Skip to content

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

Jansenius and Jansenism

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

Cornelius Jansen, Bishop of Ypres ( Cornelius Jansenius Yprensis ), from whom Jansenism derives its origin and name, must not be confounded with another writer and bishop of the same name Cornelius Jansenius Gandavensis (1510-1576), of whom we possess several books on Scripture and a valuable "Concordia Evangelica."


The subject of this article lived three-quarters of a century later than his namesake. He was born 28 October, 1585, of a Catholic family, in the village of Accoi, near Leerdam, Holland ; died at Ypres, 6 May, 1638. His parents, although in moderate circumstances, secured for him an excellent education. They sent him first to Utrecht. In 1602 we find him at the University of Louvain , where he entered the College du Faucon to take up the study of philosophy. Here he passed two years, and at the solemn promotion of 1604 was proclaimed first of 118 competitors. To begin his theological studies he entered the College du Pape Adrien VI, whose president, Jacques Janson, imbued with the errors of Baius and eager to spread them, was to exert an influence on the subsequent course of his ideas and works. Having hitherto been on amicable terms with the Jesuits, he had even sought admission into their order. The refusal he experienced, the motives of which are unknown to us, seems not to be altogether unrelated to the aversion he subsequently manifested for the celebrated society, and for the theories and practices it championed. He was also associated with a young and wealthy Frenchman, Jean du Verger de Hauranne, who was completing his course of theology with the Jesuits, and who possessed a mind subtile and cultured, but restless and prone to innovations, and an ardent and intriguing character. Shortly after his return to Paris towards the end of 1604, du Verger was joined there by Jansenius, for whom he had secured a position as tutor. About two years later he attracted him to Bayonne, his native town, where he succeeded in having him appointed director of an episcopal college. There, during eleven or twelve years of studies ardently pursued in common, on the Fathers and principally on St. Augustine, the two friends had time to exchange thoughts and to conceive daring Projects. In 1617, while du Verger, who had returned to Paris, went to receive from the Bishop of Poitiers the dignity of Abbot of St-Cyran, Jansenius returned to Louvain, where the presidency of the new College de Sainte Pulcherie was confided to him. In 1619 he received the degree of Doctor of Theology, and afterwards obtained a chair of exegesis. The commentaries which he dictated to his pupils, as well as several writings of a polemical nature, brought him in a short time a deserved renown.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

These writings of Jansenius were not at first intended for publication, in fact they did not see the light until after his death. They are concise, clear and perfectly orthodox in doctrine. The principal ones are "Pentateuchus, sive commentarius in quinque libros Mosis" (Louvain, 1639), "Analecta in Proverbia Salomonis, Ecclesiasten, Sapientiam, Habacuc et Sophoniam" (Louvain, 1644); "Tetrateuchus, seu commentarius in quatuor Evangelia" (Louvain,1639). Some of these exegetical works have been printed more than once. Among his polemical works are "Alexipharmacum civibus Sy vaeducensibus propinatum adversus ministrorum fascinum" (Louvain 1630); then, in reply to the criticism of the Calvinist Gisbert Voet, "Spongia notarum quibus Alexipharmacum aspersit Gisbertus Voetius" (Louvain, 1631). Jansenius published in 1635, under the pseudonym of Armacanus, a volume entitled "Alexandri Patricii Armacani Theologi Mars Gallicus seu de justitia armorum regis Galliae libri duo". This was a bitter and well-merited satire against the foreign policy of Richelieu, which was summed up in the odd fact of the "Most Christian" nation and monarchy constantly allying themselves with the Protestants, in Holland, Germany, and elsewhere, for the sole purpose of compassing the downfall of the House of Austria.

