The Provincial Letters, by Blaise Pascal

Letter XVII


January 23, 1657


Your former behaviour had induced me to believe that you were anxious for a truce in our hostilities, and I was quite disposed to agree that it should be so. Of late, however, you have poured forth such a volley of pamphlets, in such rapid succession, as to make it apparent that peace rests on a very precarious footing when it depends on the silence of Jesuits. I know not if this rupture will prove very advantageous to you; but, for my part, I am far from regretting the opportunity which it affords me of rebutting that stale charge of heresy with which your writings abound.

It is full time, indeed, that I should, once for all, put a stop to the liberty you have taken to treat me as a heretic — a piece of gratuitous impertinence which seems to increase by indulgence, and which is exhibited in your last book in a style of such intolerable assurance that, were I not to answer the charge as it deserves, I might lay myself open to the suspicion of being actually guilty. So long as the insult was confined to your associates I despised it, as I did a thousand others with which they interlarded their productions. To these my Fifteenth Letter was a sufficient reply. But you now repeat the charge with a different air: you make it the main point of your vindication. It is, in fact, almost the only thing in the shape of argument that you employ. You say that, “as a complete answer to my fifteen letters, it is enough to say fifteen times that I am a heretic; and, having been pronounced such, I deserve no credit.” In short, you make no question of my apostasy, but assume it as a settled point, on which you may build with all confidence. You are serious then, father, it would seem, in deeming me a heretic. I shall be equally serious in replying to the charge.

You are well aware, sir, that heresy is a charge of grave a character that it is an act of high presumption to advance, without being prepared to substantiate it. I now demand your proofs. When was I seen at Charenton? When did I fail in my presence at mass, or in my Christian duty to my parish church? What act of union with heretics, or of schism with the Church, can you lay to my charge? What council have I contradicted? What papal constitution have I violated? You must answer, father, else — You know what I mean. And what do you answer? I beseech all to observe it: First of all, you assume “that the author of the letters is a Port-Royalist”; then you tell us “that Port-Royal is declared to be heretical”; and, therefore, you conclude, “the author of letters must be a heretic.” It is not on me, then, father, that the weight of this indictment falls, but on Port-Royal; and I am only involved in the crime because you suppose me to belong to that establishment; so that it will be no difficult matter for me to exculpate myself from the charge. I have no more to say than that I am not a member of that community; and to refer you to my letters, in which I have declared that “I am a private individual”; and again in so many words, that “I am not of Port-Royal, as I said in my Sixteenth Letter, which preceded your publication.

You must fall on some other way, then, to prove me heretic, otherwise the whole world will be convinced that it is beyond your power to make good your accusation. Prove from my writings that I do not receive the constitution. My letters are not very voluminous — there are but sixteen of them — and I defy you or anybody else to detect in them the slightest foundation for such a charge. I shall, however, with your permission, produce something out of them to prove the reverse. When, for example, I say in the Fourteenth that, “by killing our brethren in mortal sin, according to your maxims, we are damning those for whom Jesus Christ died, do I not plainly acknowledge that Jesus Christ died for those who may be damned, and, consequently, declare it to be false “that he died only for the predestinated,” which is the error condemned in the fifth proposition? Certain it is, father, that I have not said a word in behalf of these impious propositions, which I detest with all my heart. And even though Port-Royal should hold them, I protest against your drawing any conclusion from this against me, as, thank God, I have no sort of connection with any community except the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, in the bosom of which I desire to live and die, in communion with the Pope, the head of the Church, and beyond the pale of which I am persuaded there is no salvation.

How are you to get at a person who talks in this way, father? On what quarter will you assail me, since neither my words nor my writings afford the slightest handle to your accusations, and the obscurity in which my person is enveloped forms my protection against your threatenings? You feel yourselves smitten by an invisible hand — a hand, however, which makes your delinquencies visible to all the earth; and in vain do you endeavour to attack me in the person of those with whom you suppose me to be associated. I fear you not, either on my own account or on that of any other, being bound by no tie either to a community or to any individual whatsoever. All the influence which your Society possesses can be of no avail in my case. From this world I have nothing to hope, nothing to dread, nothing to desire. Through the goodness of God, I have no need of any man’s money or any man’s patronage. Thus, my father, I elude all your attempts to lay hold of me. You may touch Port-Royal, if you choose, but you shall not touch me. You may turn people out of the Sorbonne, but that will not turn me out of my domicile. You may contrive plots against priests and doctors, but not against me, for I am neither the one nor the other. And thus, father, you never perhaps had to do, in the whole course of your experience, with a person so completely beyond your reach, and therefore so admirably qualified for dealing with your errors — one perfectly free — one without engagement, entanglement, relationship, or business of any kind — one, too, who is pretty well versed in your maxims, and determined, as God shall give him light, to discuss them, without permitting any earthly consideration to arrest or slacken his endeavours.

