Jansenists and Jesuits on “No Salvation Outside the Church”
The usual line taken in Catholic history books is that the Jesuits were always the great defenders of Catholic doctrine and that the Jansenists were heretics.
However, Alexander VII († 1667) and Innocent XI († 1689) condemned 110 propositions that were extracted almost entirely from Jesuit authors and approved by Jesuit superiors who permitted their publication. Among them there are doctrinal propositions that relate to the salvation dogma of “No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church”.
The 110 propositions are simply entitled “Various Errors on Moral Matters” in the English (Jesuit) translation of Denzinger’s The Sources of Catholic Dogma and no authors are mentioned, but one can identify them from the Latin edition.
The following propositions of Aegidius Estrix S.J. denied that one must have the Catholic Faith to be saved.
“Only faith in one God seems necessary by a necessity of means, not, however, the explicit faith in a Rewarder.” (Denz. 1172)
“Faith widely so-called according to the testimony of creation or by a similar reason suffices for justification.” (Denz. 1173)
The same author maintained that anyone could “prudently” renounce the Catholic Faith – which must seriously call into question the sincerity of the author and the superior who approved the publication.
“The will cannot effect that assent to faith in itself be stronger than the weight of reasons impelling toward assent. Hence, anyone can prudently repudiate the supernatural assent which he had.” (Denz. 1169-70)
The following proposition by Stephen Bauny S.J. maintained that one can be saved even if by culpable negligence one does not know of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
“A person is fit for absolution, however much he labours under an ignorance of the mysteries of faith, and even if through negligence, even culpable, he does not know the mystery of the most blessed Trinity, and of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Denz. 1214)
The Jansenists, on the other hand, upheld the salvation dogma with learned and “distinguished zeal”.
“The condemnation of the wisest and most virtuous of the Pagans, on account of their ignorance or disbelief of the divine truth, seems to offend the reason and the humanity of the present age. The Jansenists, who have so diligently studied the works of the fathers, maintain this sentiment with distinguished zeal.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, XV)
Indeed, whereas the Jesuit Molinists are strongly inclined to deny the dogma so as to allow for their “enough, and very consoling too” theology, the leading Jansenist theologian Antoine Arnauld († 1694) used it as a basis from which to argue that God does not want all to be saved, which was a doctrine very dear to his party.
“Arnauld argued that God obviously did not want all men to be saved, because otherwise, he would not have made membership in his Church a necessary precondition for salvation. The existence of millions of non-Christians was proof of his intentions.” (Alexander Sedgwick, Jansenism in Seventeenth-Century France, pp. 69-70)
The famous French scientist and Jansenist apologist Blaise Pascal († 1662) maintained the salvation dogma in the final two of his open and very public letters concerning the Jansenists and the Jesuits. He addressed Fr. Annat, the Jesuit confessor of Louis XIV as follows.
“I have no allegiance except to the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, in the bosom of which I desire to live and die, in communion with the Pope, the sovereign head of the Church, and outside which I am fully convinced there is no salvation.” (Provincial Letters, XVII)
“You must not imagine that the Church has not derived a vast benefit from the discovery of the New World, since it provided so many peoples with knowledge of the Gospel who would otherwise have perished in their paganism.” (Provincial Letters, XVIII)
Moreover, the salvation dogma is a recurrent theme in his unfinished Pensées.
“We understand nothing of the works of God, if we do not take as a principle that He has willed to blind some and enlighten others. […] What do the prophets say about Jesus Christ? That he will plainly be God? No, but that he is a truly hidden God, that he will not be recognised, that people will not believe that it is he, that he will be a stumbling-block on which many will fall, etc.”
It also appeared in his correspondence.
“All virtues, martyrdom, austerities, and good works are useless [when practiced] beyond the Church and without communion with the head of the Church, who is the pope.” (Letter to Roannez of November 1656, quoted in Leszek Kolakoski, God Owes Us Nothing, p.158)
Fr. Pasquier Quesnel († 1719) led the Jansenist party after the death of Arnauld, who died in his arms. He wrote as follows, in his extremely popular Scriptural commentary.
“And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew. […] But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her.” (St. Mark 1:29-30) The house of Peter and Andrew is the Apostolic Church, where all are tormented with the fever of sin or suffer the assaults of concupiscence. This is the only house wherein prayers are successfully offered up for sinners, and where Jesus Christ heals them. Let us unalterably fix there. […] “And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door.” (St. Mark 1:32-33) It is into the house of truth, charity and unity, represented by this of Peter, that all sinners must be conducted. This house only has the Holy Ghost, the power over the evil spirit, and the true remedies for sin.” (Moral Reflections on the New Testament)
So we see that while Jesuit theologians with the approval of their superiors were denying the salvation dogma, the Jansenist theologians were upholding it in popular literature. That should give us some indication of whether the Jesuits were always the heroes of the story.
Indeed, Innocent XI condemned the heretical propositions of Estrix S.J. and Bauny S.J. that we saw above, due to the efforts of the Jansenists. The request to him was drawn up by the Jansenist theologian Pierre Nicole († 1695) in 1677.