After Battling Pope and King, Arnauld Exiled

It was a fateful day for French Roman Catholicism when in 1633 friends and family turned a student named Antoine Arnauld from law to theology. Antoine successfully defended a bachelor's thesis upholding a theory of grace based on teachings of St. Augustine. It was on the subject of grace that he became an unrelenting fighter. The grace that saves souls was only for a few people whom God had chosen, he taught, and it was irresistible.

Politics affected Antoine's next steps. One of his advisers was Abbé de Saint-Cyran. Cardinal Richelieu, France's powerful statesman, imprisoned Saint-Cyran, who disagreed with him. Richelieu's confessor was a leading theologian whose view of grace disagreed with Antoine's. Because of the Saint-Cyran connection and the disagreement over grace, Richelieu blocked Antoine from membership in the Society of the Sorbonne. (He did not get in until after the cardinal's death).

Antoine was the twentieth child of his parents. His father, also named Antoine, was a well-known lawyer, who became famous when he defended the University of Paris against the Jesuits. Dislike of the Jesuits flowed in the younger Antoine's blood. He wrote a book against their morals.

Dislike soon flamed afresh. Bishop Cornelius Jansen wrote a book titled Augustinus, which set forward a theory of grace similar to Antoine's. Jansen argued that one should take communion seldom and only after careful preparation. Some propositions from his book were condemned by the pope. Jansen's followers claimed that the propositions were not actually found in Jansen's book or were misinterpreted.

At any rate, Antoine wrote a pamphlet on communion in which he set forth Jansen's ideas. The Jesuits attacked this. They said communion was a means of God's forgiving grace, not a sacrament to be taken only by people who had perfect hearts. The war of words was on. It was so intense that Antoine retired from public life. The next year he published an anonymous defense of Jansen's teachings. An expert on logic, he presented his ideas with some skill.

The Jesuits were his principle enemies whereas the Dominicans sided with him. So did the French scientist and writer Blaise Pascal. In defense of Jansenism, Pascal wrote the well-known Provincial Letters.

The Sorbonne censured Antoine. He was degraded from the priesthood. However, Louis XIV's conflict with Protestants and the intervention of Pope Clement IX brought about a truce between the Jansenists and Jesuits. The king received Antoine at court and Antoine wrote a blast against Protestants.

Antoine was still a Jansenist, however. Ten years later, persecution of the Jansenists resumed. Louis wanted religious unity in his realm. With the permission of the king, Antoine went into exile in the Netherlands from where he continued to write in support of Jansenism. Whatever either side taught on God's grace, neither showed much grace for the other in this lengthy battle. Nor did Antoine show much grace in his battle with another priest, Nicolas Melebranche, over the nature of ideas. Both men used harsh words toward each other.

Antoine died on this day, August 8, 1694. His arguments for a universal grammar helped found modern linguistics. His position on logic had a strong influence on its methods of teaching for two centuries.


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Last updated July, 2007.