Life & Soul Life and Soul

Heretic of the week: Cornelius Jansen

Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638) was born in Gelderland in the Netherlands. In 1602 he began studies at Louvain, which was divided between the more morally rigorous Augustinians and the casuistic Jesuits. There, he befriended Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, better known to history as the Abbé de Saint-Cyran. They duly rose up the ecclesiastical ladder – the Abbé becoming chaplain at the strict and socially prominent convent of Port Royal, and Jansen being appointed Bishop of Ypres. During this time, the argument between the Jesuits and the Augustinians intensified; Jansen weighed in on the latter side, writing a book called Augustinus defending his views. Then he died.

The infighting continued, with St Cyran and his Port Royal Sisters in the thick of it. Finally, critics culled five errors from Jansen’s book: “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 to them; In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace; In order to merit or demerit, in the state of fallen nature, we must be free from all external constraint, but not from interior necessity; The Semi-Pelagians 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; It is Semi-Pelagian to say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men.”

These propositions would be condemned by various popes. The Jansenists also aroused enmity by their proud manner and hatred of the nascent Sacred Heart devotion.

Although Jansenist attitudes would haunt the Church for centuries, they captured much of the remaining Church in the Netherlands – this would lead in time to the formation of the Old Catholic Churches and the Liberal Catholic Church. Given Jansen’s views, it is hard to think they would have pleased him.