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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.

[137] CHAPTER V.

VACANCY OF THE SEE. 1614-1620.



1. It was on a fine bright evening at the beginning of May that an express arrived at Oldenzaal from Cologne, bringing intelligence of the decease of Sasbold Vosmeer[1]. Rovenius was sitting down to supper, and it so happened that he was then entertaining as his guest his brother Henry, confessor to the celebrated convent of Voorst, near Brussels. “Now, Philip,” exclaimed he, “resistance will be no longer in your power. God has manifestly called you to the government of this Church, and you have only to submit to His will.” Rovenius rose from table in great agitation, went out, admitted himself by a private key into his collegiate church, and there spent the whole night in supplication that God would deliver him from the threatened burden, and would “send by the hand of him by whom He would send.” When the sacristan came to ring the bell for matins, the Dean was still earnest in his devotions before the altar of the blessed Sacrament.

2. We must go back a little in the course of events. The Chapters of Utrecht and Haarlem had, as early as 1612, named three ecclesiastics for the coadjutorship. [138] Rovenius was the first; Sextius[2], of whom I have before spoken, was the second; the third was Francis Dusseldorp[3]. He had originally been a lawyer, and had distinguished himself by the energy with which he always defended the rights of the poor; weary of the world, he entered holy orders, and, notwithstanding some eccentricities, was always esteemed a zealous labourer in the Lord’s vineyard. Each of these three was most earnest in refusing the dignity: —

“I beseech you by the mercy of God,” wrote Rovenius[4] to Sasbold, “to excuse me from undertaking a burden to which neither my powers of body or of mind are equal. You have ready to your hand other ecclesiastics of more experience, better acquainted with men and places, more used to deal with courts. There are other reasons, which are not unknown to you, in themselves sufficient to prevent me from undertaking the office; I say nothing of them here, lest I should seem ostentatiously confessing my faults for the sake of obtaining a compliment.”

In the meantime, the Jesuit Arboreus was intriguing for the dignity. But the Chapter of Utrecht had already suffered too much from the Society to trust the fortunes of their Church to one of its members. Vexed by the obstinacy of Rovenius, they at length substituted Henry Vorden, afterwards Dean of Oldenzaal, as their Postulate. The Chapter of Haarlem, however, with a better knowledge of the worth of their man, continued to demand Rovenius.

3. Things were in this condition on the death of Vosmeer, and each Chapter remained obstinate in defending its own nominee. At length, by mutual consent, Jansenius, President of the College of Hadrian VI. at Louvain, was appointed arbiter of the [139] difference, and a deputation from either Chapter waited on them to defend their Postulate. Words at first ran high, but by the ability and good-temper of Jansenius matters were at length smoothed down, and both Chapters acquiesced in the election of Rovenius. “I was caught,” he used afterwards to say, “by the treachery of Jansenius.” He soon after received the vicariate-apostolic, though the difficulties which have been before mentioned deferred his receiving episcopal ordination. He continued to reside at Oldenzaal, and thence to govern the dioceses of Utrecht, Haarlem, and Deventer. In the meanwhile the clergy, vividly impressed with the necessity of a true bishop, were active in soliciting the consent of the Archduke Albert to his consecration. In consideration, however, of the truce which he had concluded with the States, and for the infraction of which he was determined to give no pretext, he refused that consent which should never have been asked.

4. During the twelve years’ truce, external events seemed working for the good of the Church of Holland. The growing despotism of Prince Maurice, the barefaced manner in which he trampled on the free institutions of his country, and quartered garrisons of his own creatures on the most considerable towns, naturally excited the hopes of the partizans of Spain; while the Synod of Dort, in which, to use the words of an impartial historian, “theology was mystified, religion disgraced, and Christianity outraged,” caused many, disgusted with its edicts, to return to the Church. “After 152 sittings, during six months’ display of ferocity and fraud, the solemn mockery was closed on the 9th of May, 1619, by the declaration of the president, that its miraculous labours had made hell to tremble.” The murder of Barneveldt, the imprisonment [140] of Grotius, the conspiracy against Maurice, and the unrelenting revenge with which he pursued those implicated in the plot, all helped to open men’s eyes to the true character of that Calvinism which Holland professed, and that liberty of judgment which she preached.

