To help give us a taste of the fervent but misguided nature of the Jansenist controversy today we remember a remarkable intervention by a French Archbishop. It happened in the Central North of France, about 120 kms from Paris, in a town called Sens. Its Archbishop, Henri de Pardaillen de Gondrin, was a convinced and committed Jansenist. The year before he had stopped the Jesuits from administering sacraments in their College in Sens, this had turned into a complicated litigious wrangle, which had attracted nationwide attention and lead to a circular letter to all the Bishops being released by the assembly of Clergy.
Sens was a an important ecclesiastic see. During the Middle Ages, its archbishops held the prestigious role of primates of Gaul and Germany. The Archdiocese of Sens ruled over the dioceses of Chartres, Auxerre, Meaux, Paris, Orléans, Nevers and Troyes. Starting from 1135, the cathedral of Sens, dedicated to Saint Stephen, was rebuilt as one of the first Gothic cathedrals. There, in 1234, Louis IX of France celebrated his wedding to Marguerite of Provence. Sens also witnessed the trial of Peter Abelard and hosted a number of church councils. Thomas Becket spent three years of his exile between 1162 and 65 in the city.
It was a powerful and prestigious posting and Gondrin was sure to use it to advance the Jansenist cause. Today in 1650 he ordered prayers in his diocese for the conversion of the Jesuits. The sincerity of these prayers is difficult to ascertain as he was soon to excommunicate them! The Jesuits had become firm allies of the Franciscans who were horrified by how they had been treated, and they suffered a similar fate in the diocese.