Old Catholics, the name assumed in 1870 (after the precedent of the Jansenists of Holland) by members of the Roman Catholic church who denied the oecumenical character of the Vatican council and rejected its decrees, especially that concerning the infallibility of the pope, as contrary to the ancient Catholic faith. Before this council proclaimed papal infallibility as a doctrine of the Catholic church (July 18, 1870), the majority of the bishops of Germany and of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy opposed its promulgation as inopportune; but after the council's decision nearly all the bishops at once submitted; and at length every bishop of the Catholic church had given in his adhesion, except a few bishops of the United Armenian church, who even before the convocation of this council had fallen out with the pope on questions relating to the administration of the Armenian church, and had therefore not attended the council. While the German bishops submitted, an unflinching opposition manifested itself on the part of several theologians and a portion of the laity of Germany. A few days after the proclamation of the doctrine of infallibility, Prof. Michelis, of the lyceum of Braunsberg in East Prussia, issued a manifesto charging the pope with heresy and apostasy from the old Catholic church.
Shortly afterward 44 professors of the university of Munich, including Dr. Dollin-ger, joined in a protest against papal infallibility and the binding authority of the Vatican council. Many of the Catholic professors at Bonn, Breslau, Freiburg, and other universities and gymnasia soon followed this example. A number of prominent theologians and professors of the canon law met in August at Nuremberg, and agreed upon a joint protest against the oecumenical character of the Vatican council and the validity of its decrees. Among the signers were Dollinger and Fried-rich of the university of Munich, Reinkens, Baltzer, and Elvenich of Breslau, Reusch, Knoodt, and Langen of Bonn, Schulte of Prague, Michelis of Braunsberg, and Lutter-beck of Giessen. In view of these indications of an incipient secession, the German bishops deemed it necessary, in a joint pastoral, letter dated Sept. 10, to admonish all the faithful to submit to the decrees of the oecumenical council, as it was impossible for members of the Catholic church to dispute their validity. It was evident that the immense majority of the priests and the people sided with the bishops, for the expressions of dissent on the part of the laity were few.
Only two congregations in all Germany (one in Bavaria and one in Silesia) joined their parish priests in a refusal to submit to the council. In several other places local committees were formed to prepare the way for an organization of the Old Catholics. The leaders of the movement were by no means agreed as to the course it ought to take. The breach between the Old Catholics and the heads of the church widened when the bishops began to deprive the Old Catholic professors of their ecclesiastical functions, to pronounce against them the greater excommunication, and to prohibit the theological students from attending their lectures. A few who at first had sympathized with the opposition to papal infallibility now receded from their position; but the majority remained firm in their resistance. By the excommunication of Dollinger (April 17, 1871), who had been the theological instructor of many of the German bishops, a new impulse was given to the efforts to effect a practical organization. Old Catholic societies were formed in nearly all the cities, and itinerant priests were engaged to preach to them.
The municipal councils of several cities, like Munich, tried to promote the movement by removing from the educational institutions placed under their control all religious instructors avowing a belief in papal infallibility. On May 29 a number of prominent men met at Munich, under the presidency of Dollinger, and prepared a declaration of principles, which was generally accepted as the provisional ecclesiastical standard of the new church. This declaration says that the Old Catholics persist in rejecting papal infallibility and the Vatican doctrines which, notwithstanding the denial of the bishops, concede to the pope personal infallibility and absolute power in the church; that they hope for a thorough reform of the constitution and life of the church, in which every civilized Catholic nation should constitute, in accordance with its peculiar character and mission, a free member, in which clergy and laity should harmoniously cooperate for developing the church life, and which by a thoroughly educated episcopacy and primacy should again be placed at the head of civilization.
The declaration was signed by 31 prominent Old Catholics. A general Old Catholic congress met at Munich on Sept. 22, composed of about 300 delegates, representing all parts of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and Switzerland, and of friends of the cause from Holland, France, England, Russia, and other countries. Resolutions defining at length the profession of faith of the Old Catholics were adopted. This profession reasserts the claim of the Old Catholics to be regarded as members of the Catholic church; it not only rejects the Vatican decrees, but also claims for oecumenical councils infallibility only if their decisions agree with the original and traditional faith of the church as witnessed by the faith of the people and by theological science. It declares that there is no difference between the church of Utrecht (the so-called Jansenists) and the Old Catholics, and expresses a hope for a reunion with the Greek oriental and the Russian church, as the separation was not grounded in any insuperable dogmatical difference.
Dr. Dollinger expressed a wish that the Old Catholics might keep strictly within the bounds of a protest against the obligatory character of the Vatican council, and that they be not organized into a separate church; but it was almost unanimously resolved to carry through an organized Catholic movement. As none of the Roman Catholic bishops of Germany had identified themselves with the movement, and the Old Catholics were as yet without a bishop of their own, the congregations of Bavaria in 1872 applied to the archbishop of the Old Catholic church of Holland for the sacrament of confirmation. The request was complied with, and thus the entire identity of the Old Catholic churches of Holland and Germany was established. At the second Old Catholic congress, held in Cologne in September, 1872, a plan for definitive organization was adopted. It was provided that as long as the Old Catholic church had no bishop of her own, the bishops of the Old Catholic church of Holland, and those bishops of the United Armenian church who occupied a similar position with regard to the pope, should be requested to perform episcopal functions for them.
But at the same time the congress declared that the Old Catholics reserved to themselves the right of reestablishing a regular episcopal jurisdiction by the election of bishops, who should be chosen by the priests and the representatives of the congregations, and who were at the beginning to labor like the missionary bishops of the ancient church. A special committee was appointed, with Dr. Dollinger as chairman, to promote intercommunion with other churches, especially with the Eastern and Anglican, both of which were represented at this congress. The congress also reiterated the claim of the Old Catholics to be recognized by the state governments as the sole representatives of the Catholic church of Germany, and to be put in possession of the church property. This claim the governments of Germany, though strongly sympathizing with the movement, found it impossible to grant, in view of the comparatively small number of Old Catholics; and they adopted the policy of considering the movement as a conflict within the church, which did not concern the state.
Accordingly they treated both parties as belonging to the Catholic church, and in several towns, especially in the grand duchy of Baden, a vote of the Catholic inhabitants was taken to ascertain the strength of each party; and where the number of Old Catholics was sufficiently large, one of the churches, or the joint use of one church, was given to them. The organization of the Old Catholic church as an independent body was completed by the election of a bishop on June 4, 1873, at Cologne. The choice fell almost unanimously on Dr. Reinkens, professor of theology in the university of Breslau, who on Aug. 11 was consecrated at Rotterdam by Bishop Heykamp of Deventer, of the Old Catholic church of Holland. The most important work done by the third Old Catholic congress, held at Constance, Sept. 12 and 13, was the adoption of a synodal constitution of the church, which in many points resembles that of the Protestant Episcopal church in the United States. The diocesan, provincial, and general synods of the Old Catholics will consist of the priests and lay delegates of the congregations, each lay delegate representing 200 constituents. The first synod of the church met at Bonn on May 27, 1874, and was attended by 28 priests and 60 lay delegates.
The three congresses had declared themselves incompetent to deal with the demands for doctrinal and constitutional changes; the same had been done by the bishop; and the action of priests who, like Father Hyacinthe, had married without waiting for the abolition of celibacy by proper ecclesiastical authority, had been disapproved. There was a unanimous sentiment that whatever reforms it might appear desirable to introduce must proceed from the synod of the church. Among the subjects which engaged the attention of the first synod were auricular confession, fasting and abstinence, the marriage laws, and priestly celibacy. The synod resolved that the practice of private confession should be retained, but that it should be brought back to the principles of the ancient church, and be freed from the Roman corruptions. Similar resolutions were passed with regard to fasting and abstinence. The prohibition of marriages between Catholics and Protestants, in cases where the Protestant refuses to consent to the education of the children in the Catholic religion, was abolished. Action on the proposed abolition of priestly celibacy was postponed. Committees were appointed for preparing a new ritual and a catechism.
