Jansenism, Again

[This is taken from Rev. James A. MacCaffrey's History of the Catholic Church.]

The Clementine Peace, obtained as it was by trickery and fraud, was used by the Jansenists as a means of deceiving the public and of winning new recruits. They contended that Clement IX., regardless of the action of his predecessors, had accepted the Jansenist principle of respectful silence. Several who had signed the formulary of Alexander VII. withdrew their signatures, and amongst the bishops, clergy, university graduates, and religious orders, particularly amongst the Oratorians and Benedictines of St. Maur, the Jansenists gained many adherents. Though outwardly peace reigned in France, yet the Jansenist spirit made great headway, as was shown by the opposition to several popular devotions and in the spread of rigorist opinions and practices in regard to confession and communion. The controversy on the Gallican Liberties complicated the issue very considerably, and made it impossible for the Pope to exercise his authority. Even bishops like Bossuet, who were strongly opposed to Jansenism, were inclined to regard papal interference with suspicion, while Louis XIV. was precluded from enforcing the decrees of the Pope as his predecessors had enforced them. The Jansenist party became much stronger, and only a slight incident was required to precipitate a new crisis.

This incident was supplied by the publication of the Reflexions Morales sur le Nouveau Testament by Pasquier Quesnel (1634-1719). The writer had been an Oratorian, but having been expelled from that society in 1684 he took refuge with Antoine Arnauld in Brussels. Upon the death of the latter in 1694, he became the recognized head or grand-prior of the Jansenist party. An earlier edition of this work had been published, bearing the approbation of Vialart, Bishop of Chalons, and though several additions had been made, this approbation was printed on the new edition side by side with the approbation of Louis Noailles, then Bishop of Chalons (1695). The following year Noailles having become Archbishop of Paris felt called upon by his new position to condemn a work closely akin in its ideas to those expressed in the Reflexions Morales. He was accused of inconsistency by the Jansenist party, one of whom published the Probleme ecclesiastique, inquiring whether people were bound to follow the opinions of Louis Noailles, Bishop of Chalons in 1695, or of Louis Noailles, Archbishop of Paris in 1696? The controversy suddenly grew embittered. When a new edition was required in 1699, Noailles requested the judgment of Bossuet, who formulated certain changes that in his opinion should be made. In the end the edition was published without the suggested changes and without the approbation of the archbishop.

While the controversy was raging round Quesnel's book, another incident occurred that tended to arouse all the old partisan feeling. A confessor submitted to the judgment of the Sorbonne the celebrated case of conscience. He asked whether a priest should absolve a penitent, who rejected the teaching set forth in the five propositions of Jansenius, but who maintained a respectful silence on the question whether or not they were to be found in the book Augustinus. In July 1701 forty doctors of the Sorbonne gave an affirmative reply to this question. The publication of this reply created such a storm in France that Clement XI. felt it necessary to condemn the decision of the Sorbonne (1703). The papal condemnation was supported by Louis XIV., as well as by the great body of the bishops. Two years later Clement XI. issued the bull Vineam Domini, confirming the constitutions of his predecessors, Innocent X. and Alexander VII., and condemned once more in an authoritative form the doctrine of respectful silence. The document was accepted by the king, by the Assembly of the Clergy, and by the majority of the bishops, though the attachment of some of the latter to Gallican principles led them to insist on certain conditions which the Pope could not accept. As the nuns of Port Royal still refused to submit, their community was broken up, the sisters being scattered through different convents in France (1709), and the following year the convent buildings were completely destroyed.

