More Parallels Between 'Traditionalism' and Jansenism

The following url is intended to be a completion of the previous one where eight parallels between 'traditionalism' and Jansenism were sketched out. (Not to mention that some of the parallels mentioned earlier - and the ones which will be mentioned in this url - are also parallels between so-called 'traditionalists' and Protestantism.)

Parallel #9:

Against the Jesuits, in whom from the first they had encountered capable and determined adversaries, they had vowed a profound antipathy and waged a war to the death. This inspired the "Provinciales" which appeared in 1656. These were letters supposedly addressed to a provincial correspondent. Their author Blaise Pascal, abusing his admirable genius, therein lavished the resources of a captivating style and an inexhaustible sarcastic humour to taunt and decry the Society of Jesus, as favouring and propagating a relaxed and corrupt moral code. To this end the errors or imprudences of some members, emphasized with malicious exaggeration, were made to appear as the official doctrine of the whole order. The "Provinciales" were translated into elegant Latin by Nicole disguised for the occasion under the pseudonym of Wilhelmus Wendrochius. They did a great deal of harm. [1]

In brief: The Jansenists ridiculed the Jesuits as favouring a lax and corrupt moral code and 'traditionalists' ridicule the so-called "ambiguous" 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II as containing "corruptions." Likewise so many abuses that have occurred in the past few decades have been treated as the official doctrine of the Second Vatican Council.

Parallel #10:

In order to silence them, Alexander VII, at the instance of several members of the episcopate, issued (15 February 1664) a new Constitution, beginning with the words, "Regiminis Apostolici". In this he enjoined, with threat of canonical penalties for disobedience…It would be a mistake to believe that this direct intervention of the pope sustained as it was by Louis XIV, completely ended the stubborn opposition. The real Jansenists underwent no change of sentiment. Some of them, such as Antoine Arnauld and the greater number of the religious of Port-Roval, defying both the ecclesiastical and the civil authority, refused their signature, on the pretext that it was not in the power of any person to command them to perform an act of hypocrisy, others subscribed, but at the same time protesting more or less openly that it applied only to the question of right, that the question of fact was reserved and should be so, since in this respect the Church had no jurisdiction, and above all no infallibility. Among those who stood for explicit restriction and hence for refusal to sign the formulary as it was, must be numbered the four bishops mentioned above. [2]

Though part of this deals with the false dichotomy between right and fact - which was dealt with in detail with parallel eight in the previous url - that is not the only parallel which is worth noting here. Another is the particularly SSPX parallel whereas there were four bishops aligning themselves with the rebellious Jansenist movement in 1657. In 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops who followed him into schism and thus were "aligned" with his rebellious movement. Also notice that the Jansenists are the ones outlining the degree of Church jurisdiction and infallibility as if it is their personal decision in these matters (or personal interpretation of Church policy) that is the determinant for everyone else. The other groups that use their private judgment in these matters today include every schismatic 'traditionalist' group that has sprung up in the past thirty-odd years. (This excludes a few apostolates for the Tridentine liturgy which were either approved by Rome at their foundation or were schismatic groups which were subsequently realigned with the Apostolic See and have thus been legitimized. These apostolates are best referred to as "Tridentine Catholics" to avoid confusion.) It is Jansenism deja vu because old heresies never die but instead they reappear later in history under different names. The principles behind all errors of heresy or schism though are the same.

Parallel #11:

Abandoning the plainly heretical sense of the five propositions, and repudiating any intention to resist legitimate authority, they confined themselves to denying the infallibility of the Church with regard to dogmatic facts. Then, too, they were still the fanatical preachers of a discouraging rigorism, which they adorned with the names of virtue and austerity, and, under pretext of combating abuses, openly antagonized the incontestable characteristics of Catholicism especially its unity of government, the traditional continuity of its customs, and the legitimate part which heart and feeling play in its worship. With all their skilful extenuations they bore the mark of the leveling, innovating, and arid spirit of Calvinism. These were the fins Jansénistes. They formed thenceforth the bulk of the sect, or rather in them the sect properly so called was summed up. But apart from them, though side by side with them, and bordering on their tendencies and beliefs, history points out two rather well-defined groups known as the "duped Jansenists" and the "quasi-Jansenists". The first were in good faith pretty much what the fins Jansénistes were by system and tactics: they appear to us as convinced adversaries of necessitating grace, but no less sincere defenders of efficacious grace; rigorists in moral and sacramental questions, often opposed, like the Parlementarians, to the rights of the Holy See; generally favourable to the innovations of the sect in matters of worship and discipline. The second category is that of men of Jansenist tinge. While remaining within bounds in theological opinions, they declared themselves against really relaxed morality against exaggerated popular devotions and other similar abuses. The greater number were at bottom zealous Catholics, but their zeal, agreeing with that of the Jansenists on so many points, took on, so to speak, an outer colouring of Jansenism, and they were drawn into closer sympathy with the party in proportion to the confidence with which it inspired them. Even more than the "duped" Jansenists they were extremely useful in screening the sectarians and in securing for them, on the part of the pastors and the multitude of the faithful, the benefit either of silence or of a certain leniency. [3]

The Jansenists of this period denied the infallibility of the Church with regard to dogmatic facts. 'Traditionalists' tend to (i) deny the infallibility of the Pope outside of ex cathedra pronouncements and (ii) assert that they are only required to assent to teachings promulgated in a recognizably definitive manner. This is their position at least in theory anyway whereas in practice they are arbitrary in their decisions. (Ascribing the qualification of infallibility in toto to their favourite encyclical letters for example when the Pope may have only been issuing disciplinary directives and not defining doctrine or definitively settling issues of controversy.)

They also have an aversion to anything that in any way might be an improvement to the cherished Tridentine liturgy. With the latter it often times the proper number of bows or ceremonial exteriors can take on a mechanical mode when fixed with the degree of rigidity that they are. Then there is the element of active participation of the laity in the liturgy. Is it evil to get the congregation more involved simply because this has been more of a principle in this past century going back to the pre-Trent era. (Most notably going back to the intimacy of Mass being offered in the smaller settings of private homes before the fourth-fifth century.) Protestant Evangelicalism, despite what shortcomings it does possess in some areas, nevertheless deserves credit for excelling in this area: getting people more involved in worship. This used to be the way the Church celebrated the liturgy for much of the first millennium plus. However "from the beginning of the eleventh century various changes of far reaching consequences had begun to take place in the Roman liturgy. The very way in which the liturgy had been celebrated, with its emphasis on community celebration - singers, readers, congregation, and celebrant with their respective parts...this familiar pattern was soon to disappear" as "[m]ore and more the Mass was coming to be regarded as an almost exclusively priestly function" with the people "[being] reduced to the state of mere spectators" as the priests "performed the sacred drama at the altar" (The Study of Liturgy: section on medieval western rites pg. 238).

Whatever one thinks of the Tridentine reforms, it is undeniable that some degree of clamping down was needed to insure that the needed reforms took effect. However, it can be admitted that there was a gradual passivity that begin settling in with regards to the laity and their participation in the liturgy that predated Trent by a couple of centuries and which was in essence institutionalized by many of the reforms of the liturgy which were enacted after the Council of Trent. Pope St. Pius X, at the start of the twentieth century, strongly endorsed the very kind of laity participation spoken of earlier which the Church begin gradually allowing lay involvement in the liturgy in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. This is a glaring weakness in the 'traditionalist' position because it shows that they select what they like from earlier periods but not everything. Further still, they tend to prefer certain customs which were not only not traditional but which were based on a skewed understanding of tradition. (Such as the idea of the passive laity praying private devotional prayers during Mass rather then having an active role to play in the liturgical celebration.)

What then is this "evil" of greater participation in responses by the congregation in the liturgy??? There is none, this is just another example of the faulty one-sided dichotomous mindset of ahistorical self-styled 'traditionalists'. (Who set up annoying "either/or" situations when they are not called for.) This is what Protestant theology espouses constantly. Catholicism has always rejected such unbiblical and Hellenistic dichotomies because they are arbitrary and man-made. The Church has always been very Hebrew in her recognition that there are many ways of approaching the same target. This is why she has always encouraged theological diversity unified in essentials and tolerant in non-essentials - within established boundaries of course. This manifestation was also represented in the diversity of liturgies for the first fifteen centuries of the Church until Pope St. Pius V (in a move unprecedented previously) imposed the Roman Missal on the entire Latin Rite with few exceptions allowed. Vatican II removed the suppression of the other rites of the Church and even before the Council (a good fifty to seventy-five years before in fact) began to do what she always does with the good movements and qualities of those outside the Church: she assimilated them.

In other words, the Catholic Church in her boundless wisdom took what is good from the Evangelical movement and began slowly incorporating it into the practice of the Church. She acted in other words just as she has always done throughout history. Examples of this abound from Our Lord basing the hierarchical structure of the Church on the pre-Resurrection Jewish Church to the Church Fathers utilizing Greek philosophy to explain and spread the Gospel through the Roman Empire. The later Fathers and Scholastics did the same in the incorporation of Arabic philosophies and scientific advances (along with Aristotelian philosophical models) in better explaining the Faith and bringing it to other nations. The Church from Judaism and various eastern faiths borrowed many forms of asceticism and even such venerable devotions such as the Rosary have their genesis in non-Catholic realms. The Church is catholic (universal): encompassing all peoples and nations. Different peoples and nations have different customs, ways of worshipping, and philosophical/theological schools of thought. The Church has always recognized the theological diversity of her children. Outside of imposing certain unchangeable parameters she has allowed and fostered this diversity which is the antithesis of the attitudes of the 'traditionalist' movement. To the self-styled 'traditionalist', everything the Church did in this realm previous to the twentieth century was okay but now it is not so. This is an example of a purely arbitrary rationale with no foundation in consistency whatsoever. If it was good for the Church to do this in earlier centuries (and in doing so she evangelized whole nations and continents) then it is also okay now. If it is wrong now (as the self-styled 'traditionalists' claim) than it was wrong then.

There are also an often very rigorous (often fanatically so) attitudes of 'traditionalists' with certain warped concepts of modesty. A woman not wearing slacks is one concept that comes to mind. Never mind the degree of modesty that a given pair of pants may have (there are after all, immodest and modest pants), comments such as "the Blessed Mother never wore slacks" are thrown out which are indicative of a gross stupidity. First of all, in apostolic times both men and women wore long flowing garments. In fact, the actual attire was quite similar between women and men back then (except women covered their heads often time of course). Another warped concept is one of an exaggerated Puritan concept of marriage and also the relationship between the spouses. When it comes to husband and wife relationships, 'traditionalists' take an exaggerated view of the submission owed by a wife to her husband and makes it equivalent to a near-servitude (if not explicitly stated as such).

Then there is the subject of conjugal love and procreation. Ignoring the manifold factors that make excessively large families less congruent to modern society, there is the condemnation of NFP and other family planning methods (that are intrinsically congruent to the Divine Law) by the 'traditionalist' movement both implicitly and explicitly. The facts that (i) we live in a more urban and industrialized culture so (ii) the need of large families to support an agriculturally based society is no longer necessary are not factors that are ever taken into consideration. Further still (iii) with the death rate being overcome in the late nineteenth century, the same degree of emphasis on the need to preserve the species is not in existence. This is due in no small part to (iv) numerous advances in medicine that aid in the cure of many ailments that were fatal to infants and young children even a century ago along with (v) a lower degree of miscarriages today primarily since we have greater knowledge of the types of stress that causes a miscarriage: knowledge that did not exist in previous centuries. In other words, the same number of conceptions today would result in a vastly higher rate of both births and survival to adulthood of many children who due to the particular circumstances in previous centuries were either miscarried, stillborn, or died before the age of five.

The Church in her timeless wisdom has recognized in certain situations (because of the changes in times and circumstances and the advance of medicine and knowledge) there are natural God-given means of addressing these matters. There is of course nothing wrong with having a large family of course. (Nor is it being implied in this paragraph that there is.) However at the same time it is not and never has been a Catholic understanding that one was to have as many children as they could. The difference in the industrial -technological society of today is that family sizes that were common in centuries past are often not as practical as they once were and (because of our advances in medicine and knowledge) it is often necessary to be regulated as long as such regulation is conducted in a morally licit manner. There are legitimate and illegitimate means of limiting and/or spacing births and the judicious use of NFP is just such a means, which is in no way contradictory to the Divine Law. Nevertheless, many 'traditionalist' groups erroneously ascribe such methods to "Modernism."

While these methods of consistent natural regulation were not unheard of in previous centuries; using philosophical approaches predating the twentieth century to analyze discoveries of the twentieth century is what is known as a "non sequitur." These methods only became known with enough information to be reasonably consistent in their application around the turn of the century (becoming better known in the 1920's), it involves having recourse to more recent decisions of the Magisterium in this vein to have a proper perspective on these matters. Initial methods of natural regulation (such as rhythm) were not as efficient as the more advanced ones developed since the early to mid 1970's (and refined since then), but the principle is the same. It appears to be God's answer to the contraception mania that has erupted this century since Lambeth in 1930. (Since reasonably consistent natural regulation was only discovered before the evil of contraception became more prominent.) This is not to say that a contraceptive mentality should be employed in utilizing NFP of course, but there are legitimate reasons for its usage which the Church has approved of. Even predating Vatican II we can find this principle outlined in Pope Pius XI's Encyclical Letter CastiConnubii:

Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved. [4]
The intrinsic nature of the act is not deterred through sexual abstinence; therefore methods such as NFP which utilize period of abstinence cannot be accused of acting against nature. However, there are many so-called 'traditionalists' who would mark such people as 'untraditional' and demonstrate in doing so the very kind of rigorism that is another parallel to Jansenism. (Should we trust so-called 'traditionalists' or the teachings of Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII, Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II???) And yes this kind of rigorism is akin to that of Jansenism and Calvinism: two heresies that were based on some of the more rigorous speculative theology of St. Augustine. However, with sexual issues in general, this is an area that despite all of his excellent attributes, the Doctor of Grace was unfortunately too affected in his moral outlook by Tertullian. (However, to Augustine's credit, he was not as extreme as Tertullian or even his own contemporary St. Jerome in these matters.) And unlike these pseudo-'traditionalists', St. Augustine and St. Jerome never placed their private opinions against the judgments of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church. (Tertullian took this route and is remembered by posterity as a schismatic heretic.)

