The History of Jansenism Part III

5. Arnauld and Pascal

With the death of both Jansen and du Vergier, Antoine Arnauld had become the de facto leader of the movement. Antoine Arnauld was born in Paris to the Arnauld family. The twentieth and youngest child of the original Antoine Arnauld, he was originally intended for the bar, but decided instead to study theology. He had studied theology at the Sorbonne, where he was brilliantly successful, and his career was flourishing when he had come under the influence of Jean du Vergier de Hauranne. He would cause the movement to embrace radical moral rigorism and a devotion to returning to the strict discipline of the early Church.

His book, De la fréquente Communion (1643), had been an important step in making the aims and ideals of this movement intelligible to the general public. It attracted controversy by being against frequent communion for most of the faithful. Jansenists viewed being an orthodox Catholic free from mortal sin as insufficient for partaking in communion. They believed freedom from venial sin and even attachment to sin was necessary as well. They also thought only perfect love for God would prepare someone for communion just as they taught that perfect love was necessary to receive absolution. Furthermore, in the frame of the controversy around Jansenius’ Augustinus, during which the Jesuits attacked the Jansenists claiming they were heretics similar to Calvinists, Arnauld wrote in defense the Théologie morale des Jésuites (Moral Theology of Jesuits), which would put the base of most of the arguments later on be used by the famous Pascal in his Provincial Letters denouncing the “relaxed moral” of Jesuit casuistry.

Pascal was assisted in this task by Arnauld’s nephew Antoine Le Maistre. The Jesuit Nicolas Caussin, former penitentiary to Louis XIII, was charged by his order of writing a defense against Arnauld’s book, titled Réponse au libelle intitulé La Théologie morale des Jésuites (1644). Other libels published against Arnauld’s Moral Theology of Jesuits included the one written by the Jesuit polemist François Pinthereau (1605–1664), under the pseudonym of the abbé de Boisic, titled Les Impostures et les ignorances du libelle intitulé: La Théologie Morale des Jésuites (1644), who was also the author of a critical history of Jansenism titled La Naissance du Jansénisme découverte à Monsieur le Chancelier (The Birth of Jansenism Revealed to Sir the Chancellor, Leuven, 1654).

Blaise Pascal the famous mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer became one of the more important Jansenist figures besides Arnauld. He and his sister Jacqueline had come to identify with Jansenism in 1646. Following a religious experience in late 1654, he began writing influential works on philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées, the former set in the conflict between Jansenists and Jesuits.

Arnauld was supported by his sister, Marie Angélique Arnauld, Abbess of the Abbey of Port-Royal, which under her abbacy became a center of Jansenism. From an early age, her family had determined that she should become not only a nun, but the superior of a convent. It was of Mère Agnès and her religious that De Péréfixe, Archbishop of Paris, said: “These sisters are as pure as angels, but as proud as devils”.

While certain popes at the time encouraged frequent communion, this was never raised to church dogma, (not even under Pope Sint Pius X who made it standard practice). As such the rigorism of the Jansenists regarding communion was never outright condemned and their strictness of contrition was treated as neutral. The Jansenists also supported much heavier penances than had become the norm as well as absolution being postponed till after the penance had been performed and the penitent had shown he had truly overcome the sin. This was in fact standard practice in the early church. Therefore, it is incorrect and simplistic to portray the Jansenists as Catholic Puritans. Puritans would never accept such an emphasis on works, penance, the church fathers or the notion that complete holiness was attainable even for the elect. This Jansenist practice regarding penance was never condemned either.

One issue of which the Jansenists would have a definite victory was their moral rigorism and their opposition to Jesuit casuistry.

While Pope Alexander VII was a supporter of the Jesuits and disliked the Jansenists, he would end up supporting the Jansenists by condemning 45 lax position off the Jesuits regarding moral issues and it was Alexander VII who left the debate regarding contrition unresolved. The Holy Office would end up condemning another 65 Jesuit propositions under Pope Innocent XI. Most of the propositions came from Jesuits Antonio Escobar y Mendoza and Francisco Suarez. As such the Jansenists received explicit support from Rome regarding moral issues, at least twice.

During the formulary controversy which opposed Jesuits to Jansenists concerning the orthodoxy of Jansenius’ propositions, Arnauld was forced to go into hiding. In 1655 two very outspoken Lettres à un duc et pair on Jesuit methods in the confessional brought a motion of censorship voted against him in the Sorbonne, in quite an irregular manner. This motion prompted Pascal to anonymously write the Provincial Letters. For more than twenty years Arnauld dared not appear publicly in Paris, hiding in religious retreat.

However, Pascal did not convince the Sorbonne’s theological faculty, which voted 138–68 to degrade Arnauld together with 60 other theologians from the faculty. Later that year, the French Assembly of the Bishops voted to condemn Arnauld’s distinction of the pope’s ability to bind the mind of believers in matters of doctrine but not in matters of fact; they asked Pope Alexander VII to condemn Arnauld’s proposition as heresy. Alexander VII responded, in the apostolic constitution Ad sanctam beati Petri sedem promulgated in 1656, that “We declare and define that the five propositions have been drawn from the book of Jansenius entitled Augustinus, and that they have been condemned in the sense of the same Jansenius and we once more condemn them as such.”

Pascal, therefore failed to save his friend, and in February 1656 Arnauld was ceremonially degraded. Twelve years later the so-called “peace” of Pope Clement IX put an end to his troubles; he was graciously received by Louis XIV, and treated almost as a popular hero.

Arnauld then set out to work with Pierre Nicole on a great work against the Calvinist Protestants: La perpétuité de la foi de l’Église catholique touchant l’eucharistie, thereby showing that Jansenists at the time were firmly and uncompromisingly Catholic and not the crypto-Calvinists the Jesuits made them out to be. Ten years later, however, persecution resumed. Arnauld was compelled to leave France for the Netherlands, finally settling down at Brussels. Here the last sixteen years of his life were spent in incessant controversy with Jesuits, Calvinists and heretics of all kinds. Arnauld gradually evolved away from the rigorous Augustinism professed by Port-Royal and closer to Thomism, which also postulated the centrality of the “efficacious grace,” under the influence of Nicole.

In 1656, the theological faculty at the Sorbonne moved against Arnauld. This was the context in which Blaise Pascal wrote his famous Lettres provinciales in defense of Arnauld’s position in the dispute at the Sorbonne, and denouncing the “relaxed morality” of Jesuitism (However, unlike Arnauld, Pascal did not accede to Cum occasione but believed that the condemned doctrines were orthodox. Nevertheless, he emphasised Arnauld’s distinction about matters of doctrine vs. matters of fact.) As mentioned previously the Letters were also scathing in their critique of the casuistry of the Jesuits, echoing Arnauld’s Théologie morale des Jésuites.

During this time Arnauld also converted Pierre Nicole, who wrote against the Jesuits but who also attacked the Huguenots and and who wrote La Perpétuité de la foi de l’Église catholique touchant l’eucharistie (1669), with Antoine Arnauld, defending transubstantiation against the Calvinist Claude.

Nicole was one of the most attractive figures of Port Royal. Many stories are told of his quaint absent-mindedness and unreadiness in conversation. His books are distinguished by exactly opposite qualities; they are neat and orderly to excess. Hence, they were exceedingly popular with Mme de Sevigné and readers of her class. No other Jansenist writer, not even Pascal, was so successful in putting the position of Port Royal before the world. And although a modern appetite quails before fourteen volumes on morality, there is much solid sense and practical knowledge of human nature to be found in the Essais de morale. Several abridgments of the work exist, notably a Choix des essais de morale de Nicole, ed. Silvestre de Saci (Paris, 1857). Nicole’s life is told at length in the 4th volume of Sainte-Beuve’s Port-Royal.

In 1679, on the renewal of the persecution of the Jansenists, Nicole was forced to flee to Belgium in company with Arnauld. But the two soon parted. Nicole was elderly and in poor health; the life of a fugitive was not for him, and he said that he wanted rest. “Rest,” answered Arnauld, “when you have eternity to rest in!” In 1683 Nicole made a rather ambiguous peace with the authorities, and was allowed to come back to Paris. There he continued his literary labours up to the last; he was writing a refutation of the new heresy of the Quietists, when death overtook him.

Famous playwright Jean Racine also embraced the Jansenist movement.