Since, then, you can do nothing against me, what good purpose can it serve to publish so many calumnies, as you and your brethren are doing, against a class of persons who are in no way implicated in our disputes? You shall not escape under these subterfuges: you shall be made to feel the force of the truth in spite of them. How does the case stand? I tell you that you are ruining Christian morality by divorcing it from the love of God, and dispensing with its obligation; and you talk about “the death of Father Mester”— a person whom I never saw in my life. I tell you that your authors permit a man to kill another for the sake of an apple, when it would be dishonourable to lose it; and you reply by informing me that somebody “has broken into the poor-box at St. Merri!” Again, what can you possibly mean by mixing me up perpetually with the book On the Holy Virginity, written by some father of the Oratory, whom I never saw any more than his book? It is rather extraordinary, father, that you should thus regard all that are opposed to you as if they were one person. Your hatred would grasp them all at once, and would hold them as a body of reprobates, every one of whom is responsible for all the rest.

There is a vast difference between Jesuits and all their opponents. There can be no doubt that you compose one body, united under one head; and your regulations, as I have shown, prohibit you from printing anything without the approbation of your superiors, who are responsible for all the errors of individual writers, and who “cannot excuse themselves by saying that they did not observe the errors in any publication, for they ought to have observed them.” So say your ordinances, and so say the letters of your generals, Aquaviva, Vitelleschi, &c. We have good reason, therefore, for charging upon you the errors of your associates, when we find they are sanctioned by your superiors and the divines of your Society. With me, however, father, the case stands otherwise. I have not subscribed to the book of the Holy Virginity. All the alms-boxes in Paris may be broken into, and yet I am not the less a good Catholic for all that. In short, I beg to inform you, in the plainest terms, that nobody is responsible for my letters but myself, and that I am responsible for nothing but my letters.

Here, father, I might fairly enough have brought our dispute to an issue, without saying a word about those other persons whom you stigmatize as heretics, in order to comprehend me under the condemnation. But, as I have been the occasion of their ill treatment, I consider myself bound in some sort to improve the occasion, and I shall take advantage of it in three particulars. One advantage, not inconsiderable in its way, is that it will enable me to vindicate the innocence of so many calumniated individuals. Another, not inappropriate to my subject, will be to disclose, at the same time, the artifices of your policy in this accusation. But the advantage which I prize most of all is that it affords me an opportunity of apprising the world of the falsehood of that scandalous report which you have been so busily disseminating, namely, “that the Church is divided by a new heresy.” And as you are deceiving multitudes into the belief that the points on which you are raising such a storm are essential to the faith, I consider it of the last importance to quash these unfounded impressions, and distinctly to explain here what these points are, so as to show that, in point of fact, there are no heretics in the Church.

I presume, then, that were the question to be asked: Wherein consists the heresy of those called Jansenists? the immediate reply would be, “These people hold that the commandments of God are impracticable to men, that grace is irresistible, that we have not free will to do either good or evil, that Jesus Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect; in short, they maintain the five propositions condemned by the Pope.” Do you not give it out to all that this is the ground on which you persecute your opponents? Have you not said as much in your books, in your conversations, in your catechisms? A specimen of this you gave at the late Christmas festival at St. Louis. One of your little shepherdesses was questioned thus:

“For whom did Jesus Christ come into the world, my dear?”

“For all men, father.”

“Indeed, my child; so you are not one of those new heretics who say that he came only for the elect?”

Thus children are led to believe you, and many others besides children; for you entertain people with the same stuff in your sermons as Father Crasset did at Orleans, before he was laid under an interdict. And I frankly own that, at one time, I believed you myself. You had given me precisely the same idea of these good people; so that, when you pressed them on these propositions, I narrowly watched their answer, determined never to see them more, if they did not renounce them as palpable impieties.

