Unoriginal sins

The enmity between Jansenists and Jesuits began as a Reformation-vintage doctrinal controversy that dates in some sense to the Council of Trent, especially to its attempt to define the Catholic doctrine of justification in response to the challenges of the Protestant Reformation and, to a lesser degree, Erasmian humanism. Although Saint Augustine's doctrines of divine predestination and efficacious grace did not entail Martin Luther's doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone, that doctrine did indeed entail the doctrines of efficacious grace and predestination. For if not even faith could be regarded as an independent human contribution to the work of salvation, it seemed to follow that it was a pure 'grace' or gift of God, predestined by him for some but not for others. Luther himself spelled out these implications in a polemical exchange with Erasmus on the subject of free will in 1524, well before the doctrine of predestination acquired greater prominence in the theology of Jean Calvin. The legacy of Augustine's vindication of divine grace against Pelagius thus fell under suspicion by association with Protestant 'heresy' in addition to running against the grain of the Renaissance rehabilitation of human nature.

The first and most delicate task of the Council of Trent when it convened in 1545 was therefore to assert the principle of human responsibility against the Lutheran theses of the irreparable nature of original sin and justification by faith 'alone' while preserving room for the Catholic Saint Augustine's insistence on the exclusively divine authorship of salvation. The result was a tortuous series of affirmations and anathemas that pitted the principle of divine initiative or grace against a limited role for free human choice in a delicate balance that predictably failed fully to satisfy either pole of Catholic opinion, even as represented at the council itself.4

When, already reactingto Jesuit humanism, a theologian at the University of Louvain named Michel de Baye, or Baius, raised a ruckus in 1560 by laying down a series of 'hard-line' Augustinian propositions in defence of divine grace, he had only to avoid the doctrine of justification by faith alone in order to be able to appeal to the authority of the Council of Trent which he himself was soon to attend as a delegate from the Spanish possessions. Yet so too could the Spanish Jesuit theologian Luis Molina who, already reacting to 'Baianism' as well as Calvinism, tried in 1588 to reconcile divine control and human agency to free will's advantage by reducing 'predestination' to a kind of 'middle' knowledge

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