The ECC warmly embraces the Declaration of Utrecht (below) as one of our founding documents.
In doing so we express our solidarity with the two streams of non-Roman Catholicism which came together in 1889 to form the Union of Utrecht. The first is the independent Dutch Catholic Church, which was formed in the early eighteenth century. The Dutch Catholic Church asserted its ancient and historic rights against encroachment from the Roman papacy, rights which included the election of bishops by the local church. For over two centuries the Dutch Catholic Church provided an indigenous expression of Catholicism for the Dutch people.
This strand of non- Roman Catholicism later merged with a second strand. This second expression was a result of Catholics in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and elsewhere who could not, in good conscience, accept some of the decisions of the First Vatican Council in 1870, most notably the definitions of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction.
The Union of Utrecht represents the consolidation of these two movements into what is commonly called in English the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. The Old Catholic Union of Utrecht has been a vibrant witness to broadening understandings of what it means to be part of the larger church Catholic. The Union of Utrecht has been in communion with the Anglican Churches since 1931, including mutual consecration of bishops and interchangeability of ministries.
While not a member of the Union of Utrecht, the ECC commits itself to the Declaration of Utrecht and to seeking pastoral oversight from the Archbishop of Utrecht. The ECC sees itself in continuity with these two strands of Old Catholicism. Like the Dutch Catholic Church, the ECC considers itself to be an expression of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church that is a representation of the American people, just as the Dutch Catholic Church considers itself to be an expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of the Dutch people. Like the Union of Utrecht, the ECC also rejects making essentials out of what we consider innovations to what it means to be Catholic.
We particularly endorse the following elements of the Declaration of Utrecht and the Old Catholic movement:
1. We in the ECC likewise consider ourselves to be an expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in continuity with the Scriptures and the ancient ecumenical councils of the undivided church.
2. While not denying a special pastoral ministry of the Bishop of Rome, we do not consider communion with the Bishop of Rome to define what it means to be Catholic.
3. While affirming the centrality of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation, as a special mediatory between humanity and Christ, and worthily the object of special veneration, we nonetheless do not require belief in the doctrines of the Assumption and Immaculate Conception as binding on all the faithful. Belief in the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been common in the Catholic Church since ancient times. However, this pious belief was never elevated to the level of dogma by any recognized ecumenical council. In 1952, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be a dogma of the Church. Old Catholics do not recognize the pope’s authority to declare dogma apart from a truly ecumenical council of the entire Catholic Church. In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the belief of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the belief that when the Virgin Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb she was miraculously spared the taint of Original Sin, to be a dogma of the Church. Old Catholics also reject this action of Pius IX on the same grounds as the rejection of Pius XII’s declaration concerning the Assumption.
We pledge to commit ourselves to the Declaration of Utrecht by:
1. Formal action of our governing synod;
2. Seeking ecumenical cooperation where possible with Anglicans;
3. Teaching the history and theology of the Old Catholic movement to our seminarians;
4. And by formally seeking pastoral oversight from the Archbishop of Utrecht.
This is the text of the Declaration of Utrecht as currently presented on the Union of Utrecht website:
In nomine ss. Trinitatis
Johannes Heykamp, Archbishop of Utrecht.
Casparus Johannes Rinkel, Bishop of Haarlem,
Cornelius Diependaal, Bishop of Deventer,
Joseph Hubert Reinkens, Bishop of the Old Catholic Church of Germany,
Eduard Herzog, Bishop of the Christian-Catholic Church of Switzerland,
assembled in the Archiepiscopal residence at Utrecht on the four and twentieth day of September, 1889, after invocation of the Holy Spirit, address the following Declaration to the Catholic Church.
Being assembled for a conference in response to an invitation from the undersigned Archbishop of Utrecht, we have resolved henceforth to meet from time to time for consultations on subjects of common interest, in conjunction with our assistants, councillors, and theologians.
