In 1643, Antoine Arnauld published De la frequente Communion, arguing that the frequent reception of Holy Communion cheapened the Sacrament as so few were in a proper state of Grace to receive the Lord. Arnauld’s book became a centerpiece of the Jansenist movement and the debates around sin, Grace and Holy Communion that would consume the political-religious affairs of France, and the Church in general, for more than a century.
Arnauld was a man of great learning and piety. His amazing family was devoted to the Jansenist approach to Religion. His sisters were both superiors of the community at Port Royal and Arnauld was among the “Solitaries” who lived and taught in the environs around the famous convent. He was a doctor of the Sorbonne. His teachings on Augustinian theology, including matters related to sin and Holy Communion, eventually resulted in his expulsion from that most prestigious of theological faculties. It was in his defense that Blaise Pascal penned his Provincial Letters, mocking the Jesuits for their alleged extreme laxity and employment every trick of sophistry to explain away a penitent’s culpability for even the most egregious sins. Arnauld never wavered in his conviction that his theology was a Catholic implementation of St. Augustine’s thought on sin and Grace. As a result, he lived in hiding for much of his life under the mercurial Louis XIV, who was ever ready to stamp out any sign of disunity in Church or State.
The controversies over the proper disposition for the reception of Holy Communion persisted well into the 18th century, despite the decline of religious sentiment that marked the development of France, and all Europe, during that epoch. Nonetheless, until the Revolution, France remained a Catholic nation in which throne and altar were intertwined. As late as 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, outlawing Protestantism. His successor, Louis XV, never failed to keep a mistress in prominence during his long reign. Although Louis XV reigned in the fashion of an absolute monarch, ruling as the “Most Christian King” over the “Eldest Daughter of the Church”, he was barred from the Sacrament for decades because of his persistent adulterous conduct. In 1750, more than a century after Arnauld’s publication of his treatise on frequent Communion, ironically, the Church in France attempted to deny Communion—even Viaticum—to those who would not formally renounce their attachment to the Jansenist teachings and give their ascent to papal condemnations of such teachings.