preceding it, as it follows from it that madmen and lunatics have the right to kill themselves. And thus, they would have the right to transgress against the “supreme law of nature”, i.e., “to persist in one’s own state as far as one can”, which is a manifest contradiction. And certainly, if madmen and lunatics have no right to kill themselves, so much less do those who are endowed with mind and reason. Hence, according to that third principle, it is obviously wrong that “the right of each thing extends as far as its determined power extends” (16,1). I shall soon reply to that quotation from Paul. 5. The fifth point is κακού κόρακος κακόν ωόν, the worst inference from the worst tenets, and we have already shown these tenets to be wrong and absurd. And as regards that quotation from Paul, that there is no sin where there is no law, I say that all rational creatures, to which human souls belong, possess right reason as a law. And certainly, if the spirit of nature has imposed laws upon brute animals and inanimate things, as the common people call them, then it is all the more true that that supreme and eternal Reason, i.e. God, has imposed upon rational beings right reason as a law. And therefore, the natural right of each human being must be determined by right reason, not by desire and power. Moreover, his claim that those “whom nature has denied any real power of living according to sound reason are no more obliged to live by the laws of a sound mind than a cat is by the laws of a lion’s nature” (16,2), while certainly argued quite astutely, is nevertheless wrong. Indeed, had the human souls fallen into this condition through no fault of their own, this argument might have some force. However, since it was through their own fault that they came into this bad state, it would be as ridiculous to pretend that they have the natural right to satisfy all their irrational desires as it would be to pretend that a drunken man may view his drunkenness as giving him the right to commit murders, adulteries and other misdeeds of this kind. Indeed, our common proverb is certainly most just and true: “He who kills a man when drunk is to be hanged when sober.” For it was due to his own fault that he got drunk. Hence, each human being’s natural right, or rather indispensable law, is right reason and that is that which obligates him to do not what appeals most to himself or his desire, but what is absolutely and simply the best according to the moral axioms enumerated in my Enchiridion Ethicum. And this is the state of each human being before the foundation of a political society. On no account does he have the right to do anything that is at odds with right reason or not absolutely and simply the best. This is the sum of that natural law.
38. Let us now move on to the “civil right”, which is private or public. The first, which belongs to each citizen, is defined by Spinoza as “the freedom of each person to conserve themselves in their own condition, which is determined by the decrees of the sovereign power and protected by its authority alone” (16,13), a definition that is not bad at all. The second is the right of the sovereign power. Since it is a collective right, made up of the natural rights of all people, of whom “each”, he states, “had a right to all things” (16,5), transferring it to the supreme power according to a pact, he claims that it is a right to all things, the power being “of right permitted to do all things” (16,14). And therefore, he defines “offence” as “a citizen or subject being forced by another to suffer a loss contrary to the civil law or the decree of the supreme power” (ibid.). For no-one can commit an offence before the foundation of a political society, nor can the supreme powers commit any against their subjects or anybody else after the foundation of a society, since the natural right of the subjects, i.e. the right to all things, has been transferred to them. And I certainly agree that it would be a manifest contradiction for an absolutely supreme power to be constituted without the people’s natural law being transferred to it in its entirety. However, as each person’s natural right consists entirely in their being allowed to do all things that conform to right reason and nothing else, it is obvious that it is this right that is transferred to the supreme power and nothing else, since the pact of the people cannot transfer anything to the supreme power that it itself has not possessed. Hence, it is not necessary at all to invent something as unworthy of human nature as that no-one would willingly give up the right to all things, which he possesses, without deceit, since no-one has any right of nature to do anything that does not conform to right reason and there is no other right that he could transfer to the supreme power. And if the supreme power does decree something against it, it is obvious that this is not right but usurpation, since men could not and God would not have given it.
39. And this is my brief summary of the threefold right: the natural right, the civil right and the right of the supreme powers. There remain two certainly highly significant objections which he advances himself. The first is how each person’s natural right, as he has defined it, can coexist with “the divine command that we must love our neighbour as ourselves”. To this he replies that the state of nature “is prior to religion both by nature and in time” (16,19) and that man in this state is free from this commandment for two reasons, namely ignorance and freedom. For one thing, it is ignorance as “no-one knows from nature that he is bound by obedience towards God. Indeed, he cannot discover this by reasoning either, but each person can only receive it from a revelation confirmed by miracles” (ibid.). For another, it is freedom “for if men were bound by nature to the divine law or if the divine law were a law of nature, it would be superfluous for God to enter into a covenant with men and bind them with a pact and an oath. And therefore, we must admit unreservedly that the divine law began at the time when men promised to obey God in all things by an explicit agreement, thereby surrendering their natural liberty, as it were, and transferring their right to God, “as”, he says, “we have said it occurs in the civil state” (ibid.).
Behold how publicly this dirty demon displays his cloven foot, he who, like an angel of light, has in so many places made so many beautiful speeches about the divine law inscribed in our hearts, about justice and love as something in accord with human reason and about other such things! In this way, however, you will understand that his replies are wrong as well as impious, as they do away with all natural knowledge of the difference between good and evil. For since it is also known from the light of reason, which he, too, acknowledges to be the natural light, that God exists and that he is the creator of all things and the parent, as it were, of all souls, it is most obvious from the light of nature that we owe him obedience for that. In fact, his replies here are in clear contradiction to what I have noted him as saying in sect. 34: “The prophets offered no moral teaching that does not most clearly accord with reason. For it is not without reason that the word of God in the prophets agrees completely with the word of God itself speaking in us” (15,7) and sect. 33: “Theology, considered with regard to its precepts of life, agrees with reason and is universal to all men” (ibid.). This is in utter conflict with that own reply of his based on our ignorance. Nor does the reason advanced to prove that human beings are free from obedience towards God before an external pact have any force either. For from the fact that God entered into a pact with human beings for them to be bound more strongly to obedience it does not follow that they were by right free from obedience and had not owed him obedience before, since they had always been obliged to obey him according to right reason, which is the universal law of human nature. But we have already pointed this out sufficiently above.
The other objection is: how can the divine right coexist with the right of the supreme powers, i.e. the natural law by which they are allowed to do all things? To this he replies that “in the state of nature everyone should live by the revealed law for the same reason as they ought to live by the dictates of sound judgement, i.e. because it is advantageous to them and necessary for their welfare. They may refuse to do so if they wish, but they do this at their own peril. And this right is retained by the supreme power which may certainly consult others, but is not obliged to recognize anyone as judge but God” (16,20). Thus, while “it may sin against the revealed will of God, it can nevertheless not sin against his eternal decree or the order of universal nature by which all things have been predestined” (16,20). As regards this reply, I should like to point out briefly that although “the supreme power is not obliged to recognize anyone as judge but God”, it does not follow that it has the right to act either against a divine commandment or a right revealed by God or right reason, upon which natural right is always based. Indeed, Spinoza contradicts himself here once again when he says that “they may refuse to do so if they wish, but they do this at their own peril”, i.e. according to natural law, even though he has established the highest law of nature, in which natural right originates as well, to be one’s own self-preservation. It is obvious from this that it [i.e. the supreme power] must follow what is necessary for its welfare and it may “not refuse to do so at its own peril”. Moreover, he adds here that while “it may sin against the revealed will of God”, by which he quite wittily alludes to the doctrine of the Calvinists, “it can nevertheless not sin against his eternal decree or the order of universal nature by which all things have been predestined”. Here again this most audacious high-priest of the scandalous mysteries of mechanical philosophy makes it abundantly clear that nature or worldly matter with its mechanical motions and all of the latter’s necessary sensitive or intellectual offspring is simply God in his entirety, there being no God other than that. It is not my task here, as I have pointed out several times, to refute this impious opinion, as this is the aim of nearly all my writings. But I have already focused on this chapter far longer than I had planned to. Let us hasten to the next chapter.
40. In this seventeenth chapter he describes the nature of the Hebrew state, the excellence of its constitution and its shortcomings, as he imagines them. The chapter is rather lengthy, but he says quite a few things here and there that are not altogether without some wit, notably in the first two chapters. We shall content ourselves with noting a few things lest we appear to forget the due brevity of a letter. 1. Firstly, then, he says that “the Hebrews, once they were liberated from Egyptian bondage and in their natural state in which they had a right to all things, resolved on the advice of Moses to transfer their right to no mortal man, but rather to God by expressly entering into a covenant with him (Ex. 24)” (17,7). 2. “Consequently, God alone held the government of the Hebrews, and it was solely owing to the covenant that it was rightly called the kingdom of God and God the king of the Hebrews, etc.” (17,8). 3. “For this reason, this state could be called a theocracy, because its citizens were bound by no law but the Law revealed by God” (ibid.). 4. “Even so, the fact of the matter is that all these things were more opinion than reality. For in reality, the Hebrews absolutely retained the right of government” (ibid.), since “all of them gave up their right, equally, as in a democracy, and were equally entitled to consult God and hear what he wished to command” (17,9). 5. However, after they had asked Moses (Deut. 5) that he alone approach God and relate God’s words to them, “they abolished the first covenant and absolutely transferred their right to consult God and interpret his decrees to Moses. And so, Moses remained the sole giver and interpreter of the divine laws. He was also, therefore, the supreme judge”, etc. (ibid.). And the government of the Hebrews became a monarchy. 6. However, after Moses’s death, it “could not be called democratic, aristocratic or monarchical, but theocratic” (17,10). 7. “And the palace of the supreme authority of this theocratic state was the House of God, a temple built at public expense and the Levites were the officials and administrators of this divine palace. And the highest of them, second, as it were, to God, the king, was the high priest” (17,11). 8. “An armed force was formed from the other tribes and chiefs chosen for each of them, but Joshua was chosen supreme commander of the armed force” (17,12). 9. “The forces made up from the people were to swear allegiance not to their commander or the high priest, but to religion or God, and among the Hebrews the God of Israel, therefore, was called ‘God of armies’,” etc. (17,13). It would take too long to reproduce everything, nor would it serve our purpose to do so. However, lest we appear to have reproduced all of this in vain, we shall briefly note about the first how absurd it is to say that “the Hebrews, once they were liberated from Egyptian bondage, had the right to all things”, even to sin against God, their liberator, and against the eternal law of gratitude. Rather, had they freed themselves by their own powers – the natural right, as I have shown above, being included in right reason – there would be no need for an external covenant with the bare deity. However, if the God of Israel was the soul of the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos, this external covenant, which, for us Christians, is continued in our baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, will rightly seem more congruous and appropriate with regard to the latter’s human nature. However, from such a covenant, not even the least semblance of an argument can be gained that might prove that human beings, before entering into a covenant with the bare deity, have a right to commit all misdeeds whatsoever. For by the law of creation they have the duty to obey God and follow right reason, because this is what the creator of all things obliges all his rational creatures to, also through the inner law. However, the external covenants with the God of Israel or Christ enjoin this same thing even more strongly and more efficiently. 2. As to his second point, assuming that the God of Israel was the soul of the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos, you could certainly put it like this with reference to the latter’s human nature. In terms of his divine nature, however, he is the king and father of the whole creation without any covenant. 3. As to his third point, this kingdom of the Hebrews could be called a theocracy, not “because its citizens were bound by no law but the Law revealed by God (for the obligation of that universal right reason did not cease on their entering into the covenant), but because the king of all those who entered into a covenant was God himself.” 4. In his fourth point, there is an obvious contradiction, since the state of the Hebrews, though a theocracy, is also a democracy and God’s whole people, though transferring its right to God, retains it for itself. 5. As to his fifth point, it is unbelievable that the people would ever have dreamed of having the right to interpret the decrees of God. Rather, it was Moses’s task to relate and, if necessary, interpret them. Moreover, when they asked Moses that he approach God alone and relate his words to them, they did not transfer their right to Moses to interpret the decrees of God, which they had never had, but only acknowledged the fearsome divine majesty that gave the laws. And therefore, the state of the Hebrews was not even then a monarchy in the human sense, but as before it was a theocracy. 6. And he himself admits that it was so after Moses’s death. 7. Moreover, as to his interpretation of God’s house as a palace and the like, all of that is much more sound and rational on the assumption that this king was the soul of the Messiah conjoined with the eternal Logos. 8. The eighth point does not present any difficulty. 9. And about the ninth one, we must only note that if the God of Israel was called the God of armies with regard to the army of the Hebrews, it refers more to his human nature, for insofar as he is the eternal Logos and true God, the whole of creation is his army.
41. In the second part of the chapter, there are certainly other true and apposite remarks by which he further illuminates the excellence of the Hebrew state, but he states things in the third part that are in obvious contradiction to that (as it is his usual habit to contradict himself). Thus, he perversely interprets that utterance of Ezekiel (chap. 20,25: “I gave them statutes that were not good, etc.”) as referring to the Mosaic Laws which he interprets as having been given as a petty pretext for God to vent his wrath. However, the context makes it absolutely clear that these decrees or statutes were given to them because they had not obeyed the good Mosaic Laws, as both Vatablus and most of our exegetes expound it: “As they did not want to obey my laws”, says Vatablus, “I rejected them and permitted it to happen that they should serve the most unjust laws,” etc. And yet, he declares in a downright histrionic manner that “he is forced to exclaim, in Tacitus’s words, that at that time”, i.e. when the Hebrews were given the Law, “‘God did not wish to save them, but to punish them’” (17,26). In any case, he makes ill use of these words, taking them from the period when the Jews had committed that horrible crime of crucifying their own Messiah, indeed the God of their fathers and the patron of the ancient Israelites. However, what he says towards the end of this chapter where he pretends “to have seen in what ways the state of the Hebrews could have lasted forever” (17,30) is indeed extremely ludicrous and risible, as though this stupid and inept little would-be philosopher were not only wiser than Moses, but than God himself. Oh that mechanico-philosophical arrogance! Oh that more than political genius that, unless the devil were to be considered wiser than God, is of a sharper wit than any devil! Why, Spinoza could as well have said that the fate and fortune of all empires save that eternal kingdom predicted by Daniel were and would always be in his hands! And yet, the transitions from one kingdom or state to another is governed by God’s special providence, since their fates are predicted long periods in advance and no human design or prudence may do anything against God. Since, however, he does not believe this due to his crass ignorance, it happens that he praises himself greatly, becoming swollen with blind self-assurance. Finally, the last point which he impresses upon us as a grand conclusion has been highly ridiculous all along and is, as it is usual with him, highly impious: “It is clear from this chapter that the divine right or the right of religion arises from a covenant without which there is no other than the natural right” (17,31). The latter, with him, means the right to do or not to do whatever we like and not to acknowledge any duty either towards man or God. I have already sufficiently refuted this mad and insane doctrine of his above. It may suffice to have quickly and briefly noted these few words on this lengthy chapter.
42. In the following chapter, his doctrines are entirely political in character and though most of what he says there is sound and sensible, it is also rather obvious and commonplace (for it is not the first time that he behaves somewhat unfairly towards the prophets and falsely taunts the Pharisees). Hence, I shall leave the explanation and correction of this chapter and move on at once to chapter 19.
43. He sets out above all to prove three things in this chapter. Firstly, that “religion has the power of law only by decree of those who exercise the right of government” (19,2). Secondly, the interpretation of religion lies with the supreme powers (cf. 19,9). Thirdly and lastly, “no-one can rightly cultivate piety or obey God without obeying all decrees of the supreme power” (19,11). However, in order that we may understand his intention correctly, he makes it clear at the outset that the controversy is to be understood with regard to our external, not our internal worship. “For internal worship of God and piety are under every individual’s jurisdiction that cannot be transferred to another” (19,3). While these words may at first be pleasing to the ear since there appears to be some justice to them, there is nevertheless something terribly impious and monstrous hidden in them. For not only does he believe that we are permitted to deny even the truest religion in public, yea even Christ himself (in defiance of the latter’s command), but also that no-one must be bound to any private religion at all either, neither to the love of God and his neighbour nor whatever else is sacred and holy. For in his view, “each person’s natural right”, if it is not transferred to another power, is the right to do or not to do what we want to and are able to do. These are the inauspicious beginnings of the present treatise, but let us see how he argues for each of these parts.
As regards the first part, his arguments are roughly as follows: 1. “The kingdom of God is one in which love and charity have the force of law and command” (19,3). 2. “Justice and charity can only receive the force of law and command via the law of a state” (ibid.). 3. “In the state of nature, reason has no more right than appetite, but both those who live according to their appetites and those who live according to the laws of reason have the right to do everything they can” (19,4). 4. “In order for the teachings of true reason, i.e. the divine teachings themselves to have the force of law in an absolute sense, it is necessary that each person should give up his own natural right and that all should transfer their right to all men or else one man” (ibid.). 5. “God has no kingdom over men except through those who hold power” (19,5). 6. “After the destruction of the Hebrew state, revealed religion ceased to possess the force of law and as soon as the Hebrews transferred their right to the king of Babylon, the divine law likewise ceased at once” (19,6). 7. “All of God’s decrees involve eternal truth and necessity, and God cannot be conceived as a prince or legislator enacting laws for men” (19,8). 8. “It is clear from experience that we find no traces of divine justice except where just men rule” (ibid.). I have singled out these sentences as the principal ones of this first part. Moreover, I shall now briefly show how they are all related and connected with one another, also pointing out how utterly wrong they are.
The first point is obviously connected to the very question of whether “religion has the power of law only by decree of those who exercise the right of government”. He says that it is so, however, because the kingdom of God is constituted by religion. And that religion is not much else than the constitution of the kingdom of God is clear from his definition of the kingdom of God given at the beginning: “The kingdom of God is one in which love and charity have the force of law and command”. However, I deny this definition to be complete as it leaves out the unblemished worship of God both public and private so that a kingdom of atheists or idolaters could as well be the kingdom of God on this definition if it were apposite. 2. His second proposition has a sufficiently clear connection to the first, even though its truth is not sufficiently clear. 3. And therefore, the third proposition is adduced to prove it. However, if this latter were true indeed, the former one would likewise be true. Yet, this is all nothing but the detestable drivel of an impure and blinded mind that does not recognize any distinction between good and evil and therefore makes his dirty wickedness the foundation of the right of the supreme powers to religion itself as if there were no religion at all had they decided otherwise! However, I have refuted the madness of this proposition in my Enchiridion Ethicum so that it may suffice only to point this out here. I cannot add anything else here. 4. The fourth point has almost the same sense as the third, namely none at all. However, not only is it wrong and stupid, but also utterly ridiculous, as when he asserts that the teachings of true reason and even the divine teachings for our lives cannot have the force of law before the supreme powers decide that they do. This is as absurd as if someone were to claim that a mathematical axiom, say, “A triangle has three angles equal to two right angles”, could not have the force of an axiom before a council of mathematicians had assembled and pronounced that it did! You can see how rotten the foundations of politics are which this treacherous and equally dirty cadger of the supreme powers lays. However, these powers cannot but despise him for his irreligiosity, and also scorn and disdain him for his crass ignorance and perfidiousness. For religion is the strongest bond by which kingdoms and republics are held together and kept in being. And if nothing is just by itself, no pact can be valid, for how can it be valid if it is not in accord with right reason to stand by one’s pacts? However, the latter is said to have no force of law of itself in the third and fourth propositions. Hence, there is no longer any obligation of a subject towards his prince nor any translation of each person’s natural right to a supreme power other than an imaginary and fictitious one. Consequently, we are still allowed to do everything we want to and are able to do. There is no parricide, no rebellion, no crime of lèse-majesté and the like or, rather, they are all no crimes or felonies at all, but committed in accord with the perpetrator’s right. Behold that unfortunate and inauspicious conclusion from premises as inauspicious and as impious! 5. The fifth proposition is an inference drawn primarily from the third and also from the fourth (which constitute the basis of this first argumentation, though a most feeble and no less impious one) and it quite clearly encompasses the first question or rather is judged by the author to encompass it. 6. The sixth proposition, however, is a new argument meant to further substantiate the aforementioned inference, but it is a highly feeble one. For even after the destruction of the Hebrews’ state, their obligation to the God of Israel, whom they were to worship as far as those times admitted, remained in force. Thus, in Jeremiah, chap. 29:7, they are given the express command: “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive and pray unto Jehovah for it, for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” Hence, even though they were not able to sacrifice to him, they prayed to Jehovah and it is obvious that this duty of “seeking the peace of the city” did not consist in their subjecting themselves to the others’ illicit rites, as Spinoza has it, but in praying to Jehovah for his peace and abstaining from unrest and rebellion. And whilst it is not clear that the Hebrews transferred their right to the king of Babylon, it is obvious that even if they had transferred it, they would not have surrendered the divine right. But all of these arguments advanced by Spinoza can be clearly seen to rest on that monstrous atheism of his, even though he perhaps wants to conceal it from others. 7. Does not the third argument look good! Yet, on closer inspection, it reeks of the very same kind of atheism. For he intimates that God cannot will and decree anything that does not “involve eternal truth and necessity”. Thus, he neither wills nor decrees anything, as he says quite frequently, but what transpires in reality and with necessity and what, if we consult his fourth chapter to which he refers us, he does solely by the necessity of his nature and perfection. For with him [i.e. Spinoza] his will and his understanding are the same thing, as are the power of God and that of nature. Hence, by these eternal decrees he seems to me to mean necessary motions and events, as they occur according to the mechanical laws of nature. If it is not like this, why should not God, if he exists and if he is a being distinct from worldly matter, be able to inscribe laws in the minds of men, doing it in such a way, however, that it is up to them to obey them or not and after their disobedience try in new ways to lead them to good fruits, as he is said to have done on Mount Sinai in giving the Laws to Moses? But if there is nothing but worldly matter and its intrinsic power and motion as well as, by implication, the latter’s necessary results, i.e. all kinds of sense, appetite and intellect, then there will certainly no longer be a God who can do anything of his own free will, but only according to the necessary chain and sequence of mechanical motions. Then the only lawgivers will be the supreme powers who as princes will enact laws that the people will sometimes obey and sometimes disobey. This is the horrible and monstrous belief that I suspect Spinoza secretly favours, as no other hypothesis seems to accord as well with his arguments and doctrines as he expresses them throughout. See my notes on chapter four. 8. This is the fourth and final argument in which he seeks to prove from experience that “God has no kingdom over men except through those who hold power”, even though experience clearly testifies the opposite, as in the pagan Roman Empire. For the first Christians cultivated piety and charity most diligently even in defiance of those who wielded the supreme power. And where the unjust rule, the countless complaints about injustice show that there is a sense of justice ruling in the hearts of the oppressed and that with this sense God rules in them. He does so by virtue of his laws written into their minds or the motions of the Holy Spirit who can illuminate men in a supernatural fashion, strengthening them against the flood of the vices of this world. Thus, you can see how little force these four arguments of his have in confirming his first conclusion that “religion has the power of law only by decree of those who exercise the right of government”.
44. His second conclusion is that the interpretation of religion lies with the supreme powers. To prove this, he advances two arguments. The first is that “piety towards one’s country is the highest piety that anyone can show” and that “it follows from that that any pious act for a neighbour becomes impious if it entails harm to the whole state” (19,10). The second, which is certainly very similar to the first, is that “the welfare of the people is the supreme law to which all other laws both human and divine must be accommodated” (ibid.). From these two arguments it follows, then, that it is up to those who wield the supreme power to determine what is pious and what is impious, what corresponds to divine law and what does not, lest the state be harmed in any way. However, I should first like to respond in general that these arguments of Spinoza’s, like most of his others, presuppose that there is no God and no immortal soul. Otherwise, it must without doubt be denied that “piety towards one’s country is the highest piety that anyone can show”. Rather, the obligation to God as well as to one’s neighbour is the highest and most indispensable of all obligations and which gives the greatest power to all the others. Hence, nothing can be pious towards one’s country that is not pious towards God, nor, hence, must the supreme powers, because they have the greatest skill in political matters, be interpreters of religion unless they are equally skilled in matters pertaining to God. I want this to be understood of the indispensable parts of divine worship and true religion. However, as regards the mutable rites and opinions which are not clearly settled by the Divine Oracles, I certainly do not mind so much that they [i.e. the supreme powers] have the right to change and adapt them for the sake of a political good. As to the other argument, however, that “the welfare of the people is the supreme law”, I certainly acknowledge this if one understands by it eternal as much as temporal welfare. What I shall always deny is that the supreme powers can or rightly may, by means of their interpretation, tamper with any truly divine law that relates to the eternal welfare of the people. It is not up to any power, either secular or spiritual, to corrupt the Divine Oracles in this way or shamefully twist and turn their manifest meaning for purposes of worldly utility.
45. The third and final conclusion is that “no-one can rightly cultivate piety or obey God without obeying all decrees of the supreme power.” His mention of God in this conclusion is not at all sincere since no-one who seriously believes in the existence of God could ever assent to this sentence. But let us see by what arguments he substantiates so absurd a doctrine. In fact, it is all of one single argument by which he sets about to do that, and it runs as follows: “Since we are obliged by God’s decree to treat with piety all persons, without exception and inflict harm on no one, it follows from that that no-one is permitted to give assistance to anyone if this involves inflicting damage on another and much less if it involves inflicting damage on the whole state. And hence, no-one can behave piously towards his neighbour according to God’s decree unless he accommodates piety and religion to the public interest. However, no private person can know what is the interest of the state other than from the decrees of the supreme powers which alone have the responsibility to transact public business. Hence, no-one can rightly cultivate piety or obey God without obeying all decrees of the supreme power” (19,11). As I have said, he frequently mentions the name of God here. However, the argument will have no force unless we suppose that God does not exist or rather that there is no duty to him to which we can be obliged. Hence, I deny that the duty of justice and charity towards our neighbour exhausts all our duties of obedience. Instead, there also are duties of justice towards God whose rights we are to respect and honour. Moreover, it is as manifest that there are such duties to God as it is that God exists so that removing one necessarily means removing the other as well. Hence, even though acts of justice towards men (which he calls “piety and religion”) may not be practised according to God’s commandment unless they are also in accord with the decrees of the supreme powers, it does not by any means immediately follow from that that “no-one can rightly cultivate piety or obey God without obeying all decrees of the supreme power.” For this is a universal conclusion from a particular antecedent, which is, hence, drawn most erroneously. Besides, it is wrong that “no private person can know what is the interest of the state other than from the decrees of the supreme powers”. For every private person can know – provided he has not been blinded by Hobbianism or Spinozism – that that which is absolutely bad and evil can in reality never be useful to the state or, indeed, that it would be useful for the state if it were rid of it entirely. And neither do the supreme powers have the right to command things of that kind, even if they pertain solely to human rights, nor may private men obey such decrees. However, Spinoza, in blind self-confidence, assumes without proving it anywhere that there is nothing that is by itself just and unjust, good and bad. And yet, he builds his arguments on that false and wicked hypothesis throughout. However, as I have pointed out time and again, I have shown this hypothesis to be false in my Enchiridion Ethicum. However, “this”, he adds to substantiate his argument, “is likewise confirmed in practice: No subject is permitted to aid anyone whom the supreme powers, in whatever way, have condemned to death or declared an enemy” (19,12). This does not prove that whatever the supreme power decrees is just or that we can neither be just nor obey God without following the latter or that private men do not have the right to rise and rebel against the supreme power, even though the latter decrees something that is objectively unjust. The remaining little appendices to this argument are of too little import to warrant a reply to them on my part. And since the remainder of this chapter is a discussion about the separation of sacred from the civil right, I shall leave this untreated, having already given an account of that in the Mystery of Godliness, as far as I thought fit.
46. Thus, I am moving on to the last chapter “that in a free state everyone is allowed to think what they wish and to say what they think”. This is indeed a mad and mindless view, as you will easily grasp if we look at a few concrete examples. Thus, everyone, if he wishes to, has the right and permission to think that God does not exist, that God is an evil demon who greatly exults in human suffering and even causes it or that he is ignorant of human affairs or rather neither knows anything for certain nor stands by his decrees, but is more mutable than the air in springtime or whatever else is more horrible and absurd than these things. And not only does he, if he wishes to, have the right and permission to think all of that, but he may also publicly say and proclaim that! Who if he is not an atheist himself or completely insane would put forward so mad a view? And yet, it should come as no surprise to anyone that such a dirty flood should have spouted forth from such a polluted source! All of this coheres quite closely with that execrable principle that he makes the foundation of this chapter and its philosophical doctrines (even though some of the things he says here and there are neither foolish nor flabby): “We can see”, he says, “how each person may say and teach what he thinks without infringing the right and authority of the supreme powers, namely by leaving decisions about any kind of action to them and doing nothing contrary to their decrees, even if he must often act contrary to what he himself judges best and publicly expresses. He can, and indeed must, do that without infringing justice and piety if he wants to show himself a just and good man. For justice depends solely upon the supreme powers’ decree and hence, only someone who lives according to their official decrees can be just” (20,8). This is pure and unadulterated Hobbianism! Behold the equally blind cub of that blind old bear! And with what blind self-confidence does he keep on saying that there is no difference between right and wrong and nothing pious and impious without an external law enacted by the supreme powers! This is as insane and mad as if he were to claim that there is no mathematical truth or falsity and no health and sickness without some assembly of mathematicians and medics decreeing that there is. A just freedom of thought and speech does not require such an execrable foundation. And since I have treated this matter with more sound and sober arguments in the Mystery of Godliness, for the sake of brevity I do not add much more here. There is only one thing I request from you: If I sometimes seem to have criticized the author of this Treatise too harshly, do not attribute it to my penchant for abuse, but rather to my just zeal and indignation which I feel against a scoffer so utterly unworthy of Moses and the other prophets and of all true religion. And do not forget to ascribe something of that to my impatience as well since, while examining the foul reasons of this dirty would-be philosopher, I constantly had the feeling that I had my nose over a smelly and stinking dung heap. Know that “it causes me”, as Musonius says, genuine “pain and sickness that foul and evil beasts of this sort” (of which – oh shame – our present has such an abundance) “should usurp a most sacred name and call themselves philosophers” or are so called by others, although in reality they are nothing but the common lions, as it were, and most foul corruptors of humankind.
