Ethan A. Hitchcock's vergelijking van Spinoza en Swedenborg [Vervolg 2]

Zoals ik al eerder aankondigde lijkt het me zinvol om – na introductie-blog en vervolgblog  - iets van het werk van Hitchcock te laten zien.

In zijn Chapter XII [comparing Swedenborg and Spinoza: p. 263-331 –] van

Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Swedenborg, a Hermetic Philosopher: Being a Sequel to Remarks on Alchemy . and the Alchemists. Showing that Emanuel Swedenborg was a Hermetic Philosopher and that His Writings May be Interpreted from the Point of View of Hermetic Philosophy. With a Chapter Comparing Swedenborg and Spinoza [D. Appleton, 1858 –]

geeft hij nog eens het vergelijkend overzicht dat hij eerder al in 1846 had gebracht in zijn The doctrines of Spinoza and Swedenborg identified. Zoals aan bovenvermelde paginanummers is te zien is het hele hoofdstuk veel te groot. Na een inleiding citeert hij vergelijkenderwijs teksten uit eerst Swedenborg en dan Spinoza over: God, modi, kennissoorten en heil. Ik breng hier alleen die inleiding en de eerste thema’s, God en modi. Dat omvat al 20 pagina's uit zijn boek; voor de rest verwijs ik naar het gedigitaliseerde boek zelf.

Daar ik geen aanleiding zie om nog eens een apart blog aan Emanuel Swedenborg te wijden, plaats ik hier zijn afbeelding i.p.v. nog eens Hitchcock..

CHAPTER XII [comparing Swedenborg and Spinoza]

Having thus pointed out the Hermetic character of Swedenborg's writings, I feel that my notice of their remarkable author will be incomplete unless I indicate also his connection with or dependence upon the writings and principles of a man who flourished about one hundred years before him; one of the most extraordinary men of modern times, whose name the whole world at one period seemed anxious to load with obloquy, but whose reputation for purity of life is now universally acknowledged, while his philosophy is beginning to be recognized as worthy the careful study of all those who desire to know the power of the human intellect as manifested in works of thought upon abstruse and difficult subjects.

It is most remarkable that, although Sweden-[264]borg, especially in his philosophical writings, shows the most intimate acquaintance with all the learning of his day, quoting largely from a great number of works upon the anatomy, physiology, and philosophy of man, never so much as once, so far as I now remember, makes the least allusion to the name of Benedict Spinoza, the born but anathematized Jew, who nevertheless furnished him with some of the most profound principles announced and developed in his religious works.

The similitude, or rather the identity of the doctrines or principles of these two men, is a most interesting and curious fact, which can be established by citations from their respective works with so much clearness that the most hasty reader cannot fail to recognize it.

Some years ago, in 1846, I printed for circulation among my friends a series of parallel extracts from the writings of Spinoza and Swedenborg, the object of which was to show, as a speculative curiosity, the remarkable identity of the doctrines of the two men, regarded from a scientiiic point of view. I called attention to the fact, that while one of the two men had been reviled as the veriest Atheist the world has produced, the other has been held forth, by a con-[265]siderable body of followers, as expressly illuminated for tlie purpose of teaching the True Christian Religion. It struck me that reflecting men might see in the parallel I presented, matter worth their serious consideration, and I still think the subject worthy the attention of all considerate men.

The parallel to which I refer ought to teach us moderation and charity, and must suggest the probability, at least, that if Spinoza's enemies were right in their abuse of his writings and character, the friends of Swedenborg can hardly fail to be in error in their admiration of the Swedish Philosopher; while, on the other hand, if the followers of Swedenborg are justified in their approval of his doctrines, the revilers of Spinoza must have been in error.

But the reader may say that I am in too much haste in making inferences and comments, and ought first to point out the likeness between the two men, if indeed it exists.

I shall show presently its prominent features; but I desire to say that, in the pamphlet to which I refer, it was not my purpose, neither is it now my purpose, to approve or condemn the doctrines in question. I remarked in the pamphlet, and I repeat now, that, in the estimation of some, the [260] dissimilarities between the two men in their writings may be even greater than their points of likeness, but that it is not easy to see how-men, whose groundwork is the same, can very widely separate from each other without subjecting one of the parties, at least, to the charge of inconsistency or inconsequentiality. But the most inveterate enemies of Spinoza, I believe, do not accuse him of inconsistency in the doctrines he develops from his principles. On the contrary, it is generally asserted by those who have examined his writings, that if his definitions and axioms are granted, his entire system follows without the possibility of being overthrown. Accordingly, a recent writer has undertaken to destroy the whole system of Spinoza's Ethics by objecting to his first definition.

