INTRODUCTION: EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH JUST BEING
The Meaning and Purpose of Religion 1
CHAPTER 1: EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH FELLOWSHIP
The Liberal Catholic Church 13
CHAPTER 2: EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH UNDERSTANDING
The Philosophical and Theological Roots of the Liberal
Catholic Church 33
CHAPTER 3: EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH TRADITION
Christ in the Liberal Catholic Church Tradition 89
CHAPTER 4: EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH LIBERAL CATHOLIC
Christ in the Liberal Catholic Liturgy 127
CHAPTER 5: EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH ENCOUNTER
The Christ of the Author’s Personal Encounter and
Experience and the Future of the Liberal Catholic Church 174
The primary focus of this thesis is an examination and exploration of the various notions or concepts of “Christ” as understood in The Liturgy According to the Use of the Liberal Catholic Church (“The Liturgy”), especially in the context of the services of the Holy Eucharist, the Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament, and Healing, as contained in The Liturgy. However, in order to fully comprehend and appreciate the former, it is necessary to provide a context, that is, contextualize the subject-matter. Accordingly, the thesis will provide the reader, in successive chapters, with various opportunities to experience the Christ through “just being”, fellowship, understanding, tradition, expression and encounter.
It has been said that "words are only pictures of ideas on paper".1 Unfortunately, words have their inherent limitations, and, as Professor John Anderson co nstantly said, nothing can be meaningfully defined by reference to the relations it has with other things.2 The difficulty is even worse when it comes to matters pertaining to spirituality and what may be referred to as the ineffable, for that is ultimately indescribable and inexpressible … but it can be experienced, albeit as “Mystery Present”, provided one always keeps in mind that “[t]he mind is the great slayer of the Real ... Let the disciple slay the slayer.”3
On a more mundane note, references in this thesis to page numbers of The Liturgy are references to the 5th (1983) edition of The Liturgy. By way of special note, full points in contractions and between the letters of acronyms and abbreviations consisting of initial capitals, together with any superadded punctuation marks (eg full points commas), have been omitted from all textual material including quotations, case extracts and all other excerpted material. Some other very minor stylistic word and spelling changes to excerpted and quoted material have been made either to assist in reading or for consistency’s sake. Unnecessary capitalization has been avoided as far as practicable, except when referring to God or, depending upon the context, certain attributes or qualities ordinarily associated with or deemed equivalent in meaning to God (eg Love, Wisdom, Truth, Power, Presence, Personality, the Absolute, and so forth). For the most part,
1 Fell v Fell (1922) 31 CLR 268 at 276 per Isaacs J, citing Wilmot CJ in Dodson v Grew (1767) Wilm 272 at 278, 97 ER 106 at 108.
2 See, eg, “Realism and Some of its Critics”, in Anderson (1962:42).
3 H P Blavatsky, “Fragment One”, The Voice of the Silence, in J Algeo (intro), Inspirations from Ancient Wisdom: At the Feet of the Master/Light on the Path/The Voice of the Silence (Wheaton IL: Theosophical Publishing House (Quest Books)), p 73.
original spellings have been retained. This has resulted in some otherwise unavoidable inconsistency of expression.
Scriptures quotations in this thesis are primarily from the King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible. In some cases, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and certain other versions of the Bible have been used.
Penultimately, although the author is committed to the use of gender-neutral language, quotations from writings (particularly older ones) in which one gender is used have been printed as originally written.
Finally, the views and opinions expressed by the author in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of, and should not be attributed to, the Liberal Catholic Church in any of its various provinces.
14 June 2009
My deep gratitude goes to those who offered support and encouragement on the project, particularly my dear wife Elspeth, my three children Fiona, Simon and Peter, and my son-in- law Mark.
I also wish to thank, most especially, the Right Reverend Pedro Oliveira, and the Very Reverend Dr Ronald A Rivett, the latter a former Vicar-General of the Liberal Catholic Church in Australia, who have believed in and inspired me, and who have shared with me so much of their wisdom and knowledge over the years.
Very special and heartfelt thanks are also due to the Reverend Dr Arthur F Mowle, Director, Liberal Catholic Institute of Studies, for suggesting the title and topic areas of this thesis as well as the wording of the various chapter headings, and for furnishing invaluable reading material. I will always be grateful for his encouragement, kind words, wise counsel and advice during the preparation of this thesis and otherwise. I also wish to thank most sincerely the Right Reverend Graham Preston, Regionary Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church in the Province of Australasia (including Indonesia) for his encouragement, support and wise counsel.
I have also learned much from my many friends at the Liberal Catholic Church of Saint Francis, Gordon NSW in the years since I first started attending services there on a regular basis in 1985.
Thanks are also due to my good friends Ross Bowey, Peter Hutchison and Michael Martin, all of whom know that there is more to life than the temporal and the visible, and to Melinda Aitkenhead for her IT technical assistance.
This thesis is dedicated to my late parents, Harry and Phyl, who believed in me and taught me to be honest and always to strive for the best. From them I learned that there can be true religion, faith and objective moral values without dogmatism, fundamentalism, cant and hypocrisy.
The aim of this thesis is to examine and explore the various notions or concepts of “Christ” as understood in The Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church, especially in the context of the services of the Holy Eucharist, the Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament, and Healing, as contained in The Liturgy. That is the primary focus of the thesis. However, in order to fully comprehend and appreciate the former, it is necessary to contextualize the subject- matter. Accordingly, the thesis will provide the reader, in successive chapters, with various opportunities to experience the Christ through “just being”, fellowship, understanding, tradition, expression and encounter.
As we have and receive our be-ing, our very livingness, from God which is the source and substance of all life and the ground of all being, the thesis begins with an examination of the meaning and purpose of religion, and regard is had to what a number of persons have had to say about that matter over the centuries. Insofar as the Liberal Catholic Church is concerned, the Church’s first Presiding Bishop James I Wedgwood wrote that the “purpose” of religion was “to ‘bind us back’ to God, the source of our being; to bring us back into conscious relation with our spiritual self and to open for us the resources of our own higher and spiritual consciousness”. As regards the object of church worship Bishop Wedgwood referred once again to the “binding back” to God and to our spiritual nature, but he went further, making the point that religion was “concerned with the awakening of those higher powers of consciousness which are still chiefly latent within man, with the instruction of his mind and even with the fashioning of the physical body”. In what is a distinctive, and perhaps unique, Liberal Catholic perspective on the object and purpose of church worship, Wedgwood wrote that a church service is a “service” rendered both to God and to the whole world in which we live in which we “take our share in His work of pouring out strength and blessing upon the world”.
In the first chapter of the thesis, the nature of the Liberal Catholic Church is examined and explored. The Liberal Catholic Church is not only a church but also a Christian church and denomination, an independent Catholic and Apostolic church, a sacramental church in the Catholic tradition, a liberal church, a mystical church, and a church in the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions. Each of those features or distinguishing characteristics of the Liberal Catholic Church is addressed seriatim.
The second chapter of the thesis explores the philosophical and theological roots of the Liberal Catholic Church, which has sought to recover and establish to its rightful place in Catholic Christianity what was described by the third Presiding Bishop of the Church, Frank W Pigott, as the “lost Gnosis”. The view of the present writer is that the so-called “lost gnosis”, the true Ancient Wisdom underlying all religion properly interpreted, when freed of carnalization, literalism and various external accretions and corrupting influences, is to be found most immediately and directly in early Greek patristic philosophy and theology, especially that rooted and grounded in the philosophical and theological traditions of Platonism and Neoplatonism, which themselves were built upon the foundations of the Ancient Mysteries.
Theosophy may have been the means by which the Liberal Catholic Church came into being, and arguably the inspiration for its coming into being, but it is not Theosophy that underpins and provides a theological foundation for the Church being a church, and a Christian one at that, but the very roots of Christianity itself as expressed by those Christians whose theology was rooted in Platonism and Neoplatonism. The early Greek Church Fathers, like modern day Liberal Catholics, had a high vision of humankind and expounded our innate divinity and potential. They believed in the oneness of all life, and their philosophical and theological system explained how the One becomes the many so that the many may know themselves to be one, and in time come to know the Self as one.
In the third chapter of the thesis there is a fulsome exposition of the different senses in which the word “Christ” is, and has been, used in the Liberal Catholic Church. Consistent with its Platonic and Neoplatonic roots, and its esoteric approach to the interpretation, construction and application of Sacred Scripture, the Christ can mean any one or more of the following Persons, Beings or Principles in the Liberal Catholic tradition, all of which may be seen as manifestations of the Godhead through a process of emanations in a successive diversity of being while maintaining its essential unity: the “Historical Jesus”, the “Historical Christ”, the “Mythic (or “Pagan”) Christ”, the “Cosmic Christ”, the “Mystic Christ”, and the “Anonymous Christ”. Those mentioned are certainly not mutually exclusive. Indeed, many overlap and coalesce. Each of the above is considered in turn, both in the third chapter of the thesis and in the fourth chapter as well relating to the Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church. There is also what is known as the “Eucharistic
Lord” whose Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar and in the service of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is also considered in Chapter 3 of the thesis. Finally, there is the “Christ of Personal Encounter and Experience”, which forms a substantial part of the subject of Chapter 5 of the thesis.
