The is a small but interesting sect known as German Catholics. This group is separate from the larger Roman Catholics in Germany. The Germen Catholics were a break-away group from the Roman Church that formed its own sect in December 1844.
Johannes Ronge was a priest in Silesia who wrote a theological piece attacking Wilhelm Arnoldi a bishop of Trier . In October of 1844 he had the relic called the ,”seamless robe of Jesus displayed in an attempt to attract religious pilgrims to his Cathedral. The bishop openly supported claims that the robe possessed healing powers. This of course was seen as nothing but an act of a religious huckster by Johannes Ronge.
The priest had been a teacher at Laurahutte near the border with Poland. The popular priest was excommunicated for criticizing the bishop and received a great deal of public support for his boldness against the established Church.
Almost immediately a group of “new Catholics” formed under the leadership of the now defrocked Johannes Ronge. The first group formed at Breslau and within a year had several thousand members. Other groups formed at Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Offenbach, Worms, Wiesbaden and a council met at Leipzig at Easter 1845
The new group made the scriptures the rule of authority for their newly formed church. The “new Catholics” were ecclesiastically organized on democratic principals . Some of Ronge progressive ideals lead to the end of a required celibate priesthood Ronge married Berthe Mayer to set an example of this new policy to those who served in the newly founded German Catholic faith.
Like many protestant groups before them; the new German Catholics condemned the practices of excommunication, individual confessions, and paid indulgences. The beliefs of the group were promoted to the public by Robert Blum a widely read newspaper publisher in Saxony. Blum eventually gave the new church his personal support by helping further organize the group.
The New Catholics were very attuned to the secular and wished to influence politics. Eventually the legislature at Worms was dominated by members of this sect that ‘wanted to promote “rational religion”. The group became known as “German Catholics” as opposed to “New Catholics”. They joined with another group with similar beliefs and practices called The Friends of Light and became known as the Free Congregations.
This sect eventually experienced some schism within itself over the issue of adherence to the Creeds. Those who rejected strict interpretation of the Creeds drove the group to become more essentially protestant than Catholic in nature. Ronge himself became more increasingly political and involved in many to the revolutionary activities of the time. He went to live in England for a short time. Ronge died in Austria in 1887.
By the turn of the new century , there were only a couple of followers of ” German Catholic ” teaching left. Many had moved on to the more established less political Protestant churches that flourished throughout Germany and the rest of Europe. There were those who were interested in a truly reformed orthodox faith that did not reject the truths of the Creed and the value of the Sacraments.
Orthodox believers dissatisfied with the Roman Church and the pull towards Protestantism of the Free Congregations began to look at the movement of the Old Catholics and Christian Catholics for leaderships. These groups embraced the reforms of Catholic fraction without rejecting the essential truths of the ancient Catholic faith.
The Roman Catholic bishop of Osnabruck in northern Germany spoke recently about the Roman Catholic Churches understanding of many of the issues that lead to the almost 300 plus ongoing schisms among various German Christians. He said,” “The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word – are things that we as the Catholic Church today can only underline.”
The Church of Christ was able to make successful reforms in a manner that in the end was not based on reactionary theologically , but in the spirit of true Christian reform and reflection. Groups that understood the need to the Church to reform to remain vital and relevant in the lives of everyday believers , separated for a time from the Roman Church, but stayed spiritually united with the Church on issues of Apostolic Succession, the Creeds, and the Seven Sacraments.