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The Fourth International Old Catholic Congress
[Held in Vienna, Aug. 31-Sept. 3, 1897.]

By Charles R. Hale, D.D.,
Bishop of Cairo.

The Church Eclectic January, 1898, 25:10

pp 873-877

THE Lambeth Conference, in Resolution 33, recommended "to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Primates and Presiding Bishops of other Churches in Communion with the Church of England, the appointment of at least one representative of each Church, to attend the International Congress which is to meet in Vienna on August 31, 1897," and expressed "the hope that there may be a revival of such Conferences as those held at Bonn, in 1874 and 1875, to which representatives lay be invited and appointed, from the Church of England and the Churches in Communion with her."

In response to this, the Presiding Bishop of the American Church appointed four Bishops who were at the Conference, and an American Priest "then travelling in Europe, to attend the Old Catholic Congress at Vienna. Only two of these were able to be present, the Bishops of Springfield and Cairo. No English Bishop found it practicable to attend, the sole English representative, and a very admirable one he was, being the Rev. H. J. White, Fellow and Tutor of Merton College, Oxford, and Chaplain to the Bishop of Salisbury.

The Congress began, more Germanico, with a somewhat informal gathering, Tuesday evening, August 31, in Ronacher Hall, where a number of addresses were, delivered, while excellent music and light refreshments gave a social turn to the occasion. The Episcopal Administrator Cech, the executive head, so far as a Priest can be, of the Austrian Old Catholics he civil government not having yet given consent to his consecration), gave an address of welcome, followed by Herr Feigelmuller, a leading Old Catholic layman of Vienna, in a like strain. Councillor of State Philippi spoke as representing the Swiss National Synod, Dr. van Thiel, of the Theological Seminary of Amersfoort, expressed the good wishes of the Old Catholics of Holland. The Bishop of Cairo and the Rev. Mr. White told of the sympathy of the Anglican Churches, the Arch-priest Janyscheff of the interest felt in Russia. Bishop Herzog, of Switzerland, and others, made fitting remarks.

The next morning, September 1, Pfarrer Cech celebrated at 8:30 A.M., and delivered a brief discourse. The formal sessions of the congress began at 10 A.M. in the old Rathaus. Herr Philippi, of Basle, was chosen President, Dr. Bendel, Member of the Austrian Parliament, first Vice-President, Dr. van Thiel, of Amersfoort, second Vice-President.

The first thesis, proposed by Dr. Weibel, of Lucerne, spoke of the efforts of the Bishop of Rome for unity, efforts doomed to failure, for he wished not unity, but the submission of all Churches, to his rule. To this thesis, the Bishop of Springfield offered the following amendment or rider:

"The Fourth International Old Catholic Congress, in a desire to give to the ideas which it represents a living and practical form, and to hasten by such action the complete bringing together of the Churches, prays those who preside over the Congress to take, without delay, the necessary steps to bring about a renewal of such Union Conferences as were held at Bonn, in 1874 and 1875, under the presidency of Dr. von Dollinger."

The Bishop of Springfield, the Bishop of Cairo, and the Rev. H. J. White, spoke of the action in this regard of the Lambeth Conference, and of the extreme desirability of such Conferences, as greatly helping to do away with misunderstandings. After remarks by Bishop Herzog, Dr. Weibel, and others, the thesis of Dr. Weibel, and the addition made to it by the Bishop of Springfield, were adopted nemine contradicente.

It is intended the first such Conference shall be held under the presidency of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Weber, the very worthy successor of Bishop Reinkens as Bishop of the Old Catholics of Germany. The commission to prepare for this conference consists of Bishop Weber, Bishop Herzog, Dr. van Theil, of Amersfoort, in Holland, Professor Michaud of Berne, and Professor Langen, of Bonn, with Professor Lauchert as secretary.

Pfarrer Cech then proposed a thesis, in which he told of the way in which Jesuits upheld the idea that Ultramontanism and Vaticanism had their roots in the Catholic Church, or were an essential element of the Church, or were indeed the Church itself, and so led away the masses of the people, who needed to be taught what true Catholicism was. This thesis was readily accepted.

In the afternoon, the Austrian Old Catholics held their Synod in the Old Catholic Church of S. Salvator, some members of the Congress attending as honored guests. They were pleased to learn that the Old Catholics of Austria number 12,421, and that there had been a considerable gain the past year.

At 8 P.M., addresses, largely of a practical and devotional character, were delivered by the Archbishop of Utrecht, Bishop Weber, Bishop Herzog, the Bishop of Cairo, and Pfarrer Cech.

Thursday morning Bishop Herzog celebrated, and Dr. van Theil preached from the text, "We are Fellow-Workers with God" (I. Cor. III. 9), developing and enforcing the teaching given the previous evening.

When the Congress met, at 10:30, Pfarrer Goetz, of Passau, in a third thesis, pointed out how Old Catholicism was identical with the faith, the discipline, and the spirit of the Apostles of the Slavic race, Cyril and Methodius.

A fourth thesis, offered by Pfarrer Tobias, of Gottesberg, spoke of Old Catholicism as upholding the principle of National Churches, though holding aloof from politics. Professor Michaud, of Berne, offered a fifth thesis, declaring that the condemnation of John Huss and Jerome of Prague by the council of Constance were wrongful, anti-Catholic and anti-Christian acts.

These three theses were all adopted after earnest discussion and somewhat modified from the forms in which they were at first presented. There are terribly complicated political problems now agitating the Austrian Empire, and it was very difficult for those who felt strongly as to these, who felt, also, that Rome had much to do with these troubles, to exercise due moderation in speech. It took all the influence such wise leaders as Bishops Herzog and Weber, President Philippi, Vice-President Bendel and Dr. Michaud could exert to prevent a dangerous discussion. Bishop Weber offered a sixth thesis, which, with amendments offered by Bishop Herzog and accepted by the mover, reads as follows:

"The Old Catholic movement must, for a long time to come, carry on an earnest polemic against the deformations in the teaching, the discipline, and the doctrine of the Church. And yet, the most difficult task of Old Catholicism is not polemics, but the reconstruction of the true Catholic doctrine in the three points of view indicated. The Congress declares that this positive work ought to be the object of special care in parishes now existing, or in course of formation. And one ought, especially in divine service and in giving religious instruction, to put polemics completely aside, where it is not absolutely necessary."

In the afternoon a banquet was held in the Ronacher Hall, where toasts were offered and speeches made by Bishop Weber in honor of the Emperor of Austria and the various governments to which the different members of the Congress belonged; by President Philippi, in honor of the Old Catholics of Vienna and the organizing committees of the Congress; by the Archbishop of Utrecht, by the Archpriest Janyscheff, Chaplain to the Czar, by Bishop Herzog, by the Bishop of Springfield, and others. At 8 p.m. there was a public meeting in the Hall of the magnificent new Rathaus, where addresses were delivered by Dr. van Theil on the situation of the Old Catholics of Paris; by Dr. Kuppers, of Berlin, on the duty of the laity toward Old Catholicism; by Dom Miraglia, who, in most rigorous Latin, denounced the Roman Curia; by Dr. Weibel, on the religious character of Old Catholicism; by Dr. Bendel, on the situation of the Austrian Old Catholics, and by others.

Friday morning Dr. van Theil celebrated and Pfarrer Tobias preached. When the Congress reassembled for discussion at 10:30 A.M., Bishop Weber offered, as a seventh thesis, the following:

"Old Catholicism, in its conformity to the doctrine and the practice of the primitive undivided Church, shows that in its religious essence it is truly conservative; and on the other hand, it is truly liberal in that it asserts and firmly upholds the responsibility of each one, with the liberty of conscience and of belief, so that, of logical consequence, it is the conciliation of Church and State, of authority and liberty."

This was unanimously adopted.

Bishop Herzog then offered a thesis in four sections, speaking of the admirable Revue Internationale de Theologie, founded at the desire of the Second International Congress held at Lucerne, and regretted that the wish of the same Congress as to an international character to be given to the faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Berne, had not hitherto been more fully realized. It stated that the carrying out of the plan would be an important step forward, especially if more means were provided for enabling candidates for the Old Catholic priesthood, and young ecclesiastics not engaged in pastoral labors, to continue their studies under the direction of such a faculty. It went on to say that in the Old Catholic Churches of Holland, Germany and Switzerland, opportunity had been given to priests brought up and ordained in the Roman Church, to study carefully the essence and aim of the Catholic Reform movement, before entrusting to them the pastoral care of Old Catholic congregations, and that it was most desirable that the Faculty of Catholic Theology at Berne should be enabled to render effective assistance in the matter. It recommended that the adherents and friends of the Old Catholic movement send to the faculty at Berne, who would strictly account for all that they might so receive, means to carry on so useful work. This thesis also was accepted with unanimity.

Letters and telegrams of greeting and good wishes for the Congress were read from Constantine, Patriarch of Constantinople, Basil, Metropolitan of Anchialos, Philaret, Metropolitan of Castoriay. Michael, Metropolitan of Servia, Drs. Thurlings and Zirngiebl, of Germany, Dr. van Santen, of Holland, M. Volet, of Paris, and others. Bishop Nicanor and the Archimandrite Hilarion, of the Servian Church, who had been in close attendance upon the sessions of the Congress, then expressed their good wishes, the remarks of the latter, who spoke in the Servian tongue, being interpreted by that careful student of all the problems relating to Church unity, General Kireeff, of Russia.

It was determined that the next International Congress should be held in 1899, in Munich, Passau, Berlin or Bonn, the place to be decided by the committee of arrangements.

Votes of thanks were then proposed, and closing addresses made by the President, Dr. Philippi, and Vice-President Dr. Bendel. And so ended the Fourth International Congress. But the good Austrian Old Catholics would not let their guests depart without seeing more of them, and showing them something of the beautiful environs of Vienna, and so they organized delightful excursions to the Kahlenberg, nearly 1,000 feet above the city, from which there was a charming view of Vienna and many a mile around it, and also to Semmering, more than half a mile above the sea, on the oldest mountain railroad of Europe.

Among the results of the Fourth International Congress, a careful observer who has attended all these Congresses, mentions the following:

"The affirmation more and more energetic, of the religious and Christian Catholic character of Old Catholicism; the more and more marked separation between religion and politics; the clear and definite assertion of the religious rights of the Slavs and Czechs to form Old Catholic parishes in Austria and elsewhere (the exercise of which rights has been frequently impeded); the appeal to the people of these races to take a stand, in accordance with their religious tradition, against the Church of Rome, which wishes their enslavement not their liberty; and the steps taken to ward a renewal of the Conferences at Bonn, with the aim of elucidating, through free and unofficial discussion between theologians of different Churches, the theological problems which divide the Churches."

Considering the difficulties that had to be met and overcome, the Old Catholic Congress at Vienna must be considered a great success. The Old Catholics have long stood nobly in defense of the Old Catholic position, and ably and patiently warded off the attacks made against them. We of the American Church, in our past history rather than now, have known something of the danger there is, when one must continually defend his position, of contending earnestly for a good cause, without being sufficiently careful to honor it by the life that should go with it. The Old Catholics seem now to realize, as perhaps never before, their duty not only to "contend for the faith once delivered to the Saints," but to exemplify, in lives lived according to that faith, the true Catholic spirit of love and devotion to the Master. May they in this ever abound more and more.

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