Jansenism as Whipping Boy

28 05 2009

Augustinus

Via Fr. Chadwick’s page, I found an essay by another cleric stating that the recent child abuse scandal in the Irish church is due to the lack of a vibrant and colorful liturgy and the prevalence of Jansenism amongst the clergy. While I have indeed myself had recourse to this argument when approaching other questions, I think this priest’s use of such an accusation is unfounded. There is no reason to believe that theology had anything to do with it. If anything, what was really at fault was fundamentalist ultramontanism that is a general outgrowth of realized eschatology; not so much a theological principle, but a religious ethos. In the midst of an increasingly persecuted Church, the hierarchy was seen as being able to do no wrong. Needless to say, the institutional Church in many places took that principle and ran with it, often over the backs of the innocent.

First, however, I would like to address the idea of attacking of Jansenism as an all-powerful bête noire. Jansenists are now portrayed as moral monsters responsible for everything from taking Holy Communion away from children to ingrown toenails. While Jansenists were indeed extreme in their ideas and practices, their being painted as the ultimate villains is the result of history being written by the victors, and it was a hollow victory at that. From infrequent Communion we have gone to Holy Communion as a social right of the members of the People of God. From the strictness of the Port Royal nuns we now have an overly relaxed regime where ascetical minimalism is the name of the game. From the victory of “God’s mercy” in the disputes with the Jansenists, we have now a secular Europe and an often liberal, fuzzy deity who few take seriously, and so on. The only place where some of the Jansenists’ ideas flourished were in the realm of liturgy; some of the aspects of what is known as the Novus Ordo Missae were first proposed by the Jansenists, and condemned by the Church after the Jansenist Council of Pistoia.

Indeed, with the final defeat of the Jansenists and in the aftermath of the French Revolution came the idea that the institutional Church was a heroic, suffering institution that needed to be followed in even the most insignificant things. (This perception is alive and well in the Catholic blogosphere.) Catholics ceased to be mere believers and had to become militants. This was no doubt a product of the fiercely anticlerical regimes in the 19th century, but the other side of the coin is that many saw in these struggles that “the Church could do no wrong”, especially in the face of a hostile state. No state was more hostile than the British one in occupied Ireland. It is no wonder that in the aftermath of independence, the Church could get away with anything short of murder. In many ways, it was Jansenism, in all its misguidedness, that was the last flicker of a “loyal opposition” in Catholicism that could call the institution out on its own imperfections.

In the post cited above, there is a a romanticism unbecoming of any sort of serious discussion. It is quite pollyanish to think that such horrible stories of abuse were due to the hostile weather of the northern climes, or that it could have been prevented if people danced more or enjoyed themselves. I come from an ecclesial culture that is the polar opposite of Irish Catholicism: vibrant, emotional, colorful, and loud, and I can tell you that such horrible things still occured in this ecclesial context as well. The only difference is that in Mexico, the government disliked the Church to the point of persecution, so the Church obviously didn’t have the power to exploit people to the point of slavery and child rape. Where the Catholic sun shines, people just don’t get warmth, they can also get burnt.

(I should comment that Jansenist liturgies may have been somewhat sparse, but they were far from lacking in beauty. I once heard a recording of Jansenist chant that was quite beautiful.)

And if anything, such revelations probably prove the Jansenists to be the more correct party rather than the ones at fault. Homo homini lupus. Such horrible things are due to man’s penchant to sin, and such sin leads to selfishness and cruelty. The other side of the rhetoric against “Calvinist gloom” is that we have forgotten our own miserable state in our march of modernity. At the end of the day, I don’t defend the Jansenists, but in their defeat, we may have lost more than we gained.


Actions

Information

22 responses

11 03 2011
Beth

Liturgy is Sacred Drama. It SHOULD be “performed”, and priest and people SHOULD fret and pick at it to make it the best that it can be. Sacred drama isn’t improvised. It connects us not only to each other in the present, but to our collective past and to the Church Triumphant. Liturgy TRANSCENDS, lifts us out of the mundane, and puts us squarely in the Presence of God in a unique way. The very word “religion” is from the Latin word, “religio”, which means “to reconnect” or “to rebind”. We reconnect in part through tradition, and tradition is something that is performed, safeguarded by “fretting and picking”.

24 07 2009
Bryan Dunne

Correction: The Oxford Companion to Irish History not the Oxford Enc. of Ireland

24 07 2009
Bryan Dunne

The Oxford Enc. of Ireland

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O245-Jansenism.html

suggests that Irish priests were amongst the first to argue against Jansenism before Unigenitus. A quick search for “Irish” and “Jansenist” on Google brings up similar articles.

Irish Catholics are criticized for preferring the Low Mass to Missae Cantatae (in the EF or Gregorian Rite) and this is used as evidence of their Jansenism. This has always struck me as strange. How many Sung Masses would one expect to find in the rural parishes or in chapels-of-rest where many of the Irish assisted at Mass during the first half of the 20th Century? For that matter how many Sung Masses are their regularly in England in the EF today?

