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During the first half of the seventeenth century French religion went through a somewhat chaotic stage. Catholicism had triumphed under Henry IV, but the whole reign of his successor was taken up by discussions as to the particular form which Catholicism should assumed For a long while the country swung to and fro between two rival schools of extremists, neither of which was strong enough to crush the other. At one end of the line was the ultra-clerical party headed successively by Mary de’ Medici and Anne of Austria. At the opposite end were the upholders of a purely official religion their strength lay chiefly in the legal and administrative class, which Richelieu had raised to power. They were ready enough to call themselves Catholics, and “perform the ancient ceremonies of their country with a decent moderation,” as one of their own great writers enjoins. But they insisted that Catholicism should be kept under the strict surveillance of the civil powers; its profession was not so much a duty to God as a duty to the State. Their real religion they found in the books of such men as Guillaume du Vair (1556-1621), Bishop of Lisieux and Lord Keeper during the regency of Mary de’ Medici. He offered them a purely natural religion, set out in singularly impressive language largely borrowed from the ancient Stoics. Intensely moral and patriotic, it is touched throughout with Christian sentiment; but it owes quite as much to Epictetus as to the Sermon on the Mount.

Where the fathers swore by Du Vair, the children passed on to Descartes (1596-1650). The philosopher posed as an excellent Church­man; and when protestant friends in Holland tried to convert him, he answered that the religion of his king and of his nurse was good enough for him. But his real work was to finish what Du Vair had begun. His Meditations gave the world what the world had never seen before—proofs of God, freedom and immortality put into language strictly reasoned, but not too hard for average minds to follow. These three things once proved, however, Descartes made his bow and departed, leaving the field clear for theology. What God was like he did not pretend to say, nor how eternal happiness was to be compassed, or our freedom to be used. That was matter of taith, not reason and he only dealt with the domain where philosophy and religion overlapped. Hereupon followed the natural result. Most Cartesian imaginations fastened on the truths of reason, and but little occupied themselves with those of faith. The first were the essentials of religion, the second its accidental clothing, mere “ancient ceremonies of one’s country.”

Not that this consequence showed itself at once. Churchmen were a long while in deciding whether Cartesianism did more good or harm. The great Jansenist, Antoine Arnauld, spoke up warmly in its favour. Bossuet was much more doubtful; but Pascal was the one Christian thinker of the age who steadily opposed it. Nor were the rationalists themselves quite clear whither they were bound. At first sight no one looks more negative than Gui Patin (1601-72), an eminent, but very cross-grained, professor from the College de Prance. He was always congratulating himself on being “delivered from the nightmare”; and he rivals the eighteenth century in the scorn he pours on priests, monks, and especially “that black Loyolitic scum from Spain,” which called itself the Society of Jesus. Yet Patin was no freethinker. Sceptics who made game of the kernel of religion came quite as much under the lash of his tongue as bigots who dared defend its husks. His letters end with the characteristic confession: “Credo vn Deum, Christum crucifixum, etc.,.... De minimis non curat praetor.”

At the opposite pole from Patin stood the party of the so-called dévots. Patronised successively by the two foreign queens, its first object was to introduce new fashions in devotion, and new religious orders, from Italy or Spain. For French religion and French literature were alike impoverished, and must borrow from abroad. The divots were only doing in one field what préciosité accomplished in another, when it brought in gongorisme, or exaggerated emphasis, from beyond the Pyrenees, and little concetti from beyond the Alps. In neither case did native taste take altogether kindly to the loan. The Bare-footed Carmelites, for instance, were brought to France under the patronage of one queen, and warmly encouraged by the other. Daughters of St Teresa, they represented the fine flower of the Spanish Counter-reformation. They brought with them a glow of torrid romance, that sat well enough on the countrywomen of Don Quixote, but was utterly out of place in the Paris of Descartes and Gui Patin. Their religion was all violent contrasts of light and shade. In their churches was great show of perfumes, flowers, and fine linen; in their cloisters extraordinary austerities—terrible scourgings, the most humiliating penances, and fasts on bread and water. Louise de La Valliere, flying from the arms of Louis XIV to scrub floors in a Carmelite convent, is a typical example of their picturesque sensationalism.

Still less acceptable to most Frenchmen was the piety of the Italians. Here artistic triviality reigned. Patin is never tired of denouncing their “bad little books of devotion, full of miracles and monkish revelations, cords of St Francis and girdles of St Margaret.” Nor was their want of taste their only fault. They, and all they represented, widened the breach between Cartesian rationalism and the Church. In particular, they exasperated the Huguenots, and stood wantonly in the way of their reconciliation with the Roman Church. And that was an object that most good Frenchmen had very much at heart, though often for political reasons quite as much as for religious. A good instance is the sceptical critic Saint-Évremond (1613-1703). He quite agreed with the Protestants that they would not find a rational religion in Italy or Spain. Thanks to the Gallican Liberties, however, he thought that they might find it in France, if they left the “girdle of St Margaret” alone, and took to reading Bossuet.

The Liberties in question were certain ancient rights, in which most Frenchmen took a patriotic pride. They were peculiar to France; and, as the Crown lawyers said, they had never been granted like a privilege, but grew up in the very nature of things. They consisted chiefly in four points. Papal bulls might not come into France without leave of the Crown. The decisions of the Roman Congregations had no legal weight in France. French subjects could not be cited before a Roman tribunal. French civil Courts took cognisance of ecclesiastical affairs, whenever the law of the land was thought to be broken. And, inasmuch as Catholicism was part and parcel of the common law, the Parlements could, and did, give this last article a very wide extension. They were perfectly ready to enter into the merits of an excommunication, and force Bishops and Cardinals to withdraw it, if they thought it improperly launched. There are even cases in which they “adjudged” the sacrament to those who could not obtain it from their parish priest.