This, however, they have done in the most unequivocal way. M. de Sainte-Beuve, king’s professor in the Sorbonne, censured these propositions in his published writings long before the Pope; and other Augustinian doctors, in various publications, and, among others, in a work On Victorious Grace, reject the same articles as both heretical and strange doctrines. In the preface to that work they say that these propositions are “heretical and Lutheran, forged and fabricated at pleasure, and are neither to be found in Jansenius, nor in his defenders. “ They complain of being charged with such sentiments, and address you in the words of St. Prosper, the first disciple of St. Augustine their master, to whom the semi-Pelagians of France had ascribed similar opinions, with the view of bringing him into disgrace: “There are persons who denounce us, so blinded by passion that they have adopted means for doing so which ruin their own reputation. They have, for this purpose, fabricated propositions of the most impious and blasphemous character, which they industriously circulate, to make people believe that we maintain them in the wicked sense which they are pleased to attach to them. But our reply will show at once our innocence, and the malignity of these persons who have ascribed to us a set of impious tenets, of which they are themselves the sole inventors.”

Truly, father, when I found that they had spoken in this way before the appearance of the papal constitution — when I saw that they afterwards received that decree with all possible respect, that they offered to subscribe it, and that M. Arnauld had declared all this in his second letter, in stronger terms than I can report him, I should have considered it a sin to doubt their soundness in the faith. And, in fact, those who were formerly disposed to refuse absolution to M. Arnauld’s friends, have since declared that, after his explicit disclaimer of the errors imputed to him, there was no reason left for cutting off either him or them from the communion of the Church. Your associates, however, have acted very differently; and it was this that made me begin to suspect that you were actuated by prejudice.

You threatened first to compel them to sign that constitution, so long as you thought they would resist it; but no sooner did you see them quite ready of their own accord to submit to it than we heard no more about this. Still however, though one might suppose this ought to have satisfied you, you persisted in calling them heretics, “because,” said you, “their heart belies their hand; they are Catholics outwardly, but inwardly they are heretics.”

This, father, struck me as very strange reasoning; for where is the person of whom as much may not be said at any time? And what endless trouble and confusion would ensue, were it allowed to go on! “If,” says Pope St. Gregory, “we refuse to believe a confession of faith made in conformity to the sentiments of the Church, we cast a doubt over the faith of all Catholics whatsoever.” I am afraid, father, to use the words of the same pontiff when speaking of a similar dispute this time, “that your object is to make these persons heretics in spite of themselves; because to refuse to credit those who testify by their confession that they are in the true faith, is not to purge heresy, but to create it — hoc non est haeresim purgare, sed facere.” But what confirmed me in my persuasion that there was, indeed, no heretic in the Church, was finding that our so-called heretics had vindicated themselves so successfully that you were unable to accuse them of a single error in the faith, and that you were reduced to the necessity of assailing them on questions of fact only, touching Jansenius, which could not possibly be construed into heresy. You insist, it now appears, on their being compelled to acknowledge “that these propositions are contained in Jansenius, word for word, every one of them, in so many terms,” or, as you express it, “Singulares, individuae, totidem verbis apud Jansenium contentae.”

Thenceforth your dispute became, in my eyes, perfectly indifferent. So long as I believed that you were debating the truth or falsehood of the propositions, I was all attention, for that quarrel touched the faith; but when I discovered that the bone of contention was whether they were to be found word for word in Jansenius or not, as religion ceased to be interested in the controversy, I ceased to be interested in it also. Not but that there was some presumption that you were speaking the truth; because to say that such and such expressions are to be found word for word in an author, is a matter in which there can be no mistake. I do not wonder, therefore, that so many people, both in France and at Rome, should have been led to believe, on the authority of a phrase so little liable to suspicion, that Jansenius has actually taught these obnoxious tenets. And, for the same reason, I was not a little surprised to learn that this same point of fact, which you had propounded as so certain and so important, was false; and that, after being challenged to quote the pages of Jansenius in which you had found these propositions “word for word,” you have not been able to point them out to this day.

I am the more particular in giving this statement, because, in my opinion, it discovers, in a very striking light, the spirit of your Society in the whole of this affair; and because some people will be astonished to find that, notwithstanding all the facts above mentioned, you have not ceased to publish that they are heretics still. But you have only altered the heresy to suit the time; for no sooner had they freed themselves from one charge than your fathers, determined that they should never want an accusation, substituted another in its place. Thus, in 1653, their heresy lay in the quality of the propositions; then came the word for word heresy; after that we had the heart heresy. And now we hear nothing of any of these, and they must be heretics, forsooth, unless they sign a declaration to the effect “that the sense of the doctrine of Jansenius is contained in the sense of the five propositions.”

