Firmin Abauzit Study Archive
French “Genevan librarian, distinguished for abundant erudition” // Reputed to have been full preterist but never was
1679 – 1769
French Scholar, Author, Physicist, Philosopher
- 1730: An Historical Discourse on the Apocalypse | Discours Historique sur l’Apocalipse (PDF)
- 1741: Twells Reply in Latin: Curae Philologicae et Criticae in Novum Testamentum
- 1773: Oeuvres diverses de M. Abauzit, contenant ses ecrits d’histoire, de critique et de théologie
- 1778: An Examination of Gibbon’s History – Plagiarism of Abauzit (PDF)
- 1823: Abauzit’s Essays (PDF)
- 2011: Doug Cox: Recanting (Full) Preterism: Abauzit, Townley, Desprez
NOT A FULL PRETERIST / LATER RECANTED HIS POSITION ON APOCALYPSE:
“Abauzit left behind him some writings, chiefly theological. Of these the principal was, an ” Essay upon the Apocalypse,” written to show that the canonical authority of the book of Revelation was doubtful, and to apply the predictions to the destruction of Jerusalem. This work was sent by the author to Dr. Twells, in London, who translated it from French into English, and added a refutation,- with which Abauzit was so well satisfied, that he desired his friend in Holland to stop an intended impression.”
(On the futurity of the last judgment)
“The sacred penmen gave the name of mystery to those truths, which revelation discovers to us, and which would have been unknown to men had they enjoyed only the guidance of reason. Thus the doctrine of the vocation of the Gentiles to the privileges of the Gospel is called a mystery ; because that before Jesus Christ had commanded his Apostles to preach the Gospel through the whole world, this design, which God had formed, of manifesting him- self to all men, was a thing unknown, a thing concealed. In this sense it is that St. Paul, informing the Christians that all mankind shall not be dead when Jesus Christ shall descend to judge the world, calls this doctrine a mystery, because that was a particular circumstance, with regard to the last judgment, which mankind had been ignorant of till that time ; it had been a thing concealed from them till the time that St. Paul informed them of it. It is in this sense that the word mystery is most frequently employed in the books of the New Testament.” (On Mysteries in Religion, Translated by Jared Sparks in 1823)
“First, then, if by mysteries are understood truths which revelation discovers, and which were unknown to us by reason, it is certain that there are various mysteries of this kind in the Christian religion. Those truths, for example, that Jesus Christ is the saviour of men ; that he passed his life in an abject condition ; that he died upon a cross ; that he is risen again ; that he ascended into heaven ; that he shed from thence the effusions of the spirit upon the Apostles ; that he will come one day to judge the whole world ; that all the dead shall rise to make their appearance together at his tribunal ; and several other truths of this nature, are things of which our reason could not inform us, and which we have learned solely from Christianity. They are therefore all of them so many mysteries, which the Gospel hath revealed to us.” (On Mysteries in Religion, Translated by Jared Sparks in 1823)
“See a remarkable note of Diodati on that passage in Hebrews ; “Thou, Lord, hast laid the foundation of the earth.” The sense of this place, as it is here alleged, is no other but that the kingdom of Christ which is manifestly spoken of in that passage, Psalm cii. 26, is eternal, and not perishable like the state of the world. Observe how peremptorily he excludes every other sense.” (Collection of Essays, p. 141)
“(Holy Spirit) By a signification, which approaches very near to the preceding, it is also taken for the spirit of man, but then it is a spirit that is enlightened, sanctified, renewed, and endowed with gifts both ordinary and extraordinary ; such, in a word, as the spirit of the Apostles became in the day of Pentecost. This is that spirit, that Jesus Christ had promised them a little before his death ; not that, properly speaking, it was not the same spirit which they had before ; but one may say, that they then received a new spirit, by the sudden and surprising revolution, which was made in their persons. A spirit of consolation, of force, and of courage, instead of that timid and dejected spirit, which they discovered at the appearance of the least danger. A spirit, which was to recall to them every thing that Jesus Christ had said to them, while before they were but little attentive to the discourse of their master. A spirit of truth, which was to lead them into all the truths, in opposition to the errors and prejudices with which their minds were filled. A spirit, which would no longer speak its own private conceptions, but faithfully declare every thing it had learned, very different from that rash spirit which hazarded it opinions too lightly, and often apprehended for truth, what had only the appearance of it ; in fane, a meek, charitable, moderate spirit, in opposition to that spirit, with which they were animated when they wanted to make fire descend from heaven to destroy the unbelieving Samaritans.” (p. 144-5)
The sacred penmen gave the name of mystery to those truths, which revelation discovers to us, and which would have been unknown to men had they enjoyed only the guidance of reason.
“The case is similar with regard to the visions of the first part till ch. xi. end, where, from ch. vi. and onward, the seven seals of the book of the future are opened; and, from ch. viii. onwards, what is shut up in the contents of the seventh seal is gradually brought to light at the trumpeting of the seven angels. These, too, are for the most part plagues which shall be poured out upon the earth, and therefore we cannot but expect them to be plagues preceding the appearing of the Lord, i.e. such as, according to the purport of the book, would appear shortly. But it is a question who is to be smitten by these plagues; and how they are related to the time of the seer. Here many interpreters are of opinion that the visions all refer to Judaism and Jerusalem; not merely such interpreters as Abauzit, Hartwig, Herder, &c., who even in the second part understand Jerusalem by Babylon, but also those who interpret them rightly of Rome, as, for example, Eichhorn. The contents of these visions are referred to events and relations which immediately preceded the destruction of Jerusalem at the time of the Jewish-Roman war, whether they be taken as prophetic indications of the same; or, with Eichhorn, as poetical representations of occurrences which the seer lived to see. The latter is decidedly false. Ch. xi. has given occasion for referring the whole to the destruction of the Jewish land, and particularly of Jerusalem. Here, undoubtedly, Jerusalem and a divine punishment to be inflicted on it are expressly mentioned. But the manner in which they are spoken of clearly shows that the Temple and city still existed at the time of the vision.” (Lectures of the Apocalypse, p. 106)
“The same Abauzit wrote another treatise which belongs to this place (Essai sur l’Apocalypse, 1730), in which he tries to show that the book was written under Nero, and is in its prophecy only a development of the sayings of Christ about the fall of Jerusalem; that all refers to the destruction of this Jewish capital and the Roman-Jewish war (ch. xxi. and xxii.); to the more extensive spread of the Christian Church after that catastrophe.
Similar is the interpretation of Wetstein (De Interpretatione libri Apocalypseos) in his New Testament, II. 889 and following; 1752), who refers the main contents to the Romish-Jewish war and the contemporary civil war in Italy, but understands the thousand years (ch. xx.) as the fifty years after the death of Domitian until the insurrection of the Jews under Bar Cochba, and takes the heavenly Jerusalem as a type of the great spread and rest of the Christian Church after the complete subjection of the Jews.
Further, Johann Christoph Harenberg’s (Professor at Brunswick, died 1774) Erklarung der Offenbarung Johannis: Es entwickelt sich zugleich die Frage, wo wir jetzt in der Zeit der Anzeigen solcher Offenbarung leben; Braunschw. 1759, 4), which refers all to Jerusalem as far as ch. xviii., understanding Babylon as that city; but the following chapters he refers to the development of the Christian Church till the last day. ” (pp. 56-57)
“German Preterism – Firmin Abauzit (1679-1767) of Geneva, who was a friend of Rousseau and Voltaire, published a commentary on Revelation in 1730 titled Historic Discourse on the Apocalypse,™ in which he advocated a more complete preterist view than his predecessors. Abauzit’s work also broke new ground in that it was the first “in this period to attack the canonical authority of the Apocalypse”
Preterist Moses Stuart says of Abauzit that his “book is generally regarded as marking the commencement of a new period in the criticism of the Apocalypse.” Stuart describes Abauzit’s views as follows: “His starting point was, that the book itself declares that all which it predicts would take place speedily. Hence Rome, in chap, xiii-xix. points figuratively to Jerusalem. Chap. xxi. xxii. relate to the extension of the church, after the destruction of the Jews.”
Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is credited with adopting Abauzit’s understanding of the Apocalypse and also saw it as “emphasizing) the Jewish catastrophe.” Herder expressed his views in his book entitled Maranatha, which was published in 1779- “Stuart said this about Herder’s form of preterism: “Although he seems to move in a narrow circle, as to the meaning of the book; limiting it so generally to the Jews, yet he makes God’s dealings with them, and with his church at that period, symbolical of the circumstances of the church in every age.”126
In 1791, Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827) produced a commentary on Revelation that was exalted, emulated, and admired in critical German circles for many years.137 While Eichhorn did not see all of the Apocalypse being fulfilled in the first century, as did Abauzit and Herder, he did see a number of Jewish fulfillments in the second half of Revelation. Eichhorn was a typical German preterist—he did not believe the Bible was inspired by God, nor did it contain predictive prophecy. Stuart says, “I do not and cannot regard Eichhorn as a believer in Christianity, in the sense in which those are who admit the inspired authority of the Scripture.”128
European preterism of the post-Reformation period, especially the German variety, was attractive to those of the liberal persuasion. Froom observes: “Preterist principles have been adopted and adapted by those of rationalistic mind as the easiest way to compass the problem of prophecy, throwing it into the past, where it does not affect life today. It has had a sizable following among rationalists, of which Modernism is the modern counterpart.”129 Preterists in our own day may be pleased about the historical evidence for the spread of preterism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe. However, they cannot be happy that the foundational support for this growth of preterism was based upon German rationalism and unbelief.” (The End Times Controversy, pp. 55-56)
“Under the influence of this rising critical spirit in rude collision with the dominate methods of interpretation the bold thesis was advanced, that the prophecies of the Apocalypse, so far from embracing the entire history of the world or even of the Jewish or Christian Churches, were directed firstly and lastly against Jerusalem.
Thus the Apocalypse was interpreted in this school by the Contemporary-Historical Method in a very limited sense. The chief advocates of this view were Abauzit, Harduin, Wetstein, Harenbcrg, Herder and Zullig, writing from 1732 to 1840.’”
“Firmin Abauzit (1679-1767) of Geneva, who was a friend of Rousseau and Voltaire, published a commentary on Revelation in 1730 titled Historic Discourse on the Apocalypse,12′ in which he advocated a more complete preterist view than his predecessors. Abauzits work also broke new ground in that it was the first “in this period to attack the canonical authority of the Apocalypse.”121 Preterist Moses Stuart says of Abauzit that his “book is generally regarded as marking the commencement of a new period in the criticism of the Apocalypse.”1” Stuart describes Abauzits views as follows: “His starting point was, that the book itself declares that all which it predicts would take place speedily. Hence Rome, in chap, xiii-xix. points figuratively to Jerusalem. Chap. xxi. xxii. relate to the extension of the church, after the destruction of the Jews.” (End Times Controversy, p. 54)
Johann Peter Lange
“VII. Historico-Critical and Rationalistic Period. Fundamental Tone or Key-note: Predominant Volatilizing of Apocalyptic Eschatology ; especially the Prophecy of the Millennial Kingdom ; amid a constantly gaining confounding of such Prophecy with Chiliasm.