However, these abuses were the exception; and the mass of the French clergy put up with the Parlements easily enough. After all, the only alternative was an appeal to the Pope; and to him they were by no means anxious to go, even had their Government allowed it. Most visitors to Rome told the same tale; They were scandalised at its pettiness, especially at its neglect of theological scholarship. Much more secular branches of learning tempted Italian ambition. The road to the purple lay through nunciatures and administrative offices; divinity was left to the friars, who had no other chance of advancement. But indifference leads as straight to intolerance as ever can fanaticism. When a too original book was published, the Cardinals made haste to put it on the Index, and troubled themselves no more about it, sure that it soon would be forgotten. In France this irresponsible high-handedness was neither possible nor desired; a single example would have drawn down on the offending prelate a swarm of jeering pamphlets. For the Huguenots were always on the watch to spy out a joint in Goliath’s armour; and herein they were supported by lay Catholic opinion. Most Frenchmen liked authority well enough within its proper sphere; but they expected it to obey the law and common sense.

All these things inspired a strong dislike of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Dogmatically speaking, Frenchmen thought it unhistorical, and opposed to the ancient traditions of their Church. Administratively speaking, it meant a revolution. Hitherto they had settled their ecclesiastical disputes at home. Once admit infallibility, and appeals innumerable would go from their own highly competent tribunals to a set of incapable judges in a foreign land. Lastly, Bellarmin and the Roman Ultramontanes had grafted on to the theological dogma a set of political consequences highly exasperating to French national pride. It was argued that ecclesiastical interests took precedence of all other interests; and of these the Pope was the only judge. Hence he had a right to dictate his will to temporal sovereigns, whenever he thought such interests were concerned. If they refused to listen, he could punish them in any manner he thought fit; in the last resort he could depose them, incite their subjects to rebellion, and head a crusade of Catholic Powers against them.

Much of this, no doubt, was simply dialectical steam, blown off by heated professors in a class-room. But steam can drive small wheels as well as great. The French Ministers knew very well that Ultramontanism could not depose Louis XIII from his throne; it could, and did, write seditious pamphlets, whenever Richelieu supported a Protestant Power against a Catholic. But in their foreign policy, at any rate, Richelieu and his successors meant to keep their hands entirely free; here they must be able to ignore ecclesiastical interests as much as they pleased without fear of ecclesiastical disturbance. Hence the need of a doctrine that would bind the consciences of all Frenchmen to obey no master but their King.

This need Gallicanism supplied. It may be described as a generalisation of the ancient Gallican Liberties, evolved as a counterblast to Ultramontanism. Like the rival theory, it developed a theological and a political side. Theological Gallicanism maintained that the supreme infallible authority of the Church was committed to Pope and Bishops jointly. Political Gallicanism declared that no amount of misconduct, sr neglect of Catholic interests, justified the Pope in interfering with a temporal sovereign. The two doctrines grew up independently; and even under Louis XIV many Jesuits and other divines were politically Gallican, and theologically Ultramontane. But early in the seventeenth century the two sides of Gallicanism were welded together by Edmond Richer (1559-1631), a famous Doctor of the Sorbonne. To the Richelieus and Colberts Gallicanism was a mere device for snuffing out clerical opposition; in the hands of Richer and his successors it became an honest attempt to solve the great problem of the age, and show Frenchmen how to be at once good citizens and good Catholics.

For a new era was dawning. On the divisions of the Wars of Religion there followed an irresistible reaction towards patriotism and national unity. France had suddenly grown to her full stature; like the contemporary England of John Milton, she was become “a noble and puissant nation, roing herself like a strong man after sleep.” Ultramontanism strove hard to check what it called this “separatist” tendency, and to strangle national aspirations in the leading-strings of the Papacy. But even the clergy were swept away by the current, and meant to be patriots like everyone else. “Before my ordination,” said Richer, “I was a subject of the King of France. Why should that ceremony make me a subject of the Pope?” His eccentric followerj Michael Chretien, went further still, and exhorted the assembled Sorbonne to rally to the service of its King. “Exhibeamus nos gallos, et non gallinas,” he cried. Before long the Gallican wave had invaded the Jesuits themselves. When Louis XIV, after a period of diplomatic coolness, again sent an ambassador to Alexander VII, Father Rapin overflows about his royal condescension in thus “honouring” the Pope. And in the great quarrel with Innocent XI the Society was among the strongest supporters of the Crown.

The divine right of Kings.

Gallicanism necessarily led up to the doctrine of the divine right of kings. This doctrine is developed by Bossuet in his Politique tirée de l'Ecriture Sainte, written between 1675 and 1680, while the author was tutor to Louis XIV’s only son. But Bossuet by no means followed the same lines as his contemporaries across the Channel. The theologians of Charles II upheld the divine right of legitimate monarchy, as opposed to other forms of government. Bossuet’s object was to show that all established sovereignties—whether monarchical or republican—hold their power directly of God, and not mediately through the Pope. God wills that in every country there should be some settled constitution; what particular form it takes the customs of the country will decide. But, once a particular form of government has established its prescriptive right, no power on earth can interfere either with the system itself or with its lawfully-appointed officers; a bad, but legitimate, king can no more be exchanged for a good than an established republic can transform itself into a monarchy. In short, Bossuet’s book is a plea for political stability at all costs. He was old enough to remember the Fronde, and the misery its flighty constitutional experiments brought upon the common folk. He was writing a manual for the son of Louis XIV at a time when Louis’ methods of government had culminated in a blaze of glory. Naturally he wished those methods to continue for ever.

No doubt, this royalist enthusiasm acquired a thick enough coating of vulgarity by the time it reached the lower strata of the clergy. The great Huguenot controversialist, Jurieu, has much to say about a thesis on the argument from design maintained by certain Franciscans of Marseilles, wherein the chief proof of a Deity’s existence was drawn from the triumphs of Louis the Great. But the worst effect of this perpetual incense was on the character of Louis himself. It is true it did not touch his religion; for that was a mass of Spanish superstitions inherited from his mother. As Madame de Maintenon told Cardinal de Noailles, the King would never miss a sermon or a fast-day, but no one could make him understand what was meant by humility or repentance. His private superstitions had, however, little to do with his public policy. Here he walked in the steps of Richelieu, and made the glory of God come altogether second to the glory of the King of France. The Church was a most effective instrument of government, and therefore he supported the Church; but he expected Pope and Bishops to take their marching orders from him. If they refused, he was perfectly ready to make war on the one, and send the others to the Bastille.

The clergy, in fact, were supernumerary members of the civil service. By the Concordat of 1516 the Crown appointed to all bishoprics and abbeys. But the mere nomination was the least part of the business; the real strength of the Crown lay in its power to raise or lower clerical incomes as it pleased. It could burden an incoming bishop’s revenues with pensions to whomsoever it chose; it could reward good service with fat sinecures. Of these the most important were the abbeys in commendam. They could be granted to whomsoever the King chose. No residence, or other duty, was expected from the abbot. He need not be in holy orders; he might be a child, or even a Huguenot. Indeed, he could be anything except a monk; for if a qualified person were appointed, the abbey was “restored to rule,” and further abuse became impossible.

Still more curious was the royal perquisite of the rigale, or right to the temporalities of a vacant bishopric. Of these by far the most important was the patronage of benefices in the bishop’s gift—chiefly canonries, archdeaconries, and a host of minor appointments in cathedral and collegiate churches. Parochial livings were excluded, as directly involving cure of souls. In the hands of successive generations of Crown lawyers this prerogative was developed to an incredible extent. It was held that prescription could not be pleaded against the Crown; hence, if a benefice once fell under the régale, there it remained, until the Crown had exercised its right. As a matter of grace, the Crown seldom interfered with a dignitary who had been in possession of his stall for thirty years; but at any time within that period an episcopally-appointed canon was liable to ejectment, on the ground that the patronage of his place rightfully belonged to the Crown. Hence, to present a man to a canonry was often equivalent to presenting him to a costly lawsuit.

Quite apart from the régale, however, litigiousness was a besetting sin of the French clergy. Cathedral Chapters, in particular, were proverbial for their lawyers’ bills. Their great object was to make themselves as independent as possible of the Bishop; and herein their lead was followed by numberless deans of peculiars, rectors, incumbents of donatives, and the like. “The lichen of exemptions,” said St Francis of Sales, “ is fast eating away the trunk of the Church.” Another great; evil was non-residence. Bishops no longer commanded fleets ; nor couldl they throw up their pastoral charges and marry, as more than once happened under Louis XIII. But most of them would very much rather serve at Court than reign in their cathedral cities; and to “ banish ” a prelate to his diocese was one of the heaviest sentences Louis XIV could, pronounce. Even Fenelon talks of his palace at Cambray much as Ovid talks of Tomi.

These non-resident pluralists were divided by a yawning gulf from the humble country curates. Most of these were miserably poor—even poorer, relatively speaking, than their successors in modern France. Of education they had little; no means existed for obtaining it. The Sorbonne, or theological faculty of Paris University, gave an elaborate education in divinity; but very few young men could afford to spend seven years over their degree. Few of the provincial universities taught theology at all; and seminaries, or diocesan colleges preparing directly for the priesthood, were only just beginning to be founded. On the; other hand, the Bishops expected nothing more from a candidate for holy orders than some evidence to character and enough Latin to stumble through a few lines of the Breviary. Hence the most astounding ignorance was common enough. Priests were found who did not know the common formula of absolution. St Vincent de Paul had much trouble in persuading others that they ought not to take money for hearing confessions. Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, came across a priest in his parish, who was in the habit of praying to St Beelzebub.

The awakening of these poor curates and their flocks became the favourite project of St Vincent de Paul (1576-1660). His Lazarists, or Priests of the Mission, were to evangelise the country districts; his Sisters of Charity were to relieve their temporal distresses. These two bodies represent the triumph of two important innovations. The old-fashioned nun had spent her whole time behind high walls in prayer and contemplation; the one object of the Sister of Charity was the service, of her neighbours. The first aim of an old-fashioned Order was to make itself independent of all existing authorities; St Vincent’s two institutions were expressly intended to collaborate with the Bishops and parochial clergy.

This last idea was not absolutely new. Cardinal de Berulle (1574— 1629) had founded the French Oratory—a very free adaptation of the original institute of St Philip Neri—in order to train up clergy for country dioceses. But the Oratory proved too lettered for its work. Instead of a popular training college, it became the home of speculative recluses, such as the philosopher Malebranche (1638-1715), or Richard Simon (1638-1712), founder of Biblical criticism in France. As a nursery of clerical scholars, the. Oratory had only one rival. This was the Congregation of St Maur (1627), an offshoot of the Benedictine Order. Under the guidance of Mabillon (1632—1707), it developed an invaluable school of critics and ecclesiastical historians.

Directors of Conscience, and Preachers.

Mabillon and Malebranche only touched the few; the education of the mass of the clergy fell into the hands of the Sulpicians, founded by the Abbé Olier in 1641, and the Eudists (1643), so called from their founder, the Abbé Eudes de Mézerai. Following their lead came the Christian Brothers (1680), an association of celibate laymen, who furnished teachers for the humbler class of schools. But all three bodies laid much more stress on piety than on learning; Saint-Sulpice, in particular, devoted itself “not so much to theological science, as to the practice of that science, and the virtues proper to the clerical state.”

An abounding interest in applied religion marks the whole revival. Perhaps its most characteristic outcome was the rise of professed Directors of Conscience divines who specialised in spiritual ailments; they stood to ordinary confessors much as a consulting physician stands to a general practitioner. No doubt, their rise was not an altogether healthy sign, and a director often aggravated the ills he was sent to cure. He became the natural target for all the morbid scrupulosity and self-analysis which idle and luxurious lives produce. Fenelon, a great expert in these matters, has many hard things to say about the valetudinarians in soul, who felt their pulses twenty times a day, and sent continually to the director to beg new drugs, or promises of quick recovery. But the prominence of Direction was a strong acknowledgment of the need of personal religion. It was felt, on the one hand, that something more than routine religious duties was demanded of the laity; it was felt, on the other, that they could not be trusted to pick out the vital elements in religion for themselves. Some were too feeble, others too erratic. Hence the use of a Director. He kept flightiness from trying dangerous experiments, and broke up the bread of doctrine into morsels suited to a feeble appetite.

Direction, however, was only for the few; for the many the one means of instruction was the sermon. Nowadays it is hard to realise how large a part the pulpit played in the life of seventeenth century France. Political assemblies were unknown. Journalism, still in its infancy, was closely muzzled. The pulpit was the only place where popular criticism of those in high places could safely make itself heard. Nor did preachers always resist the obvious temptation of airing their views on subjects in general, just to show off their own cleverness. La Bruyere declares that they made their pulpit a means of advancement as rapid, but not less hazardous, than the profession of arms. Others gave in to the dominant préciosité. Mascaron (1634-1703) and Flechier (1632-1710), the two earliest of Louis XIV’s Court-preachers, could generally be trusted not to say things in a simple way, if it was possible to put them in an artificial. But the religious revival waged war on préciosité. St Vincent de Paul is said to have thrown himself at the feet of a flowery young orator, and begged him to give up ornaments so unworthy of a crucified Jesus. This spirit triumphed in Bossuet (1627-1704), greatest of all the preachers. Quite apart from their jterary qualities, his sermons are distinguished by a fervour at once evangelical and pract ai. His aim was so to interweave doctrine and morality that each would lend assistance to the other. Faith would be the inspiration of all Christian practice; while practice, in its turn, would lead to a deeper grasp of faith. But, except on a few State occasions, Bossuet seldom mounted a Paris pulpit after he became tutor to the Dauphin (1670); and his mantle fell on the Jesuit Bourdaloue (1632-1704). In him, however, a moralistic, argumentative tone makes itself heard beside the evangelical; as Fenelon said, his sermons were magnificent reasonings about Christianity, but they were not religion. This criticism is still more true of Massillon (1663-1742), last of the great Court-preachers.

Preachers and Directors might make much of personal religion; but there was a general tendency to treat it as the crown and flower of religion, rather than as its root. For any high degree of sanctity it was indispensable; but it was thought that a man could scrape into a humble place in Paradise without possessing even its germs. This view was more especially common among the Jesuits. Not that it was peculiar to them. The Jesuits have invented little; but their energy, their boldness, their elastic organisation, unfettered by any ancient traditions, make them peculiarly conspicuous champions of whatever ideas they may adopt. In this matter of personal piety their sympathies were specially engaged. It appealed to individual experience, and such experience had been the great weapon of Luther and Calvin. But the Jesuits were sworn enemies of the Reformation and all its works; they boasted that they were nothing that Protestantism was, and all that Protestantism was not. Then, too, individual experience was cloudy and anarchic. But the Jesuits were essentially a combatant body, brought up to a more than military discipline; their sympathies were all for military precision—dogmas as clear-cut as a proposition of Euclid. Pascal might object that in religion what is clear-cut and precise is seldom true; but Jesuits had no time to listen to such scruples. Practical efficiency was their aim; and efficiency required a positive base of operations. Hence they were for ever extending the scope of papal infallibility.

Nor did these devotees of the practical take pains to distinguish between the ideal interests of religion and the terrestrial interests of the Church. It was God’s vicegerent; and to appeal—as Pascal appealed—from its decisions to the judgment-seat of Christ was alike blasphemous and foolish. Right-minded men trained themselves to believe that, whatever she did, the Church was always right. But a Church, ridden by the spectre of efficiency, is like to end in frauk utilitarianism; and during the seventeenth century there was a continually smouldering contest between the Jesuits and divines of a less worldly school as to exactly how far utility should be allowed to go. The great fight was over the confessional. Should priests pitch their standards high or low? The Jesuits argued that severity scared many away altogether—a contingency the more to be regretted in the case of the rich or influential. Accordingly they began a campaign to force confessors to be lax. The famous doctrine of probabilism—first broached about the beginning of the seventeenth century—made it a grave sin in the priest to refuse absolution, if there were any good reason for giving it; even when there were other and better reasons for refusing it. And to determine what such “good reason” was fell to Escobar and the Casuists.

These writers developed a whole system of expedients for protecting the penitent from a too zealous confessor. The kind of question he might ask was carefully defined. He must not cast about for general information as to his penitent’s disposition, as would a physician; he must try each offence strictly on its merits, as would a magistrate. He must always lean towards the most “benign” interpretation of the law; and for his guidance casuistry ran many an ingenious coach and four through inconvenient enactments. In matters of detail most of these are harmless enough. They are chiefly concerned with proving that common peccadilloes—the white lies of the lady of fashion, the “trade customs” of the shopkeeper—are not grievous sins. Nevertheless, in the opinion of Pascal, Milton, and other contemporary critics, the Casuists degraded morality. They encouraged men to take over their ideas of right and wrong ready-made from the priest, and thus save themselves the trouble of thinking. As Milton said, their conscience became a “dividual moveable,” left entirely in charge of the priest. He, in his turn, must he content with a low quality of achievement. He might urge his penitents to do more; but human nature seldom resists the charms of a fixed standard—least of all, when it is administered by a live judge in a visible court. If he must be satisfied with little, why be at the trouble of offering more? But the less he could expect from them, the more he was driven to trust to the miraculous efficiency of sacramental grace. By hook or by crook get the sinner to confession, and the whole work was done. However bad his natural character, the magical words of absolution would make him a new man.

The origins of Jansenism.

These abuses called forth a series of protests from eminent divines, among whom Bossuet was the most conspicuous; and during the later years of the century probabilism disappeared altogether from the French divinity schools. But Bossuet only struck at isolated points; meanwhile a movement was springing up, which aspired to cut down at the root the whole Jesuit conception of religion. This was the revival known as Jansenism. It is so called from the name of its founder, Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), a Dutch divine, long professor of divinity at Louvain University, and afterwards Bishop of Ypres in Belgium. His doctrines are contained in a bulky treatise on the theology of St Augustine, posthumously published in 1640. Meanwhile, however, his ideas had been popularised in France by his friend Jean Duvergier de Hauranne (1581-1643), commendatory Abbot of Saint-Cyran. Both were men strongly gifted with the evangelical impulse; and both had early been brought into conflict with the Jesuits. Saint-Cyran, like many other French divines, sympathised warmly with the secular Catholic missionaries in England in their interminable quarrel with their Jesuit rivals. Jansen had early taken sides in the controversy that had raged at Louvain ever since the days of its celebrated professor, Michael Baius (1513-89), and the eminent Jesuit, Leonard Lessius (1554-1625). The great question at stake was the right way of teaching theology. The Jesuits partly stood for the strictly logical scholastic method; the followers of Baius were for an appeal to mysticism and subjective experience.

Not that Jansen or his masters had any conscious tendencies to Protestantism. They might be willing to encounter the Reformation by its own weapons, and show that Catholic Louvain could be quite as evangelical as Presbyterian Leyden. But party-feeling was kept hot on both sides by continual border-affrays; Jansen himself had a long battle with the learned Calvinist, Voetius, still remembered as an antagonist of Descartes. This double line of warfare shaped the ideals of the two friends; they were in search of a theology which should be Catholic, but not Jesuit—evangelical, but not Protestant. They found it in the writings of St Augustine, who offered them a strongly individualistic mystical religion, dexterously interwoven with a high sacramental theory of the Church.

Accordingly Augustine became their oracle; and for years a sullen controversy raged as to whether Jansen had really understood his master. With the mass of his followers, however, these questions of scholarship were an altogether secondary matter; they valued his teaching because he gave them neither ceremonial nor theology, but genuine religion. Fof the great work of Jansenism was to insist that piety does not mean believing a particular opinion, or adopting a particular mode of life; it means conversion, becoming a new creature. Morality, church-going, orthodox opinions, might be excellent things in their place; but through them no man ever saved his soul. His fate in the next world depended on whether his life in this had been informed by the love of God. And by love of God Jansen meant simply the religious sense. This might be weak, or it might be strong; but even its humblest forms were enough to distinguish him who had it from those who had it not—to draw all his actions into a new perspective, and put a different colouring on all his thoughts. But inasmuch as a radical change of character is beyond man’s power to effect, Grace must descend upon him like a whirlwind—as once it descended on Jansen’s two spiritual heroes, St Augustine and St Paul—and draw his will “irresistibly, unfailingly, victoriously,” out of darkness into light.

Thus Jansen’s doctrine of conversion melted into Predestination. God calls certain souls to Himself; the rest He leaves to perish in their sins. Surprise has sometimes been expressed that Jansen should have made so many converts to so terrible a doctrine; even in his own day Deists had arisen to protest against a God, whose “justice” human misery exalted, whose “essence” human ills enriched. But the mass of Frenchmen conceived of their Maker as a hypostatised absolute sovereign: like the Louis XIV of Saint-Simon, He “commanded, and gave His reasons to none.” Moreover, Jansen’s doctrine of conversion softened the grimness of his predestinarianism. A man might be unregenerate today; but tomorrow it might please God to convert him—as once He converted St Paul, “model of all penitents.” But Jansen’s real object was to teach men that they cannot make their own religion for themselves. Left to their undisciplined fancy, they were straying on every side; some were experimenting with the geometrical God of Descartes, others with some Ultramontane “girdle of St Margaret.” Jansen answered that they cannot choose how, or when, they will be pious: they must wait till their Maker touches their heart, and tells them what He would have them do. “Those who really long for God,” said Pascal, “long also to approach Him only by means He has Himself ordained.”

Thus the ultimate religious sanction became subjective—an inward “witness of the Spirit”; and herein the French authorities saw endless possibilities of insubordination both in Church and State. For in the French seventeenth century a theological opinion was a political event. A disaffected party in the Church was sure to develop some kind of organised machinery for the furtherance of its views; and on this machinery all disaffected parties in the State threw a wistful eye. The Frondeurs, in particular, would have given much for Jansenist support. But the Fronde was still to come, when Jansenism gave its first great manifesto to the world. One of Saint-Cyran’s most important converts was Angelique Amauld (1591-1661), Abbess of Port-Royal, a convent near Versailles, and thenceforward the head-quarters of the party. She converted her brother Antoine (1612-94), a young Doctor of the Sorbonne. In 1643 Antojne Arnanld published a book on Frequent Communion, an attack on the confessors who gave absolution easily, without enquiry into the penitent’s character, or the sincerity of his repentance. The book raised a violent storm, but many divines supported Arnauld, and no official action was taken against his party till 1649. Then the Sorbonne condemned five propositions from Jansen’s Augustinus, all relating to Predestination. This censure, backed by the signatures of eighty-five Bishops, was sent up to Rome for confirmation; and in 1653 Innocent X declared all five propositions heretical.

His judgment put the Jansenists between two fires. To accept it meant a surrender of their whole position; to reject it would put them outside the Roman Church. Accordingly they temporised. They accepted the censure in the abstract, but denied that Jansen had held the propositions in the sense condemned. In one sense this was true; for a book may well mean one thing to spiritual experience, and quite another to an ecclesiastical lawyer. But the authorities could not be expected to listen to such reasoning; in 1656 Amauld was expelled, from the Sorbonne, in spite of Pascal’s Provincial Letters, begun in an attempt to save him. The Letters (1656-7) soon leave Amauld behind, however, and go on to a general attack on Jesuit casuistry and devotion aisee.

In October, 1656, Alexander VII cut away the ground from under Amauld’s feet by declaring that his predecessor had condemned the Augustinus in the sense intended by Jansen. Arnauld promptly set up the legal distinction of law and fact. In matters of dogma, he said, the Church was certainly infallible; but about the private intentions of an author it knew no more than anyone else. However, the authorities were obdurate. A “formulary,” or declaration that the Augustinus had been rightly condemned in the sense intended by its author, was presently drawn up; and signature was made binding on all nuns as well as priests. At first, however, it was only imposed on suspected Jansenists (1661), most of whom refused to sign. The priests went into hiding; and the Government began to persecute the nuns of Port-Royal. But in 1665 Pope and King resolved to make signa­ture really universal. Hereupon four Bishops protested—those of Alet, Angers, Beauvais, Pamiers—and were only induced to make a very ambiguous submission in 1668. With this, however, the pacific Clement IX declared himself satisfied; and the very secular French Ministers, who were frankly weary of the whole affair, persuaded the King to seize this opportunity of admitting the Jansenists generally to grace (1669).

