Old Roman Catholicism

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Why are you called “Old Roman” Catholics?

We are called Old Roman Catholics because…
a) we are descended from the Roman Catholic Church and the original historic See of Utrecht in the Netherlands, which despite having been forced underground during the Protestant Reformation, had yet persisted and persevered; and
b) because we maintain the Catholic Faith as it had always been believed by western Latin Rite Catholics. (The recent dogmas of the Immaculate Conception [Ineffabilis Deus 1854], Papal Infallibility [Pastor Aeternus 1870] and the Assumption of Mary [Munificentissimus Deus 1950] were regarded previously as “pious doctrine”.)

In 1145 Blessed Pope Eugene III granted the Cathedral Chapter of Utrecht the right to elect successors to the See in times of vacancy. This meant that, unlike most other Sees in the Roman Catholic Church, the Cathedral Chapter of Utrecht could elect bishops without permission or approval from the Pope. This had always been the practice in the early Church. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council (Canons 23 and 24) confirmed this privilege.

Another significant right granted the Church of the Netherlands was its immunity from prosecution by Roman Catholic courts of canon law constituted outside the See of Utrecht. In 1520, Pope Leo X decreed in his papal bull Debitum Pastoralis that the Bishop of Utrecht, his successors, his clergy, and his laity should never be tried by an external tribunal of canon law. If any such proceedings did take place they were null and void. This extraordinary right had been granted by Pope Leo X at the request of Philip of Burgundy, who was the reigning prince-bishop of Utrecht at the time

Then in 1691, the Jesuits falsely accused Archbishop Peter Codde, the occupant of the See of Utrecht, of favoring the so-called Jansenist heresy. (We say so-called Jansenist heresy because no one has ever yet succeeded in finding the repudiated heretical statements, either in substance or in form in the, “Augustinus” of Bishop Cornelius Jansenius, where the Jesuits pretended to have discovered them.) Despite the Archbishop’s subsequently proved innocence of heresy, the influence of the Jesuits was so great that they persuaded the Pope to issue a secret brief suspending and deposing Archbishop Codde. Neither the names of his accusers, nor the charges made against him were ever made known to him, nor was he permitted to offer any defence. All this happened despite the aforementioned special privileges granted the See of Utrecht. This created a breach which was never healed, though Pope Clement XIV was favorably disposed towards the grievously wronged Church of Utrecht.

“We accept with the greatest willingness, and without any exception whatever, all the articles of the Holy Catholic Faith; we will neither hold nor teach, now or afterwards, any other opinions than those which have been decreed, determined and published by our Mother, the Holy Church, conformably to Holy Scripture, tradition, the acts of the Ecumenical Councils, and those of the Council of Trent.

We reject and condemn everything opposed to them, especially all heresies, without any single exception, which the Church has rejected and condemned; we also detest every schism which may separate us from the communion of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church and of its visible head on earth; in particular we reject and condemn the Five Propositions condemned by the Holy See, which are stated to be found in the book of Jansenius called The Augustinus.

We promise as well for the future as for the present, fidelity, obedience and submission, in all things to His Holiness the present Pope Leo XII, and to his successors, according to the canons of the Church; and also to maintain respectfully, to teach and to maintain in accordance with the same canons, the decrees and Constitutions of the Apostolic See.” Formulary of Utrecht 1823

Despite the repeated requests and affirmed desire of the See of Utrecht to reach a canonical solution of the breach, in 1853 Pope Pius IX established another Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands. This existed alongside that of the original Roman Catholic See of Utrecht. Thereafter in the Netherlands the Utrecht hierarchy was referred to as the Old Romans to distinguish them from those instituted by the Pope. In the mind of the Holy See, the Old Roman Catholic See of Utrecht had maintained Apostolic Succession and its clergy thus celebrated valid sacraments in every respect.

We are called OLD because we reject Modernism and every recent innovation of doctrine while adhering faithfully to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of Apostolic times. We are called ROMAN because the line of our Apostolic succession from the first century until 1739 was held in common with the rest of the Roman Catholic Church and also because we use the Roman Rite without addition or change, employing the Pontificale, Missale and Rituale Romanum with great care and exactitude as to matter, form and intention in the administration of the seven Sacraments. We are CATHOLIC because our ministry is not confined to any one nation or place or time, but ministers to all men, in all places, for all time, teaching the same Faith once delivered by Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the Apostles.

Are you “schismatic” Roman Catholics?

Old Roman Catholicism is not a sect nor schism as some of its self-constituted enemies may claim. 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 hierarchy in the See of Utrecht in 1853, nor taught anything that was not always considered to be Catholic faith and practice.

In traditional papal encyclicals, a “schismatic community” is a Christian community adhering to valid sacraments but without recognizing the primacy of place of Rome or the importance of the papacy. This cannot be levelled at the Old Romans whose various attempts to reconcile with the Holy See clearly betray a recognition of the primacy of the Popes. But after the promulgation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Missae that followed it, such attempts became frustrated. Immediately following the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, it was Old Roman missions and Mass centres that made available the Traditional Latin Mass for Catholics faithful to Tradition. Traditional Catholics familiar with the history of resistance to the Novus Ordo are familiar and appreciative of this Old Roman legacy in the days before the SSPX and other Traditionalist congregations were founded, some of whom owe their existence to Old Roman interventions and foundations.

