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Jansenistic Piety


Though the strong divergent personalities of the Jansenist movement somewhat prevent identifying a clear and homogeneous spirituality, there are enough theoretical and practical elements to define a Jansenist type of piety. It would be irrelevant to find it in augustinus, a purely theological book, but the Augustinian vision of the relation between God and man that it presents is certainly a key to understanding Jansenist spirituality. It was inspired by an abhorrence of molinism, that is, a perspective that allowed for some human participation in the process of salvation. For the Jansenists, it was essential to stress God's transcendence and omnipotence in order to establish with him a proper relationship based on love. They saw the discernment of God's will in one's life mainly as a prayerful process, checked and guided by spiritual direction. What is particular to the movement may be the importance given to a knowledge of God acquired through meditation on Scripture and liturgy, the ordinary ways through which God inspires and communicates with the faithful. Consonant is the notion of "vocation" shared with the French school of spirituality at large. Jansenist followers believed that every individual is called by God to a particular state of life and given the grace to live in it. This is clear in the case of religious or priestly vocations but is also applied to secular conditions as well. In accord with the accent put on divine transcendence is the Jansenists' attraction to manifestations of the supernatural, in the form of signs and miracles.

The Jansenists have been decried for their rigorism in moral and sacramental life. Their moral rigorism was at times more pronounced, because of their opposition to Jesuit laxism, or due to the austerity of some, but it was not a distinct feature, being shared by the elite of the Catholic renewal since the times of Charles Borromeo. The sacramental practice of encouraging a delay of absolution and infrequent reception of the Eucharist, was likewise not simply limited to the portroyal circle, but reflected a common conception of the sacraments as means of grace that had to be taken very seriously. By insisting on the necessity of preparation forand cooperation inthe saving encounter with God, these authors, in continuity with the teaching of the early church, saw the sacraments as the "seal," the strengthening of a process of purification begun though prayer and mortification. This explains why the group was so keen on liturgical participation and reform, advocating the use of translations and revision of the ancient rituals (neoGallican liturgies). In their desire to maintain a Christocentric spirituality, many Jansenists were critical of extreme Marian devotions, and fought against the new devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this they showed themselves in total disagreement with the type of popular spirituality successfully developed by the Society of Jesus.

All these features classically presented as typical of "Jansenism" were more representative of an intellectual, abstract, and rather haughty conception that did not respond to the needs of postTridentine Catholicism. It has been noted that the Jansenists did not involve themselves in any missionary action, preferring to focus on the communication of their ideas and perspectives. This attitude is indicative of what may be the main characteristic (and flaw) of the movement: their defective conception of the church. This is amply demonstrated first with C. Jansenius himself, preparing his Augustinus against a Roman ban; it was continued by successive resistance to papal and episcopal condemnations, and many instances of impertinence. The penitential practice of the Jansenistsrejection of attrition (allowed by Trent), placing of satisfaction (penance) before absolutionalso suggests a sacramental theology that minimizes the mediation of the church.

In theory the type of ecclesiology exposed by the French Jansenists and their disciples was of the Gallican form, but more of a Richerist type than the classical episcopalism of the 1682 Articles. They saw the Church more as a community of believers sharing the same sacraments than a hierarchical and social structure, stressing therefore the "mysterial aspect" against the jurisdictional. As a consequence they recognized more the role of the laity, offering men and women a more active participation in the life of the church. This fit well with the spirituality of "vocation," mentioned above, and attracted a motivated elite. This defective ecclesiology, theoretical and above all practical, explains why from an early stage Rome saw the movement as a dangerous sect, disobedience being perceived as a sign of heterodoxy, and condemned it without nuances. The bull unigenitus complicated the issues, as it seemed to condemn perfectly orthodox positions. Only auctorem fidei would clarify the situation, though it created an image of "Jansenism" that was more abstract than real. The unfortunate result would be that many elements of Jansenist life and spirituality that were a part of the larger postTridentine renewal were suspected of Jansenism and too easily discarded.

Bibliography: r. a. knox, Enthusiasm (New York 1950; repr. 1961). e. dubois, "Jansenism," in c. jones, g. wainwright, and e. yarnold, eds., The Study of Spirituality (New York and Oxford 1986) 396408. l. duprÉ, "Jansenism and Quietism," in l. duprÉ and d. e. saliers, Christian Spirituality: Post Reformation and Modern (New York 1989) 121142. m. de certeau, "De SaintCyran au Jansénisme: Conversion et Réforme," Christus 10 (1963), 399414. l. mezzadri, La Spiritualità cristiana nell'età moderna (Rome 1987) 176193. j. orcibal, Saint Cyran et le Jansénisme (Paris 1961). l. cognet, "La direction de conscience a PortRoyal," Vie spirituelle, Supplément 7 (1955) 289305. "La dévotion mariale à PortRoyal," in Maria: Études sur la Sainte Vierge, ed. h. du manoir (Paris 1950) III, 119151; "Les Jansénistes et le SacréCœur," Le Cur, Études Carmélitaines (Paris 1950) 234253. r. taveneaux, La vie quotidienne des Jansénistes aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle (Paris 1973). Jansénisme et réforme catholique (Paris 1992). l. j. wang, "A Controversial Treatise: Baillet's De la Dévotion à la Sainte Vierge, " Harvard Theological Review 51 (1958) 263274. n. d. kurland, "Antoine Arnauld's First Controversy: De la Fréquente Communion, " in The Dawn of Modern Studies, ed. k. a. strand, (1962) 239251. f. e. weaver, "Jansenist Bishops and LiturgicalSocial Reforms," in r. m. golden, ed., Church, State, and Society under the Bourbon Kings of France (Lawrence, KS 1982); "Erudition, Spirituality, and Women: The Jansenist Contribution," in Women in Reformation and Counter Reformation Europe, ed. s. marshall (1989) 189206. j. m. gresgayer, "The Bull Unigenitus: A Fresh Look at the Issues," Theological Studies, 49 (1988) 259282; "L'idée d'Église des Jansénistes," PortRoyal et les Protestants (Paris 1998) 3556. j. l. quantin, Le rigorisme (Paris 2001).

[j. m. gresgayer]

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