Acosta, Uriel

, a Portuguese, born at Oporto towards the close of the sixteenth century. He was educated in the Romish religion, which his father also sincerely professed, though descended from one of those Jewish families who had been forced to receive baptism. Uriel had a liberal education, having been instructed in several sciences; and at last studied the law. He had by nature a good temper and disposition; and religion had made so deep an impression on his mind, that he ardently desired to conform to all the precepts of the church. He applied with constant assiduity to reading the scriptures and religious books, carefully consulting also the creed of the confessors; but difficulties occurred, which perplexed him to such a degree, that, unable to solve them, he thought | it impossible to fulfil his duty, with regard to the conditions required for absolution, according to good casuists. At length, he began to inquire, whether several particulars mentioned about a future life were agreeable to reason; and imagined that reason suggested many arguments against them. Acosta was about two-and-twenty when he entertained these doubts; and the result was, that he thought he could not be saved by the religion which he had imbibed in his infancy. He still, however, prosecuted his studies in the law; and, at the age of five-and-twenty years, was made treasurer in a collegiate church. Being naturally of an inquisitive turn, and now made uneasy by the popish doctrines, he began to study Moses and the prophets; where he thought he found more satisfaction than in the Gospel, and at length became convinced that Judaism was the true religion: but, as he could not profess it in Portugal, he resigned his place, and embarked for Amsterdam, with his mother and brothers; whom he had ventured to instruct in the principles of the Jewishreligion, even when in Portugal. Soon after their arrival in this city they became members of the synagogue, and were circumcised according to custom; and on this occasion, he changed his name of Gabriel for that of Uriel. A little timewas sufficient to shew him, that the Jews did neither in their rites nor morals conform to the law of Moses, and of this he declared his disapprobation: but the chiefs of the synagogue gave him to understand, that he must exactly observe their tenets and customs; and that he would be excommunicated if he deviated ever so little from them. This threat, however, did not in the least deter him; for he thought it would be beneath him, who had left the sweets of his native country purely for liberty of conscience, to submit to a set of rabbis who had no jurisdiction: and that it would shew both want of courage and piety, to stifle his sentiments on this occasion. He therefore persisted in his invectives, and, in consequence, was excommunicated. He then wrote a book in his justification; wherein he endeavours to shew, that the rites and traditions of the Pharisees are contrary to the writings of Moses; and soon after adopted the opinions of the Sadducees, asserting, that the rewards and punishments of the old law relate only to this lite; because Moses nowhere mentions the joys of heaven or the torments of hell. His adversaries were overjoyed at his embracing this | tenet; foreseeing, that it would tend greatly to justify, in the sight of Christians, the proceedings of the synagogue against him. Before his book was printed, there appeared a piece upon the immortality of the soul, written by a physician in 1623, who omitted nothing he could suggest to make Acosta pass for an atheist. This, however, did not prevent him from writing a treatise against the physician, wherein he endeavoured to confute the doctrine of the soul’s immortality. The Jews now made application to the magistrates of Amsterdam; and informed against him, as one who wanted to undermine the foundation of both Jewish and Christian religions. Hereupon he was thrown into prison, but bailed out within a week or ten clays after; but all the copies of his pieces were seized, and he himself fined 300 florins. Nevertheless, he proceeded still farther in his scepticism. He now began to examine, whether the laws of Moses came from God; and he at length found reasons to convince him, that it was only a political invention. Yet, such was his inconsistency, that he returned to the Jewish church, after he had been excommunicated 15 years; and, after having made a recantation of what he Jiad written, subscribed every thing as they directed. A few days after, he was accused by a nephew, who lived in his house, that he did not, as to his eating and many other points, conform to the laws of the synagogue. On this he was summoned before the grand council of the synagogue; and it was declared to him, that he must be again excommunicated, if he did not give such satisfaction as should be required; but he found the terms so hard, that he could not comply. The Jews then again expelled him jfrom their communion; and he afterwards suffered various hardships and persecutions, even from his own relations. After remaining seven years in a most wretched situation, he at length declared he was willing to submit to the sentence of the synagogue, having been told that he might easily accommodate matters; for, that the judges, being satisfied with his submission, would soften the severity of the discipline; they made him, however, undergo the penance in its utmost rigour. These particulars, relating to the. life of Acosta, are taken from his piece, entitled “Exemplar humanae vitce,” published and refuted by Limborch. It is supposed that he composed it a few days before Jus death, after having determined to lay violent feands on himself. He executed this horrid resolution a | little after he had failed in his attempt to kill his principal enemy; for the pistol, with which he intended to have shot him as he passed his house, having missed fire, he immediately shut the door, and shot himself with another pistol. This happened at Amsterdam, but in what year is not exactly known; but most authors are inclined to place it in 1640, or 1647. 1


The remarkable Life of Acosta; to which is added, Mr. Limboreh’s defence of Christianity, in answer to Acosta’s objections, 8vo, London, 1740. This tract was translated and edited by John Whiston, the bookseller. It was revised by Dr. Roper.