Milner, John (1752-1826) (DNB00)

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MILNER, JOHN, D.D. (1752–1826), bishop of Castabala and vicar-apostolic of the western district of England, was born in London on 14 Oct. 1752. His father was a tailor, and the proper name of the family, which came originally from Lancashire, was Miller. He received his early education at Edgbaston, Birmingham, but was transferred in his thirteenth year to the school at Sedgley Park, Staffordshire. He left there in April 1766 for the English College at Douay, where he was entered in August, on the recommendation of Bishop Challoner. In 1777 he was ordained priest and returned to England, where he laboured on the mission, first in London, without any separate charge, and afterwards at Winchester, where he was appointed pastor of the catholic congregation in 1779. In 1781 he preached the funeral sermon of Bishop Challoner, and about the same time he took lessons in elocution of the rhetorician and lexicographer, John Walker. He established at Winchester the Benedictine nuns who had fled from Brussels at the time of the French revolution. The handsome chapel erected at Winchester in 1792, through his exertions, was the first example in England of an ecclesiastical edifice built in the Gothic style since the Reformation. He himself sketched the design, which was carried out by John Carter (1748-1817) [q. v.] While at Winchester he ardently pursued antiquarian studies, and on the recommendation of Richard Gough he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1790.

Between 1782 and 1791 various committees of English catholics (chiefly laymen) were formed for the purpose of promoting catholic emancipation [see under Butler, Charles, 1750-1832], but their members also wished to substitute a regular hierarchy in lieu of vicars-apostolic. At the same time they showed an impatience of the pretensions of their ecclesiastical leaders, and their attitude seemed to touch the authority of the papal see itself. To all claims on the part of laymen to interference in matters of religion Milner energetically opposed himself. When the Catholic Committee in 1791 pushed forward a proposed Bill for Catholic Relief, which embodied a form of the oath of allegiance already condemned by the three vicars-apostolic, Walmesley, Gibson, and Douglass, Milner acted as agent for the latter in their opposition to the measure, and visited Burke, Fox, Windham, Dundas, Pitt, Wilberforce, and other members of parliament, to urge the prelates' objections. His exertions were successful. The oath of the committee was rejected, and the Catholic Relief Act, which was passed on 7 June 1791, contained the Irish oath of 1788. But the ‘Catholic Committee,’ reorganised as the ‘Cisalpine Club’ in 1792, still carried on the old agitation, and was attacked by Milner. He thus grew to be regarded by his coreligionists as the champion of catholic orthodoxy. In his work entitled ‘Democracy Detected,’ he openly proclaimed his belief in the inerrancy of the holy see, and he frequently declared that he could not endure Gallican doctrines.

On the death of Dr. Gregory Stapleton, Pope Pius VII, by brief dated 1 March 1803, appointed Milner bishop of Castabala in partibus, and vicar-apostolic of the Midland district. He was consecrated at St. Peter's Chapel, Winchester, on 22 May 1803. After his consecration he went to Long Birch, a mansion on the Chillington estate that had been occupied by his episcopal predecessors, but in September 1804 he took up his residence permanently in the town of Wolverhampton.

