Western Orthodox Christian Church
The History of the Western Orthodox Christian Church
Originally written by: Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora, DD, August 15, 1950
Edited and Referenced by: Bishop Joseph Thomas, PhD
The history of the Western Orthodox Christian Church is the history of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Church emerged into public work on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem and is built upon the Apostolic labors and the sufferings of the glorious Apostles and Martyrs. Despite formidable opposition, the Church spread rapidly in the first century and functioned under four autonomous Patriarchates: in the East at Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and in the West at Rome, whence it reached out the far-flung confines of the whole empire.
The Church in the second century united and rightly organized the primitive and struggling institutions of the post-Apostolic era. The Church successfully repelled the intrusion of the schismatic irregulars and laid the foundations for that world structure of ecclesiastical order and organization which grew and unfolded in the Patristic Age.
In 312 AD, when the Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity in the Edict of Milan and persecution ceased, the Church was able to work openly and freely, and, because of the preeminence of Rome at that time as the great city of the West, the Pope acquired considerable temporal power in addition to his spiritual authority. The union of Church and state that followed Constantine’s conversion led to many changes within the Church. The bishops were not always elected by the faithful over whom they were to exercise jurisdiction, and the archiepiscopal and patriarchal sees were often filled by the favorites of ruling secular princes, not by choice of the area councils of the Church. This corruption of basic Church order and function began in the fourth century. Conflict over ecclesiastical order and regularity was later to have far-reaching effects on the church in the Netherlands.
In the Ecumenical Era [i.e. prior to the schism between East and West in 1054 AD] the five patriarchal sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome were regarded as co-ordinate and of equal status in the Church, but the Roman Patriarch, because of his succession to the See of Peter and the historic position of the See and the City of Rome in the development of Christianity, was accorded the further title, “Primus inter Pares”—“First among equals,” and a precedence of dignity. As a benevolent father, the Roman Patriarch became known as “Papas” or “Pope,” and he was looked up to as the guardian of the Orthodox Faith.
The Roman Curia began to encroach upon the rights and privileges of the other patriarchates (national churches). The defenders of Apostolic order asserted their rights to continue to choose their own bishops and to rule their local affairs under universally accepted customs that could be changed only by the decision of a General Council of the whole Church. The Council of Constance (1414-1418), as did other councils, defended the rights of autonomous national churches and affirmed that it had “its authority immediately from Christ; and that all men, of every rank and condition, including the Pope himself, [was] bound to obey it in matters concerning the Faith, the abolition of schism, and the reformation of the Church of God in its head and its members.”
The Old Roman Catholic Church, while affirming its historical continuity with the Apostolic Church of the first century, and possessing a line of Holy Orders held in common with the Undivided Church of the early centuries, traces its Apostolic Succession in more recent centuries through the ancient See of Utrecht in Holland. Saint Willibrord, the “Apostle to the Netherlands,” was consecrated bishop by Pope Sergius I in A.D. 696, at Rome. Upon his return to the Netherlands, he founded the See of Utrecht. One of his successors in that See was the great Saint Boniface, the “Apostle of Germany.” The church of Utrecht also provided a worthy occupant for the See of Peter in 1522 in the person of Adrian VI. Moreover, two of the abler exponents of the religious life, Geerte Groote, who founded the Brothers of the Common Life, and Thomas a Kempis, who is credited with writing The Imitation of Christ, were from the Dutch Church.
For reasons that were for the most part political and reactionary, the Jesuits began to invade the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Utrecht in 1592; and, although they were more than once rebuked therefore by the Pope and ordered to submit themselves to the Archbishop’s authority, their machinations against him and the See of Utrecht continued unabated. This had been an all too common tendency of the Jesuits over the centuries in many different sees throughout the world and for which they have been more than once rebuffed and/or suppressed by the Pope and ordered out of certain countries by the respective civil authorities.
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,” because, while the propositions condemned by Pope Innocent X are indeed erroneous and inconsistent with the true Faith, they are not clearly to be found in the works of Cornelius Jansen.) Numerous archbishops, bishops, and other clergy, along with faculty members of the prestigious universities at Rheims, Sobornne, Nantes, and Louvain rejected the documents which denounced Jansen – all a matter of record. The issue was not the correctness of the propositions, but whether or not these were in fact contained in Jansen’s writings.
Archbishop Codde refused to accept the formulary of condemnation, not because he favored the heretical propositions, but because he did not believe them to be espoused by Jansen. His unwillingness to unjustly condemn the works of the deceased bishop resulted in Archbishop Codde’s suspension in 1699. Nor was Archbishop Codde permitted any defense in these accusations. The beloved Archbishop, Peter Codde, died December 18, 1710 in his sixty-second year of life and the twenty-second of his episcopate. The saga initiated by the Jesuits created a breach that has never healed, although, among others, Pope Clement XIV was favorably disposed toward the grievously wronged church in Utrecht.
