Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Great Awakening

The first sweeping wave of religious enthusiasm was primarily the work of three preachers, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Samuel Davies (1723-1761). The word “enthusiasm” is particularly fitting given its original ancient Greek (enthousiasmos) and archaic English meaning, ecstasy arising from becoming possessed by a god.

Jonathan Edwards

The son of a Northampton, Mass., Congregational minister, Edwards initially studied science at Yale University, which steered him away from his contemporaries’ deism (or philosophical acceptance of a distant deity who does not intervene in human history). Instead, it led to contemplation of God in the beauty of creation. He often prayed and worshiped alone in the woods, a practice reflected in many of his early and very poetic writings.

Ordained a minister in 1727, within five years he had launched a revival in Northampton. It raised such fervor that in winter 1734 almost the entire town came to a halt. In six months 300 new members entered his church. Edwards was inspired not merely to preach more throughout his region but also to observe the dark side of the fanaticism that crept up. Fear of inevitable damnation led two members of his congregation, including his uncle, to commit suicide. Edwards scrutinized the process of conversion and wrote it up in his 1737 A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton. It became for preachers the textbook of the revival movement.

His crowning sermon was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which he preached throughout Connecticut in 1741. In it he proclaims that “God may cast wicked men into hell at any given moment. All that wicked men may do to save themselves from Hell’s pains shall afford them nothing if they continue to reject Christ. God has never promised to save us from Hell, except for those contained in Christ through the covenant of Grace.” It is said that Edwards was interrupted repeatedly by people moaning and crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?”—the question he was after. His involvement in the Awakening ended when he accepted an appointment as president of Princeton University.

George Whitefield

The third great Methodist founder met the Wesleys while he was the equivalent of a scholarship student at Oxford, as he came from a very poor family. Like John Wesley, he was ordained in the Church of England, but instead of parish work, he took to itinerant preaching as an evangelist. In 1739, Whitefield went to Georgia where he set up the Bethesda Orphanage, the oldest in North America. His trustees disagreed with his methods and the venture almost failed until it was purchased by the Moravians. This left him free to preach, going back and forth between England and North America several times.

He had charisma, a loud voice, small stature and looked cross-eyed, which some people took as a sign of divine blessing, and effectively became an early North American celebrity. He also included slaves in his revivals and got a very favorable response from them. To promote himself he had autobiographical Journals printed that were read by tens of thousands.

Initially skeptical, Benjamin Franklin attended a Whitefield revival meeting in Philadelphia. He measured the space himself and estimated that 30,000 could hear Whitefield. Franklin was impressed with the preacher’s ability, and after the meeting he noted a “wonderful ... change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem’d as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

Samuel Davies

Born in New Castle County, Del., to poor Baptists of Welsh descent, Davies was taken under the wing of a minister who eventually got him ordained a minister. He became one of the first non-Anglican ministers licensed to preach in Virginia. Among those who heard some of his early sermons was a young Patrick Henry, who years later acknowledged Davies as a model of his own oratory. A Presbyterian, Davies advanced religious and civil liberty in largely Anglican Virginia, advocating the separation of church and state that eventually found its way into the state’s charter before the U.S. Constitution.

More notably, Davies advocated educating slaves, including teaching them to read, so they could have the same access to Scripture as their masters. A classic spiritual, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in My Heart,” reportedly was composed in his church, where Davies baptized hundreds of slaves as Christians, breaking with custom by inviting them to join the congregation at the communion table and even to preach. Davies is estimated to have ministered to over a thousand black people in Virginia.

To be clear, Davies did not oppose slavery, but rather viewed slaves’ inclusion as a religious matter. He may have been influenced by the religious zeal of an enslaved man.

In a 1757 letter, Davies wrote that the man said, “I am a poor slave, brought into a strange country, where I never expect to enjoy my liberty. While I lived in my own country, I knew nothing of that Jesus I have heard you speak so much about. I lived quite careless what will become of me when I die; but I now see such a life will never do, and I come to you, Sir, that you may tell me some good things, concerning Jesus Christ, and my Duty to GOD, for I am resolved not to live any more as I have done.”

This was one of the earliest efforts to evangelize the Africans kidnapped and brought to America for lifelong unpaid labor.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Suppression of the Jesuits

The Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits or the Company of Jesus, became the first religious order to span the globe. These highly skilled men, who observed the evangelical counsels of poverty and chastity, as well as obedience to superiors in the faith, came to be viewed by the powerful as so threatening that their order was disbanded for slightly over a quarter century.

The Jesuits were persecuted in England by several monarchs, starting with Henry VIII, and were banished from Japan, Protestant German principalities and Orthodox Russia—mostly as part of anti-Catholic measures that indirectly affected the order. It was a different story when the Jesuits were the pope’s advance men of evangelization in territories acquired by Catholic countries and their monarchs.

The original Jesuits were remarkable men whose order, which includes among its members Pope Francis and is still today regarded as the clergy’s intellectual elite, found novel ways to make the gospel understandable to non-European social cultures. In French North America, for example, Jesuits told the Iroquois that Jesus had been born in a longhouse; in Spanish Paraguay, they developed Guaraní dictionaries, which led to the first writings in that indigenous language.

The 1986 British film The Mission, starring Robert De Niro, is set in 1740. It dramatizes the conflict the Jesuits encountered in Spanish and Portuguese colonies. De Niro’s Father Gabriel character is based on the life of a Paraguayan saint, Roque González de Santa Cruz, S.J., and is loosely adapted from the book The Lost Cities of Paraguay by C.J. McNaspy, S.J., a consultant on the film.

The incident portrayed in the film occurred when Spain was competing for land and labor with the Portuguese, who were harsher toward natives and coveted both the land and the people supervised by the Jesuits. The Treaty of Madrid sought to end warring with Portuguese bandeirante slavers by ceding Spanish Jesuit settlements to Portugal. The cinematic Father Gabriel takes up arms in protest. In reality, the warriors were Indians, who loathed the Portuguese slavers. Although they trained the Indians to use weapons, the Jesuits obeyed their government and withdrew.

Also distinct from the film, what Americans call “Missions,” located in what Chicano historian Rodolfo Acuña called “occupied America,” are the remains of Franciscan colonial establishments known as congregaciones (gatherings), which aimed to make the natives docile in order to use them as laborers. The Jesuits set up entirely different kinds of settlements, known as reducciones, or “Indian reductions,” which cleverly turned on its head the colonial policy of subduing the natives.

In French North America, the Jesuits had tried to convert Eskimos, Micmacs, Algonquins and Hurons, initially to little effect. Their success with the Iroquois had an unintended consequence. This fierce warrior tribe took the gospel of peace to heart, abandoned war and was mercilessly decimated by neighbors who hated them. In the 1740s, the British conquered Quebec and Catholicism became illegal. Clergy and missionaries left what would become Canada, most fleeing with many of their French-speaking parishioners to the Louisiana territories.

In South America, Jesuits first went into the jungles of Brazil and later to colonial Paraguay, Peru and Mexico, where they excelled at negotiating special deals with colonial governors that kept the new landowners and the government away from the natives. Apart from conversion, the dwellers in these communities were not required to adopt European languages, values or lifestyles.

The typical Jesuit reduction was a compound that grouped a church, priests’ quarters, commissary, stables, armory, workshops, hospital, storehouses and housing for the natives around a central square. Each family had a separate apartment connected by a roofed walkway. Buildings designed by the likes of Rev. Martin Schmid, S.J., a Swiss architect, composer and instrument maker, were sometimes stone but more often adobe or cane, with homemade furniture and religious pictures—often made by the natives themselves. Populations varied from 2,000 to 7,000.

A typical day started with children’s hymns followed by Mass and breakfast, after which the workers went to their tasks. At noon each group assembled for the Angelus, after which came dinner and a siesta; work then resumed until evening. After supper came the rosary and sleep. On rainy days they worked indoors. Festivals with contests, fireworks, concerts and dances entertained the community.

The settlements had a main farm, where they raised cattle and grew crops, including yerba mate for a brewed drink, mate (or Jesuit tea). Each family also had its own garden. Jesuits introduced European arts and trades. They trained natives in a broad range of occupations, from boatbuilding to carpentry, garment making, silversmithing and more. The reductions initially produced manuscripts copied by hand, but later built printing presses. Goods produced were sold in large cities and proceeds were divided between a community fund and the workers and their dependents.

These idyllic communities’ success was their undoing. Historian Virginia Carreño in her work Estancias y Estancieros del Río de la Plata underscores how “at the outset of the 18th century, with the worse perils of colonization overcome, the Jesuits, with Indians who made up at most about a quarter of the population, were advanced by at least a century compared with the Spaniards and that was humiliating.”

She notes that huge herds of cattle raised under Jesuit supervision fed several colonial cities, including all of Asunción, today capital of Paraguay. A colonist who wanted to build called on a Jesuit architect; one who wanted the best education for his son turned to a Jesuit school in Chuquisaca or Córdoba. “When the need arose for a musician, an astronomer, a botanist, an agronomist, people went to a member of the Society, were he Italian, Hungarian or German, a doctor in theology or simply a religious superior,” Carreño writes.

Attacks came from three quarters.

In 1750, Portugal quarreled with the Jesuits over an exchange of territory with Spain in which a Portuguese settlement in what is today Uruguay was exchanged for the Jesuits’ seven reductions in Paraguay. The Jesuits were expelled.

The Jesuit superior in French Martinique managed the settlements’ business so well that he was able to leverage their production for loans to speed development of the colony. But when war broke out between England and France, ships carrying goods worth millions were captured; in the 1760s creditors in Paris courts won orders forcing the Society to pay or relinquish the settlements. The order lacked the funds and withdrew.

In the European dependencies of Naples and Parma, Jesuits were accused in 1767 of producing pamphlets that incited the people to riot against Spanish rule. Hundreds of Jesuits were marched like convicts to the coast, where they were deported to the Papal States.

Following the expulsion of Jesuits in European countries and their overseas territories, Pope Clement XIV issued a papal bull in 1773, declaring that “the Company of Jesus ... shall be, and is, for ever extinguished and suppressed.” It was not until 1814, when all the absolute monarchs who hated the Jesuits were no longer in power, that Pope Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus in Catholic Europe and the Society decided at its first General Congregation thereafter to keep its original organization.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


The third among the Methodist founders, George Whitefield (1714-1770), became one of the figures that set in motion a distinctly U.S. and British Protestant phenomenon known as the “Great Awakenings.” These were sweeping waves of popular religious enthusiasm that burst forth more or less spontaneously and among rural and marginal groups of society in response to powerful preaching campaigns by charismatic figures and incidentally spawned new denominations.

Although traditional histories speak of only two Awakenings, modern reassessments argue plausibly that there were four, each lasting several decades: 1730-1755, 1790-1840, 1850-1900 and 1960-1980.

They were instrumental in reshaping the Congregational church (the institutional successor of the Pilgrim Puritans) and changing the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed and the German Reformed denominations; at the time of the First Awakening, it boosted the then-small Baptist and Methodist Anglican denominations. None of the Awakenings, however, had much influence on most Anglicans, Lutherans and Quakers; save for the last one, and even then very briefly, they had no effect at all on Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

Notably for our present time, the Awakenings gave rise to the Protestant interdenominational religious movement known as Evangelicalism. The evangelicals—today associated with figures such as the Rev. Billy Graham—became significant in religion and politics in Britain and the United States; they should be distinguished from the Protestant denominations Evangelical Lutheran and Evangelical Reformed and similarly named churches. The movement’s name is also distinct from “evangelical” in theological or religious discourse about matters pertaining to the gospel, in Greek evangelion.

The original Great Awakening is traceable to the 1730s field preaching of John and Charles Wesley in Britain, but its North American origins go back to Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), with Whitefield contributing when he moved to the New World in the 1740s and the work of Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies (1723-1761), notable for preaching to African slaves.

The phenomenon was spurred by fiery preaching at public “revival” meetings, originally directed at church-going folk, to stir up or “awaken” their fervor. The preaching aimed to generate a personal experience that encouraged each person to look inward and commit to a new faith in Jesus Christ and standard of personal morality.

The mostly Calvinist-leaning preachers aimed to avoid formal ceremony and sacramentalism—still, the revival came to acquire a distinct performance art form, including preaching, followed by public declarations of conversion and even assertions of healing. Revivals also rejected hierarchy and denominationalism, yet notably pointed attendees to “Bible centered” churches—somehow these were never Catholic or Orthodox, the traditions that had put together and preserved the Christian Bible.

The Second Great Awakening began around 1790 in the United States. After 1820, the movement fed members to Baptist and Methodist churches whose pastors led the movement, then lost steam by the 1840s and 50s. The movement reflected society’s romanticism, with its appeal to emotion and an appeal to the supernatural that came in response to the skeptical rationalism and deism of the Enlightenment. It was during this period that Adventism emerged, the earliest African-American denominations were established and the earliest stirrings were felt leading to Mormonism, which arguably is not a Christian faith.

The Third Great Awakening has been proposed by historians looking back at U.S. religious activism in the latter half of the 19th century. As shifts in theology and church organization occurred, American Christians began progressive movements to reform society during this period, in particular antebellum abolitionism, temperance and women’s rights. As with the second outbreak, it led to further splintering of Protestantism, including several groups associated with the social gospel, Holiness and Nazarene movements, Fundamentalism and lastly Christian Science, which like Mormonism fell off the table of Christianity.

The idea of a Fourth Awakening—in the late 1960s and early 1970s—is also largely a hypothetical construct, one that is not widely accepted. The phenomenon supposedly takes in the Jesus Movement, the Pentecostal movement that crossed denominations and even outside Protestantism in the form of the Charismatic movement and possibly Messianic Jews (also known as “Jews for Jesus”).

In essence, the Awakenings, whether they were the traditional two or the arguable four, represent the ever greater fragmentation of Protestantism spurred by non-dogmatic and more or less spontaneous popular movements, mostly in the English-speaking world but particularly in the United States. They explain how the handful of “mainline” Protestant traditions spawned by the Reformation and its immediate aftereffects became the myriad of Protestant denominations, large and small, that exist today.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Strange Warming

The second largest Protestant denominational family in the United States—and fourth largest church in Britain—arose when three young men broke away from the Church of England after launching what I would dub the first Oxford Movement. The young men were John Wesley (1703-1791), his brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788) and their friend George Whitefield (1714-1770), the founders of Methodism.

The ringleader was decidedly John Wesley, an Anglican cleric ordained a priest in 1728. While at Oxford he founded a group in 1729 initially of three students (his brother Charles became the fourth member) who met three or four evenings a week to read and discuss the classics. This group is the origin of Methodism.

One of those classics was the Novum Testamentum Graece, a source document printed in 1514 as part of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, the first printed version of the entire Bible in all its original languages. The work was directed by Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, a Franciscan priest, later cardinal, Grand Inquisitor and religious reformer, at the Complutense University in Madrid, which he founded.

It may have been their engagement with this work that led to a more religious character of the club, whose activities began to include praying, examining their spiritual lives and studying the Bible and then putting their deepened faith into action. The club took food to poor families, visited prisoners and taught orphans to read. With at least two priests among its members, it frequently celebrated the Eucharist.

Their more ascetic practices—they fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays until 3:00 p.m., the reputed hour Jesus died on the cross—were widely blamed in the broader Oxford community for the death of one of their members. John Wesley, however, protested that the member has contracted an illness a good year and a half after he stopped fasting. Several students jeeringly dubbed Wesley’s group the “Holy Club,” and a popular ditty said, “By rule they eat, by rule they drink, by rule do all things but think.”

That ditty also unwittingly gave the movement its lasting name when, as had occurred before, a taunt was turned into a token of pride. The students chanted, “Method alone must guide ’em all, when themselves ‘Methodists’ they call.” Indeed, John Wesley defined “Methodist” for the 1753 English Dictionary as “One that (or who) lives according to the Method laid down in the Bible.”

That was long after a disastrous venture that led to the real institutional beginning of Methodism. In 1736-37, John and Charles Wesley were infused with fervor for their still tiny movement and decided to go to the new colony of Georgia in America and help spawn a revival of “primitive Christianity” (meaning that of the Apostolic Era) among the native inhabitants. The episode ended badly after John left the colony only a little ahead of the authorities, who sought him on charges of harassing a woman he had fallen in love with but who spurned him and married another. Charles followed shortly after.

Back in England, John turned to the Moravians, a pre-Luther, originally Czech Protestant denomination that traced back to rebel Jan Hus, and was counseled by a Moravian missionary who was awaiting papers to travel to Georgia himself. On May 24, 1738, John attended a Moravian meeting in London,  which Wesley described memorably: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

The conversion, commemorated by Methodists as Aldersgate Day, turned Wesley around. He began to preach about his evangelical-style change of heart and personal salvation by faith, then on God’s grace.

Although less famous than his older brother’s, the conversion of Charles Wesley three days earlier is worth noting. It took place at what would be today 12 Little Britain, in the vicinity of Aldersgate, where a plaque at no. 13 reads: “Adjoining this site stood the house of John Bray. Scene of Charles Wesley's conversion by faith in Christ on May 21st 1738.” Charles was not ordained, but after his conversion was a frequent field preacher. His lasting contribution to the Methodist movement are the 6,000 hymns he wrote.

Methodism now began to spread in earnest throughout England. Methodist “societies” worshipped in chapels, the first of which was the New Room in Bristol, built in 1739. At this point John Wesley began to lay the foundation of what would eventually be the structure of the Methodist Church, starting with societies, circuits, quarterly meetings and annual conferences. The General Rules issued by the Wesley brothers in 1743 state the conditions for admission into the “United Societies.” The first annual conference was held in 1744 by John and Charles Wesley, four clergymen and four lay preachers, who met in London.

Societies were made up of “classes” of a dozen members that met weekly for “spiritual fellowship” and guidance and “bands” of select members deemed “spiritually gifted.” By 1744 these select members were said to number 77. From this categorization of members also comes the term “backslider,” for a convert who falls back into preconversion habits. As the movement grew, John Wesley appointed "helpers" who visited societies (at least 30 a month) in “circuits.” To keep the preaching fresh and effective, he rotated preachers among circuits about every year or two, setting up the “itinerancy.”

The growth of the movement brought new problems, most notably with the mother institution, the Church of England.

Some of these problems stemmed from the reality the Methodists’ successful ministry to laborers and criminals and others on the margins of society who were not served by the established church. In the United States, Methodism became the faith of slaves who formed black churches in the Methodist tradition. More egregious to the Church of England, however, was that most Methodist leaders were not ordained. They flouted parish boundaries and rules on who had authority to preach, and initially Methodists encouraged women to preach, both at home and at outdoor events where they gave witness of their faith.

Differences with the Church of England divided the Wesley brothers. Like John, Charles was born the son of an Anglican priest, and disagreed vehemently with his brother concerning the widening breach with the Church of England. He preached his own faith in the fields, but not in churches. When, in 1765, he became too ill to be active he settled around the northern London Anglican parish of St Marylebone. Near death, he sent for the priest and told him, “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” He was.

John Wesley originally believed that the Church of England was “with all her blemishes, [...] nearer the Scriptural plans than any other in Europe” and was willing to make concessions to keep the peace with the Anglican clergy. However, by 1746, while reading an account of the early Church, he became convinced that apostolic succession was a “fable” and that he was “a scriptural episkopos [bishop] as much as many men in England.” Nonetheless, in 1763, John took the additional step of allowing Erasmus of Arcadia, a Greek Orthodox bishop of the Diocese of Arcadia in Crete, to consecrate him a bishop—secretly because it was illegal in England to do so.

The public break with Anglicanism did not come until 1784, as a by-product of the American Revolution, which led to mass departure of Anglican priests out of loyalty to the king and an enormous clerical shortage. The newly formed United States disestablished all churches, and the Anglican affiliate, the Protestant Episcopal Church was formed. The joke among Episcopalians is that the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, then repaired to a tavern to found the new church.

As the Church of England dithered about appointing a bishop to ordain replacement U.S. priests, Wesley took action. He ordained Thomas Coke, an Anglican priest, as “superintendent” of U.S. Methodists by the laying on of hands. Coke sailed to America and ordained Francis Asbury superintendent. Both then asked the Americans to call them “bishops,” over John Wesley’s objections, in the Methodist Episcopal Church they formed in 1784. That same year, John made the British Annual Conference of United Methodist Societies his institutional successor.

Methodism has no formal creed of its own comparable to the Lutheran Augsburg Confession. John Wesley wrote 25 Articles of Religion that abridge and adapt the Church of England’s 39. Much more important are the Scriptures—meaning the Protestant 66 books. Methodists draw from these the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, the universality of original sin. They believe that the universal distribution of grace through human cooperation is necessary for eternal salvation and that although offered to all it may be freely rejected.

John Wesley split with Whitefield, the third founding Methodist from the original Oxford group, on the question of predestination. Whitefield developed Calvinist leanings that moved him to become a fiery preacher and effectively start the Protestant evangelical movement. He preached a series of “revivals” in late colonial North America that led to a whirlwind movement eventually known as the Great Awakening, to which we shall turn next.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jansenism’s Enduring Controversy

Just as the Reformation swung to Calvinist extremes that eventually were disconnected from the relatively moderate and sensible protest of an Augustinian friar, the Catholic revival experienced in the 17th century a similar swing that also found fertile ground in the Low Countries, Jansenism. This theological movement, condemned as heresy early on, lived on among the French and Irish clergy as an underground Catholic Puritanism influential in the teaching of morals well into the 20th century.

The school of thought traces its origins to Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), Bishop of Ypres, known also as Cornelius Jansenius. However, the originator never intended to start a school of thought, much less a theological movement, especially not against papal censure.

Jansen was a poor rural Catholic boy born in Acquoy, Holland (today Gelderland, Netherlands), whose defining intellectual experience was studying at the University of Leuven in 1602-04. At that time the university was embroiled in a fierce academic conflict between Jesuits and their scholastic party and the followers of Michael Baius, who pitted against Aquinas and his contemporaries the ancient father St. Augustine of Hippo.

Cornelius became strongly attached to the party that became known as “Augustinian” (they did not belong to any of the Augustinian orders). At that time he developed a close and long-lasting friendship with fellow student Jean Duvergier, later abbot at Saint-Cyran-en-Brenne (today Saint-Michel-en-Brenne). In his lifetime, Jansen wrote a number of small works, including a tirade against the Spanish influence in the Low Countries, which accounts for his continuing celebrity in that part of the world, and was an otherwise unexceptional cleric who was eventually ordained bishop.

Significantly, however, he penned a voluminous work in Latin, Augustinus seu doctrina Sancti Augustini de humanae naturae sanitate, aegritudine, medicina adversus Pelagianos et Massilianses (The doctrine of St. Augustine on human natural health, trials and medicine against the Pelagians and Massilians), better known by the short title Augustinus. Jansen commended the volume to his chaplain asking that it be published as faithfully as possible, specifying that “If, however, the Holy See wishes any change, I am an obedient son, and I submit to that Church in which I have lived to my dying hour. This is my last wish.”

The massive, largely opaque and highly specialized theological work on Augustine’s view of the heresy of Pelagianism, and related ideas about original sin and divine grace, was published in 1640. It also covered an offshoot of that heresy, Semipelagianism, and denounced an unnamed “modern tendency” that scholars have identified as Molinism. Before going into the controversy of Jansenism, let’s first clarify these terms.

Pelagianism was the teaching of Pelagius (354-440?), an Irish or Scottish monk, who taught that the human will, as created by God, could guide people to a sinless life. This teaching came to be understood, whether Pelagius actually intended it or not, as meaning that people can effectively earn their own salvation. The doctrine was much debated by several synods and eventually condemned in the fifth century by two popes.

Semipelagianism (also known as Massilianism, a reference to the Latin name for Marseilles) was an attempt by monks in the vicinity of Marseilles around 428 to find a compromise with the teachings of Pelagius, whom even Augustine called “a saintly man.” Semipelagians make a distinction between the beginning of faith and its growth. They argue that the choice to adopt faith is an act of human free will, with divine grace intervening in response, but development in faith is the work of God. This teaching was condemned as heresy at the local Council of Orange in 529, a position maintained ever since.

Complicating the palette of ideas in Jansen’s work, however, between 1590 and 1600 the term “semipelagianism” was applied to the teachings of Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535-1600) concerning the doctrine of grace. Molina was a staunch Renaissance defender of human liberty in his attempt to reconcile some of Augustine’s ideas with free will, appealing to God’s foreknowledge of how human beings will use it. A controversy raged in Rome around these ideas until 1611, when Paul V simply prohibited all further discussion of the question. In this way, Molinism was subsumed into the Jansenist controversy, to which we now return.

Augustinus was widely read in theological circles in France and the Low Countries, then throughout Europe, igniting a controversy that also became political. Jansen’s university friend Duvergier publicly preached Jansenism before the book was even printed, and it spawned enormously heated debate among Catholics.

Debated was whether only divine grace could tip a person toward perfect contrition (sorrow for sins for love of God alone) and salvation or if grace could make up for imperfect contrition (sorrow for fear of punishment). It was an issue related to the sacrament today known as Reconciliation (Penance or Confession) and all penitence involving remorse, which the Council of Trent had not addressed.

In May 1638, Duvergier was imprisoned by order of the gray eminence behind the throne of France, Cardinal Richelieu, and was not released until after Richelieu’s death in 1642.

Jansen’s mainly Jesuit opponents condemned his teachings for alleged similarities to Calvinism. Blaise Pascal attempted to mediate, arguing that both were partially right: Molinists were correct about the state of humanity before the Fall, while Calvinists were right about the state of humanity after the Fall.

In 1642, the Holy Office of the Inquisition condemned Augustinus and forbade its reading; Pope Urban VIII followed up with a papal bull titled In eminenti, which also condemned it. What led to Jansenism being declared a heresy is the assertion that God’s role in the infusion of grace cannot be resisted and does not require human assent. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “God’s free initiative demands man’s free response,” meaning that people may assent to or refuse God’s grace.

Jansenism went underground and resurfaced in myriad ways. The apostolic constitution Unigenitus Dei Filius by Pope Clement XI in 1713 officially ended tolerance for Jansenist doctrine, but it kept resurfacing among overly pious groups. Some odd spiritual practices included the Jansenist idea that Holy Communion should be received very infrequently because it required much more than being free from mortal, or very grave, sin. This idea was condemned by Pope Pius X in the early 20th century; the pope endorsed frequent communion so long as the communicant was free of mortal sin.