- First name
- Tomás Solano
- Last name
- Robles, y
- Date of Birth
- Date of Death
- > 1659
- Born in
- Died in
In the spring of 1658, Tomás Solano y Robles travelled on the ship Santiago from Gueyana to Rome. The ship was captured by three English privateers near the Canary Islands and brought to London in May 1658. Solano y Robles was imprisoned for almost two months. In the first half of July 1658, he was released. He embarked in London and stopped over in Amsterdam (from 18 August 1658 onwards) to wait for a convoy to bring him back to Spain and further to Rome (cf. Revah, 1959, p. 61, Annex 2). See: ibid., pp. 31–4 and 61, Annex 2; Muchnik, 2005.
Spinoza made the acquaintance of Tomás Solano y Robles (late 1658 or early 1659) and Miguel Pérez de Maltranilla (between November 1658 and mid-January 1659), who would later testify on oath before the Inquisition tribunal in Madrid (early August 1659) about their time in Amsterdam. It is at least prima facie plain that Spinoza had a controversial repute of some sort in his own time is confirmed by their two testimonies that were submitted to the Inquisition Court in Madrid on 8 and 9 Augustus 1659.
What Solano y Robles and Pérez de Maltranilla solemnly declare in these two documents is that both Spinoza and Juan de Prado had told them that they were excommunicated. They had also confessed to them in the strongest wording their heterodox opinions. Most significantly, they told those two travellers that they were convinced that Mosaic law was just meaningless and that Jewish rules were not the product of divine inspiration. Allegedly, Spinoza and De Prado also had told them that the soul died together with the body, that they believed in God only ‘philosophically’, and that they had no need of religion (Israel, 2002, pp. 172-3).This, then, implies that God is absent in the universe, that he does not direct all created beings and that there is no reward or punishment. Obviously, these viewpoints were all very outspoken anti-Mosaic, Maimonidean stands which seem to point to the early development of Spinoza’s later metaphysical system. It is plain that what they specifically said to the two Spaniards was still anathema to many ears in the Jewish community in Amsterdam and beyond. In the halakhic sense, a person could even be expelled for expressing such viewpoints publicly (cf. Kasher and Biderman, 1990, pp. 116-7). In fine, the reported reasoning suggests that some of the towering ideas set forth by Spinoza and by De Prado were indeed radical in the mid-1650s. It is also obvious that in Madrid the two Spaniards labelled them as ‘unbelievers’.
The official document reads thus:
He also made the acquaintance of Dr Prado, a physician, who has been called Juan and whose Jewish name he did not know, who had studied in Alcala, and one Espinosa, whom he believes was born in one the cities of Holland, for he studied in Leiden and was a good philosopher. Both of these two had formerly professed the Mosaic Law, but the synagogue expelled and chased them because they became atheists. They themselves told the witness that they were circumcised and [in the past] had observed the law of the Jews, but they changed their minds because it seemed to them that the law was not true, and that the souls die along with the bodies, and that there is no God except philosophically. For this reason they were driven out of the synagogue: and felt [with regret] the lack of alms which the synagogue had given them and of the communication with the other Jews, they were content with maintaining the error of atheism, because they believe in God only philosophically (as the witness states) and that the souls die together with the body and hence they do not need to have faith.
Tomás’s testimony of 8 August made before the Madrid Tribunal do Santo Ofício concludes with a physical description of Spinoza:
Spinoza is a short man in body, with a good face, white, a clear complexion, and black eyes. He is aged 24, he has no job and is a Jew by birth.
Revah, 1959, pp. 65, Annex 2.
It is important to stress here that Solano y Robles’s testimony is the only historical source implying that Spinoza might have studied in Leiden. The town’s university was one of the most outstanding centers of its time for medical education as well as for the teaching of other branches of knowledge. Therefore, Leiden University attracted many talented students from all over Europe. That may also explain why he settled in Rijnsburg in early 1661 in the first place. The village is about an one-hour walk from Leiden University. If Spinoza actually sat in Leiden lectures that must have been before mid-August 1658 (before meeting friar Solano y Robles). It is known with certainty that he did not matriculate officially as a student in Leiden, because his name is not listed in the Leiden Album studiosorum, the matriculation records of the university. Although it is tempting to speculate that Spinoza studied in Leiden adamant historical evidence to support that claim is missing.
Nevertheless, what Spinoza and De Prado exactly told these travellers is unknown.