Bayle was thirty-four years old before he saw a major work of his in print. Our knowledge of his life and ideas for the years before 1682 is based largely on his long letters to his family and a few Latin works on technical matters of philosophy. From a study of them several facts become clear. First, the Calvinist faith of his youth seems totally sincere. Secondly, it existed in an inquiring mind whose liberal attitudes might at first blush seem incompatible with true piety. Thirdly, both his enthusiasm for Cartesian philosophy and his skeptical interests date from his student years.


Infinite Regress Cartesian Theory Cartesian Philosophy Protestant Minister Religious Controversy 
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  1. 1.
    This letter and other documents concerning Bayle’s conversion are conveniently assembled in Desmaizeaux’s Vie de Bayle, published with the Dictionnaire, XVI, 45–50. The letter confirms his concern with the need for an infallible authority. “Et en effet, quelle apparence que Dieu laisse tomber l’église chrétienne dans la ruine et dans la désolation, qu’il lui cache toutes ses clartés, qu’il la prive de toutes ses lumières, et qu’en même temps il revête un homme du commun, un simple particulier, d’une abondance de grâce si extraordinaire qu’il soit comme le restaurateur de la vérité ... Il est bien plus de l’ordre de la providence de Dieu, et du soin que le Saint-Esprit prend des fidèles en gouvernant l’église par la communication de ses lumières de laquelle il gratifie les lieutenans du fils de Dieu en terre, que ce soit l’église qui instruise, qui corrige et qui réforme les particuliers et les abu? qu’ils pourraient laisser couler dans leur conduite, ou qui les guérisse de leurs erreurs, que non pas que les particuliers réforment l’église et la redressent de nouveau” (DHC XVI, 48 /, 15 April 1670).Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    In a letter to Pinsson de Riolles, quoted by Desmaizeaux (DHC XVI 263 r) and published by Gerig and Van Roosbroeck, Romanic Review, XXIII (1932), 207–210, he merely says, “les premières impressions de l’éducation ayant regagné le dessus, je me crus obligé de rentrer dans la religion où j’étais né.” The two accounts are not necessarily contradictory ; for Pinsson de Riolles was a Catholic, whom Bayle may not have wished to offend by mentioning transsubstantiation.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    It had more than one syllable, was probably sounded “Ba-ï-le” (cf. Labrousse, Pierre Bayle, p. 4, n. 14).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Jean Delvolvé concludes, unfairly it seems to me, “Bayle en quittant Toulouse n’est plus un homme de foi,” Religion, critique et philosophie positive chez Pierre Bayle (Paris: Alcan, 1906), p. 11.Google Scholar
  5. 3a.
    Charles Lenient, in his Etude sur Bayle (Paris : Joubert, 1855), p. 26, writes “il ne resta plus en lui qu’un scepticisme incurable, mal dissimulé sous quelques apparences de dévotion extérieure et de respect pour les livres saints.” I much prefer W. J. Barber’s view that it was reason, not faith, that Bayle learned to distrust, “Pierre Bayle: Faith and Reason,” in Moore, William, Rhoda Sutherland, and Enid Starkie, The French Mind, Studies in Honor of Gustave Rudler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952).Google Scholar
  6. 3b.
    Karl C. Sandberg, Faith and Reason in the Thought of Pierre Bayle 1670–1697, University of Wisconsin Dissertation, 1961 (Ann Arbor 61–2978), gives an interesting account of the conversion. The most exhaustive and thorough analysis of this period is to be found in chapters 3 and 4 of Mme Labrousse’s biography, rich in material previously unknown. She rejects Delvolvé’s point of view with impressive force.Google Scholar
  7. 1.