The writer does not eschew esoteric approaches to understanding and encountering Christ (in particular, what is often referred to as the “indwelling Christ” or “Christ within”). However, without the historical Jesus we have no real way of conceptualizing the more esoteric approaches to Christ. In the words of one Liberal Catholic priest of yesteryear, “We cannot follow a God, we can only follow a man.” Jesus authenticates, actualizes and makes real and possible for us what is otherwise not only inscrutable but unattainable. This has so often been overlooked or even openly repudiated by Liberal Catholics, yet the Church’s second Presiding Bishop Charles W Leadbeater made it clear that the life of Jesus Christ is “the prototype” of the life of all of his followers, and that each of us must “pass through those stages, those steps, those initiations through which Christ [himself] passed”.
In the fourth chapter of the thesis the writer examines and explores the various senses in which the Christ is referred to in the Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church. As already mentioned, the Liberal Catholic Church is a sacramental church, and one of the major aims or objectives of sacramental worship is to assist in one’s spiritual growth and development, as well as that of others, indeed (especially, but by no means exclusively, in the Liberal Catholic tradition) the whole universe. Further, what makes the Liberal Catholic Church very special is the emphasis it gives as a church in its Liturgy to the eastern wisdom tradition whilst also retaining much of the language, thought forms and teaching of the Western tradition. This is, in the opinion of the writer, altogether appropriate, given that the real Jesus was a man of the East who belongs as much to Asia as to the West.
For the Liberal Catholic, the sacraments are an integral part of “the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1), and the Ancient Wisdom itself. Special regard is had to the services of the Holy Eucharist, Solemn Benediction and Healing. Each is seen to be a ritual-drama in which words or rather “The Word” becomes flesh and empowers all who reverently seek, not just for themselves but for others, the experience of the Living Christ offered by the services. Indeed, it is only in self-surrender, in moving from a sense of self to a sense of non-self,
that there is any hope of spiritual and emotional growth and development, let alone healing of body, mind, soul and spirit.
In the fifth and final chapter of the thesis the writer expresses his own understanding of the Christ, who is both the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith as well as the Indwelling Presence of God, the very livingness and self-givingness of Life Itself in whom we all live and move and have our being. The writer then goes on to discuss the future of the Liberal Catholic Church and discusses two important things the Church needs to do in order to survive, especially in Australia. First, the Liberal Catholic Church needs to rediscover, or perhaps discover the first time, the true Jesus, and the true meaning of the Kingdom of God, without simply being another liberal Christian Church. Secondly, the Church needs to remain a mystical, sacramental and healing Christian church in the Catholic tradition but in a way which not only provides a vehicle for the continuance and promulgation of the Ancient Wisdom or gnosis but which more fully takes into account and synthesizes such matters as the “new physics”, psychology and other disciplines and techniques such as transpersonal psychology.
EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH JUST BEING The Meaning and Purpose of Religion*
It is often said, in various ways in different religions, that we come from God, however described or understood, we belong to God, we are a part of God in the sense that we live and move and have our being in God, and we are on our way back to God. It has also been said that the One (“Being-Itself” or “Life-IT-self”) becomes the many in order that the many may know themselves to be One. In short, God is - we are. As Swami Vivekananda1 wrote ( 2002:109), “Religion comes when that actual realization in our own souls begins.”
Bishop James Ingall Wedgwood, the first Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, who understood with great clarity that as we have our be-ing in God, religion has everything to do with the Ground of Being in all of its various manifestations, wrote (1929:16):
We penetrate straight to the essential core of religion if we study its etymology. The word [religion] itself has a wonderful significance. There is little doubt amongst authorities as to its origin, but opinions reduce themselves to two likely derivations, with the balance of probability resting on the former. Both are capable of the same interpretation. These are (1) religare = to bind back (2) relegere, which bears the sense of “sailing back over the same waters.”
Wedgwood is right to stress the fundamental importance of studying the etymological meaning and derivation of the word “religion” in order to gain insight into the object, purposes, functions and endpoint of religion. Regrettably, the derivation of the English word "religion" is by no means as clear as the learned bishop would have us believe,2 but we do
* Some of the material contained in this Introduction first appeared in Ellis-Jones (2007).
1 Swami Vivekananda, one of the most influential and beloved interfaith leaders of all time, spoke at the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago USA in 1893. In his speech Vivekananda quoted, among other things, the following two passages from the Bhagavad-Gîtâ: "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!"; "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me."
2 “Concerning the etymology of [religio], various opinions were prevalent among the ancients.” Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, viewed December 16 2004, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi- bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2340976>. The word religio refers to “what attaches or retains, moral bond, anxiety of self-consciousness, scruple”: see McCarson (2002:Online). Religio also refers to “supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice”. “Initially used for Christianity, the use of the word religion gradually extended to all the forms of social demonstration in connection with sacred.”
know that the current English word is derived from the Middle English word religioun which comes from the Old French word religion.3
Now, according to Julia Cybele Lansberry (2003:Online) the Latin word religio4 (a word used to refer to “respect, devotion or superstition”5 as well as “supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice”6) has affinities with three separate Latin verbs:
religare, to restrain, bind, bind back, bind up, bind fast together, tie back (especially to oneself again), from ligare, to tie, close a deal, cement an alliance, unite in harmony
relegare, to banish, from legare, to depute, commission, send as an emissary, bequeath, entrust
relegere, to gather, collect again, review, re-read, re-examine carefully, from legere, to read, recite, or choose.7
Birnbaum (1964:588) has this to say about the matter:
The term [religion] is usually derived from the Latin verb, religere: the conscientious fulfillment of duty, awe of higher powers, deep reflection. The related noun religio refers to both the object of such inner preoccupation, and the goal of the activity associated with it. Another, later, Latin verb has been cited as a source of the term: religare, implying a close and lasting relationship to the supernatural. The scriptures of the various religions hardly contain general terms for religion.
However, the Roman philosopher, lawyer and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero derived religion, not from religere, religio or religare, but from relegere [root “leg-“] (to treat carefully, referring to re-reading):
Those who carefully took in hand all things pertaining to the gods were called religiosi, from relegere.8
3 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, viewed 30 November 2004, <http:///www.m-w.com/cgi- bin/netdict?Religion>.
4 In poetry also relligio, to lengthen the first syllable. Bouquet (1942:15) has correctly noted that “from very early times scholars have been divided as to its basic meaning”.
5 JRV Marchant and JF Charles, eds, Cassell's Latin Dictionary, London: Cassell and Co, p 478.
6 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, viewed 30 November 2004, <http:///www.m-w.com/cgi- bin/netdict?Religion>.
7 Julia Cybele Lansberry, “De Religione Romana”, viewed 21 December 2004, <http://www.aztriad.com/religio1.html>. Confirmatory support for the etymology of all three (viz ligare, legare, and legere, cf re: back) can be found in Merriam-Webster Online: see the entries for the English words “rely”, viewed 21 December 2004, <http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=rely>, and “legate”, viewed 21 December 2004, <http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=legate>, “legible”, viewed 21 December 2004, <http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=legate>, respectively.
Fowler (1998:Online) has written in relation to relegere:
Some have suggested that "religion" may be derived from the Latin word relegere, which refers to re-reading. There is no doubt that "religion" is often associated with repetitious rites of liturgy and litany, and the reproduction of creedal formulas and expressions. …
However, Fowler goes on to note:
… Most etymologists, however, regard the English word "religion" to be derived from the Latin word religare which is closely aligned with the root word religo. [John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins, New York: Arcade Pub, 1990, p 438.] The prefix re- means "back" or "again," and the word ligare refers to "binding, tying or attaching." Other English words such as "ligature," referring to "something that is used to bind," and "ligament" which "binds things together," evidence the same root in the Latin word ligare. The Latin word religare, from which our English word "religion" is most likely derived, meant "to tie back" or "to bind up."
Support for that view comes from the Roman grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus,9 as well as the early Christian scholar Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius, who derived religion from religare [root “lig-“] (to bind, in the sense of bind back or together):10
We are tied to God and bound to Him [religati] by the bond of piety, and it is from this, and not, as Cicero holds, from careful consideration [relegendo], that religion has received its name.11
Bishop Wedgwood, writing on the Latin word religare, says (1929:17)
It is worth noticing the special significance of the prefix “re-” in “religare.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives a number of meanings which the prefix bears, of which the ninth is:- “Back, with return to previous state after lapse or cessation or occurrence of opposite state or action.” What could be more apposite?
8 De natura deorum, II, xxviii, 72. According to Lewis and Short this is “an etymology favored by the verse cited ap Gell 4, 9, 1, religentem esse oportet, religiosum nefas”. Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, viewed 16 December 2004, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi- bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2340976>.
9 Ad Verg A, 8, 349. See Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, viewed 16 December 2004, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgibin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2340976>.
10 Religare also means to restrain, tie back: see Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, viewed November 30 2004, <http:///www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/netdict?Religion>. “The root word in Latin, however, has nothing to do with organizations and systems; those are the structures which have developed from some religious experience and which often as not lose the true meaning of the word religion in becoming too concretized and rigid. The Latin word ‘religare,’ from which ‘religion’ is derived, simply means ‘to bind back.’ Thus, the religious function in the truest sense of the word is that which binds us back to the original wholeness from which we came.” McCarson (2002:Online).
11 Divine Institutes, IV, xxviii. For this derivation Lactantius cites the expression of Lucretius (1, 931: 4, 7): religionum nodis animos exsolvere. See Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, viewed 16 December 2004, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2340976>. Tertullianus also saw the origin of the word in religare.
The expert on comparative religion A C Bouquet (1942:15), after citing both the views of Cicero (root “leg-“) and Servius (root “lig-“), states:
Subsequently it seems to have carried both meanings, for St Augustine the Great uses it in both senses. It is, however, most likely that the earlier one (whether or not we dislike it) was the original, since it is the exact counterpart of a Greek word (paratērēsis) which means “the scrupulous observation of omens and the performance of ritual”. …
Be that as it may, Saint Augustine of Hippo appears also to have derived religion from religere (which refers to, among other things, recovering):12
having lost God through neglect [negligentes], we recover Him [religentes] and are drawn to Him.13
Later, however, Augustine abandoned that view in favour of the derivation previously given by Servius and Lactantius (viz religare).14 In On the True Religion Augustine says:
Religion binds us [religat] to the one Almighty God.15
H P Blavatsky, who cofounded the Theosophical Society in New York City in September 1875, acknowledges both the derivations relegere and religare:
… whether this term be derived from the Latin word relegere, “to gather, or be united” in speech or in thought, from religens, “revering the gods,” or, from religare, “to be bound fast together.”16
The scholarly Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the Doctors of the Church, lists the derivations relegere, religare and religere without favour.17 However, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia the correct one “seems to be that offered by Lactantius [viz religare]”:18
12 Yinger (1970:10) writes that the word religere also means to rehearse, to execute painstakingly, suggesting “both group identity and ritual”.
13 City of God, X, iii.
14 See Retractions, I, xiii. The Collins English Dictionary states that “religion” derives one of its meanings from the root words re and ligare, meaning “to bind or tie back to oneself again”: Hayward (1995:17).
15 On the True Religion. Larue (2003:Online) writes: “The idea may reflect a concept prominent in biblical literature. Israel was said to be in a ‘covenant’ (berith) relationship with its God (Yahweh). In a sense, the nation was ‘covenanted’ or ‘bonded’ to the deity.”
16 Lucifer, January/February 1891.
17 See Summa, II-II, Q lxxxi, a 1.
18 Religion: I Derivation, Analysis, and Definition, The Catholic Encyclopedia, viewed 1 December 2004, <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12738a.htm>. “Modern etymologists mostly agree with this later view, assuming as root lig, to bind … .” Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, viewed 16 December 2004, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2340976>.
Religion in its simplest form implies the notion of being bound to God; the same notion is uppermost in the word religion in its most specific sense, as applied to the life of poverty, chastity, and obedience to which individuals voluntarily bind themselves by vows more or less solemn. Hence those who are thus bound are known as religious.19
The Theosophist De Purucker (1996:148) favours the root derivation religio:
It is usual among modern Europeans to derive the word religion from the Latin verb meaning “to bind back” -- religare. But there is another derivation ... from a Latin root meaning “to select,” “to choose” ... [Derived] from the Latin religio, [religion] means a careful selection of fundamental beliefs and motives by the higher or spiritual intellect, a faculty of intuitional judgment and understanding, and a consequent abiding by that selection, resulting in a course of life and conduct in all respects following the convictions that have been arrived at. This is the religious spirit.20
Fowler (1998) has written this about the word religio:
Religio was a recognition that men are often tied or bound to God in reverence or devotion. It can also convey the meaning of being bound or tied to a set of rules and regulations, to rituals of devotion, to a creedal belief-system, or to a cause, ideology, or routine.21
The rationalist Thomas Paine (2004:Online) had earlier favoured the related cognate word religo:
The word religion is a word of forced application when used with respect to the worship of God. The root of the word is the Latin verb ligo, comes religo, to tie or bind over again, to make more fast - from religo, comes the substantive religo, which, with the addition of n makes the English substantive religion.
19 Religion: I Derivation, Analysis, and Definition, The Catholic Encyclopedia, viewed 1 December 2004, <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12738a.htm>.
20 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (Cleveland and New York, The World Publishing Company, 1950), after noting the French religion, also cites the Latin religio (-onis), stating: “… from religare, to bind back; re, and ligare, to bind, to bind together. Others derive religio from relegere, to gather, to collect, making the primary meaning a collection, and then more specifically a collection of religious formulas”. The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 3rd ed (Oxford, 1934) agrees (“L religio perh[aps] connected w[ith] re(ligare bind)”). What does seem clear is that religio itself comes from something else, either religare or relegere: see Wedgwood (1929:16).
21 According to Lewis and Short religio has the following meanings (among others): “I. Reverence for God (the gods), the fear of God, connected with a careful pondering of divine things; piety, religion, both pure inward piety and that which is manifested in religious rites and ceremonies; hence the rites and ceremonies, as well as the entire system of religion and worship, the res divinae or sacrae, were frequently called religio or religions (cf our use of the word religion) … II. Transf. A. Subject, conscientiousness, scrupulousness arising from religion, religious scruples, scruples of conscience, religious awe, etc (cf sanctimonia) … 2. In gen., a strict scrupulousness, anxiety, punctiliousness, conscientiousness, exactness, etc. … B. Object. 1. Abstr, the holiness, sacredness, sanctity inhering in any religious object (a deity, temple, utensils, etc; cf sanctitas) … 2. Concr, an object of religious veneration, a sacred place or thing … (b). A system of religious belief, a religion (late Lat) …” Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, viewed December 16 2004, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgibin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2340976>.
The French use the word properly: when a woman enters a convent she is called a novitiate, that is, she is tied or bound by that oath to the performance of it. We use the word in the same kind of sense when we say we will religiously perform the promise that we make.
But the word, without referring to its etymology, has, in the manner it is used, no definite meaning, because it does not designate what religion a man is of. There is the religion of the Chinese, of the Tartars, of the Brahmins, of the Persians, of the Jews, of the Turks, etc.22
Birnbaum (1964:588) has astutely observed that:
The complex etymology of the term is not fortuitous: the complexity and diversity of human religions, as well as the profound and ambivalent feelings they arouse, have produced a heterogeneous set of scientific definitions of the phenomenon. Usually, and perhaps inevitably, these definitions include evaluative assumptions: many emphasize unduly one aspect of religious systems. …
Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Harrison 1960:441) makes the point:
The etymology of the term does not help, both because it is uncertain and because neither religare nor religere throws much light on the present meaning of religion.
Nevertheless, when one considers the meanings of the various suggested derivations (viz, relegare, relegere, religare, religere, religio, and religo) there appear to be some common elements or at least similar themes:
1. Religion involves, at one or more levels, the notion of “binding together” or “binding back”, whether to oneself (in the sense of one’s true or spiritual nature), one’s ultimate “source” (eg God, Be-ing) or to other people as some sort of response to life, with a sense of awe, reverence, “fear”, devotion, veneration and respect, whereby meaning is gained.
2. Religion involves, at one or more levels, the notions of “return”, “recovery”, “restoration” and “re-encounter” (whether to one’s own self, some condition or way of life, or one’s ultimate home or resting place, hence Bishop Wedgwood’s references to “sailing back over the same waters” (1929:16), and to the object and purpose of religion being “to restore to man the knowledge of what he really is” (1929:17)), with an attendant and consequential sense of value and importance.
22 The word religo means “to tie or fasten” (see J R V Marchant and J F Charles (eds), Cassell's Latin Dictionary, London: Cassell and Co, p 478) refers to regulation and control, “good faith”, “rite” and “ritual” as well as having other meanings. Noah Webster, in his American Dictionary of the English Language, was also of the view that the English word “religion” was derived from “Religo, to bind anew”.
3. Religion involves the selection and systematization of fundamental beliefs and motives and a consequent abiding by that selection with some degree of regulation and control (eg in the form of codes of conduct) as well as conscientiousness and scrupulousness arising from the religion and inherent as well in its practice.
4. Religion involves the notion of ties in the sense of the fulfillment of duties and commitment.
5. Religion also involves practices and activities to give effect to the foregoing including but not limited to repetitious rites and the reproduction of formulas and expressions.
6. Religion involves notions of holiness, sacredness and sanctity (including but not limited to sacred places or things and objects of veneration) and often involves supernaturalism or superstition.
Thus, Birnbaum (1964:588) has concisely written:
… Religions are systems of belief, practice, and organization which shape an ethic manifest in the behaviour of their adherents.
The present writer has elsewhere concluded (see Ellis-Jones 2007) that, ultimately, any given religion comprises an amalgam of faith-based ideas, beliefs, practices and activities which include:
doctrine, dogma, teachings or principles to be accepted on faith and on authority,
a set of sanctioned ideals and values in terms of expected ethical standards and behavior and moral obligations, and
various experientially based forms, ceremonies, usages and techniques perceived to be of spiritual or transformative power,
all of which are based upon faith in a Power, Presence, Being or Principle,
and which are:
directed towards a celebration of that which is perceived to be not only ultimate but also divine, holy or sacred, and
manifest in and supported by a body of persons (consisting of one or more faith-
based communities) established to give practical expression to those ideas, beliefs, practices and activities.
Although it is always dangerous to reduce a religion, or any type of belief system for that matter, to the functions it supposedly serves, partly because any belief system tends to serve a considerable number of functions, partly because functionalism by its very nature is inherently reductionistic, and also because there would not appear to be any clear-cut line separating religion from non-religion, it is generally agreed (see, especially, Yinger 1970:7, 15, 33) that religion serves many functions. The present author is primarily concerned with how some prominent Liberal Catholics have seen and described the functions of their religion.
