Jansenism is a movement within the Roman Catholic Church that was started by Cornelius Otto Jansen (1585-1638) a Dutch theologian who became the Bishop of Ypres which is located in the Flemish region of Belgium. A strict Augustinian in his doctrine, he was dismayed by his church's abandonment of the doctrines of grace as seen in the Molinism of the Jesuits. In hopes of bringing reform, Jansen had many debates with the Jesuits and was so vociferous in his disagreement with them, that he almost incurred the wrath of the Inquisition. What might have saved him is his equal disdain for the Protestants. He also debated the Dutch Presbyterian Gisbert Voetius. Whereas the Jesuits were leaving Augustine's doctrines of grace the Reformers had left Augustine's view of the Church. For Jansen there was one Baptism, one Church and the Pope was the head of that church. Jansen also disagreed with the Reformers views on Justification and Assurance. Jansen agreed with Augustine that Justification is a process beginning in God's gracious act of conversion, whereby the sinner is gradually made righteous contra the Reformers who taught that Justification is an act of God's grace whereby sinners are declared righteous on the ground of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them and received by the gift of faith alone. Jansen believed the Reformers were presumptuous in believing in a doctrine of assurance. Jansen did hold in common with the Reformers that man's nature is totally depraved by original sin, that God's grace is irresistable and that Christ did not die for all but only those predestined to be saved. Because of this Jansen was grieved that many in his beloved Catholic Church were leaving Augustine. In order to rectify this, he spent the last twenty years of his life writing his magnum opus the three volume Augustinus which he completed a half hour before he died of a plague that had hit Ypres.
Augustinus was published posthumously in 1640. In the first volume Jansen covered the heresy of Pelagianism, the second volume was a study of the limitations of human reason and the third volume was a study of the Grace of Christ the Savior and concludes with a study of the semi-pelagians of his own day in the Molinists. The book gained a following especially in the french region of Port Royal, where Antoine Arnauld (1612-1694) and, the scientist, philosopher and most famous Jansenist, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) defended its doctrine. Due to the ensuing controversy, Pope Urban VIII condemned it in 1641 on the grounds that it is forbidden to publish on the doctrine of Grace without the permission of the Pope and that it revived the errors of Michael Baius. The Jansenists, however, were undeterred keeping the debate raging until 1651 when Pope Innocent X appointed a commission to study the issue. The study lasted two years in which the Jansenists set forth their Five Propositions abridged by the author 1. Some of God's commandments are impossible for even just men to keep. 2. In the state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace. 3. To merit or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we must be free of all external constraint but not interior necessity. 4. Semi-pelagians erred in believing interior grace can be resisted or accepted by man. 5. To say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men is Semi-pelagianism. In the end, Jansenism was declared heretical.This left Port Royal in the predicament of renouncing Jansenism or rejecting a decree of the pope. Some like Arnauld believed that since the 5 Propositions were not in Jansen's book that they could denounce the Propositions and still advocate the book Augustinus. Others like Pascal, who wrote his Provincial Letters in 1656, openly rejected the decree although still aligning themselves with Catholicism. Either way Jansenism would find it's home in Utrech, Netherlands as France and other Catholic countries were no longer a safe haven for them. In the Netherlands they would elect their own Archbishop and eventually unite with the group called "Old Catholics". Besides their Jansenism, the church has also over the years openly denied the decrees of the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility. The current church numbers in the low thousands and is only in the Netherlands.
Jansenism in Reformed Theology ?
Although John Calvin, John Knox and the other Reformers clearly departed from Augustine on his doctrine of the church and his progressive Justification as the debates between Jansen and Voetius prove, some professed Reformed theologians of today seem to be on the road back to Rome and are more akin to Jansen than they are to Calvin.In the late 70's a controversy raged at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania a Presbyterian and Calvinist institution. The source of the controversy was a professor named Norman Shepherd. Norman was teaching that good works as well as faith were instruments in our Justification. Norman was removed in 1981 after nearly twenty years of teaching this heresy. The fallout has been very costly as students of his have got into the ministry and are now leading churches in this same direction. A current movement called The Federal Vision is clearly linked to Norman as it is led by many of these former students and he is quoted enthusiastically by most of the others. In at least one case a disciple of Norman's has converted to Catholicism. Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian pastor and graduate of Gordon-Conwell Seminary, wrote his book Rome Sweet Home in 1993 which tells of his conversion to Catholicism. On page 31 of this book he identifies his inspiration as Norman Shepherd. Hahn also brags of a counselling session he had with the late Calvinist stalwart John Gerstner in which he soundly defeated Gerstner's best defense. This, however, is not surprising considering Gerstner's definition of faith in his book Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth in which he states on page 260 that "Nothing is added to the faith, but this (works) is a part of the definition of the faith" and later in case we did not understand him clearly enough on page 299 that " Lordship teaching does not 'add works' as if faith were not sufficient. The 'works' are part of the definition of faith." With such a radical redefinition of faith it appears that John Gerstner was not the Calvinist stalwart many think he was after all.
Another major event happened in 1994 exemplifying at least an implicit influence of Jansenism. The event was called Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millenium (ECT). This document was constructed by both Catholic and Calvinist theologians in which they declared each other brothers in Christ and declared an intent to witness together. How can they do this unless they share the same Gospel? "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3) The so-called Calvinists that authored this document are Charles Colson, Os Guinness, Richard Mouw, Mark Noll and J.I. Packer. A few years later after being confronted with their error these same so-called Calvinists along with Timothy George and John Woodbridge initiated ECT 2 in which noted Reformed Baptist scholar Roger Nicole indicated his agreement with and willingness to sign it.
One Catholic author I read stated it is a contradiction for Jansenists to claim Catholicism and reject the Pope. I agree wholeheartedly with the author, but in the Jansenists defense it is also a contradiction for the Pope and the Catholic church to canonize Augustine, and excommunicate Cornelius Jansen and his followers, who taught the same thing. I have no sympathies for either, however, as Calvinism and Jansenism represent two different movements and Gospels. My purpose in writing this is to reveal this movement, as it is not very well known, and distinguish it from the true Reformed faith for which it is being confused in some circles. I want to say at this point that I don't know if Norman Shepherd has ever read Jansen or any of his followers. I am not aware of him quoting any of them. Shepherd is in my opinion, however, closer in his theology to Jansen than the Calvinism he claims. With one of his disciples already in the Catholic church one can only wonder when his other ones in The Federal Vision will say with Jansen, " The Roman Pontiff is the supreme judge of all religious controversies, when he defines a thing and imposes it on the whole church, under penalty of anathema, his decision is just, true and infallible." ( epilogue, Augustinus)
For further reading on these important issues see What is Saving Faith? by Gordon Clark, Faith Alone by R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown by R.C. Sproul, Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton, Christ the Lord by Michael Horton, The Current Justification Controversy by O. Palmer Robertson, A Companion to The Current Justification Controversy by John Robbins, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology by Guy Prentiss Waters and Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper.
Soli Deo Gloria