The term itself was coined by its Jesuit opponents, who accused them of being close to Calvinists, as Jansenists self-identified as rigorous followers of Augustinism. Several propositions supported by Jansenists, in particular concerning the relationship between human's free will and "efficacious grace", were condemned by the Pope, and the movement thus deemed heretical.
The origins of Jansenism lie in the friendship of Cornelius Jansen and Jean du Vergier de Hauranne. The two met in the early 1600s when both were studying theology at the Catholic University of Leuven. As the wealthier of the two, du Vergier served as Jansen’s patron for a number of years, getting Jansen a job as a tutor in Paris in 1606. Two years later, he got Jansen a position teaching at the episcopal (or "bishop's") college in du Vergier’s hometown of Bayonne. The duo spent the next decade studying the Church Fathers together, with a special focus on the thought of Augustine of Hippo.
Both left Bayonne in 1617. Du Vergier became the abbot (Fr. abbé) of Saint-Cyran (and was thus generally known as the abbé de Saint-Cyran, or simply as Saint-Cyran or St-Cyran for the rest of his life). Meanwhile, Jansen returned to the Catholic University of Leuven, where he completed his Th.D. in 1619 and was named Professor of Exegesis. Jansen and St-Cyran continued to correspond about Augustine, especially Augustine’s teachings on grace. Upon the recommendation of Philip IV, Jansen was consecrated as Bishop of Ypres in 1636.
Jansen died in the midst of an epidemic in 1638: on his deathbed, he committed a manuscript to his chaplain, ordering him to consult with Libert Fromondus, a theology professor at Leuven, and Henri Calenus, a canon at the metropolitan church, and to publish the manuscript if they agreed it should be published. "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." This manuscript was published in 1640 under the title Augustinus, a reference to Augustine (Jansen claimed to be setting out Augustine’s system). This book formed the basis for the subsequent Jansenist Controversy.
The Augustinus consisted of three volumes. Volume I was a historical description of Pelagianism and Augustine’s battle against it and against Semipelagianism. Volume II contained a discussion of the Fall of Man and original sin. In Volume III, Jansen denounced a “modern tendency” (which he did not name but which was clearly Molinism) as Semipelagian.
Even before the publication of Augustinus, St-Cyran had begun publicly preaching Jansenism. Jansen emphasises a particular reading of Augustine’s idea of efficacious grace which stressed that only a certain portion of humanity were predestined to be saved. Jansen insisted that the love of God was fundamental, and that only contrition, and not simple attrition, could save a person (and that, in turn, only an efficacious grace could tip that person toward God and such a contrition). This debate on the respective roles of contrition and attrition, which had not been settled by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), was one of the motives of the imprisonment in May 1638 of St-Cyran, the first leader of Port-Royal, by order of Cardinal Richelieu. St-Cyran was not released until after Richelieu's death in 1642, and he died shortly thereafter, in 1643.
Jansen also insisted on justification by faith, although he did not contest the necessity of revering saints, of confession, and of frequent Communion. Jansen’s opponents (mainly Jesuits) condemned his teachings for their alleged similarities to Calvinism (though, unlike Calvinism, Jansen rejected the doctrine of assurance and taught that even the saved could not be assured that they were saved). Blaise Pascal's Ecrits sur la Grâce, based on what Michel Serres has called his "anamorphotic method," attempted to conciliate the contradictory positions of Molinists and Calvinists by stating that both were partially right: Molinists, who claimed God's choice concerning a person's sin and salvation was a posteriori and contingent, while Calvinists claimed that it was a priori and necessary. Pascal himself claimed that Molinists were correct concerning the state of humanity before the Fall, while Calvinists were correct regarding the state of humanity after the Fall.
The heresy of Jansenism, meaning here its denial of Catholic doctrine, is that it denies the role of free will in the acceptance and use of grace -- that God's role in the infusion of grace is such that it cannot be resisted and does not require human assent. The Catholic teaching is that "God's free initiative demands man's free response" (CCC 2002) that is the gift of grace can be resisted and requires human assent.
However, on August 1, 1641, the Holy Office issued a decree condemning Augustinus and forbidding its reading. In 1642, Pope Urban VIII followed up with a papal bull entitled In eminenti, which condemned Augustinus on the grounds that (1) it was published in violation of the order that no works concerning grace should be published without the prior permission of the Holy See; and (2) the work repeated several errors of Baianism which had been condemned by Pope Pius V's 1567 bull, Ex omnibus afflictionibus.
In 1634, St-Cyran had become the spiritual adviser of Port-Royal-des-Champs, a Cistercian convent in Magny-les-Hameaux. The Abbess of Port-Royal-des-Champs was Marie Angélique Arnauld, who had become abbess in 1609 and reformed the discipline of the convent. In 1625, most of the nuns moved to Paris, forming the convent of Port-Royal de Paris, which from then on was commonly known simply as Port-Royal, while the term Port-Royal-des-Champs was used for the convent in Magny-les-Hameaux. St-Cyran became good friends with Abbess Marie-Angélique and convinced her of the rightness of Jansen's opinions. The two Port Royal convents thus became major strongholds of Jansenism. Under Marie-Angélique, later with St-Cyran's support, Port-Royal-des-Champs developed a series of elementary schools, known as the "Little Schools of Port-Royal" (Les Petites-Écoles de Port-Royal); the most famous product of these schools was the playwright Jean Racine.
Through Abbess Marie-Angélique, St-Cyran had met her brother, Antoine Arnauld, and brought him to accept Jansen's position in Augustinus. Following St-Cyran's death in 1643, Arnauld became the chief proponent of Jansenism. In 1643, he published a book De la fréquente Communion (On Frequent Communion) which presented Jansen's ideas in a way more accessible to the public (e.g. it was published in French, whereas Augustinus was available only in Latin). The book, as its title indicated, also focussed on a related topic in the dispute between Jesuits and Jansenists. The Jesuits encouraged Catholics, including those struggling with sin, to receive Holy Communion frequently, arguing that Christ instituted it as a means to holiness for sinners, and stating that the only requirement for receiving Communion (apart from baptism) was that the communicant be free of mortal sin at the time of reception. The Jansenists, in line with their deeply pessimistic theology, discouraged frequent Communion, arguing that a high degree of perfection, including purification from attachment to venial sin, was necessary before approaching the Sacrament.
The faculty of the Collège de Sorbonne (the theological college of the University of Paris) formally accepted the bull In eminenti in 1644, and the Archbishop of Paris, Jean-François, Cardinal de Gondi, formally proscribed Augustinus; the work nevertheless continued to circulate.
The Jesuits attacked the Jansenists, claiming they were guilty of heresy similar to that of the Calvinists. In response, Arnauld wrote Théologie morale des Jésuites (Moral Theology of the Jesuits), which was the basis of most of the arguments later used by Pascal in his Provincial Letters denouncing the "relaxed morality" of Jesuitism. The Jesuit Nicolas Caussin, former spiritual director to Louis XIII, was charged by his order with writing a defense against Arnauld's book, titled Réponse au libelle intitulé La Théologie morale des Jésuites (1644). Other works published against Arnauld's Moral Theology of the 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 the Chancellor, Leuven, 1654).
During the 1640s, St-Cyran's nephew, Martin de Barcos, who had studied theology under Jansen, wrote several works defending his uncle.
In 1649, the syndic of the Sorbonne, Nicolas Cornet, frustrated by the continued circulation of the Augustinus, drew up a list of five propositions from Augustinus and two propositions from De la fréquente Communion and asked the Sorbonne faculty to condemn the propositions. Before the faculty could do so, the Parlement de Paris intervened, forbidding the Sorbonne faculty to consider the propositions. The Sorbonne faculty then determined to forward the propositions to the General Assembly of the Clergy, which met in 1650. In the assembly, 85 of the French bishops voted to refer the matter to Pope Innocent X. Eleven of the bishops opposed this move, and asked the pope to appoint a commission similar to the Congregatio de Auxiliis to resolve the situation. Innocent X agreed to the majority's request, but in an attempt to accommodate the view of the minority, appointed an advisory committee consisting of five cardinals and thirteen consultors to report on the situation. Over the next two years, this commission held 36 meetings, 10 of which Innocent X presided over in person.
The supporters of Jansenism on the commission drew up a table with three heads: the first listed the Calvinist position (which was condemned as heretical), the second listed the Pelagian/Semipelagian position (as taught by the Molinists), and the third listed the correct Augustinian position (according to the Jansenists).
Jansenism's supporters suffered a decisive defeat when Innocent X issued the bull Cum occasione on May 31, 1653. The bull condemned the following five propositions:
Antoine Arnauld accepted the bull Cum Occasione and agreed in condemning the five propositions mentioned by Cum Occasione. However, he argued that Augustinus did not argue in favour of the five propositions condemned by Cum Occasione. Rather, he argued that Jansen intended his statements in Augustinus in the same sense that Augustine of Hippo had offered his opinions - and since the pope would certainly not have wished to condemn Augustine's opinions, the pope had not condemned Jansen's actual opinions.
Replying to Arnauld, in 1654, 38 French bishops condemned Arnauld's position to the pope. Opponents of Jansenism in the church refused absolution to Roger du Plessis, duc de Liancourt for his continued protection of the Jansenists. In response to this onslaught, Arnauld articulated a distinction as to how far the Church could bind the mind of a Catholic. He argued that there is a distinction between de jure and de facto - that a Catholic was obliged to accept the Church's opinion as to a matter of law (i.e. as to a matter of doctrine) but not as to a matter of fact. Arnauld argued that, while he agreed with the doctrine propounded in Cum Occasione, he was not bound to accept the pope's determination of fact as to what doctrines were contained in Jansen's work.
In 1656, the theological faculty at the Sorbonne moved against Arnauld. This was the context in which Blaise Pascal wrote his famous Provincial Letters in defence of Arnauld's position in the dispute at the Sorbonne. (However, unlike Arnauld, Pascal did not himself accept Cum occasione and believed that the condemned doctrines were orthodox. Nevertheless, he emphasised Arnauld's distinction about matters of doctrine vs. matters of fact.) The letters were also scathing in their critique of the casuistry of the Jesuits, echoing Arnauld's Théologie morale des Jésuites.
However, Pascal was unable to convince the Sorbonne's theological faculty, and they voted 138-68 to expel Arnauld together with 60 other theologians from the Sorbonne. Later that year, the French Assembly of the Bishops voted to condemn Arnauld's distinction between 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. The pope responded with the bull Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem (dated October 16, 1656) in which he stated "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."
In 1657, relying on Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem, the French Assembly of the Clergy drew up a formulation of faith condemning Jansenism and declared that subscription to the formula was obligatory. Many Jansenists remained firmly committed to Arnauld's formula; although they would accept the conclusions of Cum Occasione, they would not agree that the propositions were contained in Jansen's Augustinus. In retaliation, the Archbishop of Paris, Jean François Paul de Gondi, cardinal de Retz suspended the convent of Port Royal from receiving the Sacraments. In 1660, the elementary schools run by Port-Royal-des-Champs were closed by bull, and in 1661, the monastery at Port-Royal-des-Champs was forbidden to accept new novices, which guaranteed the monastery would eventually die out.
