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Ave Maria!

A Brief History of the Old Roman Catholic Church

See of Cær Glow

    The Old Roman Catholic Church, possessing a line of Holy Orders originating with our Lord Jesus Christ, and held in common with the undivided Church of earlier centuries, holds its Apostolic Succession in more recent centuries through the ancient See of Utrecht in Holland. Saint Willibrord, the “Apostle to the Netherlands,” was consecrated bishop by Pope Sergius I at Rome in A.D. 696, and the city of Utrecht was raised to the dignity of a diocese. Saint Boniface, the "Apostle of Germany," was bishop of Utrecht, and the same See also provided a worthy occupant for the See of Peter in 1522 in the person of Adrian VI. Two most able exponents of the religious life, Geert Groote, who founded the Brothers of the Common Life, and Thomas à Kempis, who is credited with writing The Imitation of Christ, were from the Dutch Church.

    For a number of reasons the Jesuits began to invade the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Utrecht around 1590; and, although they were more than once rebuked therefor by the Pope and ordered to submit themselves to the Archbishop's authority, their machinations against him and the See of Utrecht continued unabated. This has been an all too common tendency of the Jesuits over the centuries in many different sees throughout the world and for which they have been more than once rebuffed and/or suppressed by the Pope and ordered out of certain countries by the respective civil authorities.  No one can deny that the Jesuits have produced a number of men who were holy, heroic, and scholarly—bold men like Saint Francis Xavier, the North American Martyrs, and Jacques Marquette;  scholars like Robert Bellarmine, Philip Hughes, and Frederick Copelston;  scientists like Matteo Ricci, Christopher Clavius and Johann Adam Schall.  But the Jesuit Order has also produced a number of “misfires” like political activists Daniel Berrigan and Fernando Cardenal, and Modernist theologians like George Tyrrell, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

    For our purposes it will serve to identify a few points of contention between the Jesuits and the clergy of Holland.

    The Dutch maintained a spirit of humility and poverty that had vanished in the Romance language parts of Christendom and in much of the Jesuit Order.  During the period in question the crowned heads of Europe—and the Pope as chief among them—lived in an opulence never seen in the world before or since.  They built magnificent palaces and basilicas, monuments to themselves, they decorated with the finest art, and heard the music of masters.[1]  Some of them enjoyed the “finest” women as well.  This elegance was possible only through the taxation of their subjects and the exploitation of the Americas.  Many of the Jesuits insinuated themselves into the courts of these crowned heads, and lived in the regal styles of the court.  In contrast, you have the Dutch Pope Hadrian:

    Hadrian VI (1522-23) ... a carpenter’s son from the Netherlands, former tutor to the Emperor Charles V, Governor of the Netherlands, and Grand Inquisitor of Spain.  He made it clear that there would be none of the customary bonanza of papal favors, and instituted a programme of drastic economies which included a swingeing reduction of personnel in the Curia.  He announced his intention of abolishing many of the offices invented and sold by his predecessors.  An old fashioned scholastic theologian....  The Vatican collection of classical sculpture was dismissed as so many heathen idols, Raphael’s pupils were sent packing, and the decoration of the Vatican apartments halted....  He caused astonishment by celebrating Mass every day....  [B]iblical studies, clerical education, improved preaching....[2]
    There was also Johannes van Neercassel, Fifth Archbishop of Utrecht, who was mocked while visiting Rome in 1671 for having only one servant in his employ.
    He was accompanied by but a single servant, one of whose duties it was to read to the prelate every night till he fell off to sleep. The plainness of his attendance excited great ridicule at the court of Rome, and Questo vescovo sta in ristretto was their comment.[3]
    Certainly these good Dutchmen were despised by the self-indulgent Churchmen of Rome and the Society of Jesus. The dispute between the “monument” builders and those with humble and contrite hearts went far beyond issues of art and architecture.  There were moral issues as well—and not just the private moral issues of a few straying Popes and prelates—the very moral philosophy of Christendom was under attack.

