Old Catholics

views updated May 14 2018


A loosely associated group of autonomous communities brought together in the Union of Utrecht (1889) under the presidency of the archbishop of Utrecht. The term Old Catholic implies that vatican council i introduced into the Roman Catholic Church innovations that left Old Catholicism as the repository of traditional Catholic beliefs. The Old Catholic Church has been colored by many Protestant influences, but it is not a Protestant body. All Old Catholic Churches are strongly influenced by 19th-century nationalism; but none of them is an established state church.

History. The Schism of utrecht, which began early in the 18th century, anteceded the Old Catholic movement, which it later joined. Its following was very small by 1870 when a considerable number of Catholic priests and laymen in Germany refused to accept the definitions of Vatican Council I on papal infallibility and primacy. febronianism and josephinism, particularly as it was expounded by Ignaz von wessenburg, greatly influenced the thinking of these men. Ignaz von dÖllinger, Johann friedrich, Franz reusch, Johann von Schulte, and other scholars who opposed the Vatican Council's decrees on the papacy exerted still greater influence. Many laymen in these groups belonged to the upper middle class and were also strongly influenced by secularism and nationalism.

In September 1871 at Munich, 300 representatives met to organize the Old Catholic movement; a similar congress gathered in Cologne in 1872. Episcopal leadership was lacking because the entire Catholic hierarchy subscribed to the Vatican Council's decrees. To obtain a validly consecrated bishop, the Old Catholics chose Joseph Reinkens as bishop (June 1873). He was then consecrated by Bp. Heykamp of Deventer in the Netherlands, who belonged to the Little Church of Utrecht (OBC). Döllinger, whose relations with the Old Catholics were always ambiguous, refused to become involved in organized schism and eventually broke completely with the movement because of its innovations. The leaders of the kulturkampf supported the Old Catholics. In Prussia and Baden the government granted them a subsidy and a share of Catholic Church property. In Switzerland the schismatics called themselves Christ katholiken ; they were more influenced by secularism and theological liberalism than their associates in Germany, but they failed to gain a wide following. Austria likewise produced an inconsiderable number of Old Catholics.

Polish nationalism gave rise to the polish national catholic church, which admits intercommunion with Old Catholics and Anglicans and subscribes to the Declaration of Utrecht. Inability to accomodate to a non-Polish priesthood and quarrels over education and the administration of church property led in 1897 to the establishment of a breakaway church in Scranton, Pa., that absorbed earlier Polish dissident groups and created a diocese under the jurisdiction of Francis Hodur. Hodur was consecrated bishop in 1907 by bishops of the OBC.

In Poland the mystical sect of mariavites began in 1906 and spread rapidly. At the Old Catholic Congress in Vienna (1909), General Kiréev, a Russian religious enthusiast, presented three Mariavite priests. One of them, John Kowalski, was consecrated bishop in Utrecht by Old Catholic bishops.

Doctrine and Discipline. The autonomous episcopates constituting the Old Catholic community have as a common doctrinal basis the Declaration of Utrecht (1889). However, the Polish National Church and the Swiss Christkatholisch Church maintain beliefs out of harmony with this declaration. In accordance with this document Old Catholics accept the decrees of the first eight ecumenical councils. (Until 1889 some Old Catholics considered themselves bound by the Tridentine decrees.) They admit Sacred Scripture and tradition as sources of revelation; but their notion of tradition differs from the Roman Catholic one. The bishop of Rome is recognized as having merely a primacy of honor, but not a primacy of jurisdiction or infallibility as defined in Vatican Council I. On the one hand, Old Catholics reject both the dogmas of papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception. On the other hand, they admit seven sacraments, acknowledge the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and recognize the apostolic succession. Auricular confession is optional; sins may be confessed before the congregation or a priest. Clerical celibacy has been abolished. The liturgy resembles the Roman one and is celebrated in the vernacular. Liturgical vestments are the same as the Roman ones.

Each bishopric is autonomous and is governed by a bishop, who in turn must abide by the canons enacted by clerical and lay members of synods, the highest authority. Synods also elect bishops. Since 1889 the Old Catholic archbishop of Utrecht has been president of the International Old Catholic Congress. As a result of an agreement reached in Bonn (1931), intercommunion with the Anglicans has since existed. Each group recognizes the catholicity and independence of the other and admits members of the other communion to participate in its sacraments.

Bibliography: c. b. moss, The Old Catholic Movement: Its Origins and History (2d ed. London 1964), by an Anglican. j. f. von schulte, Der Altkatholizismus (Giessen 1887), by an Old Catholic. j. troxler, Die neuere Entwicklung des Altkatholizismus (Cologne 1908). v. conzemius, "Aspects ecclésiologiques de l'évolution de Döllinger et du vieux Catholicisme," Revue des sciences religieuses 34 (1960) 247279. p. gschwind, Geschichte der Entstehung der christkatholischen Kirche der Schweiz, 2 v. (Bern 190410). w. h. de voil and h. d. wynne-bennett, Old Catholic Eucharistic Worship (New York 1936). p. anson, Bishops at Large (London 1964). k. pruter, A History of the Old Catholic Church (Scottsdale, Ariz. 1973). k. pruter and j. g. melton, The Old Catholic Sourcebook (New York 1983)

[s. j. tonsor/eds.]

Old Catholics

views updated Jun 08 2018

Old Catholics. Christians who adhere (according to the declaration of their bishops in 1889) to the Vincentian Canon, not in order to resist all change, but in order to guard against unwarranted innovation. The roots of the separation of Old Catholic Churches go back to the post-Reformation debates in the Netherlands: the Jansenist Church of Utrecht retained the apostolic succession after its separation from Rome in 1724 and was later able to supply valid consecration of bishops. The major breach occurred as a consequence of the Vatican I proclamation of papal infallibility. In 1889, the newly called Old Catholic Churches united in the Union of Utrecht. Old Catholics recognize the seven ecumenical Councils and the teachings of the undivided Church before the Great Schism of 1054.

Old Catholics

views updated May 29 2018

Old Catholics Religious movement rejecting the dogma of Papal Infallibility, which had been announced by the First Vatican Council of 1870. The Old Catholics set up churches in German- and Dutch-speaking Europe, which later united in the Union of Utrecht in 1889. Since then the Archbishop of Utrecht has been head of the International Old Catholic Congress. Old Catholics have much affinity with Anglicans.