Francis Turretin

Biographical Sketch 

by Yuma Takei, Biola University

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Summary of Life

  • Francis Turretin was born on October 17, 1623 in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • His father was Benedict Turretin and his mother was Louise Turretin.[1] Turretin’s wife’s name is Isabelle de Masse but not much is known about her.
  • Turretin’s father was an impactful influence early on in Turretin’s life because of the father’s theological credentials. His father was a Professor of Theology at Geneva, pastor of the Italian church in the city, and a joint author of the Canons of Dort as an advocate of the Calvinism of the Synod.[2]
  • On Benedict’s deathbed, Turretin receives a blessing from his father: “This child is sealed with the seal of the living God.”[3] His father passes away on March 31, 1631.
  • Turretin receives educational training in philosophy at the Academy in Gerit Keizer, where he would advance to the study of theology, sitting under John Diodati, Theodore Tronchin (members of the Synod of Dort) and Frederic Spanheim. He would also learn Greek under the Professor of Greek, Alexander Morus.[4]
  • After completing his studies in 1644, he would go on a reformed, theological journey to many locations, gathering and formulating his thoughts (later recorded in his Institutes).
  • Near the end of his journey, Turretin encounters conflict with the uprising controversy of Amyraldianism in Saumur. Turretin listens to the “Triumvirate” of Amyraldianism: Moise Amyraut, Louis Cappel, and Jouse de la Place where they taught hypothetical redemption, i.e., that Christ has purchased redemption for each and every human being provided they themselves do not reject this salvation. Louis Cappel also rejected Adamic federal headship. Turretin would reject these doctrines as unorthodox because it skews imputation and the atonement of Christ.
  • This uprising of Amyraldianism was known as the Protestant “Civil War” because it created many polemic synods, books, and formulae.
  • Turretin was then appointed as the pastor of the Italian Church in Geneva in 1648.[5] Low and behold, Amyraldianism was problematic for the venerable company there. The Swiss thought this doctrine was dangerous and their concerns escalated to the demand that Amyraut be silenced, because his theology was Arminian or worse.[6] This controversy dies down by 1659.
  • In 1653, Turretin succeeds the place of Theodore Tronchin and is seated as Professor of Theology alongside his pastoral duties.
  • His last years were spent formulating and developing his theology. He was recalling his career by summarizing what he had taught and defended for years: Genevan orthodoxy.[7]
  • In these last few years, Turretin would produce one of his most remarkable works, The Institutes of Elenctic Theology.
  • Volume 1 was written in 1679, volume 2 in 1682, and volume 3 in 1685. Turretin planned on a major revision of his work but he died on September 28, 1687, forever missing his opportunity for revision.
  • Turretin’s Institutes was written for instruction to the church and denies major controversies that occurred in his life time, the main controversy being any form of Amyraldianism.
  • Turretin was 64 years old when he died, and left a legacy of theology for future generations.

Influence and Recognition

Who influenced Turretin?

  • Turretin had many influences but the most obvious influence is John Calvin. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion would prompt Turretin to write his own Systematic Theology in the form of question and answer.
  • Theodore Beza, a successor of Calvin, would also influence Turretin for his development of Calvinism.
  • Another major influence is Benedict Turretin. It is rare to see a father figure to be so theologically reformed and orthodox. Because of Bendict’s contributions to Geneva and the Synod of Dort, Turretin would receive what his father would pass down.
  • Turretin’s mentor, Theodore Tronchin, played a major role in the development of Turretin’s theology. Theodore Tronchin was a Genevan representative at the Synod of Dort.
  • Lastly, Moise Amyraut was an indirect influence, for Turretin’s theology was developed thinking about how Amyraldianism tweaks the doctrine of atonement and his foundational view of covenant and grace.[8]

Who did Turretin influence?

  • Turretin would influence many at Princeton Theological Seminary, particularly Archibald Alexander who launched Princeton in 1812. Archibald taught Systematic Theology at Princeton and he used Turretin’s Institutes as the course curriculum.
  • Charles Hodge, the student of Archibald, would be heavily influenced by Turretin’s Institutes, creating his own Systematic Theology in 1872. Charles Hodge’s work would be another resource that impacts the theological world in drastic ways.
  • Jonathan Edwards was also extremely influenced by Turretin, considering him the “great Turretin” placing him next to the Bible.[9]

What was Turretin known for?

  • Turretin is most known for his three volume Institutes of Elenctic Theology.

 What were Turretin’s key theological ideas?

  • Turretin’s Doctrine of Grace was a highlight in his theological reflections as he battles Amyraldianism and Arminianism. Specifically Turretin’s defense of limited atonement is of great importance.
  • Turretin’s twofold covenant theology is another key framework of his theology as his understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace would support his defense of the doctrines of grace.[10]

Works

  • Turretin wrote a variety of works, but he mainly wrote polemics, theological treatises, and systematic works.
  • Turretin wrote a variety of works such as The Atonement of Christ and other small theological treatises.
  • His most famous work is the Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Key beliefs of this work can be summarized as all areas of orthodoxy. His work is separated into three volumes and each volume has its own systematic categories.
  • These volumes deal with theology, God’s decrees, creation, providence, angels, man, sin, free will, the law, the covenant of grace, the person of Christ, the mediatorial office of Christ, calling and faith, justification, sanctification and good works, the church, sacraments and eschatology.
  • There is mainly one edition of the Institutes of Elenctic Theology and that is the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company edition. The original language was in Latin but it has been translated by George Musgrave Giger and edited by James T. Dennison. This publisher publishes reformed works in modern scholarship as well as reformed scholarship in the past.

Secondary Works

  • The key secondary sources that are used for Francis Turretin is Francis Turretin’s nephew’s biography of Francis Turretin recorded in the Evangelical Guardian and Review as wells as Dennison’s summary of Turretin’s life in the back of volume 3 of the Institutes of Elenctic Theology.
  • I would use Dennison’s articles in the back of the Institutes because it is comprehensive and gets to the core events and theology of Turretin.

 Bibliography

 Beach, J. Mark. Christ and the Covenant: Francis Turretin’s Federal Theology as a Defense of the Doctrine of Grace. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007.

Dennison, T. James Jr. “The Life and Career of Francis Turretin.” In Institutes of Elenctic

Theology Volume 3, 639-648. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1997.

 Lillegard, David. “Funeral Oration of Benedict Pictet Concerning the Life and Death of Francis

Turretin.” In Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 3, 659-676. Phillipsburg New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1997.

Phillips, Ross Timothy. Francis Turretin’s Idea of Theology and its Bearing upon his Doctrine of Scripture. 1986.

The Evangelical Guardian and Review 2, no.12 (April 1819): 529-541.

Footnotes

[1] The Evangelical Guardian and Review 2, no.12 (April 1819): 530.

[2] James T. Dennison Jr, “The Life and Career of Francis Turretin,” in Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 3 (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1997), 641.

[3] Ibid, 642.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Evangelical Guardian and Review, 532.

[6] Ibid, 644.

[7] Dennison, 647.

[8] Mark J. Beach, Christ and the Covenant: Francis Turretin’s Federal Theology as a Defense of

the Doctrine of Grace (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 13.

[9] Dennison, 657.

[10] Beach, 13.

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