A Vicar Apostolic is in bishop's orders but exercises his authority in the name of the Pope, rather than in his own name as bishop of a diocese. In the excellent introduction to the book, Fr Nicholas Schofield quotes Ronald Knox who described the English vicars as:
"emissaries from Rome, personally responsible to the Holy See - as if this island had been some newly discovered territory in the Pacific, whose inhabitants were mere beginners in the faith."The most outstanding of the Vicars Apostolic was the saintly Richard Challoner, though there is also an increasing knowledge of Bishop Giffard. The period was marked by controversy, especially dissension between the secular clergy and the Jesuits, disagreement over what kind of agreement could be made with the State, and the actual extent of the jurisdiction of the Vicars Apostolic. At that time, clerical dress could not be worn openly and both priests and bishops faced the prospect of imprisonment if denounced to the authorities.
The book is a remarkable achievement, gathering together details of all these seemingly shadowy figures from a generally less known period of English Catholic history. Fascinating anecdotes and contemporary quotations enliven the basic information, making for a delightful read.
The English vicars Apostolic 1688-1850 is available from Family Publications priced at £19.95.