Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Was Wrong with Jansenism?

Jansenism was a theological system, or set of beliefs, condemned by the Catholic Church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  As a school, it has pretty much died out, though there are individuals here and there who identify with it.  You can read the full, complicated story of its history here.

My interest in it mainly stems from the fact that it was an attempt to promote St. Augustine's teachings on grace in opposition to the Jesuit Molinists.  When I was a Calvinist, I was fascinated by the movement because I saw it as a sort of version of Calvinism held by Roman Catholics in the seventeenth century.  I am interested in it now because, having become Catholic, and being very interested in understanding and promoting Catholic, Augustinian understandings of grace, predestination, etc., I am interested in why the movement was condemned.  What was wrong with it?  A lot of Calvinists take the condemnation of Jansenism as a condemnation of Augustine's views and an embracing of Semipelagianism.  But this is not the case, for the Catholic Church has embraced the fundamentals of Augustine's views on these matters.  Even the Molinists, who were the Jansenists' archenemies, identified themselves with Augustine's viewpoint; and the other enemies of Molinism, the Dominicans, had many of the same objections to Molinism that the Jansenists had, and they too saw themselves as defending the doctrines of St. Augustine (and St. Thomas Aquinas), but the Church never condemned their position as heretical.  Towards the end of my life as a Protestant, I had come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church had contradicted itself by condemning Jansenism while refusing to condemn the Dominican position because it seemed to me that their doctrines regarding grace and predestination were fundamentally the same--both expressing the teachings of St. Augustine.

When I became a Catholic, I still didn't understand why Jansenism was condemned when it was clear that the Church did not condemn Augustine's views.  But I decided that if I had reason to trust the Catholic Church, I could trust them on this point.  While I may not be able to figure out why Jansenism was condemned, I have reason to assume there was a good reason.  Part of the difficulty in researching Jansenism is that Jansen's book, the Augustinus, has never been translated into English.  I really wish someone would do that.

Of course, I would never feel fully satisfied to leave the matter at that point if there was further progress that might be made in understanding what was going on there, so I've continued to think about the issues since becoming Catholic.  This is my attempt to articulate what the Catholic Church found wrong with Jansenism, and how the condemned Jansenist views differ from the views of St. Augustine and his approved disciples in the Church.  I'll also throw in some thoughts regarding Calvinism as we go.

If you have no background in the Catholic doctrines and terminology regarding predestination and grace, you might consider taking a look at this article first.

I want to focus on the five propositions out of Jansen's book that were condemned by Pope Innocent X in his papal bull Cum Occasione.  Here are the five condemned propositions as found in the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Jansenism (found on the New Advent website--bullets removed and spaces added):

Some of God's commandments are impossible to just men who wish and strive (to keep them) considering the powers they actually have, the grace by which these precepts may become possible is also wanting; 
In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace; 
To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we must be free from all external constraint, but not from interior necessity, 
The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even for the beginning of faith; but they fell into heresy in pretending that this grace is such that man may either follow or resist it; 
To say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men, is Semipelagianism.

Let's take a closer look at each of these propositions.


"Some of God's commandments are impossible to just men who wish and strive (to keep them) considering the powers they actually have, the grace by which these precepts may become possible is also wanting."

The first proposition, from a Catholic point of view, is definitely wrong.  God cannot command that which is impossible, for if he did so, the non-performance of such an action would not, per se, be a sin.  For example, if God commanded me to flap my arms and fly to the moon, even if I loved God perfectly with my whole heart and fully understood the command, the action would still not be performed, but my non-performance of the action would not be sin because it would not flow from any evil will of mine.  When God issues a command, the implication is that obedience lies in doing the commanded action and sin lies in not doing it.  But in this case, obedience and sin have nothing to do with it, for the action is out of reach of my will, and so it is impossible to consider this action as commanded by God.

Now, we have to be careful with terminology here.  As Calvinist philosopher Jonathan Edwards points out, it is possible to use words like "impossible" to refer to something that strictly speaking isn't really an impossibility.  Edwards distinguished between "moral" and "natural" inability.  A "natural" inability is a real inability in the strict sense--when something is beyond your power such that even if you wanted to do it you couldn't.  A "moral" inability is when you simply don't want to do something and so will not choose to do it, though you could do it if you chose to.  It is impossible that a person who wants to do A more than B, all things considered, will choose to do B--not because something external to his will is preventing him but simply because of the psychological fact that we always do what we want to do all things considered (and "all things" includes all motivating factors, whether rational, emotional, etc.).  We are able to choose B, but, in such a case, we certainly won't choose it.

But even Edwards pointed out that it is, strictly speaking, incorrect according to the ordinary use of language to use terms like "impossibility" and "inability" when what we are really talking about is unwillingness:

But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be never so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. And if it be improperly said, that he cannot perform those external voluntary actions, which depend on the Will, it is in some respect more improperly said, that he is unable to exert the acts of the Will themselves; because it is more evidently false, with respect to these, that he cannot if he will: for to say so, is a downright contradiction; it is to say, he cannot will, if he does will. And in this case, not only is it true, that it is easy for a man to do the thing if he will, but the very willing is the doing; when once he has willed, the thing is performed; and nothing else remains to be done. Therefore, in these things, to ascribe a non-performance to the want of power or ability, is not just; because the thing wanting, is not a being able, but a being willing. There are faculties of mind, and a capacity of nature, and every thing else, sufficient, but a disposition: nothing is wanting but a will. (Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the WillPart I, Section IV)

