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  You are in: Home > History > Suffering Saints  
 

Suffering Saints
Jansensists and Convulsionnaires in France, 1640–1799

Brian E. Strayer

Brian E. Strayer is Associate and Full Professor, History & Political Science Department, Andrews University (1983–Present). He is the author of Lettres de cachet and Social Control in the Ancien Regime, 1659–1789 (1992), Where the Pine Trees Softly Whisper: The History of Union Springs Academy (1993), Huguenots and Camisards as Aliens in France, 1598–1789 (2001), and Bellicose Dove: Claude Brousson and Protestant Resistance to Louis XIV, 1647–1698 (2003); and of many articles in French and of Seventh-day Adventist history in scholarly journals.

 

This comprehensive survey of Jansenism and Convulsionism in France is the only work currently available in English that attempts to place the Jansenist movement in the context of French political, social, economic, religious and intellectual developments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The author provides biographical sketches of its key leaders, analyzes their major writings, and highlights both the movement’s internal conflicts and its struggles against Church and State persecution.

From letters, diaries, books and speeches, Brian Strayer explains such important Jansenist themes as suffering, saintliness, truth, conflict, passive resistance, and their gradual embracing of toleration. He provides fresh insights into asceticism, Gallicanism, Richerism, Conciliarism, Jesuitism, and Convulsionism in their historical contexts. With gentle wit, the author exposes the contradictions and paradoxes within the movement, shares human interest stories about the Port-Royal nuns, and shows how papal bulls poisoned the religious and political life in France from 1643 to 1713 and beyond.

Suffering Saints is the result of five years of research in primary and secondary sources from several major archives and libraries in Paris and the United States.


List of Illustrations
Preface
Introduction
Acknowledgments

1 Who Were the Jansenists?
2 What Was Jansenism?
3 Sunrise Over Port-Royal, 1600-1661
4 Sunset Over Port-Royal, 1661-1711
5 Jansenism Enters the Political Arena, 1713-1750
6 Jansenism Loses Its Raison d’être, 1751-1799
7 The Shaking of Jansenism: Miracle Cures and the Convulsionnaires, 1727-1740
8 Crucifying Jansenism: Grands Secours and the Death of Convulsionism, 1741-1799
9 Jansenism and Convulsionism, 1650-2000: An Historiographic Essay

Conclusion: The Impact of Jansenism in France

Notes
Bibliography
Index

“Brian Strayer, a historian at Andrews University, offers here a wealth of interesting information about a major movement in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French Catholicism, specifically about many very devout and some fanatical people.
…Jansenism was a rigoristic and puritanical school of thought named for Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), a professor of theology at Louvain. The book is practically encyclopaedic in its coverage of leading Jansenists, such as Abbé de Saint-Cyran, Antoine Arnauld, Blaise Pascal, and the nuns of the great convent of Port-Royal. All these were tireless in pursuing their cause against many adversaries, especially the Jesuits – whom they perceived as lax in their moral teachings – several popes who censured Jansenist doctrines, and Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV.
…In the 1730s some Jansenists became involved with accounts of miracles at the grave of a very austere man named Francois de Pris at the church of Saint-Médard in a poor area in Paris. Somehow fervor here, and then in other places, became steadily more intense and led people to more extravagant acts, convulsions, wild dances, and finally gruesome tortures of each other. Jansenists were deeply divided in their judgments on the convulsionaries, and Strayer notes correctly that Saint-Cyran and Arnauld would certainly not have approved. This book presents an extraordinary array of precise data on the successive phases of Jansenism, the people, and their writings and struggles, including numerous charts and tables, with profusely clear citations of sources. Very scholarly, it is also a great read.” Church History

“Part of the French Catholic response to the Reformation was the ascetic group known as the Jansenists. Strayer (history and political science, Andrews University) traces the history of the movement in this well-written study. He explains the various divisions within the movement, from those who supported them but preferred secular life to extreme ascetics who rejected any comfort the world offered. Strayer also describes the interplay of politics and religion that characterized the rise and fall of the Jansenists. Their denial of papal infallibility and their conflict with the Jesuits helped to increase the doubts of French Catholics. While they drew mainly from the upper classes, the Jansenists influenced many in pre-revolutionary France. In many ways their story is a foreshadowing of the excesses of the Revolution.” Reference & Research Book News

