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Joseph Berington

Catholic writer (1743-1827)

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Berington, JOSEPH, one of the best known Catholic writers of his day, b. at Winsley, in Herefordshire, January 16, 1743; d. at Buckland, December 1, 1827. He was educated at the English College at Douai, showing such talent and originality of mind that after his ordination to the priesthood he was promoted to the chair of philosophy in the university. In this position his inclination towards liberal opinions became apparent, and his theses, prepared for the exhibition of his pupils, created such a stir that he thought it prudent to resign. On his return to England, he occupied several positions in turn, each intended to give him leisure to pursue his studies. From 1776 to 1782 he was chaplain to Mr. Thomas Stapleton, of Carlton, Yorkshire, acting at the same time as tutor to his son, with whom he afterwards travelled around Europe. We next find him at Oscott, then a lonely country mission, where his cousin, Charles Berington, who had been appointed coadjutor bishop, joined him. Both the Beringtons were of the same cast of mind; both were favorers of the committee appointed to represent the Catholics in their struggle for emancipation, which gained for itself an unfortunate notoriety for its liberalizing principles, and the generally anti-episcopal tendency of its action. The Midland District was the chief center of these opinions, and fifteen of the clergy of Staffordshire formed themselves into an association of which Joseph Berington was the leader, the primary object being to stand by their bishop, Thomas Talbot, who was partly on that side. Afterwards, however, they were led into other action, especially in taking up the case of Rev. Joseph Wilkes, who had been suspended by his bishop in consequence of his action on the committee, which laid them open to criticism.

Joseph Berington was by this time becoming well known as an author with an attractive style of writing, but of very advanced views. His “State and Behavior of English Catholics” (1780) contained more than one passage of doubtful orthodoxy; his “History of Abelard” (1784) brought into prominence the same philosophical tendencies which he had before manifested at Douai; and his “Re-flexions”, addressed to Rev. J. Hawkins, an apostate priest (1785 and 1788), were much criticized; while perhaps more than all, the “Memoirs of Panzani”, which he edited with an Introduction and Supplement (1793), gave him the reputation of being a disloyal Catholic. Under these circumstances, when Sir John Throckmorton of Buckland in Berkshire, appointed Berington his chaplain, Dr. Douglass, Bishop of the London District (in which Buckland was situated), refused to give him faculties, till in 1797 he printed a letter explaining his views, which the bishop considered satisfactory. A year or two later, Dr. Douglass again suspended him, until he signed a further declaration in 1801.

Berington passed the remainder of his life at Buckland, where he wrote the most extensive of all his works, “The Literary History of the Middle Ages” (1811). He published many other books at different times; but some of his writings remained in manuscript, lest their publication should give offense. In private life Joseph Berington was a model priest, exact in the discharge of his duties, and noted for his charity to the poor. He was respected by all who knew him, Catholic and Protestant alike, and after his death a slab was erected in his memory in the Protestant church at Buckland with an inscription written by his friend, Rev. John Bew, formerly President of Oscott. The only likeness extant is a silhouette, in the Catholic Directory for 1832. Berington’s works (besides those mentioned in the text) are: “Present State of Caths.” (1787); “Rights of Dissenters” (1789); “Henry II, Richard and John” (1790); “Examination of Events termed Miraculous” (1796); “Gother’s Prayers” (1800); “Faith of Catholics” (1813); “Decline and Fall of Cath. Relig. in Eng.” (1813, a reprint of Memoirs of Panzani); numerous letters and pamphlets and many other works in MS.


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