Jansenist convulsionaires
July 23, 2004 6:38 PM   Subscribe

You may not have heard of Jansenism. But on May 1, 1727 one of its more prominent members, Francois de Paris, died. He was a popular fellow for his charitable works and lots of people visited his tomb. That's when things got weird. At first it was just a bunch of people claiming to have been cured of things like "cancerous tumors, paralysis, deafness, arthritis, rheumatism, ulcerous sores, persistent fevers, prolonged hemorrhaging, and blindness." Then things started to get really weird.
...The mourners also started to experience strange involuntary spasms or convulsions...the 'convulsionaires,' as they came to be called, displayed...the ability to endure without harm an almost unimaginable variety of physical tortures....
These events lasted years and were witnessed by thousands as well as commented on by the likes of David Hume and Voltaire. Louis-Basile Carre de Montgeron investigated it for the Paris Parliment and published La Vérité des Miracles in three volumes detailing the events. The tortures were asked for by the convulsionaires. Montgeron details one time when while having an iron drill hammered into a convulsionaire's stomach he, "maintained an 'expression of perfect rapture,' crying, 'Oh, that does me good! Courage, brother; strike twice as hard, if you can!'"
posted by john (11 comments total)
Uhmm, considering your comments in the dreaded Grey thread, you've hit a homerun here. Would you think ill of me if I said this was absolutely linkworthy?
posted by Wulfgar! at 8:05 PM on July 23, 2004

I'd say its time to send in Mulder and Scully.

Great link though!
posted by fenriq at 8:22 PM on July 23, 2004

I just came across Jansenism in Neal Stephenson's latest, The Confusion. I thought he was making it up. Go figure.
posted by ashbury at 9:48 PM on July 23, 2004

It is interesting to note that because Jansen himself died before his work was published and he included statements of submission to the Roman church in it, he himself was never considered a heretic.

Well played, Jansen!
posted by crunchburger at 10:21 PM on July 23, 2004

Fascinating. Thank you.
posted by jokeefe at 11:05 PM on July 23, 2004

Interestingly enough, Pope Urban VIII condemned Jansen's proposition (and Jansenists were usually henceforth considered a "fifth column" inside the Church), but it was the Jesuits who were among the most prominent opponents of the doctrine.

the Church was sensing, cunning as always, that the most dangerous part of the Jansenist thinking was not the idea of the world as being corrupt beyond salvation (disruptive enough for the traditional concept of grace and the Holy Sacrament) but because their para-Calvinism paved a very easy road toward the dreaded "freedom of thought" and of interpretation. dying Catholics were asked specifically to renounce Jansenism on their deathbeds, otherwise they would receive no last rites and no anointment with the Holy Oil
posted by matteo at 10:52 AM on July 24, 2004

"The mourners also started to experience strange involuntary spasms or convulsions and to undergo the most amazing contortions of their limbs. These seizures quickly proved contagious, spreading like a brush fire until the streets were packed with men, women, and children, all twisting and writhing as if caught up in a surreal enchantment."

just like in that Ferris Beuller movie!
posted by quonsar at 1:26 PM on July 24, 2004

Concern about Jansenism is still around in the Church. There is a strong suspicion that the great Irish seminary at May Nooth, and other Irish seminaries promulgated or still advocate Jansenist ideas (strongly denied.) This is suggested as the reason that no Irish Cardinal will ever even be considered as Pope.
posted by kablam at 5:15 PM on July 24, 2004


I don't know if it's cheating, but I am currently reading The Holographic Universe and that was the chapter I was on. It's quite the mind-fuck. It's filled with strange experiments such as those of the biologist, Paul Pietsch. He discovered that he could remove the brain of a salamander without killing it. He performed over 700 operations where he switched hemispheres, sliced, shuffled, and minced brains only to have the salamanders return to normal behavior. This proved that behavior was not localized and gave credence to the holographic theory of the brain. He wrote a book about it called Shufflebrain.
posted by john at 6:40 PM on July 24, 2004

john - I became aware of the Jansenist "miracles" via that book.

I tend to believe in the reality of such phenomenon, and suspect that skepticism depresses the effect.
posted by troutfishing at 7:15 PM on July 26, 2004

Skepticism is like a second skin to me, but this event seems to defy any sort of reasonable position of doubt. I find it truly unsettling.
posted by john at 10:01 PM on July 26, 2004

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