Between Calvinist And Philosophe: Jacob Vernet’s Theological Dilemma -- By: Martin I. Klauber

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 063:2 (Fall 2001)
Article: Between Calvinist And Philosophe: Jacob Vernet’s Theological Dilemma
Author: Martin I. Klauber

Between Calvinist And Philosophe:
Jacob Vernet’s Theological Dilemma

Martin I. Klaubera

The eighteenth century marked a period of transition within the Academy of Geneva, one of the founding institutions of Reformed thought. In the seventeenth century. it was the bastion of Reformed scholasticism, led by the dominating personality of its professor of theology, Francis Turretin (1623–1687). Turretin used his iron will to impose the conservative theological statement, the Helvetic Formula Consensus (1675),1 upon all candidates for ordination. However, the next generation of Reformed theologians at the Academy began to change the nature of Reformed theology there. Turretin’s son and also a professor of theology at the Academy, Jean-Alphonse Turretin (1671–1737), led the way during this era and reversed many aspects of his father’s theology with the abrogation of the Formula in 1706. The younger Turretin also helped to dismantle the speculative aspects of a scholastic theology by removing such traditional Reformed doctrines as election from theological discussion. Jean-Alphonse Turretin’s protégé and successor as professor of theology at the Academy, Jacob Vernet (1698–1789),2 continued this trend toward a more rational approach to theological discourse that French historian Frangois LaPlanche has labeled “enlightened orthodoxy.”3 Vernet was well-acquainted with many of the philosophes, most notably Voltaire. The Genevan theologian tried to build a theological system that would not be objectionable to the philosophes, while maintaining the core of Christian belief. If his system were too close to that of the philosophes,

it would be open to the criticism that it was no longer truly a Christian system. If he maintained ties that were too closely wedded to traditional Genevan Reformed theology, he could be accused of divisiveness and the philosophes would reject his arguments. The result was a form of enlightened orthodoxy that failed on both counts. It is my purpose here to discover the nature of Vernet’s enlightened orthodoxy and to show how this for of belief had developed since the era of Vernet’s predecessor, J. A. Turretin.

Vernet’s family emigrated from Provence to Geneva in the seventeenth century and his grandfather, Jacob, achieved the rights of bourgeois status in 1659. His father, Isaac, was a merchant who died in 1706, leaving a large family of thirteen children. Since the younger Jacob was only eight...

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