Bishop Basil Butler Papers

Scope and Content

The collection is principally made up of manuscript and typescript letters and postcards from Bishop Christopher Butler to his brother Cuthbert Hilary Butler and to his sister Mary Alice Butler. There are also one or two family letters relatingto Bishop Butler included. Two newspaper cuttings from the 1970s-1980s are also present.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bishop Basil Christopher Butler (1902-1986)
The prominent Catholic theological scholar and ecumenist Basil Edward Butler was born 7 May 1902 at Reading, Berkshire, and took the name Christopher as his name inreligion upon his novitiate at Downside Abbey in 1929. He was the second of four sons and third of six children of William Edward Butler and his wife Bertha Alice Bowman. He was educated at Reading School, and then St John's College, Oxford;ultimately holding a tutorship at Keble College as a clerical don in 1925, and was made an honorary fellow of St John's in 1966. He went on to teach classics at Brighton College (1927-1928), and then at Downside School, Somerset (1928-1929). Duringthese latter years Butler's faith increasingly moved toward Catholicism, in which Church he became a communicant in 1928. Entering the Benedictine community at Downside the following year, he was ordained in 1933. Butler remained at Downside formany years, serving as headmaster of the school from January 1940 until his election as abbot on 12 September 1946, an office he held until 1966. He was president of the English Benedictine congregation from August 1961-1966, and in this pre-eminentrole his was an influential voice at each of the four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). At this Council he was a member of its commission for doctrine, and also participated in the debate on war and peace, with particular referenceto nuclear deterrence. In 1966 he was appointed auxiliary bishop to Cardinal J.C. Heenan, and consecrated bishop of Nova Barbara in Westminster Cathedral on 21 December 1966. As auxiliary he became the first area bishop of Hertfordshire, lastresident president of St Edmund's College, Ware, and vicar capitular of the archdiocese in the sede vacante between Cardinal Heenan and Cardinal Basil Hume. Latterly he served on the Anglican/Roman Catholic InternationalCommission, and was co-chairman of the English Anglican/Roman Catholic Committee (1970-1981). From 1972 he was a member of the editorial board of the New English Bible. In February 1980 he was appointed an assistant tothe pontifical throne by Pope John Paul II. Butler's writings and thoughts were widely published and broadcast from the 1950s onwards. He died at London on 20 September 1986, and was buried at Downside Abbey.

Venerable Cuthbert H. Butler (1913-2007)
Cuthbert H. Butler, later preferring his second name Hilary, was born on 8 March 1913. He followed his brother to Reading School, then studying History and Theology at StJohn's College, Cambridge, where he held the Naden Studentship in Divinity, the Burney Studentship and a Gladstone Studentship. He spent some time studying in Germany in 1938-1939, before his ordination as deacon at Chichester in 1940, entering thepriesthood a year later. He was curate of St Matthias, Preston, Brighton, 1940-1942; chaplain of the R.A.F.V.R., 1942-1946, serving in England, Normandy, Holland and Germany; curate-in-charge of St Matthias, Preston, 1946-1947; vicar of St Matthias,Preston, 1947-1951; rector of Crawley with West Crawley, later Crawley, 1951-1958; rector of Oliver, British Columbia, Canada, 1958-1961; lecturer and canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, British Columbia, 1961-1977; examiner chaplain to thearchbishop of British Columbia, 1966-1968; archdeacon of Columbia, 1977-1979; archdeacon (emeritus), from 1979; permission to officiate in the diocese of British Columbia, from 1979. Butler also maintained a long association with the University ofVictoria, serving on its senate for many years. He married Josephine Mary Stubbs in 1942, the couple going on to have six children. C. Hilary Butler and his wife returned to England in 1984, settling in the West Country. Josephine Butler died in1995, C. Hilary Butler on 18 December 2007; both are buried at Winsford, Somerset.

Mary Alice Butler (1907-2009)
Mary Alice Butler was born at Reading, Berkshire, 14 June 1907. Her professional career was spent as a teacher. She died at St Mary's Home, Oxford, on 15 May 2009.

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Jeremy Butler in 2009.

Other Finding Aids

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assistwhere possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Abbot Butler and the Council: a special commemorative issue celebrating the centenary of the birth of Basil Christopher Butler, Abbot and Bishop, and fortieth anniversary of the opening of the second Vatican Council:papers given at a symposium at Heythrop College, Kensington, London, on 12 October 2002, (Bath: Downside Abbey, 2003) Ceredig [Rees, Dom. Daniel], Bishop Christopher Butler, seventh abbot of Downside and bishop of Nova Barbara, 1986 Flood, Anne T., B. C. Butler's developing understanding of the church: an intellectual biography, Ph.D. thesis, The Catholic University of America, 1981 Rice, Valentine, Dom Christopher Butler, the abbot of Downside, no. 15 in the series Men who make the Council, series editor Michael Novak, University of Notre Dame Press,1965

By the kind permission of its author, Sr Anne T. Flood, S.C., a bibliography is available This wascompiled in 1981, and lists works by Bishop Butler and a selection of reviews of some of these works.