Jansenism

A radically Augustinian movement in the Roman Catholic Church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whose teaching was summed up in five propositions condemned by Pope Innocent X in 1653: (1) that it is impossible to fulfill the commands of God without special grace; (2) that grace is irresistible; (3) that only freedom from compulsion is needed for merit, not freedom from necessity; (4) that it is semi- Pelagian to teach that grace can be resisted or complied with by free will; and (5) that it is semi-Pelagian to teach that Christ died for all men.

While such ideas had been found in the writings of strongly Augustinian theologians throughout the history of the church, the Jansenists (who took their name from C.O. Jansen*) drew practical conclusions from these ideas which undercut the sacramental and hierarchical claims of the church of the Counter-Reformation.* The sacraments of the church were only efficacious when God had already transformed the inner disposition of the recipient by His grace. Because the grace of God was strictly limited to the elect, the church need not preoccupy itself with the conversion of men still outside the visible institution, but should rather purify itself by severe discipline and rigorous asceticism. The sacraments were restricted in their use to those who by their moral discipline had qualified themselves to receive them. Everything in the church which did not have divine sanction should be mercilessly excised.

The Jansenists were antipapal in their sentiments, admitting the right of the pope to condemn the five propositions taken from the Augustinus, while rejecting the condemnation itself. Jansenist views of free will, predestination, stringent moral asceticism, the sacraments, the hierarchy, and the mission of the church brought them into inevitable conflict with the Jesuits.

The first Jansenists, including the convent of Port-Royal, were generally known as Cyranists after the abbot of Saint-Cyran (Duvergier), the friend and colleague of C.O. Jansen. The Jansenists had already assumed a definable shape by 1638. After the death of Jansen and Saint-Cyran, Antoine Arnauld* became the acknowledged leader of the movement (1643), whose most illustrious member was Blaise Pascal.

While Arnauld and his generation died in communion with Rome, Jansenist ideas were repeatedly condemned, most vigorously in the decree Unigenitus issued by Clement XI in 1713 against the teaching of Pasquier Quesnel.* The headquarters of the Jansenists at Port-Royal was destroyed, and the movement was subject to persecution in France. In Holland, however, Jansenism was tolerated, and in 1723 the Jansenists created the schismatic bishop of Utrecht. Jansenism also flourished in Tuscany, giving articulation to its views in the Synod of Pistoia (1786). Thousands of volumes were produced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by and about Jansenism, many of which were written in the vernacular and sold to the public at large.

J. Carreyre, “Jansenisme,” in Dictionnaire de Theéologie Catholique, vol. VIII (1924); N.J. Abercrombie, The Origins of Jansenism (1936); M. Escholier, Port-Royal (1968).