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Jansen, Cornelis

Jansen, Cornelis (kôrnāˈlĭs yänˈsən), 1585–1638, Dutch Roman Catholic theologian. He studied at the Univ. of Louvain and became imbued with the idea of reforming Christian life along the lines of a return to St. Augustine. He established a close friendship with Duvergier de Hauranne, a fellow student, with whom he shared and developed many of his theological ideas. In 1630, Jansen became professor at Louvain, and in 1636 bishop of Ypres. Out of his lifework, the posthumous Augustinus (1642, in Latin), arose the great movement called Jansenism.


Jansenism was strictly a Roman Catholic movement, and it had no repercussions in the Protestant world. Its fundamental purpose was a return of people to greater personal holiness, hence the characteristically mystical turn of Jansenist writings. St. Augustine's teaching on grace was especially appealing to Jansen, who stressed the doctrine that the soul must be converted to God by the action of divine grace, without which conversion could not begin. Predestination was accepted in an extreme form and was so essential to Jansenism that its adherents were even referred to as Calvinists by their opponents. But Jansenism had no appeal to Protestants, for it held the necessity of the Roman Catholic Church for salvation and opposed justification by faith alone.

Jansenism, however, came into conflict with the church for its predestinarianism, for its discouragement of frequent communion for the faithful, and for its attack on the Jesuits and the new casuistry, which the Jansenists thought was demoralizing the confessional. Jansenism took root in France, especially among the clergy. There it early became involved with Gallicanism, and high officials of church and state often sided with Jansenists to thwart the Holy See.

The second great Jansenist work was De la fréquente communion (1643) of Antoine Arnauld, which stirred the opposition of Jesuits and Dominicans. In 1653, Pope Innocent X condemned five of Jansen's doctrines, and in 1656 Arnauld was expelled from the Sorbonne. Meanwhile, Blaise Pascal, the greatest Jansenist, aroused a storm by his anti-Jesuit Provincial Letters, and there was persecution of the Jansenists for a while. Pasquier Quesnel published late in the 17th cent. a vernacular New Testament with Jansenist notes, which was condemned by Pope Clement XI. The aged Louis XIV undertook to suppress Jansenism, and the bulls Vineam Domini (1705) and Unigenitus (1713) virtually put the Jansenists out of the church. (Gallicanism, however, prevented the legal registration of Unigenitus in France until 1730.)

The convent of Port-Royal, the greatest center of Jansenism, was closed, and most Jansenists fled France. Jansenism survived as a tendency within the church, especially in France, taking the form usually of extreme scruples with regard to communion. In the Netherlands an organization not in submission to the pope was set up. There are Jansenist bishops of Utrecht, Haarlem, and Deventer. The independent Jansenists recognize the Council of Trent and are, except for their special differences, like Roman Catholics. The first Old Catholic bishop was consecrated by Jansenists (see Old Catholics).


See N. Abercrombie, The Origins of Jansenism (1936); M. Escholier, Port-Royal: The Drama of the Jansenists (tr. 1968).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an unorthodox current in French and Dutch Catholicism; part of the wave of individualistic mysticism that spread through Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, chiefly affecting the educated townspeople.

The stimulus for the emergence of Jansenism was the publication in 1640 of a work about Augustine by the Dutch theologian C. Jansen. True faith was sharply contrasted by Jansen to the masses’ formal acceptance of church doctrine; his assertion that Christ had not shed his blood for all people was in line with the Calvinist doctrine, of predestination. In 1642, Jansen’s book was condemned by Pope Urban VIII, and in 1653 a bull by Innocent X condemned some of Jansen’s theses; nevertheless, the “disciples of St. Augustine” continued their struggle while remaining within the Catholic Church.

In France, J. Duvergier de Hauranne, known as Abbé de Saint-Cyran, made the Abbey of Port-Royal de Paris a stronghold of Jansenism; the abbey became an important center of French culture in the second half of the 17th century. The repressions against the Jansenists, their staunchness in the face of royal despotism and Jesuit church policy, and their ethical uncompromisingness attracted B. Pascal and A. Arnauld; the latter headed the Port-Rȯyal community and was coauthor, with P. Nicole, of the theory known as Port-Royal logic. J. Racine was another author who leaned toward Jansenism.

Jansenism created a type of person who was intellectually developed, with a high sense of moral responsibility but also with a fanatical sectarian narrowmindedness. In France, the movement died out after the French Revolution. In the Netherlands, by 1723 the Jansenists had succeeded in establishing their own church, which in the 19th century drew close to the German Old Catholics; the various reforms enacted by the church in the 20th century, such as the elimination of fasting and of celibacy for the clergy, brought it closer to Protestantism. Jansenism survives to this day.


Gazier, A. Histoire générale du mouvement janséniste depuis ses origines jusqu’á nos Iours, 3rd ed. Paris, 1922–24.
Cognet, L. Le Jansénisme. Paris, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


unorthodox Roman Catholic movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led by Cornelius Jansen. [Christian Hist.: EB, V: 515]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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