Such is your present dispute. It is not enough for you that they condemn the five propositions, and everything in Jansenius that bears any resemblance to them, or is contrary to St. Augustine; for all that they have done already. The point at issue is not, for example, if Jesus Christ died for the elect only — they condemn that as much as you do; but, is Jansenius of that opinion, or not? And here I declare, more strongly than ever, that your quarrel affects me as little as it affects the Church. For although I am no doctor, any more than you, father, I can easily see, nevertheless, that it has no connection with the faith. The only question is to ascertain what is the sense of Jansenius. Did they believe that his doctrine corresponded to the proper and literal sense of these propositions, they would condemn it; and they refuse to do so, because they are convinced it is quite the reverse; so that, although they should misunderstand it, still they would not be heretics, seeing they understand it only in a Catholic sense.

To illustrate this by an example, I may refer to the conflicting sentiments of St. Basil and St. Athanasius, regarding the writings of St. Denis of Alexandria, which St. Basil, conceiving that he found in them the sense of Arius against the equality of the Father and the Son, condemned as heretical, but which St. Athanasius, on the other hand, judging them to contain the genuine sense of the Church, maintained to be perfectly orthodox. Think you, then, father, that St. Basil, who held these writings to be Arian, had a right to brand St. Athanasius as a heretic because he defended them? And what ground would he have had for so doing, seeing that it was not Arianism that his brother defended, but the true faith which he considered these writings to contain? Had these two saints agreed about the true sense of these writings, and had both recognized this heresy in them, unquestionably St. Athanasius could not have approved of them without being guilty of heresy; but as they were at variance respecting the sense of the passage, St. Athanasius was orthodox in vindicating them, even though he may have understood them wrong; because in that case it would have been merely an error in a matter of fact, and because what he defended was really the Catholic faith, which he supposed to be contained in these writings.

I apply this to you, father. Suppose you were agreed upon the sense of Jansenius, and your adversaries were ready to admit with you that he held, for example, that grace cannot be resisted, those who refused to condemn him would be heretical. But as your dispute turns upon the meaning of that author, and they believe that, according to this doctrine, grace may be resisted, whatever heresy you may be pleased to attribute to him, you have no ground to brand them as heretics, seeing they condemn the sense which you put on Jansenius, and you dare not condemn the sense which they put on him. If, therefore, you mean to convict them, show that the sense which they ascribe to Jansenius is heretical; for then they will be heretical themselves. But how could you accomplish this, since it is certain, according to your own showing, that the meaning which they give to his language has never been condemned?

To elucidate the point still further, I shall assume as a principle what you yourselves acknowledge — that the doctrine of efficacious grace has never been condemned, and that the pope has not touched it by his constitution. And, in fact, when he proposed to pass judgement on the five propositions, the question of efficacious grace was protected against all censure. This is perfectly evident from the judgements of the consulters to whom the Pope committed them for examination. These judgements I have in my possession, in common with many other persons in Paris, and, among the rest, the Bishop of Montpelier, who brought them from Rome. It appears from this document that they were divided in their sentiments; that the chief persons among them, such as the Master of the Sacred Palace, the commissary of the Holy Office, the General of the Augustinians, and others, conceiving that these propositions might be understood in the sense of efficacious grace, were of opinion that they ought not to be censured; whereas the rest, while they agreed that the propositions would not have merited condemnation had they borne that sense, judged that they ought to be censured, because, as they contended, this was very far from being their proper and natural sense. The Pope, accordingly, condemned them; and all parties have acquiesced in his judgement.

It is certain, then, father, that efficacious grace has not been condemned. Indeed, it is so powerfully supported by St. Augustine, by St. Thomas, and all his school, by a great many popes and councils, and by all tradition, that to tax it with heresy would be an act of impiety. Now, all those whom you condemn as heretics declare that they find nothing in Jansenius, but this doctrine of efficacious grace. And this was the only point which they maintained at Rome. You have acknowledged this yourself when you declare that “when pleading before the pope, they did not say a single word about the propositions, but occupied the whole time in talking about efficacious grace.” So that, whether they be right or wrong in this supposition, it is undeniable, at least, that what they suppose to be the sense is not heretical sense; and that, consequently, they are no heretics; for, to state the matter in two words, either Jansenius has merely taught the doctrine of efficacious grace, and in this case he has no errors; or he has taught some other thing, and in this case he has no defenders. The whole question turns on ascertaining whether Jansenius has actually maintained something different from efficacious grace; and, should it be found that he has, you will have the honour of having better understood him, but they will not have the misfortune of having erred from the faith.

