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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.


THE SEE VACANT. 1808 — 1814



1814 — 1825.

1. The late Archbishop had not been laid in his grave, when, on the 27th of June, as the Chapter of Utrecht were in private consultation preparatory to the election of a successor, a message was transmitted to them by the Minister of the Interior, forbidding them to take any further steps in the affair. So unexpected an inhibition threw the canons into the greatest embarrassment. No such obstacle had been experienced since the first permission given, which led to the election of Steenoven, and the Chapter hardly knew how to act. For the present they appointed the Bishop of Deventer and Willibrord van Os, president of the Seminary at Amersfoort, and pastor there, Grand-Vicars, the see vacant. It was clearly the intention of the king, himself to nominate to the vacant see, and the complication of affairs rendered a line of action still more difficult.

2. On the 27th of September a petition was laid before the king, in which it was represented — that the canons rendered it imperative on the Chapter to proceed to the election of a bishop; that no obstacle had ever been thrown in the way even by a Protestant government; that from a Catholic prince greater favour might be expected; while his Majesty’s well-known liberality to all sects was an earnest that the [346] National Church might look for entire freedom of action. The reply was the curt note, (Oct. 7,) — “The motives which induced the king to forbid this step, exist still. — R. G. de Tuyll.” De Tuyll was the aide-des-cérémonies.

Now this, I cannot but feel, is the weak point of the Church of Holland. They had braved the menace of the Court of Rome; they had faced opprobrium, scorn, contempt, danger of all sorts; they had very willingly spent and been spent for their great principle, when they proceeded, in spite of all vetoes, to the election of Steenoven. Would those great spirits of the former age, Van Erkel, Broedersen, Krys, Daellenoort, who for the truth’s sake had stood in opposition to Clement XI., have succumbed to the command of any king, more especially a mushroom and upstart potentate like Louis? But so it was — the Chapters yielded, and the metropolitical see stood vacant.

3. The tyranny of Napoleon, the ruin of his adopted country, the misery everywhere present, were too much for the really kind heart of King Louis. Had our ill-fated expedition to Walcheren succeeded, he was ready to have joined the invaders, and to have taken up arms against his imperial brother. Finding himself a mere slave under a kingly title, he resolved in 1810 to resign, and Holland was immediately annexed to the French empire. On the 14th of January in that year the Bishop of Haarlem had departed to his rest. The existence of the Church of Holland now again hung on one life, yet still the Chapter took no steps. Internal dissensions had sprung up, and it seemed that the sands of the Church’s existence were running out.

4. In the October of 1811 Napoleon was at Utrecht, and the principal ecclesiastics of the national communion attended his levee. It must have been a sight [347] somewhat like that when the Scotch bishops were presented to George IV. The Emperor remained firm in his refusal to permit any election: — “I will myself treat with the Pope,” he said, “and arrange the organization of the Church of Holland.” I have been told, by one present on that occasion, that he was much struck by the appearance and address of Van Os, a most accomplished speaker, an excellent scholar, and a man of aristocratic bearing. The Emperor had conceived the plan of confiscating the revenues of the National Church. Van Os boldly and resolutely withstood the man to whose iron will Pius VII. had yielded. Such unwonted courage made its way to the despot’s heart. He not only, at a second interview, treated the Vicar-general with marked attention, but, on the borders of Russia, placed him in commission with Cramer, arch-priest of the mission, and a third person, to decide on a plan for a new division of parishes in the country. He intimated his intention, on his return from Moscow, of bringing about a reconciliation of Utrecht with Rome.

In the meanwhile the Church had yet to experience its narrowest escape. On a dark winter’s night, Bishop de Jong, returning home along the edge of a dyke, missed his footing, and fell into the canal. For some minutes his life was in imminent danger: on that life hung the fortunes of the Church of Utrecht.

5. At last a nation’s patriotism and Russian snows did their work. The retreat from Moscow opened a door to the liberation of Europe. The battle of Leipsic rendered every soldier necessary to the defeated tyrant, and Holland was thus left under the military despotism of not more than 10,000 men. Now was the time to throw off the yoke. Five intrepid men resolved on the act of freedom: —

“Their first movements at the Hague,” says an able historian, [348] “were totally unsupported by foreign aid. Their early check from the exasperated French and their over-cautious countrymen would have deterred most men embarked in so perilous a venture; but they never swerved nor shrank back. At the head of a force, which courtesy and policy called an army, of 300 national guards badly armed, 50 citizens carrying fowling-pieces, 50 soldiers of the old Dutch guard, 400 auxiliary citizens armed with pikes, and a cavalry force of twenty young men, the confederates boldly proclaimed the Prince of Orange on the 17th of November 1813, in the open village of the Hague, and in the teeth of a French force of full 10,000 men, occupying every fortress in the country.”

6. Events followed each other in rapid succession: the landing of the Prince of Orange; the arrival of British and Russian auxiliaries; the acceptance by the Prince of the supreme power; and the expulsion of the French. Not till the scale was fairly turned did the Chapter proceed to election. The archiepiscopal see had remained vacant nearly six years; Willebrord van Os was deservedly raised to it, and was consecrated by the Bishop of Deventer on April 24, being the second Sunday after Easter.

7. The marvellous events of the preceding thirty years, the general confusion of Europe, the rise and fall of empires, the general march of ecclesiastical events, had thrown the little Church of Holland into the shade. She had been, as it were, forgotten. A century before, the eyes of all Europe were upon her; now her existence was known but to few. The perfect liberty given to Catholics, in common with all sectarian bodies, opened a wide door to Rome; and one of the most practical arguments of the National Church was cut away from her by the appointment of Vicars-Apostolic. While not to belong to the Church of Utrecht was to be cut off from episcopacy, and, in [349] particular, to be left without the possibility of receiving the grace of Confirmation, there was a tangible argument to every religious mind — however little able to fathom the theory of the separation — in favour of Utrecht. Again, at the commencement of the schism, the numbers were three to two on the side of the National Church. Now, on awaking to the new era of readjusted Europe, the communion of Utrecht contained 5,000 souls; that of Rome, in Holland, about one million. Yet the little band of “Ancient Roman Catholics” suffered no defection; it has, if anything, increased its numbers since the recovered independence of Holland.

8. No sooner had Archbishop Van Os entered on his dignity, than he had to bear a sharp rebuke from the minister Roëll: “Had the clergy only asked his Majesty’s consent,” wrote that functionary, “it would not have been refused.” This declaration determined the Chapter not to proceed in filling up the see of Haarlem without the consent of the Government. But the trick was now discovered. The request was refused, on the ground that Government was in negotiation with respect to ecclesiastical affairs. Not till 1819, at the urgent solicitation of the Archbishop, was he ungraciously informed, that if the clergy were so impatient, they had simply to do what they thought necessary to be done.

9. On the 25th of April, 1819, John Bon, pastor in that city, was raised to the vacant see. His consecration was attended with more than one remarkable circumstance. Bishop Bon was the only prelate who escaped excommunication from Rome. This was owing to the good offices of Cardinal Gonzalvi, then Secretary of State. Eight years later he was nominated by the King of Holland to the vacant bishopric of [350] Bruges. A curious ecclesiastical question was now raised. Would Rome grant the Bulls of a Jansenist Bishop? Would the old discussion about a succession derived from one prelate alone be revived? No difficulty of the latter kind was experienced; and in the Consistory of Cardinals the punning remark was made, Dominus Bonus non potest esse pastor malus. But, from other causes, the scheme fell to the ground.

10. Archbishop Van Os was in the seventieth year of his age when raised to the metropolitical chair: —

“The earnestness of his faith,” says one who knew him personally[1], “his zeal for truth, his courage in the maintenance of the rights of the Church, the edifying manner in which he performed the functions of his ministry, the rare prudence with which he governed that portion of the flock which the Divine Shepherd had committed to his charge, the kindness with which he directed the young ecclesiastics who were destined for the service of the altar, the purity of his character, his prudent and mortified life, the sweetness of his behaviour, the gentleness of his countenance — all won him universal love and esteem.”

11. It must be remembered that, though the national clergy were tolerated by the government, their prelates were in nowise recognised as the possessors of the titular sees. In the autumn of 1823 they were brought into contact with the State, under somewhat remarkable circumstances. The Court of Rome had despatched Nazalli, Archbishop of Cyrus in partibus, as Nuncio, to effect, if it were possible, a Concordat between the Holy See and the government of Holland. The Archbishop and his suffragans were eager to turn this occasion to good account. They learnt that Nazalli would not be unwilling to communicate with them, and the King expressed his desire of forwarding, [351] so far as in him lay, an amicable arrangement. The winter had set in early; the Archbishop was nearly eighty; yet, on the 16th of November, he and his two suffragans arrived at the Hague. In addressing the Nuncio they signed their names, by a stretch of complaisance which was surely unwarrantable, without the addition of their ecclesiastical titles; and they learnt, as Codde and Van der Croon had learnt before them, that such courtesy was entirely misunderstood, and tended to remove its object further than ever. The Nuncio returned so insolent a reply, that in their rejoinder the Bishops stood upon their own dignity, and with happier effect. Nazalli’s second reply being conceived in a more friendly strain, two members of the Chapter had an interview with the Secretary Belli: the only terms they could obtain were the adoption by the National Church of the following formula, to be signed by all the bishops and clergy: —

“I, the undersigned, declare my submission to the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Innocent X., bearing date May 31, 1653; as also to the Constitution of Pope Alexander VII., bearing date Oct. 16, 1656; and to the Vineam Domini Sabaoth of Pope Clement XI., dated July 16, 1703. I reject and condemn, with all my heart, the Five Propositions extracted from the book of Cornelius Jansenius, in the sense of the author, as condemned by the Apostolic See and the aforesaid constitutions. Further, I submit, without any distinction, reservation, or explanation, to the Constitution of Clement XI., bearing date Sept. 8, 1713, and commencing with the word Unigenitus; I accept it purely and simply, and swear in consequence, — So help me God and the holy Gospel.”

12. The bishops replied that they would, with the greatest willingness, “accept, without any exception whatever, all the Articles of the holy Catholic faith, would neither hold nor teach, then or afterwards, any [352] other opinions than those that had been decreed, determined, and published by our mother, the holy Church, conformably to Holy Scripture, tradition, the acts of Oecumenical Councils, and those of the Council of Trent; as also that they reject and condemn everything opposed to them — especially all heresies, without any one exception — that the Church has rejected and condemned; that they also detest at the same time every schism which might separate them from the communion of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, and of its visible head upon earth; that they never made common cause with those that had broken the bond of unity; that in particular they reject and condemn the Five Propositions condemned by the Holy See, and which are stated to be found in the book of Jansenius called Augustinus; that they promise as well for the future as for the present, and in all things, to his Holiness the actual Pope Leo XII., and to his successors, fidelity, obedience, and submission, according to the Canons of the Church; and also to accept respectfully, to teach and to maintain, conformably with the same Canons, the decrees and constitutions of the Apostolic See.”

As Nazalli declared the above declaration insufficient, and insisted on the acceptation of his own formula, the negotiation was broken off, and the prelates left the Hague.

13. On the 9th of July, 1824, Gisbert de Jong, Bishop of Deventer, departed this life. He had held that see for nineteen years, and for six of them the existence of the Church of Holland had depended on him. The Archbishop nominated in his place William Vet, a member of the Chapter, and pastor of S. James at the Hague. The letter in which he announced [353] this nomination to Leo XII. is well worthy of translation, as well for its own merits as because it is a specimen of so many similar documents: —

Utrecht, Nov. 27, 1824.

“Most Holy Father,

“My predecessors have omitted no occasion of declaring and manifesting their sincere and constant adhesion to the Holy See, the centre of Catholic unity, and their profound veneration for the successors of S. Peter, vicar of Jesus Christ upon earth. Desirous of treading in their steps, I have written to your Holiness to inform you of the new election which I have made of one of my suffragans. Divine Providence having entrusted to me the government of this metropolitical see, I am bound to watch, conformably to the holy Canons of the Church, and especially to those of the Fourth Lateran Council, that no see be deprived of its own pastor through my negligence.

“Gisbert de Jong, Bishop of Deventer since 1805, having departed this life, fortified by the sacraments of the Church, and the Chapter of that Church having been extinct for many years, I have regarded it as a duty imposed on me to institute a new bishop in the see of Deventer. Divine Providence having permitted me to elevate to this high office him whom I had always desired to see elevated to, and whom I esteemed worthy of, the episcopate, by reason of the purity of his doctrine, his character, and his eminent virtues, I have made choice of William Vet, canon of our metropolitical Church, archpriest of Delfland and of Rhijnland, and for many years curate of S. James at the Hague. After having implored the illumination of the Holy Ghost, and taken the advice of my metropolitical Chapter, and other enlightened persons, I proceeded on the 7th of October to his canonical election; and I hasten to announce it to your Holiness, conjuring you earnestly and humbly to agree and consent to it, and to give us a dispensation for the consecration of the prelate-elect, without the assistance of a third bishop, if one cannot be procured.

“Would to God that our suppliant and sincere request may reach your Holiness under happy auspices! For we [354] are not ignorant that there are those who endeavour by their calumnies to impose upon you, and to indispose you against us. What! while we give so many public and constant testimonies of our respect for and submission to the Holy See, and omit nothing which can preserve or re-establish peace between us, these men, on the contrary, as little anxious for truth as for brotherly union, venture to denounce us falsely as enemies to the Holy See, and schismatics, and endeavour, by their calumnious accusations, to sow new difficulties, to ferment new discussions, and to excite new discords.

“Are we culpable with respect to the Holy See, do we endeavour to enfeeble its authority in any one of its prerogatives, because in our elections we follow the constant customs of our Church, and because, according to the use of the Churches of Germany, of which we are one, we request their confirmation from the Apostolic See — a demand which, on our part, is surely a proof of our submission and respect towards that see?

“But if the malignity and envy of our detractors induce them to accuse this mark of deference to the Holy See, what would they not say of us if we omitted it? That omission could not fail in their eyes to be a crime. When we profess our obedience, they regard it as feigned only, and merely outside show; if we have recourse to the Holy See, they affirm that that very recourse is but another proof of our opposition to, and of our separation from, the sovereign Pontiff.

“It is not so, Holy Father. It is in the spirit of peace, and not from any ill intention, that we present ourselves before your Holiness. Far from us be all feigned and deceitful words! We have but one aim — to profess with our lips the sincerity which inspires our hearts. God forbid that your Holiness should permit our adversaries any longer to abuse your august name, and so to ensnare our sheep — too nearly seduced already — and to deceive those who are not on their guard, and who, entertaining no mistrust, might embrace their sentiments as those of the Holy See!

“What scandal! what loss of souls! what disgrace to the Holy See result from these machinations! Would to God that your Holiness could, once for all, be well informed on [355] the subject! How speedily would you put an end to all these proclamations, to these briefs, by which, after having laid hands on the vineyard of Naboth, they endeavour to asperse his character and to conspire his death! What then is the motive, the cause for which, so often and so loudly, they have sounded the Roman trumpet against us? What is the question at issue between us and the Curialists? Is it a point of doctrine? But ours has been sufficiently made known by the Acts of our Council of Utrecht, and by many other documents spread abroad both at Rome and through the world. Is it a question of the primacy and the rights of your Church? But we have entered into its interests, and undertaken its defence, in the same Council. It is not on these grounds, holy Father, that they attack us; but they regard us with ill-will and condemn us because we defend, like good shepherds, our sheep against those who would take them from us, and because we maintain the rights of our Church. The only point in question is this: — whether the Batavian Church, which has always preserved its hierarchical order, and which has made itself celebrated under the rule and government of its own pastors, should be at once turned into a simple mission at the good pleasure of the Curialists; so that, if I may thus speak, it should be deprived, by one stroke of the pen, of its bishops and cathedral chapters?

“Our adversaries are much mistaken in imagining that they can arrive at this goal. We have proved it by many different works, and more especially by the luminous dissertations of the most learned canonists; and we have no doubt that if your Holiness would condescend to read, to study, and to consider them, with the equity and the sagacity which distinguish you, you would at once terminate the cause in our favour. But even under the hypothesis that the claim of our adversaries is based on justice, — is the affair of such importance, that for its sake the innocent are to be overwhelmed with reproaches and maledictions, priests of the Lord are to be defamed, sheep to be detached from their legitimate pastors; and that from the very place where Jesus Christ has established the centre of Catholic unity, decrees should originate subversive of peace, and which, on this very [356] account, do not bear the character and the proof of loving. and seeking unity?

“These evils, holy Father, are very grave, and we who experience them are not those alone who are afflicted by them. All good men, through the whole extent of the Church, groan over them, and the more sincere and firm their attachment to the Holy See, the more ardently they desire some remedy. And who can remedy these ills more efficaciously than the sovereign Pontiffs, whose name is abused so as to originate them? But far be from us the thought that they are the authors of the injustice committed by their ministers and faithless counsellors. For if it is part of the duty of sovereign Pontiffs, on account of the authority bestowed on them by their primacy, to interfere in Churches at a distance from home for the preservation of right and good order, how much more should they repress the excesses which pass under their very eyes, and, as it were, in their own house? I entreat, holy Father, that you will pardon the sincerity of my tone, and will not take what I have said in bad part, as if in complaining to your see I were failing in the respect due to the sovereign Pontiff; since, on the contrary, our application to your Holiness is a public profession of our indivisible union with, and inviolable attachment to, the Holy See, and the entire confidence which your justice and piety inspire in us.

“Such are, and such always will be, the sentiments of our hearts, and especially of my own. I prostrate myself at the feet of your Holiness, entreating your apostolic benediction.


Archbishop of the Metropolitical Church of Utrecht.”

Before, however, any reply was received from Rome, a short illness carried the aged Archbishop to the grave. He died at Amersfoort, Feb. 28, 1825, in the 81st year of his age, and the eleventh of his episcopate.

[1] Abp. Van Santen, in the Appel des Evêques, p. 43.


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