From earliest times people have asked questions about themselves, their origins and the world around them. Initially, they were satisfied with explanations which, within the limits of their knowledge, sounded reasonable, but which in time were often found to be untrue. More recently, what we know as science has, by disciplined investigation, observation and experiment, found answers to many of the questions that we ask, questions that have multiplied with the advance of civilisation. The findings of science have frequently conflicted with earlier traditional explanations, which had often been incorporated into scriptural writings. Thus the apparent conflict between religion and science developed.
However, modern science has acknowledged, and confirmed, the interrelationship and interrelatedness of all life – there is, albeit outwardly invisible to the human eye, a unity of life. Thus within the theology of the Sacraments, the concept of the free gift of grace – the idea that it transcends anything in the nature of proportionate response – turns on the principle of the unity of life, the one life, the Life of God that maintains all things.
The Liberal Catholic Church believes that in religion, as in science, truth is the ultimate goal to which we should all aspire. Absolute truth rests with God and cannot be known in full by humans. Life is therefore a constant progression from less true to more true. That is why The Liberal Catholic Church has adopted freedom of belief as a cornerstone of its foundations. It has a body of teaching, but recognises that individuals must find their own truth from within, rather than adopt beliefs second-hand from without. The Church must also constantly review the doctrine that it teaches. For these reasons extreme tolerance is expected from Church members.
The Liberal Catholic Church has identified, from among the various schools of Christian thought, the Platonic and Neo-Platonic as being those most closely attuned to the Wisdom Tradition. In the spirit of these schools the Church approaches questions of religion in terms of practicality: Do these ideas, this body of teaching, withstand re-examination in the light of advancing knowledge? Do these teachings present a coherent and convincing explanation of life in all of its complexities? And again, Do these teachings conduce to human spiritual awakening and self-mastery?
Given affirmative answers to these questions, these teachings may be said to partake of the nature of a theosophy. Theosophy (Greek for ‘divine wisdom’) differs from theology in emphasising the importance of each individual’s quest for spiritual understanding based upon personal experience (gnosis or sophia) as opposed to dogmatic imposition of particular interpretations of scripture, which may be limited by the human being’s knowledge of the world at any one time. While certain higher teachings remain within the category of revelation, because they are beyond our grasp and attainment, others less remote are capable of verification, and even of development, by those who have awakened within themselves the necessary spiritual vision. The human being, being in essence divine, can ultimately know the deity whose life he or she shares and, by gradually unfolding through successive lives on earth the divine powers that are latent in him, can grow into a greater knowledge of the universe, which is itself the expression of that divine life. This method of approach has much in common with the ancient Brahmavidya of the Hindu Upanishads, or the dhyana (Chinese Ch’an, Japanese Zen) of the Buddhists. It finds justification in scripture. The term ‘theosophy’ has constantly appeared in the religious thought of both East and West and denotes not only the mysticism but also the eclectic philosophy to be found in all religions.
The Liberal Catholic Church affirms that there is a body of doctrine and mystical experience common to all religions, which cannot be claimed as the exclusive possession of any. Moving within the orbit of Christianity and regarding itself as a distinctively Christian Church, it nevertheless holds that other religions are divinely inspired and that all proceed from a common source, though each may stress different aspects of this teaching; some even falling temporarily into abeyance.
From a Liberal Catholic perspective, it is clear that as a Church ceases to produce leaders having direct knowledge, its teachings tend to narrow and harden; its theology become legalistic and mechanical. “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Pro. 29:18). The Church affirms that a theology can justify itself and be of permanent value, only in so far as it can withstand constant re-examination in the light of progress of human knowledge, and individual spiritual awakening. The Liberal Catholic Church aims at being a gnostic Church, not in the sense of reproducing any extravagances of early Christianity, but in the sense of helping its members to attain for themselves certainty of knowledge, the true gnosis of which St. Clement of Alexandria has written. The ancient path of purification, illumination and union, which in olden times brought the candidate to this certainty, continues to be open for treading. Those who tread it may still hope to attain discipleship – that direct communion with the Master, which should be the aim of every Christian. The Way of the Cross is the progressive unfoldment of the Christ-spirit within the human being and to this end, the sacraments of Christ’s holy Church avail.
The Liberal Catholic Church is a living Christian Church, both progressive and historical. Progressive in the sense that it maintains that forms of religion should keep pace with human growth and enlightenment; historical, in that it holds that the Church has been handed down a precious heritage from Christ himself. It behoves all our Clergy and members to live up to the high ideals in the teaching and practices of the Church to the very best of their ability.