Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Old Catholics

OLD CATHOLICS, the self-assumed name of a new party in religious Christendom, which, like the Reformers of the 16th century, has for its avowed aim the restoration of the ancient standard of Christian belief and practice; but, while the Reformers took for their model the supposed doctrines and institutions of the apostolic age, the Old Catholics have agreed to accept the decrees of the first seven general councils (down to the second of Nicæa, 787 A.D.) as authoritative and binding on the church at large. Like the Reformation, Old Catholicism may be said to have had its representatives within the Roman Church long before its formal organization; but the immediate occasion of the movement arose out of the assembling of the œcumenical council at Rome in 1869 by Pope Pius IX. That pontiff had previously given indications of a tendency towards a reactionary policy which contrasted strongly with the liberal measures which characterized his earlier career. Of such indications the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (8th December 1854) and the “Syllabus” of 1864 were the most notable instances. The “Syllabus” was a formal repudiation of the chief doctrines and theories which during the preceding twenty years had been put forward by writers of various schools of thought, but representing opinions unfavourable to the teachings of Catholicism or the claims of the Papacy; and speculations which called in question the existence of a Divine Being were condemned in the same category with views inimical to the temporal power of the Roman curia. It was for the purpose of giving more emphatic recognition and sanction to the tenets of the “Syllabus” that the œcumenical council of 1869 was professedly convened, and the announcement that such a solemn expression of the convictions of the church at large was thus to be invited was hailed by the organs of the Catholic press throughout Europe with unqualified approval. Not until the council was on the eve of assembling did it become vaguely rumoured that among the doctrines which would be brought forward for its acceptance and ratification was that of the Papal Infallibility. The mere report was, however, looked upon as a matter of such grave import that Prince Hohenlohe, the chief minister of Bavaria, was induced to use the most strenuous exertions to prevail upon the Catholic powers to combine to prevent the promulgation of such a dogma, but without success.

The council which assembled at Rome (8th December 1869) was more deserving of the name of “œcumenical” than any which had ever before obeyed the behest of emperor or pope, being attended by delegates from nearly all parts of the world. It included 49 cardinals, 9 patriarchs of the Eastern communion, 4 primates, 121 archbishops, 479 bishops, and 52 abbots and other monastic dignitaries. The total number on the day of opening was 719, increased by the 15th of January to 744. As a representative body it was, however, very unequally composed, the numerous holders of Italian bishoprics (many of which are of but small extent) constituting a large majority of the entire number. A proposal to rectify this practical inequality by dividing the whole council into eight or six sections representing national elements was summarily rejected. On the other hand, the superiority of the minority in learning and reputation was obvious. It included such names as Schwarzenberg, Mathieu, Darboy, Rauscher, Simor, Ginoulhiac, MacHale, Dupanloup, Ketteler, Strossmayer, Clifford, Kenrick, Maret, and Hefele; while in the long list of those who eventually recorded their placets in favour of the new decree scarcely a name of real eminence appears. Dr Döllinger, the foremost scholar of Catholic Germany, was not among the “fathers” of the council, but his disapproval of the new dogma was notorious, as also was that of the Comte de Montalembert in France. After protracted sittings, extending over seven months, and characterized mainly by a series of discreditable manœuvres designed to break the firm phalanx of the minority, who could only record their protests and utter eloquent remonstrances, the Constitutio (as it was termed) was finally laid before the council, and carried with eighty-eight dissentients, while ninety-one abstained altogether from recording any vote. The supremacy of the Roman pontiff over even an œcumenical council was thus declared in terms more explicit and emphatic than had ever before been employed (Friedrich, Documenta, ii. 316), while the new dogma was enunciated in the following terms:—

“We teach and define . . . that the Roman pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of his office of Pastor and Doctor of all Christians he defines, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, is endowed with the divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, with that infallibility with which our divine Redeemer willed that the church should be furnished in defining doctrine of faith or morals, and, therefore, that such definitions of the Roman pontiff are irreformable of themselves and not in virtue of the consent of the church.”

When the above dogma was promulgated in its entirety (18th July 1870) in the presence of 535 fathers, only two dissentient votes were recorded. The rest of the minority had decided on quitting Rome before the final event, a resolution confirmed by the oppressive heat of the weather and the threatening aspect of the political horizon. It has since been asserted on good authority that the action of the Papal party was largely influenced by the empress of France and her advisers; and it cannot be doubted that at Rome, not less than in Paris, it was ardently hoped that this bold proclamation of Ultramontanist doctrine would have been followed by the triumph of the French arms over those of Prussia.