Hence the so-called Peace of Clement IX is treated by Jansenist writers as a triumph: really, it was the beginning of their downfall. They had set out to reform the Church: they ended by having to fight hard for a doubtful foothold within it. And under the leadership of Arnauld—scion of a family of lawyers—the party itself had gone downhill; a controversial argumentative impulse was shouldering out the spiritual. Everyone admired Amauld’s talents; for he was not only a party-leader, but a considerable geometer and metaphysician. But, in admiring, the world agreed with Bossuet, who said that Arnauld was inexcusable for having squandered his great abilities in an attempt to prove that Jansen had not been condemned. Besides, the Peace was much too artificial an affair to be loyally observed—least of all at a time when Louis XIV was preparing to enforce a rigid uniformity throughout his dominions. The Catholics he had well in hand already; the Huguenots he was soon going to expel from France. Why, then, show mercy to a handful of eccentric recluses, who believed themselves to be in special touch with Heaven, and therefore might at any moment set their. conscience up against the law?

Nor was an object-lesson wanting. For many years past the Crown lawyers had been extending the régale; though a few dioceses, mainly in the south of France, still claimed exemption on the ground of ancient usage. But in 1673 the Government thought the time had come for enforcing uniformity; and Louis formally declared the régale universally binding throughout the realm. Only two Bishops protested— Pavillon of Alet, and Caulet of Pamiers —both of whom had taken the Jansenist side in the matter of the formulary. The storm broke loose in 1675, when Louis presented to a canonry at Alet. Pavillon excommunicated the royal nominee; his metropolitan, the Archbishop of Narbonne, supported the Crown; Pavillon appealed to the Pope. Very soon afterwards he died (1677), leaving Caulet to carry on the struggle alone. Caulet, whose temporalities were by this time confiscated, made a series of appeals to Innocent XI, a high-minded but very undecided pontiff; and at last persuaded him to interfere (December, 1679). In 1680 Caulet died, but his Cathedral Chapter more than replaced him. The metropolitan tried to interfere; Innocent declared his action intrusive, and threatened him with excommunication (January, 1681).

This invasion of the canonical rights of a metropolitan—for Innocent had prejudged the case, without listening to what the Archbishop might have to say—was bitterly resented in France as a gross invasion of the Gallican Liberties. After much consultation between the Court and the leading prelates, it was agreed to convoke a special Assembly of the Clergy—a body roughly answering to the Anglican Convocation—to deal with the whole question. The Assembly met in October, 1681; at its opening session Bossuet, just appointed Bishop of Meaux, preached a great sermon on the unity of the Church. The regale was soon settled by a compromise, carried through by Louis himself against the advice of his Ministers, and greatly to the advantage of the clergy. Colbert now suggested that this would be an excellent chance of setting at rest for ever the much-debated question as to the exact relation of the Gallican Church to the Papacy. Bossuet and other Bishops objected, on the ground that a declaration on this subject could do no good, and would give mortal offence at Rome. But Colbert persisted; and in March, 1682, the Assembly unanimously voted assent to four Articles drawn up by Bossuet. These are a skilful compromise. On the one hand, they assert the main points of Gallican belief.

(1) The Pope has no jurisdiction over temporal sovereigns.

(2) He is below a General Council:

(3) The Gallican Liberties are sacred.

(4) The right of judging matters of doctrine belongs to Pope and Bishops jointly.

On the other hand, the Articles steer clear of the extremer forms of Gallicanism. The chief share in judging questions of doctrine is reserved to the Pope; and the Declaration carefully leaves room for Bossuet’s personal opinion—already expressed in his opening sermon—that the See of Rome, though not infallible, is “indefectible”: not necessarily right at any particular moment, it cannot fall permanently into error.

The influence of Bossuet

These concessions did not satisfy the Pope; peace with Rome was only made in 1691. But Bossuet’s statesmanship won him enormous credit at home; for the next twenty years he was the dominant figure in the Church. A moderate and reasonable orthodoxy became the order of the day. As Ultramontanism receded into the background, independent spirits of the type of Gui Patin began to gravitate back to the Church. Even Cartesianism yielded for the moment to the spell of Malebranche, and arrayed itself in the dress of a rationalistic and very much etherealised Catholicism. To the world at large, however, Bossuet was the great reconciler of faith and reason—on the lines sketched out in his Traité de la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-même, and his Discours sur l'histoire universelle. Both these books were written between 1670 and 1680, while their author was tutor to the Dauphin. Their great aim is to prove by reason that men ought to submit to authority. Philosophy— argued the Traite—shows that a God exists; and that He governs and controls the affairs of men. History—continues the Discours—teaches that His governance is mainly indirect; it is exercised by certain venerable corporations, ecclesiastical and civil, acting as His lawful representatives. Thereby the Discours rejoins the Politique tirée de lÉtcriture Sainte, the third member of the trilogy.

But Bossuet’s great object in life was the conversion of the Huguenots. In 1668 he had overcome the scruples of Turenne; two years later he published an Exposition de la Doctrine Catholique, so moderate in tone that his adversaries accused him of having fraudulently watered down the Roman doctrines to suit a Protestant taste. On the other hand, he never doubted the right of the State to enforce religious uniformity at the point of the sword; this, as he more than once boasted in his controversial writings, was one of the few points on which Catholic and Protestant doctors were agreed. Besides, the French Churchmen of the time were brought up to look on the Huguenots as a serious political danger: Saint-Simon only expresses the common belief, when he calls them “a sect which had become a State within the State, dependent on the King no more than it chose, always loud in complaints, and ready, on the slightest pretext, to embroil the whole kingdom by an appeal to arms.” This passage represents what the Huguenots would have liked to do, rather than what they did; but in the few places where they were strong, they had undoubtedly encroached on their legal rights. Wherever they were weak, however, the Government had long gone consistently on the plan of giving them less than their due, with small regard to the Edict of Nantes. Hence its Revocation, of which an account has been given earlier in this volume, appeared to the clergy as simply the last term in a logical series. Concerning the dragonnades that followed, opinion was divided. Some divines, of whom Bossuet was one, honestly did their best for the sufferers. Others agreed with the cynical saying of Madame de Maintenon, that there might be some hypocrisy among the adults, but the children, at any rate, would be gained to the Church. Others, again, were chiefly concerned to protect the sacraments from the kind of profanation alluded to by Saint-Simon, when he says that twenty-four hours were often enough to bring a neophyte from torture to abjuration, and from abjuration to communion.

