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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

The Catholic Apostolic Church

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A religious com munity often called "Irvingites," though neither actually founded nor anticipated by Edward. Irving. Irving's relation to this community was, according to its members, somewhat similar to that of John the Baptist to the early Christian Church, i.e. he was the forerunner and prophet of the coming dispensation, not the founder of a new sect.; and indeed the only connexion which Irving seems to have had with the existing organization of the Catholic Apostolic body was in "fostering spiritual persons who had been driven out of other congregations for the exercise of their spiritual gifts." Shortly after Irving's trial and deposition (1831), certain persons were, at some meetings held for prayer, designated as "called to be apostles of the Lord" by certain others claiming prophetic gifts. In the year 1835, six months after Irving's death, six others were similarly designated as "called" to complete the number of the "twelve," who were then formally "separated," by the pastors of the local congregations to which they belonged, to their higher office in the universal church on the 14th of July 183 5. This separation is understood by the community not as "in any sense being a schism or separation from the one Catholic Church, but a separation to a special work of blessing and intercession on behalf of it." The twelve were afterwards guided to ordain others - twelve prophets, twelve evangelists, and twelve pastors, "sharing equally with them the one Catholic Episcopate," and also seven deacons for administering the temporal affairs of the church catholic. The apostles were the channels of the Holy Ghost and the mysteries of God, and the authoritative interpreters of "prophetic utterance"; their teaching was brought home to the people by the "evangelists." The function of the prophets was to explain scripture and exhort to holiness, that of the "pastors" is explained by their title. The central episcopacy of forty-eight was regarded as "indicated by prophecy," being foreshown in the forty-eight boards of the Mosaic tabernacle. For ecclesiastical purposes the church universal is under their charge in twelve tribes; for Christendom is considered to be divided into twelve portions or tribes, each tribe being under the special charge of an apostle and his coministers, and the seat of the Apostolic College being at Albury, near Guildford. This is an ideal outline which has never been fulfilled. There has never been a "central episcopacy" of forty-eight. The "apostles" alone always held the supreme authority, though, as their number dwindled, "coadjutors" were appointed to assist the survivors, and to exercise the functions of the "apostolate." The last "apostle" died on the 3rd of February 1901.

For the service of the church a comprehensive book of liturgies and offices was provided by the "apostles." It dates from 1842 and is based on the Anglican, Roman and Greek liturgies. Lights, incense, vestments, holy water, chrism, and other adjuncts of worship are in constant use. The ceremonial in its completeness may be seen in the church in Gordon Square, London, and elsewhere. The daily worship consists of "matins" with "proposition" (or exposition) of the sacrament at 6 A.M., prayers at 9 A.M. and 3 P.M., and "vespers" with "proposition" at 5 P.M. On all Sundays and holy days there is a "solemn celebration of the eucharist" at the high altar; on Sundays this is at 10 A.M. On other days "low celebrations" are held in the side-chapels, which with the chancel in all churches correctly built after apostolic directions are separated or marked off from the nave by open screens with gates. The community has always laid great stress on symbolism, and in the eucharist, while rejecting both transubstantiation and consubstantiation, holds strongly to a real (mystical) presence. It emphasizes also the "phenomena" of Christian experience and deems miracle and mystery to be of the essence of a spirit-filled church.

Each congregation is presided over by its "angel" or bishop (who ranks as angel-pastor in the Universal Church); under him are four-and-twenty priests, divided into the four ministries of "elders, prophets, evangelists and pastors," and with these are the deacons, seven of whom regulate the temporal affairs of the church - besides whom there are also "sub-deacons, acolytes, singers, and door-keepers." The understanding is that each elder, with his co-presbyters and deacons, shall have charge of 500 adult communicants in his district; but this has been but partially carried into practice. This is the full constitution of each particular church or congregation as founded by the "restored apostles," each local church thus "reflecting in its government the government of the church catholic by the angel or high priest Jesus Christ, and His forty-eight presbyters in their fourfold ministry (in which apostles and elders always rank first), and under these the deacons of the church catholic." The priesthood is supported by tithes; it being deemed a duty on the part of all members of the church who receive yearly incomes to offer a tithe of their increase every week, besides the free-will offering for the support of the place of worship, and for the relief of distress. Each local church sends "a tithe of its tithes" to the "Temple," by which the ministers of the Universal Church are supported and its administrative expenses defrayed; by these offerings, too, the needs of poorer churches are supplied. It claims to have among its clergy many of the Roman, Anglican and other churches, the orders of those ordained by Greek, Roman and Anglican bishops being recognized by it with the simple confirmation of an "apostolic act." The community has not changed recently in general constitution or doctrine. It does not publish statistics, and its growth during late years is said to have been more marked in the United States and in certain European countries, such as Germany, than in Great Britain. There are nine congregations enumerated in The Religious Life of London (1904).

For further details of doctrines, ritual, &c., see R. N. Bosworth, Restoration of Apostles and Prophets, Readings on the Liturgy, The Church and Tabernacle, and The Purpose of God in Creation and Redemption (6th ed., 1888); G. Miller, History and Doctrines of Irvingism (1878).

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'The Catholic Apostolic Church'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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