Life and accomplishments
After the early death of his parents, he supported himself by the engraver's trade and the teaching of French, at the same time studying theology, in Basel, Hanau, and, after 1668, Heidelberg. At Basel he was captivated by Descartes' philosophy, which never quite lost its hold on him. He read also Thomas à Kempis and Tauler, but was especially influenced by the writings of the Dutch Mennonite mystic Hendrik Jansz van Barneveldt, published about that time under the pseudonym of Emmanuel Hiel.
In 1672 he became pastor of the French church at Annweiler in the duchy of Deux-Ponts. Here he became acquainted with Elisabeth, abbess of Herford, the granddaughter of James I of England and a noted mystic, with the Theologia Germanica, and with the writings of Antoinette Bourignon, which last supplied exactly what he wanted. The desire to make the acquaintance of this gifted woman took him to the Netherlands in 1676. He settled in Amsterdam, and published there in the following year his Cogitationzs rationales de Deo, anima, et Malo, which gained him an immediate reputation for scholarship and philosophic insight. It is Cartesian in form; the Trinity is conceived in mathematical terms; all knowledge is to rest on evidence-but the end of this knowledge of God is practical, to lead distracted Christendom back to unity. The influence of Thomas à, Kempis and Tauler is plainly visible.
From the Netherlands Poiret went on to Hamburg, still in quest of Antoinette Bourignon, was completely won by her at the first meeting, and until her death in 1680, he was her faithful disciple. He accompanied her in her wanderings, traveled several times as far as Holstein in connection with her exceedingly confused affairs, and returned to Amsterdam to see to the publication of her complete works, to which he prefixed a thoroughgoing defense of her and added a translation of the Göttliche Gesicht of Hans Engelbrecht, the Brunswick enthusiast. He defended her character and divine mission in a Mémoire touchant la vie de Mlle. A. Bourignon (1679), and championed her cause against Bayle and Seckendorf. He was also a warm admirer of Jane Lead. In 1688 he settled at Rijnsburg, where he busied himself on his own works and in multifarious labors for the Dutch booksellers, such as in the Dutch edition of Thierry Ruinart.
Summary of his writings
Among his original productions may be mentioned L'Économie divine, ou système universel et démontré des æuvres et des desseins de Dieu envers les hommes (Amsterdam, 1687; Eng. transl., The Divine Œconomy, 6 vols., London, 1713), which purports to reproduce the visionary notions of Antoinette Bourignon, but at least gives them in intelligible and consistent form. Another work, La Paix des ames dans tous les partis du Chriatianisme (1687), disregards the formal creeds of the various churches, and appeals to the minority of really sincere Christians, urging them to an inner union without the abandonment of their external affiliations. In De erudition, solida, superfciaria et falsa (1692), he distinguishes between superficial knowledge of the names of things and real or solid knowledge of the things themselves, which latter is to be attained by humble renunciation of one's own wisdom and will. He continued to make contributions to the philosophical and religious controversies of the time, as, for example, against Bayle and his "hypocritical" opposition to Spinoza. The work which probably ran through the most editions was the little treatise on the education of children which first appeared in 1690 a collection of his shorter writings: was frequently translated, and fluenced the Pietistic controversy at Hamburg. His most permanently valuable contribution was Bibliotheca mysticorum selecta (1708), which displays an astonishing acquaintance with ancient and modern mystics, and contains valuable information on some of the less-known writers. He also published a large number of mystical writings both from the Middle Ages and from the French Pietists of the seventeenth century. In 1704 he brought out a new edition of Mme. Guyon's writings, with the addition of a treatise printed for the first time and an introduction. In spite of his devotion to her, he was not a Quietist in the ordinary sense of the word. He would not have man's relation to God one of pure passivity but of receptivity. He repudiated predestination, and condemned Pelagianism because it suppressed the feeling of inherent sinfulness in man—just as he opposed Socinianism because it did not ascribe the whole of salvation to the operation of God's grace. Mystic as he was, he knew how to combine with his own peculiar attitude a firm insistence on certain dogmatic definitions, such as that of the Trinity. He continually appealed to the authority of Scripture.
Though after 1680 he led a quiet and retired life, he was recognized widely by the scholars of his time, such as Thomasius and Bayle, Jean Le Clerc and Walch, as a man of great learning; and his zealous participation in the cause of Antoinette Bourignon did not injure his good name as a devout mystic and an honorable man. His influence persisted after his death, not merely through the work of his spiritual son Tersteegen, but through the respect which his writings won for mysticism, forcing the regular theology, as represented by Le Clerc, Lange, Buddeus, Walch, and Johann Friedrich Stapfer, to take account of it.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jackson, Samuel Macauley, ed. (1914). "article name needed". New Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls.