220px-Benedict_PictetToday marks my first day back at church with all my normal responsibilities. For the past 12 weeks I’ve had the tremendous privilege of devoting my hours and my energies to research and writing. After three months and 30,000 words, it’s time to set aside the doctoral dissertation for awhile. I’ll keep reading and keep refining over the months ahead, but the heavy lifting will have to wait until next summer. I loved my summer of study, and I am excited to get back to pastoring and preaching.

Most (all?) of my writing from this summer does not make for good blog material. But I figure you, O faithful blog reader, are especially curious (or at least especially patient). So I thought I would post one or two excerpts.

The paragraphs below give some historical background on Benedict Pictet–one of the most significant Reformed theologians you’ve never heard of and the author of the systematic theology used in the Scottish Kirk during most of the eighteenth century. One of my main theses is that Witherspoon’s theology was rooted in–and rarely deviated from–the theological tradition he inherited from the High/Late Reformed Orthodoxy of Pictet and Turretin. This particular section provides an overview of Pictet’s life and his role in one noted theological controversy.

I’ve kept in most of the footnotes, but shortened some of the longer, more esoteric ones. Enjoy! If that’s the right word.



Benedict Pictet was born May 30, 1655 to one of Geneva’s leading families. He studied theology under his uncle, Francis Turretin, and then completed his education in Paris and Leiden, where he studied under the conservative German Calvinist, Frederich Spanheim (the younger). After a short time in England, Pictet returned to Geneva where, in 1686, he was made an assistant to Turretin and Philippe Mestrezat in the theology department. Pictet acquitted himself well, succeeding his uncle to the chair of theology and eventually being sought after as Spanheim’s successor in Leiden. As a professor and pastor in Geneva, Pictet was widely regarded not only for his erudition but for his skillful preaching, his humanitarian work, his hymnwriting, and his elegant French revision of the Psalms. His two most important theological works were Christian Morals (1692) and Christian Theology (1696). Pictet died June 10, 1724, crying out in his final moments, “O, death, where is thy sting.”[1]

Outside of Theologia Christiana, Pictet is best remembered for his staunch opposition to removing the Helvetic Formula Consensus as a confessional standard in Switzerland. For most of the seventeenth century Reformed theology was embroiled in controversies surrounding the Academy at Saumur in France, as the leading men of Saumur—Moise Amyraut (1596-1664), Louis Cappel (1585-1658), and Josue de la Place (1596-1665)—resisted the Reformed orthodoxy of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). As early as 1637, Amyraut was brought before the French Reformed Church to account for his views on the universal extent of the atonement and hypothetical redemption.[2] When it became clear over the next decades that Amyraut would not be removed from his post or pastorate at Saumur—and in fact that the influence of Amyraldianism was spreading—the leading lights in Switzerland started planning for a more definitive response. In 1669, Francis Turretin (1623-1687) initiated the idea with Johann Henry Heidegger (1633-1698) of a Swiss Consensus that would address the errors of Saumur: namely, Cappel’s undermining of the inspiration of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, de la Place’s rejection of the immediate imputation of Adam’s sin, and Amyraut’s insistence that God intended Christ’s death to be for all (upon the condition that they believe). A draft of the Consensus was composed by Heidegger in Zurich, with Turretin of Geneva and Lucas Gernler (1625-1675) of Basel assisting. The Formula Consensus Helvetica was approved by the Swiss Evangelical Diet in 1675 and endorsed by the Genevan Company of Pastors in 1678 and by the Council in 1679.[3]

A generation later Geneva was ready to be done with the Consensus. In one of the ironic twists of theological history, the push to remove the Consensus was led by Turretin’s son, Jean-Alphone Turretin (1671-1737), whose main opponent defending the Consensus was his older cousin (Francis’s nephew), Benedict Pictet. Francis Turretin married later in life and his son Jean-Alphonse was not born until his father was forty-nine. Pictet and Francis Turretin had a close relationship: Turretin taught Pictet theology; Pictet succeeded Turretin as professor of theology at the Academy; Pictet was called to Turretin’s bedside in his dying days, and on November 3, 1687 it was Pictet (not the 16 year-old Jean-Alphonse) who delivered a hagiographical funeral oration in Turretin’s honor.[4] Toward the close of the oration Pictet prayed that the death of his beloved uncle would not “portend anything for our church” and that God would keep Geneva “safe and tranquil, an invincible theater of your power and virtue.”[5]