Much work which was political as well as ecclesiastical fell to Milner's lot in those eventful times. The question whether the English government should have a ‘veto’ on the appointment of catholic bishops in the United Kingdom was then in agitation. In May 1808 the ‘Catholic Board’ was formed in England to carry on the agitation for catholic emancipation on the lines adopted by the Catholic Committee. Milner, who at first had been disposed to think that a royal veto might be accepted by catholics, afterwards became its uncompromising opponent. His attitude led to his expulsion from the Catholic Board and to his exclusion from a meeting of vicars-apostolic held at Durham in October 1813. Milner meanwhile enjoyed the full confidence of the Irish prelates, and acted as their agent in London, where he was permitted to reside when necessary under a papal dispensation, dated 11 April 1808. Milner twice visited Ireland in 1807-8. With the majority of the Irish prelates Milner now joined the party of catholics who were steadfastly opposed to any plan for Roman catholic emancipation which should recognise a right of veto in the English government. After the rejection of a bill introduced in 1813 for the settlement of the catholic question on the lines obnoxious to Milner and his friends, Sir John Coxe Hippisley [q. v.] procured from Monsignor Quarantotti, secretary of the propaganda, a rescript declaring ‘that the catholics ought to receive and embrace with content and gratitude the law proposed for their emancipation.’ This document, when published in England, caused alarm among the opponents of the veto, and the Irish bishops, at a meeting held at Maynooth on 25 May 1814, deputed Dr. Daniel Murray [q. v.], coadjutor bishop of Dublin, and Milner to be their agents at Rome for procuring its recall. At Rome Milner remained for nearly nine months, and to Cardinal Litta he gave a written memorial of his controversies with the ‘veto’ party, led by Dr. Poynter and the Catholic Board. He offered to resign his vicariate if he were deemed unworthy of the confidence of the holy see. At the same time Dr. Poynter defended himself in an ‘Apologetical Epistle,’ but it was signified to Milner that his conduct was in the main approved by the pope and cardinals, though he was recommended to be more cautious and moderate. The opposition of Milner and the Irish prelates to the veto was ultimately successful, and it was finally abandoned by Peel when he introduced the Catholic Relief Act of 1829.

Milner's literary contributions to the ‘Orthodox Journal’ gave offence to some of his episcopal brethren, and the prefect of propaganda on 29 April 1820 directed him to discontinue his letters to that periodical, but Milner continued to defend, in various books and pamphlets, the principles which he believed to be essential to the welfare of the Roman catholic church. In particular he warmly opposed two bills introduced into the House of Commons by William Conyngham, afterwards lord Plunket [q. v.], one of which was for the removal of the disqualifications of catholics, and the other for regulating the intercourse of the catholic clergy with Rome.

Milner's health began to break after he had attained the age of seventy. In 1824 he had two serious attacks of paralysis, and in 1825 he received a coadjutor in the person of Dr. Thomas Walsh, who was consecrated at Wolverhampton on 1 May, when Milner was thoroughly reconciled to his former controversial opponents, Bishops Poynter and Collingridge, who assisted at the ceremony. Milner died at Wolverhampton on 19 April 1826, and was buried in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, where a memorial brass was placed, with a full-size figure of the bishop in his episcopal robes. His fiftieth anniversary was celebrated 27 Aug. 1876 at Wolverhampton, on which occasion two sermons were preached by the Rev. Thomas Harper, S.J.

Milner was of middle stature, and was stoutly built. His complexion was florid; he had hazel eyes, a well-formed nose, and dark expressive eyebrows (Husenbeth, Life, p. 231). His figure was dignified and imposing. By his coreligionists he is generally regarded as the most illustrious of the vicars-apostolic; and his successful efforts to prevent the Roman catholic church in the United Kingdom from becoming subject to state control by means of the veto have been fully acknowledged. By Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Newman he was styled the ‘English Athanasius.’ He was a divine of the ultramontane type, and detested all Gallican teaching. In discipline the rigidity of his theological training overcame the indulgent kindness of his nature. In devotional matters he was the first to object to the cold and argumentative tone of the old-fashioned prayer-books, and in their place he introduced devotions to the Sacred Heart and the Meditations of St. Teresa. His influence was shown by the conversions which in 1825 had become frequent in this country. After his death the devotional and liturgical changes introduced by him were carried out to their full development, and were made instrumental to the introduction of an Italian and Roman standard of tone and spirit among English catholics.

Milner was a good archæologist. His chief archæological publication was: ‘The History, Civil and Ecclesiastical, and Survey of the Antiquities of Winchester,’ 2 vols. Winchester, 1798-1801, 4to; 2nd edit, enlarged, 2 vols. Winchester, 1809, 4to; 3rd edit., with supplement and memoir of the author, by F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., 2 vols. Winchester, 1839, 8vo. Notwithstanding the Roman catholic bias of the author, this performance ‘will always keep its place among the few standard works in English topography’ (Lowndes, Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn, vi. 1554). The first edition must claim the preference as regards quality of paper and typography. In connection with this work Milner issued ‘Letters to a Prebendary: being an Answer to Reflexions on Popery by the Rev. J. Sturges, LL.D., with Remarks on the Opposition of Hoadlyism to the Doctrines of the Church of England, and on various Publications occasioned by the late Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Winchester,’ Winchester, 1800, 4to; 2nd edit, enlarged, Cork, 1802, 8vo; 7th edit. London, 1822, 8vo: another edition, Derby, 1843, 16mo. The Rev. Robert Hoadly Ashe published in 1799 ‘A Letter to the Rev. J. Milner, occasioned by his Aspersions [in his History of Winchester] on the Memory and Writings of Bishop Hoadly.’ Milner also published a ‘Treatise on the Ecclesiastical Architecture of England during the Middle Ages,’ London, 1811, 8vo; 3rd edit. London, 1835, 8vo. The article on Gothic Architecture’ in Rees's ‘Cyclopædia’ is by him, and he wrote papers in the ‘ Archæologia’ (enumerated in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1826, ii. 180).