Bishop Wedgwood discusses a number of them in his helpful book The Larger Meaning of Religion (1929). First, he writes of the “purpose” of religion per se (1929:17):
It is the purpose of religion to “bind us back” to God, the source of our being; to bring us back into conscious relation with our spiritual self and to open for us the resources of our own higher and spiritual consciousness.23
In essence, that is also the primary, but not the only, object of church worship itself. Wedgwood (1929:47) has this to say about that matter:
I take it that the object of church worship is to “bind back” (Lat. = religare) man to God, and to his spiritual nature which represents what is godlike in himself. The church services are designed to this end ... [for it is] the instinct natural to man to give praise and to lift himself up to God.
However, Wedgwood also makes the point that (1929:21)
Religion is not only an affair of devotion and religious aspiration. It is concerned with the awakening of those higher powers of consciousness which are still chiefly latent within man, with the instruction of his mind and even with the fashioning of the physical body. The perfected man would be the finished product of religion, rightly understood, would have a physical body trained to express as adequately as possible the whole gamut of emotions, thoughts, intuition, creative energy and so forth. It is evident, therefore, that religion is concerned even with the good health of the bodily vehicle, and with fashioning it into a proper expression of the indwelling spirit.
The purpose of all this goes beyond what might be referred to as enlightened self-interest. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether the latter would be religious in any true sense of the word at all. Thus, Wedgwood stresses the point that worship “does not concern the individual alone”
23 Emphasis added.
(1929:58). He goes on to make the point that worship is also for the benefit of the “outside world” as well, saying (1929:58-59):
It is not entirely a question of giving “worth-ship” to God, or of deriving strength, encouragement, love and illumination for oneself. It is also a matter of worship for the outside world, and, let me add, of working very hard, if one really understands what a prodigious work one is enabled and entitled to do.
Wedgwood also writes of the nature of a church “service” (1929:59):
We could use no better word than “service.” A church service is a “service” rendered to the world in which we live, and it is equally a “service” rendered to God because we are privileged in being able to co-operate with Him, and to take our share in His work of pouring out strength and blessing upon the world.
Theosophist and Liberal Catholic priest Geoffrey Hodson has made the same point, expressing the view (1930:19) that
... the Church must be regarded as the most powerful agent for good in the life of a nation – the nation’s greatest asset – and its work as of paramount importance to every member of the race. The mission of the Church must no longer be regarded as limited to the performance of a certain number of ceremonies on certain days, but rather to the establishment everywhere of spiritual centres, whose radiant power and blessing shall illumine and enrich the national life, inspire every good work, and ceaselessly exert an influence for the spiritualizing of mankind.
Similarly, Bishop Charles W Leadbeater, the second Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, wrote that every time the Service of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated in a Liberal Catholic Church “there passes forth into the world a wave of peace and strength, the effect of which can hardly be overrated”, and that such was the “primary object” of the Service (Leadbeater [1920/1929/1967] 1967:3). He went further, saying that each of the great services of the Church (but most especially the Eucharist) “was originally designed to build up a mighty ordered form, expressing and surrounding a central idea – a form which would facilitate and direct the radiation of the influence upon the entire village which was grouped round the church” (1967:7).24
24 It would appear that Bishops Wedgwood and Leadbeater, and many other Theosophists and metaphysicians of that era (not to mention some to the present day), were influenced to a large extent by not only the philosophy of idealism (in either or both of its subjective and objective forms) but also neo-vitalism, that is, the revival of vitalism that occurred particularly in the second half of the 19th century at least in part as a reaction to what was otherwise an increasing materialism, rationalism and positivism in matters pertaining to the sciences and philosophy in general. Platt (1982:114) refers to Leadbeater’s belief in “the monistic principle of the vital being present in all things” as expounded in The Science of the Sacraments.
The present writer is reverently agnostic with respect to some of the foregoing, but is prepared to accept, with certain reservations, what is not otherwise self-evidently or intuitively true as a working hypothesis, and as what Wedgwood referred to as “revealed knowledge”, that is, knowledge that “has to be accepted on faith, because it transcends the limitations of our minds” (Wedgwood 1929:10), whilst ever remaining open to “the experience of the divine ... of the ultimate, of reality, of life, of truth, [that] is beyond all discussion” (van der Leeuw 1930:Online) that may well contradict or supersede the supposed revealed knowledge. Early “foundational” Liberal Catholics tended to view their Church in overly optimistic, euphoric, and even apocalyptic, terms. Sadly, if we judge by present day appearances, we Liberal Catholics appear to have failed spectacularly as a church, but we are cautioned by Holy Scripture to “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (Jn 7:24). Further, our main concern ought to be that “Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith ... being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17), for “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps 127:1a; cf Liturgy 224) ... words that perhaps have become overly familiar to us to the point where we have lost sight of their true significance and meaning.
One of the major tasks of any religion is, or at least ought to be, to provide opportunities for members and adherents, and even others as well, to experience this sense and power of oneness and the numinous. Ritual (or “ceremonial”)25 has been shown to have enormous transformative power (see, eg, Watts 1968; Williamson 1994), and the present writer has found in The Liturgy According to the Use of the Liberal Catholic Church26 that the words (or “Word”) contained therein, when read, spoken, intoned or sung, possess and release a transformative and ennobling Power that is truly “divine”, even in the sense used by the great Humanist Sir Julian Huxley (1964:223):
For want of a better, I use the term divine, though this quality of divinity is not truly supernatural but transnatural – it grows out of ordinary nature, but transcends it. The divine is what man finds worthy of adoration, that which compels his awe.
In a similar vein, Dr N T Wright, a most eminent Anglican bishop and Biblical scholar who is a conservative evangelical,27 is one of many current religionists who seek to avoid
25 Wedgwood consistently preferred the word “ceremonial”, which he defined as “the intelligent use of forms that they may be the best expression of the life” (1928b:Online).
26 “Liturgy” means “public work”, or public work with “energy”: see Blanch (1971:8).
27 N T Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham in England.
altogether notions of supernaturalism because of their inherent problems.28 He writes (1992b:80):
The great divide between the “natural” and the “supernatural”, certainly in the way we use those words today, comes basically from the eighteenth century, bringing with it the whole debate about “miracles”.
Bishop Wright goes on to say (1992b:81):
But what if the God who made the world has remained active within the world? What if the word “God” itself might refer, not to this distant, remote, occasionally- intervening Being, but to a God who breathed with the breath of the world? … This is a very different picture from the eighteenth-century one; it is much more Biblical. It puts the question of “God” acting within the world into quite a different dimension.
In other words, if the God of Wright’s understanding does, in fact, exist, and is active in our world, then anything done by that God would not be supernatural at all. In a similar vein, but from a very different religious perspective, namely that of New Thought, Nona L Brooks writes “there is no supernatural, for the natural is God in action” ( 1977:Online).29
The nature of our experience of the Divine is a complex and much debated one. Some (see, eg, Jenkins (1966:59-60)) see it as “existential” in nature, whilst others (see, eg, Mouroux (1954:9-15)) view it as “experiential”. Both Jenkins and Mouroux refer to this experience as being an “interpersonal” (albeit primordial) one - which, in the view of the present writer, tends to imply anthropomorphic and anthropopassionate notions of God - although both of the above mentioned writers are at pains to point out that our experience of the Divine is not one of the usual empirical (subject/object) kind because God is not an object, but a Presence. Thus, our experience of the Divine is an inner and spiritual one of “creaturehood” with attendant notions of awe, reverence, wonder, gratitude, humility, devotion and love. Both of these ideas are, as will be seen, very much in the Liberal
28 For example, to say that something is "supernatural", that is "not natural", says nothing. It is simply stating what the supposed entity is not. It says nothing about what it supposedly is. Further, how is it possible to speak meaningfully about the supposed "infinite" acting in the finite, the non-temporal acting in time? The philosopher John Anderson (1962) explains why there can be only one order or level of reality in terms of "the “problem of commensurability", that is, any notion of there being different orders or levels of reality or truth is "contrary to the very nature and possibility of discourse". Indeed, any concept of there being some higher or lower order or level of reality is strictly meaningless and unspeakable, and if in fact there were more than one order of reality, how could there be connections between them? The inherent weakness of so much esotericism (other than those ideas and concepts which can readily be seen by ordinary persons as intuitively self-evident, eg the oneness of all life), is that ideas and purported teachings of so-called supernatural beings or entities, as well as the beings and entities themselves, cannot be shown to have any objective referent. See van der Leeuw (1930:Online). See, generally, Ellis-Jones (2001).
29 See “The Mystery of Healing”, <http://www.angelfire.com/wi2/ULCds/nona1.html> (viewed 2 April 2009).
Catholic tradition, for the God we worship is both transcendent and immanent, with the experience of God being both intimate and ultimate in nature,30 for, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Those words describe what is referred to as panentheism.31
In Chapter 1 of this thesis (entitled “Experiencing the Christ Through Fellowship”) the writer will look more closely at the nature of the Liberal Catholic Church. In Chapter 2 (“Experiencing the Christ Through Understanding”) the focus will be on the philosophical and theological roots of the Liberal Catholic Church, which, in the view of the writer, are to be found in the Platonic and Neoplatonic32 traditions of philosophical and theological thought. In Chapter 3 (“Experiencing the Christ Through Tradition”) the focus will be on the various senses in which the word “Christ” is and has been used throughout the years in the Liberal Catholic tradition. In Chapter 4 (“Experiencing the Christ Through Liberal Catholic Expression”) the special focus will be on the presence and meaning of “Christ” in The Liturgy, particularly in the context of the services of the Holy Eucharist, the Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament, and Healing. In Chapter 5, the final chapter of the thesis, entitled “Experiencing the Christ Through Encounter”, the writer will discuss the Christ of his own personal encounter and experience as well as the future of the Liberal Catholic Church.
