Owen’s Preface

November 28, 2007

John Owen’s preface to The True Idea of Jansenisme by Theophilus Gale, 1669 (see previous post). Owen himself had planned to write a study of Jansenism, but never got round to it. The posthumous catalogue of his library shows holdings reflecting a serious interest in the controversy.

Christian Reader,

THERE is not any thing, which those of the Roman Church do more commonly and constantly boast of, (as there are many things, which they boast of to little purpose, and with less truth;) than the Unity and Agreement in Doctrines, which they have among themselves; and the most superlatively excellent way, that they enjoy, for the preservation and continuance thereof. This Story, with a tragical exaggeration of differences amongst Protestants, serves constantly to fill up many Pages in their Writings: and is the principal subject of their Popular Declamations, where they have opportunity to vent them. And they have told this Tale so often, that many of them, especially those of the common sort, seem to believe it. Verùm ad Populum phaleras. Those who are wise amongst them, cannot but know the vanity and falshood of this pretence. It hath been already demonstrated, and may be again if need require, that there is not one point in which they differ from Protestants, wherein they are agreed among themselves. However it cannot be denyed, but that they industriously improve all imaginable artifices to conceal, at least to give a colourable pretence unto their intestine wranglings and debates: being herein, as to their design, wiser than the children of Light; though the means, whereby they pursue it, are remote enough both from wisdom and honesty. Where different Opinions, and contradictory Assertions have already been vented, and have firmed their station in the Writings of the Doctors of their Church; (as multitudes have done, and that in and about Articles of great importance;) they are ready with their Plea, that these differences, as managed by their Catholick Masters, are not of Faith, or do not impugn it, which way soever they are determined. As though the Faith of their Church were comprehensive of gross contradictions, in and about the principal Articles of Religion: and those, some of them, such, as that for Opinions of less importance they are ready to brand others for Hereticks, and to endeavour their extirpation from the face of the earth. This is the whole of what can be pretended for what is past; and therefore remediless. How destitute of truth and modesty their plea herein is, hath been declared by many. If any single Person, or lesser number of Men among them, begin at any time to apprehend and divulge sentiments different from what is generally received, (unless it be to make some advance in the furtherance and promotion of their own Secular Interest and advantages; as all the late inventions and bold attempts of the Jesuits, both in their Mystical and Moral Divinity, openly and plainly do;) they have wayes in readiness to cast them and their Opinions out of all notice and consideration; where they must lye untill the Earth give up its dead, and disclose the bloud that is secretly poured into its womb. They seem indeed, at present, signally resolved to obviate all progression in Opinions, true or false, unless they have a direct tendency to the establishment, or adoreing of their Papal Omnipotency, and the increase of their own Interest in the Consciences, and over the outward concerns of men. And herein are they so blindly zealous, as to endeavour, at this day, to fix and gild the Weather-Cock of Papal Personal Infallibility, yea, in matters of Fact, on the top of that Tower, the visible rottenness of whose Foundations threatens them with a downfall every moment. Some of their present differences, as was observed, they know, are fixed beyond all possibility of reconciliation, or hopes of removal. Such are those contradictory Opinions, which are the inseparable adjuncts of some of their Religious Orders: which as they more and more discover themselves to be irreconcileable, so the relinquishment of any of them by their respective Assertors, is so remote from all expectation, that an Age scarce produceth an Instance of any one individual Person, renouncing the Opinions of his own, and entertaining those of another Order; and if any such should be found, he would be looked upon as a Fugitive, if not an Apostate. The sense, I confess, of these differences seems to be taken from them by their commonness and certainty. It passes for granted amongst them, that in some things, wherein both sides esteem Religion deeply concerned, the Jesuits must be of one Opinion, and the Dominicans must be of another: so must it be, in other matters, between the Dominicans and Franciscans; the Hildebrandine Jesuits and the Sorbonists also. They must believe contradictory assertions and propositions in Religion; and write and preach contradictions, and confute the Opinions of one another: and on that account endlesly pursue mutual feuds and quarrels among themselves; and yet they are all at perfect agreement. But the relief herein is, that these Orders being confirmed and established, all of them, by the Pope, let them differ and contend whilst they please, so they fall not into excesses evidently beyond the tedder of former strifes, their contentions are to pass for agreements, and a part of