Yours in caritate Xp.,

Bryan Dunne

6 06 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Modernity can be interpreted as the ideological and cultural superstructure that accompanies the transition of society into an economy of generalized commodity production. Such significant cultural transformations are characterized by vast migrations of rural peasants into the city, the regimentation of labor production and thus social life, and the cultural effects that such things have on the perspectives of regular people in a given society. From these things emerge economic and political liberalism, as a reflection of the competitive workings of the market, ideological relativism as a philosophical echo of Adam Smith’s laissez faire trade theories, and the hegemony of quantifiable knowledge over qualifiable knowledge (generally because of the former’s pragmatic usefulness). More insight on the concrete workings of modernity can be found in the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Karl Polanyi, among others.

6 06 2009
Visibilium

Someone told me that modernity began sometime between the 880 and 1054, or thereabouts. Was I duped?

5 06 2009
AG

“How exactly is ‘modernity’ being defined and when did modern times begin?”

I’ve wondered that too in these types of discussions, and have to come suspect that the word is defined alone the lines of Pope St. Pius X’s views, according to his Pascendi Dominici gregis, Lamentabili Sane Exitu, and “Oath against Modernism.” It is used as a bit of a catch-all term for lots of movements that date from the late Renaissance through the Enlightenment and beyond: liberalism, humanism, rationalism, secularism – and those are just the terms Arturo uses above. But I have trouble when people speak of a “modern” person with some distaste, as I’m not sure what specific philosophies and values they are referring to as objectionable.

Perhaps Arturo can enlighten us on what he means?

3 06 2009
Leah

How exactly is “modernity” being defined and when did modern times begin? I’ve seen books that say modern times began in the 1600s, others that say it started during the Industrial Revolution, and still others that say after World War II.

3 06 2009
Mildred

” For them, being Catholic makes you a better and more consistent modern”

Isn’t that what vii was about or am I missing something?

3 06 2009
Adrian

Very interesting. Re: Anglo-Catholicism, although you advertise as a chronicle of aesthetic Christianity I think you save yourself from aesthetic preciousness by focusing on the ugly and strange as well as the beautiful, reminding us that human encounters with the divine are often undignified and impolite.

Re: Opus Dei, I don’t want to be too nice to you traditionalist guys because many of you are quite deranged in your own way. But I would make the claim that there could be a kind of liberal terminus or conclusion at the end of traditionalist line of thinking, because the more you invest in the supernatural, theurgic power of rules and rites themselves, the less powerful the rationals and apologetics of the officiant priests become and official theology fades away to personal experience and conviction. It is in that priest-free zone that all of that magic and popular religion you are so interested in emerges. I would love to pretend to believe in that stuff, but I cannot, because I don’t.

3 06 2009
Arturo Vasquez

I always thought of Anglo-Catholicism as a tree with very shallow roots. Modernity came and wiped it all out, and made it go some very bizarre directions very quickly. Smells and bells without doctrinal firmness will lead to a lot of screwiness in no time. For all of Roman Catholicism’s problems, at least it’s kept its sanity… for now.

Adrian, part of my own sympathy with traditionalist Catholics lies in personal nostalgia, and a lot on theological agreement. An old professor of mine in Argentina just wrote a theological treatise on the authority of the Magisterium coming out of the Second Vatican Council. The Lefebvrist press has released it in Argentina in Spanish, and hopefully a friend will send it to me. We’ll see.

But the best thing about the hard-right traditionalists is that “what you see is what you get”. They dislike modernity, and they present a compelling case for their dislike. The “Opus Dei” wing and their followers think that they can outsmart the world at its own game. They think they can make liberalism “genuinely Christian”, they can be more sexual than the Sexual Revolution, more “humanist” than the Left, more capitalist than neoliberalism (Peron in Argentina called the Opus Dei, “the dollarization of Catholicism”.) For them, being Catholic makes you a better and more consistent modern. Needless to say, they are the only ones who buy it. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the end, they are the ones who get played in that dangerous game.

2 06 2009
Adrian

@ Young Fogey: I appreciate your more-informed offerings on the history of Anglo-Catholicism. One of the reasons I appreciate the more reactionary Catholic traditionalists is that they are positioned to be a check on the Opus Dei wing, which lusts after temporal power and is fundamentally at peace with (and even in league with) satanic modernity, see the recently-Catholic Newt Gingrich.

2 06 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Notice a recent boom of Republican politicians and pundit conversions? That’s la Obra and the D.C. “Catholic Information Center” at work. It’s kinda like liberation theology, only the base communities are for rich “pijos,” young lawyers at fancy firms, congressional staffers, etc.

-Preferential treatment for the rich. I love it!

