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Saturday, 30 October 2010

Bishop Challoner (Part 2) - the English Mission 1730 - 1742

(Continuation of previous post)

                               KING GEORGE II (1683-1760)

When Challoner returned to England in the late summer of 1730, he found a Church silenced and generally alienated from society, with Catholics effectively barred from much community life. Apprehension, frustration and loneliness, arising from the cumulative effect of perpetual ostracism and incessant injustice and oppression, had replaced physical martyrdom. In 1723, for instance, £100,000 was automatically assessed on Catholic landowners above 18 years of age, Catholic gentry were debarred from sitting or voting in either House of Parliament; they were incapable of inheriting land so that family estates passed to Protestant next-of-kin should they so choose; they were unable to purchase land but were required to pay double land tax on such real property as they owned; they were forbidden to keep arms and were liable to be deprived of any horse above the value of £5. They were disqualified from holding any office in the army or the navy; nor could they practise as a barrister, doctor, or schoolmaster. They could not send their children to be educated abroad without a fine; and in order that due check might be kept on them and their property they were bound to register their name and estate under penalty of forfeiture, and to enrol all deeds. Although some laws were rarely enforced, they could be and occasionally were, on individual Catholics.
The situation for the clergy was even worse, with their very presence in the country illegal.   Between 1700-1778 the law was summed up as follows:-

“By the statute of Queen Elizabeth, 27, c.2, it is High Treason for any man who is proved to be a priest, to breathe in this kingdom.”

Later a 'less severe statute' was added, which authorised a fine and short imprisonment.  However to somewhat redress the 'status quo', a statute of King William III condemned any priest convicted of exercising his functions, to perpetual punishment.
It may here be remarked that the 'less severe statute' did not supersede the statute of Elizabeth, 27, and that the act of William III was so far from being a dead letter, that a priest, Fr.John Baptist Maloney, was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, under its provisions, as late as 1767.

                                 THE BENCH  -  by W.Hogarth
During three-quarters of the 18th century there was intermittent application of the penal code which ensured that the possibility of enforcement was an ever present threat. In 1730 the political situation was hostile to Catholics, and throughout the country the Faith was maintained almost wholly through the efforts of those gentry  who, by supporting private chaplains, and giving employment, maintained as it were, tiny oases of Catholicism. Should these families apostatize, or die out, or suffer financial exhaustion, both the source of Catholic teaching and the support which their poorer neighbours received, would  automatically end. Each such failure was like the loss of an important outpost in a hostile land, with no possibility of recapture. Eventually and logically, the extinction of the Faith outside London seemed to be only a question of time.
     In London, the several embassy chapels protected by diplomatic immunity,  ensured that the Mass and the Sacraments were at least available to the laity. Even so there was no expansion of the faith in these quarters, for which Bishop Petre, in his letter to Rome of 1737, blamed some of the clergy,  "Several of the missioners, as we behold, not without deep grief of mind, are inflamed with no zeal for souls, but seek the things which are their own and not the things of Jesus Christ. Not a few of them, even, either entirely rough and ignorant, or being men of bad character, give scandal both to Catholics and others.”

      THINK WELL ON'T (1728) -  by Richard Challoner

 In stark contrast, Charles Butler in his biography of Richard Challoner, had this to say:

"From his arrival in London till he was consecrated Bishop, he was a perfect model of a Missionary Priest. He avoided more intercourse with the world than was absolutely necessary, assiduous in the discharge of his duties, with daily meditation, celebration of Mass, and reading of office; frequently visiting his flock carrying piety and recollection wherever he went; he was cheerful, and the cause of cheerfulness in others; always serene, affable, unaffected, prudent and charitable, never said anything which tended, even remotely, to his own advantage.  He reproved with the greatest gentleness, his conduct abundantly verifying the golden maxim of St Francis de Sales, ‘that a good man is never outdone in good manner’.  His visits were always short, and nothing, except the most urgent necessity, ever kept him from returning to his abode at a very early hour, that he might be in the way to hear confessions, to give advice, to catechise, to attend to the calls of the sick or dying, or to exercise any other missionary duty, for which it should be necessary or expedient that he should then be found at home…….he considered himself as particularly commissioned to preach the gospel to the poor, whose cellars, garrets, hospitals, workhouses and prisons were much more agreeable, as well as familiar, to him than the splendid habitations of the great and opulent …..”
                                    BISHOP CHALLONER

