Episode 14 of PZ’s Podcast! This week’s podcast tells the story of Jansenism, a religious movement in Seventeenth-Century France. Jansenism divided the country, angered the ‘Sun King’, and ended disastrously for its heroines (and heroes).

In the later part of the Counter Reformation, the Jansenists were Roman Catholics who sought to go back to the teachings of St. Augustine concerning divine grace. The lay brothers (i.e., les Messieurs), priests, and sisters of the movement, who worked from two convents known as Port-Royal, included Sister Angelique (Arnauld) and Mother Catherine-Agnes (Arnauld); Jean Racine, the playwright; Blaise Pascal, the mathematician; and the Duchess of Longueville, an influential member of the Court of Louis XIV. The latter was able to protect the principal Jansenists until her death in 1679.

Helas! — To Jesuit and Papal ears, the Jansenists seemed to sound like crypto-Protestants, and notwithstanding their extreme devotion to the Holy Sacrament.

Amazing story this is, of a noose tightening around, and finally garroting, its victims. Jansenism was wiped out, its chief supporters imprisoned, dispersed to Jesuit-friendly convents, or exiled; and the graves of its friends who were buried at Port-Royal, dug up and the remains shoveled into a common pit.

In the second of this two-parter, which will be published next week — we’re back on a once-a-week regular schedule — I shall try to reflect on the fate of Jansenism, in contemporary perspective.

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