The same author has left us a series of letters addressed to the Abbot of St-Cyran, which were found among the papers of the person to whom they were sent and printed under the title: "Naissance du jansenisme decouverte, ou Lettres de Jansénius à l'abbé de St-Cyran depuis l'an 1617 jusqu'en 1635" (Louvain, 1654). It was also during the course of his professorate that Jansenius, who was a man of action as well as of study, journeyed twice to Spain, whither he went as the deputy of his colleagues to plead at the Court of Madrid the cause of the university against the Jesuits ; and in fact, through his efforts their authorization to teach humanities and philosophy at Louvain was withdrawn. All this, however, did not prevent him from occupying himself actively and chiefly with a work of which the general aim, born of his intercourse with St-Cyran, was to restore to its place of honour the true doctrine of St. Augustine on grace, a doctrine supposedly obscured or abandoned in the Church for several centuries. He was still working on it when, on the recommendation of King Philip IV and Boonen, Archbishop of Mechlin, he was raised to the See of Ypres. His consecration took place in 1636, and, though at the same time putting the finishing touches to his theological work, he devoted himself with great zeal to the government of his diocese. Historians have remarked that the Jesuits had no more cause to complain of his administration than the other religious orders.

He succumbed to an epidemic which ravaged Ypres and died, according to eyewitnesses, in dispositions of great piety. When on the point of death he confided the manuscript which he cherished to his chaplain, Reginald Lamaeus, with the command to publish it after taking counsel with Libert Fromondus, a professor at Louvain, and Henri Calenus, a canon of the metropolitan church. He requested that this publication be made with the utmost fidelity, as, in his opinion, only with difficulty could anything be changed. "If, however," he added, "the Holy See wishes any change, I am an obedient son, and I submit to that Church in which I have lived to my dying hour. This is my last wish."

The editors of the "Augustinus" have been wrongly accused of having intentionally and disloyally suppressed this declaration, it appears plainly enough on the second page in the original edition. On the other hand its authenticity has been contested by means of external and internal arguments, founded notably on the discovery of another will, dated the previous day (5 May), which says nothing regarding the work to be published. But it is quite conceivable that the dying prelate was mindful of the opportunity to complete his first act by dictating to his chaplain and confirming with his seal this codicil which, according to the testamentary executors, was written only half an hour before his death. It has been vainly sought, a priori, to make the fact appear improbable by alleging that the author was in perfect good faith as to the orthodoxy of his views. Already, in 1619, 1620, and 1621, his correspondence with St-Cyran bore unmistakable traces of a quite opposite state of mind ; in it he spoke of coming disputes for which there was need to prepare; of a doctrine of St. Augustine discovered by him, but little known among the learned, and which in time would astonish everybody, of opinions on grace and predestination which he dared not then reveal "lest like so many others I be tripped up by Rome before everything is ripe and seasonable". Later, in the "Augustinus" itself (IV, xxv-xxvii), it is seen that he scarcely disguises the close connection of several of his assertions with certain propositions of Baius, though he ascribes the condemnation of the latter to the contingent circumstances of time and place, and he believes them tenable in their obvious and natural sense.

Nothing, therefore, authorized the rejection of the famous declaration, or testament, of Jansenius as unauthentic. But neither is there any authorization for suspecting the sincerity of the explicit affirmation of submission to the Holy See which is therein contained. The author, at the time of his promotion to the doctorate in 1619, had defended the infallibility of the pope in a most categorical thesis, conceived as follows: "The Roman Pontiff is the supreme judge of all religious controversies, when he defines a thing and imposes it on the whole Church, under penalty of anathema, his decision is just, true, and infallible." At the end of his work (III, x, Epilogus omnium) we find this protestation perfectly parallel with that of his testament: "All whatsoever I have affirmed on these various and difficult points, not according to my own sentiment, but according to that of the holy Doctor, I submit to the judgment and sentence of the Apostolic See and the Roman Church, my mother, to be henceforth adhered to if she judges that it must be adhered to, to retract if she so wishes, to condemn and anathematize it if she decrees that it should be condemned and anathematized. For since my tenderest childhood I have been reared in the beliefs of this Church ; I imbibed them with my mother's milk; I have grown up and grown old while remaining attached to them; never to my knowledge have I swerved therefrom a hair's-breadth in thought, action or word, and I am still firmly decided to keep this faith until my last breath and to appear with it before the judgment-seat of God." Thus Jansenius, although he gave his name to a heresy, was not himself a heretic, but lived and died in the bosom of the Church. In view of the fact that he consciously and deliberately aimed at innovation or reforming, it would certainly be difficult to exculpate him entirely or declare that his attitude was in no wise presumptuous and rash; but impartial history may and should take into account the peculiar atmosphere created about him by the still smouldering controversies on Baianism and the widespread prejudices against the Roman Curia . To determine the extent to which these and similar circumstances, by deluding him necessarily diminished his responsibility, is impossible, that is the secret of God.


After the death of Jansenius, the internuncio Richard Aravius vainly endeavoured to prevent the printing of his manuscript ; this undertaking, actively furthered by the friends of the dead man, was completed in 1640. The folio volume bore the title: "Cornelii Jansenii, Episcopi Yprensis, Augustinus, seu doctrina S. Augustini de humanae naturae sanitate, aegritudine, medicina, adversus Pelagianos et Massilienses". It was divided into three volumes, of which the first, chiefly historical, is an exposition in eight books of Pelagianism ; the second, after an introductory study on the limitations of human reason, devotes one book to the state of innocence or the grace of Adam and the angels, four books to the state of fallen nature, three to the state of pure nature ; the third volume treats in ten books of "the grace of Christ the Saviour", and concludes with "a parallel between the error of the Semipelagians and that of certain moderns", who are no other than the Molinists. The author, if we are to accept his own statement, laboured for twenty years on this work, and to gather his materials he had ten times read the whole of St. Augustine and thirty times his treatise against the Pelagians. From these readings emerged a vast system, whose identity with Baianism neither skilful arrangement nor subtile dialectic could disguise.

His fundamental error consists in disregarding the supernatural order , for Jansenius as for Baius, the vision of God is the necessary end of human nature ; hence it follows that all the primal endowments designated in theology as supernatural or preternatural, including exemption from concupiscence, were simply man's due. This first assertion is fraught with grave consequences regarding the original fall, grace, and justification. As a result of Adam's sin, our nature stripped of elements essential to its integrity, is radically corrupt and depraved. Mastered by concupiscence, which in each of us properly constitutes original sin, the will is powerless to resist; it has become purely passive. It cannot escape the attraction of evil except it be aided by a movement of grace superior to and triumphant over the force of concupiscence. Our soul, henceforth obedient to no motive save that of pleasure, is at the mercy of the delectation, earthly or heavenly, which for the time being attracts it with the greatest strength. At once inevitable and irresistible, this delectation, if it come from heaven or from grace, leads man to virtue ; if it come from nature or concupiscence, it determines him to sin. In the one case as in the other, the will is fatally swept on by the preponderant impulse. The two delectations says Jansenius, are like the two arms of a balance, of which the one cannot rise unless the other be lowered and vice versa. Thus man irresistibly, although voluntarily, does either good or evil, according as he is dominated by grace or by concupiscence ; he never resists either the one or the other. In this system there is evidently no place for purely sufficient grace; on the other hand it is easy to discern the principles of the five condemned propositions (see below).

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

In order to present this doctrine under the patronage of St. Augustine, Jansenius based his argument chiefly on two Augustinian conceptions: on the distinction between the auxilium sine quo non granted to Adam, and the auxilium quo , active in his descendants; and on the theory of the "victorious delectation" of grace. A few brief remarks will suffice to make clear the double mistake. In the first place the auxilium sine quo non is not, in the idea of Augustine, "a grace purely sufficient", since through it the angels persevered; it is on the contrary a grace which confers complete power in actu primo (i.e. the ability to act), in such a way that, this being granted, nothing further is needed for action. The auxilium quo , on the other hand, is a supernatural help which bears immediately on the actus secundus (i.e. the performance of the action) and in this grace, in so far as it is distinguished from the grace of Adam, must be included the whole series of efficacious graces by which man works out his salvation, or the gift of actual perseverance, which gift conducts man infallibly and invincibly to beatitude, not because it suppresses liberty, but because its very concept implies the consent of man. The delectation of grace is a deliberate pleasure which the Bishop of Hippo explicitly opposes to necessity ( voluptas, non necessitas ); but what we will and embrace with consenting pleasure, we cannot at the same time not will, and in this sense we will it necessarily. In this sense also, it is correct to say, "Quod amplius nos delectat, secundum id operemur necesse est" (i.e. in acting we necessarily follow what gives us most pleasure). Finally, this delight is called victorious, not because it fatally subjugates the will, but because it triumphs over concupiscence, fortifying free will to the point of rendering it invincible to natural desire. It is thus clear that we can say of men sustained by and faithful to grace, "Invictissime quod bonum est velint, et hoc deserere invictissime nolint".

The success of the "Augustinus" was great, and it spread rapidly throughout Belgium, Holland, and France. A new edition, bearing the approbation of ten doctors of the Sorbonne, soon appeared at Paris. On the other hand, on 1 August, 1641, a decree of the Holy Office condemned the work and prohibited its reading; and the following year Urban VIII renewed the condemnation and interdiction in his Bull "In eminenti". The pope justified his sentence with two principal reasons: first, the violation of the decree forbidding Catholics to publish anything on the subject of grace without the authorization of the Holy See ; second, the reproduction of several of the errors of Baius. At the same time, and in the interests of peace, the sovereign pontiffinterdicted several other works directed against the "Augustinus". Despite these wise precautions the Bull, which some pretended was forged or interpolated, was not received everywhere without difficulty. In Belgium, where the Archbishop of Mechlin and the university were rather favourable to the new ideas, the controversy lasted for ten years. But it was France which thenceforth became the chief centre of the agitation. At Paris, St-Cyran, who was powerful through his relations besides being very active, succeeded in spreading simultaneously the doctrines of the "Augustinus" and the principles of an exaggerated moral and disciplinary rigorism, all under the pretence of a return to the primitive Church. He had succeeded especially in winning over to his ideas the influential and numerous family of Arnauld of Andilly, notably Mère Angélique Arnauld, Abbess of Port-Royal, and through her the religious of that important convent. When he died, in 1643, Doctor Antoine Arnauld quite naturally succeeded him in the direction of the movement which he had created. The new leader lost no time in asserting himself in startling fashion by the publication of his book "On Frequent Communion ", which would have been more correctly entitled "Against Frequent Communion " but which, as it was written with skill and a great display of erudition, did not a little towards strengthening the party.

Although the Sorbonne had accepted the Bull "In eminenti", and the Archbishop of Paris had, in 1644 proscribed the work of Jansenius, it continued to be spread and recommended, on the pretext that authority had not rejected a single well-determined thesis. It was then (1649) that Cornet, syndic of the Sorbonne, took the initiative in a more radical measure; he extracted five propositions from the much-discussed work, two from the book "On Frequent Communion ", and submitted them to the judgment of the faculty. This body, prevented by the Parlement from pursuing the examination it had begun, referred the affair to the general assembly of the clergy in 1650. The greater number considered it more fitting that Rome should pronounce, and eighty-five bishops wrote in this sense to Innocent X, transmitting to him the first five propositions. Eleven other bishops addressed to the sovereign pontiff a protest against the idea of bringing the matter to trial elsewhere than in France. They demanded in any case the institution of a special tribunal, as in the "De auxiliis" affair, and the opening of a debate in which the theologians of both sides should be allowed to submit their arguments. The decision of Innocent X was what might have been expected: he acceded to the request of the majority, keeping in view as far as possible the wishes of the minority. A commission was appointed, consisting of five cardinals and thirteen consultors, some of whom were known to favour acquittal. Its laborious examination lasted two years: it held thirty-six long sessions, of which the last ten were presided over by the pope in person. The "Augustinus" which, as has been said, had friends on the bench, was defended with skill and tenacity. Finally its advocates presented a table of three columns, in which they distinguished as many interpretations of the five propositions: a Calvinistic interpretation, rejected as heretical, a Pelagian or Semipelagian interpretation, identified by them with the traditional doctrine, also to be cast aside, and lastly, their interpretation, the idea of St. Augustine himself, which could not but be approved. This plea, skilful as it was could not avert the solemn condemnation, by the Bull "Cum occasione" (31 May, 1653), of the five propositions, which were as follows:

  • Some of God's commandments are impossible to just men who wish and strive (to keep them) considering the powers they actually have, the grace by which these precepts may become possible is also wanting;
  • In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace;
  • To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we must be free from all external constraint, but not from interior necessity,
  • The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even for the beginning of faith ; but they fell into heresy in pretending that this grace is such that man may either follow or resist it;
  • To say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men, is Semipelagianism.
These five propositions were rejected as heretical, the first four absolutely, the fifth if understood in the sense that Christ died only for the predestined. All are implicitly contained in the second, and through it, all are connected with the above-mentioned erroneous conception of the state of innocence and the original fall. If it be true that fallen man never resists interior grace (second proposition), it follows that a just man who violates a commandment of God did not have the grace to observe it. That he therefore transgresses it through inability to fulfil it (first proposition). If, however, he has sinned and thus demerited, it is clear that, to demerit, the liberty of indifference is not requisite, and what is said of demerit must also be said of its correlative, merit (third proposition). On the other hand, if grace is often wanting to the just, since they fall, it is wanting still more to sinners ; it is therefore impossible to maintain that the death of Jesus Christ assured to every man the graces necessary for salvation (fifth proposition). If this be so, the Semipelagians were in error in admitting the universal distribution of a grace which may be resisted (fourth proposition).


Well received by the Sorbonne and the General Assembly of the Clergy, the Bull "Cum occasione" was promulgated with the royal sanction. This should have opened the eyes of the partisans of Jansenius. They were given the alternative of finally renouncing their errors, or of openly resisting the supreme authority. They were thrown for the moment into embarrassment and hesitation, from which Arnauld extricated them by a subtlety: they must, he said, accept the condemnation of the five propositions, and reject them, as did the pope, only, these propositions were not contained in the book of the Bishop of Ypres, or if they were found therein, it was in another sense than in the pontifical document; the idea of Jansenius was the same as that of St. Augustine, which the Church neither could, nor wished to, censure. This interpretation was not tenable; it was contrary to the text of the Bull, no less than to the minutes of the discussions which had preceded it, and throughout which these propositions were considered and Presented as expressing the sense of the "Augustinus". In March, 1564, thirty-eight bishops rejected the interpretation, and communicated their decision to the sovereign pontiff, who thanked and congratulated them. The Jansenists persisted none the less in an attitude opposed alike to frankness and to logic. The occasion soon arrived for them to support this with a complete theory. The Duc de Liancourt, one of the protectors of the party, was refused absolution until he should change his sentiments and accept purely and simply the condemnation of the "Augustinus". Arnauld took up his pen and in two successive letters protested against any such exaction. Ecclesiastical judgments, he said, are not all of equal value, and do not entail the same obligations ; where there is question of the truth or falsity of a doctrine, of its revealed origin or its heterodoxy, the Church in virtue of its Divine mission is qualified to decide; it is a matter of right. But if the doubt bears upon the presence of this doctrine in a book, it is a question of purely human fact, which as such does not fall under the jurisdiction of the supernatural teaching authority instituted in the Church by Jesus Christ. In the former case, the Church having pronounced sentence, we have no choice but to conform our belief to its decision; in the latter, its word should not be openly contradicted it claims from us the homage of a respectful silence but not that of an interior assent. Such is the famous distinction between right and fact, which was henceforth to be the basis of their resistance, and through which the recalcitrants pretended to remain Catholics, united to the visible body of Christ despite all their obstinacy. This distinction is both logically and historically the denial of the doctrinal power of the Church. For how is it possible to teach and defend revealed doctrine if its affirmation or denial cannot be discerned in a book or a writing, whatever its form or its extent? In fact, from the beginning, councils and popes have approved and imposed as orthodox certain formulas and certain works, and from the beginning have proscribed others as being tainted with heresy or error.

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

The expedient contrived by Arnauld was so opposed to both fact and reason that a number of Jansenists who were more consistent in their contumacy, such as Pascal, refused to adopt it or to subscribe to the condemnation of the five propositions in any sense. The greater number, however, took advantage of it to mislead others or deceive themselves. All of them, moreover, through personal intercourse, preaching, or writing, displayed extraordinary activity in behalf of their ideas. They aimed especially, following the tactics inaugurated by St-Cyran, at introducing them into religious orders, and in this way they were in a measure successful, e.g. with the Oratory of Berulle. Against the Jesuits, in whom from the first they had encountered capable and determined adversaries, they had vowed a profound antipathy and waged a war to the death. This inspired the "Provinciales" which appeared in 1656. These were letters supposedly addressed to a provincial correspondent. Their author Blaise Pascal , abusing his admirable genius, therein lavished the resources of a captivating style and an inexhaustible sarcastic humour to taunt and decry the Society of Jesus , as favouring and propagating a relaxed and corrupt moral code. To this end the errors or imprudences of some members, emphasized with malicious exaggeration, were made to appear as the official doctrine of the whole order. The "Provinciales" were translated into elegant Latin by Nicole disguised for the occasion under the pseudonym of Wilhelmus Wendrochius. They did a great deal of harm.

