Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Behind Every Great Man.: Henry Manning's Women and His Conversion to Rome

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Behind Every Great Man.: Henry Manning's Women and His Conversion to Rome

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In the early 1840s Henry Manning was the "man of the moment", seen by many as the ideal man to be a bishop, perhaps archbishop, in the Church of England. He was a well respected and trustworthy moderate of the high church party, a holy man, dedicated to the church of his birth, and a powerful writer and preacher. Several groups within the Church of England looked to him to champion their causes, and throughout his career as an Anglican cleric his public ministry and pronouncements had created an impression of fidelity to the Church of England. A thoroughly "establishment" figure, he was a product of Harrow School and the emerging brilliance of the Balliol College of the late 1820s, and his spiritual journey had taken him from nominal evangelicalism to high churchmanship within ten years, at the end of which in 1840 he had been appointed archdeacon of Chichester. In contrast to the Tractarians who were beginning to drift towards Rome, Manning was regarded as unshakably Anglican, happy to parade from the pulpit of the university church in Oxford his animosity towards the Roman "distortion" of primitive Christian truth. The path to further preferment, perhaps to Canterbury itself, lay open before him.

Yet by 1851 Manning had been received into the Roman Catholic Church and had begun to ridicule the perceived "failings" of the church of his baptism; its erastian nature, its founding on the "errors" of the Protestant reformers, its decline into rationalism and heresy. Manning was one of the most significant church leaders of the nineteenth century and the Church of England's loss was the Church of Rome's gain. The Church of England lost Manning because he found its theology insufficiently serious, insufficiently sophisticated, and insufficiently free from civil interference, and he was one of several leading churchmen for whom the newly confident evangelicalism of the 1830s failed to provide long-term sustenance.

This essay will look at the development of Manning's ecclesiology and the story of his conversion to Rome within the context of his life. On three occasions the course of his affairs and opinions changed dramatically, and these periods of upheaval can be linked to his reliance on the support and guidance of three women.

The first was Miss Favell Bevan, whose influence coincided with Manning's change of direction, one might say his first conversion, between leaving Balliol in 1830 and returning to Oxford as a fellow of Merton two years later. The second feminine influence was exercised by Caroline Sargent whom he married in 1833 and who died only four years later. During this period Manning developed an interest in the sacramental life and in the nature of unity and schism, and began to be considered a high churchman. The third woman to influence his thought was Mary Wilberforce, on whose counsel he relied in the late 1840s as his doubts over Anglican polity and ecclesiology began to multiply. Manning was struggling to define his relationship with the Tractarians at this time, and his own views on the church were dealt a very serious blow by Newman's Essay on Development to which he found he, literally, had no reply.

Without wishing to stress unduly the influence exercised by these three women, their parts in the story provide useful links between Manning's public and private life, links which it is necessary to make if his religious development is to be outlined. Manning's public life and private views were often at odds, and his later writings about these years have all the charm and inaccuracy of reminiscence. There is a certain hiddenness and a wealth of contradiction to the story of his religious development which reflects the turmoil in which he often found himself. The idiosyncrasy of his story lies in his theological isolation from the main excitements of English church life in the 1830s during his wonderfully committed ministry in Lavington, and in his coping with personal crisis, first at his father's downfall, then at the death of his wife, and then in his own rejection of the church and social setting that had nurtured him, a result of his single-minded pursuit of Christian truth, particularly truth about the church. …

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