British Old Catholic Church


The history of the Traditional Old Catholic Movement within Catholicism is significant for our faith community because it is from the Old Catholic Church that our British jurisdiction derives her apostolic succession and her distinctive theological orientation.



Until the year 1054 AD when the first unhappy division took place, the Church was as it should be, "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic." What happened after the division of course appears differently to the mind of every individual and the truth becomes hard to discern. It is safe to say then, that the only way of proving the truth of any contemporary interpretation of Christianity, is to submit it to the examination of the common mind of the Christian Church before its division took place. Was it believed by all Christians everywhere, at all times before the year 1054 A.D.? ~ is the test every question of faith should meet.


The Old Catholic Movement maintains that the obvious basis of reuniting the several divisions of the Christian Church is the common acceptance of the Faith of the entire Church prior to the first division in the year 1054 A.D. from whence all the familiar divisions of today ultimately stem. This theory admits that the 16th century Reformation is not principally responsible for the "unhappy divisions" that beset the Christian religion in the western world.


What caused the first division was not a point of faith so much as it was a matter of jurisdiction and administration. History reveals that the early Church was governed by the Apostolic authority vested in all the bishops. Matters of faith and morals affecting the whole Church were brought before an Ecumenical Council (of which there were seven universally accepted) over which the five great bishops of Christendom presided. These bishops, whose Sees represented the important cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria and Rome, were known as patriarchs in whom the Church of the ancients recognised its sovereignty.


If we are to single out the primary cause of the first division of this Church, it would be the deeply rooted objection of the Patriarch of Rome to this particular theory of Church government. Rome maintained that they and their successors held supreme authority over all Christendom as spiritual heirs of St. Peter, whom, they held, was the first Bishop of Rome and to whom, they contended, the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" were alone divinely entrusted. In the work The Grail Church, however, its author, himself an Old Catholic bishop, (on page 36) writes: “The Apostolic Constitution in the year 270 confirms that Paul appointed Linus as the first Bishop of Rome. After Linus came Clement, appointed by Peter. Eusebius of Caesarea, throughout his writings, never once identifies Peter as Bishop of Rome.”


The four patriarchs of the Church in the East maintained the traditional belief in the administration of Christ’s Church, offering for the sake of unity the title "primus inter pares" (first amongst equals) to the Roman bishop.


But with the Church of the West developing a strong belief that a kind of primacy resided in the Roman bishop by divine enactment, the breach widened into an open division and henceforth the Christian Church in the East and in the West was to be distinct and divided. In the East, to this day, the patriarchal theory of the Church’s government is held, while in the West the emphasis on the personal supremacy of the Pope over all Christendom was gradually increased from the year 1054 until the final definition of Papal infallibility was decreed in the Vatican Council of A.D. 1870 as a dogma which all Christians were bound to accept as an article of faith.


It is important for our immediate purpose to establish the basis upon which a school of thought regarding the Church’s administration developed within the Roman Church, flourishing time and again in such celebrated and glorious figures as Savanarola, Paulo Sarpl, the Scholars of Port-Royal, the so-called "Jansenists", the Church of Holland and others, to develop finally in the twilight of the nineteenth century into what came to be known as "Primitive" or "Old" Catholicism.


We are left free now in the following paragraphs to touch upon the stirring and romantic history of the Port-Royalists of France, the rise of the movement within the Church of Rome and finally the dramatic Vatican Council which culminated in the definite formation of the present Old Catholic movement whose purpose is not a new reformation from without, but a quiet restoration of the Christian Church to its original state from within.


From 1054 A.D. to the very threshold of our own times, the question of defining the extent of Papal authority continually occupied the growing Catholic Church in the West. A struggle was manifested in two distinct schools of thought.


One school of thought maintained the belief that the supreme teaching authority within the Church rested in the Ecumenical Councils on the ground that all Catholic Bishops have equal pastoral authority.


The other school in opposition advanced the principle called "ultra-montanism," which maintained that the Pope was above the authority of the Councils.


During the 17th Century "ultra-montanism" found its principle resistance in the Church of France, and its principle support among the Jesuits. The Faculty of the Sorbonne proved to be a great bulwark against ultra-montane theories and championed scholars maintaining the French cause.