However, the Sorbonne, again declaring itself against the faction, had, by 138 votes against 68, condemned the latest writings of Arnauld, and, on his refusal to submit, it dismissed him, together with sixty other doctors who made common cause with him. The assembly of bishops in 1656 branded as heretical the unfortunate theory of right and of fact, and reported its decision to Alexander VII , who had just succeeded Innocent X. On 16 October the pope replied to this communication by the Bull "Ad sanctam Beati Petri sedem". He praised the clear-sighted firmness of the episcopate and confirmed in the following terms the condemnation pronounced by his predecessor: "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." Relying on these words, the Assembly of the Clergy of the following year (1657) drew up a formula of faith conformable thereto and made subscription to it obligatory. The Jansenists would not give in. They claimed that no one could exact a lying signature from those who were not convinced of the truth of the matter. The religious of Port-Royal were especially conspicuous for their obstinacy, and the Archbishop of Paris, after several fruitless admonitions, was forced to debar them from receiving the sacraments. Four bishops openly allied themselves with the rebellious party: they were Henri Arnauld of Angers Buzenval of Beauvais, Caulet of Pamiers, and Pavillon of Aleth. Some claimed besides that the Roman pontiff alone had the right to exact such subscription. In order to silence them, Alexander VII, at the instance of several members of the episcopate, issued (15 February 1664) a new Constitution, beginning with the words, "Regiminis Apostolici". In this he enjoined, with threat of canonical penalties for disobedience, that all ecclesiastics, as well as all religious, men and women, should subscribe to the following very definite formulary :

What is Ash Wednesday?

What is Ash Wednesday?

Speakin' with the Deacons
Live Wednesday Feb. 14th @ 10am PDT
Join US LIVE on YouTube

I, (Name), submitting to the Apostolic constitutions of the sovereign pontiffs, Innocent X and Alexander VII, published 31 May, 1653 and 16 October, 1656, sincerely repudiate the five propositions extracted from the book of Jansenius entitled 'Augustinus', and I condemn them upon oath in the very sense expressed by that author, as the Apostolic See has condemned them by the two above mentioned Constitutions (Enchiridion, 1099).

It would be a mistake to believe that this direct intervention of the pope sustained as it was by Louis XIV, completely ended the stubborn opposition. The real Jansenists underwent no change of sentiment. Some of them, such as Antoine Arnauld and the greater number of the religious of Port-Roval, defying both the ecclesiastical and the civil authority, refused their signature, on the pretext that it was not in the power of any person to command them to perform an act of hypocrisy, others subscribed, but at the same time protesting more or less openly that it applied only to the question of right, that the question of fact was reserved and should be so, since in this respect the Church had no jurisdiction, and above all no infallibility. Among those who stood for explicit restriction and hence for refusal to sign the formulary as it was, must be numbered the four bishops mentioned above. In the mandates through which they communicated to their flocks the Bull "Apostolici" they did not hesitate expressly to maintain the distinction between fact and right. The pope being informed of this, condemned these mandates, 18 January, 1667. He did not stop there, but, in order to safeguard both his authority and the unity of belief, he decided, with the full approbation of Louis XIV to subject the conduct of the culprits to a canonical judgment, and for this purpose he appointed as judges nine other members of the French episcopate.