Revocation by no means interrupted Bossuet’s appeal to other methods of persuasion. In 1688 he brought out his Histoire des Variations des Églises Protestantes, in which he sought to prove that variation is necessarily a sign of error. Soon after he began to correspond with Leibniz, with a view to the reconciliation of the German Lutherans with the Roman Church. But negotiations broke down on this point of variation. Individual Catholic doctrines, such as purgatory or the Mass, Leibniz thought that his countrymen might accept, but he refused to guarantee that they would believe tomorrow what they believed today. “We prefer,” he said, “to belong to a Church eternally variable, and for ever moving forwards.”

Nor was it only in Germany that Bossuet taught the Protestants to glory in their variations. Jurieu, and other Huguenot controversialists, fully accepted the idea of progress; and they presently went on to ask whether Rome itself was quite so unchangeable as Bossuet supposed. Herein they were supported by the Oratorian scholar, Richard Simon. He accused St Augustine, Bossuet’s own especial master, of having corrupted the primitive doctrine of Grace. Bossuet set to work on a Défense de la Tradition et des Saints Pères; but Simon only went on to raise issues graver still. Under a veil of polite circumlocutions, such as did not deceive the Bishop of Meaux, he claimed the right of interpreting the Bible like any other book. Bossuet denounced him again and again, and even set the police in motion; Simon answered that he could afford to wait until “the old fellow” was no more. Another Oratorian was more dangerous still. Malebranche prided himself on having brought numbers of Jansenists, Cartesians, and other misbelievers back within the Catholic pale; but his remedies appeared to Bossuet almost as bad as their disease. Simon had endangered the belief in miracles by bringing lay rules of evidence into play? but Malebranche abrogated miracles altogether. On his principle it was blasphemous to suppose that the Author of Nature would break through a reign of law He had Himself established in the universe. Bossuet might burst forth into refutations, and urge Fenelon to do the like; the philosopher courteously replied that to be answered by such pens did him too much honour.


But the worst rebel of all was Fénelon himself (1651-1715). The author of Télémaque had early made a great name for himself as a Director of Conscience, and as tutor to the Duke of Burgundy, eldest son of the Dauphin. But in contemporary eyes he was not so much a theologian as a “master of eloquence,” or what would nowadays be called an accomplished man of letters; in the background, also, were large projects of political reform. These multitudinous interests gave him a far wider outlook than Bossuet, though his grasp of realities was not so sure; and intellectual curiosity more than once led him into dangerous paths. About 1689 he became much impressed by the ideas of Madame Guyon (1648-1717), a lady of good family, considerable abilities, and great charm of manner, but the very hysterical representative in France of the religious revival known as Quietism. This was an outgrowth of the Spanish mysticism of St Teresa; though it was first popularised in Italy by the Spanish priest, Michael de Molinos (1640­97). In his hands it became a violent means of escape from the petty ceremonialism of Italian religion. Molinos was always bidding the soul rise beyond sacraments and attributes and dogmas, beyond the Trinity and the Incarnation, to “a view, wholly obscure and indistinct and general, of the Divine Essence as it was.” The one means of approach to this Deity was the ancient via negationis. All hope and fear, all thought and action, all life and feeling, must be laid aside; the soul must enwrap itself in the “soft and savoury sleep of nothingness, wherein it receives in silence, and enjoys it knows not what.”

Such an attitude of mind might easily lead to Antinomianism; but Fenelon thought that a change of language would be enough to guard against the danger, while keeping all that was good in Quietism. Molinos had spoken as though mere thinking of ourselves was the great evil; Fenelon’s enemy is self-interest. In his Explanation of the Maxims of the Saints (1697) he argues that, as men grow in holiness, they become indifferent to themselves. Not only do they not value religion for its consolations, but they cease to take an incidental pleasure in its exercise. Their whole soul is taken up in loving God, and they neither know nor care whether God loves them in return. Bossuet attacked this principle as inconsistent with Chrisi anity, and for the next two years a bitter conflict raged between the two prelates, which did no great credit to either. Meanwhile, however, Fénelon had appealed to Rome. Early in 1699 Innocent XII gave judgment condemning the Maxims, although in very moderate terms. Fénelon at once submitted, and thereafter took small part in Church affairs, except to wage a vigorous war against the Jansenists.

For Jansenism was by no means dead, although the Government tried hard to kill it. For a while Louis XIV had stayed his hand—mainly out of regard for his cousin, Madame de Longueville, once the heroine of the Fronde, and now the great patroness of Port-Royal. But in 1679 she died, and the Court at once proceeded to severities. The nuns of Port-Royal were forbidden to admit new members to their community; and Amauld fled from France, never to return. Following the King’s lead, the Oratory and other societies where Jansenism had found an entrance began to keep a closer watch over the opinions of cheir members. None the less, what was known as “mitigated Jansenism”—a doctrine which just managed to keep within the four comers of orthodoxy—found a large number of upholders. And among the laity a Jansenist spirit was kept alive by the Réflexions Morales sur le Nouveau Testament, of Pasquier Quesnel (1634-1719). This book—a popular devotional commentary, first published in 1671—went through a number of editions without incurring any official censure; although the author was well known to be a Jansenist. In 1685 he had gone to share Arnauld’s exile at Brussels; and on Amauld’s death in 1694 he succeeded to the official leadership of the party.