that unity of Faith, which they boast in. But yet notwithstanding all palliating pretences, and the use of their utmost diligence, their differences sometimes arise to such an height, being animated with strong and vigorous spirits; as, if forcibly shut up too long, may threaten their whole Church State with an Earthquake; that they are necessitated to forego their ordinary Artifices and Excuses, and to bring their battail ad Triarios, by venturing to seek for relief from the Papal See. This usually is done by one of the Parties litigant; yet not untill they find, on the one hand, their own weakness, or that of their cause, not to be maintained against the impressions of their Adversaries: and, on the other, are sufficiently prepared to manifest, that upon the consideration of the Persons engaged; of the state of all things in the places where the Controversies are agitated; and the Opinions themselves, whose confirmation they endeavour; that the determination of the points in difference, according to their desire, is not only suitable unto, and compliant with the present Interest of the See and Court of Rome; but lyes also in a handsome tendency to the enlargement of its Authority and Reputation; little or no danger being to be feared from the dis-satisfactions of the Adverse Party. These are the things, which, upon any such address, the Court of Rome doth heedfully and scrupulously enquire into. Nor will it engage towards a decision of any controverted points, untill it hath received full and ample satisfaction, that the determination of them hath an evident consistency with its honour, interest and advantage. Untill it can come to a Resolution herein, a thousand tergiversations, delayes, pretences of avocation, and diversions by more important occasions, difficulties about the things themselves, shall be pretended and pleaded. In the mean time, by their Agents, Nuncioes, Emissaries and Confidents of all sorts abroad, they of the Court endeavour to sound the minds of the great and the many, where the Controversies are managed; and to take a just measure of the Interests of the several Parties, engaged in the contest depending before his Holiness. If upon search, inquiry and mature deliberation, it appears, that there is any thing looking towards a ballance between the Parties litigant; the managers of the Politicks of the Roman See proceed as warily, as if they feared a Scorpion under every stone in their way; or should tread on deceitful ashes, that might burn, if not consume them. For the most part, in such cases, his Holiness would be glad, on any terms, to be freed from making a decision: and is oftentimes more than half angry with those, whom he most favours, that they should bring him into any straits, by their importunity to have an interposition of his Authority on their behalf. But yet it may be things come at last to that pass, that a continued suspence, or absolute refusal to determine any thing, is judged to be more noxious and dangerous; than a determination against the Interest of that Party, which the Court is fully satisfied to be ruinable, though at present some way considerable. In this case a decision shall be made; not direct, express or absolute, in terms and propositions affirming or denying, with respect unto the controverted Opinions: but in words and terms loose, ambiguous and general; only with a favourable aspect towards them of that Party, to whom the Golden Ball of Conquest is finally intended. The use of this forlorn is only to attempt the waters of strife, and to try whether they are fordable or no. If the Partie supposed the most numerous, and of the most prevailing Secular Interest before, being now reinforced and encouraged by the noise of the Bull, which they bring home in triumph, can drive their Adversaries from any of their former Posts, and get ground against them: that ground shall be firmed to them speedily by new Briefs, Orders or Decrees from the Court; and so accordingly their whole progress shall be established, untill they arrive at a compleat Conquest and Victory. But if, beyond expectation, the adverse party do make a stand; and either by their number, ability, reputation, popular favour, or Soveraign influence, seem probable to keep their ground: the Court will not in haste engage into any further process; but rather leave the first Bull to be reverently stalled for a further occasion. In the mean time it is not imaginable, with what crafts, subtilties, artifices, false promises, and pretences; by what endless Legal intricacies, Forms, Processes, Orders, Rescripts, those, who have conduct of the Roman Court, do manage themselves, and those, with whom they have to do on such occasions: all which are laid open, and discovered unto the world, by men of their own Party and Profession. And unto such a full evidence and manifestation are these things arrived, that I much question, whether any man, of tolerable Learning and observation amongst them, can be so unhappily and prodigiously stupid, as to look upon the Papal determination of Controversies in Religion, any otherwise, than as a thing utterly forreign to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; or a meer Political Engine, introduced by interest, managed by fraud, for the preservation of such an agreement amongst them, as may serve the advantage of those that are entrusted with it. Were it not, but that