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German Catholics, a religious sect which sprang up in Germany about the close of 1844, which rapidly increased during the four or five following years and then as rapidly declined. The immediate cause of the formation of this sect was the exhibition by Arnoldi, Bishop of Treves, of the holy coat preserved in the cathedral of that city and said to be the coat of Christ. The bishop accompanied the exhibition of the holy coat by a promise of a plenary indulgence to whoever would make a pilgrimage to Treves to worship it. The announcement of this proceeding on the part of the Bishop of Treves produced a feeling of general astonishment in Germany and drew from a Silesian priest called J. Ronge, who had already been suspended from his charge on account of his independent views, a letter protesting against the exhibition of the holy coat and denouncing the projected pilgrimage as idolatry. This letter was published in the "Sachsische Vaterlandsblatter" on Oct. 16, 1844, and produced an amount of excitement that was quite unanticipated by the writer. Ronge was excommunicated, but this only increased the general enthusiasm in his favor and when he entered into his relations with Czerski, another independent priest who had seceded from the Church, and made along with him an appeal to the lower grades of the clergy to unite in founding a National German Church independent of the Pope and governed by councils and synods, the appeal received a ready answer from a considerable number of those to whom it was addressed. A number of congregations belonging to the new body were formed in the more important towns, under the teacher Kote. In the spring of 1845 there were already about 100. At this time (March, 1845), a council was summoned to meet in Leipsic to deliberate on the affairs of the body. Only 20 congregations were represented there, but these proceeded to arrange a system of doctrine and practice. The Bible was recognized as the sole standard of faith, and its interpretation was left to reason, "penetrated and animated" by the Christian idea. Only two sacraments were admitted, baptism and the Lord's Supper. In matters of ritual each congregation was left free to carry into practice its own views. On the subject of purgatory nothing was declared either for or against it. The constitution of the new Church was thus a Protestant one, but in some respects the German Catholics went even further than the majority of Protestants in a liberal direction, inasmuch as they claimed for all, complete religious liberty and declared their religion to be capable of development and modification with the progress of the human mind.

The Church established on this basis had at first, great success. The most eminent men of the liberal party and the deepest thinkers of the time regarded the movement with sympathy. But it was not long before the spirit of opposition began to show itself. The majority of the governments in Germany at the instigation both of the Protestant and the Roman Catholic clergy began to use repressive measures against the new body. At Baden the adherents of the sect were deprived of their political rights. Austria took the course of banishing them from her dominions. But persecution from without did less hurt than the divisions within the body. Czerski and Ronge, the two originators of the sect, became the leaders of two opposing parties within it, one of which, that headed by Czerski, clung to the traditions and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, rejecting only the supremacy of the Pope and the union between Church and State; while the other sought for more freedom, converted religion into a sort of popular philosophy and began to mix it up with questions of politics.

From the year 1850, however, there were several attempts to reestablish the unity of the body. A council held at Gotha in June, 1859, proposed the formation of a religious association or confederation into which all free Protestant and even Jewish congregations were to be admitted. But the association consisted of too heterogenous elements, and the plan failed. According to recent statistics, there are still some 100 congregations with about 6,200 German Catholics in Germany.


Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

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