A Papal Bull from Clement XI

This is a bit of fun, in a way. It seems that Pope Clement XI, gloriously reigning in 1713, issued the dogmatic constitution Unigenitus condemning the errors of the Jansenist known (in Latin) as Paschasius Quesnell. The condemnation can be found here.

Pope Clement condemned 101 of Quesnell’s propositions as

false, captious, ill-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and its practices, contumelious to Church and State, seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected and savoring of heresy, favoring heretics, heresy, and schism, erroneous, bordering on heresy, often condemned, heretical, and reviving various heresies, especially those contained in the famous propositions of Jansenius.

Do you get the idea?

Now to be fair, Clement XI isn’t saying that every one of the 101 propositions is all those things, but rather that each of them is at least one of those things. So it’s not quite as negative as it seems.

Propositions 80-86 will interest Pray Tell readers, for they treat the twin concerns of Virgil Michel OSB when he founded Liturgical Press: the Bible and active participation.

As you have a look at them below, don’t let yourself get caught in a tangle of double negatives, wondering which side the pope (or you) are on. I advise that you read each proposition with an eye toward agreeing with it. If you do, consider yourself condemned. At least as of 1713.

Here you go.

The hundred and one condemned propositions are as follows:

  • …..80. The reading of sacred Scripture is for all. Acts viii. 28.
  • 81. The obscurity of the holy word of God is not a reason for the laity to excuse themselves from the reading thereof. Acts viii. 31.
  • 82. The Lord’s day ought to be sanctified by Christians with the readings of piety, and above all, of the holy Scriptures. It is damnable to wish to restrain a Christian from such reading. Acts xv. 21.
  • 83. It is an illusion to persuade oneself that a knowledge of the mysteries of religion ought not to be communicated to females by the reading of the sacred books. The abuse of the Scriptures has arisen, and heresies have sprung up, not from the simplicity of women, but from the haughty knowledge of men. John iv. 26.
  • 84. To snatch the New Testament out of the hands of Christians, or to keep it closed to them, by taking from them that method of understanding it, is to shut the mouth of Christ against them. Matt. v. 2.
  • 85. To interdict to Christians the reading of sacred Scripture, especially of the Gospel, is to interdict the use of light to the sons of light, and to cause them to suffer a certain kind of excommunication. Luke xi. 33. 1693.
  • 86. To snatch from the simple people this consolation, of joining their voice to the voice of the whole Church, is a custom contrary to the apostolic practice, and to the intention of God. 1 Cor. xiv. 16.

From Condemnation of the Errors of Paschasius Quesnell, Bull of Clement XI, 1713.

So then, we can take away from people the possibility of joining their voice to the church’s singing (cf. 86) and this would be in line with apostolic practice and the intention of God.

As is well known, there is only continuity in Catholic tradition, never rupture or contradiction. Two thousand years of, really, non-stop unanimity, with any development being but a deepening of already-known truth. If anyone tells you otherwise, deviously quoting facts of history at you, vigorously resist them. You probably have yourself a modernist. They probably think that Vatican II innovated here or there too.

Your task, then, is to read no. 86 in continuity with Pius X, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the reformed liturgy of Paul VI. Go for it.




  1. Marvellous stuff – real Catholicism !!!. And not surprisingly a favoured text of the Neo-Cons/Neo-Orthodox, along with the Syllabus of Errors.
    Time to Make Catholicism – Roman Catholicism of course – Great Again.

  2. View from the Pew
    Regarding: Clement xi and the printing industry
    – Yup, one way to control the pernicious printing industry is to condemn the reading of the most printed book, and thus the book that brought in the most income to printers, that is , the bible.
    – Doing so clearly was an attempt to forestall the laity from learning how ill prepared many of the clergy generally were when it came to teaching scripture.
    – Nevertheless, especially in the ‘mission lands’ the clergy set out to translate Sacred Scriptures into the languages of those that they came to serve. Thus making scripture, in the common language, available to the laity.

  3. There is certainly continuity in Unigenitus with the Roman maxim that has long prevailed, that the pope and his court are the final arbiters of how Roman Catholics are to practice their faith. So ecumenical councils like Trent and Vatican II were treated as unwanted interlopers in that process.

    The Jansenists did not develop their views on the reading of scripture in a vacuum. They had produced a highly regarded version in French, the “Bible Sacy,” in the 17th century and they used it actively. Like the other “unauthorized” versions of Luther, Tyndale et al., it was considered a challenge to the traditional teaching authority of bishops.

