Declaration of Autonomy
A Pastoral Letter, 1910
The Most Rev. A.H.
"An Episcopal Odyssey" by Arnold Harris Mathew, Archbishop of
the Old Roman Catholic Rite in Great Britain and Ireland, November
We the undersigned Bishop, on behalf
of our clergy and laity of the Catholic Church of England, hereby
proclaim and declare the autonomy and independence of our portion
of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are in no
way whatever subject to or dependent upon any foreign See, nor
do we recognize the right of any members of the religious bodies
known as 'Old Catholics' on the Continent, to require submission
from us to their authority or jurisdiction, or the decrees, decisions,
rules or assemblies, in which we have neither taken part nor expressed
We had supposed and
believed that the Faith, once delivered to the Saints, and set
forth in the decrees of the Councils accepted as Ecumenical no
less in the West than in the East, would have continued unimpaired,
whether by augmentation or by diminution, in the venerable Church
of the Dutch Nation.
We anticipated that
the admirable fidelity with which the Bishops and Clergy of that
Church had adhered to the Faith and handed it down, untarnished
by heresy, notwithstanding grievous persecution during so many
centuries, would never have wavered.
we discover with dismay, pain, and regret that the standards of
orthodoxy, laid down of old by the Fathers and Councils of the
East and West alike, having been departed from in various particulars
by certain sections of Old Catholicism, these departures, instead
of being checked and repressed, are, at least tacitly, tolerated
and acquiesced in without protest, by the Hierarchy of the Church
of the Netherlands.
In order to avoid misapprehension,
we here specify nine of the points of difference between Continental
Old Catholics and ourselves:
(1) Although the Synod
of Jerusalem, held under Dositheus in 1672, was not an Ecumenical
Council, its decrees are accepted by the Holy Orthodox Church
of the Orient as accurately expressing its belief, and are in
harmony with the decrees of the Council of Trent on the dogmas
of which they treat. We are in agreement with the Holy Orthodox
Church, regarding this Synod, Hence, we hold and declare that
there are Seven Holy Mysteries or Sacraments instituted by Our
Divine Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, therefore all of them necessary
for the salvation of mankind, though all are not necessarily to
be received by every individual, e.g. Holy Orders and Matrimony.
Certain sections, if not all, of the Old Catholic bodies, reject
this belief and refuse to assent to the decrees of the Holy Synod
(2) Moreover, some
of them have abolished the Sacrament of Penance by condemning
and doing away with auricular confession; others actively discourage
this salutary practice; others, again, whilst tolerating its use,
declare the Sacrament of Penance to be merely optional, therefore
unnecessary, and of no obligation, even for those who have fallen
into mortal sin after Baptism.
(3) In accordance with
the belief and practice Of the Universal Church, we adhere to
the doctrine of the Communion of Saints by invoking and venerating
the Blessed Virgin Mary, and those who have received the crown
of glory in heaven, as well as the Holy Angels of God. The Old
Catholics in the Netherlands have not yet altogether abandoned
this pious and helpful custom, but, in some other countries, invocation
of the Saints has been totally abolished by the Old Catholics.
(4) Although it may
be permissible and , indeed, very desirable, in some countries,
and' under certain circumstances, to render the Liturgy into the
vernacular languages, we consider it to be neither expedient nor
tolerable that individuals should compose new liturgies, according
to their own particular views, or make alterations, omissions
and changes in venerable rites to suit their peculiar fancies,
prejudices or idiosyncrasies. We lament the mutilations of this
kind which have occurred among the Old Catholics in several countries
and regret that no two of the new liturgies composed and published
by them are alike, either in form or in ceremony. In all of them
the ancient rubrics have been set aside, and the ceremonies and
symbolism with which the Sacred Mysteries of the Altar have been
reverently environed for many centuries, have, either wholly or
in part, been ruthlessly swept away. The Rite of Benediction of
the Blessed Sacrament has also been almost universally abolished
among the Old Catholics.
(5) In accordance with
the primitive teaching of the Church of the Netherlands, which
prevailed until a very recent date, we consider it a duty on the
part of Western Christians to remember His Holiness the Pope as
their Patriarch in their prayers and sacrifices. The name of His
Holiness should, therefore, retain its position in the Canon of
the Mass, where, as we observed at our consecration in Utrecht,
it was customary, and remained so until a recent date in the present
year (1910), for the celebrant to recite the name of our Patriarch
in the usual manner in the Mass and in the Litany of the Saints.
The publication of a new vernacular Dutch Liturgy in the present
year causes us to regret that the clergy of Holland are now required
to omit the name of His Holiness in the Canon of the Mass. Happily,
only a small number of other alterations in the text of the Canon
have, so far, been introduced. These include the omission of the
title, 'ever Virgin' whenever it occurs in the Latin Missal. Such
alterations pave the way for others of an even more serious nature,
which may be made in the future, and, as we think, are to be deplored.
(6) Following the example
of our Catholic forefathers, we venerate the adorable Sacrifice
of the Mass as the supreme act of Christian worship instituted
by Christ Himself. We grieve that the Old Catholic clergy, in
most countries, have abandoned the daily celebration Of Mass,
and now limit the offering the Christian Sacrifice to Sundays
and a few of the greater Feasts. The corresponding neglect of
the Blessed Sacrament, and infrequency of Holy Communion, on the
part of the laity, are marked.
(7) In accordance with
Catholic custom and with !he decrees of the Ecumenical Councils,
we hold that the honor and glory of God are promoted and increased
by the devout and religious use of holy pictures, statues, symbols,
relics, and the like, as aids to devotion, and that, in relations
to those they represent, they are to be held in veneration. The
Old Catholics have, generally speaking, preferred to dispense
with such helps to piety.
(8) We consider that
the Holy Sacraments should be administered only to those who are
members of the Holy Catholic Church, not only by Baptism, but
by the profession of the Catholic Faith in its integrity. Unhappily,
we find persons who are not Catholics are now admitted to receive
Holy Communion in all Old Catholic places of worship on the Continent.
(9) The Old Catholics
have ceased to observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence,
and no longer observe the custom of receiving Holy Communion fasting.
For these and other
reasons, which it is unnecessary to detail, we, the undersigned
Bishop, desire, by these presents, to declare our autonomy and
our independence of all foreign interference in our doctrine,
discipline and policy. In necessaries unites, in dubiis libertes,
in omnibus caritas.
December 29, 1910
The Feast of St.
Thomas of Canterbury