Defending Virtue: Sirmond and La Mothe Le Vayer
The connection between Jansenius and French ecclesiastical politics is described: Richelieu opposed Jansenius partly because of his friendship with the abbé de Saint-Cyran, whom Richelieu regarded as dangerous. (Saint-Cyran’s influence was strongly felt in the religious community of Port-Royal, the later centre of Jansenism.) Richelieu may well have inspired two works attacking Jansenist conceptions of virtue: Sirmond’s La Deffense de la vertu and La Mothe Le Vayer’s De la vertu des payens. Most of Le Vayer’s works are sceptical in spirit. Here he assumes the mantle of a defender of orthodoxy, mobilizing scholastic arguments against the hard-line Augustinian condemnation of pagan virtue: he defends the idea of the virtuous unbeliever whose faith in a deity is counted as an ‘implicit’ faith in Christ, and considers the possibility that some of the ancient philosophers may have escaped damnation. His argument at times seems to cast doubt on the authenticity of the Christian revelation.
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