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The Jansenism was a particularly in France spread movement in the Catholic Church of the 17th and 18th centuries, based on the doctrine of grace Augustine called and as heretical was being followed.


Cornelius Jansen

The term Jansenismus or Jansenisten , used disparagingly in the 17th century, goes back to Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638), the Bishop of Ypres . His book Augustinus, sive doctrina Sti , published posthumously in 1640 . Augustini de humanae naturae sanitate, aegritudine, medicina adversus pelagianos et massilienses (Augustine or Augustine's doctrine of health, illness and healing of human nature) draws on the salvation teaching of Augustine and sees itself as a return to the original Christian teaching. Jansen taught that people who have fallen into sin have no influence of their own on their redemption, not even through participation in divine grace , but that they are completely at the mercy of the divine will of grace. In connection with the presentation of the teaching of Augustine and its demarcation from Pelagius , Jansen condemned - albeit without direct attribution - a contemporary inner-church current as semipelagianism .

At least as important as Cornelius Jansen was the abbot of Saint-Cyran, Jean Duvergier de Hauranne , who already in the 1630s preached Augustine's doctrine of predestination and called for true repentance and rigorous morality , for the development of the church reform movement .


The moral- ascetic , church renewal movement, which arose through a return to Augustine's doctrine of grace, quickly found numerous followers in all social classes, especially in the clergy. The Port Royal des Champs monastery near Versailles with its reform-minded abbess Angélique Arnauld became a center of this movement through Jean Duvergier . The so-called Messieurs de Port-Royal , educated members of the French upper class who wanted to combine spirituality with an undemanding lifestyle, gathered in the spiritual environment of this monastery , including many French celebrities such as Jean Racine , Blaise Pascal or François de La Rochefoucauld and Antoine Arnauld , the brother the abbess.

Conflict with the Jesuits

The return to the doctrine of gracious grace inevitably led to a dispute with the Jesuit order , which is powerful in France and which was also called Parti moliniste according to the writings of the Jesuit Luis de Molina . It had to be clear to every reader of Jansen's Augustine that the so-called Molinism , which had led to the so-called mercy dispute with the Dominicans since 1588 , as well as the casuistry and probabilism suspected of being lax morality, came under criticism. The Jansenists condemned the Jesuit teaching, according to which divine grace and human free will work together in the attainment of salvation. They also took offense at the Jesuit doctrine that fear of divine punishment is sufficient for the repentance necessary to receive the forgiveness of sins . According to the Jansenist view, true repentance arises from love for God and is only a gift of divine grace. In contrast to the Jesuits, who proclaimed the Christian faith in the world and with baroque forms of piety, the Jansenists demanded a simple, secluded life oriented towards the early community .

The book Théologie morale des Jesuites , published in 1643, is considered one of the most important anti-Jesuit writings .

Condemnation by the Pope and persecution by the state

The papal cops

Jansen's Augustine spread quickly. The reaction of the ecclesiastical Magisterium in Rome was not long in coming: as early as 1642, Pope Urban VIII. Jansens condemned Augustine in the papal bull In eminenti as heresy - because it had been printed without prior papal approval and, in addition, the ideas of 1567 under Pius V . convicted Michael Bajus (de Bay) contained. This condemnation was confirmed by Innocent X in 1653 in the bull Cum occasione , which condemned five sentences from Jansen's writing as heresy:

  1. that there are commandments that man cannot keep without divine support;
  2. that sinful man cannot withstand divine grace;
  3. that fallen man cannot participate in his salvation of his own free will;
  4. that semipelagianism rightly teaches that previous grace is necessary also for faith, but wrongly teaches that fallen man can freely accept or reject this grace;
  5. that it is semi-Pelagian to claim that Christ died for all .

The Jansenists - especially those in the episcopate and other influential places who were asked to submit to the papal decisions - reacted in an ambivalent manner: Antoine Arnauld declared that the condemnations " de jure " were recognized , since the sentences condemned by the Pope actually did are heretical, but not “ de facto ”, since the condemned sentences do not correspond to Jansen's teachings and thus to those of the Church Doctor Augustine. In 1656 Arnauld was dismissed from the theological faculty of the Sorbonne along with numerous other theologians because of this position and sentenced as a heretic. She received support from the bull Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem from Pope Alexander VII , who again condemned the five sentences - expressly "in the sense of Jansenius".

Persecution by the French government

The rulers also saw the movement as a danger to the ecclesiastical unity of France, which threatened the divine right of the monarchy. Jansen and the strictly Catholic Messieurs de Port-Royal had already attracted the hostility of Cardinal Minister Richelieu in the 1630s , as they also criticized France's foreign policy, which was in conflict with Protestant powers against the Catholic Habsburgs in the Thirty Years' War and the Franco-Spanish War had allied. Jean Duvergier was arrested in 1638 and died shortly after his release in 1643. This protest and from 1648 their connection to the opposition ( Fronde ) made the Jansenists appear as troublemakers. The spread of the Jansenist doctrine among the French bishops, in the Port-Royal monastery, which was close to the king, and among Catholic intellectuals - Blaise Pascal was an avowed Jansenist, his authoritarian view was influential - appeared to the French king as a growing danger.

Jules Mazarin continued the anti-Jansenist policy of his predecessor Richelieu after 1642. In 1660 the Port-Royal school was closed and the monastery was no longer allowed to accept novices. In 1661 Mazarin forced all French clergymen, including the Jansenists of Port-Royal, to sign Pope Alexander's bull. Many Jansenists signed, others left France. But Mazarin was faced with a growing public discussion about freedom of conscience and morality, stimulated, among other things, by Pascals Lettres provinciales , which he published from 1656 in support of Arnauld's position. Although these letters were banned, they led to the condemnation of the Jesuit casuistry and still had an effect 100 years later when the Jesuit order was abolished.

Rest period until 1680

With the assumption of sole government responsibility by Louis XIV , things initially calmed down around the Jansenists, since the rather anti-Jansenist king did not want any conflicts in the empire at the beginning of the war against Holland in 1660 and Pope Clement IX. was able to move him to give way in 1668. At that time, important works by projansenist authors such as Pascal's Pensées or Pasquier Quesnel's Nouveau Testament en français avec des reflexions morales sur chaque verset were created , which would later prove to be particularly influential.

New repression

From 1680 the Jansenists found themselves exposed to increased repression. King Louis XIV still had fresh memories of the Fronde and therefore felt this religious awakening more and more as a threat to his own position as an absolute monarch. Jansenists were persecuted, arrested or fled into exile. Pasquier Quesnel was arrested in Brussels in 1703 . In 1705, the bull Vineam Domini demanded inner consent to sign the five sentences condemned. On the other hand, a storm of indignation arose from the vicinity of Port-Royal. The king reacted with extreme severity: in 1710 he had the nuns expelled and in 1713 the monastery was torn down.

The bull Unigenitus Dei filius from 1713

The king had repeatedly asked the Pope for new letters of conviction, but it wasn't until 1713 that Pope Clement XI came. according to his wish. In the bull Unigenitus Dei Filius , he dealt with Quesnel's approaches in 101 points and condemned the Jansenists again as apostates from the true faith. In doing so, he gave Louis XIV an instrument whose explosive power was to give his great-grandson the worst internal conflicts in the kingdom.

Appellants and acceptors

Belonging to the Catholic Church now determined the acceptance of the bull. This led to the division of the church into appellants and acceptors. Numerous clerics, including a cardinal and 18 bishops, appealed to a council despite excommunication by the Pope . They were supported by the Paris Parliament . Its center was the Sorbonne. An influential newspaper was published there, mobilizing the general public against the bull. The schism lasted until 1728, although most of the appellants left France in 1719 and settled in Belgium and the Netherlands , where the diocese of Utrecht joined the appellants.

The parti janséniste

The 91st point of the bull, in which, at the request of the king, the excommunication by the pope was threatened in the event of adherence to the teachings of Jansen, provoked disputes between Gallican bishops and the parliament on the one hand and the representatives of ultramontanism on the other and left the problem of Jansenism by one theological to a political conflict. The Pope's interference in French affairs was seen not only by the Jansenists, but also by all the representatives of Gallicanism as impermissible tutelage by the Pope . They related u. a. on Edmond Richer 's De ecclesiastica et politica potestate libellus (1611), in which he criticized the Catholic hierarchy and advocated strengthening the local congregations. They also knew they were supported by its supporters. In the context of these various religious movements, an anti-elitist conception of faith emerged, which distinguished itself from the Jesuits close to the elite and the influence of Rome on French affairs and which propagated freedom of belief . At least now, when most of the followers of the religious movement had left the country, Jansenism developed into a political party, the parti janséniste . The actions of the Parisian Archbishop Christophe de Beaumont , a radical opponent of the Jansenists, caused considerable turmoil. The disputes between the Parlemente and King Louis XV. which ran through most of his reign prepared the ground for the French Revolution , as the American historian Dale K. Van Kley and the French historian Catherine Maire recently pointed out. One of the successes of Jansenism was the anti-Jesuit measures of the French crown in 1764.

A form of Jansenism also viewed critically by the Jansenist theologians was the enthusiastic sect of the convulsionaries of Saint-Médard , who gathered around the grave of the venerated Jansenist priest François de Pâris (1690–1727), a leader of the appellants, who died in 1727 .

Relationship to Protestantism

Jansenism, like Martin Luther , draws on the teachings of Augustine of Hippo. Like Luther, Jansen and his followers taught justification by grace alone and without the involvement of human will, and they held fast to the sacrament of confession . The Jansenists advised against receiving communion without prior purification of sins through the sacrament of confession - like Jean Calvin out of concern that the Lord's Supper would be received unworthily, and unlike the Jesuits. Her opponents therefore accused her of being close to Calvinism . Unlike the Protestants, the Jansenists did not reject the veneration of saints .