Appendix: Frans Kuyper, The Secrets of Atheism Revealed
47. And I wrote most of this while the Kuyper was still with the bookbinder to be tied together and all of it before I had read even one little page of that book. It was on purpose that I refrained from doing so as I did not want to be prejudiced by any man’s opinion or judgement, but rather experience how I would spontaneously come to think about the Theological-Political Treatise. And I have briefly told you my opinion in this letter of mine to you. And after reading the book by Frans Kuyper, I find that he felt the very same way as I did and I shall reproduce his opinion, as it is stated in his preface, in his own words for you: “Since atheists”, he says, ”because of the invidiousness of that word and the danger of their cause, are usually compelled to act more secretively, our adversary here (i.e. the author of the Theological-Political Treatise) had to do the same. He might be excused for that if only he had sought to defend his cause with legitimate arguments, rather than with fallacies, deceptions, lies, ambiguities and absurd and false suppositions without a shred of proof. However, he makes it quite clear that in writing this it was not his intention that others might be able or willing to enlighten him in such an important and dangerous question in case he had diverged from the truth about it, but rather, whether by legitimate or illegitimate means, to draw men to his side, using assertions and arguments that he himself knew to be false, etc.” (pref., pp. II–III). And a little later: “Therefore, rather than undertaking a somewhat obscure attempt to prove that there is no creator and ruler of nature, as he should have done, he presupposes it as a most certain axiom in all the chapters of his Treatise, since all the other things which he puts forth here are based upon it. And it would be superfluous”, he says, “to show this, as I have expressly pointed this out everywhere throughout this treatise.” About the following words from Spinoza’s preface (for there is no-one amongst us who doubts that he was the author of the Treatise): “People are swayed by superstition only as long as they are afraid; all the things they have ever worshipped under the influence of false religion are nothing but the fancies and fantasies of despondent and fearful minds” (Theological-Political Treatise, pref., 4, p. 6), he says: “I know that this two-faced adversary has added the word ‘false’ to avoid any resentment by means of this false explanation, declaring that he did not speak about true, but false religion. However, if you call to mind again what we have shown everywhere in our Refutation, you will easily see that by true religion he means nothing but man’s life regulated according to political laws for the advantage of the state, all of which happens by laws of inevitable necessity which no-one can transgress in any way. And hence, by false religion he understands each of those religions that the creator of all things, as it is believed, has given us since Moses, Christ and the time before the Law” ( Secrets of Atheism Revealed, pref., p. IV). And on p. 6 he says: “He states that he does not recognize any other God than nature itself and that, in respect of men, God’s guidance is no other than human prudence and skill. Moreover, he believes that everything that happens and exists in the whole universe proceeds necessarily from the necessary and inevitable course of his nature” (ibid., p. VI). These few passages I have reproduced may suffice so that you can see that I treated Spinoza rather with mildness and benignity than with too much harshness or severity, especially if you compare what we have said against him to how Kuyper inveighs against him. And lest you believe that I have accused him of Hobbianism without reason, Kuyper claims in book I, ch. 12 that he has taken most of what he writes from the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes.
48. However, if now that you have learned that I have perused Kuyper’s Refutation you perhaps feel some curiosity that I should tell you what I think about him and his Refutation, I must frankly admit that I read it quite hastily because there were other urgent matters that I had to attend to. However, I noted that several of his proposed resolutions of contradictions between different places in Scripture, which he probably transcribed from the manuscripts of his uncle D. Brennius, which he had to hand, as he says, were not at all uninformed or inept. As to what he says about philosophical matters, I feel strongly that nothing should be said about it at present. There is only one thing that I want to mention briefly: this philosophical age (in which there is so much ado about the natural sciences and, at the same time, such an appalling and shameful neglect of character, virtue and the good life) is suffering from morbus pedicularis or φθειρίασις, as it were, i.e. atheism. Hence, with all those invisible vermin – I mean the atheists – creeping around everywhere, I think that it is a necessary maxim of prudence that one should not without reason think highly of somebody (unless one knows him well) who “has happened to have lived and grown up among atheists since his infancy or the cradle, as they say” (pref., p. I), only because one does not want to expose oneself to his and the other atheists’ derision:
The jar will long retain the odour of the liquor with which it was once saturated.
However, in order to avoid offending either party, I shall not tell you my own view, but that of one who is more judgemental and more inclined to see each single aspect in a rather negative light, and who will hence put forth a perhaps slightly more unjust and severe assessment. For there are quite a few things that such a scoffer can smell out here.
The first is that he [i.e. Kuyper] denies that we can gain any knowledge of God’s existence from the natural light. Apparently, this opinion is so very dear to him that he would rather invent a false notion of “natural light” than admit that we may have knowledge about God by virtue of this natural light. Rather than accepting the definition agreed on by nearly everyone that it is the power of reason unassisted by the aid of revelation, he contends that that alone is true which we believe or conclude to be true without anyone explaining it to us. Yet, there is no doubt that we most properly call that true according to the natural light about which we can be certain without any recourse to a supernatural revelation. Thus, for example, that a triangle has three angles that are equal to two right angles is true according to the natural light, even though there are countless myriads of people living who have never thought about that. Hence, it might well be seen as indicative of a mind leaning towards atheism that he so deliberately and so groundlessly makes the natural obscurity of God’s existence appear bigger than it actually is. Moreover, that struggle between faith and demonstration which he makes up is only a fictitious χιομαχία staged in his own brain. For who does not know that there may be a demonstration of and an opinion about one and the same thing? And why should there not be faith in it as well? Let us only hope that this will not pave the way for atheism! Do not workmen have faith in mathematical proportions of which they are unable to give a demonstration themselves, whilst mathematicians can do that with ease?
The second point is that he entertains such an enmity against the innate idea of God, which he rejects with such ado. However, it is as absolutely certain that there is such an idea as the fact that there are ideas of mathematical figures. Let this suffice, since this is as much as what any sensible philosopher will admit.
The third point runs as follows: although, he says, one cannot conceive a being without any extension to exist, yet whatever has extension, he contends, is a body. Hence, it necessarily follows that God is either corporeal or does not exist at all. However, this view (if I may use that man’s words directed against the nullibists) strikes me as nothing but atheism, for I am as much inclined to view God as being made of wood as being corporeal, all bodies, to my mind, being equally capable of being divine attributes. However, let that scoffer himself make up his mind about this matter!
The fourth point is that doctrine which is as horrible and execrable as atheism itself and nothing in Spinoza makes me more nauseous than that, namely that there is no difference by nature between good and evil, but only one by law or agreement, so that, to use his own words, “there is no difference between virtue and vice without divine revelation” (cf. I 4, p. 49; II 9, p. 249). Indeed, he says, “one cannot conceive of anything either so absurd or contrary to our nature that God might not before the promulgation of the New Covenant impose it upon us as a test of our faith in and love of him” (II 10, pp. 261–262). Among the absurd commands that he enumerates are “very ugly and frequent struggles that, surpassing the strength of our nature, would wear us down and kill us”, “the immoderate consumption of certain large amounts of food and drink which would cause us pains and diseases and, consequently, a miserable death”, “the cremation and slaughtering of our own children for his honour”, etc. (ibid., p. 262). All of that, he says, would have been as just and pious had God commanded it as what he now obliges us to through Christ. It is obvious that this is an absolutely intolerable and blasphemous vilification of both Christ’s precepts and all natural morality, and hence, it will seem entirely fitting that this soul, immersed as it is in this dirt of insensibility, should be completely alienated from all belief in God’s existence.
The fifth point has a certain affinity to the preceding one as it apparently builds upon Kuyper’s insults against Christ. For, after rejecting all arguments of natural reason for God, he appears to have the sincere intention of taking refuge with revelation. However, that he is not altogether sincere in doing so our scoffer might perhaps suspect from the fact that where the words of Spinoza, who, after all, designates Christ the “mouth of God” (Theological-Political Treatise, 4,10, p. 64), afford the least possible occasion possible, he seizes that occasion and, making himself the latter’s interpreter, calls the Saviour, that highest and most faithful witness of divine revelation, “a most subtle and most cunning imposter” (Secrets of Atheism Revealed, I 12, p. 120) as though he were secretly exulting in the opportunity of attaching to him such a shameful insult while ostensibly only interpreting Spinoza. I must admit, because it is true, that it seemed to me that Spinoza, either because he had some reverence for Christ or at least sought to curry favour with the Christians, wanted to seem more upright in this matter. And therefore, he called him the “mouth of God” (Theological-Political Treatise, 4,10, p. 64), saying that he “communicated with God from mind to mind” (ibid., 1,19, p. 21), because he received the pure truth from God without enigmatic prophetic images and shared them with us. And the other prophets and Christ differed in that he, at any rate, did not receive what he was taught “by any external visions or voices” (4,10, p. 64), but rather communicated with God inwardly, “from mind to mind”, giving to man what he received and drew thence. However, Kuyper, as though harbouring a grudge against Christ and being driven by the pleasure of insulting him, interprets these absolutely fine and decent words of Spinoza’s in this foolish and perverse fashion: “I have understood clearly”, he says, “what that man understands by ‘mouth of God’ and, likewise, by the communication ‘from mind to mind’ which he attributes to Christ, namely that the latter was a most subtle and cunning imposter” (Secrets of Atheism Revealed, I 12, p. 120). And that he, besides that, certainly has a hostile attitude towards Christ, even though the latter is the prince of all prophets, who through their work readily opened up to man a way to God’s revelation, will also be proved by that derisory interpretation of Christ’s parable of the unjust judge (pag. 280): “He compares God, who is good”, he says, “to an ‘unjust judge’, ‘the elect who cry day and night unto him’ (Lk. 18:7) (not for revenge at all, from which they must absolutely abstain, Mt. 5:43–44) to a ‘widow’, i.e. a foolish ‘woman impotent and impatient for her delayed revenge’. To the unjust judge’s peevishness and impatience with the widow’s entreaties is opposed God’s long-suffering with regard to the prayers of the pious. Far from being offended by them, he hears their prayers with sympathy and kindness” (II 12). Yet, who except one whose nose is completely blocked does not smell where all of this leads to, seeing that this comparison is inept and ridiculous from first to last, although it does show both his ignorance and wickedness? For the opposite natures of the things compared allows us to see the force of this very dense argument all the more clearly. Throughout, an argument from smaller to greater is employed in this comparison of opposites. If the judge is evil, God is all the more benign. If the former listens to the entreaties of a little woman impotent with anger and desirous of vengeance, the latter listens all the more to the prayers of the faithful who do not thirst for vengeance, but solely for a relief of their suffering. If the judge is peevish and irritable to the point of impatience so that he is easily moved to a complete neglect and rejection of a widow’s plea, a gentle, long-suffering and benign God will listen all the more intently to those of his own without turning them down with impatience. Apparently, Kuyper was either ignorant of this meaning of the argument or ignored it knowingly and intentionally to expose the Saviour’s parable to everybody’s derision and vilify the latter, even though the latter reveals to us the existence of God in the most outstanding way.
The sixth point is that he claims that creation in the proper sense of the word is something completely impossible and, as a consequence, attributes necessary and eternal self-existence to worldly matter. However, this is a principal divine attribute. If it is admitted that matter possesses it, he will open a wide window for atheists to endow it with the excellence of life, perception and other things as well, and to conclude that there is no other God than the latter. Not to mention that if there is anything self-existent besides God, it is impossible that anything would be God in the proper sense of the word.
The seventh point is that as well as saying that God, if he exists, is the prime corporeal thing, he also appears to be joking in furnishing this corporeal God of his with a place, assigning him some little empty areas within the world as his place at one time and placing him outside the confines of this world at another so that he may thence illuminate the universe with his divine influence, as the sun does with its rays. All this is so ridiculous and so absurd that no-one of sane mind can be believed to philosophize like that in earnest. For it is obvious that, if God only occupies those little areas, there will not be one, but countless Gods. And if he is outside the world, he cannot even move worldly matter, let alone govern it, without dashing from one place to another. Everyone nowadays who has a fleeting acquaintance with philosophy rejects the idea that a body possesses intentional rays or species. And even if it did, they would be bodies and incapable of penetrating worldly matter, since according to Kuyper’s own view these rays/species are extended. Hence, it will seem all the more probable that he is not serious in this matter, but rather jesting and playing games.
The eighth point. First, he enumerates the atheists’ arguments against God’s existence, then offering his own replies to them as well as the arguments for God that others advance on the basis of natural reason and the atheists’ replies. Finally, he concludes that it is clear from the arguments for either side that “the light of nature without divine revelation cannot lead us to the knowledge of God” (II 9, p. 49). However, lest he seem to have undertaken the whole effort in vain, he adds that natural reason, once the opinion of God’s existence and his worship has taken hold of men’s minds, does not teach either that “there is no or can be no God” ( ibid.) as though it had otherwise taught that “there was no nor could be no God”! Behold that outstanding and zealous champion of God’s existence, the one who, as he declares in the preface, “wants to provide a more solid way of preventing so many people, notably the ingenious and clever ones, from falling into atheism” (pref., p. I)!
The ninth point. Having, or rather not having, shown that there is a stalemate in this question, he apparently wants to present what he proudly advertises as his “more solid” arguments for the existence of God. However, most of them are so ludicrous and risible or so weak and dull (besides, finally, having already been rejected out of hand above) that it seems hardly credible that any man in sufficient possession of his wits should ever have wanted to present such arguments in earnest. For there are thirteen arguments in total in book II, chap. 11. The first and the second hold that the universal belief among men in God’s existence and the creation of the world may have taken its sole origin from divine revelation and that, therefore, God who revealed that doctrine exists. This argument appears extremely weak even at first sight, whereas nothing is easier for man than to infer from this beautiful fabric of the world as from the structure of some building that there is an architect distinct from the fabric itself. However, it is up to philosophy and right reason to judge whether this inference is right or not. Moreover, from that which they infer in this way, they infer the creator of the world and his wisdom, power and beneficence, which are the attributes of “God”, as we generally call him in English, while other nations who have different words for different things have given the same notion or object of the intellect a different name which however signifies the same thing. The third argument concludes that God exists from the fact that his name exists. From what has been said so far, you can see at first glance how futile and worthless this argument is. The fourth and the fifth arguments prove God’s existence from the belief in the resurrection of the dead and the commands of the New Covenant. As they do not assume there to be any criterion of justice other than the divine will alone, they demonstrate that God exists because he cannot have been invented by the human understanding. Who does not see that this is a ludicrous and ridiculous argument against religion, implying as it does that whatever seems contrary to right reason cannot be a human illusion or false doctrine, but must, as if religion were to be mocked, point to a divine invention and, hence, his existence as its first cause? In this way, every figment amongst the Turks, which either Muhammad himself or his followers have come up with, including the most preposterous matters, would be an argument for divine existence. The ninth argument is the freedom of human beings in their actions that would interrupt the sequence of necessary causes and dissolve the world if it were not for an omnipotent governor, i.e. God. Hence, it is clear that God exists. However, how should men, or any other free agents, be able to destroy their world considering its immensity and its adamantine laws of nature? And why would they ever want to wreck their own home considering its usefulness? In truth, the very idea that there is such a sequence of necessary causes so that the removal of one link from its place would shatter the whole fabric of the universe is nothing but an old wives’ tale, the mad figment and dream of atheists. Arguments ten to thirteen cannot contribute anything to the proof of God’s existence, as they are among those that, as he himself freely admits, only bring about the stalemate in this question or raise doubts as to whether God exists or not.
