Spinoza was born into a community of Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam who had fled the Inquisition.
In 1656, Spinoza was excommunicated. In part, the deed of excommunication reads thus:
‘Having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Spinoza … The said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God. … Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. [N]o one shall communicate with him neither in writing nor accord him any favor nor stay with him under the same roof nor within four cubits in his vicinity; nor shall he read any treatise composed or written by him.’
One helpful way to think about Spinoza is to ask how he could both be excommunicated and called (by Coleridge) ‘that God-intox-icated man.’
(Textual note: the standard edition of the Ethics is to be found in A Spinoza Reader, edited by Edwin Curley. Samuel Shirley’stranslations in Hackett’s edition of Spinoza’s Complete Works is also useful.)