The Old Roman Catholic Church

Old Roman Catholic Church in Europe


The Catholic Church

There are four "marks" of the Catholic Church, identified in the Creed, which distinguish it from all others. The true Church is "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic."  Its true members possess characteristics as individuals that enable the Church to display her "marks" as a society.

The Church is One: Catholics must seek the truth and profess it to those around them.  Only unity of belief in the truth can bring about unity of purpose and unity of action.  Our Lord describes Himself as the Truth, the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 14:6; John I:14 ).  Without truth there is no Christ; without Christ there is no Church.

The Church is Holy: The Church offers us many avenues to holiness, many forms of life that lead to God and many ways to receive His Graces.  But central to any attempt at holiness is the virtue of hunility.  Thos that perceive themselves as somehow better than others are destined to sin, just as the Devil was able to tempt Adam and Eve through their pride (Genesis 3:5).

The Church is Catholic: For the Church to be Catholic, simply the Greek word for "universal," her members must have charity, the Greek word for "love."  We will unite all nations under the rule of Christ the King, only if we love God and only if we love our fellow man for the love of God. (Mark 12:30, 31)  "Charity is not envious, is not pretentious, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking"; it has no room for schismatics making others look bad so that they can look good. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

The Church is Apostolic: Our Faith goes back to the Incarnation and the Public Life of Christ.  Catholics hold the Faith that has come down to us from the Apostles, as though it were a jewel wrapped in silk.  "Even if an angel from heaven should preach a different Gospel, we would not believe him." (Galations 1:8) They "stand firm and hold the traditions they have learned from the Apostles". (II Thessalonians 2:15)

Old Roman Catholics do not claim to be "The" Church but our faith communities do strive to bear these four marks... 


The following  paragraphs attempt to describe the differences between different types of Latin Catholics...

Roman Catholic or Old Roman Catholic?

Essentially the differences between Roman Catholic and Old Roman Catholic are to be found in dogma and to some extent discipline. 

The development of doctrine

Contemporary Roman Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception [Ineffabilis Deus 1854], Papal Infallibility [Pastor Aeternus 1870] and the Assumption of Mary [Munificentissimus Deus 1950] Old Roman Catholics recognise these teachings as doctrine, not as dogma.  In other words, Old Roman Catholics do not belive it is "necessary for salvation" to believe in these doctrines.  The reason why not, is due to a difference in appreciation of the "deposit of Faith", for Old Roman Catholics, the Catholic Faith was imparted whole to the Apostles and all that was "necessary for salvation" was given them and the Church by Christ [33AD].  Old Roman Catholicism, like the Eastern Orthodox, do not hold to a concept called the "development of doctrine" that modern Roman Catholicism uses to justify later dogmas like those given above.  For Old Roman Catholics, the Faith today must be the same as the Faith yesterday and will be tomorrow, this is what we understand by "Apostolic Tradition", that there is one deposit of Faith that cannot be added to or subtracted from. 

Like the Eastern Orthodox, Old Roman Catholics recognise that our understanding of doctrine may overtime become more comprehensive, i.e. an increased understanding, and this is how we interpret Christ's words regarding the Holy Spirit to the Apostles "Yet when the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth..." (John 16:13) Yet, we believe that what Catholics were asked to believe fifteen hundred years ago and today, must be the same as that believed by the Apostles and first Christians.

Old Roman Catholics recognise of course, that over time changes have been made to the externals of the faith (e.g. liturgy, devotions, habits, vestments, new feasts, Canons of ecumenical and regional Councils etc) in order to better express the same Faith to different cultures or generations, but the Faith itself cannot change.


The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has "universal ordinary jurisdiction" everywhere in the world, in other words, that a Bishop is not the sole head of any diocese but is effectively an "agent" or "vicar" of the Pope.  Indeed, Bishops can only be appointed by the "say so" of the Pope.  Many are suprised to know that this is a comparatively modern understanding of the role of the Papacy, and has been Canonically so only since 1870.