In the midst of all this, Alexander VII died, 22 May, 1667. His successor Clement IX wished at first to continue the process, and he confirmed the appointed judges in all their powers. However, the king, who had at first displayed great zeal in seconding the Holy See in the affair, seemed to have let his ardour cool. Rome had not judged it expedient to yield to all his wishes regarding the formation of the ecclesiastical tribunal. Together with his court he began to be apprehensive lest a blow should be struck at the "liberties" of the Gallican Church. The Jansenists skilfully turned these apprehensions to their profit. They had already won over several ministers of state, notably Lyonne, and they succeeded in gaining for their cause nineteen members of the episcopate, who in consequence wrote to the sovereign pontiff and to the king. In their petition to the pope these bishops, while protesting their profound respect and entire obedience, observed that the infallibillty of the Church did not extend to facts outside of revelation. They further confounded purely human or purely personal facts with dogmatic facts, i.e. such as were implied by a dogma or were in necessary connection with it, and under cover of this confusion, they ended by affirming that their doctrine, the doctrine of the four accused bishops, was the common doctrine of the theologians most devoted to the Holy See, of Baronius, Bellarmine, Pallavicini, etc. The same assertions were repeated in a more audacious form in the address to the king, in which they spoke also of the necessity of guarding against theories which were new and "harmful to the interests and safety of the State". These circumstances brought about a very delicate situation, and there was reason to fear that too great severity would lead to disastrous results. On this account the new nuncio, Bargellini, inclined towards a peaceful arrangement, for which he obtained the pope's consent. D'Estrées, the Bishop of Laon, was chosen as mediator, and at his request there were associated with him de Gondren, Archbishop of Sens. and Vialar, Bishop of Châlons, both of whom had signed the two petitions just spoken of, and were, therefore, friends of the four accused prelates. It was agreed that these last should subscribe without restriction to the formulary and cause it to be subscribed to in like manner by their clergy in diocesan synods, and that these subscriptions should take the place of an express retractation of the mandates sent out by the bishops. Pursuant to this arrangement they convened their synods, but, as later became known all four gave oral explanations authorizing respectful silence on the question of fact, and it would seem that they acted thus with some connivance on the part of the mediators, unknown, however, to the nuncio and perhaps to d'Estrées. But this did not prevent them from affirming, in a common address to the sovereign pontiff, that they themselves and their priests had signed the formulary, as had been done in the other dioceses of France.

D'Estrées for his part wrote at the same time : "The four bishops have just conformed, by a new and sincere subscription, with the other bishops ". Both letters were transmitted by the nuncio to Rome, where Lyonne, also alleging that the signatures were absolutely regular, insisted that the affair should be brought to an end. For this reason the pope, who had received these documents 24 September, informed Louis XIV of the fact about 28 September, expressing his joy for the "subscription pure and simple" which had been obtained, announcing his intention to restore the bishops in question to favour and requesting the king to do the same. However, before the Briefs of reconciliation thus announced had been sent to each of the four prelates concerned, rumours which had at first been current with regard to their lack of frankness grew more definite, and took the shape of formal and repeated denunciations. Hence, by order of Clement IX, Bargellini had to make a new investigation at Paris. As the final result he sent to Rome a report drawn up by Vialar. This report stated with regard to the four bishops : "They have condemned and caused to be condemned the five propositions with all manner of sincerity, without any exception or restriction whatever , in every sense in which the Church has condemned them"; but he then added explanations concerning the question of fact which were not altogether free from ambiguity. The pope, no less perplexed than before, appointed a commission of twelve cardinals to obtain information. These secured, it seems, the proof of the language made use of by the bishops in their synods. Nevertheless, in consideration of the very grave difficulties which would result from opening up the whole case again, the majority of the commission held that they might and should abide practically by the testimony of the official documents and especially by that of the minister I,yonne regarding the reality of the "subscription pure and simple", at the same time emphasizing anew this point as the essential basis and the condition sine qua non of peace.

