Orobio de Castro, Isaac (c. 1617–1687)

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(c. 16171687)

Isaac Orobio de Castro was born Baltazar Orobio de Castro in Braganza, Portugal. He grew up among crypto-Jews who were trying to preserve some of their heritage in the face of the Spanish Inquisition. He became an important Spanish doctor and a professor of metaphysics. He was arrested by the Inquisition for secretly practicing Judaism. After being tortured and tried, he was released. He then fled Spain for France, where he became professor of pharmacy at Toulouse (c. 1660). Finally, deciding to abandon living as a Christian, he moved to Holland, where in 1662 he changed his name from Baltazar to Isaac and became one of the leading intellectual figures and a medical practitioner in the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam. When he arrived in the Jewish community, he learned that there had been trouble about a former classmate of his from Spain, Juan de Prado. Prado was apparently involved with the young Spinoza and they were both charged with various heresies. Orobio wrote an answer, now lost, to one of Prado's works and against a work by Prado's son. Prado and his son held that the law of nature takes precedence over the law of Moses, and Orobio criticized their deism.

Orobio also wrote a metaphysical defense of his religion, based on mainly Spanish-Catholic Scholastic works and an answer to Alonso de Cepeda. His most famous works are an extremely rationalistic and Scholastic answer to Spinoza in geometrical form, Certamen Philosophicum Propugnatum Veritatis Divinae ac Naturalis (1684), which was published with Fénelon's Demonstration de l'existence de Dieu. The Certamen is the only critique of Spinoza by any member of the Jewish community that has survived and was considered one of the most important criticisms of Spinoza at the time.

Orbio engaged in a dialogue with one of the liberal Protestant leaders in the Netherlands, Philip van Limborch. They debated the truth of the Christian religion in 1687. This was a public debate where John Locke was present. The debate was published by Limborch under the title Amica Collatio cum Erudito Judaeo (1687) just after his opponent died, and Locke wrote a long review of it. Limborch met Orobio in Amsterdam in the 1680s and was much affected by his report of the Inquisition, which, through Limborch's Historia Inquisitionis, became for the next two centuries the best-known study of Inquisitorial investigation and torture methods. Orobio's most important anti-Christian work was Prevenciones divinas contra la vana idolatria de las gentes. He did not publish it because, as he explains in the note written in his own hand, he did not want to cause scandal, but he sent it to the Jesuits in Brussels, who liked it very much. It was published in French under the title Israel vengé (1770) by Baron d'Holbach. This work was used as important ammunition by French atheists against Christianity.

Through his works, Orobio de Castro showed an extremely acute understanding of metaphysics, using his knowledge of Spanish Scholasticism to buttress his religion against freethinkers and liberal and orthodox Christians. Some of his arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity are close to Spinoza's arguments against the plurality of substance.

See also Jewish Philosophy; Metaphysics.


works by orobio de castro

Additional works include La observancia de la divina ley de Mosseh (Coimbra, 1925), which has a preface by Moses Bensabat Amzalak. There is also an English translation of the Limborch-Orobio debate (Farnborough, Gregg, 1969).

works about orobio de castro

Angelis, Enrico de. "Crisi di conscienza fra I seicentisti per il metodo geometrico." Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, lettere, storia e filosofia, 2nd ser., 31 (1962): 253271.

Carvalho, Joaquim de. Orobio de Castro e o espinosismo. In Memorias da Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, Classe de letras. Vol. 2. Lisbon: Academia das Ciências de Lisbon, 1937. A study on Orobio de Castro that includes the 1721 Spanish translation of Certamen Philosophicum.

Cohen, Monique-Lise, Ruth Attias, and Elie Szapiro. Isaac Orobio de Castro et son temps: 16171687: juif portugais d'Espagne, de Toulouse et d'Europe. Toulouse, France: Bibliotheque Municipale de Toulouse, 1992.

Kaplan, Yosef. From Christianity to Judaism: The Story of Isaac Orobio de Castro. Translated by Raphael Loewe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Révah, I. S. Spinoza et Juan de Prado. Paris: Mouton, 1959.

Richard Popkin (1967, 2005)