The motive or inciting cause of the period which we are at present examining—a motive whose sketching by Lucke is not distinguished for clearness—was, negatively, that system of criticism which maintained that the Apocalypse consisted of purely supernatural predictions of Church History and church-historical numbers ; and which applied such exegesis to the support of chiliastic extravagances. Positively, it was the felt need of a firm historical and psychological basis for the prophetic glimpses of futurity. The errors of this new critical bent were the issue, in part, of the delight which was occasioned by the novel historical stand-point— historical, it was believed, for the first time in a true sense. For the rest, these errors proceeded from doubt as to the Spirit of Prophecy, as to the authenticity of the Apocalypse, as to the demonic forms of the kingdom of darkness, and as to the reality of Biblical Eschatology.
According to Lucke, Abauzit of Geneva inaugurated this tendency in his Essai sur l’ Apocalypse. “The Revelation, written probably under Nero, is nothing—according to its own profession—but une extension de la prophetic du Sauveur sur la ruine de l’ Etat Judaique.” The German Wetstein was guilty of a curtailing and stinting of the Apocalypse, similar to that attempted by the French Swiss. According to Wetstein, Gog and Magog made their appearance in the rebellion instigated by Barcochba. Harenberg took sides with Abauzit, submitting, however, that the last four chapters of the Apocalypse are eschatological. He believed the Book to have been originally written in Hebrew. Semler thought that the true original spirit of the Apocalypse was Jewish chiliastic fanaticism.
On the common basis of a one-sided criticism, Herder formed an antithesis to Semler in this question as in other and more general respects. The contrast is exhibited in his work entitled: Maran-atha, das Such von der Zukunft des Herrn, des Neuen Testaments Siegel. [Maran-atha; the Book of the Coming of the Lord: the Seal of the New Testament.] The historical perspective of this book is, like that of Abauzit, barren and contracted in the extreme: it consists of Jerusalem and the Jewish war. The formal treatment of the Apocalyptic theme, on the contrary, is enthusiastic, full of idealization, and appreciation of the figurative language of the Orient (see Lucke’s commendation). Herder called the Apocalypse : “A picture-book, setting forth the rise, the visible existence, and the future of Christ’s Kingdom in figures and similitudes of His first Coming, to terrify and to console.” Hartwig, though the disciple of Herder, abandoned the Oriental view for the Greek, holding, with Paraeus, that the Apocalypse was a drama. This dramatical view was subsequently fully carried out by Eichhorn. Others, taking a more general, poetical view of the Apocalypse, made metrical versions of it; of these the chief were those of Schreiber and Munter, and one by a follower of Bengel, Ludwig von Pfeil.
The interpretation already advanced by many, according to which the Apocalypse depicted the downfall of Judaism and heathenism, and the tranquility and glory of the Kingdom of Christ, re-appeared in the writings of Herrenschneider (Tentamen Apocalypseos). Johannsen, in his Offenbarung Johannes, set forth a similar view. Thoroughly novel and original, at variance both with the ancient Church-historical and the modern synchrono-historical view, is the book which appeared under the title of Briefe uber die Offenbarung Johannis. Ein Buch fur die Starken, die schwach heissen, Leipzig, 1784. [Letters on the Revelation of John. A Book for the Strong, who are called Weak]. “The [anonymous] author interprets all specials as generals, relative to the laws, arrangements and developments of nature and of the human life in general; amid, and according to, which laws, arrangements, and developments, God’s Kingdom on earth shall one day be perfected.” Kleuker maintained once more the eschatological signification of the Revelation (Ueber Ursprung und Zweck, etc. [On the Origin and Design, etc.]). On the other hand, Lucke mentions as followers of the bent of Herder and Eichhorn, Lange, Von Hagen, Lindemann Matthai, Von Heinrichs (p. 1055).” (A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures pp. 68-69)
“It is rather remarkable, that the first movement in the last war against the Apocalypse, was made in England. A New Version of the Greek Testament, author unknown, was published in London, in 1729, accompanied by Notes. In these the translator attacks even with bitterness the credit of the Apocalypse, relying principally for his support on the criticisms of Dionysius of Alexandria. This publication was followed, in 1730, by a Discourse Historical and Critical on the Revelation ; in which almost everything that could render the credit of the book doubtful, is suggested and urged with much adroitness. It turned out in the end, that this was an English translation of the celebrated Firmin Abauzit’s Discours historique sur l’Apocalypse, (t 1767). Abauzit was an intimate friend of Bayle and Newton. At the request of an English friend, William Burnet, he wrote the Discourse, and sent it to him ; and by him, perhaps, it was translated into English ; for the name of the translator is not given., This book is generally regarded as marking the commencement of a new period, in the criticism of the Apocalypse.” (Commentary on the Apocalypse, p. 443)
“If Abauzit and Herder are right in their exegesis, which assigns all that is said in chap, vi—xix, to prediction respecting Judea, then of course must the Apocalypse have been composed before Palestine was overrun and Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans. But it is not possible to vindicate such an exegesis of Rev. xiii—xix, without abandoning some of the main principles of interpretation ; and, of course, I shall not attempt to build any argument on grounds such as they assume.” (p. 278)
John Aikin, William Enfield (1799)
ABAUZIT, Firmin, a learned Frenchman, librarian of Geneva, was born at Usez, in Languedoc, in November ^679. He lost his father at two years of age. The edict of Nantz was at that time revoked, and the French protestants were commanded to bend their consciences to the will of Louis XIV. or submit to the cruelties of persecution. Young Abauzit’s mother, who was a protestant, experienced its terrors. To secure her son from danger, and afford him the benefit of education, she with difficulty conveyed him to Geneva. From his tenth to his nineteenth year, his time was devoted to learning ; and, after making great proficiency in languages, history, and antiquities, he studied mathematics, natural history, physics, and theology. To finish his education, he travelled in the year 1698 into Holland, where he became acquainted with Baylc, Basnage, and Juricu. Thence he passed over into England, where he was introduced to fir Isaac Newton, as a young man deeply conversant in mathematical studies. That great man discerned and appreciated his merit, and sent him his Comvtercium Efiitoiicum, accompanied with the following honourable testimony in writing : ” You arc well worthy to judge between Leibnitz and me.” The reputation of Abauzit became known to king William, who attempted, by a handsome ofter, to detain him in England, but he chose to return to Geneva. Here, devoting himself to study, Abauzit, in 1715, entered into the society, formed for the purpose of translating the New Testament into the French language; and the clergy, of whom, chiefly, the society consisted, acknowledged themselves indebted to him for useful assistance in this important work.
