A Brill Calendar: October 28
Jansenius and his Doctrine
Few existences have been determined so remarkably by place than the one of Cornelius Otto Jansen (October 28, 1585 – May 6, 1638).
Born near the small Dutch town of Leerdam, his boyhood was spent ‘under wartime conditions’ in a region still hotly contested by Roman Catholic Habsburg Spain. When it became clear that the bright youngster could develop into a scholar and should attend a university, it seemed well-advised, safer, or perhaps even natural, that he should go to the one of Leuven (in French: Louvain), a well-established Alma Mater deep in the south of the Low Countries, rather than to the new, more controversial ‘Academia’; set in the northern city of Leyden, in spite of the proximity of that city to Leerdam.
During the first decades of the 17th century, study and practice of theology were pivotal and totally intertwined in all affairs of politics and religion as a whole; scholarship included. ‘Jansenius’, (to give him the Latin version of his surname), devoted almost half of his life to the academic study of, and personal admiration for, Saint Augustine (354 – 430 AD); the major Christian theologian of the early Western Church (and a superb author to boot) - and tried to reform Roman Catholic views from within that Church; not as a Lutheran or Calvinist outcast.
It is seldom that a ‘magnum opus’ starts to play a vital new role in regular and secular politics completely posthumously, without any guidance from the individual who formulated the new concepts and tenets. Unlike those of Martin Luther and Jean Calvin, Jansenius’ views and assessment of the Almighty Creator evolved into the fresh religious strain of Jansenism – an existential beacon for a universal genius like Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) - only after he died.
Jansen’s ‘chef d’oeuvre’ was posthumously printed, published (and, incidentally, placed on the Index of Books forbidden by Rome), during the plague in Flemish Ypers; a town in which he had been given a See as a Bishop.