The conduct of the different members of the opposition on their return to the isolation of their respective dioceses can only be described as a series of pitiable tergiversations. The “sacrificio dell' intelletto,” as it was termed, was the plausible maxim adopted by one and all. Seventeen of the German bishops almost immediately receded from the position they had taken up at Rome and gave in their assent to the dogma, publishing at the same time a pastoral letter in which they sought to justify their change of sentiment on the ground of expediency in relation to the interests of the church (Michelis, Der neue Fuldaer Hirtenbrief, 1870). Their example was followed by all the other bishops of Germany as well as by those of Bavaria. Darboy and Dupanloup in France adopted a like course and took with them the entire body of the Gallican clergy. Each bishop demanded in turn the same submission from the clergy of his diocese, the alternative being suspension from pastoral functions, to be followed by deprivation of office. It may be urged as some extenuation of this general abandonment of a great principle, that those who had refused to subscribe to the dogma received but languid support, and in some cases direct discouragement, from their respective Governments. The submission of the illustrious Hefele was generally attributed to the influence exerted by the court of Würtemberg.

The universities, being less directly under the control of the church, were prepared to show a bolder front. Dr von Schulte, professor at Prague, was one of the first to publish a formal protest. A meeting of Catholic professors and distinguished scholars convened at Nuremberg (August 1870) recorded a like dissent, and resolved on the adoption of measures for bringing about the assembling of a really free council north of the Alps. The “Appel aux Evêques Catholiques” of M. Hyacinthe Loyson (better known as “Father Hyacinthe”), after referring to the overthrow of “the two despotisms,” “the empire of the Napoleons and the temporal power of the popes,” appealed to the Catholic bishops throughout the world to put an end to the schism by declaring whether the recent decrees were or were not binding on the faith of the church. This appeal, on its appearance in La Libertà early in 1871, was suppressed by the order of the king of Italy. On the 28th of March Dr Döllinger, in a letter of some length, set forth the reasons which compelled him also to withhold his submission alike as “a Christian, a theologian, an historical student, and a citizen.” The publication of this letter was shortly followed by a sentence of excommunication pronounced against Dr Döllinger and Professor Friedrich, and read to the different congregations from the pulpits of Munich. The professors of the university, on the other hand, had shortly before evinced their resolution of affording Dr Döllinger all the moral support in their power by an address (3d April 1871) in which they denounced the Vatican decrees with unsparing severity, declaring that, at the very time when the German people had “won for themselves the post of honour on the battlefield among the nations of the earth,” the German bishops had stooped to the dishonouring task of “forcing consciences in the service of an unchristian tyranny, of reducing many pious and upright men to distress and want, and of persecuting those who had but stood steadfast in their allegiance to the ancient faith” (Friedberg, Aktenstücke z. ersten Vaticanischen Concil, p. 187). An address to the king, drawn up a few days later, received the signatures of 12,000 Catholics. The refusal of the rites of the church to one of the signataries, Dr Zenger, when on his deathbed, elicited strong expressions of disapproval; and when, shortly after, it became necessary to fill up by election six vacancies in the council of the university, the feeling of the electors was indicated by the return of candidates who were all distinguished by their avowed dissent from the new decrees. In the following September the demand for another and a free council was responded to by the assembling of such a congress at Munich. It was composed of nearly 500 delegates, convened from almost all parts of the world; but the Teutonic element was now as manifestly predominant as the Latin element had been at Rome. The proceedings were presided over by Professor von Schulte, and lasted three days. Among those who took a prominent part in the deliberations were Landammann Keller, Windscheid, Döllinger, Reinkens, Maassen (professor of the canon law at Vienna), Friedrich, and Huber. The arrangements finally agreed upon were mainly provisional; but one of the resolutions plainly declared that it was desirable if possible to effect a reunion with the Oriental Greek and Russian Churches, and also to arrive at an “understanding” with the Protestant and Episcopal communions.

In the following year lectures were delivered at Munich by various supporters of the new movement, and the learning and oratorical powers of Reinkens were displayed with marked effect. In France the adhesion of the abbé Michaud to the cause attracted considerable interest, not only from his reputation as a preacher, but also from the notable step in advance made by his declaration that, inasmuch as the adoption of the stand-point of the Tridentine canons would render reunion with the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches impossible, the wisest course would be to insist on nothing more with respect to doctrinal belief than was embodied in the canons of the first seven œcumenical councils. The approximation which took place in the same year between the Old Catholics, as they now began to be termed, and the historical little Church of Utrecht must not be left unnoticed. Dr Döllinger, in delivering his inaugural address as rector of the university of Munich, expressed his conviction that theology had received a fresh impulse and that the religious history of Europe was entering upon a new phase.