Round his Réflexions was now spun a web of complicated intrigues. As Louis XIV grew older and more devout, there began a fight for his soul between the Jesuit confessor, Father La Chaise (1624-1709), and Madame de Maintenon, an ardent disciple of the moderate school of Bossuet. In 1695 she secured the archbishopric of Paris for her friend, Noailles, Bishop of Chalons, a pious and well-meaning aristocrat, but woefully tactless and undecided. He was suspected, also, of a tenderness for Jansenism; he had certainly given official approval to Quesnel’s Réflexions at Chalons, and this approbation he renewed in Paris (1699). Accordingly the Réflexions became the chief target of Ultramontane attack—so much so, as almost to supplant the Augustinus itself. While the work of denunciation was proceeding, a much more dangerous issue was unexpectedly raised. In 1701 an indiscreet Jansenist consulted the Sorbonne as to whether it was not enough to receive the condemnation of the Augustinus in “respectful silence”—that is, with the purely external deference which good citizens might show to a law that they privately believed unwise. This casual question stirred the fires of fifty years before, and soon ecclesiastical France was in a blaze. In 1703 Louis wrote to Clement XI, suggesting that they should take concerted action to put an end to Jansenism for ever. In 1705 the Pope replied with a Bull condemning “respectful silence” outright.

The Bull only whetted Louis’ appetite. The older he grew and the thicker disasters rained upon him, the more the ugly superstitious side of his character awoke. A frenzied anxiety seized him to propitiate his Maker, and save himself from another Blenheim or Malplaquet,by exterminating the enemies of the Church. This resolution was by no means weakened, when Father La Chaise died in 1709, and was succeeded by Father Tellier (1643-1719), a Jesuit of blood and iron, who has been immortalised by Saint-Simon in one of the most repulsive portraits in literature. Almost immediately he persuaded the King to expel the few remaining nuns from Port-Royal, the Holy Place of Jansenism. In 1711 their cemetery was violated, and their convent buildings pulled dawn.

The Bull Unigenitus.

After Port-Royal came the turn of Quesnel. In the winter of 1711 Louis proposed to the Pope to condemn the Réflexions in the most solemn possible form. In 1713 appeared the Bull Unigenitus, a censure not only of all that Jansenism said, but of all that it had tried to say. Even Fénelon, although a warm admirer of the Bull, admits that popular opinion credited it with having condemned St Augustine, St Paul, and even Jesus Christ. It went altogether beyond the technical questions raised by Jansenism—notably when it dealt a heavy blow against the practice of Bible-reading lately sprung up among French Catholics, under the auspices of Bessuet quite as much as of Port-Royal. Hence the appearance of the Bull was the signal of a popular outcry; even some fifteen Bishops supported Noailles in refusing to accept it. The next two years were spent by the Court in a feverish endeavour to force it down their throats; Noailles was only saved from deposition by the death of Louis in 1715.

On the accession of the Regent Orleans bigotry at once gave place to cynical indifference. Orleans was a freethinker, and all he cared for was to keep the clergy quiet; hence he always sided with the stronger party, in the hope of crushing out the weaker. As the Bull was generally unpopular, he began by taking the part of its opponents; Tellier was got rid of, and Noailles became chief ecclesiastical adviser to the Court. But the Regent very soon found that he had underrated the strength of the Pope and the Ultramontanes; besides, his two chief Ministers—Dubois (1656-1723) and Fleury (1653—1743)—were ecclesiastics, and wanted a Cardinal’s hat. The Regent accordingly swung round to the side of the Bull. Nothing daunted by this, its four most resolute opponents among the Bishops published an appeal from the Pope to a General Council (1717). After some wavering Noailles supported them; but in 1720 Dubois patched up a truce between him and the Pope. This really satisfied neither party, though it obtained for Dubois a red hat. But in 1723 both he and the Regent died, leaving Fleury to carry on their policy.

Meanwhile the appellant Bishops had “re-appealed” against the truce of 1720. So Fleury resolved to make an example of the most determined, Soanen of Senez (1647-1740). He was suspended from his functions, and exiled to a remote monastery in Auvergne. Noailles protested against his treatment; but soon afterwards he died (1629), characteristically signing two documents on his death-bed, one of which accepted the Bull, while the other rejected it. The chief appellant out of the way, Fleury proceeded to sharper measures. In 1730 Louis XV proclaimed the Unigenitus part and parcel of the law of the land, and ordered all the clergy to accept it, on pain of deprivation. This edict the Parliament refused to register; and a bitter struggle ensued, which lasted throughout the eighteenth century. But the questions at stake were really Gallican, rather than religious. The lawyers called themselves Jansenists, because they hated the Unigenitus: but they hated it mainly as a triumph of their hereditary foes, the Jesuits and the Pope.

Genuine Jansenism only survived among the handful of “Quesnellists,” and even they had fallen on evil days. Persecution can generally be trusted to induce hysteria in its victims, all the more so when they already accept a strong doctrine of conversion. Belief in one kind of miracle easily leads to belief in another; and even the great days of Port-Royal could furnish a long list of special providences, miracles, and signs. As Jansenism shrunk more and more to the proportions of a harassed sect, these were multiplied a hundredfold. About 1728 the “miracles of St Médard” became the talk of Paris. These were a series of astonishing cures, mostly of nervous diseases, effected at the tomb of the Deacon Paris, a cleric of singularly holy life, and a perfervid opponent of the Unigenitus. On mere miracles followed “speaking with tongues,” and the rise of the “Convulsionaries.” These worked themselves up, mainly by means of self-torture, into a state of frenzy, in which they prophesied and cured diseases. They were, however, soon disowned by the more serious Jansenists.

Banished from France, these had taken refuge in Holland, where the Catholic minority was in close sympathy with Jansenism. In 1702 it had broken loose from Rome, and was now organising itself into an independent “Old Roman Catholic” Church. But the old spirit of Port-Royal still lingered in many a convent and country parsonage in France, and led throughout the eighteenth century to chronic conflicts with authority. Often the causes of quarrel were trumpery enough, and Jansen’s latter-day descendants by no means always showed themselves reasonable or broad-minded. Still, in their dim fashion they upheld the great principle of their school—that religion begins and ends as an inward “touch of the Spirit.” And over the movements of that Spirit no Church has jurisdiction.


Further reading

Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the seminary of Saint-Sulpice,


William Henley Jervis - The Gallican church; a history of the church of France, from the Concordat of Bologna, A.D. 1516, to the revolution (Volume 1)

William Henley Jervis - The Gallican church; a history of the church of France, from the Concordat of Bologna, A.D. 1516, to the revolution (Volume 2).