Pasquier Quesnel, born in Paris, 14 July, 1634; died at Amsterdam, 2 December, 1719. Descended from an ancient noble family he completed at the Sorbonne a brilliant course in philosophy and theology. At the age of twenty-three he entered the congregation of the Oratory where his talents were profitably employed in the direction of the young. He composed for the use of the students under his charge, and published in 1671 an "Epitome of the Morals of the Evangelists, or Christian Thoughts on the Texts of the Four Evangelists". By important successive developments, this work became "The New Testament in French with Moral Reflections on each verse" (Paris, 1687-92) and gave rise to lively polemics until at last, in 1708, his doctrines were condemned by Clement XI (see JANSENIUS). But the edition of 1671 already contained five of the 101 propositions (12, 13, 30, 60, and 65) later censured in the Bull "Unigenitus". Quesnel was profoundly imbued with the errors of Baius and the Jansenists, and he had skilfully spread these views in his "Moral Reflections" on the New Testament. Furthermore, he had adopted, in relation to the papacy, the teachings of Marco Antonio de Dominis and of Richer. He published (Paris, 1675; Lyons, 1700) a complete edition of the works of Leo the Great. The notes and dissertations which he added, though very learned, are spoiled by his attacks upon infallibility, and even Roman primacy. In consequence, this work was placed under the ban of the Index, and Quesnel's only reply to the condemnation was disrespectful recrimination. On account of his Jansenist opinions, which he emphasized more and more he was relegated to Orléans. In 1684, having refused to subscribe to the formula which the General Assembly of the Oratory felt obliged to draw up against the current errors, he was compelled to quit the congregation. He then went to Belgium to join Antoine* Arnauld, at whose death (1694) he was present, and whose place he took at the head of the party.
The difficulties of a sojourn in a foreign land failed to dampen his ardour for proselytizing or abate his literary activity. The dictionary of Moreri attributes to him some sixty discourses, ascetic or polemical, several of which were published under assumed names or anonymously at Brussels, where for some time he remained in hiding. But in 1703 Philip V, acting in concert with the Archbishop of Mechlin, Humbert of Precipiano, had him arrested and imprisoned in the archiepiscopal palace. Nevertheless, he succeeded in escaping and reaching Holland, finding an asylum at Amsterdam, where he continued, despite all bans and censures, to write in support of his ideas. Obstinate in the pursuit of his aims, he was not always delicate in his choice of means. When the royal commissioners discovered him disguised in secular dress and crouching behind a cask, and wished to assure themselves of his identity, he declared that his name was Rebecq, one of his numerous pseudonyms. On the part of a man who like all those of his party scorned mental restrictions and equivocations, the expedient, to say the least, was singular. Still more disloyal was his attempt to cloak his doctrines with the authority of Bossuet. The latter had been requested to examine the text of the "Réflexions morales" and had consented to do so. He had even drawn up an advertisement as a preface to a new edition, insisting, however, on the correction of one hundred and twenty propositions which he had found reprehensible. As this condition was not accepted, he refused his co-operation and held back his proposed "Avertissement". But later on Quesnel obtained from the heirs of Bossuet the materials which the latter had prepared, and which he published as an authentic work under the title "Justification of the Moral Reflections, by the late M. Bossuet". Up to the time of his death the ardent Jansenist was inconsistent and insincere. He requested and received the last sacraments, and in presence of two Apostolic prothonotaries and other witnesses, he made a profession of faith over his own signature, in which he declared "that he wished to die, as he had always lived, in the bosom of the Catholic Church, that he believed all the truths taught by her, condemned all the errors condemned by her, that he recognized the Sovereign Pontiff as the chief Vicar of Jesus Christ, and the Apostolic See as the centre of unity". That these formulas concealed some inadmissible restrictions is proved by their very tenor. On this point we are left in no doubt in view of Article 7 which completes them, and in which it is said the writer "persists in his appeal to a future General Council, regarding the constitution 'Unigenitus', and regarding the grievances à propos of which he sought the judgment of the Church" .
