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Adoration and Annihilation

The Convent Philosophy of Port-Royal

John J. Conley, S.J.

Publication Year: 2009

In seventeenth-century France, southwest of Paris, the Port-Royal convent became the center of the Jansenist movement and of its adherents’ resistance to church and throne. Three abbesses from the Arnauld family spearheaded this resistance: Mère Angélique Arnauld (1591-1661), Mère Agnès Arnauld (1593-1671), and Mère Angélique de Saint-Jean Arnauld d'Andilly (1624-1684). Although many books have been written about the tragic lives of the Port-Royal nuns, John J. Conley provides the first study of the radical Augustinian philosophy developed by these remarkable abbesses during decades of persecution by Louis XIV and his ecclesiastical allies. Openly declaring themselves “disciples of Saint Augustine,” the Arnauld abbesses forged a philosophy notable for its original treatment of the attributes that stressed divine otherness; a moral philosophy of virtue rooted in grace; and a politics that supported the right of women to resist abuses of religious and civil authority. Although their philosophy was clearly influenced by their male Jansenist mentors, the nuns’ radical Augustinianism maintains its own gendered originality: their philosophy of virtue is closely tied to practices valued in a contemplative convent setting; their defense of freedom of conscience is linked to their defense of women’s right to exercise religious authority; and their negative theology, focused on divine incomprehensibility, depicts a God beyond sexual difference. A fascinating account that includes translations ranging from abbatial conferences to private letters, Adoration and Annihilation is an important chronicle of the doctrinal battles of early modern Catholicism.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

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pp. ix-xii

Number 169 Rue Saint-Jacques is a plain brown door on a narrow lane of restaurants, shops, and apartment houses in the shadow of the Sorbonne. When you punch in the proper code, the oak door opens and you walk into a small cobblestone courtyard. When you push in the second code, a glass door opens and you enter a dark tiled entryway. You begin to walk three flights up a sloping wooden staircase as you hold on to the rusted iron railing...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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1. Introduction: A Convent Philosophy

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pp. 1-42

The thesis of this book is simple. In the seventeenth-century convent of Port-Royal, three nuns, Mère Angélique Arnauld, Mère Agnès Arnauld, and Mère Angélique de Saint-Jean Arnauld d’Andilly, produced a literary corpus of serious philosophical significance. Openly declaring themselves “disciples of Saint Augustine...

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2. M

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pp. 43-112

Architect of the reform of Port-Royal, Mère Angélique Arnauld (1591–1661) might appear an odd candidate for the title of philosopher. Her rudimentary education provided little access to the philosophical canon. As abbess she repeatedly warned her nuns about the danger of vanity in theological speculation. In her voluminous correspondence...

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3. M

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pp. 113-174

A younger sister of Mère Angélique, Mère Agnès Arnauld (1593–1671) has long suffered oblivion in the shadow of the illustrious reforming abbess. Commentators have routinely contrasted the personalities of the sister abbesses: Angélique the entrepreneur, Agnès the mystic; Angélique the intransigent, Agnès the indulgent...

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4. Mère Angélique de Saint-Jean Arnauld d’Andilly: Persecution and Resistance

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pp. 175-236

The niece of Mères Angélique and Agnès, Mère Angélique de Saint-Jean Arnauld d’Andilly (1624–84) dominates the second generation of the reformed Port-Royal. Enclosed within the convent from her entry into the convent school at the age of six until her death as its abbess, Mère Angélique de Saint-Jean became the leader of Port-Royal’s...

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5. Conclusion: A Nocturnal Philosophy

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pp. 237-249

The philosophy developed by the Arnauld abbesses possesses more than a historical significance. It illuminates several concerns in contemporary philosophy. The writings of the Port-Royal nuns indicate several directions...

Appendix A

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pp. 250-260

Appendix B

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pp. 261-265

Appendix C

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pp. 266-272


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pp. 273-296

Works Cites

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pp. 297-303


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pp. 304-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780268076788
E-ISBN-10: 0268076782
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268022969
Print-ISBN-10: 0268022968

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2009