Athens and Jerusalem \  Part II  \ In the Bull of Phalaris


     The idea of finality, the idea of an omnipotent God who created man and blessed him - this idea runs through and animates the entire Bible. But the Middle Ages already could not without difficulty accept the Bible's logic, which constantly offends the habits of rational thought. I shall not exaggerate, I think, in saying that the Scholastics, who called Aristotle to rule over all the domains of theology, themselves thought what Spinoza was later to proclaim openly: "God did not wish to teach the Israelites the absolute attributes of His essence, but to break down their hardness of heart and draw them to obedience; therefore He did not appeal to them with reasons but with the sound of trumpets, thunder and lightnings." [1] And indeed, the God of the Bible in no way resembles Aristotle: instead of arguments there are sounds of trumpets, rolls of thunder, lightnings. And so throughout Scripture, beginning with Genesis and ending with the Apocalypse: over against the logic of human reason are set the omnipotent fiat and the thunder.

     With the conscientiousness and determination that are especially his, Spinoza concludes that "between faith and theology or philosophy there is no connection or affinity... Philosophy has no end in view but truth, faith looks for nothing but obedience and piety." [2] To be sure, philosophy and theology cannot and do not wish to have anything in common. The philosopher and the theologian must recognize this if they have enough courage to express in words the profoundest human experience, or, to put it better, if it has been given them to know, through their own experience, the illuminations that are produced when the different orders of being and of human thought strike up against and contradict each other.

     Luther is infinitely distant from Spinoza, and yet in his doctrine of faith and free will we encounter the very thoughts that we find in Spinoza and expressed in almost the same words. Spinoza refers to Exodus 20:20; Luther to Jeremiah 23:29, "is not my word like...a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? ", and to I Kings 10:11-13. He says: "The law is a hammer that breaks rocks, a fire, a wind, and that great and mighty shaking that overthrows mountains." [3] There is, it is true, an essential difference between Luther and Spinoza, a difference that we must state as precisely as possible in order to clarify the problem of the relationship between knowledge and freedom. Both Luther and Spinoza drew from their extraordinary inner experience the profound conviction that the human will is not free. And both of them were equally convinced that "there is no connection between faith and philosophy." But while Spinoza affirms that philosophy has no end other than truth and that the goal of theology is piety and obedience, Luther says, or rather cries out with all the force and ardor of which a man is capable when he struggles for his most precious good, that the source of truth is not knowledge, the knowledge that reason brings to man, but faith, faith alone. Strange as it may seem, Luther was convinced that the goal of philosophy is not truth but obedience and piety, while truth is obtained only through faith, sola fide. Inspired as he was by Scripture, Luther could not finally speak otherwise. Hegel himself, let us recall, saw in the fruits of the tree of knowledge the principle of philosophy for all time. Now it is thanks to these fruits that man acquired the faculty of distinguishing between good and evil and became bound to submit to the laws of the good. Thus, if Socrates in antiquity and Spinoza in modern times tasted of these fruits, by this very fact they denied truth and replaced it with something quite different. Instead of truth humanity received "obedience and piety." The world found itself subordinated to a law that is impersonal and indifferent to everything, and it is in voluntary obedience to this law that both mortal men and the immortal gods must find their greatest contentment.

     To be sure, as I have already indicated, despite their intellectual honesty which is unparalleled in the history of philosophy, Socrates and Spinoza were obliged in this case to put a good face on a bad situation. Socrates did not succeed (and basically he recognized it) in constructing a bridge between knowledge and virtue; Spinoza no more succeeded in keeping himself on the heights of the mathematical method. He could never forget that, having lost his freedom, man has been changed from res cogitans (a thinking being) to asinus turpissimus (a most infamous ass), and this thought tormented him to the end of his life. But both of them were enthralled to such a degree by the idea of Necessity and of the eternal order that every manifestation of human freedom appeared to them both foolish and sacrilegious. Seduced, as Adam had been, by the magic "you shall be like God," they agreed to everything, even though their agreement was no longer a free act but a forced adaptation to the conditions determined in advance by being. The man qui sola ratione ducitur (who is led by reason alone) finds himself obliged sooner or later forever to renounce his freedom and to make others renounce theirs. Suppressing his revolt into the deepest part of himself and swallowing the outrage (asinus turpissimus), he must glorify the God who knows no purpose and man who, in harmony with his God, is prepared "to endure both faces of fortune with equanimity" and to find there acquiescentiam in se ipso (contentment with oneself) or beatitudinem (happiness).

