Espen, Zeger Bernhard van

views updated


Canonist of wide influence in the ChurchState theories of the 18th century; b. Louvain, July 8, 1646; d. Amersfoort, Oct. 2, 1728. After his ecclesiastical studies in Louvain, he was ordained a priest in 1673. In 1675, he received the doctorate in Canon Law and in 1677 he taught that discipline at the Collegium Hadriani VI, University of Louvain, where he was sought out for counsel by many jurists, bishops, and princes. After several influential books and pamphlets that indicated his inclination towards rigorism, he published in 1700 his Jus ecclesiasticum universum, an attempt to present in a coherent order all the elements of ecclesiastical discipline. The work strengthened his reputation but also provoked some qualms. In April 1704, it was placed on the list of the Roman Index. Nevertheless, Van Espen continued his work and published a supplement in 1729 (inserted in the 1753 edition). Meanwhile his leanings toward Jansenism and his contacts with prominent members of this movement became evident. Besides, his writings about dispensations, immunities, exemptions and the royal placet evinced opinions that provoked violent opposition in many quarters. Moreover, Van Espen had approved, perhaps even caused, the election of the Vicar-General of Utrecht, Cornelius Steenhoven, who had been promoted to archbishop without permission of the Holy See and furthermore by unauthorized electors. When afterward the bishop-elect had himself consecrated by a suspended bishop, assisted by two simple priests, Van Espen, in a letter printed in Holland (Responsio epistolaris, 1724), defended this procedure. Thereupon he was suspended and deprived of all claims to his professorship and academic honors.

About the same time, Abp. Thomas Philippe d'Alsace de Boussu submitted to him three questions: (1) whether he adhered sincerely to the confession of faith of Pius IV and was prepared to make it again; (2) whether he was prepared to swear upon the formulary of Alexander VII, in conformity with the Bull Vineam Domini (1705); (3) whether he accepted without reservation the constitution Unigenitus (1713) and rejected all theses condemned therein. Van Espen responded that he would agree to the first point, but could not to the other two, and appealed to the Governess of the then Austrian Netherlands. But he was sentenced and condemned, and rather than recant, he fled to the northern Netherlands, first to Maastricht, then to Amersfoort, where most Jansenist refugees from France and Belgium had settled. A few months afterward he died.

Bibliography: Scripta omnia, 5 v. (Louvain-Paris 175368). f. laurent, Van Espen (Brussels 1860). h. hurter, Nomenclator literarius theologiae catholicae (3d ed. Innsbruck 190313) 4: 1218184. k. weinzierl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 3:1107. j. leclerc, Catholicisme 4:445. g. leclerc, z. b. Van Espen et l'autorité ecclésiastique (Zurich 1964). m. nuttinck, La vie et l'oeuvre de ZegerBernard Van Espen (Louvain 1969). g. cooman, r. g. w. huysmans, b. wauters, eds., Zeger-Bernard Van Espen (16461728) (Louvain 2001).

[f. maass]