The University, in, 1723, offered him the chair of philosophy» which he refused, pleading the weakness of his constitution, and of his talents. The former plea was allowed to be valid; the latter, his friends, who knew his eminent qualifications, could not admit. In 1727, Abauzit was presented with the freedom of the city of Geneva, and appointed to the office of librarian to the city, which, laying him under no burdensome restraint, he cheerfully accepted. It may be questioned, whether this excellent man was not deficient in the duty which he owed to his age, in with-holding the instructions, which he was so well able to give. He was religious by principle, and a Christian upon conviction. He defended religion to the time of his death, and employed some of his last days in endeavouring to establish its evidence. Pious without hypocrisy, virtuous without austerity, he loved mankind ; he sought to be useful to them ; and he never blamed others for thinking differently from himself. His love of simplicity appeared in all his actions; he shunned ceremony, and retired from flattery. His conversation, always heard with eagerness, was delivered without ostentation. Even the exterior of his house, and of his person, discovered an unaffected dislike of parade and luxury. Always himself, he was always the modest, the wise Abauzit. This valuable man died, lamented by the republic, and regretted by the learned, in the year 1767, at the advanced age of 87 years.
Voltaire is said to have paid a fine compliment to Abauzit. A stranger, having said to the poet of Ferney, that he was come to Geneva to see a great man, Voltatre asked him, whether he had seen Abauzit ?
Abauzit left behind him some writings, chiefly theological. Of these the principal was, an ” Essay upon the Apocalypse,” written to show that the canonical authority of the book of Revelation was doubtful, and to apply the predictions to the destruction of Jerusalem. This work was sent by the author to Dr. Twells, in London, who translated it from French into English, and added a refutation,- with which Abauzit was so well satisfied, that he desired his friend in Holland to stop an intended impression. The Dutch editors, however, after his death, admitted this essay into their edition of his works, which, besides, comprehends, ” Reflections on the Eucharist;” ” on Idolatry ;” ” on the Mysteries of Religion ;” ” Paraphrases and Explanations of sundry Parts of Scripture;” several critical and antiquarian pieces, and various letters. An edition, without the Essay on the Apocalypse, was printed at Geneva, in 8vo. in 1770.
These writings, though valuable, by no means offer an adequate idea of the merit of Abauzit. To judge of the depth of his physical and mathematical knowledge, it must be remembered, that he defended Newton against father Cartel ; that he discovered an error in the Principia, at a time when there were few people in Europe capable of reading that work; and that Newton corrected the error in the second edition. Abauzit was one of the first who adopted the grand conceptions of Newton, because he was a geometrician sufficiently learned to sec their truth. He was, withal, perfectly acquainted with many languages ; he understood ancient and modern history so exactly, as to be master of all the principal names and dates: he was so accurate a geographer, that the celebrated Pococke concluded, from his minute description of Egypt, that he must, like himself, have travelled in that country: he had a very extensive knowledge of physics; and lastly, he was intimately conversant with medals and ancient manuscripts. All these different sciences were so well digested and arranged in his mind, that he could, in an instant. bring- together all that he knew upon any subject. Of this we shall add a striking example. Rousseau, in drawing up his Dictionary of Music, had taken great pains to give an accurate ac . count of the music of the ancients. Conversing with Abauzit upon the subject, the librarian gave him a clear and exact account of all that he had with so much labour collected. Rousseau concluded, that Abauzit had lately been studying the subject: but this learned man, of whom it might almost literally be said that he knew every thing, and never forgot any thing, unaffectedly confessed, that it was then thirty years since he had inquired into the music of the ancients. It was, probably, owing to the strong impression which this incident made upon the mind of Rousseau, that the only panegyric which he ever wrote upon a living person, and at the same time one of the finest of his eloges, was addressed to Abauzit. Hist. Lit. de Geneve par Senebier, vol. iii. p. 63, &c. —E.” (General biography; or, Lives, critical and historical, of the most eminent, p. 8,9)
John Relly Beard (1868)
“A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHER. I next sketch the character of one who is all but unknown to fame, who is distinguished by no illustrious ancestry, held no official dignities, left no great memorial in books or institutions ; and who, nevertheless, was one of the best and ablest of men, and who, when the true saints find due recognition, will undoubtedly occupy a foremost niche in the Pantheon of the human race.