30 Unitarian Universalist theologian and author James Luther Adams (1901-1994), who taught at Meadville Lombard, Harvard and Andover Newton seminaries, came up with two things that, he said, permit appreciation or recognition of a thing being a religion, or being religious: ultimacy, that is, a place to seek meaning about the ultimate questions of life and death, and intimacy, that is a place to belong. See Small (2003).
31 Panentheism (from the Greek πάν (“pan”), meaning “all”; en, meaning “in”; and theos, meaning “God”), that is, "all-in-God". Panentheism is the theological position that God, the ground of and for all being, is not only immanent within the Universe but also transcends the Universe in such a way that not only is God in all things but all things are also in God, but not such that all things are God. Panentheism is essentially a combination or conciliation of theism (God is the Supreme Being) and pantheism (God is everything).
32 Throughout this thesis the words “Neoplatonic”, “Neoplatonism” and other cognate words will be spelled as such, that is, non-hyphenated, for the sake of consistency of expression. This has required a number of changes to quoted material.
EXPERIENCING THE CHRIST THROUGH FELLOWSHIP The Liberal Catholic Church
The Liberal Catholic Church,33 first and foremost, is a “church”.34
In the New Testament of the Christian Bible the word “church” is translated from the Greek word ekklēsia. That word comes from two words, ek meaning “out”, and kaleo meaning to “call”, “call out” or “invite”. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (see Harrison  1972:123) states that the New Testament uses the word ekklēsia to refer to a congregation assembled by and called out by the Living God about Jesus, as well as “the spiritual family of God, the Christian fellowship created by the Holy Spirit through the testimony to the mighty acts of God in Christ Jesus”.
An ekklēsia is thus no mere assembly or place of public assembly or public meeting,35 but a centre of worship of people who have been especially “called out” by God for Divine purposes. As sometime Australian Liberal Catholic priest and Theosophist Brian Parry has pointed out (1967:10), “A church is not a body separate from those comprising it.”
The Liberal Catholic Church is not only a church but also:
33 The Liberal Catholic Church, which is one of some 30 or more Catholic Churches throughout the world which are independent of Rome, came into existence as a result of a complete re-organization in 1915-16 on a more liberal basis of the Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, the holy orders of which were derived from the Old Catholic Church of Holland which had disapproved of the papal dogmas of the immaculate conception in 1854 and papal infallibility in 1870, but which was otherwise able to transmit its Apostolic Succession to the Old Catholic churches of Germany and Switzerland, and also to Great Britain. In the early years of the Liberal Catholic Church, the church was often referred to as “The Movement”, that is, a “movement within Catholic Christianity, not a new Church” (Wedgwood 1976b:133, fn 1). Except where otherwise stated, a reference in this thesis to the Liberal Catholic Church is a reference to that church, known as such, the current Presiding Bishop of which is the Most Reverend Graham S Wale, and which has as one of its provinces throughout the world the Province of Australasia (including Indonesia).
34 The English word “church”, along with its cognate forms kirche, kerk, kirk, comes from the Greek adjective, to kuriakon, “used first of the house of the Lord, then of his people”: Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (see Harrison  1972:123).
35 There are other Greek words such as agora, paneguris, heorte, koinon, thiasos, sunagoge and sunago that can be used to refer to a mere assembly as such.
a Christian church and denomination
an independent Catholic and Apostolic church
a sacramental church in the Catholic tradition
a liberal church
a mystical church
a church in the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions.
Each of the above features or distinguishing characteristics of the Liberal Catholic Church will be addressed seriatim.
The Nature of the Liberal Catholic Church
A Christian Church and Denomination
The Liberal Catholic Church sees itself as both a “Christian church” and a “Christian denomination” - “part of the historical [Christian] Church” - which “seeks to work in amity with all other Christian denominations”,36 and which “emphasises the values of corporate Christian life and worship”.37 It is “a living Christian Church, both progressive and historical”,38 that seeks “not only to commemorate a Christ who lived two thousand years ago” but also “to serve as a vehicle for the eternal Christ who lives as a mighty spiritual presence in the world, guiding and sustaining his people”.39 Liberal Catholic Bishop Marijn Brandt wrote (nd [but c1965]:Online):
The Liberal Catholic Church ... has brought us a Christianity with freedom of belief, without fear, without exploitation, and with priests who have no power over people, and who do not receive any money, but who are only servants of their fellow-men.40
Brandt (as above) also wrote that Bishops Charles W Leadbeater and James I Wedgwood, the Founding Bishops - as they are often so described - of the Liberal Catholic Church saw
36 See Section 14 (Other Churches & Communions), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
37 See Section 3 (Overall Perspective), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
38 See Section 10 (Philosophical Background), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
39 See Section 3 (Overall Perspective), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
40 Emphasis added.
their “mission”, as regards the bringing into existence of what was to become known as the Liberal Catholic Church, as having been as follows:
Theosophy inspired them to bring about this regeneration of Christianity ...41
Bishop Wedgwood was in no doubt that the Liberal Catholic Church was a Christian church, stating not only that the Liberal Catholic Church “is a Christian Church” but that “its work lies with Christianity” and “it is with the teaching and humble practice of this Christian heritage that the Liberal Catholic Church is chiefly occupied” (1919:13-14). Wedgwood defined, or rather described, the religion of Christianity as follows (1929:54):
Christianity is essentially a religion of fellowship. It took over the idea of corporate worship from the Jewish usages, and from the beginnings it practiced it. Except for gatherings at great festivals, Hinduism and Buddhism have nothing in common with this, and neither Hinduism, Buddhism nor Islam, have the same corporate singing and liturgical worship. Moreover, Christianity is a sacramental religion ... .
In one publication of the Liberal Catholic Church it is stated:
The Liberal Catholic Church seeks to give the world the best elements of Catholicism with the best of Protestantism.42
Bishop Frank W Pigott, the third Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, succeeding Bishop Leadbeater in that office, in the course of writing about various aspects of the “ancient wisdom of the East” (such as the “oneness of life - God’s life and ours” and reincarnation) that Bishop Leadbeater had, according to Pigott, introduced into the Liberal Catholic Church, stated (1934:Online) that Leadbeater
presented them in Christian form and so made clearer the great Christian doctrines which were becoming or had become meaningless to many a modern mind in the West. Thus through his work the Wisdom of the East flows into the great Christian religion as still another affluent.43
41 Emphasis added. Admittedly, the Liberal Catholic Church was established as a special type of “Adventist” Church, formed to prepare for the coming of the World Teacher (the Lord Maitreya, the Christ) and to make itself available for use by the World Teacher as a special means by which the World Teacher would help the world when He came, with the Church “putting itself wholly into His hands as an instrument to be used at His Will”. However, whilst Theosophy, or a certain type of it, may have inspired the two Founding Bishops to bring into its modern incarnation the Liberal Catholic Church, that does not means that the Church is, or was ever intended to be, a Theosophical church. That issue is addressed elsewhere in this thesis.
42 What is the Liberal Catholic Church? (Ojai CA: St Alban Press, nd), np.
43 Emphasis added.
A former Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, Ian R Hooker, has written (2000:Online):
Notwithstanding his heavy reliance on the members and resources of The Theosophical Society, [Bishop] Wedgwood was not building a church just for theosophists. From the beginning he saw the [Liberal Catholic Church] as a haven for open-minded, liberally inclined Christians, no longer comfortable in mainstream churches. In time, he believed, these people would form the majority of Liberal Catholics.
A “Christian” church? Yes, most definitely so, but not, as we shall later see, a “Theosophical church”. Parry, himself a Theosophist, nevertheless expressed it rightly when he wrote (1967:10):
The Christian community exists to serve the world; it can flourish only when it is aware of what is happening in the world and responds creatively. Christian history is the history of great men who responded to the challenge of the present – men like Aquinas, Wesley, Wedgwood and Leadbeater – and of faithless men who did not.
Yes, the Liberal Catholic Church is a Christian church with a special focus and an understanding of the nature and purpose of all true religion. Thus, C B Hankin writes (1945:17):
Christianity was given to the world, as indeed all religions have been given, not simply as a guide-post straight from the pomps and vanities of this world to the perfection of a hereafter. It is a prime fault of our present religious system that so much stress has been laid upon belief, and so little upon knowledge; so much upon the merit of the Atonement, and so little upon the working out of our own salvation. We have developed a teaching which has externalised spirituality, and which has led us to place our reliance upon something outside ourselves for the attainment of perfection within.44
In addition, right from its very beginnings, the Liberal Catholic Church, whilst professing its Christian roots and foundation, made it clear, often in very strong, even polemic, language, what it saw as true and false Christianity respectively. Thus, in an early edition of the Church’s hymnal we read (Liberal Catholic Church 1921:5):
[The Liberal Catholic Church’s] central and paramount teaching is that God is Love and Light, and that in Him there is no darkness at all. Consequently it regards as blasphemous all assertions of hell and damnation, all prayers for salvation by blood, all ignoble cries for mercy, all expressions showing fear or doubt of the Loving Father. It holds that heaven is not a place but a state of consciousness, and
44 Emphasis in the original.
that death is not a plunge into a dim unknown, but simply a passage into a higher and beautifully familiar life.
