The key of the total intelligibility

«Distinguished Sir,

I received on Saturday last your very short letter dated 15th Nov. In it you merely indicate the points in the theological treatise, which have given pain to readers, whereas I had hoped to learn from it, what were the opinions which militated against the practice of religious virtue, and which you formerly mentioned.

However, I will speak on the three subjects on which you desire me to disclose my sentiments, and tell you, first, that my opinion concerning God differs widely from that which is ordinarily defended by modern Christians. For I hold that God is of all things the cause immanent, as the phrase is, not transient. I say that all things are in God and move in God, thus agreeing with Paul, and, perhaps, with all the ancient philosophers, though the phraseology may be different; I will even venture to affirm that I agree with all the ancient Hebrews, in so far as one may judge from their traditions, though these are in many ways corrupted. The supposition of some, that I endeavour to prove in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus the unity of God and Nature (meaning by the latter a certain mass or corporeal matter), is wholly erroneous.

As regards miracles, I am of opinion that the revelation of God can only be established by the wisdom of the doctrine, not by miracles, or in other words by ignorance. This I have shown at sufficient length in Chapter VI concerning miracles. I will here only add, that I make this chief distinction between religion and superstition, that the latter is founded on ignorance, the former on knowledge; this, I take it, is the reason why Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world, not by faith, nor by charity, nor by the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, but solely by their opinions, inasmuch as they defend their cause, like everyone else, by miracles, that is by ignorance, which is the source of all malice; thus they turn a faith, which may be true, into superstition.

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; but 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 humanmind, and most of all in Jesus Christ, a very different view must be take [dico ad salutem non esse omnino necesse Christum, secundum carnem noscere; sed de aeterno illo Dei filio, hoc est Dei aeterna sapientia, quae sese in omnibus rebus, et maxime in mente humana et maxime in mente Christi Jesu manifestavit, longe aliter sentiendum].

For without this, no one can attain to a state of blessedness, since this alone teaches what is true and false, good an devil. 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 [quatenus ab ipso fuit revelata], and have shown themselves able to glory above all others in that spirit of Christ. As to the additional teachings of certain Churches that God took upon himself human nature, I have expressly indicated that I do not understand what they say.

Indeed, to tell the truth, they seem to me to speak no less absurdly than one who might tell me that a circle has taken on the nature of a square [circulus naturam quadrati induerit]. This, I think suffices to explain what is my opinion on those three heads [capitibus]. As to whether it is likely to please the Christians of your acquaintance, you will know better than I. Farewell.»

– Spinoza’s letter to Henry Oldenburg (the secretary of the Royal Society in London), November 1675 (a year and a half before Spinoza’s death).


«By affirming the total intelligibility for humankind of the essence of God and things, Spinoza is consciously opposing Descartes (…). Absolute rationalism, imposing the total intelligibility of God, the key of the total intelligibility of things, is thus for Spinozism the first article of faith. Through God alone is the soul purged from the multiple superstitions, for which an incomprehensible God serves as the ultimate refuge, and through him does the soul accomplish this perfect union of God and humanity that conditions salvation.»

– Martial Gueroult, Spinoza, p. 12.


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