Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Challoner, Richard
CHALLONER, RICHARD, D.D. (1691–1781), catholic prelate, son of Richard Challoner, a wine cooper at Lewes in Sussex, and his wife, Grace Willard, was born on 29 Sept. 1691, and baptised by a minister of the dissenting sect to which his father belonged. Soon afterwards the father died, leaving his young widow with her infant child totally unprovided for. Fortunately she found a refuge for herself and her son first in the family of Sir John Gage of Firle in Sussex—a family distinguished by its fidelity to the ancient form of religion—and afterwards in that of Mr. R. Holman, who resided for some time at Longwood, near Winchester, and subsequently at his own seat of Warkworth in Northamptonshire. In both these families Challoner was instructed in the tenets of the catholic church, of which his mother was at that time a member. It appears, however, that he remained a protestant until he was about thirteen years of age. At Warkworth he had the celebrated controversial writer John Goter for his tutor. In 1704 he was sent to the English college at Douay, and he took the college oath in 1708. The annals of that seminary relate that ‘in all his exercises, whether private or public, he showed an excellent genius, quick parts, and solid judgment.’ So diligently did he apply himself to his studies that although twelve years was the time usually allotted, he went through all the schools in eight years. He taught poetry in 1712, was also professor of rhetoric, and was chosen professor of philosophy on 6 Oct. 1713. The latter office he held for seven years. He was ordained deacon on 9 March 1715–16, and priest on 28 March 1716, by Ernestus, bishop of Tournay. In April 1719 he was made bachelor and licentiate in theology, and on 13 July 1720 he became vice-president of Douay College in the room of Dr. Dicconson, who in that year joined the English mission. He took the degree of D.D. at Douay on 27 May 1727. The office of vice-president he held for ten years, together with the professorship of divinity, and he was likewise prefect of studies and confessor.
After having been twenty-six years at Douay he left the college on 18 Aug. 1730 and joined the London mission. He was most zealous in preaching, particularly to the poorer classes, and he helped to make numerous conversions. With his pen also he was indefatigable, and he did not hesitate to enter into a controversy with Dr. Conyers Middleton, who had published ‘A Letter from Rome, showing an exact conformity between Popery and Paganism, or the religion of the present Romans derived from their Heathen Ancestors.’ In a spirited introduction to the ‘Catholic Christian instructed’ (1737), Challoner, while paying a tribute of admiration to Middleton's elegant style and knowledge of pagan literature, sought to show that he was by no means so well acquainted with christian and Jewish antiquities, and that his mode of calumniating the catholic church must inevitably prove fatal to his own communion. Middleton invoked the aid of the penal laws and endeavoured to prosecute his antagonist as a person disaffected to the sovereign because he had observed that the established church had ‘introduced dead lions and unicorns into the sanctuary instead of the cross of Christ.’ Challoner was exposed to so much danger that, yielding to the advice of friends, he withdrew from the kingdom for a few months, till time and cool reflection had mitigated Middleton's rancour against him. He availed himself of the opportunity to visit Douay. About this time the English College was deprived by death of its president, Dr. Robert Witham (29 May 1738), and as the members of the community wished that Challoner might be their superior, they sent a petition to Rome. These efforts were defeated by Dr. Benjamin Petre, vicar-apostolic of the London district, who was growing old, and who petitioned the holy see to appoint Challoner to be his coadjutor. A controversy arose concerning the question whether Challoner should be promoted to the coadjutorship or sent to Douay, and was terminated by Dr. Petre's threat to resign the London district altogether if his request were refused. The pope gave his approval of Bishop Petre's application on 21 Aug. 1738. The briefs were accordingly issued—one of them, appointing him to the see of Debra in partibus, bearing date 12 Sept., and the other for the coadjutorship bearing date 14 Sept. 1739. A memorandum in the propaganda says that these briefs were not carried out (‘non ebbero effetto’); but in November Lorenzo Mayes, proctor of the English vicars, supplicated propaganda for a dispensation to enable Challoner to be consecrated. It was stated that the father of the bishop-elect ‘lived and died in the Anglican heresy, and Richard Challoner himself, until he was about thirteen years old, had been brought up in that sect,’ and therefore a dispensa was required to avoid scandal. Accordingly fresh briefs were issued on 24 Nov. 1740, and Dr. Petre consecrated Challoner as bishop of Debra, and communicated to him the powers of coadjutorship in the private chapel at Hammersmith on 29 Jan. 1740–1.
On the death of Dr. Petre, in December 1758, Challoner succeeded to the apostolic vicariate of the London district. At the beginning of 1759 he became extremely ill, and his life was in danger. He therefore obtained from the holy see a coadjutor in the person of the Hon. James Talbot. Challoner was most zealous in the administration of his diocese; he established several new schools, and he was the founder of the Charitable Society. At first he was accustomed to preach every Sunday evening to this society, composed of the poor and middle classes, which assembled in a miserable and ruinous apartment near Clare Market. Thence they removed to another room, almost as wretched, among the stables in Whetstone Park, Gate Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and lastly, after the bishop had preached for a few weeks in the Sardinian Chapel, until he was silenced by the ambassador at the instance of the ministry, the society removed to a place, rather more commodious, in Turnstile, Holborn. Occasionally the bishop held meetings of his clergy from necessity at some obscure inn or public-house, where every one present had his pipe and sat with a pot of beer before him to obviate all suspicion of the real character of the guests and the purpose of their assembly.
