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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a denomination of Roman Catholics in France, which was formed in the year 1640. They follow the opinions of Jansenius, bishop of Ypres, from whose writings the following propositions are said to have been extracted:—

1. That there are divine precepts which good men, notwithstanding their desire to observe them, are, nevertheless, absolutely unable to obey; nor has God given them that measure of grace which is essentially necessary to render them capable of such obedience.

2. That no person, in this corrupt state of nature, can resist the influence of divine grace, when it operates upon the mind.

3. That, in order to render human actions meritorious, it is not requisite that they be exempt from necessity; but that they be free from constraint.

4. That the Semi-Pelagians err greatly, in maintaining that the human will is endowed with the power of either receiving or resisting the aids and influences of preventing grace.

5. That whoever affirms that Jesus Christ made expiation, by his sufferings and death, for the sins of all mankind, is a Semi-Pelagian. Of these propositions, Pope Innocent X, condemned the first four as heretical, and the last as rash and impious. But he did this without asserting that these were the doctrines of Jansenius, or even naming him; which did not satisfy his adversaries, nor silence him. The next pope, however, Alexander VII, was more particular, and determined the said propositions to be the doctrines of Jansenius; which excited no small trouble in the Gallican church.

This denomination was also distinguished from many of the Roman Catholics, by their maintaining that the Holy Scriptures and public liturgies should be given to the people in their mother tongue; and they consider it as a matter of importance to inculcate upon all Christians, that true piety does not consist in the performance of external devotions, but in inward holiness and divine love.

As to Jansenius, it must be confessed that he was more diligent in the search of truth, than courageous in its defence. It is said that he read through the whole of St. Augustine's works ten, and some parts thirty, times. From these he made a number of excerpta, [extracts,] which he collected in his book called "Augustinus." This he had not the courage to publish; but it was printed after his death, and from it his enemies, the Jesuits, extracted the propositions above named; but the correctness and fidelity of their extracts maybe justly questioned. Jansenius himself, undoubtedly, held the opinions of Calvin on unconditional election, though he seems to have been reserved in avowing them.

The Jansenists of Port Royal may be denominated the evangelical party of the Catholic church: among their number were the famous Father Quesnel, Pierre Nicole, Pascal, De Sacy, Duguet, and Arnauld; the last of whom is styled by Boileau, "the most learned mortal that ever lived." They consecrated all their great powers to the service of the cross; and for their attachment to the grand article of the Protestant reformation,—justification by faith, with other capital doctrines, they suffered the loss of all things.

The Jesuits, their implacable enemies, never ceased until they prevailed upon their sovereign, Louis XIV, to destroy the abbey of Port Royal, and banish its inhabitants. It must be confessed, however, that all the Jansenists were not like the eminent men whom we have just mentioned; and even these were tinged with enthusiasm and superstition. Some of them even pretended to work miracles, by which their cause was greatly injured.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Jansenists'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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