Robert Gray

Cardinal virtues

As Catholics prepare to celebrate the elevation of Cardinal Newman next week, Robert Gray asks why they have largely ignored his great contemporary Cardinal Manning

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According to Cardinal Newman, who is to be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday 19 September, it is a rule of God’s providence that Christians succeed through failure. It is hardly surprising, then, that Newman’s great contemporary Cardinal Manning has never been a candidate for canonisation. He did not care for failure.

That these two titans of Roman Catholicism in Victorian England — Newman, born in 1801, was seven years the senior — were frequently at loggerheads is well known. Indeed, the differences between them appear set in stone: Newman, the subtle, sensitive and (it is now official) saintly religious genius; Manning, the ruthless and wily Machiavellian, bent on crushing his rival beneath the Roman wheel.

Nevertheless, it is possible to make other, equally valid distinctions between the two men. Newman might be presented as a spiky controversialist, touchy even in his friendships, and fanatical and merciless in defence of what he conceived to be Catholic truth. Equally Manning, so stiff, guarded and unalluring in the received version, might be more accurately interpreted as a deeply compassionate prelate, whose unblinking ultramontanism cleared the intellectual decks for his remarkable philanthropic achievements.

In Newman the religious impulse was so instinctive that he sometimes seemed detached from workaday reality. Manning’s faith, by contrast, was essentially a creation of the will. As a brilliant and abundantly self-confident young man at Balliol, he had concentrated his ambitions entirely upon this world. Where Newman had broken down in Schools and scraped a dud degree, Manning carried off a First. He was handsome too. No wonder contemporaries thought of him as a potential Prime Minister.

In the event, the ruin of his father compelled Manning to abandon such dreams. Instead, he submitted to the initially unalluring prospect of becoming an Anglican clergyman. He was never, though, a man for half measures. Having forced religion upon himself, with much pain, he soon discovered that it had taken possession of his soul.

Newman and Manning did have one thing in common: they had both been born into evangelical families. At Oxford, however, Newman soon came to detest the smugness and vulgarity of those who claimed intimate converse with the Almighty. More pertinently, he apprehended that an ill-defined mishmash of individual enlightenment, pious sentiment and good works could never stand against the secularising tendencies of the times.

If Christianity were to survive (and Newman was quite prepared to concede that it might not), Christians must have firmly and objectively fixed propositions into which to fasten their mental hooks. In a word, they required dogma, which could only be delivered by a divinely appointed Church.

To the young Henry Manning, preaching the Word to a rustic congregation at Lavington in Sussex, such teaching appeared as manna in the desert. How infinitely more satisfying, for a temperament attracted to power, to stand before his humble flock as a successor of the Apostles than as a mere expositor of biblical texts.

Yet while Manning followed Newman in theology, he retained throughout his life an evangelical sympathy for the outcast. Newman, on the other hand, was in general far too obsessed by the eternal drama to bestow much time or notice upon the sufferings of this world.

Manning’s dedication to good works was confirmed in 1833 by his marriage to Caroline Sargent, sprung from the very heart of the evangelical movement.

Caroline Manning died in 1837. Eight years later Newman finally abandoned the struggle to reconcile Apostleship and Anglicanism, and submitted to Rome. Not until 1851, however, did Manning follow his preceptor into the Roman Catholic Church.

Almost immediately the relations between the two men were transformed. Newman, the cynosure of all eyes at Oxford, at first seemed diminished within the One True Fold. Manning, however, instinctively grasped the inglorious principle that, in a hierarchical organisation, the key to promotion lies in ingratiating oneself with those at the top, starting in his case with the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman. In 1865, a mere 14 years after his conversion, Manning succeeded Wiseman as Archbishop of Westminster.

Inevitably, many English Catholics, whose families had suffered centuries of persecution, recoiled from the blatant careerism of the newcomer. Yet if Manning considered that he was well qualified to run the Catholic Church in England, alike through his unbending faith, iron will, unflagging energy and supreme administrative gifts, he knew no more than the truth.

His first duty, he judged, was to the Irish in London, in danger of being lost to the Church in the slums of the capital. By the time of his death in 1892 more than 10,000 extra places had been provided in parish elementary schools. He also succeeded, with the help of his friend William Gladstone, in extricating thousands of Catholic children from Protestant workhouses, so that by 1884 not a single one was left therein.

