"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Jansenism and Other Bogeymen

I've sent some questions for an interview to Shaun Blanchard, author of the new and utterly fascinating book The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II: Jansenism and the Struggle for Catholic Reform (Oxford University Press, 2019), 370pp. I will post that interview once I have it.

In reading the book preparatory to our interview, I could not put it down. It is cogently and crisply written and covers such wide swaths of Catholic history and so many controverted areas and ideas with great care and innumerable insights. At the same time, however, like all excellent history, it is aware of its limits, and sets forth what things cannot be covered in one volume but must await further treatment.

In the meantime, however, let me urge you to get this book at once, not least if you have any interest in any of the four main ideas in his title: Pistoia, Vatican II, Jansenism, and Catholic reform movements. There is a lot in here for those of us interested in ecclesiology, synodality, and the papacy as an agent of both reaction and reform. Ecumenism also shows up regularly, both in a Protestant direction but also with regard to Armenian Christians among others. There is also much here to consider when dealing with questions of Catholic historiography over the last two centuries and more. The book clearly takes the French annalist approach here, arguing that there is indeed a very longue durée from Pistoia to Vatican II in unexpected ways.

In addition the book will be an invaluable corrective for those--including some poor right-wing fantasist on Twitter imagining that his perch at some law school named after a dish of beets my mother used to make when I was a child--who feel entitled to tell the rest of us what Jansenism is and was while having no background in this complex history. Such creatures always put me in mind of this sketch of the boorish Jim Hacker complaining about "left-wing" corruption of education while revealing how little he had:

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