The Counter Reformation and the “Constitutions” of Port-Royal, by F. Ellen Weaver [Archivum Historicum Societatis Jesu]

La Contre-Réforme et les ‘Constitutions de Port-Royal’
by F. Ellen Weaver
(Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2002)


The Council of Trent mandated that the religious orders go back to their authentic observances and their ancient rules. In France, which was in certain ways resistant to some Tridentine reforms, the Cistercians made the required effort. F. Ellen Weaver with care and a meticulous reading of the sources traces for us the genesis of the Constitutions of Port-Royal. This reformed Cistercian monastery was the focal point for the so-called Jansenist party in France. However, Weaver found nothing heterodox in the various editions of the Constitutions of Port-Royal (p. 176). In fact, part of what Jansenism advocated was later confirmed by the Second Vatican Council (pp. 199-200).

The basis for the Constitutions was in the Rule of Saint Benedict and the reform of Cîteaux, of which Port-Royal was a daughter foundation. Next, as a contribution from the period of the Counter-Reformation, we see the mark of Pierre de Bérulle and the Institut du Saint Sacrament, founded in 1633, but subsequently incorporated into Port-Royal in 1638. Some influence of Jean Duvergier de Hauranne de Saint-Cyran and “primitive Jansenism” may be noted here (pp. 130-131). Still, the edition of the Constitutions of 1648 was clear and simple (p. 139). Additions and corrections followed and the version of 1662 was printed in 1665. Weaver says that the earlier the version, the richer spiritually; the later the version, the more juridical and rigid. The 1665 version was needed by the polemicists as an arm in their arsenal to defend the monastery in time of persecution (pp. 154-155). Still, the printed version of 1721 conforms closely to the 1665 edition. Weaver suggests this new reprinting shows the vitality of the “myth of Port-Royal” (p. 170). Some amendments gathered into “chapters” were not to be found in the official printed Constitutions (p. 141).

The Jesuits are mentioned in this book only briefly and intermittently. It is remarked that Saint Ignatius did not have to go back to any more ancient rule since he had produced a wholly new one, the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, which was approved by the pope (p. 24). The original conflict between the Old Augustinians at Louvain and the Jesuits is briefly recalled (pp. 123-124). Jesuits were seen as the chief promoters of “Catholic humanism” in Europe. There was some concern that supporters of the Jesuits in Mons may have been trying to impede the printing by Gaspard Migeot of the 1665 Constitutions of Port-Royal, but nothing came of that (pp. 153-154). The Jesuit theologians Denis Petau and Jacques Sirmond are referred to as being consulted at the time of the Clementine Peace of the Church (p. 158). Jesuit royal confessors are known to have advised the monarchy toward the complete suppression of Port-Royal (p. 127).

Weaver is convinced that all the pressures and conflicts of the day did in some way influence the later Constitutions of Port-Royal. However, there is not much in them which may be called explicit about those controversies. This book is a fine textual analysis rather than a discussion of the controversy between Jesuits and Jansenists that forms the backdrop for the study of the church in the France of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Reverend Brian Van Hove, SJ

Alma, Michigan

Published in Archivum Historicum S. I., vol. 73, fasc. 145 (January-June 2004): 253-254.


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