Port Royal des Champs, Abbesses of
Port Royal des Champs, Abbesses of
French nuns whose principled refusal to submit to dilutions in the reform of their order led to their persecution on suspicion of fomenting rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church and King Louis XIV.
Arnauld, Jacqueline Marie, known as Mère Angélique (1591–1661). Abbess of Port Royal des Champs, who believed she was attempting nothing more than to follow the original monastic rule as strictly as possible, when her convent provoked the suspicions of the king and was subject to intense persecution. Name variations: Angélique-Marie de Sainte-Magdeleine Arnauld, Mère Angélique, Mère Marie Angélique. Born Jacqueline Marie Arnauld on September 8, 1591; died on August 6, 1661; second of six daughters of Antoine Arnauld (a lawyer) and Catherine Marion Arnauld (d. 1641; daughter of Simon Marion, avocat general at the Parlement of Paris).
Appointed abbess of Port Royal des Champs at age eight (1599) and ordained a nun the following year (1600); intent upon returning the convent to the strict rule of St. Benedict, imposed sharing of all property, frequent prayer, and long periods of complete silence upon the community; her mother and all her sisters, as well as many male relatives, were eventually to seek the religious life at Port Royal, which became an influential center of spirituality and education; the convent began to incur the suspicion of royal authorities because of its apparent sympathies with the reformist ideas of Cornelius Jansen (1638); an important place of refuge during the civil wars (1648–49, 1652), Port Royal came under increasing scrutiny, its schools were closed and many of its supporters were in hiding when Jacqueline Marie Arnauld (Mère Angélique) died in 1661.
Arnauld, Jeanne Catherine, known as Mère Agnès (1593–1671). Younger sister of Jacqueline, who was appointed abbess of St. Cyr at age six, but soon joined her sister at Port Royal, serving as prior and abbess there and bravely bearing the full brunt of royal persecution after Jacqueline's death. Name variations: Jeanne Catherine de Sainte Agnès Arnauld, Agnès de Saint-Paul Arnauld, Mère Agnès, Mère Catherine Agnès de Saint Paul. Born Jeanne Catherine Arnauld in 1593; died of inflammation of the lungs on February 19, 1671; third daughter of Antoine Arnauld (a lawyer) and Catherine Marion Arnauld (d. 1641); younger sister of Jacqueline Marie Arnauld (Mère Angélique).
As a child, appointed abbess of St. Cyr but soon joined her sister at Port Royal des Champs and spent most of her life either there or in the Paris convent; often alternated with her sister in holding the office of abbess of Port Royal, though reluctant to assume the highest office; also served as abbess of Tard, for six years; held out bravely against the persecution which enveloped Port Royal, at first signing and then retracting agreement to a formulary which was imposed upon the nuns; more inclined to mystical forms of devotion than her more practical sister, wrote a number of devotional works and also composed the Constitutions or Rule of Port Royal.
Arnauld, Angélique, known as Mère Angelique de Saint-Jean (1624–1684). Niece and namesake of Jacqueline, who spent her life as a nun during a period which saw the height of Port Royal's power and influence and lasted into the days of its persecution and decline, keeping a faithful record of all that she experienced, including the period of her imprisonment for
resisting royal authority. Name variations: Angélique de Saint-Jean Arnauld D'Andilly, Mère Angélique de Saint-Jean. Born Angélique Arnauld in 1624; died on January 29, 1684; niece of Jacqueline Marie Arnauld (Mère Angélique) and Jeanne Catherine Arnauld (Mère Agnès); one of ten children of their eldest brother Robert Arnauld (a successful lawyer who later became a hermit at Port Royal) and Catherine de la Boderie (who died when Angélique was only 13).
Was present at the deaths of both her abbess aunts and recorded both in moving descriptions, together with insightful summaries of their characters; is known as the historian of Port Royal for composing the three-volume account Memoires pour Servir a l'Histoire de Port Royal as well as the Portrait de la Mère Catherine Agnès ; more intellectually gifted than either of her abbess aunts, worked with Agnès to compose the order's Constitutions and, in Port Royal's time of greatest trial, worked with Agnès to produce the Advice given to the nuns of Port Royal on their conduct (la conduit qu'elles devraient garder) in case of a change in the government of the house ; twice elected abbess of Port Royal.
In October 1709, the Sun King, Louis XIV, the most powerful ruler France had ever known, decreed that the Abbey of Port Royal des Champs be demolished. While the 22 aged nuns still living there were transferred to other houses, the remains of all nine of the Arnaulds who had been buried in the grounds were exhumed and transferred to the family estate. The Arnauld women, who had made Port Royal such a center of spirituality that it was seen as a threat to the authority of Europe's preeminent monarch, were no longer alive to defend it.
