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Holden, Henry (1596/7–1662), Roman Catholic priest, was born in 1596 or early 1597 into a long-established Lancashire gentry family. He was the second son of Richard Holden of Chaigley Manor, near Clitheroe, and Eleanor Gerard from near Wigan. His family was strongly recusant on both sides. Nothing is known of his early education, but he entered the English College, Douai, to study for the priesthood in September 1617, using the alias of Johnson for several years. His philosophy teacher was the controversial Thomas White (alias Blacklo), of whom he remained an enduring and important ally as well as an occasional but mild critic thereafter. Following ordination at Cambrai in March 1622 he joined the community of English ecclesiastics and scholars at the college of Arras, Paris, in late 1623, and resumed his studies at Paris University, where he was an MA in October 1625. The next year he interrupted them as he obtained the position of almoner in the household of Michel de Marillac, keeper of the seals, which brought him into contact with prominent dévot circles, including the reformed Carmelites of Pontoise. In 1627 he obtained lettres de naturalité enabling him to hold benefices in France. He remained with Marillac after his disgrace and exile to Châteaudun in late 1630, attending him on his deathbed in August 1632. He then rejoined Arras College, and resumed his theology studies, taking twenty-third place in the 1636 licentiate and the doctorate in October 1636. He defended Richard Smith and the English hierarchy against perceived Jesuit efforts to undermine it in the seculars–regulars controversy of the early 1630s. He was briefly agent of the English Catholic clergy in Rome (from 1638 to early 1639), failing to obtain papal recognition of the English chapter established by William Bishop to administer the English Catholic church in the absence of episcopal hierarchy. The low opinion he formed of the papacy's handling of English questions owed something to Gallican attitudes he had already developed in France, and doubtless reinforced them.

Made a canon of the English chapter (1638) with Blacklo and others by Smith, Holden was directly involved in the affairs of the English church, visiting London in 1639–40, 1641–2, and later. In 1647 he participated in short-lived attempts to win toleration of Catholics from Independent army leaders who had rejected both Anglican and presbyterian church settlements, but he, White, and a few others, later to be nicknamed Blacklo's cabal, were ready to make some controversial concessons in order to achieve that goal. Holden's Gallicanism enabled him to support an oath of allegiance from Catholics, the expulsion of the Jesuits, and a frank rejection of the pope's deposing power. His own daring plan for a restored episcopate, if necessary without papal approval and largely independent of papal authority, was typical of the Blackloist approach, ever eager for an agreement with Cromwell, but predictably it alienated the moderate and conservative forces in English Catholicism. Although condemned by the Holy Office, Holden escaped punishment, possibly because of French protection.

In Paris, Holden taught theology at the university and was penitentiary of St Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, one of the city's most reform minded parishes, but he was never a vicar-general of the diocese (his name was probably confused with that of Cardinal de Retz's vicar-general, Hodencq). His Gallican and anti-Jesuit views facilitated accusations of unorthodox sympathies during the Jansenist crisis of the mid-1650s. Although initially willing to defend Antoine Arnauld, whose apologia of the church fathers he had previously approved, he was one of many doctors who withdrew from the faculty assemblies rather than condemn and expel Arnauld (1655–6). He subsequently signed the condemnation to clear his name and defend his own orthodoxy, though his embarrassment appears in letters to Féret, curé of St Nicolas, and to Arnauld, in which he pleaded for Arnauld to take his own Thomist position on divine grace and related questions. Apart from publishing a defence of the anti-Jansenist formulary (1661), he largely avoided the Jansenist controversy in later years. His attention turned again to English Catholic ecclesiastical politics after Smith's death (1655) reopened older controversies over episcopacy, in which he showed his customary anti-Jesuit and Blackloist views, especially in 1661 when a House of Lords committee held discussions about the conditions for repealing the penal laws.

Holden's published output dates largely from the final decade of his life, but probably gestated over many years. The Divinae fidei analysis (1652) is his most systematic work of theological scholarship, and adopted an approach to its subject matter that was unusual for its time. He aimed to distinguish the certain from the uncertain in Christian teaching, fundamental truths from theological speculation, and to establish the degree of assent required for each kind of truth. But as the object of one's belief could not be known directly, everything depended upon the means by which it was transmitted to believers, and Holden stoutly defended unbroken tradition within an institutional church as superior to scripture or individual inspiration. He showed his Gallican convictions by insisting that only a general council could define truth, leaving the pope the lesser role of judge of theological controversies. The logical rigour and intellectual solidity of this work was admired by scholars like Richard Simon or Ellies du Pin, and even J. H. Newman, but on publication its novelty and boldness struck contemporaries, leading to suggestions of unorthodoxy. Other items of Holden's œuvre—on usury, on schism, his exchanges with Arnauld and others, several defences of Blacklo—figured in later editions of the Analysis, which first appeared in English in 1658. A treatise on the truth of Christianity was apparently lost in England during the civil wars.

Having helped Richard Smith and Thomas Carre to establish the English convent of Our Lady of Syon, in Paris, in 1634, Holden acted in his final years as superior to newly settled English blue nuns in Paris, using his connections to smooth the way to their installation there. He also persuaded them to exchange their original Franciscan rule for that of the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin, essentially because the archbishop of Paris insisted on the nuns' subjection to episcopal authority. He visited England for the last time in June–September 1661, falling ill on his return of a quartan fever, of which he died in March 1662. He left much of his estate to the blue nuns but only with great difficulty was the crown dissuaded from seizing it under French laws governing property owned by foreigners resident in France.

Joseph Bergin


J. Gillow and R. Trappes-Lomax, eds., The diary of the ‘blue nuns’ or order of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, at Paris, 1658–1810, Catholic RS, 8 (1910) · R. Pugh, Blacklo's cabal, ed. T. A. Birrell (1970) · A. F. Allison, ‘An English Gallican: Henry Holden (to 1648)’, Recusant History, 22 (1994–5), 319–49 · T. A. Birrell, ‘English Catholics without a bishop, 1655–1672’, Recusant History, 4 (1957–8), 142–78 · J. Bossy, The English Catholic community, 1570–1850 (1975) · G. Garavaglia, Società e religione in Inghilterra (1983) · J. M. Grès-Gayer, En Sorbonne, autour des Provinciales (1997) · J. M. Grès-Gayer, Le Jansénisme en Sorbonne (1996) · J. Le Brun, ‘‘L’Institution dans la théologie de Henry Holden’, Recherche de Sciences Religieuses, 71 (1983), 191–202 · G. H. Tavard, The seventeenth-century tradition (1978) · R. Clark, Strangers and sojourners at Port Royal (1932) · G. Anstruther, The seminary priests, 2 (1975), 158–9 · VCH Lancashire, vol. 7 · Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Lat. 15440 · Bibliothèque Saint-Genviève, Paris, MS 826; MS 941, fol. 42v