So if all Jansen meant to say is that sometimes people don't want to obey some of God's commandments, well, that is obviously true, and the Church would have no problem with that.  But if he meant that there are commandments that a person truly cannot obey even if he might want to, then this contradicts core Catholic teaching.  So what did Jansen really mean?  Well, the Church obviously took him to mean the latter.  I can't go back and check, because I can't read his book.  I have, however, read (portions of) another Jansenist writing--the Provincial Letters of Blaise Pascal and some of his other writing on the subject of grace.  Pascal wrote this book to defend the Jansenists and to attack the Jesuits.  You can see his views on Jansenism and his defense of it especially in Letter XVIII, and also in Letters I and II.   (Pascal is a delight to read, by the way, whether one agrees with him in everything or not.)  From what I have seen so far, mostly from Pascal, it looks to me like Jansen held the former, orthodox view.  But I am not an expert on Jansen.  Perhaps his views are different than they have so far appeared to me to be.  That is entirely possible.  Another possibility is that Jansen's actual views were orthodox, but he expressed them in such a way in his book that they naturally inclined towards error.  In that case, the condemnation of his propositions was intended to impose certain language requirements on how we must talk about these issues.  We cannot speak in such a way as to convey the idea that there is any true impossibility in obeying any of God's commands (even if we really mean simply that we can obey them but don't want to, and won't ever want to unless grace moves us to do so).  In order to comply with the Church, then, all the Jansenists would have had to do is to acknowledge that, in the Church's judgment (which is trustworthy), Jansen said some things that conveyed (whether intentionally or not) certain erroneous views, and that therefore some of his propositions ought to be rejected in order to better further the truth in these matters.  They could have acquiesced in the Church's judgment and agreed to abide by the Church's terminological guidelines, perhaps even without (if Pascal is correct) having had to alter any of their substantial views as to their core meanings.

On the other hand, it must be said that the first proposition as it stands seems to lean towards the problematic interpretation, since it talks about an impossibility to obey God's commandments even if one wishes and strives to keep them.  This suggests we aren't talking about a lack of willingness to keep God's commandments, but a true inability, and this, as I said above, is clearly contradictory to Catholic teaching.  It is possible, of course, that Jansen made claims in his book the full meaning and full logical implications of which he himself had not fully thought through.

The first condemned proposition also said that "the grace by which these precepts may become possible is also wanting."  The Church condemned this saying because it is Catholic doctrine that all men throughout the world have been given sufficient grace by God in order to do all that God commands.  This is really just another way of saying the same thing we've been talking about, but the language of "sufficient grace" is particularly important.  Catholics are required to affirm that sufficient grace has been given to all (so that obedience to the commandments of God is possible for all).  Jansen's proposition does not affirm this, and so it is condemned.  Letter II of Pascal's Provincial Letters focuses particularly on the Jansenist resistance to admit the concept of "sufficient grace"--a resistance he defends.  This doctrine simply made no sense to the Jansenists.  If grace is sufficient, then nothing more would be needed, and yet of two persons to whom sufficient grace is given, one obeys God and the other does not.  Why the difference?  If the difference results from something ultimately produced from the good person himself, then the good will is not itself a gift of God's grace, contrary to Catholic teaching.  On the other hand, if God moves the will of the one to obey him, but does not so move the other person's will, then God treats the two differently, giving a grace (efficacious) to one that he does not give to the other, and without which that other person will never obey God.  But if without that additional efficacious grace, the second person will never obey God, then he has not been given sufficient grace and so cannot obey God, for no one can do good without efficacious grace.  (Or so the Jansenists reasoned.)  Here is how Pascal contrasts the views of the Jesuits and the Jansenists on this point (in Letter II):

In one word, then, I found that their difference about sufficient grace may be defined thus: The Jesuits maintain that there is a grace given generally to all men, subject in such a way to free-will that the will renders it efficacious or inefficacious at its pleasure, without any additional aid from God and without wanting anything on his part in order to act effectively; and hence they term this grace sufficient, because it suffices of itself for action. The Jansenists, on the other hand, will not allow that any grace is actually sufficient which is not also efficacious; that is, that all those kinds of grace which do not determine the will to act effectively are insufficient for action; for they hold that a man can never act without efficacious grace.

Now, I think that Pascal has misunderstood the Jesuit view here.  See my own views on the Jesuit position here and here.  But at any rate that is how he understood the Jesuit position.  The Dominicans also understood the Jesuit position in the same way and so opposed it.  They maintained that it is God who makes the difference between those who obey God and those who do not.  God gives efficacious graces to some that he does not give to others, thus causing differences.  But they maintained at the same time, in agreement with the Jesuits and against the Jansenists, that God has given sufficient grace to all men so that all are able to obey God.  Pascal found their position absurd and infuriating.  He describes his impression of it vividly in a little parable:

     “Shall I present you with a picture of the Church amidst these conflicting sentiments? I consider her very like a man who, leaving his native country on a journey, is encountered by robbers, who inflict many wounds on him and leave him half dead. He sends for three physicians resident in the neighboring towns. The first, on probing his wounds, pronounces them mortal and assures him that none but God can restore to him his lost powers. The second, coming after the other, chooses to flatter the man — tells him that he has still sufficient strength to reach his home; and, abusing the first physician who opposed his advice, determines upon his ruin. In this dilemma, the poor patient, observing the third medical gentleman at a distance, stretches out his hands to him as the person who should determine the controversy. This practitioner, on examining his wounds, and ascertaining the opinions of the first two doctors, embraces that of the second, and uniting with him, the two combine against the first, and being the stronger party in number drive him from the field in disgrace. From this proceeding, the patient naturally concludes that the last comer is of the same opinion with the second; and, on putting the question to him, he assures him most positively that his strength is sufficient for prosecuting his journey. The wounded man, however, sensible of his own weakness, begs him to explain to him how he considered him sufficient for the journey. ‘Because,’ replies his adviser, ‘you are still in possession of your legs, and legs are the organs which naturally suffice for walking.’ ‘But,’ says the patient, ‘have I all the strength necessary to make use of my legs? for, in my present weak condition, it humbly appears to me that they are wholly useless.’ ‘Certainly you have not,’ replies the doctor; ‘you will never walk effectively, unless God vouchsafes some extraordinary assistance to sustain and conduct you.’ ‘What!’ exclaims the poor man, ‘do you not mean to say that I have sufficient strength in me, so as to want for nothing to walk effectively?’ ‘Very far from it,’ returns the physician. ‘You must, then,’ says the patient, ‘be of a different opinion from your companion there about my real condition.’ ‘I must admit that I am,’ replies the other.
     “What do you suppose the patient said to this? Why, he complained of the strange conduct and ambiguous terms of this third physician. He censured him for taking part with the second, to whom he was opposed in sentiment, and with whom he had only the semblance of agreement, and for having driven away the first doctor, with whom he in reality agreed; and, after making a trial of strength, and finding by experience his actual weakness, he sent them both about their business, recalled his first adviser, put himself under his care, and having, by his advice, implored from God the strength of which he confessed his need, obtained the mercy he sought, and, through divine help, reached his house in peace.

I think we can get a glimpse from this why the Church was concerned about the Jansenist position on this matter.  It is imperative that we do not give people the impression that sin is a disease of such a sort that it renders a person unable, by a natural inability, to obey God, that obeying God is beyond his power even if he should choose to obey him.  If we give this impression, we undercut people's sense of moral responsibility for their sin, for how can I be responsible for something over which I have no control?  I cannot be blamed for failing to do that which is impossible for me.  It is true that we must watch out for the other extreme as well and not give people the impression that God's grace is not necessary and that they can produce righteousness from themselves without God's help.  Catholic doctrine balances these concerns by acknowledging that the sacrifice and merits of Christ have given to the entire world sufficient grace so that it is impossible to no one to turn from sin and obey God--thus grounding moral responsibility--and at the same time it teaches that when a person does choose to obey God, his good will is entirely a gift of grace--thus making clear that our righteousness is a gift of God and not something produced from ourselves.  Grace gives to all the ability to obey God, but only to some the willingness to do so.  Thus Catholic teaching preserves all sides of the picture.  The Jansenists, by refusing to acknowledge sufficient grace and disputing as Pascal did above, lopped off (at least in their words, if not by intention) one side of the equation in order to promote the other.  In order to safeguard the graciousness of salvation, they denied that grace gives to all the ability to obey God.  But once that is denied, moral responsibility for sin is denied, and so sin itself is explained away, thus, ironically, undercutting the very need for grace.

Pascal's concern that it makes no sense to talk about a "sufficient" grace that doesn't actually, efficaciously, produce acts of good will is answered by clarifying what "sufficient" grace is sufficient for.  If by "sufficient grace" we meant "grace sufficient to produce the act of good will," then Pascal would be right, for we cannot call a grace sufficient to do something if it is not, in fact, sufficient to do it.  But that is not what the "sufficient" in "sufficient grace" refers to.  Sufficient grace is not sufficient to actually produce the act of good will, but it is sufficient to render the act of good will possible.  That is why it is called "sufficient grace," and the name is perfectly fitting.  The idea is that God has given enough (sufficient) grace to all men in order to make their obedience possible, but he has not given to all men the grace (efficacious) which makes their obedience actual.  There is no contradiction in this idea.


"In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace."

This proposition from Jansen's book was condemned because it is simply false.  It is true that no one ever (at least conclusively) resists efficacious grace intended to produce conversion, because by definition the grace is efficacious--which simply means that it always accomplishes what it is sent to do.  So if God gives you an efficacious grace intended to bring about your conversion, you will certainly be converted, and you will not ultimately resist conversion in such a way as to end up not being converted.  St. Augustine put it this way (On the Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 13--embedded links removed):

This grace, therefore, which is hiddenly bestowed in human hearts by the Divine gift, is rejected by no hard heart, because it is given for the sake of first taking away the hardness of the heart. When, therefore, the Father is heard within, and teaches, so that a man comes to the Son, He takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, as in the declaration of the prophet He has promised. Because He thus makes them children and vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory.

Fr. John Hardon, in his Course on Grace, Part Two - B: Grace Considered Intensively, Chapter XV ("Sufficient and Efficacious Grace"), described efficacious grace in this way:

By a truly efficacious grace is meant one that will be (is) infallibly followed by the act to which it tends, e.g. contrition. If you receive such a grace, even before your will consents to it, that grace is infallibly “sure of success;” it will infallibly procure your consent, produce that act – of contrition. But although it infallibly procures your consent, it does not necessitate you to consent: it leaves you free to dissent. Your will will infallibly say "yes" to it, but it is free to say "no.”