6. Clash with Gallicanism

Throughout this period Jansenists generally continued to be respectful of papal authority. This together with their opposition to corruption and worldliness resulted in them rejecting undue interference in the Church promoted by both King Louis XIV and the parlements under the guise of Gallicanism.

Gallicanism had its origins in fourteenth century France and the conflicts of the crown with Pope Boniface VIII and developed further due to the influence Conciliarism (the idea that an ecumenical council could exist independently from and even be superior to the pope) and the Western schism. Conciliarism was condemned at the Fifth Council of Lateran but continued to influence anti-Roman sentiment within the Church.

Specific resistance to excessive interference by Rome and a belief in semi-autonomy in France came to be known as Gallicanism.

Gallicanism in its most moderate forms mainly asserted ancient privileges and liberties freely granted to the Gallican church by the Pope. These privileges had been granted because of the exceptional virtues of the Gallican church. Slightly stronger forms viewed such ancient customs as having a certain force of law that limited papal interference to an extent. Ancient custom and tradition, including those of a national church were viewed as providing limits on the Pope’s ecclesiastical authority.

The more royal Gallicanism viewed such privileges as having been granted by the Pope specifically against unruly nobles.

Church or at least Papal influence in the political sphere was also rejected or at least limited under Gallican theory.

More extremist Gallicanism retained links to Conciliarism but the more moderate stance at the time was to neither accept papal infallibility or Conciliarism but to believe that only an ecumenical council approved by the pope was the highest authority in the Church.

While a certain degree of autonomy and influence for the king and/or the local bishops and other Catholic institutions was the unifying factor in Gallicanism, the tension between the royal form supported by various monarchs and regional form would become a further complicating factor.

The monarchy emphasised its ancient guardian role in protecting the Church, while the local bishops and other clergy emphasised traditional autonomy with support from the parlements.

The parlements was not parliaments in the British (or any conventional sense). They were actually early forms of constitutional courts filled with aristocrats that refused to register laws but the king that were contrary to the constitutional tradition. They were the only real checks on the nearly absolute monarchical power.

In 1673, King Louis XIV of France, a nearly absolute monarch, extended the droit de régale throughout the Kingdom of France. There were two types of régale: régale temporelle and régale spirituelle. Prior kings of France affirmed the droit de régale as their right by virtue of the supremacy of the Crown over all episcopal sees, even those previously exempt from the assertion of this right. Under Louis XIV, these claims to appropriate revenues of vacant episcopal sees and to make appointments to benefices were vigorously enforced. The Parlements were pleased and most bishops yielded without serious protest; only two prelates, Nicolas Pavillon, bishop of Alet, and François de Caulet, bishop of Pamiers, both Jansenists, resisted against the royal encroachment. Both unsuccessfully appealed to their metropolitan archbishop, who sided with Louis XIV, and they appealed to Pope Innocent XI in 1677.

He was one of the four bishops who refused to sign the formulary imposed by Alexander VII, on the plea that the pope cannot pronounce on facts but only on rights. When Louis XIV commanded submission to the papal order, Pavillon in Lettre au roi” (1664) declined to recognize his authority.

Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, who was at this time a refugee at Brussels, Spanish Netherlands, agreed with the doctrine of the four articles however, and wrote to dissuade Innocent XI from publishing any formal censure of the four articles. Arnauld argued that a papal denunciation of the four articles would become an “immense advantage into the hands of heretics, to make the Roman Church odious, to raise up obstacles to the conversion of Protestants, and to provoke a still more cruel persecution of the poor Catholics in England.” However, Arnauld and most Jansenists sided with the Holy See about the case of the droit de régale.

A certain toleration

In spite of Jansenist opposition to royal Gallicanism, the Holy office condemned a series of errors of the Jansenists under Pope Alexander VIII in 1690, but as this was only about errors and not specifically heresy, (although some propositions were seen as heretical without specifying which), and since it does not appear to have been enforced as a binding decree it had no absolute binding dogmatic value. It did show that certain Jansenists at the time had come to reject papal infallibility, (which was again not yet a dogma) and were more minimalistic and sober regarding icons and Mary veneration. They also didn’t believe in the immaculate conception of Mary (which wasn’t a dogma yet either). It is clear that a rejection of papal infallibility and an assertion of the right to resist papal bulls by appealing to Augustine had also become common enough amongst the Jansenists.

