The New International Encyclopædia/Old Catholics

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OLD CATHOLICS. A religious communion, found principally in Germany and Switzerland, which owed its origin to certain Roman Catholics who refused to accept the dogma of infallibility passed by the Vatican Council (q.v.), July 18, 1870. Before the Council assembled it was known that such a dogma would be discussed, and a determined opposition to it developed. Foremost among the opponents was the Munich professor Ignaz von Döllinger (q.v.), and after the dogma was promulgated he headed a gathering at Nuremberg, August 27, 1870, of professors from Bonn, Breslau, Braunsberg, Munich, Münster, Prague, Würzburg, and elsewhere, who sent forth a protest. The chief signers of the protest were deposed or excommunicated. Nevertheless, they persisted in the advocacy of their belief and found sympathizers. On September 22-24, 1871, the first Old Catholic Congress met at Munich, attended by about 300 delegates from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and friends from Holland, France, Russia, England, and other countries. In the resolutions adopted the congress defined its theological status. Döllinger was not in favor of forming an ecclesiastical organization, but the majority determined upon it. A large number of Old Catholic congregations sprang up in many places in Germany. The second congress met at Cologne, September 20-22, 1872; provision was made for the election of a bishop, intercommunion with the Eastern and Anglican churches was sought, and a claim to recognition by the State, with a share of the Church property, was asserted. Joseph Hubert Reinkens (q.v.), professor of theology in the University of Breslau, was elected bishop in the following June and consecrated in August at Rotterdam by Heycamp, Jansenist Bishop of Deventer. He continued to serve till his death, January 4, 1896, when he was succeeded by Theodor Weber, who had been consecrated co-adjutor bishop the preceding year. Old Catholic bishops have been recognized by the governments of Baden, Hesse, and Prussia, and the latter has granted them a share in the ecclesiastical property. The third congress, held at Constance, September, 1873, further perfected the organization, and in the following year the Church was able to report 132 parishes and societies in Germany, with about 25,000 members, 41 priests, and 12 theological students. After the fourth congress (at Baden, 1874), a conference aiming at Church unity was held at Bonn. Dr. Döllinger presided, and representatives of the Eastern and Anglican churches partioipated.

The bishops of the Old Catholic Church in Germany are chosen by the clergy and people together. Its synods are representative bodies having the initiative in legislation. It rejects the doctrines of infallibility and the immaculate conception, the obligation to confess, and priestly absolution. Indulgences and the veneration of saints are modified. Many ecclesiastical taxes are abolished, and the mass is recited in the vernacular. The priests are allowed to marry. Unions for church improvement and charitable work have been formed. Between 1887 and 1900, 800,000 marks were spent in church building. The Altkatholischer Press- und Schriftenverein had, in 1900, 1476 members in about 200 places. The Altkatholischer Schwesternverein in Bonn maintains a deaconess work. The Amalie von Lasaulx Haus is a training institute for nurses at Essen. The Charitas mutual benevolent or burial society had 1742 members in 1900. An orphans' home was founded at Bonn in 1897. In 1901 there were 59 Old Catholic priests in Germany, and from 50,000 to 60,000 adherents.

The movement early took root in Switzerland, especially in Geneva, and resulted in 1873 in the formation of the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland. Eduard Herzog (q.v.) was chosen bishop in 1870. In 1901 there were 41 congregations, 56 priests, with Dr. Thürlings as theological professor in the University of Bern, and 50,000 adherents.

In Austria the Old Catholic Church has 24 parishes and upward of 16,000 members. Dr. Amandus Czech of Warnsdorf has been chosen bishop, but not consecrated, the Government withholding its consent until adequate provision for an episcopal fund shall have been made. The Old Catliolic Union of Austria has been organized to promote the work of the Church, and has local branches in some of the larger towns. A sisters' home was established at Warnsdorf in 1899. The progress of the Old Catholic Church in the Austrian Empire has been assisted in late years, particularly in Bohemia and Styria, by a popular movement whose battle-cry is ‘Los von Rom.’ It began with the publication in 1898 of a tract by an Old Catholic priest, Anton Nittel of Warnsdorf. At first political motives influenced the movement, but it has assumed more of a religious character as it has gone on. At the international Old Catholic congress in 1902 Bishop-elect Czech said that 7000 members had been added to the Church through the ‘Los von Rom’ movement. A report published in 1902 gave the entire number of new members in the Old Catholic churches in Bohemia, Moravia, Styria, Upper Austria, and Vienna as 8114, as compared with 18,082 who had joined the Lutheran and Reformed churches.

In Holland the Jansenist Church (see Jansenism), which is affiliated with the movement, has 3 bishops, 8000 adherents, and 30 priests. In Italy there are 8 congregations and 10 priests; in Spain, 3000 adherents and 11 priests. In France the ‘Gallican Church’ at Paris, founded by Père Hyacinthe (see Loyson, Charles), now under the charge of the Bishop of Utrecht, is in sympathy with the movement. There are also a few of the communion in Portugal and Mexico. The so-called Independent Catholic Church in the United States (q.v.), founded by the Rev. Anthony Koszlowski among the Polish immigrants in Chicago, has been generally regarded as representing the movement in America. There have also been a few congregations in Wisconsin. They have a bishop, René Vilatte. International Old Catholic congresses have been held at Cologne (in 1890), Lucerne (1892), Rotterdam (1894), Vienna (1897), and Bonn (1902).

A number of Old Catholic periodicals are published: the Internationale theologische Zeitschrift (Revue Internationale de théologie), quarterly, Bern; Amtliches altkatholisches Kirchenblatt, occasional, Bonn; Deutscher Merkur, weekly, ib.; Altkatholisches Volksblatt, weekly, ib.; Der Katholik, weekly, Bern; Le Catholique National, weekly, ib.; De Oud Katholick, monthly, Rotterdam; Le Catholique Français, monthly, Paris; Il Labaro, monthly, San Remo; Girolamo Savonarola, weekly, Piacenza; La Luz, Madrid.

The literature is voluminous. The reports of the congresses, synods, etc., the pastoral letters, addresses, and other publications of the bishops and leaders, and the periodicals, particularly the Deutscher Merkur, give detailed information of the progress of the work. For its origin, consult Friedberg, Sammlung der Aktenstücke zum ersten vatikanischen Konzil (Tübingen, 1872), and Aktenstücke, die altkatholische Bewegung betreffend, mit einem Grundriss der Geschichte derselben (ib., 1876). Consult, also, Herzog, Beiträge zur Vorgeschichte der christkatholischen Kirche der Schweiz (Bern, 1896); Nippold, Die Anfänge der christkatholischen Bewegung in der Schweiz und der Los-von-Rom Bewegung in Oesterreich (Bern, 1901). For the history of the movement, consult von Schulte, Der Altkatholizismus (Giessen, 1887), and the article “Altkatholizismus” by the same author in the Hauck-Herzog Realencyclopädie, which is complete and authoritative for Germany to 1896. Hergenröther, Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchengeschichte, vol. ii. (3d ed., Freiburg, 1884), treats the movement from the Roman Catholic standpoint. A popular account in English may be found in an article by Beyschlag, “The Origin and Development of the Old Catholic Movement,” in the American Journal of Theology, vol. ii. (1898).