V. PORT-ROYAL; 1656–1715

The Provincial Letters intensified the resolution of the Jesuits and the bishops to suppress Jansenism as Protestantism in disguise. At the urging of French bishops, Pope Alexander VII issued (October 6, 1656) a bull requiring all French ecclesiastics to subscribe to the following formulary:

I submit myself sincerely to the constitution of Pope Innocent X, dated May 31, 1653, according to its true sense, which has been determined by the constitution of our Holy Father, Pope Alexander VII, dated October 6, 1656. And I acknowledge that I am bound in conscience to obey these constitutions; and I condemn with heart and mouth the doctrine of the Five Propositions of Cornelis Jansen, contained in his book entitled Augustinus.

Mazarin refrained from enforcing signatures to this formulary, but on April 13, 1661, soon after Mazarin’s death, Louis XIV promulgated the order. A friendly diocesan vicar prefaced the formulary with a conciliatory statement. In this form Arnauld and the Solitaries signed it, and advised the nuns of Port-Royal to do likewise. Mère Angélique, bedridden with dropsy, refused, and persisted till her death on August 6, 1661, aged seventy. Pascal and his sister Jacqueline, now subprioress, also refused. “Since the bishops have the courage only of girls,” said Jacqueline, “girls must have the courage of bishops.” 77 Finally all the surviving nuns signed; but Jacqueline, exhausted by her long resistance, died on October 4, aged thirty-six; and Pascal followed her within a year.

Meanwhile the King repudiated the conciliatory preamble, and insisted that the nuns should sign the formulary without any addition or change. Those few who did this were transferred to Port-Royal in Paris. The great majority of the nuns, led by Mère Agnès, announced that they could not in conscience sign a document so contrary to their beliefs. In August, 1665, the archbishop disqualified the seventy nuns and their fourteen lay sisters from receiving the sacraments, and forbade them to have any communication with the outside world. During the next three years a sympathetic priest scaled the walls of Port-Royal-des-Champs to give viaticum to dying nuns. In 1666 Sacy, Lemaître, and three other Solitaries were arrested by order of the King. Arnauld, disguised with wig and sword, was sheltered by the Duchesse de Longueville, who waited upon him in person during his concealment. 78 She and other titled ladies took up the cause of the nuns; they prevailed upon Louis to relent; and in 1668 Pope Clement IX issued a new bull, so wisely ambiguous as to allow all parties to accept it. The prisoners were released, the dispersed nuns were restored to Port-Royal-des-Champs; once again the bells tolled there, which had been silent for three years. Arnauld was received amicably by the King, and wrote a book against the Calvinists. Nicole, however, wrote another book against the Jesuits.

This “Peace of the Church” lasted eleven years. Then Mme. de Longueville died, and the peace died with her. As the King aged, and his victories turned into defeats, his religion became a mess of bigotry and fear. Was God punishing him for tolerating heresy? His dislike of Jansenism took on a personal tinge. When a M. Fontpertuis was recommended for office Louis rejected him as suspected of Jansenism, but when he was assured that the man was merely an atheist he confirmed the nomination. 79 He could never forgive the nuns for defying his order to sign the undiluted formulary. To ensure the early disappearance of this center of disaffection, he forbade it to accept new members. He appealed to Clement XI to issue an unmistakable condemnation of Jansenism; after two years of prodding, the Pope fulminated the bull Vineam Domini (1705). By that time only twenty-five nuns survived at Port-Royal, the youngest sixty years old. The King impatiently awaited their death.

In 1709 the Jesuit Michel Tellier, aged sixty-six, succeeded Père La Chaise as the royal confessor. He urged upon Louis, now seventy-one, that the eternal fate of his soul depended upon the immediate and outright extermination of Port-Royal. Many of the secular clergy, including Louis Antoine de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, protested against such haste, but the King overruled them. On August 29, 1709, the abbey was surrounded by troops; the nuns were shown a lettre de cachet ordering their dispersal without delay; they were given fifteen minutes to gather up their belongings. Their cries and tears availed nothing. They were loaded into coaches, and were scattered among various conformist convents sixty to 150 miles away. In 1710 the buildings of the famous nunnery were razed to the ground.

Jansenism survived, Arnauld and Nicole died in Flanders exile (1694–95), but in 1687 Pasquier Quesnel, a priest of the Paris Oratory, defended the Jansenist theology in Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament. Imprisoned (1703), he escaped to Amsterdam, where he established a Jansenist church. As his book won much support among the French secular clergy, Louis induced Clement XI to issue the bull Unigenitus (September 8, 1713), which condemned 104 propositions ascribed to Quesnel. Many French prelates resented the bull as a papal interference with the Gallican Church, and Jansenism merged with a revival of the Gallican movement. When Louis XIV died, there were more Jansenists in France than ever before. 80

Today we find it hard to understand why a nation should have been divided, and a king so excited, about abstruse problems of divine grace, predestination, and free will; we forget that religion was then as important as politics seem now. Jansenism was the final effort of the Reformation in France, and the last flare of the Middle Ages. In the perspective of history it appears as a reaction rather than an advance. But in several aspects its influence was progressive. For a while it fought for a measure of religious freedom—though we shall find it in Voltaire’s days more intolerant than the papacy. 81 It checked the excesses of casuistry. Its moral fervor was a wholesome counterweight to a policy of confessional lenience that may have shared in the deterioration of French morality. Its educational influence was good; the petites écoles were the best of their time. Its literary influence emerged not only in Pascal but moderately in Corneille, vividly in Racine, pupil and historian of Port-Royal. Its philosophical influence was indirect and unintentional: its concept of God as damning to everlasting torture the larger part of the human race—including all unbaptized children, all Mohammedans, and all Jews—may have had some part in leading the Voltaires and the Diderots into rebellion against the entire Christian theology.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!