I have been asked a series of questions regarding my recent ordination as an Old Catholic priest, the church with which I am affiliated, their foundational beliefs, and how the Old Catholic Church (OCC) differs from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). I thought these topics would make good fodder for this blog. My reply is rather long and will be spread across a number of blog posts. I also expect some readers will find certain blogs boring. I suggest just skipping over those and moving along to tastier topics more appealing to your spiritual palette!
“[W]ould you tell me the name of the church you are affiliated with, what it stands for, and how it is differs from the Roman Catholic church. In other words, how and when did your church originate and when? What are the beliefs and mission of its founders? What kind of catholic church is it, and how is it different or the same as the Roman Catholic church? The reason I am asking is my son’s interest and questions regarding your ordination to priesthood. [My son's] wife is catholic and so are her parents. Their experience is that it takes many years to become a catholic priest. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.”
My reply begins below. It should be noted the following is my personal opinion and may not represent the official opinion of the church and seminaries I have attended. For any errors and omissions I claim fault to be my own.
First the Easy Part
The name of the church I have joined is “Ekklesia Epignostika” which is Greek. “Ekklesia” means an assembly or meeting of people. In the New Testament it is frequently translated as church. “Epignostika” is best understood by breaking it down into two parts, Epi and Gnostika. “Epi” taken most literally means “upon,” “on,” “over,” “near,” “at,” “before,” “after.” But in this case it is meant to convey an idea closer to epic, as in something like large or more specifically transcendent. The root of “Gnostika” is “Gnostic” which means understanding. And not just intellectual comprehension, but more importantly spiritual apprehension. It is in this sense the word is prefixed with “epi.” So the translation would be something like the Church of Spiritual Apprehension. The church’s bishops translate the name of the church as the Church of (Divine) Realization.
It is a very new church, still small, and doesn’t even have a web site yet! It was formed in 2008, I believe. It’s seminary program is organizationally placed under the auspice of The Esoteric Interfaith Church, and Esoteric Theological Seminary, founded in Florida (1987). This is a religious church and seminary organized under the laws of the state of Florida. They are quite small however, and for this reason as well as holding a belief in the separation of church and state, do not participate in the regional accreditation evaluation program overseen by the United States Department of Education. (Yes, I understand the USDOE does not literally grant any school direct accreditation, but they still control the strings of those who do, so from a pragmatic point of view, isn’t the difference moot?)
Other than philosophical differences, USDOE status also requires much larger campus facilities than small colleges and seminaries require, especially for those which primarily offer distance education. Why should such a college require a cafeteria or dorm rooms? We see here clearly a reflection of the past, when all colleges were brick and mortar complexes. But this is changing, and eventually regulations will catch up to the present social changes.
Another consideration is financial. It costs a great deal of money to seek and maintain USDOE status. For this reason alone, many of the small seminaries I considered chose not to seek USDOE accreditation. And as a paying student, who ultimately underwrites those costs, I am happy *not* to be a part of that! I have never taken any course offering $1,000 value, and there are many seminaries who’s costs exceed even this obscene amount. (Guess I’m getting old…. ‘Back in my day, courses were only $50 a credit hour!’…. But this is really another rant, and I digress.)
In any event, in and of itself, not desiring USDOE accreditation is not uncommon in the religious community. However, I would also say such groups also tend to be comprised of smaller, more fractional groups.
My Educational Path
The following is a brief summary of my educational path. I first attended the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio for 3-1/2 years, accumulating 128-credit hours and no concentration in any subject. I have no degree from UT. Years later I began a series of studies to complete a concentration in religious studies. I began taking on-line classes, and over a period of several years I obtained a religious Bachelors of Arts degree in Religious Studies, through the aforementioned ETS seminary. I am continuing my religious education through the Ekklesia Epignostika Seminary program, from which I will eventually obtain my graduate degree. I am not yet half way through this seminary program. I expect it will take another year or two to complete. Then I will have to write and orally defend my master’s thesis, which will take longer, in order to complete the Masters degree program.
So that’s 3-1/2 years of “real” college education and something on the order of 5 or 6 years of on-line seminary classes, taken part-time. I ain’t no Jesuit, but I ain’t no self-proclaimed prophet of agnostika either, heheh.
The Ekklesia Epignostika Seminary (EES) course work includes one of the most widely used college textbooks on the New Testament, written by Prof. Erhman. We also avail ourselves of open college lectures from highly respected professors (Harvard, Yale, etc), as well as a variety of other religious lectures either available on-line or through the Great Courses lecture series. I’ve taken well over a dozen lectures on topics ranging from Hebrew Bible studies, to comparative religion and religious studies, to classical Greek philosophy, to religious philosophy of the West, and courses on the New Testament, and New Testament writers and the writings of the Church Fathers.
I recall when I was comparing the courses offered by various seminaries I felt the EES compared quite favourably. Almost all seminaries have a base of common work with which one should become familiar, which do not vary greatly from one seminary to the next. Thereafter, one selects an area of more close study. One may choose to specialize in the letters of Paul or in Christian counselling for example.
In the case of my seminary (EES), to a large degree that area of closer study is self-selected as a result of wishing to follow their program in the first place. A significant part of the last half specializes in the more “esoteric” studies and those exploring the subject of “divine mystery.” This does not hold an appeal for everyone, but for those such as myself, it is difficult to find a curriculum which places much emphasis on this. Which is understandable as it is a very difficult subject, and notoriously tricky to pin down.
The subject of mysticism in itself serves as an example. Many people think that means psychics, table tipping, or talking to the dead. But this is a shallow and misleading understanding of religious mysticism. It is really about the search for God and a desire to experience the Presence of the Divine. But how does one actually convey such an experience to another? Therein lies the tricky bit!
I have come to believe a large part of the problem is that the mystic experience hits us square in what Jung called our unconscious psychological function! (Also known as our inferior psychological function; because it primarily raises out of our unconscious, as opposed to being accessible to our conscious awareness; however, it is not to be misunderstood as being any less real or important to our overall psychological health.)
By definition we cannot readily relate to the mystical experience, because its domain resides within our unconscious. Yet, there have been a number of studies in recent decades which are beginning to sketch out aspects of this spiritual journey. Or at least those aspects which leave indicators in our physiology. I find this fascinating.
So what is a “typical” education for priests?
This varies quite a bit. This is obvious once one thinks about it. Just think of the huge variety of churches in the world. They each have vastly different understandings and exist in varying social conditions, and enjoy a rich variety in their histories. Some require their clergy to be ordained into a line of apostolic succession while others allow one to simply declare one is a pastor (and if such a person actually helps others, who is to say the Spirit is not present?). All of this effects the internal traditions of this multitude of churches, which is in turn reflected in their educational needs as well.
Among the more rigorous theological models are those observed by the Methodist and Jesuit seminaries. (Although early in their formation the Methodists were criticized for exactly the opposite.) The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in general is among the more lengthy and extensive educational models, especially in the education of Jesuits. In each of the above traditions the educational course may be expected to last at least five or six years.
Taking a wider view, one might observe a number of religious educational models. In the RCC model alone, for example (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_priest):
In the United States, priests must have a four-year university degree in Catholic philosophy plus an additional four to five years of graduate-level seminary formation in theology with a focus on Biblical research. A Master of Divinity is the most common degree.
In Scotland, there is a mandatory year of preparation before entering seminary for a year dedicated to spiritual formation, followed by several years of study.
In Europe, Australasia and North America, seminarians usually graduate with a Master of Divinity or a Master of Theology degree, which is a four-year professional degree (as opposed to a Master of Arts which is an academic degree). At least four years are to be in theological studies at the major seminary.
In Africa, Asia and South America, programmes are more flexible, being developed according to the age and academic abilities of those preparing for ordination.
If we now extend this to consider religious educational paths other than RCC we will find a wider academic range. But rather than attempt to detail this, I would rather turn the discussion toward the history of the church and whether apostolic succession is required… among other bones of contention! This is where we will begin to appreciate some of the key differences among expressions of faith. This will require a brief look into the historic evolution of the Christian church to more deeply appreciate the underlying differences that separate the various denominations.
And keep in mind, this is only taking a quick look at a slice of *Christian* beliefs and practices! Once one includes other faiths the variety of religious expression and understanding becomes quite complex and very rich. Religion, faith, and spirituality is certainly a fascinating area of study!
Please, stay tuned to my blog to hear more of these interesting topics (well, interesting to me at any rate, heheh) as my answer continues!