If Jansen had simply said this, there would not have needed to be a controversy.  But it is not necessarily the case that every "interior" grace is also efficacious grace, and so the statement is false as it stands.  There are no doubt all sorts of interior graces that are regularly resisted by people.  Even efficacious graces may be resisted to an extent, although not conclusively.

Perhaps Jansen meant by "interior" grace only efficacious, interior grace, and perhaps he meant only to say that no one ever conclusively rejects an efficacious grace in terms of the intended effect of that grace.  If so, then his sentiments on this point were orthodox.  But still, his statement, as it thus stands, communicates a false idea.


"To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we must be free from all external constraint, but not from interior necessity."

We are talking here about the requirements for moral responsibility.  Obviously, my actions, in order to be properly attributed to me for praise or for blame (merit or demerit), must not be the result of "external constraint," for that would mean they do not flow from my own will.  For example, if there is a sign on a fence that says "Keep out," but I am picked up against my will and thrown over the fence, I have not voluntarily or intentionally violated the warning of the sign and so am not to blame.

But do I need to be free of "interior necessity" also in order to be morally responsible for my actions?  Obviously, it depends on what "interior necessity" means.  Are we thinking of a situation in which I am forced by forces inside of me--say, overwhelming urges or instincts--to do something in such a way that my will is either circumvented or opposed?  Or are we simply saying that after a person considers all his options and decides that, all things considered, he would prefer to do A rather than B, he will certainly choose to do A and not B?

The latter idea is unproblematic.  It is simply an obvious fact of human psychology.  I am perfectly free to choose B.  Nothing is forcing me to choose A.  The options of A and B are laid before me, and it is entirely up to my will to determine whether I will choose A or B.  The fact that I will in fact choose what I most prefer does not create any necessity to choose one option or another in such a way that my will is circumvented or opposed.

The former idea, however, is very problematic.  If, for example, my internal urges reach such a pitch that my will is overwhelmed so that I am impelled by something other than my free choice to choose A over B, then, since my will is overwhelmed and thus either opposed or at least circumvented, I am not truly free to choose B, and so I cannot be praised or blamed for choosing A over B.  Moral responsibility is obliterated, because free will is obliterated.  (This is one reason why we recognize that some forms or levels of addiction or desire can have the effect of eradicating or mitigating moral responsibility.)

So which of these versions of "internal necessity" was Jansen closest to when he affirmed that freedom from "internal necessity" is not necessary for moral responsibility?  Again, I cannot go back and check his book to find out.  From what I've read in Pascal and elsewhere, I have hope that the meaning he had in mind was innocuous.  But even if this is right, the Church judged his expression to be defective, because it has the tendency to convey the impression that moral responsibility is compatible with a person being impelled to an act in such a way that his freedom of will is not adequately safeguarded.  In order to be truly morally responsible, our actions must flow freely from our will.  We must be free not only from "external constraint" (i.e., forces acting from outside one's inner self), but we must also be free from "internal necessity" (that is, from forces coming from within ourselves that are not simply the free choice of the will itself).


"The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even for the beginning of faith; but they fell into heresy in pretending that this grace is such that man may either follow or resist it."

The first concern that arises with this statement is that, as a historical matter, it is not clear that the Semipelagians (or at least all of them) granted the necessity of prevenient grace for all saving acts, including the beginning of faith.  In fact, one of the major points of opposition made against them by the Augustinians was that at least some of them affirmed that we can begin to have a good will without grace, and that grace only comes in after we have begun to help us continue doing good.  This view is often attributed, for example, to St. John Cassian.

(I would agree, though, that the primary error of what is called "Semipelagianism" is the idea that there is something savingly good we can produce from ourselves that is not produced in us by God's grace, as opposed to the idea that all our goodness is a fruit of God's grace.  The primary issue is not the timing of when grace comes in, but whether grace is the source of all and not just some of our saving good.)

With regard to whether or not man can resist grace, the Council of Trent had spoken clearly:

The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.  (Chapter V of Session VI of the Council of Trent [page number removed])

"Neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it."  The fourth proposition from Jansen seems to contradict Catholic doctrine as articulated at the Council of Trent on this point.  If I truly cannot reject grace, then grace works by circumventing my will, making me passive rather than active in conversion.  Thus, it is not Semipelagian but Catholic to affirm that "interior preventing grace . . . is such that man may either follow or resist it."

But, again, we must ask what was meant and not just what was said.  Calvinists often speak of "irresistible grace," and one might (and many do) get the impression from this that Calvinists believe that a person who receives "irresistible grace" is forced to convert to Christ and cannot refrain from it even if he wants to.  But Calvinists have always made it quite clear that they do not believe this.  For one modern example, take Calvinist author Loraine Boettner, whose work The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Eerdmans, 1932) is one of the most popular and widely-read modern Calvinist books on the subject:

The special grace which we refer to as efficacious is sometimes called irresistible grace. This latter term, however, is somewhat misleading since it does suggest that a certain overwhelming power is exerted upon the person, in consequence of which he is compelled to act contrary to his desires, whereas the meaning intended, as we have stated before, is that the elect are so influenced by divine power that their coming is an act of voluntary choice.  (Chapter XIII, 7) 
Nor does it follow from the absolute certainty of a person's acts that he could not have acted otherwise. He could have acted otherwise if he had chosen to have done so. Oftentimes a man has power and opportunity to do that which it is absolutely certain he will not do, and to refrain from doing that which it is absolutely certain he will do. That is, no external influence determines his actions. Our acts are in accordance with the decrees, but not necessarily so we can do otherwise and often should. Judas and his accomplices were left to fulfill their purpose, and they did as their wicked inclinations prompted them. Hence Peter charged them with the crime, but he at the same time declared that they had acted according to the purpose of God,--"Him being: delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hands of lawless men did crucify and slay," Acts 2:23. 
On other grounds also it may be shown that certainty is consistent with free agency. We are often absolutely certain how we will act under given conditions so far as we are free to act at all. A parent may be certain that he will rescue a child in distress, and that in doing so he will act freely. God is a free agent, yet it is certain that He will always do right. The holy angels and redeemed saints are free agents, yet it is certain that they will never sin; other- wise there would be no assurance of their remaining in heaven. On the other hand, it is certain that the Devil, the demons and fallen men will commit sin, although they are free agents. A father often knows how his son will act under given circumstances and by controlling these he determines beforehand the course of action which the son follows, yet the son acts freely. If he plans that the son shall be doctor, he gives him encouragement along that line, persuades him to read certain books, to attend certain schools, and so presents the outside inducements that his plan works out. In the same manner and to an infinitely greater extent God controls our actions so that they are certain although we act freely. His decree does not produce the event, but only renders its occurrence certain; and the same decree which determines the certainty of the action at the same time determines the freedom of the agent in the act.  (Chapter XVI, 2) 
In accordance with this we believe that, without destroying or impairing the free agency of men, God can exercise over them a particular providence and work in them through His Holy Spirit so that they will come to Christ and persevere in His service. We believe further that none have this will and desire except those whom God has previously made willing and desirous; and that He gives this will and desire to none but His own elect. But while thus induced, the elect remain as free as the man that you persuade to take a walk or to invest in government securities.  (Chapter XVI, 5)

Likewise, if we listen to Blaise Pascal (Letter XVIII), we will come to the conclusion that Jansen and the Jansenists were also fully on board with Trent's insistence that the will has the ability to reject grace:

“To know,” say you, “whether Jansenius is sound or not, we must inquire whether he defends efficacious grace in the manner of Calvin, who denies that man has the power of resisting it — in which case he would be heretical; or in the manner of the Thomists, who admit that it may be resisted — for then he would be Catholic.” judge, then, father, whether he holds that grace may be resisted when he says: “That we have always a power to resist grace, according to the council; that free will may always act or not act, will or not will, consent or not consent, do good or do evil; and that man, in this life, has always these two liberties, which may be called by some contradictions.” Judge. likewise, if he be not opposed to the error of Calvin, as you have described it, when he occupies a whole chapter (21st) in showing “that the Church has condemned that heretic who denies that efficacious grace acts on the free will in the manner which has been so long believed in the Church, so as to leave it in the power of free will to consent or not to consent; whereas, according to St. Augustine and the council, we have always the power of withholding our consent if we choose; and according to St. Prosper, God bestows even upon his elect the will to persevere, in such a way as not to deprive them of the power to will the contrary.” And, in one word, judge if he does not agree with the Thomists, from the following declaration in chapter 4th: “That all that the Thomists have written with the view of reconciling the efficaciousness of grace with the power of resisting it, so entirely coincides with his judgement that to ascertain his sentiments on this subject we have only to consult their writings.”
     Such being the language he holds on these heads my opinion is that he believes in the power of resisting grace; that he differs from Calvin and agrees with the Thomists, because he has said so; and that he is, therefore, according to your own showing, a Catholic. If you have any means of knowing the sense of an author otherwise than by his expressions; and if, without quoting any of his passages, you are disposed to maintain, in direct opposition to his own words, that he denies this power of resistance, and that he is for Calvin and against the Thomists, do not be afraid, father, that I will accuse you of heresy for that. I shall only say that you do not seem properly to understand Jansenius; but we shall not be the less on that account children of the same Church.

Here Pascal quotes directly from Jansen's book, and seems to show pretty clearly that Jansen held that the will can reject grace.  So did Pope Innocent X wrongly attribute the sentiment of the fourth condemned proposition to Jansen?  Not necessarily.  As with the previous propositions, we may take the condemnation as not necessarily implying that Jansen intended a heretical sentiment, but only that some of his statements, whether by his intention or not, in fact tend to convey heretical sentiments.  Just as the Calvinist language of "irresistible grace" is meant (much of the time, at least) in an orthodox manner and yet it carries with it the connotation of an unorthodox meaning (as even the Calvinist author Boettner admits in the quotation above), so the Church judged that Jansen's book contained statements that carry in them the connotation of unorthodox sentiments; and the selected propositions are condemned according to that connotation and not necessarily according to the meaning intended by the author.  So far as I know, no one was ever required by the Catholic Church to believe that Jansen necessarily meant heretical sentiments in his propositional statements, but the Church did require it to be acknowledged that Jansen's propositions conveyed, in some way, heretical sentiments such that they were worthy of being censured by the Church.

(Ironically, at the same time that Pascal and other Jansenists were protesting that the Church had misunderstood and thus wrongly condemned Jansen's statements, they themselves were ignoring protests from Calvinists that their statements were being misconstrued and unjustly condemned by the Jansenists and other Catholics in precisely the same ways.  For example, while Pascal in the quotation above argues strenuously that Jansen did not reject the idea that grace can be resisted like Calvin did, the Calvinists were at the same time arguing that Calvin and themselves did not reject the idea that grace can be resisted either--at least in the Trentian sense that would imply that consent is lacking in the conversion of a soul.  Personally, from what I have seen, I suspect that Calvin and Jansen and Trent were all in agreement on this point in substance, and that what the Church condemned, as I argued above, was not necessarily the internal sentiments of either Calvin or Jansen but the sentiments conveyed by connotation by their published propositions--although I should add that, unlike with Jansen, I'm not aware of the Church ever formally condemning any statement explicitly attributed by her to Calvin.)

