13 Feb Rebecca Goldstein

Oldenburg is certain, from his observations of the temperate man with whom he conversed in Voorburg, that the man cannot possibly be, as he is rumored to be, an atheist. For he lives a sober life, free from any trace of corruption or licentiousness, which could not be the case of one who was truly irreligious. Therefore, he is certain that there can be nothing dangerous to the spirit of Christianity in Spinoza’s philosophy, and urges him to publish his work for the benefit of all:

I would by all means advise you not to begrudge to the learned those works in philosophy and theology, which you have composed with the talent that distinguishes you. Publish them, I beg you, whatever be the verdict of petty theologians. Your country is free; the course of philosophy should there be free also. Your own prudence will, doubtless, suggest to you, that your ideas and opinons should be put forth as quietly as possible. For the rest, commit the issue to fortune. Come then, good sir, cast away all fear of exciting against you the pigmies of our time. Long enough have we sacrificed to ignorance and pedantry. Let us spread the sails of true knowledge, and explore the recesses of nature more thoroughly than heretofore. Your meditations can, I take it, be printed in your country with impunity; nor need any scandal among the learned be dreaded because of them. If these be your patrons and supporters (and I warrant me you will find them so), why should you dread the carpings of ignorance? I will not let you go, my honoured friend, till I have gained my request; nor will I ever, so far as in me lies, allow thoughts of such importance as yours to rest in eternal silence.

As it turns out, though, Oldenburg will be deeply scandalized when Spinoza t last “commit[s] the issue to fortune and publishes his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Spinoza’s views are less compatible with Christianity than Oldenburg had suspected.