The American Cyclopædia (1879)/German Catholics

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GERMAN CATHOLICS (Deutschkatholiken), a religious denomination, formed in 1844 by secession from the Roman Catholic church of Germany. It owed its origin mainly to a letter written Oct. 1, 1844, by Johannes Ronge, an excommunicated priest of Silesia, to Bishop Arnoldi of Treves, in which the exhibition of the holy coat of Treves was called an idolatrous festival, and the bishop was called upon to suppress it. In the Prussian province of Posen another Catholic priest, Johann Czerski, had already declared on Aug. 22 his secession from the Roman Catholic church, and had attempted the foundation of a Christian apostolic Catholic congregation. After the publication of the letter of Ronge these two united, and a number of congregations, who called themselves German Catholics, sprang up within a short time. The “Confession of Schneidemühl,” drawn up by Czerski, rejected the reception by the priests alone of the Lord's supper in both kinds, the canonization and invocation of saints, indulgences and purgatory, fasting, the use of the Latin language in divine service, the celibacy of priests, the prohibition of mixed marriages, the supremacy of the pope, and other points. They retained the seven sacraments and the mass, which they celebrated in the vernacular language. The “Confession of Breslau,” which set forth the views of Ronge, also claimed free investigation of the Bible and freedom of belief for every individual member. A council which met at Leipsic, March 22, 1845, adopted a new creed mostly based on the “Confession of Breslau.” From this time the principles of German Catholicism spread very rapidly. The attitude of the governments with regard to it was very diverse. In Austria and Bavaria it was even forbidden to use the name. A serious obstacle to the growth of the new religious denomination was found in their internal dissensions. There had been from the beginning a radical disagreement between Ronge and Czerski. The latter agreed in general with the doctrines of orthodox Protestantism, while the former adopted almost all the views of the Protestant rationalists. Czerski issued a circular (“New Confession of Schneidemühl”) against those who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. An attempt to unite the two parties on a common platform was made in an assembly at Rawicz, February, 1846, but it had not the desired effect. The revolutions of 1848 seemed to be very favorable, and some additions were made to their congregations in Austria and Bavaria; but after their suppression German Catholicism was again prohibited in those countries. The second council of Leipsic, which met in May, 1850, had to be transferred to Köthen on account of the interference of the police; it proposed an alliance with the Free congregations, which had formed themselves by secession from the Protestant churches, and the election of a joint executive committee from both denominations, which was to act as a presiding board until the meeting of a triennial diet, which was appointed for 1852, but it did not meet. In June, 1859, the representatives of the German Catholics and Free congregations met at Gotha, where a union between the two parties was effected under the name of Bund freireligiöser Gemeinden. In 1862, however, they were again divided, and the majority of the German Catholics joined the national Protestant church. — The fullest history of German Catholicism is given by Kampe, Geschichte der religiösen Bewegungen der neuern Zeit (4 vols., Leipsic, 1852-'60).