Milner's chief theological publication was: ‘The End of Religious Controversy, in a friendly Correspondence between a Religious Society of Protestants and a Roman Catholic Divine. Addressed to … Dr. Burgess, in Answer to his Lordship's Protestant Catechism,’ London, 1818, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1819; 5th edit. ‘with considerable emendations by the author,’ 1824; 8th edit. ‘in which is introduced a Vindication of the Objections raised by R. Grier’ [1836?]; other editions, Derby, 1842, 12mo; London, 1853, 12mo; Dublin, 1859, 12mo. This work was composed in 1801-2, but its publication was deferred for sixteen years at the request of Dr. Horsley, bishop of St. Asaph, who had defended Milner in the House of Lords at the period of his dispute with Dr. Sturges. Dr. Husenbeth says ‘that multitudes of converts have been made by that work—probably more than by all our other controversial works put together.’ It drew forth replies from Blakeney, Collette, Fossey, Garbett, Grier, Hearn, Hopkins, Jackson, Lowe, dean of Exeter, MacGavin, Ouseley, and Phillpotts, bishop of Exeter.

His other works are: 1. ‘A Sermon [on Deut. xxxii. 39] preached at Winchester, 23 April 1789, being the General Thanksgiving Day for His Majesty's Happy Recovery.… With Notes, Historical, Explanatory,’ &c., London, 1789, 4to. In reply to this, J. Williamson, B.D., published ‘A Defence of the Doctrines … of the Church of England from the Charges of the Rev. J. Milner,’ 1790. 2. ‘The Divine Right of Episcopacy,’ 1791, 8vo. 3. ‘Ecclesiastical Democracy detected,’ 1792, 8vo. 4. ‘An Historical and Critical Enquiry into the Existence and Character of St. George, patron of England, of the Order of the Garter, and of the Antiquarian Society; in which the Assertions of Edward Gibbon, esq., History of Decline and Fall, cap. 23; and of certain other Modern Writers, concerning this Saint, are discussed,’ London, 1792, 8yo. 5. ‘The Funeral Oration of … Louis XVI, pronounced at the Funeral Service performed by the French Clergy of the King's House, Winchester, at St. Peter's Chapel in the said City, 12 April 1793.’ 6. ‘Account of the Communities of British Subjects, Sufferers by the French Revolution;’ in the ‘Laity's Directory’ for 1795, 1796, and 1797. 7. ‘A Serious Expostulation with the Rev. Joseph Berington, upon his Theological Errors concerning Miracles and other Subjects,’ 1797. 8. ‘Dissertation on the Modern Style of altering Antient Cathedrals, as exemplified in the Cathedral of Salisbury,’ London, 1798, 4to; 2nd edit. 1811. 9. ‘Life of Bishop Challoner,’ prefixed to that prelate's ‘Grounds of the Old Religion,’ London, 1798, 12mo. 10. ‘The Case of Conscience solved, in Answer to Mr. Reeves on the Coronation Oath,’ 1801. This elicited replies from T. Le Mesurier and Dr. Phillpotts, bishop of Exeter. 11. ‘Authentic Documents relative to the Miraculous Cure of Winefrid White, of the Town of Wolverhampton, at Holywell, in Flintshire,’ London, 1805, 12mo; 3rd edit. London, 1806, 8vo. Peter Roberts published ‘Animadversions’ on this work in 1814. 12. ‘An Inquiry into certain Vulgar Opinions concerning the Catholic Inhabitants and the Antiquities of Ireland, in a series of Letters,’ London, 1808, 8vo; 3rd edit. ‘with copious additions, including the account of a second tour through Ireland, by the author, and answers to Sir R. Musgrave, Dr. Ryan, Dr. Elrington,’ &c., London, 1810, 8vo. 13. ‘A Pastoral Letter [dated 10 Aug. 1808] addressed to the Roman Catholic Clergy of his District in England. Shewing the dangerous tendency of various Pamphlets lately published in the French Language by certain Emigrants, and more particularly cautioning the faithful against two publications by the Abbé Blanchard and Mons. Gaschet,’ London, 1808, 8vo; another edition, Dublin, 1808, 8vo. This pastoral gave rise to an embittered controversy. 14. ‘Dr. Milner's Appeal to the Catholics of Ireland,’ deprecating attacks made upon him by Sir R. Musgrave, T. Le Mesurier, &c., Dublin, 1809, 8vo. 15. ‘An Elucidation of the Veto,’ London, 1810, 8vo. 16. ‘Instructions addressed to the Catholics of the Midland Counties of England on the State and Dangers of their Religion,’ Wolverhampton, 1811, 8vo. 17. ‘Letters to a Roman Catholic Prelate of Ireland in refutation of Counsellor Charles Butler's Letter to an Irish Catholic Gentleman; to which is added a Postscript containing a Review of Doctor O'Connor's Works entitled Columbanus ad Hibernos on the Liberty of the Irish Church,’ Dublin, 1811, 8vo. 18. ‘A Brief Summary of the History and Doctrine of the Holy Scriptures,’ London, 1819, 8vo. 19. ‘Supplementary Memoirs of English Catholics, addressed to Charles Butler, esq., author of Historical Memoirs of the English Catholics,’ London, 1820, 8vo. Additional notes to this valuable historical work were printed in 1821. 20. ‘The Catholic Scriptural Catechism,’ 1820, reprinted in vol. i. of the tracts issued by the Catholic Institute, 1838. 21. ‘On Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,’ 1821, reprinted, London, 1867, 32mo. 22. 'A Vindication of "The End of Religious Controversy" from the exceptions of Dr. Thomas Burgess, bishop of St. Davids, and the Rev. Richard Grier,’ London, 1822, 8vo. 23. ‘A Letter to the Catholic Clergy of the Midland District’ [on ‘a certain new Creed or Formulary published in this District, called Roman Catholic Principles in reference to God and the Country’], London, 1823, 8vo. The treatise referred to was written by the Benedictine father, James Corker [q. v.] 25. ‘Strictures on the Poet Laureate's [i.e. Robert Southey's] Book of the Church,’ London, 1824, 8vo. 24. ‘A Parting Word to the Rev. Richard Grier, D.D. … With a Brief Notice of Dr. Samuel Parr's posthumous Letter to Dr. Milner,’ London, 1825.

Some papers by him are in the ‘Catholic Gentleman's Magazine,’ and the ‘Catholicon;’ and many in the ‘Orthodox Journal.’

His portrait has been engraved by Radclyffe, from a portrait at St. Mary's College, Oscott.

[Life by F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., Dublin, 1862, 8vo; Memoir by Husenbeth, prefixed to 3rd edit. of Hist. of Winchester; Amherst's Hist. of Catholic Emancipation; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors, p. 235; Bodleian Cat.; Brady's Episcopal Succession, iii. 221; Catholic Miscellany, 1826, v. 376-93, new ser. 1828, i. 21; Catholicon, 1816, ii. 75, vi. 61, 396; Flanagan's Hist. of the Church in England, ii. 537; Gent. Mag. 1826 ii. 175, 303, 392; Home and Foreign Review, ii. 531; Laity's Directory, 1827, portrait; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 215; Oscotian, new ser. iv. 118, with portrait vi. 64, also jubilee vol. 1888, p. 28; Smith's Brewood, 2nd edit. 1874, p. 49; Tablet, 4 Oct. 1862, 8 Oct. 1870, p. 454; 29 Aug. 1874, p. 271.]

T. C.