Old Catholics

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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [1]

a name adopted in 1870 by those members of the Roman Catholic Church who refused to recognize the validity of the decrees of the Vatican Council (q.v.), especially that concerning the infallibility of the pope; and who, when the bishops, by means of excommunication, tried to enforce submission to the Vatican decrees, organized independent congregations, and gradually advanced, by the election of bishops, to the organization of an independent religious denomination.

1. The bishops of Germany and Austro-Hungary, who during the proceedings of the Vatican Council opposed the proclamation of papal infallibility as inopportune, not only expected such a movement, but expressly warned the majority of the council not to provoke it by a measure which was intensely disliked by a very large number in the Church. The opposition of several bishops of the minority to the doctrine of infallibility had been so determined that they were expected to favor and join the secession movement. This expectation was, however, disappointed. After the promulgation of the doctrine of infallibility all the bishops, one after another, submitted, though some as bishop Hefele, of Rottenburg, in Germany, and bishop Strossmayer, of Sirmium, in Hungary with unfeigned reluctance. At length only a few bishops of the United Armenian Church, who, even before the convocation of the council, had fallen out with the pope on questions relating to the former privileges of the Armenian Church, remained in opposition to the Vatican Council. In Germany, the center of the opposition to the Vatican decrees, the bishops, soon after their return from Italy, had held a meeting at Fulda, and drawn up a joint pastoral letter to the Catholics of Germany, in which they announced their own submission to the Vatican decrees, and advised all faithful Catholics to follow their example. This advice was, however, in a signal manner disregarded by a large number of Catholic scholars of Germany. Only a few days after July 18, the day when the Vatican Council formally sanctioned the doctrine of infallibility, Prof. F. Michelis, of the Lyceum of Braunsberg, Eastern Prussia, issued a declaration in which he accused the pope of being a heretic, and of devastating the Church. At Mtunich, forty-four professors of the university, under the leadership of Dollinger and Friedrich, signed a protest against the binding authority of the Vatican Council and the validity of its resolutions. Similar protests were numerously signed by professors of the universities of Bonn, Breslau, Freiburg, and Giessen. In August the theological leaders of the movement met in conference at Nuremberg to concert further action.

A joint declaration against the Vatican decrees was agreed upon and signed, among others, by Dollinger and Friedrich, of Munich; Michelis, of Braunsberg; Reinkens and Baltzer, of Breslau; Knoodt, of Bonn; and Schulte, of Prague all of whom had thus far been regarded as among the most prominent scholars of the Catholic Church. The bishops now demanded from all the professors of theology an express declaration that they recognised the Πcumenical character of the council. A few, like Prof. Haneberg, of Munich, who was soon after appointed bishop of Spires, and Prof. Dieringer, of Bonn, yielded to the pressure brought to bear upon them; but the majority remained firm in their opposition. The laity appeared, however, at first to take but little interest in the movement. Only a few isolated protests were published, the most noted of them being the so-called "protest of the Old Catholics" of Munich, a name which was subsequently adopted by the entire party. The leaders appeared to be at a loss as to the further steps to be taken, and the most prominent among them, Prof. Dollinger, emphatically dissuaded the organization of independent Old-Catholic congregations, in order not to make the breach in the Church incurable. For some time only two Catholic congregations in all Germany, one in Bavaria and one in Prussia, assumed an attitude of open opposition; but in a number of other towns, especially in Bavaria and on the Rhine, the sympathizers with the movement kept up a kind of organization by means of local committees." A decisive step towards an independent Church organization was taken by the first Old-Catholic Congress, held at Munich from Sept. 20 to 24, 1871.

Notwithstanding the continuing opposition of Dollinger, this congress, which was numerously attended by the Old Catholics of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, resolved to provide for the religious wants of the Old Catholics in all places where it seemed to be needed, and for this purpose to organize congregations and churches. It was also resolved to enter into communion with the "Church of Utrecht," or the so-called Jansenists, (See Jansenists), who for about two centuries had maintained principles similar to those of the Roman Catholics, and insisted on remaining members of the Catholic Church in spite of the continuous:anathemas hurled against them by the pope. The connection with this Church, which still has an archbishop and two bishops, was of vital importance for the perpetuation of the Old-Catholic community as long as it intended to claim a doctrinal agreement with the Catholic Church as it existed before 1870; for two of the Catholic sacraments, Holy Orders and Confirmation, can only be dispensed by bishops.