Thus, you see that ten out of thirteen arguments have had no force at all to prove God’s existence. There remain only three based on miracles, the sixth, the seventh and the eighth. And the eighth argument clearly is as worthless and dull as was the third one: since we have the term “miracle” in our language, therefore the thing itself must or must have existed at some time. All of that has the same validity as if someone were to conclude from the fact that the philosopher’s stone – which can heal all illnesses whatsoever and perform other incredible feats – is referred to in human conversations, that it must exist in reality. The sixth argument proves God’s existence from the fact that miracles, as Kuyper has proved in book I, ch. 6, can occur, their occurrence implying no contradiction. However, he only proves that by supposing that God exists, which, as we see, he fails to prove either here or anywhere else. Therefore, this is a plainly ridiculous circle unless proof is given that miracles did actually occur. Here, however, this astute man refers his reader to Lavater’s On Spirits, part I, ch. 12 (notably the first part of the chapter, I assume) and to the book entitled Magic Things Concerning Spirits. Thus does he joke and make fun of everything. Now there remains only the seventh of the thirteen arguments, in which we may hope to find “that more solid and compendious way for which”, as he declares in the preface, “he was compelled to search in order that we might be all the more certain about the existence of God” (pref., p. I). And indeed, this seventh argument, which, as far as I can see, is the only solid one among all those which he has put forth, is the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. Even though this is certainly quite a strong argument in itself, I nevertheless do not think at all that it is such “a compendious way” in the eyes of atheists who profess to accept nothing without reason. Thus, without first closely examining the many matters pertaining to history, as Spinoza scrutinizes them, which would make for quite an exhausting and perhaps even tedious task for them, they will not be convinced to believe the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, the entire history of past things without exception, even though no objection can be levelled against it except that it is history, seems to provide less certain arguments than the knowledge of things that we have before our very eyes all the time. And finally, the character of atheists is such that they are not able to believe any historical account of miraculous things, however well-witnessed and recent, but only those events at which they were present themselves and of which they could be eyewitnesses. Indeed, so averse are they to all things miraculous that even if they did witness one, they would hardly be willing to trust their own eyes, but rather dream that they were some kind of illusions or fantasies.
Kuyper could not have been altogether unacquainted with this character of theirs, having “lived and grown up among atheists since his infancy or the cradle” (pref., p. I). Hence, it will seem entirely probable to our scoffer that, rejecting arguments from the phenomena of nature or from innate notions of the soul and replacing them instead with those mostly worthless and ludicrous thirteen arguments (of which only one may have some force for sensible men, albeit none with atheists), he resolved to do as he did to move the atheists, who might well have understood him more deeply, to such violent laughter behind the drawn curtain (as he himself notes about Spinoza) that they had to hold their bellies and their jaws with their hands to prevent them from bursting. And so, by exposing religion to the atheists’ ridicule and laughter, he acted less as Spinoza’s disprover than as his explicator and interpreter to gather around him a little atheistic community, thus deserving to succeed Spinoza himself במושב לצים, on the chair of the deriders. Still, let the atheists and Epicureans laugh as much as they want to, this seems to me to be the most deplorable and abject state of the soul possible.
49. These are roughly the things, V.C., that, considered together, could make any scoffer suspect quite strongly that Kuyper did not take up the cause of defending religion against the atheists in earnest, but rather in jest and sport. I do admit, though, as I have already done above, that he has presented some quite learned and useful resolutions of contradictions between different places of Scripture taken from the manuscripts of his uncle. He could have easily foreseen, however, that this would be looked upon with indifference by the atheists. Even if there were neither contradictions between Scriptural places nor any small mistakes in them, nevertheless, as long as there is in it any mention of miracles and predictions and whatever else shows God to exist with such clarity, they would undoubtedly always continue to refuse to believe it.
What, then, you will ask? Has that man who revealed the Secrets of Atheism failed to conceal his design sufficiently so as not to give away his own atheism in the end? I do not want to claim that at all. This, at any rate, is what I have deliberately avoided so far. There is one thing I do believe, though: just as he asserts that no-one can know God from his works in nature, which he created, but only from his revelation, so I assert that no-one can know from Kuyper’s work, but only from his own profession that he is not an atheist. For I do not doubt that he will profess that he is not an atheist. And decency altogether requires us to be content with this reply.
And Socinus, for certain, and some Socinians at least also claim that God can be known only from supernatural revelation, even though this is against Paul’s clear statement in Rom. 1:19–20. There, he states explicitly that the gentiles have gained knowledge of God from the phenomena of the created world and that he has revealed himself or his divine power, which must have existed before the creation of the world, through the latter. It can be seen from his works in nature. Moreover, what Kuyper claims on p. 245 to evade the sense of this place is manifest nonsense. For the text does not presuppose that the gentiles inferred the existence of God from any other source than the works of creation. On the contrary, the Apostle plainly states what the gentiles were able to attain without any supernatural revelation, solely by virtue of natural reason enquiring into God’s works in nature. Indeed, while Socinus, a man quite astute in his own way in other fields, and, undoubtedly, many of his followers and, perhaps, other Christians would have fallen headlong into atheism had they not held on to Scriptural revelation, certain enthusiasts in fact do the worst possible thing, impudently and brazenly trampling and heaping scorn upon God’s external word. However, I have only wanted to mention these things in passing.
50. However, as regards Kuyper, if he, in this ludicrous and risible way of writing, wanted to instil some poison into the reader’s mind, it primarily took the two following forms: There is no natural difference between good and evil and: There is no deity but nature itself, and nature itself is nothing else than eternal matter essentially and immediately alive by itself and immediately and essentially unfolding and evolving on various occasions into the different modes of life, even those of perception, sensation, intellection and others of that kind. Once again, the former is in express contradiction to that word of the Apostle in Rm. 2:14–15: “For when the gentiles which have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves. Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness against them.” In order to invalidate the force of this place, he imagines, in defiance of all printed texts and interpretations, that “by nature” should be linked to “they have”. And besides, assuming it were like this, since we would then have to silently add another “by nature” in the following words: “these, having not the law”, what an incongruous and impossible sense would that yield due to the words immediately following after that: “are a law unto themselves”? For if they do not have a law of nature either (and the Apostle assumes that they do not have an external law), how can they be “a law unto themselves”? They were without any law whatsoever and nothing was prohibited to them, as Kuyper would very much like to have it. However, this is in clear contradiction to the words that follow soon afterwards: “their conscience accusing or excusing”. Hence, this is complete nonsense and just another grotesquely bizarre subterfuge.
Moreover, this place, as I should like to point out briefly, not only contradicts the atheists and Epicureans, but the Quakers as well. The latter deny a light of natural reason distinct from the command of the Spirit of Christ, whereas the Apostle plainly asserts that “the gentiles do by nature the things contained in the law”, that “their conscience bears witness against them, their thoughts accusing or else excusing one another” and that they “are a law unto themselves”, which would not hold true at all if φύσει in this place meant something distinct from human nature. How, then, could he possibly refer to man’s natural conscience any more clearly and distinctly? This is that “law”, which, he says, “is written in man’s hearts”, i.e. in the soul or spirit of man itself according to that word in Proverbs: אדמ נשמת נר יהוה : “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching the inward parts of his heart” (Prov. 20:27). It is, therefore, the spirit of man itself which is the life that man is given by God, thus being called the “candle of God”. Otherwise, Scripture would have said: The spirit of the Lord is the candle of man, and not: “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord” if it were not the spirit of man that was to be understood as the spirit which is called the “candle of the Lord”. And the human soul, which is very appropriately called חיימ נשמת in Gen. 2, i.e. “spirit of lives” (Gn. 2:7), not only incudes the rational, but also the animal life, since the one human soul is generally and rightly held to be rational and sensitive. Hence, the text itself says: “and man was made into a living soul”, לנפש חיה (ibid.), which word is also attributed to animals in Gen. 1:20, 21, 24. Hence, that which “was breathed into Adam’s nostrils” was the principle by which he received both the animal and the rational life and therefore, it could not have been the spirit of God, even though, insofar as it is rational, it was the “candle of God” for man, containing as it did the law of those things which he had to embrace and those which he had to flee. This place in Solomon expresses the light of natural conscience both against atheists and against Quakers with such great clarity that the former must not dream that there are no restraints of life imposed upon their lusts by nature, nor the latter believe that all their internal chidings and enticements are inspirations of the Divine Spirit, but, since the light of conscience has been obscured a little on account of Adam’s fall, they should judge their every internal motion in accordance with the external doctrine of Christ and the apostles in sobriety and modesty. Thus, it is clear from the Holy Scriptures against Kuyper that there is a difference between good and evil given to us by nature as well. I have proved that same thing in my Enchiridion Ethicum, as I have pointed out above.
51. However, as regards the other poison, that there is no deity but nature or worldly matter that is eternal and αὐτόζωον, there are many arguments in my writings, some of them irrefutable, which overthrow this foundation, namely in the Enchiridium Metaphysicum, in the Antidote Against Atheism, in the Treatise about the Immortality of the Soul, in the Confutation of the Foundations of the Eagle-Eyed-Boy Cabbala, in the Divine Dialogues, etc. For if there is a certain substantial extension distinct from mobile matter and every substance qua substance is αὐτόζωον according to the opinion of those who deem eternal matter αὐτόζωον, that immobile extension, as it is not only eternal, but also immense and indeed even shares about twenty attributes with the divine essence, thus being an essence far superior to matter, must itself have a life far superior to the life of matter, even according to the opinion of those philosophers who deem matter αὐτόζωον. Therefore, it cannot, even on the principles of those who hold that paradox, be true that there is no deity but matter which is αὐτόζωον Besides, if the parts of matter cannot join together by their own power nor exist by themselves; if the duration of the corporeal world or any series of things cannot exist from eternity; if the heavier parts move downwards not by their own power, but through the immaterial hylarchic principle; if matter cannot form itself into the bodies of plants and animals; if it is not capable of either memory or imagination, let alone reason or second notions; if the so-called appearances of spirits go beyond the laws of matter, as does a prediction of the outcome of a long series of different successive events many centuries in advance; if everything that exists has a cause or reason for its existence either in itself or in another being; if the innate idea of a most perfect being is as certain as that of any geometrical figure, as is the inference of its existence from that; if the human soul is an incorporeal substance distinct from all bodily parts and the like; if, I say, all of that can be proven solidly and certainly, of which, without any shred of a doubt, I have given such demonstrations in the abovementioned writings of mine, then that reckless figment of Kuyper and the other materialists, that there is nothing more divine in the world than matter, will be disposed of at once. For once its foundation has been shattered, that lofty fortress of the atheists must necessarily break apart completely, as Kuyper himself admits who claims that the modern atheists, like him, reject the atomistic or mechanistic explanation of the world’s creation. However, I believe you already know well enough how solid my arguments in my abovementioned writings are so that I need not add anything here, especially since I am well aware that I have already written more than either the genre of a letter or your patience allows. If something has been left unanswered, I would rather postpone it to a later time. Meanwhile, I entreat you most fervently that you be just and sympathetic in judging what I have written and that you kindly condone the liberty I took with you in discoursing so freely and so prolixly. Farewell.
Scholia In Epist. Ad V.C./ Scholia on the Letter to V.C.
[Critical Notes on Spinoza, Metaphysical Thoughts]
Sect. 1: “As Spinoza jests”, etc. * I have heard many people say that he is the author of this Treatise and I have not met anyone yet who doubts it. The principal doctrines which it contains also agree with those in B. de Spinoza’s Appendix Containing Metaphysical Thoughts, as I shall note in due course.
Sect. 4: “What mystery Spinoza says is hidden here”. For the words are Spinoza’s own: “For this reason I do not doubt that some mystery lies hidden here” (Treatise 1,13; p. 17).
Sect. 6: “For he was already incarnate as that very God who spoke to Moses”, etc. This indeed is Ambrose’s view: “It was not the Father who spoke to Moses either in the burning bush or the desert, but the Son.” This is also stated by Basil against Eunomius and Irenaeus says in Calvin that “the Son is the creator of heaven and earth who enacted the law through Moses’s hand and appeared to the Fathers.”
Sect. 7: “Here he plainly confounds God and nature.” Despite that, he philosophizes much about God as if he were distinct from nature. Thus, when treating his ubiquity or omnipresence in Part 2, ch. 3, he says: “If you now ask how, then, we shall prove that God is everywhere, I reply that we have already given abundant evidence when we showed that nothing could exist even for one single moment without being continuously created by God at every single moment” (p. 133). Here he seems to distinguish created nature from God himself. In order adequately to understand God’s ubiquity or presence in all individual things, he adds thereafter that it is necessary that we understand the inner nature of the divine will by which he created things and by which he continues to create them. But since that is beyond man’s comprehension, it is impossible to explain how God is everywhere. However, prompted by Kuyper’s wonderful expertise on the secrets of atheism and atheists, I cannot but suspect that all of this has been added in jest, and that he in fact hints that God, who exists only if he is everywhere, should be done away with * and that nature alone should be left. Since the latter is the only substance in the universe and is present everywhere, unfolding and, as it were, renewing all the world’s phenomena as the various modifications of its own substance at every single moment, it is Spinoza’s “hidden deity”, as Kuyper puts it. And therefore, God’s and nature’s power are the same. But if a created substance is distinct from God’s substance, nothing could be further from all sense and reason than to deny distinct powers as well as substancehood to them. Hence, there is no other thing to which the creation of a creature at every single moment could more properly be referred than the perpetual production or transmission of motion from matter which is endowed with life and is in perpetual operation. This may well be considered his true intention. Having understood this, it is easy to see what that Deity is that is everywhere, namely, immense, eternal and αὐτόζωος worldly * matter, which in Kuyper’s words is the “secret” of modern atheists and of Spinoza in particular, as he insists time and again in his refutation of the Theological-Political Treatise.
Sect. 10: “Prophets may nevertheless be equally”, etc. In addition, most of the prophets sought signs from God not for their own sake, but for the sake of others, as Kuyper has rightly noted.
Sect. 12: “The universal laws of nature according to which all things happen are nothing other than the eternal decrees of God”, etc. (3,3; p. 46). To hide himself a little and obscure his meaning, that shrewd schemer has inverted the word order. I do not doubt at all that his words are intended to mean that the eternal decrees of God are nothing other than the universal laws of nature.
“Necessary and mechanical motion of worldly matter”, etc. There is a passage in the above-mentioned Appendix, part 2, ch. 9 which matches these words very well. There he concludes that “all things are necessary in respect of God’s decree. It is wrong to say that some are in themselves and others in respect of the decree” (p. 126). An example of the first category which he cites is “A triangle has three angles equal to two right ones”, adding at once: “But surely they are inventing distinctions in things from their own ignorance. For if men clearly understood the whole order of nature, they would find all things to be as necessary as those treated in mathematics”, etc. (p. 127). “Therefore”, he says, “we must say either that God is powerless, because all things are in actual fact necessary”, i.e. subject to mechanical and mathematical necessity, “or that God is all-powerful and that the necessity we find in things has resulted solely from God’s decree” (p. 127). We can see here how well Spinoza agrees with Spinoza and that his true intentions in this chapter have not escaped our notice. For here too in the Appendix that crafty sophist implies that the laws of nature do not depend upon God’s decree any more than does the property of a triangle by which it has three angles equal to two right angles, i.e. they do not depend upon him at all. And hence it follows that * he does not exist, but rather nature alone both is and does all things by necessity.
Sect. 14: “Since the knowledge of an effect through its cause”, etc. I believe that this is another example of the inversion of the order of words not dissimilar to the one which we have noted in section 12, and that the sense implied is: since the knowledge of the cause through its effect, etc.
