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Montfort and Jansenism

 https://www.montfort.org.uk/Documents/Montfort%20and%20Jansenism.pdf

 Blain, however, although he
evidently does not know of this particular incident, may well have heard some rumours of the
difficulties experienced, and ascribes them to the fact that “the zeal which he showed to
spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin, to encourage people to say the Rosary and to visit the
chapels dedicated to the Mother of God, did not please those who thought that it was in their
interest to turn them away from these practices, especially from the last one.”
15 Although he
does not say so clearly, this is at least a hint that those who objected were Jansenists, and this
was certainly the interpretation taken up by later biographers (notably Fr. Dalin
16, and Mgr.
Laveille
17
Montfort himself, in his writings, makes only one explicit mention of Jansenism, in
Hymn 139, verse 55:

). The argument gained some strength from the fact that Mgr. Demaretz was
certainly (at least later) favourable to the Jansenist cause, being one of those “Appellant”
bishops who appealed to a later General Council from the Bull Unigenitus. But, as we have
seen, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Jansenism played a part in this episode in
Montfort. In the light of Blain’s notorious lack of precision concerning dates and particular
circumstances, it would be rash to accept his interpretation too easily.

Loin de moi le jansénisme,

which is translated in Jesus Living in Mary, Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis Marie
de Montfort as “Jansenism, away with you!” It is clear from the rest of the same verse that St.
Louis Marie classed this Jansenism as a heresy, and therefore to be abhorred by all genuine
Christians:

Loin de moi les hérétiques
Que l’Église a condamnés,
Avec leurs belles pratiques
Et leurs livres raffinés.
Loin de moi le calvinisme,
Loin de moi le jansénisme.
Je sers Dieu de tout mon cœur,
C’est ma gloire et mon bonheur.
18
13 Besnard, op. cit., pgs. 148-150.

14 Daniel, op. cit., pgs. 207-213.

15 Blain, op. cit., pg. 140 (English edition of 1977).

16 Louis-Joseph Dalin, Vie du Vénérable Serviteur de Dieu, Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort missionnaire
apostolique, Leclerc, Paris, 1839.

17 A. Laveille, Le Bienheureux L.-M. Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), d’après des documents inédits,
Poussielgue, Paris, 1907.

18 Far from me be those heretics / the Church has condemned, / with their beautiful practices / and their refined
books. / Far from me be Calvinism, / far from me be Jansenism. / I serve God with all my heart; / there lies my
glory and my happiness.

7
In Hymn 22, verse 30, there is what is perhaps a veiled reference to Jansenism, which
was commonly known in certain circles in his day as “the novelty” (la nouveauté):

Gardez-moi d’un grand précipice:
Du scrupule dans la justice,
De l’esprit de la nouveauté,
Soit dans ma foi, mon zèle ou ma conduite;
Gardez-moi de l’illusion,
De la fausse dévotion,
pour ne marcher qu’à votre suite.
19
In a number of other places in his writings we might find similar mistrustfulness of
“novelty”
20, but we certainly cannot be sure that he is referring specifically to Jansenism in
these cases, nor indeed in this Hymn verse. It is therefore quite striking that in the writings of
a man who, according to some of his biographers, was an implacable enemy of Jansenism
and the Jansenists, so little reference to it or to them is to be found. The conclusion of the
editors of Blain’s account of Montfort’s life, is that Montfort himself “was not deadly
opposed to the trend which, after 1714, was for rejecting the Constitution Unigenitus.”
21 That
is not to say that he himself had Jansenist leanings, but rather that, at that particular period of
his life, it did not seem to him to be necessary to speak out strongly against what in effect was
less of a serious problem in the Church of the West of France than perhaps in other parts of
the kingdom, at least on the level of dogma. From the point of view of pastoral practice,
Grandet assures us that “he always avoided those two fatal excesses which gave rise in
former times, and which still today give rise to such great evils in the Church, namely, too
great a rigour and too great a laxity in moral matters. He thundered in the pulpit against all
vices, but he was both gentle and firm at the same time in the confessional. He had a
particular gift for touching hearts, both in the confessional and in the pulpit. But he had such
a horror of too severe moral teaching that he believed that rigorist confessors did a hundred
times more harm in the Church than those who were lax, even though these also did much
harm. ‘I would much rather,’ he used to say, ‘suffer in Purgatory for showing too much
gentleness towards my penitents than for having treated them with a severity which would
bring them to despair.’”
22
It would seem therefore that to take the view, as some of his biographers have done,
that all Montfort’s difficulties can be laid at the door of the Jansenists is a wild exaggeration.
It is much more probable that many of his problems arose from his own idiosyncrasies and
the suspicion that they aroused in the minds of those who were more conformable to accepted
practice.

In this he is clearly aligning himself with those who opposed what
was seen as Jansenist rigorism.

23

19 Preserve me from a great precipice: / scrupulosity in justice, / the spirit of novelty, / whether in my faith, my
zeal or my conduct; / preserve me from illusion, / from false devotion, / that I may only walk in your footsteps.

And, although he was certainly opposed to a “Jansenistic” rigorism in pastoral
practice, there is very little evidence in his writings that he was prepared to enter into

20 E.g. Hymn 23:34

21 Blain, footnote 176 in the French edition, footnote 103 in the English edition.

22 Grandet, op. cit., pgs. 376-377 in the original (pgs. 205-6 in the edition of 1994).

23 This would seem to be the conclusion of Daniel, op. cit., chapter XI. See also Louis Pérouas, Grignion de
Montfort, Les Pauvres et les Missions, Cerf, Paris, 1966, pg.63. There is a very complete examination of the
question in an article in two parts by A. Bachelier entitled Le Père de Montfort et le Jansénisme in Recherches
et Travaux, Angers, Universitè Catholique de l'Ouest, Vol II (1947) pgs. 95 ff; Vol III (1948) pgs. 90 ff. This
article comes to the same conclusion.
8
theological debate on this point, which might have been expected to give rise to intrigues
against him on the part of those who favoured their views. On the other hand, it would be
strange if he were not aware of the disputes taking place in the French church of his day, and
we should “not fall into the opposite error of overlooking completely the repercussions of
Jansenism on Louis’s career, for he has been sent by Clement XI into the heart of a church
very much influenced by Gallicanism and consequently rife with rebellious tendencies.

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