Saturday, June 04, 2005

I got your "elucidation and moderation" right here, Jack

I finally finished the Spinoza bio I've been reading (spoiler: he dies at the end). Here's one last quotation. One of the few works published in Spinoza's lifetime was the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, for which he caught holy hell, so to speak, on account of the (supposedly) impious and (actually) heretical doctrines to be found therein. Naturally most if not all of the attacks were from people who didn't understand it. On the other hand, this doesn't mean they would have liked it any better if they did. His friends believed him when he said he had been misunderstood, so they urged him to clear things up so he wouldn't get into any more trouble. Here's Henry Oldenburg, one of his oldest friends and the Secretary of the Royal Society of England, writing in 1675:
I cannot but approve your purpose in signifying your willingness to elucidate and moderate those passages in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus which have proved a stumbling-block to readers. I refer in particular to those which appear to treat in an ambiguous way of God and Nature, which many people consider you have confused with each other. In addition, many are of the opinion that you take away the authority and validity of miracles, which almost all Christians are convinced form the sole basis on which the certainty of Divine Revelation can rest. Furthermore, they say that you are concealing your opinion with regard to Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the World, sole Mediator for mankind, and of his Incarnation and Atonement, and they request you to disclose your attitude clearly on these three heads. If you do so, and in this matter satisfy reasonable and intelligent Christians, I think your position will be secure.

Nadler's comment: "Spinoza must have wondered, indeed, how closely Oldenburg had read the Treatise" (p. 331).

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