GERLACHER (GERNOLT), THEOBALD. See Billican, Theobald.

GERLE, zhiirl, CHRISTOPHE ANTOINE: French religious enthusiast; b. at Riom (85 m. w. of Lyons) Oct. 25, 1736; d. in Paris Nov. 17, 1801. He entered the order of Carthusians, became prior of the convent of PortrSalnte-Marie, and represented the clergy of Riom in the States-General in 1789. In the famous Tennis Court session he exhibited so much patriotic fervor that David gave him a prominent place in his painting, Le Serment du Jeu do Paume. He was a member of the Constitutional Assembly, and on Apr. 12, 1790, vainly urged that body to proclaim Roman Catholicism as the only religion recognized by the French nation. He became a follower of Catherine Théot, a fanatical old woman who called herself the mother of God. As a supporter of Robespierre with other Théotists, he was imprisoned May 16, 1794, but was released on the advent of the Directory. He was afterward employed in the Ministry of the Interior and contributed some articles to the Messager du sair.

Bibliography: J. Miehelet, Hist. de la revolution fraiwaise. vol. vii., Penis, 1853; Lichtenberger, B.BR, v. 548-549.



Origin. Johannes Ronge ( 1).
Johann Czerski ( 2).
Growth and Organization ( 3).
Absorption by the Free Protestant Congregations ( 4).
Reasons for Failure ( 5).

1. Origin. Johannes Ronge.

By "German Catholicism" (Deutsohkatholicis~ mus) is meant a reform movement which arose within the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in


the middle of the nineteenth century, led to the formation of separate congregations, and ultimately entered into such close relations with the Protestant bodies called Lichtfreunde (see Free Congregations In Germany) that the two movements at present can be distin- guished only in certain parts of Ger- many. The tendency was promoted, on the one hand, by the after-effects of the age of the Enlightenment and the liberal spirit which passed over Europe from about 1830; on the other hand, by the spread of Ultramontanism within the Roman Church. The immediate occasion was the solemn exhibition of the seamless coat of Christ by Bishop Arnoldi in Treves in 1844 (see Treves, Holy Coat of ); this was intended to demonstrate that the Roman Catholic population rendered unconditional obedience to the leadership of their clergy, a principle which had already been illustrated by the victory of Archbishop Droste Vischering of Cologne over the Prussian government (see Droste-vischering, Clemens August, Freiherr von ), and the intention was fully real ized. But if this celebration was a great demonstration of the power of the Roman Church over its members, it had also the effect of a challenge on circles which in spirit had outgrown the tutelage of the clergy. This explains the publication of an open leuter to Bishop Arnoldi on Oct. 15, 1844; it was a trenchant protest against the " idolatrous celebration " (Goetwnfe8t) of the Roman hierarchy which inveigled the credulous multitude into directing " those feelings of reverence which we owe to God alone, to an article of clothing, a work that human hands have made." The contradiction between the veneration of relics and the spirit of Christianity is sharply emphasized, and the German people is exhorted " to check the tyrannical power of the Roman hierarchy." The author of the letter was Johannes Ronge, a priest, thirty-one years old (b. Oct. 16, 1813), who,, because of an article " Rome and the Cathedral Chapter of Breslau," had been suspended from office in 1843 and since then had acted as a teacher in Laurahtitte in Upper Silesia. When Ronge refused to retract his open letter, he was excommunicated and degraded, Dec. 4, 1844, by the suffragan bishop Latussek of Breslau. Ronge left the Roman Church but continued the literary controversy in a series of pamphlets, in which he demanded the abolition of celibacy, of auricular confession, and of Latin as the ecolesiastical language, and called for the formation of a German Catholic Church.

2. Johann Czerski.

Another priest, in the neighboring province of Posen, independently of him had already put these thoughts into practise. Johann Czerski (b, May 12, 1813) had come to doubt many dogmas while in the bishop's seminary, and was con firmed in these doubts by studying the Holy Scripture while vicar in Posen. When he had been transferred to Schneidemuhl, where, even before his arrival, similar ideas had been spreading, he went further in this direction, married, gave up his ecclesiastical position, and with his followers left the Roman Church in order to organize themselves as a "Christian Catholic,, Church. The first congregation was founded in Breslau in 1845, on the basis of an Apostles' Creed modernized by Ronge as follows:

I believe in God, the Father, who through his almighty word created the world and rules it in wisdom. righteousness and love. I believe in Jesus Christ our Savior, who by his teachings, his life, and his death has ransomed us from the bondage of sin. I believe in the sway (Walten) of the Holy Ghost on earth. I believe in a holy, universal Christian Church, the communion of the faithful, the forgiveness of sins, and an eternal life.

3. Growth and Organization.

At the same time the congregation proclaimed the principle of complete freedom of. conscience and the freedom of scientific investigation. There now followed in quick succession the founding of congregations in the other parts of Germany. To bind them together was the purpose of the "First General Church Convention of the German Catholic Church," held in Leipsic Mar. 23-26, 1845. According to the official minutes fifteen congregations were here represented, thirty-one delegates being present. As the title of the new Church the name " German Catholic Church " was adopted. As to its teaching, it was resolved: " the foundation of the Christian faith for us shall be Holy Scripture solely and alone, the construction and interpretation whereof is left free to reason penetrated and moved by the Christian idea." A creed was set up to show the content of the doctrines of the faith, which was an abbreviation of the confession adopted in Breslau. The demand of Czeraki that the divinity of Christ should be added thereto was not complied with; moreover, the primacy of the pope, the hierarchy, auricular confession, compulsory celibacy, the invocation of saints, the veneration of relics and images, indulgences, etc., were rejected. But two sacraments were recognized, baptism and the Lord's Supper, the latter under both kinds. Regulations were also made concerning divine worship, which should be held in the German language without the use of the canon of the mass. Presbyterial organization was decided on for the congregations, which at the same time received the right to elect their own ministers and standing committees.

