Abelly: Book 1/Chapter 44

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Index of Abelly: Book One

Monsieur Vincent's Opposition to the Errors of Jansenism

The saints have always considered it an honor to live in humble dependence not only to the will of God, but also to the Church to which they have professed their submission. They have pledged their exact obedience to its laws, their reason itself to a belief in the truths proposed to them, and their understanding in honor of Jesus Christ, the Church's sovereign head.

Everyone acquainted with Monsieur Vincent acknowledges that he excelled in his submission to and dependence upon the Church. Once she had spoken either to establish some regulation or to define some truth or to condemn some error, he had nothing more to say. He did not dispute or even reason. He had ears only to hear and a heart to submit sincerely and perfectly to all that had been set forth.

This is what he did when the errors of Jansenism began to appear, and more so when the sovereign pontiffs condemned its doctrines.

When Jansenius's book Augustinus first appeared <Ftn: Louvain, 1640.> its novel opinions created a sensation among many learned persons. The faithful and prudent servant of God recalled the apostle's advice not to believe in any spirits before they had been tested and seen as coming from God. He was cautious in the face of this new doctrine, especially so because he was well acquainted with one of the originators of the Jansenist sect. <Ftn: Jean Duvergier (or du Verger) de Hauranne, the commendatary abbot of Saint Cyran, 1581-1643. He struck up a friendship with Saint Vincent about 1622, and may have had some role to play in the Community's possession of College des Bons Enfants and Saint Lazare. Their frequent meetings decreased after 1632 and ceased from 1634 on. The saint tried several times to reconcile his former friend with the Church. Saint-Cyran was imprisoned in 1638 at the Chateau of Vincennes, on the outskirts of Paris. Among his papers was found a copy of a letter from him to Saint Vincent. Richelieu had the saint summoned to a lay court, but he refused to testify. Later testimony, published by the Jansenists, seems to be altered or incomplete. Saint-Cyran was freed in 1643, but died scarcely eight months later. He is buried in Saint Jacques du Haut-Pas in Paris.> This man's spirit and actions gave good reason to make anyone hesitate. This particular point will be discussed in Book Two. <Ftn: Ch. 12.>

When Monsieur Vincent became aware that the Church had condemned these doctrines through the constitutions of Innocent X and Alexander VII <Ftn: May 31, 1653 and October 16, 1656 respectively. Saint Vincent explained his opposition to the Jansenists in letters, CED III:318-32, 362-74.> and the magisterium of the hierarchy in France, he felt that he not only was obliged to submit to this judgment of the apostolic see but also to do so formally and publicly. Putting aside all human considerations of political prudence he declared his entire opposition to the condemned errors and to those who obstinately sought to defend them.

He took this course of action with vigor and courage but also with prudence and moderation. He never spoke with dissimulation, but he spoke only when he considered it helpful. Perhaps he did so to strengthen those who had submitted to the Church's judgment or to win back those who had not or even to persuade those wavering in their loyalty to the Holy See. Whatever these reasons, the one guiding principle he followed was ever to seek the truth. He showed his great dedication to supporting the declarations of the sovereign pontiffs and dissociating himself from those who strove to prevent the execution of their decrees. Nevertheless, he still was able to distinguish between the error and the person holding the mistaken doctrine. He kept in his heart a true and sincere love for all people no matter what their beliefs. He spoke of them only with great reserve and compassion rather than with holy indignation. He even took steps, when occasion presented, to reconcile these people to the Church. After the proclamation of the constitution of Innocent X he visited Port Royale itself to enter into honorable communication with the dissenters. It must be said that the results of these initiatives were not as favorable as he had hoped.

He was particularly careful that the members of his own Congregation be free of these condemned errors, even that there should not be the least suspicion in this regard. If some lacked humble and sincere submission to Rome, he obliged them to leave the community.

His vigilance and charity extended to other sectors of the Church which he saw needed help or at least warning against these new errors. He was aware that those who were of this mind would try to insinuate themselves and their doctrines into monasteries and communities of women under the guise of the greater good. He knew also that these false prophets (as Jesus Christ warned us in the Gospel) would use every artifice to disguise their pernicious doctrines. Consequently, he did his utmost to protect these religious men and women. He saw to it that these wolves in sheep's clothing would make no inroads into this privileged portion of the flock of Jesus Christ. He forbade them to have any access to the monasteries or convents, especially those under his direct care.

He exercised the same precaution in preventing any surprise in the Council of Ecclesiastical Affairs, lest any of those infected with this condemned doctrine, or even those rightly suspected of holding such views, should accept any office or benefice in the Church.

His zeal for unity in the Church and for the triumph of sound doctrine led him on several occasions to alert certain members of the hierarchy, to encourage them to be on their guard against these errors, or to advise how to combat this threat. In Book Two we will quote several letters he wrote in which we will see how this great servant of God respected the dignity of the bishops to whom he wrote. We will also see how anxious he was to serve these prelates. Humility, discretion, prudence, and charity marked his words as well as his deeds.

All efforts of the creature will have little effect if God on high does not sustain and bless them with his help. He put his principal trust in the goodness of God, offering constant prayers for this intention and had others do the same. He prayed that the Lord would look down with the eyes of mercy upon his Church and not permit the spirit of evil and lies to spread havoc among the faithful. He used to say that the best defense against the errors of the time was mental prayer and the faithful practice of the virtues contrary to the sentiments of the heretics. Profound humility and submission of mind must be opposed to pride and presumption of one's own independence. A love of abnegation and rejection must be preferred to vain praises and flatteries. A straightforward and simple heart must contrast with the deceits, falsehoods, and trickery used by the heretics to disguise their errors and conceal their real purposes. Finally, an ardent charity was required that would counteract all contradictions, slanders, and calumnies the evil spirit customarily uses to suppress the truth.

He was often heard to say sorrowfully that he feared that the corrupt morals and the dissolute life of Christians, so opposed to the maxims Jesus Christ left us in the Gospel, had caused this plague afflicting the Church in our kingdom. If we did not amend our ways and appease the just anger of God he feared that ours would be the same fate as the Jews, as recorded in the Gospel. The kingdom of God would be taken from us and given to others who would respond more satisfactorily. We must tremble with fright at seeing how other great kingdoms once so flourishing in religious matters, such as England, Denmark, Sweden, and the greater part of Germany, were allowed to fall into heresy through the just judgment of God. The ills of our neighbors ought to warn us that faith is a gift of God, purchased for us by the blood of Christ. We must appreciate it and do all in our power to preserve it. <Ftn: CED III:34-36, for example.>

Index of Abelly: Book One