Ultrajectine defines the tradition of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands headquartered at the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands. It is used to describe the anti-Papal-Primacy and Jansenist tendency of that independent church and its sister churches, which were founded in later centuries (see Old Catholic Churches). Ultrajectine thought holds to the words of St. Vincent of Lerins: "We must hold fast to that faith which has been held everywhere, always, and by all the faithful." Ultrajectine thought rejects papal infallibility and holds to the belief that only the Church in Ecumenical Council may speak infallibly.



Utrecht was the fortified, former Roman limes castellum of Traiectum, which was so named because of its position opposite a ford (river crossing place) on the Rhine.


The Ultrajectines are descendants of the Jansenists who fled discrimination, and legal persecution imposed by Papal Bulls in France and the southern Spanish Netherlands, for refuge in the comparatively tolerant Republic of the Seven Provinces (The Netherlands), which was dominated by Calvinists and therefore theologically more sympathetic towards Jansenism and its salvation doctrine.

The Netherlands became a refuge for the Jansenists because local civil authorities in the Netherlands were in a state of war with the Papacy and its Roman sovereigns, they could not countenance Papal appointed vicars to enter their territory. Since the alternative Catholic theologians were practically the only leaders of the local Catholic congregations left, they quickly rose to prominence within the Catholic laity who required ordained minsters. In turn, perceived to be loyal subjects to local civil law they also quickly drew the favor of the Dutch Calvinist Protestants and the Dutch government. Thus, Jansenist theologians assumed dominant positions in the still more or less underground Catholic Church structure in the Netherlands. At first, the Papacy countenanced this development. However, as relations between the Dutch authorities and Catholic sovereigns relaxed to a more or less cold war state, the Papacy again attempted to impose its direct rule upon the local Catholic churches. However, by the early 18th century, the Papacy had ruled that Jansenists were considered to be heretics and demanded the removal of all such theologians in the local Catholic churches of the Netherlands. Refusing to submit to direct control of Rome, unwilling to lose control of church property, and tending to believe in the Jansenist doctrine, most Catholic churches encouraged their bishops to resist. This culminated in the formation of the Ultrajectine Communion (Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands) in 1723 which was Catholic in liturgy and belief but refused to submit to alleged Papal abuses.

This led to a theological, philosophical, and political control of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. Jesuit priests and missionaries were smuggled into the Netherlands to gain control of those Catholic congregations which had followed the dissident Ultrajectine hierarchy. A vigorous campaign was launched to vindicate Papal authority and to exhort the Catholic laity to turn to Papal appointed ministers for church matters. Additionally, the Papacy negotiated with the new Dutch authorities to gain legitime status for their appointments. Upon gaining this approval from Dutch authorities to appoint Papally accepted ministers, the Jesuit position soon overcame the Jansenists. By the 19th century, the majority of the originally dissident Catholic laity had turned back to Papal authority; already in the 18th century the majority of Dutch Catholics had broken the association with the Ultrajectine ministry however.

The Jansenist lead during the early period was given by the Vicar Apostolic Neercassel who during his entire period of government, cultivated and sheltered Jansenists in the largely underground Catholic Church of the (northern and central parts) of the Netherlands. He was succeeded as Vicar Apostolic by the pro-Jansenist archbishop in partibus Petrus (Peter) Codde, who was excommunicated by the Papacy for his obduracy in 1704. After Codde, another bishop who played an important part was Dominique-Marie Varlet, who had been appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Babylon by the Pope after having been Vicar general to the Diocese of Quebec (Canada), but who instead chose to spend his time in the Netherlands succouring the Jansenists and making appeals to Rome in order that it should reconsider its disciplinary actions against him. When the Jansenists of the Netherlands, with the assistance of the Dutch Parliament, dominated by Protestants, the Staten-Generaal ("States-General"), Vicar Apostolic Gerard Potkamp who was appointed by Rome in 1704, the Jansenists constituted themselves into a Cathedral Chapter of Utrecht and proceeded to elect ministers. The Popes viewed this as ecclesiastically illegitimate and invalid, since the bishops were appointed without apostolic mandate from the Holy See. Bishop Varlet consecrated four of these men, and the last of these, Peter Jan Meindaerts, after the death of Varlet, consecrated bishops for the sees of Haarlem and Deventer (which had been defunct since 1580 and would be re-activated by the Papacy only as late as 1853) in order to prevent the loss of the historic episcopate (apostolic succession) among the Dutch Jansenists. Thus, according to the Roman Catholic point of view, the actions of Codde, Varlet, Steenhoven and Meindaerts finally consummated the Ultrajectine Schism (Schism of the Church of Utrecht) by not only illicitly ordaining bishops, but especially by usurping diocesan ordinary jurisdiction and thereby interfering into the sole domain of the Roman Pontiff. However, the Jansenists averred, referring to alleged long ecclesiastical precedence which (allegedly) allowed for ordination without Papal approval under particular circumstances. The Holy See would eventually convene the First Vatican Council (1870), which codified and remodelled ecclesiastical procedures in favor of the Roman Curia. With this council and the changed international legal standing for the Papacy with the Dutch authorities, the Popes proclaimed the Jansenists as schismatics and once again excommunicated them and their laities.

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 relates to this:

[John] de Neercassel, titular Archbishop of Castoria (and Vicar Apostolic of the Dutch Republic), who governed the whole church in the Netherlands from 1663 to 1686, made no secret of his intimacy with the (Jansenist) party. Under him the country began to become the refuge of all whose obstinacy forced them to leave France and Belgium. Thither came such men as Antoine Arnauld, Du Vaucel, Gerberon, Quesnel, Nicole, Petitpied, as well as a number of priests, monks, and nuns who preferred exile to the acceptance of the pontifical Bulls [against Jansenism and Jansen's Augustinus]. A large number of these deserters belonged to the Congregation of the Oratory, but other orders shared with it this unfortunate distinction. When the fever of the appeals was at its height, twenty-six Carthusians of the Paris house escaped from their cloister during the night and fled to Holland. Fifteen Benedictines from Orval Abbey, in the Diocese of Trier, gave the same scandal. Peter Codde, who succeeded Neercassel in 1686, and who bore the title of Archbishop of Sebaste, went further than his predecessor. He refused to sign the (anti-Jansenist) formulary and, when summoned to Rome, defended himself so poorly that he was first forbidden to exercise his functions, and then deposed by a decree of 1704. He died still obstinate in 1710. He had been replaced by Gerard Potkamp, but this appointment and those that followed were rejected by a [Jansenist] section of the clergy, to whom the Dutch States-General lent their support. The conflict lasted a long time, during which the episcopal functions were not fulfilled [and many young faithful remained deprived of e.g. Confirmation]. In 1723 a group of seven or eight priests assumed the name and quality of the Chapter of Utrecht "in order to put an end to a precarious and painful situation", elected, on its own authority, as archbishop of the same city, one of its members, Cornelius Steenhoven, who then held the office of vicar-general. This election was not canonical, and was not approved by the pope. Steenhoven nevertheless had the audacity to get himself consecrated by Dominique Marie Varlet, a former missionary bishop and coadjutor Bishop of Babylon, who was at that time suspended, interdicted and excommunicated (for confirming Jansenist children in Amsterdam). He thus consummated the schism, interdicted likewise and excommunicated, he died in 1725. Those who had elected him transferred their support to Barchman Wuitiers, who had recourse to the same consecrator. The unhappy Varlet lived long enough to administer the episcopal unction to two successors of Barchman, Van der Croon and Peter Jan Meindaerts. The sole survivor of this sorry line, Meindaerts, ran the risk of seeing his dignity become extinct with himself. To prevent this, the Dioceses of Haarlem (1742) and Deventer (1757) were created, and became suffragans of Utrecht. But Rome always refused to ratify these outrageously irregular acts, invariably replying to the notification of each election with a declaration of nullification and a sentence of excommunication against those elected and their adherents.

Secondary Founders

After the Vatican Council of 1869–70 which formally defined Papal Infallibility, certain European Catholics, under the inspiration of the Bavarian priest J. Döllinger, seceded from the Roman Catholic Church and eventually styled themselves the Old Catholics; this sect eventually federated with the Ultrajectines Church of Utrecht and were provided their bishops by them.

Thus the secondary founders of the schism of the German Old Catholics were Döllinger (partially), Franz Heinrich Reusch, Joseph Langen, Joseph Hubert Reinkens, Hertzog and others, mainly dissident Catholic theologians who accepted consecration from the bishops of Utrecht to form "Old Catholic Churches" in various European countries.