Parallel #12:

Four bishops went even farther, having recourse to an expedient of which only heretics or declared schismatics had hitherto bethought themselves, and which was essentially at variance with the hierarchical concept of the Church; they appealed from the Bull "Unigenitus" to a general council (1717). Their example was followed by some of their colleagues, by hundreds of clerics and religious, by the Parlements and the magistracy Noailles, for a long time undecided and always inconsistent, ended by appealing also, but ‘from the pope obviously mistaken to the pope better informed and to a general council’.
Clement XI, however, in the Bull "Pastoralis officii" (1718), condemned the appeal and excommunicated the appellants. But this did not disarm the opposition, which appealed from the second Bull as from the first Noailles himself published a new appeal, no longer chiefly to the pope "better informed", but to a council, and the Parlement of Paris, suppressed the Bull "Pastoralis". The multiplicity of these defections and the arrogant clamour of the appellants might give the impression that they constituted, if not a majority, at least a very imposing minority. Such, however, was not the case, and the chief evidence of this lies in the well-established fact that enormous sums were devoted to paying for these appeals. After allowing for these shameful and suggestive purchases, we find among the number of the appellants, one cardinal, about eighteen bishops, and three thousand clerics. But without leaving France, we find opposed to them four cardinals, a hundred bishops, and a hundred thousand clerics, that is, the moral unanimity of the French clergy. What is to be said, then, when this handful of protesters is compared to the whole of the Churches of England, the Low Countries, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Naples, Savoy, Portugal, Spain, etc., which, on being requested to pronounce, did so by proscribing the appeal as an act of schism and foolish revolt? The polemics, however, continued for several years. [5]
This is an exact representation of illegitimate 'traditionalists' viz. constant appeals to other authorities to "justify" their schism. As shown in the pamphlet examined in url 8, these kinds of people will stoop to any level of disingenuousness they need to if it gives them another angle from which to remain in rebellion against God. Consider that the rebellious groups like SSPX have appealed to "state of emergency" clauses in the 1983 Code and they have sought to defend their position from the now defunct 1917 Code. Consider also that these groups have sought to twist the words of prominent canon lawyers or (in the case of SSPX in particular) those studying for a canon law degree. But this is not as low as they have sought to stoop. No, to lend credence to their "foolish revolt", certain pseudo-'traditionalists' such as the SSPX have even gone so far as to falsify the status of a canon law undergraduate and they only retracted this after the party in question wrote them a long letter denouncing their lies and misrepresentations. (And despite his demands back in 1996 to cease using his material - or if they insist on using it to use it fairly with proper representation; they have continued up to the present day to use his statements in a manner whereby he is blatantly misrepresented.) These kinds of actions are not uncommon in 'traditionalism' where in seeking to justify their rebellion the 'traditionalist' acts precisely as the sixteenth century Protestant self-styled "reformers" and subsequent "reformers" / "historians" in promulgating any lie they could conjure up to excuse their rebellion. In short, they have no shame whatsoever.

Parallel #13:

We have reviewed the long series of defensive measures contrived by the Jansenists rejection of the five propositions without rejection of the "Augustinus", explicit distinction between the question of right and the question of fact; restriction of ecclesiastical infallibility to the question of right; the tactics of respectful silence, and appeal to a general council…
They fell into violent transports and inveighed against the pope and the bishops, as the convulsionaries of Cévennes had denounced the papacy and the Mass. In the excited crowd women were especially noticeable, screaming, yelling, throwing themselves about, sometimes assuming the most astounding and unseemly postures. To justify these extravagances, complacent admirers had recourse to the theory of "figurism". As in their eyes the fact of the general acceptance of the Bull "Unigenitus" was the apostasy predicted by the Apocalypse, so the ridiculous and revolting scenes enacted by their friends symbolized the state of upheaval which, according to them, involved everything in the Church. They reverted thus to a fundamental thesis such as has been met with in Jansenius and St-Cyran, and which these latter had borrowed from the Protestants. [6]