It is matter of thankfulness to God, then, father, that there is in reality no heresy in the Church. The question relates entirely to a point of fact, of which no heresy can be made; for the Church, with divine authority, decides the points of faith, and cuts off from her body all who refuse to receive them. But she does not act in the same manner in regard to matters of fact. And the reason is that our salvation is attached to the faith which has been revealed to us, and which is preserved in the Church by tradition, but that it has no dependence on facts which have not been revealed by God. Thus we are bound to believe that the commandments of God are not impracticable; but we are under no obligation to know what Jansenius has said upon that subject. In the determination of points of faith, God guides the Church by the aid of His unerring Spirit; whereas in matters of fact He leaves her to the direction of reason and the senses, which are the natural judges of such matters. None but God was able to instruct the Church in the faith; but to learn whether this or that proposition is contained in Jansenius, all we require to do is to read his book. And from hence it follows that, while it is heresy to resist the decisions of the faith, because this amounts to an opposing of our own spirit to the Spirit of God, it is no heresy, though it may be an act of presumption, to disbelieve certain particular facts, because this is no more than opposing reason — it may be enlightened reason — to an authority which is great indeed, but in this matter not infailible.

What I have now advanced is admitted by all theologians, as appears from the following axiom of Cardinal Bellarmine, a member of your Society: “General and lawful councils are incapable of error in defining the dogmas of faith; but they may err in questions of fact.” In another place he says: “The pope, as pope, and even as the head of a universal council, may err in particular controversies of fact, which depend principally on the information and testimony of men.” Cardinal Baronius speaks in the same manner: “Implicit submission is due to the decisions of councils in points of faith; but, in so far as persons and their writings are concerned, the censures which have been pronounced against them have not been so rigourously observed, because there is none who may not chance to be deceived in such matters.” I may add that, to prove this point, the Archbishop of Toulouse has deduced the following rule from the letters of two great popes — St. Leon and Pelagius II: “That the proper object of councils is the faith; and whatsoever is determined by them, independently of the faith, may be reviewed and examined anew: whereas nothing ought to be re-examined that has been decided in a matter of faith; because, as Tertullian observes, the rule of faith alone is immovable and irrevocable.”

Hence it has been seen that, while general and lawful councils have never contradicted one another in points of faith, because, as M. de Toulouse has said, “it is not allowable to examine de novo decisions in matters of faith”; several instances have occurred in which these same councils have disagreed in points of fact, where the discussion turned upon the sense of an author; because, as the same prelate observes, quoting the popes as his authorities, “everything determined in councils, not referring to the faith, may be reviewed and examined de novo.” An example of this contrariety was furnished by the fourth and fifth councils, which differed in their interpretation of the same authors. The same thing happened in the case of two popes, about a proposition maintained by certain monks of Scythia. Pope Hormisdas, understanding it in a bad sense, had condemned it; but Pope John II, his successor, upon re-examining the doctrine understood it in a good sense, approved it, and pronounced it to be orthodox. Would you say that for this reason one of these popes was a heretic? And must you not consequently acknowledge that, provided a person condemn the heretical sense which a pope may have ascribed to a book, he is no heretic because he declines condemning that book, while he understands it in a sense which it is certain the pope has not condemned? If this cannot be admitted, one of these popes must have fallen into error.

I have been anxious to familiarize you with these discrepancies among Catholics regarding questions of fact, which involve the understanding of the sense of a writer, showing you father against father, pope against pope, and council against council, to lead you from these to other examples of opposition, similar in their nature, but somewhat more disproportioned in respect of the parties concerned. For, in the instances I am now to adduce, you will see councils and popes ranged on one side, and Jesuits on the other; and yet you have never charged your brethren for this opposition even with presumption, much less with heresy.

You are well aware, father, that the writings of Origen were condemned by a great many popes and councils, and particularly by the fifth general council, as chargeable with certain heresies, and, among others, that of the reconciliation of the devils at the day of judgement. Do you suppose that, after this, it became absolutely imperative, as a test of Catholicism, to confess that Origen actually maintained these errors, and that it is not enough to condemn them, without attributing them to him? If this were true, what would become of your worthy Father Halloix, who has asserted the purity of Origen’s faith, as well as many other Catholics who have attempted the same thing, such as Pico Mirandola, and Genebrard, doctor of the Sorbonne? Is it not, moreover, a certain fact, that the same fifth general council condemned the writings of Theodoret against St. Cyril, describing them as impious, “contrary to the true faith, and tainted with the Nestorian heresy”? And yet this has not prevented Father Sirmond, a Jesuit, from defending him, or from saying, in his life of that father, that “his writings are entirely free from the heresy of Nestorius.”