For my own part, I will confess that I have never been able to follow Spinoza's demonstrations through, connectedly, from first to last. As a demonstrable system, therefore, the Ethics of Spinoza has never taken hold of me. I am not therefore a Spinozist. Yet, — and this may seem singular, — the two last parts of the Ethics, seem very beautiful and fascinating, without any reference to the formal basis laid in the preceding parts; and I must say, especially, that the very [267] last proposition of the entire work seems more clear to me than the first, and would sooner be assumed by me, as the basis of a system, than almost any thing in the whole work, — if I desired to make a system myself.

Spinoza, after defining Substance to be that which exists of itself, and is conceived by itself; and modes, to be the affections of substance, announces, as his first proposition, that, Substance is prior in nature to its affections: and he refers, for proof, to his definitions.

I say now, that this proposition is not demonstrated; because, we may conceive the coexistence of the two, substance and its affections, without conceiving the priority of substance. It is true that the affections of substance cannot be conceived without the idea of substance, but this does not necessarily suppose priority. This first proposition is not so clear to me, therefore, as the very last in the work, which is in these words; Prop. 42, Part 5 : "Happiness (Beatitudo; Bliss) is not the reward of virtue, liit it is virtue itself; and we do not enjoy (or possess) it, because we restrain our had or evil desires (libido, evil propensities), but, on the contrary, ’tis because we possess or enjoy it that we are enebled to restrain our lusts” [268]

Tliis proposition is almost self-evident, and scarcely needs any thing for its proof but a little experience and observation of life. In the external world of nature and time, rewards and punishments, both being temporal, follow the conduct of man, and are of a nature altogether different from the conduct itself, and are often wholly unforeseen; but these are incidents in life, and do not constitute its real happiness or misery. The true bliss lies in the very substance of life itself, and not in its affections; and this substance of life is what Spinoza in this proposition calls virtue, elsewhere calling it power; by which he means, in fact, the power of God, in which alone man is secure against the evil affections, because all affections are subordinate to this one power.

Hence, a sense of its possession is the glory of man, though its attainment may require the transmutation so much talked of by the Hermetic writers : — a change from a state of nature to a state of grace.

I admire the Fourth and Fifth Parts of Spinoza's Ethics so much that I can almost accept the First Part upon my faith in the last; but I cannot reverse this order and receive the latter portions of the Ethics upon any convictions derived from the demonstrations in the First. I [269] therefore prefer to read the Ethics backwards and stop somewhere in the Fourth Part. If any one can read the beautiful developments in the last Two Parts of the Ethics of Spinoza without imbibing a great respect for their author and a deep sense of gratitude for so much light and instruction as may there be found, he is much to be pitied. But to return to my subject.*[1]

If I make good the point I suggest, of a likeness between the doctrines of Spinoza and those of Swedenborg, it will appear remarkable that many of them should be found, where they will be found, in one of the latest and most religious of Swedenborg's works, — that entitled The True Christian Religion. If the principles to which I refer were discoverable only in his philosophical works, written before what he called the opening of his internal sight, it might be imagined that under the correction of a higher light they had been abandoned; but, in truth, they may all be found in his religious works, — introduced there indeed with studied precision.

It is generally said that every system of thought, where thought takes the form of a sys-[270]tem, depends very much if not altogether upon the idea of God. It is true indeed, that the contrary statement is also made, — that, every man's idea of the Deity expresses his individual character and mode of thought; that, instead of saying that God made man after his own image, it may be said more truly that man imagines God after his image.

However this may be, it was Spinoza's opinion that some idea of God must be presupposed in every attempt to form any system of doctrines whatever; for he says in Chapter 4th of his Tract on Theology and Politics, that, — "since all our knowledge, and certainty which removes all doubt, depends only upon the knowledge of God, — because nothing can be, or be known without God, and because we may doubt of all things while we have no clear and distinct idea of God, — it follows, that our perfection and chiefest happiness depends only upon the knowledge of God."