But it was not to be. Despite the protestations of Pictet and Benedict Calandrini (1639-1720), in 1706 the Council in Geneva removed the requirement for ordinands to sign the Formula. Even a mediating measure requiring ministerial candidates to agree not to teach anything against the Formula could not be approved. On September 6, 1706, the Council adopted a new ordination service which abrogated the Formula, only requiring ministers to subscribe to the Old and New Testaments and not to teach against the confessions and catechism of the church.[6] Unlike the younger Turretin and the majority of the Company of Pastors, Pictet did not believe the Formula was a hindrance to unity with the Dutch, or even that it hampered the projected reunion with the Lutherans.[7] He maintained instead that if Geneva lost the Formula, they would lose Dort and the confession of faith, and that eventually Arminianism would be established, or something worse. “I fear the spirits of this century are extremely given to novelties,” he said in defense of the Formula.[8]

Pictet’s fear proved to be prescient. In 1725, a year after Pictet’s death, the subscription formula of 1706 was set aside in favor of a still looser policy which required ministers only to subscribe to the Bible and to Calvin’s Catechism as a faithful summary of Scripture. There were no requirements to subscribe to—not even a requirement not to teach against—the Helvetic Formula Consensus, the Second Helvetic Confession, or the Canons of Dort.[9] It is no wonder that Robert Wodrow, writing from Scotland in 1730, passed along with great dismay the news that “Turretin, the son, had quite overturned everything in Geneva,” further lamenting that “subscription to Confessions wer [sic] no more required in that city.”[10] Calvin’s Geneva was effectively confessionless. Reformed Orthodoxy was in decline.


[1] Biographical information taken from Martin I. Klauber, “Family Loyalty and Theological Transition in Post-Reformation Geneva: The Case of Benedict Pictet (1655-1724)” Fides et Historia 24:1 (Winter/Spring 1992), 54-67, Klauber; James I. Good, History of the Swiss Reformed Church Since the Reformation (Philadelphia: Publication and Sunday School Board, 1913), 176-178. The only full biography of Pictet is Eugne de Budé, Vie de Bénédict Pictet, theologien genevois (1655-1724) (Lausanne: Georges Bridel, 1874). Special thanks to David Eastman, Assistant Professor of Religion at Ohio Wesleyan University, for translating portions of the Budé volume into English for use in this project.

[2] For an evenhanded overview of Amyraut’s views on predestination and the atonement see “Controversy on Universal Grace: A Historical Survey of Moïse Amyraut’s Brief Traitté de la Predestination” in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definitive Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, ed. David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 165-199.

[3] Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation 4 vols., Compiled with Introductions by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 4:516-530. See also Martin I. Klauber, “The Helvetic Formula Consensus (1675): An Introduction and Translation,” Trinity Journal 11 (1990): 103-123; The Creeds of Christendom 3 vols., 6th edition, ed. Philip Schaff, rev. David S. Schaff (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 477-489. Klauber’s translation of the Formula is used in Reformed Confessions, along with the original introductory preface translated by Richard Bishop.

[4] For this history see Klauber, “Family Loyalty,” 57-60; see also, by Klauber, Between Reformed Scholasticism and Pan-Protestantism: Jean-Alphonse Turretin (1671-1737) and Enlightened Orthodoxy in the Academy of Geneva (London: Associated University Presses, 1994), 143-164.

[5] “Funeral Oration of Benedict Pictet Concerning the Life and Death of Francis Turretin” translated by David Lillegard in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology 3 vols., trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997), 3:676.

[6] Klauber, Between Reformed Scholasticism and Pan-Protestantism, 146-148, Good, History of the Swiss Reformed Church, 177-178.

[7] Budé, Vie de Bénédict Pictet, 43.

[8] Ibid., 41. Cf. Klauber, “Reformed Orthodoxy in Transition: Benedict Pictet (1655-1724) and Enlightened Orthodoxy in Post-Reformation Geneva” in W. Fred Graham (ed.), Later Calvinism: International Perspectives, Sixteenth Century Essays an Studies 22 (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1994), 98.

[9] Good, History of the Swiss Reformed Church, 178. See also James T. Dennison, Jr., “The Twilight of Scholasticism: Francis Turretin at the Dawn of the Enlightenment” in Protestant Scholasticism, eds. Trueman and Clark, 244-255.

[10] Robert Wodrow, Analecta: Materials for a History of Remarkable Providences mostly Relating to Scotch Ministers and Christians, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: Maitland Club, 1853), 4:149.