Sect. 16: “That the will of God and his intellect are in reality one and the same thing”, etc. Again, it seems clear from this that Spinoza is the author of this Treatise. For in Append. Part 2, ch. 8, he states explicitly that “his will and power, as externally manifested, are not distinguished from his intellect” (p. 124).
Sect. 18: “The first is that ‘they imagine two powers numerically distinct from one another, etc.’ (6,1; p. 18)”. In keeping with that, he says in Append., Part I, ch. 3: “No created thing does anything by its own force, just as no created thing began to exist by its own force. From this it follows that nothing happens except by the power of the all-creating cause, that is, God, who by his concurrence at every moment continues to create all things” (p. 103). Here he talks once more of one single force or power in the universe which he appears to call divine. However, if Kuyper’s interpretation as an expert on the secrets of atheism is apposite, * he tacitly implies that this force is merely the natural force of matter.
As for the opinion about miracles and the like, Spinoza, as always, stays true to himself, falsely deriding them in the Appendix, Part II, ch. 9, as well. After dividing God’s power into ordinary and special, the latter being that by which God does something above the order of nature, as when miracles occur, he says about the former that “we may not unreasonably entertain serious doubts about it, because for God to govern the world with one and the same fixed and immutable order seems a greater miracle than if, because of the folly of humankind, he were to abrogate laws that he himself has sanctioned in Nature in the best way” (p. 128). However, he does not “abrogate” them, but only suspends them for a certain time. Indeed, it would seem to me to be the greatest of all miracles if Spinoza sincerely believed in a God who was distinct from nature and who daily, or indeed at every single moment, performs the miracle of recreating this whole universe and each of its parts, but who could not and would not periodically interrupt the order of the world or nature for a short interval or change it, as he did in the miracles of Joshua and Ezekiel, lest it seem to exist by its own power. In truth, there can be no fantasy more absurd than Spinoza’s fantasy of God recreating every single thing at every single moment. It is more than likely that he emphasized this so much with a view to deriding God’s existence, while feigning at least some semblance of religion and making us so deficient and dependent upon God that he has to bring us, i.e. our substance as well as our operations, back into existence as we lapse into nothingness at every single moment. All the while, however, Spinoza secretly cherishes the belief that there is no God but nature, as has also been rightly observed by Kuyper.
If one pays only a little thought to this fantasy, one cannot but see at once both how ridiculous it is in terms of natural philosophy and how impious in terms of religious philosophy. Take a ball or a stone which I cast into the air. The stone does not ascend by the force of the motion impressed on it by my hand, since (according to Spinoza) at almost the very same moment as the motion is impressed upon it, both the stone and the impression are annihilated, and at the next moment recreated by God. And so it is solely by God and his power that the ball or stone ascends into the air, and by the same power it descends again, being destroyed and recreated in infinite cycles in the process. Thus, for sure,
“God’s power plays with the affairs of man”
or rather a man‘s mind plays with God’s power, furtively banning him from the universe with his absurd paradoxes. In addition, if individual things are recreated at every single moment, it is difficult to understand how plants and animals grow old.
However, not only is this doctrine ridiculous in natural philosophy, but it is also impious in religion, as it so manifestly does violence to the holiness of the divine majesty. For if in this way he recreates the sinner carrying out the most heinous actions, he also creates his most heinous actions, making him persist in them and, as Spinoza himself admits, determining him to commit them. And in an entirely hypocritical derision of all piety and virtue, he admits that “how this can be while saving freedom is beyond our capacity to understand” (I,3, p. 104). However, what does all of that lead to? Are we not to believe following Spinoza that there is no God but nature or, if we do believe there is no God apart from nature, imagine him to be such as will free us of all pangs of conscience and remorse so that we may give rein to our lusts and indulge in them without any qualms? After all, there is no reason for us sincerely to regret what we have not done ourselves, but rather it is for God to regret, who recreates all things at every single moment. That this is not a sane and solid doctrine, but rather a groundless fantasy of Spinoza’s can be seen briefly from the following: creation means the production of a substance, and nothing can annihilate a substance but that force and will which has produced it. Now God does not decide anything against that will by which, making use of his power, he has effected the creation of the universe. It is therefore impossible that the substance of each thing should not along with its immediate faculties persist and stay firmly in being and without the need of any new creation repeated at every single moment. However, if nothing but the divine will can annihilate a created substance, to imagine this universe to be alternately annihilated and recreated at every single moment is clearly to suppose that God alternately wills creation to exist and not to exist. However, this is not only ridiculous, but also an abominable blasphemy against the immutability and constancy of the divine majesty.
Sect. 33: “When Spinoza, however, counts mind among things improperly-attributed to God,” etc. His own words in this very chapter run as follows: “Nor is it at all surprising that the sacred books express themselves so inappropriately about God throughout, attributing hands and feet to him, and eyes and ears, and movement in space,” etc. (Treatise 13,9, pp. 171–172). See, however, whether this does not match what he says in his Appendix, part II, ch. 7, quite well: “We, on the other hand, attribute to * God knowledge of particular things and deny him knowledge of universals * except insofar as he understands human minds” (p. 123). Does he not secretly imply that nature, which is the God of Spinoza, perceives things as men in men (i.e. in his parts), in brutes as brutes and so forth and, if it were not for the power of perception in all things, he would not perceive anything in any of his parts, but be completely dumb?
Sect. 48: “Namely that the latter was a most subtle and cunning imposter” (Secrets of Atheism Revealed, I 12, p. 120). I, for one, readily grant that Spinoza was thoroughly vicious and impious. However, I do not agree at all that he went so far in his impiety as to believe the Saviour to be “a most subtle and cunning imposter”, but rather a good and simple man, as he imagines all the other prophets to have been. Neither he nor the others were real prophets, i.e. men miraculously inspired by God, since he believes that there have never been such people. Instead, they believed themselves inspired and sent by God, although in actual fact they were not. It is this pretence that Spinoza ridicules Christ for, because he disbelieves all such supernatural communications entirely, whether internal or external. However, I have not found the least shred of evidence in Spinoza, neither in that first chapter nor anywhere else, that he held the view that Christ pretended to be inspired, even though he was well aware that he was neither inspired nor sent by God. Not only, therefore, is Kuyper’s interpretation here unfair to Spinoza, but it is also (if we are to judge the interpreter solely from this place) vicious and impious towards Christ, clearly indicating his enmity towards him as well as the Christian religion itself.
Thus, Kuyper mixes everything with jokes and mockeries. While I, for my part, do not doubt that there are some true reports about spectres both in Lavater and in Henning Grosius, I believe that Kuyper refers us to them in jest only, since we clearly find him to be dishonest and derisive in all of his other arguments which we have noted up to this point.
[Critical Notes on Glisson, Treatise on the Energetic Nature
of Substance or the Life of Nature]
Sect. 51: “As Kuyper himself admits who claims that the modern atheists, like him, reject the atomistic or mechanistic explanation of the world’s creation”, etc. Thus, when Kuyper says that modern atheists these days seek refuge in an innate life within matter instead of in mechanical motions, he points the sort of hypothesis which that most famous physician Francis Glisson has sought to delineate in the most accurate and distinct fashion in his Treatise on the Energetic Nature of Substance or the Life of Nature. Like Spinoza who holds that all substance, insofar as it is substance, exists from itself because it subsists through itself, he contends in that work that substance, insofar as it is substance, is necessarily alive by the force of its nature, i.e., it perceives, strives and moves by itself. He therefore assumes that the perceptive, appetitive and motive faculties are all intrinsic parts of matter itself.
It would take too long to reproduce all his arguments here by which he seeks to establish this doctrine of his, and it is certainly not necessary at all, as he himself clearly distrusts his own a priori arguments, i.e. those taken from the efficient, exemplary, the final, the material and the formal causes, as can be seen from ch. 16, sect. 3. Nor are any of the arguments adduced sufficient to prove even the possibility of the thing in question, the sole exception being the one in sect. 5: “For, since there are plants and animals”, he says, “it is most certain both that there is also a material life and that it possibly exists.” He thereby wants to insinuate that plants and brute animals are nothing else but, and are formed and sustained by no other principle than, matter itself, the latter being something that is alive through itself.
If it does not exist, we must seek refuge in Pythagoreanism, as he clearly implies in a number of places such as ch. 9, sect. 1: “Hence”, he says, “they call the forms of plants and brutes vegetative and sensitive souls as though they were some kind of shadowy living substances or living material shadows, namely self-existent subjects of life. Perhaps Pythagoras was misled by this error when he dreamt up the migration of forms from matter to matter.” And sect. 5: “For, if,” he says, “the form or the soul of a brute, for instance, were sustained by its own being, it could continue to exist in separation from matter. For it would not include in itself the necessity of being sustained by another creature. Therefore, not being dependent upon matter to sustain them, they would be sustained as well in separation from as in matter. Considering this, what is it that prevents us from switching over to the camp of Pythagoras?” And finally, in ch. 10, sect. 33, he says: “According to our way of explanation, the form of the generating substance, causing motion in matter, produces its own shape in the latter, thereby disclosing the natural coming-to-be of form in the best possible way. We need not take refuge in Averroes’s chalcodia to assist duly in the generation of forms or dream up a Pythagorean transmigration of souls from one subject to another. Nor are we forced to bring God himself onto the stage of nature to remedy the defects of his own creation.” And he lambasts the very same thing in ch. 9, sect. 1 where he complains of some who are ignorant of his new way of explaining the production of forms, thus “introducing the creation and annihilation of forms into their philosophies.” And certainly, bolstered by the Spinozist view of the necessary existence of every substance as substance, the Glissonian way is such that it clearly supposes that there is no need of a creator God at all. Hence, it is manifest what an easy door to atheism Pythagoras and Plato closed by means of this hypothesis of theirs, who taught all souls or substantial lives to have been created by God alongside the created world itself. In fact, it will be clear from the falsity of his own hypothesis how commendable a feat they performed both for religion and the truth, which even that most cunning Glisson admits when he implies that we must accept either his own or the Pythagorean hypothesis. And without any reason whatsoever he chose to believe matter to be αὐτόζωος, rather than joining the camp of Pythagoras and Plato.
Indeed, as I have pointed out above, he himself distrusts his own a priori arguments. Nor do his arguments a posteriori (or from effects) aid his cause in any way either. A quick mention of the headings of his arguments will suffice for you to see that his arguments neither prove that there is life in matter nor even that life could originate in matter. Instead, it must originate in some immaterial principle. Anyway, his arguments for living matter are taken from various motions observed in nature such as the motion of resistance, the motion of connection, the motion of the heavens and the planets, including the earth’s motion around the sun, the motion from the abhorrence of a vacuum, the motion of freedom, the motion of rarefaction and condensation and the motion towards thickness and leanness as well as the motion of material particles preserving their shape. However, virtually all of what he says in his lines of reasoning is, from first to last, borrowed from that most famous and subtle Viscount of St. Albans about whom he says: “He deals with his different kinds of motion in such a fashion that he explains them on the basis of their appetite and striving to preserve and exalt themselves, to procreate and to enjoy their own nature, thereby implying quite clearly that these motions either flow from an internal living principle or are at least governed by such a living principle. Each and every kind of motion he enumerates, believe me, provides us with yet another argument to prove our thesis about the universal life of nature” (ch. 25, sect. 1).
I shall now pass to the above-mentioned kinds of motion. In the case of the motion of resistance in which, according to Bacon’s definition, there is not even the smallest particle of matter that could be reduced to nothing, it is manifest that it would not make any difference whether there was life in matter or not, because it belongs to substance as substance. It cannot therefore be an argument for any life in matter since it necessarily belongs to matter as substance regardless of whether the latter is devoid of all life. Nor does the motion of connection prove that there is life in matter, since, no doubt, the Cartesians provide quite an ingenious and sound explanation of that phenomenon by reference to circular motion, since all things are full of bodies without there being any mutual penetration of parts of matter. Nor does the motion of the heavens, i.e. of the vortices, indicate any perceptive life in vortex matter. Rather, the substantial amount of motion impressed upon them mechanically (or, more probably, imparted to them by some immaterial principle) easily makes them revolve in these circles without any perception of their own. And as regards the motion of the earth (and the same applies to the other planets, as Glisson himself admits), it is carried on in an ethereal vortex like an apple cast into a vortex of water. In fact it is no more concerned about its own annual motion around the sun than is an apple about its motion around the centre of a vortex of water, even though that most celebrated physician thought otherwise. While he is prepared to accept that its daily motion may occur according to Cartesian principles, he claims that the annual motion of the earth which is carried southwards at one time and northwards at another cannot be sustained without any life inhering in nature. “Since the earth does not continue to move in the same direction in which it is originally headed, but changes its course of its own accord once it has reached solstice, it must be governed by a living principle by which it perceives for how long the southward motion is useful to it and at what time it is useful to turn northwards instead” (see ch. 24, sect. 27). What an excellent proof of perceptive life in matter indeed! As if the earth, in its motion around the sun, did not leave its one and steady course and change it at the solstice (rather than at the equinox) in a mechanical and necessary circular motion! However, the constant parallelism of the inclination of the earth’s axis, which causes the phenomenon of southward and northward motion, appears to have escaped the notice of that otherwise highly learned man. It is in ignorance of that that he has concocted that perceptive life in the earth’s matter.
Nor can the motion from the abhorrence of a vacuum prove that matter has a perceptive life, as though “a body drew much more pleasure and utility from the contact with other bodies than with non-existence or a vacuum” (ch. 26, sect. 5). For, to pass over in silence that Glisson himself does not admit a vacuum in the sense that the ancient philosophers did, it will also follow that matter is at least indefinite and, if it is impenetrable, the same response will be given as the one concerning the motion of connection. If, however, worldly matter is finite, I answer that the parts of matter are linked and connected by the one common bond of the spirit of nature which encompasses and actuates the whole of worldly matter. I do admit that this proves that there is life in matter. However, is not derived from matter, but from the common spirit of nature. And as regards the motion of liberty by which bodies seek to liberate themselves from preternatural pressure and tension, this effort, I say, does not actively proceed from matter itself, but from the spirit of nature which forms matter into these different consistencies or impels matter into these motions, giving them their requisite order and place. Furthermore, as regards the motion of rarefaction and condensation, there is none in Glisson’s sense, and if there were, it would not prove by any means that there was any perceptive life in matter, but rather that the latter was stirred up and governed by the hylarchic principle. Nor does the experiment of the thermometer (in the general or in the Boylian sense) serve his purpose in any way. For the spirit of wine contained in the latter and the air contained in the former do not expand and contract on their own due to any life inwardly produced from matter itself. Instead, it is the power of the heat of the external air that causes them to extend, i.e., it shakes its parts in such a manner as makes them move further away from one another. However, as soon as this heat ceases, they revert to their earlier consistency again, not by their own force, but by the hylostatic power of the spirit of the universe. The same applies to the motion towards thickness and thinness, but it would not be appropriate to dwell upon such peripheral and obvious matters any longer.
