Monday, July 4, 2011

A Primer on Francis Turretin

Francis Turretin is arguably the greatest Protestant Scholastic of the 17th century.

What is scholasticism?

"A discourse is 'scholastic' only when it follows scholastic method–specifically, only when it concentrates on (1) identifying the order and pattern of argument suitable to technical academic discourse, (2) presenting an issue in the form of a thesis or question, (3) ordering the thesis or question suitably for discussion or debate, often identifying the 'state of the question,' (4) noting a series of objections to the assumed correct answer, and then (5) offering a formulation of an answer or an elaboration of the thesis with due respect to all known sources of information and to the rules of rational discourse, followed by a full response to all objections. When that form or its outlines are not observed in a work, that work is not scholastic. By way of example, Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae is certainly a scholastic work–but his commentary on the Gospel of John is not, even though its content stands in strong and clear relation to the content of the Summa. Another example, taken from a place somewhat closer to home: Ursinus's Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism is, arguably, scholastic. The catechism itself is clearly not–even though the theological content of the catechism closely reflects that of the commentary written on it" (Richard Muller, After Calvin, 26 [found at Richard Muller on 'What Makes Something Scholastic?'])

Who was Francis Turretin?

The family of the Turretins, or Turrettini, as it is still written and pronounced in Geneva, is of Italian origin. It belonged to the ancient nobility of Lusea, and appears to have given a number of gonfalonieri and anziani to that republic. One of these gonfalonieri, or chief magistrates, was Regulus Turretin, who about the year 1547 became the father of Francis, afterwards distinguished as the first Protestant member of the family. For the sake of his new faith, Francis renounced his home and prospects, and became a voluntary exile. After being driven from place to place by adverse fortune, he finally settled in Geneva, where in 1627 he received citizenship, and in 1628 was made one of the Sixty. Soon after he died, leaving behind him a large sum for public charities, a blameless reputation, and a number of children, the oldest of whom was the father of our author.

Benedict Turrettini was born at Zurich, November 9 1588, and died in March 1631. He was a celebrated pastor and professor of theology. In 1620 he assisted at the Synod of Ales, of which Peter du Moulin was moderator. He was noted for his piety, his love of union, his resolution, his learning, his gentleness, and his eloquence. Pictet speaks of him as the glory of his church and school. No man of his day was more honoured, but his career was cut short just as he was entering middle life. He had six children, of whom the third in order was Francis Turretin. He was born in 1623, the same year in which Mornay du Plessy, Father Paul, and Pope Gregory XV died, and in which the great Synod of Charenton was held. From his earliest years young Turretin gave tokens of genius. When his father found himself dying, he caused Francis, then eight years old, to be brought to his bedside; and said, with faltering lips, "This child is marked with God's seal:" Hic sigillo Dei obsignatus est. Francis greatly distinguished himself in his academic course, and seems to have been remarkable for the eagerness with which he attempted diversified branches of study. Upon devoting himself to the study of theology, he enjoyed the advantage of eminent instructors. The most noted of these was John Diodati, another Italian Protestant, who sat in the chair of Calvin and Beza. Diodati, whose biblical labours are well known, was prominent in the Synod of Dort and the Convention of Saumur; at the latter of which he so succeeded in pouring oil on the waters of controversy, that the Queen of France thanked him repeatedly. Another instructor of Turretin was Theodore Tronchin, also a member of the Synod of Dort and a noble defender of the truth. He lived to a venerable age, and contributed much to the theological celebrity of Geneva. His family, originally from Provence, long continued to be prominent in the little republic, where to this day it has its representatives, one of whom, the excellent Colonel Tronchin, is known far and wide among evangelical Christians. Another celebrated instructor of Turretin was Frederick Spanheim.

After finishing his curriculum at home Turretin went to Leyden, then, and long after, a centre of learning and theology, where he maintained theses in the schools with great eclat. In Holland he enjoyed the lectures of such men as Polyander; the saintly Rivet, equally known by his voluminous works and by the record of his death; Salmasius, one of the most learned men of his age, although worsted in his unfortunate controversy with Milton; Heinsius, Trigland, Voet, Hoornbeek, and Golius, the linguist. At Utrecht he became acquainted with that prodigy of her age, Anna Maria Schureman. In 1645 he proceeded to Paris, where he resided under the roof of the immortal Daille; met with Falcar, Drelincourt, Albertini, and Blondel; and pursued physical and astronomical studies under Gassendi. Next he visited Saumur, the little city on the Loire, famous for its Protestant university. There he heard Placaeus, Amyrauld, and Capellus; men whose learning, subtlty and peculiar views in theology, are fully presented in the Theses Salmurienses. He even went as far south as to Montauban, then, as now, the seat of a Protestant university, where Carolus and Garissol were at that time flourishing.

