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  • Ecclesiastical Democracy Detected: III, 1796–1803
  • Language (written in): English
  • Author: Duffy, Eamon
  • Source: Recusant History volume 13, 2 (October), (1975): 123–148.
  • Published: 1975
  • ISSN: 2055-7973
  • ISSN: 2055-7981
  • DOI: 10.1017/S0034193200032519
  • Abstract: ‘The abjuration of error ... is at all times a painful task.’ ¶ ‘Let there be an end.’ ¶ The year 1796 was full of portent, both for the Church Universal and for its ‘little platoon’ in England. Bonaparte’s march through Italy seemed to threaten the Papacy with the fall which Berington had so complacently forecast. The refugee hordes of bedraggled French clergy gave point and substance to the general unease, and the Bampton lecturer for 1796 pressed home the parallels between the calamities afflicting the Church abroad, and those in England. Talking of the ‘circle of supremacy … fast contracting to the verge of a wretched territory’, and the ‘expiring pretensions of an anti-Christian vanity’, he praised Berington, Geddes and Throckmorton, who had ‘at length considered themselves as enfranchised from [Rome’s] spiritual domination’. The case of Bishop Berington, obstinate in his refusal to bow to the orthodox yoke and give the ‘full and open satisfaction’ demanded by Rome, brought the universal ills even nearer home. From Buckland rumours circulated that Berington’s ‘Decline and Fall’ of the Papacy was almost ready, and he was ‘on the point of attacking the Pope in his strongholds’. The Vicars girded themselves for battle. Late in 1795, Robert Plowden had published a Letter … upon Theological Inaccuracy, which had the effect of inflaming their zeal. In an attempt to clarify the meaning of the Oath, in 1790 a group of Cisalpine clergy had verbally approved a proposition stating that the Church had power ‘not to regulate by any outward co-action civil and temporal concerns of subjects and citizens, but to direct souls by persuasion in the concerns of eternal salvation’. This proposition, with the names of the clergy who approved it, appeared as Appendix IX of the third Blue Book. Plowden now claimed that it denied the power of the Church to absolve sins or to impose ecclesiastical censures; in support, he quoted the Bull Auctorem Fidei’s condemnation of similar propositions from the Synod of Pistoia. Plowden also condemned the ‘Staffordshire Creed’ as ‘contradictory to Catholic Faith’. Whatever the force of his arguments against the Staffordshire Creed, Plowden’s attack on the Blue Book propositions was a wanton reopening of old sores; James Archer described it as ‘a very stupid but, in my opinion, malicious pamphlet’. But the Vicars were in a warlike mood: they had already pored over the Bull Auctorem for its condemnation of positions ‘more or less analagous to the Throckmorton and Staffordshire clergy’s doctrine’. Plowden’s book roused them to action. Most of the ‘Blue Book clergy’ were in Douglass’ District, and urged on by Bishop Walmesley, he set about persuading them to retract. In July Douglass visited the Middle District and the Staffordshire Clergy and urged them to retract their ‘heretical’ creed; he also asked for their neutrality in the attempts to unseat Bishop Berington. But Joseph Berington had been busy rallying his colleagues, encouraging them to ‘speak out as [they] can’, and Douglass’ efforts were unavailing. John Kirk informed him that the Staffordshire Creed was ill-worded, not heretical, and that ‘should any violent measures be taken with [Bishop Berington] it is impossible his deposition should be tamely acquiesced in. Meetings must take place … and steps be taken.’
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