Skip to main content
Select Source:

Jansenism

JANSENISM

JANSENISM. Jansenism was a religious movement in the Catholic Church, named after Cornelis Jansen (Latin, Cornelius Jansenius, 15851638), bishop of Ypres, which originated in Spanish Flanders and in France, and spread to other European countries. In their struggle to assert and defend their positions, its members exerted a deep influence over church, society, and politics until the end of the eighteenth century.

HISTORY

Jansen's Augustinus presented the teaching of Saint Augustine on salvation and grace, though disputes between theologians on these matters had been forbidden by the Holy See (1611, 1625). Posthumously published in Louvain (1640), the book was immediately attacked by the Jesuits, who denounced it as heretical. In France, where it was reprinted (1641, 1643), the work was well received, especially by the group under the influence of Jansen's friend, Jean Duvergier de Hauranne (15811643), abbot of Saint-Cyran. Their center was the convent of Port-Royal in Paris, reformed by the abbess Angélique Arnauld, which attracted influential members of the nobility and the bourgeoisie; later, a group of laymen, the solitaires, lived next to the nuns. Under the pen name of Petrus Aurelius, Saint-Cyran asserted the authority of local bishops over members of religious orders; his attacks on moral permissiveness (laxism) irked Cardinal Richelieu, who was also weary of his criticism of French alliance with Protestant states in the Thirty Years' War. In 1638, he was imprisoned for alleged heresy in Vincennes and his writings examined for errors.

Following a general papal condemnation of the book (In Eminenti, dated 1642, published 1643), for breach of the directive of silence on these matters, Richelieu initiated a campaign against Augustinus that focused on the accusation of Calvinism. Saint-Cyran's disciple, Antoine Arnauld (16121694), brother of Angélique Arnauld, responded in 1644 with a defense of Jansenius. He had already expanded the controversy by attacking the Jesuits on their laxity concerning reception of the Eucharist (De la fréquente communion, 1643) and morality (Théologie morale des Jésuites, 1643). During the rebellion that followed Richelieu's death, members of the Port-Royal circle were perceived as supporters of the Fronde (the revolt of the nobles and the parlement against the monarchy); to weaken them, his successor, Cardinal Mazarin, supported by the queen regent, Ann of Austria, sought a new and stronger condemnation. For that purpose, theological assertions disputed in Paris were sent to Rome, after attempts to have them censured by the Faculty of Theology (1649) or the assembly of the French Clergy (1650) did not succeed. Alexander VII's bull Cum Occasione (31 May 1653) condemned as heretical five of these propositions, but despite an introductory reference to the book, did not explicitly indicate their origin.

Against Jesuit claims that in this document the pope had condemned Augustinus as heretical and even disapproved Augustinian theology, Antoine Arnauld disputed the presence of the propositions in the book. Following a classical theological distinction, he asserted his compliance to the droit (right or principle): condemnation of possible Calvinist doctrine in the propositions, and his rejection of the fait (fact): that they were extracted from Jansenius's book. In reaction, French bishops, influenced by Mazarin, added to the papal condemnation an oath or formulary (1655) that asserted explicitly that the five condemned propositions were to be found in Augustinus. Arnauld's renewed objections caused the Sorbonne to censure and expel him with more than one hundred of his confreres (1656), after a long debate, heavily influenced by political pressure. He was defended by a member of the Port-Royal circle, Blaise Pascal (16231662), who, in his Provincial Letters (16561657), mocked the expulsion procedure and wittily attacked Jesuit moral laxism.

Two Roman pronouncements confirmed the bishops' ruling: Ad Sanctam (October 1656), which specified the presence of the propositions in the book; and Regiminis Apostolici (February 1665), which prescribed the pope's own formulary.

The weight claimed for these decisions introduced into the debate the issue of papal authority, and more precisely the existence of infallible judgments, dealing not only with doctrine but with mere facts. As this prerogative was not yet defined (it would be, in a very limited way, at Vatican I, 1871), many French theologians rejected it in accordance with their Gallican principles, which reserved infallibility for the Ecumenical Council. Four bishops declared that they could not endorse the formulary in their dioceses; when Rome started to proceed against them, nineteen of their colleagues offered their support. In order to prevent division, even schism, Louis XIV allowed the negotiation of a secret clause of conscience allowing "obsequious silence," that is, private dissent, on the "fact." This "Peace of the Church," authorized by Clement IX (14 January 1669), allowed the Port-Royal circle to extend its influence in biblical (Bible of Sacy, 1672), patristic, liturgical, and historical studies; it also took an important part in religious controversy with Protestants (Perpétuité de la foi, 16691672). By that time, the Jansenist movement had acquired its distinctive features, above all its strong individualism, that could be perceived as a sectarian menace to the church and the state. In their obstinacy to defend their right of conscience, the Jansenists dissociated themselves from the moderate participants in the Catholic Renewal; at the same time, they provoked Roman misgivings for their defiance and government resentment for their political tactics, especially their appeal to public opinion. Under suspicion in Paris and in Rome, the leaders, Antoine Arnauld and Pasquier Quesnel (16341719), took refuge in the Spanish Netherlands (1685). The publication in 1702 of a Case of Conscience submitted to the Sorbonne was perceived as a breach of the 1669 agreement since, approved by forty theologians, it brought back the issue of the "fact" of the five propositions. The evidence produced a few months later by Quesnel's arrest (May 1703) of an extensive Jansenist network, active even in Rome, incited Louis XIV to seek a renewal of the condemnations. Clement XI obliged with the bull Vineam Domini (1705), which condemned the Case and reiterated the earlier pronouncements. As it proved ineffective, the king requested another document considering Jansenism as a whole; for that purpose were denounced excerpts from Quesnel's spiritual book, Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament (Moral reflections on the New Testament), a verse-by-verse presentation of the biblical text, followed by adapted meditations. The Apostolic Constitution Unigenitus Dei Filius (1713) censured 101 passages from Quesnel's work, presented in a thematic order that explicitly established Jansenism as opposed to orthodox Catholicism, not only on the matter of salvation and grace, but on many aspects of religious life. As the specific degree of error of each passage was not indicated (the censure was in globo, "as a whole"), different interpretations were possible. This imprecision stirred opposition to the papal document by a minority of bishops, clergy, and laity, headed by the archbishop of Paris, cardinal Louis Antoine de Noailles (16511729), who demanded a clarification. Louis XIV moved to crush the protest but he died (1715) before the national council he had summoned over papal reluctance could meet.

THE CRISIS OF UNIGENITUS

Despite the limited areas of resistance and the low numbers of opponents, Unigenitus generated a crisis that was to have ripple effects. The papal constitution became exemplary of a type of Catholicism that was rejected both for its doctrinal deficiencies and its authoritarianism. This rejection also took on political tones, because of the involvement of the secular power in the conflict. After Louis XIV's death, extremist bishops, clergy, and laity, emboldened by the support offered by the regent, Philip of Orléans, in 1717 appealed against Unigenitus to a future General Council. Soon, however, the state turned against them, under the ministry of Cardinal Fleury, who exiled or jailed them. In 1730, Unigenitus was registered as law of the land, which meant that opposition to it became a civil crime. In 1749, the archbishop of Paris, Christophe de Beaumont (17031781), decided to deny the sacraments (and therefore Catholic burial) to those who did not assent to the bull and did not produce a certificate of confession. These measures contributed to a weakening and dispersion of the Jansenists. Many continued in their opposition, appealing to public opinion and seeking support from the parlements. Some became more extreme, as manifested in the "miracles" of Saint-Médard cemetery and the Convulsionaries, who associated pain with spiritual experience (17301760). In these instances, the spiritual confusion of the believers was expressed through miraculous cures and self-imposed suffering; at the theological level, "figuratism" or a reinterpretation of history through biblical images (J. J. Duguet and J. B. d'Etemare) was another way to voice disillusion or even despair. The expulsion of the Jesuits from France (17611764), and the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773, were perceived as a victory of the Jansenists. The events certainly demonstrated the influence of the movement, diffused through numerous pamphlets, books, and the clandestine newsletter, Nouvelles ecclésiastiques (17281803), an influence that spread through most European Catholic countries.

EUROPEAN JANSENISM

Jansenism was already present in the United Provinces, where many Appellants had settled; in 1723, the consecration of a bishop elected by the clergy without Rome's approval established a schismatic church that still survives (Old Catholic Church). In Mediterranean and Middle European countries, many of the Jansenist themes surfaced in various expressions of the "Catholic Enlightenment," which developed under the protection of the state. Though opposed to the philosophes, they favored a critical renewal of Christianity, modeled on the early church and based on the writers of the Port-Royal circle. The decrees of the Synod of Pistoia (1786), condemned by Pius VI in Auctorem Fidei (1794), represent this perspective. This last document, carefully prepared, avoided the imprecisions of the former ones, and condemned with precise qualifications every aspect of Jansenism.

