Saturday, May 3, 2014

March 27 1708 - Pope Clement Supresses Port Royal

PicturePope Clement XI

Cornelius Jansen, the bishop of Ypres, wrote a theological work in Latin calledAugustinus, which was published posthumously in Louvain in 1640.  It was the start of a theological movement called Jansenism. Three years later, Pope Innocent X condemned 5 propositions taken from the work that concerned the relationship of grace and nature.  We have covered the theology in slightly more depth here (LINK).  Essentially they were accused of having misinterpreted St. Augustine.  However  condemnation was against the five statements and not directly against Jansenism.  Eventually in 1713 the bullUnigenitus, unequivocally condemned Jansenism.  Anticipating that, on this day in 1708, Pope Clement XI suppressed the abbey of Port Royal which was a hotbed of Jansenism and thus attacks on the Jesuits.

In 1709, when Louis XIV was king, two hundred archers had been sent to disperse the remaining sisters of the Port Royal, because they had refused to sign a document declaring tendencies in Jansenism as being heretical.  Two years later in 1711, the abbey was razed to the ground, bones were exhumed and the land returned to its arable state.  The ‘Sun’ King had a Jesuit Confessor, Father Le Tellier, who had given this drastic action his blessing.  The Jansenists had proved themselves politically unpopular as they were fierce critics of Cardinal Richelieu’s foreign policy, which seemed to favour the Bourbon Dynasty and sacrifice the hope of a Catholic re-conquest of Europe.

Jansenism had followed an interesting path of growth, condemnation and then persecution.  It was with their backs to the wall, realising that they had to defend themselves that they became fixated on the Jesuits.  They had to appeal to the public for support  and they did so very effectively with the writings of Blaise Pascal.  The Jesuits often wrote in Latin, and wrote very learned treatises that systematically pointed out the errors in Jansenism.  Their writings were thorough, dense and the style was academic, ecclesiastical and philosophical.  Pascal on the other hand wrote in French, and his wit and eloquence disguised that fact that the substance was often lacking.  His appeal to populism made him feel close to the people, whereas the Jesuits were often portrayed as being aloof. 
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