    Letter dated 2 November 1670, edited by Gerig and Van Roosbroeck in Romanic Review, XXIII (1932), 216–217, verified by consulting the autograph (Columbia 1). In quoting from the autograph letters, I have maintained the original spelling. Some revision of the punctuation is inevitable because the ink has faded or is unclear. Standard abbreviations, except for proper names, will be written out in their full form. There is no purpose in writing “lentem(en)t” when “lentement” will do, and at least one abbreviation (“qi” for “que”) can be confusing.Google Scholar
  8. 2.
    In a letter of 16 July 1678. Except for the last 14 words, this passage was omitted by the editors of Trévoux when they published Bayle’s letters to his family in OD I B. The original is number 62 in the collection of manuscript letters owned by Columbia University. The history of the collection and publication of Bayle’s letters has been deciphered with painstaking accuracy and incredible erudition by Elisabeth Labrousse in her Inventaire critique de la correspondance de Pierre Bayle (Paris: Vrin, 1961), an extremely useful book that has been a helpful guide in studying the Columbia collection. The eighteenth-century Catholic editors systematically eliminated various passages, those dealing with the persecutions suffered by the Huguenots before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, those like the one cited above containing expressions of Protestant piety, those revealing the poverty of the Bayle family, and many others for less obvious reasons. See pp. 27–30 of the Inventaire. Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    “Prions ce grand Dieu de qui dépend toute donation & tout don parfait de seconder si bien nos voeux & nos efforts, qu’enfin nous puissions venir à bout de toute sorte d’obstacles à sa gloire et à l’édification du prochain et au salut de nos ames” (OD I B, 115 l, 1 April 1679 — the last fourteen words have been restored following manuscript 75 of the Columbia collection). “Assistez-moi par vos saintes prières afin que Dieu me donne la force de fournir à ma charge [i.e., his teaching], & d’avoir quelque tems à moi pour songer aux fins que vous m’avez indiquées [i.e., the ministry], chose à quoi jusques ici il m’a été impossible de me préparer efficacement” (OD I B, 120 l, 12 October 1679). The proofreaders of the 2nd edition of the Œuvres diverses allowed innumerable errors to be printed. Obvious ones of faulty gender or number will be corrected in quotations without bothering the reader with a collection of useless (sic) notations. Likewise, the punctuation of both OD and DHC will be modernized, for their editors seem to follow the very confusing rule of inserting a comma before every que. In some cases this only obscures the meaning of Bayle’s very long sentences.Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    “Je me recommende toujours à vos bonnes et saintes prieres et vous remercie de celles que vous faittes toujours pour moi, je fais la meme chose pour vous tous, priant notre commun Pere celeste de vous bénir abondamment du ciel en haut de la terre en bas chacun en sa vocation” (unpublished section of Columbia autograph 52, 24 July 1677 to Jacob). See also OD I B, 62 r, 3 September 1675 to Jacob.Google Scholar
  11. 1.
    Note that this letter was written after the publication of the Pensées diverses. The same death occasioned the following startling remark in a letter to Jacques Lenfant, minister at Heidelberg and friend of Joseph’s: “Je l’amois tendrement, & il m’aimoit peu-être encore davantage. Dieu soit loué, qui l’a voulu retirer de ce monde, & me priver des consolations que j’en attendois!” (OD IV, 616 l, 8 August 1684, cited by Desmaizeaux, Vie de Bayle, DHC XVI, 76 r.)Google Scholar
  12. 2.
    Annie Barnes, Jean Le Clerc (1657–1736) et la république des lettres (Paris : Droz, 1938), chap. I, gives a useful summary of the history of Genevan Protestantism at this period. This scholarly and lively book is indispensable for the history of the ambiance in which Bayle lived. For more details on the theological issues,Google Scholar
  13. 2a.
    see Walter E. Rex’s, Essays on Pierre Bayle and Religious Controversy (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1965), chap. III. Mme Labrousse gives a fine analysis of young Bayle’s letter in her biography, pp. 101–107.Google Scholar
  14. 1.
    In a later letter of 1675 (OD I B, 60 /), he again remarks on how Cartesian philosophy may be turned against transubstantiation. His published works return to this idea on many occasions as we shall see.Google Scholar
  15. 2.
    Bayle remained in epistolary relations with his teacher until at least 1697. Mme Labrousse’s Inventaire lists eight letters from him to his former student, two of which were published in part in the Nouvelles de la république des lettres, March 1685, V, and DHC 2 Sadeur G. No letters of Bayle’s to Chouet have been found. Chouet was one of the first French Protestants to espouse Cartesian philosophy, See Walter E. Rex’s monograph, Essays on Pierre Bayle and Religious Controversy (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1965), chap. IV.Google Scholar
  16. 1.
    He calls Academic philosophy (not Pyrrhonism) a “maladie” (OD IV, 541 l).Google Scholar
  17. 3.
    Although he taught from 1675 to 1693, it is highly likely that much of the course was composed during his years in Sedan. A few remarks (mention of the Dutch logician Burgersdyck) sound as if they were added in Holland.Google Scholar
  18. 1.
    Defending himself from attacks by Jurieu, Bayle later wrote that he had never taught the subject matter of the Pensées diverses in his course (OD IV, 702 r).Google Scholar
  19. 2.
    The same argument is cited with approval in the Objections (OD IV, 150 r).Google Scholar
  20. 1.
    OD IV, 154 r. “Aliae probationes pro Unitate Dei solidissimse sunt profecto, & in paucis acutae.” The procedure here is similar to one that has caused considerable accusations of insincerity against Bayle. In later years he not infrequently devoted his attention to disproving the validity of a chain of reasoning all the while claiming to accept the conclusion on other grounds. The function of his analysis was critical only. This was exactly what Poiret had requested and it corresponded to Bayle’s inclinations.Google Scholar
  21. 2.
    “Bene meretur Auetor de Philosophia Cartesiana qui tarn solide probaverit Cap. V. spatium non convenire spiritibus, nee ab ipsa substantia corporea esse distinguendum” (p. 148 l).Google Scholar
  22. 3.
    P. 159 l. All quotations from the Objections are in my translation.Google Scholar
  23. 4.
    “ut proinde pronunciare aequum sit, non liquet” (p. 155 l).Google Scholar
  24. 1.
    Pp. 160–161.Google Scholar
  25. 2.
  26. 3.
    Delvolvé, Religion, critique et philosophie ..., p. 30, mistakenly identifies these theses with the ones Bayle had defended five years earlier in the competition for the chair at Sedan. In a letter to his father (OD I B, 124 l, 28 October 1680), Bayle writes, “J’ai fait soutenir quelques Theses, ausquelles j’ai joint une Dissertation ...”Google Scholar
  27. 4.
    In the introduction to the Recueil, Bayle’s expressed intention is to prove that the Cartesian theory of extension is correct. “Donc il est clair que le Concile de Trente a décidé une fausseté quand il a parlé de la présence du Corps de notre Seigneur sur les Autels” (OD IV, 187 r). He claims to hope that this will persuade the Catholic Church to abandon its dogma, in which case Cartesianism might well be the common ground for a possible rapprochement of the churches. It seems impossible to take his suggestion seriously (as does Delvolvé). All the prefaces of Bayle’s works (excepting the Dictionnaire) are fictions. Furthermore, two of the pieces are defenses by Bernier and Malebranche of the orthodoxy of their philosophy on the matter of the Eucharist, hardly the proper arguments to persuade the church to renounce its doctrine. Considerations of chronology also make Delvolvé’s opinion unlikely. He believes that Bayle’s early hopes of reconciliation were soon abandoned in favor of public toleration of different sects. But the Recueil was published after the Critique générale de l’Histoire du calvinisme de M. Maimbourg, a work that by Delvolvé’s thesis should have followed the Recueil’s preface.Google Scholar
  28. 1.
    Supra, p. 204.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1966

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  • Craig B. Brush

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