CHAPTER XIII. – HERESIES OF THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES. – ARTICLE I. – ISAAC PERIERES, MARK ANTHONY DE DOMINIS, WILLIAM POSTELLUS, AND BENEDICT SPINOSA. – 1. -Isaac Perieres, chief of the Pre- Adamites; abjures his heresy. 2.-Mark Anthony de Dominis; his errors and death. 3. -William Postellus; his errors and conversion. 4.-Benedict Spinosa, author of a new sort of Atheism. 5.-Plan of his impious system; his unhappy death.     




1. Isaac Perieres, a native of Aquitaine, lived in this century. He was at first a follower of Calvin, but afterwards founded the sect of the Pre-Adamites, teaching that, previous to the creation of Adam, God had made other men. The Old Testament, he says, speaks only of Adam and Eve, hut says nothing of the other men who existed before them, and these, therefore, were not injured by Original Sin, nor did they suffer from the flood. He fell into this error because he rejected Tradition, and, therefore his opinion appeared consonant to reason, and not opposed to the Scripture. He published a Treatise in Holland on the Pre-Adamites, in 1655. He was convinced of the fallacy of his opinions, both by Catholics and Calvinists, and his life even was in danger from both one and the other, so he at last recognised the authority of constant and universal Tradition, and in the Pontificate of Alexander VII. renounced all his heresies, and returned to the Church (1). 


2. Mark Anthony de Dominis was another of the remarkable heretics of this century. He joined the Jesuits at first in Verona, but left them, either because he did not like the restraint of discipline, or was dismissed for some fault. He was after wards elevated, we know not how, to the Bishopric of Segni, by Clement VIII., and was subsequently translated to the Archbishopric of Spalatro by Paul V. He did not hold this diocese long, for he was sued and condemned to pay a pension, charged on the Diocese by the Pope with his consent before he was appointed. He was so chagrined with the issue of the case that he resolved to be revenged on the Apostolic See, and went to England in 1616, and there published a pestilent work, “De Republica Christina.”


(1) Berti, Brev. Hist. t. 2, sec. 17; Bernini, t. 4, sec. 17, c. 5.


In this book he has the temerity to assert that out of the Roman Catholic Religion, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and the Anabaptist doctrines, a sound and orthodox Religion could be formed, and his mode of doing this of uniting truth and error in this impossible union is even more foolish than the thing itself. After residing six years in England, agitated by remorse, he was desirous of changing his life, and returning once more to the Catholic Church, but he was dreadfully agitated, between the desire of repentance and the despair of pardon; he feared he would be lost altogether. In this perplexity he consulted the Spanish ambassador, then resident in England, and he offered his influence with the Holy See, and succeeded so well that Mark Anthony went to Rome, threw himself at the Pope’s feet, and the Sovereign Pontiff was so satisfied that his repentance was sincere, that he once more received him into favour. Soon after he published a document in which he solemnly and clearly retracts all that he had ever written against the doctrine of the Church, so that to all appearance he was a sincere penitent and a true Catholic. Still he continued to correspond privately with the Protestants, till God removed him from the world by a sudden death. His writings and papers were then examined, and his heresy was proved. A process was instituted; it was proved that he meditated a new act of apostacy, and so his body and painted effigy were publicly burned by the common hangman in the most public place in Rome the Campo de Fiori, to show the revenge that God will take on the enemies of the Faith (2).


(2) Van Ranst, sec. 17, ;>. 325; Bernin. t, 4, sec. 17, c 1, 2, 3; Berti. loc. cit.


