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A bit of alternate history, or a look at how things could have been if history hadn’t gotten in the way…
A Church province of Mechelen covering what is now Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The Archbishop of Mechelen would have truly been Primate of the Netherlands: his archdiocese would have covered the provinces of Brabant (or modern Flemish and Walloon Brabant) and Antwerp. It would have had seven suffragan dioceses, some of which are similar to the ones we know today, while others would have been radically different in composition:
- Amsterdam: the provinces of Holland (modern North and South Holland), Utrecht, Overijssel, Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe
- Bois le Duc: the provinces of North Brabant, Gelderland and Zeeland
- Bruges: the province of West Flanders
- Ghent: the province of East Flanders
Liège: the provinces of Liège and Limburg (modern Belgian and Dutch Limburg)
- Namur: the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg (the modern Belgian province and the sovereign Grand Duchy)
- Tournai: the province of Hainault
Map of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as it existed from 1815 to 1830. Subdivisions depicted are provinces, not dioceses.
The bishops of all these dioceses would be appointed with royal consent and would swear and oath to the king upon their installation. Bishops and clergy would receive an income from the state.
All this could have been reality, had the Concordat between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Holy See of 1827 become reality. The Belgian revolution and subsequent independence prevented this of course, and while the Belgian dioceses continued to exist and develop according to the descriptions in the Concordat, the Dutch dioceses would never become reality. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1853 when a whole different set of dioceses were created.
In that plan, which did become reality, the massive Diocese of Amsterdam (at 18,521 square kilometers taking up about one third of the total territory of the kingdom) had no place. In fact, no cathedral would ever be built in the Dutch capital, which instead became a part of the new Diocese of Haarlem. I described the recent Catholic history of Amsterdam in an earlier blog post.
The failed Concordat of 1827, which was signed by Pope Leo XII (and not Leo XIII, as I mistakenly wrote earlier) (pictured) and King William I, sheds an interesting light on what could have been. Whereas the Church in what is now Belgium and Luxembourg was predominant in society and had dioceses which had already been established (with the exception of Bruges, which would be split off from Ghent in 1832, and Luxembourg, separated from Namur in 1840), the northern Catholics lived in mission territory (the Mission ”sui iuris” of Batavia) and in four apostolic vicariates (‘s Hertogenbosch, Breda, Grave-Nijmegen and Ravenstein-Megen), three of which were less than thirty years old. Since the Reformation there had been no hierarchy to speak off in the modern Netherlands. The (often Italian) superiors of Batavia frequently didn’t even live in the territory they had pastoral responsibility, choosing Brussels or Cologne instead. The Concordat was, then, something of a diplomatic victory, especially since royalty and government were far from tolerant of the Catholic Church. Hence the oath to the king and the state control over clergy income. In fact, the creation of a mere two dioceses in areas where there were none yet (Bois le Duc and Amsterdam) would have helped as well: it meant there were only two extra bishops to contend with: in the southern part of the kingdom, there already were dioceses with bishops, so little would change there. The Concordat would simply solidify the relation between Church and state there.
If the Concordat had become reality, how would the map of the Dutch Church province look today? Assuming that Belgium would have become independent at one point or another, the province of Mechelen would be spread over two or even three countries (Luxembourg continued to exist in a personal union with the Netherlands through the same head of state, but since the Grand Duchy could not have a female head of state, the two nations would go their separate ways as soon as the first Queen inherited the Dutch throne). The Diocese of Liège as proposed in the Concordat could have gone both ways: split between Belgium and the Netherlands or wholly Belgian. The proposed Diocese of Bois le Duc would have been rather unmanageable, combining strong Catholic and Protestant parts of the country into one. The province of Gelderland would one day be split off, but to do what? Become an apostolic vicariate in its own right? Be merged with Amsterdam? The proposed Diocese of Amsterdam was also hard to control, split as it would be by the Zuiderzee: the part formed by Holland and Utrecht would be physically separated from the rest in the northern part of the kingdom. Perhaps the latter part would form a new diocese with Gelderland, with its cathedral in… Zwolle? Groningen? Deventer? Arnhem? Who’s to say? And what of Utrecht? That oldest of all sees in the northern Netherlands, once established by Saint Boniface as his base of operations from which to convert the Frisians. Now just a part of a new Diocese of Amsterdam… The Concordat of 1827 may have appeased the state for a while, but for the Church it would have been quite unmanageable and unrealistic.
The present layout of dioceses in the Netherlands
Perhaps it is a blessing that it never became reality. Today there are voices that there are too many dioceses in the Netherlands, but for the major part of their history, they have worked well enough. A Church province limited to a single country, with its own metropolitan see in the oldest Christian centre of the nation.
