1. Jansenius' Augustinus in France
While Saint-Cyran was in prison, Jansenius' postumous book Augustinus appeared; soon it could be bought in Paris. The Sorbonne, where at that time the Augustinian tradition had pride of place, thought favourably of it; six of its doctors of theology approved the second impression, which appeared in 1641; the third was published in Rouen in 1643. Saint-Cyran, whose eye-sight was failing, judged that Jansenius' doctrine was authentically Augustinian. Yet he was disappointed, because he found it not `unctious', that is, not pious. Jansenius' systematic theology was not to his taste: too technical, rigorous and cold.[i]
Richelieu, who remembered very well that the author of Augustinus was also that of Mars Gallicus, and who was himself a Molinist with regard to the subject of grace, would have nothing of it. He organized a counter-attack, led by Isaac Habert, a Paris theologian (1598-1668), who later became bishop of Vabres. Habert preached against Jansenism in the Notre Dame during the Advent of 1642 and again during Lent 1643.[ii] Rome followed suit: Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) condemned Augustinus in 1643 with the bull In eminenti. This did not have much of an impact in France.
2. Arnauld's publicity bomb
In August 1643 another publicity bomb exploded: Arnauld's book De la fréquente communion. Contrary to what the title might seem to suggest, it argued that there should be no frequent communion. Faithful should receive communion only when they were perfectly worthy. And when was that? Hardly ever, sinful as people are. There was such an occasion once a year at most, after a thorough confession, preferably at Easter. During the Middle Ages frequent communion had not been a general habit, but in the wake of the Counter-Reformation the Church began to advocate it. Intimacy with Christ would strengthen the faithful in their efforts to lead a truly Christian life. Yet Arnauld saw it otherwise, in accordance with Jansenist rigorism; to him the Eucharist was not a viaticum, a help on the road to salvation, but rather a remuneration for perfection.
Arnauld's book led to a war of pamphlets and books. Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), for instance, feared that it would hold people away from the sacrament. This proved only too true, for it is reported that in Paris the number of communicants `fell dramatically' after the publication of Arnauld's book.[iii] Cardinal Mazarin, who had succeeded Richelieu as the leader of French politics and who was no great friend of the Jansenists either, wanted Arnauld to go to Rome in order to justify himself there. Yet many learned people found this `an affront to the liberties of the Gallican Church.' Arnauld did not go.[iv]
Also in 1643 Arnauld published another book, an opusculus, about La théologie morale des Jésuites. It did not make much of a stir at the time, but it was the signal for the fierce struggle between the Jesuit Order and the Jansenists. It attacked what came to be known as `Jesuit casuistry', the alleged Jesuit art of circumventing inexorable rules of moral conduct by applying them to concrete situations.[v] A year later, in 1644, he pursued his polemical offensive with an anonymous book (but nobody had doubts about the authorship), an apology for Jansenius. This book made the contents of Augustinus available to the French public.[vi]
3. Port-Royal under attack
In the years that followed the Jansenists, Port-Royal, and Arnauld were subjected to a heavy barrage of criticisms. It came from two sides. Following Richelieu's line Mazarin was busy fortifying royal power; in this he had the whole-hearted support of the queen-mother, Maria de Medici, who acted as regent for Louis XIV who was still a minor. In the cardinal's view the Port-Royal people - le parti janséniste - were too independent, if not downright hostile to Mazarin's centripetal policy. When a rebellion broke out in 1648 against the all-powerful cardinal, the so-called Fronde, which developed into a civil war (1648-1653), the Jansenists were suspected of siding with the frondeurs.
