Because I soon will be involved with a number of travels and upcoming presentations one earlier subject that I like to bring to a degree of completion is the Wandering Bishops or Episcopi vagantes subject at the end of a discussion about the mimic Order of St John that (see three paragraphs above Conclusion) I hoped to come back to at a later point.
The reference here was to Arnold Harris Mathew (see underneath a list of groups descending from Mathew) who is usually seen as one of two (the other being Joseph René Vilatte) most important founders of breakaway movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
And while I earlier informed about a self-styled Order of Saint John that attempted to take hold of some of the resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I soon found out that this was not the only self-styled Order of Saint John to do so whereby in the latter case it refers to the Old Roman Catholic Church Apostolic Order of Saint John.
Accused of carrying out a major scam below the visiting Bishop/Grandmaster of the Order:
The Order first using the name "The African Commandery of the Military and Hospital Order of Saint John" and next "Apostolic Order of Saint John", this in order to train potential seminarians, was able to employ a large following which included a General and other officials who were entrapped:
Not to mention murder and violent crimes:
It started to come apart in May 2018 with a high-level court case.
During 2019 new revelations kept coming in the open.
Most significant the Order (Bishop Berrier) also appears to have managed to obtain territories and sovereignty for his FÉDÉRATION DES DEUX RIVES. Contrary to the above-mentioned court case that made an end to one part of the endeavors, the Fédération des DEUX RIVES is currently still active.
Another creation of Bishop Gerard Berrier is the following:
I like to express my thanks to our French language investigator who has provided relevant source material whereby he commented that: Et pour exister ils vont chercher des légitimités n’importe où.
So what are Episcopi Vagantes?
David V. Barrett, in the Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements, specifies that now Episcopi Vagantes is "those independent bishops who collect several different lines of transmission of apostolic succession, and who will happily (and sometimes for a fee) consecrate anyone who requests it."1
There are discussions which of the episcopal prerogatives the country bishops possessed. In fact, no one is certain whether these rural delegates even received actual episcopal consecration. Therefore Wandering Bishop or Episcopi Vagantes in most cases is not defined by any character qualities, not by theological education or theological position. These bishops are not elected by a canonical church, nor proposed as an ordain by a suffragan and not bound to a historical episcopal see or consecrated by an 'official' bishop according to the canonical procedure.
Until the Second Vatican Council, the validity of the sacraments alone depends on the correct intention and essential observance of the external rite. Since 1962/65, however, the bishop longer the successor of a single apostate, but the episcopal college in its entirety is the successor of the apostolic college.
And although one finds many interpretations in books that promote the various schismatic Churches (see also below) on can argue that a 'real' bishop is not a successor of a sole apostle as only the synod/college of bishops in toto are heir to the college of the apostles. And if so no Wandering Bishop has a 'real' apostolic succession. There is no Holy Ghost in Wandering-Bishop-consecrations.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church similarly states that this is the name given to persons who have been consecrated bishop in an irregular or clandestine manner or who have been excommunicated by the Church that consecrated them and are in communion with no recognized see. A man is also included in this group when the number in communion with him is so small that his sect appears to exist for his own sake.
Even various Old Catholic but also irregular Anglican will present competing views of apostolic succession which to mention them all would need a whole book if not several books.
That is where one often sees mention of an older Malabar tradition also called Syrian Christians of India, Nasrani or Malankara Nasrani, or Nasrani Mappila, which are an ethnoreligious community of Indian Christians originally from the state of Kerala.
A second is the Gallican Church was the Roman Catholic Church in France from the time of the Declaration of the Clergy of France (1682) to that of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) during the French Revolution.
And then there is the term Old Catholic Church by groups which since the 1850s separated from the Roman Catholic Church over certain doctrines, primarily concerned with papal authority; some of these groups, especially in the Netherlands, had already existed before the term.
But what this can be an extremely complex topic one should not fail to mention two of the most important Episcopi Vagantes a Frenchman, Joseph René Vilatte a Parisian who emigrated to America at an early age, where he later founded the American Catholic Church. And the above mentioned Arnold Harris Mathew born in Montpellier, France as the son of Major Arnold Henry Ochterlony Mathew (originally Matthews, d. 1894). And again to show the potential complexity underneath is a ten-page example of groups descending from Mathew.
While visiting India...
By the late nineteenth century, some west Syrians made up the Syriac Orthodox Church led by Mar Ignatius Peter IV of Antioch, then near present-day Mardin, Turkey.
Prior to his election as Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Peter IV had traveled extensively on the Continent as well as in England, where he was received in honor by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thus it was that he was acquainted with the history and legends of knighthood. And sanctioned the organization of the Order of the Crown of Thorns, and in 1892, which was much the same as that of the fraternal order of Roman Catholic men known as the Knights of Columbus, which was established in 1882. This Order of the Crown of Thorns is the same as what later came to be named the Old Roman Catholic Church Apostolic Order of Saint John.
René Vilatte initially intended to join the Catholic priesthood but later moved toward Protestantism (of various varieties). For a short while, however, he was a member of the Methodist church in Montreal, Quebec. This did not satisfy him, however, and during the following years he four times returned to the Roman Catholic Church, once to the Methodists, became a Congregationalist minister, and twice a Presbyterian.”2
In 1885, he approached the PECUSA bishop of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Dr. Hobart Brown, to ask about becoming ordained as a priest in that church. His name appears in the official record of the diocese as a candidate for Holy Orders.3 At Brown’s suggestion, Vilatte went for ordination to Dr. Herzog, the Old Catholic 4 bishop in Switzerland. In June 1885, Herzog ordained Vilatte as a deacon and then as a priest; the new priest’s oath of canonical obedience, however, was made to the Protestant Episcopal Church bishop of Fond du Lac.5
Although he apparently served well in his work in his mission, at the time of Dr. Brown’s death in 1888, Vilatte was “intriguing with the Old Catholics with a view to being consecrated bishop.”6 When Dr. C.C. Grafton, Brown’s successor as the PECUSA bishop of Fond du Lac, refused to consecrate Vilatte as “Bishop-Abbot” of the American Old Catholics, Vilatte then entered into relations with the Russian Archbishop Vladimir, “who, while not offering him consecration, appears to have granted him some form of recognition.”7 Vilatte then claimed to have been elected to the episcopate by the Old Catholics themselves, at a synod at Duvall (Wisconsin?). In remarks printed in The Church Review, October 1898 to January, 1899, Grafton remarked on the Synod, “The story that he was elected to the bishopric of the Old Catholics is simply this:
He carried around a paper amongst the few poor, ignorant people under his charge, which he demanded that they should sign. Most of them complied, some of them being little children. There is only one clergyman’s name on the petition and that, according to the statement of the clergyman so named, was forged.”
Vilatte was finally consecrated in Ceylon by “Archbishop Alvares” of the “Independent Catholic Church of Goa and Ceylon.”8
The Order of the Crown of Thorns
Vilatte also merged the Order of the Crown of Thorns with the Abbey-Principality.
The Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Peter IV (sometimes counted as III) ), in 1875 traveled extensively in India, taking a direct hand in the affairs of the Church when he personally consecrated Mar Athanasios and Mar Cregorius. These latter two joined Mar Julius, the Bishop of Ceylon, who in May of 1892, at the command of the Patriarch, consecrated the Frenchman by birth but American citizen by naturalization, Archbishop Joseph Rene Vilatte.
According to Dom Jean Parisot he is the one who got Vilatte interested in the chivalric fraternities so that Vilatte revived and combined a few into the Order of the Crown of Thorns.
Some revived orders mixed lay and cleric, men and women; some harbored esoteric theology or incorporated Freemasonry. The Order of the Crown of Thorns did all of the above. Parisot and Vilatte apparently spent a few evenings with another visitor to Ligugé, the avant-garde novelist Jorge-Karl Huysmans. Infamous for his portrayal of the esoteric underground in the novel Là-Bas (1891), Huysmans had applied to become a Benedictine oblate. Later a friend of Huysmans would remark that Vilatte “looked like an American athlete” and, bless his memory, “his Havanas were excellent.”9
This Patriarch sanctioned the organization of the Order of the Crown of Thorns, and in 1892, in light of the heavy migration to the United States by people of European stock, he conveyed to Archbishop Vilatte, the Grand Mastership of the order. The intent of the establishment of this order in the New World by the Orthodox Patriarch was much the same as that of the fraternal order of Roman Catholic men known as the Knights of Columbus, which was established in 1882. Archbishop Vilatte held office until his death on July 1, 1929.
A small group of Frenchmen, on August 25, 1883, founded the Abbey of San Luigi in Northern Africa. By its constitution this colony was independent and was known as the Principality of San Luigi, with its princes elected by the citizens. The first prince established the Order of the Lion and Black Cross as a national order of knighthood. Plagued by disease and attacks by the natives, the remnants of this small band returned to France, abandoning the Abbey. But its short history was not to die, because on May 5, 1897, in an act legalized before the Mayor of Seine, France, the Prince of the Abbey-Principality submitted his claims and orders to the authority of Archbishop Joseph Bene Vilatte. It was in this manner that the second of the San Luigi Orders came into being.
There has been a discussion whereby the International Commission on Nobility and Royalty condemned the claims of the sovereignty of the current (which they say is self-styled) Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, to which San Luigi has responded in their own manner.
Bertil Persson the co-author of Independent Bishops: An International Directory (1990) when inquiring about Joseph René Vilatte received the following reply:
At the General Convention of 1892, the Protestant Episcopal Church responded to this consecration with certain resolutions. The bishops concluded that Vilatte had obtained his consecration from a Church separated from Catholic Christendom because of its non-acceptance of the Chalcedonian definition of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Also, they affirmed that Vilatte was never elected by a duly accredited synod, and that he seemed anxious to obtain the episcopate from any body which would give it to him. Additionally, they declared that these non-Catholic bishops had no jurisdiction or right to ordain a bishop for any part of the diocese under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Fond du Lac.10 They also found that more than two months before the time of his so-called consecration, he was deposed from the sacred ministry.11 Therefore, the Episcopal Church declared Vilatte’s orders null and void, and resolved to send messages to the Old Catholics about this.
René Vilatte later pictured in the USA:
Both the above mentioned Carmel Enrico Carfora and Vilatte were interested in events south of the US border. The Brownsville Daily Herald wrote that Vilatte traveled in a private railroad car with several investors. He began calling himself "Archbishop Vilatte, of Texas".
On October 1, 1910, Vilatte sailed to Europe to recruit settlers.
By 1914, the dynamic energy of Vilatte was diminishing and in a synod held in Chicago on April 10, 1920, he offered to retire and named Frederick Ebenezer Lloyd as his successor as Primate and Metropolitan of the American Catholic Church (ACC). On September 8, 1929, Lloyd consecrated John Churchill Sibley as Missionary Archbishop and Vicar General of the Order of Antioch in England. The spread of the American Catholic Church from 1920 until his death in 1933 was largely due to his initiative.12
During his final years, Vilatte worked very closely with Jean Bricaud (1881-1934) to ensure that his papers, journals, and other valuable objects could be conveyed in secret to safekeeping in the United States. Jean Bricaud while made a Bishop in by Vilatte is also known as an occultist and purveyor of Occult Masonic lodges.
Bricaud early on became a member of the Ordre Martiniste founded by Gérard Encausse (alias Papus). Earlier a member of the Theosophical Society Papus set about laying the groundwork for a separate movement, which he called Occultisme. By late 1889, Occultism had a journal of its own, L 'Initiation. A year later, Papus established a central Occultist organization, the Groupe Indipendant d'Etudes Esoteriques, and formally broke with the Theosophical Society. During the next decade, Occultism expanded, emerging as the most vital heterodox movement in France.
In 1907 Bricaud, with the help of Papus and other Martinists, broke with the L’ Eglise Gnostique Universelle Catholique and founded, together with Papus and Fugairon, the L’Eglise Catholique Gnostique. In 1908 the church changed its name to the ‘L’Eglise Gnostique Universelle’, and in 1911 became the ’official church' of the Martinist Order. Bricaud was also initiated into the Memphis-Misraim rite and he was a disciple, like most of the leading Martinists at the time, of Master Philippe. He studied the rites of Willermoz and Pernety, the Elus Cohen, Stricte Observance, les Philalethes, and les Philadelphes. The latter were a plethora of similar associations some of them who went back to J. B. Willermoz, a Lyon silk merchant. And to which one also could ad Fabre Palaprat's NeoTemplar invention of which the Grandmaster in the USA later became King Peter II of Yugoslavia who went to live in the USA where since 1962 until his death he served as the Royal Patron of the self-styled Knights Templar Order and is also known from his involvement with a breakaway St.Jean Order that was originally founded by Charles Pichel.
We early on already mentioned Vilatte in the context of a remark in Dan Browns The Da Vinci Code and Vilatte as a key figure in the so-called Gnostic Churches which consecrated Freemasons and occultists as bishops.
Not unlike Viatte where the Protestant Episcopal Church responded to this consecration with certain resolutions, Bishop Mathew was repudiated by the Dutch Old Catholics on the ground that his consecration had been based upon a misrepresentation.
In December 1910, De Oud-Katholiek concluded that Mathew had "given up communion with the other Old Catholics" when he acted against the Convention of Utrecht. He ignored "his duty to inform" the IBC prior to "any consecration", so "that the case may be duly examined and all precautions taken that no unworthy person be consecrated;" he consecrated men who belonged to another Church "knowing that they were Roman Catholics and would probably remain so"; he consecrated alone without need and in secret.13
And the 1920 Lambeth Conference, in its resolution No. 27. declared: "We regret that on a review of all the facts we are unable to regard the so-called Old Catholic Church and its extensions overseas, as a properly constituted Church, or to recognize the orders of its ministers..."
As for Arnold Harris Mathew's involvement with the occult Peter Anson, the author of Bishops at large wrote that, for at least two years, Mathew was "in close touch with leading Theosophists, apparently without investigating the orthodoxy of their beliefs," and believed that Mathew "had no excuse" for not understanding the cult of Maitreya beliefs held by the majority of his clergy. The identification of Christ as Maitreya was the idea of Theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater. According to Anson, the majority of clergy involved with Mathew were members of the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Star in the East (OSE). Another development making use of Mathew's lineage came in the wake of the unpalatable Aleister Crowley.
John Kersey who investigated this subject wrote that "there are still unpublished letters of Mathew in the archives of various churches; these archives are not open to the public, and so it has not been possible to consult them."
John Kersey (the Prince-Abbot of the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi) not unlike Theosophist (including a scholar of Gnosticism and Jungian psychology) Stephan Hoeller was also made a Bishop in the tradition of Ronald Powell (Richard Duc de Palatine) and is the author of Joseph-René Vilatte (1854-1929): Some Aspects of his Life, Work, and Succession.
At the time of writing information about the Commandery of the Military and Hospital Order of Saint John sponsored "Government" information is still coming in.
As for the myriads of self-invented Orders of St.John, many of these orders took on the appellation "of St. John", claiming to be continuations of various alleged offshoots of the Russian Orthodox priory this in spite of the fact that there is no Russian tradition.
Other self invented Orders of St. John group together in federations and create pictures like this:
1. Barrett, David V. (2006). "Independent episcopal churches". In Clarke, Peter (ed.). Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. p. 301. ISBN 9780415267076.
2. Henry R T Brandreth, Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church, 2006, 47.
4. The Old Catholics were a movement in German-speaking Europe which rejected the First. Vatican Council’s (1870) declaration of the dogma of papal infallibility. The historian and theologian J.J.I. von Döllinger (1799-1890), with others, founded Catholic churches that were not in communion with Rome. The separatists designated themselves “Old Catholics,” because they claimed Rome had created a new church through decrees such as those of the Vatican Council. Good relations have existed between the Anglicans and the Old Catholics since the movement’s beginning; in 1925, the Old Catholics recognized Anglican ordinations, and later obtained full communion with the Church of England (in 1932), and most of the other Anglican churches.
5. Brandreth, 47, 48.
6. Ibid., 48.
7. Brandreth, 48.
8. Ibid., 49, 50.
9. See Serge A. Theriault, Msgr. René Vilatte: Community Organizer of Religion, 1854–1929 (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2006), p. 149 n196. On smoking Cubans with Huysmans, see Peter Anson, Bishops at Large (1964; Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2006)p. 120.
10. Ibid., 52, 53.
11. Footnote 1 from Brandreth, 53. “He was degraded from the priesthood and excommunicated by the Protestant Episcopal Church on 21 March 1892.”
12. Henry Brandreth, Episcopi Vegantes, p. 36. See also.
13. Claude B Moss, The Old Catholic Movement: its origins and history. Independent Catholic heritage series (reissue, with additions and corrections, of 2nd ed.). Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005.
Organisational summary of groups descending from Arnold Harris Mathew