The Jansenist condemnation of the more moderate penitential practices that had developed in later centuries as being not just (worse) discipline but doctrinally unsound was also deemed to be error. Jansenists thought penance had to proceed absolution and this was rejected. Other propositions deemed erroneous were the view that Christ had died not just for the elect but the faithful yet not all of humanity.

7. Case of Conscience and aftermath: 1701–1709

The tensions generated by the continuing presence of these elements in the French church came to a head in the Case of Conscience of 1701. The case involved the question of whether or not absolution should be given to a cleric who refused to affirm the infallibility of the Church in matters of fact (even though he did not preach against it but merely maintained a “respectful silence”). A provincial conference, consisting of forty theology professors from the Sorbonne, headed by Noël Alexandre, declared that the cleric should receive absolution.

The publication of this “Case of Conscience” provoked outrage among the anti-Jansenist elements in the Catholic Church. The decision given by the scholars was condemned by several French bishops; by Cardinal Louis Antoine de Noailles, archbishop of Paris; by the theological faculties at Leuven, Douai, and eventually Paris; and, finally, in 1703, by Pope Clement XI. The scholars who had signed the Case of Conscience now backed away, and all of the signatories withdrew their signatures and the theologian who had championed the result of the Case of Conscience, Nicolas Petitpied, was expelled from the Sorbonne.

Louis XIV and his grandson, Philip V of Spain, now asked the pope to issue a papal bull condemning the practice of maintaining a respectful silence as to the issue of the infallibility of the Church in matters of dogmatic fact.

The pope obliged, issuing the apostolic constitution Vineam Domini Sabaoth, dated July 16, 1705. At the subsequent Assembly of the French Clergy, all those present, except P.-Jean-Fr. de Percin de Montgaillard, bishop of Saint-Pons, voted to accept Vineam Domini Sabaoth and Louis XIV promulgated it as binding law in France.

Louis also sought the dissolution of Port-Royal-des-Champs, the stronghold of Jansenist thought, and this was achieved in 1708, when the pope issued a bull dissolving Port-Royal-des-Champs. The remaining nuns were forcibly removed in 1709 and dispersed among various other French convents and the buildings were razed in 1709. The convent of Port-Royal Abbey, Paris, remained in existence until it was closed in the general dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution.

Case of Quesnel

Pasquier Quesnel had been a member of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri in Paris from 1657 until 1681, when he was expelled for Jansenism. He sought the protection of Pierre du Cambout de Coislin, bishop of Orléans, who harbored Quesnel for four years, at which point Quesnel joined Antoine Arnauld in Brussels, Flanders. In 1692, Quesnel published Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament, a devotional guide to the New Testament which laid out the Jansenist position in strong terms. Following Arnauld’s death in 1694, Quesnel was widely regarded as the leader of the Jansenists. In 1703, Quesnel was imprisoned by Humbertus Guilielmus de Precipiano, archbishop of Mechelen, but escaped several months later and lived in Amsterdam for the remainder of his life.

He showed himself to be more critical of papal authority than Arnauld had been and while both Arnauld and Quesnel respected royal authority, Quesnel emphasised the authority of local parish priests and even the laity which ironically created room for independent thought and proto-liberal tendencies within the fundamentalist and moralist movement (at this point Jansenists being compared to puritans makes at least some sense). In this regard Quesnel appears to have been build on the tendencies and ideas condemned as error in 1690.

While having opposed royal flirtation with conciliarism, the Jansenists revived a more populist and less bishop led conciliarism under Quesnel, a pretty revolutionary development from Arnauld’s acknowledgement of papal authority in matters of fact and especially Jansen’s own defense of papal infallibility.