In this passage God is conceived as the immutable; because, as any one may see — unless something fixed and unchangeable be supposed, there can be no science or knowledge of any thing. Unless something permanent be assumed, we could not depend upon the continuance of our knowledge of any thing whatever for one single [271] moment. The world is only not a chaos, because there is something unchangeably holding it in order, even amidst all its apparent changes. Hence, with Spinoza, the existence of God was a first principle — the most immediate and absolute of all intuitions — above all demonstration, since every demonstration assumes it. Still, he carries his readers through a series of propositions demonstrative of the existence of God, though such demonstrations have never convinced any human being who needed a demonstration at all. So far, however, were these demonstrations from convincing Spinoza himself, that, evidently, on the contrary, they were the mere product of his own convictions antecedent to them — as all demonstrations indeed must be antecedently in the mind of the demonstrator. To Spinoza there was nothing so evident as the existence of God; but his demonstrations close with the declaration that He cannot be made known or described by any "mark" whatever; his Being, being altogether " UNIQUE " — not falling within the possibility of being imaged by any thing whatever. This is truly the Mosaic doctrine — "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image," &c. — only Spinoza extends the prohibition virtually to writings and would have us understand that [272] God not only cannot be imaged by the graver, but cannot be described by human language.

But Swedenborg held the same doctrine, as may be seen by the following passage from the True Christian Religion, to wit :

"The esse of God, or the Divine Esse, cannot be described, because it is above every idea of human thought, into which [human thought] nothing else falls than what is created and finite, but not what is uncreate and infinite: thus not the Divine esse."

Why, then, it may be asked, did they write about God?

Tlie genuine Hermetic writers saw this point with perfect clearness, and hence, among other reasons, they wrote about Salt, Sulphur and Mercury, and left the reader to discover for himself, under the blessing of God, that which is not of a transferable nature among men.

"Our practice," says a Hermetic writer, " is in effect a track in the sands, where one ought to conduct one's self rather by the North Star than by any footsteps which are seen imprinted there. The confusion of the tracks, which an almost infinite number of people have left there, is so great, and one finds so many different paths, almost all of them leading into most frightful des-[273] erts, that it is almost impossible not to stray from the true Road, which only Sages favored by Heaven have happily known how to find out and discover." "It is a Path (says another of the same class of writers, quoting Job) which no Fowl knoweth, and which the Vulture's eye hath not seen."

One would think that Spinoza had taken sufficient and praiseworthy care to remove the notion that by God he meant external and visible nature, expressly denying it, among other evidences, in a published letter to Oldenburg; yet he has by some been charged with making nature God. Others, driven from this point, have gone to the other extreme; and, seeing how carefully Spinoza has endeavored to guard against the notion of an imaged God, which with him was an imaginary God, have denied that his idea of God was any thing at all : — so difficult is it for man to reach an idea independently of an image. Some say it is impossible to have such an idea — an idea without an image. If this is really so, then, indeed, I do not see to what purpose any one can write or read, or even think of God; for it is certain that no image or imagined thing can represent the eternal, invisible, immutable Being

we call God. Our idea of God may be imper-[274]fect, and may contain sensuous imagery which  may need to be eliminated, but to deny altogether the possibility of freeing it from the cloud in which it may first be recognized, is equivalent, it seems to me, to a denial of the possibility of both a true religion and a true philosophy; for it is undeniable that these must not only rest upon some idea of God, but will be true only so far as that idea is true. Let the searcher, therefore, examine his idea of God, and continue his examination until he feels satisfied that he has one upon which he can repose, and yet it must be that such an idea cannot be found in books alone, unless by some very remote analogy.

Mathematicians have what they call the idea of a triangle, as also the idea of a circle, of an ellipse, of a parabola, &c., all coexisting in one mind without jostling each other ; and from the idea of a triangle, for example, they demonstrate innumerable properties without affirming the existence or reality of any triangle in nature, while yet from the force of the idea alone they affirm, conditionally, that if any triangle exists in nature it must exist necessarily under the law of the idea.

Spinoza seems to have carried this notion of an Idea, to the Idea of God as [a] self-existence, [2w75] of such a nature as to include all possible existences of a specific or finite nature, so that nothing can exist specifically except in conformity with the nature, that is, with the law of the uncreate, — the self-existence ; — and this in theological language is expressed by saying that all things exist by the will of God (except God himself, the uncreate — the self-existence); because, in Spinoza's sense, the will of God, and the nature of God, and the law of God, are one and the same.

