Old Catholic Church

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The "Old Catholic Church" originated in 1870 with groups which separated from the Roman Catholic Church over certain doctrines, most notably that of Papal Infallibility. These churches are not in full communion with the Holy See of Rome, but their Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches is in full communion with the Anglican Communion and a member of the World Council of Churches. Nevertheless, according to Roman Catholic teaching, the Old Catholic churches of the Utrecht Union have maintained apostolic succession and valid sacraments according to the Augustinian theory of valid sacramentality.

Validity and Irregularity

Saint Augustine distinguished between validity and irregularity: a sacrament performed by heretics and schismatics, while irregular and illegitimate, is nonetheless technically and ontologically valid, provided certain specified conditions are fulfilled.

Valid ordination according to the Augustinian theory requires only that a man be ordained a priest by a Bishop in the line of apostolic succession originating from one who has been licitly and validly ordained to Holy Orders and who was licitly and validly consecrated a Bishop in the unbroken line of apostolic succession descended from the original Apostles. A licitly consecrated Bishop who later becomes a schismatic, even a heretic, does not lose the authoritative potestas (power) of the fullness of Holy Orders, even without the ius (lawful authority) to licitly exercise it. And those he ordains according to the proper form[1] of the sacrament of Holy Orders are held to be validly ordained priests in the line of apostolic succession, even if not licitly ordained. Valid consecration of a Bishop requires the consensual participation of agreement by three validly consecrated Bishops in the line of apostolic succession descending from, and originating in, the originally licit and valid consecration of Bishops at some time in the past before them: his consecration is held to be valid, even if irregular, according to Augustinian theory. Augustine allowed the lapsing and absence of the ius but not that of the potestas. Although the Augustinian theory predominates in the West, it is not accepted universally.

1870 Declaration and History

The formation of the Old Catholic communion of Germans, Austrians and Swiss began in 1870 at a public meeting held in Nuremberg under the leadership of Ignaz von Döllinger, following the First Vatican Council. In September, 1870, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia article "Old Catholics"[2], nearly 1400 Germans issued a declaration, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility, in which they repudiated the dogma of Infallibility "as an innovation contrary to the traditional faith of the Church".[3] Four years later episcopal succession was established with the consecration of an Old Catholic German bishop by a prelate of the Church of Utrecht. In line with the "Declaration of Utrecht" of 1889, they accept the first seven ecumenical councils and doctrine formulated before 1054, but reject communion with the pope and a number of other Roman Catholic doctrines and practices. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes that since 1925 they have recognized Anglican ordinations as valid, that they have had full communion with the Church of England since 1932 and have taken part in the ordination of Anglican bishops.

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