    The Jesuits were in the vanguard of a movement to liberalize the penitential practices of the Church.    Jesuit opinions were sometimes condemned by the Church tending toward moral laxity.  To the traditional Catholics of the day this movement must have seemed every bit as pernicious as Modernism seems to us today.  The probabilism of the Jesuits—that in doubt about a moral action, one can follow the opinion of any reputable theologian even if many other theologians disagree—might seem reasonable in a thoroughly Catholic society, but look what happens when the Church has theologians like Hans Küng!  In his Lettres provinciales, Blaise Pascal was rightly critical of casuist Jesuit confessors to the wealthy who based moral judgment and penance on the size of their contributions to the Church.  In general, the Jesuit attitude on penance was far more liberal than that of previous eras, and the fear of significant penance served less to deter the sinner.

    The Jesuits seemed to think of theology as a blood sport—even in matters like grace and predestination, which are so highly speculative.  Getting someone branded as a heretic or in trouble with the Inquisition was all part of the sport.  The Jesuits were anxious to replace the theology of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas with that of their theologian, Luis de Molina.  This was an attempt to reconcile the Augustinian doctrines of predestination and efficacious grace with the new ideals of the Renaissance concerning man's free will.  Molina was opposed not only by the Dominicans but also by fellow Jesuits Enrique Henríquez and Juan de Mariana.  The Jesuits would later attack the writings of the Dutchman Cornelius Jansen, in 1643 getting Pope Innocent X to condemn five propositions on the relationship between nature and grace, which they claim to have found in Jansen's treatise, the Augustinus, on Saint Augustine's theology.  Eventually the Jesuits would convince the Pope to require the clergy and religious to sign a formulary, condemning the propositions and agreeing to the claim that they were found in the Augustinus.  An Archbishop of Utrecht would request a copy of the Augustinus with the offending passages underlined, but such a thing could not be produced.

    It is one thing to say that the condemned propositions are heretical—clearly they are—but quite another thing to demand that everyone attribute them to Cornelius Jansen.  As Catholics we must accept the declaration of the Pope that some idea must be believed as doctrine, or conversely must be rejected as heretical, but if, on the Pope's authority, we were to claim that the idea in question was held by a particular author we would be committing perjury if we knew it was not.  But for Jesuits the situation is far simpler—in his Spiritual Exercises, the Jesuit founder, Saint Ignatius held that “we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it....”[4]  The Jesuit concept, then, is that words can alter reality if they come from authority!  This is Modernism—we will dialogue until white becomes black!

    Years later, in 1827, John van Santen, the Archbishop of Utrecht, was told by the papal nuncio,  Msgr. Capaccini that he must condemn Jansen out of obedience.   Capaccini held the absurd notion that the father of a family could oblige his children, under obedience, to believe that a certain green table cloth was red!  If fathers of families can order such falsity, certainly so could the Pope![5]

    In Holland itself, during the persecution of the Church by Protestantism, Jesuits resolutely refused necessary help from the secular clergy at their mission stations, while also demanding to be stationed in locales that were already evangelized and under the cure of the secular clergy.[6]

    In 1691, the Jesuits falsely accused Archbishop Peter Codde, the occupant of the See of Utrecht, of favoring the so-called "Jansenist Heresy." (We say “so-called,” because, while the propositions condemned by Pope Innocent X are indeed erroneous and inconsistent with the true Faith, they are not clearly to be found in the works of Cornelius Jansen.) Numerous archbishops, bishops, and other clergy, along with faculty members of the prestigious Catholic universities at Rheims, Sorbonne, Nantes, and Louvain rejected the documents which denounced Jansen—all a matter of record. The issue was not the correctness of the propositions, but whether or not these were in fact contained in Jansen's writings—and whether third parties should be made to denounce Jansen without regard to that fact.[7]

    Archbishop Codde refused to accept the formulary of condemnation, not because he favored the heretical propositions, but because he did not believe them to be espoused by Jansen. His unwillingness to unjustly condemn the works of the deceased bishop resulted in Archbishop Codde's suspension in 1699. Refusing to permit Archbishop Codde any defense in these accusations created a breach not yet healed; although, among others, Pope Clement XIV was favorably disposed toward the grievously wronged church in Utrecht. These irregular proceedings against our predecessors, based on charges then proved groundless, had no lawful effect, leaving the church of Utrecht within the pale of Catholic unity, and its bishop the just successor of the Apostles.[8]

    Our position is not significantly different from those current estrangements from the Holy See on the part of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and others as a result of the innovations of Vatican Council II.[9] We are simply three hundred years earlier than our contemporary counterparts who join us in protesting the abuses of Vatican II by refusing to blindly obey proclamations clearly at odds with the Faith.[10]

    In 1739 Dominique Marie Varlet, Roman Catholic titular Bishop of Ascalon, consecrated Peter John Meindaerts to fill the vacant See of Utrecht, without having asked for or obtained a papal bull authorizing the consecration.[11] Since then the church of Utrecht, retaining in every detail the worship and doctrine as formerly, became known as the Old Roman Catholic Church of Holland.

