Gnostic Catholic Church

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Gnostic Catholic Church

The Gnostic Catholic Church is a contemporary occult church generally associated with the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) and the thelemic magical tradition. It exists as one faction of the Nouvelle Église Gnostique Universelle founded in 1890 by Jules-Benoit Doinel (1842-1902). Around 1890 Doinel had a mystical encounter with the Virgin Mary and was consecrated as a bishop by Jesus Christ. He in turn assumed the role of patriarch of the new church. In the four years remaining in his life he consecrated four bishops, each of whom began as the head of separate lineages and from which several dozen small jurisdictions have sprung, most teaching a form of Gnostic Christianity.

In 1892, Gerard Encausse, known publicly as Papus, accepted consecration as a bishop in Doinel's church. Through Papus, the church entered the milieu of the German and British occult orders. While Papus remained loyal to one faction of the church following its initial schism in 1908, as a bishop he possessed authority to consecrate others as he saw fit. It is claimed by some that he in fact consecrated both Theodor Reuss and Aleister Crowley, the Outer Heads of the Order of the Ordo Templi Orientis, but documentation is lacking.

What is known is that Crowley wrote a Gnostic mass that embodied thelemic teachings in a liturgy that while following much of the form of the Roman Catholic Mass was definitely not Christian in any perceptible manner. In 1917 Reuss translated that mass into German. At that time he described himself as the Head of the Gnostic Neo-Christians. He also spoke of himself as the Swiss legate of the Église Gnostique Universelle, the faction of Doinel's original church to which Papus was aligned. That church was headed by Jean Baptiste Bricaud (1881-1934), reportedly consecrated by Papus in 1911. He would later accept several additional consecrations. Bricaud also advocated the use of Crowley's mass in Freemason circles, but his efforts were turned back.

Toward the end of Crowley's life and during the years of the leadership of the Ordo Templi Orientis by Crowley's successor, Karl Johannes Germer, the order dwindled almost to the point of nonexistence. The issue of the Gnostic Catholic Church and the performance of the Gnostic mass was put aside. Then in 1957 in Switzerland, Hermann Joseph Metzer, a local leader in the OTO, accepted consecration as a bishop of the Gnostic Catholic Church from Herbert Fritsche (1911-1960) of the Doinel factions. He succeeded Frische as patriarch of that church in 1960. In 1963, following Germer's death, he held an election among the German OTO leaders and proclaimed himself as the new international Outer Head of the Order of the OTO. He then moved to create an integrated system that included both the OTO and the Gnostic Catholic Church.

In the 1970s, the OTO in America revived under the leadership of Grady McMurtry as its caliph. It was asserted that the Outer Head of the Order was also the patriarch of the Gnostic Catholic Church and that McMurtry had an implied consecration through the same emergency documents by which he assumed leadership of the American OTO after Germer's death. This assertion made McMurtry's role as head of the church extremely tenuous, being based on both an undocumented consecration of Crowley by Papus and the unstate consecration of McMurtry by Crowley. McMurtry's successor, William Breeze, has largely laid the controversy over the church to rest by his reception of the consecration of Jack Hogg, a bishop of the Gnostic Church of Thelema, whose lineage can be traced to Doinel. However, it has also been enriched by the lineage of Joseph René Vilatte through the American Catholic Church. The American Catholic Church adopted a theosophical theological position in the middle of the twentieth century. All ninth-degree members of the American OTO are now considered bishops in the Gnostic Catholic Church and its head as the church's patriarch.


Anson, Peter. Bishops at Large. London: Faber and Faber, 1964.

Koenig, Peter R. "Hermann Joseph MetzgerOHO of the O.T.O. and Patriarch of the Gnostic Catholic Church." April 23, 2000.

. "Stranded Bishops." April 23, 2000.

Ward, Gary L., Bertil Persson, and Alan Bain, eds. Independent Bishops: An International Directory. Detroit: Apogee Press, 1990.