Returning home in 1648, he became a pastor of the church of Geneva, and preacher to the Italian congregation, such a service being required by the great number of refugees from Italy who sought an asylum in Geneva. When he began to preach, such were the flow of his discourse, the solidity of his matter, and the majestic gracefulness of his eloquence, that immense popularity attended him. In 1650, the chair of Philosophy was several times offered to him by the government. After the death of Aaron Morus at Leyden, Turretin was called to supply his place as pastor. He accepted the invitation, and remained at Leyden about a year; but the Genevese would not endure his absence longer. The venerable Tronchin having outlived his capacity for public service, Turretin was called to fill his place. He complied with the call, and assumed the theological chair in 1653. As a public teacher he was faithful and undaunted, daily inflicting severe blows upon Popery, Socinianism, and Arminianism. From the pulpit he thundered against prevailing immoralities, while with many tears he besought sinners to be reconciled to Christ. His eloquence was of the most persuasive and irresistible character. Pictet celebrates his benignity, his pity to the poor, his care of the widow and the orphan, his hospitality, and his edifying discourse.

In the year 1661 he was summoned to a new service. The people of Geneva were unable to bear the expense of fortifying their walls; they therefore appealed for aid to the States-General of Holland, and deputed Turretin as their commissioner for this purpose. His father had been sent by them on a similar errand forty years before. Passing through Basle, he was received with honour by Wetstein and others of the great men of the university there. In Holland he obtained great distinction, being complimented by the authorities with a gold chain and medal. Earnest but fruitless efforts were made to detain him, both at Leyden and the Hague. On his way home, he passed through Paris and Charenton. At the latter place he first met Claude, and preached before the vast Protestant assembly there, of which Pictet speaks with singular admiration.

After his return he renewed his labours with redoubled zeal. In the year 1664 he published against the Papists and in vindication of the Reformed; and two years afterwards, his disquisitions concerning the satisfaction of Christ. In 1674 he published his sermons, which were received with great applause. In the same year he issued his great work on Theology, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae. It is said that he was very reluctant to give this work to the press, and finally did so only in compliance with numerous letters from the learned in all parts of Reformed Christendom. In 1687 he published on the necessity of secession from Rome, and on other important points.

In 1669 Turretin was married to Isabella, daughter of John de Masse, lord of Sauvet, whose ancestors had held the Marquisate of Saluzzo. Four children were the fruit of this union, of whom only one survived, viz., John Alfonso Turretin, who was born in 1671, and ordained to the ministry about the year 1694. He became a preacher of unusual power, held successively the chairs of Ecclesiastical History and of Theology in Geneva, and was one of the greatest. writers of the age upon natural religion and the external defences of Christianity. Inferior to his father in vigour, he was his superior in elegance; and his copious and classical diction gave a charm to his writings, which secured perusal and applause beyond the pale of Calvinistic bodies.

Turretin's later years were embittered by the distresses of his Reformed brethren in Piedmont and France. In the latter country, in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685, hundreds of churches were demolished, and Protestantism was driven from the kingdom. But for these distresses of a sympathetic soul, he may be said to have had a happy old age, being scarcely ever ill except from a few attacks of acute disease. On the 24th of September, 1687, he was suddenly seized with violent pains. To Professor Pictet he expressed his readiness to die; but said that the severity of his pain did not suffer him to pray as he would, yet he knew in whom he had believed. He repeated many passages of Scripture, among them the words from the 38th Psalm-" O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger," which he had a few days before expounded to the Italian congregation. Upon his only son he solemnly enjoined four things: the care of the Church, if he ever should be called to it; the love of truth; humility; and charity. To his relative, Dr. Michel Turretin Pastor and Professor, he declared his faith and hope, and committed the solemn care of the Church. His charges and exhortations were numerous. His countenance was expressive rather of triumph than of death. When, as his agony increased, some of those who stood by reminded him of his last sermon, on the words, Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, he cried, as if impatient, Eamus, eamus! Shortly after he slumbered, and so died without a struggle, at the age of sixty-four years.

It is not necessary to dwell upon the character of Francis Turretin as a theologian. His adherence to the received doctrine of the Reformed Church is so uniform and strict, that there is no writer who has higher claims as an authority as to what that doctrine is. His distinguishing excellence is perspicuity and discrimination. His intellect admirably fitted and trained for perceiving and stating the real principles involved in theological questions; so that he was a remarkable illustration of the maxim, pi bene distinguit, bene docet. To this primary excellence he added an admirable judgment, which is evinced in the characteristic moderation of his opinions, and the general soundness of his arguments. His method is simple and logical. Under every head he begins with the Status Quaestionis, and, with discriminating accuracy, frees the subject in hand from all adventitious matter, and brings out the precise point to be considered. Then follow his arguments in numerical order, each distinct and in logical succession, in support of the position which he advocates. To this series of arguments succeeds the Fontes Solutionum, or answers to objections, which often furnish examples of as pithy and discriminating replies as are anywhere to be met with. There is scarcely a question which American divines have been discussing as discoveries, which the student will not find settled, or at least considered, in the perspicuous pages of Turretin.

The writer in the Princeton Review, (July, 1848,) from whom the present sketch has been extracted, concludes his article with these sentences, which are well worthy of reproduction here: -- "We were once told by Chief Justice Ewing [of New Jersey] that it was the uniform practice of Mr. Justice Washington to read through the whole of Blackstone's Commentaries once a year; and that he did so to give consistency, method, and unity to all the otherwise scattered and heterogeneous acquisitions of the year. We entertain no doubt that a similar practice with regard to the equally logical and more commanding system of Turretin, would do more for a masculine theology and an energetic pulpit, than cart-loads of religious journals, epitomes from the German, and occasional sermons." (James R. Wilson, A Biographical Sketch of Francis Turretin)

Another short biography here.

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