Home > Religion > Christianity > Jansenism

Notes on

Jansenism

A school that developed in the Catholic church during the 1600's and 1700's analogous, oddly enough, to Calvinism. The movement took its name from Cornelius Otto Jansen (1585-1638).  The Jesuits fiercely opposed Jansenism and eventually it was dissolved.  

Jansen held that the Catholic theologians of the Counter-Reformation attacked Luther's doctrines of grace by erring in the opposite direction-- over-emphasizing human responsibility at the expense of God's initiative.  He and his followers held that the Counter-Reformationists had lapsed into the Pelagian heresy which Augustine battled centuries before.  The Jansenists de-emphasized free will and discounted the idea that Christ died for all men.  Jansenism was not an organized sect, but more of a movement.

Jansenism, a radical Augustinian movement in the Roman Catholic church from 1640 to 1801, become known for their signs and wonders, spiritual dancing, healings, and prophetic utterances. Some reportedly spoke in unknown tongues and understand them. 

"The last great battle over [St.] Augustine's heritage among churchmen was fought in seventeenth-century France. Cornelius Jansen, bishop of Ypres (d. 1638), wrote a monumental treatise, the Augustinus, published two years after his death, the fruit--he said--of his having read the entire body of Augustine's works ten times, and the works on grace and freedom thirty times. His teachings found fertile ground in an aristocratic enclave of asceticism outside Paris, the convent of Port-Royal. The austere and rigorous writers of this school, particularly Antoine Arnauld (d. 1694) and Blaise Pascal (d. 1662)--especially in his Provincial Letters, waged relentless polemical warfare against the latitudinarian teachings of the Jesuits, in pitched battle for the hearts of the French ruling classes.  Papal condemnation in 1653 and partial capitulation by the Jansenists in 1668 marked the end of this brief flowering of Augustinian passion.[12] It should not be overlooked, however, that the great edition of Augustine's works by the Benedictines of St. Maur (beginning in 1672) is owed at least in part to the enthusiasm the Jansenists fostered."  --James J. O'Donnell, Augustine: Reconsiderations

H. M. Robertson, a historian at the University of Cape Town, wrote in A Criticism of MaxWeber and His School, "The Jansenists . . . reminded their flocks that the Christian life was 'a serious life, a life of toil and not of diversion, play or pleasure' so that one ought never to forget that it 'should be filled with some useful and sober occupation suitable for one's state of existence.'  The Jesuits stressed almost the same beliefs.

Blaise Pascal, the brilliant mathematician, was attracted at a young age to Jansenism. 

"In 1646 Pascal came in contact with Jansenism, and though he struggled with it himself, he introduced it to his sister, Jacqueline. She fully embraced it, moving into a Jansenist convent in Port-Royal.  Ten years later, Pascal was a follower, too, defending Jansenism fiercely against Catholic critics. In January 1656 Pascal wrote Les Provinciales, 18 brilliantly satirical essays attacking the Jesuits and arguing for the need for divine grace.

'We shall never believe with a vigorous and unquestioning faith unless God touches our hearts."  

He also began making notes for a new book, a defense of the Christian faith for skeptics. But Pascal never got a chance to see it published. His frail health (he was plagued by illness all his life) finally gave out in 1662. He was only 39.

Secret notes sewn in the lining of his waistcoat, a piece of paper was discovered, documenting an experience Pascal had on November 23, 1654:

'From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve ... FIRE... God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and savants. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace."

Also found among his papers, after his death, were notes for his defense of the faith. They were published by the Jansenists as Pensees ("thoughts").  Pascal portrayed humankind as suspended between wretchedness and happiness. Helpless without God, people try to avoid the horror of their lostness by engaging in distractions. Pascal said reason and science could not help a person come to know God--only by experiencing Christ can people know God.

"Do not be surprised at the sight of simple people who believe without argument," he wrote. "God makes them love him and hate themselves.... We shall never believe with a vigorous and unquestioning faith unless God touches our hearts."

In the Pensees, we also find one of the most famous lines in Christian literature: "The heart has its reasons which reason does not know."

Pascal's scientific achievements were enormous indeed, but his articulate defense of spiritual reality--energized by a profound and personal conversion to Christ--is his greatest legacy.
" --Mark Galli, Christianity Online, May-June 1999

From Encyclopedia Britannica and Internet sources.

A Catholic view of Jansen: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08285a.htm

 

Relevance to Bergonia:  The Church began suppressing Jansenists after the issuance of a Papal Bull in 1653 that explicitly condemned five propositions of Jansen concerning free will and grace.  Louis XIV in and after 1665 meant to eliminate the Jansenists.  But when Clement XI became pope in 1667, he clashed with Louis concerning independence of the French Crown in controlling the French Church, and the Jansenist issue was put aside. But after Louis and Clement resolved their differences, Louis obtained from Clement another Bull renewing condemnation of the Jansenists.  Another, more serious Bull came in 1713, which became French Law 1730, and the Jansenists were suppressed.  Jansenists also lived in Holland, and apparently one church still remains in Utrecht.  Jansenism also spread to Italy.  Obviously when the French crown made war on the Jansenist movement, these people, like so many other religious nonconformists, might have needed somewhere to go, a refuge.  Britain allowed its dissenters the safety valve of the 13 Colonies, and France could have used its Bergonian colonies in a similar manner (if Bergonia existed, of course).