Jean du Vergier de Hauranne - Encyclopedia

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JEAN DU VERGIER DE HAURANNE (1581-1643), abbot of St Cyran, father of the Jansenist revival in France, was born of wealthy parents at Bayonne in 1581, and studied theology at the Flemish university of Louvain. After taking holy orders he settled in Paris, where he became known as a mine of miscellaneous erudition. In 1609 he distinguished himself by his Question royale, an elaborate answer to a problem casually thrown out by King Henry IV. as to the exact circumstances under which a subject ought to give his life for his sovereign. His learning was presently diverted into a more profitable channel. The Louvain of his time was the scene of many conflicts between the Jesuit party, which stood for scholasticism and Church-authority, and the followers of Michael Baius, who upheld the mysticism of St Augustine. Into this controversy Du Vergier was presently dragged by his friendship with Cornelius Jansen, a young champion of the Augustinian party, who had come to Paris to study Greek. The two divines went off together to Du Vergier's home at Bayonne, where he became a canon of the cathedral, and Jansen a tutor in the bishop's seminary. Here they remained some years, intently studying the fathers. Eventually, however, Jansen went back to Louvain, while Du Vergier became confidential secretary to the bishop of Poitiers, and was presently made sinecure abbot of St Cyran. Thereafter he was generally called M. de St Cyran. At Poitiers he was brought into contact with Richelieu - as yet unknown to political fame, and simply the zealous young bishop of the neighbouring diocese of Lugon. Western Touraine being the headquarters of French Protestantism, the two prelates turned St Cyran's learning against the Huguenots. He began to dream of reforming Catholicism on Augustinian lines, and thus defeating the Protestants by their own weapons. They appealed to primitive antiquity; he answered that his Church understood antiquity better than theirs. They appealed to the spirit of St Paul; he answered that Augustine had saved that spirit from etherealizing away, by coupling it with a high sacramental theory of the Church. They flung practical abuses in the teeth of Rome; he entered on a bold campaign to bring those abuses to an end. Before long, his reforming zeal involved him in many quarrels - so much so that he left Poitiers and settled down in Paris. Here he became widely known as a director of consciences, forming a particular friendship with the influential Arnauld family. But his general projects of reform were by no means allowed to sleep, though here he worked hand in hand with his old friend Jansen. Both traced the evils of their time to the Jesuits and Schoolmen. Their dialectic had corrupted theology; their hand-to-mouth utilitarianism had played havoc with traditional church-institutions. Accordingly, Jansen set to work to remedy one evil by writing a big book on St Augustine, the great master of theological method. St Cyran dealt with the other evil in an equally bulky treatise, the Petrus Aurelius (1633). This indicts the Jesuits for every sort and kind of misdemeanour. It deals much with what Pascal will presently call their devotion aisee; but still more with crimes of a technical sort, especially their defiance of episcopal authority. Thereby the book gained for its author's projects of reform a great deal of Gallican support. On the other hand, it gave much annoyance to Richelieu, now the all-powerful and extremely Erastian prime minister. After failing more than once to stop St Cyran's mouth with a bishopric, he had him arrested as a disturber of ecclesiastical peace (14th of March 1638). He remained shut up in the castle of Vincennes until Richelieu's death (December 1642). Then he was at once set free; but the long imprisonment had told heavily on his health, and he died of a stroke of apoplexy in October 1643St Cyran's character has been always something of a puzzle. Many excellent contemporary judges were profoundly impressed; others, as one of them said, went away bewildered by this strange abbe, who never argued a question out, but leapt from VIII. 24 one point to another in broken, incoherent phrases. Grace of expression he had none; perhaps no man of equal spiritual insight ever found it so hard to make his meaning clear, whether on paper or by word of mouth. On the other hand, Jansenism, considered as a practical religious revival, is altogether his work. He dragged the Augustinian mysticism out of the Louvain classrooms, and made it a vital spiritual force in France. Without him there would have been no Pascal - no Provincial Letters, and no Pensees. There is an excellent life of St Cyran by his secretary, Claude Lancelot, published at Cologne in two volumes, 1738. A selection of his Lettres chrestiennes was edited by his disciple, Robert Arnauld d'Andilly (Paris, 1645). An entirely different collection of Lettres spirituelles was printed at Cologne in 1744. (ST C.)

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