Okay, no 'traditionalist' groups have tried to fake any healings but there are a few interesting parallels to note here. For one thing, that some of the Jansenists of this period referred to the period after Pope Clement XI's Dogmatic Constitution Unigenitus as the great apostasy predicted in the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation) and from this, they sought to justify their disobedience to the Magisterium of the Church. Like the Jansenists, there is often a "party line" among 'traditionalist' groups that preaches that we are in the period of the "great apostasy" - or are antecedent to it in some manner - and this is their excuse to attempt to justify their disobedience to the Magisterium of the Church. Also, like the Jansenists (and the Protestants before them), self-styled 'traditionalists' have sought to deliberately misrepresent Church teachings: most notably VC II and the teachings of late nineteenth century popes as was exposed in detail earlier. They do this to justify their schism against the Body of Christ. And thus they act as the Jansenists did before them and the Protestants before them. (To name two of numerous historical heresies/schisms that could be listed here.)

Parallel #14:

In 1723 the Chapter of Utrecht i.e. a group of seven or eight priests who assumed this name and quality in order to put an end to a precarious and painful situation, elected, on its own authority, as archbishop of the same city, one of its members, Cornelius Steenhoven, who then held the office of vicar-general. This election was not canonical, and was not approved by the pope. Steenhoven nevertheless had the audacity to get himself consecrated by Varlet, a former missionary bishop and coadjutor Bishop of Babylon, who was at that time suspended, interdicted, and excommunicated. He thus consummated the schism, interdicted likewise and excommunicated, he died in 1725. Those who had elected him transferred their support to Barchman Wuitiers, who had recourse to the same consecrator. The unhappy Varlet lived long enough to administer the episcopal unction to two successors of Barchman, van der Croon and Meindarts. The sole survivor of this sorry line, Meindarts, ran the risk of seeing his dignity become extinct with himself. To prevent this, the Dioceses of Harlem (1742) and Deventer (1757) were created, and became suffragans of Utrecht. But Rome always refused to ratify these outrageously irregular acts, invariably replying to the notification of each election with a declaration of nullification and a sentence of excommunication against those elected and their adherents. Yet, in spite of everything, the schismatical community of Utrecht has prolonged its existence until modern times. [7]
The parallels between the various self-styled 'traditionalists' (who have consecrated their own bishops without the concurrence of Rome) and the Schism of Utrecht are also worth noting. In a similar situation, the existing Bishops of the Society were excommunicated - whereas other groups who have procured episcopal consecration in like manner are ipso facto excommunicated latae sententae under Church Law. (And like the Utrecht group, these pseudo-'traditionalist' groups maintain a hierarchy of officers who continue to govern a religious body that is in formal schism from the Catholic Church.)

Parallel #15:

Such is, in outline, the historical account of Jansenism, its origin, its phases, and its decline. It is evident that, besides its attachment to the "Augustinus" and its rigorism in morals, it is distinguished among heresies for crafty proceedings, chicane and lack of frankness on the part of its adherents, especially their pretence of remaining Catholics without renouncing their errors, of staying in the Church despite the Church itself, by skillfully eluding or braving with impunity the decisions of the supreme authority. Such conduct is beyond doubt without a parallel in the annals of Christianity previous to the outbreak of Jansenism in fact, it would be incredible if we did not in our own day find in certain groups of Modernists examples of this astonishing and absurd duplicity. The deplorable consequences, both theoretical and practical, of the Jansenist system, and of the polemics to which it gave rise, may readily be gathered from what has been said, and from the history of the last few centuries. [8]

Observe the parallels in the final paragraph in describing the Jansenists. The paragraph will modified a bit to emphasize with greater clarity the eerie parallel here with the modified parts in bold print:

It is evident that, in its rigorism in morals, it is distinguished among heresies for crafty proceedings, chicane and lack of frankness on the part of its adherents. This is especially evident in their pretense of claiming to remain Catholics without renouncing their errors, by skillfully eluding or braving with impunity the decisions of the supreme authority. Such conduct is beyond a doubt without a parallel in the annals of Christianity (with the exception of Jansenism). In fact, it would be incredible if we did not in our own day find in certain groups of like-minded 'traditionalists' examples of this astonishing and absurd duplicity. The deplorable consequences, both theoretical and practical, of the Lefebvrist 'traditionalist' system, and of the polemics to which it gave rise, may readily be gathered from what has been said, and from the history of the last few decades (since the close of Vatican II).

No more parallels need to be drawn out from the Catholic Encyclopedia article then these to adequately sustain the thesis that the self-styled 'traditionalists' have a lot of similarities to the heresy of Jansenism. (Not to mention to the heresy of Protestantism.) However, a few more will be looked at in the next section where we will dispense with examining the Catholic Encyclopedia article and move onto other sources.

