Jansenism and old-catholicism

Portrait of Cornelius Jansenius, ODK 580

The doctrine on predestination has always been a controversial issue in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. On many occasions, bitter conflict has resulted from differing beliefs regarding the extent to which our actions can influence our own salvation. The theologist Cornelius Jansen or Jansenius (1585-1638) from Leuven argued that only a select few would receive the grace of God. Although this was met with fierce resistance from Rome, it found support in France and the Low Countries.

This story can be followed in the Special Collections.

The Jansenists were pursued in France and many fled north with their texts. Members of the clergy in Utrecht sympathised with the Jansenists. Even the Vicar Apolistic – the highest member of the Catholic clergy in the Dutch Republic – Peter Codde was accused of being a Jansenist and was deposed by the pope in 1704.

This led to protest, especially among Utrecht chapters who wanted to retain their independence. From 1723 onwards, the chapters ordained their own bishops and seceded from the Roman Catholic Church in the Utrecht Schism.

The Old Catholic Church had relatively few followers in the Netherlands, yet the seat of the archbishop of the Old Catholic Church is still in Saint Gertrude’s Church (Sinte-Gertrudiskerk) in Utrecht.

Utrecht University Library has three collections from the Old Catholic Church on loan:

  1. Ca. 4,500 volumes originating from part of the Central Old Catholic Library (COKB), of which the other books were distributed among Old Catholic bodies when it was closed down; this collection has been catalogued.
  2. The pre-1900 items from the parish library of Saint Gertrude’s Church, concerning about 9,000 volumes; in September 2017 1,200 volumes (ca. 2,600 titles, of which 30 manuscripts) still have to be catalogued.
  3. Ca. 10,000 pre-1900 volumes (ca. 26,000 titles) from the library of the Old Catholic Seminary (Oud-Katholiek Seminarie) in Amersfoort, of which over 4,500 volumes (ca. 40 letters, 150 manuscripts, 2,300 monographs, and 17,000 pamphlets) still need to be catalogued. These titles, about 19,500, are listed in the card catalogue in the Reference Library (Handboekerij) on the 6th floor of the Utrecht University Library Uithof.

The libraries of the Old Catholic Seminary and Saint Gertrude’s Church are both rich of unique documents, not present elsewhere in the Netherlands. Digitisation of these works has been started.

The collection of the Utrecht University Library further includes a lot of literature on Old Catholic Churches in the Netherlands and elsewhere. This includes key Jansenist sources and works about Jansenism, to which the Old Catholic Church is often compared. The oldest parts of the Jansenist literature consist of printed texts, which were written by Janesists who had fled from France, and were burnt or destroyed elsewhere.