The entire body of French clergy drew up a declaration in 1682 A.D. in order to protect the canonical rights of the French Church against the encroachments of the ultra-montanists. In writing this declaration of 1682, the French clergy were mindful of the primitive teaching of the Catholic Church, restated by the Council of Constance (1414-1418), which decreed, it had "its authority immediately from Christ, and everyone, whatever his rank or position, even if it be the Pope himself, is bound to obey it in all things which pertain to the Faith, to the healing of schism, and to the general renewal of the Church. "This document," a contemporary historian says, "is an important document in the history of Old Catholicism." Its contents may be summarized under the following subheadings: (1) The Pope could not release subjects from obedience to temporal power. The authority received by the Church from God is spiritual, not temporal (i.e., "My Kingdom is not of this world."). (2) That the Decrees of the Council of Constance remain in full force in the Church. The Papal authority in no way affects the perpetual and immovable strength of the Decrees of the Council. (3) The independence of the French Church must be maintained ~ the authority of the Apostles must be exercised in accordance with the mind of the whole Church. (4) That the decisions of the Pope are not infallible ~ his "judgment is not irreversible until confirmed by the consent of the whole Church."


The Declaration, signed by thirty-four Archbishops and Bishops and formulated under the guidance of Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, reaffirmed the position which had at all times been dear to the French Church. This document became a norm for the conduct of relations between the National churches of Northern Europe and the Roman Curia.


Italian ultra-montane writers attacked the French clergy. In response, Bishop Bossuet wrote a "Defense of the Declaration" which so powerfully influenced belief in the principles held by the French Church that his learned opponent, Cardinal Orsi, advised the Roman Theologians to abandon ultra-montanism as a "hopeless" cause.


However, the most powerful factor in preserving the "Old" Catholic tradition in France was the support of such scholars as Arnauld, Pascal, Cyran, Tillimont and others. They carried the standards of Port Royal, the envy even today of scholars, theologians, educators, and churchmen.


Francois Mauriac, whose judgment of Port Royal is obviously biased by personal predilections, nevertheless admits, in his recent book on Port Royal’s most celebrated son, that "after three centuries Blaise Pascal is still alive. His slightest thought troubles or charms or irritates, but he is understood instantly. Pascal is the brother of all sinners, of all converts, of all wounded men whose wounds may reopen at any instant, of all whom Christ has pursued from afar, and who trust only in His love."


Port Royal in France was not only the vessel containing the mental and spiritual giants of its day, but it proved a major influence in preserving for our time the Tradition of the Church, that her children believe, and that the Saints knew, loved, lived, and died for.


To trace the origin of Port Royal, around which the storms of Church and State revolved in the 17th century in the controversy touching on the growth of Papal power, it is necessary to go back to the year 1204. At that date an Abbey was founded at the head of the Valley of the Rhodon near Chevreuse (about eighteen miles southwest of Paris) by Eudes de Sully, Bishop of Paris, and Mathilde de Garlande, to ensure prayers for the safe return of Mathilde’s husband, Mathieu De Marly De Montmorenci, who had gone to take part in the Fourth Crusade. The site of the Abbey was known as Port Royal, and it is said its name derived from a corruption of the low Latin "porra" which described the ponds and "mares" which abounded in the neighbourhood.


The community of nuns of Port Royal flourished during the 14th and 15th centuries and attained certain fame, but in the 16th century the religious wars and the war with England tended to relax the discipline of all religious houses ~ and Port Royal did not escape from this infection of its religious life. As everywhere, in the religious houses of the time, the nuns of Port Royal became worldly and the rule of St. Benedict was forgotten, while for more than thirty years, no sermon had been preached save at seven or eight professions.


The regeneration of Port Royal came about under the guidance of Angelique Arnauld, appointed by a Papal Bull at the age of eleven, in the year 1602, to be Abbess of Port Royal. Taking over the community, which at that time consisted of ten sisters, Mere Angelique proceeded to reform it after having been "completely converted" nine years after her appointment. She succeeded in introducing vows of poverty and seclusion and re-introduced the teaching work of her Abbey after it had long lain idle. Though at first these increased austerities caused a rupture with the Arnauld family and no little trouble with the formerly ease-loving nuns, she was able to successfully heal all difficulties. Her energy and steadfastness of purpose overcame all obstacles: she not only won her family to Port Royal, but her influence made itself felt in other houses and a widespread revival of the spiritual ideal for which the primitive Cistercians were renowned took place. By the year 1626 Port Royal had increased the number of its inhabitants to more than eighty.


To escape the unhealthy conditions engendered by the swamp land surrounding the Abbey, the community was required to take a house in Paris to which a body of nuns removed. The two sections of the convent were thereafter known as Port-Royal de Paris.


About 1636 A.D. a remarkable group of men ~ physicians, men of letters, soldiers, scholars and ecclesiasts, influenced by a friend of Port Royal, the Abbe de S. Cyran, took up their residence at Les Grange, near Port Royal des Champs, where they resolved to lead a life of self-renunciation and consecration and took for their rallying cry "Thought allied with faith", making redemption of souls their mission. These men were the Solitaires. They took no vows, but systematically divided their time between religious exercises, literary pursuits, teaching and manual labour.


