I have been struck by the tendency to define what is Old Catholic and what is not. This is certainly a good natured exercise--people need to have a basis on which to form their beliefs and build their theologies. It is also sincere because, especially in America, there is a tendency to label anything non-Roman Catholic as Old Catholic. This is a misguided exercise. There are most certainly those who clearly desire nothing more than to be Roman Catholic, and Old Catholic orders have just been a vehicle for them to achieve this imitation.
The Old Catholic tradition, as this humble writer understands it, is a tradition that is grounded on the independence of the local church in juridical matters. It is also rooted in the independence of belief to some extent. Scholasticism and ultramontanism brought the requirement in Roman Catholic circles to minutely define every article of faith and require it to be necessary for salvation. It is, as St. Vincent of Lerins says, defining that which "has been believed everywhere, always, and by all." In this context, it makes it increasingly difficult to define what is not Old Catholic.
There is also, with the advent of the internet, the explosion of Old Catholic jurisdictions in places like America. One can easily realize that this is to the chagrin of the Old Catholic divines in Europe. However, I would posit that there is too different of a perspective between Europe and America for there to be judgement. European Old Catholicism is active on a continent that is the size of our nation. There is also a difference in size--the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands conservatively has about 10,000 members. This is, in America, the size of a small megachurch. Although still impressive by American Old Catholic standards, this number does reflect a totally different worldview between the two continents. Both traditions also have a very heavy influx of former Roman Catholics in their leadership--this can sometimes adversely affect the theological tradition as there can be a tendency to dictate what is and is not Old Catholic based on the individual's own theological understandings.
There is also the understanding that the Union of Utrecht has had some very diverse beliefs among its members. The Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) has defined the Word of God as a sacrament and (at some point was) openly universalist. While this may not directly conflict with the beliefs of other Old Catholic churches, it does show a that each church can have dogmatic differences and still co-exist for 100 some years. This is articulated by Professor Dr. Urs von Arx that the commonality of the Old Catholic tradition is based on:
- the fundamental faith of the Church as witnessed in the liturgy, in creeds or other common statements and finding a certain expression in the practical life of the baptized;
- the liturgy of the Church, especially the Eucharist structured around its poles Word and Sacrament;
- the ministry of the Church, especially the episkopé in its structural unfolding and integration in both the local Church and the communion of local Churches.
This is a very beautiful thing, in my opinion. It is also, ideally, accomplishing something that is crumbling in the Anglican Communion and does not have a strong basis in the Roman Catholic tradition. That is to create a "big tent" where there can be diversity of belief in regards to the non-specifics but a commonality in regards to the essential elements of Catholic Christianity.
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.