Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/231

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219
SPINOZA: 1677 AND 1877.

But the persecutions of the middle ages had produced on Judaism the usual effect of all persecution: they had rendered minds narrow and timid. A few years previously, at Amsterdam, the unfortunate Uriel Acosta had cruelly expiated certain doubts that fanaticism finds as culpable as avowed incredulity. The boldness of the young Spinoza was still worse received; he was anathematized, and had to submit to an excommunication that he had not courted. A very old history this! Religious communions, beneficent cradles of so much earnestness and so much virtue, do not allow of any refusal to be shut up exclusively within their embrace; they claim to imprison forever the life that had its beginnings within them; they brand as apostasy the lawful emancipation of the mind that seeks to take its flight alone. It is as though the egg should reproach, as ungrateful, the bird that had escaped therefrom. The egg was necessary in its time; when it became a bondage, it had to be broken. A great marvel, truly, that Erasmus of Rotterdam should feel himself cramped in his cell; that Luther should not prefer his monkish vows to that far holier vow which man, by the very fact of his being, contracts with truth! Had Erasmus persisted in his monastic routine, or Luther gone on distributing indulgences, they would have been apostates indeed! Spinoza was the greatest of modern Jews, and Judaism exiled him. Nothing more simple; it must have been so, it must be so ever. Finite symbols, prisons of the infinite spirit, will eternally protest against the effort of idealism to enlarge them. The spirit, on its side, struggles eternally for more air and more light. Eighteen hundred and fifty years ago the synagogue denounced as a seducer the one who was to raise the maxims of the synagogue to unequaled glory. And the Christian Church, how often has she not driven from her breast those who should have been her chiefest honor! In cases like these, our duty is fulfilled if we retain a pious memory of the education our childhood received. Let the old Churches be free to brand with criminality those who quit them; they shall not succeed in obtaining from us any but grateful feelings, since, after all, the harm they are able to do us is as nothing compared to the good they have done.

II.

Here, then, we have the excommunicated of the synagogue of Amsterdam forced to create for himself a spiritual abode outside of the home which rejected him. He had great sympathy with Christianity, but he dreaded all chains; he did not embrace it. Descartes had just renewed philosophy by his firm and sober rationalism. Descartes was his master. Spinoza took up the problems where they had been left by that great mind, but saw that, through fear of the Sorbonne, his theology had always remained somewhat arid. Oldenburg asking him one day what fault he could find with the philosophy of Descartes and of Bacon, Spinoza replied that their chief fault lay in