Jacob Vernet

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Jacob Vernet (29 August 1698, Geneva – 26 March 1789, Geneva) was a prominent theologian in Geneva, Republic of Geneva, who believed in a rationalist approach to religion. He was called "the most important and influential Genevan pastor of his day". [1]

Geneva Place in Switzerland

Geneva is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous city of Romandy, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Situated where the Rhône exits Lake Geneva, it is the capital of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.



Vernet was born in 1698. He was taught by Jean-Alphonse Turrettini, and was consecrated as a pastor in 1722. [1] In 1722 he went to Paris as tutor for the children of a wealthy family, a post he held for nine years, and it was here that he entered into discussions with the French philosophes . [2]

Jean-Alphonse Turrettini Genevan theologian

Jean-Alphonse Turrettini was a theologian from the Republic of Geneva.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

The philosophes were the intellectuals of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Few were primarily philosophers; rather, philosophes were public intellectuals who applied reason to the study of many areas of learning, including philosophy, history, science, politics, economics, and social issues. They had a critical eye and looked for weaknesses and failures that needed improvement. They promoted a "republic of letters" that crossed national boundaries and allowed intellectuals to freely exchange books and ideas. Most philosophes were men, but some were women.

In 1728 he took his charge to Italy, where he met Lodovico Muratori, Montesquieu and the economist John Law, and to Holland where he met several of the Collegialists and Jean Barbeyrac, a prominent advocate of Moderation. [3]

Montesquieu French social commentator and political thinker

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, man of letters, and political philosopher.

John Law (economist) Scottish economist

John Law was a Scottish economist who believed that money was only a means of exchange that did not constitute wealth in itself and that national wealth depended on trade. He was appointed Controller General of Finances of France under the Duke of Orleans, who served as regent for the youthful king, Louis XV.

Jean Barbeyrac French jurist

Jean Barbeyrac was a French jurist.

Vernet returned to Geneva in 1730 to become pastor of a parish in Jussy. He became the tutor of Turrentin's son, whom he took on a tour in 1732 of Switzerland, Germany, Holland, England and France. In Marburg he met the philosopher Christian Wolff, later describing him as someone "who inspired moderation in his disciples". He was impressed in the four months he spent in England by the moderation in religion and freedom in government that he found in that country. Back in Geneva, Vernet became pastor at St. Pierre and St. Gervais in 1734, and rector of the academy in 1737. [3]

Jussy, Switzerland Place in Geneva, Switzerland

Jussy is a municipality of the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland. The historical Chateau Du Crest is located here.

Marburg Place in Hesse, Germany

Marburg is a university town in the German federal state (Bundesland) of Hesse, capital of the Marburg-Biedenkopf district (Landkreis). The town area spreads along the valley of the river Lahn and has a population of approximately 72,000.

Christian Wolff (philosopher) German philosopher

Christian Wolff was a German philosopher. Wolff was the most eminent German philosopher between Leibniz and Kant. His main achievement was a complete oeuvre on almost every scholarly subject of his time, displayed and unfolded according to his demonstrative-deductive, mathematical method, which perhaps represents the peak of Enlightenment rationality in Germany.

In 1739 he became a professor of Belles Lettres, and in 1756 a professor of Theology. [1] Vernet was close to the highest levels of government in Geneva. In 1734 he published "Relation des affaires de Geneve", strongly biased towards the patrician regime that governed the city, praising them for their concern to do good for the public and their wise administration of finances. He did not believe that the people needed to control the government to be free, as long as government was placed in good hands. [4]

Voltaire and Rousseau

Vernet first met Voltaire in Paris in 1733, and entered into a correspondence in which they discussed publication of Voltaire's works in Geneva. After Voltaire moved to Geneva in 1754, the two men soon quarrelled over several subjects, and as the controversy became public the Syndics were involved in moderating the dispute. When D'Alembert visited Geneva to collect material for an encyclopedia article on the city, he stayed with Voltaire, but was assisted by Vernet who provided much material on the city's history and government. [5]

Voltaire French writer, historian, and philosopher

François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plumeVoltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state.

In 1754 Rousseau wrote to Vernet about being readmitted to the church of Geneva. [5] In 1758 Vernet praised Rousseau for recognizing that "in a state constitution everything is connected". [6] When a controversy arose over D'Alembert's article on Geneva, Rousseau supported Geneva's pastors. [5] The article suggested that the Geneva clergymen including Vernet, Jacob Vernes and others had moved from Calvinism to pure Socinianism. The Pastors of Geneva were indignant, and appointed a committee to answer these charges. Under pressure, d'Alembert eventually made the excuse that he considered anyone who did not accept the Church of Rome to be a Socinianist, and that was all he meant. [7] The relationship with Rousseau broke down when Rousseau published his Contrat Social and his attack on revealed religion in Emile: or, On Education , both in 1762. Vernet played a leading role in having both these works condemned in Geneva. [5]


Vernet was inspired by Descartes's philosophy, English moderation and Arminian theology. [8] Searching for a middle way between extremes, he wrote that "the middle way ... constitutes the true religion". [9] Vernet followed Turretin's approach of advocating reasonable faith, and felt that no aspect of theology should be objectionable to a Deist or Atheist. He refused to speculate over mysteries such as predestination, reprobation or the nature of the Trinity. His major work was a French edition of Turrentin's Latin theses on the Christian religion, which is designed to show that the faith is aligned with reason. He considered that a "heathen in Africa" could be saved without ever hearing of Christ if he responded to the revelation that God had given him in his nature and his conscience. [2]

Vernet believed that God wanted man to obey the Creator and do good of his own free will, and thought that the path to virtue was open to everyone. [10] In his "Instruction chretienne", intended as a theological primer, he attempted to present a simplified view of the faith and thus reduce dissent between different sects. He was against the precision of Reformed scholasticism, which he felt led to divisions. He said that the major goal of the truly religious person was to honor God as the supreme and infinitely wise master of the universe, and in the process religion would lead to personal happiness. He did not however consider that the choice of one's religion was unimportant, since he felt that only Christianity was based on reasonable standards. [11]


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  1. 1 2 3 Rosenblatt 1997, pp. 15.
  2. 1 2 Roney & Klauber 1998, pp. 134.
  3. 1 2 Sorkin 2008b, pp. 75.
  4. Rosenblatt 1997, pp. 137-8.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Sorkin 2008b, pp. 99.
  6. Rosenblatt 1997, pp. 229.
  7. Richardson 1858, pp. 8-9.
  8. Sorkin 2008a, pp. 9.
  9. Sorkin 2008a, pp. 11.
  10. Rosenblatt 1997, pp. 16.
  11. Roney & Klauber 1998, pp. 135.


  • Richardson, Nathaniel Smith (1858). The Church review, Volume 10. G.B. Bassett.
  • Roney, John B.; Klauber, Martin I., eds. (1998). The identity of Geneva: the Christian commonwealth, 1564-1864. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN   0-313-29868-8.
  • Rosenblatt, Helena (1997). Rousseau and Geneva: from the first discourse to the social contract, 1749-1762. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0-521-57004-2.
  • Sorkin, David Jan (2008a). "Introduction". The religious Enlightenment: Protestants, Jews, and Catholics from London to Vienna. Princeton University Press. ISBN   0-691-13502-9.
  • Sorkin, David Jan (2008b). "Geneva: Jacob Vernet's "Middle Way"". The religious Enlightenment: Protestants, Jews, and Catholics from London to Vienna. Princeton University Press. ISBN   0-691-13502-9.

Further reading

Academic offices
Preceded by
Antoine Maurice, I (fr)
Louis Tronchin (II)
Chair of theology at the Genevan Academy
With: Louis Tronchin (II)(1756)
Antoine Maurice, II (fr) (1756-1786)
Jacques-André Trembley (1756-1763)
David Claparède (1763-1786)
Succeeded by
Antoine Maurice, II (fr)
David Claparède