MIND, BODY AND SOUL
FREE WILL AND NECESSITY
POLITICS, LAW AND ETHICS
LEIBNIZ: THE PHYSICAL ORIGIN OF CIRCUMCISION
[A VI 4, p2285]
The physical origin of circumcision
The sacraments have a basis in nature and contain a certain divine allegory, so that they are at the same time both signs and the thing signified by them. In this way, baptism signifies the cleansing of one's own nature from filthiness, and the Eucharistic supper the communion between friends who are full of charity. Moreover, baptism is washing in the custom of Christ, whereby the soul is made pure. And the Holy Supper is the communion in which we become participants of the same body of Christ, and we are united like branches of the same tree to the trunk, whose living members are inspired to charity by the spirit of grace flowing into them. But what shall we say about the sacrament of the Old Law, namely circumcision? What is the occasion of the rite? What is the basis of its meaning? Customs in the east have revealed this unknown matter to theologians: circumcision evidently arose in those peoples not by a divine or human will but by a decree of nature, because of troublesome excrescence of the foreskin among the Arabs, Egyptians and Ethiopians. Johann Wesling has himself seen it thus in young boys that often have outgrowth, so that it may be cut to a point in the form of a tail; so Bartholin from the mouth of Wesling (of the Reformed Anatomy, p.239) in the description of the penis.1 Hence divine authority has consecrated what reason had demanded, and [A VI 4, 2286] has transformed an approved custom into a contract of the chosen people that must be signed, so that circumcision of the foreskin would signify the restraint of lust and manners civilized in accordance with holiness.
1. Leibniz here mixes up the title and page number of Bartholin. He mentions Bartholin's Anatomia, ex Caspari Bartholini parentis Institutionibus, omniumque recentiorum et propriis observationibus tertiu`m ad sanguinis circulationem reformata (The Hague, 1655), but his reference appears to be to another work, namely Anatome ex omnium veterum recentiorumque observationibus inprimis Institutionibus b.m. parentis Caspari Bartholini, ad circulationem harvejanam, et vasa lymphatica quartum renovata (Leiden, 1673), 239. As for Wesling, see Johann Wesling, Syntagma anatomicum (Padua, 1651), 66.