Magazine article The Spectator

Cardinal Virtues

Magazine article The Spectator

Cardinal Virtues

Article excerpt

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

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 selfconfident 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. …

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