Project Canterbury

A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland;
with a Sketch of Its Earlier Annals,
And some Account of the Brothers of the Common Life.

By the Rev. J.M. Neale, M.A.

Oxford: John Henry and James Parker, 1858.



1. It is with something more than the feeling of mere historical interest that I commence the annals of the Church of Utrecht. Engaged for a century and a half in a struggle of almost unparalleled inequality, where ecclesiastical power, wealth, prestige, and numbers a thousand times told, were on the one side, and simply justice and right on the other, she has come down to our own times, persecuted, but not forsaken, cast down, but not destroyed. A taunt and a byeword to the rampant Ultramontanism of modern Europe, she has calmly and trustfully held her own, proclaimed her unshaken attachment to Catholic union and the Catholic faith, appealed, from time to time, against the unjust sentences extorted from the court of Rome, and awaits, in patience and hope, those brighter days when her appeal can be heard, when her isolation shall be removed, and her separate history again merged in the general annals of the Western Church. If I can in any respect do justice to the great men who have laboured and struggled in her service, whose lives were devoted to her, whose deaths were precious in her sight, and no doubt in that of her Lord, I shall, perhaps, not only interest, but console those members of our Church who lament our isolation from the rest of Christendom, by setting before them a memorable example of patience and perseverance, through evil report and good report, on the part of another, and equally separated, national communion.

[62] 2. The Church of Utrecht owes its origin to that of England. The Catti, Batavi, and Frisones, notwithstanding various attempts that had been made for their conversion, remained in heathenism and ferocity till the conclusion of the seventh century. At that time, S. Egbert, an Irish priest and monk, who had been desirous of himself preaching the Gospel in Friesland, but was prevented by a divine intimation, despatched Willibrord, an Englishman by birth, with eleven zealous companions, to conduct the enterprise. Pepin, Mayor of the Palace, had conquered from Radbod, Duke of the Frisones, the tract of land which lay between the Rhine and the Meuse, and which then bore the name of Nether Friesland. He took the missionaries under his protection; and shortly afterwards one of them, by name Suitbert, also an Englishman, was consecrated Bishop by S. Wilfrid of York, at that time under sentence of deposition by S. Theodore of Canterbury. Shortly afterwards Willibrord himself was sent to Rome, with presents and letters of recommendation from Pepin, and was by Pope Sergius I. consecrated Archbishop of the Frisones. On his return, the city of Utrecht was assigned to him as his episcopal residence by Pepin; and in his fifty years’ pontificate he brought multitudes of his flock into the fold of the Church. For these he ordained regionary bishops, — that is, prelates without any certain see, with jurisdiction within the limits of his province.

3. To him succeeded the great Archbishop of Mayence, the English Winfrid, better known by his adopted name of Boniface. Other labourers, however, were cultivating the same evangelical field, and conspicuous for their sanctity and their toils. Such were S. Adalbert, Archdeacon of Utrecht; S. Acca, afterwards Bishop of Hexham; S. Engelmund, who [63] laboured round Velsen; and S. Werenfrid, who is honoured at Elst and Westervoort. But the rising honours of the archbishopric of Utrecht gave umbrage to the see of Cologne, which claimed jurisdiction over the new converts. These claims, unheeded during the episcopates of Willibrord and Boniface, were, on the glorious martyrdom of the latter, (June 5, 754,) received at Rome; and S. Gregory, the friend and companion of the martyred Pontiff, was consecrated Bishop of Utrecht, the see of Cologne being at the same time raised to metropolitical rank. In the meanwhile the Saxons Willibald and Wunibald laboured in Friesland; S. Meircellinus in Overyssel; S. Wiro, and S. Plechelm, and S. Lebuin, near Roermonde and Deventer; and by degrees the huge diocese of Utrecht received the faith. Of its first twenty prelates, most were worthy successors of Willibrord; several are reckoned among the saints. With S. Bernulphus, who died in 1054, this series ends; and then came the times of degeneracy. The Bishop was temporal lord of the Sticht, which derived its name from the city. This was divided into the Over-Sticht, now the province of Overyssel; and the Neder-Sticht, now the province of Utrecht. The incursions of the Normans, and then the continued attempts of the Counts of Holland to possess this ecclesiastical territory, fostered in the highest degree the warlike spirit of its inhabitants, so that the proverb was current, —

“Hoed u nu, hoed u dan,
Hoed u voor den Utrechtsch man.”

The bishops, consequently, became warriors rather than prelates; the duties of their pastoral office were frequently exercised by suffragans, while they themselves headed armies against the Dukes of Guelders or the Counts of Holland. It is recorded, in high praise [64] of Burchard (1100 — 1113), that he conferred holy orders with his own hands. The power of the prelates over the two Stichts was not far short of absolute, but in the city it was extremely limited. Their ordinary residence was in the castle of Wyk-by-Duurstede, and when they desired to visit the town itself they were obliged to ask leave of the magistrates, — who, with the exception of the sheriff, were elected by the citizens, — and to demand a safe conduct for those of their suite. The only bounds to their external jurisdiction were the necessity of obtaining the approbation of their Chapter before they could either convoke an assembly or declare war. Of this Chapter I shall have to speak more in the sequel. Up to the accession of Heribert, who died in 1150, the election had been popular, laity and clergy being equally interested in it. In the year 1145, Eugenius III., at the petition of the Emperor Conrad III., restricted it to the two Chapters of the cathedral and S. Saviour’s (otherwise S. Boniface); it was afterwards extended to those of S. Mary, S. Peter, and S. John, which, with the other two, thenceforward constituted the Chapter of Utrecht[1]. The new regime gave occasion to fiercer quarrels and more deadly outbreaks than the old; but the change, as we shall see, was of the highest importance, and affected the very existence of the Church of Holland.

4. A post of such worldly honour and emolument as the bishopric of Utrecht naturally gave rise to innumerable intrigues, — and an election, in the lapse of years, was seldom effected without bloodshed. It was something, in a feudal age, to be able to lead forth forty thousand men under the banner of S. Martin; and the arms of the see, Gules, a Cross Argent, had more than once struck terror into the mightiest of the [65] neighbouring potentates. Amidst scenes like these, it is easy to imagine the wreck of zeal and the absence of love which the diocese displayed. The most cultivated, the most luxurious, the most commercial state was also that in which there were fewer prelates than in any other part of Christendom; the Seven Provinces, including such towns as Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leyden, Rotterdam, Leeuwarden, Groningen, and a considerable part of modern Belgium, were under the spiritual rule of the Bishops of Utrecht; the neighbouring sees of Liége, Münster, Paderborn, and Osnabrück were in like manner eaten up with worldliness; and the enormous extent of diocese, and the frightful want of pastoral superintendence, thus comes out in the strongest colours. We must also take into account the further complications of those conflicting political influences which made the Low Countries “the cockpit of Europe,” and which gave such vast temporal importance to many of the sees. The Elector of Cologne, the Prince-Bishops of Liége, Utrecht, and Münster fought and conquered like any other monarchs; leaving their proper duties to their suffragans in partibus, they threw their whole energies into the quarrels of France, and of the Germanic Empire; into the factions of the Hooks and the Codfish; or, in later times, those of the Grignoux and Chiroux. If, as late as 1660, Bishop Galen of Münster could employ himself in battering down the houses of his flock, in revenge for an insurrection, we may form some conception of the utter forgetfulness of pastoral duties previous to the partial reformation effected by the Council of Trent, which characterized the possessors of those superb, yet miserable, sees. And so the story is well known of an Elector of Cologne who, passing through the streets of his city with his usual [66] retinue, saw a poor man dying in a fit by the roadside. “Is there no one,” he exclaimed, “who for the love of God will fetch some priest to assist this miserable creature ?” — utterly forgetful that he himself had been invested with sacerdotal powers.

5. Again, the difference of language must have formed a great difficulty as regarded the efficient working of the Church in the Seventeen Provinces. Walloon, with its two great varieties, Liégeoise and Montoise, pure Flemish, pure Dutch, Dutch of Guelderland, Dutch of Overyssel, Frisic, with its countless varieties — how must they have stood in the way of any united movement on the part of bishops, parish priests, and religious orders! The small town of Molquerum, in Friesland, is divided into seven little islands, joined by as many bridges; and some sixty years ago the dialect of any inhabitant marked out at once to which of the islands he belonged.

6. It will be necessary to dwell on one or two of the sad consequences, as having exercised no small influence on the future course of our history. The see being vacant in 1322, James Oudshoorn, Dean of the Cathedral Church, was elected by the larger part of the Chapter. In order to obtain his bulls — his competitor, James, Bishop of Suda in partibus, having appealed to Rome — he was forced to expend so enormous a sum of money, that his family, one of the most ancient in Holland, was ruined. Pope John XXII., however, at length confirmed the election; but Bishop Oudshoorn had no sooner obtained the object of his wishes than he was seized with a mortal illness, occasioned, it was said, by poison, administered to him by his rival. While he lay on his death-bed, James of Suda demanded of the Pope that the see of Utrecht should be reserved to the Apostolic Chamber, according [67] to the new practice then beginning to be timidly brought forward by the Court of Rome. His aim was to obtain that dignity by the gift of the Pope which he felt he could never reach by the election of the Chapter. The proposal was graciously accepted at Avignon, but the proposer did not gain the recompense he had hoped. On the death of Oudshoorn, the Chapter, acknowledging no apostolical reserves, elected John, Baron of Bronkhorst. John XXII. declared the election null. On this, the Duke of Brabant and the Counts of Holland and Guelderland offered to support the Papal pretension, provided their candidate, John, Lord of Diest, were nominated to the bishopric. The Pope, delighted with such support, willingly consented, and the Bishop-designate was introduced into his cathedral under a good military guard. His episcopate corresponded with its commencement. He mortgaged a large portion of the estates of the Church; and after reducing himself by his lavish expenditure to poverty, lived on a pension assigned him. On his death, in 1341, he left the ecclesiastical revenues overwhelmed with debt.

7. John of Bronkhorst — become a candidate for the second time — and John of Arckel divided the votes of the Chapter. Benedict XII. claimed the nomination to the see, and appointed Nicolas de Caputiis, auditor of the Rota, to that dignity. This ecclesiastic, finding that he should be compelled to residence, abdicated; and — no doubt for a consideration — recommended John of Arckel to the Pope. Clement VI., for another consideration, raised him to the see of Utrecht. This prelate was a most distinguished warrior, and was regarded as unconquerable. In the contests of the Hooks and the Codfish he took an active part; at the same time he was a zealous supporter of the external discipline [68] of his Church. He was translated to Liege in 1364.

During the events which I have just been chronicling, the great founder of the mystic school of theology began to distinguish himself.

8. It was on a fine August evening that I visited the little village of Ruysbroek, the birthplace of the “ecstatic Doctor.” The singularly uneventful annals of the life of John de Ruysbroek, peaceful and lovely in the midst of a turbulent and luxurious generation, were not, I thought, ill typified by the sunshiny repose of that little Belgian hamlet, so near the din and turmoil of a corrupt metropolis. Long after he was considered the first ascetic divine of his age, John contented himself with the post of a vicar in the collegiate church of S. Gudule, in Brussels, whence he was the director of all the communities, far and near, that were most distinguished for holiness and discipline. He was the reformer of the Abbey of S. Severin, near Chateau Laudun; mediately, it is believed, of the great convent of Rhynsberg, and of the collegiate church of Groenen-dael (Val-Vert), where the last years of his life were spent. But what his influence must have been is rather to be gathered from the tone taken at once by all his scholars, — that intense love to God, that overwhelming devotion to the Passion[2], which characterized the mystic school of Holland, from Ruysbroek himself to De Neercassel. While the competitors for the see of Utrecht were persecuting each other, and ruining their families by gratuities to the Pope, — while, later, the rivals for the chair of S. Peter were fulminating their anathemas against their opponents, were availing themselves of every engine that intrigue, simony, and corruption could supply, — it is [69] pleasant to turn aside, as we shall do in the next chapter, to the writings and labours of these pious monks, and to see in them, and in such as they were, the seven thousand that had not bowed the knee to this Baal of pontifical worldliness.

9. I must first, however, relate another schism, which had still more important consequences to the Church of Utrecht. On the death of Frederic de Blanckenheim, counted the fifty-first Bishop, there were three candidates, — Rodolph de Diephold, Sweder de Culemburg, Dean of the Cathedral, and Walraff de Morsan. As the Canons were in deliberation, a Burgomaster of Utrecht broke into the conclave, and threatened his nephew, the Dean of S. Peter’s, with death, if he gave his vote for any but Rodolph. On this, the Cathedral Chapter protested, that any election made under a threat would be invalid, and retired. The other Chapters continued their deliberations. Sweder, finding himself without any chance, gave his votes to Rodolph, — who was thus elected by the four Chapters; the Cathedral Chapter elected Walraff. Rodolph, however, who was a layman, having the immense majority of suffrages, was enthroned, and took possession; and then requested his bulls from Martin V. This demand was supported by the city, and by the Duke of Cleves. Martin, at the end of two years, declared the election null; and in the plenitude of his power named Raban, Bishop of Spires, to the see. This prelate took the precaution of inquiring whether he should have any chance of entering his cathedral without bloodshed. On learning that his episcopate must undoubtedly be purchased by a battle, he sold all his right to Sweder, the disappointed candidate, in return for Sweder’s deanery, “and other things” It was two years before this arrangement [70] was ratified by the Pope, and Sweder, having obtained his Bulls, marched upon Utrecht. With very great difficulty, and after having been tied up by the most solemn oaths, he was enthroned; while Rodolph, for his part, fled into Brussels, maintained his rights, and appealed to the Pope better informed. Oaths, however, were nothing to Sweder. Bernard Proeys, the burgomaster who had distinguished himself for his zeal on behalf of Rodolph, was found murdered in his bed. Arrests, imprisonments, executions, followed in such quick succession, that the three estates of Utrecht (Aug. 21, 1425) forbade anyone to obey (that is, as a temporal lord) the so-called Bishop. Shortly after, the partisans of Rodolph obtained possession of the castle, and Sweder was driven from the city. Rodolph was recalled, and, under the title of Bishop-postulate, took the charge of the Church; and the Postulaets gulden which he struck are esteemed by virtuosi as among the rarest of Dutch coins. Sweder assembled the few ecclesiastics that adhered to him at Arnheim, and laid the diocese under an interdict. The three estates appealed to the Pope; and as Martin V. looked down on the whole proceedings with a lofty unconcern, they next appealed to the Future Council.

10. When Eugenius IV. succeeded to the Papal chair the Estates implored his assistance. He could not afford to treat the matter with the unconcern of his predecessor, for the Council of Basle was sitting. After despatching the Bishop of Macon to make inquiries on the spot, he, by a Bull of Oct. 13, 1433, declared that his predecessor had been mistaken in refusing to confirm the election of Rodolph; that the crimes of Sweder were of the most gross and glaring character; he annulled all the acts of that intruder, and confirmed the election of Rodolph. That Bishop [71] survived the pacification twenty-two years, and governed his Church with great prudence. Sweder, after having vainly appealed to the Council of Basle, from whom he could obtain nothing but the empty title of Archbishop of Caesarea, died of a broken heart in that city. His partisans chose Walraff, his early competitor, as his successor. He obtained the confirmation of the Duke of Savoy, called Felix V. in his obedience, and returned to Arnheim; and, more fortunate than his predecessor, was presented with the bishopric of Minister as his reward for ceasing to vex the Church of Utrecht.

11. The successor of Rodolph, Gisbert de Brederode, had a cruel war to maintain against David of Burgundy, the natural son of Philip the Good. This personage partly forced Gisbert, partly brought him to consent to abdication. His arbitrary government, supported as it was by the authority of his brother, Charles the Bold, roused the citizens to revolt, and a long war was the result. David, however, maintained himself till his death in 1496. He is praised for some good qualities, especially for insisting on the necessity of learning in his clergy. Having heard great complaints of the laxity of the episcopal examinations, he once undertook them himself, and only admitted three out of three hundred candidates.

12. The temporal sovereignty of the Sticht remained in the see till the decease of Philip of Burgundy, fifty-seventh bishop. This prelate obtained a brief from Leo X., which is of the greatest importance in the defence of the rights of his Church. It concedes that neither he, nor any of his successors, nor any of their clergy or laity, should ever, in the first instance, have his cause evoked to any external tribunal, not even under pretence of any apostolic letters whatever; and [72] that all such proceedings should be ipso facto null and void. The Pontiff was here only confirming an inalienable right of the Church; but his confirmation was providential, as viewed in respect to the great schism that was, in the course of years, to break out. Philip’s successor, Henry of Bavaria, before consecration, was expelled the city by a faction, and, seeing no hope of otherwise regaining possession, he offered to cede to the Emperor, Charles V., as Count of Holland, his temporal sovereignty, if that monarch would assist in reinstating him in his see. He had sworn to defend all the privileges of that see, but he did not hesitate between breaking his oath and losing his office. The cession took place on the 1st of October, 1528; the privileges of the inhabitants were immediately crushed, the council abolished, and the citizens were compelled to take an oath of fidelity to their new master, — a requisition never made by their ecclesiastical lords. Finding his rule unpalatable, Charles V. took the precaution of strengthening it by the erection of a castle, which, in honour of a peace he concluded with the Duke of Guelderland, he named Vredenburg. Thus the Church of Utrecht lost her temporal lordship; and, perjured as the bishop was who ceded it, can we doubt that she was well rid of so burdensome an appendage ?

13. Not one word is said in the act of cession regarding any limitation of the power of free election enjoyed by the Canons. But — for a difficulty must be fairly met — in the Bull of Clement VII., bearing date Aug. 20, 1529, which confirms this cession, mention is made of a certain act, by which the Chapters engaged to elect him only whom the Emperors of Germany, in quality of Dukes of Brabant and Counts of Holland, should have recommended. But there are [73] several sufficient answers to this objection: — 1. This act is mentioned nowhere else, nor is there the slightest allusion to it either in any contemporary records, or in the thanks returned by the Emperor, nor in a second brief of Clement on the same topic; nor has it, nor any copy of it, ever been produced. Add to which, that it is only mentioned accidentally in the Bull, and we shall have evidence enough in the following pages, how little historical worth such assertions can frequently boast. 2. Granting the act to have been given, it was ultra vires of the Canons, themselves only depositaries, and not absolute possessors of the right. 3. The cession was not acted on by those whom it most concerned to have availed themselves of it, as we shall see presently. The probability is that it was suppositions; the certainty that, let the case be how it may, it was never considered binding either by one party or the other.

14. Henry of Bavaria enjoyed his ill-gotten dignity only for five years. He fell into contempt among his people, went by the name of de blaauwe Bisschop, resigned, in vain endeavoured to re-obtain his see, and died in obscurity as Bishop of Frisingen. His successor was William Enchvoort, a native of Brabant. He was Cardinal, and already Bishop of Tortosa, in Spain. Clement VII., in the plenitude of his power, elevated him to the see of Utrecht — a violent infraction of all right, but proving nothing against that of the Chapters, who, if they ceded it at all, ceded it not to the Pope, but to the Emperor. He never visited his see, which he held seven years. On his death, George of Egmont, of the Counts of that name, was duly elected by the Canons, and confirmed without difficulty (1536). He seems to have been a truly pious man, and must have been a welcome change after [74] the warriors and intriguers of the preceding century and a half. His alms and austerity of life were well known, and he was especially strict in the personal examination of candidates for holy orders. It was he who gave the first of its celebrated stained-glass windows to the Church of Gouda: the artist was Dirk Crabeth, and the subject is the Baptism of our Lord. George of Egmont died at his monastery of S. Arnaud, near Tournay, September 26, 1559, and was buried there. His heart, however, was interred at Utrecht, and his epitaph alone, of the seventy archbishops, exists in its desecrated walls.

But before I describe the erection of the see of Utrecht into an archbishopric, we will go back in the order of time to glance at the life of deep holiness and piety which had been the inner and more real existence of the Church of Holland during the centuries of her worldliness.


[1] Brocdersen, Tract. Hist. ii. pp. 35 — 39.

[2] See note A, at the end of the book. [This note spread to a length so utterly disproportionate to its connexion with the history, that I thought better to omit it.]


Project Canterbury