     Of course, if Socrates or Spinoza had wished to realize fully the ideal of the man qui sola ratione ducitur, they would not have had to make the least allusion to acquiescentia and beatitudo. Why choose acquiescentia? Why not prefer for oneself anxiety? There is not, there cannot be, place in philosophy for any preference whatever. Philosophy, like mathematics, seeks not the best but the true. Its basic principle is non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere (not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand). And, as it is a question only of "understanding," acquiescentia in se ipso, the calm and balanced mind enjoys no right or special privilege over the disturbed and agitated mind. The tertium genus cognitionis (third kind of knowledge), which reveals the necessary relationships of things, will find for all states of the mind and body the place that is appropriate to them.

     It is thus, I say, that the man who is led by reason alone should have thought. In his eyes the difference between res cogitans and asinus turpissimus ought not to be clothed with any particular importance. Human beings imagine that they constitute in the universe a kind of state within a state and that it matters greatly to someone or to something that they be res cogitantes and not asini turpissimi. But we know that these are only prejudices of the ignorant and churlish mob, prejudices of which the philosopher wishes to rid himself and can do so. Yet neither Socrates nor Spinoza could resolve to do this: the sacrifice was too hard, even for them. Before his judges, who held his life in their hands, Socrates continued to repeat that he would not renounce his "good," even if the gods did not exist, even if the soul were not immortal. And Spinoza - as if it had been decreed that he should follow Socrates in everything and reveal what Socrates had left unsaid - declared in the next to the last theorem of the Ethics (before saying: "Happiness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself"): "even if we did not know that our mind is eternal, we should still consider of primary importance piety and religion, and generally all things that in Part IV we showed to be attributable to courage and high-mindedness." The mob, says Spinoza in the explanation of this theorem, judges otherwise: if men knew that no reward awaits them after death no one would do his duty, for people believe that in following the way of the good they are renouncing their rights and imposing heavy burdens on themselves.

     But we ask once again: why does Spinoza consider the mob's judgment low and contemptible and his own noble and elevated? For him who has understood "through the third kind of knowledge" that everything happens in the world necessarily, the mob's judgment and Spinoza's are only links in an infinite series of events. Neither the one nor the other can lay claim to any special qualification. One person, after discovering that the soul passes and disappears along with the body, will renounce morality and religion and say, with St. Paul, "let us eat and drink." The other, on the contrary, will say, like Socrates, "I shall not deny the good; I shall not eat nor drink, and I shall continue to seek happiness in the good." And neither the one nor the other has a right to expect the approval of others and to consider their judgments and valuations universal and necessary. But neither Socrates nor Spinoza will renounce universality and necessity for anything in the world: all humanity must think and speak as they do.

     It is in the "must" that the meaning of Spinoza's geometrical method and Socrates' dialectical method lies. Indeed, if, like a stone or an asinus turpissimus, man is subject to the law of necessity, if neither man nor God Himself acts in view of some purpose but "only according to the laws of their nature," then philosophy has nothing more to do: everything has already been done before it and without it, everything will continue to be done without it. The life of the universe follows the course determined for it in advance, and there exists no power in the., world which can change or wishes to change in any way whatsoever the established "order and connection of things." But if the structure of being can not be changed in any way, if what is must be accepted as much by the philosopher as by the mob (i.e., asinus turpissimus) - for we know that in the face of reality all are equally impotent - what difference is there between the wise man and the imbecile? Yet there is a difference, there must be, or else Socrates and Spinoza have nothing to do in the world, or else they have no reason for being. One understands now why the wisest among men allowed himself to be seduced by the craftiest of animals. The serpent offered him, in place of the fruits of the tree of life, that is to say, in place of the "things that are not in our power" the fruits of the tree of knowledge, that is to say, reason which draws everything out of itself. This substitution promised man complete independence: "you shall be like God." But all that reason could draw out of itself was happiness in the bull of Phalaris. No matter what Spinoza may say, it is philosophy and not religion that demands obedientiam et pietatem. The wise man must "endure and await with equanimity both faces of fortune," even when, like his humble companion, he dies of hunger between two bales of hay.

[1] Tract. Theol.-Polit., XIV.
[2] Tract. Theol.-Polit., XIV.
[3] Gr. Gal. Komm., WA I.S., 483.

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