Other circumstances contributed to invest Old Catholicism with additional importance in the eyes of mere observers. It was evident that the relations between the Roman curia and the Prussian Government were becoming extremely strained. In February 1872 appeared the first measures of the Falk ministry, having for their object the control of the influence of the clergy in the schools; and when Cardinal Hohenlohe presented himself at Rome in the following May the world was startled at the refusal of Pius IX. to receive the accredited minister of the Prussian court. In the same year two humble parish priests, Renftle of Mering in Bavaria and Tangermann of Unkel in the Rhineland, set an example of independence by refusing to accept the decrees. The former, driven from his parish church, was followed by the majority of his congregation, who, in spite of every discouragement, continued faithful to him; and for years after, as successive members were removed by death, the crosses over their graves recorded that they had died “true to their ancient belief.” Tangermann, the poet, expelled in like manner from his parish by the archbishop of Cologne, before long found himself the minister of a much larger congregation in the episcopal city itself. These examples exercised no little influence, and congregations of Old Catholics were shortly after formed at numerous towns and villages in Bavaria, Baden, Prussia, German Switzerland, and even in Austria. At Warnsdorf in Bohemia a congregation was collected which still represents one of the most important centres of the movement. In September the second congress was held at Cologne. It was attended by some 500 delegates or visitors from all parts of Europe, and the English Church was represented by the bishops of Ely and Lincoln and other distinguished members. The general scope of the proceedings was the formation of a more definite organization; and the question of reunion with other churches was again a prominent topic of discussion. Among those present was the late Dean Stanley, and the striking accounts which he forwarded to The Times of the whole congress did much to awaken in England a more widely-extended interest in the movement.

In the month of May in the following year (1873) the celebrated Falk laws were enacted, whereby the articles 15 and 18 of the Prussian constitution were modified, so as to legalize a systematic state supervision over the education of the clergy of all denominations, and also over the appointment and dismissal of all ministers of religion. The measure, which at the time was interpreted as what Prince Bismarck afterwards openly declared it to have been, viz., a direct response to the Vatican decrees, inspired the Old Catholics with a not unreasonable expectation that the moral support of the Government would henceforth be enlisted on their side. On the 11th of August Dr Reinkens, having been duly elected bishop of the new community, received his consecration at Rotterdam, as “missionary-bishop of Germany,” at the hands of Bishop Heykamp of Deventer. The archbishop of Utrecht, on whom it would otherwise have devolved to perform the ceremony, had died somewhat suddenly a few days before, and the Ultramontanists did not scruple to interpret the event as a sign of the divine displeasure. In the meantime the extension of the movement in Switzerland had been proceeding rapidly, and it was resolved that Constance should be elected as the centre for the third congress. The proceedings occupied three days (12th to 14th September), and were of an animated and interesting character,—the intelligence that the Prussian Government had resolved on recognizing the election of Bishop Reinkens contributing not a little to inspirit those who were present. English and American theologians, of widely different schools, listened to the discussions with sympathizing appreciation, and even bore a part. The subjects which chiefly occupied the consideration of the assembly were the institution of a synod as the legislative and executive organ of the church, and schemes of reunion with the Greek, the African, and the Protestant communions. The unanimity which prevailed was remarkable, and not less so were the indications that the breach between the Papacy and Old Catholicism had become decisive and final. On the 20th of September the election of Bishop Reinkens was formally recognized by the German Government, and on the 7th of October he took the oath of allegiance to the king.

The following year (1874) was marked by the assembling of both a synod and a conference at Bonn, and of a congress at Freiburg in the Breisgau. The acts of the synod were mainly directed to modifications of the Roman discipline and the removal of prevalent abuses. At the congress Bishop Reinkens spoke in hopeful terms of the results of his observations during a recent missionary tour throughout Germany. The conference, held on the 14th, 15th, and 16th of September, had for its special object the discussion of the early confessions as a basis of agreement, though not necessarily of fusion, between the different communions above-named. The meetings, presided over by Dr Döllinger with an ability and tact which excited general admiration, successively took into consideration the Filioque, the sacraments, the canon of Scripture, the episcopal succession in the English Church, the confessional, indulgences, prayers for the dead, and the eucharist. Some divergence of views inevitably disclosed itself in the course of the discussions, but the same conciliatory tone and feeling marked the close as well as the commencement of the proceedings, and by both the English and the Continental religious press the final results were hailed as eminently auspicious. As the direct results of these deliberations it has since been decided to abolish compulsory confession and fasting, to employ the vernacular in public worship, to recognize the marriage of priests as lawful, and to allow them to administer in their churches the communion in both kinds to members of the Anglican persuasion.

Since 1874 Old Catholicism has found new adherents in other lands,—in Austria, in Italy, and in Mexico; but the controversial spirit which in past history has either broken up such organizations or largely impaired their efficiency has also marred the success of this interesting movement. In Switzerland, where important conferences were successively convened (at Solothurn in 1871, at Olten in 1872, 1873, and 1874), the unanimity of the “Christian Catholics,” as they preferred to call themselves, seemed at one time in danger of being shipwrecked on the question of episcopacy. It was not until 18th September 1876 that the conflict of opinions was so far composed as to allow of the consecration of Bishop Herzog by Bishop Reinkens. The reforms introduced by M. Hyacinthe Loyson in his church at Geneva have received only a partial assent from the general body. Among the more practical results of his example is to be reckoned, however, the fact that in French Switzerland nearly all the clergy, in German Switzerland about one half, are now married men. But the congregations, which in 1876 had reached the number of fifty-five, have dwindled to thirty-five. The number of children in the different schools is stated to be somewhat under 4000 (Nippold, Handbuch der neuesten Kirchengeschichte, ii. 466-478).

