See G. H. Dodge, The Political Theory of the Huguenots of the Dispersion (1947).
Pierre Bayle was a progressive Christian scholar who argued that faith could not be justified by reason, on the grounds that God is incomprehensible to man. As one of his proofs he pointed out that no reasonable person could discern any sense in God's choice of a leader for the Jewish nation: King David was indisputably a liar, murderer, thief and adulterer. Bayle did deliberately attempt to turn people into using reason in matters of faith, and he was so thorough in debunking the reasonableness and coherence of religion that his works subsequently influenced the development of the Enlightenment. Even though he was always a self-pronounced Protestant, he was also a skeptic in theological matters. Exceedingly influential in his time, the author is little known today (important though his role has been both as a forerunner of the Encyclopedists, and as a pioneer in the advancement of the principle of the toleration of divergent beliefs).
In 1681 the university at Sedan was suppressed. Just before that event, Bayle had fled to the Dutch Republic, where he almost immediately was appointed professor of philosophy and history at the Ecole Illustre in Rotterdam. There he published his famous Pensées diverses sur la comète de 1680 in 1682, as well as his critique of Louis Maimbourg's work on the history of Calvinism. The great reputation achieved by this critique stirred the envy of Bayle's calvinist colleague of both Sedan and Rotterdam, Pierre Jurieu, who had written a book on the same subject.
In 1684 Bayle began the publication of his Nouvelles de la république des lettres, a journal of literary criticism. In 1690 there appeared a work entitled Avis important aux refugies, which Jurieu attributed to Bayle, whom he attacked with great animosity. After a long quarrel, Bayle was deprived of his chair in 1693. However, he was not depressed by this misfortune, especially as he was at the time engaged in the preparation of his massive magnum opus, the Historical and Critical Dictionary, which actually constituted one of the first encyclopedias (before the term had come into wide circulation) of ideas and their originators. Bayle's attempt at impartial presentation of these ideas was instituted within a non-partisan framework of thoughtful consideration of both sides of any dispute. In his articles on the founder of Islam "Mahomet" and the Italian reforming monk Savonarola, to take but two examples, Bayle displays his penchant for judicious assessment of highly controversial figures and philosophies, while eschewing partisan interpretations. While this striving for objectivity is a standard criterion of scholarship in the modern world, in Bayle's time he was among the first to implement it in a sustained intellectual endeavor like his "Dictionary," amidst a sea of contentious ideologies and their zealous proponents.
The remaining years of Bayle's life were devoted to miscellaneous writings, arising in many instances out of criticisms made of his Dictionary. He remained in Rotterdam until his death on 28 December 1706 and was buried there in the Waalse Kerk where Jurrieu would be buried as well, 7 years later. Already in 1706 a statue in his honor was erected at Pamiers, "la reparation d'un long oubli" ("the reparation of a long neglect"). In 1959 a street was named after him in Rotterdam.
Bayle's erudition was considerable. As an original thinker, he was not outstanding; but as a critic he was deemed second to none in his own time, and even now the insight and skill with which he handled his subject is notable. The Nouvelles de la république des lettres (see Louis P. Betz, P. Bayle und die Nouvelles de la république des lettres, Zürich, 1896) was the first thorough-going attempt to popularize literature, and it was eminently successful. His multi-volume Historical and Critical Dictionary, however, constitutes Bayle's masterpiece. The astute English translation of "The Dictionary," by Bayle's fellow Huguenot exile, Pierre des Maizeaux, was named by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson as one of the one hundred foundational texts that formed the first collection of the Library of Congress.
Elisabeth Labrousse, Pierre Bayle (La Haye: M. Nijhoff, 1963) Elisabeth Labrousse, Bayle, trans. Denys Potts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983)