Six synodal examiners were elected, four of whom were priests and two laymen, and a "synodal representation " (standing committee) to represent the church until the meeting of the next synod. From a report made to this synod on the progress of the Old Catholic movement, it appears that at this time the Old Catholic church had in Prussia 31 congregations, 16 organized parishes, and a total population of about 15,000; in Bavaria, 54 societies and 5,000 people; and in Baden, 31 societies and 3,500 people. The number of Old Catholic priests in Germany was 41, and of students of theology 12. The original claim of the Old Catholics to be recognized by the state governments as the sole representatives of the Catholic church as it existed before 1870 had been abandoned; and the fourth Old Catholic congress, which was held on Sept. 6 and 7, 1874, at Freiburg in Baden, only demanded that wherever a formal separation between the adherents of the Vatican council and the Old Catholics should take place, the latter should receive a proportionate share of the church property. The legislature of Baden had already adopted this view by passing a law guaranteeing to the Old Catholics a share in the church property of every parish of the grand duchy, in proportion to their number.
In the other German states the legal status of the Old Catholics was undefined by legislative action at the beginning of 1875; but it was expected that the principles adopted in Baden would prevail. A union conference of Old Catholic, eastern, and Anglican theologians met under the presidency of Dr. Döllinger at Bonn, Sept. 14 -16, 1874. The members of the conference generally agreed that no insuperable difference of opinion on doctrinal questions existed. The Old Catholics as well as the Anglicans agreed with the orientals in the declaration that the manner in which the words Filioque were added to the Nicene creed was illegal, and that, with a view to future peace and unity, it is very desirable that the entire church should decide the question whether the creed can be restored to its original form without sacrificing a doctrine expressed in its present form in the occidental churches. The adoption of several theses on doctrinal questions indicated that the difference between Old Catholics and the Roman Catholic church, so far as the latter has given in its adhesion to the Vatican council, is no longer limited to papal infallibility.
The most important points of difference, according to these theses, are 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 received from the apostles or earliest times, but as the result of theological speculation; the new Roman doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin is at variance with the tradition of the first 13 centuries; indulgences can only refer to penances which have really been imposed by the church herself. The special committees appointed by the Old Catholic congress were expected to continue the negotiations with the oriental and Anglican communions. - Outside of Germany, the Old Catholic movement has gained a firm footing only in Switzerland. The number of priests who joined it was small, but the support received from the governments of the Protestant and liberal cantons was much more vigorous than in Germany. Not only were those priests who joined the Old Catholic church with their congregations protected in their places against the bishops who excommunicated and deposed them, but some cantons, as Bern and Geneva, passed new laws regulating the affairs of the Catholic church; and where bishops and parish priests refused to recognize the new laws, they appointed Old Catholic priests.
Thus all the Catholic churches of the canton of Bern were placed in the hands of the Old Catholics, although the immense majority of the people protested against this transfer. The same canton established in 1874, in connection with the university of Bern, a faculty of Old Catholic theology, which was opened in October. The movement in Switzerland has had in general more the character of an opposition to the influence of Rome than that of a religious reform. At the close of 1874 the church was still without a bishop, and grave dissensions had broken out between a more conservative and a more radical wing of the party, the latter of which had the ascendancy in the canton of Geneva, At a general assembly of the Old Catholic societies which was held at Olten in September, 1874, the main points of the church constitution, including the election of a bishop, were agreed upon. The convention rejected the name of Old Catholics, and preferred that of Christian Catholics (ChristlcathoUlen). In Austria several congregations were formed, especially in the German districts of Bohemia; but although supported by the liberal parties in the parliament, they were up to the end of 1874 unable to obtain recognition by the state government.
In France, Father Hyacinthe and the abbe Michaud took an active interest in the movement, but were unable to secure the formation of any large congregations. Spain, Italy, England, and other countries were also represented at the Old Catholic congresses; but although some men of influence were among the sympathizers with the movement, like the Jesuit Passaglia in Italy and Lord Acton and Lord Camoys in England, no independent Old Catholic church has been founded in any of these countries. - The principal periodicals published in the interest of the Old Catholic church are Der Deutsche Mercur (a weekly), at Munich, and the Theologisclies Literaturblatt, at Bonn. On the history and the aims of the church, see Reinkens, Ueber clen Ursprung der jetzigen Kirchenbewegung (Cologne, 1872); Nippold, Ursprung, Umfang, Hemmnisse und Aussichten der altkatholischen Bewegung (Berlin, 1873); Pere Hyacinthe, De la reforme catholique (Paris, 1872); and Michaud, Programme de reforme de l'Eglise d'occident (Paris, 1872).