5. Just before the truce expired, the solicitations of the clergy were crowned with success. Rovenius was consecrated in his brother’s abbey of Voorst, near Brussels, Nov. 8, 1620, by Sanseverini, Archbishop of Salerno and Papal Nuncio, Boonen of Mechlin and Balder of Antwerp assisting. On his return to Oldenzaal, he was received with all possible display: cannon fired, bells rang, the troops under Baron de Moorsel turned out as a guard of honour, and Te Deum was sung with great solemnity in the church of S. Plechelm. The new prelate varied not at all the quiet and humble tenor of his former life, though his leisure was interrupted and his attention distracted by new intrigues on the part of the Jesuits. It was at length resolved that the Archbishop should visit Rome in person; Bolius, canon of S. Mary at Utrecht, an indefatigable pastor, and Nonnius, Dean of Haarlem, who had more than once been imprisoned for the faith, were nominated by the Chapters as their proctors to the Holy See. It would be tedious[5] to relate the progress of the consequent negotiations. It is sufficient to know that, after innumerable delays, occasioned by the stratagems and chicaneries of the Jesuits, a Concordat was drawn up, in terms perhaps less ample than the occasion seemed to require, but which, nevertheless, so far as words went, assured to Rovenius [141] the same authority over all the priests, Jesuits and other Regulars, as well as seculars, within his diocese, which other bishops possess within the limits of their jurisdiction. On his return from Rome, Rovenius remained in Brabant till towards the conclusion of 1625. The rest of that year and a part of the next was employed in visiting the principal churches of Overyssel, which yet acknowledged the King of Spain, — Lingen, Grolle, Emmeric, Huissen, and Grieth.

6. On the death of Prince Maurice, his brother, Frederic Henry, assumed the helm of affairs and the direction of the war. Carrying his arms into Overyssel, he re-won the greater part of that province, and the important towns of Grolle[6] and Oldenzaal. On the day previous to the surrender of the latter place, Rovenius assembled his flock for the last time within the walls of the collegiate church. Having celebrated mass, he gave directions for the removal of crosses and pictures, and for the stripping of the various altars; and then addressed the people, interrupted only by their tears and sighs. Their earthly arms, he told them, had been unfortunate; but there was a contest in which everyone might win that chose; their means of grace would be uncertain, but God was not tied to means only. Temptations and allurements, perhaps threats and persecutions, there would be many; but the true faith was, and must remain, one. The crosses were removed from the church, but the Cross of Christ must still be borne in their hearts; [142] the images of the saints were taken down, but the examples of the saints must be followed; a little while, and these interruptions to the service of God would be at an end for ever, and they who had, in the midst of all difficulties, walked by faith, would enter into the possession of all glory, and need nothing but love. And that was Rovenius’s farewell to his church of Oldenzaal.

7. The Archbishop, though he had been persecuted by the States immediately after his consecration, determined to repair to Utrecht, and to reside there in secrecy. He fixed his home in the house of Henrietta de Duivenvoorde, a daughter of the noble family of that name, long lords of Warmond, who had bound herself by a vow of perpetual chastity. He here found an asylum for twenty-five years, till his death; and dating his letters, as he generally does, ex loco nostro [7], he often speaks of the kindness and attention of his hostess, who herself seems to have taken a deep interest in the affairs of the Church. It is in this same year, 1626, that the celebrated Cornelius Jansen first makes his appearance in connexion with Holland. As he was about to visit Spain, the two Chapters solicited, through him[8], the confirmation of Rovenius, by Philip III., to the see of Utrecht.

