It is an issue that comes up from time to time, usually from people who have never heard of us or who have heard vicious rumors and lies spread by insecure and scared individuals – the validity of the Old, Emergent and Independent Catholic Churches. But fewer people know the real truth about how the Old Catholic Church came about – or to put it more correctly, how the church led by the Bishop of Rome, schismed with the rest of the world-wide church. The fact is the independent church, that portion of the Catholic entity that remains separated from Roman rule, has existed long before the separate and distinct factions of Church. In fact, it was actually the Bishop of Rome who separated from the rest of the Church. We have always existed and have always derived our orders and lineage from the Church founders as far back as the Apostles themselves.
The truth is that many factions or distinct catholic entities exist and have always existed; working diligently and silently in the background with those disenfranchised by the much larger and dominant corporation – and I say that with all due respect, but with the factual knowledge that the Church under the Bishop of Rome is in fact a corporation with its own bank, country, and system of government. No other Church in the world can make that claim.
Before we go any further we need to define a few things (Webster, 1913):
Catholic (Large C) ~ A corporate name or referencing a whole of an organization. A member of a church claiming historical continuity from the ancient undivided Christian church. A member of the Roman Catholic Church.
catholic (Small c) ~ From the Greek – kaqoliko`s – Universal or general; as, the catholic faith. Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.
Church (Large C) ~ The whole body of Christians.
church (Small c) ~ A building. Public divine worship location.
Emergence ~ Coming forth from envelopment or concealment, or of rising into view; sudden uprising or appearance.
Independent ~ Free from party affiliation or bias.
Old Catholic ~ A name assumed in 1870 by members of the Roman Catholic church, who denied the ecumenical character of the Vatican Council, and rejected its decrees, especially that concerning the infallibility of the pope, as contrary to the ancient teachings given by Jesus, the Christ.
There, now we have a common ground from which to work and explore various past issues.
Worms, Worms – But No Fish
Picture it: the City of Worms – 1122 C.E. It was a beautifully sunny day near the end of summer as people gathered to support the Papacy, at that time an entire office of bishops with the Bishop of Rome as the honorary spiritual head of the bishopric, and the Emperor of Rome, where the head of the Church moved to after the death of the Apostle James who led the early church from Jerusalem (infoplease, 2015). Peter, who was the Apostolic representative in Rome, was a great leader and forged many new paths, but he was not the sole authority over all other apostles. Each apostle, and there were at least 12, had equal authority as, for lack of better words – bishops.
Prior to this meeting in 1122 C.E., the Emperor of Rome bestowed upon the leaders of the Church, and there were many at that time, the symbolic vestures of power – the Ring and Staff (crosier). Essentially, the entire catholic Church, as the official religion of the Roman Empire, was governed by and conferred to the priests and bishops by, the emperor. But in 1122, after years of fighting between the bishops and Emperor, an accord was struck giving full power of the Church to the first among equals – the Bishop of Rome and the papacy. Again, it is important here to remember the papacy at that time was an entire council of bishops, not a single individual.
Immediately after the Concordat of Worms, Bishop Callixtus II (the spiritual Papal head) called for the First Lateran Council to ratify and adopt the new accord, as well as to make other changes in the church. It is officially during that first council where the Church separates into very distinct factions and it was then that Callixtus formed the Catholic body making himself head, but not in Rome. Callixtus took the Holy See, the seat of power, from Arles (his predecessor’s home) to Vienne. Despite the fact that the heads of the church never fully established a presence in Rome, it has always been the seat of power due to the Emperor’s claim, not because of Peter as widely believed.
It was also during the First Lateran Council that we first deal with the issues of inheritance and celibacy, but that’s another article.
Callixtus II died the year after the First Lateran Council and was succeeded by Honorius II. This is an important part of history because during his reign as the honorary spiritual head of the Papal council, Henry V died leaving behind a huge struggle over lands and rights to rule – and as everyone knows, Henry died childless.
After some struggle and many changes, a new “King” was named who was supported by Honorius II. This is where things become tricky. The Bishops in Germany supported another person they wanted to be King, but Honorius supported someone else. But because Honorius supported the ultimate throne winner, favour was shown by the new king. Fast-forward many years and Honorius’s legacy continues to this day, but at a great price. The rest of the church was not happy with how things progressed, and while Honorius did have his supporters, many in the Church viewed his actions as breaking away from the established protocols of the early Church.
After some time, Honorius fell seriously ill and bishops and cardinals began scheming to take power back to the rightful monasteries. Upon Honorius’s death a closed election was held wherein Gregorio Papareschi, who took the name Pope Innocent II, was elected the new head of the Church. Now, something critically important to remember here is that this was a closed election. Only those who supported Honorius were allowed through the gates to vote on the next head of the Papacy. However, at the same time, the excluded cardinals elected Pietro Pierleoni, who took the name Anacletus II, throwing the church once again into schism and chaos. (**Side Note: Anacletus is often referred to as the Anti-pope in Roman Catholic writings.) With two heads, the Church was split and fragmented, but because of the earlier alliance with the King, the Bishops under Roman authority (Innocent II) prospered – both literally and figuratively. But both factions’ spiritual authority were equally valid and both derived from the authority of the Apostles. The only real difference was the political power each had (or didn’t have).
Why and Who Cares?
Within the entirety of the Body of Christ, celebrated in the Universal (catholic) church, there are many celebrations of the catholic faith. What few people realize is that the power that was then the Holy Roman Empire is today viewed as the only legitimate authority on all things catholic – but they are not. What is important in all of this is the realization that it wasn’t the rest of the Church that broke away or schismed – it was the Bishop of Rome who broke away from the rest of the church, usurped all the power and control over the Roman nation, and claimed to be the only reputable authority for the entire Church. He is, as we know well from history, not the only official or authentic Pope (first among equals). He is, in fact, one of five.
