1902 Encyclopedia > Richard Simon

Richard Simon
Theologian and "Father of Biblical Criticism

RICHARD SIMON, (1638-1712), the "father of Biblical criticism," was born at Dieppe on the 13th May 1638. His early studies were carried on at the college of the Fathers of the Oratory in that city. He was soon, by the kindness of a friend who discerned the germs of those talents which were afterwards to render him so celebrated, removed to Paris and enabled to enter upon the study of theology, where he early displayed a taste for Hebrew and other Oriental languages. He was allowed great indulgence in the prosecution of his studies by the authorities of the Congregation of the Oratory, being exempted from those exercises of piety which for an entire year were binding on the other students. This dispensation aroused the ill-will and jealousy of the other Oratorian novitiates. Simon was charged with reading "heretical" books, this designation being applied to Walton's Polyglott, the Critici Sacri, and other works of a similar kind. But this jealous opposition proved abortive. Simon, after investigation, was allowed and encouraged to continue his favourite pursuits. At the end of his theological course he was sent, according to custom, to teach philosophy at Juilly, where there was one of the colleges of the Oratory. But he was soon recalled to Paris, and employed in the congenial labour of preparing a catalogue of the Oriental books in the library of the Oratory. This gave him full access to those works, the fruits of the study of which appear so fully in his after writings. His first essay in authorship was the publication of a work entitled Fides Ecclesiae Orientalis, seu Gabrielis Metropolitae Philadelphiensis Opuscula, cum interpretatione Latina, cum notis (Paris, 1671), the object of which was to demonstrate that the belief of the Greek Church regarding the Eucharist was the same as that of the Church of Rome. Simon entered the priesthood in 1670, and the same year wrote a pamphlet in defence of the Jews of Metz, who had been accused, as they have so often been before and since, of having murdered a Christian child. It was shortly before this time that there were sown the seeds of that enmity with the Port Royalists which filled Simon's after life with many bitter troubles. The famous Arnauld had written a work on the Perpetuity of the Faith, the first volume of which treated of the Eucharist. M. Diroys, a doctor of theology, and a friend of Arnauld's, asked Simon his opinion of the book. Simon replied that it was one of the best works which had been published by the Port Royalists, but that it nevertheless required correction in several important passages, and agreed reluctantly, and after some delay, at Diroys's request, to write a letter referring to these passages, on the understanding that the original was to be returned to him. The criticisms of Simon excited great indignation among the friends and admirers of Arnauld, and he felt the effects of their vindictiveness to the latest hour of his life. Another matter was the cause of inciting against him the ill-will of the monks of the Benedictine order. A friend of Simon's, one of the Oratorians, was engaged in a lawsuit, in his capacity as grand vicar of Prince Neubourg, abbe of Fecamp, with the Benedictine monks of that establishment. Simon lent to his friend the aid of his powerful pen, and composed a memorandum in which he employed pretty strong language against the opponents of his friend. They were greatly exasperated, and made loud complaints to the new general of the Oratory that they were virulently assailed by a member of the brotherhood, with which they had always been on friendly terms. The charge of Jesuitism was also brought against Simon, apparently on no other ground than that his friend's brother was an eminent member of that order. The commotion in ecclesiastical circles was great, and it was seriously contemplated to remove Simon not only from Paris but from France. A mission to Rome was proposed to him, but he saw through the design, and, after a short delay dictated by prudential motives, declined the proposal. He was engaged at the time in superintending the printing of his Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament. He had hoped, through the influence of Pere la Chaise, the king's confessor, and the Duc de Montausier, to be allowed to dedicate the work to Louis XIV., but as His Majesty was absent in Flanders at the time the volume could not be published until the king had accepted the dedication, though it had passed the censorship of the Sorbonne, and the chancellor of the Oratory had given his imprimatur. The printer of the book, in order to promote the sale, had caused the titles of the various chapters to be printed separately, and to be put in circulation. These, or possibly a copy of the work itself, had happened to come into the hands of his ever-watchful enemies—the Port Royalists. It seems that, with a view to injure the sale of the work, which it was well known in theological circles had been long in preparation by Simon, the Messieurs de Port Royal had undertaken a translation into French of the Prolegomena to Walton's Polyglott. To counteract this proceeding Simon announced his intention of publishing an annotated edition of the Prolegomena, and actually added to the Critical History a translation of the last four chapters of that work, which had formed no part of his original plan. Simon's announcement prevented the appearance of the projected translation, but his enemies were all the more irritated against him on that account. They had now obtained the opportunity, which they had long been seeking, of gratifying their hatred of the bold Oratorian. The freedom with which Simon expressed himself on various topics, and especially those chapters in which he declared that Moses could not be the author of much in the writings attributed to him, especially aroused their opposition. The powerful influence of Bossuet, at that time tutor to the dauphin, was invoked; the chancellor Le Tellier lent his assistance; a decree of the council of state was obtained, and after a series of paltry intrigues the whole impression, consisting of 1300 copies, was seized by the police and destroyed, and the animosity of his colleagues in the Oratory rose to so great a height against Simon for having so seriously compromised their order by his work that he was declared to be no longer a member of their body. Full of bitterness and disgust Simon retired to the curacy of Bolleville, to which he had been lately appointed by the vicar-general of the abbey of Fecamp.