Little is known of the details of his early years in London, but it is believed that he lived north of Holborn, and worked in that area, always in disguise. He seems to have been successful in reclaiming bad Catholics and making converts. His subsequent catechetical and controversial works illustrate his method, which was to lay a solid foundation of instruction on which to base his exhortations. To touch the will through the intelligence was his objective. His first appeal was always to authority; to the authority of the Church if he is addressing Catholics, to that of Scripture if he is arguing with others. His presentation was always orderly and methodical, and confined strictly to the matter in hand; citations from Scripture, dogmatic truths, theological arguments, historical facts, are all gathered together in the closest compass. When this task had been accomplished he made what may be regarded as the personal appeal, and, if necessary, pleaded, encouraged and exhorted with deep conviction and earnestness. But all his efforts in this direction were immediately based on the truths which he had been at pains to establish.
In 1732 he published two works ‘The Unerring Authority of the Catholic Church in matters of Faith…..’ and ‘The Grounds of the Catholic Doctrine contained in the Profession of Faith, published by Pope Pius IV, by way of question and answer’

In 1734, Bishop Giffard died, aged 92 years, and was succeeded by Bishop Benjamin Petre who immediately appointed Challoner his Vicar General. 
Between 1734 and 1737, in spite of his additional responsibilities, Challoner wrote five more controversial works,  as well as editing a new edition of Gother’s ‘Essay on the Change and Choice of Religion’ and providing a new translation of the ‘Imitation of Christ’. His final book of this period was entitled ‘The Catholic Christian instructed in the Sacraments, Sacrifice, Ceremonies and Observances of the Church’ which for more than a century was to remain the standard work of instruction on these points.
                It contained more than its name implied, however, for its preface was devoted to refuting the main contentions of the ‘Letter from Rome showing an exact conformity between Popery and Paganism: or the Religion of the present Romans derived from that of their heathen ancestors’,  by the Protestant writer Dr Conyers Middleton.
                In his refutation Challoner added light humour to his usual framework of logic and erudition, and from his secret lodging in the slums of Holborn, fighting an apparently losing battle and himself an outlaw, Challoner made gentle fun of Dr Middleton.  The latter was not amused, and seizing on Challoner’s references to the Anglican Church, used these as evidence of the author’s disaffection to his sovereign – an offence under the existing penal code. 

 Dr CONYERS MIDDLETON - Protestant writer and theologian
 “It was not in the power of Dr Middleton, with all his store of ancient learning and all his powers of language, to give anything like an answer to the arguments above stated: but in return he was enabled to bring in the penal laws to the aid of his defective logic and theology. In short, the situation of Dr Challoner, after the publication of this ‘Catholic Christian Instructed’, with the preface to it, became so much exposed to danger, which others shared together with him, that he was advised to retire out of the kingdom for a certain space of time’ (Rev. Milner in his ‘Brief Account’).

Thus in mid September 1737, Challoner returned to Douai, but it was not to be a time of rest, for the ailing President,  Dr Witham, took the opportunity to nominate Challoner as his successor. In May 1738 Dr Witham died, and Challoner succeeded him as head of the College.
Challoner now found himself in an awkward situation, for he was highly regarded by Bishop Petre, who flatly refused to agree to his taking the post at Douai. Furthermore in writing to Rome in April 1739, the former was full of praise for Challoner’s  “many remarkable gifts of mind, his great humility and gentleness, by his assiduous fidelity in reclaiming sinners to the way of life taught by the Gospel and to the truths of our religion; by his marvellous power in preaching, in instructing the ignorant and in writing books both spiritual and controversial, he has won not only the esteem but the veneration of all who have either heard him preach or who have read his books.” Bishop Petre then expressed his wish for Challoner to be his Coadjutor.