The Solitaires were regarded as forming a joint community with the nuns of Port Royal, among whom many had relatives. Among these men were Antoine Arnauld, Lemaistre de Sacy, Arnauld d’Andilly, Nicole and subsequently, Blaise Pascal, Lancelot and others. These men conducted schools called "Les Petites escoles de Port Royal" which soon acquired a great and undying reputation for anticipating in many ways modern ideas of education. In the hands of these men lay the spiritual destiny of "Old" Catholicism in France. Of them, the saintly princess, Madame Elizabeth, a sister of Louis XVI, wrote, "Their theology apart, that I do not understand, these gentlemen of Port Royal were holy persons. What a life they led, compared to ours!"


The Abbey of Port Royal was more than a convent of reformed nuns and the community of "Solitaires" more than a band of holy men gathered together from every walk of life to give themselves wholly to God. They had ideas which, supported by brilliant minds and holy lives, were considered dangerous to the pretensions of ultra-montanists, scholastics and ecclesiastical politicos. Saint Cyran had worked with Cornelius Jansen, Bishop of Ypres, in a study of the early Fathers in an attempt to restore vitality to the lifeless theology of the time and restore the Church to the simplicity and purity of primitive times. Jansen’s work culminated in the publication of "Petrus Augustinus" in which their theories, based on the writings of St. Augustine, were expounded. Saint Cyran, however, continued to apply these theories to practice in life and the Port Royal Solitaires supported him. The Jesuits, having been severely censured in the "Augustinus" as fostering the ancient heresy of Pelagianism in the Church, exerted all their efforts to have it condemned. Five propositions were presented to the Pope as having been contained in the writings of Jansen and the request that they be condemned heretical. Though the Jesuits’ plea was heeded, historians still doubt the likelihood that the propositions were ever contained in Jansen’s works. The Jesuits also coined the word "Jansenist" as a term of reproach to the Port Royalists. A formulary was drawn up in which the five propositions were condemned and the Port Royalists were requested to sign it under pain of expulsion and suppression.


Richelieu, who had not been able to win Saint Cyran, whom he considered the "most learned man in Europe," to his political aims by offers of ecclesiastical preferments ~ in all five Sees which Saint Cyran refused ~ determined to use the situation to put him out of the way. Through the joint attacks of her adversaries Port Royal suffered. Saint Cyran was imprisoned on a vague charge of heresy. The nuns and Solitaires, refusing to sign the formulary that they were convinced was a false statement were several times dispersed, but their powerful defence in the brilliant language of Arnauld, the stirring writings of Pascal, and the saintly lives of the nuns and recluses held off the fatal day of the Abbey’s complete destruction and earned them undying fame. To the doors of Port Royal flocked people hungry for spiritual nourishment in a desert of theological bickering and dead scholasticism to find the peace of God even I the midst of these struggles. Marie de Gonsagne, later Queen of Poland, had a lodging at Port Royal and subsequently offered the community a refuge from their persecutors in her kingdom.


But the Port Royalists did not flee fro the ordeal. Saint Cyran, upon the death of Richelieu, was released from prison only to die shortly afterwards from the effects of the confinement. Mere Angelique died in 1661 in the midst of the battle. Jacqueline Pascal, her successor remained steadfast in vindicating Port Royal of an unjust calumniation. Writing of conditions to a friend at that time, she says, "I know that it is not for women to defend the Faith, but when Bishops are as timorous as women, it befits women to be as brave as Bishops." Antoine Arnauld was stripped of his scholarly honours and died, an exile, in Holland. The combined strength of the enemy prevailed in time and the little schools were suppressed, the Solitaires dispersed, the nuns imprisoned, and finally in 1709, the Abbey was completely destroyed even to the desecration of the graves. It was said of the Port-Royalists that they led the lives of strict puritans yet were nonetheless Catholics who bowed neither before King nor Prelate in the defense of their Catholic faith. When a worldly prelate, friendly to Port Royal was described as a Jansenist, it was said of him, "What, he a Jansenist? That is impossible. To be a Jansenist one must first be a Christian."


The ruin of Port Royal was a tragic and inhuman episode in the history of the ascendancy of the ultramontane party in the Catholic Church. The destruction of the abbey had been the avowed purpose of its detractors, the Jesuits, who, with the consent of King Louis XIV, thought thereby to put an end to what they contemptuously termed "Jansenism." They failed in this object. The celebrated hymnographer and historian of the Church of England, John Mason Neale in his book, "The So-Called Jansenists," could say almost two centuries later, "The spirit of Port Royal lived on, and still lives."