Moreover, in ch. 9, sect. 12, the learned author claims that the various shapes in nature clearly show it to be living. “For”, he says, “if the complex formative power given to plants and animals is generally considered to be a most certain sign of vegetative life, that simple formative power which endows every single kind of body with its requisite shape (of which many are both of exceeding elegance and of well-nigh inimitable art) must be considered a sufficient testimony of natural life.” By the latter he does not only understand the perceptive, appetitive and motive life in matter, but also that life which proceeds from matter itself and into which the latter unfolds itself. And a little later he adds: “If one looks at the forms of snow, frost hail and the like under a microscope, one cannot but be convinced that nature has sometimes expressly sought to give us conspicuous samples of its art” (ch. 30, sect. 13). If he had put the spirit of nature instead of nature, we would agree completely. For I, too, acknowledge gladly that the shapes of so-called inanimate bodies are the effects not of mechanism, but the spirit of nature. And it is manifest that these phenomena do not by any means indicate a life of matter proceeding or unfolding from it, but only the life of the universe or the spirit of nature actuating the whole of worldly matter. And certainly most of those who admit a formative force in plants and animals also assert that it lies in a substantial form, not in matter itself. However, since no substantial form can proceed from matter, it is highly appropriate that some substance distinct from matter should fulfil these higher duties everywhere. While the souls of animals do this in their own bodies by dint of their own plastic power, the spirit of nature which contains in itself the plastic power of the universe does it in all the others. Undoubtedly, all of those who attribute all these works not to the life of matter but to substantial forms emerging from matter’s womb would actually hold this view too if only they were to examine and understand their own minds with greater care and clarity. This is because they all view matter as a completely passive principle which neither acts in itself nor through itself, but is actuated by something else.
However, I shall hasten to the last motion, namely that of continuation by which all bodies abhor the loosening of their continuation. “For by virtue of that”, says the most learned Glisson, “one part grows larger and takes place in an adjacent part as its own. Hence, nature likewise experiences the utility of its own single parts, loving them and trying to protect them with all its power” (ch. 30, sect. 11). To that we may also refer the passage in ch. 31, sect. 12 in which, talking about “modal subsistence”, he says: “Indeed, there is in each thing an act of life by which a substance, allied with itself alone, contents itself with those parts left to it as being sufficient for its wholeness.” Here he seeks to prove the life of matter from the motion of continuation and the modal subsistence of individual inanimate bodies. I reply, however, that this motion of continuation, insofar as it is distinguished from the motion of connection, does not prove that there is a life of matter in the Glissonian sense either in individual inanimate bodies or in the different parts of animal bodies. Instead, they are formed by the power of the plastic part of the soul, not their own, and the modal subsistence in the parts of animals is hardly different from that in the so-called inanimate parts of the universe. And as all parts of an animal are formed and governed by its single soul, so likewise all individual so-called inanimate bodies are formed and governed by the one spirit of nature. Nor has the most learned Glisson advanced one single argument that might prove that there is a life of matter proceeding from or produced by it, but only a life by which it itself is actuated and which is communicated to it by an immaterial principle.
Finally, as regards those quotations from that most famous Viscount of St. Albans, they do not pose any new difficulty at all. For it is true that he deals with his different kinds of motion in such a fashion that he explains them on the basis of their appetite and striving to preserve and exalt themselves, to procreate and to enjoy their own nature. And indeed, these motions provide evidence that there is some general life shining forth from worldly matter. In no way, however, are they proof that this life emanates from matter itself or that it has not been communicated to it by an immaterial principle. Hence, there are no arguments taken from effects by which matter could be proved to be αὐτόζωος, i.e., endowed with natural perception and appetite. And Glisson distrusts a priori arguments himself.
Moreover, since this view of his seems to pertain mainly to arguments taken from efficient causation, I shall, lest I seem to do injustice to this cause, present two of his other principal arguments, the one taken from the material cause, the other from the formal cause. Indeed, both will be clearly and faithfully presented in his own words. The first, then, taken from ch. 17, sect. 1, reads: “There is a sufficient internal principle both of perceptive and appetitive life. However, the nature of material substance”, that is matter itself, “is the internal principle of motion and, hence, it is also the sufficient principle of life.” However, both the major and the minor premises of this argument strike me as completely uncertain. The major premise is uncertain because there may just as well be some internal principle of motion that instead is devoid of any perceptive or appetitive life, and this principle might be the spirit of nature. However, despite that, it never acts either vainly or ineptly (unless it is hindered), since it possesses a plastic, but no perceptive life, being the ectype of divine wisdom and counsel by whose power it does all things appropriately within its own sphere. That most astute philosopher exclaims: “I, for one, cannot conceive how it could be that motion should originate solely in an internal principle without that principle having an appetite for and perception of it. Should nature be so arbitrary as to engage in a new operation without any preceding intention? Or does it rather look after all things with prudence and with highly admirable providence?” (sect. 3). However, the argument cannot prove that matter is endowed with perceptive and appetitive life unless one first supposes that God cannot create a solely plastic spirit and have it preside over worldly matter to bring about vitally what automats bring about mechanically, producing artificial motions designed to achieve a certain goal without all the while being aware either of the art or the goal. It is even more obvious that the minor promise is uncertain as almost all philosophers deny that matter is an active principle of motion. Instead, it only receives the latter. Only those who deny a God and all incorporeal substance altogether are compelled to search for the origin of all that resplendent motion and life in the corporeal world in matter itself. However, in the case of the famous Glisson, who not only professes the existence of God as creator and of other incorporeal substances, and, in fact, insists upon it quite frequently, it would, I say, be surprising if either the major or the minor premise should matter too much to him.
The other argument is put forth in ch. 18 in which he tries to give a proof of natural life from the formal cause. There, he addresses those who deny that there is a physical form modifying a primordial life of matter and who claim instead that a form adds life de novo, working on and modifying matter. In response to them, he says: “It is impossible that life should spring from matter in which it has had no roots whatsoever before. The nature of matter is the material cause from which the physical form”, i.e. the soul of plants and brutes, “flows, proceeding from it in such a way that it stays within it, being sustained and cherished in it during the whole of its existence, i.e. flowing from it in a continuous procession. Indeed, it is beyond my comprehension”, he says, “how a living form can blossom forth from a dead thing devoid of all rudiments of life (ch. 18, sect. 13). This is the very core and pivot of all his arguments in this chapter, and it certainly carries weight for all those who deny that there is any substance other than matter itself in the whole fabric of the universe. For in that case it would be quite sensible to posit some immediate and primordial life immanent to matter whose particular “lives” or “souls”, as they are generally called, are nothing but its different modifications. Nor could there be all these different modifications if it were not for some primordial life that was inherent in matter itself, insofar as it is matter, undergoing those modifications. And certainly it is a strong argument against those who deny this primordial life of matter, but assert nevertheless that not only the souls of plants, but also those of such perfect animals as horses, dogs, foxes and monkeys and the like emerge from the power of matter. I must admit that it has always seemed to me to be quite a miracle indeed that matter, though in itself stupid and devoid of all life, should from its own bosom pour forth substantial forms or living substances endowed with sense, imagination, memory and great wit and sagacity. Or, that although it is not essential life, but some entirely inert, stupid and merely passive subsistence, it should immediately from itself stir such operations as I have just mentioned without any impulse from without. This certainly is beyond both my belief and the comprehension of that excellent philosopher and physician.
Moreover, it is appropriate to note here that this proof is nothing but an argument ad hominem, as it can by its own force convince only those who believe that there is no other substance than matter. Those, however, who believe that God and other immaterial substances exist, can, if they want to philosophize freely, follow the ancient Pythagoreans and Platonists and readily reply that the souls of brutes are substances distinct from their bodies and that the matter of the universe which they consider inanimate, but endowed with various physical forms, is formed and governed by the spirit of nature. This hypothesis does not pose any difficulty for those free philosophers. However, I have already given abundant evidence in my writings of how incapable matter is of having perceptive life, i.e. sensation, imagination and memory, let alone the works of reason. Hence, it should suffice to have mentioned this here in passing.
It is sufficient that we have shown that the most learned Glisson has not put forth any compelling argument either a priori or a posteriori by which an energetic nature of matter, i.e. its primordial life consisting in perception, appetite and motion, might be proved. Instead, those samples of life which can be seen to emerge in matter may also be the effects of some immaterial principle which transforms sufficiently compliant and malleable matter into various modes. Nor can those samples prove any life in matter other than one that is merely passive and incapable of perception, being, as it were, a shadow and imitation of the true principle of life, which is certainly immaterial and which precedes every single motion.
Indeed, this applies to all natural motions. And it is completely useless to invent perception and appetite in violent motions such as those of projectiles. For the lead released from a ballista is carried on neither by perception nor by appetite. And it is ridiculous to imagine that, assuming it has lost all its appetite and perception, it should also lose its capability of being shot and fired. And yet it must be admitted that lead, once roused to motion in a determinate fashion, continues by its own powers. However, it does so in a vital fashion, albeit without any appetite or perception. Hence, it is manifest that there may be a life without perception or appetite and without any original αὐτοκινησία. A life modifiable by an immaterial principle in various ways is the one and only life that I am prepared to admit as being deeply rooted in matter. In fact, I am all the more willing to concede that lest the ultimate emanation from the first source of life seem entirely devoid of life.
Meanwhile, it is clear from what we have said that Kuyper’s modern atheists who, having rejected mechanical causes of the world’s creation, have sought refuge in a primordial life of matter, can in no way hold on to their cause unless they find stronger reasons than Glisson’s. Nor can they continue to claim that there is nothing in the world that is more divine than matter. And it is certainly not easy to decide whether it betrays more ἀπαιδευσία to contend that the world was made by mechanical necessity and without any aim or providence or to attribute to worldly matter alone both perception and the providence for the creation of all things. The mechanical philosophers, for sure, do at least affect some ingenuity in offering distinct mechanical reasons by which matter is arranged so that it assumes a certain form and consistency and adopts such an order. However, the biusians (who are termed “hylozoists” by the learned author of the True Intellectual System of the Universe) only state in general that matter is αὐτόζωος and is capable of perception, appetite and motion from itself, thus everywhere arranging itself into all the different kinds of things as it sees fit. Not only may this way of philosophizing be rightly deemed all too terse, simple and easy as well as precarious and gratuitous, lacking as it does any solid foundation, but it also involves insuperable difficulties. How, for example, should matter, which is the least unitary of all substances, consisting only of countless physical monads and natural atoms, fulfil those tasks which require unity in the most absolute sense imaginable? For such must be that substance which foresaw and understood the most beautiful order and the mutual relationships of all the ideas of all these things at once, always contemplating in itself the ideas of all things with one single stabile and immutable glance. It must be a kind of eternal perfect mind which preconceives in itself the ideas of all future created things and which pours them forth into its vicarious power, the spirit of nature, and over all matter in a vital, not in an intellectual fashion. Indeed, if there were a kind of primordial life of matter, it would only be generic. As regards its specific modifications, it would be spread and disseminated across vast distances. It is no more helpful to assume this kind of life to account for the order and beauty of the world than it is to assume none at all. If there is not something preconceiving and foreseeing the whole fabric of the world and the mutual relationships between its single parts at once, its creation will indeed occur as blindly and fortuitously as if it were created by mere mechanical motion. Of so little worth is the notion of that primordial life that is supposed to split up into various physical forms afterwards.
Moreover, let us assume that the life of matter is such that it perceives the aim and objective of things and that, moved by its striving for that, the single parts set themselves in motion. Let me ask then how credible it is that, say, a stone or a piece of lead, endowed with a sluggish and stupid sense of its own modal subsistence, should retain an idea of the aim of the descent of solid bodies. Does this idea, moreover, include knowledge about the fabric of all the bodies of breathing animals and the utility of pure air for them? And do those more solid bodies also know that if, floating in the air, they are inhaled by these animals, they obstruct their lungs and suffocate them? “It is said”, says the most learned Glisson in ch. 34, sect. 26, “that aquatic birds extract with their beak some thick matter from the glands near the uropygium, with which they besmear their wings. Thereby they strengthen them so that, even though they frequently dive into the water, as they are wont to do, on emerging again they can easily shake off the fluid which hardly sticks to them.” However, let me ask this learned man once again: is it with this prior aim that the parts of this thick matter both form themselves into this fatty subsistence and move forth to the uropygium so that, say, a duck, a goose, a swan or any other aquatic bird can, as the need arises, extract it from there to besmear its wings with it? That is to say, do those parts possess an idea of said birds extracting this paste or oil from their uropygia with their beaks to besmear their wings with it? The same applies to the spurs of cocks. Did those single parts of matter or those natural atoms possess knowledge about the aim of its eventual hard and hornlike consistency, shape and place in order to adopt this very form and place as an adequate means for fighting? However, all of that would have certainly been impossible without the idea of some scene of a warlike battle between two cocks for the sake of which the parts of the matter of their spurs grew together in such consistency, shape and place. Oh, what express ideas and imaginings must they hence possess, notably of their bladelike spurs with which to gouge out or tear apart their rivals’ brains in a consciously dealt out blow!
Moreover, Cartesian philosophy assumes, and it can also be proved by other means, that the earth did not always exist and that air, water, dirt, mud and other such entirely inanimate stuff existed before it. All of these parts of matter then grew together into various forms of life. Hence, it is difficult to see how, if it were not for something more divine than matter having an idea of the whole of the sequence, order and connection of the future created things and looking after them in some way, any form of life should emerge anywhere. After all, all parts of earthly matter and the matter surrounding it are believed to be intent solely upon their own concrescence and substance. Thus, if these substances chance to act upon one another in their concrescence, they seek only to realize their own form. However, none of them is animate so that it would be either impossible or completely fortuitous if any living form were to emerge from that. However, living forms are the greatest mark of wisdom and providence that we find in the universe.
Moreover, it is necessary in the formation or organization of an animal that the single natural atoms of matter should at the start need to have a knowledge of the eventual consistency, shape, site and place into which they are to mould themselves. Thus, those particles forming the teeth must know beforehand for what sharpness and hardness are needed. They must also understand the form and mode of biting and chewing as well as the shape and motion of both jaws. Likewise, those that form the eye must have prior knowledge of optics, i.e., they must see what is most conducive to eyesight and understand its modus operandi. And those constituting the genitals and the intestines must know how to copulate and discharge the belly respectively. Not only must the natural atoms have a special idea and understanding of these operations, but also a thorough grasp and understanding of the whole fabric and organization of the body of which they must possess a comprehensive idea. If this is not true, there must necessarily be something superior to matter doing all these things. And assuming it were true, all of the natural atoms would need to have the same power and wisdom. Hence, all of them would know both which of the ends und uses of the whole fabric of a living being and of its single parts were the more noble and more desirable ones, and also which were the less noble and less desirable. It would be surprising indeed if there arose no quarrel amongst them about their place and order or if they did not seek to grow together in such a way as would make the one wage war on all the others. As a consequence, it would again be necessary that there was something superior to matter commanding this multitude of countless natural atoms of matter, setting them all in order.
To all of that you may add what, in my view, should be said with regard to Kuyper’s modern atheists. Let us assume the single natural atoms of matter which are joined together or coalesce into my “suppositality” or my “modal subsistence” understand the structure of the whole fabric of my body and its organisation in which their plastic power consists. Let us also assume that, as is held by that famous Glisson, the plastic power or natural life persists in the animals formed, overseeing their natural constitution and governing it by means of its perception, appetite and motion. Then it seems clearly impossible that I who am this “suppositality” or ”supposite” should not understand the plastic perception of this supposite, i.e., of myself, and should not have the most accurate anatomical understanding of my body. In vain do those atheists here seek refuge in Glisson’s distinction between “simple” and “duplicate perception” according to which we can only be conscious of reduplicated perceptions because that reduplication itself is nothing but a delightful fancy.