the power and efficacy of prejudice, the love of this present world, with other corrupt lusts and affections, do continually manifest themselves in the wayes of the Children of men; a man could not but be astonished, that all rational men should not nauseate this abominable Pageantry of deciding Controversies in Religion by the Roman Tripos. An address made by crafty interested men, armed with Commendatory Letters from great Men and Princes, provided with money to gratifie or bribe Officers of all sorts; unto an Old Pope, who sometimes is so ingenious as to confess, that he understands little in Divinity, and knows nothing of the matter proposed to his decision: He, to take care of the interests of the Holy See, which comprehends whatever is desirable to the carnal minds of men, in power, wealth and pleasure, commends the matter to the craftiest of his Cardinals and his Courtiers, so to manage it, as no detriment may arise thereunto: Whatever the experience of Rule, Diligence, Dissimulation, false Promises, spirited by distance and veneration of greatness, pomp and power, can enable them to compass, these men will not fail to effect, so as to secure the concerns of the Court. When this is done, and it appears upon advice, which way they may steer safely and advantagiously for themselves, as to the various Interests of the persons litigant; they advise the Pope what he is to determine in a matter, that neither he, nor they have any tolerable understanding in, or comprehension of. It may be, for the farther solemnity of the business, three or four Friers of a side shall be admitted to dispute the matter in controversie, before, the Pope himself or some of the Cardinals: wherein yet it shall be so provided, that those, on whose side the Conclave is resolved to determine, shall have, one way or other, advantage enough to give countenance to the sentence before fixed on. When all is concluded and ready, a devout Bull is drawn up in a due form of Law, wherein all these preceding juglings and deceits, with others innumerable, are Fathered upon the Inspiration and assistance of the Holy Ghost, given unto the Pope, who had the least hand, it may be, in the matter. I dare not, I will not say with that Papal Legat, Quoniam Populus vult decipi, decipiatur. But this I am apt to think; that strong delusion doth assuredly possess the minds of those, who can believe, that such lyes have any footstep or foundation in the Religion of Jesus Christ. And herein consists that great means of agreement amongst themselves, whereof they boast: which how long it will yield them relief in that kind, God only knows: its foundation being in the sin and blindness of the world, its continuance may be long, for ought I know. Now, Reader, that thou maist not suspect thy self imposed on, or any thing in the preceding Discourse to be asserted either partially, or without due evidence of Truth: behold here an Instance in the ensuing Treatise, wherein not only everything, that I have declared, is exemplified to the full; but also sundry other ffects of the old mysterious Iniquity the Roman See are plainly discovered. This is the Instance of Jansenisme; the Rice, Progress, State and condition whereof the ensuing Treatise giveth an Historical account. There are very few, I suppose, amongst us, who so little concern themselves in Religion, especially when it once comes to bear a share in the publick and political transactions of the Nations of the world, who have not taken notice of the discourses and reports concerning Jansenisme from the Neighbour Kingdom of France. To some, it may be, it is a murmur, which they know not well what to make of, nor what is intended by it. Others, in general, conceive it to be an expression of some differences in Religion: but of what nature, importance or tendency; how or by whom agitated or maintained, they know not. But whereas it comes under a double consideration, there are two sorts of Persons, who judge themselves concerned to obtain an acquaintance with it. For it is not only considerable as a Controversie in Religion; on which account contemplative persons, or men of Learning, professing the Truth of the Gospel, esteem themselves obliged to inquire into it to the utmost: but also as it hath an influence into the Civil affairs of that Kingdom, and may have so into those of the whole Papal World; in which respect men that are, or should be Politically wise and Counsellors do suppose, that the knowledge of the true state of it is not to be neglected by them. But certain it is, that hitherto neither of these sorts could, in any competent measure, attain their ends, without such an expence of time, pains and diligence, as very few have either will, leisure or ability to be at. For as the Theological part of this Controversie is, by the industry of engaged persons, diffused through Writings and Books (many of them bulkie and voluminous almost innumerable; the greatest number of them written in the French Tongue, whereunto the generality of Scholars amongst us are strangers; that very few have been able to make that accurate enquiry into them, as is necessary to give a just comprehension of the whole matter under debate: so the Political transactions, wherein it hath been concerned, having been in the Court of Princes forreign and remote from us, in Assemblies of Prelates, in Academical Disputations and Processes it