At the same time he developed orphanages and reformatories for neglected children. After the Education Act of 1870, he raised funds to ensure that Catholic schools did not fall under the rule of godless local boards of education. Later he played an important role in establishing the principle that denominational, or ‘voluntary’ schools should be financed from the rates on the same basis as board schools.

Whereas the Oxford Movement converts who followed Newman into the Catholic Church may be measured in hundreds, those whom Manning saved for Rome must be numbered in tens of thousands. Catholic intellectuals, however, have rarely found the Archbishop’s social labours as compelling as Newman’s exquisite disquisitions on the nature of faith or on the evolution of his religious opinions.

Soon after Manning’s elevation at Westminster, rumours began to percolate from the Birmingham Oratory, where Newman presided, that the new Archbishop was bent on repressing his former mentor. In 1867 it was whispered that Manning had prevented Newman from setting up a Catholic college in Oxford. In truth, though, under Pope Pius IX no ecclesiastic could have gained Rome’s permission for such a project.

As hostilities multiplied, Manning wrote to Newman to suggest a frank examination of their differences. Frankness was what he received. Newman’s reply referred to ‘a distressing mistrust, which now for four years past I have been unable in prudence to dismiss from my mind, and which is but my own share of a general feeling’.

In 1870 the two men were again at odds, this time over the definition of papal infallibility. Now Manning was the fanatic, insisting that there could be no half measures in submission to Rome, while Newman deprecated ultramontane triumphalism as a threat to the Church.

The nadir in the relations between the two men was reached in 1878, when the canard spread from the Birmingham Oratory that Manning had sought to prevent Newman from becoming a cardinal.

Yet these altercations, so eagerly, minutely and partially recorded by Newman and his disciples, are the minutest pin prick upon the vast range of Manning’s achievement. He tirelessly and consistently defended the poor, serving on governmental committees for the relief of distress, arguing for better working conditions, promoting emigration to the colonies, protesting eloquently against the doctrines of laissez-faire, supporting W.T. Stead in his campaign against the prostitution of young girls, even — how the smartyboots English Catholics sneered — joining forces with Protestant nonconformists in temperance campaigns.

In 1889 he successfully intervened in the London dock strike. At Rome, his ideas exercised an important i nfluence on the papal bull Rerum Novarum (1891), which set out the bases for Catholic action in social affairs.

So Manning proved himself the greatest ecclesiastical administrator in England since the Reformation. ‘If there had been a dozen Mannings,’ observed an official who worked with him, ‘England would have been in some danger of being converted to Christianity.’

In 1892, after Manning’s funeral, hundreds of thousands crowded the streets as he proceeded to heaven by way of Kensal Green. Yet, almost as though he had been party to some celestial pact, under which the good that he had done would be interred with his bones, his reputation was ruined in 1895 by Edmund Purcell’s sensation-seeking biography, copiously mined by Lytton Strachey in Eminent Victorians (1918).

Towards Newman, who died in 1890, bien-pensant opinion had long since taken a more favourable turn. In his final years, as recognition grew, he had mellowed, a process sealed by the award of a Cardinal’s hat. In contrast, Manning’s arteries had hardened in his old age. He waxed increasingly bitter against ‘the Upper Ten Thousand’ English Catholics, who showed scant interest in his social work.

In the notes which the lonely old man scribbled at night in his cavernous mansion in Victoria, he identified Newman as the chief agent of their corruption into a worldly Catholicism.

All the same, when the two old men met at the funeral of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk in 1886, Manning strove to show due respect to a fellow Cardinal. ‘What do you think Manning did to me?’ an astonished Newman related afterwards. ‘He kissed me.’

The example has been lost on Newman’s disciples. That Manning should have been disdained by Lytton Strachey, whose purpose was to mock religion, is understandable enough; that he should so rarely have been defended by English Catholics must be regarded, saving Protestant pomposity, as a disgrace.

There have been honourable exceptions. Hilaire Belloc (half French) insisted that Manning had been ‘much the greatest Englishman of his time’. Shane Leslie (an Irishman) wrote an admiring biography, full of illuminating anecdote. Too often, though, Manning has been treated almost as an embarrassment.

Just possibly, after snooty English Catholics have passed a few more centuries parading their superiority to Manning, the Church might get around to recognising his virtues. Meanwhile, on the secular view, Manning may be regarded as someone quite as praiseworthy as a saint, a man who took hold of the less attractive facets of his character — the killing earnestness, the will to dominate — and discovered in Roman Catholicism the best means of setting them to work on behalf of the dispossessed.