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Q: What did the Jansenists think about Mary?

A: The Jansenists were classicists in a baroque landscape of Mariology. They adopted a critical stance toward popular Marian devotion as promoted by the Jesuits. They targeted exaggerations, isolation and separatism in Marian theology and piety.

Their main bone of contention was post-Tridentine scholasticism and the anthropocentrism of the Renaissance. In their eyes, contemporary Mariology was the unfortunate victim of the combination of both of these methodological options in theology. By contrast, Jansenists opted for positive theology, for Scripture and Tradition. Their spirituality was Christocentric; their outlook on morals marked by a rigorist interpretation of Saint Augustine, in particular, his views on original sin. As a practical consequence for Mariology, Jansenists placed Mary in a Christocentric and salvation history context. It may be said without exaggeration that their views were closer to Vatican II than Trent.

Being a reactionary movement (like most reform movements), Jansenists not only practiced a salutary corrective policy with regard to Marian devotion, but, frankly, overdid it. Their exaggerated criticism lost sight of human needs, the historical situation, and the deeper meaning of Marian pastoral theology.

The accusation of Jansenism as an anti-Marian movement has been grossly exaggerated. P. J. Hoffer in his 1938 dissertation, La dévotion à Marie au déclin du 17e siècle, successfully points out that there was no Jansenist conspiracy against the Virgin Mary. Port Royal saw in Mary "our great mediatrix." She was the refuge of sinners and mother of compassion, counterbalancing the role of Christ as the just judge. Their distancing from the emphatic devotional practice of the period led to, among other things, the positive reaction of Widenfels' Monita Salutaria.

However, the Jansenists' overall concept of salvation and their one-sided interpretation of Augustine's teaching on original sin had dogmatic consequences. Jansenism refused any overture toward Mary's Immaculate Conception, and, in some of its representatives, denied Mary's bodily Assumption and glorious bodily reality (see A. Baillet, De la dévotion à la T. S. Vierge, Paris, 1696).

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