    Old Roman Catholicism is the same Mystical Body of Christ as in the first Christian centuries. There have been no changes in doctrine or moral teaching. The decrees of the Second Council of Utrecht, held under Archbishop Meindaerts in 1763, are a monument of orthodoxy and respect for the Holy See.  In a meeting at the Hague in the Autumn of 1823, Archbishop Willibrord van Os of Utrecht;  John Bon, Bishop of Haarlem and Gisbert de Jong, Bishop of Deventer proclaimed to Nazalli, titular Archbishop of Cyprus and papal nuncio that they...

    … accept, without any exception whatever, all the Articles of the holy Catholic faith, would neither hold nor teach, then or afterwards, any 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 Œcumenical 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.[12]

    In the light of the developments of previous centuries we see that the Old Roman Catholic Church received and still preserves, the Mass and seven Sacraments, the doctrines, and moral teachings of the Church of Christ and the Apostles. The Church is called “Old” because she rejects Modernism and every recent innovation, while adhering faithfully to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of Apostolic times. She is called “Roman” because Her teaching is identical with that of the Holy See of Rome in the authentic exercise of Its magisterium; because the line of her Apostolic Succession from the first century until 1739 was held in common with the Roman Catholic Church; and because She uses the Roman Rite (in the form prescribed by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, and codified by Pope Saint Pius V) without addition or change, using the time honored texts of the Missale, Pontificale, and Rituale Romanum with great care and exactness as to minister, matter, form and intention in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the administration of the Sacraments. The Church is “Catholic” because She is not confined to any one nation or place or time, teaching the same Faith once delivered by her Divine Founder, Jesus Christ to the Apostles.

    The honest inquirer must be cautioned not to confuse the Old Roman Catholic Church with those groups calling themselves 'Old Catholic,” or usurping the name “Old Roman Catholic.” Fostering this sort of confusion has been a favored tactic of those hoping to promote schism within the traditional Catholic resistance to Modernism. Much which in this age calls itself Old Catholic represents some compromise with Protestantism, or, in a wider digression, with the non-Christian cult theosophy, bearing little resemblance to Catholicism. (In 1870, Dr. Ignaz von Dollinger brought the Old Catholics into being to offer resistance to the dogma of Papal Infallibility. In 1873, the Church of Utrecht was, most unhappily, prevailed upon to provide these Old Catholics with a bishop. In 1889, an amalgamation took place between Utrecht and the Old Catholics. Thus the Church of Utrecht laid the foundation for her subsequent fall into Modernism.) The Old Roman Catholic Church has no connection with these “churches.”

    Before the great See of Utrecht abandoned her historic position, however, God in His Divine Providence provided for the continuation of Old Roman Catholicism. Though Utrecht was eventually to abandon traditional Catholicism, the Church was not to perish. On April 28, 1908, Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew of England was consecrated to the Episcopate by Archbishop Gerard Gul of Utrecht, assisted by Bishops N.B.P. Spitt of Deventer, and J.J van Thiel of Haarlem in the Netherlands, and Bishop J. Demmel of Bonn, Germany. By the end of 1910, however, the influence of the Old Catholics had proved too much for Utrecht and had overwhelmed her. So great and far reaching were the changes which she was prevailed upon to make in her formularies and doctrinal position that, on December 29, 1910, Archbishop Mathew was forced to withdraw the Old Roman Catholic Church in England from communion with Utrecht in order to preserve its orthodoxy intact.