The four Briefs of reconciliation were then drawn up and dispatched; they bear the date, 19 January, 1669. In them Clement IX recalls the testimony he had received "concerning the real and complete obedience with which they had sincere}y subscribed to the formulary, condemning the five propositions without any exception or restriction, according to all the senses in which they had been condemned by the Holy See ". He remarks further that being "most firmly resolved to uphold the constitutions of his predecessors, he would never have admitted a single restriction or exception". These preambles were as explicit and formal as possible. They prove, especially when compared with the terms and object of the formulary of Alexander VII, how far wrong the Jansenists were in celebrating this termination of the affair as the triumph of their theory, as the acceptance by the pope himself of the distinction between right and fact. On the other hand it is clear from the whole course of the negotiations that the loyalty of these champions of a stainless and unfaltering moral code was more than doubtful. At all events, the sect profited by the muddle these manoeuvres had created to extend its conquest still further and to get a stronger hold on several religious congregations. It was favoured by various circumstances. Among them must be included the growing infatuation in France for the so-called Gallican Liberties, and in consequence a certain attitude of defiance, or at least indocility, towards the supreme authority; then the Declaration of 1682, and finally the unfortunate affair of the Régale . It is worthy of remark that in this last conflict it was two Jansenist bishops of the deepest dye who most energetically upheld the rights of the Church and the Holy See, while the greater number of the others too readily bowed before the arrogant pretensions of the civil power.

What is Ash Wednesday?

What is Ash Wednesday?

Speakin' with the Deacons
Live Wednesday Feb. 14th @ 10am PDT
Join US LIVE on YouTube


Despite the reticence and equivocation which it allowed to continue, the "Peace of Clement IX " found a certain justification for its name in the period of relative calm which followed it, and which lasted until the end of the seventeenth century. Many minds were tired of the incessant strife, and this very weariness favoured the cessation of polemics. Moreover the Catholic world and the Holy See were at that time preoccupied with a multitude of grave questions, and through force of circumstances Jansenism was relegated to second place. Mention has already been made of the signs of a recrudescence of Gallicanism betrayed in the Four Articles of 1682, and in the quarrels of which the Régale was the subject. To this period also belongs the sharp conflict regarding the franchises, or droit d'asile (right of asylum), the odious privilege concerning which Louis XIV showed an obstinacy and arrogance which passed all bounds (1687). Moreover, the Quietist doctrines spread by de Molinos, and which seduced for a brief period even the pious and learned Fénelon as well as the relaxed opinions of certain moralists, furnished matter for many condemnations on the part of Innocent XI, Alexander VIII, and Innocent XII. Finally, another impassioned debate had arisen which drew into the arena several groups of the most distinguished and best intentioned theologians, and which was only definitively closed by Benedict XIV , namely the controversy concerning the Chinese and Malabar Rites. All these combined causes had for a time distracted public attention from the contents and the partisans of the "Augustinus". Besides, "Jansenism" was beginning to serve as a label for rather divergent tendencies, not all of which deserved equal reprobation. The out-and-out Jansenists, those who persisted in spite of everything in upholding the principle of necessitating grace and the consequent errors of the five propositions, had almost disappeared with Pascal. The remainder of the really Jansenist party without committing itself to a submission pure and simple, assumed a far more cautious demeanour. The members rejected the expression "necessitating grace", substituting for it that of a grace efficacious "in itself", seeking thus to identify themselves with the Thomists and the Augustinians.

Abandoning the plainly heretical sense of the five propositions, and repudiating any intention to resist legitimate authority, they confined themselves to denying the infallibility of the Church with regard to dogmatic facts. Then, too, they were still the fanatical preachers of a discouraging rigorism, which they adorned with the names of virtue and austerity, and, under pretext of combating abuses, openly antagonized the incontestable characteristics of Catholicism especially its unity of government, the traditional continuity of its customs, and the legitimate part which heart and feeling play in its worship. With all their skilful extenuations they bore the mark of the levelling, innovating, and arid spirit of Calvinism. These were the fins Jansénistes . They formed thenceforth the bulk of the sect, or rather in them the sect properly so called was summed up. But apart from them, though side by side with them, and bordering on their tendencies and beliefs, history points out two rather well-defined groups known as the "duped Jansenists" and the "quasi-Jansenists". The first were in good faith pretty much what the fins Jansénistes were by system and tactics: they appear to us as convinced adversaries of necessitating grace, but no less sincere defenders of efficacious grace; rigorists in moral and sacramental questions, often opposed, like the Parlementarians, to the rights of the Holy See ; generally favourable to the innovations of the sect in matters of worship and discipline. The second category is that of men of Jansenist tinge. While remaining within bounds in theological opinions, they declared themselves against really relaxed morality against exaggerated popular devotions and other similar abuses. The greater number were at bottom zealous

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Prayer of the Day logo
Saint of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.