2 06 2009
The young fogey

Adrian: In the beginning in Anglicanism after the last Catholic vestiges faded out by the 1580s (vicars and curates were sneak-celebrating Mass on the side), Catholicism was more an intellectual position of some clergy, not to do with ceremonial, often coinciding with but not necessarily the same as the old high churchmen, king’s men big on royal and episcopal authority. The Oxford Movement continued that and at the same time the Gothic Revival was happening, initially separate. (The Tractarians weren’t doing Catholic ceremonial.) Both though were reactions to the ‘Enlightenment’ and Industrial Revolution, a hankering for something better than dark satanic mills. Naturally by around the 1860s they’d got together and you had Anglo-Catholicism as we knew it.

I’m aware of this English romanticism’s faults (a reason Arturo keeps it real) and its critics have a point about artificiality and preciousness.

There is a point to fussing over the liturgy. It can go too far.

Regarding Opus Dei AFAIK that’s all true; very Novus Ordo and yes, a sort of snobby mirror of liberation theology, all of which leave me cold.

1 06 2009
The Scylding

Wilfredo – as far as I know, Pascal never “joined”, but had sympathies.

1 06 2009
Adrian

Ha, indeed. But the the whole money-wealth-power culture of Opus Dei is only really clear in the Spanish speaking world, people in the U.S. don’t pick up on it because Americans are loath to think in terms of class.

Notice a recent boom of Republican politicians and pundit conversions? That’s la Obra and the D.C. “Catholic Information Center” at work. It’s kinda like liberation theology, only the base communities are for rich “pijos,” young lawyers at fancy firms, congressional staffers, etc.

31 05 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Opus Dei qui tollis pecuniam mundi, dona nobis partem.

31 05 2009
Adrian

I think Luis Carandell’s “Vida y milagros de Monseñor Escrivá de Balaguer” is the definitive account of the Escrivá’s remarkable life, though it should probably be titled “The Life and Miracles of Monsignor Escriba Albás,” since “Escrivá” and “de Balaguer” were surnames he adopted to sound more sophisticated, i.e. more in keeping with the aristocratic personality he invented for himself as he set about acquiring honors, medals and titles.

He truly was the Gatsby of the Catholic Church and the franquista establishment, God rest his soul.

30 05 2009
Wilfredo

Wasn’t Blase Pascal a Jansenist?

St. Escriva seems pretty good to me (I am NO a member of Opus Dei)
lots of unfair criticism

28 05 2009
Adrian

Leah, are you suggesting there is something unseemly about Franco bestowing a marquessate on Opus Dei founder, Josemaría Escrivá? He was a saint I tell you, a saint! Don’t saints typically buttkiss dictators for titles and honors?

28 05 2009
Leah

This scandal has caused me to think a lot about traditional Catholic teachings on the relations between Church and state. As most people here know, one of the statements condemned by Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors is, “The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.” The problem as I see it is that when there is no distinction between Church and State, the former becomes tainted with the inequities of the latter, as was the case in Franco’s Spain and with Argentina’s dirty war. While it is true that all sectors of society ought to proclaim Christ as King, a too cosy relationship between Church and State seems to simply put a superficial Christian veneer over immoral and dangerous activities. In the case of the situation in Ireland, I believe the Church ran these places at the behest of the government. This whole scandal seems to destroy the notion that Church institutions are inherently more compassionate, moral, and well-run than their secular equivilents. And if a culture as Catholic as Ireland could produce such ingrained corruption, what motivation does it give anyone to return or embrace “Catholic culture” (whatever that means). I don’t know if these thoughts are putting me on a one-way ticket trip on the heresy train, but that’s what I’ve been thinking.

Going back to the original issue of Jansenism, it seems to me like the issue was a bloated religious establishment. I’ve heard that the religious and priestly life in the mid-20th century became a dumping ground for people who couldn’t get married for whatever reason: mental illness, deviant sexuality, and plain nastiness. This, combined with the severe overcrowding and material poverty of Irish Catholic institutions, was probably a disaster waiting to happen.

28 05 2009
Fr. Anthony

Before coming to this article in reaction to my column and the English parish priest’s article I quoted, I had a niggling feeling about my sayings and rewrote my text.

If priests and clergy are perverted enough to molest and sexually abuse children, it will make no difference whether they are liturgical or anti-liturgical, artistic or philistines, even believer or non-believer.

See my revision on http://pagesperso-orange.fr/civitas.dei/reflections05.09.htm under May 26th.

Fr. Anthony

28 05 2009
Adrian

I think it is typically English to blame rape and mass pederasty on an ugly liturgy. The Anglo-Saxon (upper) middle class mind is fascinated with the picturesque and the ornamental and so English Catholic writers tend to fixate on questions of decoration. I would go so far as to say that the Oxford Movement was basically the application of the Gothic Revival to religion.

To me there is something very unhealthy about fussing over the liturgy. Even if it is ugly now, the more people fret and pick at it, the more self-conscious and “performed” it becomes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: