T h e o l o g i ca l - Po l i t i ca l Tre a t i s e , Sp ino z a declare s a s an ab s olute pr inc iple that
‘no eve n t c an o ccu r to c on trave n e natu re which pre s e r ve s an e te r nal, ¢xe d
and i m mut able order ’. Du r ing the Enligh te n me n t , this wa s ge n e rally and
r igh tly t ake n to me an that Sp ino z a £atly de nie d that the re have eve r b e e n,
or eve r c ould b e , any miracle s. Howeve r, for rea s ons of pr ude nce , and s o a s
not to c on trave n e the laws of his c ou n tr y at the t i me , he prefe r red not to
s ay this in s o many words. He wa s accus e d of holding this ve r y do ctrin e in a
le tte r w r itte n by the C ar te s ian re ge n t Lamb e r t van Velthuys e n (
in Utre ch t , in Januar y
1671. The le tte r charge d hi m with putt ing the Koran
on the s ame ‘level with the Word of Go d’, and a c opy of the le tte r wa s s e n t
on by the re c ip i e n t , the Me nnonite pre ache r, Jac o b Oste ns , to the ‘Polit ic al
The olo g ian’ [ i.e Sp ino z a] at The Hague. Sp ino z a defe nde d hi ms elf by
s aying that what he had ‘prove d’ c once r ning miracle s wa s that miracle s ,
which he de¢n e s a s s o me thing that go e s outs ide the b ou nds of the nor mal
laws of natu re , ‘a¡ord no knowle dge of Go d. Go d is far b e tte r c o mp -
rehe nde d from the u nchang ing orde r of Nature’.
It wa s cle ar eve n to tho s e who remain e d u naware that Sp ino z a’s
philo s ophic al syste m actually pre clude s all p o s s ibility of miracle s a priori
that , for hi m, we c an le ar n nothing of i mp or t ance ab out , and nothing
from, ‘miracle s’, which me ans that C hr ist’s miracle s c ould have had no
par t icular s ig ni¢c ance eve n if they re ally o ccu r re d. The value of C hr ist’s
mis s ion am ong me n, in Sp ino z a’s eye s , lay not in any re p or te d s ig ns ,
wonde rs , or myste r i e s , but e n t irely in his mo ral te aching. But this he
c ons ide re d to b e of su r pa s s ing value. He cle arly lo oke d forward to the day
whe n, a s he puts it in chapte r
, ‘relig ion is ¢nally s e parate d fro m
philo s ophic al the or i e s and reduce d to the extre mely few, ve r y s i mple
dogmas that Christ taught to his own’,
which would result in a new
golden age free from all superstition. This remark clearly shows that in
Spinoza’s system religio is by no means the same thing as superstitio, despite
its relatively lowly status compared with philosophy.
In fact, true
‘religion’ and true ‘piety’ are completely rede¢ned by Spinoza in the
Theological-Political Treatise to mean simply devotion and obedience to
worldly good conduct, especially justice and charity.
Perhaps the best way to explain Spinoza’s special emphasis on the
signi¢cance of Christ for all humankind is to link it to his deeply felt need
Spi n o z a , Theological - Political Treati s e , ch.
, l a s t pa ra.
to form a tactical and strategic alliance with those fringe Christians,
willing to assist him in
promoting the sort of campaign that could eventually help to strengthen
toleration and individual liberty, reform society and politics, and institute
true‘freedom to philosophize’. Several such men, including Pieter Balling
1669) who translated much of his early work from Latin into Dutch,
Jarig Jelles (c.
1620^83) who wrote the preface to his Posthumous Works, and
his publisher Jan Rieuwertsz (c.
1616^87), ¢gured among his closest allies
and friends. During the course of his own personal development it had
long been of great concern to him, especially during the years after his
expulsion from the synagogue in
1656, to form ties with this exceptionally
tolerant Christian fringe milieu which professed to accept the overriding
status of reason in explicating both Scripture and Christ’s spiritual
signi¢cance. They too denied Christ’s divinity, the Trinity, and
Resurrection along with most other conventional Christian ‘mysteries’and
sacraments on the ground that these are incompatible with ‘reason’.
As for the major churches, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, these,
like rabbinic tradition and the Talmud, had little status in Spinoza’s eyes.
The Early Church may originally have been inspired by the authentic
teaching of Christ and may therefore have genuinely been a ‘religion of
love, joy, peace, temperance and honest dealing with all men’, based on
wisdom. But it had soon become debased in his opinion, losing its
authenticity immediately after Christ’s death even during the time of the
Apostles. The Early Church, he argues, everywhere degenerated into
warring factions which ceaselessly vied with each other for supremacy,
forging theological doctrines as their weapons and deploying dogma and
ceremonies as the building-blocks of their power.
This ‘rise of ecclesiastic superiority and dominion’, as Radicati calls it,
went hand-in-hand, moreover, with a constant further elaboration of
‘Collegiants’ is a name given to a movement which developed in the Netherlands in the seven-
teenth century, especially in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and at Rijnsburg of mostly highly literate
townspeople who sought to base their lives on the Bible and Christ’s example but dispensed with
formal doctrines and clergy and prized toleration, equality and freedom of speech; on this subject
see Andrew Fix, Prophecy and Reason. The Dutch Collegiants in the Early Enlightenment (Princeton,
A radical Reformation Christian tendency, originally an organized sect, which became established
in Poland in the sixteenth century but later di¡used to parts of Germany, the Netherlands, Britain
and North America; they rejected the divinity of Christ, theTrinity, and other traditional Christian
Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, preface para.