Did the Jansenists deny the gratuity of grace? That is, did they think praying more or doing more works of supererogation could always coerce God into granting them more grace, not that God grants or withholds grace as he pleases?

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man may glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them.

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    Could you please define what is meant by "gratuity of grace". My understanding of gratuity has to do with reward and so I may have to delete the answer I posted. May 1, 2021 at 14:44
  • Presumably if something is condign or merited then it is not gratuitous. If "man may glory," then it is not gratuitous, for it came from man and not from God. (I take it that gratuity is supposed to be defined by Ephesians 2:8-10)
    – zippy2006
    May 2, 2021 at 5:05

2 Answers 2


No, Jansenists did not deny the gratuity of grace

According to one of the foremost authorities on Jansenism, Dr. Shaun Blanchard, the Jansenists were fighting for the gratuity of grace!

The Augustinians who came to be known as Jansenists thought that this new system [of Molinism] was basically semi-Pelagian. It made humans the authors of their own salvation and sacrificed the total gratuity of grace.

-Are Jansenists Among Us?

Blanchard's extensive writings on the topic include some of the following:

Gratuity of Grace

Grace is not gratuitous precisely when it is earned or merited. One of the basic problems with Jansenism, as seen in the third condemned proposition of Cum Occasione, is that Jansenism makes it impossible for humans to merit. Therefore for Jansenists nothing can be earned or merited, including grace. And if grace cannot be merited, then it must be gratuitous.

The doctrine of irresistible grace is very much in keeping with the doctrine of the gratuity of grace, and those who hold to this doctrine often do so in order to safeguard the gratuity of grace. This was the case with the Jansenists. If one cannot resist something, then that thing is clearly not under their control. If one cannot resist grace, then grace is under God's control, not man's. This is very much in line with Ephesians 2 as quoted by the OP, "...it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man may glory..."

The denial of the gratuity of grace is characteristic of the Molinist Jesuits, who were the opponents of the Jansenists. The Molinists were accused of denying the gratuity of grace not only by Calvinists and Jansenists, but also by Thomists such as Domingo Báñez. The Jansenists were accused of denying the freedom of man (which was thought to be a denial of the ability to keep commandments, the ability to merit, the ability to resist grace, and the ability to cooperate with grace, which respectively align with the first four condemned propositions). This is the same thing that Calvinists and Thomists are often accused of.

  • My protestant understanding of grace is "unmerited favor" and so gratuitous grace, for me, is a redundant and confusing phrase. May 2, 2021 at 13:01
  • @MikeBorden Good point. It is like saying "gifted gift." I think the phrase is just used to zero-in on the gratuitous aspect, which should be present in all grace. But since Protestants reject supernatural merit it is more straightforward for them.
    – zippy2006
    May 2, 2021 at 16:35

If gratuity is defined thus:

something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service especially : tip added a gratuity for the server.

then Jansenists definitively rejected the notion that grace is given thus, as an additional reward over and above what is obligated.

The heresy of Jansenism, as stated by subsequent Roman Catholic doctrine, lay in denying the role of free will in the acceptance and use of grace. Jansenism asserts that God's role in the infusion of grace cannot be resisted and does not require human assent:

Innocent X condemned, in Cum occasione (31 May 1658), the Jansenist propositions:

  1. [DZ 1092]
    Some of God's precepts are impossible to the just, who wish and strive to keep them, according to the present powers which they have; the grace, by which they are made possible, is also wanting.
    Declared and condemned as rash, impious, blasphemous, condemned by anathema, and heretical.
  1. [DZ 1093]
    In the state of fallen nature one never resists interior grace.
    Declared and condemned as heretical.
  1. [DZ 1094]
    In order to merit or demerit in the state of fallen nature, freedom from necessity is not required in man, but freedom from external compulsion is sufficient.
    Declared and condemned as heretical.
  1. [DZ 1095]
    The Semipelagians admitted the necessity of a prevenient interior grace for each act, even for the beginning of faith; and in this they were heretics, because they wished this grace to be such that the human will could either resist or obey.
    Declared and condemned as false and heretical.
  1. [DZ 1096]
    It is Semipelagian to say that Christ died or shed His blood for all men without exception.
    Declared and condemned as false, rash, scandalous, and intended in this sense, that Christ died for the salvation of the predestined, impious, blasphemous, contumelious, dishonoring to divine piety, and heretical.

The Jesuits apparently named them Jansenists because of their similarity to Calvinists especially regarding total depravity and irresistible grace.

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    But those who adhere to the doctrine of irresistible grace do not for that reason deny the gratuity of grace. As I understand it, the question is about Jansenist practice, not formal doctrines. Jansenists and Calvinists cannot be said to doctrinally deny the gratuity of grace. In fact they would accuse the Jesuits who oppose them of denying the gratuity of grace, whereas the Jesuits would accuse them of of denying the freedom of man.
    – zippy2006
    May 1, 2021 at 14:36
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    @zippy2006 "All [the Jansenists' errors] are implicitly contained in the second" condemned proposition above (J. Forget 1910). Prayer is about disposing oneself to grace; prop. #2 renders prayer useless; it implies one is always disposed to grace's action.
    – Geremia
    May 2, 2021 at 4:22
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    @zippy2006 I was addressing your "the question is about Jansenist practice" statement. Yes, it doesn't seem irresistible grace is directly related to whether grace is gratuitous or not.
    – Geremia
    May 2, 2021 at 20:34
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    @Geremia Yes, that's what I thought, which is why I opined that the question is specifically about Jansenist practice. I don't have a great understanding of why Jansenists engaged in such rigorism. Presumably someone could answer your question affirmatively on the basis of rigorism. I would like to see that. But given how theologically savvy the Jansenists were, I would be surprised if their practice deviated so greatly from their theory.
    – zippy2006
    May 2, 2021 at 23:09
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    @zippy2006 I opened up "Why did the Jansenists practice such harsh penances?".
    – Geremia
    May 2, 2021 at 23:20

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