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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.

[252] CHAPTER X.


1723 — 1725.

1. The new head of the Church of Holland had been, as we have seen, the companion of Codde in his sojourn at Rome: he had been elected into the Chapter for that purpose[1]. He had since that time been employed by his brethren as their agent at Cologne; and the moderation of his principles, and his education at Rome, where he had taken the degree of Doctor of Theology, induced them to hope that he had a better chance of acceptation by the Papal Court than the more eminent members of the Chapter, who had been brought more into collision with Ultramontane prejudices. The Chapter wrote the same day to the Pope, and requested him to dispense with the canonical number of three consecrating bishops. It must be confessed that this request has a singular appearance; the only difficulty to procuring three prelates willing to undertake that office consisted in the refusal of Papal Bulls; nor is it easy to see how Innocent XIII. could have been expected to grant a dispensation which he might just as well have rendered needless. The Archbishop-elect shortly afterwards wrote, and also sent his profession of faith; it was that of Pius IV.

[253] 2. The eyes of all Catholic Europe were now fixed on the proceedings of the Chapter. That Rome would yield none could imagine; but would the canons have courage to persevere? How were the three bishops to be found? Would the Bishop of Babylon venture to consecrate alone? Was the election a mere bravado, or was it to be carried out to the end? “I can think of nothing,” writes Langlois, Bishop of Boulogne, “except of les affaires présentes de cette glorieuse Eglise d’Utrecht.” No answer from Rome. A second letter from the Chapter on the 4th of August[2]; a third on the 29th of December[3]. No answer still. The spring of 1724 came on. Van Erkel’s dialogues were doing good service; and Ultramontane pens were employed to reply to them. One of these works so produced was an ingenious counter-dialogue between Warmond and Regthart; the other, a letter from a Doctor of Louvain to a friend in Holland, on the rights of the so-named Chapter of Utrecht.

3. On the 9th of March the Chapter addressed a circular letter to all Catholic bishops on the sufferings of the Church of Utrecht. It had scarcely been sent out, when intelligence arrived of the death of Innocent XIII. The Ultramontanes were now in consternation. The late Pope had not approved, but neither had he condemned, the election; during the vacancy of the Holy See the neighbouring bishops might feel less fettered; the new head of the Church might be moderate in his views, and might acquiesce in the consecration. The cardinals, therefore, in conclave, issued a letter[4] on the 8th of April, in which they applied the most scurrilous reproaches to the Chapter, and to the Bishop of Babylon; the Internuncio, holding [254] the same language, addressed a circular to all the Catholics of Holland[5], and the pamphlet was sedulously dispersed. It is curious that the day before the Cardinals had issued their manifesto, Steenoven and Van Dyck, as Vicars-General, had published a pastoral letter, in which they desired the prayers[6] of the faithful for the departed Pope. To the Internuncio’s letter[7] the Chapters returned a firm reply; and, determined to leave no stone unturned, they next addressed a circular to all Catholic Deans and Chapters[8], urging them to make common cause against an invasion of common rights. This producing no effect, they next wrote to the Universities[9] of Louvain, Douai, Paris, Rheims, Nantes, Caen, Poictiers, Cologne, Vienna, Prague, and Strasbourg. Still no answer.

“Verily,” says Kemp, with a touch of natural bitterness, “they were all dumb dogs — they could not bark!” “Let them all,” he continues, “let bishops, canons, universities, be silent! Such a silence, noble clergy and illustrious Chapter, is a clear proof that your Archbishop has been well and validly elected, and that you may proceed with full assurance to his consecration.”

4. Now came intelligence that Cardinal Orsini had been elected to the vacant See, and had taken the title of Benedict XIII. The Chapter addressed him most submissively[10], but to as little purpose as before. Letters were sent to the neighbouring prelates, conjuring them for the love of Christ to come to the relief of the distressed Church, and to consecrate Steenoven. Few replied: those who did, wrote with every expression of sympathy[11], but declined more [255] active assistance. Even De Caylus, the most prononcé of the French bishops, could give no warmer comfort than “Si j’étais en ce pays la, je ne ferai pas la moindre difficulté de lui imposer mes mains.” It was understood, however, that the Bishops of Antwerp, Arras, and S. Omer were all but persuaded to come forward, and the first-named took a singular method of shewing his sympathy. On the 30th of July he consecrated his brother Bishop of Rhodes in partibus, without the assistance of any other prelate, which he might easily have procured, — as if he would thereby exhort the Bishop of Babylon to act, without scruple, by himself. In the meantime, the question was universally asked, How long is this state of things to continue? The Archbishop had been elected a year and a half, and not one step had really been effected towards his consecration. No one urged on the affair so much as Dom Thierry de Viaixnes, who made it his especial business to enquire into the sentiments of the French bishops. In a letter of the 10th of September, 1724[12], he tells the Chapter that, to his certain knowledge, the Bishops of Montpelier, Senez, and Auxerre were for the consecration; and that, from the best evidence he could collect, those of Bayeux, Pamiers, Macon, Rhodez, Angoulerne, Metz, Troyes, and the ex-Bishop of Tournay, were in the same sentiments.

