Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/235

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SPINOZA: 1677 AND 1877.

noza, the fellow-founder with Richard Simon of Biblical exegesis, was not he the precursor of those liberal theologians who have in our own day shown that Christianity can retain all its glory without super-naturalism? His letters to Oldenburg on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of the manner in which St. Paul understood it, are masterpieces which a hundred years later would have served as the manifesto of a whole school of critical theology.

In the eyes of Spinoza it signifies little whether mysteries be understood this way or that, provided they be understood in a pious sense. Religion has one aim only, piety; and we are to appeal to it not for metaphysics, but for practical guidance. At bottom there is but one single thing in Scripture, as in all revelation: "Love your neighbor." The fruit of religion is blessedness, each one participating in it according to his capacity and his efforts. The souls that are governed by reason—the philosophic souls that have, even in this world, their life in God—are safe from death; what death takes from them is of no value; but weak or passionate souls perish almost entirely, and death, instead of being for them a simple accident, involves the foundation of their being. . . . The ignorant man who lets himself be swayed by blind passions is agitated in a thousand different directions by external causes, and never enjoys true peace of soul; for him, ceasing to suffer means ceasing to be. The soul of the wise man, on the other hand, can scarcely be troubled. Possessing by a kind of eternal necessity the consciousness of itself and of God and of things, he never ceases to be, and ever preserves the soul's true peace.

Spinoza could not endure his system to be considered irreligious or subversive. The timid Oldenburg did not conceal from him that some of his opinions seemed to certain readers to tend to the overthrow of piety. "Whatever accords with reason," replied Spinoza, "is in my belief most favorable to the practice of virtue." The pretended superiority of coarsely positive conceptions as to religion and a future life found him intractable. "Is it, I ask, to cast off religion," he was wont to say, "to acknowledge God as the Supreme Good, and thence to conclude that he must be loved with a free soul? To maintain that all our felicity and most perfect freedom consists in that love—that the reward of virtue is virtue, and that a blind and impotent soul finds its punishment in its blindness—is this a denial of all religion?" At the root of all such attacks he traced meanness of soul. According to him, any one who felt irritated by a disinterested religion involuntarily confessed reason and virtue to have no charm in his eyes, and that his pleasure would lie in living to indulge his passions if he were not restrained by fear. "Thus, then," he would add, "such a one only abstains from evil and obeys the Divine commandment regretfully as a slave, and in return for this slavery expects from God rewards which have infinitely more value in his eyes than the