The Congress of Munich appeared to be very intent upon avoiding everything that might involve an open breach with the Catholic Church before 1870, and endanger the claim of the Old Catholics to being regarded by the state governments as the only true representatives of the Catholic Church, and the owners of the Church property. The introduction of more radical reforms, which was chiefly urged by Austrians and Swiss, was postponed to a future period, when the participation of the Catholic people in Church legislation would be fully regulated by a new Church constitution. One of the resolutions, however, adopted by the Congress, declaring that even for the doctrinal decisions of an Πcumenical council validity could only be claimed if they agreed with the original and traditional faith of the Church as witnessed by the faith of the people and traditional science, involved a principle cutting deep into the traditional theories of the infallibility of the Church.

At the same time a hope was expressed for a reunion with the Oriental and Anglican churches, and the doctrinal differences were not important enough to be regarded as insurmountable obstacles to a reunion. In consequence of the resolutions passed by the congress Old-Catholic congregations were organized at Munich, Passau, Cologne, Bonn, Heidelberg, and a number of other cities. In some places, as in Munich and in Cologne, the municipal and state authorities gave to the Old Catholics the simultaneous use of one of the Catholic churches, a permission which was regularly followed by the voluntary abandonment of such a church by the ultramontane members of the congregation, who were exhorted to shun all communion with the new heretics. When the Catholic army bishop, Namszanowski, declared the soldiers' church of Cologne, which the military authorities had allowed the Old Catholics for simultaneous use to have been desecrated by the "sacrilegious" mass, the minister of war suspended him from his office. A regulation of the legal affairs of Old Catholics by the state governments was found to present unexpected difficulties. The demand expressed by Prof. Schulte, the president of the Old-Catholic Congress of Munich, and one of the foremost lay leaders of the movement, that the Old Catholics alone be regarded as the legal successors of the Catholic Church prior to 1870, and that they be put by the state in possession of the entire property of the Church, could not be complied with, as the number of avowed Old Catholics was insignificant in comparison with the infallibilists, and as the' state governments were unwilling to interfere in a matter of a strictly ecclesiastical character. For the latter reason they equally refused to comply with the request of the bishops no longer to regard the Old Catholics as members of the Catholic Church. Thus no course was left open to the state authorities but to recognize both parties as members of the Catholic Church, with equal rights. This point of view was gradually adopted by the governments of all the German states. Considerable difference of opinion showed itself, however, in the execution of the principle.

The Prussian government exempted the Old Catholics of Wiesbaden from the duty of contributing for the expenses of the Catholic parish; but, on the other hand, excused the Catholic children of the Gymnasium of Braunsberg from attending the religious instruction of the teacher, who had joined the Old Catholics. On the other hand, the Old- Catholic children in Bavarian schools were excused from attending the religious instruction given by infallibilist teachers. At the beginning of 1872 the number of priests who had identified themselves with the movement was about thirty. A new impulse was given to it in the spring of that year by lectures which several leaders, like Dollinger, Reinkens, Michelis, Huber, and Friedrich, delivered in various places. In some parts of Germany, as in the Bavarian palatinate and the grand-duchy of Baden, the Old-Catholic societies perfected their organization by meeting in district conferences. In July, 1872, the archbishop of Utrecht accepted an invitation from several Old-Catholic congregations of Germany to administer the sacrament of confirmation to their children, and to this end visited the congregations of Cologne, Munich, Spires, and other towns. Considerable progress in the further organization of the. new Church was made at the second Old-Catholic Congress, which was held in September, 1872, at Cologne, and, like the first, was presided over by Prof. Schulte.

