Sunday, 26 July 2015

'O my God, teach me to love Thee in Time and Eternity' - Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1781)

         Bishop Richard Challoner

 Richard Challoner, born September 29, 1691 at Lewes, Sussex, and died January 12, 1781 in London. His father, also Richard Challoner, ‘a rigid Dissenter’, and wine-cooper of that place, died whilst he was a  child, and his mother with her son, took up domestic service in  the Catholic  household of Sir John Gage, at Firle near Lewes, shortly after moving to Warkworth, Nottinghamshire, in the service of a devout Catholic widow, a descendant of the Howard family. To the influence of these Catholic households can reasonably be attributed the conversion or reconciliation to the Church of Mrs Challoner, and the reception of her son when he was about 13 years old. 
Through the services of the Rev John Gother, chaplain to the Catholic Howard family, Richard Challoner was sent at the age of 14 years to the English College, Douai, in Flanders, where he was to spend the next twenty-five years, with but one brief visit to England during that time.
 In the summer of 1708, Challenor finished the ‘Humanities’ course, and immediately began the ‘Divinity’ course, consisting of two years Philosophy and four years Theology, in preparation for the priesthood.

         On 28 March 1716, he was ordained to the priesthood by the Bishop of Tournai. In the official record of ordination, the president described him in the college diary, as 'notable for learning and piety, if ever man was'.

          Now ordained and with the additional responsibility of 'Prefect of Studies', Challoner was awarded a Theology degree at the University of Douai, his thesis dealing with  the  'Infallibility of the Pope', basing his proposition  on the authoritative teachings of St Thomas Aquinas. This was a controversial subject particularly in the Europe of the day where Jansenism, Josephism, Gallicanism,  and nationalist pride in its various forms, had  support in powerful places, and this work revealed the faith, courage, determination, and intellect of Challoner, qualities that were to be continually displayed throughout his long and demanding life.

  In 1730 he obtained the President’s consent to leave for England. The College diary records that -  ‘on 18th August, set out for London and the English Mission, the Reverend Richard Challoner, here known as Willard, Doctor of Theology and professor thereof for ten years (who had taught Humanities and Philosophy for five years). Confessor and Prefect of Studies, a man well versed in every kind of knowledge, endowed with remarkable piety and inflamed with zeal for souls and the love of God and his neighbour’.

A college student had this to say about Challoner’s imminent departure:-
                   'Lest, all completed, you should now desire
                   Mov’d by a glowing zeal hence to retire,
                   Oh! With your presence bless us yet! Oh, stay,
                   And to perfection show us still the way!
                   Let Britain want a while your saving hand:
                   For howe’er great your pains, or good your heart,
                   You there can act but one Apostle’s part.
                   But here your conduct and instructions breed
                   A race of Shepherds fit Christ’s flock.'

 At this time in England:-
“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 banishment - a vindictive law which was nevertheless enforced at Croydon against a certain Rev John Baptist Maloney as late as 1767.

    Chapel of the Sardinian Embassy, London, used by the local Catholic community.

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 …..”

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.
Bishop Petre writing to Rome in 1739, had this to say of Richard Challoner:-
“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.”
In spite of strong objections by Bishop Challoner himself, who considered himself unworthy of such an appointment, he was consecrated co-adjutor Bishop by the incumbent Bishop Petre, on 29 January 1741, the feast of St Francis de Sales.
In 1740 was published  Challoner’s ‘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. Other works included 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’,  published in 1742 in two volumes, which won itself a place with his ‘Garden of the Soul’ and ‘Meditations’ in the affections of Catholics.
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 these books and others like them, provided the spiritual sustenance and encouragement so desperately needed for their faith to survive.

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." (The Grounds of the Old Religion-1741)

Bishop Challoner’s pastoral responsibility covered the London District, which 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. Bishop Challoner made various diocesan visitations in England, horseback being the usual mode of transportation, and he could be away from his residence for up to two years at a time.

Throughout his life, Challoner showed an immense capacity for work and a clear judgement of priorities, particularly  in his writings which included prayer-books, catechisms, Saints’ lives, martyrologies, controversy or ascetical writings, whatever he considered would best serve the salvation of souls. The result might not be the absolute best, but it would be the best that he could do at the time. For him the priority was that well or less well, the work should be done when it was needed. Those who knew him spoke of "his tender compassion for the weakness and frailties of mankind; that sweetness of speech and behaviour which gained the affection of all who knew him, and by which he led them to the love of God." They spoke of the "sweetness and affability of his discourse", and say how "the mildness and modesty, which were the distinctive marks of Dr. Challoner's character, were visible in his countenance and attracted every heart to him". He was devout and prayerful in his habits, and "he made it his constant and invariable practice (which all his acquaintances observed) to renew the love of God in his heart whenever he heard the clock strike, by signing himself with the sign of the Cross, and saying, 'O my God, teach me to love Thee in Time and Eternity ' - which practice he also recommended to all the faithful, and for that reason inserted it in the Catechism which he published for the instruction of children"          

  Douai Rheims version of the Bible (contemporary publication)

There had long existed a need for a new English edition of the Douai Rheims Bible, He set out to revise the text according to the Clementine edition of the Vulgate, and to rewrite it in such English as could be understood by the people of his day. In effect he produced what was practically a new translation which was to serve not only as the basis, but also the substance of later versions. The New Testament was completed first, and after approval by two theologians at Douai, was published in 1749, with the Old Testament following a year later. In the public domain he is perhaps most  remembered for this work.

During  this same period, Challoner  urgently sought a suitable location for a Catholic boy’s school within convenient distance of London.  Lord Aston’s manor house of Standon Lordship in Hertfordshire, was eventually chosen, and  the school opened in the autumn of 1749, which as St Edmund’s, Old Hall, Ware, was later to become the Westminster diocesan seminary, reverting back to a school in the mid -1970s.                      

In 1751 Challoner published his ‘Instructions and Meditations on the Jubilee’ which had been proclaimed in 1750 by Pope Benedict XIV.  In one passage he contemplates the loss of God which is the chief horror of hell, and writes;
            “They have lost Him totally: they have lost Him irrecoverably:  they have lost Him eternally.  They have lost Him in Himself: they have lost Him in themselves: they have lost Him in all His creatures.  The lively sense of this irreparable loss, and of all the consequences of it, continually racks their despairing souls:  they cannot turn away their thought one moment from it:  it grips them with inexpressible torments.  Whichever way they turn to seek any one drop of ease or comfort, in Him or from Him, they meet with none:  all things conspire against them:  all things tell them they have lost their God.”

 When considering the perfections of God, he talks of - “His truth is infinitely charming”, and “What a joy it is to a true lover of God, to think that whatsoever may come to himself or to anything in the world, his Love at least, whom he loves without comparison more than himself and all things else, will always be infinitely glorious, infinitely rich and infinitely happy.”
From his modest Holborn lodgings, Challoner combined a life of recollection and prayer, with one of unending pastoral activity in his work for the poor, the sick and those in prison. The situation was aggravated by the widespread suspicion of all things Catholic, with prisons filled with those suspected of supporting the unsuccessful Jacobite revolt of 1745.

 'March of the Guards to Finchley' by William Hogarth.  (Satirical depiction of troops mustered to defend London from the 1745 Jacobite uprising)
For priests the threat of arrest and denunciation by paid informers was very real, and continued for many years.  Charles Butler, in his short ‘Life of Challoner’, writes, "In all these transactions Dr Challoner conducted himself with great prudence and firmness.  Scanty as was his income, he was the chief refuge of persecuted priests.  The expenses attending the prosecutions of them, their imprisonments, removals, concealments and other vexations were almost always discharged by him; he defrayed them with kindness, and in a manner that showed how greatly he honoured the sufferers in their sufferings and wants.”

  In 1760, Challoner founded a school for ‘poor girls’ at Hammersmith.  At about the same time, and acting on his own initiative and in the face of opposition from the Catholic gentry who were afraid of provoking a Protestant backlash, he founded Sedgeley Park School, near Wolverhampton, later to become Cotton College.

 A spirit of worldliness pervaded the whole of the 18th century, inevitably casting its shadow on all Catholics, particularly those who, due to circumstances, had little opportunity to practise their faith. Challoner himself, in spite of constant endeavours to sustain the faithful, was not immune to a sense of helplessness and even failure, in the ceaseless struggle against the tide. In a letter he wrote to his friend Bishop Hornyhold just before Christmas 1769, thanking him for his kindness and good wishes, he continues,’O dear brother, for Our Lord’s sake, earnestly pray that in His great mercy he would forgive me my innumerable sins, and prepare me for that great appearance, in which I have reason to dread the account I must give not only for myself but for so many others who through my fault or neglect, are walking on in the way of perdition. Oh! ‘tis a melancholy thing to see the great decay of piety and religion amongst a great part of our Catholics, and God grant this may not be imputed to me by reason of my sins and negligences’.

Now in his early eighties. yet always seeking ways of instructing and encouraging his suffering and scattered flock, Challoner turned his attention to the Douay Catechism which had been in use by Catholic children for over a century. He decided to make certain revisions, and to enlarge it, and in 1772 his revised popular catechism was published at St Omer, entitled ’Abridgement of Christian Doctrine: Revised and enlarged by R.C.’ This updated work was to be the standard work for English Catholics for generations to come.                  

In 1778 the Catholic Relief Act came into being, politically motivated by the English parliament in order to induce men from the largely Catholic Scottish highlands to join the army in the war in the American colonies. The Relief Act was nevertheless hugely beneficial to all Catholics throughout England and Scotland, but provoked fierce opposition from Protestant factions leading to the infamous Gordon Riots of 1780 which led to many deaths and widespread destruction in London, with Bishop Challoner himself a principle target.

          'The Gordon Riots'  by  John Seymour Lucas (Wikipedia)     

On January 10th, 1781, at 25 Gloucester Street, London, Bishop Challoner suffered a stroke, and two days later he died, with his chaplains in attendance. He was buried in the family vault of a friend Mr Bryan Barrett, at Milton, Berkshire where according to the legal requirements of the time, the parson had to read the Anglican burial service.
The plate on the coffin was inscribed “Right Revd. Doctor Richard Challoner, Bishop of Debra”, and in the Parish Register, the presiding clergyman wrote,
“Anno Domini 1781, January 22. Buried the Reverend Richard Challoner, a Popish Priest and Titular Bishop of London and Salisbury, a very pious and good man, of great learning and extensive abilities”.   (N.B. The reference to Salisbury was a mistake by the Anglican authorities)
In 1946, the body of Bishop Challoner was interred and removed to the chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine in Westminster Cathedral.
In many ways the great revival of the English Catholic Church in the 19th century, owed much to the apostolic zeal for souls and the pastoral care of this holy Bishop. His writings particularly, kept the flame of Catholicism burning  in an England steeped in Protestantism; writings which provided  spiritual counsel, encouragement, and learning, on all matters Catholic, a constant source of sound spiritual direction for those of his own time and generations to come. He and his fellow Bishops and Priests laboured in rocky soil, but not in vain. By their labours and prayers and with the grace of God, the Catholic religion survived in England, enabling others to later reap the rich rewards of Catholic emancipation and the full re-establishment of the Church in the 19th century.

The cause for the beatification of Bishop Challoner seems to have been rather at a standstill for many years, although some  years ago the Dean of Birmingham Cathedral expressed an interest in reviving it. The object of this post, inadequate though it may be, is with God's blessing, to revive and honour the memory of Bishop Challoner with a view to encouraging devotion to this cause,  to the glory of God, and to the immeasurable spiritual benefit and encouragement of us all, particularly the Catholic faithful in England, and indeed in Scotland, to which people he showed great practical charity through his friendship with  Bishop George Hay, co-adjutor Bishop in Scotland.
Prayer for the Beatification of Bishop Challoner
'O God, who didst make thy servant Richard a true and faithful pastor of thy little flock in England, deign to place him among the blessed in thy Church, so that we who profit by his word and example, may beg his help in Heaven, for the return of this land to the ancient faith, and to the fold of the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Tomb of Bishop Richard Challoner in the chapel of  St Gregory and St Augustine, Westminster Cathedral.
Click on the links below for more detailed information on the life and times of Bishop Challoner