Pasquer Quesnel, the last of the so-called "Jansenists" connected with Port Royal, shouldered the mantle of Antoine Arnauld. Quesnel, elevated to the post of Director of the Oratorian School in Paris early in his career, was forced to flee France in 1684 with several others. They preferred exile rather than signing an anti-Jansenist formula which they regarded as a "senseless and despotic" document and which all members of the Congregation of the Oratory were required by Rome to sign.


In Brussels he joined Antoine Arnauld and remained with him until his friend’s death in 1694 and from then on he became the "oracle" of the Port Royalists. In May 1703 Quesnel was suddenly arrested in Brussels and thrown into the prison of the Archbishop of Malines who had obtained an order for his arrest from King Philip V of Spain. With the help of a Spaniard, who contrived to make a hole in the prison wall sufficiently large to admit the egress, Quesnel escaped.


Quesnel fled to Amsterdam where, after the fall of Port Royal, he continued with friends to fulfill the mission of conscientious Catholics. He died at Amsterdam in 1709 in time to witness the seeds of his mission bearing fruit. For in Holland, the means whereby Catholics cut off from the Church of Rome could cling to the Catholic Faith and maintain its primitive doctrine was at hand.


The French cause upheld by the Gallican Bishops against the growing claims of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, was to be crushed under the heel of Napoleon, who proved an unwitting ally of ultra-montanists. However, the Tradition and Episcopate of the Catholic Church was to be carried on through the Church of Holland and preserved until the day when the ultimate goal of ultra-montanism, the Declaration of Papal Infallibility, was to enslave all Roman Catholics to the will of a few and leave a portion of the Catholic flock, that adhered to the old and unchangeable faith of the Christian Church, without shepherds.


Here the intervention of the Hand of God, through the agency of Dominique Mary Varlet, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ascalon, forged the link by which Old Catholics the world over were to receive an Episcopate of undeniable Catholic authority and Apostolic Succession.


The Church of Holland, which had provided shelter for many of the clergy of France from the persecution of the Jesuits, was itself to be the scene of the next stage of the struggle. With the rise of ultra-montanism the traditional right of the Church of Holland to elect its own Archbishop was in jeopardy. The Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral Church at Utrecht had, from the beginning, possessed the right of electing its own Archbishop who exercised all ecclesiastical authority over the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church in Holland.


In 1697, exercising this customary privilege, the Chapter elected Peter Codde, their Vicar General and already Bishop of Sebaste, as their Archbishop. The Pope would not recognize this election and substituted a person of his own appointment, Theodore de Cock, who was expelled by the Chapter. But with the death of Archbishop Codde the See of Utrecht became vacant and Rome, refusing to accept Bishops elected by the Metropolitan Chapter, adopted a policy of withholding the Episcopate from the Church of Holland in the hope that the independent Church of Holland would submit to the will of the papacy or die a natural death.


Bishop Varlet, a French refugee in Holland, at the request of the Chapter, braved Papal censure by successively consecrating Cornelius Steenoven (1724) and Cornelius Jan Burchman (1725) as Archbishops of Utrecht. The celebrated canonist, Van Espen, defended the rights of the Chapter to elect its own Archbishop. The Church of Utrecht continues to this day in preserving an independent Catholic Episcopate in Holland whose validity has never been questioned by Roman Catholic authorities.


There were Catholics in countries other than France and Holland that opposed the growth of the new interpretation of Papal authority. In England and Ireland opposition to ultra-montanism was great. Vigorous attempts to "Romanise" these countries were inaugurated and a clear distinction was made between "Catholics" and "Romanists." "Catholics" frankly committed themselves to the rejection of Papal infallibility. In 1780 a committee of Roman Catholics in England declared that of the total number of priests in England, estimated at three hundred and sixty, the whole body of clergy including their four Bishops, with the exception of one hundred and ten Jesuits, opposed ultra-montanism.


William E. Gladstone in his book "Vaticanism" quotes Bishop Baine, a Roman Catholic Bishop in England in 1822, as saying, "Bellarmine and some other theologians, chiefly Italians, have believed the Pope infallible when proposing ‘ex cathedra’ an article of faith. But in England and Ireland I do not believe that any Catholic maintains the infallibility of the Pope." The Pastoral Address of the Irish Bishops to the clergy and laity in 1826 declared that, "It is not an article of the Catholic Faith, neither are they thereby required to believe that the Pope is infallible." An official Catechism of the English Roman Catholics is the famous Keenan’s Catechism in which, previous to the year 1870, the following question and answer were contained. "(Q) Must not Catholics believe the Pope in himself to be infallible? (A) This is a Protestant invention: it is no article of the Catholic faith."