Old Roman Catholics believe that every Bishop in his own right, is an Apostle of Christ, and as such has supreme authority for that portion of Christ's flock entrusted to his care, the Bishop and his flock are "the Church" where they are; as St Ignatius of Antioch put it to St Polycarp of Smyrna, the Church of Christ is in the Bishop, his priests and deacons with the people around the Eucharist in the true Faith.  All bishops and their flocks together so comprise the "Catholic Church", or "The Church is in the Bishop and the Bishop in the Church" as St Cyprian of Carthage wrote.

Even so, it has long been the practise of the Church to organise herself for administrative purposes so that a church or groups of churches may be led by a Bishop, a Metropolitan or Archbishop, but essentially there is only one Sacramental rank of Bishop - not many.  All Bishops are equal.  The Pope then as Bishop of Rome, may historically have had authority to govern many churches as a Patriarch, but he is still only a Bishop and thus only the "first among equals" of his brothers in the Episcopate.  The Holy See and the Orthodox Patriarchates are currently establishing what the practice of authority was in the first millenium of the Church's existence and how the Petrine Ministry (position of the Pope of Rome) was understood then within the context of the magisterium universally attributed to the first Seven Ecumenical Councils.

Old Roman Catholics acknowledge the Bishop of Rome historically and spiritually as the Patriarch of the West and our priests pray for the Pope in the Canon of their Masses to express the desire for unity that should exist amongst Western Catholics.  A thorough reading of history clearly indicates that Old Roman Catholics did nothing schismatically to warrant Pius IX's institution of another heirarchy in the See of Utrecht, nor taught anything that was not always considered to be Catholic faith and practise; thus it is the Papacy that must correct this error in judgement, and later Faith and praxis.   

Clerical Celibacy

With regard to this discipline, Old Roman Catholic clergy in common with our Orthodox brethren, are permitted to marry before Ordination; clerical celibacy is considered a particular and individual vocation rather than a obligatory condition for the Sacred Ministry.

Old Catholic or Old Roman Catholic?

Essentially the difference between "Old Catholic" and "Old Roman Catholic" is one of doctrine and historical appreciation.  The Old Catholic Congresses of disaffected Catholics over Papal Infallibility, which took place on the Continent after the First Vatican Council, sought the Episcopal and Sacramental oversight of the Old Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands, which the continuing See of Utrecht had become known as after the institution of an alternative heirarchy by Pius IX in 1853 as his solution to the previous wrangle between the Holy See and the See of Utrecht over autonomy granted the latter by previous Papal decrees (Eugene III, IV Lateran 1215, Leo X 1520).  The Old Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands then joined the developing "Union of Utrecht Churches".

However, between 1871 and 1910, the Union of Old Catholic Churches began to drop Catholic practices like auricular Confession, the intercession of the Saints and mention of the reigning Pope (as Patriarch of the West) from the Canon of the Mass. Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, consecrated a Bishop by the Archbishop of Utrecht in 1909 as Regionary Bishop for England, became perturbed at this encroaching abandonment of ancient Catholic faith and devotion and in 1910 made a Declaration of Independence from the Utrecht Union.  Archbishop Mathew intended then to establish a Church that would maintain the Catholic Faith, as had been originally intended by the initial participation of the See of Utrecht with the Old Catholic Congresses i.e. Western Catholicism as it had been received from Patristic times without the "development of dogma" that Rome had introduced.  This traditional stance became known as "Old Roman Catholicism". 

Old Roman Catholicism is the continuation of the Western expression of the Catholic Faith essentially until 1854 and the promulgation by Pius IX of the dogmas of the "Immaculate Conception" and Papal Infallibility of 1870.  The cessation of relations with Rome and the initial participation in the Old Catholic Congresses were seen as an opportunity to revert to the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church of the first millenium of the Church's existence, prior to the split between East and West of 1054.  Hence allowing once again the ordination of married clergy and the understanding of the Church's "magisterium" being exercised infallibly by all the Bishops in a recognised "ecumenical" Council with the Bishop of Rome as "proto Patriarch" or "primus inter pares" (first among equals) of the five original Patriarchates (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem).