The Congress declared that the adherents of papal infallibility had separated from the true Catholic Church, and organized an ultramontane and-church (Gegenkirche); that the "New-Catholic" bishops had forfeited their rights of jurisdiction over those Catholics who remained faithful to the Old Church, and that the state authorities were in duty bound to protect the Old Catholics in the possession of all their ecclesiastical rights, to recognize their bishops and priests, to grant to their congregations corporate rights, to exempt them from the duty of contributing to the expenses of the New-Catholic worship, to secure them the simultaneous use of the ecclesiastical edifices, .and a share in the Church property; and, finally, to provide in the public expenditures for Catholic Church purposes an endowment for Old-Catholic bishops, priests, and churches. The election of an Old-Catholic bishop by the clergy and delegates of the congregations was taken into consideration, and it was provided that as long. as the Old Catholics had no bishops of their own, the bishops of the Old Catholics of Holland, and those bishops of the United Armenian Church who occupied a similar position with regard to the papacy as the Old Catholics, should be invited to perform those functions which the usage of the Catholic Church reserves to bishops. All other reforms were postponed to the time when a regular Church synod should meet under the presidency of a bishop; but the Congress applauded a declaration of Prof. Friedrich, of the University of Munich, one of the prominent theological scholars of the Church, that the Old-Catholic Church had already grown beyond the bounds originally observed, and that it was no longer exclusively directed against papal in infallibility, but against an entire system of errors of one thousand years, which had its climax in this novel doctrine of infallibility. "By the compulsion of the bishops," the speaker remarked, "we are pushed forward on the road to reforms."

The Congress, on the other hand, decidedly disapproved the arbitrary advances in this direction by individual congregations and priests, like father Hyacinthe, who, without waiting for the abolition of priestly celibacy by the proper Church authorities, had entered the state of marriage. A special interest was shown in the project of a reunion of the large, divisions of Christendom, and a special committee was appointed, with Dr. Dollinger as chairman, to enter into negotiations with the Eastern and Anglican churches on this subject. On June 4, 1873, the hierarchical structure of the new Church was completed by the election of Prof. Reinkens. of the University of Breslau, as the first Old-Catholic bishop. The electoral body, which met at Cologne, consisted of all the Old-Catholic priests of the German empire, and delegates of the Old-Catholic congregations and societies. The bishop elect was on Aug. 11 consecrated by bishop Heykamp, of Deventer, of the Old-Catholic Church of Holland, and was recognized as a bishop of the Catholic body by the governments of Prussia, Baden, and Hesse. The government of Bavaria, however, in accordance with a report made on the subject by a committee of jurists, refused to recognize him, although, on the other hand, it also declined to grant the request of the bishop of Augsburg to forbid bishop Reinkens from administering the sacrament of confirmation in Bavaria. The third Old- Catholic Congress, held in September, 1873, at Constance, adopted a synodal constitution of the Church, which, however, was expressly designated as provisional, in order to reserve all the rights of the Old Catholics to the property of the Catholic Church in Germany. The synodal constitution, in many points, resembles that of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. The diocesan, provincial, and general synods consist of priests and lay delegates. At the head of the diocese stands the bishop, who is assisted by a vicar-general and a synodal committee (Synodal reprasentanz), consisting of four priests and five laymen.

The diocesan synod, which meets annually under the presidency of the bishop, consists of all the priests of the diocese and of lay delegates, each delegate representing two hundred constituents. The work of the synod is prepared by the synodal committee; amendments are admitted when signed by at least twelve members; resolutions, petitions, remonstrances, etc., can only be discussed when notice of them has been given at least fourteen days before the opening of the synod. The resolutions are passed by an absolute majority of votes; but all resolutions not passed by a two-thirds majority are suspended at the request of either the minority of the synod or the synodal committee, until their discussion and readoption by the next synod. In regard to affairs strictly religious, the congregation is administered by the pastor and by the bishops; in all other matters it is represented by the Church Council and the Congregational Assembly. The Church Council, which consists of from six to eighteen members, administers the property of the congregation, represents it in all legal questions, establishes the budget, appoints the sexton and organist, makes the necessary preparations for the care of the poor, convokes the Congregational Assembly, and carries on correspondence with other congregations. The Church Council chooses its own president. The Congregational Assembly, in which all the adult male members of the congregation who are in possession of their civic rights take part, ratifies the budget, apportions the taxes, elects the pastor, the Church Council, and the delegates to the synod.

The pastor is confirmed by the bishop, in conformity with the existing state laws, and installed in his office. He can only be removed for a legal reason, and after a formal proceeding by the synod. Besides the adoption of the Church constitution, the Congress discussed the subject of the reunion of the Christian churches; and, to carry out its views the more efficiently, appointed special committees for negotiations with the Greek and with the Anglican churches. In accordance with the new constitution of the Church. the first Old-Catholic Synod met at Bonn in August, 1874. It was attended by thirty priests and fifty-nine lay delegates. The synod adopted the Church constitution which had been agreed upon by the Congress of Constance, passed resolutions on Church reforms in general, and issued a series of declarations on auricular confession, on fasting and abstinence, and on the use of the native tongue in divine service. The synod pointed out a number of desirable reforms which might be carried out without any change of Church legislation, as the abolition of abusive practices in connection with indulgences and the veneration:of saints, the administration of the sacrament of penance, etc. It appeared to be the unanimous sentiment that all reforms in the Church should proceed from the synod, and that individual clergymen and congregations should abstain from arbitrary changes. In regard to confession, it was resolved that the practice of private confession should be retained, but that it should be freed from Romish corruptions, and brought back to the purity of the ancient Christian Church. Similar resolutions were passed with regard to fasting and abstinence. No action was taken on the abolition of priestly celibacy, which was proposed by several congregations, but it was postponed to a later synod. Two committees. were appointed to prepare, the one a draft for a new ritual in the native tongue, the other a catechism and a Biblical history.

The synod also elected six synodal examiners, four of whom were priests and two laymen. From a statistical report made to this synod it appears that in May, 1874, there were in Prussia 31 congregations fully organized and 16 in the course of organization; in Bavaria, 51 congregations; in Baden, 31 congregations and societies. The number of Old-Catholic priests was 41, and that of students of theology 12. The latter studied at the University of Bonn, where a majority of the professors of the theological faculty had joined the movement. The fourth Old-Catholic Congress, which was held in September, 1874, at Freiburg, devoted its attention chiefly to the subject of Church property, demanding that wherever a formal separation between the adherents of the Vaticah Council and the Old Catholics should take place, the latter should receive a proportionate part of the Church property. One of the favorite projects of the Old-Catholic leaders, the holding of a Union Conference between Old Catholic, the Eastern Church, and Anglican theologians, for the purpose of discussing the best means for reuniting these large divisions of the Christian Church, was carried out in September, 1874. The first Union Conference of these theologians met at Bonn, under the presidency of Dr. Dollinger. The theologians of all the three churches agreed that the differences on doctrinal points which divided the three churches were not insuperable.

The Old Catholics and Anglicans conceded to the Eastern theologians that the words Filioque (q.v.) were added to the Nicene Creed in an illegal manner, and that, with a view to fiuture peace and unity, it is desirable to examine the question whether the creed can be restored to its original form without sacrificing a doctrine expressed in the form at present used by the Occidental churches. The agreement by the Old Catholics to several doctrinal theses adopted by this conference indicates a further progress in the departure of the Old Catholic movement from the doctrinal system of the Church of Rome. Among the most important of these theses were the following: The apocryphal books of the Old Testament are declared to be not canonical in the same sense as the books contained in the Hebrew canon; no translation of Holy Writ can claim a higher authority than the original text; divine service should be celebrated in a language understood by the people, the doctrine that superabundant merits of the saints can be transferred to others, either by the heads of the Church or by the authors of the good works, is untenable; the number of sacraments was for the first time fixed at seven in the 12th century, and this became a doctrine of the Church, not as a tradition of the Church received from the apostles or earliest times, but as the result of theological speculation; the new Rorpan doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin is at variance with the tradition of the first thirteen centuries; indulgence can only refer to penances which have really been imposed by the Church herself. The second Old-Catholic Synod, which was held at Bonn in January, 1875, adopted the draft of a German liturgy, and recommended its introduction to the congregations. Most of the resolutions passed by this synod aimed at completing the organization of the Church. In regard to the abolition of priestly celibacy, opinions still differed very widely, and action on the subject was again postponed. From the statistical reports made to the synod it appeared that on March 31, 1875, the number of Old-Catholic congregations was 98, with 14,766 adult members, and a total population of 44,886. The number of Old-Catholic priests was 53, and of Old-Catholic students of theology at the University of Bonn 11.