The ultra-montanists hoped to eliminate this belief amongst the Roman Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland by a process of "Romanising." Cardinal Wiseman "the instrument under God to Romanise England" and Manning, his successor, "he could not go too far in conceptions designated ultra-montaine" were especially selected by Rome, over the objections of the local clergy, for this purpose. "Thus by the oppression of independent thought and a rewriting of history, imposed by Romanised Bishops upon a reluctant community," says a recent historian, "a process of ‘changing’ the thought of English and Irish Catholics was attempted." These attempts were resisted by Catholics and were unsuccessful even to the time of the Vatican Council in 1870 when several Irish and English Bishops openly opposed the new theories of papal prerogatives.


In Germany, too, under the celebrated theologian, Ignatius von Dolinger, and on the continent everywhere, "Old" Catholics were strong and numerous enough to resist the encroachments of this terrifying novelty, little dreaming that the proposition so much dreaded by Catholics everywhere would be considered seriously enough to be proclaimed as an article of Faith binding upon all the faithful.


Up to the eve of the famous Vatican I Council we have shown, in the preceding paragraphs, the uninterrupted existence within the Roman Church of "Old" Catholics struggling always to maintain an non-mutilated faith in the Catholic Church. But with the curtain rising on the first Vatican Council, we enter the final phase of their struggles, a period that is, from any point of view, the most critical in the history of the papacy. On the 18th of July 1870 the transition of Roman Catholicism into a new phase of Catholicism took place, to leave only a remnant of the faithful clinging to what the Church had always, everywhere believed ~ the "Old" Catholic Faith, unchanged, yet progressively revealing.


Sensing the growing intellectual freedom of Catholics everywhere, the ultra-montanists felt that only by an absolute dictatorship over the thoughts and conscience of the faithful could Rome regain its former power over the entire occidental world ~ a power weakened by the great Protestant Reformation. The establishment of such a dictatorship they sought, and obtained, through the agency of the first Vatican Council of 1870.


Up to the time of this Council the personal infallibility of the Pope was considered nothing more than a "pious opinion" held by a faction within the Church. The larger part of the Catholic Church so little believed in it, that when Protestants reproached them with this superstition, Roman theologians regarded it as a calumny. The Vatican Council was a bold step in an attempt to make what had formerly been regarded as a "Protestant invention" into the keystone of the Catholic Faith.


Pius IX, an aging pope without much theological culture, who had been inspired by the Jesuits into sensing his own personal infallibility, accordingly, to secure the official recognition of the Church by a so-called General Council in this matter, summoned the Vatican Council to open on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8th December 1870). On that very day, fifteen years earlier, Pius IX had himself proclaimed this new dogma, and a fervid prelate, who had just returned from a visit to Lourdes, assured him: "The Pope has said to Mary, ‘You are immaculate.’ And now Mary answers the Pope, ‘And you are infallible’."


In the Vatican Council the representatives of the great majority of Roman Catholics, the German, French, Austrian, English, Czech, Irish and American bishops, oddly enough formed the minority. The great majority was to be found in Italian bishops representing numerous diminutive dioceses and in titular bishops without dioceses, whose expenses, Cardinal Schwarzenburg said, "the Pope was obliged to pay entire, even to their very socks, so that they voted blindly at his bidding." The minority had little opportunity of voicing their opposition to the creation of the new dogma. An order of business described by a Roman Catholic Archbishop who was present at the Council as "a cursed congeries of pitfalls," precluded all free discussion.


If the minority could not be heard in Council and wished to have a memoir of their opposition printed, the printing houses of Rome were forbidden to serve them. Pamphlets mailed from out of the country were sequestered and never delivered. Anyone answering the Pope with an appeal to Christian Tradition was silenced with "I am tradition."


In a last minute appeal to the Pope, when several bishops were allowed an audience, the proud bishop of Mainz, Baron von Kotteler, fell on his knees weeping to implore the Pope not to formulate the fatal dogma of his own infallibility. Finally, when the dogma was met with its first vote, eighty-eight voted against it, ninety-one bishops refrained from voting, and sixty-two voted yea only conditionally. The opposition departed from Rome before a second vote was taken rather than be called upon either to support the hated dogma or personally offend the Pope by voting negatively.


