The Liberal Catholic Universalist Church
What We Believe
Ours is a non-dogmatic church, so no adherence to any credal statement is required of members, be they lay or clergy, but what is required is respect of each other's faith journey. We are part of the Liberal Catholic Movement and Holy Scripture, the Christian Creeds and the ancient Christian traditions though not taken as all-powerful, are part of our faith. The following may be helpful:
The Liberal Catholic Act of Faith (adapted for LCUC use)
We believe that God is Love, and Power, and Truth, and Light; that perfect justice rules the world; that all His children shall one day reach His feet, however far they stray. We hold the Fatherhood of God, the kinship of all people; we know that we do serve Him best when best we serve our fellow human being. So shall His blessing rest on us, and peace for evermore.
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one Substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incaranate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. And was crucified for us; under Pontius Pilate He suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end. And we beliebe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life. Who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the Prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Bishop Vernon Marshall (Mar Dion) of the Ecclesia Sophiana has written the following entitled “The Heretical Notion of Universalism” and it is shared with our gratitude.
For the first three hundred years or so of the early Church, there was no dogma, no essential doctrines, no agreement of belief. Each community of Christians was different, with different notions on the person of Yeshua, scripture, and practice. Even within one community, there were wide variances of belief and practice. When Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, envisaged the Church as a vehicle of unity within the Empire, everything changed. There was developed an organised Church structure, beliefs were acknowledged or rejected as heresy, and an official canon of Scripture was gradually authorised. Since then, many theologians and church leaders have taught doctrines that have led to their excommunication, physical expulsion, or even execution. Despite all this, there have been teachings that have spoken to the conditions of mind and heart of many. Today, within the official Church, and without, such teachings still seem to coincide with the understandings of those who listen to their inner wisdom and absorb the gleanings of knowledge from their experiences.
One form of heresy still considered as such by mainstream Christianity today is that of “universalism.” By this term I mean the idea of universal salvation, that, in the long run, the eternal essence of every being will find its way back to its original heavenly home. No human spirit will ever be eternally rejected. In other words, there is no hell, or at least no permanent hell! Despite its being considered as anathema by the official Church, the notion of universal reconciliation is an old one.
The great theologian Origen (c184-254 CE), though a controversialist, was one of those in the early pre-Constantine days, to champion the universalist doctrine. Even the Devil, he said, would one day be reconciled! Another, though less well-known teacher of the early years, was Pamphilus (d.309 CE), a Presbyter serving in Caesarea, who taught a range of subjects that were at the time considered dubious, including universalism. He was imprisoned and ultimately executed. The most important of the fourth- century theologians was Gregory of Nyssa (c335-395 CE), a hugely significant bishop who is acknowledged still today as being influential theologically by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Lutheran churches and, indeed, most of the Protestant churches. Gregory was one of the so-called “Cappadocian Fathers,” who had the most major impact upon the development of doctrine. His belief in universalism is often challenged but he did state, “no being will remain outside the number of the saved.” Gregory’s sister, Macrina the Younger (c330-379 CE), a leader of a major women’s religious order, and a major figure in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, also taught universalism.
Universalism was perhaps more strongly present in the teachings of the theologians of Eastern Orthodoxy. Maximus the Confessor (c580-662 CE), a theologian and monk, for example, promoted the teaching of universalism as an interpretation of the Orthodox doctrine of apokatastasis. This word, meaning “restitution” is actually found only once in the New Testament. “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:20,21) Not all theologians translated this to mean the universal salvation of all people, and teachers such as Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) certainly did not claim such. He claimed that it referred to a restoration of Gnostic Christians! Universal salvation was, nonetheless, still preached down the centuries. The French theologian, Amalric of Bena (d.1207), for example, taught it, amongst other controversial ideas, and was thus declared a heretic by Pope Innocent III. This act led to the creation of a new sect, the Amatricians.
The Flemish mystic, Jan van Ruysbroek (1293-1381), was a believer in universalism, saying, “Man, having proceeded from God, is destined to return, and become one with Him again.” In England, the impressive spiritual teacher, Jane Leade (1624-1704), insisted that punishment after death could not be permanent as it was “purgative” rather than “punitive.” She thereby strongly rejected, “Doctrine that hath been preached of an endless Misery and Torment.” She was supported in that by the Lutheran theologian, Friedrich Oettinger (1702-1782), indicating that universalism was still a doctrine present throughout different Christian traditions, even though it was still “heresy.” Within the Eastern Orthodox tradition, however, it was perhaps more championed, and taught by several philosophers such as Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948). Berdyaev, along with Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) and, indeed, a number of Russian Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, was instrumental in bringing renewed attention to the Orthodox doctrine of apokatastasis, mentioned above, which had largely been neglected since it was expounded by Maximus the Confessor in the seventh century.
In the USA a distinct universalist tradition was created within Protestantism when Adams Streeter (1735-1786) opened the first Universalist churches in New England and the Universalist Church of America was formed. It taught that the God of love would not create a person knowing that that person would be destined for eternal damnation. Some early Universalists believed that after death there was a period of reprobation in Hell preceding salvation but most of them denied the existence of Hell entirely. The UCA ceased to exist when it merged, in 1961, with the American Unitarian Association. There is, however, a newer body, strictly speaking a non-denominational organisation, the Christian Universalist Association, seeking to bring together people of all Christian denominations who preach Christian universalism.
Gnostics are almost entirely universalist in theology, since the days of the early Gnostics in the first few centuries of the Common Era. Today, Gnostic movements tend to continue to preach it. Despite its so-called “heretical” nature, it is still a popular belief within mainstream Christianity also. Hopefully, the day will come when due respect, and a sympathetic acknowledgement will be given, to an idea that reflects the experience and deep conviction of millions of people who simply cannot accept that a loving God would ever condemn anyone to permanent torture and misery.