We also noted earlier that not all grace given to men is intended by God to be efficacious to actually bring about conversion.  So even if Jansen held that efficacious grace can be resisted, even if we interpret the fourth condemned proposition to be saying not that grace cannot be resisted but only that it will not be resisted, the fourth proposition would still be wrong in claiming that no one ever resists any interior preventing grace.  There are all sorts of interior preventing graces that not only can be resisted by men but which actually are frequently resisted.


"To say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men, is Semipelagianism."

Pope Innocent X's bull provided a qualification on the condemnation of this proposition.  It is condemned "if understood in the sense that Christ died only for the predestined."

As with all the other condemned propositions, there are ways in which the proposition can be taken that are orthodox, and there are heterodox ways to take it.  Obviously, the Church has condemned the proposition as conveying a heretical sense.

There is no doubt that, in a sense, God wills all men to be saved.  It is equally true that, in another sense, he only wills some to be saved.  St. Thomas Aquinas (along with many others) distinguished between the "antecedent" and the "consequent" will of God.  The "antecedent" will of God refers to what God wills all other things being equal.  The "consequent" will of God refers to what God wills all things considered.  (I discuss this further in this article.)  God wills the salvation of all men, in that the salvation of a person is inherently pleasing to him while the damnation of a person (in terms of the suffering of the person per se) is inherently displeasing to him.  But in his eternal plan, God sees that it is better overall, all things considered, that efficacious grace to bring about conversion and perseverance not be given equally to all men, and so God chooses some to whom to give that grace and some to whom not to give it (resulting in some people converting and persevering and some people not).

So, in light of this, did Christ die for all men?  It depends on what we mean.  If "Christ died for all men" means that Christ made an atonement sufficient for the sins of all men, which made the salvation of all men possible, and which is sincerely available to and offered to all men, then yes, Christ died for all men.  If "Christ died for all men" means that Christ intended his atonement to actually accomplish effectively the eternal salvation of all men and that, through it, he intended to give the same efficacious grace of conversion and perseverance to all men, then no, Christ did not die for all men.

My guess is that Jansen intended his proposition in the latter sense.  In other words, he was probably simply intending to reject the idea that God has the same eternally salvific intentions towards all men and that he has intended the same, fully efficacious graces for all men.  If this was his meaning, then his meaning was orthodox.  However, as with the previous propositions, the Church saw in his proposition a natural connotation towards a heretical viewpoint--such as one in which Christ does not sincerely offer his death for the salvation of all men, or one in which some people who want to be saved will be rejected because Christ's death was not for them, or one in which Christ has not provided sufficient grace to make possible the salvation of all men.  And thus she condemned the proposition in light of this connotation.

Similarly, Calvinists have historically affirmed the doctrine of "limited atonement"--that is, that Christ died not for all men but only for the elect (the predestined).  They have often been misunderstood to be affirming the sorts of heretical ideas mentioned above, because the connotation conveyed by "limited atonement" seems naturally to suggest those ideas to many people.  And yet Calvinists have always made it clear that they do not intend to affirm such ideas.  Here, again, is Loraine Boettner, speaking of "limited atonement" (footnote references added to text):

This doctrine does not mean that any limit can be set to the value or power of the atonement which Christ made. The value of the atonement depends upon, and is measured by, the dignity of the person making it; and since Christ suffered as a Divine-human person the value of His suffering was infinite. The Scripture writers tell us plainly that the "Lord of glory" was crucified, 1 Cor. 2:8; that wicked men "killed the Prince of life," Acts 3:15; and that God "purchased" the Church "with His own blood," Acts 20:28. The atonement, therefore, was infinitely meritorious and might have saved every member of the human race had that been God's plan. It was limited only in the sense that it was intended for, and is applied to, particular persons; namely for those who are actually saved.  (Chapter XII, 2) 
While the value of the atonement was sufficient to save all mankind, it was efficient to save only the elect. It is indifferently well adapted to the salvation of one man to that of another, thus making the salvation of every man objectively possible; yet because of subjective difficulties, arising on account of the sinners own inability either to see or appreciate the things of God, only those are saved who are regenerated and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The reason why God does not apply this grace to all men has not been fully revealed.  (Chapter XII, 3) 
Will any one contend that God cannot sincerely offer salvation to a free moral agent unless in addition to the invitation He exerts a special influence which will induce the person to accept it? After a civil war in a country it often happens that the victorious general offers free pardon to all those In the opposing army, provided they will lay down their arms, go home, and live peaceable lives, although he knows that through pride or malice many will refuse. He makes the offer in good faith even though for wise reasons he determines not to constrain their assent, supposing him possessed of such power. 
We may imagine the case of a ship with many passengers on board sinking some distance out from shore. A man hires a boat from a near-by port and goes to rescue his family. Incidentally it happens that the boat which he takes is large enough to carry all the passengers, so he invites all those on the sinking vessel to come on board, although he knows that many of them, either through lack of appreciation of their danger, or because of personal spite toward him, or for other reasons, will not accept. Yet does that make his offer any the less sincere? "If a man's family were with others held in captivity, and from love of them and with the purpose of their redemption, a ransom should be offered sufficient for the delivery of the whole body of captives, it is plain that the offer of deliverance might be extended to all on the ground of that ransom, although specially intended only for a part of their number. Or, a man may make a feast for his own friends and the provisions be so abundant that he may throw open his doors to all who are willing to come. This is precisely what God, according to the Calvinistic doctrine, has actually done. Out of special love to His people, and with the design of securing their salvation He has sent His Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to accept it." [136--Hodge, Systematic Theology, II., p. 556.] 
When the Gospel is presented to mankind in general nothing but a sinful unwillingness on the part of some prevents their accepting and enjoying it. No stumbling block is put in their way. All that the call contains is true; it is adapted to the conditions of all men and freely offered if they will repent and believe. No outside influence constrains them to reject it. The elect accept; the non-elect may accept if they will, and nothing but their own nature determines them to do otherwise. "According to the Calvinistic scheme," says Dr. Hodge, "the non-elect have all the advantages and opportunities of securing their salvation, that, according to any other scheme, are granted to mankind indiscriminately. Calvinism teaches that a plan of salvation adapted to all men and adequate for the salvation of all, is freely offered to the acceptance of all, although in the secret purpose of God He intended that it should have precisely the effect which in experience it is found to have. He designed in its adoption to save His own people, but consistently offers its benefits to all who are willing to receive them. More than this no anti-Calvinist can demand." [137--Systematic Theology, II., p. 644.]  (Chapter XXI, 2)


Evaluation of the Jansenist controversy can be tricky, because so much rides on nuances and connotations, and the same phrases can often be given contradictory meanings.  Hopefully my analysis above has been helpful.  My own views on this matter are clearer than they were when I first began to convert to Catholicism.

I think it is worthwhile at this point to point out two lessons that I think can be learned from examining this controversy.  One of those lessons is that we have to be very careful to understand the meanings of the words and phrases people use, and be wary of assuming the worst interpretations of what is said by those whom we consider to be our "ideological opponents."  Many Catholics, I'm sure, simply take it for granted that Calvinists and Jansenists held and hold many things that turn out to be mere caricatures of their real views.  We do not act with appropriate charity when we do not do what we can to avoid negative misconstruals of what others think and say.  In addition, a tendency to be sloppy in our efforts to understand other people's points of view often results as well in a weak and superficial understanding of the true doctrine.  If more Catholics would take more time and effort to understand Jansenists and Calvinists, one result would be that they would gain a clearer and more profound understanding of the Catholic doctrines on the topics of predestination and efficacious grace (which, when one gets beyond the superficial, may end up seeming a lot closer to what those awful Jansenists or Calvinists said or are saying than we may be comfortable with).

On the other hand, Jansenism was condemned.  This can teach us that even when we mean well, we need to be careful how we speak.  Are our words and phrases and forms of speaking conveying the fullness of the truth in a balanced way, or, despite our good intentions, are we so imbalanced in our speech that we are conveying imbalanced and erroneous impressions through what we say?  There is also a lesson of humility here.  Both the Calvinists and the Jansenists ultimately refused to listen to the admonitions of the Church.  They chose to value their own cherished phrases and ways of saying things and peculiar ideas over obedience to the authority Christ gave to his Church.  The Jansenists in particular continued for decades to resist the Church while at the same time professing submission to her.  This is made even more ironic when we recognize that the Jansenists (and the Calvinists, at least on these points) could probably have preserved the substance of their sentiments on these topics without needing to produce a breach with the Church, since the problems seem to have lain more in the connotations of their propositions than with the real substance of what they were wanting to affirm.  We have a conscientious duty to preserve the truth and to avoid agreeing to falsehood, but we do not have a duty to maintain our pet phrases and doctrinal forms unnecessarily and stubbornly at the cost of obedience to and unity with the Church of Christ.

For more on the general Catholic teaching regarding predestination and efficacious grace, see here.

Published on the feast of St. Ephrem

ADDENDUM 12/13/17:  I was reading through Denzinger's anthology of Catholic dogmatic pronouncements over the centuries and came across Pope Alexander VII's constitution entitled "Ad sacram beati PETRIA sedem," published October 16, 1656.  This constitution was issued in response to the Jansenists' response to the condemnation of the five propositions from Jansen's book, discussed above.  If you read the history of the Jansenist controversy (such as you can find in the article linked to in the first paragraph of this article), you will see that the Jansenists tried to escape the force of the papal condemnation of Jansen's ideas by declaring that they agreed with the papal condemnation of the ideas enshrined in the five propositions while denying that those propositions actually occurred in Jansen's book.  They asserted that the Church was theologically accurate but had erred in a matter of non-theological fact in claiming that the condemned ideas were actually in Jansen's book.  This way, in their thinking, they could continue to be Jansenists without being heretics.  Well, the Church would have none of that, as this constitution indicates:

(6) We declare and define that these five propositions have been taken from the book of the aforementioned Cornelius Jansen, Bishop of Ypres, entitled AUGUSTINUS, and in the sense understood by that same Cornelius condemned. ( (Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, tr. Roy J. Deferrari [Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2001], a translation of "the thirtieth edition of Enchiridion Symbolorum by Henry Denzinger, revised by Karl Rahner, S.J., published in 1954, by Herder & Co., Freiburg", p. 318)

The Church's position expressed here made it clearly impossible to any longer claim with plausibility to be a Jansenist but not a heretic.

