Friday, October 15, 2010

The Forgotten Champions of English Catholicism.

With all of the hype going on about the beatification of John Henry Newman, I find it disturbing that the two most influential and outstanding Catholic clergymen of the same time period have been largely ignored by most Catholics today. Concerning the reestablishment of English Catholicism in the mid to late nineteenth century, there is no question that Cardinal Nicholas Wisemen and Cardinal Henry Manning are by far the two most important and influential English Catholics of the day. Not only were they both brilliant theologians, excellent orators and men of outstanding character, but they were also instrumental in bringing the Catholic faith back to life in England by getting their hands dirty on the ground. These two men were not faint of heart and they were not ones to sob in the midst of extreme trial and tribulation.

Nicholas Wiseman, who would become the first Cardinal of Westminster since the time Elizabeth I was a brilliant man, skilled in six languages including Syriac, and well educated in Rome would be chosen by Pope Pius IX to rebuild Catholicism in England. At only the age of 26 he was made the rector of the English College in Rome. His preaching was astounding, and when visiting England in 1839 before his permanent assignment there, he was reported to have preached over 90 times in just 6 weeks, each sermon lasting an average of an hour! Both Protestants and Catholics alike came to hear him preach. Manning would likewise draw the attention of both camps mesmerizing them with his astounding sermons as well. Both men had in common the ability and desire to defend and promote the Catholic faith, ad they did it well. As far as apologetics goes, these two Cardinals are hands down the most gifted to come out of England at this time.

In 1840 Wiseman was consecrated bishop of Melipotamus, the coadjutor of the bishop of Walsh in England. Later Wiseman would actually receive Newman into the Church. Wiseman was later sent to London were he was instrumental in educating the clergy as well as restoring many religious orders to England many of which had not been seen on the island since the horrible scourges of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. In October of 1850 the unthinkable would happen, yes it was the miracle of the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England. Blessed Pope Pius IX elevated Nicholas Wiseman to the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. As you may have guessed this caused large “anti-popery” protests in England, and when Wiseman returned to England he was heckled, ridiculed and even physically assaulted at times. This was of no matter for the Cardinal, and he pressed on valiantly to continue to revive and restore Catholicism to England, eventually again pulling in Protestants by his preaching.

Cardinal Wiseman spent a large part of his time trying to reconcile the Old Catholics and the new Catholic converts. He would not fully reconcile them in his lifetime, and Manning would make further headway after him in this area. Wiseman had also attempted to address problems with the Catholic education of the poor, which Manning would later make his relentless crusade when he became Archbishop. Manning picked up the torch and was made Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in 1865 when Cardinal Wiseman went on to his eternal reward. Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman should be a name readily known to Catholics today for being at the tip of the spear in resurrecting Catholicism in England, against immense opposition. His sermons and written works are second to none and should be in the library of anyone interested in English Catholicism.

After Cardinal Wiseman laid the foundation, Cardinal Manning erected the walls of the English Catholic Church. There was no one better to follow Wiseman than his longtime friend Henry Edward Manning. Pope Pius IX himself made the appointment directly, opposing several bishops who had submitted their choices for Wiseman's successor. It is said that when Pope Pius IX read the list of recommended names to replace Wiseman, that he stood up in disgust and threw the letter down on his desk. Manning himself had no idea that he would be elected to the position by the Pope. Manning, also known for his great sermons, was a convert from Anglicanism. Converting in 1851 he had already had quite a distinguished career as an archdeacon. He would quickly gain the reputation of being a staunch lover and defender of the Catholic faith. Manning made great headway in Catholic education and also brought in many religious groups into England. He was known to be always busy at work for the Catholic faith and he quickly built many schools for the poor and middle class.

What also made Manning so special was that he frequently corresponded with many people, often times converting them to the Catholic faith. For example, according to Manning’s own records, he numbered 346 converts to the Catholic faith between 1851 and 1865. Some notable converts were the Duchess of Buccleuch and the Duchess of Argyll. One of his most notable accomplishments was being instrumental at Vatican I in helping to define the dogma of papal infallibility. In 1869 he was called to Rome for the opening of the First Vatican Council. In December was put on the Committee “De Fide," and in March of 1870 the question of Papal Infallibility was referred to the council. Finally on the 18th of July the Decree was passed. Manning is often referred to as the Father of Vatican I. When Blessed Pius IX went to his eternal reward Manning went to Rome for the conclave and was said to have received a couple of votes for the next successor of St. Peter. As we know, that was not to be. Cardinal Manning closed out his life laboring for the poor and he went to his eternal reward on Jan 14th of 1892. At the time no one had witnessed such a large funeral procession in Victorian London.

The restoration of the Catholic Church in England was largely built upon these two champions of orthodoxy. There is much more that needs to be said about these two pillars of English Catholicism, and it is a shame that more is not spoken of them. While Newman may have received all of the attention in later years as being a great pioneer of English Catholicism, it was the two Cardinal Archbishops, Wiseman and Manning that erected the Catholic Church in England after ages of persecution. They were not ivory tower elitists who wrote for the sake of being recognized for their thoughts or for the purpose of stretching the bounds of theology. No, these two Cardinals were the workhorses that brought Catholicism to the street level for the men and women of England. Take some time to get to know these two champions of the Catholic faith.

Matthew J. Bellisario 2010

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