R. Joseph Owles
A Sheep Among Wolves
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What is the Old Catholic Church


The Kingdom of God Catholic Church is an Old Catholic church. I am a priest in the Old Catholic Church. The term "Old" Catholic is not a term with which many people are familiar. They are often surprised to learn that the label "Catholic" does not only apply to the "Roman" Catholic Church, but has application that is just as authentic to other Catholic Christians.

The question I am asked the most is "How are you different from a Roman Catholic Priest?" Surprisingly, whether they know it or not, that seemingly simple question has a potentially complicated answer. Well, it's not really complicated, but can sound complicated--like the way tying a shoelace is really quite simple, but if you try to explain how to do it to someone, without showing them while you're doing it, it sounds really complicated. This is the same kind of thing.

So this section is dedicated to explaining, as simply as possible, what it means to be Old Catholic.

The Old Catholic Church Is Neither Protestant, Nor Is It the Product of the Reformation.

The Old Catholic Church is not a group of Catholics who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to start its own church. If anything, the Old Catholic Church regards the Roman Catholic Church as the church that broke away–hence the name “Old” Catholic. The issue that caused a “schism” in the church was that of Papal Infallibility, which was also linked to the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. (More about that later). To be fair, the Roman Church has had a habit of breaking away, so it shouldn’t then be surprising that Protestants broke away from it.  

The original geographic center for the universal (catholic) church was Jerusalem. The Bible makes that much clear. Yet, other religious centers soon emerged in Antioch, Alexandria, and elsewhere including Rome. When Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in the Roman Empire, and then later favored it, Constantinople became the Christian geographical center. The church councils confirmed Constantinople and Jerusalem as the primary centers of Christianity, and listed Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome as secondary in importance.

Nevertheless, even though the Christian Church was centered in Constantinople, the Roman bishop began asserting that he was the head of the church. This, of course, was annoying to the real head of the church in Constantinople; yet, the claim was largely ignored. This remained the case until the fall of the Western Empire in 476. The Empire continued in the East, and since Rome was no longer the capital (it hadn’t been since Diocletian moved the Capital to Nikomedia in Asia Minor in the 280s), the loss of the Western Empire was viewed to be important only in terms of lost territory. Roman civilization had moved to, and was centered in, Constantinople. This included the church as well.

The version of the church based in Rome began to grow in influence in Europe when the Franks began to conquer the surrounding Germanic peoples. The Frankish King wanted to be called Emperor, but there was no longer an emperor in the West. When the Empire fell in the West, the Bishop of Rome and other officials filled in the vacuum of the loss of administrators. The Roman bishop worked out a deal with the Frankish king–if the king of the Franks would recognize the Bishop of Rome as the head of the church in his Frankish “Empire,” then the Bishop of Rome would crown him as Emperor. This agreement caused additional friction between the Western and Eastern versions of the then one church centered in Constantinople. This and other sources of friction would eventually lead to a split of the one church into two churches–the Eastern Orthodox Churches in the East, and the Roman Catholic Church in the West.

By now you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the development of the Old Catholic Church. To that I can only counsel “Patience, Grasshopper. I’m getting to it.” The Old Catholic Church is a product of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. The Netherlands were viewed as out in the wilderness of Europe, especially from the point of view of Rome. The result was that the church in the Netherlands was used to being on its own and taking care of itself. The Dutch church was viewed by the church based in Rome as independent, and publicly and officially said so in 1125 when the Bishop of Rome decreed it independent and granted it the right to name and ordain its own bishops, making the Bishop of Utrecht the head of the Dutch Catholic Church and empowering him to handle the affairs of the Dutch church. This was confirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council which met in 1215.

So, all that was to show that the Old Catholic Church is not a “break away” church or a product of the Reformation, but was granted authority to be independent by the Roman “Pope” himself. Therefore, the Old Catholic Church is a legitimate expression of Catholicism. It is true that some Roman Catholics walked out of the First Vatican Council and asked to join the Dutch Catholic Church, but the church itself that they joined had existed since Christianity had arrived in that region, and the church they joined was always independent, having that independence unequivocally declared by the Roman Pontiff himself as early as 1125.









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