8. A regulation of Rovenius, imperatively called for by the times, has been made one chief ground of Ultramontane cavils against the rights of the Church of Holland. At the Reformation — and this was one [143] of the few honourable proceedings which characterized it — the canonries of the Five Chapters were not suppressed, nor were the then holders deprived of them. As they became vacant, Protestants were admitted to them as to honourable sinecures[9], though Catholics were also occasionally presented. In both cases the ancient usages were preserved, and the succession was perpetuated by collations ad turnum, resignations, and presentations, as before. This mongrel body still continued to hold its chapters for the purpose of managing its estates, and keeping up the fabric of the cathedral; while the Catholic part of it, as we have seen, held their separate meetings for the transaction of the ecclesiastical business of the diocese. At length, in 1622, when of the 285 canons and vicars who composed the Five Chapters, forty-five only were Catholics, the States of Utrecht passed a resolution that none but Protestants should for the future be presented to the vacant dignities. Rovenius was thus thrown into great perplexity. If no fresh canons were appointed, the Catholic Chapter, and with it the Church of Utrecht, would soon be at end; if fresh appointments were made, the States would be irritated, and all named to the vacant offices would be banished. The Archbishop, therefore, chose seven of the existing canons; to these he added the few priests whom he had intended to appoint to the dignities which should fall vacant in his own months; and these he formed into what he called a vicariate of eleven ecclesiastics, subsequently reduced to nine, and now to eight, but which was in truth the old Chapter under another title. This, in fact, is the Hougomont of [144] the Church of Utrecht; it has been the object of the bitterest attack on the part of her enemies, and of the most vigorous defence on the part of her sons. Not to interrupt the course of the history, we have thrown the arguments into an appendix [10]. Even supposing that the proceedings were not perfectly regular, ought a Church which, like the lion of the States, might have for its motto Luctor et emergo, a Church struggling with persecution, beset with heretics to be tied, down to the “most straightest” rules of worldly peace and prosperity? Van Espen, however, has left it as his judgment that all was most perfectly canonical; and that the proceeding might stand the investigation of any discipline in any time.

9. As soon as Rovenius had fixed his abode at Utrecht, the persecution which, as long as the truce continued, had been suffered to drop, again commenced with redoubled vigour. The churches, if so they may be called, constructed during this period, some of which still remain, afford a lively picture of the dangers to which the Catholics were exposed. A house in some remote and unfrequented district of the city was selected, the whole of the interior was gutted, galleries of four, or five, or even six stages, erected from top to bottom, every possible space of cornice or window-sill made available for auditors, while transverse apertures were opened in all directions, in order to afford the faithful a view of the mysteries of the altar. Small round holes, concealed by sliding panels, commanded a view of all the passages by which the officers of justice might be expected to arrive. It is very much to be hoped that some of these curious buildings, which may still be seen at Amsterdam, at Utrecht, and at Haarlem, may be [145] preserved to posterity; as a proof of the fidelity of the persecuted Church in Holland, and of the boasted toleration of Protestant rulers. They were frequently attached, or adjacent, to some tavern; thus at Amsterdam there were the churches pf the Pigeon, the Moses and Aaron, the Green Tree, and the Parroquet. In summoning the Catholics to these meetings, and in giving warning of any danger, the Klopjes, or Knocking Sisters, were of the greatest use. It was Rovenius who gave form and consistency to this order. Religious communities and a marked dress were, of course, out of the question: the Sisters resided at home, went out into the villages, nursed the sick, catechised, gave alms, and effected more conversions than the priests. They were the subject of the most furious placards on the part of their High Mightinesses; they were forbidden, under pain of imprisonment, to assemble in any number exceeding two; they were incapable of making a will, or of inheriting real or landed property. These laws, however, were not universally carried out: there was in the seventeenth century a kind of Béguinage at Amsterdam, in which, through the connivance of the magistrates, one hundred were permitted to reside; at Haarlem there were three hundred, at Delft more than fifty. At Utrecht they resided near the church, called then, as now, S. Gertrude in den Hoek, a kind of strange, out-of-the-way corner on the western side of the city, and not far from the road which leads from Amsterdam to Gorcum. Anyone who has attended service in this church must have wondered at the innumerable passages, gates, and doors, which afford an outlet to the Vredenburg on the one side, and to the Marieplaatz on the other. I have been informed that the last surviving Klopje died at Utrecht in the summer [146] of 1853. The name of Klopjes, though other derivations have been proposed for it, is undoubtedly taken from the Dutch verb klopjen, to knock, because it was thus that they gave warning in case of sudden danger. Each Sister had her own peculiar article of church furniture, — chalice, corporal, paten, cruet, or whatever else it might be, — which it was her duty to remove, should the magistrates obtain information of the meeting; and thus, in an incredibly short time, all traces of service were taken away, and the officers of justice found nothing but bare walls and empty galleries. Some years later, the Archbishop of Kafenza, Papal Legate in Germany, happened to visit Utrecht: —

