Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Old Catholics

The Old Catholics, led by Johann von Döllinger, archbishop of Munich, refused to accept the definition of papal infallibility made in 1871 by the First Vatican Council. A small group, confined mainly to southern Germany and Switzerland, broke with Rome, but they were not able to effect a reversal of the doctrine or persuade other Catholics in general. Prior to World War I, Russian church figures such as Alexander A. Kireev and Archpriest Pavel Svetlov, a professor at the Kiev Theological Academy, worked to bring the Old Catholics into union with the Russian church--a kind of reverse Unia. The war ended their attempts, however, and Old Catholicism faded into irrelevance.
- James Cunningham, A Vanquished Hope: The Movement for Church Renewal in Russia, 1905-1906


  1. If only it *had* faded into irrelevance. Bishops consecrated by them are still around causing trouble, e.g. by consecrating further bishops for "continuing Anglicans" and various breakaway "Catholic" groups too small to be known except by experts. (I gather Orthodoxy has its share of these.) If these episcopal ordinations were not valid, they wouldn't matter, but they are, so they do. Illicit, but valid. I've also heard of bishops with ordinations traceable to "Old Catholic" roots participating in attempted ordinations of women, but, aside from being a grave canonical crime, such ceremonies are of no sacramental significance.

  2. I wouldn't normally be this anal about the details when the main funny/freaky/interesting point is clearly true. But since you may still be working on that thesis and this is so eminently quotable:

    Johann Ignaz von Döllinger was not a Bishop. He was a priest and professor of church history. It was the Archbishop of Munich and Freising who excommunicated him though. They got their orders from what is now their Dutch branch and had already schismed in 17something. Faded into irrelevance is about right, they are still around but smaller than Jehova's witnesses and shrinking. Mostly they use ex-Catholic priests who failed at celibacy. The talks with the Orthodox continued on and off until the late 80s. Nowadays it's mostly moot because they turned a lot more liberal than the Orthodox would be comfortable with. Think Episcopalian for an American analogue in doctrine and practice.

    @David Wagner
    Yup, plus now that they have full communion they are passing their orders on to the Anglicans.

  3. @Gilbert: Very curious! This excerpt was taken from the footnotes, which may explain why the attributed title is incorrect. Interesting.

    @David: there's a funny story about some priestless Old Believers finding an ousted Bosnian Metropolitan in the 1840s whose authority they accepted, leading to a boom in Old Believer priests and even bishops in the late 19th century. I may post the full thing up here at some point.