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Title: The element of Christian asceticism in English Puritanism and French Jansenism in the seventeenth century
Author: Legge, G. W.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1951
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The choice of the present subject, which grew from a seed sown by Principal (then Professor) John Baillie, was not purely fortuitous. The writer welcomed the opportunity of investigating a persistent, though to the modern mind uncongenial, type of Christian piety about which such a variety of opinions are held; while the specific problem of why two contemporary movements should manifest marked ascetic tendencies was in itself stimulating, especially in the absorbing context of the seventeenth century. In addition, he was personally interested both in English Puritanism and in French Jansenism, in the former as a result of having been reared in a home in which something of the Puritan spirit had survived, and in the latter because of a long-standing love of the French language, strengthened by a previous period of study in France. And due to a keen interest in the cause of the World Church, he was attracted by a comparative study of prominent religious movements in England and France and within two of the three great streams of Christianity. Here was an ecumenical subject! The writer's aim was first to come to an intimate understanding of the ascetic spirituality of English Puritans and French Jansenists by "getting inside" their religious consciousness, and then, having seen life as they saw it, to present their outlook in their own terms and frequently in their own words. Without ignoring defects to which sufficient attention has been drawn in the past, it was felt best to adopt a positive approach and to bend one's efforts towards an appreciation of the loftier elements in the asceticism of the two movements. It is believed that it is just such a positive task that needs to be undertaken in order to restore the balance of truth. To enter sympathetically into the experience of seventeenth century Christians is by no means easy for the modern mind. As Douglas Bush has said: "The modern reader who would understand seventeenth-century literature must shake off his habit of believing only what he sees and must try to realize a world in which man's every thought and act are of vital concern to God and to his own eternal state, a world interpenetrated by spiritual 1 potencies." An effort has been made to appreciate this seventeenth century world, and to reproduce with fidelity a picture of life as viewed by Puritans and Jansenists. At every point primary evidence is offered to substantiate the picture being sketched in order to convey a more direct impression of their outlook. One of the hazards in the way of a satisfactory treatment of the present subject was the great volume of literature which confronts and probably overawes any student of Puritanism and Jansenism. 2 "Port-Royal peut peupler une biblioth^que", said Calot simply and accurately with reference to the latter, and for those of English tongue it is scarcely necessary to labour the point regarding Puritanism. In face of all the literature that could be consulted with profit, it was early decided that a thorough study of the ascetic thought of one representative from each movement should form the hard core of the thesis. The choice among English Puritans fell upon Richard Baxter, whom Henson described as "the Saint of 1 Puritanism, and ... its most illustrious exponent." Although it is impossible to select the "typical Puritan", Richard Baxter is ideally representative because of his moderate and central position which, one believes, embodies the essence of the Puritan spirit. For the parallel purpose in Jansenism, only one choice commended itself, that of Jean du Verger de Hauranne, Abb<^ de Saint-Cyran, whom Hallays described as "le fondateur, 1'inspirateur, le th^ologien, 2 le moraliste" of the movement. For unlike Puritanism, Jansenism is dominated by the spirit of one man, without knowledge of whose life and works its ascetic spirituality is quite incomprehensible. In addition to these major sources, a further selection of important primary documents was made, including on the Puritan side such names as Bunyan, Downame, Fox, Hutchinson, Penn, Prynne, Rogers and Sibbes, together with Acts and Ordinances, diaries and catechisms; and on the Jansenist side Mere Angelique, M&re Agn&s, Arnauld, d' Andilly, Goustel, Hamon, Le Maistre, Nicole, Racine, Quesnel, de Sacy, and Singlin, together with the Memoires, Necrologes, and other documents which, due to persecution, mostly remained unpublished until the eighteenth century. Among secondary sources the writer would acknowledge his indebtedness to such authors as William Haller, M. M. Knappen, Perry Miller, Jean Orcibal and C.-A. Sainte-Beuve, whose works are invaluable in primary orientation in these fields Not the least merit of these last cited authors is their avoidance of the bias and bitterness which have perpetually enshrouded the Puritan and Jansenist stories. The acrimonious struggles between Puritan and Anglican, Jansenist and Jesuit, were not altogether attractive to begin with, and the latent animosities and prejudices which they aroused, and continue to arouse, in the breasts of their chroniclers, have always made it extremely difficult for the latter to serve the interests of truth impartially. Clearly the present writer has been subject to the usual pitfalls confronting investigators of these controversial subjects, and has had at all times to attempt to discount not only the particular bias of the authors he has studied, but also his own tendency to fall into a partisanship which would mar his judgement. However, this effort to steer a course between Scylla and Charybdis has not prevented his taking a position or exhibiting sympathies which he believes to be warranted by the facts. The actual plan of the thesis is simple. The first part (Chapter I) is devoted to establishing a clear conception of Christian asceticism as a basis for the present investigation. The second part (Chapters II to V) deals with Puritan asceticism. An examination has been made of the situation into vfcich it came; the inner nature of its spiritual athleticism; the most obvious and often imperfectly understood aspect of this, namely, the attitude to recreation and the arts; and finally the means of direction and discipline which made this thorough-going intramundane asceticism possible. Space has been allotted to each section according to what was considered to be its relative importance. Similarly in part three (Chapters VI to IX) Jansenist asceticism is broken down into its essential parts, which in the case of a predominantly monastic piety, contrast markedly with those of Puritan piety. After investigating the setting and the formative factors, an analysis has been made of the asceticism of the nuns of Port-Royal, of the famous "Messieurs", and finally of the adherents of the movement in the normal social context, to each of which space has been allotted according to relative importance. Having set forth the facts on each side, the last part (Chapter X) is devoted to a critical conclusion in which Puritan and Jansenist asceticism in the seventeenth century are compared and contrasted. The composition of the present thesis was not immediately apparent when the research was begun, and in its preparation much relevant material was gathered which had subsequently to be excluded in order to reduce the study to workable proportions. Biographical details and cross-references have for the most part been deleted, while the historical data pertaining to the movements have largely been relegated to an appendix giving a brief parallel chronology. In addition certain problems of peripheral rather than central concern were examined but had later to be omitted for lack of space, as for example, the relation of Quaker asceticism to Puritan asceticism and the bearing on piety of the substitution of the "inner light" for the doctrine of election, as revealed in Pox's Journal; the close relationship of Pascal to Jansenism as far as his ascetic piety is concerned; and the ascetic element in the educational ideal and practice of the Jansenists in the Petites ^coles de Port-Royal. What has been left is, one believes, the essence of Puritan and Jansenist asceticism in the seventeenth century Certain technical points require brief explanation. As for footnotes, sources are for the most part identified by author and title without place or date of publication. Pull entries, however, are given in the case of periodicals and modern editions of primary sources, while otherwise the date of primary works is given in initial entries. In order to preserve the authentic flavour of the period the fewest possible alterations have been made in spelling and punctuation in seventeenth century documents. To avoid unnecessary confusion however, punctuation has occasionally been modified, and in the case of u's and v's, i's and j's, spelling has been altered to conform with modern usage. Necessary apostrophes have been added in many English words while in French \rords accentuation has been modernized.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available