Réflexions morales did not initially arouse controversy; in fact, it was approved for publication by Félix Vialart de Herse, bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, and recommended by Noailles. Neither Vialart nor Noailles appeared to have realised that the book had strongly Jansenist overtones, and had thought that they were simply approving a pious manual of devotion. However, in the years that followed, several bishops became aware of the book’s Jansenist tendencies and issued condemnations: Joseph-Ignace de Foresta, bishop of Apt, in 1703; Charles-Béningne Hervé, bishop of Gap, in 1704; and both François-Joseph de Grammont , bishop of Besançon, and Édouard Bargedé, bishop of Nevers, in 1707. When the Holy Office drew the Réflexions morales to the attention of Clement XI, he issued the papal brief Universi dominici (1708), proscribing the book for “savouring of the Jansenist heresy”; as a result, in 1710, Jean-François de l’Escure de Valderil, bishop of Luçon, and Étienne de Champflour , bishop of La Rochelle, forbade the reading of the book in their dioceses.

However, Noailles, who was now the cardinal archbishop of Paris was embarrassed and reluctant to condemn a book he had previously recommended, and thus hesitated. As a result, Louis XIV asked the pope to settle the matter. The result was the apostolic constitution Unigenitus Dei Filius, promulgated by Pope Clement XI on September 8, 1713.

Louis XIV received the Bull at Fontainebleau on 24 September 24, 1713, and sent a copy to Cardinal Noailles, who, probably before receiving it, had revoked, on September 28, his approbation of the “Moral Reflections” given in 1695. The king also convoked the French clergy to convene at Paris to accept the bull.

At the first session, Noailles appointed a committee presided over by Cardinal Rohan of Strasburg to decide upon the most suitable manner of accepting the Bull. Noailles’s attempts to prevent an unconditional acceptance proved in vain and the papal report was accepted and officially registered. But a pastoral instruction of Noailles forbade his priests under pain of suspension to accept the Bull without his authorization; that was condemned by Rome. The bishops of France were divided. The Pope felt that his authority was threatened and intended to summon Noailles before the Curia and, if needs be, demote him from the cardinalate. But the king and his councillors, seeing in this mode of procedure a trespass upon the “Gallican Liberties”, proposed the convocation of a national council instead, which should judge and pass sentence upon Noailles and his faction.

The Pope did not relish the idea of convoking a national council, which might unnecessarily protract the quarrel and endanger the papal authority. He, however, drew up two briefs, the one demanding the unconditional acceptance of the bull by Noailles within fifteen days, on pain of turning in his Hat and incurring canonical punishment, the other more paternally pointing out the gravity of the cardinal’s offence. Both briefs were put in the hand of the king, with the request to deliver the less severe in case there was well-founded hope of the cardinal’s speedy submission. On the one hand, Noailles gave no hope of submission, while, on the other, the more severe of the Briefs was rejected by the king as subversive of the “Gallican Liberties”. Louis XIV, therefore, again pressed the convocation of a national council, but died September 1, 1715 before it could be convened. Those Jansenists who accepted Unigenitus Dei Filius became known as Acceptants.

Unigenitus was written with the contribution of Gregorio Selleri, a lector at the College of Saint Thomas, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum, and later Master of the Sacred Palace, fostered the condemnation of Jansenism by condemning 101 propositions from the Réflexions morales of Quesnel as heretical, and as identical with propositions already condemned in the writings of Jansen.

Among these were some propositions which, in themselves and apart from the context, seemed to have an orthodox sense. Noailles and with him eight other bishops, though they did not refuse to proscribe the book, seized this pretext to ask explanations from Rome before accepting the Bull.

Jansenism mixes with conciliarism

This was the beginning of lengthy discussions the gravity of which increased with the death of Louis XIV (1715), who was succeeded in power by Philippe d’Orléans. Philippe II of Orléans became Regent of France, and favoured to an extent the opponents of the Bull. For years the regent took a much less decided stand than his predecessor, and the change soon had its effect on various centres, especially on the Sorbonne, where the sectaries had succeeded in winning over the majority. The faculties of Paris, Reims, and Nantes, who had received the Bull, revoked their previous acceptance. The Sorbonne passed a resolution on January 4, 1716 annulling its previous registration of the Bull, and twenty-two Sorbonnists who protested were removed from the faculty. The Universities of Nantes and Reims now also rejected the Bull. In consequence Clement XI withdrew from the Sorbonne all the papal privileges which it possessed and attempted to deprive it of the power of conferring academic degrees on November 1.

