The Vatican Manuscript of Spinoza’s Ethica


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Brill authors Leen Spruit and Pina Totaro discovered the original manuscript of Spinoza's "Ethica" in the Vatican library. This spectacular discovery attracted a lot of media attention.

The Vatican codex, which contains the complete text of Spinoza’s Ethics, is the only surviving manuscript of this work and constitutes a document of great importance. On 23 September 1677, it was handed over to the Roman Holy Office by Spinoza’s former friend Niels Stensen who had converted to Catholicism in 1667. Thus, it predates the publication of the Opera Posthuma, which is dated 1677, but which did not in fact appear until the first months of 1678. Recent research and fresh documentation allow us to determine the several stages of the manuscript’s life before it reached Rome, where it was kept in the Archive of the Holy Office, and subsequently, transferred to the Vatican Apostolic Library, in 1922.

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Leen Spruit received his PhD at the University of Amsterdam (1987), and is now lecturer of Dutch language and literature at the Sapienza University in Rome; publications include Il problema della conoscenza in Giordano Bruno (Naples 1988) and Species intelligibilis. From Perception to Knowledge (Leiden 1994-95); Catholic Church and Modern Science. Documents from the Roman Archives of the Holy Office and the Index, vol. I: The Sixteenth Century, 4 tomes, (Rome 2009, with Ugo Baldini)

Pina Totaro is senior research fellow at the Italian Research Council (ILIESI-CNR) in Rome; she has extensively published on the history of early modern philosophy, in particular Descartes and Spinoza; her publications include an annotated Italian translation of Spinoza’s Theological-Politial Treatise (Naples, Bibliopolis, 2007), a reprint of Spinoza’s Posthumous Works (Macerata, Quodlibet, 2008), and Instrumenta mentis. Contributi al lessico filosofico di Spinoza (Firenze, Olschki, 2009).
"[...] it is clear that Spruit and Totaro’s transcription of the VMS will be an important resource for historians and philosophers for many years to come." - John Brandau, Johns Hopkins University, in: Seventeenth-Century News, pp. 100-102
"[...] [D]e wereld [is] de ontdekkers van een eerder manuscript van de Ethica, dat eind 2011 door Brill is uitgegeven, met recht dankbaar. [...] Zonder The Vatican Manuscript of Spinoz's Ethica is [...] geen onderzoek van de tekst van de Ethica [...] mogelijk." - Henri Krop, in: Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, Vol. 74, No. 2 (second quarter, 2012), pp. 351-353
"Im Rahmen des grossen Projekts zur Erfassung der zwischen 1550 und 1800 von der Inquisition angestrengten Zensurverfahren und geführten Prozesse gegen Philosophen[...] ist einer der beteiligten Wissenschafter, Leen Spruit, auf ein Manuskript der «Ethik» aus dem Jahr 1675 gestossen, das somit zu Lebzeiten Spinozas angefertigt worden ist. Die geringfügigen Abweichungen vom gedruckten Text geben uns nun endlich die Gewissheit, dass Spinoza tatsächlich das geschrieben hat, was postum unter seinem Namen erschienen ist." - Christoph Lüthy, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (21 September 2011)
"La pubblicazione di questo importante volume nella prestigiosa collana dei "Brill's Studies in Intellectual History" mostra quanto sia utile unire l'approccio della "storia filosofica della filosofia", la storia della filosofia tradizionale, con quello della "storia storica della filosofia", secondo il metodo d'indagine interdisciplinare messo a punto ieri dalla history of ideas e oggi dalla intellectual history." - Hansmichael Hohenegger, in: Sole 24 (18 September 2011)
1. The Ethica from manuscript to prohibition
1.1. The frontispiece
1.2. The genesis of the text
1.3. Niels Stensen’s denunciation of Spinoza in 1677
1.4. The Lutheran foreigner
1.5. The Ethica on the Index
2. The manuscript Vat. Lat. 12838
2.1. Description
2.2. Transcription and notes
2.3. Recurring abbreviations
3. Vat. Lat. 12838 and Opera Posthuma
3.1. Variants, errors, and harmonization
3.1.1. Slight variations
3.1.2. Internal references
3.1.3. Probable errors
3.1.4. Word order
3.1.5. Different wordings
3.1.6. Omissions and additions in Opera Posthuma
3.1.7. Harmonization in Opera Posthuma
3.2. Evaluation


1. Printed pages in Vat. Lat. 12838
2. Niels Stensen’s denunciation of Spinoza’s philosophy to the Holy Office
3. Fragment of Giovanni Cristoforo Battelli’s censura of Christian Kortholt, De tribus impostoribus


All those interested in intellectual history, early modern philosophy, Spinoza and Catholic censorship.
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