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John Sergeant

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Born at Barrow-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, in 1623; died in 1710, not, as Dodd asserts, in 1707 (manuscript "Obituary of the Old Chapter"). He was son of William Sergeant, a yeoman, and was educated as an Anglican at St John's College, Cambridge, graduating in 1642-3. Being appointed secretary to Bishop Morton of Durham, he was employed in patristic and historical researches which resulted in his conversion. He then went to the English College, Lisbon, where he studied theology and was ordained priest (24 February, 1650). He taught humanities till 1652, when he became procurator and prefect of studies. In 1653 he was recalled to the English mission, where he made many converts; but the year following he returned to Lisbon to resume his former offices and to teach philosophy. In 1655 the chapter, recognizing his unusual ability, elected him a canon and appointed him secretary. For the next twenty years he was actively engaged in controversy with Stillingfleet, Tillotson, and other Anglican divines, also with the Catholic theologians who opposed the views of Thomas Blacklow. At the time of the Oates Plot he entered into communication with the Privy Council, which greatly scandalized the Catholics, but some of the incidents which happened suggest that his mind was unbalanced at the time. He avoided arrest by passing as a physician under the names of Dodd, Holland, and Smith. His peculiar temperament, which always made him difficult to work with, increased in his later years, and he fell into a state of nervous irritation, saying and writing things which caused great offence and pain, even to his friends. He was a voluminous writer, leaving over fifty works, either published or in manuscript His chief writings are: "Schism Disarm'd" (Paris, 1655); "Schism Dispatcht" (1657); "Vindication of Benedict XII.'s Bull" (Paris, 1659); "Reflections upon the Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance" (1661); "Statera Appensa" (London, 1661); "Tradidi Vobis" (London, 1662); "Sure-Footing in Christianity" (London, 1665); a system of controversy, for which he was attacked by Peter Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin, and in defence of which Sergeant wrote several pamphlets; "Solid Grounds of the Roman Catholic Faith" (1666); "Faith Vindicated" (Louvain, 1667); "Reason against Raillery" (1672); "Error Non-plust" (1673); "Methodus Compendiosa" (Paris, 1674); "Clypeus Septemplex" (Paris, 1677), a defence of his own teaching; a series of "Catholic Letters" in reply to Stillingfleet (London, 1687-8); "Method to Science" (London, 1696); a series of works against Cartesian philosophy, "Ideæ Cartesianæ" (London, 1698); "Non Ultra" (London, 1698); "raillery by Calm Reason" (London, 1699); "Abstract of the Transactions relating to the English Secular Clergy" (London, 1706); other pamphlets relating to the chapter, some of which, with replies thereto, were suppressed by the orders of the chapter. There is an original painting at the English College, Lisbon.


KIRK, Literary Life of the Rev. John Sergeant, written by sergeant himself in 1700, and printed in The Catholicon (1816); DODD, Church History, III (Brussels vere Wolverhampton, 1739-42); WOOD, Athenæ Oxonienses (London, 1813-20); BUTLER, Memoirs of English Catholics (London, 1819); GILLOW, Bibl. Dict. Eng. Cath. s.v., ; CROFT, Kirk's Historical Account of Lisbon College (London, 1902); COOPER, Dict. Nat. Biog. s.v.

About this page

APA citation. Burton, E. (1912). John Sergeant. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Burton, Edwin. "John Sergeant." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by St. Mary's Catechetical Ministries. Dedicated to Raymond V. Dimailig for the reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and First Eucharist.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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