Among the numerous works of Quesnel besides those already mentioned we may cite especially: "Lettres contre les nudités addressées aux religieuses qui ont soin de l'éducation des filles"; "L'Idée du Sacerdoce et du Sacrifice de Jésus Christ"; "Les trois consécrations: la consécration baptismale, la sacerdotale et la consécration religieuse"; "Elévation à N. S.J. C. sur sa Passion et sa Mort"; "Jésus pénitent"; "Du bonheur de la mort chrétienne"; "Prières chrétiennes avec des pratiques de piété"; "Office de Jésus avec des réflexions"; "Recueil de lettres spirituelles sur divers sujets de la morale et de la piété"; under the pseudonym of Géry, "Apologie historique de deux censures (contre Lessius) de l'Université de Douai"; under the pseudonym of Germain, "Tradition de l'Église Romaine sur la prédestination des saints et sur la grâce efficace"; "La discipline de l'Église tirée du Nouveau Testament et de quelques anciens conciles"; "Causa Arnaldina", a work produced under another form as "La justification de M. Arnauld"; "Entretiens sur le Décret de Rome contre le Nouveau Testament de Châlons accompagnées de reflexions morales"; finally seven "Mémoires" serving as a history of the constitution "Unigenitus". This list, however incomplete, comprises in its first part only the most generally useful and edifying works; as an offset the seven last numbers are either impregnated with the Jansenist principles or consecrated principally to their defence.
The theological errors of Quesnel found their most complete expression in his "Réflexions morales". Although they appear there only on occasions, disjointedly, in a fragmentary way, and are moreover hidden in the expression of pious considerations, they really form a systematic whole; they show their author to have adopted a radically false but coherent system, which is fundamentally only a synthesis of the systems of Baius and Jansenius. To make this clear, one has only to compare the hundred and one propositions condemned in the Bull "Unigenitus", and faithfully extracted from the "Réflexions morales" with the theories previously defended by the Bishop of Ypres and his predecessor in the University of Louvain. For Quesnel, like Baius, conceived human nature in its three successive states: innocence, fall, and restoration. All his essential theses are based on a confusion between the natural and the supernatural order, which necessarily entailed the assertion of an intrinsic difference in regard to gratuity as well as to efficacy, between the grace of the Creator and the grace of the Redeemer. "The grace of Adam produced only human merits" (prop. 34); but "being a consequence of the creation, it was due to nature when whole and unimpaired" (prop. 35). Its loss through the original fall mutilated our nature, and man having become "a sinner is, without the grace of the Liberator, free only to do evil" (prop. 38). Moreover, this grace "is never given except by faith" (prop. 26). Faith which "is the first grace and the source of all the others" (prop. 27), is to be understood as "operative faith, and it works only by charity" (prop. 51). Consequently "outside of the Church no grace is given" (prop. 29), and "the first grace given to the sinner being the remission of sins" (prop. 28), all his acts, as long as he remains a sinner, are sins (prop. 44-8), so that "the prayer of the wicked is a new sin, and what God grants to them is a fresh condemnation" (prop. 59).
This is all resumed in the thesis of the double contrary love: "There are only two loves, from which all our volitions and all our actions spring: the love of God (charity properly so called) which refers everything to God and which God rewards; and love of self and of the world, which is evil as it does not refer to God what should be referred to Him" (prop. 44). From this follow not only the uselessness, but the malice and the evil effects of attrition, that is, of all repentance which does not arise from pure charity; for, "fear restrains only the hands; the heart remains attached to sin, as long as it is not led by the love of justice" (prop. 61); and "he who refrains from evil only through fear of punishment has already sinned in his heart" (prop. 62). Thus, the erroneous conception of the really gratuitous and supernatural character of the original grace bore its legitimate fruits, rigorism and despair; it resulted, as far as concerns attrition, in a conclusion already condemned by the Council of Trent. In Quesnel we find likewise the doctrine of the "Augustinus" (see JANSENIUS). Like that famous book, the "Réflexions Morales" did not admit either purely sufficient grace or real liberty of indifference; on the contrary, it denied them in many formulas "Grace is the operation of the omnipotent hand of God, which nothing can hinder or retard" (prop. 10), "it is nothing but the omnipotent will of God who commands and who executes his commands" (prop. 11). "When God, no matter when or where, wishes to save a soul, the will of God is infallibly carried into effect" (prop. 12). "When God wills to save a soul and touches it with the interior hand of his grace, no human will can resist it" (prop. 13); "there is no attraction but yields to the attraction of grace, because nothing resists the Omnipotent" (prop. 16). In a word, the action of grace can and must be likened to that by which God created the world, realized the Incarnation, raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and by which He worked every other miracle (prop. 20-5).