However, the external sense or common sensorium do not make perception (say, vision) any more duplicate than if perception occurred in the eye alone. This is because there is but one single perception that is transferred from the eye to the common sensorium, nor is the perception in the common sensorium the perception of the perception occurring in the eye, but the perception of the object transmitted to the common sensorium. Hence, this perception is as simple as the one in the eye. Moreover, there is in actual fact no perception in the eye at all, but in the perceptive part of the soul in the common sensorium, the vital impression in its plastic power in the eye being transferred there. Hence, there is no duplication of perception because of the duplicate external and internal organs. Rather, there is a perception of perception solely because of the very nature of the substance of the one perceiving. The latter cannot not perceive, i.e., it cannot not be conscious of the things it perceives. And Glisson himself admits that the substance “by means of its natural perception perceives itself, its faculties, their operations and, finally, the influxes and alterations of other things outside itself as well as its connections and links with them” (15,7, p. 213). Can it perceive its own operations, however, without perceiving its own perception which is one of its operations? Hence, if there is some kind of natural perception in matter, there is also the perception of that perception.
And certainly, refuted by this very argument, Glisson admits that matter perceives its natural perception, but it does so in one single act, i.e. the same act by which it perceives its object. Still, this same act is part of sensation. By the same act by which a sentient being perceives an object, it also perceives that it perceives the object. And this does not require a new act unless perhaps someone should raise a doubt about whether it perceives. However, the fact that someone preoccupied with some deep thought may perhaps fail to see someone close by or is deprived of vision by gutta serena is not due to vision, or any other of the senses, requiring a duplicate act, i.e. one in the external organ, another in the common sensorium. Rather, it is because there is no perception occurring in the external organ at all, but only a vital impression in the plastic part which is extended from the external organ all through to the internal organ. If this impression is not transferred to the perceptive part of the soul inside the head, no perception occurs at all. For it is not the plastic part of the soul that perceives, but the perceptive part, nor does it, for sure, perceive all the things affecting it at once, but rather those alone to which it freely directs its attention. And hence, if the impression made on the plastic part is not too violent, it can easily escape the notice of the perceptive part of the soul if it focuses strongly on other things, because the plastic part does not perceive anything at all. There is therefore only one simple act both in sensitive and natural perception and there is a perception of perception in both of them alike.
However, in any case, assuming there is a natural perception of perception, I must, if I am solely matter, rather than an incorporeal soul, by necessity perceive all the perceptions of matter, i.e., all those perceptions occurring in those parts of matter that grow together into my “suppositality”. For if I am not an incorporeal soul, I myself am the whole of this matter joined together in this way. And the substance of the one who perceives is the thing which, according to the view of that famous Glisson, perceives directly. Now the material substance or matter itself is supposed to have formed itself with skill and knowledge into this artfully structured and admirably crafted fabric of all those different organs, and this same natural art or plastic science continues to inhere in matter, governing, as the famous Glisson assumes, its vital functions. How, then, is it possible that I, being this matter joined together, am not conscious of this matter, especially as the substance itself is the thing that perceives and must by necessity be the perception of perception? Since, however, I am not conscious of any such art myself, it is proof that this natural perception of perception is a fantasy. Instead, then, I am an incorporeal soul distinct from matter and it is through the soul’s plastic part that all of the processes which Glisson attributes to the perception of matter occur.
Nor does it by any means follow from the fact that I am also the plastic and perceptive parts of the soul that I should be equally aware of that plastic art by which my body is organized. For I agree with the Platonists that not even the plastic part of the soul itself understands its art and that there is in it only a vital, but no intellectual power whatsoever. Hence, considering that not even the plastic part itself understands its own art, it is not surprising at all that the perceptive part of the soul does not understand it or that it is not in any way conscious of its motions in its plastic operations, which always proceed ἀψόφω κελουθῷ, i.e. in slow and silent steps, although there is, thanks to that, a faithful constant transmission of the impressions and alterations made by external objects on the plastic part, which are always more swift and vehement. Undoubtedly, either the ignorance or the rejection of the plastic part of the soul and the spirit of nature led those whom their minds fated to be less inclined to accept the existence of incorporeal substances to make up that egregious fantasy of a natural perception inherent in matter.
However, I have digressed longer than I had thought I would. There is no reason why I should be too concerned about the refutation of hylozoists, atheists or philosophers, since those places and arguments which I have put forth briefly in that fifty-first section more than refute them, clearly demonstrating that there exists something in the world that is far more divine than matter. And in vain do the biusians or hylozoists endeavour to adorn matter with such splendid privileges as make it become indistinguishable from those gifts which they endow it with, thereby assuring themselves of their disbelief of the existence of any incorporeal substances, since they have added to this matter of theirs all kinds of riches. In this way, they and matter itself, despite themselves, make our spirit of nature raise its head, as it does in that one experiment of the bucket and a wooden ring, which is obvious to everyone unless they wilfully close their eyes against the truth. And certainly, if this universal spirit exists, without whose work neither heavy things descend nor light ascend, one would have to be downright insane if one knew that and still were to doubt the existence of particular spirits. However, I wanted to mention this only in passing.
Meanwhile, it is clear that Kuyper and his fellow modern atheists, who declare that the world was created vitally, though through a life emerging from matter itself, and who state that there is nothing in the nature of things but this living nature alone, cannot find too much support for their cause in Glisson’s writings. Instead, once it has been proved that there must by necessity be something more excellent than matter they cannot but concede that this principal mechanical or atomic foundation of theirs must likewise collapse.
Annotations on the Preceding Scholia
[Critical Notes on Spinoza, Selected Letters]
Sect. 1: “I have heard many people say that he is the author of this Treatise”, etc. Having completed this refutation of the Theological-Political Treatise with these scholia and transcribed it, I came across the Posthumous Works of B.d.S. when I was in London. The main reason why I bought them was that I wanted to make sure that, once I had perused it to a sufficient degree, I could establish with greater clarity both for myself and others that I had not done Spinoza any injustice either in attributing to him the aforementioned Treatise or in interpreting any of its places with undue harshness. And as regards the first point, it is absolutely clear from the preface of said Works that Spinoza is the author of this Theological-Political Treatise. For the author of the preface states openly that the Principles of Cartesian Philosophy Demonstrated in Geometrical Order I and II Containing Metaphysical Thoughts as Appendix and the Theological-Political Treatise were written by the same author, namely the same to whom he also ascribes those works which are given to the learned world under the title of The Posthumous Works of B.d.S. Moreover, Henry Oldenburg and B.d.S. make express mention of this Theological-Political Treatise in their letters to one another (see Letters 20 and 21).
Sect. 7: “And that nature alone should be left. Since the latter is the only substance”, etc. It is quite clear from a great many places in the Posthumous Works that my assumptions about Spinoza’s views were right. In Letter 21 to Henry Oldenburg, he says: “I entertain an opinion on God and Nature far different from that which modern Christians are wont to uphold. For I maintain that God is the immanent cause of all things, and not the transitive cause” (Ep. 73, p. 332). However, by “immanent cause” he understands that cause which others called material or essential cause which constitutes the essence of a thing itself as its internal principle like “Form” and “matter”, which are held to be such principles amongst logicians. Hence, our substance is the very substance of God itself. However, he ineptly claims Paul’s authority for this, allegedly following him in asserting that “in him we are and move” (Acts 17:28). Yet, it is one thing to “be in God and move in God” and something entirely different to be a part of God and move in the other parts of God. Likewise, it is nothing but inane boasting on his part that he constantly emphasizes that all the ancient Hebrews take this view. For the fact that certain Kabbalists also made God the material cause of created things is no doubt a corruption of the ancient Kabbala, as I have proved sufficiently in my Refutation of the Kabbala of the Eagle-Boy-Bee. In any case, he continues: “However, as to the view of certain people that the Theological-Political Treatise rests on the identification of God with Nature (by the latter of which they understand a kind of mass or corporeal matter) they are quite mistaken.” Here, he certainly prevaricates and devises cunning deceptions, for he does not deny that God and Nature are the same, but only that some corporeal mass and matter, and God, are the same. For even in Spinoza the concept of God has a larger meaning than corporeal matter, since in his view body is only a certain modification of the divine substance. This means that the divine substance can grow together into body. However, there is only one single substance in the universe, and this substance must be the divine substance. Since, moreover, there is only one substance, it must also be the substance of nature or nature itself.
To this also corresponds what he says in Letter 15 to H. Oldenburg: “So you see in what way and why I hold that the human body is a part of Nature. As regards the human mind, however, I maintain that it, too, is a part of Nature. For I hold that in Nature there also exists an infinite power of thinking which, insofar as it is infinite, contains within itself the whole of Nature objectively, and whose thoughts proceed in the same manner as does Nature, i.e. as the idea of it. Furthermore, I maintain that the human mind is that same power of thinking, not insofar as that power is infinite and apprehends the whole of Nature, but insofar as it is finite, apprehending the human body only. The human mind, I maintain, is in this way part of an infinite intellect” (Ep. 32, pp. 194–195). Now you can see that what he calls Nature in this letter he terms God in other places, as in Ethics, part I, corol. prop. 25: “Particular things are nothing but states or modes in which the attributes of God are expressed in a certain and determinate way.” However, what else should “particular things” be but parts of nature? In fact, even more to the point is what he says in part 2, corol., prop. 11: “Hence it follows”, he argues, “that the human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God. Thus, when we say that the human mind perceives this or that, we make the assertion that God, not insofar as he is infinite, but insofar as he constitutes the essence of the human mind, has this or that idea.” In the same letter in which he calls the human mind a part of nature, he also calls it a part of the intellect of God. Add to that part I, prop. 14: “There cannot exist or be conceived a substance besides God.” Hence, it necessarily follows that the substance of God and that of Nature are the same. Finally, in Ethics, part 2, def. 1, he says: “By body I understand a mode which expresses God’s essence in a certain and determinate way, insofar as he is considered as an extended thing.” From this you can infer that as the human body is called a part of matter, so it is here called a part of God. Hence, it is quite clear that I was not deluded in any way when establishing Spinoza’s view in this place.
“Namely immense, eternal and αὐτόζωος worldly matter”, etc. This was no doubt Spinoza’s opinion. For what he calls God must necessarily be matter, because he holds, as has been observed above, that “there cannot exist or be conceived another substance besides God”. However, not only can we conceive ethereal as well as terrestrial matter extended in length and breadth, but we can also perceive it with our senses and reason. Hence, according to Spinoza’s view, it must obviously be God. Therefore, “matter”, “nature” and “God” mean the same thing in him.
“The eternal decrees of God are nothing other than the universal laws of nature”, etc. That he has inverted the word order and worked towards this goal all along has already become sufficiently clear from what we have said above, because it is so obvious and clear that he understands the same by God and Nature and, I may add, by matter. In addition, he mentions some laws of the motion of bodies in the second part of the Ethics.
“He does not exist, but nature alone both is and does all things by necessity.” The passage in Ethics, part I, accords well with this: “God does not act according to freedom of the will” and so does that in corol., prop. 32: “Things could not have been brought into being by God in any other manner or order than they in fact were.” These and similar places in Spinoza make perfect sense if you replace “God” with “nature” or “matter”.
Sect. 18: “He tacitly implies that this force is the natural force of matter”, etc. That this is so you can easily see if you read Spinoza’s Ethics, part. 2, pp. 54–58, where he draws the following conclusion at the end: “If we further conceive a third kind of individual composed of individuals of this second kind, we shall find that they may be affected in a great many other ways without any change of its form. And if we proceed in this way to infinity, we shall conceive that the whole of nature is one individual, whose parts, that is, all bodies, vary in infinite ways, without any change in the individual as a whole.” However, we have already proved above that Nature and God are the same for him, and here he makes Nature an individual comprising all the bodies which vary in infinite ways and each of which is a part of God, as can be seen from Ethics, part 2, prop. 45: “Every idea of every body or of every particular thing actually existing necessarily involves the eternal and infinite essence of God.” He proves that this is true from the fact that the idea of a particular thing actually existing includes by necessity both the essence and the existence of the thing itself. And therefore, since it has God as a cause, insofar as it is considered under an attribute of God, of whom the thing itself is a mode, it involves God’s eternal and infinite essence. This means that “nature natured” or any mode of God’s attributes (and according to Spinoza’s view every single thing or body is of this kind) involves “nature naturing”, i.e. such attributes of God as express his eternal and infinite essence (see Ethics, part 1, schol. 1 on prop. 29). Hence, it is sufficiently clear that according to Spinoza there is only one single force or power in the universe of things and this force is the natural force of matter unless you want to deny that bodies are material.
Sect. 33: “We, on the other hand, attribute to God knowledge of particular things and deny him knowledge of universals”, etc. It is therefore highly likely that the knowledge which he attributes to God as being peculiar to him is the perception of every single thing as it is. For he asserts in Ethics, part 2, schol. prop. 13 that “all individuals are animated, as is the human body, though in different degrees. For of everything there is necessarily an idea in God (of which God is the cause), in the same way as there is an idea of the human body. And thus”, he says, “whatever we have said about the idea of the human body must necessarily also be said about the idea of everything else.” He then adds “that ideas differ from each other like the objects, one being more excellent than the other, just as the object of one idea is more excellent than the object of another. And therefore”, he says, “in order to determine in what way the human mind differs from other things, it is necessary for us to know the nature of its object, i.e. the nature of the human body.” If we want to understand this more clearly, we must go back to prop. 11, where he says: “The first element, which constitutes the actual being of the human mind, is the idea of some particular thing actually existing” and to prop. 13 which states that “the object of the idea constituting the human mind is the body.” Hence, we may infer that according to Spinoza ideas must be understood as the innermost and briefest perceptions of single individuals which proceed directly from the individual bodies themselves, i.e., the contents of particular ideas. This corresponds to the passage from the Letter to Oldenburg cited above, where “an infinite power of thinking” is attributed to nature “which, insofar as it is infinite, contains within itself the whole of Nature objectively, and whose thoughts proceed in the same manner as does Nature, i.e. as the idea of it” (Ep. 32, pp. 194–195). This, then, is that knowledge of particular things which Spinoza attributes to God, while denying to him the knowledge of universal things.
“Except insofar as he understands human minds”, etc. He does not simply deny it to God, but elsewhere he denies that God understands universal things anywhere else than in human minds. However, he acknowledges explicitly “that the human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God” (corol. prop. 11, part II of the Ethics). And from that he infers that “when we say that the human mind perceives this or that, we make the assertion that God, not insofar as he is infinite, but insofar as he is displayed through the nature of the human mind, has this or that idea.”
“As men in men (i.e. in his parts), in brutes as brutes and so forth”, etc. Indeed, he clearly admits that in what we have cited above where he says “that ideas differ from each other like the objects themselves.” I leave it to some other Spinoza to estimate how much the idea of the most astute Spinoza and the idea of a dull platfish differ.