With all opposition dispersed the ultra-montanists sealed their triumph in the final vote with still two negative voices on July 18th, 1870. On that day, in the midst of one of the fiercest storms to break across the city of Rome, accompanied by thundering and lightning, while rain poured in through the broken glass of the roof near him, Pius IX rose in the darkness, and by the aid of the feeble light of a candle, read the momentous affirmation of his own infallibility. "We declare it to be an article of faith that the Roman Pope possesses infallibility in any doctrine relating to faith and morals. If anyone shall oppose this our decision, which God forbid, let him be accursed,"


The storm has been variously interpreted by friend or foe, as comparable to the solemn legislation of Mt. Sinai or as tokens of Divine displeasure and approaching desolation. But whatever constructions were placed upon the circumstances surrounding the birth of the new dogma, the Western Church was indisputably bound to a new interpretation of its Catholicity. Tradition and Scripture were no longer necessary. Instead, every Christian under pain of being accursed was hereafter to know that on any matter concerning his Faith, he would have to be content with the answer "the Pope has spoken, the cause is ended."


With the declaration of the doctrine of papal infallibility at the closing session of the First Vatican Council in 1870, a new condition of faith was to be imposed on all Catholics. As far as the ultra-montanists were concerned, the question that stirred men’s hearts within the church for centuries past was now settled ~ in their favour. "The Pope had spoken" indeed, but the cause was by no means ended. In fact, the real struggle was now taking shape.


There were able and learned members of the Roman Catholic Church to whom it was impossible to reconcile the new dogma with what they had always believed. The Catholic consciousness of early ages presented a theory out of which papal infallibility could never legitimately grow. The primitive theory, as the Councils of the Church made plain, placed final authority in the ecumenical council of all the bishops of the entire church and the transference of this authority from the entire body of the church to one individual was no true Catholic development at all, but a dislocation of the original constitution of the Church.


If most of the Bishops were coerced or threatened by official intimidation to accept the new belief, there were others that officialdom could not touch nor frighten. Several Bishops refused to publish the new dogma within their diocese. In America, Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis, whose speech against the new dogma was suppressed in Council, expressed the unspoken feelings of many of the bishops in the following memorable sentence. "Notwithstanding my submission, I shall never teach the doctrine of Papal Infallibility so as to argue from Scripture or tradition in its support, and shall leave to others to explain its compatibility with the facts of ecclesiastical history to which I referred in my reply. As long as I may be permitted to remain in my present station I shall confine myself to administrative functions which I can do the more easily without attracting attention, as for some years past I have seldom preached."


But once again if bishops were to prove as "timorous as women" in the face of official displeasure, then it remained for theologians and scholars to defend the faith. Such men as von Shulte, Reinkins, Lord Acton, von Dollinger and other distinguished scholars of northern Europe continued in outspoken and fearless opposition to the new Faith of the Roman curia.


A revulsion to the new dogma arose like a swift tide amongst lay-folk and clergy throughout northern Europe where the Roman doctrine had to be enforced, if at all, with persecution where Episcopal persuasion proved fruitless.


In Bavaria public agitation rose high and priests refused to accept or publish the new Vatican decrees in their parishes. As early as three weeks after the close of the Council more than a thousand Rhenish Roman Catholics at Konigwinter, Germany, united in the declaration that "they did not accept the decrees in regard to the absolute power and personal infallibility of the pope but rejected them as contradicting the traditional faith of the Church."


Shortly before this, forty-three professors and teachers of the University of Munich, not members of the theological faculty, drew up a similar declaration, and this was followed in April 1871 by the "Munich Museum" address with eighteen thousand signers, which went to the government, its purpose being "to prevent the adoption in church and school of the new dogma and to revise the relations of church and state."


These lay-folk looked to brave men for leadership who now came to the front in the struggle for the restoration of the ancient faith. In Germany Professors Michelis, Reinkins and von Schulte, to whom were added, from Switzerland, Munsigner and Herzog, arose to champion the cause. The problem they faced was an enormous one. The Roman Church had not only cut itself in two but it had also cut one part off from tradition and the Scriptures.


The actual rebuilding of the church was far more difficult than the creation of thousand-voiced protests. How should it take shape? These men, pious Catholics, inflamed with the passion for truth, desired to remain where they were. For this very reason genuine Catholicism, not the ultra-montanist, but the ideal Catholicism of the Church as it had always, everywhere been known was the cherished hope of their souls and the pattern after which they wanted to build. Irrevocably outlawed by the Roman Church it was not to take form outside of that body and its destiny lay in their hands.


In this sense, the Munich Congress, made up of three hundred delegates from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, with numerous guests from all Christian lands of the earth, as early as September 1871 made out this distinct program: "We firmly hold to the old Catholic Faith as attested by tradition and the Scriptures as also to Catholic worship."