As the 92nd bishop of the Belgian Diocese of Líège, Pope Francis has chosen Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville. He will succeed Bishop Aloys Jousten, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in November, but was asked to remain in office until a successor was found and consecrated. That consecration is scheduled to take place in Liège’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on 14 July. Bishop Delville’s principal consecrator will be Bishop Jousten, with Archbishops André-Joseph Léonard (archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Vincenzo Paglia (President of the Pontifical Council for the family) as co-consecrators.
Bishop-elect Delville is 62 ears old and was born and educated in the city where he will now be bishop. He studied history at the University of Liège before entering the Leo XIII seminary in Louvain. There he studied philosophy before being sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University and Rome to study theology and Biblical sciences. Later, at the Catholic University of Louvain, he earned doctorates in Arts and Philosophy (Biblical sciences). Following his ordination in 1980, Bishop-elect Delville held the following functions:
1980-1993: Parish priest in various parishes in the Diocese of Liège.
- 1982-2013: Teacher of fundamental theology and Church history at the Liège seminary and the Institut supérieur de catéchèse et de pastorale (ISCP).
- 1993-2005: President of Saint Paul Seminary in Louvain-la-Neuve.
- 1996-2002: French-language spokesman of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference.
- 2002-2010: Teacher of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2005-2013: Chairman of St. Paul’s College, Catholic University of Louvain.
- 2010-2013: Professor of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
For his episcopal motto, Bishop-elect Delville has chosen verse 4 from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city (Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei)”: a reference to the River Meuse which cuts through the city of Liège, the waters of Baptism and also to the Word of God, which is life-bringing water.
The Diocese of Liège is one of western Europe’s oldest. At times a powerful principality as well as a Church jurisdiction, we can trace it back to 720, when it was first established under its current name. But even then it was a continuation of an older entity: the Diocese of Maastricht, established in 530, which itself was a continuation of the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht, established simply as Tongeren in 344. Before that, the territory’s history folds into that of the ancient (Arch)diocese of Cologne.
Over the course of its history, Liège increased and decreased in size, and at times it enveloped lands to the north along the Meuse, to the south into Luxembourg, westward towards the sea at Antwerp and to the east to include Aachen. Today its boundaries are the same as those of the secular Province of Liège in the Belgian state.
Photo credit: Belga.
Bishop Aloys Jousten of Liège has tendered his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI. He celebrated his 75th birthday on Friday, thus reaching the mandatory age on which bishops must offer their resignation to the Holy Father, formally requesting the appointment of a successor. The day of such an appointment may well be quite a while off since there is no rule that the pope must accept a resignation when he receives the request for it.
Bishop Jousten is Liège’s 91st bishop, part of a lineage that dates back to the early eighth century. As far as age is concerned, he is the most senior active bishop of Belgium.
Liège is the oldest diocese of Belgium, if we take it for the rightful successor to the suppressed dioceses of Maastricht and Tongeren. Established in 720, it was never suppressed, although it did lose and gain territory over the centuries. It is centered around the cathedral of Saint Paul and is home to three minor basilicas, the Marian shrine of Banneux and the former cathedral of the suppressed Diocese of Eupen-Malmedy, in which circumscription Bishop Jousten was born and worked as a priest and later dean before his appointment as Liège’s 91st bishop in 2001.
Under Bishop Jousten’s leadership, the Catholic population of the diocese remained steady at 68.4 %, although the number of priests dropped with about 100. The number of permanent deacons remained around 75.
In the face of such horror as was inflicted upon the city of Liège yesterday, what can we do but be silent, pray and offer our, often intangible, support?
Inhuman and indiscriminate violence has caused death and terror in the heart of our good city of Liege. What unnecessary and unacceptable suffering! To the victims, bereaved families, the people in shock, I express my sympathy and moral support. All have a place in the prayers of Christians of the diocese. I want to thank the law enforcement, emergency services and civil authorities for their courage and commitment.
+ Aloys Jousten
Bishop of Liège
The Sant’Egidio Community has announced that it will dedicate their time of prayer this Tuesday, December 13 , to victims of the shooting. The invitation stands to join them at the church of Saint-Barthélemy at 8pm.
As a counterbalance to the big stories, I decided to start a weekly blog post with the smaller Catholic news items which usually don’t make it to these pages, but which are an integral part of Catholic life. The roundup will contain short texts with links to the relevant news items.
This week I cam across things like these:
- 14/11: In its autumn edition, Dutch-Flemish monastic magazine De Kovel asks questions about priestly celibacy, under the title ‘Celibacy – free choice or inconvenient duty?’ It offers commentaries both pro and contra celibacy. Source.
- 14/11: The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam has a photo report of the ordination of six deacons on Saturday. Source.
- 15/11: Archbishop Léonard celebrated a ecumenical Te Deum service. He asked the faithful to pray for wisdom and courage for modern politicians and policy makers in Belgium. Source.
- 16/11: Two-thirds of the Dutch people have no trust in the churches. This is an increase from half the population in 2006. Source.
- 16/11: The Dioceses of Roermond, Liège and Aachen have established an international cooperation in care for HIV patients and the discrimination they suffer. Two conferences, in 2012 and 2013, are on the agenda. Source.