They were also harassed by the parti dévot, the staunchly orthodox Roman Catholics, who were influential at the court. Pamphlet after pamphlet rolled from the press, accusing the Jansenists of holding deviant opinions. This kept the public informed of what was going on; much sympathy for the Jansenist cause was generated in this way, which naturally was not the intention of the dévots.[vii]
4. The Sorbonne intervenes
There was so much rumour that the Sorbonne decided to occupy itself with the affair. The occasion were the public sessions the university used to hold on the first of every month, the so-called Prima mensis. The session of July 1, 1649, was devoted to Jansenist theses, a highly explosive subject. The syndicus of the Sorbonne, Nicholas Cornet, presented sept propositions to the assembly, asking the learned doctors to scrutinize them. The principal of these were: 1. Even the just are unable to fulfill certain commandments of God with the help of their own forces; 2. It is impossible to resist grace; 3. Jesus Christ did not die or spill his blood for all men; 4. all acts by infidels are sinful. All perfectly Jansenist theses, as one sees. Immediately after the presentation one of the doctors rose up and said that was meant was in fact a discussion about St.Augustine's doctrine. It proved impossible to proceed to a plenary discussion because of the violent opposition. Instead, a commission was charged with the examination of the theses.
Only a few days later the indefatigable Arnauld entered the lists with his Considérations sur l'entreprise faite par Maître Nicholas Cornet. What Cornet had presented, he wrote - his tone was violent -, was only botch: his propositions were obscure, ambiguous and biased in order to make them appear heretical. It was, however, quite possible to explain them as perfectly orthodox. What the syndicus aimed at was to have Saint Augustine himself condemned, no more and no less. The dualistic battle raged on, but although the Augustinian/Jansenist party was in the minority, it did not come to their condemnation. The only means to acquire an authoritative condemnation was to relegate the question to Rome; especially the Jesuits, sworn enemies of the Jansenists, were in favour of this move.[viii]
5. Rome's reaction
A man whom we have already met, Isaac Habert, sent a letter to Pope Innocent X (1644-1655), asking him for a judgment on the contended propositions. When it was expedited to Rome in the beginning of 1651, it bore the signatures of seventy-eight bishops. Yet other bishops made it clear that the letter was not sent in their name. One of these was Henri Arnauld, bishop of Angers (1597-1692), a brother of le grand Arnauld. Eleven bishops sent their own letter to Rome in July 1651. The other party, however, got the support of the young King Louis XIV who, at Mazarin's instigation, also wrote to Rome.[ix]
As usual, Rome took its time. When the long expected bull Cum occasiome appeared at last, it was May 31, 1653; it condemned four propositions as heretical and the fifth as false. These four were condemned as heretical: 1. Some of God's commandments are unrealizable for the just, even if they wanted to fulfill them and however much they would exert themselves with the forces at their disposal in the existing situation [that is, after the Fall]; they do also not possess the grace through which these commandments would be realizable; 2. In the situation of man's fallen nature it is impossible to resist inner [that is, infused, God-given] grace; 3. in the situation of man's fallen nature freedom of inner constraint is not required for the merits and demerits [of our acts]; freedom of exterior constraint is sufficient; 4. The Semipelagians admit that inner grace is needed for the origination of faith; their error is that they contend that human will can either withstand or obey this grace. False was the fifth proposition, namely, the contention that Christ died or spilled his blood for all mankind; it must be dubbed Semipelagian.[x]
Ad 1, 2 and 4 it can be said that they imply that there is no freewill in spiritualibus; divine grace is all-powerful. No. 5 means that thus grace is not given to all people. What proposition no. 3 signifies is not immediately insightful. It says that once human will is suffused with grace it becomes invincible; no exterior influence can force it to act otherwise. Yet it also means that a will that it is not suffused with grace can only perform demeritorious acts; no other influence can make it act differently. No other conclusion is possible but that the five Jansenistic propositions as presented to Rome are condemned as unorthodox.
6. A heavy blow to the Jansenists
This condemnation hit the parti janséniste very hard. Mazarin looked to it that the bull was published everywhere in France; the authorities of the Spanish Netherlands did the same, with the result that in course of time little was left of the Jansenist faction at the University of Louvain, Jansenius' erstwhile homebase, although some of its professors were still Jansenists. Arnauld hoped to find a way out by arguing that the bull did not refer to Jansenius himself. However, Pope Innocent announced in 1654 that he had positively meant the very person of Jansenius; he added that whosoever adhered to his doctrines were to be considered as heretics.
Arnauld made an ingenious distinction between droit et fait, between right and fact. He argued that Pope Innocent was quite right in condemning the propositions as heretical, but the fact was that they could not be attributed to Jansenius. He did this in his Seconde lettre à un duc et pair, dated July 10, 1655 (this duke and pair being the Duke of Liancourt, a Jansenist). This `letter' was actually a book of two hundred and fifty pages in which he stated to have attentively read Augustinus without having found the incriminated propositions in it.[xi] Rome declared on October 16, 1656, that the propositions came indeed from Jansenius' book and that his doctrine was faultlessly rendered.[xii]
7. Blaise Pascal
The Sorbonne also acted. Under pressure of the government, that is, of Mazarin, the theological faculty expelled Arnauld on February 15, 1656, followed on March 24 by the expulsion of the doctores theologiae who had voted in his favour.[xiii] There was a war on now; the situation had become overtly dualistic. The outlook for Arnauld, for Port-Royal, and for the Jansenists was bleak. Arnauld himself had already retired to the vicinity of Port-Royal in October 1655. Public opinion was on the whole unfavourable to him and the Jansenists; their writings, with all their highly technical theology, made no impact on the general public. As Cognet writes, the Jansenists were at a loss in the world of politics with which they were not at ease.[xiv]
In his place of retirement Arnauld had the company of young bachelor of theology, Pierre Nicole (1625-1695). Soon somebody else joined them who would become worldfamous, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). He was born in Clermont on June 19, 1623; he lost his mother, when he was three years old. His father, Étienne Pascal, a tax official, was an expert mathematician who introduced his son into his science. Young Blaise was a child prodigy who, at age sixteen, published a treatise on conics; then followed the invention of a computer. More scientific works were written, on hydrostatics, among others.[xv] Father Étienne also took the religious education of his precocious son in hand; he himself was an exemplary and well-informed Christian. He made Blaise acquainted with the Bible and the Fathers of the Church and instructed him in the history of the councils and the Church. It should be noted that Pascal sr. was not a Jansenist.
Blaise's cast of character made him, by manner of speaking, predestined for Jansenism; he was austere and inclined to extremist solutions. He was twenty-three, when he and his family came into contact with two convinced Jansenists. These well-informed and eloquent men informed them about Jansenius' ideas. Especially the latter's book De la réforme de l'homme intérieur came as a godsend. Pascal's health was failing already then; often he had to take to his bed so that he had time and leisure for studying religious questions. Soon he was a convinced Jansenist himself. The convert became a missionary who converted his father and his sister Jacqueline, who became a nun of Port-Royal in 1652.
Although Pascal was in friendly contact with Port-Royal since 1649, he never joined its community, desiring to remain independent. Once again he devoted himself to science and frequented mundane and elegant society; scholarly publications saw the light. But then came the second and definitive conversion. On the evening of Monday, November 23, 1654, he had a mystical experience lasting for two hours. After his death a mémorial was found in the pocket of his dressing gown in which he described what happened to him. It began with these words: "Feu feu! Dieu d'Abraham, Isaac et Jacob, non des philosophes et des savants", of the God of Jesus Christ, that is, to whom one accedes only through Jesus Christ. Pascal resolutely rejected the growing tendency to conceive of God as an abstraction, as an impersonal concept. His God was the God of history and mankind, a person who was accessible through the historical Jesus. Naturally, this notion is not specifically Jansenist.
8. The Lettres provinciales
Accompanied by Nicole and Pascal, Arnauld lived more or less clandestinely in the province. At his instigation Pascal began a series of eighteen tracts in defense of his friend and of Jansenism; they were published in the course of the year 1656. They were called the Lettres Provinciales; they appeared anonymously and were printed on clandestine presses. They caused an enormous furore. The authorities started a true witch-hunt: printers' offices were searched, editions confiscated, people arrested. Yet the author was not discovered; it was only in 1659 that it became known who he was.
The Letters made Jansenism salonfähig, literally so, because they were discussed in the saloons of the educated and the wealthy. The public liked the polemical tone, but this tone had also its drawbacks; Robert Howells even spoke of `polemical stupidity'; he called the Letters `an almost parodic reductio of theology's heavy tomes.'[xvi] "The brilliant wit and worldy success of Pascal's Lettres Provinciales ... also undermined his own purpose. He is holding up to ridicule authoritative representants of the Church (most notably the Jesuit Fathers) and theological discourses. His style of mockery caused increasing unease among the devout and in Port-Royal itself." Even Arnauld found that "cette manière d'écrire n'était point chrétienne", that this manner of writing was not Christian.[xvii]
With the first three letters Pascal attempted to persuade the Sorbonne not to expel Arnauld. When this had failed, he turned, beginning with the fourth letter, against the Jesuits. He accused them of being `laxist', that is, `soft on morality'. It was only a consequence of this laxity that their doctrine of grace was erroneous. To quote Cognet, "the Provinciales mark the beginning of a struggle against relaxed morality that would continue for a long time, not without excesses on one part and the other."[xviii] After the eighteenth letter, dated March 24, 1656, Pascal stopped his campaign, realizing that he had the king, the court and the Church against him and that he was being critized within his own circle.[xix]
What was fundamentally at stake is succinctly expressed by C. Constantin. "Two moral and theological conceptions are opposed in Port-Royal and in the Jesuits. Jansenism was a reaction to the humanism that exalted human reason and will, making man into a libertin. The Jesuits, on the contrary, attempted to adjust dogma and morality to the exigences of thought and of modern life." According to Pascal, relaxation of morality would inexorably lead to relaxation of doctrine.[xx] We are here at the fault line that separates the Reformation from the Roman Catholic Church: can man be an agent in his own salvation or is he powerless in this respect?
9. Stepping up the anti-Jansenistic campaign
In the summer of 1656 the general assembly of the French clergy once again condemned Augustinus. On September 3 the episcopate asked Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) for a renewed definition of Jansenius' doctrine; the Pope confirmed in the bull Ad sacrum of October 16 that the incriminated propositions were indeed contained in Augustinus and that they were rightly condemned. When the assembly of the clergy had become fully acquainted with the bull Ad sacrum, it decided on March 17, 1657, to join a formulary to it. Its text ran as follows.
"I sincerely submit myself to the Constitution [= Cum occasione] of Pope Innocent X of May 31, 1653, according to its true sense, which was determined by Our Holy Father Pope Alexander VII on October 16, 1656. I recognize that I am in conscience obliged to obey these constitutions and I condemn with heart and mouth the doctrine of the five propositions of Cornelius Jansenius contained in his book entitled Augustinus, condemned by these two Popes and by the bishops, which doctrine is not that of Saint Augustine, wrongly explained by Jansenius against the true sense of this holy doctor."[xxi]
For some years, from 1657 to 1661, this declaration lay dormant, while the polemics between the parties continued. However, with Mazarin's end in sight (he died on March 9, 1661) and knowing that the fiercely anti-Jansenist King Louis XIV would be his own master then, the assembly of the clergy decreed on February 1, 1661, that all clerics had to sign it. The council of state went even further by decreeing on April 23 that not only the clerics but also the nuns and the schoolmasters had to sign. Jansenism must be stamped out root and branch. That same day royal officers visited Port-Royal and ordered all novices and boarders to leave.
10. The Jansenist reaction
The declaration threw the Jansenist party into disarray. Some, Pascal among others, were of the opinion that it was totally impossible to sign it. Because Mère Angélique died on August 6, she was saved this dilemma. Others, for instance Arnauld, believed that it was permissible to sign it, if only one made a restrictio mentalis based on the conviction that it presented Jansenius' doctrine wrongly. This party was much helped by the fact that hardly anybody had read Augustinus so that not many people really knew what it contained and what not.[xxii] Many Jansenists also felt that one should not resist authority, whether royal or papal.
Because especially many Port-Royal nuns refused to sign, the anti-Jansenist campaign did not make much headway, until Louis XIV appointed in April 1664 a new archbishop of Paris, Hardouin de Péréfixe (or Préfixe). The king could not have made a worse choice in this delicate situation. The man was utterly tactless and firmly convinced that it was necessary to resort to the hard line. He paid two visits to Port-Royal, on August 21 and 26, 1664, during which twelve refractory nuns were violently expelled and the rest excommunicated. This broke the resistance of twelve nuns, who signed. The community was placed under police surveyance.
11. The end of the `first Jansenism'
This highhanded action caused considerable turbulence among the French episcopate. Four bishops openly declared to side with Port-Royal. Rome thought of deposing them, but shrank back from fear of the repercussions this would cause. When the Vatican finally decided to start a process against them, hell was raised in France. On December 1, 1667, nineteen bishops declared their solidarity with their four colleagues, while twelve others let it be known that they sympathized with them. Partly it was sympathy with Port-Royal, but perhaps more the ancient Gallican ideology: the bishops did not want the Pope to interfere in French ecclesiastical affairs.
Meanwhile the combative Pope Alexaner VII had died; his successor Clement IX (1667-1669) was a pacific man who wanted to defuse the tension. Rome feared a French schism, if matters were pushed to extremes. His nuntius to France, also a new man, initiated a process of détente. The protesting bishops made their excuses, while on the other side Nicole and Arnauld exhorted the Jansenists to sign the Formulary. They themselves did so, followed by the refractory nuns, who signed in February 15, 1669. The question of whether the incriminated propositions could be found in Augustinus was discreetly passed over in silence. The nuns of Port-Royal were allowed to receive the sacraments again. When Pope Clement wrote a conciliatory letter to the four bishops, dated January 14, 1669, the so-called `Peace of the Church' was a fact.[xxiii]
Dictionnaire de théologie catholique.
Pascal/New Trends in Port-Royal Studies. Actes du 33e congrès annuel du North-American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature. Tome 1. Édités par David Webel et Frédéric Canovas. Series: Biblio 17. Tübingen, 2002.
Theologische Realenzyklopädie (quoted as TRE)
COGNET, Louis, Le Jansénisme. Presses universitaires de France, 1971.
DOYLE, William, Jansenism. Catholic Resistance to Authority from the Reformation to the French Revolution. Series: Studies in Europeam History. London, 2000.
HOWELLS, Robert, Polemical Stupidity. In: Pascal/New Trends.
LOEFFEL, Hans, Pascal 1623-1662. Basel/Boston, 1987.
[i].. Cognet, Jansenisme 39.
[ii].. Cognet, Jansenisme 41.
[iii].. Doyle, Jansenism 23.
[iv].. Doyle, Jansenism 23.
[v].. Cognet, Jansénime 23.
[vi].. Doyle, Jansenism 23.
[vii].. Doyle, Jansenism 23/24.
[viii].. Cognet, Jansénisme 80-82.
[ix].. Cognet, Jansénisme 82-84.
[x].. TRE 16.505.
[xi].. Cognet, Jansénisme 69.
[xii].. TRE 16.505.
[xiii].. Doyle, Jansenism 28; Cognet, Jansénisme 68/69.
[xiv].. Cognet, Jansénisme 69.
[xv].. A book on Pascal's scientific achievements is that by Hans Loeffel, Pascal 1623-1662. Basel/Boston, 1987.
[xvi].. Howells, Polemical Stupidity 231.
[xvii].. Howells, Polemical Stupidity 236.
[xviii].. Cognet, Jansénisme 72.
[xix].. Cognet, Jansénisme 72/73.
[xx].. C. Constantin s.v. 'Pascal', Dict.théol.cath. 11, 2088/2089 (1932).
[xxi].. Text in Dict.Théol.cath. 8.1, 505 (1924).
[xxii].. Cognet, Jansénisme 77.
[xxiii].. Cognet, Jansénisme 81-83; Doyle, Jansenism 33.