The strictly moral, internalized piety resembled the pietism that was widespread in Germany around the same time .

Impact history

Outside France, Jansenism was particularly widespread in Belgium and the Netherlands, where its followers had fled from persecution, and where there was particular resistance to the Jesuits . In Bohemia, the imperial count Franz Anton von Sporck was an ardent advocate of Jansenism, which led to the Jesuits' condemnation and punishment by the emperor.

In the 18th century it went into other currents such as the Enlightenment , especially the Catholic Enlightenment , and gradually disappeared in the 19th century. Despite the relatively short heyday of Jansenism, its anthropology has had a lasting impact on French literature to this day. The Jansenist image of man and the Jansenist doctrine of grace found their representatives in later centuries and merged with Gallicanism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands owes the beginning of its independence from Rome to the disputes over Jansenism. She has always vehemently denied the charge of representing Jansenist teachings, but has allowed herself to be influenced by Jansenist spirituality and ecclesiology .

The literary scholar Jean Firges diagnosed Jansenist authors such as Pascal, Racine (especially in Phèdre ) and Madame de La Fayette with a marked hostility towards the body, which in his opinion still has an impact on Catholicism today; he refers u. a. on his own biography, his youth in a Belgian monastery.

Further noteworthy supporters of Jansenism

Care should be taken in the assignment. In the heated religious climate of the 17th century, “Jansenism” was a battleground. François Fénelon, for example, was suspected of being a Jansenist because, in the opinion of his critics, he had shown himself too indulgent during the Huguenot mission. Theologically he was one of the harshest critics of Jansenism.

In the culture war of the late 19th century, Jansenism reappears as a battle term against the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands. So called z. B. the Deutsche Reichs-Zeitung (subtitle: Organ for the Catholic German people) 1873 consistently the Bishop of Deventer as "Jansenist".


  • René Rapin : Histoire du Jansénisme . Ed. Abbé Domnech. 1861.
  • René Rapin: Mémoires sur l'église et la societé, la cour, la Ville et le Jansénisme . Ed. Léon Aubineau. Lyon Paris 1865.
Both volumes completed as Ms before 1687.


  • Paul Honigsheim : The political and social teachings of the French Jansenists in the 17th century , Heidelberg, Phil. Diss., 1914
  • Robert Spaemann : reflection and spontaneity. Studies on Fénelon . Kohlhammer Verlag , 1963 (1992 2 ); Klett-Cotta , 1990 ISBN 3608913343
  • Dominik Burkhard, Tanja Thanner (ed.): Jansenism - a "Catholic heresy"? The Struggle for Grace, Justification, and Augustine's Authority in the Early Modern Period . Aschendorff, Münster 2014. ISBN 978-3-402-11583-1 .
  • Lucien Goldmann : The hidden God. Study of the tragic worldview in the “Pensées” Pascals and in the Racines theater . Sociological texts, 87. Luchterhand, Neuwied 1971 ISBN 3472725877 ; again Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1985, ISBN 3518280910
  • Dale K. Van Kley: The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560–1791 ; Yale UP, New Haven 1996
  • Catherine Maire: De la cause de Dieu à la cause de la Nation. Le jansénisme au XVIIIe siècle ; Gallimard, Paris 1998
  • Walter Demel: European history of the 18th century. Corporate society and the European power system in accelerated change (1689 / 1700–1789 / 1800). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2000
  • Otto Zwierlein : Hippolytos and Phaidra . From Euripides to D'Annunzio . With an appendix to Jansenism. North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences . Lectures from the Geisteswiss. 405; Schöningh, Paderborn 2006, ISBN 3-506-75694-X
  • Jacques Forget:  Jansenius and Jansenism . In: Catholic Encyclopedia , Robert Appleton Company, New York 1913.
  • Jean Carreyre: Le jansénisme durant la régence . Bureaux de la Revue, Louvain 1929–1933
  • Jacques M. Gray-Gayer: Jansénisme en Sorbonne 1643–1656. Klincksieck, Paris 1996 ISBN 2252030798 (French)

Web links

Commons : Jansenism  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Peter C. Hartmann: The Jesuits ; Munich; ISBN 3-406-44771-6 ; P. 79 ff.
  2. DH 1901–1980: The sentences "Only violence opposes the natural freedom of man" (DH 1966) and "contrition does not take back sin" (DH 1971) were condemned.
  3. ^ Ernst Hinrichs: Jansenism and Pietism. Attempt of a structural comparison; Lehmann / Schilling / Schrader (eds.): Jansenism, Quietism, Pietism. Works on the history of Pietism Vol. 42, Göttingen 2002, pp. 136–156; Pp. 146-149
  4. ^ Sabine Melchior-Bonnet: Fénelon . Perrin, Paris 2008.
  5. z. B. Deutsche Reichszeitung 1873-10-12, p. 1 - report "Berlin, October 10th"
  6. ^ Standard work in French. This researcher has written several books and articles on Jansenism; see also web links
  7. on the server persee.fr numerous other types from or via Carreyre, use the search function