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Those Jansenists who accepted without any reserve or mental restriction the Bull Unigenitus

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Acceptants, those Jansenists who accepted without any reserve or mental restriction the Bull “Unigenitus“, issued in 1713 against the Jansenist doctrines as set forth in the “Reflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament” of the Oratorian, Pasquier Quesnel. As is well known, the error of Jansenius gave rise to two conflicts in the Church: the first, early in the second half of the seventeenth century, centerd about his book “Augustinus”, and ceased with the Pax Clementina, also called the paix fourree or “False Peace” (1669); the second, which began with the eighteenth century, was waged around the abovementioned work of Quesnel. The peace too hastily granted by Clement IX was favorable to Jansenism. The doctrine took deep root in the French Parliaments and affected several religious orders, Benedictines, Fathers of Christian Doctrine, Genevievans, and especially Oratorians. Attention was called to the spread of the heresy by the success of the “Reflexions morales”. This work, published as a small volume in 1671 with the approval of Vialart, Bishop of Chalons-sur-Marne, had been steadily enlarged in succeeding editions until, in 1693, it numbered four compact volumes bearing always the approbation of Vialart, who died in 1680. De Noailles, the new Bishop of Chalons, sanctioned the work in 1695, but the following year, as Archbishop of Paris, he condemned it. The edition of 1699 was published without the changes demanded by Bossuet, without the preface which he composed for it, and without the approval of the diocesan bishop. The following year (July 2, 1700) the anonymous work “Probleme ecclesiastique, etc.”, and the controversies to which it gave rise, again drew attention to the peril of Jansenism. At the Assembly of the French Clergy, in the same year, Bossuet brought about the condemnation of four Jansenist propositions and of 127 others of lax morality. After the death of Bossuet (1704), Fenelon led the contest against Jansenism and especially against the distinction between “fact” and “right” (fait et droit). Finally, at the request of Louis XIV, and following the example of his predecessors, Clement XI condemned in the Bull “Vine am Domini” (1705) the Jansenist evasion known as silentium obsequiosum, or respectful silence, and proscribed (1708) the “Reflexions morales”. Shortly afterwards, the King caused the Jansenist establishment of Port-Royal to be demolished (1710). Jansenism, however, had not yet been overthrown. Louis XIV then urged the Pope (November, 1711) to publish another Bull, and promised to have it accepted with due respect by the French bishops. On this assurance Clement XI established a special congregation to draw up the new constitution. After eighteen months of careful study, the famous Bull “Unigenitus“, destined soon to provoke an outburst of wrath on the part of the Jansenists, was promulgated in Rome (September 8, 1713). In it the Pope condemned 101 propositions from Quesnel’s book as “false, misleading, scandalous, suspected and savoring of heresy, bordering upon heresy, frequently condemned; what is more, as being heretical and reviving various propositions of Jansenius, in the very sense for which they were first proscribed”. Noailles at first submitted, but later, in an assembly of forty-nine bishops, who met at the instance of Fenelon in the archiepiscopal palace in Paris, he recalled his submission and with eight of his colleagues ranged himself among the appelants. The forty others voted to accept. The Parliament of Paris registered the Bull (February 15, 1714), and the Sorbonne did the same, albeit under pressure of royal authority. The French Episcopate, with the exception of twenty hesitating or stubborn members, submitted forthwith. To make an end of the matter, Louis XIV at Fenelon’s suggestion, conceived the idea of holding a national council as a means of restoring unity; but his death prevented this and deferred the hour of final pacification.

The Regent, Philip of Orleans, a man without religious or moral convictions, a “vicious braggart”, as Louis XIV styled him, attempted to hold the balance between the two parties. The Jansenists profited by his neutrality. Noailles was put at the head of a “conseil de conscience pour les affaires ecclesiastiques”, and four doctors of the Sorbonne who had been exiled because of their violent opposition to the Bull were recalled. The Sorbonne, which had accepted the Bull “Unigenitus” by a mere majority, now cancelled its acceptance (1716). The Pope through a Brief punished the Sorbonne by depriving it of all its privileges. The Parliament of Paris sided with the Faculty and suppressed the Brief, while the Sorbonne itself contested the right of the Sovereign Pontiff to withdraw lawfully granted privileges. The following year four bishops, Soanen of Senez, Colbert of Montpellier, de la Broue of Mirepoix, and de Langle of Boulogne, appealed from the Bull “Unigenitus” to a future general council. Their example was followed by sixteen bishops, ninety-seven doctors of the Sorbonne, a number of cures of Paris, Oratorians, Genevievans, Benedictines of Saint-Maur, Dominicans, members of female religious orders, and even lay people. This movement extended to the provinces, but not to the universities, all of which, with the exception of Nantes and Reims, supported the Papal Bull. Of the 100,000 priests then in France, hardly 3,000 were among the appelants, and 700 of these were in Paris. The great majority voted for acceptance and counted on their side more than 100 bishops. The appelants had only 20 bishops. Clement XI knew that he must act vigorously. He had used every means of persuasion and had written to the Archbishop of Paris beseeching him to set the example of submission. He even consented to a delay. But the opposition was unyielding. It was then that the Pope published the Bull “Pastoralis Officii” (August 28, 1718), in which he pronounced excommunication upon all who opposed the Bull “Unigenitus“. The same year, October 2, Noailles and his party appealed from this second Bull, and the Faculties of the University of Paris, headed by the famous Rollin, endorsed the appeal. The Regent thought it time to intervene. He was indifferent to the question of doctrine, but was politic enough to see that censorious people like the appelants were no less dangerous to the State than to the Church. Moreover, his old teacher, the Abbe Dubois, now his Prime Minister, with an eye perhaps to the cardinal’s hat, was in favor of peace. He caused to be composed a “Corps de Doctrine” (1720) explaining the Bull “Unigenitus“, and about one hundred prelates gave their adhesion to it. Noailles then accepted the Bull (November 19, 1720), “following the explanations which have been approved of by a great number of French bishops”. This ambiguous and uncertain submission did not satisfy Clement XI; he died, however, without having obtained anything more definite.

Louis XV and his aged minister, the Cardinal de Fleury, opposed the sect with vigour. Authorized by them, De Tencin, Archbishop of Embrun, convoked a provincial council (1727) to examine Soanen, the aged Bishop of Senez, who in a pastoral instruction had gone to extremes. Many bishops took part in this council, notably De Belzunce, famous for the zeal he displayed during the plague of Marseilles. Although supported by twelve bishops and fifty advocates, Soanen was suspended and sent to the monastery of Chaise-Dieu where he died, insubordinate, at the age of ninety-three. After numerous evasions, ending in submission, Noailles died in 1729. The only appelants left were the Bishops Colbert of Montpellier, Caylus of Auxerre, and Bossuet of Troyes, a nephew of the great Bishop of Meaux. At the same time 700 doctors of the Sorbonne, of whom thirty-nine were bishops, ratified the earlier (1714) acceptance of the Bull “Unigenitus“. It was a triumph for the acceptants, that is to say, for the authority of the Pope and of the Church.


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