The dramatic story of Port Royal has an unlikely beginning; it can be traced from the selection of a reluctant eight-year-old child to assume the office of joint abbess of the old Cistercian convent, some 20 miles west of Paris. Jacqueline Marie, the second daughter and third child of Antoine Arnauld and Catherine Marion Arnauld, was a favorite of her prosperous and influential maternal grandfather. Her parents had married young—her mother was only 12—and they had 20 children, ten of whom survived into adulthood.
While the oldest daughter was reserved for marriage, grandfather Marion undertook to provide for the next two girls by placing them in convents, obtaining, according to the common practice of the time, royal permission for them to be appointed abbesses, Jacqueline at Port Royal and her younger sister, Jeanne Catherine Agnès, at St. Cyr. The two children, who were not expected to assume the responsibilities of office immediately, spent the next three years at St. Cyr, being educated and playing together, much in the way that modern children are brought up at a boarding school. They were clothed as novices in 1599 and 1600 respectively, and Jacqueline was confirmed and solemnly professed as a religious in 1600, at age nine, taking the name of Angélique, by which she was known thenceforth.
Accounts of Mère Angélique's life agree that she was a somewhat reluctant nun; unlike Jeanne Catherine (who became known as Mère Agnès), Angélique seems to have envied the worldly pleasures which awaited her elder sister, but she accepted her grandfather's arrangements for her, informing him that if she were to become an abbess she would "make my nuns do their duty." Later in life she wrote that: "Once I had taken my vows when I was nine, I could never get it out of my head that I was obliged in conscience to have no other spouse than Jesus Christ…. But in spite of this I did not live like a true religious, for I was not converted until I was seventeen."
[The Abbesses of Port Royal were] pure as angels and as proud as Lucifer.
—Hardouin de Beaumont de Péréfixe, archbishop of Paris
Angélique was professed as Port Royal's abbess in 1602, and took formal charge the following year, upon the death of her elderly predecessor. Her mother and sisters visited her frequently, but the high-spirited young woman seems to have keenly felt the confinement of her new existence. According to one of the historians of Port Royal, the house was, at that time, preeminently "a home of peace and quiet. Offices were said more or less punctually, and 'convenable' amusements, chiefly games of cards and walks abroad, filled up the calm, uneventful days."
In 1607, the young abbess became seriously ill and was taken home to Paris by her parents. The excitement of the bustling capital seems to have quickly restored her spirits and it was perhaps then that Angélique obtained the corset which, so she reveals in her Relation, she wore for some time, in the attempt to improve her figure. While she was still weak from her illness, her father, fearing that she was not yet reconciled to the religious life, insisted that she sign a paper without reading it. Angélique discovered only later that she had signed a renewal of her religious vows. In December 1607, she returned to Port Royal, taking with her one of her little sisters, Marie Claire Arnauld , aged eight, to join the community.
It was during Lent in 1608 that Angélique had the experience which she later referred to as her "conversion." First, she found herself moved by reading a book of meditations which had been left at the abbey by a visiting monk. Shortly afterwards, another monk came to preach and Angélique was overwhelmed. At age 17, she could at last see the path before her; she decided to reform her abbey, to turn it from its comfort and complacency back to its original spiritual dedication and zeal. But her father, who had resorted to subterfuge to keep Angélique in the religious life, was not pleased to see her taking her profession with sudden and inconvenient seriousness. Having carried her off to his country estate, he made her promise to reconsider her plans for a more austere way of life.
Torn between her newly awakened conscience and her customary obedience to her father, Angélique returned to Port Royal where her sister Mère Agnès (Jeanne Catherine), unhappy as abbess at St. Cyr, joined her. Another sermon on All Saints Day convinced the sisters that the path of reform was the correct one to emulate; following the sermon, Angélique was told, prophetically, that she might become one of the blessed who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and from that day she had no doubts. On March 21, 1609, the convent Chapter accepted the fundamental changes their abbess proposed: they would henceforth live a life in which all things would be held in common and would take vows of absolute poverty. By Easter of the same year, Mère Angélique restored enclosure, for the rule specified absolute withdrawal from the world and she was convinced that true spirituality could not be revived without it. But the Arnauld family had long regarded Port Royal as its own personal property and in September, despite Angélique's prior warnings, a large family party came to Port Royal, determined to enter. Led by her father, the group tried prayers, pleading, and, finally, threats. The abbess held fast, although she later revealed that her heart was breaking with emotion. This day, September 25, 1609, which is called Journée du Guichet (Day of the Convent Wicket), marks the real coming of age of Angélique and the firm beginning of a new era at Port Royal.
