In the late 1880s, two
separate efforts began that would eventually cross paths in a synthesis that
resulted in the Universal Catholic Church:
1. H. P. Blavatsky spent a lifetime
studying and teaching about the soul's journey. She incorporated ideas and
techniques from a wide variety of sources, including Western occultism and
Eastern Buddhism. Blavatsky and a few of her close friends settled in Adyar,
India, and opened a center for studies. This came at a time of great interest
in spiritual growth all over the world. Charles Darwin's book on evolution was
still new and a best seller. Spiritualism and Mesmerism were all the rage.
Blavatsky's group, called The Theosophical Society, was popular worldwide. It
still exists today.
2. In Australia, one person with a knack
for clairvoyance and mysticism—Charles W Leadbeater—became interested in The
Theosophical Society. He even moved to Adyar, India, to work more closely with
the society's founders. Theosophists drew from all religions as well as their
own spiritual insights. So did Charles Leadbeater, but he began to see that
Theosophical lessons learned about the soul brought his own Christianity into
sharper focus. Some say he “Christianized Theosophy,” while others say he
At roughly the same time, a
young Anglican was becoming deeply involved in the “High Church” liturgies he
found at the Church of All Saints, in York, England. This church was one of a
handful in England that had restored the old sacraments of the catholic church.
This young man was James Ingall Wedgwood. Mentored by the church's rector,
Wedgwood delved into a deep spiritual journey. He experienced the old rituals
as tools for inner growth, not merely formal words and music.
As Wedgwood was learning
about the older liturgies at the Church of All Saints, his studies also took
him to the cathedral church in York. There he studied music, learning to play
the cathedral's pipe organ, seeing how music can be an integral and active part
of the liturgy. He mastered the organ well enough that the Sorbonne University
in Paris conferred a Doctorate for his research into organ construction and
use. The book is still in use today.
Wedgwood's inner searchings
led to several epiphanies. He was most surprised by a realization that he was
connected to all of life in a fundamental, yet subtle, manner. He was one note
in a glorious chord of heavenly music. In music, no one note is more important
than any other note of a chord, but each note is important in the creation of
the chord. One note is just a note, but many notes working together are a
The young Anglican priest
had found the spark that would be the founding principle of the Liberal
Catholic Movement: religion isn't just concerned with the hereafter, instead we
can be connected and one with God here and now.
Connected, yes. But with
Non-believers, too, and all
Father Wedgwood realized
what had once been known but forgotton. In about 395ce, Augustine—heavily influenced by Plato—and bishop of Hippo in what is now
Algeria (Africa) had this to say: “God has some people that The Church doesn't
have, and The Church has some people that God doesn't have.”
Wedgwood was at a difficult
point. His contemplation led him beyond the official teachings of the Church of
England, but he was a Christian priest. His “calling” was to be a minister of
the sacraments. He hoped to find a denomination of the Catholic tradition
(i.e., sacramental) but with enough personal freedom to make room for his
non-traditional beliefs. Any Catholic church will teach Christ's presence in
the sacraments (baptism, confirmation, mass, etc). It will also have Apostolic
Succession, which means an uninterrupted sequence of bishops that go all the
way back to the original apostles.
In 1913, Father Wedgwood
found that religion: the Old Catholic Church. Its head in England was Bishop
Arnold Harris Mathew. Mathew (one "T") had been consecrated bishop by
the Dutch Catholic Church in 1908. They allowed him to drop the word "Dutch"
from the name in England.
Bishop Mathew's Old
Catholic Church had the liturgy, the sacraments, and Apostolic Succession. Even
more important, the bishop gave Father Wedgwood personal freedom to explore and
grow in his spiritual life.
The groundwork was set—Charles Leadbeater in Australia—James Wedgwood in England.
They were not
aware of each others work.
But the plot is about to thicken.