Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria
The Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria (formerly The Imperial Church of the Alexandrians) is the state church of the Empire of Alexandria. Founded around 600AD by St Luis it has experienced two schisms in it's long history and though it remains the state church, it no longer bears Imperial patronage. Headed by the Patriarch-Archbishop of Port-Réal, the Church is administrated by the See of St Luis which has it's official and ceremonial base at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in the Imperial Capital District.
Until ___________________, the church was known as The Imperial Church of the Alexandrians because of it's Imperial patronage. With the Emperor at it's head, the church was considered to be an extension of the Emperor's possessions in state but his role was limited with much of it's administration and direction led by the most senior cleric, the Archbishop of Port-Réal. When Imperial patronage was removed from the church, a council of the most senior clergy was convened at the Basilica of the Most Sacred Blood in Valenciennes where a new constitution for the governance of the church was authored and promulgated. The resulting constitution declared that the church would be renamed as The Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria.
Autocephalous was to denote the break from the Crown's authority and refers to the power the See of St Luis holds to govern the church, it's doctrine and it's members. In this instance, the word "Catholic" is used in it's traditional form to mean "universal". This proved controversial and some suggested that the declining role of the church and a shortfall in membership suggested that the church had no rights to impose it's seniority on other Christian churches or other faiths which are represented in modern day Alexandria. Regardless of this, the ______________ constitution of the state church was later ratified by parliament and so officially it remains 'The Autocephalous Catholic Church of Alexandria'.
Introduction of Christianity to Alexandria
The first documented existence of Christian structures and writings appear in texts housed in the Imperial Library which were collected in the 16th century from all existing monastic houses. Before this time, the vast majority of the population could not read or write and only monks were trained as scribes to document important national events. As a result, early church history was collated in the abbeys, monasteries, convents and seminaries which began to spring up around 600AD following the success of St Luis in introducing Christianity to Alexandria. By the 9th century AD, the entire population of Alexandria was Christianised. The Royal Church of St Luis the Missionary was the first formal state sponsored Christian church to exist in Alexandria and was established by decree of King Josephus I (later St. Joseph de Markion) in 810AD.
The early church was simply an extension of the King's authority from temporal to spiritual matters. The Church was organised so that not only was the King head of the church but he also had supreme authority to name all clerics and to establish and form new dioceses. Josephus I demanded that all clergy take an oath of allegiance to him which many were unwilling to do and were martyred as a result. With a new administration installed which approved (at least publicly) of the King's patronage, the Church began to issue it's first documents in around 812AD and included the First Catechism and the Royal Book of Days. Both of these texts have since been revised or even dispensed with but in the 9th century, these were documents which governed every day life throughout the Kingdom of Alexandria.
The Luisian Doctrine
The early church based almost it's entire catechism on the writings and teachings of St Luis. Collectively, these teachings were known as 'Luisian Doctrine' but today the term is used to denote two specific teachings which resulted in a major schism in the Royal Church in the 16th century. Luisian Doctrine in it's entirety governed much of the daily life of ordinary people. It prescribed twice-weekly confession, days of abstinence and other devotionals which were seen as canon. But it also dictated how worship should be conducted and even detailed how churches should be built and the rules which governed them. What is today known as 'The Luisian Doctrine' refers specifically to part of a text written by St Luis the Missionary which insists:-
"And let not a man or woman or child who hath not the blessing and state of holy ordination step from among you to the place where the Saviour dwells for in this way the people shall defile the sanctity of that place and shall cause no prayers to be heard within it"
In the early church, the Chancel (the space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary) was therefore a forbidden space to anyone who wasn't ordained or had taken holy orders. The faithful were split from the Chancel by an enormous grill made of wood or metal which was only unlocked for the celebrant of the Mass to bring the sacrament from the altar down into the gallery where it would be given to those who were free of mortal sin and could therefore receive it. The interpretation of the doctrine had been debated and challenged many times but the ruling remained unchanged. The faithful were not only forbidden from entering the Chancel but they were also forbidden from seeing the Mass celebrated. The phrase "hearing Mass" is still used today and is a reminder of a time when the only participation in the Mass allowed to most was to hear the words said by the priest and the chants of the choir.
But many churches interpreted the doctrine differently from the canon. By the 12th century, most had constructed a second grill which divided the nave and the narthex. The faithful would gather in the narthex (the entrance lobby to the church) and would try to hear mass there. Those considered to be "in holy estate" (those who had confessed and were free of any mortal sin) were allowed through the Narthex Gate and led by monastics to the gallery where they received the eucharist but were still barred from witnessing the actual Mass which took place on the altar in the sanctuary. This arrangement was open to abuse. Side chapels were built by rich patrons who would be allowed to sit in the side chapels and whilst still barred from the view of the Chancel by the grill, they could hear the Mass far more audibly than the ordinary faithful who gathered in the Narthex. Some monastics (called Narthexers) were known to accept bribes to allow people through the narthex grill to hear Mass in the nave as they had before and this led to resentment among many who felt that the church was only accessible to those who could afford it. In rare cases, priests were found to accept bribes to allow people through the Chancel gate to witness the Mass but this was rare as it carried a death sentence, usually by burning or by hanging in chains from the local battlements.
The first real opposition to the Luisian Doctrine came in 1564 when St Ricardo de Souza ordered the monastics within his church in San Martín to break down the grills which stood at the narthex and the chancel and celebrated Mass for the first time in full view of the congregation. Such was the anger that the church was set fire to by an angry mob who seized St Ricardo and buried him alive. Across Alexandria, priests and bishops began to follow Ricardo de Souza's example and by the end of 1564, the country was thrown in a religious war between those who opposed the change and those who supported it. Those who upheld the interpretation of the doctrine with it's insistence on forbidden areas and high gates within the church complex were known as Traditionalist Catholics. Those who wished to remove the doctrine were known as Liberated Catholics. Violence was so widespread that King Charles VII ordered that anyone who identified themselves as 'liberated' was to be excommunicated. A decree was passed that denied basic human rights to those who were excommunicated - this included barring them from holding tenancies (which many poor Alexandrians depended on to earn a living) and from being baptised, buried or married. For many, this reduced them to "persona non grata" and many who were excommunicated found themselves charged with vagrancy or other crimes for which harsher sentences were handed down by traditionalist magistrates keen to uphold the King's ruling.
Most of these liberated Catholics headed for the Rio Grandé where they settled and established their own houses of worship. There were harsh punishments for those who attended or established such places of worship and so much of this worship was conducted underground and secretively. Most services were held in cellars or even in caves and made no attempt to hide the Mass from the faithful. Those who practised in this way were known as "The Videans", a bastardised pejorative formed from the Latin 'ut videatur' - to be seen. The Videans continued to be persecuted for their opposition to the Luisian doctrine for the next two hundred years. These laid the foundations for the Videan Schism which would later embrace protestant theology and become the Protestant Communion of Churches which still exists to this day.