They rejected the newly created dogmas of Pius IX, including that of the immaculate conception of Mary, and further declared, "We aim, with the cooperation of theological and canonical science, at a reform of the church which, conceived in the spirit of the ancient church, shall remove the existing defects and abuses, and in particular meet the just wishes of the Catholic people for constitutionally regulated participation in church affairs."


In Cologne, Germany, the following year, another congress under the direction of Dr. von Dollinger went still further in a practical direction. Under the lead of Dr. von Schulte the determinative features of the Old Catholic church order were fixed. The bishop was to have all rights common to his office, but the clergy and laity were given a voice in the direction of legislation and discipline. The bishop was to be presiding officer of the Council but elected by it. No pastor was to be appointed who was not first acknowledged by the members of the local parish. No taxes for dispensation and appointments were to be raised. These formed the fundamental principles of the movement, apart from its allegiance to the traditional faith of the Church, which in opposition to "Roman" or "Vatican" Catholicism began to take form ecclesiastically under the name "Old Catholic."


In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland reaction amongst faithful Catholics to the new Vatican decrees were swift. Entire parish communities refused to accept the new decrees and joined together in common councils to reaffirm their faith in the Scriptures and the authentic Catholic Tradition of the Church and to decide on their future course.


Under brilliant leadership the movement rose to meet the challenge of persecution and intimidation which its larger erring sister church of Rome now leveled at it. Priests were cut off from their pensions unless they subscribed to the new dogma of Papal Infallibility, which soon became known amongst them as the "hunger dogma." Boycott and social ostracism and even the arm of the state were employed by the infuriated ultra-montanists in their attempts to force the submission of the recalcitrant Catholic population to their wishes. Against all this the conscientious faith of thousands of earnest Christians stood firm.


Though these Catholics preserved the faith as they had always believed it, the question that was not fearfully evident to the flock without a shepherd was how to continue the succession of this faith for unborn generations. It was necessary with the establishment of the Old Catholic Church order and its independent government that a bishop was chosen. But how could a legitimate bishop be obtained, since, according to Catholic conception, a candidate could be consecrated only by another legitimate bishop?


Here the River of History, which now and again flows wide only to break off into different channels, flowed together again. The Catholic Church of Holland came to the aid of the Old Catholic Movement. From the time when the pope and the Jesuits had first attempted to subjugate it, the Church of Holland had withstood her trials through the years, firm in its position and preserving its sacred badge of Apostleship in the legitimate Catholic succession of her bishops.


The Dutch Archbishop, Loos, in 1872, had helped the German Old Catholics with confirmation and was willing to consecrate their bishop, but it was necessary first for the movement to have the recognition of the state. Dr. von Schulte applied to the Prussian Government and received Royal recognition, as a Catholic, for the bishop to be elected, as well as a grant of 48,000 marks for the expenses of the bishop and his administration. Old Catholicism, without this recognition of the state, would have been, in the eyes of many European peoples, a sect, and it would have meant a renunciation on the part of the Old Catholic Movement of its legal standing and its right to the same support which the Roman Church enjoyed if it had not sought this recognition. With this accomplished the delegates of the German congregations, both clerical and lay, in the manner of the ancient Church in the chapel of the City Hall of Cologne June 4th, 1873, unanimously elected Professor D. Reinkins, of Bonn, as their future Bishop. As Archbishop Loos had just died, Bishop Heykamp of Deventer, consecrated the first Old Catholic Bishop for Germany.


In Switzerland in 1876 Bishop Herzog was consecrated Bishop of the Old Catholic Movement there. Thus the scattered fragments of Christ’s Church were gathered together. In time the movement developed sufficiently in other parts of the world to warrant the necessity of Episcopal supervision and gradually the jealously guarded Catholic Episcopate came to bless these faithful children of the Catholic Church of Christ in increasing numbers everywhere.


In Austria, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Yugoslavia and Poland the movement grew and took root and bishops were consecrated at Utrecht, Holland, for almost all these countries.


Out of the hard struggles of countless intrepid little bands of Catholic priests and laymen all the elements within the Church that rebelled against the corruption of its faith and realized the original Christian Ideal of the one Flock of Christ, were drawn together and, if at first in the shape of a small model only, assumed the form of the ancient Church again.


But the greater works of this small church were only now to begin even if its martyrs and saints, the progenitors in small numbers through the ages, lay in eternal sleep. A new spiritual impetus, an evangelical Catholic spirit was to be borne on the first winds of the twentieth century as they swept, first across Poland, then through England, France, the Balkans, and thence to America, to bring a new sense of spiritual freedom with the old and unchanging truths of Christianity ~ born to set the souls of all people free.


In England a movement began in 1908 which resulted in the formation of the Old Catholic Church in England. In that year the distinguished English priest, Dr. Arnold Harris Mathew, de jure Earl of Llandoff, who had left the Roman Church, was consecrated by the Archbishop of Utrecht assisted by all the continental Old Catholic Bishops, at the Cathedral Church of Saint Gertrude, Utrecht, on April 28th, and placed in charge of the English mission. On Saint Paul’s Day, 1911, he was elected Archbishop and Metropolitan of Great Britain.


The Archbishop and his little flock in England soon found themselves in double danger. Added to the natural differences with their former brethren in the Roman Church was a campaign of persecution directed by certain elements among the Anglicans of the state Church of England, described by Dr. Willibroad Beyschleg, Profession of the university of Holland, and a noted Old Catholic historian, as "those who emphatically desire to be ‘catholic’ but are at the same time wholly out of sympathy with Old Catholics." They were a small group of ritualistic churchmen of the established English Church "on the way to Rome," while the Old Catholics were "on the way from Rome."


Certain unprincipled elements of this "Anglo-Catholic" group exerted pressure on the Dutch Church to disavow the English Old Catholics, but without result. At one time they intended to besmirch the English Archbishop’s character by elaborating on a statement made by a Roman Catholic editor that Bishop Mathew’s credentials to the Dutch Church contained false statements, but the Bishops of Holland, after a thorough investigation themselves vindicated Bishop Mathew. The Roman priest himself recalled the original statement, saying that since he made it he had satisfied himself by a personal investigation that it was groundless.


The clique of English churchmen continued to use this disreputable stratagem against the Old Catholics in the English speaking world even after Bishop Mathew’s death. Bishop Mathew, however, maintained a high standard of Christian tolerance and continued his work, unmoved by the persistent noisiness of his detractors who nonetheless caused him much pain.


As evidence of their confidence in Archbishop Mathew, the Dutch Bishops had him participate in every consecration of Utrecht establishing a new Episcopate on the Continent of Europe until his death in 1919. Bishop Mathew assisted at the Consecration of Bishop Jan Michael Kowalski and two assistant Bishops for the Old Catholic Church in Poland, which from that period on was to have close historical and ecclesiastical relations with English-speaking Old Catholics.


A noted author and historian, Bishop Mathew had an excellent knowledge of the Orthodox Church and established the most cordial relations between the English Old Catholics and the Patriarchal See of Antioch through his Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Gearrasimos Messara of Beruit, Syria, who on August 5th, 1911, received the Old Catholics under Bishop Mathew into union and full communion with the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. Thus a genuine and practical raproachment between the Catholics of the East and of the West was for the first time established after a breach which had lasted almost ten centuries.


What distinguished the scholarly Archbishop Mathew and the Episcopate he established in Scotland and America from that of the continental Old Catholics was his insistence on the inviolable Episcopal authority of each national body of Old Catholics. This had been in the minds of the original Old Catholic congresses, but the German Episcopate, because of its preponderance of numbers and wealth attempted to create a small hierarchical system patterned on the Roman administration with the Archbishop of Utrecht in the position of ranking prelate or "little pope." The English Old Catholics, seeing in this the possibilities of the former mistake of the Western Church with a Germanic, instead of an Italian, spiritual protectorate over the whole Christian world, restated the original Old Catholic principles of autonomy and have received the support of their Orthodox friends in this respect.


Bishop Mathew’s personal contribution to the Old Catholic Movement can be summed up as a broadening of the Catholic mind to an acceptance of the necessity of the unifying of Christ’s Church on the basis of the original tenets of the Christian Faith as it was once believed by all Christians everywhere, and the recognition that this can only be accomplished by complete cooperation with Christians of the Eastern Churches, whose proximity in language, in tradition, and in mind with the early Christians, makes them the ideal vehicle.


After Bishop Mathew’s death, on December 20th, 1919, the small body of Old Catholics in England remained without legitimate Episcopal supervision of their own, even though the Church remained in the protection of the Episcopate of the Old Catholic Church in Poland. Now, cut off from their Mother-house by the European Wars, many traditionalist Old Catholics within the British Isles have now placed themselves under the umbrella of the British Old Catholic Church (aka Traditional Old Catholic Movement) presided over by the Right Reverend Seán Manchester, Bishop of Glastonbury, Primate of Ecclesia Apostolica Jesu Christi.




The Right Reverend +Seán Manchester, O.S.G.


(standing before lectern, centre)


Presiding Bishop, British Old Catholic Church