As mentioned above, the Liberal Catholic Church sees itself as being a Christian “denomination”. Over the years, but more so in earlier years, various scholars on religion have referred to the Church as being a “sect”. For example, Warren Christopher Platt, an American Episcopalian (Anglican) priest, in his doctoral dissertation on the Liberal Catholic Church (1982), took the position that the Liberal Catholic Church was a “sect”, as opposed to a “denomination”, and a hybrid one at that, being part “catholic” and part “Gnostic” (or Theosophical).45 The word “cult” is inherently pejorative, and in the eyes of the law all religions are equal and are “cults”. In any event, as Emile Durkeim46 rightly pointed out ( 1954:47, 63), religion is “an eminently collective thing” and a religious organization was a “cult” in the true sense of the word:
In reality, a cult is not a simple group of ritual precautions which a man is held to take in certain circumstances; it is a system of diverse rites, festivals and ceremonies which all have this characteristic, that they reappear periodically. They fulfil the need which the believer feels of strengthening and reaffirming, at regular intervals of time, the bond which unites him to the sacred beings upon which he depends.
An Independent Catholic and Apostolic Church
The late Sten von Krusenstierna, a former Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, has written (1963:1):
We are a Catholic Church. Catholic – first taken in its meaning of universal. Secondly in its acquired meaning of the traditional Christian Church administering the Seven Sacraments, and founded on Apostolic Succession.
As just mentioned, the Liberal Catholic Church is a “Catholic” church in the original, universal sense of that word, being part of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” (The Creed, Liturgy 210, 230). In A Concise Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Terms Eckel has this to say about the word “catholic” (1960:15):
45 Platt had regard to such factors as the Liberal Catholic Church’s eclecticism and esotericism, its early adventist stance, the Church’s own self-perspective, its sense of mission (as regards being the custodian of the co-called “lost Gnosis), its sometimes self-imposed isolationism from mainstream Christian churches, and so forth.
46 Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) taught sociology at the University of Bordeaux and later educated on education and sociology at the Sorbonne from 1902 until his death. In his monumental work The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, which was first published in 1912, Durkheim used ethnological evidence from the Australian tribes to support and explain his theories. The bulk of The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life is a detailed study of primitive religion, more particularly indigenous Australian forms of cults and beliefs.
CATHOLIC. Means universal, all-embracing. The church is described in the creeds as catholic “because it is universal, holding earnestly the faith for all time, in all countries, and for all people, and is sent to preach the gospel to the whole world.” It is incorrect to refer to the Roman Catholic church exclusively as “The Catholic church,” for there are other catholic churches – the Uniat, Anglo-catholic, Greek, etc.
The Liberal Catholic Church sees itself as being one limb of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” which is also known and referred to as the Mystical Body of Christ47 of which Christ is the founder, living head and eternal high priest. Bishop Pigott referred to the Liberal Catholic Church as being “distinct from other parts of the Catholic Church” but “not separate from that Church” ( 1927:8). He went further, stating that the Liberal Catholic Church was “not so much a new Church as a new part of the old Church” ( 1927:8). The Church, in its Statement of Principles and Summary of Doctrine, makes it clear how it sees itself in the sense referred to by Bishop Pigott:
From its inception, The Liberal Catholic Church has sought to combine Catholic forms of worship - stately ritual, deep mysticism and witness to the reality of sacramental grace - with the widest measure of intellectual liberty, and respect for the individual conscience.48
The Liberal Catholic Church, although a Catholic church, is “independent” in that the Church is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant nor Orthodox. However, the Church does claim to derive its holy orders from the Roman Catholic Church, via the Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, which derived its orders from the Old Catholic archiepiscopal see of Utrecht in the Netherlands. The Liberal Catholic Church claims to have the benefit of unbroken Apostolic Succession, having “carefully preserved this succession of orders” throughout the ensuing years.49 That doctrine, traditionally expressed, “asserts that the Gospel is preserved in the Church by means of a lineal succession of bishops who have handed down the truth from the beginning and who possess the teaching authority of the Apostles themselves” (Enloe: Online), that is, that the original twelve apostles (or disciples) passed on their authority to their successors and so on throughout the centuries.
47 Many Liberal Catholics also use the phrase “the Mystical Body of Christ” to refer to the universe itself.
48 See Section 1 (Introduction), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
49 As respects Liberal Catholic apostolic succession, see Wedgwood (1920; nd), Burton (nd), Rumble (1958), Liberal Catholic Church (1967), Liberal Catholic Church of Ontario (1986), Langley (1998) and Kersey (2007). Despite not infrequent ongoing Liberal Catholic Church statements to the contrary, the Roman Catholic Church does not accept the Liberal Catholic Church’s assertion of unbroken Apostolic Succession (see Rumble 1958), nor does the Anglican Communion whose own orders, in any event, were declared null and void by Pope Leo XIII in 1896. The Anglican Lambeth Conference held in 1920 cast doubt on all Liberal Catholic orders descending from Old Catholic Bishop Arnold H Mathew: see Encyclical Letters from the Bishops with the Resolutions and Reports, 2nd ed (London: SPCK, 1920), p 155.
In Roman Catholic descriptions of the doctrine the reference to the “Gospel” is often replaced by a reference to the “doctrines of sacred tradition”, combined with the dogma that Saint Peter was the first leader of the apostles and the first Bishop of Rome (Pope) and that Peter’s successors were accepted by the early Christian Church as having supreme authority of the Church and thus over other apostles or Christians. However, even the eminent Roman Catholic scholar Raymond E Brown, author of such texts as Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity and The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, confirms what so many other Christian, and even other Catholic Christian, scholars have stated over the years, namely, that “Peter never served as the bishop or local administrator of any church, Antioch and Rome included” (Brown, as quoted in Wills 2006:80). Wills, himself a Roman Catholic, and the author of such books as Why I Am a Catholic, What Paul Meant and What Jesus Meant, writes that there were “no bishops in Peter’s lifetime, and none in Rome till the second century (as the letters of Ignatius of Antioch prove)” (Wills 2006:80). Wills even goes so far as to say that there is no evidence that Peter was a priest, let alone a bishop.50 This does not sound like a very firm foundation on which to build a doctrine of Apostolic Succession of any sort, especially the traditional Catholic one that asserts that Saint Peter was the first Pope and then retrospectively creates a papal lineage from there onwards right down to the present pope.
The present writer does not question the importance of this doctrine of Apostolic Succession to great numbers of Christians of various denominations including but not limited to many Roman Catholics as well as Liberal Catholics, and recognizes the validity of many diverse traditions (including the Liberal Catholic tradition) which have sought to carefully preserve the succession of their orders. However, the writer prefers to interpret the doctrine more esoterically or metaphorically such that the “authority”, as well as the “message” or gnosis passed down throughout the centuries, is a certain body of teaching as opposed to an “office replete with successors” (Enloe: Online).51
Now, the New Testament itself refers to the Church being “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20; cf Liturgy
50 See 1 Pet 5:1.
51 Emphasis in the original. See, in particular, what the Apostle Paul had to say about the matter in, for example, 1 Tim 1:3, 18; 2:14-15; 4:6, 11, 16; 5:21; 6:13-14, 20-21; 2 Tim 1:13-14; 2:1-2; 3:14-17; Titus 1:5, 9; 2:1, 15).
224). Despite the Roman interpretation given to Matthew 16:18 (“thou art Peter [Petros], and upon this rock [petra]52 I will build my church ...”),53 a foundation, whether in the form of Christ himself or otherwise, can have no “successors” as such, but there can be a passing down or transmission of a body of teaching which Bishop Pigott referred to as the “lost Gnosis”, more particularly, “the original depositum, perhaps; the Creed within the Creeds and the Gospel within the Gospels” (1925:35).54 Such an interpretation and understanding of the doctrine of Apostolic Succession is supported by the writings of such early Church fathers as Clement of Alexandria and Origen. For example, Clement wrote in 208 CE:
Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the truth, according as they delivered it. For such a sketch as this, will, I think, be agreeable to a soul desirous of preserving from loss the blessed tradition.55
Origen wrote in 225 CE:
Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition".56
Thus, it is the true “teachings of Christ” and “the tradition of the blessed doctrine” that are handed down, by the successive ceremonial laying on of hands with due ecclesiastical authority that constitutes, in the respectful opinion of the present writer, the true inner meaning and ongoing significance of the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. True apostolicity then becomes something of incalculable value and worth inherent in both the Ancient Wisdom itself as well as a trait inherent in all people who seek to know the Self as one, as opposed to a lineate succession of Popes throughout the centuries with succession after
52 A fragment of a rock.
53 Wills (2006:80) states that in the same Gospel (Matthew) the power to “bind and loose” (cf Mt 16:19) is not conferred upon Peter exclusively “but to the followers as a body” (see, relevantly, Mt 18:18). Protestants have traditionally taken the view that what Jesus is actually saying in Mt 16:18 - assuming for the moment the authenticity of the verse - is that it is Peter’s profession of faith upon which will serve as the basis for the Church. Whether Jesus actually intended to found a church, as opposed to a kingdom (the “Kingdom of God”), is another contentious issue. One thing is clear – the Church itself is not the Kingdom of God. See Wills (2006:80-84 et seq).
54 Emphasis in the original.
55 See Miscellanies 1:1.
56 See The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2.
succession of bishops of various denominations, the majority of which, in any event, are not in communion with the Pope of the day whoever that Pope may be.