We believe and maintain, as we have always done since 1699, that these irregular proceedings against our predecessors, based as they were upon charges that were proved at the time to have been groundless, were null and void, and that we have remained, and still are in fact, recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a “particular church” since we retain the historical unbroken Apostolic Succession. As decreed by the document issued by the Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
“…[chapter] IV. Unicity and Unity of the Church…[paragraph number] 17. Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, since they do not accept the [Roman] Catholic doctrine of the Primacy [of the Pope].”
Dominique Marie Varlet, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ascalon, in partibus , and Coadjutor to Bishop Pidou de St. Olon, of Babylon in Persia consecrated four Archbishops of Utrecht for the Dutch Old Roman Catholic Church. Three of the four bishops consecrated by Bishop Varlet died without perpetuating the Episcopate. The fourth, Peter John Meindaerts, was consecrated on October 17, 1739 to fill the vacant See of Utrecht, without having asked for or obtained a papal bull authorizing the consecration. Since the Church of Utrecht, while retaining in every detail the worship and doctrine as formerly, became known as the Old Roman Catholic Church of Holland.
Old Roman Catholicism is the same Mystical Body of Christ as in the first Christian centuries. There have been no essential changes. The decrees of the Second Council of Utrecht, held under Archbishop Meindaerts beginning on September 13, 1763, are a monument of orthodoxy and respect for the Holy See. In a declaration made by Archbishop Van Os and his two suffragans to the Papal Nuncio who visited Holland in 1823, they said: “We accept without any exception whatever all the Articles of the Holy Catholic Faith. We will never hold nor teach, now nor afterwards, any other opinion than those that have been decreed, determined, and published by our Mother, Holy Church… We reject and condemn everything opposed to them, especially all heresies, without exception, which the Church has rejected and condemned… We have never made common cause with those who have broken the bond of unity.”
Thus the Old Roman Catholic Church received and still preserves, not only true Apostolic Succession, but the doctrines and rites of the Holy Church of Christ as passed down to us from the Apostles. The Church is called “Old” because she rejected the innovations/machinations thrust upon Archbishop Peter Codde by the Jesuits of the 17/18th century in Utrecht, Holland, and who are directly responsible for having created the dissension between the aforementioned Archbishop and the Patriarchal See of Rome.
This Communion was called “Roman” due to the line of her Apostolic Succession from the first century until 1739 being held in common with the Roman Catholic Church and since she uses the ancient Western expression of the Liturgy with great care and exactness as to the matter, form and intention in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the administration of the seven Holy Sacraments/Mysteries. The Church is “Catholic” because she is not confined to any one nation or place or time, teaching the same Faith once delivered by her Divine Founder, Jesus Christ to the Apostles.
The honest inquirer must be cautioned not to confuse the Old Roman Catholics with those in communion with the Union of Utrecht. Much which, in this age, calls itself Old Catholic represents some compromise with Protestantism, or, in a wider digression, with the non-Christian cult theosophy, bearing little resemblance to Orthodox Christianity. 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, most unhappily, prevailed upon to provide the Old Catholics with a bishop. In 1889, an amalgamation took place between the Church of Utrecht and the Old Catholics of the Utrecht Union, also known as the Old Catholics’ of the Continent. Thus the Church of Utrecht laid the foundation for her subsequent fall away from the Orthodox Faith. The Old Roman Catholic Church, through the 1910 Declaration of Autonomy is not in communion with such “churches.”
Before the great See of Utrecht abandoned her historic position, however, God in His Divine Providence provided for the continuation of Old Roman Catholicism. Though Utrecht was eventually to abandon true Catholicism, the Church was not to perish. Archbishop Gerard Gul of Utrecht consecrated Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew of England to the Episcopate on April 28, 1908 at the Cathedral of St. Gertrude at Utrecht when Utrecht was truly orthodox. At the time of Archbishop Mathew’s consecration at Utrecht, the Church of Utrecht had made no serious inroads against the Catholic Faith, nor had she yet departed in any way from Catholic tradition and practice.
By the end of 1910, however, the heterodox influence of the Old Catholics’ of the Continent had proved to be too much. 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, Archbishop Mathew was forced to withdraw the Old Catholic Church in England from communion with Utrecht in order to preserve its orthodoxy intact. Therefore it comes about that the ancient and glorious Church of Saint Willibrord and Saint Boniface has its continuation and perpetuation through the present Old Roman Catholic Church, which is compelled, in defense of Orthodoxy, to refuse to hold union with either Utrecht or the Old Catholics.