“The tale of Claude Brousson, lawyer from Nîmes turned fugitive preacher, is as exciting to 21st-century readers as it was inspirational to 18th- and 19th-century audiences. The transformation of this successful avocet of the 1660s and 1670s first into ringleader of the ‘Committee of Resistance’ and chief author of the Declaration of Toulouse (1683), then internationally-known exile and polemicist in Switzerland and the Netherlands, secretly-ordained peripatetic clandestine pastor and evangelist with a price on his head, and finally victim of a judicial death sentence, is a front-rank epic of the period surrounding the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In the hands of Utt and Strayer it is also much more. They set the story solidly in the contexts of the development of French Calvinism after 1598 and of the Huguenot diaspora from the 1680s, depicting the difficult dilemmas of all who sought to live with persecution within France and respond effectively to it from without (or sink into comfortable exile). They offer a vivid analysis of the ‘4000 pages of inflammatory rhetoric’ (p. 4) which Brousson left behind, pointing particularly to his vehement anti-Catholicism, his fascination with apocalypse and persecution and his penchant for symbolism and mysticism, all so much at odds with his increasingly rational pastoral colleagues. Above all, they address, as early admirers like John Quick did not, embarrassing evidence about this iconic, but also ‘archaic, naïve and infuriatingly self-righteous’ man (p. 3). None the less, the book is to be welcomed as providing honest and rounded analysis of a complex but important figure and valuable perspectives on the challenges of active and passive resistance to royal authority in the late 17th century.” Proceedings of the Huguenot Society

“Very few people have ever tried to address the whole history of Jansenism. Whereas works have abounded on its history down to 1709, when it was the affair of a handful of outstanding people, only relatively recently have serious scholars turned their attention to the century after that, when it became almost a mass movement. The sheer variety and complexity of the 'Second Jansenism' almost defies coherent analysis. But Brian E. Strayer has attempted it and given both phases of Jansenism equal weight in the most extensive general survey since Augustin Gazier’s highly partisan two volumes (Paris, 1923). It is based on massive reading in both primary and secondary sources, and is written throughout in an uncomplicated, easygoing style. Strayer seeks to introduce readers in an untheological age to a notoriously austere and inaccessible subject. He does so by placing all the emphasis he can on the ‘human interest’ of the story. He highlights the great figures of the heroic age with sections that read almost like entries in a biographical dictionary, while in the eighteenth century he lingers on the spectacular and grisly antics of the convulsionaries who did so much to discredit Jansenism in the eyes of more rational observers. In the manner of the late Jack McManners, no good story is knowingly left out. Nor is this simply a vast synthesis of other scholarship.

The author has, for instance, drawn on his previous researches on the lettres de cachet to provide an exhaustive statistical analysis of Jansenist prisoners in
the Bastille under Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV. He has also worked on a wide range of manuscripts in the libraries of Paris.

Nobody who knows the field is likely to close this book without having learned something fresh about a complex and often impenetrable subject. ... those who cannot read French will find no fuller treatment of the subject.” Catholic Historical Review

“When asked about Jansenism’s influence in early modern France, students and non-specialists either offer ‘blank stares’ or noncommittal answers suggesting vague familiarity or outright ignorance. In this ambitious volume, Brian Strayer seeks to rectify this state of affairs by offering an English-language survey of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French Jansenism, more comprehensive than that of William Doyle’s Jansenism (2000) and along the lines of French publications such as those written by Louis Cognet, Rene Tavenaux, and Francoise Hildesheimer.

Unlike Doyle’s volume which succinctly covers Jansenism’s influence on politics, Strayer also attempts to integrate the social, material, and cultural elements of the movement and place Jansenism in the larger context of early modern French history. The end result is a lengthy, synthetic study combining recent scholarship on Jansenist topics, published sources, and arcival material from the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal and most notably, the Bibliotheque de l’Histoire du Protestantism. Strayer’s goal in covering this vast area of material is to reach a wide audience including students new to the subject, teachers and specialists. In order to demonstrate ‘how these suffering saints were people, not cardboard saints’, Strayer blends biography, narrative, and analysis, offering ‘breadth over depth’.

In an effort to give readers some faces of who these Jansenists were, Strayer provides small biographies of fourteen figures central to the history of seventeenth-century Jansenism. This brief reference guide does indeed alert the reader to the key individuals and untangle their ideas and roles in shaping the Jansenist controversies, although it does create a certain amount of repetition in subsequent chapters. Personalities include theologians such as Jansenius and the abbe Saint-Cyran whose ideas would shape the careers and lives of men like Antoine Arnauld and Blaise Pascal. Angelique Arnauld and Jacqueline Pascal are certainly featured in the lengthy chapters on Port-Royal, but Strayer introduces them within the context of the institution and not as individuals.

Strayer places Jansenist theology firmly within the Catholic Reformation with his discussions of Michel Baius and Cornelius Jansen’s Augustinian beliefs. Since the Jesuits’ greatest ammunition against the Jansenists was to link them to Calvinists, Strayer does an excellent job outlining the similarities and differences between Jansenism and French Calvinism. The two groups held a vision of the primitive church that demanded greater commitment from the individual and placed greater authority in the congregation of the Church as opposed to the hierarchy exemplified by bishops and popes.

Strayer also provides an in-depth narrative of Port-Royal’s history chronicling in two detailed chapters its ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’. he enhances the story of Jansenism’s increased politicization with a sustained discussion of the movement’s diffusion. He provides his reader with statistical data regarding the policing and imprisonment of Jansenists during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and includes anecdotal material on obscure figures associated with the convulsionnaires as well as the Jansenist periodical Nouvelles Ecclesiastiques.

The details found in Suffering Saints convey the complexity of Jansenism and bring to life the people and passions of the movement. Suffering Saints is a heroic effort and will lead historians to think more about ways in which the story of French Jansenism might be tailored for larger audiences.” Reviewed by Mita Chaudhury, Vassar College

“Brian Strayer, a historian at Andrews University, offers here a wealth of interesting information about a major movement in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French Catholicism, specifically about many very devout and some fanatical people.

Jansenism was a rigoristic and puritanical school of thought named for Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638), a professor of theology at Louvain. The book is practically encyclopaedic in its coverage of leading Jansenists, such as Abbé de Saint-Cyran, Antoine Arnauld, Blaise Pascal, and the nuns of the great convent of Port-Royal. All these were tireless in pursuing their cause against many adversaries, especially the Jesuits – whom they perceived as lax in their moral teachings – several popes who censured Jansenist doctrines, and Kings Louis XIV and Louis XV.

In the 1730s some Jansenists became involved with accounts of miracles at the grave of a very austere man named Francois de Pris at the Church of Saint-Médard in a poor area in Paris. Somehow fervor here, and then in other places, became steadily more intense and led people to more extravagant acts, convulsions, wild dances, and finally gruesome tortures of each other. Jansenists were deeply divided in their judgments on the convulsionaries, and Strayer notes correctly that Saint-Cyran and Arnould would certainly not have approved. This book presents an extraordinary array of precise data on the successive phases of Jansenism, the people, and their writings and struggles, including numerous charts and tables, with profusely clear citations of sources. Very scholarly, it is also a great read.” Richard F. Costigan, S.J., Saint Louis University, The Journal of Church History

 

Publication Details

 
Hardback ISBN:
978-1-84519-245-7
 
Paperback ISBN:
978-1-84519-516-8
 
Page Extent / Format:
436 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
 
Release Date:
May 2008; paperback, December 2011
  Illustrated:   Yes
 
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $72.50
 
Paperback Price:
£29.95 / $49.95
 

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