A Biographical Sketch of Francis Turretin
by James R. Wilson
The following biography was originally published as an introduction to a short extract of Turrettin's Institutio Theologiae Elencticae titled The Atonement of Christ, translated into english by James R. Wilson (published in 1859 by the Board of Publication of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church). It is now in the public domain and may be freely copied and distributed. This material was scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal for Reformation Ink.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
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
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,
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."
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Francis Turretin (1623-1687)
The Italian "Puritan" - gotta luv 'em!
Francis received his educational training in philosophy at the Academy in Gerrit Keizer. Advancing to the study of theology, he sat under John Diodati, Frederic Spanheim, Alexander Morus, and Theodore Trunchin. He completed his studies at Geneva in 1644 and prepared to go abroad. Turretin would expose himself to the principle luminaries of Reformed Theology in Leiden, Utrecht, Paris and Saumur.
After nine months of study in Paris with the Church Historian David Blondel, Turretin was immersed into the conflict of reformed theology and the theology of Moise Amyraut (1596-1664). Amyraut was to give rise to Amyraldianism, a highly deviant aspect trying to stem out of Reformed theology which attempted to take the doctrine of Limited Atonement to replace it with a kind of Universalism. Amyraut taught the doctrine of hypothetical Universalism: that Jesus died for all men to make a way into heaven for each and everyone so long as they were willing to initiate the conversion. In reading Turretin's "Institutes" you can see vividly his refutation of the Amyraldian doctrines, and how they are truly deviant from the biblical record.
Turretin, in 1650, was called to the chair of philosophy at the Geneva Academy. Pleading his commitment to the Italian congregation, he declined, even as he declined a call from the church in Lyons the year before. In 1652, Lyons renewed it call following the untimely death of their pastor. Turretin filled the pulpit there for a time.
On his return to Geneva, Turretin was appointed successor of his mentor Theodore Tronchin in the chair of theology. Together with his duties as pastor in the Italian church, he would hold this position until his death in 1687. He died at la maison Turrettini on Wednesday, September 28, 1687. His last years spent summing up his remarkable career by preparing what he taught and defended for years-Genevan orthodoxy. The Institutio was published seriatim: volume one in 1679; volume two in 1682; and volume 3 in 1685. Turretin was planning a major revision of the work when he died.
Francis Turretin's magnum opus is his Institutio Thelogiae Electicae [Institutes of Elenctic Theology]. This massive work of Reformed scholasticism extends to nearly 1800 pages in the Latin edition of 1847. Written in bulky Latin with sentences frequently lasting nearly a half a page, Turretin's Institutes are at once familiar, profound, erudite, thorough and precise.
Turretin was a Calvinistic Scholastic theologian in an age of Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran and Socinian Scholastics. Like his great predecessor, John Calvin, Turretin entitled his scholastic work Institutio. This word suggests foundational or basic instruction. Yet, if a typical layman were to read this book today, he would undoubtedly become overwhelmed by its depth and preciseness, its theological and philosophical treatises, and its thoroughly biblical expositions. Yet, in Turretin's day, this was seen as a foundational work. It was used as a catechism.
Among Reformed Theologians of the world, both present and past, Francis Turretin's Insitutio fairs among the greatest Protestant theological work ever written. And if more disciples of Jesus Christ were to pick this work up and read it, then live it, the church would a force to be reckoned with in this 21st century. We may compare Turretin's work against Luther's voluminous productions, Calvin's writings, and others. Yet, I believe Turretin's theological compilation and sheer depth outweighs them all. Some may disagree knowing Calvin and Luther, and others, were the foundations on which Turretin's biblical theology emerged, and this may be true, yet, his logic, order, and keen insight into the Scriptures shines brighter among the scholastics than any I know.