Today sees the 120th anniversary of the episcopal consecration of the 5th Prince-Abbot of San Luigi, Joseph III (Joseph-René Vilatte) (1854-1929) by bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church on May 29, 1892.
Mgr. Vilatte was not required to subject himself to the beliefs of the Syrians (the Monophysite faith), but instead was to be consecrated in the light of his Old Catholic faith, and for that mission specifically as the second Western Rite mission of the Syrian church (the first having been constituted under Mar Julius of Iona (Ferrette) in 1866). Somewhat unexpectedly, the Syrian church did not simply press ahead, but instead entered upon a very detailed and lengthy process of enquiry into Mgr. Vilatte’s suitability, testing him thoroughly in every aspect of ministry. It was not until 26 May 1892 – by which time Mgr. Vilatte had been waiting in Ceylon for nine months, much longer than he had anticipated – that, all processes being completed, Mgr. Vilatte was professed as Ramban (priest-monk) by Mar Julius I Alvarez, Metropolitan of Goa, Ceylon and Greater India. Mgr. Vilatte was then required to undertake three days of fasting and prayer before he was to be consecrated.
A Bull for his consecration was issued by Maran Mar Ignatius XXXIV Peter III/IV, Patriarch of The Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East on 29 December 1891 (received in Malabar on 25 March 1892), whose official translation (below right) read as follows,
We, the humble servant of God, hereby allow the consecration by the Holy Ghost of the Priest Joseph René Vilatte, elected for Archepiscopal dignity, Archbishop Metropolitan, in the name of Mar Timotheus, for the church of the Mother of God in Dyckesville, Wisconsin, United States, and other churches in the Archdiocese of America, viz, the churches adhering to the Orthodox Faith, in the name of the Father, Amen, of the Son, Amen, and of the Living Holy Ghost, Amen.
We stand up before God’s majesty, and, raising up our hands towards His grace, pray that the Holy Ghost may descend upon him, as He did upon the Apostles at the time of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom they were made Patriarchs, Bishops and Priests, and were authorised to bind and loose, as written by St. Matthew.
We, therefore, by virtue of our authority received from God, authorise him to bind and loose, and, elevating our voice, we offer thanks to God, and exclaim, “Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison.” Again, we pray to God to grant him cheer of face before His throne of majesty, and that at all times for ever and ever.
Given on the seventeenth of Canon Kadmayo, of the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and ninety one (corresponding to the twenty-ninth of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-one), from the Patriarch, Patriarchal Palace, of the monastery of Safran at Mardin.
(Seal) IGNATIUS PETER III
(Seal) Mar DIONYSIUS,
Metropolitan of Malabar
Secretary to the Metropolitan of Malabar
After this, Mar Julius I Alvarez himself had to travel to Malabar to make the necessary plans with other clergy, and returned to Colombo on 25 May with the other bishops who would assist him in the consecration.
On 29 May 1892, the Sunday before Whit Sunday, Mgr. Vilatte was consecrated as Mar Timotheos, Archbishop Metropolitan of the Old Catholic Church of America, by Mar Julius I Alvarez assisted by bishops Paulose Mar Athanasius (Kadavil Kooran) and Geevarghese Mar Gregorios (Chathuruthil) in The Cathedral of Our Lady of Good Death, Huttisdorf, Colombo. The ceremony was performed “according to the formalities of the Latin Ritual,” (but clearly with the omission of the filioque) and indeed Mar Julius I had written to Mgr. Vilatte on 10 May 1891 affirming the Latin Rite nature of his church, “We also retain the Missale Romanum and Rituals with everything connected with the Latin Rite, mutatis mutandis…”
On the same day, Mar Timotheos was appointed by Mar Julius I as the successor of Brother James of St Basil as Superior-General of the Orthodox-Catholic Guild of St Columba of Iona.
Mar Timotheos was issued with a consecration document in English on 5 June, and on the same day received a supply of Holy Myron (chrism) that had been personally consecrated by Maran Mar Ignatius XXXIV Peter III/IV.
His Instrument of Consecration read as follows,
“In the Name of the Essential, eternal, Self-existing, Almighty God. A.F.X. Alvarez Julius I Paul Mar Athanasius, and George Mar Gregorius, Metropolitans under Antioch.
(Seal – Mar Athanasius) (Seal – Mar Gregorius) (Seal – Alvarez/Julius I)
This is to certify that the Rev. Joseph René Vilatte was duly raised to the Order of Monkhood: and in virtue of the special authority conferred upon us on the fifteenth of the second Konum Kolim by the Apostolical Edict of the Most Exalted Father and Head, His Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Peter III, Patriarch of the Apostolic See of Antioch and of all the East, the said Monk, amidst solemn Mass, Prayers, and Services, was this day Consecrated by the Holy Spirit, Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of America, in the meantime the Patriarchal Bull and the hands of our weaknesses being laid on his head. As commanded in His Holiness’ Edict, he was entitled Mar Timotheus; and we, together with the assembled faithful, exclaimed, as is usual, “Worthy, Worthy, Worthy, our Father Timotheus of the said Dioceses.”
This sublime gift bestowed upon him by God, through the precious intercession of His Holiness, legally authorises him to ordain monks, priests, deacons, etc., to consecrate churches, chancels, as well as baptismal and unctional oil, and to exercise with perfect efficiency all other spiritual functions appertaining to Metropolitan dignity, subject to the Patriarch of Antioch.
We entrust to his care the general epistle from the Holy See addressed to the believers of the above said Dioceses; also we have to add, that His Holiness the Patriarch is prayed and expected to speedily dispatch the staticon, definitely describing his authority and jurisdiction.
Church of Our Lady of Good Death, Columbo, Ceylon, twenty-ninth day of May eighteen hundred and ninety-two (29 5 1892).
/Signed/ Mar ATHANASIUS,
Bishop of Kottayam
/Signed/ Mar GREGORIUS,
Bishop of Niranam
/Signed/ A.F.X. ALVAREZ/JULIUS I.,
Archbishop-Metropolitan for the Archdiocese of Ceylon, Goa and the whole of India.”
A second Instrument in English was also issued by Mar Julius I alone as follows,
“In the Name of the Essential, eternal, Self-existing, Almighty God.
Antonio Francisco Xavier Julius I, by the grace of God Archbishop of Ceylon, Goa and India, to all who may see this, health, peace, and benediction in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Know all men by these presents that on the twenty-ninth day of the month of May, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-two, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Good Death, Hulsdorf, assisted by Mar Paul Athanasis, Bishop of Kottayam, Mar George Gregorius, Bishop of Niranam, Malabar, India, and in the presence of a large number of Christians of our jurisdiction, and others, in virtue of the powers conferred upon us by the Apostolic Succession, and by favour of His Holiness Peter III, Patriarch of the Orthodox See of Antioch, after invoking the presence of the Living Holy Ghost, we imposed our hands on the priest Joseph Renatus Vilatte, Parisian by birth and American by naturization; consecrated him with the holy oils to the Archiepiscopal dignity, according to the formalities of the Latin Ritual under the title of Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church of America, and conferred upon him the power to ordain monks and priests, to consecrate churches, chancels, cemeteries etc., and to perform all functions appertaining to Metropolitan rank.
Given from our Archiepiscopal residence, Cathedral of Our Lady of Good Death, Colombo, Ceylon, this day, Pentecost, 5th of June, one thousand, eight hundred and ninety-two.
/Signed and sealed/ + JULIUS I., Archbishop of Ceylon, Goa and India.
/Signed and sealed/W. Morey, United States Consul at Ceylon
/Signed and sealed/Lisboa Pinto, F.E.A.D.M.S.”
Concerning his consecration, the “Diocesan Paper” gives the following description,
“On the day of the consecration the Church was finely decorated and not less than 5,000 people were present. Afterwards the Consul of the American Government residing in Ceylon did honour to the Syrian Metropolitans with great reverence, and at his own cost provided a band and the decorations on the day of consecration. At the time of consecration Dr. Pinto read in a clear voice the permissive order of the Patriarch of Antioch.”