I bring this up because in my attempt to offer a nuanced analysis of Jansen's ideas (at least as they are mediated through Pascal) in the article above, I suggest the possibility that Jansen might have been (at least to some degree) orthodox in terms of the substance of his beliefs and in what he was trying to say while using language that carried a heretical connotation.  But does Pope Alexander's constitution cut me off from being able to hold such a view as a possibility?  I don't think so.  Here's why:  What the constitution is condemning is the position that the heretical ideas condemned under the form of the five propositions are not actually found in Jansen's book, that the Church only found them there by misreading Jansen's book and finding in it things that weren't actually there.  That's what the Jansenists seemed to be claiming, or at least some of them.  But that is not what I am suggesting.  I do not deny that the condemned heretical ideas are indeed contained in Jansen's book.  (Not being able to read the Augustinus myself at this point, I can't independently confirm or deny that the condemned ideas are there, but I take it on the authority of the Church that they are.)  What I suggest in the above article is rather that although Jansen does indeed state the condemned propositions and so communicate the condemned heretical ideas, perhaps he had not thought through the full meaning or all the logical implications of everything he had said.  Perhaps he made assertions that in fact communicated heretical ideas while at the same time not really realizing the heretical implications of what he was saying.  For example, it may be that Jansen asserts in his book, in effect, that the will cannot resist grace.  Well, this is heretical, because it is Catholic doctrine that the will can resist grace.  However, perhaps what Jansen really wanted to say was that when God gives an efficacious grace, that grace is actually efficacious.  It converts the will, and so the will never resists it, although it could do so.  Perhaps this is what Jansen really believed.  But, and this is the important thing, whether he believed this or not, it is not what he actually said.  What he said (assuming this interpretation of the wording of the fourth condemned proposition) was that the will cannot resist grace.  He should not have said this, because it is not true.  The Church has not read this claim into his book; it is truly, objectively, there--even if, perhaps, he didn't think it through enough to recognize its heretical implications.

Similarly, as I pointed out above, Calvinists typically refer to converting grace as irresistible.  This is heretical, because it is Catholic doctrine that the will can resist grace.  However, many Calvinists use this language without having thought through all the implications of it, while, in their hearts, thinking about the subject in a much more orthodox way.  Some Calvinists, as I pointed out with the example of Loraine Boettner above, even recognize that the language of irresistible grace has false connotations but continue to use it anyway.  Thus, from the Catholic point of view, they truly assert heretical ideas even if, at the same time, it is true that they don't really hold in their heart of hearts the ideas they are truly asserting (or the full implications of those ideas).

So all of this can get very complicated.  I hold with the Church, and on the Church's authority, that Jansen did indeed express heretical ideas in his book.  Those ideas are truly in his book  They are not falsely read into his book by eisegesis, or by taking what he has said out of context.  But it still may be true that Jansen's expressed ideas may not have matched the substance of what he actually believed had those beliefs been expressed in language that avoided the false heretical connotations.

Also, while I'm writing, I will also mention that I came across in Denzinger a more specific account of the language the Church used in condemning Jansen's five propositions (Denzinger, p. 316):

The first proposition was "[d]eclared and condemned as rash, impious, blasphemous, condemned by anathema and heretical."  The second proposition was "[d]eclared and condemned as heretical."  The third proposition was "[d]eclared and condemned as heretical."  The fourth proposition was "[d]eclared and condemned as false and heretical."  The fifth proposition was "[d]eclared and condemned as false, rash, scandalous, and understood in this sense, that Christ died for the salvation of the predestined, impious, blasphemous, contumelious, dishonoring to divine piety, and heretical."

ADDENDUM 1/10/18:  I've been reading recently through a nineteenth-century book on the history of the Church of France, and I came across in it a nice statement of the sort of thing I was getting at in my previous addendum, distinguishing between what Jansen said and the sentiments that may have been in his heart.  I thought I'd quote that section.  The author is talking about the absurdity of the Jansenist position that the Pope may be infallible in matters of doctrine but not necessarily in matters of fact (an idea they used to escape the Pope's condemnation of the Jansenist position).

    If the Pope, though doctrinally incapable of error, may at the same time misapprehend the sense of the writings upon which his decision is sought, it is difficult to perceive in what his infallibility consists.  How can he decide questions of dogma, unless he can also interpret works which treat of dogma?  To pretend that the interpretation of such works is a question of fact as opposed to one of doctrine, is a mere abuse of language.  These are not ordinary facts, but facts which are involved of necessity in controversies of faith; and with respect to such facts, it is plain that either the Pope must be able to pronounce unerringly or that he is not infallible at all.  No one, of course, pretended that the Pope can judge of any private ideas or purposes which a man may secretly cherish in his own mind.  An author may possibly believe the very contrary to that which he has expressed in words; but the Church is concerned only with the natural legitimate sense of his published language; and, on Roman principles, it must be competent to the Pope, acting as the organ of the Church, to determine whether certain opinions have actually been broached, and whether they are or are not in accordance with the Rule of Faith.  If every one whom Rome condemns could excuse himself by alleging that the Pope had misunderstood him, and that in point of fact he never entertained such sentiments, it would follow that the judicial functions of the Papal Chair must in course of time be altogether superseded.  Heresy might be perpetually condemned, and heretics might nevertheless persist in propagating the self-same errors, on the pretext that their real opinions were totally distinct from those specified in the censure.  (Rev. W. Henley Jervis, History of the Church of France, Volume 1 [London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1872], 448-449)

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