Four bishops (Henri Arnauld, Bishop of Angers (brother of Antoine and Angélique Arnauld); Nicolas Choart de Buzenval, Bishop of Beauvais; François-Etienne Caulet, Bishop of Pamiers; and Nicolas Pavillon, Bishop of Alet) sided with Port-Royal, arguing that the French Assembly of the Clergy could not command French Catholics to subscribe to something which was not required by the pope. At the urging of several bishops, and at the personal insistence of King Louis XIV, Pope Alexander VII sent to France the apostolic constitution Regiminis Apostolici (dated February 15, 1664) which required all French Catholics to subscribe to the following formulary:
I, (Name), submitting to the apostolic constitutions of the sovereign pontiffs, Innocent X and Alexander VII, published May 31, 1653 and October 16, 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.
This formulary formed the basis of the Formulary Controversy. Many Jansenists refused to sign the formulary; whilst some did sign, they made it known that they were agreeing only to the doctrine, not the allegations asserted by the bull. The latter category included the four Jansenist-leaning bishops, who communicated the bull to their flocks along with messages which maintained the distinction between doctrine and fact. This angered both Louis XIV and Alexander VII, and the pope appointed a committee of nine French bishops to investigate the siutation.
However, before this committee acted, Alexander VII died on May 22, 1667. His successor, Pope Clement IX, initially appeared to be willing to continue the move against the Jansenist-leaning bishops. However, in France, the Jansenists conducted a campaign arguing that allowing a papal commission of this sort would be ceding the traditional liberties of the Gallican Church, thus playing on traditional French opposition to ultramontanism. They convinced one member of the cabinet (Lyonne) and nineteen bishops of their position. As a result, these bishops wrote to Clement IX, arguing that the infallibility of the Church applied only to matters of revelation, and not to matters of fact. They asserted that this was the position of Caesar Baronius and Robert Bellarmine. They also sent a letter to Louis XIV, arguing that great severity would result in political discord.
Under these circumstances, the papal nuncio to France recommended that Clement IX seek a peaceful accommodation with the Jansenists. Clement agreed, and appointed César d'Estrées, Bishop of Laon as mediator in the matter (he was to be assisted by two bishops who had signed the letter to the pope, Louis-Henri de Pardaillan de Gondrin, Archbishop of Sens and Félix Vialart de Herse, Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne). D'Estées convinced the four bishops to sign the formulary (though it seems they may have believed that signing the formulary did not mean assent to the matters of fact it contained). The pope, initially happy that the four bishops had signed, became angry when he was informed that they had done so with reservations. Clement IX ordered his nuncio to conduct a new investigation' reporting back, the nuncio declared: "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". However, he reported that the four bishops continued to be evasive as to whether they agreed with the pope as to the matter of fact. In response, Clement appointed a commission of twelve cardinals to further investigate the matter. This commission determined that the four bishops had signed the formulary in a less than entirely sincere manner, but nevertheless recommended that the matter should be dropped in order to forestall further divisions in the Church. The pope agreed and thus issued four briefs, declaring the four bishops' agreement to the formulary was acceptable, thus instituting the "Peace of Clement IX" (1669-1701).
Although the Peace of Clement IX brought about a lull in the public theological controversy, a number of churchmen remained attracted to Jansenism. Three major groups may be identified: (1) the "duped Jansenists", who continued to profess the five propositions condemned in Cum Occasione ; (2) the fins Jansénistes, who accepted the doctrine of Cum Occasione but who continued to deny the infallibility of the Church in matters of dogmatic fact; and (3) the quasi-Jansenists, who formally accepted both Cum occasione and the infallibility of the Church in matters of dogmatic fact, but who nevertheless remained attracted to aspects of Jansenism, notably its stern morality, commitment to virtue, and its opposition to ultramontanism which was a hot political issue in France in the decades surrounding the 1682 Declaration of the Clergy of France. The quasi-Jansenists served as protectors of the "duped Jansenists" and the fins Jansénistes.
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 dogmatic 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 amongst the anti-Jansenist elements in the Catholic Church. The decision was condemned by several French bishops; by Louis-Antoine, Cardinal de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris; by the theological faculties at Leuven, Douai, and eventually Paris; and, finally, in 1703, by Pope Clement XI. The Sorbonne professors 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 dogma.
