German Catholics

German Catholics the name of a sect in Germany which sprung up in 1844 in consequence of the exhibition of the holy coat at Treves SEE HOLY COAT. This proceeding called forth a vigorous protest from Johannes Ronge, a priest in Silesia, who, having been suspended from his office, was living in retirement. Ronge addressed a public letter to bishop Arnoldi, of Treves, October 1, 1844, in which he characterized the exhibition of the coat as idolatry. Even before the publication of this letter, another priest, J. Czerski, at Schneidemiuhl, in the Prussian province of Posen, had formally seceded from the Roman Catholic Church, and was about to form a congregation of "Christian Apostolic Catholics." Czerski and Ronge were naturally drawn into confederacy, though their views on doctrine radically differed; the former sympathizing with evangelical Protestantism, and the latter being an ultra Rationalist. Ronge addressed an appeal to the lower orders of the priesthood, calling upon them to use their influence in the pulpit and everywhere to break the power of the court of Rome, and priestcraft in general throughout Germany; to set up a national Germari Church independent of Rome, and governed by councils and synods; to abolish auricular confession, the Latin mass, and the celibacy of the priests; and to aim at liberty of conscience for all Christians, and perfect freedom for the religious education of children. Czerski, on the other hand, drew up a confession of faith differing but little from that of the Roman Catholic Chairch, though it declared the Holy Scriptures and the Nicene Creed as the only standards of Christian faith. The new sect quickly increased. At the beginning of 1845 more than a hundred congregations were in existence, each adopting its own confession of faith, some agreeing with that of Czerski, and the majority adopting the rationalistic views of Ronge. In the confession of faith adopted by the Congregation of Breslau, of which Ronge was chosen preacher, the essentials of belief were restricted to a few doctrines: belief in, God as the Creator and Governor of the world, and the Father of all men; in Christ as the Savior, in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. Baptism and the Lord's Supper were held to be the only sacraments. Confirmation was retained, yet most of the rites and practices peculiar to the Roman Catholic Church were given up. The first council of German Catholics was held at Leipzic, March 22, 1845, and attended by deputies from many of the leading congregations. The majority declared in favor of the principles expressed in the rationalistic Breslau confessions. The interpretation of Scripture, the only source of Christian belief, was left to the free exercise of reason, pervaded and actuated by the "Christian idea." Forms of worship were to be adapted to the requirements of time and place. With regard to church government, the council declared in favor of the presbyterian and synodal constitution. The congregations were to have the free election of their clergy and eldership. The increase of the sect continued to be so rapid that by the end of 1845 it numbered nearly 300 congregations. Many prominent Roman Catholics joined it, And even a number of Protestant rationalistic clergymen ement over to it. Distinguished historians like Gervinus looked upon the movement as a momentous event in the history of Germany. It even exercised a considerable influence upon the Protestant Church of Germany, by causing the organization of the Free Congregations (q.v.), a similar rationalistic sect, chiefly consisting of seceders from the Protestant state churches. Several state goavernments, as those of Saxons- y, Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, and Austria, took very severe measures against them, and either altogether suppressed them, or at least tried to put as great obstacles as possible in their way. The internal disagreements between the orthodox and the rationalistic sections also discouraged the spread of the movement, which, at the second council, held in Berlin in 1847, appeared to be on the decrease. The revolutionary movements of 1848 gave the German Catholics full liberty, and, consequently, some additions were made to the number of their, congregations, especially in Austria. But the further advance which the majority of the German Catholics now made in their opposition to evangelical Christianity, and the profession of some of their prominent men, that on their part the religious movement had been merely a cloak for covering their revolutionary tendencies in politics, estranged many of their friends. After the political reaction set in, in 1849, strong measures against them were again taken by most of the state governments, and in Austria they cere again wholly suppressed. In 1850 delegates of the German Catholic congregations attended the council of the Free Congregations, and a union of the two organizations was agreed upon. This union was consolidated at the council held in Gotha in 1857, when the united body assumed the name of "Bund freireligioser Gemeinden." For their further history, SEE FREE CONGREGATIONS. (A.J.S.)

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