Jansenism was a religious doctrine, a moral teaching and a political position. Its teaching first surfaced in 1640 in the book entitled Augustinus in which Jansenius (1585-1638) declared that he was presenting the true ideas of St. Augustine about the nature of grace, that is, that since the fall of Adam, the will of man is never interiorly free; it is sometimes subjected to efficacious grace and sometimes subject to concupiscence. This teaching was opposed by Molina and the Jesuit theologians who strove to assert that there was more to human freedom than that.
In France, the Augustinian theses were defended by Abbé de Saint-Cyran, spiritual director of the monastery of Port-Royal and his disciple Antoine Arnauld (1612-1694) who published the rigorist ideas of Port-Royal in the book Fréquente communion (1643). Later on, Jansenism and Port-Royal took the form of a political movement opposed to the king. Leadership of the movement passed on to the Oratorian Quesnel (1634-1719). One hundred and one theses taken from the book Réflexions morales by Quesnel were condemned by the papal bull Unigenitus (1713) of Clement XI.
The Church, especially the Church in France, was for a long time divided between the adherents of the Jansenists and the adherents of the Jesuits. The latter accused the former of laxness of morals, an acceptance and surrendering to the ways of the world, whereas the Jesuits condemned the Jansenists for their pessimism, since, even though it was qualified by a certain resignation, it did not eliminate fear and even terror. Already in XIX century, popular memory retained of Jansenism only a certain awareness of its moral rigorism and it was especially in these terms that Eugene de Mazenod refers to Jansenism in the some twenty times he mentions it in his writings.
In 1799, Fortuné de Mazenod sent three books to his nephew while he was living at the Cannizzaros in Colli. Eugene acknowledged receiving them, telling his uncle that he should not worry about it; Eugene had no thought of becoming a Jansenist. Upon his return from exile, he discovered that Roze-Joannis, his mother’s cousin, “holds some religious principles which are sometimes a little too much in harmony with Jansenism, a doctrine to which he does not totally subscribe, but, such has been the influence of his education and his attachment for the Oratory and for Port-Royal, that he cannot keep himself from admiring these principles and preaching them.” (Eugene to his father, July 15 and 16, 1803) On December 26, 1805, Eugene wrote his father once again that he loves Roze-Joannis. “I granted him my friendship,” he confided, “in spite of the great differences we have with regard to opinions of religious matters because you should know that my dear uncle is, unfortunately for him, the most inveterate Jansenist that Christianity has ever seen. It is my hope that the austere life he has chosen and the generous gifts he makes to the poor of every social class will win for him the grace of reentering the fold which he as well as his confreres claim that they have never abandoned…”
In 1806 and 1808, Eugene studied Jansenism, no doubt with a view of being able to debate with his uncle. We have conserved some twenty handwritten pages on this theme. Roze-Joannis exercised a negative influence on his sister, his mother and his grandmother who received Holy Communion only on rare occasions. During his seminary days, Eugene urged upon them the necessity of receiving Holy Communion frequently. On December 3, 1810, he wrote to his grandmother: “Let us listen to the Church without allowing ourselves to be distracted by the obnoxious clamouring of the sectarians of recent times. The best we can do for these people is to pray for them.” (See also letters to his sister, December 4, 1808 and to his mother, December 14, 1810)
In his diary in 1837 and 1838, Bishop de Mazenod mentions Jansenism several times. In the month of July 1837 during a visit to Notre-Dame du Laus, he learned that Abbé Lagier, chaplain to the prison of Gap refused to give Holy Communion to a man condemned to death who was well disposed. He went to the prison himself and gave communion to this prisoner in order to make a public statement in opposition to this “horrible prejudice”, this “barbaric abuse,” inspired by Jansenism. (Mazenod Diary, 14 and 16 July 1837) In October of that same year, he rebuked Father Courtès, chaplain of the prison of Aix, for having refused communion to one condemned to death. (Mazenod Diary and letter to Father Courtès, October 11, 1837)
In 1837-1840, Bishop de Mazenod became aware that the Grey Nuns of Marseilles and the Priests of the Christian Retreat founded by Father Receveur were Jansenists. He noted in the February 6, 1840 entry in his diary that “The principles of Mr. Receveur have been carried on by this association. His successors do not conceal it; it is by terror that they claim to guide souls.” (Mazenod Diary, July 26, 1837 and March 19, 1838)
Subsequently, on several occasions, Bishop de Mazenod made further allusions to Jansenism: in a letter to the Guardian of the Seals, April 29, 1845, in order to defend the Jesuits, previously attacked by “Calvinism, Jansenism and the Philosophers,” by writing to Cardinal Orioli on April 15, 1850 and to Pope Pius IX on August 14, 1851, stating that Jansenism had lent itself entirely to Presbyterianism as well as the excessive claims to power of the metropolitans and the parish priests. On January 12, 1856, he wrote a pastoral letter after having discovered the mortal remains of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Gault (1595-1643) when a portion of the ancient cathedral was being demolished. Among other things, we read: “The baleful controversies through which Jansenism, with that heretical spirit both stubborn and subversive, so wearied the Church of France before turning it over to the Philosophers of the XVIII century and later the Revolution” that, in the process, the great bishops of Marseilles had been forgotten.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.