The Old Catholic Church is a communion of Western national churches that emerged in the 1870s.
The unification happened due to the disagreement of the clergy and laity of the Roman Catholic Church with the decisions of the First Vatican Council. These were the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope and the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Most Holy Theotokos. Most of the followers of the Old Catholic Church also deny the dogma of the origin of the Holy Spirit not only from the Father but also from the Son (Filioque). For the first time, the concept of Old Catholicism was used in 1853 to refer to the supporters of the seat of the Archbishop of Utrecht, elected without the sanction of the papacy.
On September 24, 1889, the bishops of Holland, Switzerland and Germany approved the Utrecht Convention, based on which the Utrecht Union was created. Since 1931, full communion has been established between the Union and the Anglican Community.
Old Catholicism is not a single church, but an association of several churches based on apostolic unity. Some of these are members of the Utrecht Union of Old Catholic Churches. In 1704, the Catholic archbishop of the Netherlands, Peter Codd, established the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands.
In 2003, a conservative community of Old Catholics was founded in Europe. Later, the Old Catholics of Africa and North America joined it. The community was called the World Council of National Catholic Churches.
On July 18, 1870, the First Vatican Council adopted the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope. A protest arose against this, led by Ignaz von Doellinger—a professor at the University of Munich. He organized a congress of opponents of the decision of the Council in Nuremberg. Doellinger was supported by 11 professors of theology from different universities. On April 14, 1971, Doellinger was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his public and categorical speaking against the teachings of the Church, as well as his refusal to recognize papal infallibility. Later, this fate befell other irreconcilable professors of theology.
The excommunicated did not give up and tried to find allies of former colleagues and German bishops, but failed. However, they were supported by different segments of the population of Germany and Switzerland, as well as the governments of Prussia, Württemberg and Baden and Hesse. Therefore, a movement arose, which later organized committees and congresses. At the congresses, to interact with churches and governments, they approved action plans, convened various commissions, composed catechisms, etc. Over time, the movement grew stronger and became a religion, created communities in Germany and Switzerland and organized Old Catholic churches in those countries with the rights of religious associations.
The first German Old Catholic Congress was devoted to drawing up the principles of the creation and organization of parish communities. This was held in the autumn of 1871 in the city of Munich, where it was established that the community should have a priest who had received the dignity of a bishop. It turned out that there were more parishes than priests who had joined the movement. There was consequently a need to ordain new people as priests and elect a bishop. Therefore, Congress proclaimed the canonicity of the hierarchy of the Utrecht Church, which separated from the Roman Church. This was an important decision for the Old Catholics since there were no bishops among the participants of the movement.
In 1872, the Bishops’ Committee was approved. Its purpose was to find resources for the creation of the Old Catholic episcopacy. The committee appealed to the German government, and Prince Bismarck promised to help them. Joseph Hubert Reinkens—a priest and former professor from Breslau—was elected as bishop. At first, there was only one bishop in Germany. At the same time, the organization of the Old Catholic Church in Germany, its parishes, dioceses and synod were developed. The parish was governed by general meetings and a parish council, which were led by a priest. There were three dioceses in Prussia: Cologne, Essen and Kattowitz. Each was led by administrators subordinate to the bishop.
Switzerland was more sympathetic to the Old Catholic movement. The authorities of individual districts opposed the promulgation of the decisions of the Vatican Council, and those who promoted the new dogma among the masses were fined. The Papist Church ceased to be the “Catholic Church” in Switzerland and lost state status due to the disagreement of the papacy with the decrees of the state.
In Switzerland, Eduard Herzog—a professor of theology at the University of Bern—was elected bishop and the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland became state-owned.
The number of Old Catholic communities in Switzerland at the end of the 19th century reached 60 and they were attended by about 80 thousand people.
The Old Catholics adopted the Nicene-Constantinople Creed.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Old Catholics inhabited seven states: Germany, Austria, Russia, Switzerland, North America and France.
The Old Catholic Diocese of Germany was located in Bonn. The central bodies of the diocese were also located there, including the synodal government, the synodal court, the bishop’s office and the seminary. Dr Joseph Demmel was elected bishop.
In the autumn of 1931, an important conference was held in Bonn, the purpose of which was to clarify the Old Catholic religion.
From 1982, the rank of deaconess appeared in Old Catholicism. In 1994, bishops allowed the ordination of women, and in 1996 the first woman was awarded this honor. At the end of the 20th and by the beginning of the 21st century, the Polish National Catholic Church and the Slovak Old Catholic Church had left the Union of Utrecht.
Since 1927, the Dutch and Swiss Old Catholics have been engaged in ecumenical activities and they participate in the movement for the world unification of Christians.
In 1931, as a result of the Bonn Agreement, the churches of the Union of Utrecht and the Anglican Church established full communion. In the same year, negotiations with the Orthodox Churches began. The year 1946 saw an agreement between the Polish National Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church of the United States
In 1965, the Bonn Agreement included the Philippine Independent Church, the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, and the Lusitanian Church.
In 2003, an alternative to the liberal Union of Utrecht was created, which was called the World Council of National Catholic Churches. Antonio José da Costa Raposo was its first patriarch. Over time, churches began to leave the World Council of National Catholic Churches, as they could not fight liberal sentiments within their communities. In September 2017, Antonio José da Costa Raposo resigned as patriarch, and Augustine Bačínski—Metropolitan of the Old Catholic Church of Slovakia—became the new patriarch. The World Council of National Catholic Churches acquired another official name—the Old Catholic Patriarchate.
In 2015, the Old Catholics launched renewed activities in Russia, and two years later they created the Autocephalous Ecclesiastical Province of St. Michael the Archangel. Pavel Begichev was its metropolitan. In 2020, Russia’s first conservative Old Catholic community was founded in Moscow.
At the very beginning of their journey, the Old Catholics were just a movement of protesters. But as a result of extensive activity, they united and became an independent religion with their own laws, orders, principles, communities and Church.