Sect. 48: “Namely that the latter was a most subtle and cunning imposter” (Secrets of Atheism Revealed, I 12, p. 120)”, etc. That Kuyper has done Spinoza an injustice in this place becomes even clearer from the following passage in Letter 21 to Oldenburg. Let me therefore cite it here: “Finally, to disclose my meaning more clearly on the third head, I say that for salvation it is not altogether necessary to know Christ according to the flesh. However, with regard to the eternal son of God, that is, God’s eternal wisdom, which has manifested itself in all things and chiefly in the human mind, and most of all in Christ Jesus, a very different view must be taken. For without this no-one can attain to a state of blessedness, since this alone teaches what is true and false, good and evil. And since, as I have said, this wisdom has been manifested most of all through Jesus Christ, his disciples have preached it as far as he revealed it to them” (Ep. 73, p. 333). Behold how far removed all of that is from that egregious abuse with which Spinoza, as Kuyper does not hesitate to allege, is supposed to have insulted that immaculate lamb Jesus Christ! Personally, I am more inclined to the view that Spinoza, after he had turned his back both on Christianity and Judaism, converted to Familism. The latter are no doubt a sect that evinces the same scepticism about all kinds of miracles and external apparitions as Spinoza himself does. Indeed, while not the high-priest of the Familists, he is certainly their greatest philosopher. It is one of their characteristics that they do not by any means consider Jesus Christ an impostor, but a most holy and illuminated man. However, they deem all the miraculous stories told about him mere fables, weaving them into nice little allegories, and none of them “knows even Christ according to the flesh”, an expression which Spinoza also uses at the beginning of the paragraph quoted.
And he is likewise at his most Familistic in Ep. 33, where he says: “I therefore conclude that Christ’s resurrection from the dead was in fact of a spiritual kind and was revealed only to the faithful according to their understanding. It indicates that Christ was endowed with eternity and rose from the dead (I here understand ‘the dead’ in the sense in which Christ said ‘Let the dead bury their dead’ [Mt 8:22]). Moreover, by his life and death he provided an example of surpassing holiness, and he raises his disciples from the dead insofar as they follow the example of his own life and death. And it would be not be difficult to explain the entire teaching of the Gospel in accordance with this hypothesis” (Ep. 75, pp. 338–338). Behold that wisest of all Familists and, as it were, illuminated old sage of the Family!
Finally, in Ep. 25, he says: “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” (Ep. 78, p. 348). Hence, it is obvious that Spinoza and his Familists accept whatever is supernatural and miraculous about the history of Christ as true only in a mystical sense.
You can see how spiritual such a stupid and carnal unbelief concerning the existence of spirits, the immortality of the soul and the real ministry of angels can make people. It is certainly less surprising that the drowsy Familists, weakened by the sweetness of their sanguine complexion and utterly bereft of all aids of philosophy, should have adopted this crass view and fallen asleep in it. However, I cannot cease wondering how a man who is not only a philosopher, but also considered most astute at philosophy could drowse away into such stupid torpor and complete oblivion of the best things. I shall soon examine by what reasons he was led there and fell for all of that.
Sect. 51: “That there is nothing in the nature of things but this living nature alone”, etc. The passages from Spinoza’s Posthumous Works quoted above make it abundantly clear that Spinoza holds this very view and conviction as well. In fact, there would not have been any difficulty in understanding his writings if only he had been sincere, everywhere replacing “God” with matter and indicating at least once that he believed that matter was αὐτόζωον or itself alive, and that there was only this one substance and no other in the universe of things. For this is his highest mystery which he cherishes in secret, even though he so often pays lip service to the name of God in order to lead his readers astray. However, it is as stark an error as ever any mortal being has fallen into, and no fallen soul could be cast into a darker and gloomier abyss of atheism or sink into crasser dirt of ignorance. For no-one is so wholly bereft of mind and sense that where he finds life he also finds life in at least some parts of it, whether he wants to or not. However, this is a splendid example of deep Spinozan wisdom, that he discovered and demonstrated that there was only this one substance in the nature of things and that he proved that it therefore was living from itself, being actuated, moved and animated by no other substance in any way.
 In his principal philosophical work The Immortality of the Soul, More cites the Italian Renaissance philosophers Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525), Girolamo Cardano (1501–1576) and Giulio Cesare Vaninus (1586–1619) as proponents of the existence of incorporeal substances. While throughout decried as atheists for denying the soul’s immortality or limiting God’s providential care for the world, the aforementioned thinkers, contrary to Thomas Hobbes, did at least concur in subscribing to the agency and existence of incorporeal substance in celestial bodies like stars (I 13,8 [p. 70 Jacob]) or the sun in particular (pref. [p. 9 Jacob]). More takes particular exception to Pomponazzi’s Averroistic reading of Aristotle, defending the ancient philosophy from the charge of teaching solely the post-mortem existence of the universal soul (II 12,15 [p. 152) and sharply critiquing the Renaissance atheist for his erroneous doctrine at the end of Immortality (III 16,9–10 [pp. 284–285].
 The chapter numbers of Spinoza’s Tractatus have been added for the sake of easier reference.
 Besides the chapter and paragraph numbers of the Treatise, the page numbers of the Gebhardt edition are given in brackets. The quotations are (sometimes with slight modifications) taken from: Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, edited by J. Israel, translated by M. Silverthorne and J. Israel, Cambridge: CUP, 2007.
 Throughout his intellectual career, More supposed with Origen that humans pre-existed their earthly existence in, originally, ethereal and, subsequently, aerial vehicles. See, e.g., Platonick Song, notably Psychathanasia III 2, 1–8 (pp. 342–344 Jacob) Praeexistence, esp. Preface to the Reader (pp. 489–490) and stanzas 1–16 (pp. 489–496), and Immortality II 12 (pp. 145–155 Jacob). Here this doctrine is applied to Christ. More provides the most comprehensive account of his Origenist Christology of the adoption of Christ’s unspotted soul by the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, in an anti-Socinian exegesis of the prologue of the Gospel of John in his principal theological work Grand Mystery I 4,1 (2Theological Works, p. 8): “That Christ is not ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος or a mere Creature, but a divine Hypostasis, or truly, really and Physically (not Allegorically and Morally) joyn’d with that Divine Hypostasis which is called λόγος, if men would not bring their own sturdy preconceptions, but listen to the easie and natural air of the Text, the Beginning of S. John’s Gospel would put out of all controversy. For I’ll appeal to any, supposing the Union of Christ’s Humanity with the λόγος to be true, in what fitter, more significant, or better-becoming way could it be expressed then already in the Beginning of that Gospel.”
 More uses a term common in the Greek language of Christological dogma to denote Christ as a “God-man”.
 The more abstract θεανθρωπία or “God-humanity” corresponds to the concrete θεάνθρωπος used a few lines before.
 More here refers his reader to his own Mercavae Expositio (Op. Omn. II/2, pp. 473–508). Postulates XIII–XV (ibid., pp. 485–486) contain an outline of Christology in which More, drawing upon Origen, On First Principles II 6 (GCS Orig. 5, 139–147), views the union of the divine Word and the human Christ as originating in the latter’s pre-existent soul’s unwavering love of the former: “The soul of the Messiah made such progress and attached itself to the divine intellect or eternal Logos in such ardent love and union that it was eventually united to him in the highest possible aziluthic or rather hyperaziluthic or, if one wants to express it scholastically, hypostatical way.” As a perfect soul tasked with his fallen brethren’s restitution to their original bliss in the highest world, Christ posses a “fiery or ethereal vehicle” (Op. omn. II/2, p. 498).
 It is the stated aim of More’s early exegesis of Genesis in his Conjectura Cabbalistica to reconstruct the authentic oral interpretation of the Tora which Moses, according to Jewish tradition, was given by God on Mount Sinai: “That the Jewish Cabbala”, More writes in the Preface to the Reader (Collection, i), “is conceived to be a Traditional doctrine or exposition of the Pentateuch, which Moses received from the mouth of God while he was on the Mount with him. And this Sense, or Interpretation of the Law, or Pentateuch, as itis a doctrine received by Moses first, and then from him by Joshua, and from Joshua by the Seventy Elders, and so on, was called Cabbala from קִבֵּל kibbel, to receive.”
 Among the many proofs of incorporeal substance of which More’s late Enchiridium Metaphysicum is composed is a succinct summary of the author’s doctrine spirit of nature or the “hylarchic principle”. Guiding the motion of the material world, this structuring principle of the visible world unconsciously, albeit largely craftfully, bestows order upon it at the behest of the transcendent God who has endowed it with the forms of his own creative intellect. See, e.g. Ench. metaphy. 13,10 (Op. Omn. II/2, 228): “Let us finally prove, and that with the clearest demonstrations, as I hope, that there is some incorporeal principle permeating the water and the air, and equally the entire world, which disposes the parts of the matter in a definite order, and that the best; and even when it cannot actually dispose it, it, however, tries nonetheless to dispose them in that order, and is everywhere present that, when the obstacles are removed, it disposes them in that fixed order. The recognition of which Hylarchic Principle (for it cannot be designated by a more apt name) is so necessary among hydrostaticians that, without it, no solid explanation and one suiting all things could ever be given of the events and of phenomena belonging to that science” (translation: II p. 59 Jacob). As a mediating entity, the “hylarchic principle” is superior to matter, but inferior to God with whom space, as More famously argues ibid. 8,8 (II/2, 167), shares more than twenty attributes, including simplicity and independence, which reveal spatial infinity to be either a mode of divine omnipresence or divine essence itself.
 More briefly alludes to his own innatist epistemology outlined in his early Antidote I 5,1–2, in which he rejects the empiricist notion of man’s mind as an “Abrasa Tabula, a Table-book in which nothing is writ”. Instead, the soul possesses “actuall Knowledge” or the ability to gain knowledge about things in conceptual reasoning set in motioned by an exterior object perceived: “And when I say actuall Knowledge, I do not mean that there is a certain number of Ideas flaring and shining to the Animadversive Faculty, like so many Torches or Starres in the Firmament to our outward Sight, or that there are any Figures that take their distinct places, and are legibly writ there like the Red Letters or Astronomical Characters in an Almanack: but I understand thereby an active sagacity in the Soul, or quick recollection, as it were, whereby some small businesses being hinted unto her, she runs out presently into a more clear and larger conception.”
 The sentence is rather complex and somewhat hard to translate. We suggest the following punctuation: Quam constantiam revelationis ac firmitudinem, cum vita sit, non imaginatio, qualis sit, praeter ipsum prophetam nemo potest apud se fingere, making the inserted subordinate clause cum vita sit, non imaginatio an additional qualification of the strength of prophetic revelation. The qualis sit is meant to continue the interrupted argument, referring back to the first part of the sentence. The meaning, hence, becomes clear and is perfectly in line with Morean and Cambridge Platonist philosophy in general: The prophets‘ certainty is not a theoretical figment of the imagination, but originates in a life of practical piety.
 It is a key aspect of More’s critique of enthusiasm that the visions of the alleged prophets of the Revolution and Restoration eras are not due to divine inspiration, but a rampant imagination. See, e.g., Enth. Triumph., sect. 6 (Collection, p. 5): “To be short therefore, The Original of such peremptory delusions as mankind are obnoxious to, is the enormous strength and vigour of the Imagination; which Faculty though it be in some sort in our power, as Respiration is, yet it will also work without our leave, as I have already demonstrated: And hence Men become mad and fanatical whether they will or no.”
 Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II 1–5.
 Prov. 2:6: “For the Lord giveth wisdom. Out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.”
 Italics added for the sake of emphasis. More seeks to establish incorporeal agency in general.
 A constructio ad sensum: While, grammatically, Divinaeque Providentiae partem refers to the earlier mention of communem De Providentiam, the actual reference is the later Spiritus Naturae whose laws of nature constitute God’s general providence.
 Horace, The Art of Poetry, 139.
 Depending on the vowel signs added, the word means either “bed“ or “down“
 The sentence seems to be incomplete as a literal translation: “prophecy and the prediction are not restricted“ yields no satisfactory sense. The meaning, though, is clear: Besides the divinely-inspired knowledge of the future, infallibility is a defining mark of prophetic writing.
 Phrases of civility.
 The sentence is rather terse. However, More insists as against the enemies of true religion mentioned in the following sentence that the law of natural reason is the basis of that of Scripture, even providing a sufficient criterion for the authenticity of the biblical writings if their authenticity were in doubt.
 More is here using the first personal singular to correspond to ‘My Sufficiency’.
 ‘7’ in Arabic here.
 Horace, The Art of Poetry, VV. 410–411.
 Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights IX 2.
 The book and chapter as well as the page numbers given in brackets are those of the original edition: Arcana Atheismi revelata, philosphice & paradoxe refutata, Examine Tractatus Theologico-Politico per Franciscum Cuperum Amstelodamensem…, Rotterdam 1976. Roman numerals refer to the work’s unpaginated preface.
 Much in the vein of his early principal philosophical work An Antidote against Atheism of 1652, More compares the widespread atheism of his day to a “lousy disease”.
 Horace, Epistles, I ,2,70.
 The alleged contradiction between faith and reason is nothing but a fictious “brawl” invented by Kuyper himself.
 “That man” probably refers to More himself whose distinctive wording, the polemics against “nullibism” (most notably in the Enchiridum Metaphysicum), his anonymous scoffer adopts in his refutation of Kuyper’s fideism.
 More (or the “scoffer”) is deeply ironic here. Obviously, a materialist notion of God, which he goes on to equate to atheism, is entirely alien to him.
 Again, More suspects his adversary of atheism, since Kuyper subjects Spinoza’s surprisingly positive remarks about Christ to criticism. Hence, he intimates, his stated intent of basing religion on revelation, rather than reason cannot be sincere. Ironically, More goes to defend Spinoza from his fideist critic, commending the former’s laudable attitude towards Christ.
 The Latin is res ipsa aliquando existit, i.e. exists [at least] at some time, without prejudicing whether it still exists.
 I.e. animated. Literally ‘alive from itself’.
 These titles have been added.
 This is an informal reference to Kuyper’s title.
 He refers to the Spinoza of the Tractatus and the Spinoza of the Opera Omnia.
 Glisson establishes the conceptual possibility of material life on its alleged de facto existence. Since it is a phenomenon observable in nature, it clearly implies no contradiction.
 “Connection“ refers to the fact that atoms link up and stay together so as to form and preserve various bodies over time.
 These are Glisson’s technical terms to denote subjectivity.
 More himself uses the pun perceptionem … non percipere to impress upon his reader the apparent paradox that, on Glisson’s theory, the parts of the body know what the whole does not. Percipere means both “to perceive” and “to understand”, the latter, as is indicated by the reference to anatomy, being the primary sense here.
 A technical term for a sudden inexplicable loss of eyesight.
 The latter part of the sentence is ambiguous. In the translation suggested above, I take perceptionis perceptio to be a further qualification of substance as such, which supports More’s overall argument: If substance, by substance, is perception, there is no denying that man, on a hylozoistic theory of personal identity, should be aware of all the physiological processes in his body. However, sit could also be used in the absolute sense of existence: More, on this reading, would insist that according to Glisson, “there must of necessity be perception of perception everywhere”, which, while not as strong as the first reading, also adds to More’s reductio argument.
 In the following, the modern numbers of Spinoza’s letters are given in brackets. The page numbers refer to the complete Shirley translation of Spinoza’s correspondence: Spinoza, The Letters. Translated by Samuel Shirley. Introduction and Notes by Steven Barbone, Lee Rice, and Jacob Adler, Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1995.
Cite as: Henry More, ‘Ad V. C. epistola altera (English translation by Christian Hengstermann)’, from Opera omnia, I (1679), 563-601, https://www.cambridge-platonism.divinity.cam.ac.uk/view/texts/diplomatic/Hengstermann1679A, accessed 2023-12-02.