    Archbishop Mathew cited several innovations of the Old Catholics which required him to withdraw from union with Utrecht: 1)  An indeterminate number of Sacraments. 2)  Abandonment of auricular Confession. 3)  Departure from the veneration of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. 4)  Mutilation of the sacred rites and decreased devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. 5)  Omission of prayers for the Pope in the Canon of the Mass. 6)  Loss of devotion to daily Mass and infrequency of Holy Communion. 7)  Iconoclasm. 8)  Admission of non-Catholics to Holy Communion. 9)  Abolition of fasting and abstinence, and of the Eucharistic fast.[13]  The reader will notice a similarity between the Old Catholicism which Mathew rejected and the Modernist Catholicism so widely practiced today.

    Utrecht is no longer Old Roman Catholic but simply Old Catholic. Thus it comes about that the ancient and glorious Church of Saint Willibrord and Saint Boniface has its continuation and perpetuation through the present Old Roman Catholic Church, which is compelled, in defense of its orthodoxy, to refuse to hold union with either Utrecht or the Old Catholics, or with their Modernist counterparts.

    By the middle of this century, during the reign of the saintly Pope Pius XII, the intellectual climate had changed and there was no longer any demand by the Holy See for unreasoned condemnations of third parties. Jansenism had long been reduced to a footnote in the history texts, and post-war Rome seemed to have lost interest in perpetuating the theoretical conflict that caused it to originate the separation in the 17th century.[14]  Seemingly having lost its reason for existence, the Old Roman Catholic hierarchy determined that no new priests would be ordained and no bishops would be consecrated—on the assumption that Roman priests and bishops would provide for the spiritual needs of all the Faithful.

    At their beginnings, the pontificate of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council were viewed as favorable signs.  Regrettably, however, Vatican II and its postconciliar developments were a serious disappointment to all those Catholics concerned with preserving the Deposit of Faith and Morals given to Peter and the Apostles by our Lord.[15]  The greatest tragedy was the disruption of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the other Sacraments. Radically corrupted by “ecumenism,” and poorly translated into modern languages, the liturgical books no longer guarantee the Catholic Faith. The “law of prayer being the law of belief,” many modern Catholics are unaware of (or positively disbelieve) the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament—the Sunday morning service has been reduced to a communal gathering. And, forty-odd years later there is no sign that any of the errors of the Council are to be corrected. From the highest to the lowest levels of the hierarchy, the only prescription for the few evils that are admitted to be plaguing the Mystical Body is another infusion of what afflicted It to begin with—all that’s needed is a little bit more of “the correct interpretation of the principles of Vatican II”!

    Among the Vatican II era bishops there were only a handful who resisted the movement away from Catholicism. In the early days of the resistance there were a fair number of priests who remained orthodox, a number of Catholic men hoping to study for the priesthood, and even a bishop or two who promised to ordain them. But no conciliar bishop was willing to provide for the Church's future by consecrating truly Catholic bishops. One European bishop tried to arrange for an Old Catholic bishop to ordain the future priests of his Society (an idea quickly rejected by his membership). An Asian bishop found a mad man or two upon whom to lay hands; quickly retreating back to the New Order as one of his creations claimed then to be pope![16]

    Some rethinking of the decision to leave everything in the hands of Rome was obviously in order. Modernism had clearly replaced Jansenism as the topic of the discussion—and if there is a “left” and a “right” to such things, Rome was clearly leaning toward the left. If nothing else, provision had to be made to secure the Mass and the Sacraments, along with the principles of faith and morals, for future generations of the Catholic people.

    To this end, Archbishop Gerard G. Shelley, head of the Old Roman Catholic Church, together with his priests and bishops, approved a new Constitution to renew the Old Roman Catholic Church and allow it to cope with its contemporary mission. This Constitution, ratified in 1976, and subsequently amended, reaffirms our acceptance of traditional Catholic doctrine, morals, and worship. Through it, we acknowledge the primacy and infallibility of the Holy Father, while providing for the Faithful who wish to maintain the traditions of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    Archbishop Shelley's intentions are clearly seen in the mandate that he issued for the consecration of his successor, the current titular Archbishop of Cær Glow and Bishop of Florida:

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

    By these presents be it known to all concerned that in view of the ever-growing spiritual needs of the historic and canonical Old Roman Catholic Church in the ecclesiastical Province of Florida, which by the will of God in fulfillment of the inscrutable designs of His providence, has brought together in wondrous fashion an ever- increasing number of the Faithful who ardently desire to maintain the fullness of the traditional Catholic faith and practice, it has become incumbent upon the Bishops of the Church to take these paramount needs into consideration and to provide for the future of the Church in the Apostolic manner. Accordingly, after due reflection in humble submission to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the Bishops of the Primatial Synod, rejoicing with the angels of Heaven at the steadfast fidelity of so many devout persons to the ancient and ever-living traditions of the true Catholic Faith and practice, have deemed it necessary to meet these paramount needs and to raise to the sacred order of the Episcopate their beloved priest and brother in Christ, the Right Reverend John J. Humphreys, investing him with full jurisdiction in the ecclesiastical Province of Florida, and in any other area of North America, should existing circumstances require, to the honor and glory of God and the benefit of His holy Church.[17]

Additional information may be found in the sources referenced in the footnotes, as well as in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Addis and Arnold's Roman Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater's A Catholic Dictionary, Father Konrad Algermissen's Christian Denominations, and the Columban Father's The Far East Magazine for January 1928. And, of course, your questions are welcome.

Table of Apostolic Succession


[1]  El Escorial 1559-1584;  Versailles 1624-1710;  Saint Peter’s Basilica rebuilt 1505-1626;  the Vatican Apostolic Palace, added to by great artists of the era;  the Lateran Palace rebuilt 1586-1589;  the Quirinal Palace c.1573;  Castel Gandolfo c.1628;  the Palazzo Barberini 1627-1633;  and the Palazzo Farnese in Rome 1515-1589 are prime examples.

[2]  Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners, (New Haven: Yale, 1997), pp. 156-157.

[3]  J.M. Neale, M.A., 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 (Oxford: John Henry and James Parker, 1858), Chapter VII, paragraph 11, page 167.

[4]  Cf. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, trans. Anthony Mattola (Garden City: Image, 1964), pp. 140-141 (thirteenth rule).

[5]  Neale, p. 361-362.

[6]    Neale, p. 164-166.

[7]    The five propositions said to be taken from the Augustinus of Cornelius Jansen were condemned by Pope Innocent X in 1653 (Denzinger 1092-1096/ 2001-2007).  His successor, Pope Alexander VII adopted a formulary written by Pierre de Marca, Archbishop of Toulouse, demanding agreement that the condemned propositions were actually to be found in the Augustinus (Denzinger 1098-1099/ 2010-2012).  Pope Alexander also has the distinction of having declared that the Sun goes around the Earth, and of having halted the translation of the Roman Missal into French lest “the dignity [of the words of the Mass] be exposed to the crowds.”  (Pope Alexander VII, 12 January 1661, University of Notre Dame Cawley Archives, at 10 Apr 2000 00:48:56 GMT).

[8]    The history of the church/state politics surrounding the Jesuits and "Jansenism" is well covered in H. Daniel-Rops, The Church in the Seventeenth Century (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1963)

[9]    In violation of (1983) Canon 1323.5, Archbishop Lefebvre was "excommunicated" for protecting his followers from the damage done by the Modernists.

[10]   Originally called as a “pastoral” and “non-dogmatic” council, Vatican II and its post-conciliar proponents attempted sweeping changes in the unchangeable truths of the Catholic Faith. Its pronouncements, particularly those dealing with religious liberty, ecumenical relations, and the nature of Christian Marriage, are particularly suspect.

[11]   Bishop Varlet was an auxiliary of the Bishop of Quebec, and had served as his Vicar General for Catholics in the French territory of Louisiana. See Newman C. Eberhardt, CM, A Survey of American Church History (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1964) p. 49.

[12]   Neale, Chapter XVII, page 351-352.

[13]   + Arnold Harris Mathew, Pastoral Letter of 29 December 1910

[14]   Paradoxically, the last remaining bastions of Jansenism are found among some of those claiming to be “traditionalists,” and who are among our most vocal critics.

[15]   In retrospect, Vatican Council II itself, and certain of its pronouncements, particularly those dealing with religious liberty, ecumenical relations, and the nature of Christian Marriage, are highly suspect, but that is beyond the scope of this writing.

[16]   Belatedly, both of these bishops consecrated relatively sane men to the episcopate, but the delay itself caused schisms to form within the Catholic resistance.

[17]   + Gerard G. Shelly, “Apostolic Mandate,” 20 May 1975.  [IMAGE]

Imprimatur: + John J. Humphreys, Archbishop of Cær Glow,
                                    June AD 2011

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