Gendered Models of Resistance

Jansenist Nuns and Unigenitus

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Mita Choudhury

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In the decades following the promulgation of the anti-Jansenist bull Unigenitus, scores of nuns and convents resisted the efforts of authorities to make them acquiesce to the Bull. Male Jansenist authors writing from a figurist perspective transformed this female dissent into the model for all forms of spiritual resistance against Unigenitus. Their gendered constructions represented a challenge to the church hierarchy, forging nuns into a political weapon against the ultramontane episcopacy. The controversy over the Religieuses Hospitalières during the 1750s reveals how Jansenist lawyers and magistrates deployed the controversies over these “model” nuns to censure episcopal despotism and to legitimate parliamentary intervention in religious affairs, thereby opening the way to prescribing constitutional limits on the monarchy itself.

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