It is evident, therefore, that as the Church, in condemning a book, assumes that the error which she condemns is contained in that book, it is a point of faith to hold that error as condemned; but it is not a point of faith to hold that the book, in fact, contains the error which the Church supposes it does. Enough has been said, I think, to prove this; I shall, therefore, conclude my examples by referring to that of Pope Honorius, the history of which is so well known. At the commencement of the seventh century, the Church being troubled by the heresy of the Monothelites, that pope, with the view of terminating the controversy, passed a decree which seemed favourable to these heretics, at which many took offence. The affair, nevertheless, passed over without making much disturbance during his pontificate; but fifty years after, the Church being assembled in the sixth general council, in which Pope Agathon presided by his legates, this decree was impeached, and, after being read and examined, was condemned as containing the heresy of the Monothelites, and under that character burnt, in open court, along with the other writings of these heretics. Such was the respect paid to this decision, and such the unanimity with which it was received throughout the whole Church, that it was afterwards ratified by two other general councils, and likewise by two popes, Leo II and Adrian II, the latter of whom lived two hundred years after it had passed; and this universal and harmonious agreement remained undisturbed for seven or eight centuries. Of late years, however, some authors, and among the rest Cardinal Bellarmine, without seeming to dread the imputation of heresy, have stoutly maintained, against all this array of popes and councils, that the writings of Honorius are free from the error which had been ascribed to them; “because,” says the cardinal, “general councils being liable to err in questions of fact, we have the best grounds for asserting the sixth council was mistaken with regard to the fact now under consideration; and that, misconceiving the sense of the Letters of Honorius, it has placed this pope most unjustly in the rank of heretics.” Observe, then, I pray you, father, that a man is not heretical for saying that Pope Honorius was not a heretic; even though a great many popes and councils, after examining his writings, should have declared that he was so.

I now come to the question before us, and shall allow you to state your case as favourably as you can. What will you then say, father, in order to stamp your opponents as heretics? That “Pope Innocent X has declared that the error of the five propositions is to be found in Jansenius?” I grant you that; what inference do you draw from it? That “it is heretical to deny that the error of the five propositions is to be found in Jansenius?” How so, father? Have we not here a question of fact exactly similar to the preceding examples? The Pope has declared that the error of the five propositions is contained in Jansenius, in the same way as his predecessors decided that the errors of the Nestorians and the Monothelites polluted the pages of Theodoret and Honorius. In the latter case, your writers hesitate not to say that, while they condemn the heresies, they do not allow that these authors actually maintained them; and, in like manner, your opponents now say that they condemn the five propositions, but cannot admit that Jansenius has taught them. Truly, the two cases are as like as they could well be; and, if there be any disparity between them, it is easy to see how far it must go in favour of the present question, by a comparison of many particular circumstances, which as they are self-evident, I do not specify. How comes it to pass, then, that when placed in precisely the same predicament, your friends are Catholics and your opponents heretics? On what strange principle of exception do you deprive the latter of a liberty which you freely award to all the rest of the faithful? What answer will you make to this, father? Will you say, “The pope has confirmed his constitution by a brief.” To this I would reply, that two general councils and two popes confirmed the condemnation of the letters of Honorius. But what argument do you found upon the language of that brief, in which all that the Pope says is that “he has condemned the doctrine of Jansenius in these five propositions”? What does that add to the constitution, or what more can you infer from it? Nothing, certainly, except that as the sixth council condemned the doctrine of Honorius, in the belief that it was the same with that of the Monothelites, so the Pope has said that he has condemned the doctrine of Jansenius in these five propositions, because he was led to suppose it was the same with that of the five propositions. And how could he do otherwise than suppose it? Your Society published nothing else; and you yourself, father, who have asserted that the said propositions were in that author “word for word,” happened to be in Rome (for I know all your motions) at the time when the censure was passed. Was he to distrust the sincerity or the competence of so many grave ministers of religion? And how could he help being convinced of the fact, after the assurance which you had given him that the propositions were in that author “word for word”? It is evident, therefore, that in the event of its being found that Jansenius has not supported these doctrines, it would be wrong to say, as your writers have done in the cases before mentioned, that the Pope has deceived himself in this point of fact, which it is painful and offensive to publish at any time; the proper phrase is that you have deceived the Pope, which, as you are now pretty well known, will create no scandal.