Additional Comments and Analysis:

Fr. Anthony Fisher wrote an excellent essay on the parallels between self-styled 'traditionalism' and Jansenism. In the article we are about to look at sections of, he contrasted the Society and the Jansenists. While again it must be stressed that the SSPX is not the whole of 'traditionalism'; nevertheless the characteristics and most of the beliefs of the SSPX do reflect those of 'traditionalism' as a whole. Thus, a few citations from his work here (with a few comments interspersed) to highlight additional points in this realm would hardly be irregular. For easier reading, these sections will be presented in a side-by-side column format.


Jansenism is remembered most of all for its rigorist mentality. At the heart of the Jansenist position was a profound pessimism about the world and the power of the human will to resist evil…Their "bible," Cornelius Jansen's Augustinus (1640), held the neo-Calvinist position that as a result of the fall, human beings are irremediably corrupt and only a few can be saved, and these only by irresistible grace. Thus, they opposed the "humanism" of the Council of Trent; the then-fashionable devotions to the Blessed Sacrament, Christ's humanity, and , Mary; "easy" absolution and frequent communion ("spiritual luxury, even blasphemy"); the "laxist" moral theology of the Jesuits and the confessional handbooks; and, activities such as dancing and theater. They prided themselves on course habits, all-night vigils, use of the discipline, abstinence from the sacraments, and, other mortifications. They developed a "gloomy and tragic outlook on Christian life," "a deep sense of sin" and a "fierce spirituality of atonement by suffering." [9]

'Traditionalists' in General (and SSPX in Particular):

The rhetoric and apparent orientation of the Lefebvrists is often very similar. They proclaim their rigorism, enforce strict pre-conciliar disciplines on their seminarians and priests, and, bemoan the corrupt humanism and laxism of post-conciliar life.

One reporter found the Lefebvrist bishop, Richard N. Williamson, "scathing about the emphasis placed on God's compassion by those he calls modernist Catholics - or, in one of his more colorful excesses, 'Roman Protestants.' Such people, he says, have no recognition that His compassion must be earned, that it is not given unconditionally." (N. Brown, "Ruled by a hard God," The Bulletin (Sydney), 21/2/89, 180-9.) [10]

Fr. Fisher's Commentary:

Thus, in continuity with several other strands in Christian history, these two groups responded to pessimism about human nature, the Church and the world by embracing a severe moral and disciplinary regime which (for all the Jansenists' talk about grace) was intended to mark out the true believers and help ensure their salvation. [11]

It is interesting to note that the Jansenists opposed the "Humanism" of Trent much as self-styled 'traditionalists' claim to oppose the "Modernism" of Vatican II. Yet again that passage from Ecclesiastes about "nothing under the sun is new" comes to mind; however there are additional elements to consider such as the role of Tradition in the equation. (Though covered earlier, it is worth going over again as it is applicable here.)


The authority of tradition (as drawn from and eventually equated with St. Augustine) was a central doctrine of Jansenism. Essentially antiquarians, the Jansenists were opposed to philosophical reasoning ("the mother of all heresies") in theology, indeed to all methods of theology apart from the true one of "memory" or study of tradition. Arnauld insisted that one has to interpret even the definitions of the Council of Trent and the popes by Augustine. St. Cyran campaigned for a return to the discipline of the primitive Church. And soon enough their ecclesiola began to identify itself with the "Invisible Church," the "true" Church," the remnant after the Great Apostasy, martyrs for the traditional faith against a decadent Church. For all the talk about grace, the possibility of authentic development of doctrine and practice under the guidance of the Holy Spirit did not seem to enter the Jansenist equation. [12]

'Traditionalists' in General (and SSPX in Particular):

[Pope] Paul VI and [Pope] John Paul II identified a selective and contradictory notion of tradition at the heart of Lefebvrist theology. Like Jansenism, it canonizes a particular period of the Church's tradition - here the century preceding Vatican II - as the litmus test for the authenticity of later teaching. It fails to take into account the ability of tradition to accommodate authentic organic development. For Lefebvre, being true to the Tradition - always with a capital T - required being ahistorical, being bound by a mummified magisterium, to be interpreted with the same fundamentalism with which some have used the Scriptures as the Jansenists used Augustine, and, symbolized by a mummified liturgy and discipline.

Thus Lefebvre makes a host of historically and doctrinally untenable claims...Lefebvre also had implied, but never stated outright, that Novus Ordo Masses are invalid - he called them "Protestant" or "Lutheran" Masses... [13]

Though this author has touched on the subject in a few places of this treatise, it is worth noting here that the common so-called 'traditionalist' has a seemingly constitutional inability to understand the concept of development in doctrine or practice. This of course, as Fr. Fisher noted above, was also a problem that the Jansenists had and also is one that most Protestants who struggle with the teachings of the Catholic Church also possess. (Though in the case of the Protestants they are not professing obedience to an authority that they then turn around and disobey; in that sense they are at least consistent in their error whereas the so-called 'traditionalists' are not.)