Meanwhile the controversy regarding the Reflexions Morales grew more bitter. Several of the bishops condemned the book as containing much in common with the writings of Jansenius and of his followers in France. Acting upon the demand of some of the bishops Clement XI. issued a brief condemning Quesnel's book (1708). The Jansenists refused to accept the papal decision and the Parliament of Paris, then dominated to a great extent by Jansenist influence, adopted a hostile attitude. Cardinal Noailles, considering the verdict of the Pope as more or less a personal insult to himself, hesitated as to what course he should take, but at last he consented to accept the condemnation provided the Pope issued a formal sentence. On the application of Louis XIV. the Pope determined to put an end to all possibility of doubt or misunderstanding by publishing the Bull, Unigenitus (1713) in which 101 propositions taken from Quesnel's book were condemned. As is usual in such documents the propositions were condemned in globo, some as rash, some as offensive to pious ears, and some as heretical. The Bull, Unigenitus, was accepted immediately by one hundred and twelve bishops of France, by the majority of the clergy, by the Sorbonne, and by the king and Parliament. The Jansenists refused to admit that it contained a final verdict on the ground that, as it did not make clear which propositions were heretical and which only rash or offensive, it was only a disciplinary enactment and not a binding doctrinal decision. Cardinal Noailles wavered for a time, but in the end he allied himself with the fourteen bishops who refused to accept the Bull Unigenitus. Louis XIV., though opposed strongly to the Jansenists, was unwilling to allow the Pope to take serious action against the Archbishop of Paris lest the liberties of the Gallican Church should be endangered, while the Parliament of Paris sympathized openly with those who refused to accept the papal decision.

The death of Louis XIV. (1714) and the accession of the Duke of Orleans as regent led to a great reaction in favor of Jansenism. Cardinal Noailles was honored by a seat in the privy council, and became the principal adviser of the regent in ecclesiastical affairs. The Sorbonne withdrew its submission to the Bull Unigenitus (1715), and its example was followed by the Universities of Nantes and Rheims. Many of the Jansenist chapters and priests rebelled against their bishops, and were taken under the protection of the Parliament. The Archbishop of Paris was encouraged by addresses from his chapter and clergy to stand out firmly against the tyranny of Rome. More than once the Pope remonstrated with the regent, who promised much but refused to take decisive action. The Sorbonne was punished by the Pope by the withdrawal of its power to confer theological decrees (1716), while many of the bishops refused to allow their students to attend its courses. As a last desperate expedient four of the bishops of France appealed solemnly to a General Council against the Bull Unigenitus (1717), and their example was followed by large numbers. The Appellants as they were called created such a disturbance in France that they appeared to be much more numerous than they really were. Less than twenty of the bishops and not more than three thousand clerics, seven hundred of whom belonged to Paris, joined the party, while more than one hundred bishops and one hundred thousand clerics remained loyal to Rome. The fact, however, that Cardinal Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, placed himself at the head of the Appellants made the situation decidedly serious.

When private protests and remonstrances had failed Clement XI. issued the Bull, Pastoralis Officii, by which he excommunicated the Appellants (1718). Undaunted by this verdict a new appeal in solemn form was lodged by Cardinal Noailles, backed by his chapter and by a large number of the Paris clergy. Negotiations were opened up with Innocent XIII. and Benedict XIII. in the hope of inducing them to withdraw the Bull Unigenitus, or at least to give it a milder interpretation, but the Popes refused to change the decisions that had been given by their predecessors. The Parliament of Paris espoused the cause of the Appellants, and refused to allow the bishops to take energetic action against them, until at last the king grew alarmed at the danger that threatened France. The energetic action taken by the provincial council of Embrun against some of the Appellant bishops (1727) received the approval of the court. In the following year (1728) Cardinal Noailles was induced to make his submission, and in a short time the Sorbonne doctors by a majority imitated his example. Though these submissions were not without good results, yet they served only to embitter still more the minds of a large body of the Jansenist party, and to strengthen them in their opposition to the Bull, Unigenitus.

The Jansenists having failed to secure the approval of Pope or king for their heretical teaching appealed to the visible judgment of God. The deacon, Francis of Paris, who was one of the leaders of the sect, and whose sanctity was vouched for, according to his friends, by the fact that he had abstained from receiving Holy Communion for two years, died in 1727, and was buried in the cemetery of Saint Medard. Crowds flocked to pray at his tomb, and it was alleged that wonderful cures were being wrought by his intercession. One of the earliest and most striking of these miracles was investigated by the Archbishop of Paris and was proved to be without foundation, but others still more remarkable were broadcast by the party, with the result that hosts of invalids were brought from all parts of France in the hope of procuring recovery. Many, especially women, went into ecstasies and violent convulsions round the tomb, and while in this state they denounced the Pope, the bishops, and in a word all the adversaries of Jansenism. Owing to the unseemly and at times indecent scenes that took place the cemetery was closed by the civil authorities (1732), but the Convulsionnaires, as they were called, claimed that similar miracles were wrought in private houses, in which they assembled to pray, and to which clay taken from the tomb of the Deacon of Paris had been brought. The great body of the people ridiculed the extravagances of the sect, and many of the moderate Jansenists condemned the Convulsionnaires in unsparing terms. Instead of doing Jansenism any good these so-called miracles, utterly unworthy as they were of divine wisdom and holiness, served only to injure its cause, and indeed to injure the Christian religion generally, by placing a good weapon in the hands of its rationalist adversaries.

But even though heaven had not declared in favor of the Jansenists the Parliament of Paris determined to protect them. It defended bishops who refused to accept the Bull Unigenitus against the Pope, tried to prevent the orthodox bishops from suspending appellant priests, and forbade the exclusion of appellant laymen from the sacraments. The Parliament of Paris condemned the action of the clergy in refusing the last sacraments to the dying unless they could prove they had made their confession to an approved priest. Though the privy council annulled this condemnation Parliament stood by its decision, and challenged the authority of the Archbishop of Paris by punishing priests who refused the sacraments (1749-52). The bishops appealed to the king to defend the liberty of the Church, but the Parliament asserted its jurisdiction by depriving the Archbishop of Paris of his temporalities and by endeavoring to have him cited before the civil courts. Louis XIV. annulled the sentence of the Parliament, and banished some of the more violent of its members from the capital (1753). They were, however, soon recalled, and a royal mandate was issued enforcing silence on both parties. For infringing this order de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris, was banished from his See, and several other bishops and priests were summoned before the legal tribunals.

The Assembly of the Clergy in 1755 petitioned the king to give more freedom to the Church, and to restore the exiled Archbishop of Paris to his See. A commission was established to examine the whole question of the refusal of the sacraments, and as the Commission could not arrive at any decision, the case was submitted to Benedict XIV., who decided that those who were public and notorious opponents of the Bull, Unigenitus, should be treated as public sinners and should be excluded from the sacraments (1756). The Parliament of Paris and some of the provincial parliaments forbade the publication of the papal decision, but a royal order was issued commanding the universal acceptance of the Bull, Unigenitus, even though it might not be regarded as an irreformable rule of faith. According to this mandate the regulation for allowing or refusing the administrations of the sacraments was a matter to be determined by the bishops, though any person who considered himself aggrieved by their action might appeal against the abuse of ecclesiastical power. This decree was registered by the Parliament (1757), whereupon the Archbishop of Paris was allowed to return. From that time Jansenism declined rapidly in France, but the followers of the sect united with the Gallicans of the Parliament to enslave the Church, and with the Rationalists to procure the suppression of the Jesuits, whom they regarded as their most powerful opponents.

Many of the Jansenists fled to Holland, where the Gallicans were only too willing to welcome such rebels against Rome. The old Catholic hierarchy in Holland had been overthrown, and the Pope was obliged to appoint vicars apostolic to attend to the wants of the scattered Catholic communities. One of these appointed in 1688 was an Oratorian, and as such very partial to Quesnel and the Jansenists. Owing to his public alliance with the sect he was suspended from office in 1702 and deposed in 1704, but not before he had given Jansenism a great impetus in Holland. About seventy parishes and about eighty priests refused to recognize his successor, and went over to the Jansenist party. In 1723 a body of priests calling themselves the Chapter of Utrecht elected Steenhoven as Archbishop of Utrecht, and a suspended bishop named Varlet, belonging formerly to the Society for Foreign Missions, consecrated him against the protests of the Pope. Supported by the Calvinist government the new archbishop maintained himself at Utrecht till his death, when he was succeeded by others holding similar views. Later on the Bishoprics of Haarlem (1742) and of Deventer were established as suffragan Sees to Utrecht. The Catholics of Holland refused to recognize these bishoprics as did also the Pope, whose only reply to their overtures was a sentence of excommunication and interdict. The Jansenist body of Holland, numbering at present about six thousand, have maintained their separate ecclesiastical organization until the present day. They resisted the establishment of the hierarchy in Holland (1853), opposed the definition of Papal Infallibility, and allied themselves definitely with the old Catholic movement in Germany.


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