Of the congregations, 32 belonged to Prussia, 35 to Baden, 26 to Bavaria, 3 to Hesse, 1 to Wurtemberg, and 1 to Oldenburg. These figures were, however, far from exhibiting the total strength of the Old Catholics, for a number of societies had not sent in the lists of membership in time. A second Union Conference of theologians of the Old-Catholic, Oriental, and Anglican churches, again presided over by Dr. Dollinger, was held at Bonn in August, 1875. After long and animated discussions, a resolution was adopted that the three churches agreed in receiving the Πcumenical symbols and the doctrinal decisions of the ancient undivided Church, and in acknowledging the representations of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost as set forth by the fathers of the undivided Church. The third Old-Catholic Synod was held at Bonn in June, 1876. From the statistical report it appears that the greatest progress during the year had been made in the grand-duchy of Baden, where there had been an increase of 10 congregations, 6 ministers, 1182 men, and 2210 persons. In Prussia 2 new congregations had been organized, 1 new parish had been established, and 6 societies had been recognised by the government. The increase in the number of clergymen was 3, in that of men 263, and in total population 1759. In the grand-duchy of Hesse 2, and in Oldenburg 1 new congregation had been formed. The reports from Bavaria were incomplete and unsatisfactory. In some places there had been a decline, and on the whole there had been no progress. . Without Bavaria there were 87 congregations (last year 72), and an increase of 1624 men and 4434 souls. The number of priests has increased since 1873 from 30 to 60.

2. The first German state which regulated by law the affairs of the Old Catholics, and particularly their claim to a proportionate share of the property of the Catholic Church, was the grand-duchy of Baden. The law, which was sanctioned by the grand-duke in May, recognises the equal rights of Old Catholics to the property of the Catholic Church. protects Old-Catholic holders of Catholic benefices, provides for the organization of independent Old-Catholic congregations, and secures to them the simultaneous use of ecclesiastical edifices and utensils. Wherever the majority of any Catholic congregation declares in favor of Old Catholicism, it is to remain in possession of the Catholic church and its property, but must concede to the other party a simultaneous use of the church. A similar law was promulgated in Prussia in July, 1875.

In the Austro-Hungarian monarchy the organization of Old-Catholic congregations Was attempted at many places, and in Austria Proper the Liberal majority of the Lower House of Parliament favored the recognition of their rights by a special law. But the government refused to recognize them in any way, and the Upper House of Parliament. in 1875, refused to concur in the favoring resolutions passed by the other branch. One of the ministers declared, however, on this occasion, that the government would no longer oppose the establishment of Old-Catholic congregations. Accordingly, in February, 1876, delegates of five congregations met at Vienna and drew up a synodal constitution of the Church, similar to that adopted in Germany, and presented it to the government for approval.

In Switzerland the governments of most of the cantons took at once a decided stand in supporting the parish priests who refused to submit to the Vatican Council against their bishops. A central committee was formed to organize the movement throughout Switzerland, and most of the prominent leaders of the Liberal Catholics took an active part in it. The committee drew up a "Constitution for the Christian Catholic churches in Switzerland," which was similar to the one that had been adopted in Constance for the Old Catholics of Germany. A convention of the societies of Liberal Catholics, held at Olten, in the canton of Solothurn, on June 15, 1874, adopted the main points of this draft; a second convention held in the same town on Sept. 21 sanctioned the entire organization. The first synod of the Church, for which the name Christian Catholic (Christkatholisch) was preferred to Old Catholic, was held at Olten on June 14,1875. It finally adopted the Church constitution which had been drawn up by the central committee, and made all the necessary arrangements for the appointment of a synodal council, but postponed the election of a bishop. The synodal council was appointed on Aug. 30, 1875. At its first meeting, held at Olten Sept. 2, the synodal council resolved to arrange the proper manner of examining the candidates for the priesthood, and to appoint two committees, one for drafting a ritual and missal on the basis of those prepared by Hirscher (q.v.), and the other for defining the attitude to be observed by Old-Catholic priests with regard to the new federal laws on civil marriage. The congregations were permitted to make their own selection among the different Church vestments used in the Catholic Church, and to introduce the native tongue into divine service; it also declared the Church commandment to go to confession at least once a year no' longer obligatory.

