The Ingenious Nature of the Second Object, and an interview with LCC Bishop William Downey
James Andrew LeFevour – USA
“The Liberal Catholic Church aims at being a gnostic church, not in the sense of reproducing certain extravagancies of early Christianity, but in the sense of helping its members to attain for themselves this certainty of knowledge which is the true gnosis of which St Clement of Alexandria wrote.”
- From the Statement of Principles of The Liberal Catholic Church
In the article “Our Three Objects” by H. P. Blavatsky, first appearing in September 1889 Lucifer, she gives an example of ideal success in regards to the Theosophical Society implementing its Second Object. The story she tells is about the younger generation of India, no longer regarding the value of the Hindu teachings as their ancestors, or even as their parents, did. In her own words: “The materialistic and agnostic attitude of mind towards religion in the abstract, which prevails in Western Universities, had been conveyed to the Indian colleges and schools by their graduates, the European Professors who occupied the several chairs in the latter institutions of learning. The text books fed this spirit, and the educated Hindus, as a class, were thoroughly skeptical in religious matters, and only followed the rites and observances of the national cult from considerations of social necessity.”
The cure, as she explains, was to “attack the citadel of skepticism, scientific sciolism, and prove the scientific basis of religion in general and of Hinduism in particular. This task was undertaken from the first and pursued to the point of victory; a result evident to every traveler who enquires into the present state of Indian opinion… Without exaggeration or danger of contradiction, it may be affirmed that the labors of the Theosophical Society in India have infused a fresh and vigorous life into Hindu Philosophy; revived the Hindu Religion; won back the allegiance of the graduate class to the ancestral beliefs…” (www.blavatsky.net/...OurThreeObjects.htm)
Fantastic! What is more is that the writing of this occurred at around the fourteen year mark of the Theosophical Society; at the end of the second seven-year probationary period, a success like this makes a key impression as to the perpetual validity and necessity of a movement such as the TS in the way it influences public view of religion.
As we move from that golden moment in Theosophical history to the much more controversial topic of the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC), it is worthwhile to remind everyone of why such a topic is worth discussing. Christianity is a religion, in the same way that Hinduism is a religion. It is understood by the second object of the Theosophical Society that all religions hold within them, at their kernel, some glimpse of Truth. Although it is commonly agreed that the presence of Truth becomes less and less accessible the closer one gets toward dogma.
What could Theosophy do for Christianity, especially in light of what it did for Hinduism as Blavatsky expressed, or in light of the way Colonel Olcott revived Buddhism in Ceylon?
It is no secret as to what H. P. B. thought of Christianity in her time. The second object at the fourteen year anniversary only referred to “...the study of Aryan and other Eastern literatures, religions and sciences,” and did not include all religions until a later amendment. She once referred to eastern countries embracing Christianity as “the suicidal adoption of Christianity … to neglect their own natural national religion in favor of a parasitic growth…” (The Second Message to the American Convention, 1889)
However H. P. B. did see great value in the inner meaning of Christianity as was expressed in her writings on “The Esoteric Character of the Gospels.” From the words of the Maha Chohan as well, one could say there is great value in such an endeavor as the Theosophical approach to Christianity:
“Mystical Christianity, that is to say that Christianity which teaches self-redemption through one's own seventh principle — the liberated Para-atma (Augoeides) called by the one Christ, by others Buddha, and equivalent to regeneration or rebirth in spirit — will be found just the same truth as the Nirvana of mystical Buddhism.” (Mahatma Letters Appendix ii)
The greatest confusion many unfamiliar Theosophists have in approaching the LCC terminology is that they do not realize it is veiled in allegory, instead of the familiar and flawed anthropomorphization of so many other Western attempts. The LCC allows freedom for its members to work out their own symbolism, as one would hope of a non-dogmatic spiritual group.
As Mahatma KH explained, “Call it by whatever name, only let these unfortunate, deluded Christians know that the real Christ of every Christian is the Vāch, the ‘mystical Voice,’ while the man Jeshu was but a mortal like any of us, an adept more by his inherent purity and ignorance of real Evil than by what he had learned with his initiated Rabbis…” KH ML 111(59)
The Liberal Catholic Church is the first Christian church with so-called “Apostolic Succession” whose members are free to hold that True belief. It is only fitting that it would have been founded by Theosophists.
The following interview took place on September 24, 2013 between James LeFevour and Right Reverend William Downey, the Regionary Bishop of the United States for the Liberal Catholic Church.
Right Reverend William Downey
LeFevour: How would you describe the Liberal Catholic Church as a non-dogmatic church, as it defines itself?
Downey: Firstly, everything I say is just my interpretation. I’m prefacing this interview by saying that these are my opinions and my expression of my understanding of the church, and in no way implying an official doctrine of the church. And that in itself is a requirement, a prerequisite, for all of our clergy. Even when speaking from the pulpit we really try to communicate to our listeners that interpretation of doctrine, scriptures, church practices and so forth are left entirely up to the individual. We don't try to legislate or dictate or put any kind of restraints on the thinking and discovery of any of our members.
So I think that's the biggest thing, that we're not dogmatic in the sense that we would try to impose any particular spin on the Christian faith or the Catholic faith, and as a result we have people in the church who run the gamut of very traditional orthodox thinking to very metaphysical interpretations and some, especially in the beginning of the church, who are immersed in the Theosophical concepts because our founding Bishops were Theosophists. So we see that as our unique contribution to the world of religion. We are bound together by a common liturgy, but not necessarily a common theology.