- 17/11: The deanery in Diest, Belgium, has had a stone thrown through one of its windows. A link is made with the display of two posters, one featuring Archbishop Léonard and the other containing an anti-abortion message, in deanery’s window. Source.
- 17/11: The Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden announces new members and auditors of the diocesan council of priests. Eight priests, one permanent deacon and two pastoral workers, in addition to the two vicars general, take up duties in the council which advises the bishop in matters of policy and pastoral care. Source.
- 18/11 Bishop Gerard de Korte pleads for a ”broad ecumenism”, and suggests that parishes should not limit their ecumenical contacts with the middle of the Protestant church, but should also reach out to the Reformed, Evangelicals and other church communities. Source.
- 19/11: For his 60th birthday, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg will host people with financial and social problems for dinner. Instead of giving him presents, the bishop has asked people to donate to the ‘Network Life’ foundation, which helps people in difficult situations. Source.
“The main point we must consider is that a bishop isn’t just a bishop on his own. He is a bishop of a Church and that Church must be somewhere. In ancient times there were very many more dioceses, which were effectively swept away either by invasion of Muslims or the erosion of demographics, etc. In more modern times, in the “propaganda” countries, Sees were sometimes established, but the town lost importance for one reason or another and it became impractical to maintain the see there.”
Words from Father Z in this blog post, in which he answers a question about titular dioceses and the rights that bishops may or may not have in them. It prompted me to take a look at the titular sees in my neck of the woods, continental north western Europe. In nine countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden), it turns out, there are only seven of those. Compared to southern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, that is very few indeed, but it does allow for an easy overview of which titular sees they are and who is appointed to them. In other words, who are the other bishops in these countries*?
Let’s take an alphabetical look.
We start way up north, in Iceland, with the titular see of Hólar. Currently all of Iceland is part of the Diocese of Reykjavík, but in the twelfth century there were two others, once of which was Hólar. It was suppressed in 1550, after which the island fell under various ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The village of Hólar lies on Iceland’s northern coast and nowadays is home to some 100 people. In the past it was the heart of Iceland’s Catholicism and a major centre of learning. Today, it is the titular see of Bishop Stanisław Budzik, auxiliary bishop of the Polish diocese of Tarnów.
Next is one of the two titular sees located in Belgium. Ieper (in Dutch) or Ypres (in French) was one of the dioceses established in answer to the Reformation in the Low Countries. Unlike the dioceses further north, it existed for a fair amount of time. It wasn’t until 1801, when it was suppressed to become part of the Diocese of Gent. The establishment of the diocese reflected its importance as a commercial trading city and also its origins as a French enclave in the Holy Roman Empire. Its current titular bishop is one of the three new auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, Msgr. Jean Kockerols.
Not far from there lies the third see on our list, and the only Dutch titular see: Maastricht. It can trace its origins to the first arrival of Christianity in the Netherlands. It was created in 530 from the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht and survived for almost two centuries. In 720 it was incorporated into the powerful Diocese of Liège, an indication that the centre of Catholic gravity in that area had moved south. Bishop Marco Pérez Caicedo is the titular bishop of Maastricht. In daily life he is one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Guayaquil in Ecuador.
From Maastricht we go back to Scandinavia, to Norway where, in 1070, a Diocese of Selja was established. Also know as Selia, the titular see is based on a tiny island near the city of Bergen and is the predecessor of the Diocese of Bergen. In fact, it was named so only 10 years after its establishment, and survived until the Reformation. It was suppressed in 1537. The current titular bishop is Auxiliary Bishop Pero Sudar of Vrhbosna in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Then back to Belgium it is, to the ancient titular see of Tongeren or Tongres. This is the oldest diocese in the Low Countries, established in 344 from Cologne. From here, the Diocese of Maastricht was established in 530, the same year that saw the end of Tongeren as a diocese. Later, it was one of the seeds for the powerful prince-bishopric of Liège. Like Belgium’s other titular see, a Belgian bishop holds it. He is Msgr. Pierre Warin, auxiliary of the nearby Diocese of Namur.
That leaves only two titular dioceses on our list, and both are currently vacant. The first is Chiemsee in Germany, that country’s only titular see. It’s been vacant for a long time: it’s last titular bishop was Bishop Sigmund Christoph, Count of Waldburg-Zeil-Trauchburg. His tenure ended in 1808.
The last diocese on our last takes us back to our starting point, Iceland. When Hólar was an important centre in the north, its equivalent in the south was the Diocese of Skálholt. It’s history is very similar to that of Hólar, although it is a few years older. It is vacant, but it hasn’t been for as long as Chiemsee. It’s last titular bishop died in 2008, and he was Dutch: Bishop Alphons Castermans, auxiliary of Roermond.
*Not that these bishops have any rights or duties in their titular sees, as Father Z explains in the aforementioned post.