                               POPE CLEMENT XII  (1730-1740)

Thus it was that with Papal approval, in September 1739, Challoner was appointed titular Bishop of Debra, also Coadjutor to Bishop Petre with right of succession to the London District. Initially Challoner begged to be excused from accepting these appointments, alleging that he was an improper person to be made Bishop, being born of parents who were not members of the Catholic Church; and that he himself had professed the erroneous opinions of his parents. This purely technical objection was overcome after some delay, and on 29 January 1741, the feast of St Francis de Sales, Bishop Petre consecrated his coadjutor. There is no record of the details of the consecration except that it was in a small, hidden convent in Hammersmith, where Bishop Giffard had died, and where a community established by Queen Catherine of Braganza, had preserved the secret of its religious life.

    In 1740 was published possibly Challoner’s most famous work, namely ‘The Garden of the Soul: or a Manual of Spiritual Exercises and Instructions for Christians, who living in the World, aspire to devotion.’ This small and inexpensive work combined the functions of a prayer book with information, instructions and practical advice, and it proved so popular that seven editions were printed in seventeen years. The difference between the ‘Garden of the Soul’ and its predecessors was that it gave, as it were, the theory as well as the practice: it was a treatise on the spiritual life, as well as a collection of exercises therein.

The London District included Kent, Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, Hertfordshire, Sussex, Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, and Jersey and Guernsey;  also Maryland and Pennsylvania in the American colonies, and certain islands in the West Indies. There were about 20,000 Catholics in London itself,  and in the counties which formed the London Vicariate were an additional 4/5000 souls. Early in June 1741, Challoner set off on his first visitation which was to take two years in all, when combined with the ordinary work of the vicariate. Today it is normal to find a Catholic church in most large towns, with perhaps the occasional country chapel. In the 18th century the situation was reversed and in the ten counties forming the London Vicariate almost all the centres of Catholic life were found in the country seats of the nobility and gentry. Every Catholic estate had a priest and a congregation. The clergy themselves were in an anomalous position for as private chaplains they could be employed or dismissed at will, and as such were not at the effective disposition of their Bishop. Additionally the situation was complicated by many Catholics preferring to have chaplains belonging to a religious order over whom the Bishop had less control than ever, for it was for many years contended that he had no right either to give or withdraw faculties, and all that he could reasonably expect was that they should intimate to him the faculties they had received from their own superiors.

Challoner returned to London on 19 July 1741 on completion of the first part of his visitation, having visited twenty congregations and confirmed over 800 persons. He then immediately commenced work on a new book, ‘Memoirs of Missionary Priests, as well Secular as Regular and of other Catholics of both sexes, that have suffered death in England, on Religious Accounts, from the Year of Our Lord 1577 to1684’. This was published in 1742 in two volumes and won itself a place with his ‘Garden of the Soul’ and ‘Meditations’ in the affections of Catholics. “We pretend not to make Panegyrics of any of these brave men,” he wrote, “but merely to deliver short memoirs of what we found most remarkable in their lives and particularly in their deaths.”

                              St JOHN SOUTHWORTH  (1592-1654)

His purpose in writing this book was to enable and encourage the English Catholics of the day - who had  little going for them and no expectation of better things to come, to find  spiritual consolation and strength from the lives of their faithful  predecessors. Up to this time there was no recorded English version of their lives. There were some individual biographies in French, Spanish and Italian, and probably more in Latin in rare and ancient works and in inaccessible archives. Challoner’s task was to collect, examine and arrange, to translate and abridge, and finally to present in suitable form,  material from manuscripts, books and records, scattered widely throughout Britain and the Continent. He was assisted by Rev.Alban Butler at Douai, who transcribed many of the original documents, amounting to some four hundred memoirs. Challoner’s account is written in the way of an ancient chronicler, setting down without comment, deeds which speak for themselves, and telling it  simply and straightforwardly, without pause, protest or debate, and as though present at the scene. It concerned people of whom he would write, “there was not a man of them all, but might have saved his life, if he would but have conformed in matters of religion.”
  For those of his flock for whom he wrote, conformity would have brought all that made life in their world worth living. Their temptation was one of despair in an hostile environment, and this book and others like it, provided the spiritual sustenance and encouragement so desperately needed  for their faith to survive.

    In the autumn of 1741 Challoner resumed his visitation through the counties of Surrey, Middlesex, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and into Hampshire, eventually reaching Winchester with its sizeable Catholic community of some 300 souls, plus an additional 400 from surrounding congregations. On route he visited East Hendred where the Eyston family maintained an unbroken tradition of Catholicity, and where in their  13th century private chapel of St Amand he celebrated Mass and confirmed some twenty-five parishioners.    Winchester had its own resident priest, occupying  St Peter’s House, where apparently the Catholic Church and presbytery still stands to this day. A feature peculiar to Winchester, was that the Catholics had retained the use of the ancient Catholic cemetery of St James, where Dr Challoner’s mother had been buried. Challoner remained at Winchester for two or three days, confirming some 100 people, and  leaving on the 26th October to ensure his return to London by 1st November, the feast of All Saints.

            St AMANDS 13th century Chapel, East Hendred, Oxon.

Challoner now completed a new work entitled ‘The Grounds of the Old Religion’, his longest apologetical work, being the practical outcome of his method of bringing before all men the claims of the Catholic Church to be the only “pillar and ground of truth”, the one divinely appointed authority in regard to revelation.
He wrote “the things of this world all seem to stand against the Old Religion in this Nation: the general prejudice of the people, the penal laws, the authority of the magistrate, the interest of the clergy, the eloquence of the pulpit, the learning of the Universities, the favour of men in power, the influence of education; in a word, all temporal considerations of honour, profit and pleasure are visibly on the Protestant side.” Against this, he adds that he presents “a set of motives of a superior nature” which will satisfy his reader “that if he has the World against him, he has at least God and His truth on his side”.

                                      ' TU ES PETRUS .......'

  The ‘superior motives’ were simply the arguments in favour of the divine authority of the Catholic Church, which he insisted on as the basis of his position. One particular line of argument he used, was directed against the reformers of the XVI century, both Continental heresiarchs and the first prelates intruded by Elizabeth into the English sees. He offers an historical  examination of their lives and writings, with a view to showing that such men were unworthy of being accepted as religious guides, or as witnesses against the traditions of the Church., asserting both the novelty of the reformed doctrines and the unsatisfactory characters of the reformers.


                            KING HENRY VIII  (1539)  -  by Holbein

"Nothing,"he writes, "makes more for the old Religion, than an impartial view of the first origin of all these new sects of pretenders to Reformation. Every circumstance that attended the change of Religion introduced by these Reformers, demonstrates that God had no hand in their work ...... The motives which set these men to work were visibly bad: the means they employed to compass their ends were illegal and unchristian; and the fruits that ensued both in Church and State, and in the lives and manners of particulars, were such as a good tree could never have produced. All which things, as they are undeniably plain from History, clearly show that none of these new sects have any share in the Church of Christ; which therefore must be sought for elsewhere, viz. amongst the followers of the old Religion: there Christ left it and there alone we shall find it."

                              St MICHAEL - Crushing Lucifer

This was Challoner's first controversial book since his 'Catholic Christian Instructed', and to forestall any repetition of legal action, he included in the preface a request that any writer undertaking an answer should do so on the basis of solid argument, rather than resort to legal violence to 'stop the mouth of truth and suppress its light'.    There were no repercussions.                  (To be continued)

Ack. 'Bishop Challoner' by M.Trappes-Lomax
Pub. Longman's, Green & Co. 1936

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