*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 8th of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
If you joined us last weekend for the 2nd edition of the Weekend Edition, you heard me talk a good bit about the Enlightenment. And whether or not you can remember the names, or could pass a pop quiz on the subject, I hope you took into account the ideas- ideas that animated those characters then, but also us today.
Today we remember a man who lived in the middle of that early Enlightenment in France- he was Pierre-Daniel Huet, born on this day in 1630 in Northern France. He was orphaned at 6- went to live with his uncle, who subsequently died early and was raised by his Aunt and her three daughters until he went to a school run by the Jesuits.
He showed remarkable promise and was summoned by Queen Christina of Sweden, who Rene Descartes had recently tutored.
Remember him? One of the founders of Enlightenment philosophy and in the school of “rationalism”- that is- starts with the “ratio” or “reason.” Descartes decides to see what one thing he can know with certainty- and from there, he will put together an all-encompassing theory of knowledge and the world. Descartes strips away everything he knows except that he knows that he is a thinking organism. From thence, “I think therefore I am” would be the first principle.
Huet would become one of Descartes's fiercest critics and a leader in the “Fideist” school. What is that? Fideist and Fideism come from the Latin word for “faith” (think, Sola Fide or “faith alone”). Fideism opposes Descartes and any other philosopher who wouldn’t begin with faith. That is, without faith, it is impossible to understand the real nature of the world.
At its best, this school follows a long tradition in the church of ‘faith seeking understanding,” popularized by St. Augustine. At worst, it can become a kind of rejection of the natural world and the sciences- a kind of closing your eyes and saying, “I have faith in Jesus the rest doesn’t matter” or saying, "if you don’t have faith, you can’t understand anything.”
Huet would be a lifelong critic of Descartes- but was not opposed to learning at all. He even had an interest in apologetics and wrote an intellectual defense of the historicity of Christianity later in life. He also defended the traditional understanding of Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch).
While still in Sweden, Huet began to copy manuscripts to begin what would become an extensive library. He found a fragment of a Commentary on Matthew by the church father Origen- he later published it with his critical apparatus.
In the 1660s, he began to work in the natural sciences, wrote letters in French to a society of philosophers, and wrote on the history of the novel. He joined in on the famed “quarrel between the ancients and moderns”- no surprise, he joined in on team “ancient” despite having an affinity for the new writing style in the vernacular.
By 1670 he had studied across so many fields and had such a reputation that he was called by Louis XIV (the Sun King!) to tutor his son, the dauphin Louis.
Despite studying with Jesuits and working on behalf of the church, he was not ordained until 1676 at 46. From here, he made his way to become Bishop of Soissons and the Avranches. From his ecclesiastical position, he had time to expand his library, edit an anthology of his works and write an autobiography. Pierre-Daniel Huet died in 1721 at the age of 90. While maybe not a household name- we can remember him as a polymath (what we once called “Renaissance Men”), one who engaged with Descartes, rescued some of Origen, and weighed in on the crucial debate between ancients and moderns. Happy Birthday, Pierre-Daniel.
The Last Word for today comes from Luke 7:
20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who Roasts Therefore He Is- go to gillespie.coffee for some of your own- he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a grown man who refers to his favorite teams as “we” and “us,” and WE will win 31-13 this Sunday. Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.