In Germany, since the year 1878, the position of the Old Catholics has been one of considerable difficulty. While their representatives have scrupulously abstained from any course of action which could tend to embarrass the Government in its political contests, the most influential organs of that Government have systematically decried the movement and have undisguisedly aimed at its complete extinction. This change of policy is mainly due to the altered relations with the papal court. The present pontiff, skilfully ignoring the original and genuine causes in which Old Catholicism took its rise, has sought to represent its leaders as actuated by revolutionary designs and aiming at the subversion of existing institutions, while the Papacy itself has been described as the chief bulwark against social democracy and nihilistic tendencies. The Prussian Government has responded by a series of concessions to the Roman Catholic clergy, while the favour once shown to the seceding party is at an end. Bishop Reinkens himself, though he still receives a salary from the state, no longer draws it under the head of expenditure for Catholic worship. In Bavaria Professor Friedrich has been constrained to transfer his services from the theological to the philosophical faculty at Munich, and the little Old Catholic congregation has been deprived of its church. Huber's valuable literary powers have been lost to the cause by his premature decease. In France the place of M. Michaud, who has been appointed professor in the university of Bern, is in some measure filled by the return of Father Hyacinthe from Geneva. Under such conditions the continued progress of the party and even its existence are obviously seriously imperilled. But, even if, like the Albigenses, the Lollards, and other similar movements to which the assumptions of the Papacy have at different times given rise, Old Catholicism should be destined to extinction, it will not the less have left on permanent record an example of loyalty to conscientious convictions the influence of which will long survive.

Authorities.—The literature of the subject is now voluminous, but the following are among the best sources of information, (a) As regards the proceedings at the Vatican Council and the more immediate results of the decrees: Friedberg (Dr Emil), Sammlung der Aktenstücke zum ersten Vaticanischen Concil mit einem Grundrisse der Geschichte desselben, 1872; Friedrich (Dr J.), Tagebuch während des Vaticanischen Concils geführt, 2d ed., 1873; Id., Le Concile du Vatican, Brussels, 1871; Id., Gesch. des Vatikanischen Konzils, vol. i., 1877; Frommann (Theodor), Gesch. u. Kritik d. Vaticanischen Concils von 1869 und 1870, Gotha, 1872; Janus, Der Pabst und das Concil, 1869 (a reprint of articles in the Augsburg Allgem. Zeitung); An Inside View of the Vatican Council (Archbishop Kenrick's Speech, edited by L. W. Bacon), New York; Catholic Reform, by Father Hyacinthe, with preface by Dean Stanley, 1874; Quirinus, Römische Briefe vom Concil, 1870, of which an English translation has also appeared; Von Schulte (Dr J. F.), Concilien, Päpste, und Bischöfe, 1871. (b) The proceedings of the successive congresses will be best studied in the Stenographischer Berichte, published at Munich, Cologne, Constance, &c.; those of the congress of Constance were summarized in an English form, with other elucidatory matter, by Professor John Mayor. (c) For the questions involved in the consecration of Bishop Reinkens: Rechtsgutachten über die Frage der Anerkennung des altkatholischen Bischofe Dr Reinkens in Bayern, Munich, 1874; Friedberg (Dr Emil), Der Staat und d. Bischofswahlen in Deutschland, Leipsic, 1874; Von Sybel (F.), Das altkatholische Bisthum und das Vermögen d. römisch-katholischen Kirchengesellschaften in Preussen, Bonn, 1874. (d) Reinkens's own speeches and pastorals, some of which have been translated into English, give his personal views and experiences; the Life of Huber has been written and published by Eberhard Stirngiebl; and the persecutions to which the Old Catholic clergy have been exposed have been set forth in a pamphlet by Professor John Mayor, Facts and Documents, London, 1875. (e) An outline of the whole movement from its first commencement to the year 1875 will be found in The New Reformation, by “Theodorus” (J. Bass Mullinger); and an excellent résumé of the main facts in the history of the movement in each European country, as connected with other developments of liberal thought, and with political history, is given in the second volume of Dr F. Nippold's Handbuch der neuesten Kirchengeschichte, vol. ii. , 1883. (f) The recognized organ of the movement, the Deutscher Merkur (formerly the Rheinischer Merkur), is still published weekly by P. Neusser of Bonn. (J. B. M.)