As a further sign of her new regime, the abbess had to regularize her position, for the pope had been misinformed in 1602 that she was 17 rather than 11. Pope Paul V sent new letters of appointment in 1609 and Angélique made a second profession of faith in 1610, an act which seems to have reinforced her determination to return to the full, original vigor of St. Benedict of Nursia's monastic rule. Life at Port Royal, now stripped to its essentials, consisted of poverty, fasting, reciting the Holy Office, prayer and meditation. In this reformed regime, she was supported by her sisters Agnès and Marie-Claire and, from 1616 onwards, by a third sister, Anne Eugénie Arnauld .
Until the age of 19, Anne had demonstrated no signs of a religious vocation; she read romances and loved the excitement of the French capital and the court. However, during a serious illness, she vowed to devote herself to God, and on her recovery she experienced mystical visions which convinced her that she was being called to the religious life. Her father was less than pleased to see her depart for Port Royal; he had not intended to have all his daughters cloistered there. Angélique, however, received her warmly, although she herself was somewhat distrustful of visions and religious ecstasy; Agnès was much more in sympathy with Anne regarding these aspects. For Angélique, the sole legitimate devotional state consisted of a "certain silence of the heart before God."
In 1618, Angélique was called to the Abbey of Maubuisson to reform that house, leaving Port Royal in Agnès' charge. Angélique's task was a difficult one as the sisters of Maubuisson were worldly and stubbornly set in their ways. The five years which she was to spend there were not happy ones; the previous abbess had to be ejected by force and her replacement was not always grateful for Angélique's guidance. She returned to Port Royal for brief visits; once, in 1620, for the installation of the reluctant Agnès as joint abbess. The few joyful passages during this trying time away from Port Royal were her meetings with St. Francis de Sâles in 1619. A gentle, kindly reformer, de Sâles might well have had a moderating influence on Angélique had he not died in 1623. When she finally settled on a spiritual director who seemed to her to have many of the qualities of de Sâles, Angélique was to find more turmoil than tranquility.
Angélique finally left Maubuisson in March 1623, taking with her 30 nuns whom she had accepted without dowries to support them and who were thus unwelcome at Maubuisson. Her sisters at Port Royal raised no objection to the overcrowded conditions and increasing financial strain which resulted, but the situation quickly became impossible. The convent was never a healthy location, surrounded by marshes and damp air, and 15 nuns died, many probably of malaria, in the two years which followed Angélique's return. There were other reasons also for seeking new quarters. Following the death of her husband, Angélique's mother, Catherine Marion Arnauld , expressed the desire to join the Port Royal community, but she was unwilling to be too far away from her eldest daughter, trapped in a loveless marriage. Assisted by her mother, Angélique found a house in Paris which they purchased in May 1625. By the end of the year, all 84 of the nuns had been moved to Port Royal de Paris from Port Royal des Champs.
With the move to Paris came a change in ecclesiastical jurisdiction; Angélique also seems to have expected greater support for her reforms from the archbishop of Paris than she was receiving from the abbot of Cîteaux—an assumption that was to prove tragically mistaken. Her main task, as she saw it, was to continue with her reforms, supported by the local church administrators and inspired and guided by a sympathetic and devout spiritual director. Angélique adopted the bishop of Langres, Sebastien Zamet, as her spiritual guide in 1625 but he seems to have lacked the rigor which she sought and, under his influence, the silence and simplicity of Port Royal des Champs were gradually replaced by a form of devotion which was more elaborate, demonstrative, and mystical. In 1627, Mère Agnès, who thought very highly of Zamet, wrote a work of devotional ecstasy, Le Chaplet du Saint Sacrement, which focused on the mysteries of the Blessed Sacrament. During this same period, the bishop, together with the pious Duchesse de Longueville (1619–1679), designed a new order devoted to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Despite the modifications of her earlier ideas for reform, Angélique continued with her efforts to restore the original rule of St. Benedict. In 1629, she requested permission from the king to make the title of abbess elective, with elections to be held every three years. Accordingly, in 1630, both Angélique and Agnès resigned their posts and a new abbess was elected. Three years later, Angélique was sent to head the newly founded House of the Holy Sacrament, and she was there when a dispute developed over Le Chaplet du Saint Sacrement, a copy of which had recently surfaced and been condemned by several influential clerics. It may be said that this minor controversy was an indication of things to come; doctrinal disputes were to engulf and eventually destroy Port Royal.
