Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2011
In September 1675 Albert Burgh, a young man who had been a close friend and admirer of Spinoza, sent him a long and passionate letter, imploring him to convert, as Burgh himself had recently done, to the Catholic faith. Spinoza was initially reluctant to reply, but when he did so, his response was generally temperate, concise, and tinged with sadness at his friend's conversion. In this chapter I propose to examine this correspondence, to see what it can tell us about the reception of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, and about Spinoza's philosophy as it appears in that work.
I've characterized Burgh's letter to Spinoza as passionate. It is also highly abusive. Although Burgh starts by saying how much he had previously admired Spinoza's acute and subtle intelligence, and by granting that Spinoza loves, and is even eager for, the truth, he quickly passes to saying that his friend has let himself be led astray by the Devil, the Prince of Wicked Spirits, and that his philosophy is a complete delusion. Spinoza is “a wretched little man, a base little earthworm, indeed, ashes, food for worms.” Rash, insanely arrogant, puffed up with diabolic pride, Spinoza blasphemes by believing himself to be superior to Jesus.
This may not seem a very promising way to try to convert a friend to your new religion. Nevertheless, at the end of his letter Burgh insists that he has written it
with a truly Christian intention: first, that you may know the love I have for you, even though you are a Pagan; and second, that I might call upon you not to persist in corrupting others too…God wants to snatch your soul from eternal damnation, provided you are willing. […]