Liberal Catholic Church
Liturgical church that has attempted to blend Roman Catholic
and Anglical ritual forms with a theosophical theology. The
church was founded by former members of the Old Roman
Catholic Church in England. The Old Roman Catholic Church
was founded in 1908 following the consecration of Arnold Harris
Mathew as a bishop by the bishops of the Old Catholic
Church in the Netherlands. The Old Catholics were orthodox
Catholics who rejected the promulgations of the Vatican Council
of 1870–71, especially the declaration of the infallibility of
the pope.
In England, however, there was little support for the Old
Catholic movement and the church tended to be filled by a
Lhermitte, Jacques Jean Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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number of priests who for one reason or another did not fit in
either the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church.
Among them were some who had developed a belief in Theosophy
and were preaching a theosophical interpretation of Christianity.
Mathew was somewhat tolerant of Theosophy at first, and in
1914 consecrated a person known to be a Theosophist, Frederick
Samuel Willoughby, as a bishop to assist him. He became
more aware of theosophical teachings and the influence they
were beginning to have in his church, however, and in 1915 he
condemned it as a heresy and ordered all of his priests to sever
their ties with it. The result was that the majority of the priests
withdrew and largely gutted the Old Catholic Church.
The clergy who had withdrawn reorganized, and on February
13, 1916, Willoughby consecrated James Ingall Wedgwood
(1883–1951) as the regionary bishop for England. At this time
the group was operating as the Old Roman Catholic Church,
and Wedgwood set out on a world tour to build support among
ritually-oriented Theosophists around the world. In Australia
he consecrated Charles W. Leadbeater as regionary bishop
and in the United States named four new bishops, including Irving
S. Cooper, as regionary. At a synod in London in 1918,
the name Liberal Catholic was adopted as the official name of
the church and Wedgwood was named as presiding bishop.
The church subsequently spread to many countries.
The Liberal Catholic Church affirms a number of Christian
beliefs but injects a Gnostic or theosophical meaning into them.
The church believes that humans are sparks of divinity (rather
than creatures of God) and believes in reincarnation (rather
than resurrection). The church also accepts the idea of the spiritual
hierarchy of masters, or highly evolved beings who guide
the spiritual development of the race. In this regard, it accepts
the idea that Jesus is one of the masters, but separates the
human Jesus (known in the hierarchy as ‘‘the Lord Matreya’’)
from the master Jesus (a position in the hierarchy held by the
person known in his early life as Appolonius of Tyanna).
The church is headquartered in London. It is organized into
a number of regionary provinces usually made up of one or two
countries. In the United States the church is headquartered at
Ojai, California, where the cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
has been built. Ubique, the church’s periodical, is published by
Presiding Bishop Joseph Tisch, who also serves as pastor of the
congregation in Melbourne, Florida.
Sources
The Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church. London St. Alban
Press, 1983.
Norton, Robert. The Willow in the Tempest A Brief History of
the Liberal Catholic Church in the United States, 1817–1942. Ojai,
Calif. St. Alban Press, 1990.
Ward, Gary L. Independent Bishops An Independent Directory.
Detroit Apogee Books, 1990.
Wedgwood, James Ingall. The Beginning of the Liberal Catholic
Church. Lakewood, N.J. Ubique, 1967.