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Pierre-Daniel Huet

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A distinguished savant and celebrated French bishop ; born 8 February, 1630, at Caen (Normandy), where his father, a convert from Calvinism, was sheriff; died at Paris, 26 January, 1721. He was left an orphan at an early age. While quite young he displayed a great zeal for study, especially for Latin poetry, geometry, and mathematics. After finishing his humanities, he attended lectures in law and acquired a very solid knowledge of it, as his letters testify. He became a passionate admirer of Descartes's philosophy, and when the Protestant minister at Caen, Samuel Bochart, the Oriental scholar, published his "Géographie sacrée", he was powerfully attracted to Biblical studies. Forthwith he began to learn Greek and Hebrew, and formed a friendship with Bochart, who assisted him in his studies. When this savant was called to Sweden by Queen Christina (1652), he brought young Huet with him. They did not remain there long, but Huet discovered at Stockholm some fragments of a manuscript of Origen, which inspired him with the idea of publishing the exegetical works of the great Alexandrian Doctor. He gave himself up entirely to this labour for fifteen years and hardly ever left Caen, except for a month or two annually, when he went to Paris to study and to renew his acquaintance with members of the learned societies. By his letters, his Latin poems, and his visits he kept up a friendship with Rapin, Chapelain, Labbe, Cossart, Conrart, Pellisson, Vossius, Francius, and Cuyper. Queen Christina, who had become a Catholic and resigned her crown, tried in vain to get him to come to Rome, or to undertake the education of her successor, Charles Gustavus. He could not be induced to leave Caen, where he had founded an Academy of Science and was devoting himself to chemistry, astronomy, and anatomy, in addition to studying Arabic and Syriac and engaging in controversy with his old master, Bochart.

In 1670, however, Louis XIV called him to the Court to assist in the education of his son, the Dauphin, with the title of assistant-tutor, Bossuet being the tutor. While holding this office, he drew up the plan and directed the preparation of the famous edition of the ancient classics ad usum Delphini . He was elected to the French Academy in 1674. A little later he decided to embrace the ecclesiastical state and was ordained priest in 1674, receiving from the king the Abbey of Aunay, in Normandy. He retired to Aunay as soon as the Dauphin's education was completed (1680), and, giving himself up to his studies, wrote a number of works which are mentioned below. In 1685 he was named to the See of Soissons, but before being preconized by the pope, he exchanged it for the See of Avranches. On account of the difficulties that arose between France and the Holy See, after the Assembly of 1682 (see GALLICANISM), he did not receive his Bulls from Rome until 1692. From that time, notwithstanding his zeal for study, Huet fulfilled his episcopal duties most conscientiously. He made a visitation of his diocese on several occasions, in spite of the difficulties of travelling, and the memorandum of his ordinances is a witness to his zeal. Nothing was neglected; be shows his anxiety for public morality, the education of the young, the care of the churches, the welfare of the hospitals. At the same time he put his seminary in charge of the Eudist Fathers and reformed his clergy, giving them three collections of synodal decrees. Further he provided them with an edition of the Breviary, for which he himself composed the hymns. After seven years' work in this ministry, the rigorous climate and his failing health compelled him, to the great regret of his clergy, to tender his resignation. The king, in return, presented him with the Abbey of Fontenay, near Caen; he took up his residence in the house of the professed Fathers of the Society of Jesus at Paris. Here his time was spent in exercises of piety, in interviews with the learned men of the day, and in composing his works. He died twenty years later, at the age of ninety-one, bequeathing his magnificent library to the Jesuits, and leaving the reputation of being one of the most brilliant minds of the century.

He owed this reputation to the immense number of his writings, which were as varied as were his studies. His literary works show him to have inherited and developed the spirit of the sixteenth century, rather than to have identified himself with the mind of the seventeenth century. He has the polish and, at times, the charm of the latter age, with his somewhat antiquated tendencies; he has the old literary style of Scudéry, Ménage and Chapelain, rather than the refined taste and brilliant diction of Bossuet and Fénelon, whom he was destined to survive. His historical writings and his works in exegesis display great learning and immense reading, but he does not exhibit in them the critical sense of a Mabillon, the penetration of Richard Simon, nor the talent of Bossuet. Part of his philosophical writings are directed against Descartes, part against the worship of human reason. He reproaches Descartes with a want of logic in his method and with an anti-religious tendency. Bossuet, who was not an admirer of Descartes's theory, protested, nevertheless, against the injustice and irrelevancy of some of the criticisms of his learned friend. But it was his posthumous work on the limitations of the human mind that drew forth serious protest. In it Huet is a pure fideist. For him, as for Pascal, reason and sense are incapable of bringing us to truth with certainty ; that can be done only by faith. The Jesuits refused at first, in the "Mémoires de Trévoux", to believe in the authenticity of the work. In this they were mistaken; it certainly was Huet's; but they were right when they declared that, by decrying human reason as it did, such a work was more likely to weaken than to strengthen the foundations of faith, as its author bad intended.

The following is a list of Huet's writings:

  • (a) Literary. — "De interpretatione libri duo" (Paris, 1661); "L'origine des romans" (Paris, 1670), translated into English (London, 1672); "Carmina latina et græca" (Deventer, 1668); "Lettre à Perrault sur le parallèle des anciens et des modernes" (Paris, 1672); "Lettre à M. Foucault sur l'origine de la poésie française" in the "Mémoires de Trévoux" (1711); "Lettres inédites ou publiées" in "Mémoires de l'Académie de Caen" (1900-1).
  • (b) Historical. — "Lee origines de la ville de Caen" (Rouen, 2nd ed., 1706); "Histoire du commerce et de la navigation des anciens" (Paris, 1716); "Commentarius de rebus ad eum pertinentibus" (Amsterdam, 1718), translated into English by John Aikin (London, 1726).
  • (c) Exegetical or theological. — "Origenis commentaria in sacram scripturam" (Rouen, 1608); "Demonstratio evangelica" (Paris, 1679); "Quæstiones Alnetanæ de concordiâ rationis et fidei" (Caen, 1690); "De la situation du paradis terrestre" (Paris, 1692); "Statuts synodaux pour le diocèse d'Avranches" (Caen, 1693), with supplements 1695, 1696, 1698; "De navigationibus Salomonis" (Amsterdam, 1698).
  • (d) Philosophical. — "Censura philosophiæ cartesianæ" (Paris, 1689); "Nouveaux mémoires pour servir à l'histoire du cartésianisme" (Paris, 1692); "Traité philosophique de la faiblesse de l'esprit humain" (Amsterdam, 1723).

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