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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jansen & Jansenism

I bought this book in the 1990's. I liked it back then, but over the years I started disliking it. I would often find myself arguing with some of the views of the author. Eventually I lost track of the book for some years only to find it again, and dispite the fact that I no longer like the book, and disagree with the Modernist tendencies of the author. I still liked what he had to say about Jansenism. It's hard to find any info about him online, so I decided to put this up.

pages 171-174

"Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), Catholic Bishop of Ypres from 1635, founded a heresy of major importance in the seventeenth century in the shape of a genuinely religous movement which demanded strictness in living and morals at a time of general laxity. It arose from his book, Augustinus, a commentary on the works of St. Augustine published posthumously in 1640. Jansen wrote that the full Christian life was possible only in the Roman Catholic Church and rejected justification by faith, but he emphasized personal religious experience and the direct contact of a man with God in sudden conversation. His book was alleged to contain five heretical propositions (Calvinistic in their emphasis on the predestination to salvation of the Elect), which were condemned by the Pope and the Inquisition in 1653.
These were as follows:
1. Some of God's commands are impossible for just men wanting and struggling to keep them, considering the powers human beings actually posses. The grace by which these commandments can be kept may also be withheld.
2. In the state of fallen nature, interior grace once granted is irresistible.
3. In the state of fallen nature, to merit or deserve punishment men need not be free from interior necessity but only from exterior constraint.
4. The semi-Pelagians, though admitting a necessity of interior preventing (i.e. prevenient or initiated by God) grace for all acts, grace may be either followed or resisted.
5. To say that Christ died for all men is semi-Pelagian.

In simple language, Jansenism asserted the power and majesty of God, the insignificance of man and the necessity of grace as against the Jesuits who, in the view of Jansenists, allowed free will and works to play too big a part in the scheme of salvation. Pascal, whose Provincial Letters was written to defend the Jansenists, wrote in his Pensees that 'we understand nothing of the works of God, if we do not take it as our starting- point that he willed to blind some, to enlighten others' (iii. 6). It also stressed the need for a more rigid, puritanical morality disapproving of the Jesuits' laxity in demanding too little penance from their penitents. Jansenist churches lacked flowers, decoration and music, and all other things in life were considered trivia compared with the facts of the corruption of man, the reality and awfulness of God andman's redemption by Christ. Like some moderate Protestants, the 'heresy' upheld the authority of Scripture and of the early ecumenical councils against later developments in the Church, and it emphasized the importance of education. It was condemned for wanting to return to a primitive purity and discipline which differed from the accepted doctrines an practices of its day and which, Catholic critics allege, could have been dangerous in the conditions of the seventeenth century. It is not cynical to say, too, that its high ideals and standards troubled the consciences of, and consequently exasperated, its opponents.

The heresy was supported by Port-Royal, near Paris, a community of Cistercian nuns and solitaries governed by Mere Angelique Arnauld. When the five propositions were condemned in 1653, Dr. Antoine Arnauld, a relative of Mere Angeliquw, denied that they appeared in the Augustinus at all, and that later went further in asserting that, although the Pope can define a doctrine and condemn a heresy opposing it, he cannot infallibly declare such heresy to be contained in any individual book. The controversy was intensified by political enemies of the French government and the Jesuits, who used the movement as a stick with which to beat their opponents. The papal condemnation was renewed in 1661 and a general assembly of French clergy endorsed an anti-Jansenist formula, which all clergy were reguired to sign. Four years later the Pope published a similar formula. under it four bishops were excommunicated, but the other bishops rallied to them and compromise was reached. Meanwhile some of the supporters of Jansenism were affected by a curious hysteria. Upon the death of the Jansenist cleric, Francois, Archdeacon of Paris, his tomb in St. Medard's Cemetery became a centre of pilgrimage and alleged miracles. Excess broke out among the Convulsionnaires, as they came to be known. Among them were gently nurtured young ladies who witnessed to the glory of God and the justice of the Jansenist cause by eating excreta, allowing paving-stones to be broken on their stomachs and speaking in tongues. Encourages, perhaps by such devotion, the nuns of Port-Royal persisted as s result. Louis XIV, urged on by the Jesuits, asked the Pope for an unequivocal pronouncement on Jansenism. In 1705, therefore, a papal bull condemned Jansenism for the third time in terms which left no doubt that it was heretical. The nuns still refusing to submit, Port Royal was closed, its buildings destroyed and its graveyard ploughed up.

This ended the matter for a few years. In 1713, however, a book by Quesnel, Moral Reflections on the New Testament, was swiftly condemned by a papal bull, Unigenitus, for 101 Jansenist propositions contained in it. The Parlement of Paris was a strong supporter of Jansenism and the French Church resented the bull as an interference with its internal affairs. Nevertheless, there was persecution and some Jansenists fled to the Netherlands, where several thousands of Catholics, both clerics and laymen, broke with Rome and helped to form the Dutch Old Catholic Church. this came into existence as follows.

Since Jansenism had originated in Holland, the Dutch bishops were suspect; and in 1670 the Archbishop of Utrecht was summoned to Rome to answer a charge of heresy. He returned uncondemned, but in 1710 the Archbishop-elect, selected by the chapter, was excommunicated for protesting against a summons to appear before a papal nuncio at Colegne, After thirteen years' limbo, however, on 15 October 1724, Cornelius Steenoven was consecrated Archbishop, in due line of Apostolic succession, by Bishop of Babylon, whereupon the Old Catholic Church of Holland began a separate existence, one which still continues. Jansenism also survived in France but almost entirely politically and without its original idealism. The conflict it caused has, in fact, led to the accusation that it formented the spirit of atheism and the anti-religion which helped to bring about the French Revolution..

Related Links:

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[1] pages 171-174 from the book "A history of Heresy" by David Christie-Murray


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