Determined, however, to have a heresy made out, let it cost what it may, you have attempted, by the following manoeuvre, to shift the question from the point of fact, and make it bear upon a point of faith. “The Pope,” say you, “declares that he has condemned the doctrine of Jansenius in these five propositions; therefore it is essential to the faith to hold that the doctrine of Jansenius touching these five propositions is heretical, let it be what it may.” Here is a strange point of faith, that a doctrine is heretical be what it may. What! if Jansenius should happen to maintain that “we are capable of resisting internal grace” and that “it is false to say that Jesus Christ died for the elect only,” would this doctrine be condemned just because it is his doctrine? Will the proposition, that “man has a freedom of will to do good or evil,” be true when found in the Pope’s constitution, and false when discovered in Jansenius? By what fatality must he be reduced to such a predicament, that truth, when admitted into his book, becomes heresy? You must confess, then, that he is only heretical on the supposition that he is friendly to the errors condemned, seeing that the constitution of the Pope is the rule which we must apply to Jansenius, to judge if his character answer the description there given of him; and, accordingly, the question, “Is his doctrine heretical?” must be resolved by another question of fact, “Does it correspond to the natural sense of these propositions?” as it must necessarily be heretical if it does correspond to that sense, and must necessarily be orthodox if it be of an opposite character. For, in one word, since, according to the Pope and the bishops, “the propositions are condemned in their proper and natural sense,” they cannot possibly be condemned in the sense of Jansenius, except on the understanding that the sense of Jansenius is the same with the proper and natural sense of these propositions; and this I maintain to be purely a question of fact.

The question, then, still rests upon the point of fact, and cannot possibly be tortured into one affecting the faith. But though incapable of twisting it into a matter of heresy, you have it in your power to make it a pretext for persecution, and might, perhaps, succeed in this, were there not good reason to hope that nobody will be found so blindly devoted to your interests as to countenance such a disgraceful proceeding, or inclined to compel people, as you wish to do, to sign a declaration that they condemn these propositions in the sense of Jansenius, without explaining what the sense of Jansenius is. Few people are disposed to sign a blank confession of faith. Now this would really be to sign one of that description, leaving you to fill up the blank afterwards with whatsoever you pleased, as you would be at liberty to interpret according to your own taste the unexplained sense of Jansenius. Let it be explained, then, beforehand, otherwise we shall have, I fear, another version of your proximate power, without any sense at all — abstrahendo ab omni sensu. This mode of proceeding, you must be aware, does not take with the world. Men in general detest all ambiguity, especially in the matter of religion, where it is highly reasonable that one should know at least what one is asked to condemn. And how is it possible for doctors, who are persuaded that Jansenius can bear no other sense than that of efficacious grace, to consent to declare that they condemn his doctrine without explaining it, since, with their present convictions, which no means are used to alter, this would be neither more nor less than to condemn efficacious grace, which cannot be condemned without sin? Would it not, therefore, be a piece of monstrous tyranny to place them in such an unhappy dilemma that they must either bring guilt upon their souls in the sight of God, by signing that condemnation against their consciences, or be denounced as heretics for refusing to sign it?

But there is a mystery under all this. You Jesuits cannot move a step without a stratagem. It remains for me to explain why you do not explain the sense of Jansenius. The sole purpose of my writing is to discover your designs, and, by discovering, to frustrate them. I must, therefore, inform those who are not already aware of the fact that your great concern in this dispute being to uphold the sufficient grace of your Molina, you could not effect this without destroying the efficacious grace which stands directly opposed to it. Perceiving, however, that the latter was now sanctioned at Rome and by all the learned in the Church, and unable to combat the doctrine on its own merits, you resolved to attack it in a clandestine way, under the name of the doctrine of Jansenius. You were resolved, accordingly, to get Jansenius condemned without explanation; and, to gain your purpose, gave out that his doctrine was not that of efficacious grace, so that every one might think he was at liberty to condemn the one without denying the other. Hence your efforts, in the present day, to impress this idea upon the minds of such as have no acquaintance with that author; an object which you yourself, father, have attempted, by means of the following ingenious syllogism: “The pope has condemned the doctrine of Jansenius; but the pope has not condemned efficacious grace: therefore, the doctrine of efficacious grace must be different from that of Jansenius.” If this mode of reasoning were conclusive, it might be demonstrated in the same way that Honorius and all his defenders are heretics of the same kind. “The sixth council has condemned the doctrine of Honorius; but the council has not condemned the doctrine of the Church: therefore the doctrine of Honorius is different from that of the Church; and therefore, all who defend him are heretics.” It is obvious that no conclusion can be drawn from this; for the Pope has done no more than condemn the doctrine of the five propositions, which was represented to him as the doctrine of Jansenius.