It seemed as if a great day was dawning for German Catholicism when Ronge began his agitational journeys through Germany. They became triumphal processions. At the send German Catholic ecclesiastical convention of 1847 there were already 259 congregations with eighty-eight ministers. The movement attracted notice even in foreign countries. Ronge received resolutions of approval from the United States; a Free Catholic congregation was founded in New York in 1846; in subsequent years ministers who had emigrated from Germany founded similar ones in St. Louis and Philadelphia. English, Irish and French Unitarians showed their interest in what was going on in Germany, as did the Arminians of Holland.

4. Absorption by the Free Protestant Congregations.

Friendly relations soon arose between the German Catholic congregations and the free Protestant congregations which were founded about the same time (see Free Congregations In Germany). The friendship grew so that in May, 1850, the third


German Catholic council and the third synod of the free Protestant congregations met in Leipsic for negotiations with each other. There were here represented about 100 German Catholic congregations and about thirty free Protestant ones. The result was the formation of the "Religious Society of Free Congregations" (Religiorasgesedlschaft freier Gemeinden), which means that the German Catholic congregations gave up their Roman Catholic character and their creed and melted away in the Protestant free religious movement. This union was the end of German Catholicism as an independent party building upon Catholic foundations; the confessional element, which had hitherto still persisted in it though in a weakened form, was sacrified in the interests of the more highly valued element of freedom.

This union was not adopted without objections in the meeting, and not all the congregations socepted it. There still exist to-day in the Kingdom of Saxony several German Catholic congregations comprising more than three thousand persons; that at Leipsic shows a vigorous increase (1866, 407 persons, 1903 almost 1,400). It can not be determined how many of the free congregations outside Saxony may still be counted as German Catholic; their names are too indefinite. In general it may be said that the title of "German Catholic" is used at present by the congregations of Western and Southern Germany belonging to the League of Free Religious Congregations. In isolated instances there occur titles like "Christian Catholic" (Christ katholisch), "Free Christian" (Frei-chrisaich), and even the name "Free Evangelical Catholic" (Frei evangelisch-katholisch) is found in Königsberg, as an attempt to express absolute superiority to confessionalism. According to a list of the League of Free Religious Congregations (Bund freireligioser Gemeinden) of 1896, fifty-nine congregations belonged at that time, fourteen of them mentioning in their self-chosen title their relationship to Catholicism.

Within German Catholicism Czeraki tried at the start to maintain connection with churchly Christianity, but he was not able to make his influence felt alongside that of Ronge. From objecting to compulsory dogmas they went on

5. Reasons apace to thrusting all dogmas aside, for and so to a breach with the Christian Failure. faith, both Roman Catholic and Prot estant. Many who had joined the movement at the start because they hoped from it a purification and reformation of the Roman Church, now withdrew; such were Anton Theiner, professor of Catholic theology, and M. E. Regenbrecht, pro fessor of canon law, both in Breslau. Very soon it became evident that Ronge merely had the ability to summon to the first attack on the Roman Church and to stir up the masses as an agitator, but that he did not have the power of founding a new Church. His lack of capacity was soon recog nized even by those of his own party; he died in Vienna Oct. 26, 1887, a forgotten man. Czerski had long been of no public significance when death reached him Dec. 22, 1893. At the start German Catholicism was not with out certain prospects, for it voiced demands and represented ideas which corresponded to the mood of the times and contained much that was good. But that which Ronge and Czerski lacked was that wherein the entire movement was deficient, viz., the power to proceed from negative criticism of the faults of the Roman Church to the formation of a purer Catholic Church. This impotence was rooted in the lack of religious productivity. The German Catholic movement brought forth not a single per sonality able to lead others as a prophet. Though it may also be granted that persecution by the civil power was not without influence on the decline of the movement, nevertheless in the last analysis the ddcisive reasons for failure lie in its own make-up. For but a few years it was a danger to the Roman Church; after it had amalgamated with the free Protestant congregations, it needed no longer to be feared.

Carl Mirbt.

Bibliography: F. Kampe, Geschichte der religibsen Bewegung der neuern Zeit, 4 vols., Leipsic, 1852-60; idem, Das Wesen des Deutschkatholiciernus, Tübingen, 1850; H. Schmid, Geschichte der katholiechen Kirche Deutschlands van der Mute des 18. Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1874; H. BrUek, Geschichte der katholisden Kirche im 19. Jahrhundert, ii. 525 sqq., Münster, 1903; G. Tschirn, Zur BO-jdhrigen Geschichte der freireligdeeen Beuregung, Bamberg, 1904. For review of literature consult Jenaische alkemeine Lideraturseitung, 1846-47; T. Bruns in C. Hifner, Neues Repertorium für die theologiade Litteratur and kirchliche Statis6k, vol. v., 1846.


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