Firmin Abauzit was born at Uzes, in Languedoc, the nth November, 1679. The city of his nativity, noticeable on many accounts, is distinguished chiefly for having been one of the strongholds held in self-defence by the French Protestants. In 1629 it was wrested out of their hands and dismantled. Little is known of Abauzit’s family. The name seems to indicate an Arab origin, and tradition confirms the idea by tracing the family back to an Arab physician who settled in Toulouse about the I4th century. At the age of two years Abauzit lost his father. This bereavement must have been the more painful to his mother (whose maiden name was Anne Darlle) since the French Government then exercised all the severities of despotism, in order to bring back into the Romish Church the children of Protestant widows. On the 12th of July, 1685, it issued an edict intended to remove such children from their mother’s supervision after their father’s death. The edict of the Revocation of Nantes and that of January, 1686, were more explicit. High officials were charged with the duty of placing Protestant children, from five to sixteen years of age, in the hands of their Catholic relatives ; or, if they had none, in the hands of such Catholics as the judges might appoint. Accordingly, Firmin and his younger brother were taken away from their home and placed in the college of Uzes, to undergo a Romanist training. How many mothers would, in .such a position, have given themselves up to grief. Very different was the conduct of the mother of those two boys. Taking counsel only of her own good heart, she deceived the vigilance of her persecutors ; and, after having withdrawn her sons from their hands, secretly sent them to Geneva, the Protestant city of refuge at the time, where they happily arrived in 1689, having escaped a thousand dangers. She had, however, exposed herself to the terrors of the law. She was sent to prison. There her health failed so rapidly that her case called forth such compassion as to cause the time of her detention to be shortened.
As soon as she was restored to liberty, she hesitated not a. moment to again brave, at the peril of her life, the terrible legislation by which the French Protestants were oppressed. The law was that no one of them should leave the kingdom on pain of the galleys for men and for women the confiscation of person and property. Maternal love triumphed. Madame Abauzit set out for Geneva, where she had the indescribable happiness of joining her children. From that time she occupied herself exclusively with their education. Under such a guide they could not help entering on the path of virtue with a firm and steady step.
Possessed of favourable dispositions, Firmin made rapid progress. Polite literature, history, geography, antiquities, natural philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, even theology were successively objects of his careful study. His memory was surprising. A superior analyst, he touched no science without going to the bottom of it. The extent of his knowledge did not impair its solidity. Its basis was deep as well as broad. Nor did its variety obscure his judgment.
After completing his university studies, Abauzit in 1698, visited Holland and England. In these countries he formed acquaintance with several scholars, and men of science, of whom we may mention Bayle and Newton. With them he long afterwards kept up an epistolary correspondence. Newton valued his young friend so highly that, on sending to him his Commercium Epistolicum, he wrote: ” You are quite able to judge between Leibnitz and myself.” On his side, Abauzit gave Newton a proof that his esteem was not ill placed, by undertaking his defence against Castel, and by pointing out to him, in his Principia, an error which the illustrious mathematician corrected in the second edition of his great work. From a letter it also appears that Abauzit led Newton to change an opinion on the eclipse observed by Thales, 585 years before the Christian era. Abauzit’s repute reached the ears of our William III., from whom he received offers intended to retain him in England ; but a letter from his mother urging his return gave him an excuse for declining the overture. Zealous of his independence, he would never accept any place, not even that of Professor of Philosophy in the College of Geneva, which was offered to him in 1723. He solely consented in 1727 to fulfil gratuitously the duties of one of the conservators of the city library, in acknowledgment of the honour he had received by being made a citizen of the republic.
We have said that Abauzit’s memory was prodigious. Some instances have been preserved. Lullin, a Genevese professor, conversed with him one day of a particular fact in ecclesiastical history. The question concerned Virgil, Bishop of Salzburg, in the eighth century, who was, it is said, excommunicated by Pope Zachary for having advanced that there were antipodes. What was his astonishment when he heard Abauzit discuss the subject thoroughly as if he had just studied it, though for thirty years he had read nothing on the point. Something similar was experienced by J. J. Rousseau, who consulted him on the music of the ancients. Abauzit set before him clearly and methodically all that Rousseau had become acquainted with only after long and persevering study, at the same time disclosing to him many things of which he was ignorant; nevertheless he had not given attention to the subject since the days of his youth. The celebrated traveller Pocoke felt no less astonishment when he heard Abauzit accurately describe the countries which he had just traversed and studied. Hardly could he be persuaded that Abauzit had not visited those- lands except with the aid of his library.
Having a truly encyclopedic mind, Abauzit studied and; mastered nearly all the sciences as they were known in his day. Yet he wrote little. He loved study for itself. Never did a desire for fame trouble his life. It is this which principally induced the author of E1nile to write the magnificent eulogy of Abauzit. In his Nouvdlc Heloise one of the characters, ” Milord Edouard,” writes to Saint-Preux :—
” Will you then never be anything but a talker, limiting yourself to making good books instead of performing good actions ?”
” No,” adds Rousseau, in a note on this passage :—
” No, this philosophic age will not pass away without producing a true- philosopher. I know one, and but one; but that is something; besides, he lives in my own country. Shall I venture to name here one whose true glory is to have remained unknown ? Learned and modest Abauzit, let your sublime simplicity forgive my heart for a zeal which has not your name for its object. No ; it is not you that 1 desire to make known to this age unworthy to admire you ; it is Geneva that I wish to make illustrious as being your abode ; it is my fellow-citizens that I wish to honour in return for the honour they pay you in giving you a home. Happy the land where the merit that conceals itself is all the more esteemed! Happy the people where haughty youth abases its dogmatic tone, and blushes at its vain knowledge before the learned ignorance of a sage. Virtuous and venerable old man ! You will not have been eulogised by wits ; noisy academies will noi have achoed with your praise; instead of depositing your wisdom in books like them, you have put it into your life for an example to the country you have condescended to choose—a country which you love and by which you are respected. You have lived like Socrates; but he died by the hand of his fellow-citizens, while by yours you. are cherished.”
