Monday, November 23, 2009

Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 3)

This is the third and final installment of the special Wild Reed series featuring excerpts from my friend Robert Caruso’s recently-released book, The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in North America.

This particular excerpt examines the relationship between the Anglican Communion and Old Catholicism – first by looking at the Bonn Conference of 1874 and the Bonn Agreement of 1931, and then the convergence that is presently occurring between the Episcopal Church (USA) and Old Catholicism.

(NOTE: To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)


From its inception, the Union of Utrecht re-examined its Catholic identity apart from seeking any kind of validation from the Roman communion. This offered a sense of clarity and freedom for the Union of Utrecht to describe its Catholicity apart from Rome, and further opened the doors toward unity with other local-universal churches throughout the world, e.g., the Anglican Communion.

The ever-flourishing ecumenical relationship between the Union of Utrecht and the Anglican Communion in the late nineteenth-century reached a new plateau at the Old Catholic Union Conference at Bonn, Germany in 1874. The Old Catholic leaders convoked this conference “. . . specially for the purpose of promoting reunion, these were informal and unofficial conferences of theologians from various churches but primarily Anglican and Old Catholic.”* The Bonn conference of 1874 should not be underestimated or overlooked because it is at this meeting that the Old Catholics and Anglicans become theologically aware of each other and their shared existence as local-universal churches.

The fourteen theological theses’ of agreement (known as the Bonn Theses of 1874) were produced at this conference, offering for the first time written evidence of a shared consensus between Old Catholic and Anglican theologians on a variety of general theological topics. Systematically speaking, the Bonn theses delineates Anglican and Old Catholic theological agreement in the following areas of revelation: in both scripture and tradition as possessing equal authority in the life of the Church (Bonn 1874, no. 1-3, and 9), sacramentology (Bonn 1874, no. 8, and 11), justification and salvation (Bonn 1874, no 5-7, and 12), and the Eucharistic ecclesiology of the local-universal church (Bonn 1874, no. 4, 8b, 9b, 10, 13-14).

. . . The Bonn theses of 1874 provided the theological room necessary for Old Catholic and Anglican theologians to focus intently on one another’s ecclesiology, which ultimately led to the mutual recognition of standards of communion as expressed in the 1931 Bonn Agreement. . . . Three principles form the Bonn Agreement. They are doctrinal unity, mutual recognition, and independent cooperation..

. . . [A]n ecclesiological convergence is occurring at this present time in history between Anglicans and Old Catholics in ways never before seen. Here on the local level we can begin to observe a lived early church Eucharistic ecclesiology surfacing in various dioceses in the Episcopal Church (USA). The Episcopal Church is beginning to resemble the Old Catholic Church, and the Old Catholic Church is beginning to resemble the Anglican Communion. In other words, what we are observing in contemporary history is the transformation of two local-universal church communions in the West, converging with each other ecclesiologically and sharing with each other the eseential Eucharistic character of communion and common mission in becoming the Catholic Church envisioned by early church theologians like St. Irenaeus, among others.

There is a place for “Vatican II” Catholics in the Old Catholic faith! There is a place where you can celebrate your sacramental life as a Catholic seeking unity in diversity in the Old Catholic faith!

Independent Old Catholics need to realize that the Eucharistic charisma of Old Catholicism is alive and well in the greater communion of the Episcopal Church, and in time we will need to find ways of fostering friendships with clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church.

I firmly believe that no Old Catholic local church will ever exist in the U.S. without it being intimately related with the Episcopal Church (USA). We must remember that the Union of Utrecht and the Episcopal Church (USA) are in communion with each other, and endeavor to be one church. Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that Utrecht will never establish opposing dioceses in the U.S. against the Episcopal Church (USA). If we Old Catholics, living in the Diaspora of the U.S., truly want to be at home with our faith and be at peace with God and each other, then we must actively seek fellowship with the Episcopal Church (USA) on the local level any way we possibly can.

In short, Anglicans and Old Catholics are currently in the process of converging with one another ecclesiologically on the academic and local/practical levels of the church. The engagement that occurred over seventy years at Bonn between Anglicans and Old Catholics is coming to an end, and the marriage banquet of authentic communion centered in hospitality is getter closer at hand.

* Wright, J. Robert, “Anglican and Old Catholic Theology Compared” in Old Catholics and Anglican, 125.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 1)
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 2)
Robert Caruso’s Scholarly Introduction to Old Catholicism
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome - An interview with Robert Caruso.
The Declaration of Utrecht
Robert Caruso on the Pentecost Rainbow Sash Presence at the Cathedral

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