Agnès, distraught at the negative responses to her work, wrote to her eldest brother, Robert (M. d'Andilly):
I have just heard that a persecution has broken out against this monastery [The House of the Holy Sacrament] of which I am said to be the cause, on account of a little bit of writing I did six years ago, merely to express some thoughts which had come to me, without any wish either to use them or to speak of them to anyone else.
However, most theologians who read the Chaplet found nothing suspicious in it. A devout abbé, a friend of both Bishop Zamet and Robert d'Andilly, M. de St. Cyran, pronounced it theologically sound, as did Cyran's lifelong friend, the eminent theologian Cornelius Jansen, bishop of Ypres. The lines of doctrinal dispute were being drawn and the nuns of Port Royal were moving, inexorably, into the center.
Dissatisfied with the spiritual guidance of Bishop Zamet, and identifying in St. Cyran the spirit of St. Francis de Sâles, Angélique increasingly turned to the abbé for guidance, first at the House of Holy Sacrament and then at Port Royal in Paris. Agnès had been elected abbess of Port Royal in 1635 and the following year Angélique returned. By 1638, the convent of the Holy Sacrament was closed. All of its nuns returned to the mother house of Port Royal and in 1639 the sisters once again elected Agnès as their abbess.
Although Agnès was reluctant to discard the spiritual guidance of Bishop Zamet, her more forceful sister was soon able to convince her of the superior virtues of Abbé Cyran and, under his influence, the mystical element of Port Royal's devotional life noticeably lessened and the austere, reformed practices were restored. The change did not occur without provoking some resistance, however, and Marie Claire, the youngest but one of the Arnauld sisters, hitherto almost saintly in her devotion and obedience, proved the hardest of all to convince. Robert d'Andilly, now the male head of the Arnauld family, was brought in to help convince the stubborn one and, in February 1637, Marie made her first confession to Abbé St. Cyran. The abbé warned the young nun against the visions and ecstasies which his predecessor had encouraged; instead, he counseled penitence: "I am the doctor who must prescribe the remedy. It lies in mortification. The way is narrow; to say otherwise is to deceive."
Abbé St. Cyran has been blamed by some who have studied Port Royal for imposing on the nuns a rigid, joyless spirituality which was eventually to cause Port Royal's destruction. However, Angélique's own inclinations, since her "conversion" at age 17, had always been towards what may be called the penitential form of devotion. Those who allege that the nuns were merely innocent dupes, the unknowing victims of extremist friends within, as well as calculating enemies without, underestimate the women of Port Royal. As later events were to prove, the nuns, who had dedicated their lives to the service of God, were quite capable of understanding the theological subtleties which obsessed so many of their male contemporaries.
To appreciate why doctrinal issues, which seem to us to be of marginal interest at best, should have so consumed 17th-century Europe, it is essential to remember that little more than 100 years had passed since Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, and its aftershocks were still being felt. Throughout Europe the question of religion was causing wars and dissention, with some countries choosing to stay Catholic and others opting for Protestantism. France, with a significant Protestant minority, had been plunged into violent civil war. Louis XIII and Louis XIV, who was to succeed him in 1643, cared more for the unity of their country than for doctrinal subtleties. However, having succeeded in keeping most of France free of Protestantism, these monarchs became less and less tolerant of religious diversity, even of forms which insisted they represented the true Roman Catholic faith. For both kings, and most particularly for Louis XIV, the doctrine of Un roi, une loi, une foi (one king, one law, one faith) reflected an absolutist world-view in which matters of state and matters of religion were inextricably intertwined.
On May 14, 1638, on the orders of the king's chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, Abbé St. Cyran was arrested and imprisoned because of his "peculiar and dangerous opinions." He had dared to claim, for example, that contrition was necessary in order that the sacrament of penance be received worthily, while Richelieu, in his published catechism, had asserted that mere attrition (fear of the penalties of sin) was sufficient. St. Cyran was kept captive, without any formal charges being laid against him, for four years. Also in May 1638, Cornelius Jansen, who gave his name to the reforming movement with which St. Cyran and, through him, the Port Royal nuns were increasingly becoming identified, died. However, Jansen's most influential and controversial work, The Augustinus, was
not published until 1640, and it was to be another decade before it was to have an effect upon Port Royal. St. Cyran, released two months after the death of Richelieu in December 1642, survived only until October 1643. Angélique regarded him as a martyr to the faith and was delighted to receive his hands, which her brother had obtained for her, to be kept as relics at Port Royal.