We deem it appropriate at this our first meeting to summarize in a common declaration the ecclesiastical principles on which we have hitherto exercised and will continue to exercise our episcopal ministry, and which we have repeatedly had occasion to state in individual declarations.
(1) We adhere to the principle of the ancient Church laid down by St Vincent of Lérins in these terms: ‘Id teneamus, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; hoc est etenim vere proprieque catholicum’. Therefore we abide by the faith of the ancient Church as it is formulated in the ecumenical symbols and in the universally accepted dogmatic decisions of the ecumenical synods held in the undivided Church of the first millennium.
(2) We therefore reject as contradicting the faith of the ancient Church and destroying her constitution, the Vatican decrees, promulgated July 18, 1870, concerning the infallibility and the universal episcopate or ecclesiastical plenitude of power of the Roman Pope. This, however, does not prevent us from acknowledging the historic primacy which several ecumenical councils and the Fathers of the ancient Church with the assent of the whole Church have attributed to the Bishop of Rome by recognizing him as the primus inter pares.
(3) We also reject the dogma of the Immaculate Conception promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854 as being without foundation in Holy Scriptures and the tradition of the first centuries.
(4) As for the other dogmatic decrees issued by the Bishops of Rome in the last centuries, the bulls Unigenitus and Auctorem fidei, the Syllabus of 1864 etc., we reject them on all such points as are in contradiction with the doctrine of the ancient Church, and do not recognize them as binding. Moreover, we renew all those protests which the ancient Catholic Church of Holland has made against Rome in the past.
(5) We refuse to accept the decisions of the Council of Trent in matters of discipline, and we accept its dogmatic decisions only insofar as they agree with the teaching of the ancient Church.
(6) Considering that the Holy Eucharist has always been the true focal point of worship in the Catholic Church, we consider it our duty to declare that we maintain in all faithfulness and without deviation the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body and the Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself under the species of bread and wine.
The Eucharistic celebration in the Church is neither a continual repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Christ offered once and for all on the Cross; the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, however, consists in its being the perpetual commemoration of that sacrifice and a real representation, being enacted on earth, of the one offering which Christ according to Heb. 9:11-12 continuously makes in heaven for the salvation of redeemed humanity, by appearing now for us in the presence of God (Heb. 9:24).
This being the character of the Eucharist in relation to Christ’s sacrifice, it is at the same time a sacrificial meal, by means of which the faithful, in receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, have communion with one another (1 Cor. 10:17).
(7) We hope that the theologians, while maintaining the faith of the undivided Church, will succeed in their efforts to establish an agreement on the differences that have arisen since the divisions of the Church. We urge the priests under our jurisdiction in the first place to stress, both by preaching and by religious instruction, the essential Christian truths professed in common by all the divided confessions, carefully to avoid, in discussing still existing differences, any violation of truth or charity, and, in word and deed, to set an example to the members of our parishes of how to act towards people of a different belief in a way that is in accordance with the spirit of Jesus Christ, who is the Saviour of us all.
(8) We believe that it is in faithfully maintaining the teaching of Jesus Christ, while rejecting all the errors that have been added to it through human sin, as well as rejecting all the abuses in ecclesiastical matters and hierarchical tendencies, that we shall best counteract unbelief and that religious indifference which is the worst evil of our day.
Given at Utrecht, the 24th September 1889.
Casparus Johannes Rinkel.
Joseph Hubert Reinkens.
Note. – This is a fresh translation made from the German original (cf. IKZ 84, 1994, p. 40-42). The first English translation of the Declaration of Utrecht was published in The Foreign Church Chronicle and Review 13 (1889) pp. 225-227. The most widely circulated translation is to be found in C.B. Moss, The Old Catholic Movement, London, 1964, 281f. Moss claims his somewhat paraphrasing translation to have been accepted by the Old Catholic bishops as correct. It was already published in the Report of the Lambeth Conference of 1930, p. 142 (with minor orthographical and other variations). It should be noted that his quasi-official English version reproduces an abbreviated text without the introductory section, as it was in use in Old Catholic circles around 1930.