Spinoza, Benedict De

, an atheistical philosopher, was the son of a merchant, who was originally a Portuguese; and was born at Amsterdam about 1633. He learned Latin of a physician, who taught it at Amsterdam; and who is supposed to have been but loose in the | principles of religion. He also studied divinity for many years; and afterwards devoted himself entirely to philosophy. He was a Jew by birth; but soon began to dislike the doctrine of the Rabbins; and discovered this dislike to the synagogue. It is said that the Jews offered to tolerate him, provided he would comply outwardly with their ceremonies, and even promised him a yearly pension, being unwilling to lose a man who was capable of doing such credit to their profession; but he could not comply, and by degrees left their synagogue; and was excommunicated. Afterwards he professed to be a Christian, and not only went himself to the churches of the Calvin i>t., or Lutherans, but likewise frequently exhorted others to go, and greatly recommended some particular preachers. His tirst apostacy was to Mennonism, on embracing which, he exchanged his original name, Baruch, for that of Benedict. He removed from Amsterdam, whither he had gone to avoid the Jews, to the Hague, where he subsisted as an optical-instrument-maker, and led a frugal and retired life, the leisure of which he devoted to study. While known only as a deserter from Judaism, he was invited by the elector Palatine to fill the chair of philosophy at Heidelberg; but from an apprehension that his liberty would, in that situation, be abridged, he declined the proposal. He lived in retirement, with great sobriety and decency of manners, till a consumption brought him to an early end, in 1677.

Spinoza, in his life-time, published “Tractatus theologico-politicus,” “A Treatise theological and political,” which was reckoned his great work; and after his death were published five treatises: 1. Ethics demonstrated geometrically. 2. Politics. 3. On the Improvement of the Understanding. 4. Epistles and Answers. 5. A Hebrew Grammar. The impieties contained in these treatises excited general indignation; and refutations were sent forth from various quarters, by writers of all religious persuasions, in which the empty sophisms, the equivocal definitions, the false reasonings, and all the absurdities of the writings of Spinoza are fully exposed. The sum of his doctrine, according to Brucker, is this: The essence of substance, is to exist. There is in naaire only one substance, with two modifications, thought and extension. This substance is infinitely diversified, having within its own essence the necessary causes of the changes through which it passes. No substance can be supposed‘ td’ | produce or create another; therefore, besides the substance of the universe there can be no other, but all things are comprehended in it, and are modes of this substance, either thinking or extended. This one universal substance, Spinoza calls God, and ascribes to it divine attributes. He expressly asserts, that God is the immanent, not the transitive, cause of all things. His doctrine is, therefore, not to be confounded with that of those ancient philosophers, who held God to be To Trar, “The Universal Whole;” lor, according to them, the visible and intellectual worlds are produced by emanation from the eternal fountain of divinity; that is, by an expanding, or unfolding, of the divine nature, which was the effect of intelligence and design; whereas, in the system of Spinoza, all things are immanent, and necessary modifications of one universal substance, which, to conceal his atheism, he calls God. Nor can Spinozism be with any propriety derived, as some have imagined, from the Cartesian philosophy; for, in that system, two distinct substances are supposed; and the existence of Deity is a fundamental principle.

It may seem very surprising, that a man who certainly was not destitute of discernment, abilities, and learning, should have fallen into such impieties. And this could not have happened, had he not confounded his conceptions with subtle and futile distinctions concerning the nature of substance, essence, and existence, and neglected to attend to the obvious, but irrefragable, argument for the existence of God, arising from the appearances of intelligence and design in all the productions of nature.

The impious system of Spinoza was maintained with so much ingenuity, that it found many patrons in the United Provinces, among whom were Lewis Meyer, who republished Spinoza’s works, and himself wrote a work entitled, “Philosophy the Interpreter of Scripture” and Van Leenhof, an ecclesiastic of Zwoll, who wrote a piece entitled “Heaven in Earth,” of the doctrine of which he was obliged to make a public recantation. Others, under the pretence of refuting Spinoza, secretly favoured his system. But, against the poison of their impious tenets sufficient antidotes were soon provided by many able defenders of religion, whose writings are well known, particularly in Cudwortb’s “Intellectual System,” the professed object of which is, the refutation of atheism. | In this country Spinoza does not appear to have had many followers. Few have been suspected of adhering to his doctrine; and among those who have been suspected, few have studied it: to which we may add, with Bayle, that of those who have studied it few have understood it. Toland seems to have approached the nearest to his system of any modern freethinker: and indeed the doctrines inculcated in his “Pantheisticon,” are much the same with those of Spinoza. Abroad, a German professor, E. G. Paulns, of Je;ia, lias lately attempted to revive the memory, at le;':-.t, of Spinoza, by a new edition of his works published in 1302; and at the Hague, was edited, about the same time, by C. T. de Murr, a manuscript of Spinoza’s, never before printed, containing annotations on his “Tractatum theologico-politicum.1


Gen. Dict. —Niceron, vol. XIII. —Brucker. —Mosheim.