In 1764–5 efforts were made to let loose the whole force of the penal laws against the catholics. The Hon. James Talbot, whom Challoner had chosen as his coadjutor, was tried at the Old Bailey on the charge of being a priest. However, as the government and Lord-chief-justice Mansfield set their faces against the prosecutions, which were instituted by a common informer named Payne, a carpenter by trade, Bishop Talbot was acquitted, as were all the priests who were then tried except one, the Rev. John Baptist Molony, who openly confessed that he was a priest, and who was condemned to imprisonment for life. Challoner himself was prosecuted by Payne, and narrowly escaped a trial at the Old Bailey. The bishop, four priests, and a schoolmaster were indicted on the same day for fulfilling their respective functions, and gave bail for their appearance. But Payne, to save himself expense, had forged some copies of subpœnas, and four of these spurious documents were in the possession of the accused persons. Payne, fearing the consequences of a prosecution for forgery, agreed with the bishop's attorney, in consideration of his forbearing to prosecute him for the subpœnas, to withdraw the indictments against the bishop and the five persons indicted at the same time. One result of the persecution at this period was that the house in which Challoner resided in Lamb's Conduit Street was purchased over his head, and he had to take refuge in another house in Gloucester Street, Queen Square. During the Gordon riots of 1780 the leaders of the mob intended to chair him in mockery, but he was withdrawn in time, and secreted at a friend's house in the neighbourhood of Highgate. He did not live long after his return to London. He was seized with paralysis as he sat at table, and expired two days later in his house in Queen Square on 12 Jan. 1781. His remains were interred in the family vault of Mr. Brian Barret, at Milton, near Abingdon, Berkshire, and the rector of that parish, the Rev. James George Warner, entered this singular record of the event in the register: ‘Anno Domini 1781, January 22, buried the Reverend Dr. Richard Challoner, a Popish priest, and titular bishop of London and Salisbury, a very pious and good man, of great learning and extensive abilities.’
Challoner inaugurated a new era in English catholic literature, and many of his publications are to this day regarded by his co-religionists as standard works of doctrine or devotion. A list of his writings, excluding a few translations and minor treatises, is subjoined:—
- ‘Think well on't; or, Reflexions on the great Truths of Eternity.’
- ‘The Imitation of Jesus Christ,’ translated from the Latin, 1706. This is the date given in the British Museum catalogue, though Barnard states that Challoner's version first appeared in 1744 (Life of Challoner, p. 92).
- ‘A Profession of the Catholic Faith, extracted out of the Council of Trent by Pope Pius IV. With the chief grounds of the controverted articles. By way of question and answer’ (anon.), 1732; 4th edit. (Lond.?) 1734, 12mo; reprinted under the title of ‘The Grounds of the Catholick Doctrine.’
- ‘A short History of the first beginning and progress of the Protestant Religion; gathered out of the best Protestant writers’ (anon.), 1733, Lond. 1735, 1742, 1753, 12mo, and, with an Italian translation, Arezzo, 1767, 8vo; Siena, 1790, 12mo.
- ‘A Roman Catholick's Reasons why he cannot conform to the Protestant Religion,’ 1734.
- ‘The Touchstone of the new Religion; or, Sixty Assertions of Protestants try'd by their own Rule of Scripture alone’ (anon.), 1734, Lond. 1748, 12mo; Dublin, 1816, 16mo.
- ‘The unerring authority of the Catholick Church in matters of Faith: maintain'd against the exceptions of a late author [Mr. J. R., a minister of the kirk], in his answer to a letter on the subject of Infallibility. To which are prefix'd eight preliminaries by way of introduction to the true Church of Christ’ (Lond.?), 1735, 8vo.
- ‘The young Gentleman instructed in the Grounds of the Christian Religion,’ 1735.
- ‘A Specimen of the Spirit of the Dissenting Teachers,’ 1736, in reply to a series of anti-catholic discourses which had been delivered by dissenting ministers in Salters' Hall.
- ‘The Catholick Christian instructed in the Sacraments, Sacrifice, Ceremonies, and Observances of the Church, by way of question and answer,’ 1737; often reprinted.
- A new and fine edition, prepared in conjunction with Francis Blyth, D.D., a discalced Carmelite, of the Rheims translation of the New Testament, 1738, with annotations and proofs of the doctrines of the catholic church taken from the writings of the fathers.
- ‘The Garden of the Soul; or, a Manual of Spiritual Exercises and Instruction for Christians who, living in the world, aspire to devotion,’ printed in or before 1740. This work, which has passed through almost numberless editions, continues to be the most popular prayer-book in use among English-speaking catholics.
- ‘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 to 1684,’ 2 vols. (Lond.), 1741–2, 8vo; 2 vols. Manchester, 1803, 8vo; 2 vols. Lond. 1842, 8vo. An edition entitled ‘Modern British Martyrology’ appeared at London in 1836, 8vo, and another called ‘Martyrs to the Catholic Faith’ was published in 2 vols. at Edinburgh, 1878, 4to. This is a valuable historical and biographical work, which may be regarded as an answer on the catholic side to Foxe's ‘Acts and Monuments.’
- ‘The Grounds of the Old Religion; or, some general arguments in favour of the Catholick, Apostolick, Roman Communion, collected from both ancient and modern controvertists, by a Convert,’ Augusta (Lond.?), 1742, 12mo; 5th edit. Lond. 1798, with a memoir of the author by Dr. Milner prefixed; Dublin, 1808. 12mo.
- ‘A Letter to a Friend concerning the Infallibility of the Church of Christ, in answer to a late pamphlet, entitled “An humble Address to the Jesuits, by a dissatisfied Roman Catholic” (Mr. J. R., a minister of the kirk)’ (anon.), Lond. 1743, 12mo.
- ‘Britannia Sancta; or, the Lives of the most celebrated British, English, Scottish, and Irish Saints who have flourished in these Islands, from the earliest times of Christianity down to the change of religion in the sixteenth century; faithfully collected from their ancient Acts and other records of British history’ (anon.), 2 vols. Lond. 1745, 4to.
- ‘The Rheims New Testament and the Douay Bible, with annotations,’ 5 vols. Lond. 1749–50, 12mo. Challoner undertook to revise and correct the language and orthography of the old version of Gregory Martin, to adopt the improvements of the Clementine edition of the Vulgate, and to add such notes as he judged necessary to clear up modern controversies. The New Testament was printed in 1749, having been diligently revised by the most able divines with whom he was acquainted, viz. Dr. William Green, afterwards president of Douay College, and Dr. Walton, afterwards vicar-apostolic of the northern district. The four volumes of the Old Testament were all published in 1750. In that year he also issued a second edition of the New Testament, revised. This differs from the former one of 1749 in about 124 passages of the text, but none of them are of material consequence. Two years afterwards he published a third edition, again revised, with most extensive alterations (Cotton, Rhemes and Doway, p. 49). This modernised version of the Douay bible is substantially that which has since been used by all English-speaking catholics. Cardinal Wiseman was of opinion that although Challoner did well to alter many too decided Latinisms, which the old translators retained, he weakened the language considerably by destroying inversion, where it was congenial at once to the genius of our language and the construction of the original, and by the insertion of particles where they were by no means necessary.
- ‘Remarks on Two Letters against Popery,’ 1751.
- ‘Instructions and Meditations on the Jubilee,’ 1751.
- ‘Considerations upon Christian Truths and Christian Duties, digested into Meditations for every Day in the Year,’ 1753, often reprinted.
- ‘The Wonders of God in the Wilderness; or, the Lives of the most celebrated Saints of the Oriental Desarts; faithfully collected out of the genuine works of the holy fathers, and other ancient ecclesiastical writers’ (anon.), Lond. 1755, 8vo.
- ‘The Life of St. Theresa,’ 1757.
- ‘A Manual of Prayers and other Christian Devotions, revised and corrected with large additions,’ 1758.
- ‘A Caveat against the Methodists,’ 1760.
- ‘The City of God, of the New Testament,’ 1760.
- ‘Memorial of Ancient British Piety,’ 1761.
- ‘The Morality of the Bible,’ 1762.
- ‘The Devotion of Catholicks to the Blessed Virgin, truly stated,’ 1764.
- ‘The Rules of a Holy Life,’ 1766.
- ‘Short Daily Exercises of the Devout Christian,’ 1767.
- ‘Pious Reflexions on Patient Suffering,’ 1767.
- ‘Abstract of the History of the Old and New Testament,’ 1767.
- ‘The Scripture Doctrine of the Church.’
- ‘Abridgment of Christian Doctrine; or, first Catechism.’
[Life, by Barnard, 1784, with portrait; Life, by Rev. John Milner, F.S.A., with portrait, prefixed to Challoner's Grounds of the Old Religion, 1798; Funeral Discourse on the Death of Bishop Challoner (by Dr. Milner), Lond. 1781; Addit. MSS. 28232 ff. 91, 99, 28234 f. 264, 28235 f. 154; Brady's Episcopal Succession, iii. 164–76; Catholic Magazine and Review (Birmingham, 1832), i. 641, 715; Gent. Mag. li. 47; Scots Mag. xliii. 54; Husenbeth's Life of Milner, pp. 8–9, 12–13, 70; Dublin Review, new series, vii. 237; Month and Catholic Review, January 1880; Cardinal Wiseman's Essays on various Subjects (1853), i. 425; Cotton's Rhemes and Doway, with Offor's manuscript notes; Notes and Queries (4th series), vii. 513, viii. 14; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, 1987; Flanagan's Hist. of the Church in England, ii. 184, 193, 364 et seq., 370, 375, 385; Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.; Butler's Hist. Memoirs of English Catholics (1822), iv. 432; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 354; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. i. 447; Historical MSS. Commission, 2nd Rep. 201; Catholic Miscellany, vi. 255.]