Further legislation on these and other proposed reforms was reserved for the next meeting of the synod. In regard to the election of a bishop, it appeared desirable to obtain previously the consent of the Federal Council of Switzerland, as the new constitution of Switzerland provides that new bishoprics are only to be established with the consent of the federal council. This consent was given in April, 1876, and the election of the first bishop of the Christian-Catholic Church accordingly took place in June, 1876. The progress of the Old-Catholic movement has been especially favored by the cantonal governments of Berne and Geneva, which by new laws regulated the legal condition of the Catholic Church; and when the Ultramontane party refused to recognize the new laws, deposed all the refractory priests, and turned the churches and the Church property over to the Old Catholics. The government of Berne also founded a faculty of Old-Catholic theology in connection with the University of Berne. In Geneva serious difficulties arose among the Old Catholics themselves, in consequence of which abbe Loyson better known under his former monastic name of father Hyacinthe resigned the position of president of the Old-Catholic Church Council. In March, 1876, the Old Catholics in all Switzerland numbered 54 congregations, and 26 societies not yet organized, with an aggregate population of 72,880 persons.

In Italy the Old-Catholic movement found many sympathizers, and among them some very prominent names, like father Passaglia, a celebrated Jesuit author, and the marchese Guerrini-Gonzage. A committee of agitation was established' in Rome, and in 1875 the delegates of a number of congregations met in Naples and elected a bishop.

In all other countries the movement has as yet not gained any firm footing. In Madrid an Old-Catholic committee was constituted, and a large number of priests were reported to have joined it; but nothing has been heard of it since the restoration of the Bourbons. In France two distinguished priests, father Hyacinthe and abbe Michaud, took a very active interest in the movement, but no congregations could be formed. England was represented at some of the Old-Catholic congresses of Germany by lord Acton and others; but up to May, 1876, no congregations had been formed.

3. The leaders of the Old-Catholic movement express themselves hopeful in regard to the future. Inclusive of the Church of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, with which they entirely agree, they had in June, 1876, six bishops, and a population of about 140,000. But the number of those who, while fully sympathizing with them, have not yet severed their connection with the papal Church they believe to be immensely larger, and they expect a rapid increase as soon as they obtain from the state governments the same efficient protection which is accorded to them in Baden, Prussia, and some of the Swiss cantons. They have in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria a number of periodicals, the most important of which are the Deutsche Merkur (a weekly), in Munich, and the Theologische Literaturblatt, of Bonn. See Reinkens, Ueber den Ursprung der jetzigen Kirchenbewegung (Cologne, 1872); Nippold, Ursprung, Umfung, Hemninisse und Aussichten der altkatholischen Bewegung (Berlin, 1873); PBre Hyacinthe, De laReforme Catholique (Paris, 1872); Michaud, P rogramne de Ref orme de l'Eglise d'Occident (ibid. 1872); Frommann, Gesch. u. Kritik. d Vat. Concil. v. 1869-70 (Gotha, 1872); Whettle, Cathoiicism and the Vatican (Dublin, 1872); Theodorus. The New ReJbrmation (Lond. 1874, 8vo). The most valuable sources for the history of the movement are the official report on the Old-Catholic congresses, the synods, and the union conferences. Quite fill extracts and a trustworthy synopsis have been regularly given in the Meth. Qu. Rev. (from 1869 to 1876). See also Amer. Ch. Rev. July, 1873, art. i; (Lond.) Qu. Rev. July, 1872. art. iii; Brit. Qu. Rev. July, 1873, art. iii; Contemp. Rev. Dec. 1871, art. viii; Nov. 1872; New Englander, April, 1874, art. viii; Christian Qu. Oct. 1872, art. 4:(A. J. S )

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [2]

A section of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany and Switzerland that first announced itself in Münich on the declaration in 1870 of the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope, the prime movers in the formation of the protestation against which were Dr. Döllinger and Professor Friedrich, backed by 44 professors of the university; the movement thus begun has not extended itself to any considerable extent.