The work thus confiscated in France it was proposed to republish in Holland. Simon, however, at first opposed this, in hopes of overcoming the opposition of Bossuet by making certain changes in the parts objected to. The negotiations with Bossuet lasted a considerable time, but finally failed, and the Critical History appeared, with Simon's name on the title page, in the year 1685, from the press of Reenier Leers in Rotterdam. An imperfect edition had previously been published at Amsterdam by Daniel Elzevir, based upon a MS. transcription of one of the copies of the original work which had escaped destruction and had been sent to England, and from which a Latin and an English translation were afterwards made. The edition of Leers was a reproduction of the work as first printed, with a new preface, notes, and those other writings which had appeared for and against the work up to that date.

The work which had excited so much controversy and opposition consists of three books, the first of which deals with questions of Biblical criticism, properly so called, such as the text of the Hebrew Bible and the changes which it has undergone down to the present day, the authorship of the Mosaic writings and of other books of Scripture, with an exposition of his peculiar theory of the existence during the whole extent of Jewish history of recorders or annalists of the events of each period, whose writings were preserved in the public archives, and the institution of which he assigns to Moses. The second book gives an account of the principal translations, ancient and modern, of the Old Testament, and the third contains an examination of the principal commentators. He had, with the exception of the theory above mentioned, contributed nothing really new on the subject of Old Testament criticism, for previous critics, as Cappellus, Morinus, and others, had established many points of importance, and the value of Simon's work consisted chiefly in bringing together and presenting at one view the results of Old Testament criticism. The work is written in a clear style, and its tone is confident and frequently sarcastic. He displays great contempt for tradition and the opinions of the fathers. This latter peculiarity it was which specially aroused the enmity of Bossuet and other leading Romanists. But it was not only from the Church of Rome that the work encountered strong opposition. The Protestants felt their stronghold—an infallible Bible—assailed by the doubts which Simon raised against the integrity of the Hebrew text. Le Clerc ("Clericus"), the distinguished Dutch divine and critic, in his work Sentimens de quelques Théologiens de Hollande, controverted the views of Simon, and was answered by the latter in a tone of considerable asperity in his Réponse aux Sentimens de quelques Théologiens de Hollande, which he signed under the name of Pierre Ambrun, it being a marked peculiarity of Simon rarely to give his own name, but to assume noms de guerre at various times.

The remaining works of Simon may be briefly noticed. In 1689 appeared his Histoire Critique du Texte du Nouveau Testament, consisting of thirty-three chapters, in which he discusses the origin and character of the various books, with a consideration of the objections brought against them by the Jews and others, the quotations from the Old Testament in the New, the inspiration of the New Testament (with a refutation of the opinions of Spinoza), the Greek dialect in which they are written (against Salmasius), the Greek MSS. known at the time, especially Codex D (Cantabrigiensis), &c. This was followed in 1690 by his Histoire Critique des Versions du Nouveau Testament, where he gives an account of the various translations, both ancient and modern, and discusses the manner in which many difficult passages of the New Testament have been rendered in the various versions. In 1693 was published what in some respects is the most valuable of all his writings, viz., Histoire Critique des principaux Commentateurs du Nouveau Testament depuis le commencement du Christianisme jusques à notre temps. This work exhibits immense reading, and the information it contains is still valuable to the student. The last work of Simon that we shall mention is his Nouvelles Observations sur le Texte et les Versions du Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1695), which contains supplementary observations upon the subjects of the text and translations of the New Testament.

Simon is described as a man of middle stature, with somewhat unprepossessing features. His temper was sharp and keen, and as a controversialist he displayed a bitterness of tone and an acerbity of expression which tended only to aggravate the unpleasantness of controversy. He was entirely a man of intellect, free from all tendency to sentimentality, and with a strong vein of sarcasm and satire in his disposition. His reading was immense, and his memory powerful and retentive. He is said to have usually prosecuted his studies lying on the floor of his apartment, on a pile of carpets or cushions. Few men have written more that is worth reading on Biblical subjects than he, considering the hardships and vicissitudes of his chequered life. He died at his native city of Dieppe on the 11th April 1712, at the age of seventy-four.

The principal authorities for the life of Simon are the life or "éloge" by his grand-nephew De la Martinière in vol. i. of the Lettres Choisies, 4 vols., Amsterdam, 1730; Graf's article in the
first vol. of the Beitr. zu. d. Theol. Wissensch., &c., Jena, 1851; Reuss's article in Herzog's Enzyklopädie, vol. xiv., new ed.; Richard Simon et son Vieux Testament, by A. Bernus, Lausanne, 1869. For the bibliography, see, in addition to the various editions of Simon's works, the very complete and accurate account of Bernus, Notice Bibliographique sur Richard Simon, Basel, 1882. (F. C. )

The above article was written by: Rev. F. Crombie, D.D., Professor of Divinity, University of St Andrews.

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