The motto of the Church is “WITH TRUTH, WORK, AND STRUGGLE, WE WILL SUCCEED”1
Prawdą, Pracą, and Walką are the Polish words for Truth, Work, and Struggle which are part of the PNCC symbol.
This essay is a continuation in a series of studies on Roman Catholicism which appear on my website and blog. Emphasis was placed on Roman in order to avoid confusion with primitive Christianity and the Old Catholic Church which happen to be referenced in many books on the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC). Even so, I’ve decided to include the PNCC or National Church in this series of studies since the PNCC is essentially an offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Polish National Catholic Church was founded March 14, 1897 in Scranton, Pennsylvania under the leadership of the Rev. Francis Hodur who was consecrated a bishop under the auspices of the Old Catholic Church, Utrecht, Holland.2
The first Polish immigrants began to arrive in Scranton, PA around 1871. These early settlers in the Scranton area were mostly employed as coal miners and common laborers; on the other hand, the city officials, police, teachers, and bishops were mainly Irish or German.3 As a result, in addition to being oppressed by their working and living conditions, the Polish immigrants were isolated in their newly adopted country because of their language and culture.4
For the most part, the Polish immigrants in America were marginalized by the civil authorities and similarly, in their churches, found their grievances arising out of conflict between parishioners and priest to be summarily dismissed by the ecclesiastical authorities.
The Polish immigrants who came to America, like their German and Irish counterparts, brought their language, customs and cultural heritage with them. Those immigrants who were also devout Roman Catholics desired to be represented by pastors and bishops of their own “ethnicity.”5 In the early 1850s, the Irish immigrants complained about the disproportionate number of French bishops and priests; likewise, German immigrants complained about the lack of German bishops and priests.6 As expected, the Roman Catholic hierarchy granted the petitions of those ethnic groups, but ignored similar petitions of the Polish immigrants.
Nevertheless, the Polish immigrants at first expected, then demanded, that they be given more autonomy over the affairs of their parish. Discontent and tensions began to build in the Scranton parish forcing the congregation to escalate their grievances to the bishop, but the bishop refused to grant their demands.7
Under the advisement of Rev. Hodur, the aggrieved Polish parishioners in Scranton decided to build their own church. They named their new church “St. Stanislaus Polish Roman Catholic Church of Scranton, Pennsylvania” indicating their intention to stay within the Roman Catholic Church.8 It’s interesting to note that not even the Rev. Hodur intended to sever ties with the “Roman ecclesiastical organization.”9 Rev. Hodur finally travelled to Rome in order to present his parishioners’ petition directly to the pope but was refused by Cardinal Ledochowski.10 After returning to Scranton, the Rev. Hodur presented his report to the congregation and left it to them to decide what was to be done next—the rest is history.
And as the Rev. Wlodarski points out, there are three reasons why congregations break with the Roman Catholic Church and they are disagreements with: Liturgy (form of worship), Doctrine (teachings), and Ecclesiastical Polity (church governance).11 The National Church severed ties with Rome because it disagreed with the Roman Church’s authoritarian top-down governing structure.
The Scranton National Church is now known as St. Stanislaus Cathedral.
While the Polish National church officially severed ties with Rome on December 16, 1900 it still maintained its “catholicity” even though the claim was repeatedly challenged by the Roman church.12 Nevertheless, many aspects of Catholicism including some that were also adopted by Rome, were maintained in the PNCC, for example: Mary as the Mother of God, The Mass, Apostolic Succession, and the Sacraments. On the other hand, the following aspects of Roman Catholicism were rejected: Papal Infallibility, Immaculate Conception, and the Latin Liturgy.
Apostolic Succession is a redundant doctrine. The word “apostle” means “messenger” or “ambassador” so given that meaning, all true followers of Jesus can be considered apostles. Doesn’t the Bible require all Christians to spread the Gospel? (Rom. 10:14-15) According to Scripture, there were 12 and only twelve original disciples of Jesus, but there can be many apostles—Paul is an example. The issue is not with apostolic title and function, the problem is with apostolic authority.
It seems peculiar that the PNCC would reject the doctrine of Papal infallibility yet hold fast to apostolic succession given that Peter is considered the first pope, and who was also one of the original apostles. The PNCC seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. Since the National Church wanted autonomy from Rome, they are in effect saying that neither the pope nor their bishops were legitimate which effectively undermines any claim of apostolic authority. Besides, in this time of COVID-19 pandemic, those infected in northern Italy could have used some apostolic laying on of hands. (Mark 16:18)
Maybe those in the Catholic Church should refrain from making claims of apostolic authority and instead identify themselves as “keepers of the faith” which is who they really were anyway.
According to The Declaration of Scranton of 2008, the PNCC rejects the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the dogmatization of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary according to Catholic teaching.13 On the surface, this seems to be a rejection of Rome’s Marian Theology, but upon closer examination, most of the Marian beliefs remain intact. For example, according to “The Canon of the Mass” of the PNCC, Mary still retains her “Mother of God” title and her intercessory function.
Deliver us, we beseech thee, O Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come; and by the intercession of the blessed and glorious Mother of God, Mary…14
It’s noteworthy that the Rev. Hodur, refrained from using the term “Redeemer” when referring to Jesus; he preferred using the term “Regenerator.”15 Rev. Hodur confused Jesus, whose actual role is redeemer, with the Holy Spirit, whose role is regenerator when he tried to use the narrative of Jesus and Nicodemus to defend his position.
I believe the most notable theological distinctive of the PNCC is its belief in the “universal salvation” of mankind. That is, the belief that eventually, all mankind will be reconciled to God. Principle VII, of “The Eleven Great Principles,” states:
In Holy Scripture and especially in the Books of the New Testament, we find numerous accounts which confirm the above optimistic view concerning the gradual development and final salvation of individual man and of the whole human race.16
Rev. Hodur, so convinced of the doctrine of universal salvation, was inspired to write that he was “convinced that to frighten people with pitch, sulphur, fire and the devil is highly immoral”17 and that “Belief in an overwhelmingly diabolic power that contradicts the Christian teaching of God.”18
And since everyone will be saved there is no need for a literal hell or lake of fire. Rev. Hodur believed descriptive terms like these were analogous to actual places the Jewish inhabitants would recognize:
Expressions such as: eternal fire, undying worm, fiery place, depths of hell, place of torment, outer darkness where there shall be wailing and the gnashing of teeth, a lake burning with fire full of brimstone and pitch and similar phrases, are expressive illustrations, having the purpose of depicting the greatness of guilt and punishment for sinners; but were not meant to indicate hell in the Roman Catholic sense of the term.19
It appears that the sacramental system and the Holy Mass were brought over intact from the Roman system since nothing is really called out about these doctrines in any of the historical PNCC documents.
Fox points out near the end of the main body of his book that the Polish National Church only retains 25% of its former [Roman] Catholicism.20 Based on what I’ve read and from what I’ve included in this writing, I’d say that percentage is more like 75%, but I guess it depends on how you count.
Francis Hodur’s book Apocalypse or The Revalation of the XXth Century is divided into two parts; the first part Historical-Sociological and the second part Evangelical-Prophetic. Reading the title, at first glance, gives the impression that the book somehow deals with the biblical Book of Revelation but that would be an incorrect assumption. In fact, the first part of the book is a diatribe against the Roman Catholic Church in general and the Pope in particular. The second part of the book is Christian allegory, reminiscent of the classic John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress since both writings tell the story of a journey.
Hodur’s book reveals a great deal about his theology, specifically his belief that the Church’s primary responsibility is to bring about the Kingdom of God or Divine Kingdom here on earth.21 As a result, Hodur took many social and economic positions that would categorize him today as being in line with the tenants of liberation theology. After all, isn’t Jesus the emancipator of the working class?22 Nevertheless, I would go so far to say the Hodur believed in theocratic socialism.23 24 Furthermore, I also don’t believe it would be much of stretch to say that Hodur’s rhetoric eerily resembles that of a New Communist.
They painted enticing picture of foreign countries where the nation is divided into higher and lower strata. The lower stratum, villagers and townsmen, is the base on which the upper stratum prospers splendidly by having the land, factories and banks and education. This stratum rules the nation with the help of high officials whom they appoint, assisted by a well-fed and uniformed army and the help of a police force ready to eliminate at any moment the opponents of the social order. 25
Surprisingly, Hodur seemed to agree with Hislop’s book The Two Babylons that certain Roman Catholic teachings originated in Babylon and Syria, yet at the same time split with most fundamentalist Christian teachings on Rome returning to its former power and glory.26
While theologically, Hodur got many things right by opposing Roman Catholic doctrines, such as: laymen excluded from interpreting religious truths,27 clerical celibacy,28 and the selling of indulgences;29 I believe he also got many things wrong.
Hodur seemed to believe that God was taken by surprise by Adam’s disobedience or sin when he claimed that Satan “paralyzed the activity of the Almighty and led the first human couple astray.”32 This doesn’t sound like someone who believed in God’s omnipotence.
In addition, since Hodur accepted the error of the universal salvation of mankind, he was found in opposition to God’s plan for mankind’s salvation since he indirectly accused God of acting against His own nature when he asked, “How then, as the teachings of the Roman Church would have it, could the Lord God on each occasion create a human soul already emburdened by sin, guilt, inimical to God, favoring satan and even subject to him?”33
The “National” in The Polish National Catholic Church is not to say that the church is nationalistic. In fact, the PNCC is an ecumenical church; the National in its name indicates that the church is independent of the Roman Catholic Church.
The PNCC’s break with Rome was over church governance issues, not with doctrine.
Even though the PNCC separated itself from the authority and leadership of the Roman Catholic Pope, it retained much of the doctrines and liturgy of traditional Catholic churches.
As an FYI, I found a local PNCC congregation, St. Paul Parish, in Belleview, Florida.
“The Symbol of Our Church,” Polish National Catholic Church, accessed April 07, 2020, http://www.pncc.org/. ↩
Paul Fox, The Polish National Catholic Church, (Scranton, School of Christian Living, 1961), 119. ↩
PNCC NSOCL Commission, An Abridged History of The Polish National Catholic Church, (Scranton, PNCC, 2012), 7. ↩
Ibid., 4. ↩
Ibid., 7. ↩
Fox, The Polish National Catholic Church, 24. ↩
Ibid., 25. ↩
Stephen Wlodarski, The Origin and Growth of The Polish National Catholic Church, (Scranton, PNCC, 1974), 175-176. ↩
Ibid., 75. ↩
NSOCL Commission, An Abridged History, 50. ↩
Fox, The Polish National Catholic Church, 107. ↩
Wlodarski, Origin and Growth, 179. ↩
Ibid., 222. ↩
Ibid., 177. ↩
Ibid., 222. ↩
Fox, The Polish National Catholic Church, 93. ↩
Francis Hodur, Apocalypse or The Revelation of the XXth Century, (Scranton, PNCC, 1977), 113. ↩
Ibid., 119. ↩
Ibid., 48. ↩
Ibid., 61-63. ↩
Ibid., 161-162. ↩
Ibid., 14. ↩
Ibid., 25. ↩
Ibid., 87. ↩
Ibid., 71. ↩
Ibid., 28. ↩
Ibid., 32. ↩
Ibid., 28. ↩
Ibid., 33. ↩