Tertiary Founders

Arnold Harris Mathew, who had moved between various Christian denominations after having been suspended as a Roman Catholic priest, was instigated by the Modernist Fr. George Tyrell to become an Old Catholic, and obtained consecration as head of the Old Catholic Church of England (Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain) by the Ultrajectines. Mathew went on to consecrate a wide range of men, some of whom emigrated to the United States where they founded a range of Old Catholic independent churches, varying between very conservative institutions to extremely liberal Gnostic churches.

Some North American Old Catholics draw their lineage from Joseph Rene Vilatte, who had been denied consecration by the Ultrajectines, but who was consecrated by Fr. Francis Xavier Alvares, a Goan Catholic priest who apostatized to Jacobitism or Monophysitism as Mar Julious of the Jacobite Church of Ceylon, Goa and India. Vilatte, on returning to North America, reverted to Old Catholicism and went on to found several Old Catholic sects.

Mathew and Vilatte are considered to be jointly the parents of the North American Old Catholic sects.

The Ultrajectines and Old Catholics together form one community in practical fact, although the ecumenical Union of Utrecht or Ultrajectine Communion includes the Lithuanian National Catholic Church, and the Mariavites, and maintains full intercommunion with the Anglican and the Aglipayan or Philippine Independent Churches. However, the Polish National Catholic Church in 2004 was ejected from the Old Catholic Communion, due to the See of Utrecht becoming liberalized in a similar vein to movements within the Anglican Churches. The PNCC rejects the ordination of women and gays; as well as more extreme ecumenism and modernist liturgics.

Old Catholic Claims vs. Roman Catholic Claims

The Ultrajectines or Old Catholics claim that they are an autonomous or autocephalous branch of the Catholic (i.e., "Roman Catholic") Communion; that they had never seceded or been expelled or properly excommunicated; that the Particular Church of Utrecht had been historically granted the privilege of electing its own bishop without Papal Mandate and that the consecration of the Jansenist Steenhoven and his consecration by Varlet and subsequently, that of Meindaerts, had been legal and not contrary to the Catholic Church's Canon Laws and therefore did not consummate a schism, etc. One must note however[says who?], that the Ultrajectines claim, that the Church of Jesus Christ, and thus the Catholic Church, is effectively larger than the Roman Catholic Church and includes all kinds of other ecclesial bodies. On the other hand, the Papacy claims, that the schism of Utrecht is very clearly proven from the view of Canon Law by the fact, that the illicitly ordained bishops effectively usurped ordinary diocesan jurisdiction, which canonically can only be granted by the Pope. However, in reply, the Jansenists state this authority never applied them due to the nature of the original Papal Mandate and that the new powers of Papal supremacy were granted by a Council which they were not allowed to attend.

The Papacy recognizes the circumstances of the Jansenist claims. With Protestant Christianity winning over the populace religiously and politically the dominance in the (northern and central) Netherlands, the See of Utrecht had practically ceased to exist since 1580[citation needed], and the Popes were forced to supply Catholics there through Vicars Apostolic (who however were Archbishop in partibus infidelium). Initially, as the Calvinist Protestant government was at war with the Papacy and Catholic Sovereigns, they could not permit the Vicars Apostolic to operate from territory they controlled. Thus, the Vicar Apostolics were based in French territory and in the territories of the German Catholic princes within the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Later, as the diplomatic situation was relaxed to some extent, the Vicar Apostolics were permitted to reside within the Dutch Republic, and they took their seat at Utrecht. But Vicariate Apostolics are, by definition, not particular sees but are under the personal and direct jurisdiction of the Pope, as opposed to Diocesan government; see Vicariate Apostolic. Both De Neercassel and Codde, his successor, were merely Vicars Apostolic of the Dutch Republics with their seats at Utrecht. That did not make them successors to the Bishops and the Archdiocesan See of Utrecht, which had lapsed into non-existence. However, the Jansenists do not specifically focus on the See as their center of gravity and point out that the Vicariate Apostolic could appoint other bishops.

Thus, although the Papacy claims that as a Vicariate Apostolic, "Utrecht" as the seat of the Vicar, did not have the authority to constitute to itself, without specific authorization by the Pope, a "Cathedral Chapter", and such a unilaterally "re-constituted" "Cathedral Chapter" did not have the right to elect to itself a "bishop" as if it were heir to the rights of the defunct Cathedral Chapter of the defunct See of Utrecht, the Jansenists reply that the Papal arguments of usurpation is moot.