The pope obliged, issuing the bull 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 the bull and Louis XIV promulgated the bull 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 in Paris remained in existence until the time of the French Revolution, when it was closed by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, part of the general Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution.
Pasquier Quesnel had been a member of the Parisian Oratory from 1657 to 1681, at which time he was expelled because of his Jansenism. He sought the protection of Pierre-Armand du Camboust de Coislin, Bishop of Orléans, who harboured Quesnel for four years, at which point Quesnel joined Antoine Arnauld in Brussels. In 1692, Quesnel published a book which he had been working on since 1668, Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament (Moral Reflections on the New 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.
The Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament did not initially arouse controversy; in fact, it was approved for publication by Felix Vialart, Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne and recommended by Louis-Antoine de Noailles. Neither Vialart nor Noailles appears 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: Ignace de Foresta, Bishop of Apt in 1703; Charles-Béningne Hervé, the Bishop of Gap in 1704; and in 1707 both the Bishop of Besançon and Edouard Bargedé, Bishop of Nevers. 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, the Bishop of Luçon and the Bishop of La Rochelle forbade the reading of the book.
However, Louis-Antoine de 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 bull Unigenitus, dated September 8, 1713 which collected 101 propositions from the Réflexions morales and denounced them as
false, captious, ill-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and its practices, contumelious to Church and State, seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected and savouring of heresy, favouring heretics, heresy, and schism, erroneous, bordering on heresy, often condemned, heretical, and reviving various heresies, especially those contained in the famous propositions of Jansenius.
Upon examining the 101 propositions condemned by Unigenitus, Noailles determined that as set out in the bull and apart from their context in the Réflexions morales, some of the propositions condemned by Unigenitus were in fact orthodox. He therefore refused to accept the bull and instead sought clarifications from the pope.
In the midst of this dispute, Louis XIV died in 1715, and the government of France was taken over by Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, serving as regent for the 5-year-old Louis XV of France. Unlike Louis XIV, who had stood solidly behind Unigenitus, Orléans expressed ambivalence. With the change in political mood, three theological faculties which had previously voted to accept Unigenitus - Paris, Nantes, and Reims - voted to rescind their acceptance.
In 1717, four French bishops went even further, and attempted to appeal the papal bull 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. Far from disarming the French clergy, many of whom were now advocating conciliarism, the clergy who had appealed Unigenitus to a general council, now appealed Pastoralis officii to a general council as well. In total, one cardinal, 18 bishops, and 3,000 clergy of Frances supported an appeal to a general council. However, the majority in France (four cardinals, 100 bishops, 100,000 clergymen) stood by the pope. The schism carried on for some time, however, and it was not until 1728 that Noailles submitted to the pope.
Unigenitus marks the official break of toleration of Jansenism within the Church in France , though quasi-Jansenists would occasionally stir in the following decades. By the mid-eighteenth century, Jansenism proper had totally lost its battle to be a viable theological position within Catholicism. However, certain ideas tinged with Jansenism remained in circulation for much longer; in particular, the Jansenist idea that Holy Communion should be received very infrequently and that reception required much more than freedom from mortal sin remained influential until finally condemned by Pope St. Pius X, who endorsed frequent communion, as long as the communicant was free of mortal sin, in the early 1900s.
On the other hand, Pascal's denunciation of Jesuit casuistry and its "relaxed morality" also led Innocent XI to condemn (in 1679) sixty-five propositions which were taken chiefly from the writings of the Jesuits Escobar and Suarez. They were said to be propositiones laxorum moralistarum, and Innocent forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunication.
Acceptants were Jansenists who accepted the bull Unigenitus (1713), which opened the final phase of the Jansenist controversy in France and condemned 101 propositions of the French Jansenist theologian Pasquier Quesnel.
Jansenism influenced the development of Gallicanism, and Jansenist teachers proposed a radical reform of the Latin liturgy.