So in the eyes of the SSPX, Archbishop Lefebvre was the determiner of what is and is not Tradition and when the Church is adhering to Sacred Tradition (as opposed to ecclesiastical traditions which are changeable). Likewise in the eyes of those who are followers of Fr. Feeney he was the determiner of what is and is not Tradition and when the Church is adhering to Sacred Tradition (as opposed to ecclesiastical traditions which are changeable). Likewise, "Bishop" Kelly for the Society of St. Pius V (SSPV), etc. etc. etc. Kindly go back to the eighth parallel of the previous url please and read again an eerily similar statement made at the Diet of Worms (in 1521) by someone else who thought they were the arbiter of truth over and against the Magisterium of the Church and the Pope. The comparison between Fr. Martin Luther and these modern day "reformers" is hopefully a sobering one.


The evidence speaks for itself: Self-styled 'traditionalism' mirrors all heresies when it comes to private judgment but when it comes to morality they are clearly Jansenists whose overt rigorous nature would make Tertullian proud. There are similarities here in authority also between this pseudo-'traditionalism', Protestants, and the Jansenists. Sola Scriptura was (and is) an arbitrary standard used by the Protestants to "justify" their splitting from the historic Church. The so-called 'traditionalists' use a similar arbitrary standard which the Jansenists used before them: Sola Traditio. In both cases the individual - utilizing their favourite theologian, selected church group/confession, or their own personal opinions - is the judge of what is and is not saving doctrine. This very concept makes truth an arbitrary concept. Protestants use the Scriptures whereas the self-styled 'traditionalists' and the Jansenists use Tradition and in both cases the bottom line is individual judgment which is contrary to the will of Our Lord. The Lord founded a Church to preserve doctrinal and corporate unity so that the message of the Gospel would have credibility in the eyes of the world because of the unity of its adherents (cf. John 17). Sola Scriptura makes unity impossible and makes truth arbitrary. The same is the case for Sola Traditio. No philosophy, which is intrinsically schismatic can possibly be the truth. Ergo, the Protestant (Sola Scriptura) and Jansenist/self-styled 'traditionalist' (Sola Traditio) philosophies fail the simplest test of logic and coherence.

Pride is the beginning of all sin (Sirach 10:14-15) and the divisions in Christendom are to a large degree because of sinful pride on the part of man. This same problem exists in the rebellious 'traditionalist' movements. Numerous other 'traditionalist' groups could be listed that are dividing the tunic of Christ in the same manner as the Protestant self-styled 'reformers'. Like the latter, none of today's self-styled 'traditionalists' can fully agree as far as what "Traditions" are being compromised except of course that the Church of the Living God, the pillar and foundation of the Truth (1 Tim. 3:15) was in error or has become corrupt. Meanwhile, they were the "saviours" or the "messengers" to "reform" her you see. Despite this profound lack of internal unity (Matt. 12:25-29; Mark 3:23-26; Luke 11:14-20), they would still team up anyway despite their inner squabbling to form an attempted "united" front against the Spouse of Christ. (Much as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, and Melanchton among others had done in the sixteenth century.) Like their Protestant forefathers, they would ride in on their white horses with the mandate from God and would "correct" what they perceived to be the "errors" made by the Magisterium of the Church. And all of is not supposed to be the textbook definition of a false christ or a false prophet (2 Pet. 2:1-4, 10-12, 17,19-22).

The bottom line really and what separates the orthodox Christian from the heterodox one is the words of Our Lord Himself and the testimony of the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church who were united in proclaiming that Our Lord kept and will always keep His promises. Every single one He ever made has been kept and that includes the promise of indefectibility of the Church. Believing in the indefectibility of the Church requires faith a child-like faith but this is the sort of faith Our Lord mentioned needing to attain the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3-4, Mark 9:29-31, Luke 9:46-48). While Cardinal Newman is critical of Protestants in the following passage, it applies equally well to 'traditionalists' and their actions towards the Apostolic See:

Such is the only rational, consistent account of faith; but so far are Protestants from professing it, that they laugh at the very notion of it. They laugh at the very notion itself of men pinning their faith (as they express themselves) upon Pope or Council; they think it simply superstitious and narrow-minded, to profess to believe just what the Church believes, and to assent to whatever she will say in time to come on matters of doctrine. That is, they laugh at the bare notion of doing what Christians undeniably did in the time of the Apostles. Observe, they do not merely ask whether the Catholic Church has a claim to teach, has authority, has the gifts;--this is a reasonable question;--no, they think that the very state of mind which such a claim involves in those who admit it, namely, the disposition to accept without reserve or question, that this is slavish. They call it priestcraft to insist on this surrender of the reason, and superstition to make it. That is, they quarrel with the very state of mind which all Christians had in the age of the Apostles; nor is there any doubt (who will deny it?) that those who thus boast of not being led blindfold, of judging for themselves, of believing just as much and just as little as they please, of hating dictation, and so forth, would have found it an extreme difficulty to hang on the lips of the Apostles, had they lived at their date, or rather would have simply resisted the sacrifice of their own liberty of thought, would have thought life eternal too dearly purchased at such a price, and would of died in their unbelief. [14]
Our Lord made a number of promises but four of them will be highlighted here: Now then, to have culpably adhered to any of the numerous movements opposed to the Church in the past twenty centuries is to implicitly claim that these four promises by Our Lord were either (i) Ones He could not keep (ii) Promises He could keep but chose not to or (iii) Lies. It is useless to promise protection from the gates of sheol, the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, or Christ’s presence with the Church "all days unto the consummation of the world" if such promises were not as a safeguard against formal doctrinal error. If no such guarantee was promised, than such statements were superfluous and the New Covenant is a poorer one than the Old. After all, at least the Jews had Prophets to lead them when they went astray who were inspired men of God. The New Covenant by its very nature must be a more perfect one in every manner and that includes a stronger protection from error than the Old Covenant enjoyed.

The choice to be made here is a clear one. We choose between the Church founded by Our Lord and Saviour which has been (and always will be) the "light of the world" (Matt. 5:14) or we pick the latest Pied Piper preaching a different gospel from that handed down through the Church in every age (Gal. 1:8-9). This author has no choice but to side with the Bride of Christ because her Spouse is faithful; He is incapable of not keeping His promises. If you desire to follow the Lord, this is the only choice you have also for there is only one way to enter the fold without being a robber and that is through the sheep-gate (John 10:1-17). It is a gate to which the Successor of Peter holds the only earthly key (Matt. 16:19). And further, Newman's dictum that "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant" easily and incontrovertibly applies in spades to 'traditionalism' (falsely so-called).


[1] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "Jansenius and Jansenism" (c. 1913)

[2] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "Jansenius and Jansenism" (c. 1913)

[3] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "Jansenius and Jansenism" (c. 1913)

[4] Pope Pius XI: Encyclical Letter "Casti Connubii" §59 (December 31, 1930)

[5] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "Jansenius and Jansenism" (c. 1913)

[6] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "Jansenius and Jansenism" (c. 1913)

[7] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "Jansenius and Jansenism" (c. 1913)

[8] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "Jansenius and Jansenism" (c. 1913)

[9] Fr. Anthony Fisher: "Lefebvrism: Jansenism Revisited?", on the outlook of the Jansenists and their "Rigorist Mentality", New Blackfriars 71 June 1990, 274-85 (c. 1999)

[10] Fr. Anthony Fisher OP: "Lefebvrism: Jansenism Revisited?", on the outlook of the "Lefebvrists" and their "Rigorist Mentality", New Blackfriars 71 June 1990, 274-85 (c. 1999)

[11] Fr. Anthony Fisher OP: "Lefebvrism: Jansenism Revisited?", commentary on the similarity of outlooks of the Jansenists and the "Lefebvrists" in the realm of "Rigorist Mentality", New Blackfriars 71 June 1990, 274-85 (c. 1999)

[12] Fr. Anthony Fisher OP: "Lefebvrism: Jansenism Revisited?" on the outlook of the Jansenists with regards to "Tradition and Traditionalism" New Blackfriars 71 June 1990, 274-85 (c. 1999)

[13] Fr. Anthony Fisher OP: "Lefebvrism: Jansenism Revisited?" on the outlook of the "Lefebvrists" with regards to "Tradition and Traditionalism" New Blackfriars 71 June 1990, 274-85 (c. 1999)

[14] Ven. Cardinal John H. Newman: Excerpt from his sermon "Faith and Private Judgment" (c. 1849)

Additional Notes:

The citations from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) article "Jansenius and Jansenism" were obtained at the following link:

The citation from Pope Pius XI's Encyclical Letter "Casti Connubii" was obtained at the following link:

The citations from Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Sermon "Faith and Private Judgment" were obtained at the following link:

The citations from The Very Revd. Fr. Anthony Fisher's article: "Lefebvrism-Jansenism revisited?"  were obtained at the following link:

©2003, 2000, "A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism'" (Part 13), written by I. Shawn McElhinney. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.


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