In 1911 Archbishop Arnold Harris Matthew and the Metropolitan Archbishop of Beirut (Orthodox Greek Patriarchate of Antioch) signed a joint statement of union regarding the Old Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. A translation of this historic document follows:
Colleague and brother in Jesus Christ, with open arms in the love of the Savior, I receive you among us, and I accept your oath of fidelity to His Beatitude the Orthodox Patriarch and his Holy Synod of Antioch, since those who hold our Faith and wish to be united with us have never been prevented from joining us. Praying God to bless you, and not only you but all those who come to us with you, we bless you in the name of His Beatitude the Patriarch and of the Holy Synod of Antioch.
Your Colleague and Brother in Jesus Christ,
Prince Archbishop and Metropolitan,
Orthodox Church of Beirut
5th Aug. 1911
Episcopal Consecration was conferred upon Rudolph de Landas Berghes by Archbishop Arnold Harris Matthew on June 29, 1913 in his chapel at London, England to become Missionary Bishop of Scotland.
That which was established by Our Divine Lord, when He divinely instituted the Church, spread throughout the world. Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew established in Great Britain a portion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and contributed to its growth when he conferred Episcopal Consecration upon Rudolph de Landas Berghes and appointed him Missionary Bishop of Scotland in 1913. In 1914 Scottish Archbishop Rudolph De Landas Berghes came to America to establish the Old Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The Old Roman Catholic Church continued to grow and spread throughout the United States.
On October 4, 1916, Archbishop Rudolph de Landas Berghes, in his domestic chapel at Waukegan, Illinois, consecrated Carmel Henry Carfora, as Perpetual Coadjutor with Right to Succession. Bishop Carfora was elected Archbishop of the United States and Canada on October 12, 1919 and Primate of all Old Roman Catholic Churches on March 19, 1923.
The Old Roman Catholic Church planted in the United States continues what She has received from our father in the Faith, namely Archbishop Mathew’s. The work of Mathew’s to bring the Old Roman Catholic Church to embrace Orthodoxy in 1911 was formalized on the fifth of August of that same year with the Patriarchate of Antioch through the Old Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain. The embrace of Orthodoxy by the Old Roman Catholic Church and pioneered by Archbishop Mathew did not remain exclusive to the Church planted in Great Britain but spread to the United States as the Church was planted by Archbishop Rudolph de Landas Berghes.
The Old Roman Catholic Church embraced Orthodoxy and not an individual or his specific jurisdiction. The Faith of the Old Roman Catholic Church is the Orthodox Faith. In virtue of this reality we are Orthodox Christians, Western Orthodox Christians. The embrace of Orthodoxy by the Old Roman Catholic Church, initiated by Archbishop Mathew, is the Faith of any Old Roman Catholic throughout the world who adheres to what was begun by Archbishop Mathew. Christ established the Church, He and He alone. The Apostles planted the Church and Ordained others to do the same. What we believe, we profess. What we profess, we share. What we share, we maintain even unto our death. We maintain the Orthodox Faith as Old Roman Catholics yesterday, today and forever.
The historical practice of the Old Roman Catholic Church originates in the autonomous nature granted to Utrecht several centuries ago. “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” This ancient maxim of the Church, commonly translated, “the law of prayer is the law of belief,” serves as our motto as we continue to preserve the authentic Orthodox Christian Faith, expressed in a fully Catholic heritage and culture.
Although the Old Roman Catholic Church does not depend on the recognition of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly affirmed its recognition of the Old Roman Catholic Church. See Addis and Arnold’s Roman Catholic Dictionary, which says of this Communion, “They have retained valid orders…We have been unable to discover any trace of heresy in these books,” [i.e. those books officially ordered for use in the Old Roman Catholic Church.] A Catholic Dictionary, by Donald Attwater, bearing the imprimatur of the late Patrick Cardinal Hayes of New York, states of the Old Roman Catholic Church: “Their orders and sacraments are valid.” Referring to the Old Roman Catholic Church in America, specifically Father Conrad Algermissen’s Christian Denominations, published in 1948, and bearing the imprimatur of the late John Cardinal Glennon of St. Louis (p. 363) says: “The North American Old Roman Catholic Church [has] received valid episcopal consecration.”
In fact, as far back as 1928, The Far East (January 1928, p.16), a publication of the Roman Catholic Columban Fathers of St. Columban’s, Nebraska, answered an inquiry concerning the validity of the orders conferred in the Old Roman Catholic Church. The article mentions our late Archbishop Carfora (from whom many present Old Roman Catholic bishops derive their orders) favorably and states, “these orders are valid.”
The Old Roman Catholic Church is integral to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, having provable and unbroken succession of Orders from, and teaching the full Faith of the undivided Universal Church. She adheres to the forms and formulae established by the early Church Fathers, in order to preserve for succeeding generations the deposit of Faith received from Our Lord and His Apostles.The Old Roman Catholic Church continues to provide for her Faithful, who wish to maintain the ancient doctrine and worship of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Holy Mass and Sacraments/Mysteries.
Over the course of the past several years we have witnessed countless challenges with the name of our previous Church. Although historically we evolved out of the Old Roman Catholic Church, the path that several of her jurisdictions have taken either reflects poorly on who we are as Orthodox Christians or not at all.
In 17oos we evolved from the Roman West and became known as the Church of Utrecht or Old Catholic Church. Another evolution ensued when the Roman Catholic Church, at her First Vatican Council, declared the Dogma of Papal Infallibility, resulting in the German Old Catholic Church developing in Munich, Germany with Father Dollinger at the helm. In 1910 Archbishop Arnold H. Mathew of Great Britain declared autonomy from the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht due to their increasing disconnect from historical Christianity and what represents who we are as Christians. Archbishop Mathew’s, to distinguish us from the Old Catholics, nuanced the name of our Church and hence the evolution of the Old Roman Catholic Church. In 1911 Archbishop Mathew reached out to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and arranged through Archbishop Gerasimos Messarra, the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Beirut, the historical Statement of Union and Organic Articles. This exchange was acknowledged by the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The Old Roman Catholic Church, through the efforts of Archbishop Mathew’s, became the first Western Church to embrace Orthodoxy since the Great Schism of 1054 AD. The same Church was planted in the United States by the efforts of Archbishop Rudolph de Landas Berghes and Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora, etc.
The name “Old Roman Catholic Church” does not correctly represent who we are as Western Orthodox Christians. The name of our Church should have been changed over 100 years ago when we embraced the holy Orthodox Faith. For years this name has clumped us with the likes of the Old Catholics and various Old Roman Catholics who do not have a proper historical sense of their identity. Therefore we are at a historical moment in the life of our Church, our Synod of Bishops and our love for the holy Orthodox Faith. Theologically it does not remain sensible for our Church to be known by a name that does not reflect our beliefs and profession of Orthodoxy. Time and time again, many have been confused by the name “Old Roman Catholic Church.” Many have been confused by us as trying to set ourselves up as some sort of replica of the Roman Catholic Church but without the authority of the Pope of Rome. Catholic laity have tried to understand this name often inquiring of our clergy: ‘Are you under the Pope?’ Some of our clergy who are involved in public ministry, myself included, have had to endure severe attacks by the Roman Catholic Church because they perceived us and falsely accused us of misrepresenting ourselves as ‘Catholic clergy.’ Some have faced the question: ‘What Church do you belong to Father?’ Our clergy who know our history would appropriately answer: ‘I belong to the Old Roman Catholic Church. We are Western Orthodox.’ As true as this statement is, it nonetheless left us explaining ourselves over and over again. This has resulted in many of our beloved clergy, some deceased, facing terrible public humiliations and ministry set-backs because of a name that does not correctly identify us as who we truly are as Western Orthodox Christians.
The Synod of Bishops, during Great Lent of 2015, decided it has come to that period in the life of our Church to act and to identify our Church’s name with who we are as Orthodox Christians. We are the Western Orthodox Christian Church. Just as the Polish National Catholic Church distinguished itself from the Roman Catholic Church, we, out of respect for the Roman Catholic Church and her faithful, have determined to not use a name that does not appropriately identify who we are ecclesiastically and theologically. We are not Roman Catholic nor do we pretend to be. Hence the names of 'Old Catholic' or 'Old Roman Catholic' do not accurately identify us as who we are as a Church.
The Western Orthodox Christian Church reaffirms that it holds and teaches the Orthodox Faith, especially as regards the first seven Ecumenical Councils. We maintain and teach the Orthodox Faith without any reservations.
As Western Orthodox Christians we are moving forward united under one banner so that in all things God may be glorified.
 Fr. John Laux, M.A., Church History, (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1945. Republished: Rockford: Tan Books And Publishers, 1989) 77, 92.
 C. B. Moss, The Old Catholic Movement, (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005) 90.
 Ibid. 90-91.
 J. M. Neale, A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland, (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005) 78-80.
 Ibid. 75, 98.
 Moss, 37-40, 42-44.
 Ibid, 106.
 Ibid. 35, 48, 106.
 Ibid. 106.
 Ibid. 107.
 Neale, 229.
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dominus Jesus, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 2000.
 Ibid. ch. 4, par. 17.
 Neale. 295.
 Ibid. 351-352.
 Mathew, Archbishop Arnold Harris, Declaration of Autonomy, as quoted in Credo. (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2005) 473-477.
 Moss, 300.
 Ibid. 304.
Denzinger, Henry, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, translated by Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1957.
Laux, M.A., Fr. John, Church History. New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1945. Republished: Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1989.
Mathew, Archbishop Arnold Harris, Declaration of Autonomy, as quoted in Credo, New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2005.
Moss, C. B. The Old Catholic Movement. Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005.
Neale, J. M. A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland. Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005.
Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph, Dominus Jesus. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 2000.