It has been observed that this eulogy, so well merited, is the only one that Rousseau addressed in his writings to any living person.
Voltaire, who, it is said, was much indebted to Abauzit for materials in the composition of his historical works, expressed for him admiration similar to that of Rousseau. One day, when one of Voltaire’s thousand flatterers told him he had come to Geneva to see a great man, the latter, interrupting the speaker, asked : ” Have you seen Abauzit?”
La Harpe says of Abauzit that ” he was respectable by a long career entirely passed in philosophic studies, and in the practise of all the virtues.” ” He was,” says Millin, ” religious by principle, a Christian by conviction, pious without hypocrisy, virtuous without austerity.” His simplicity equalled his modesty, it pervaded the whole man. Economical of his time, he was prodigal in labours for his friends, whose works contain many passages which owe their existence to his pen. Accordingly, he is not to be judged by the writings that were published after his death. He would not allow his productions to see the light. He thought so little of them that, when he had lent them, he took no pains to get them returned. It was thus that several of his learned dissertations were published without his knowledge, and had great success. Moreover, many original ideas belonging to him lost the merit of novelty, either because other persons had made use of them, or because they were come upon by scholars who were studying the same subjects; none the less the honour was his, and none the less do they aid to show the height and depth of his genius.
A short time before his death, Abauzit’s thoughts were turned to Rousseau, whose mind had been beaten and tossed by doubt, but who was then gradually settling down into Christian faith. Sending to Rousseau his last farewell, Abauzit wrote :—
” Dear Philosopher,—I have loved you much ; I have seriously suffered in all your sufferings. If you wish tranquillity for the future, believe my lengthened experience. Employ in the reconstruction of your faith the faculties you have employed in the service of doubt; after having searched a long time we bless our labours when they lead us to believe.”
In the midst of his peaceful studies, Abauzit departed this life in a small house near Geneva, whither he had some time before retired, ending his laborious and honourable career in the spirit of a true Christian, in which he had lived, on the 2oth of March, 1767, in his eighty-eighth year.—”La France Protestante,” vol. 1, pp. 4 seq.
Abauzit shows us what man really is, by showing us what he may be and do in the quiet retreats of ordinary life.” (A Manual of Christian Evidence, pp. 120-122)
A. Chalmers (1812)
“Abauzit left behind him some writings, chiefly theological. Of these the principal was an ” Essay upon the Apocalypse,” written to shew that the canonical authority of the book of Revelation was doubtful, and to apply the predictions to the destruction of Jerusalem. This work was sent by the author to Dr. Twells, in London, who translated it from French into English, and added a refutation, with which Abauzit was so well satisfied, that he desired his friend in Holland to stop an intended impression. The Dutch editors, however, after his death, admitted this essay into their edition of his works, which, besides-, comprehends ” Reflections on the Eucharist,” ” On Idolatry,” ” On the Mysteries of Religion,” ” Paraphrases and explanations of sundry parts of Scripture,” several critical and antiquarian pieces, and various letters. An, edition without the Essay on the Apocalypse, was printed at Geneva in Oct. 1770, and translated into English in the same year by Dr. Harwood.”
These writings afford an idea of the merit of Abauzit as a divine. To judge of the depth of his physical and mathematical knowledge, it must be remembered that he defended Newton against father Gastel; that he discovered an error in the ” Principle,” at a time when there were few people in Europe capable of reading that work; and that Newton corrected the error in the second edition. Abauzit was one of the first who adopted the grand conceptions of Newton, because he was a geometrician sufficiently learned to see their truth. He was perfectly acquainted with many languages; he understood modern history so exactly, as to be master of all’ the principal names and dates; he was so accurate a geographer, that the celebrated Pococke concluded, from his minute description of Egypt, that he must, like himself, have travelled in that country; he had a very extensive knowledge “of physics; and lastly, he was intimately conversant with medals and autient manuscripts. All these different sciences were so well digested-and arranged in his mind, that he could in an instant bring together all that he-knew upon any subject. ” (Biographical Dictionary, p. 10)
Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)
Abauzit, Firmin (1679–1767), a learned Frenchman, was born of Protestant parents at Uzès, in Languedoc. His father died when he was but two years of age; and when, on the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685, the authorities took steps to have him educated in the Roman Catholic faith, his mother contrived his escape. For two years his brother and he lived as fugitives in the mountains of the Cevennes, but they at last reached Geneva, where their mother afterwards joined them on escaping from the imprisonment in which she was held from the time of their flight. Abauzit at an early age acquired great proficiency in languages, physics and theology. In 1698 he went to Holland, and there became acquainted with Pierre Bayle, P. Jurieu and J. Basnage. Proceeding to England, he was introduced to Sir Isaac Newton, who found in him one of the earliest defenders of his discoveries. Sir Isaac corrected in the second edition of his Principia an error pointed out by Abauzit, and, when sending him the Commercium Epistolicum, said, “You are well worthy to judge between Leibnitz and me.” The reputation of Abauzit induced William III. to request him to settle in England, but he did not accept the king’s offer, preferring to return to Geneva. There from 1715 he rendered valuable assistance to a society that had been formed for translating the New Testament into French. He declined the offer of the chair of philosophy in the university in 1723, but accepted, in 1727, the sinecure office of librarian to the city of his adoption. Here he died at a good old age, in 1767. Abauzit was a man of great learning and of wonderful versatility. Whatever chanced to be discussed, it used to be said of Abauzit, as of Professor W. Whewell of more modern times, that he seemed to have made it a subject of particular study. Rousseau, who was jealously sparing of his praises, addressed to him, in his Nouvelle Héloïse, a fine panegyric; and when a stranger flatteringly told Voltaire he had come to see a great man, the philosopher asked him if he had seen Abauzit. Little remains of the labours of this intellectual giant, his heirs having, it is said, destroyed the papers that came into their possession, because their own religious opinions were different. A few theological, archaeological and astronomical articles from his pen appeared in the Journal Helvétique and elsewhere, and he contributed several papers to Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de musique (1767). He wrote a work throwing doubt on the canonical authority of the Apocalypse, which called forth a reply from Dr Leonard Twells. He also edited and made valuable additions to J. Spon’s Histoire de la république de Genève. A collection of his writings was published at Geneva in 1770 (Œuvres de feu M. Abauzit), and another at London in 1773 (Œuvres diverses de M. Abauzit). Some of them were translated into English by Dr Edward Harwood (1774). Information regarding Abauzit will be found in J. Senebier’s Histoire Littéraire de Genève, Harwood’s Miscellanies, and W. Orme’s Bibliotheca Biblica (1824).”