3. William Postellus, or Postell, was born in Barenton, in Lower Normandy; he was a learned philosopher, and Oriental traveller, and was remarkable as a linguist, but fell into errors of Faith. Some even go so far as to say, that in his work, called Virgo Veneta, he endeavours to prove that an old maid of Venice, called Mother Johanna of Venice, was the Saviour of the feminine sex. Florimund, however, defends him from this charge, and says he wrote this curious work merely to praise this lady, who was a great friend of his, and frequently afforded him pecuniary assistance. He lived some time also in Rome, and joined the Jesuits, but they soon dismissed him, on account of the extraordinary opinions he professed. He was charged with heresy, and condemned to perpetual imprisonment, by the Inquisition; but he escaped to France, and his fame as a linguist procured him a favourable reception from King Charles IX., and the learned of that country. He then wrote several works, filled with the most extravagant errors, as “De Trinitate” “De Matrice Mundi,” “De Omnibus Sectis salvandis,” ” De futura nativitate Mediatoris” and several others of the same stamp. He was reprimanded by the Faculty of Theology, and the magistracy of Paris, for these writings, but as he refused to retract them, he was confined in the Monastery of St. Martin des Champes, and there he got the grace of repentance, for he retracted every thing he had written, and subjected all to the judgment of the Church. He then led a most religious life in the Monastery, and died on the 7th of September, 1581, being nearly an hundred years old. Some time previously he published a very useful book, entitled ” De Orbis Concordia,” in which he defends the Catholic Religion against Jews, Gentiles, Mahometans, and heretics of every shade (3).


4. Benedict Spinosa was born in Amsterdam, in 1632. His parents were Jewish Merchants, who were expelled from Portugal, and, with numbers of their co-religionists, took refuge in Holland. He preferred the Jewish religion at first; he next became a Christian, at least nominally, for it is said he never was baptized; and he ended by becoming an Atheist. He studied Latin and German under a physician, called Francis Van Dendedit, who was afterwards invited to France, and entering into a conspiracy against the King, ended his life on the scaffold; and it is thought that from this man he imbibed the first seeds of Atheism. In his youth he studied the Rabbicinal Theology, but, disgusted with the puerilities and nonsense which form the greater part of it, he gave it up, and applied himself to philosophy, so he was excommunicated by the Jews, and was even in danger of his life from them. He, therefore, separated himself altogether from the Synagogue, and laid the foundation of his Atheistical system. He was a follower of the opinions of Des Cartes, and took his principles as a base on which to establish his own by geometrical dissertations, and he published a treatise to this effect, in 1664. 


(3) Gotti, loc. cit.; Van Ranst, sec. 17, p. 346.


In the following year he published another work, ” De Juribus Ecclesiasticorum” in which, following the opinion of Hobbes, he endeavours to prove that priests should teach no other religion but that of the state. Not to be interrupted in his studies, he went into retirement altogether, and published a most pestilent work, ” Tractatus Theologica Politicus,” which was printed in Amsterdam or Hamburg, and in which he lays down the principles of his Atheistical doctrine.


5. In this work he speaks of God as the Infinite, the Eternal, the Creator of all things, while, in fact, he denies his existence, and does away with the Divinity altogether, for he says that the world is a mere work of Nature, which necessarily produced all creatures from all eternity. That which we call God, he says, is nothing else but the power of Nature diffused in external objects, which, he says, are all material. The nature of all things, he says, is one substance alone, endowed with extension and mind, and it is Active and Passive; passive, as to itself active, inasmuch as it thinks. Hence he supposes that all creatures are nothing but modifications of this substance; the material ones modifications of the passive substance, and the spiritual ones that is, what we call spiritual, for he insists that all are material being modifications of the active substance. Thus, according to his opinion, God is, at the same time, Creator and Creation, active and passive, cause and effect. Several authors, as Thomasius, Moseus, Morus, Buet, Bayle, and several others, Protestants even, combated this impious system by their writings. Even Bayle, though an Atheist himself, like Spinosa, refuted it in his Dictionary. I, also, in my work on the Truth of the Faith (4), have endeavoured to show the incoherence of the principles on which he founds his doctrines, and, therefore, I do not give it a particular refutation in this work. Notwithstanding the monstrosity of his system, Spinosa had followers; and it is even said that there are some at present in Holland, though they do not publicly profess it, only among themselves.


(4) Verita della Fede. Tar. 1, c. 6, s. 5..


The work itself was translated into several languages, but its sale was prohibited by the States of Holland. Spinosa died, at the Hague, on the 23rd of February, 1677, in the 59th year of his age. Some say that his servants being all at church on a Sunday, found him dead on their return, but others tell that he was dying of consumption, and feeling death approaching, and knowing that it is natural for every one to call on God, or some superhuman power, to assist him, at that awful moment, he, dreading to call on God for assistance, or to let it be seen that he repented of his doctrine, ordered that no one should be allowed into his chamber, and there at last he was found dead (5).