Ernest Ruth d’Ans: The Patriarch of the Jansenists, by Michel Van Meerbeeck [Archivum Historicum Societatis Jesu]

Ernest Ruth d’Ans: “Patriarche des Jansénistes” (1653-1728): Une Biographie

by Michel Van Meerbeeck

Bibliothèque de la Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique, Fascicule 87
Brussels: Éditions Nauwelaerts, 2006
627 pages, paperbound


Paul-Ernest Ruth d’Ans (1653 ‒ 1728) was a secondary figure in the story of Belgian Jansenism.  This secretary to Antoine Arnauld was from Verviers in the Diocese of Liège, and he remained a lifelong subject of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège (4).  He was an ecclesiastical dean of Tournai and canon of the university church dedicated to the patroness of Brussels, Saint Gudula (+ 712).  His Vie de ste Gudule was published in 1703 and reprinted in 1837.  Works he edited included those of Blaise Pascal and Pasquier Quesnel, and a French-Latin Bible (330-332).  Printing in the Low Countries evaded the stricter French censorship laws and from there ensued a brisk trade of contraband back into France.

Ruth d’Ans was less accessible to scholarship than the Great Arnauld. Though Ernest lived a long life intimately involved with Jansenism and Antijansenism, he left no important original publications ‒ “Il vit avant de penser” (Introduction, xvii).  A bit of correspondence survived, and Michel Van Meerbeeck identified twenty-nine letters from a vast number which sustained severe losses (Introduction, xcii—xcvii).

There were earlier modest efforts to write Monsieur Ernest’s biography, but Van Meerbeeck at last produced the near-definitive study.  It benefited from an abundance of recent research.  He believed there may still be undiscovered (or undigested) sources, and in the Introduction (footnote 52, page xxii)  he suggested avenues for further study.

Van Meerbeeck was indebted to the historian of Jansenism and Antijansenism, Lucien Ceyssens, as well as to Émile Jacques, Bruno Neveu, Michel Nuttinck, Louis Demoulin, Jan Roegiers and a few others.

The premature death of his father made it more likely that Ernest would follow a church career. He was tonsured at the age of ten (15).  Ernest made his early studies at Louvain, arriving there in the fall of 1667 (18, 597).  At Louvain he first encountered “Jansenism” in some academic form (20).  Van Meerbeeck was quick to agree with Ceyssens that, of course, it was never possible to define Jansenism except to say that it was whatever the Antijansenists said it was (23, 607).  Perhaps it was a lengthy trip in 1670-1671 to Rome and Paris that ignited a devotion to certain Jansenists more than his university formation alone (38-40).  No true intellectual, instead Ruth d’Ans was a man of many relationships and doors always seemed open to him (57, 600).  In 1695 his book on vernacular in the liturgy, L’Année chrétienne, was condemned.  Liturgical reform was always part of the Jansenist program (601, 608).

Ernest was due to be ordained to the priesthood in 1674. However there was a delay and instead he made a retreat at Port-Royal in 1675 under Isaac le Maistre de Sacy (59).  Sacy was a disciple of Antoine Singlin, Saint-Cyran’s successor at Port-Royal (61).  The retreat was followed by an extended visit with Arnauld who was then sixty-three years old (49).  His attachment to Arnauld grew.  Having left behind his Louvain studies, by 1675-1676 Ruth d’Ans was a “secretary” to Arnauld (51).  In March 1676 he actually moved to the famous monastery of Port-Royal and there, forever guilty by association, he was a “Jansenist,” among the last of the solitaires (52-53, 57, 605-607).  In 1689, at age thirty-six, Ruth d’Ans was finally ordained priest, twenty-five years after tonsure and much uncertainty (60, 191).

Van Meerbeeck speculated that Ernest saw in Arnauld “a father figure” (54).  When Arnauld died we are told Ernest was “orphaned” for the second time (214).  Ruth d’Ans presided over the interment of Arnauld’s heart at Port-Royal in 1694, a ceremony attended by Jean Racine (57).

If we say that Jansenius and Saint-Cyran represented the grandfather stage, that Arnauld and Quesnel represented the next generation, then Ruth d’Ans represented the son-grandson stage.  He carried on the traditions of the Jansenism family, but in his case he contributed nothing new to a line going back to the reforming mystical inspiration launched by Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629).  Indeed Ernest’s service as “secretary” defined his role as a secondary figure. Van Meerbeeck even calls the work he did “humbles travaux” [humble tasks] (57, 609).

Rather what made Ernest Ruth d’Ans significant was that he became the last public polemicist for the Jansenist party (594).  After his impenitent death in 1728 (589)  the Antijansenists (civil rulers, the pope and the Jesuits) won the war, so to speak, and then the Jansenists faded or went away until the French Revolution decimated both camps.

Reverend Brian Van Hove, S.J.

Alma, Michigan

Published in Archivum Historicum S. I., vol. 79, fasc. 158 (July-December 2010): 567-568.


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