"Old Catholicism" in its various guises (both Utrecht Union and a myriad of "Independents") is the continuation of that eventual progression into heterodoxy begun by the more "protestant" minded of the Old Catholic Congresses.  This has resulted most significantly in recent times with the complete abandonment of ancient faith and praxis, notably the ordination of women in the Sacred Ministry and various theological errors affecting the efficacy of Sacraments at odds with received tradition and doctrine.  Tentatively based on a notion of the "autonomy" of local Churches practised in ancient times, these churches believe that they have authority to alter the practise and even the tradition of the Church, and in so doing have fallen into extreme error.

Whilst Old Roman Catholicism recognises that in ancient times the "local" Churches i.e. dioceses and metropolitical dioceses/provinces and later "National" Churches, were indeed "self-governing" this was not to the extent that they took upon themselves to alter the wider received tradition and practice of the Church.  Conversely, neither was there a single "central" focal point of authority in the Church as the ultramontanists contended re the development of Papacy Infallibility to declare dogma.  Rather, there existed an understanding and consensus about the Catholic Faith, teachings and doctrine expressed by the Bishops together in Ecumenical Council with each other.  The first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church were this expression of shared Apostolic responsibility re the clarification, explanation and consensus of the Catholic Faith.  The Patriarchs certainly acted as leaders and spokesmen for the regions of the Church they governed, and certainly the Bishop or Patriarch of Rome had a place of honour amongst them.  Current dialogue between the Holy See and the Orthodox is discussing the reality of this Conciliarism and the Petrine Ministry as it was understood in this early era and it is hoped that by it, the schism of 1054 may yet be healed.  Meanwhile, Old Roman Catholicism maintains an understanding closer to the position of the Orthodox concerning this ancient practice of authority in the Church.

Traditional Roman Catholic or Old Roman Catholic?

People familiar with the Traditional Latin Mass will probably also be familiar with "Traditional Roman Catholics" e.g. the Society of St Pius X, or a variety of other groups claiming to be Roman Catholics yet not actually in communion with the Holy See.  The difference between Old Roman Catholics and these "Traditional Roman Catholics" is based both on historical precedent and doctrine. 

Historically of course Old Roman Catholicism is a continuation of pre-Vatican I doctrine and praxis, it is a continuation of the Catholic faith as it existed originally in the West before the additions of dogma by Pius IX and Vatican Council I, continuing in sympathy with the doctrine and praxis of the first millenium Church.  Descended from the Old Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands, a legitimate See annexed from communion with the Holy See through the illegal actions of Pius IX, the Old Roman Catholic Church is not properly speaking "in schism" and it awaits the day when the Holy See will recognise the error of past judgements and return to orthodox faith and praxis. 

Most "Traditional Roman Catholics" however, are post-Vatican II schismatics claiming to defend or preserve post-Vatican I ultramontane dogma in opposition to the changes implemented by Vatican Council II.  Traditional Roman Catholics believe in the Infallibility of the Pope, though excuse themselves from that Office's universal jurisdiction most commonly by refuting the legitimacy of Papal election, or by claiming a Canonical "state of necessity" as well as suggesting that the present heirarchy is in serious doctrinal error and even that it is heretical.  However, unlike Old Roman Catholics who committed no act of schism, these Traditional Roman Catholics have deliberately separated themselves from the communion of the Holy See.

Interestingly and perhaps ironically, the Bishops of some of these groups have acquired Old Roman Catholic Apostolic Succession, most commonly because it is a valid and recognised lineage and has been preserved by the sole use of the traditional Pontificale in Old Roman Catholic consecrations...  Yet these same "Traditional Roman Catholic" Bishops using ultramontane arguments, will usually be disparaging of Old Roman Catholics!    

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