Clearly, there is considerable disagreement among the various churches that hold themselves out as being “Christian” as to what actually constitutes the the true “teachings of Christ” and “the tradition of the blessed doctrine”, that is, the so-called “apostolic doctrine” itself. That sorry state of affairs is further complicated by the fact that not only is there considerable disagreement among the various Christian churches as to what the doctrine of Apostolic Succession actually means,57 there is also considerable, and at times quite acrimonious, disagreement among various denominations as regards the vexed issue as to whether or not certain churches have “broken” the doctrine. Finally, there is no escaping the fact that the world’s largest Christian denomination, Roman Catholicism, insists that much more is required to preserve Apostolic Succession than mere lineal succession from the original Saint Peter.58
However, be all that as it may, the Liberal Catholic Church can rightly claim to have preserved Apostolic Succession by its being faithful to the true teachings of the Living Christ and to its being a vehicle by means of which “the wisdom underlying all religions when they are stripped of accretions and superstitions ... teachings [that] aid the unfoldment of the latent spiritual nature in the human being, without dependence or fear” (Besant ( 1984:60) can be faithfully transmitted to the present generation as well as to future generations. Jesus himself made clear his understanding of Apostolic Succession, even though he never used those words, in a passage recorded in Luke 9:49-50:
And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
57 In addition, there are at least two different schools of thought as to how to carry out the actual “requirements” of Apostolic Succession – one Eastern (grounded in the teaching of Saint Cyprian) and the other Western (based on the teachings and writings of Saint Augustine).
58 St. Irenæus states the theory and practice of doctrinal unity as follows: “With this Church [of Rome] because of its more powerful principality, every Church must agree, that is the faithful everywhere, in this [i.e. in communion with the Roman Catholic] the tradition of the Apostles has ever been preserved by those on every side (Adv Haereses, III). In addition, the Western Church (and not just the Roman Catholic Church) adopt an Augustinian fourfold criterion to determine the validity of a bishop’s consecration in the historic apostolic succession, the four criteria being “form”, “matter”, “minister” and “intention”. The first three of those criteria are exterior” and the fourth is “interior”.
The present writer is confident that Our Lord would adopt an inclusive, as opposed to exclusive, approach to the matter in question, as he did on so many other occasions when he said things such as the following:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (Jn 10:16)
“In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (Jn 14:2)
The Liberal Catholic Church is also “independent” of all other Christian Churches in the sense that, as a Church, it is self-governing and autonomous. Further, there is “no central See, each province being independent under its Regionary Bishop” (Parry and Rivett  1985:4).59
The Liberal Catholic Church is also “independent” in that it has adopted “freedom of belief as a cornerstone of its foundations”,60 thus allowing its members and adherents “freedom in the interpretation of Creeds, Scriptures and Traditions, and of its Liturgy and Doctrine”.61 Therein lies the true and quite unique catholicity, that is, universality, of the Liberal Catholic Church, in that it understands that
... Christianity must henceforth become acceptable for its universality, not for its exclusiveness.
If Christianity is to do its work as a world power among men of all nations, it must change, and it must recognize certain deep fundamental truths which I hold are from Christ Himself. Of these, the first is that there is one truth and one alone in all religions, one Christ’s truth, but manifest in all religions of the world. The second truth is that there exists but one Christ principle, one LOGOS, one Word made flesh, manifest in all the Teachers of the past, the present and to come, one Immanence and Power of God working through all ages, linking all worlds visible and invisible into one manifestation. There cannot be a division between God and man and nature, for there is ever but one Unity and that is God Himself.62
59 However, as Parry and Rivett rightly point out, the Church “maintains its own cohesiveness through a General Episcopal Synod consisting of its bishops, and its unity with the whole Catholic Church through its Apostolic Succession” ( 1985:4).
60 See Section 11 (Science & Religion), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
61 See Section 2 (Freedom of Thought), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
62 Jinarājadāsa ( 1947:210).
Notwithstanding the above, the Liberal Catholic Church, whilst allowing its members “perfect freedom of opinion ... has at the same time a definite doctrine to offer to those who feel themselves able to accept it, though it does not exact adherence to it or to any other dogma as a condition of access to its altars” (Liberal Catholic Church 1921:5).
A Sacramental Church in the Catholic Tradition
Being a church in the Catholic tradition, the Liberal Catholic Church is a sacramental church that seeks to perpetuate the historical sacramental tradition instituted by Christ himself. Roman Catholic priest, professor of sociology and novelist Andrew M Greeley, in his book The Bottom Line Catechism, succinctly explains the “Catholic” approach to the sacraments ( 1983:293):
The Catholic approach to the presence of grace is sacramental, that is to say, it assumes God reveals himself/herself (Grace manifests itself) through creatures, through the world, through the events of human life. Indeed, whatever one’s Christological explanations might be, Catholics still must believe that while Jesus must be the most adequate, the most perfect, and the highest self-revelation of God, he is still a revelation which is made manifest through the created nature of Jesus and through the audible words and visible deeds of the Lord.
The Catholic approach to religion is sacramental not because the church has a system of seven sacraments; rather, the opposite is the case. There exist seven sacraments precisely because Catholicism, like prophetic Judaism, which is its ancestor, takes a sacramental view of the world, believes that God reveals himself/unveils herself through created things and the events of ordinary life.
The sacraments,63 which, in the Liberal Catholic Church at least, are made easily and freely available to all who reverently seek them, are both means of grace and powerful “tools” for spiritual growth and development, as they help people “to reach their destiny – the peace, the power, the love and bliss of conscious union with God” (Sheehan  1977:39).64
As Samuel Angus, a leading authority on the origins and environment of early Christianity points out (Angus  1975:viii), the ancient Mysteries were not only “an important background to early Christianity”, they were also “the chief medium of sacramentarianism to
63 “The Liberal Catholic Church recognises and administers the seven traditional sacraments, which are: Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Absolution, Holy Unction, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders.” Summary of Doctrine, numbered para 7, in [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
64 The nature of the sacraments and, in particular, the Holy Eucharist will be considered in detail in Chapter 4 of this thesis.
the West”. Dean Inge (1899:354) also confirms that Catholic Christianity owes to the Mysteries, among other things, the notion of “sacramental grace”. Thus, for good reason, the sacraments are called “mysteries” in the Eastern Church.
Frank Stanton Burns Gavin (1928 and 1930) also attests in his various scholarly writings to the non-Jewish mystery cults being the primary source of Christian sacramentalism, but Gavin is also at pains to point out that Christianity, and particularly Catholic Christianity, is still very much indebted to Judaism both as regards sacramentalism and in many other respects as well – something the “History of Religions” proponents such as Samuel Angus tended to overlook or ignore. Wedgwood ( 1984:42; 2009:24) correctly notes that there seems “much evidence ... that some of the foundations of the Eucharist are to be found in the Jewish tradition”.65
The Liberal Catholic Church is committed to a belief in the essential oneness and sacredness of all life. Roman Catholic priest Andrew M Greeley makes the valid point that “[s]ome things can be Sacraments only if one has a world-view that sees everything as having the potential for sacramentality” ( 1983:294). However, whilst all life is sacramental in character, and although there are clearly many ways in which the essential oneness and sacredness of all life can be appreciated and experienced, churches in the Catholic tradition have always regarded the seven historic sacraments of the Catholic Church as spiritual means by which we can truly experience most wonderfully and powerfully that sense of oneness and sacredness, and thereby change for the better.
In the words of Bishop James I Wedgwood (1928c:Online), “the only way to bring about permanent peace [is] when you awaken the real passion for peace and brotherhood and the recognition of the One Life”. Individually, as well as collectively, the sacraments are a powerful means for positive transformation when they are approached in the right frame of
65 Wedgwood ( 1984:42; 2009:24), if anything, played down the influence of the Greco-Roman mystery cults, stating: “There seems no real evidence for the theory ... that the Christian sacraments, as we know them, were incorporated into the faith at a later period, having been taken over from the mystery-cults of the Mediterranean basin.” See also Dix (1945) who, in his book The Shape of the Liturgy, provided much probative material to support his proposition that the Christian Liturgy had “its first formation in the semi-Jewish church of the apostolic age”, and that, as regards the Holy Eucharist, the Christian rite “exactly” and “ostentatiously” conformed to the rabbinical rules of the chabûrah supper (Rodd 1972:6). However, Rodd goes on to point out that Dix’s own book “is [sic] now considered by his critics to be more literature than scholarship”. The present writer is of the opinion that the Holy Eucharist, as we now have it, shows evidence of both Jewish and non- Jewish sources.
mind and heart. Dr Nona L Brooks, cofounder of Divine Science, has written ( 1977:Online), albeit in a different context (namely, the “Mystery of Healing”):
Form is the expression of God; it is Spirit manifest, and Spirit is perfect, true, and harmonious.66
The words are, however, directly applicable to all of the sacraments, and the nature of their working and connection with Ultimate Reality, or Spirit.
A Liberal Church
The Liberal Catholic Church is a “liberal” Christian church. In that regard, as mentioned previously the Church offers its members, adherents and all others complete liberality and freedom of thought and belief so that each may seek, in their own individual respective ways, a greater reality than self.67
There has always been much misunderstanding about the word “liberal”. The word “liberality” [from the Latin liber, a free person] is the noun derived from the word “liberal”, as opposed to the word “liberty” which implies freedom of one kind or another. Liberality, on the other hand, refers to munificence, that is, an abundant, non-literal, open-minded and unprejudiced quest for spiritual truth, enlightenment and, if you like, initiation into the Ancient Mysteries.
Ferm, in his Concise Dictionary of Religion, states that liberalism is “not so much a school of thought as it is a spirit” (1951:142). Ferm was referring to Protestant Liberalism but what he wrote is, it is submitted, still applicable to the Liberal Catholic Church as well. Ferm, again writing about the liberal Protestant, says that such a Christian “trusts reason as the only tool by which to measure truth, although he may weigh tradition and authority with the respect to which they are due” (1951:142-143). The Liberal Catholic places great value on the use of reason as well. However, unlike most liberal Protestants, Liberal Catholics tend to be mystically-minded, acknowledging that insight into such matters as the nature of the
66 See <http://www.angelfire.com/wi2/ULCds/nona1.html> (viewed 2 April 2009).
67 See, in particular, Sections 2 (Freedom of Thought), 4 (The Sacraments), and 9 (Mysticism and the Wisdom Tradition), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
Cosmos and our innate divinity can be derived by means of mystical experience as well as what may be called “spiritual intuition”.68
The Liberal Catholic Church encourages people to think for themselves, and to search for truth in whatever ways they think best, whilst showing respect, tact and tolerance for those who, in good faith, see things differently and seek to follow different paths of faith. As a liberal church, albeit a Christian one, the Liberal Catholic Church does not claim, and ought not to claim, any exclusive revelation or status for itself or its members, notwithstanding the assertions of some over the years that the Church’s leaders continue to receive and be informed by communications from the supposed “Masters”.
The Church’s position as regards its liberality is formally stated in these words:
The Liberal Catholic Church leaves to its members freedom in the interpretation of Creeds, Scriptures and Traditions, and of its Liturgy and Doctrine. It asks only that differences of interpretation shall be courteously expressed. It takes this attitude, not from any indifference to truth, but because it holds that belief should be the result of individual study and intuition. Truth is not truth, nor revelation a revelation, until it is seen to be so.69
The Liberal Catholic Church believes that in religion, as in science, truth is the ultimate goal to which we should all aspire. Absolute truth rests with God and cannot be known in full by humans. Life is therefore a constant progression from less true to more true. That is why The Liberal Catholic Church has adopted freedom of belief as a cornerstone of its foundations. It has a body of teaching, but recognises that individuals must find their own truth from within, rather than adopt beliefs second-hand from without. The Church must also constantly review the doctrine that it teaches. For these reasons extreme tolerance is expected from Church members.70
The General Constitution of the Liberal Catholic Church, the authorized Liturgy of the Church, and the authorised Statement of Principles and Summary of Doctrine constitute the only official documents of the Church.71 However, the Church has never made the acceptance of any creed, article or profession of faith as a condition of membership of the
68 See Section 9 (Mysticism and the Wisdom Tradition), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
69 See Section 2 (Freedom of Thought), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
70 See Section 11 (Science & Religion), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006).
71 See Section VII, para 41, General Constitution of the Liberal Catholic Church (London: Liberal Catholic Church, 2004), [Online version] <http://kingsgarden.org/English/organizations/LCC.GB/Publications/OfficialDocuments/2004GeneralConstitution.pdf>.
Church. Indeed, the very existence of a Summary of Doctrine, as opposed to a mere statement of principles,72 is, with respect, questionable for a Church that holds itself out as being a “liberal” church. As our own Bishop Allan Bradley said many years ago (1964:np ):
A liberal church can have no doctrines, no dogmas and no articles, for each man’s path to God is his own. There can be no heresies in a liberal church, for we can never stand in judgment upon another’s belief.
When we have found the love of Christ transforming our hearts our whole outlook will become full of the divine positive and not the restrictive negations of creedal belief. A new deep respect develops for those fellow members of the enormous human family, for we know it to be God’s family, and our care will not be the conversion of the world to our outlook, but a deep active concern for all men of all races and religious outlooks.
To state it briefly, the Liberal Catholic Church stands in ideal not for a set of its own truths, nor for a rule of life, personal habits or moral standards. Our church stands for a NEW APPROACH TO LIFE AND RELIGION.73
Bradley refers to what he calls “our grand charter as laid down in the front of every copy of our Liturgy” (see Liturgy 7) wherein reference is made to “the widest measure of intellectual liberty and respect for the individual conscience”. To a not insignificant extent, we have fallen short of the liberal ideals we supposedly hold so dear, and we are far from being progressive as a church. Indeed, we are frightfully conservative in so many ways. In an article entitled “Are We Still Progressive?” and published in The Australian Liberal Catholic in June 1967, the contents of which are still vitally relevant today, more than 40 years later, Brian Parry wrote (1967:10-11):
To be progressive means being responsive to the changing needs of mankind. It is an attitude of mind – not a party label; it means openness to life. ...
What are the needs of our world now? As Australians we live in an affluent, secularized society, which nevertheless lives uneasily without God. We need a renewed sense of God immanent in the universe and in ourselves. We need an understanding of life in all of its aspects as the material expression of a spiritual reality.
Our contribution to the world’s present need must be informed, intellectual and understandable – but if that is all, we will only be one more voice in a crowd. Without intellect we will never be heard, but without spirituality, we will not be worth hearing.74
72 See, eg, the Statement of Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA): Online copy, viewed 26 May 2009, <http://www.uua.org/visitors/6798.shtml>.
73 Emphasis in the original.
74 Emphasis in the original.
These are serious matters that we need to address. However, in an ongoing spirit of liberality which, for the most part, we have been able to maintain throughout the years despite some unfortunate schisms and more than a little unhealthy dissension, it still remains the case that all who “strive to live in the spirit of love with all mankind and manfully to fight against sin and selfishness” and “strive to show forth in [their] thoughts, [their] words and [their] works, the power of God which is in [them]” (Liturgy 421) are welcome to become members of the Church.75 Further, the seven historic sacraments are offered to all who reverently seek them - not just members - and the Church erects no barriers around its altars.
In essence, what “binds” Liberal Catholics together is not a rule book, a creed, a set of principles, a summary of doctrine, or the like, but the willingness to participate in a common liturgy.
A Mystical Church
The Liberal Catholic Church also sees itself as a mystical church, and it specifically recognises that mystical76 experiences are “part of our spiritual heritage as children of the Most High” and that the recorded accounts of such experiences over many centuries are “remarkably consistent”.77 The Church sees its role as being “the mystical awakening of the individual and the Body of Christ to reality, that Christ may be manifest in them to the full” (Parry and Rivett  1985:3).
The term “mysticism”, in a Christian context, derives from a small work entitled The Mystical Theology written by the Neoplatonic Dionysius the Areopagite, also known and more
75 Admission to the Church is either by way of baptism and confirmation (absolute or conditional) or by way of the making and acceptance of an application for membership with or without a service of admission. As to the latter, see “A Form of Admission to the Liberal Catholic Church” (Liturgy 421-422).
76 The word “mysticism” comes from the Greek mystikos (“of mysteries”) and root word mou (“to conceal”). Etymologically, the cognate Greek word muein stands for “closing the eyes and the lips” (Oliveira 2007b:207), “with the probable primary sense of ‘one vowed to keep silence,’ and hence ‘one initiated into the Mysteries” (Parrinder  1995:8). Ebner (1976:13) notes that mystery, in a theological context, “stresses the silence and invisibility of the Ultimate that is also unlimited and undecipherable”. Further, mystery is inherently “holy” (1976:36).
77 Section 9 (Mysticism and the Wisdom Tradition), [Final Draft] Statement of Principles & Summary of Doctrine, 9th ed (London: St Alban Press, 2006). As the Apostle Paul wrote: “... we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our justification” (1 Cor 2:7). The writer of Luke’s Gospel refers to “the mysteries [or secrets] of the kingdom of God” (Lk 8:10).
correctly referred to as Pseudo-Dionysius, a man who was unquestionably the greatest Christian writer of the 6th century CE. However, it is important to bear in mind that Pseudo- Dionysius was not the "founder" of Christian mysticism. That honour belongs to none other than Jesus himself who uttered those immortal words, “I and my Father are one” (Jn 10:30).
The Christian Church, even in its multiplicity of discordant forms, is first and foremost a mystical church, despite the efforts of many who would rather have it otherwise. It was the Christian mystical writer Evelyn Underhill who said, quite rightly, “It is not Christian to leave the Mystery out.”
Mysticism has been defined as being
... in general, an immediate knowledge of God attained in this present life through personal religious experienced. It is primarily a state of prayer and as such admits of various degrees from short and rare Divine “touches” to the practically permanent union with God in the so-called “mystic marriage”.78
Manly P Hall described mysticism in similar terms as being “the belief in the possibility of direct personal participation in truth, through the extension of consciousness towards union with the gods, or Divine Being” (1945:179).
Felix Adler (1913:4), who was neither a Liberal Catholic nor a mystic in the usual sense of that word, eschewing, as he did, all notions of supernaturalism, nevertheless wrote of the powerful, transformative emotional aspects of the spiritual experience of a sense of oneness with all life and with others:
The fact that there is a spiritual power in us, that is to say, a power that testifies to the unity of our life with the life of others, which impels us to regard others as other selves – this fact comes home to us even more forcibly in sorrow than in joy. It is thrown into clearest relief on the background of pain.
In The Idea of the Holy Otto ( 1977:6-7) expressed his opinion that, at the heart of the so-called mystical experience, there was a sense of the numinous or the holy. The numinous experience was, according to Otto, “inexpressible, ineffable" ( 1977:5). Otto saw the numinous or holy as a mysterium tremens et fascinans, that is, a tremendous
78 See “Mysticism”, in Cross (1958). The Apostle Paul writes: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (Col 1:26).