“The Catholics there,” he says, in the printed account of his travels, “edified me so much as to make me believe myself to be in apostolic times. Their modesty, their attention, their silence, were such, that they resembled rather statues than living men, so attentive were they to the contemplation of divine things. At Communion I was astonished to observe a great number of virgins, all veiled, like the choir of seraphims who covered their faces in the presence of the Most High. I could not help saying to myself, ‘Would to God that devotion flourished as much in the convents of Italy as it does among these nuns, who live in the world and among Protestants!’”

10. It may not be amiss to string together the principal placards issued against Catholics, in order that the difficulties and dangers of Rovenius may be more distinctly understood:—

April 4, 1596. All persons are forbidden to enter the universities in the Spanish dominions; banishment to everyone who has taken a degree in any of them.

March 27, 1612. All monks or priests remaining in the country to be imprisoned. Public or secret [147] conventicles in favour of the Papal superstition subjected to a heavy fine.

Feb. 1, 1620. All Catholic and Mennonite preachers to be imprisoned at once.

Jan. 11, 1636. All persons who have received holy orders to leave the country within six days, or to be capitally punished.

April 9, 1639. The Klopjes forbidden to catechise, under pain of imprisonment.

Aug. 30, 1641. The Klopjes forbidden to reside elsewhere than in the houses of their parents.

Dec. 17, 1644. All legacies in favour of the Klopjes declared null and void; the administration of their own goods taken from them, and entrusted to persons of the established religion.

April 14, 1649. Renews all former placards against the Klopjes and other Catholics.

Nov. 28, 1655. The same prohibition again renewed. In this placard their High Mightinesses, better merchants than scholars, confuse Béguines with Bégardes, and with the order of Jesuitesses suppressed by Urban VIII. in 1634.

These edicts were renewed in Friesland as late as 1667; but shortly after that period they fell into disuse, and the Klopjes were even permitted to appear abroad in their religious dress, which nearly resembled that of a Benedictine nun.

11. Notwithstanding all his other labours, Rovenias found time to institute a school of Lay-Controvertists. These were men chosen by each pastor in his parish, for the express purpose of disputing with the better-educated among the Protestants. They assembled in the church every Sunday and festival, after mass; a subject was given out at one meeting to be discussed at the next; the pastor appointed one of his scholars [148] to take the Protestant, and another the Catholic, side, he himself moderating in the dispute. This institution produced wonderful effects. It is not strange that, in spite of all the persecution, the energy of Rovenius and his fellow-labourers should have been crowned with great success. The Church of Holland reached its lowest ebb in the year 1614. At that time the 600 priests, whom Sasbold Vosmeer had found at their posts, were reduced to 170. In 1628 there were nearly 300. In 1638 there were 482; and in like manner Rovenius saw, during the course of his episcopate, the number of the Catholic laity increase from 200,000 to 300,000.