In 1642, Angélique reluctantly replaced Agnès, who had served six years as abbess, and despite, or perhaps because of, the looming threat of political censure, Port Royal entered what was possibly its most fertile and active period of reform. While two of its best-loved members were lost—Catherine Marion Arnauld died in 1641 and Marie Claire the following year—the community was expanding; Catherine , the eldest of the Arnauld daughters, separated from her husband for many years and now widowed, became a novice in 1640. Her eldest son, Antoine, a celebrated and eloquent advocate, caused a great stir by abandoning his distinguished legal career for the life of a solitaire, taking up residence as a hermit in a small house built by his mother, close to Port Royal. He was soon joined by two of his brothers, Simon (M. de Sericourt) and Isaac (M. de Saci), and then by two of his uncles.
As their numbers grew, les solitaires removed themselves to Port Royal des Champs where they labored to make the old buildings habitable once again, draining the swamps to lessen the risk of malaria, and between 1638 and 1653 les messieurs ran an influential school for boys. Following the death of his wife in 1637, Robert d'Andilly, the eldest brother of Angélique and Agnès, had sought St. Cyran's guidance and subsequently gave up his secular life to become a member of les solitaires, devoting himself to the care of the gardens. Soon his son Charles (M. de Luzanci) and his brother Antoine Arnauld were to swell the ranks.
Antoine, Angélique's youngest brother, known as Le Docteur, was to become the most famous, some might say infamous, male member of the Arnauld family, and his notoriety was the cause of further turmoil at Port Royal. Converted only just before his mother's death, he became a priest in 1641 and by 1643 he had produced the first "official" work to emanate from Port Royal, entitled On Frequent Communion. Innocuous as it may seem today, counselling nothing more than the need for a prayerful, considered approach to the taking of communion and the sincere effort to resist sin after it, the book was like the first shot sounded in a war with the Jesuits.
For the Jesuits, the sacraments were God's way of assisting sinful souls to overcome their defects and hence to refuse communion was to resist the working of God's grace. Such was the influence of the Jesuits at court, particularly with the queen mother Anne of Austria (1601–1666), that an order was issued for Antoine to go to Rome to defend his work. However, the French authorities, both religious and secular, refused to allow him to appear and Arnauld was merely forced to curb his tongue and his pen for a time. Angélique counselled prayer and reading of the scriptures.
An inspection of Port Royal in 1644, following the storm over Antoine's book, revealed only piety and virtue in the house. This was also the year that Angélique's namesake and niece, Angélique de Saint-Jean , daughter of Robert d'Andilly, made her vows. In 1647, Mère Angélique modified the habit, adopting a bold scarlet cross on the breast of the white scapular. In weakening health, she nonetheless decided that, given the crowded conditions in the Paris house, it was time to move a contingent of the nuns back to Port Royal des Champs. In 1648, following her election as abbess of the two houses, she settled once more at Port Royal des Champs, more than 20 years after she had departed from it, leaving Agnès as prior at Paris.
Angélique may well have sensed that the old country house would provide refuge in turbulent times. During 1649, the violent civil war of the Fronde ravaged the country. Port Royal in Paris was threatened, and the nuns took refuge at Port Royal des Champs. The house also became a haven for many other religious, as well as the peasants of the area. Angélique, at her best when times were hardest, was brave, cool, and charitable throughout the ordeal. In 1651, she was elected abbess for the fourth time and the next year another sister, Anne Eugénie, died. Angélique, now over 60, felt the loss keenly. "We were six sisters," she wrote, now only "Agnès and I remain; we cannot last long." But both sisters had further trials to endure for their faith.
In January 1653, following another outbreak of the Fronde, the nuns returned to Paris. This time Port Royal des Champs was under threat and les solitaires were left to defend it. The nuns found the Paris house in a state of extraordinary agitation. The previous year a Jesuit priest, incensed because Antoine Arnauld's work had managed to escape official censure, had published a fiery tract called Jansenism Confounded. It referred to the Port Royal nuns as "foolish virgins" and "anti-sacramentarians." When the archbishop of Paris condemned the diatribe, another Jesuit entered the fray with a publication attempting to prove the theological links between Port Royal and the Protestant John Calvin and containing a fanciful account of a plot to destroy Christianity.
Soon Jansen's posthumous work, the Augustinus, was hauled into the dispute and five propositions, by implication drawn from this work and believed by Jansen's followers, were presented to the pope for formal condemnation. In 1653, the reluctant pope was persuaded to issue the letters of condemnation which specifically attributed the five erroneous propositions to Jansen's Augustinus.