Lempriere’s Universal Biography
“ABAUZIT, Firmin, born at Uzes, 11th November, 1679, fled from the persecution which attended his parents on account of their profession of Protestantism, and retired to Geneva, where he found protection and peace. As he had early lost his father, his education was promoted by the care of his mother, who had the happiness to discover that the small remains of her scattered fortune were amply compensated by the improvement of her son. Geneva was the seat of literature as well as of freedom, and Abauzit was soon distinguished for his superior progress in every branch of polite learning, but particularly mathematics and natural history. In Holland he became the friend of Baylc, of Juricu, and Basnage ; in England he was honoured with the friendship of St. Evremond, and of the correspondence of Newton ; and William III. invited him, by oilers of liberal patronage, to settle in his dominions ; but the remembrance of Geneva, the asylum of his infajit years, made him decline the generosity of the monarch. The fruits of his literary labours were few : unambitious to appear before the public, he chose rather to assist his friends than solicit fame in his own person. He, however, applied himself to antiquities, and as he was now enrolled among the citizens of Geneva, and appointed public librarian, he showed his gratitude by republishing Spoil’s history of his favourite city, which he enriched with dissertations, and other valuable explanation. As he grew in years, he continued to increase in fame, and it must be mentioned to his praise that he was flattered by Voltaire and complimented by Rousseau. He was an Arian in religion, but his sentiments were liberal and humane. He died March 20th, 1767. ” (p. 11)
“No! This age of philosophy will not slow without having produced one true philosopher. I know one, and I freely own, but one, but what is much more, and which I regard at the highest point of happiness, it is in my own country that he resides. Shall I presume to name him, to name him whose true glory it is to have studied to remain almost in obscurity ? — The wise and modest Abauzit.” (t. III. p. 5. Edit. Lausanne)
Charles Weiss, Frederick Hardman, Henry William Herbert (1854)
“Another emigrant, the antique type of whose character excited even the admiration of Voltaire and Rousseau, Abauzit, of Uzes, astonished his adopted country by the profundity and universality of his genius. Descended, as they say, from an Arab physician of the middle ages, he was, after the revocation, torn, while still a child, from his mother, who was a Protestant, and placed in a Catholic college. She succeeded, however, in withdrawing him from it, and enabled him to escape to Geneva. The executioners of Languedoc punished her for it, by throwing her into a dungeon ; but the sudden decay of her health having caused them to set her at liberty, she rejoined her son in the land of exile; and, as long as she lived near him, she did not cease to give him the example of the purest life, and to repeat to him, in her discourses, that happiness did not consist in riches or pleasures, but that it was the certain fruit of the knowledge of the truth, and the practice of virtue. His studies being finished, Abauzit went to travel in Holland, in 1696. That free country which had given an asylum to so many banished Frenchmen, had for him a singular attraction. He sojourned there a long time, in the society of Bayle, Basnage, and Jurieu. In London he saw Saint Evremond, that refugee philosopher, whose house was always open to the eminent men of the religious emigration, and Newton, who appreciated him so highly, that he sent him his ” Commercium Epistolicum,” with these words, ” You are well worthy to decide between Leibnitz and me.” King William made him brilliant offers, in order to retain him in England, but his mother recalled him to Geneva, and he did not delay to return thither.
M. Villemain has characterized with exquisite tact, that rather eccentric thinker, whom Rousseau compared to Socrates, but who was wrong in only communicating his science and wisdom to a few persons, who were admitted to his intimate confidence. ” Those first fruits of persecution,” says he, ” should have inspired in the young man the spirit of toleration and liberty, at the same time that the great variety of his studies inclined him towards free-thinking.” But he remained no less religious. He took part in the French translation of the Gospel, which was published at Geneva; and, during the course of his long life, he never ceased to occupy himself with theology and sacred criticism. Nothing in his works, bears the character of skepticism. Charity prevails in them more than dogmatism, and his language, though often strong in defence of his persuasion, was far removed from any thing approaching to anti-christian polemics. Voltaire has named him somewhere the ” chief of the Arians of Geneva; ” and he appears in fact, to incline to the opinions of the Unitarians : but with what reseiwe, and what religious gravity ! His two writings, ” On the Knowledge of Christ,” and, ” On the Honor which is due to Him,” have inspired the fine pages, which in the profession of faith of the ” Savoyard Vicar,” so greatly shocked Voltaire, as inconclusive, and a disavowal of incredulity.
” Admirable,” he adds, ” in the modesty and simplicity of his manners, and possessing his soul in peace until the age of eighty-eight years, Abauzit was, at Geneva, the true and silent model of that philosophic Christianity of which Rousseau became for the moment the incomparable orator.” [M. Villemain. Literature of the Eighteenth Century, vol. ii. pp. 106, 107. Edition of 1848.]
It is above all, in the letters of Abauzit to Mairan, that the rare penetration of his mind can be appreciated. It will be sufficient for us, in order to mark its profundity, to recall to mind that he occupied himself with Saint Gravesend in the solution of divers problems in mathematics and natural philosophy ; that he detected a mistake which had escaped Newton in his book on ” Mathematical Principles,” when, perhaps, there were not thirty persons in Europe capable of first to adopt the new ideas, and proclaim the marvellous discoveries of that bold innovator, because he was a sufficiently great geometrician to seize upon their’ truth, and divine their ultimate bearings.
The extraordinary impression that he produced upon his fellow-citizens seems to be fully represented by the following appreciatory notice of his contemporary Senebier : ” Great wrong would be done to Abauzit,” says he, ” in judging him solely by the writings which have been published in his posthumous works. He did not desire that any of them should see the light of day. He thought so little of them that he never asked them back when he had lent them, and did not fear to burn them, when he had them under his hand. Those alone can form a just idea of the great merit of Abauzit, who knew him personally. They alone can note the precision and justice of his ideas, the extent of his views, and the solidity of his judgments. Abauzit knew many languages perfectly; he had searched into ancient and modern history; he was one of the most scrupulous geographers; he corrected all the charts in his atlas, and the celebrated Pocock believed that Abauzit like himself had travelled in Egypt, from the exact description which he gave him of that distant country. He had equally prosecuted the study of geometry, and even the most profound portions of mathematics. He joined to this the most intimate acquaintance with natural philosophy. In conclusion, he was extremely well versed in the knowledge of medals and manuscripts. All these different sciences were Bo disposed in his mind, that in one instant, he could assemble every thing most interesting in any one of them. Behold a remarkable example of this: Rousseau was working at his dictionary of music ; he had occupied himself in particular with the music of the ancients, and he had just finished making very laborious researches upon that subject, which he believed to be complete. He spoke on the subject to Abauzit, who gave him a faithful and luminous account of all which he himself had learned through long and hard study, and discovered many things to him of which he was before ignorant. Rousseau believed^that Abauzit was at that time occupying himself with the study of ancient music ; but that man, who knew so many things, and who had never forgotten any thing, artlessly told him that it was thirty years since he had studied that matter.
” One could not know Abauzit without being profoundly penetrated with respect for his universal and modest science, and it is without doubt the great impression which he made upon Rousseau, which persuaded the latter to address to him the only eulogy which he ever made upon a living man, but at the same time the finest and best merited of eulogies.” [Jenn Senebier, Literary History of Geneva, vol. iii. p 68. sq. Geneva, 1786.]
It remains for us to prove the influence at once literary and religious, which the numerous ministers exercised who had established themselves at Geneva, at Lausanne, and in the other towns of French Switzerland. The action of those martyrs of the faith more than once crossed the narrow limits of the country which served as an asylum to them. It often extended itself over the neighboring provinces of France, and even over all the Protestant society in the south of that kingdom ; so that that little corner of the earth became a real obstacle to the definitive establishment of the odious administration inaugurated by the act of the revocation. Three classes of refugees succeeded each other during a hundred and fifty years in the Pays do Vaud and the neighboring Cantons,—the religious refugees of the time of Louis XIV., the literary refugees of that of Louis XV., and the political refugees of the contemporaneous epoch. Each strove in its turn to react, by their writings and actions, upon the country which had rejected them from its bosom. The part of the first is the only one which enters into the scope of the history we are endeavoring to sketch.
At the close of the year 1685, more than two hundred pastors had retired to Switzerland. About eighty of them could be counted in the town of Lausanne alone. [Ermnn and Reclam, vol. i. p. 192.] But from the depth of their exile they did not cease to correspond with their former flocks. They often returned secretly to France to confirm them in their attachment to the reform. They preached to the assemblages in the desert, gave the sacraments, and blessed marriages, at the risk of encountering death in the midst of those faithful people to whom they brought the word of life. The minister, Claude Brousson, having thus furtively re-entered Nlmes, in 1698, was taken, judged in conformity with the edicts, and hung. His colleague, Peyrol, was preaching at Geneva when the fatal news was announced to him. He informed his audience of it, and accused himself before it of weakness, in having abandoned a post, while guarding which Brousson had found a Christian’s death. His emotion was so lively, and his grief so profound, that after descending from the pulpit, he took to his bed and never rose from it again. [Historical notice of the Reformed Church of Nlmes, by Borrel, p. 26. NImee, 1887.]
But little by little, the Protestants who were dispersed throughout Languedoc and the neighboring provinces, were visited more rarely by their former pastors. They continued however to meet in the midst of forests and mountains, and in immense caverns, far from inhabited places, and oftenest under cover of the night. ” (History of the French Protestant Refugees, from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to Our Own Days, pp. 210-213)
Date: 09 Jan 2010
pour quoi jean a dire dans un revelation separe l’eglise un lier de tres saint un lier saint lautre et dehor de Eglise que sinifie de trois partie