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.




1797 — 1808.

1. The new republic did not interfere with ecclesiastical matters; nor did the oppression under which the people groaned affect the National Church. The Chapter assembled quietly, and elected as their Archbishop John Jacob van Rhijn, then pastor at Utrecht, and of a family which, through all its vicissitudes, had remained true to the National Church. His consecration took place on the 5th of July, and was performed by Broekman, Bishop of Haarlem, and Nellemans, Bishop of Deventer. The usual notice was given to Pius VI., and it was hoped that if the captivity of the Pope would hardly allow him to enter into friendly negotiations with the Church of Utrecht, it would at least prevent his replying in the ordinary strain of excommunication. That hope was disappointed. The usual excommunication was issued, and dispersed over Holland by way of Brussels.

2. Scarcely had Van Rhijn assumed the helm of the Church of Holland, when the constitutional Bishops of the Church of France met in council in Notre-Dame at Paris. It is no part of my task to pronounce any opinion on the principles and the conduct of these men. Placed in times of extraordinary difficulty, in the chaotic conflict of the old and new systems, when every ordinary principle of guidance seemed to fail, at a period when the old Church of France (the fact must [341] never be forgotten) was about to perish[1], they cannot be judged by ordinary rules: perhaps it must be left to posterity to pronounce an impartial sentence upon them. I know that they are not only execrated by Ultramontane Europe, but are mercilessly condemned by writers of the English Church. To their own master they have stood or have fallen: if He saw their errors, He knew their difficulties; if some apostatized from the faith, some died martyrs for Christ’s Name[2].

“Whatever opinion,” says Guettée, (and I heartily re-echo his words,) “may be formed regarding the constitutional bishops, all must agree that they accepted with courage the situation to which events had reduced the Church of France, and that without delay they put their hand to the work of raising it from its ruins, without seeking any other support (save God) than the good-will of the faithful. Many writers have felt bound to speak of their National Council with a ridicule which it does not deserve. We consider the duty of an historian who respects himself to be this: always to speak seriously of an event exceedingly important in itself, and especially so in the circumstances under which it occurred.”

Le Coz, Archbishop of Rennes, (afterwards, under the Concordat, Archbishop of Besançon,) presided: the Pope, who gave no single word, in answer, of advice, or help, was assured of the inviolable attachment of the Council to the Catholic faith, and besought to acknowledge it; and a touching letter was addressed to the insermentés on the duty of union: —

“We will adapt ourselves to all dispositions, we will support all evils, we will manifest all lawful condescension, rather [342] than allow such a scandal to subsist. If our love, if our care for you lead us to open our hearts to you with the frankness due to brothers, it is not that we also have not our own prepossessions; it is that we have less confidence in the righteousness of our cause than you have in the goodness of yours. We pour out our souls in the bosom of our brethren: they may endeavour to escape from our embraces — they can never rid themselves of our affection.”

3. With these prelates, and especially with Grégoire, Bishop of Loire-et-Cher, the Church of Utrecht deeply sympathized. She could not but feel for the men who afterwards, in their negotiations with Bonaparte, thus expressed themselves: —

“If the Roman Pontiff declares our sees vacant, we will tell him that he has not the right, and that they are more canonically filled than the chair of S. Peter. If he requires our resignations, we shall reply that he has not the power. If, in his Bull, he insinuates the least doubt as to the legitimacy of our episcopate, the Bull will be declared criminal; if he evades this point, it will be returned as insufficient.”

In like manner they denounced the Concordat between Leo X. and Francis I. as destructive of the liberties of the Church, and in consequence they excited the opposition of both Napoleon and Pius VII. The connection, however, between the constitutional Church of France and that of Utrecht requires access to documents yet inaccessible, and perhaps the lapse of a longer period of time, before it can be fairly and satisfactorily related.

4. Archbishop Van Rhijn had held his see only for a few months when the treaty of Campo Formio divided the Austrian Netherlands and the province of Liége into nine departments, and made them an integral part of the French republic. Pichegru had previously carried his victorious arms into Holland; the Prince [343] of Orange had resigned the possession of the supreme power, and had retired to England; and the “Batavian republic,” modelled after the French pattern, was, in fact, under the arbitrary power of the French ambassador at the Hague. Though Dutch Flanders and Maestricht were ceded to France, the new distribution of bishoprics effected by the Concordat of 1801 did not infringe, or scarcely infringed on, the old jurisdiction of Utrecht and her suffragans. The Archbishopric of Mechlin now contained the sees of Namur, Tournay, Aix-la-Chapelle, Trèves, Ghent, Liège, and Mayence. Amidst all these dangers and chances, the despised National Church held its own, and suffered no serious loss. The first event within her pale was the death of Bishop Broekman, which occurred on the 28th of November, 1800: his place was filled by John Nieuwenhuis, pastor at Amsterdam, consecrated on the Feast of S. Simon and S. Jude, 1801. Next Bishop Nellemans, of Deventer, was taken to his rest on May 5, 1805: his successor was Gisbertus de Jong, pastor at Rotterdam, consecrated on the 7th of November in the same year.

5. The Batavian Republic ceased in 1806: Louis, the brother of the first and father of the third Napoleon, was raised to the throne of Holland. The administration of this prince, crippled as he was by the gigantic and overbearing power of France, deserves all praise; and the most pleasing chapter in Dom Pitra’s work is that in which he relates the courage displayed by the king in the terrible inundation of 1809, as well as in the great fire of Leyden in 1807. To Protestants, and to members of the Roman communion, he was alike generous and just; to the National Church alone he entertained an invincible repugnance — a repugnance which had almost occasioned its ruin. For some years [344] it was in agitation to introduce a Roman episcopate into Holland, but while the Church of Utrecht subsisted, an invincible obstacle seemed to oppose the design. Who it is that has to answer for the foul means employed to remove that obstacle will probably never be known till the day of judgment.

6. On the 24th of June, 1808, the Archbishop had, as was his wont, been walking in his garden, when, on returning to his house, a letter was put into his hands as requiring an immediate answer. He took it and opened it, was shortly afterwards seized with violent convulsions and spasms, and died in a few hours, with every appearance of poison. The sensation which must, under any circumstances, have been occasioned by his death, was increased by the means employed to prevent the election of any successor.

It is almost needless repetition to relate that the election and consecration of the Bishops of Deventer and Haarlem were received with the usual briefs by the Papal Court. Pius VII. trod only too faithfully in the footsteps of his predecessors.

[1] It must always be remembered that the Bull Qui Christi Domini, Nov. 29, 1801, absolutely suppressed and annulled the then existing French Church, — 23 archbishoprics and 133 suffragans, — to erect on its ruins the new Church of 10 archbishoprics and 50 suffragans. Was ever such devastation wrought in a National Church?

[2] Thus, if nine constitutional bishops had married, eight had perished as martyrs on the scaffold.


Project Canterbury