When an aristocratic supporter of Port Royal was refused absolution because of his links with the "heretics" in 1655, Antoine Arnauld could keep silent no longer. He leapt to the defense of Port Royal's theology and of the works of St. Augustine's, from which it was drawn, but he was forced to go into hiding after his letter was censured. In January 1656, Blaise Pascal, whose sister Jacqueline Pascal was a nun at Port Royal, published the first of 16 Letters written to a Provincial by one of his friends on the subject of the Present Disputes of the Sorbonne. Masterpieces of high style and cogent argument, the letters had wide circulation and distilled the debate into two words, fait (fact) and droit (right). While the popes were certainly infallible in matters of dogma and morals (droit), he wrote, they might well be mistaken in asserting that the condemned propositions attributed to Jansen were contained in the Augustinus (fait).
Despite the best efforts of their influential friends, Port Royal's solitaires were ordered dispersed in 1656 and the boys in its school, among whom was the future dramatist Racine, were sent away. Angélique's letters do not devote much attention to the theological controversy; there was no need, since she was, for the most part, writing to the "converted." Instead, in a typical letter to her brother Antoine, written in February 1656, she stressed obedience to God's will:
We must, dearest Father, give ourselves up to everything, and bear these agonies and heartaches which our Lord foretold to His disciples would be their portion in this world. We have not had any such up to now; on the contrary, our troubles have been sent side by side with so much comfort, so much help and even praise from friends, that they were not real troubles. I think it will not be so henceforth, and that there will be more bitterness, more sense of being forsaken, and of humiliation than in the past.
Although Angélique's tone is one of resignation, there is no suggestion of surrender.
The first of many visits and interrogations by a magistrate took place in the spring of 1656 but no evidence was found to condemn the solitaires. During the same period, the so-called "Miracle of the Holy Thorn" occurred at the Paris house. Marguerite Périer , a niece of Pascal, had been suffering from a severely infected eye but, after the diseased area was touched with a holy relic, alleged to be a thorn from Christ's crown, she was completely cured. In a letter to Louise Marie de Gonzague , queen of Poland and a former student at Port Royal, Angélique, never one to base her faith on miracles, accepted the view that "God has worked it for our conversion." The letter continues: "I quite agree with this last opinion, and I wish for our conversion, not from heresy, in which, thanks be to God, we are not, but from many imperfections, of which He will mercifully cure us." Conceding that the miracle has resulted in some relaxation of the persecution and that her brother had been allowed to return to the community, Angélique concludes that: "it is a truce permitted by God, to fit us to suffer better when it shall please Him to allow the storm to begin again."
The storm was soon to begin again. The remaining schools were closed in 1660 and, in 1661, a formula was drawn up by an assembly of the clergy which all priests and members of religious orders in France were required to sign. In April, the king, who had increasingly come to regard the Port Royalists, like the Frondeurs, as serious threats to his absolutist regime, ordered the expulsion from the Paris house of the female students and postulants and the replacement of the spiritual director. When she received the news, Angélique, now in her 70th year and in failing health, left Port Royal des Champs for the last time. She journeyed to Paris to join her sister Agnès, who had been elected abbess in December 1658. Angélique probably collaborated with Agnès in the preparation of a dignified and respectful letter, sent on May 6, 1661, "To the King, for the defence of his monastery from the latest persecution of the Jesuits." Agnès reminded the king both that the community had never received any ecclesiastical condemnation and of the recent miracle which was surely an indication of God's favor. There was no respite.
While she claimed in a letter that "we are persuaded that this visitation is a great token of God's mercy to us, and that it was absolutely needful in order that we might be purified," the strain and misery took its toll on Angélique. On May 10, 1661, after a procession in which she had herself carried a relic of the true cross, she fell ill and remained bedridden for three months. At the end of May, she dictated a long letter to the queen mother in which she affirmed the orthodoxy of her house and insisted that her nuns lived lives of silence, not controversy. Angélique died on August 6 at the age of 70. Her last moments were recorded in an intensely moving account written by her niece and namesake, Angélique de Saint-Jean, who was with her at the end. Neither her brother nor her nephew, Abbé de Saci, nor her confessor, M. Singlin, were permitted to attend the funeral. She was buried in Paris, with her heart returned to Port Royal des Champs.
Pascal, Jacqueline (1625–1661)
French nun. Born at Clermont-Ferrand, France, on October 4, 1625; died in Paris on October 4, 1661; sister of French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623–1662); aunt of Marguerite Périer.
Jacqueline Pascal was a genuine child prodigy, composing verses when only eight years old, and a five-act comedy by age eleven. In 1646, under the influence of her brother Blaise Pascal, she converted to Jansenism, but he strongly objected when, at age 27, she became a nun at Port Royal (1652). It was the influence of Jacqueline, however, and the miraculous cure of their niece Marguerite Périer , that brought about Blaise's final entrance into the Jansenist community at Port Royal in 1655. Jacqueline Pascal vehemently opposed the attempt to coerce the nuns to sign the formula condemning Jansenism, but was at last compelled to yield with the others. This blow, however, hastened her death, which occurred at Paris on October 4, 1661, the day of her 36th birthday.
Angélique de Saint-Jean remained at the Paris house after her elder aunt's death, serving as mistress of the novices under her aunt Agnès. A thorough investigation into the orthodoxy of both houses was launched, accompanied by a new demand for signatures. Mère Agnès, always somewhat in the shadow of her elder, more forceful sister, always reluctant to assume power, must have felt, in the midst of vigorous persecution, bereft indeed. With great reluctance, Agnès and her nuns signed a new formula which excluded the famous distinction between fait and droit in November 1661. They insisted, however, upon inserting a clause of explanation that "in consideration of those things which are beyond our province, both as regards our sex and our religious profession, we feel that all we can do is to testify to the purity of our faith."
Their signatures, which they almost instantly regretted giving, did not win them much respite. The new archbishop of Paris, Hardouin de Beaumont de Péréfixe, was determined to win over the sisters. Anticipating new persecutions, in June 1664 Sister Angélique de Saint-Jean collaborated with Mère Agnès on the writing of a work entitled Advice given to the nuns of Port Royal on their conduct (la conduit qu'elles devraient garder) in case of a change in the government of the house. The work delineates the various measures which may be taken to subdue them: the introduction of strangers to administer the abbey, exile to other houses, the withdrawing of the sacraments. Against each action the nuns are given possible responses—avoidance, rendering the action ineffectual, and, finally, resistance.
On June 9, 1664, the archbishop of Paris came to get their signatures on the formula without the clause of explanation. He tried persuasion, argument, and, eventually, threats. Having been defeated in theological debates with several of the nuns, he angrily cried out: "You are more enlightened and wiser people than the Pope, than your Archbishop, than all the Religious Orders…. [Y]ou are very presumptuous to think yourselves more capable of judging a matter which you yourselves confess you do not comprehend." The accounts of the archbishop's debates with the sisters do not suggest any lack of comprehension even if, to placate his anger, some of the sisters may, once again, have tried to disguise their stubbornness as ignorance.
Despite the most intense pressure from the authorities, which included suspension of the administration of the sacraments, 12 of the nuns, including Agnès, Angélique de Saint-Jean, and two other nieces, still refused to sign the formula, under which they would have agreed to submit to the entire contents of the Papal Constitutions. Instead, they attempted a compromise, preparing yet another formula which read: "We, the undersigned, profess entire submission to and belief in, the faith; and on the fact (fait), as we can have no satisfactory knowledge about it, we can form no judgement, but we beg to remain in that respect and silence which are suitable to our condition and state."
The compromise was rejected, and the longanticipated expulsion took place in August 1664. The Community drew up an Act of Protest and Angélique de Saint-Jean lamented in a letter to one of the convent's friends and patrons that her aunt, Mère Agnès, "after having lived for seventy-one years an angel's life, is now numbered among criminals." Refusing Robert d'Andilly's request to remove his sister and three daughters to his own estate, the archbishop ordered them separated: Agnès was transferred to the house of the Visitation Sainte-Marie with her niece, Marie-Angélique de Sainte-Therese d'Andilly . She was kept there for ten months during which time she was denied the sacraments, could not leave the convent, and was refused permission to write to her relatives and friends.
During her months of exile at the Convent of the Annunciation, deprived of her liberty and denied all correspondence, Angélique de Saint-Jean wrote her famous Memoires pour servir a l'histoire de Port Royal. In July 1665, all three of the Arnauld sisters and their abbess aunt were reunited at Port Royal des Champs, along with all but the most submissive members of the Paris house. They were still in close confinement and still denied the sacraments, but at least they suffered together. In 1669, the Peace of Church was finally agreed; following delicate negotiations and strenuous efforts by Port Royal's friends, especially Madame de Longueville, a formula had been arrived at which allowed for a clear distinction between droit and fait.
After decades of unrelenting struggle, the settlement allowed Agnès a peaceful end. It came on February 19, 1671. Her niece, the Port Royal historian Angélique de Saint-Jean, wrote that she died in such a profound peace that her death was like a miniature tableau of her whole life. She was buried at Port Royal des Champs. Less forceful than her elder sister and less inclined to be involved in matters of controversy, Mère Agnès was more conventionally religious: tender and tolerant, she has been said to possess an undeniable steadiness of soul (egalité d'âme).
More like her aunt Angélique than Agnès, Angélique de Saint-Jean possessed an impatient temperament and a certain haughtiness of manner that made her more respected than loved, but she was a courageous fighter for the interests of Port Royal. She was elected abbess of Port Royal des Champs on August 3, 1678, and in May of the following year the king once again ordered a minute enquiry into the affairs of the abbey. Within days, the archbishop of Paris brought royal instructions for the expulsion of all the child boarders and postulants. It was rumored that the king feared a new Fronde with the reassembled messieurs of Port Royal at its center. The very idea seems ridiculous with Louis XIV now in the most brilliant phase of his power. It is perhaps more likely that the death in 1679 of Madame de Longueville, Port Royal's most influential friend at court, meant that the nuns were no longer considered protected.
True to the legacy of her namesake, the second Angélique wrote to her uncle, the bishop of Angers, to the archbishop of Paris and to Pope Innocent XI in the attempt to save Port Royal. Her pleas were unsuccessful. By the end of June, the house had neither boarders, postulants, nor a confessor, leaving only the 72 nuns. Cut off from new recruits, but defiantly resistant to any efforts to rejoin it with the more compliant Paris house, Port Royal des Champs began its slow death. In 1681, Angélique was reelected abbess and on January 29, 1684, a few weeks after having presided at the funeral of her beloved cousin, M. de Saci, she died at the age of 59. Sainte-Beuve, one of Port Royal's best-known historians, observed that with the death of Angélique de Saint-Jean, Port Royal lost its last grandeur.
By 1705, there were only 25 sisters remaining at Port Royal, the youngest of whom was aged 60. In 1709, tired of waiting for the few remaining nuns to die, the king ordered Port Royal des Champs to be razed to the ground. The remains of all the devout Arnauld women were exhumed and reburied on the family estate.
Although she was the first of many strong, spiritual women who were to devote their lives to Port Royal, Jacqueline Arnauld, the first Mère Angélique, may be said to have defined the community. Her complex character has received a wide variety of conflicting historical interpretations, and historians' judgment of Mère Angélique has often formed the basis of their judgment of Port Royal itself. She has been variously presented as a model of saintly Catholicism, as a proud and stubborn quasi-Calvinist, and as an ignorant woman, incapable of understanding doctrinal complexities.
The question of Angélique's, and hence Port Royal's, ignorance is the easiest to answer. As has been shown, the nuns dedicated their lives to reading, prayer, and contemplation. Their devotional works, letters, and memoirs, as well as their recurrent disputes with the authorities, reveal what acute minds were being dedicated to the service of God. It is, therefore, impossible to believe that these women did not understand what they were doing or why they were being subjected to so much suffering.
The conflicting identification of Angélique and her nuns as both models of Catholicism and as quasi-Protestants is less easily resolved. The reforms which were initiated at Port Royal des Champs were certainly a reversion to the strict practices of the early Catholic Church, but the great founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, initially claimed only to want to reform the abuses of Catholicism, not to initiate a new religion. On the other hand, unlike Luther, these nuns were not attempting to reform the whole church, only their own souls.
It would appear that the motives behind the vigorous persecution and final dismemberment of Port Royal were more political than theological. In their repeated attempts to resist authority, the nuns could not fail to antagonize a king determined to impose absolutist rule upon the entire realm of France. As far as the authorities were concerned, their disobedience was not only unseemly in those sworn to lives of submission, it could also be dangerous. The nuns of Port Royal, led and inspired by their abbesses, placed the value of truth above that of obedience and proved themselves willing to pay any price to maintain their spiritual integrity.
Beard, Charles. Port Royal: A Contribution to the History of Religion and Literature in France. 2 vols. London, 1861.
Dictionnaire de Biographie Francaise. Edited by J. Balteau et al., Paris, 1939, s.v. Agnès de Saint-Paul Arnauld, vol. 1, col. 759–764; Angélique-Marie de Sainte-Magdeleine Arnauld, vol. 2, col. 1061–1066; Angélique de Saint-Jean Arnauld D'Andilly, vol. 2, col. 1066–1071.
Lowndes, M.E. The Nuns of Port Royal: As Seen in their own Narratives. Oxford, 1909.
Relation ecrite par la Mère Angélique Arnauld sur Port Royal. Edited by Louis Cognet. [Paris?], 1949.
Romanes, Ethel. The Story of Port Royal. London, 1907.
Trouncer, Margaret. The Reluctant Abbess; Angélique Arnauld of Port-Royal (1591–1661). New York, 1957 (this work is almost entirely fictional).
(Dr.) Kathleen Garay , Acting Director of the Women's Studies program, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada