Established in England in 1916 through a reorganization of the former Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, the new movement quickly spread to other countries, and in 1918 adopted its distinctive name, THE LIBERAL CATHOLIC CHURCH. Its Episcopal succession is derived from the Old Catholic Church of Holland through Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew and his Auxiliary, Bishop Frederick Samuel Willoughby, the latter having been elected and consecrated "to safeguard the Succession." Archbishop Mathew ordained a number of Theosophists to the Priesthood, knowing that they were Theosophists and knowing about their philosophy. They had built up a congregation in London which was at that (1915) the only congregation of the Old Catholic movement in England. In an about-face the Archbishop suddenly demanded that they all withdraw from membership in the Theosophical Society, and when they demurred at this breech of agreement, he bowed out and declared the whole movement "terminated."
This left them free to act as they should deem best, but without a bishop. Bishop Willoughby, who had been elected from among their number by their votes (though not a Theosophist), and from whom Archbishop Mathew had since parted company, passed on the Apostolic Succession to them by consecrating James Ingall Wedgwood to the Episcopate as Presiding Bishop of the now autonomous body, in London on February 13, 1916. He in turn consecrated Charles Webster Leadbeater to the Episcopate in Sydney, Australia in July of that year, and the Church rapidly spread over the world, being active in over 40 countries with more than 15 languages, continuing to grow in all of them. (All services are in the language of the people). Although Theosophists played a major role in establishing this Church, the Church itself has no connection with the Theosophical Society or with any other philosophical school of thought. Clergy and members are free in such matters. All clergy are self-supporting, receiving no financial remuneration for their work. They are free to marry if they wish.
Nowhere is the Church large as yet, but it is steadily growing. The United States of America has its complements of bishops, priests, incorporated parishes as well as unincorporated missions, various churches, church centers and private oratories. The Church in the USA is incorporated in the State of Maryland as "The Liberal Catholic Church, Province of the United States of America," but its Provincial Headquarters is now in Ojai, California.
The world headquarters of the Church is maintained in London, England, where its archives are kept and where the official international journal, The Liberal Catholic, has been published for over 50 years under the direction of the Presiding Bishop.
1. The existence of God, infinite, eternal, transcendent and immanent. He is the one existence from which all other existence derived. 'In him we live and move and have our being.' (Acts xvii, 28).
2. The manifestation of God in the universe under a triplicity called in the Christian religion, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three Persons in one God, co-equal, co-eternal, the Son alone-born' of the Father, the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. The Father, the source of all; the Son, 'The Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us'; the Holy Spirit, the lifegiver, the inspirer and sanctfier.
3. Man, made in the image of God, is himself divine in essence- a spark of the divine fire. Sharing God's nature, he cannot cease to exist, therefore he is eternal and his future is one whose glory and splendor have no limit.
4. Christ ever lives as a mighty spiritual presence in the world, guiding and sustaining his people. The divinity that was manifest in him is gradually being unfolded in every man, until each shall come 'unto a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.' (Eph. iv, 13).
5. The world is the theatre of an ordered plan, according to which the spirit of man, by repeatedly expressing himself in varying conditions of life and experience, continually unfolds his powers. That evolution or spiritual unfoldment takes place under an inviolable law of cause and effect. 'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall be also reap.' (Gal. vi, 7). His doings in each physical incarnation largely determine his experience after death in the intermediate world (or world of purgation) and the heavenly world and greatly influence the circumstances of his next birth. Man is a link in a vast chain of life extending from the highest to the lowest. As he helps those below him, so also he is helped by those who stand above him on the ladder of lives, receiving thus a 'free gift of grace'. There is a 'communion of saints' of 'just men made perfect' or holy ones, who help mankind. There is a ministry of angels.
6. Man has ethical duties to himself and to others, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment, and the second like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.' (Matt. 22, 37-40)
It is the duty of man to learn to discern the divine light in himself and others-that light 'which lighteth every man (St. John i, 9). Because men are sons of God they are brothers and inseparably linked together. That which harms one harms the entire brotherhood. Hence a man owes it as duty to the God within himself and others: first, to endeavor constantly to live up to the highest that is in him, thereby enabling that God within himself to become more perfectly manifest, and, secondly, to recognize the fact of that brotherhood by constant effort towards unselfishness, love, consideration for, service of, his fellowman. Service of humanity and the sacrifice of the lower self to the higher are laws of spiritual growth.
7. Christ instituted various sacraments in which 'an inward and spiritual grace' is given unto us through 'an outward and visible sign.' There are seven of these rites which may be ranked as sacraments, namely, Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Absolution, Holy Unction, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders.