Jacob Vernet (1698-1789) was the most important and influential Genevan pastor of his day, successively holding the posts of Professor of Belles-Lettres (1739) and of Theology (1756) at the city’s Académie. A ‘liberal’ theologian, he had personal contacts with several of the leading philosophes, all of which turned sour after a time.
This book describes Vernet’s contacts with Montesquieu, d’Alembert, Voltaire and Rousseau. It also investigates a charge made repeatedly by his enemies, namely that he was a hypocrite who disguised his real beliefs. Vernet’s religious and philosophical opinions are thus reviewed as expressed in his major works, Traité de la vérite de la religion chrétienne, Instruction chrétienne and Lettres critiques d’un voyageur anglais. The connection between Vernet’s ideas and the social and political situation in his native Geneva is also studied in depth.
The pastor’s relations with Montesquieu have often been seen as a cause for congratulation, for he edited the first edition of De l’Esprit des lois, but a close reading of Montesquieu’s correspondence shows that this episode was far from being an unqualified success. Similarly, Vernet’s contacts with Rousseau give pause for thought: the relevant evidence that he was on occasion somewhat devious in his dealings with the great author is reviewed comprehensively.
Particular attention is given to Vernet’s relations with Voltaire. In 1760 the pastor was vilified in the second of the Dialogues chrétiens, accused of greed and dishonesty. But did Voltaire actually write the second Dialogue? If not, who did? These intriguing questions are discussed in detail, special attention being given to Vernet’s own essays of self-justification, the Lettre à Monsieur le Premier Sindic(1760) and Mémoire à Mr. le Premier Sindic (1766, both of which are reproduced in appendices.
Jacob Vernet’s long life and many works give a fascinating insight into the problems and inconsistencies of liberal Protestantism during the various stages of the Enlightenment.
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