The Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands

The Old Catholic church originates from the first century through the holy and ancient see of Utrecht, Holland formed by St. Willibrord, who was the apostle to the Netherlands. He was consecrated bishop by Pope Sergius I in 696 A.D. in Rome and when he returned to his see, he established the dioceses of Deventer and Haarlem.

One of his successors was St. Boniface, who was the apostle to Germany. But this Church of Utrecht provided a pope, Hadrian VI, in 1552 and two famous authors of Christian Spiritual Life were Geert Groote (founder of the Brothers of the Common Life) and Thomas a Kempis (author of the Imitation of Christ).

The Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II and Bishop Heribert of Utrecht, requested of Pope Eugene III in 1145 A.D. that the see be granted the right to elect successors in times of vacancy and it was granted by papal decree. The privileges agreed upon were later approved by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and the autonomous character of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands was further reinforced by a second papal decree from Pope Leo X which conceded that Philip of Burgundy would nor neither his successors, clergy or laity ever have this cause revoked by a tribunal or under pretense from any apostolic letters and that all proceedings should be null and void if ever constituted.

The Church in the Netherlands with this guarantee of independent status continued unabated throughout the turbulence of the Reformation and it survived -- not having to go underground to remain intact as others did. The archbishop and other leaders reached an informal agreement with civil government to function without interference throughout this whole period.

When peace returned a new tension developed during the counter-reformation with the Jesuits who desired to reconstitute the Dutch church. In 1592 they largely for political reasons began invading the jurisdiction of the see and although rebuked by the Pope who ordered them to submit themselves to his authority, the Archbishop fought them openly and faithfully. This intrusion of counter-reformationists was resisted and the bishops of the Netherlands were supported in their fight by the Dutch government. But in 1691, the Jesuits took further steps to falsely accuse archbishop Petter Codde of fostering the Jansenist heresy. So Pope Innocent XII appointed a commission to investigate. The result was a complete and unconditional acquittal of the archbishop.

The Jesuits undaunted by the decision, prevailed upon the new Pope, Clement XI, to summon Codde to Rome in 1700 under the pretext of Jubilee Year whereupon a second commission was appointed to try him. The second proceeding was again a complete and unconditional acquittal but while this should have ended the matter, it didn't. Again, Pope Clement was prevailed upon in 1701 to issue a suspension order preventing the archbishop from appointing a successor.

When this news reached the public they were indignant that these counter-reformationists' position was still being heard. Believing the suspension of the archbishop to be an unprecedented intrusion and an injustice they refused to obey and maintained since it was wrongfully enacted their right to choose a successor to Codde was unassailable and they refused to recognize Pope Clement's appointee. In this they were joined by theologians, canon lawyers, bishops and civil officials even from the Dutch Government all of who refused to allow the successor to function and they demanded that Codde be allowed to return.

When in June of 1703 he was allowed to return he found everything in confusion. Conflict seemed inevitable as attempts to resolve the matter proved futile. Finally Codde issued a pastoral letter on March 19th 1704 announcing his decision to retire from exercise of his office under protest against the injustice of his suspension. He retired to his country house near Utrecht where he died on December 18th, 1710.

With Codde's retirement and passing the administration of the diocese reverted to the Cathedral chapter as stated in the documents. They arranged for an Irish bishop named Luke Fagan who was the bishop of Meath and later archbishop of Dublin to ordain priests for Utrecht. And following Fagan's lead three French bishops also openly stated their willingness to ordain for the Dutch church.

So the church continued its efforts and sought to obtain a hearing for their grievances. The case was duly presented at Louvain University in May 1717. And in the course of a year or two the entire body of theologians and canonists agreed that the rights of Utrecht had been violated and were against church law, and therefore without any power to rescind the rights of the church and any future appeal to a general council was ignored. As a result the church of Holland by "de jure" was autonomous and "de facto" autocephallic.

The situation remained so until 1723 when on April 27th the Cathedral chapter proceeded to elect the seventh archbishop Dr. Cornelius Steenoven who had been companion to archbishop Codde at Rome. Steenoven was consecrated on October 15th 1724 by Monsignor Dominique Varlet who was the Bishop of Ascalon and was then resident in Amsterdam because of difficulties with counter-reformers and others. Bishop Varlet was called upon to consecrate three other archbishops for Utrecht between 1724 and 1739 and he died in the Hague May 14th 1742.

The tenth archbishop was Peter John Meindaerts who was consecrated by Varlet on St. Luke's Day, 1739 and he also proceeded to consecrate Jerome de Bock for Haarlem assuring the episcopacy for Holland following his death.

So the question of a third bishop which had long occupied the attention of archbishop Meindaerts and he and the canons assembled in September 1757 electing Bartholomew John Byevelt as bishop of Deventer. He was consecrated on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul January 25th 1758.

In 1763 archbishop Meindaerts called a synod of the bishops and clergy and they enacted a testimony to hold firm to the Faith, and its intention was that the church of Holland should remain steadfast. So with the publication of these acts in other countries, there was hope that a median had been found to heal the breach with Rome. Unfortunately they were destined to remain unfulfilled and the church continued in its isolation.

In 1853 Pope Pius IX established a rival hierarchy and so there being two catholic churches in Holland, to restore the hierarchy they chose to call themselves the "Old Roman Catholic Church" which was applied to the original Church in order to distinguish it from the new establishment under Pius IX.

In 1870 the pope convened Vatican I which not only abolished the principle of appeal to general council but also declared the pope to be infallible. Following Vatican I dissent among Catholics in Germany, Austria and Switzerland over papal infallibility resulted in a general rebellion and the ones who decided to leave in favor of independence beame known as "Old Catholics" because they sought to adhere to the original beliefs and practices of the catholic church of the post-apostolic era.

These communities appealed to Utrecht who consecrated their first bishops. Eventually under the leadership of the Church in Holland the Old Catholics joined together to form the Utrecht Union.