1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Le Clerc, Jean
LE CLERC [Clericus], JEAN (1657–1736), French Protestant theologian, was born on the 19th of March 1657 at Geneva, where his father, Stephen Le Clerc, was professor of Greek. The family originally belonged to the neighbourhood of Beauvais in France, and several of its members acquired some name in literature. Jean Le Clerc applied himself to the study of philosophy under J. R. Chouet (1642–1731) the Cartesian, and attended the theological lectures of P. Mestrezat, Franz Turretin and Louis Tronchin (1629–1705). In 1678–1679 he spent some time at Grenoble as tutor in a private family; on his return to Geneva he passed his examinations and received ordination. Soon afterwards he went to Saumur, where in 1679 were published Liberii de Sancto Amore Epistolae Theologicae (Irenopoli: Typis Philalethianis), usually attributed to him; they deal with the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of the two natures in Jesus Christ, original sin, and the like, in a manner sufficiently far removed from that of the conventional orthodoxy of the period. In 1682 he went to London, where he remained six months, preaching on alternate Sundays in the Walloon church and in the Savoy chapel. Passing to Amsterdam he was introduced to John Locke and to Philip v. Limborch, professor at the Remonstrant college; the acquaintance with Limborch soon ripened into a close friendship, which strengthened his preference for the Remonstrant theology, already favourably known to him by the writings of his grand-uncle, Stephan Curcellaeus (d. 1645) and by those of Simon Episcopius. A last attempt to live at Geneva, made at the request of relatives there, satisfied him that the theological atmosphere was uncongenial, and in 1684 he finally settled at Amsterdam, first as a moderately successful preacher, until ecclesiastical jealousy shut him out from that career, and afterwards as professor of philosophy, belles-lettres and Hebrew in the Remonstrant seminary. This appointment, which he owed to Limborch, he held from 1684, and in 1712 on the death of his friend he was called to occupy the chair of church history also. His suspected Socinianism was the cause, it is said, of his exclusion from the chair of dogmatic theology. Apart from his literary labours, Le Clerc’s life at Amsterdam was uneventful. In 1691 he married a daughter of Gregorio Leti. From 1728 onward he was subject to repeated strokes of paralysis, and he died on the 8th of January 1736.
A full catalogue of the publications of Le Clerc will be found, with biographical material, in E. and E. Haag’s France Protestante (where seventy-three works are enumerated), or in J. G. de Chauffepié’s Dictionnaire. Only the most important of these can be mentioned here. In 1685 he published Sentimens de quelques théologiens de Hollande sur l’histoire critique du Vieux Testament composée par le P. Richard Simon, in which, while pointing out what he believed to be the faults of that author, he undertook to make some positive contributions towards a right understanding of the Bible. Among these last may be noted his argument against the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, his views as to the manner in which the five books were composed, his opinions (singularly free for the time in which he lived) on the subject of inspiration in general, and particularly as to the inspiration of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles. Richard Simon’s Réponse (1686) elicited from Le Clerc a Défense des sentimens in the same year, which was followed by a new Réponse (1687). In 1692 appeared his Logica sive Ars Ratiocinandi, and also Ontologia et Pneumatologia; these, with the Physica (1695), are incorporated with the Opera Philosophica, which have passed through several editions. In 1693 his series of Biblical commentaries began with that on Genesis; the series was not completed until 1731. The portion relating to the New Testament books included the paraphrase and notes of Henry Hammond (1605–1660). Le Clerc’s commentary had a great influence in breaking up traditional prejudices and showing the necessity for a more scientific inquiry into the origin and meaning of the biblical books. It was on all sides hotly attacked. His Ars Critica appeared in 1696, and, in continuation, Epistolae Criticae et Ecclesiasticae in 1700. Le Clerc’s new edition of the Apostolic Fathers of Johann Cotelerius (1627–1686), published in 1698, marked an advance in the critical study of these documents. But the greatest literary influence of Le Clerc was probably that which he exercised over his contemporaries by means of the serials, or, if one may so call them, reviews, of which he was editor. These were the Bibliothèque universelle et historique (Amsterdam, 25 vols. 12 mo., 1686–1693), begun with J. C. de la Croze; the Bibliothèque choisie (Amsterdam, 28 vols., 1703–1713); and the Bibliothèque ancienne et moderne, (29 vols., 1714–1726).
See Le Clerc’s Parrhasiana ou pensées sur des matières de critique, d’histoire, de morale, et de politique: avec la défense de divers ouvrages de M. L. C. par Théodore Parrhase (Amsterdam, 1699); and Vita et opera ad annum MDCCXI., amici ejus opusculum, philosophicis Clerici operibus subjiciendum, also attributed to himself. The supplement to Hammond’s notes was translated into English in 1699, Parrhasiana, or Thoughts on Several Subjects, in 1700, the Harmony of the Gospels in 1701, and Twelve Dissertations out of M. Le Clerc’s Genesis in 1696.