Nonetheless, the succeeding bishops did appoint new jurisdictions and authorities unto themselves which did not have the authorization of the Pope. Thus, even if the "self-re-constituted" "See of Utrecht" is granted to be the heir to the former See of Utrecht, it never did have the authorization from the Pope, even as a privilege, and as heir to the former See, of erecting other suffragan "Sees", as the Ultrajectines have attempted or rather accomplished, by raising to themselves the Sees of Haarlem & Deventer. From the viewpoint of the Catholic Church's Canon Law, then, this action on the part of the Ultrajectines was and remains an act of usurpation and grave schism. Again, the creation of an "anti-Paparchy" branch in England under Mathew, and further branches in North America and elsewhere, with effectively setting up dioceses, were further acts of jurisdictional usurpation. Yet, in ending conclusion, the Jansenists claim that having been abandoned by the Papacy, it was an act of ecclesiastical usurpation on the part of the Papacy for it to return and dislodge the Jansenists based on new authorities granted by the Papacy for itself without consultation from the Jansenists. Thus, they claim that the Papacy has created a fictitious legal dictate to claim that the Jansenists are without ecclesiastical legitimacy.

Ultimately the argument between Jansenists and Papists was centered around conflicting interests. While, the Papacy, claims that nothing in the alleged "rights and privileges" of the See of Utrecht, to which Peter Codde, Cornelius van Steenhoven, Barchman Wuitiers, Croon and Meindaerts, etc. allege that they are the successors, justifies these acts of usurpation, the Jansenists claim that nothing they did was an usurpation until the Papacy effectively declared Jansenists heretics.

Orthodoxy & Sensus Catholicus

To back the claims of heresy, the Roman Catholic Church maintains that the actions and teachings of the Ultrajectines are contrary to Catholic orthodoxy and the Sensus Catholicus. This is proven, according to the belief of the Papacy, that any movement which denies Papal supremacy is a heretical sect which has arisen out of rejection of the Papacy. According to Vatican I, such a hatred to Papal supremacy makes the movement antithetical to Roman Catholic beliefs and therefore a heresy.

In this coherent if circular logic of the Papacy, this is proven by the case of an ex-Roman Catholic, a suspended chaplain, Arnold Harris Mathew, who was directed towards the Ultrajectines by Fr. George Tyrrell, an excommunicated priest and founder of the condemned modernist theology.

Thus we find in Cekada's article that:

Tyrrell took advantage of Mathew's predicament, urging him on in the destruction of sacerdotalism. Mathew adopted an anti-papal position in 1907 as a result of Tyrrell's influence, saying, "æthe papacy is the origin… of discord…, the fomenter of schisms, and the seat of ecclesiastical despotism and tyranny."

And if Mathew was influenced towards his course by Tyrrell, who had been cast out of the Church for his heresy, Vilatte was influenced towards his course by Charles Chiniquy, another apostate Catholic priest who fell out because he was removed from the ministry for seducing girls under his charge, and then went on to level outlandish charges against the Catholic Church.

These two, Mathew and Vilatte, are the two principal founding fathers of most Old Catholic ecclesial bodies in the USA, and a bridge between the more staid Ultrajectines and these latter offspring, most of whom remain part of the formal Ultrajectine Communion.

Again, if we examine the history of the Döllingerite Old Catholics, as distinct from the Jansenist or Ultrajectine Old Catholics of the Netherlands, we find that these Döllingerites not only received their bishops from the Ultrajectines, but also at the same time, followed the Protestants in many of their reforms — the abolition of clerical celibacy, the introduction of liturgy in the vernacular, the disencouragement of frequent Sacrament of Confession etc.

And, further proof of the Ultrajectine Communion's opposition to Catholicism is to be found in the fact that it sought and received the full support of anti-Catholic governments of Prussia-Germany (Otto von Bismarck's anti-Catholic Kulturkampf), Switzerland, the Netherlands (mostly Protestants), etc. and that the Dollingerites, morally supported by the Ultrajectines, collaborated with these governments in persecuting the Roman Catholics during the Kulturkampf.

Lastly, the Papacy claims there is the fact that the Ultrajectine Communion has federated with the Anglicans and Aglipayans, which themselves are heretical because they too refuse to recognize Papal supremacy and deny other Catholic doctrines which are of divine and defined Faith, e.g. the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin as well as the necessity of communion with Rome for eternal salvation. Thus, in Roman Catholic doctrine by association with such heresies, the Jansenists are against the Roman Catholic Church.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 

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