1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vinet, Alexandre Rodolphe

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VINET, ALEXANDRE RODOLPHE (1797–1847), French critic and theologian, of Swiss birth, was born near Lausanne on the 17th of June 1797. He was educated for the Protestant ministry, being ordained in 1819, when already teacher of the French language and literature in the gymnasium at Basel; and during the whole of his life he was as much a critic as a theologian. His literary criticism brought him into contact with Sainte-Beuve, for whom he procured an invitation to lecture at Lausanne, which led to his famous work on Port-Royal. Vinet’s Chrestomathie française (1829), his Études sur la littérature française au XIX me siècle (1849–51), and his Histoire de la littérature française au XVIII me siècle, together with his Études sur Pascal, Études sur les moralistes aux XVI me et XVII me siècles, Histoire de la prédication parmi les Réformés de France and other kindred works, gave evidence of a wide knowledge of literature, a sober and acute literary judgment and a distinguished faculty of appreciation. He adjusted his theories to the work under review, and condemned nothing so long as it was good work according to the writer’s own standard. His criticism had the singular advantage of being in some sort foreign, without the disadvantage which attaches in French eyes to all criticism of things French written in a foreign language. As theologian he gave a fresh impulse to Protestant theology, especially in French-speaking lands, but also in England and elsewhere. Lord Acton classed him with Rothe. He built all on conscience, as that wherein man stands in direct personal relation with God as moral sovereign, and the seat of a moral individuality which nothing can rightly infringe. Hence he advocated complete freedom of religious belief, and to this end the formal separation of church and state (Mémoire en faveur de la liberté des cultes (1826), Essai sur la conscience (1829), Essai sur la manifestation des convictions religieuses (1842). Accordingly, when in 1845 the civil power in the canton of Vaud interfered with the church’s autonomy, he led a secession which took the name of L’Église libre. But already from 1831, when he published his Discours sur quelques sujets religieux (Nouveaux discours, 1841), he had begun to exert a liberalizing and deepening influence on religious thought far beyond his own canton, by bringing traditional doctrine to the test of a living personal experience (see also Frommel, Gaston). In this he resembled F. W. Robertson, as also in the change which he introduced into pulpit style and in the permanence of his influence. Vinet died on the 4th of May 1847 at Clarens (Vaud). A considerable part of his works was not printed till after his death.

His life was written in 1875 by Eugène Rambert, who re-edited the Chrestomathie in 1876. See also L. M. Lane, Life and Writings of A. Vinet (1890); L. Molines, Étude sur Alexandre Vinet (Paris, 1890); V. Rossel, Hist. de la litt. française hors de France (Lausanne, 1895); V. Rivet, Études sur les origines de la pensée religieuse de Vinet (Paris, 1896); A. Schumann, Alex. Vinet (1907). A uniform edition of his works was begun in 1908, see Revue de théologie et philosophie (Lausanne, 1908, 234 sqq.).  (J. V. B.)