JANSENISM AND REVOLUTION

In their resistance to the state in the name of their religious convictions, members of the Jansenist movement influenced the opposition to absolutism that prepared the way for the French Revolution, both in actions and in words. Some were directly involved in the first stages of the Revolution, but they soon disagreed on the issue of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790). Very few actually adhered to the Constitutional church, but as its leaders, especially Bishop Henri Grégoire (17501831), came to see themselves as the heirs of Port-Royal, they manifested in the early nineteenth century what can be seen as the last coherent form of Jansenism.

WHAT IS JANSENISM?

During the past fifty years the issue of Jansenism has been the object of extensive research, the results of which modify considerably the classic historical perspective. Contrary to the traditional acceptation of the word, the association with Calvinism has been disproved as well as the puritanical connotation of rigorism. With their common Augustinian background, the five condemned propositions could represent a certain proximity with Protestantism, but this proximity was explicitly rejected by those concerned. As to the opposition to laxism, it was an early feature of the Catholic Renewal adopted by many, especially in the French church, against the practice of religious orders. The Jansenist movement, on the other hand, had important repercussions on early modern European history at the religious and political levels.

Religious Jansenism. Jansenism is to be understood within the larger context of the Catholic renewal that followed the Council of Trent (1545). It represents a traditional and rather conservative element that wanted to reform the church in order to recompose Christian unity. It was also a reaction against the progressive version of Catholicism offered by the Jesuits and their disciples. Jansenius's Augustinus was an attempt to counter Molinism (an optimistic interpretation of the salvation process) by the assertion of strict Augustinianism. His reconstruction, in contravention of the Roman ban, was presented as a defiance of the authority of the church. When the Port-Royal circle defended the book against early papal condemnations, they provided a confirmation of this perception. Later bickering on the five propositions and resistance to episcopal and pontifical judgments reflected their sectarian position. Inevitably, these difficulties with the magisterium of the church accentuated a form of individualism inherent to any reform movement. Taking as their reference an idealized early church, the Jansenists could not embrace the centralized post-Tridentine structure; instead, they favored a hierarchical system where the rule of the pope would be balanced by that of bishops, and the rule of bishops by that of their clergy. Hence there was a notable drift toward Gallican Episcopalism, and later Richerist Presbyterianism.

This divergence on ecclesiastical structures was not the only one. The other deviations condemned by the bulls Unigenitus and Auctorem Fidei suggest that, in an abstract way, Jansenism came to represent an alternative to Tridentine Catholicism, distinct by its doctrine of salvation, its conception of the church, as well as its exigence on sacramental reception, moderate devotions, access to the Bible, and liturgical participation. This ideal attracted clergy and laity, who regrouped in parishes and religious communities, eventually forming a network of faithful who shared the same goals of purification and reform, and undertook to impose it on others. This perception explains why, as they insisted on their Catholic orthodoxy, the hierarchy strove to identify their errors and to eradicate them.

Political Jansenism. The political ideal of Jansenius and of his French supporters was that of a Catholic monarch promoting the interests of the church. Their objections to the modern state account for their early difficulties and the mistreatment they had to endure. These difficulties excited a spirit of resistance, combining a "mentality of opposition" with an energetic defense of their ideas. They looked for support in the higher circles of church and state, constituted systems of influence, attacked their adversaries, and appealed to public opinion. This activism in turn developed and nuanced their "political theology." Augustinian in principle, it grew stronger in its opposition to absolutism; by the middle of the eighteenth century, some started to envision in the state the participatory polity they advocated in the church.

As a social group, the Jansenists appear more diverse than was long thought. Though significant, the participation of the nobility was limited, mostly to those who had an allegiance to the Port-Royal community, through family connections, education, and religious objectives. Especially in times of crisis, the Jansenist cause received the support of an "old style middle class," the bourgeoisie de robe. This social group had the education and time to be engaged in spiritual life and theological reflection. They also were concerned with the religious reform of society, primarily through education, social action, and political involvement. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the active members of the movement, male and female, belonged to that group. But this does not support a once favored political interpretation of the Jansenist phenomenon. If undeniably Jansenist exaltation of the right of conscience represented values attractive to bourgeois ideals, Jansenist morality with its rejection of temporal achievement and its dramatic appeal to perfection could not appeal to the same bourgeoisie. Recent historiography has evidenced Jansenist influence in the lower classes, especially in towns, mostly the result of education and pastoral care. The presence and influence of women in these different groupsoften decried by the adversarieshas also been documented, confirming a new perception of the movement, less elitist, both traditional and modern in its perspectives.