LeFevour: What about the sacraments? In what way would the sacraments be involved in the concept of non-dogmatic interpretation you just explained?
Downey: Well the Orthodox explanation of a sacrament is a pretty good interpretation, even from a metaphysical or philosophical or Theosophical approach. And that definition from the old catechism is that "a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." So we see the sacraments as channels or conduits through which grace or spiritual energy, if you want to put it in those terms, is made available. The church is given the express privilege, responsibility, and challenge to try to maintain the integrity of those sacraments. We are keeping those channels open and awake and valid as interpreted historically so that ideally we can bring more light into a relatively dark world.
LeFevour: The way you explain it sounds very similar to the purpose of many different faiths’ spiritual practices. Is that accurate to what you are saying?
Downey: It is indeed. And if you look at the sacraments, and how they are “performed”, if we use that term, it really engages all aspects of the participants, both the celebrants as well as the laity. It puts together rhythm, beauty, the use of physical actions, the use of certain implements and tools, like lights and bells and incense and wine and water and fire and earth and all the elements. It really is in many ways very much akin to ceremonial magic. Although we typically avoid the word "magic" with its implications, it actually appears in some of our literature. Even in the baptismal ceremony we say "I lay the spell of Christ's church upon this child" so in a sense we actually use that term.
LeFevour: When you use the word "Christ" what do you mean?
Downey: That is really a personal thing. The church speaks of Christ historically as Christ, but many of our members who have a Theosophical orientation make a distinction between the cosmic Christ, the second person of the blessed trinity, and the man Jesus, the prophet Jesus. Others in our church believe that Jesus Christ was the incarnate son of God, but my own personal belief is that we are all incarnate sons of God in potential, and that the Christ, as I perceive it, is that second aspect of the threefold nature of God which is beyond space and time.
But again we have a full gamut of beliefs where Christ is concerned, and what the function of Jesus was, and so forth. We do not try to bend people’s minds or convince them of anything. We make an offering and if it seems reasonable, some people choose to stay, but we do not proselytize. We do not go out and seek converts because we are basically universalists; we do not believe anybody is lost. Nor do we believe we have the corner on "salvation and redemption.”
Just as Theosophy does, we see all paths leading up the same mountain and ultimately to the same return from which we have come.
LeFevour: Does the Liberal Catholic Church still accredit Leadbeater and Wedgewood as much respect to this day as it did in the past? Are they required reading in seminary, for example?
Downey: Yes, that is correct.
LeFevour: Conversely, are there any LCC members who really don't care much for them at all, considering the majority of members are not Theosophists now?
Downey: I think not. Most people who find themselves attracted to the Liberal Catholic Church are probably initially attracted by the ceremony. It awakens something within them, and then they start reading about it. The most common book that most people read and that inspires them to look into the Liberal Catholic Church is the paramount work, as far as I'm concerned, of Leadbeater which is The Science of the Sacraments. Basically it is an explanation of the inner side of what's going on during the mass. And if you're initially attracted by that, I think it is just kind of automatic that it stays with you and you tend to have a reverence for Leadbeater and Wedgewood. Wedgewood was really quite a scholar in his own right and had written some very beautiful things. I think that anybody that stays with the Liberal Catholic Church generally likes what they have read by Wedgewood and Leadbeater.
LeFevour: So do many members of the LCC attribute to Leadbeater a level of clairvoyance, such as he gave descriptions of angels, for example, in the book Christian Gnosis?
Downey: I think that most people in the church do, and many people who have claimed clairvoyance through the years, some of whom were not members of the church, have corroborated the things that Leadbeater describes. Certainly those kinds of clairvoyants are few and far between, but yes, I think that he's held as somewhat of an authority.
However all of our members are free to accept or reject that idea. I mean, in any area as subjective as clairvoyance, even CWL was one of the first to say, the astral is a place of illusion. It is transitory and changing all the time, so it's very easy to make mistakes. That is why even he, in his clairvoyant work, worked in cooperation with other clairvoyants. My personal feeling is that some of the things that I have read, I can't prove, and so I'm not sure that I accept everything. But for the most part, I think the Bishop Leadbeater was pretty close to what is going on in the other planes.
LeFevour: One final question, and it’s more a question I am personally curious about, if you’ll permit me. I think some people view the LCC as if it shouldn't be associated at all with the Theosophical Society, and there are other Theosophists who believe in the Liberal Catholic Church who feel that they are completely harmonious teachings. I'm not asking you to defend it, I’m just asking what would you offer for those differing sides to consider?
Downey: Well, the church has had a close relationship with the Theosophical movement from its beginnings, but there has always been this dichotomy in thinking with regards to the church and I suppose there always will be. We, on our side, likewise want to make it abundantly clear that we have no organized connection whatsoever to the Theosophical Society because we don't want to be looked upon (and I speak for myself again) as the handmaiden of the Theosophical Society either. We believe that we are a continuation of the historic Catholic Church. Rome may not agree with that, but that is our position, and we believe we offer an interpretation of the ageless wisdom, much of which harmonizes with the Theosophical Society. We want to continue our warmest and most cordial relationship wherever possible and cooperate in any way, but each person must find their own path and if they can resonate with what we offer then we would welcome them to come.
That's the other thing, our altars are always open so that anyone, whether member or not, is welcome to come and avail themselves of our sacraments. You do not have to be a member of the Liberal Catholic Church to witness the mass for yourself or to receive communion.