    1. Yes the Bible du Maistre de Sacy is a masterpiece of 17th century French prose. It was also Louis Bouyer’s preferred French translation of the Bible, and the one he used in class in his early days as a priest of the French Oratory when he taught school at their Collège de Juilly (alas closed in 2012).

  4. Yes. Dear Pope Clement XI Albani, he of the Chinese Rites controversy (which also included the issue of Catholic priests using Chinese costume as Mass vestments) where the hermeneutic of continuity was conspicuous by its absence: opposed by Innocent X (1644-1655), approved by Alexander VII (1655-1667), banned again by Clement XI (1700-1721) and Benedict XVI (1740-1758) and approved by Pius XII (1939-1958).

  5. I am surprised to discover tolerance of Jansenism in Fr. Anthony’s article. Perhaps PTB might one day publish an article on the intense inward contemplation of the Jansenists? The silent but intense study of scripture sears the intellects of many.

    1. Oh sure, I like the good things in Jansenism! It’s a pity that some of their good liturgical ideas were discredited by association with Jansenism. This slowed down the inevitable drive toward liturgical reform in some ways.

      1. Except it wasn’t inevitable, was it? That also sounds like we’ve already reached or accomplished it. I am not quite sure about either.

        One unfortunate constant appears to be a temptation towards taint by association – shibbolething – by Right-Thinking People(TM) about Those Other People Over There.

      2. Oh, when I look at Gueranger and Tubingen and Beauduin and Parsch, I think some sort of liturgical reform was inevitable. The recognition that the status quo wasn’t working was becoming widespread, and it ran deep. Reform happened big time with the Office psalter under Pius X, and Holy Week under Pius XII. Of course it all could have happened differently – which probably wouldn’t have mattered that much – and of course it’s never over.

      3. Fr Ruff

        I guess my comment came from making sure that we don’t conflate and equate “liturgical reform” as necessarily and sufficiently what we’ve experienced since the time of Clement XI.

        So I think we are in agreement. Though I would suggest the necessary condition was more likely in the sacramental revolution of Pope St Pius X: once he implemented Trent’s exceedingly delayed vision of frequent active communion within the liturgy (as opposed to infrequent communion more typically experienced a-liturgically) by the faithful at large (rather than a narrower elite group with access to a personal confessor), I do think the longstanding common praxis of the Roman rite would shift in turn. (As some of the fringier members of Traditionalism seem to be aware.)

  6. In terms of the challenge given, in relation to No. 86 being read in continuity, it isn’t actually that difficult at all.

    Neither Pius X, Sacrosanctum Concilium or the reformed liturgy of Paul VI give us any reason to believe that if a Pope decided on a disciplinary basis to prohibit lay singing in some circumstance or other, that it would be intrinsically against God’s will. It is after all never wise to presume to tell future Popes what they can and can’t do from a disciplinary perspective, as the developments at Vatican II themselves show.

    1. Baloney. Forced. Active participation isn’t just a minor disciplinary practice, able to be eliminated at whim. It’s a strong teaching with doctrinal (ecclesiological) roots. That is to say: we have before us a contradiction within the magisterium. Admit it.

      1. To suggest one form of active participation is intrinsically necessary in every time and circumstances goes well beyond the teaching of Vatican II, and indeed in many ways is contrary to its sensitivity to historical and cultural difference.

        That isn’t to deny there is change of course, but only to recognize with Pope Benedict XVI (and John Courtney Murray, Cardinal Newman & the rest) that reform and continuity exists at different levels.

        Insisting that lay singing isn’t absolutely necessary is undoubtedly not the same as insisting lay singing is a very important form of active participation.

        But that very real change doesn’t represent a doctrinal break, or even in itself a doctrinal development (though there are some of those in the background here).

  7. Another example might explain the issue better. Even if the proposition condemned had been “lay singing is allowed at Mass”, Vatican II still wouldn’t necessarily represent a doctrinal break.

    Why? Because the praxis of singing or not isn’t in itself eternal doctrine, it is only an application of doctrine.

    To identify an actual doctrinal break, or even development, would require understanding what reasons underlie the various practices, if they are contigent reasons in any way, if they are doctrinal, how they interact etc etc.

    It is a theological task, and it can’t be answered simply by noting contradictions at the level of praxis, without a critical inquiry into the transtemporal principles which might be at play.

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