See also Absolutism ; Arnauld Family ; Calvinism ; Clergy: Roman Catholic Clergy ; Gallicanism ; Jesuits ; Louis XIV (France) ; Reformation, Catholic ; Reformation, Protestant ; Trent, Council of .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bolton, Charles A. Church Reform in 18th Century Italy (The Synod of Pistoia, 1786). The Hague, 1969.

Ceyssens, Lucien. "Les cinq propositions de Jansenius à Rome." Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 66 (1971): 449501, 821886.

Ceyssens, Lucien, and Joseph A. G. Tans. Autour de l'Unigenitus. Louvain, 1987.

Golden, Richard M., ed. Church and Society under the Bourbon Kings. Lawrence, Kans., 1982.

Gres-Gayer, Jacques M. Le Jansénisme en Sorbonne, 16431656. Paris, 1996.

. "The Unigenitus of Clement XI: A Fresh Look at the Issues." Theological Studies 49 (1988): 259282.

Hamscher, Albert N. "The Parlement of Paris and the Social Interpretation of Early French Jansenism." Catholic Historical Review 63 (1977): 392410.

Kolakowski, Leszek. God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism. Chicago, 1995.

Kreiser, B. Robert. Miracles, Convulsions and Ecclesiastical Politics in Early Eighteenth Century Paris. Princeton, 1978.

Maire, Catherine L. "Port-Royal: The Jansenist Schism." In Realms of Memory. Rethinking the French Past. Vol. 1. Edited by P. Nora, pp. 301351. New York, 1996.

Plongeron, Bernard. "Recherches sur l'Aufklärung catholique en Europe occidentale (17701830)." Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine 16 (1969): 555605.

Sedgwick, Alexander. Jansenism in Seventeenth Century France: Voice from the Wilderness. Charlottesville, Va., 1977.

Van Kley, Dale. The Jansenists and the Expulsion of the Jesuits from France, 17571765. New Haven, 1975.

. The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution (15601791). New Haven and London, 1996.

Weaver, F. Ellen. "Erudition, Spirituality and Women: The Jansenist Contribution." In Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe: Public and Private Worlds. Edited by Sherrin Marshall, pp. 189206. Bloomington, Ind., 1989.

Jacques M. Gres-Gayer

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Jansenism." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Jansenism." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jansenism

"Jansenism." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jansenism

Jansenism

Jansenism. A Christian religious movement of 17th- and 18th-cent. France which drew its inspiration from the Augustinus (1640) of Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638). This study of St Augustine's doctrine of grace adopted his most rigid views, and was accused of reiterating the teaching of Calvin and of Baius. Jansen's views were propagated by Saint-Cyran, from 1635 the spiritual director of Mère Angélique Arnauld, abbess of Port-Royal near Paris, and he also had a considerable influence on Angélique's youngest brother Antoine, encouraging him to write his attack on the practice of frequent communion (1642). While emphasis on predestination, the fewness of the number of the elect, and the perfect state necessary to receive the sacraments, remained central, Jansenist teaching became associated with Gallicanism, and it attacked the casuistry of the Jesuits. It gained notable support from Pascal and Quesnel.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Jansenism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Jansenism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/jansenism

"Jansenism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/jansenism

Jansenism

Jansenism Theological school that grew up in the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was named after Cornelis Jansen, but the movement was strongest in France. The Jansenists believed that man is incapable of carrying out the commandments of God without divine ‘grace’, which is bestowed only on a favoured few. French Jansenists incurred the hostility of the Jesuits and of the monarchy, and they were condemned by Pope Clement XI in 1713.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Jansenism." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Jansenism." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jansenism

"Jansenism." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jansenism

Jansenism

Jansenism a Christian movement of the 17th and 18th centuries, based on the writings of the Flemish Roman Catholic Cornelius Otto Jansen (1585–1638), a strong opponent of the Jesuits who proposed a reform of Christianity through a return to St Augustine. Jansenism was characterized by moral rigour and asceticism.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Jansenism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Jansenism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/jansenism

"Jansenism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/jansenism