What is the essence of the Catholic religion? What is the core of it-the truth and the beauty at the heart of itthat has kept it not only a living, but an active and vigorous force in the world, and a force which has been mainly for good, for close upon two thousand years?
A devout Catholic, of any Church claiming to be a true part of the One Holy Catholic Church, might reply that the Catholic Church is the vehicle or body of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, incorporation in which means union with Him which is salvation; and that the utterances of the Church throughout the centuries, the doctrines it has proclaimed and the line of conduct it has prescribed, are the utterances to mankind of that same Spirit, who is the Spirit of God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. A Church making such a claim needs no other explanation of its own vitality and vigour than that; if it is indeed a channel and, as most of its teachers claim, the only accredited channel to mankind, not only of spiritual life, but of the spirit of Truth, then the reason of its striking vitality is plain. It is a bold claim but, though bold to the point of daring, it has been, and still is, made for the Catholic Church by its own teachers; and this claim throughout the centuries has been unquestionably accepted by millions of its devout members.
But in these modem days, more than ever before in the past, the claim is keenly and often violently disputed by a constantly increasing number of thoughtful people outside the borders of the Church, who, regarding the Catholic religion mainly as a theological system and judging it mainly as such, reject the whole religion, root and branch, because its theology is unsatisfying, its philosophy meagre, and its science often false. Many of these, if pressed for an explanation, of the undoubted vitality of the Catholic religion, would probably account for it by that very useful word, delusion. All these people, they might say, both now and in the past, teach. ers and taught alike, have been self-hypnotized, and the whole elaborate system known as the Catholic faith is nothing but a great delusion.
In between these two extremes is another group of people, small as yet in numbers, who see the truth of both sides. They reject the main doctrines of the Catholic religion as traditionally explained-that intricate group of dogmas which revolves around the two poles of the Fall and the Redemption of man.
They do not believe that there has been a fall of such a nature that, as a result, mankind as a whole has become estranged from God; they do not understand how the death of the body of Jesus can "reconcile" fallen man to God, and therefore they are not interested in any theological theories of atonement and its application to man as a remedy for sin.
Yet beneath these and other fundamental doctrines of the Catholic religion, they detect, with help derived from another source, great esoteric truths concerning the evolution of the cosmos and of man. And they do most passionately sympa. thize with, and believe in, that group of Catholic teachings which is best summed up in the word Sacramentalism.
The Catholic Church, they believe, is indeed an earthly vehicle for the Lord Christ, by means of which, and especially by means of its central sacrament-the Holy Eucharist-He gives His own life and those spiritual forces, which He controls, to His flock, and through which He invites and welcomes their devotion to, and adoration of, Himself.
This is the position of the Liberal Catholic Church. Its members are perfectly free to think for themselves; no creed, no body of teaching is imposed upon them when by baptism or, if already baptized, by formal admission they become its members; yet, though no expression of belief or confession of faith is required of those who join the Church, it would be safe to say that a large majority of its teachers and members believe whole-heartedly in (a) the sacramentalism of the Catholic religion as above describ~d, and (b) a body of esoteric teaching lying behind and at the back of those great fundamental Christian dogmas which, as traditionally explained, are so meagre and unsatisfying. The essence of the Catholic religion, the core of truth and beauty that gives to it all its wonderful vitality, is its sacramentalism not its doctrinal structure; and these two are separable. The traditional
Catholics do not see this, and consequently do not realize how strong and secure their position really is. Though the doctrinal structure should fall to pieces, as ere long it certainly will, the religion would remain, immortal and indestructible, because of its sacramentalism. In the course of centuries the two ideas, the sacramental and the doctrinal, have become intertwined. In the ordinary Catholic mind they are part and parcel of one system. The sacramental presence of the Lord in His Church, by a slow and gradual mental process has
Elder Brothers of humanity have been sending into our world so lavishly in recent years by means of their Initiate disciples, of whom the *Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church is not the least illustrious, will need for its wide-spread distribution, when the time for such extension is fully ripe, a great religion with its roots sunk deep in the past and its branches extending into every corner of the Western world. In aspiring to be a distributing agent for this kind of teaching the Liberal Catholic Church is not embarking on new territory, though it is new to this generation of Catholics. There are indications in the Christian records that that group of teachings, which may be comprehensively described as esotericism, the teaching which Initiate Theosophists have been proclaiming during the past quarter of a century, was not unknown in the early days of the Christian Church. The indications arc to some extent concealed, yet unmistakably present, in early Christian writings. The evidence in itself is not sufficient to unfold the whole scheme of evolution in the precise and exact form in which it has been unfolded by theosophical teachers, but, with that knowledge in our possession and in the light which it throws on many otherwise difficult and mysterious sayings in the records, it becomes plain as we re-read the Christian scriptures and early writings, and indeed the writings of not a few mystical teachers all through the centuries, that this form of esotericism was known to at least some of the leaders of the Christian Church in its infancy and subsequently. Thus in proclaiming the wisdom religion to this and succeeding generations of Catholics the Liberal Catholic Church may claim to be re-proclaiming a teaching which, so far from being new, was certainly Christian teaching, though perhaps concealed from the multitudes, in the very earliest days.
Whether or no the Church will be able to rise to its opportunity, when the time comes for the rapid and wide-spread dissemination of the wisdom teaching, may depend to a large extent on the foundations that are laid by this generation. If the Church can remain Catholic, yet dogmatically free and entirely detached from the papacy and from the outer or ganizations of other Churches; if it can continue to proclaim quite fearlessly a Catholic sacramentalism to esotericists and occulists, and an esoteric occultism to Catholics, we may dare to hope that the Bishops and leaders of the Church in succeeding generations, many of whom we may expect to be members and servants of the Inner Government of the world, will have to their hand a religious organization which may be exactly the instrument required at the time for the working out of that portion of the plan.
For this the Liberal Catholic Church dares to hope and with this end in view it is seeking now to shape its work.