In saying that something immutable must be conceived before there can be any science or knowledge whatever, nothing more is expressed than a demand of the intellect. It is involved in the mere expression, that if something be not fixed, then nothing is fixed, and of course no science. The postulate in itself is simple enough, and is acceptable to every one. The difiiculty lies in determining what that is which is immutable, and here it is that Spinoza, following his own ancestor of the Pentateuch, declares that it cannot be known by any "mark" whatever. This, say the Hermetic writers, is to be "seen by the eye of the mind," and though the fixed is not the movable, yet when the fixed is known it is understood in what sense the movable is fixed also, because its motions all take place according to [276] the law of the fixed. In Hermetic language, call the fixed, sulphur; the movable, mercury ; and find their unity which may then be called salt, and the problem of the Hermetic Trinity will be solved. But this problem is never solved on paper until after it has been solved in another fashion. Thus, say several of the writers, — virtually all Hermetic writers, — it may be found by a profound contemplation upon experience in life, and "not otherwise; " and then it may be recognized in books. To make this discovery man must, like Moses, enter the tabernacle unveiled.

I thought proper to premise thus much because Spinoza made the existence of God a prerequisite in his system, and devotes the first part of his Ethics to the proof of it, while yet the principle is beyond and above all proof, and never fails to confound the intellect that would hold it otherwise than by submission to it.

That Swedenborg attached the same importance to this first principle may be inferred from his efforts to establish the doctrine of the one substance, the Esse of God, at the commencement of his most systematic works; as, for example, in his work on Divine Love and Divine Wisdom; his work on the True Christian Religion; and [277] also his volume on Heaven and Hell. But those who read these works ought not to imagine that they understand this thing until they can reconcile Swedenborg's declaration that " the Divine Esse is above every idea of human thought," with his no less positive affirmation, that God is the Lord, that the Lord is Life and is seen everywhere.

Swedenborg's works are extremely valuable, but their author never intended that they should supersede the gospel of John in enabling us to understand the Word that was with God and was God in the beginning, and was "made flesh."

But it is time now to show the parallel to which I have referred.

I. Of God, according to Swedenborg.

"Every one who thinks from clear reason, sees that all things were created out of a Substance, which is substance in itself, for this is the real Esse [Being] from which all things that are can exist: and as God alone is Substance in itself, and thence the real Esse, it is evident that the existence of things is from no other source." Angelic Wisdom concerning Divine Love, par. 283.

Again, " It is acknowledged by many, that there is an only Substance, which is also the first, from which all things are." Ang. Wis. cone. Divine Providence, par. 6.

Again : "Where there is Esse [Being] there is also existere [existence]; one is not possible without the [278] other, for Esse is by Existere, and not without it." Angelic Wisdom concerning Divine Love, par. 14.

Again : "He who in any degree of thought can conceive and comprehend an Esse and Existere in itself, will perfectly conceive and comprehend that such Esse and Existere is the self -subsisting and sole-subsisting Being." Ihid. par. 45.

Again : "As things all and each are forms, it must be that He who created all things is form itself, and that from form itself are all things which were created in forms: This is therefore what was demonstrated in the treatise comcerning the Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, as, That the Divine Love and Divine Wisdom is Substance, and that it is Form.'' Angelic Wisdom concerning Divine Providence, par. 40 — 43.

Again : "Who does not from reason perceive and acknowledge, that there is an only Essence, from which is all essence, or an only Being, from which is all being? What can exist without being? And what being is there from which is all being, unless there is Being in itself? And what is being itself is also the only Being and Being in itself. Since it is so, and every one perceives and acknowledges this from reason, and if not, can perceive and acknowledge it, what else then follows, than that this Being, which is the Divine itself, which is Jehovah, is the all of all things which are and exist ? It is the like, if it is said that there is an only Substance, from which all things are; and because a Substance without form is not any thing, it follows also that there is an only form, from which all things are." Ihid. par. 157. [279]

Of God, according to Spinoza.

"By God, I understand a Being absolutely infinite; that is,. a Substance consisting of infinite attributes, each one of which expresses infinite and eternal essence." Ethics, part 1, def. 6.

"By Substance, I understand that which is in itself, and which is conceived by itself: or, that, the conception of which does not need the conception of another thing, from which it must be formed." Ihid, def. 3.

"Existence belongs or pertains to the nature of Substance." Ibid. prop. 7.

"No Substance can be conceived except Grod." Ibid. prop. 14.

"Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be, or be conceived without (out of) God." Ibid. prop. 15.

"The Existence of God, and the Essence of God are one and the same." Ibid. prop. 20.

By a Self -Cause, I understand that, the essence of which implies or involves existence; or, that, the nature of which cannot be conceived except as existing." Ibid Ad. 1.


Let us now see the similarity of the two thinkers on the subject of things, i. e. modes.

II. Modes, according to Swedenborg.

"With respect to the existence of things, sound philosophy teaches us, that things which are much compounded take their origin from things less compounded; the less compounded from things still less so; these from their individual substances or parts, which are least of all limited; and these again from things simple, in which [280] no limits can be supposed, except one; from which circumstance also they are called simples. But whence is this simple, in which only one limit is to be conceived? And whence that limit? It cannot exist by itself; for there must be something by which it may exist, if it have a limit, if it be simple, or if it be capable of giving origin to two or more limits. Extending the inquiry therefore, by the same philosophy we rationally proceed to the conclusion, that such a simple derives its existence from the Infinite; but that the Infinite exists of itself. Again, if we contemplate the successive progression of causes, it will be found highly reasonable to conclude, that nothing finite can exist without a cause; that things which are much compounded, or which consist of many individual parts, neither could be compounded, nor can subsist, without a cause, by which they were compounded, and by which they may consist: for a cause always precedes and afterwards accompanies that which exists from it. The individual parts of such a composite must in like manner be compounded of and subsist from their individual parts still smaller; and these again, by the order of their succession, from things simple. But still things simple can neither exist nor subsist from themselves. Wherefore there must be an Infinite Something; there must be something infinitely intelligent, which may be considered both as a cause in itself, and at the same time as an operator of effects out of itself; or as an inherent force, and at the same time as a positive agent; or as a power capable of producing, and at the same time as actually producing the existence of other things. It follows, therefore, that things composite derive their origin from things simple; things [281] simple from the Infinite; and the Infinite from itself, as being the sole cause of itself and of all things. It was before observed, that all finite things came into existence successively; for nothing can be at once such as it is capable of becoming, except the Infinite. Every thing finite acknowledges, or is indebted to, a certain mode, by which it is what it is, and nothing else; a mode, by which it is of such a figure, and no other; a mode, by which it occupies such a space, and no other. In a word, all things are modified; and therefore they acknowledge a mode prior to their modification, and according to which it takes its place: they acknowledge also a time, in which they were so modified. Hence nothing is at once what it is capable of becoming, except the Infinite. All finite things must necessarily undergo different states successively; but not so the Infinite. And thus we perceive that all things out of the Infinite have their modifications, hut that in the Infinite there is no such thing as a mode: He being the original cause of all modifications." Principia, vol. 1, p. 47.

Modes, according to Spinoza.

"By a Mode, I understand the affections of a Substance, or that, which is in another thing through or by means of which other thing it is conceived. Ethics, part 1, def. 6.

Observe, that Swedenborg has said of Simples, out of which Compounds are made, that they cannot exist by themselves; i. e. as Spinoza expresses it, they must be conceived as existing in something else, which something else is in itself, &c.

Again (Spinoza says), "I understand by Body, a mode [282] by which the essence of God, in so far as he is considered as Extension (res extensa, an extended thing), is expressed in a certain and determined manner or mode." Ibid, part 2, def. 1.

Again. "Particular things are nothing but affections of the attributes of God, or modes in which the attributes of God are expressed in a certain and determinate manner." Ibid. part 1, corol. to prop. 25.

Again. "The Essence of things produced by God does not involve existence." Ibid, part 1, prop. 24.

Again. "There must be a certain cause of the existence of each thing which exists. * * * It must be concluded absolutely (universally) that, every thing according to whose nature many individuals may exist, must necessarily have an external cause of such existence." Schol. prop. 8, part 1.

Hence, in the Etliics of Spinoza, man and all things in nature are considered as not having in themselves necessary existence; but they are regarded as modes, things existing in another thing, i. e. affections of the attributes of God, existing only in God.


Let us now notice what each of these extraordinary thinkers has to say of our knowledge, and it will be seen that each of them point out three different sources or kinds of knowledge, and that the two authors harmonize in a most remarkable manner. [283]

[1] * I hope Mr. Lewes will fulfil the promise made in his Life of Goethe, aud soon give us an English version of Spinoza's entire works.