is no common or ordinary work for any to obtain an acquaintance with them. Now I am greatly mistaken, if both Divines and Politicians will not find themselves much relieved, assisted and directed in their inquest, by the ensuing Historical narration; as well as others, who had hitherto but a slender and uncertain report of this matter, will find themselves brought out into the clear light of such an apprehension of it, as to have in readiness a just measure of those future reports or Discourses concerning it, that they may meet withal. Now whereas any long account of the matter, treated of in this place, would but prevent the Reader in what he will meet withal in the Discourse it self; I shall only add some such remarks upon the whole, as may manifest, what hath been before discoursed concerning the unity of Doctrine in the Papal Church, and their Artifices to preserve a pretence thereof, to be exactly exemplified in this one Instance of Jansenisme. The System of Doctrines concerning the Grace of God, and the wills of men, which now goes under the name of Jansenisme, as it is in general agreeable unto the Scripture; so it had firmed it self in the common profession of Christians, by the Writings of some excellent persons, especially Augustin, and those who followed him, unto such a general acceptation as that the belief and profession of it could never be utterly rooted out from the minds of men in the Roman Church it self. For although it was variously depraved, vitiated, obscured and opposed in and by the Writings of many of the School-Men; yet alwayes, in every Age, some or other Persons of signal Learning and ability stood up, and pleaded for its vindication and confirmation, as to the substance of it. Amongst whom our Renowned Bradwardine, who with singular diligence and scholastick ability opposed the spreading of Pelagianisme in and over the Roman Church, (which by various degrees had been, for a long season, insinuating it self thereinto, and insensibly invading the remaining vitals of its Doctrine;) deserves on all occasions a peculiar mention. Moreover, one whole Order of their Fryers, out of zeal for the Doctrine of Thomas, (who was less averse from the Sentiments of the Antients in this matter, than the most of that litigious crew of Disputers, whom they call Schoolmen;) did retain some of the most material Principles of this Doctrine, however not a little vitiated with various intermixtures of their own. Not a full Age since, as will appear in the ensuing account, after the lesser attempts of some more private persons, Jansenius, a Bishop in Flanders, undertakes the explication and the vindication of the whole Doctrine of the Effectual Grace of God, with the annexed Articles, principally out of the works of Austin. This honest endeavour of his, being well resented, accepted and approved by very many Learned Persons in Flanders, and France especially; and looked on by others, as an inroad made into the Kingdom of Darkness and Error, which might open a way to further light and knowledge among the Papists themselves; was immediately violently and virulently impugned by the Jesuits, and those of their Party and Faction. But whereas, in their wonted manner, they contented not themselves to oppose the Opinions of Jansenius and his Followers, (who knowing the small Reputation of Truth and the Scripture now in the Papacy, durst not so much as avow them; but chose to shelter themselves under the name of Augustin, and to call themselves his Disciples;) in a Theological or Scholastical way; but endeavoured by artifices to reproach their persons, and to render them odious, and greatly to be suspected by the Church and State: they, on the other side, were necessitated, in their own defence, to make a discovery of the Arts, Treacheries, immoralities, Errors, Frauds, Lying, Calumniations, practised and defended by the Fathers of that Society, to the great satisfaction, and indeed benefit of the Christian World. The Jesuits hereby enraged, endeavour yet farther by false insinuations, complaints, Libels and suspicious Tales, managed principally by the Confessors of Kings, Queens, and great Princes, most of their Society, in a manner all of their Party and Faction, to oppress their Adversaries, and to enrage the Powers of the Kingdom against them. This work going slowly on, as being obstructed by some disputations with Conferences in and among Assemblies of the Clergie, the matter was devolved to the Court of Rome. How the whole cause was there transacted, how determined, on what motives, grounds, Reasons and considerations the Pope and Conclave proceeded, with what cunning and caution as to the securing of their own secular interest, are exactly reported and published by Monsieur St. Amour the Jansenist, in the Journal he hath written of his own and their proceedings in that cause. How the Jesuits have since pursued their success, by what wayes and stratagems they have managed their tottering cause and Interest; as also of other things before mentioned, the Reader will have a faithful account in the following Narration, composed by the Judicious Author, (enabled thereunto by all sorts of Advantages) and written for his benefit. This I was desired, and this I thought meet to acquaint thee withal: being one, who in all things desires thy direction unto and establishment in that Truth, which is according unto Godliness.

John Owen.

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Is the Pope Catholic?

November 28, 2007

Not according to this website which condemns the 101 heresies of Benedict XVI. By the end of this you begin to feel just a little sorry for the current Bishop of Rome, some of whose heresies are as unobjectionable, one would have thought, as the idea that the Church is in need of Reform! But this isn’t any website. This is the domain of the uber-Feeney-ites for whom the idea that the Church of Rome could possibly err is anathema. This is one hard-core website. This blogger finds the material on the Church and the Jews rather disturbing.

So, why mention it at all. Well, the one redeeming feature of this site is that these guys like Augustine’s theology of grace. And because they like Augustine’s theology of grace they also like Cornelius Jansen, and there are some goodies to be found here. I came across this site a couple of years ago and it is the only place on the web that I have found Jansen’s Augustinus available for download. Yes, all three volumes at around 250Mb.

Also rather tasty, for those without access to EEBO, is The True Idea of Jansenisme by Theophilus Gale, complete with preface by John Owen. The text version on this site appears to be taken from the rather poor EEBO imaging with some loss of text. I have put Owen’s preface in the next post. I have corrected some obvious mistakes in the website’s version and restored all missing text from a copy in the Bodleian. If you think I am going to correct and post the whole book you can think again.

Jansenism is a fascinating phenomenon, but not well known today. A few years ago I was telling a minister friend (who would be the first to admit that he is no church history guru) that one possible avenue for my research would be looking at the relationship between Jansenism and Reformed theology. Thinking I had said ‘Jensenism’, he expressed surprise that I was thinking of writing a thesis on the new Archbishop of Sydney!

No, this was a trajectory within post-Reformation Catholic thought, which emphasised original sin, human depravity, the necessity of God’s grace, and predestination. This repristination of Augustine arose out of the writings of the Louvain theologian Cornelius Jansen and was a reaction against the thought of Luis de Molina who gave greater scope to human free-will through the concept of God’s middle knowledge. The stronghold of Jansenism was the Parisian convent of Port-Royal which would become associated with great names such as Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine.

Jansenism fascinated a number of Reformed theologians. The controversy between Jansenists and Molinists paralled that between Reformed and Arminian Protestants, indeed it seems certain that Arminius himself was heavily influenced by Molinism. Reformed writers were able to make use of this conflict to point out the divisions in the Roman Church, as well as to enlist Jansenist support for their own views on predestination and grace. Jansenism, however, was not Protestantism. It was a highly ascetic and sacramental movement and one which came to put a premium on the miraculous – the carriages of the rich and famous would draw up to Port-Royal to watch the ecstatic ‘convulsions’.

One example of Reformed fascination with Jansenism is the case of Theophilus Gale. He produced The True Idea of Jansenisme in 1669, having spent several years in France in the earlier part of the decade. He had become intrigued by the phenomena of Jansenism and taken the trouble to study the writings of both parties in the dispute. The book is divided into historical and dogmatic sections.

The following gives a flavour of Gale’s assessment:

The Jansenists (as Jansenius and St. Cyran their heads) seem good friends to Justification by Free Grace, and Faith in the blood of Christ, without any regard to human merits as abused in the Popish sense. ‘Tis true they make use of the name merit, but in no other sense than it was used by Austin, without any approbation of the thing, as the ground of Justification. This is manifest not only from their Books, but also by their Practice. It was the usual method of Jansenius, for the comforting of afflicted consciences, to send them to the blood of Christ alone: and Mr. St Cyran seems mighty warme and pressing on this point. The like instances I have had touching others of this persuasion in France, who being to deal with dying persons, insisted much upon pressing them to have recourse to the blood of Christ.

Neither indeed are the Jansenists verst only in speculative and notional, but also in practick and active Theologie; especially the chief of them Jansenius and St. Cyran seem to have had a very deep, broad, spiritual light and insight into the Mysteries of the Gospel, and true Godlines; and I am apt to persuade my self, they had some feeling apprehensions and inward acquaintance with those choice Gospel truths, they commend to others. They talk much of studying the Scriptures, and acquainting our selves with the mind and Spirit of God therein; they presse, with some affectionate importunitie, to the renouncing our own righteousnesse, strength, wisdom, wills, &c. They greatly commend to us spiritual povertie, soul-humilitie, heart-mortification, self-emptinesse, and abjection, &c. These things they insist upon, not according to the Monkish mode of external mortification, but in a Gospel strain, with so much meeknesse of wisdom, and yet with so much spiritual passion and warmth, as if their words were but sparks, or ideas of that Divine fire which burned in their hearts. This I have particularly observed in Mr. St. Cyrans Epistles, in reading whereof, and comparing his expressions with the Character and Idea I have of his Spirit, and life, I must confesse I have been much recreated. But thus much of their Doctrine.

Gale’s picture of Jansenism is not entirely accurate. His own polemical interests skewed his view of these French theological rebels. He described those who refused to subscribe to the formulary issued to the clergy as ‘Non-Conformists’. In their loss of their livings and readiness to fall under the censure of excommunication, he saw an analogy with his own English non-conformity. His natural sympathy for the Jansenists led him to think that they are more favourable to Protestantism than they in fact were.

And albeit the Jansenists hitherto have not dared to profess any great affection for or inclination towards those of the Reformed Religion; yet ’tis conceived they want it not, but rather the opportunitie.

The occasional volume written against the Calvinists is explained away as a ruse to keep the Jesuits at bay.

For further reading, the best two books to start with are:

Jansenism by William Doyle, a brief but very helpful historical study with an excellent bibliography.  

God Owes us Nothing: Brief Remarks on Pascal’s Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism by Leszek Kolakowski.