5. The Chapter, after having vainly requested the assistance of the nearest bishops[13], Antwerp, Roermonde, Namur, S. Omer, on the 13th of October, 1724, addressed a letter to the Bishop of Babylon, briefly recapitulating what had been done, the extreme necessity of their Church, their repeated applications [256] to the Church of Rome[14], and mentioning the consecration at Antwerp as a pattern and an excuse: —

“It is,” they wrote, “as in old times: if we all do as our brethren have done, and fight not for our lives and laws, they will quickly root us out of the earth.” — “You see,” they continue, “that we are as sheep that have no shepherd, who may be Christ’s vicar in our Church: by Him, then, Who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, we beseech, entreat, and conjure you to give us the desire of our hearts. What will be your praise in the Catholic Church, if you raise up again a Church that has almost fallen, a Church which God has perhaps preserved free from certain new bondages and scandals,” — (they not obscurely hint at the Formulary and the Unigenitus,) — “to this end, that when He shall renew His signs, and shall do wondrously, it may minister to the execution of His counsels?”

6. Accordingly, after so many delays, on the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, Oct. 15, 1724, the Chapter assembled in the private chapel of the Bishop of Babylon, at Amsterdam. Van Erkel and Daellenoort assisted in the place of the wanting prelates, and Cornelius Steenoven was rightly and canonically consecrated Archbishop of Utrecht. The time was the somewhat unusual hour of 6 a.m.: this was chosen to suit the convenience of the parish priests, Jacob Krys, Luke Ahuys, and Theodore Doncker, who had officially to be present, and who had to do their own parochial duties later in the day. The bold step was taken, — the Rubicon was passed; and it remained to see what sympathy and assistance the Church of Holland might expect. The result was not long doubtful. Letters of congratulation flowed in from all quarters. The Bishops Colbert, of Montpelier; De Caylus, of Auxerre; De Lorraine, of Bayeux; De Tilladet, of Macon; [257] De Verthamon, of Pamiers; Soanen, of Senez; wrote in person. Tourourre, of Rhodez; Dreuillet, of Bayonne; D’Arbreuve, of Dax; De Corslin, of Tarbes; Meaupon, of Lombez; Beaujen, of Castres; De Verthamon, of Lugon; wrote by deputy: and the host of letters from dignitaries of the second order was countless. “You may rightly,” says Ruth d’Ans, addressing the new Archbishop from Brussels, Oct. 16, 1722, “you may rightly call yourself Archbishop of Utrecht ‘by the grace of God;’ for what other grace could have overcome the obstacles which have opposed the happy consummation of this so great work?” — “I feel for you,” writes Thierry de Viaixnes, from Amsterdam, “when I think of the weight of business by which you will be at once overwhelmed. You knew yourself how it would be, and therefore it was that you shrank from an office formidable even to angels. But the Spirit of God, Who animates you, will make this burden light.” — “If the consecrator,” writes Chas-saigne, “had never performed any other episcopal act than this, I should regard him as the first Bishop in the Church.” — “The Lord hear thee,” says Barchman Wuytiers, with a juster appreciation of the impending storm, “in the day of trouble: the Name of the God of Jacob defend thee! Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Sion! Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt-sacrifice! Grant thee thy heart’s desire, and fulfil all thy mind[15]!”

7. The Archbishop lost no time in acquainting the Court of Rome with his consecration. His letter to Benedict XIII. is no less forcible than touching. He dwells on the long-delayed hopes of his Church, [258] the exultation of her adversaries, and the righteousness of her cause; while he dwells on her inviolable attachment to Catholic unity, and undiminished reverence for the chair of S. Peter[16]. Six weeks later, he addressed Cardinal de Noailles on the same subject, and wrote to several other influential bishops[17]. One of the most strenuous adversaries of the National Church, Tilemann Backhusius[18], a priest who had at first espoused the cause of his brethren, put forth an impertinent epistle to Colbert of Montpelier, as the supposed author of one of the most striking letters of Communion received by Steenoven: — “Tacitus gemo,” writes he, “summoque animi dolore afficior cum hos dissensionis filios literis tuis, Pater Reverendissime, in Schismatis confirmationem tam impudenter abuti videam.” This attack did no harm: but the national clergy had a severe loss in the death of Jacob Krys, whom we have seen concurring in the election and consecration of Archbishop Steenoven, and who was the first to interest the Bishop of Babylon in the affairs of the Church of Holland, and had throughout been one of the most zealous defenders of the national cause to be found in the diocese of Haarlem. He died, somewhat suddenly, on the 29th of October, only a fortnight after the consecration of Steenoven, and was succeeded by a young priest who inherited his zeal and learning, Cornelius Harteveld.

8. On the 21st of February in the following year, Benedict XIII., newly elected to the Papal throne, declared by a Brief the election of Cornelius Steenoven null, and his consecration illicit and execrable: forbade all Catholics to hold any communication with him in divinis; and fulminated the severest censures [259] against the consecrating prelate and his assistants. The national clergy took a firm attitude; pointed out the errors in matter of fact which the Brief contained, and contended that it bore such evident marks of being surreptitiously obtained, as to be utterly invalid. It reached Holland at the end of March, and was indefatigably circulated, both in Latin and Dutch, by the Internuncio Spinelii and his agents. A host of replies, rejoinders, protestations, counter-protestations, &c. swarmed through Holland: of some of these I shall speak presently.

9. Towards the end of March the Archbishop was seized with a severe illness. He was already confined to his bed when the Brief reached Holland. Summoning his remaining strength, he replied by a protest, which is a model of composition in its way: —

“In extreme danger, through the violence of disease, and soon to appear before the tribunal of the Supreme Judge, I wholly submit myself to His will, without Whose permission not one sparrow falleth to the ground. And although I acknowledge my sins to be many and great, — woe is me! too many and too great! — and confess that I am unable to answer my Judge, if He should sentence me according to justice without mercy, yet I cast not away hope, because I know that I have this same Judge, our Lord Jesus Christ, as my Advocate with the Father. I declare that I profess the Catholic faith, which I have always held, and my confession of which I lately sent to Rome, with the instrument of my election — that I now hold it, and that I desire to hold it to my last breath.”

After forgiving his enemies, and expressing the unwillingness with which he had acquiesced in his election, he continues: —

“I am ever ready to acknowledge in the Holy See all the prerogatives which the Catholic faith asserts; and I commend the rights of this Church to the strenuous defence of its [260] Canons, whom nevertheless I charge to shew all reverence to the Apostolic Chair … And now, from this Brief, from all the charges which it contains, and from all evils which through it, directly or indirectly, may threaten me and my Church, first calling on the Name of God, and protesting all due submission to the Roman Pontiff, I appeal to the first OEcumenical Council to which there may be free access, both for myself, for the Canons, and for all parish priests committed to my charge; and earnestly, and most earnestly, I demand the letters called Apostoli from those whose business it is to grant them. And I place myself, my clergy, my people, and the rights of this Church, under the protection of God and the said OEcumenical Council; and I reserve to them the right of renewing this appeal when and before whom shall seem to them good. — Done at Leyden, this 30th of March, 1725.
“Cornelius, Archbishop of Utrecht.”

Four days afterwards, the Archbishop, having received the last Sacraments, with great resignation rendered up his spirit to the God Who gave it. He had bequeathed the defence of his Church to the Chapter, and we shall see how gallantly they fulfilled his trust.


[1] “J’ai crû qu’il seroit bien pour beaucoup de raisons,” writes Codde under date of Aug. 19, 1700, “que je fusse accompagné par un membre du Chapitre de Haerlem, et par un de celui d’Utregt. Celui de Haerlem sera M. François Groenhout, frère de celui qui est Pro-Vicaire: et puisqu’ il y a une place vacante dans le Chapitre d’Utregt, on la remplira de M. Steenoven avant mon départ.” Tract. Hist. i. 144.

[2] Kemp, vol. ii. 41.

[3] Ibid. 53.

[4] It is given in Kemp, ii. 228 — 235.

[5] Kemp, ii. 237 — 242.

[6] Ibid. 152 — 157.

[7] Ib. 251 — 290.

[8] Ib. 174 — 196.

[9] Ib. 198 — 217.

[10] Ib. 294 — 304.

[11] One such is given in Kemp, iii. 3, but the name of the prelate is suppressed. I did not find it in the Archives.

[12] This is in Kemp, iii. 16 — 26, but the names are there suppressed. In the Recueil the names are given.

[13] The letter is in Kemp, iii. 53 — 57.

[14] This letter is given in Latin and French in the Second Apology of the Bishop of Babylon, p. 467; and in Dutch in Kemp, iii. 58 — 65.

[15] These, and many other testimonies, are to be found in the Recueil des Témoignages, p. 319, &c.

[16] The letter is given at length by Kemp, iii. 104 — 112.

[17] Ibid. 113 — 120, and 121 — 128.

[18] Ibid. 132.


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