Old Romans believe and maintain, as we have always done since 1691, that these irregular proceedings against the original Church of Utrecht, based, as they were, upon charges which were proved at the time to have been groundless, were null and void and in direct contravention of the privileged rights of the See of Utrecht for immunity from prosecution outside her territory. Add the uncanonical actions of Pope Pius IX in 1853, again contravening a privilege granted the See of Utrecht in 1145 re the election and thus appointment of her own bishops and despite the majority opinion of academic canon law faculties being in our favour and natural justice. Thus it is that we have remained, and are still in actual technical fact, and not according to any fanciful or far-fetched theory, a continuation of the Roman Catholic Church though estranged from the contemporary hierarchy.

Are you connected in anyway with the Utrecht Union of Old Catholic Churches?

No! In 1870, Dr. Ignaz von Dollinger brought the “Old Catholics” into being to offer resistance to the dogma of Papal Infallibility. In 1873, the Old Roman Catholic Church of Utrecht was prevailed upon to provide these “Old Catholics” with a bishop in 1889, and a cooperation took place between the Church of Utrecht and the “Old Catholics”. Though Utrecht was eventually to abandon Old Roman Catholicism, the Church was not to perish.

✠Arnold Harris Mathew of England was consecrated to the Episcopate by Archbishop Gerard Gul of Utrecht at a time when Utrecht was still truly orthodox (1909). At the time of Archbishop Mathew’s consecration at Utrecht, no serious inroads had been made upon the Catholic Faith by the Church of Utrecht, nor had she yet departed in any way from Catholic traditions and practise. But by the end of 1910, the heterodox influence of the “Old Catholics” had proved too much for Utrecht and had overwhelmed her, and so great and far-reaching were the changes which she was prevailed upon to make in her formularies and doctrinal position, that on December 29, 1910, ✠Mathew was forced to withdraw the Old Roman Catholics in England from Communion with Utrecht in order to preserve orthodoxy intact.

Utrecht is no longer Old Roman Catholic but simply “Old Catholic.” Thus it comes about that the ancient and glorious Church of St. Willibrord and St. Boniface has its continuation and perpetuation through the present day Old Roman bishops who feel compelled, in defence of their orthodoxy, to refuse to hold union with either Utrecht or the Continental “Old Catholics.”

What is the difference between Old Roman Catholicism and Old Catholicism?

The honest inquirer must be cautioned not to confuse Old Roman Catholics with those groups calling themselves “Old Catholic.” Much which, in this age, calls itself “Old Catholic” represents some compromise with Protestantism, or in wider digression, with such non-Christian cults as theosophy. Old Romans have no affiliation with such groups as the Polish National Catholic Church, or the Utrecht Union of Churches, the Liberal Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Churches of the Continent or any of the various independent groups which abound in the United States and elsewhere. The heterodoxy of these groups makes union with them impossible.

  • Old Roman Catholicism, as ✠Mathew (who preserved it after the apostasy of Utrecht) rightly understood it, was different from Modernist influenced Old Catholicism in the retention of ancient doctrines, formularies and praxis, and from Modernist influenced Roman Catholicism by that same retention of the Catholic Faith as it had “always been believed, everywhere and by all” (St Vincent Lerins)
  • Old Romans continue the true Catholic Faith that had always existed in the West akin to that Faith which the Orthodox Catholics had also maintained since the divide between East and West in 1054. To this end, ✠Mathew successfully approached and achieved recognition from the ancient Patriarchal Sees of Antioch (1911) and Alexandria (1912) affecting the first attempted healing of schism between East and West based upon the mutual recognition and maintenance of the ancient Faith of the Church since the Council of Florence.

Are you “Episcopi Vagantes”?

An oft misused phrase and misapplied term regarding Old Roman Catholics is the term “Episcopi Vagantes” (lit. Latin “Wandering Bishops”). This term is often used derogatively and often by those who ought to know better! The answer is an emphatic “no”! An “Episcopus vagans” is a man consecrated validly but irregularly or illicitly (unlawfully) i.e. without ecclesial approbation. Old Roman Catholics claim “canonicity” (licitness/lawfulness) because:

  • The canonical dispute between the Holy See and the See of Utrecht about whether the Ultrajectine See could elect its own bishops was never canonically i.e. legally, concluded (Bl. Pius IX ignoring due process and erecting an uncanonical hierarchy in Holland in 1853). Thus, it is only just according to canonical principles to assume that the inalienable right granted by Papal Bull of Bl. Eugene III is still extant and in effect.
  • The rightful Archbishop of Utrecht (Gerardus Gul) in 1909 consecrated and commissioned Arnold Harris Mathew as a bishop in accordance with the norms of universal ecclesiastical law (publicly with co-consecrators, employing orthodox form, matter and intention).
  • When the See of Utrecht fell into ‘apostasy’ in 1910, Bishop Mathew justifiably declared autonomy from the Ultrajectine See on December 29th 1910 and justifiably claimed her canonical rights and prerogatives for the continuation and perpetuation of the Old Roman Catholic Church from Utrecht.
  • On August 5th 1911, [now] ✠Mathew was received by His Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Gerasimos Messara of Beirut, Syria and recognised by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and a mutual recognition was established between the second most ancient See of Christendom and first “cathedra” of the Apostle Peter and the Old Romans recognised as “orthodox Catholics”.

Thus the term “Episcopi Vagantes” ought not justifiably be applied to Old Roman bishops who, acting in bona fide seek only to preserve and perpetuate the orthodox Catholic Faith.

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