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Catholic Apostolic Church

The first decades of the nineteenth century saw an increasing dissatisfaction with the oversimplified Gospel of the earlier evangelical movement. The quest for a more experimental faith and a fuller biblical exegesis led to greater emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, ecclesiology, and prophecy. These subjects were of major interest to such orthodox churchmen as Haldane Stewart, Hugh MacNeil, and William Marsh, who together with Edward Irving* and many others attended at Henry Drummond's* invitation the Conferences for Biblical Study at Albury Park, Surrey, in 1826. The Catholic Apostolic Church grew out of the fact that under Irving's influence many attending these meetings came to believe that the special gifts of the apostolic age were a permanent endowment of the church, restrained only by the faithlessness of later Christians.

In 1830 Mary Campbell (later Mrs. Caird), of Fernicarry in J.M. Campbell's* parish of Row, and James and Margaret Macdonald of Port Glasgow spoke in tongues and experienced miraculous healing. Great interest was shown among Drummond's friends, and in 1831 similar gifts appeared in Irving's congregation in Regent Square, London. The church which Irving founded in Newman Street after his repudiation by the London Presbytery became “a rallying point of millennial expectation,” though his own influence on the community declined as he had declared the utterances in his congregation to be the authoritative voice of the Holy Spirit.

The conviction that the Day of the Lord was near dictated the new community's structure. In 1832, under prophetic direction, twelve latter-day apostles (including Drummond, but not Irving) were recognized. These, together with the original Twelve, were expected to occupy the twenty-four thrones of Revelation 4. The “Restored Apostolate's” mission was to warn the church of the impending Second Coming and to heal her schisms. In 1836 their testimony was delivered to King William IV and the Anglican hierarchy, and in 1838 the apostles and their assistants delivered similar memoranda in the different regions of Christendom overseas.

In the face of almost complete apathy, the community developed elaborate ritual involving the Real Presence, Perpetual Reservation, Holy Water, etc., together with the distinctive sacrament of Sealing by which members were numbered among the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and would thus escape the Great Tribulation. The movement spread on the Continent as well as in England, but in theory at least did not withdraw from other ecclesiastical bodies. Rather, they regarded themselves as an order within the church universal. Attempts were made on the Continent to come to terms with the death of the Apostles (see New Apostolic Church), but the movement is now almost nonexistent, as the 144,000th witness has been sealed.

The striking similarity between the Catholic Apostolics and the Tractarians* must be noted. Not only is there a common abandonment of traditional Protestant austerity in favor of ritualism and a fuller ecclesiology, but also a response to the experimental and intuitive emphases of the Romantic movement (cf. Irving's connections with Coleridge). Likewise, both had very little use for social reform. There are also several personal links between the movements—e.g., Joseph Wolff, Gladstone's* respect for Irving, H.J. Owen's influence on churchmen (see The Guardian, 25 March 1863).

M.O.W. Oliphant, Life of Edward Irving (1862); E. Miller, The History and Doctrines of Irvingism (1878); G.W.E. Russell, The Household of Faith (1902), pp. 264-74; A.L. Drummond, Edward Irving and His Circle (1938); P.E. Shaw, The Catholic Apostolic Church (1946); J. Robert, Catholiques-apostoliques et néo-apostoliques (1960).