A quick search on the interwebs will show that here are five, two of which use the title,the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Alexandria. The Bishop or Rome asserts primacy of the universal church; however, the other four main apostolic thrones reject the assertion – Pope Shenouda III, Bishop of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa; Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome; Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch; and Ignatius Zakka I I was, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.
[**N.B. ~ Initially the Catholic Church had 4 districts: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome, with Jerusalem as headquarters. Paul then established the church in Rome. The Great Council at Jerusalem established procedure for the Universal Church. James, not Peter is the first Pope. (Acts 15:13, 19; Clement, Outlines, Book VI ~ Eusebius, History of the Church, Book 2, 1.2)]
For years the Churches not in communion with the Bishop of Rome have suffered from the stigma of not being authentic churches, though their authority and validity is in fact conceded on by the Roman See:
At the Vatican on 16 June 2000, Pope John Paul II ratified and ordered the publication of Dominus Iesus. This Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was signed and published by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now retired Pope Benedict XVI) in August of the same year. In this Declaration, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Orders and Sacraments of Old Catholic denominations:
“The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.”, “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such … have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” IV. Unicity and Unity of the Church, 17
The Pastoral Companion – A Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry – Third Edition by John M. Huels, J.C.D. (page 335)
“The principal condition is that these sacraments can be received only from validly ordained ministers. These are ministers who belong to “churches that have preserved the substance of the Eucharistic teaching, the sacraments of orders, and apostolic succession” This would include all Eastern non – Catholic churches, the Polish National Church, Old Catholic, and Old Roman Catholic.
Finally, one of the most common and most glaring admissions of validity is this: “When a Catholic sacred minister is unavailable and there is urgent spiritual necessity, Catholics may receive the Eucharist, penance, or anointing from sacred ministers of non-Catholic denominations whose Holy Orders are considered valid by the Catholic Church. This includes all Eastern Orthodox priests, as well as priests of the Old Catholic or Polish National Church.” (Rights and Responsibilities, A Catholics’ Guide to the New Code of Canon Law, Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., p. 44)
And there are many others to be sure. Again, all one has to do is an interwebs search to find many Old and Independent Catholic Churches proudly displaying their apologies for being valid. Yes, I said apologies and I did so for a reason – you see, everyone is still looking to Rome as the sole authority on the validity of our, as Old and Independent Churches, sacraments and Holy Orders. But that is not from where we derive our validity! Our validity comes not from the Bishop of Rome, but from Jesus Christ and those who followed in +His footsteps – namely, all the Apostles (bishops) whom he commissioned to go out and spread the Good News.
My Sisters and Brothers – Our orders do not come from the Bishops who lay their hands over us or who consecrate our hands – our orders come through them from the Christ. So I put it to you, why do you still look to the Roman oppressors as the sole authorities on the validity of other catholic entities? Rome has no authority over any of our churches, nor do they approve or disapprove of our Holy Orders. Instead of looking to Rome for validation we should be looking within our own collective histories to see we have been valid all along – if for no other reason than that our Lord and Savior made many equally capable bishops who were each, in their own right (and rite) able to continue the lineage that is our Lord Jesus, the Christ.
When you look to Rome – remember, they are our equals, not our superiors and most certainly not our inferiors. They are our Sisters and Brothers – in Christ.
Bellitto, Christopher M., (2002) “The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-one Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II”, Paulist Press, Mahway, N. J.
Catholic Almanac, (1993)
De Mesquita, Bruce Bueno. “Popes, kings, and endogenous institutions: The Concordat of Worms and the origins of sovereignty.” International Studies Review (2000): 93-118. in JSTOR
Gontard, F. (1964), “The Chair of Peter, A History of the Papacy”, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York,
Hardon, John, Fr. Hardon Archives – Religions of the World – Chapter 17. “Old Catholic Churches”. Therealpresence.org. (Retrieved 2015).
Infoplease.com, (Retrieved 2015).
Internet History Sourcebooks Project. New York: Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies. OCLC 82800626. Archived from the original on 1998-12-03.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Henderson, Ernest F., ed. (1910).
Kemp, Alan R. (ed.). “A brief history of Independent Catholicism in North America”. concentric.net. Ascension Alliance. Archived from the original on 2013-09-28.
Lossky, V., (2002) The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, St Vladimirs Seminary Press; Crestwood, NY.
MacCaffrey, J. (1908). Pope Callistus II. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Ott, Ludwig, (1952) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.
Prummber, Dominic & Shelton, Gerald. (1957). Handbook of Moral Theology, “The Minister of Valid Ordination”, p. 383.
“The Ordinary Minister is every consecrated bishop and no one else. (Council of Trent. Sess 23, c. 7.) Therefore even a schismatic bishop or one who has been degraded or one who has been declared irregular etc, may ordain validly provided that his own consecration was valid and that he uses the essential matter and form.”
Whelton, M., (2006) Popes and Patriarchs: An Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholic Claims, Concillar Press; Ben Lomond, CA.
William Whalen, (1958), Separated Brethren, pp. 204, 248.
“We have no reason to doubt that the Old Catholic Orders are valid. The Apostolic Succession does not depend on obedience to the See of Peter, but rather on the objective line of succession from Apostolic sources, the proper matter and form, and the proper intention . … likewise Old Catholic bishops are bishops in Apostolic Succession… The Old Catholics, like the Orthodox, possess a valid Priesthood.”
The Rev. Father Kenneth Nelan is the pastor of the Sacred Wandering Pastoral Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is also the celebrant of the Sunday Mass broadcast on Facebook.