But it matters not; you have no intention to make use of this logic for any length of time. Poor as it is, it will last sufficiently long to serve your present turn. All that you wish to effect by it, in the meantime, is to induce those who are unwilling to condemn efficacious grace to condemn Jansenius with less scruple. When this object has been accomplished, your argument will soon be forgotten, and their signatures, remaining as an eternal testimony in condemnation of Jansenius, will furnish you with an occasion to make a direct attack upon efficacious grace by another mode of reasoning much more solid than the former, which shall be forthcoming in proper time. “The doctrine of Jansenius,” you will argue, “has been condemned by the universal subscriptions of the Church. Now this doctrine is manifestly that of efficacious grace” (and it will be easy for you to prove that); “therefore the doctrine of efficacious grace is condemned even by the confession of his defenders.”

Behold your reason for proposing to sign the condemnation of a doctrine without giving an explanation of it! Behold the advantage you expect to gain from subscriptions thus procured! Should your opponents, however, refuse to subscribe, you have another trap laid for them. Having dexterously combined the question of faith with that of fact, and not allowing them to separate between them, nor to sign the one without the other, the consequence will be that, because they could not subscribe the two together, you will publish it in all directions that they have refused the two together. And thus though, in point of fact, they simply decline acknowledging that Jansenius has maintained the propositions which they condemn, which cannot be called heresy, you will boldly assert that they have refused to condemn the propositions themselves, and that it is this that constitutes their heresy.

Such is the fruit which you expect to reap from their refusal, and which will be no less useful to you than what you might have gained from their consent. So that, in the event of these signatures being exacted, they will fall into your snares, whether they sign or not, and in both cases you will gain your point; such is your dexterity in uniformly putting matters into a train for your own advantage, whatever bias they may happen to take in their course!

How well I know you, father! and how grieved am I to see that God has abandoned you so far as to allow you such happy success in such an unhappy course! Your good fortune deserves commiseration, and can excite envy only in the breasts of those who know not what truly good fortune is. It is an act of charity to thwart the success you aim at in the whole of this proceeding, seeing that you can only reach it by the aid of falsehood, and by procuring credit to one of two lies either that the Church has condemned efficacious grace, or that those who defend that doctrine maintain the five condemned errors.

The world must, therefore, be apprised of two facts: first, That by your own confession, efficacious grace has not been condemned; and secondly, That nobody supports these errors. So that it may be known that those who refuse to sign what you are so anxious to exact from them, refuse merely in consideration of the question of fact, and that, being quite ready to subscribe that of faith, they cannot be deemed heretical on that account; because, to repeat it once more, though it be matter of faith to believe these propositions to be heretical, it will never be matter of faith to hold that they are to be found in the pages of Jansenius. They are innocent of all error; that is enough. It may be that they interpret Jansenius too favourably; but it may be also that you do not interpret him favourably enough. I do not enter upon this question. All that I know is that, according to your maxims, you believe that you may, without sin, publish him to be a heretic contrary to your own knowledge; whereas, according to their maxims, they cannot, without sin, declare him to be a Catholic, unless they are persuaded that he is one. They are, therefore, more honest than you, father; they have examined Jansenius more faithfully than you; they are no less intelligent than you; they are, therefore, no less credible witnesses than you. But come what may of this point of fact, they are certainly Catholics; for, in order to be so, it is not necessary to declare that another man is not a Catholic; it is enough, in all conscience, if a person, without charging error upon anybody else, succeed in discharging himself.

Reverend Father, if you have found any difficulty in deciphering this letter, which is certainly not printed in the best possible type, blame nobody but yourself. Privileges are not so easily granted to me as they are to you. You can procure them even for the purpose of combating miracles; I cannot have them even to defend myself. The printing-houses are perpetually haunted. In such circumstances, you yourself would not advise me to write you any more letters, for it is really a sad annoyance to be obliged to have recourse to an Osnabruck impression.

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:10