Clement XI had sent two Briefs to France on May 1, 1716. One, addressed to the regent, severely reproved him for favouring the opponents of the Bull; the other, addressed to the opposition, threatened to deprive Noailles of the purple, and to proceed canonically against all that would not accept the Bull within two months. These Briefs were not accepted by the regent because their text had not been previously submitted to his ministers. But he sent to Rome, Chevalier, the Jansenist Vicar-General of Meaux whom the Pope did not, however, admit to his presence, when it became known that his sole purpose was to wrest the admission from Clement XI that the Bull was obscure and required an explanation. In a consistory held on June 27, 1716, the Pope delivered a passionate allocution, lasting three hours, in which he informed the cardinals of the treatment which the Bull had received in France, and expressed his purpose of divesting Noailles of the cardinalate. The following November he sent two new Briefs to France, one to the regent, whose co-operation he asked in suppressing the opposition to the Bull; the other to the acceptants, whom he warned against the intrigues of the recalcitrants, and requested to exhort their erring brethren to give up their resistance.

On March 1, 1717, four bishops (Soanen of Senez, de La Broue of Mirepoix, Colbert of Montpellier and Delangle of Boulogne) drew up an appeal from the Bull to a general council, thus founding the party hereafter known as the “appellants”. Between March 5 and May 13, they were joined by the faculties of the Sorbonne, of Reims, and Nantes; likewise by the Bishops of Verdun, Pamiers, Châlons, Condom, Agen and St. Malo, and Auxerre; and more than a year later by the Bishops of Laon, Bayonne and Angoulême.

Four bishops went even farther, having recourse to an expedient of which only heretics or declared schismatics had hitherto bethought themselves, and which was essentially at variance with the hierarchical concept of the Church; they appealed from the Bull “Unigenitus” to a general council (1717). Their example was followed by some of their colleagues, by hundreds of clerics and religious, by the Parlements and the magistracy Noailles, for a long time undecided and always inconsistent, ended by appealing also, but “from the pope obviously mistaken to the pope better informed and to a general council”.

In 1717, four French bishops attempted to appeal Unigenitus Dei Filius to a general council; the bishops were joined by hundreds of French priests, monks and nuns, and were supported by the parlements. In 1718, Clement XI responded vigorously to this challenge to his authority by issuing the bull Pastoralis officii by which he excommunicated everyone who had called for an appeal to a general council and he thereby excommunicated all the appellants. But this did not disarm the opposition. Far from disarming the French clergy, many of whom were now advocating conciliarism, the clergy who had appealed Unigenitus Dei Filius to a general council, now appealed Pastoralis officii to a general council as well, they appealed from the second Bull as from the first, Noailles himself published a new appeal, no longer chiefly to the pope “better informed”, but to a council, and the Parlement of Paris, suppressed the Bull “Pastoralis”. The multiplicity of these defections and the arrogant clamour of the appellants might give the impression that they constituted, if not a majority, at least a very imposing minority. Such, however, was not the case, and the chief evidence of this lies in the well-established fact that enormous sums were devoted to paying for these appeals. After allowing for these shameful and suggestive purchases, we find among the number of the appellants, one cardinal, about eighteen bishops, and three thousand clerics. But without leaving France, we find opposed to them four cardinals, a hundred bishops, and a hundred thousand clerics, that is, the moral unanimity of the French clergy. What is to be said, then, when this handful of protesters is compared to the whole of the Churches of England, the Low Countries, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Naples, Savoy, Portugal, Spain, etc., which, on being requested to pronounce, did so by proscribing the appeal as an act of schism and foolish revolt? The polemics, however, continued for several years. The return to unity of Cardinal de Noailles, who submitted without restriction in 1728 six months before his death, was a telling blow to the party of Quesnel. Henceforth it steadily grew less, so that not even the scenes that took place at the cemetery of Saint-Médard, of which mention is made below. restored it. But the Parlements. eager to declare themselves and to apply their Gallican and royalist principles, continued for a long time to refuse to receive the Bull “Unigenitus”. They even made it the occasion to meddle in scandalous fashion in the administration of the sacraments, and to persecute bishops and priests accused of refusing absolution to those who would not submit to the Holy See.

Quesnel did die in unity with the Church while professing that he hoped a future council would asses Unigenitus.

Altmann Beten

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