Having admitted all this, it is not astonishing that the Divine precepts cannot be observed by men of good will who make the effort. For, on the one hand, "the grace of Jesus Christ, the efficacious principle of all good, is necessary for any good work whatsoever; without it not only is nothing done but nothing can be done" (prop. 2); "the will without prevenient grace has no light save to go wrong, no zeal but to hasten to destruction, no strength but to wound itself: it is capable of all evil, and incapable of any good" (prop. 39). On the other hand, when grace is present and acting one never resists it. If therefore anyone fail in his duty, it can only be because he has not received the indispensable grace. For "grace is that voice of the Father teaching men interiorly and leading them to Jesus Christ; whoever, having heard the exterior voice of the Son, does not come to him, has not been taught by the Father" (prop. 17). And yet, according to Quesnel, man will be held guilty and condemned for those transgressions which he cannot possibly avoid (prop. 40). But, since the observing of commandments and therefore of the conditions necessary for salvation is not within the reach of all, it is evident that neither the intention of God to save nor the efficacy of the sufferings of the Saviour extend to all mankind. So "all those whom God wishes to save through Christ are infallibly saved" (prop. 30), and if "Christ Himself delivered Himself up to death", it was solely "to snatch the first-born, that is the elect, from the hand of the exterminating angel" (prop. 32).
All these extraordinary ideas of Quesnel's concerning grace, and his obstinate defence of them against legitimate authority had, as a practical and logical result, a second group of errors no less serious about the Church, its membership, discipline, and government in general. According to Quesnel, the Church is invisible; for it comprises "as members only the saints" or "the elect and the just" (prop. 72-7), and "a person is separated from it by not living according to the Gospel as much as by not believing in the Gospel" (prop. 78). It is an abuse in the Church "to forbid Christians to read the Holy Scripture and especially the Gospel" (prop. 85), for this reading "is necessary to all, in every place and at all times" (prop. 79-84). "It is the Church that has the power of excommunicating, to be used by the chief pastors with the consent, at least presumed, of the whole body" (prop. 90). This, as the author states explicitly in his seventh "Mémoire", supposes that the multitude of the faithful, without distinction of rank, is properly speaking the sole depository of all ecclesiastical power; but, as it cannot exercise this power by itself, the community entrusts it to the bishops and the pope, who are its agents and its mandatories; and, in this sense, the pope is only "the ministerial head" of the episcopal body. Moreover, "the fear of an unjust excommunication must never keep us from doing our duty" (prop. 91), "to suffer in peace an undeserved excommunication and anathema rather than betray the truth is to imitate St. Paul" (prop. 92). The directly personal character and object of these last declarations are apparent. The same may be said of the articles that protest against the abuse of multiplying oaths among Christians (prop. 101), or speak of the contempt, intolerance, and persecution to which truth is subjected (prop. 93-100), and which, crowning this sad arraignment with an assertion more offensive than the others, see in the abuses pretended to have been discovered "one of the most striking proofs of the senile decay of the Church" (prop. 95).
LAFITEAU, Histoire de la Constitution Unigenitus (Liége, 1738); SCHILL, Die Constitution Unigenitus (Freiburg, 1876).
APA citation. (1911). Pasquier Quesnel. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12601c.htm
MLA citation. "Pasquier Quesnel." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12601c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.