12. In the year 1630, Rovenius was exposed to personal danger from an attempt made by the States to apprehend him. The officers of justice, it is said, searched every apartment of Madame Duivenvoorden’s house, with the single exception of the prelate’s own room, where he was seated, and awaiting the arrival of the police. This singular escape recalls the similar deliverance of the great Dionysius at Alexandria. As the war was carried on with greater energy, the persecution increased; and when the Prince of Orange had taken Bois-le-duc, while the Spaniards became masters of Amersfoort and the Veluwe, Utrecht was placed as it were between two fires, and the danger became imminent. For ten years the placards were carried out to their full extent, and imprisonment for life was the penalty to which every priest who remained at his post was subjected. The foundation of the University in 1636 fomented the fierceness of Protestant zeal, and the celebrated Gisbert Voet revenged himself for the polemical defeat he had sustained from Cornelius Jansen, by exciting the magistrates to greater rigour against their Catholic subjects. In the city itself, [149] Andrew de Cock suffered martyrdom[11] for his adherence to the ancient faith; and in the little village of Middelburg, near Gouda, Martin Van Velde obtained the same honour.

“Daily,” says Rovenius, writing to Rome in 1638, “we experience various disturbances of the divine offices, imprisonment of priests, fines, banishments; the persecution ceases not, but rather increases, because the placards against priests and those who harbour them, or allow the worship of God to be performed in their houses, are renewed; and strict orders have been given to all the officials, under pain of deprivation and other penalties, not to connive at the Catholics, nor to suffer themselves to be bribed.” At the end of September, 1639 [12], the burgomaster of Utrecht, escorted by a sufficient body of officers, demanded admission at Madame Duivenvoorden’s house. Rovenius was then engaged in dictating to his secretary, Godfrey van Mook, whose brother was also seated with him. A servant rushed into the room, threw her cloak round the Bishop, and hurried him out by the back door; the brothers Van Mook were taken, threatened with the torture, confessed to certain episcopal acts [13] performed by Rovenius, were heavily fined, and banished. In the following March [14] the same sentence was pronounced against the Archbishop himself, who thereupon withdrew from Utrecht, and wandered for some time through his province, teaching, preaching, catechising as he could, and setting a brilliant example of Christian resignation and cheerfulness. More than ever, while thus in exile, “he was a burning and a shining light.”

13. Before these troubles, the age and infirmities of Rovenius had rendered him desirous of obtaining a [150] coadjutor and successor. A synod of the clergy of the dioceses of Utrecht and Haarlem having met in the former city on the 6th May, 1637, elected to that office James de la Torre, a native of Hague, and who was then exercising the pastoral office in the village of Eykenduinen, near that city. The suavity of his manners, his learning, and the zeal which he had displayed as a priest, apparently caused his brethren to overlook that want of firmness, and inaptitude to govern, which afterwards rendered his episcopate so disastrous to the national Church. The election was approved by Rovenius, confirmed by Urban VIII., and allowed by the Cardinal Infant, then Governor of the Low Countries.

14. The last years of the life of Rovenius were mostly passed at Utrecht. The correspondence preserved in the archives of S. Gertrude bears ample testimony to his labours even in extreme old age. One action, taken in reference to the future history of his Church, is remarkable. In Nov. 1641 he approved, in conjunction with nine of his principal ecclesiastics, the Augustinus of Jansenius of Ypres, — that work which was to give occasion to the fierce dissensions of two centuries, not yet composed. He had contracted an intimate friendship with that prelate, and when the latter conceived the idea of introducing the Congregation [15] of the Oratory into the low Countries, as a kind of moral support to the episcopate, almost annihilated by the intrigues of the Jesuits, Rovenius entered warmly into the plan, which, however, was not carried out. Of his various publications, that of the “Treatise on Missions [16]” made most sensation, and was delated by the Jesuits to the Roman Inquisition, [151] by which it was approved, and it was long considered a standard work. His “Christian Republic” is an able and pious treatise. Besides the voluminous correspondence which he carried on with his priests, he drew up three distinct relations of the progress of his Church, for the information of the cardinals. As Bishop of the nearest see, he sent into Norway John Martin Rugens [17], with the most ample powers to exercise his mission in that country, — a mission, of the results of which I can learn nothing.

15. Deeply attached, like his successors, to the doctrine of S. Augustine, Rovenius had always prayed that he might be taken from the world in the same year of his life which put an end to the labours of that great doctor. He expressed his earnest desire to this effect when, in 1649, he celebrated his “Golden Mass” in the Abbey of Voorst, near Brussels, and it was heard. At the end of September, 1651, he was seized with an illness which soon was seen to be mortal. In imitation of his favourite saint, he scarcely ever allowed the Penitential Psalms to be out of his sight; and three hours before his death he desired to be laid in ashes on the ground. Thus, in faith and great patience, he resigned his spirit to its Creator on Oct. 1, 1651 [18]. He was buried in the house where he had so long lived, the necessities of the times forbidding any other arrangement; and it is said that, seven years after his decease, his grave being opened, the body was found uncorrupted.

16. Even the adversaries of the Church of Holland have done justice to the virtues of this great and good prelate. “The admirable example [19],” says one of the [152] most bitter among them, “of piety, humility, sobriety, and the greatest edification, have shed a lustre over the forty years during which he combated for the Catholic faith.”

Three years before the death of Rovenius, the celebrated treaty of Munster had sealed the de jure independence of the Seven Provinces. This event more especially belongs to our history, because certain of the adversaries of the Church of Holland have fixed it as the epoch at which the Archbishops of Utrecht, real Archbishops till then, became Vicars-Apostolic; since — so runs the argument — there can be no diocesan episcopacy in a country of which the supreme power is heretical!



[1] Bat. Sac. ii. 75. There is a graphic account of these proceedings in a letter preserved in the archives, clearly written by Henry Rovenius.

[2] In all the histories he is here called Oostervirius, from the place of his birth, Oosterwyk, near Leeuwarden.

[3] Bat. Sacr. II. 262.

[4] Tract. Hist. ii. 70.

[5] All these negotiations are related in Tract, Hist. v. 250 — 265. Also in Bellegarde, pp. 123 — 125. The letters on the subject are preserved in the Archives, where I have examined them.

[6] There is a particular account of the siege of Grolle by Hugo Grotius, which is generally appended to his Annals of the Dutch War of Independence. I have them in the translation of John Gerius, who has made some additions and corrections. He thus speaks of our archbishop:— “Deesen Aertsbisschop was Philippus Rovenius, die sigh mit den naem wel uitgaf voor Aertsbisschop der Philippensen, dogh in der daet door last des Paus van Romen was een opsiender der Kerkelijke Sacken door Hollandt, en de landtschappen onder ’t selfde verbindt.” — (p. 14.)

[7] Most of his letters which I have read in the archives are signed Van Dael, or Van Daelen, and a few Wynhovius, from the maiden name of his mother. I made diligent enquiry at Utrecht for any tradition connected with the site of this house; but it would seem that nothing is known on the subject. It would appear, however, from Tract. Hist. iii. 79, that she resided at the house called Hazenberg, (whether the great or little is not said). This house stood on the site now occupied at the Hotel de Ville. (Utrecht and its Environs, p. 39.)

[8] Tractat. Hist. iii. 76.

[9] Thus, for example, Admiral Van Gent, killed in the battle of Solebay in 1672, whose tomb occupies the ancient position of the high altar in the cathedral, was a canon

[10] See Appendix III.

[11] In 1636.

[12] Bat. Sacr. ii. 81; Bellegarde, p. 138.

[13] All these acts are in existence, and are printed in Bat. Sacr. ii. 80; Defens. Eccl. Ultraj. Monum. cxi.; Tract. Hist. iii. 79.

[14] March 6, 1639.

[15] Hoynk, Hist. Eccl. Ultraj., p. 17.

[16] The Correspondence is given in Bat. Sacr. ii. 82.

[17] Bat. Sacr. ii. 83.

[18] I have a contemporary drawing of Rovenius, as he lay in state, which closely resembles the engraving in the Bat. Sacr.

[19] De Rebus Eccl. Ultraj., p. 83. Hoynk speaks not less favourably of him. Hist. Eccl. Ult., p. 17. It was left for Dom Pitra (part II., chapters vii. and viii.) to vilify the memory of one whom the bitterest of Molinist writers had up to that time reverenced.


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