Lytton Strachey (1880–1932). Eminent Victorians. 1918Cardinal Manning
In his archdeaconry, Manning lived to the full the active life of a country clergyman. His slim, athletic figure was seen everywhere—in the streets of Chichester, or on the lawns of the neighbouring rectories, or galloping over the downs in breeches and gaiters, or cutting brilliant figures on the ice. He was an excellent judge of horseflesh, and the pair of greys which drew his hooded phaeton so swiftly through the lanes were the admiration of the county. His features were already beginning to assume their ascetic caste, but the spirit of youth had not yet fled from them, so that he seemed to combine the attractions of dignity and grace. He was a good talker, a sympathetic listener, a man who understood the difficult art of preserving all the vigour of a manly character and yet never giving offence. No wonder that his sermons were crowded, no wonder that his spiritual advice was sought for eagerly by an ever-growing crowd of penitents, no wonder that men would say, when his name was mentioned, “Oh, Manning! No power on earth can keep him from a bishopric!”
Such was the fair outward seeming of the Archdeacon’s life; but the inward reality was different. The more active, the more fortunate, the more full of happy promise his existence became, the more persistently was his secret imagination haunted by a dreadful vision—the lake that burneth for ever with brimstone and fire. The temptations of the Evil One are many, Manning knew; and he knew also that, for him at least, the most subtle and terrible of all temptations was the temptation of worldly success. He tried to reassure himself, but it was in vain. He committed his thoughts to a diary, weighing scrupulously his every motive, examining with relentless searchings into the depths of his heart. Perhaps, after all, his longings for preferment were merely legitimate hopes for “an elevation into a sphere of higher usefulness.” But no, there was something more than that. “I do feel pleasure,” he noted, “in honour, precedence, elevation, the society of great people, and all this is very shameful and mean.” After Newman’s conversion, he almost convinced himself that his “visions of an ecclesiastical future” were justified by the rôle that he would play as a “healer of the breach in the Church of England.” Mr. Gladstone agreed with him; but there was One higher than Mr. Gladstone, and did He agree?
In a moment of ambition, he had applied for the Readership of Lincoln’s Inn, but, owing chiefly to the hostile influence of the Record, the appointment had gone elsewhere. A little later, a more important position was offered to him—the office of sub-almoner to the Queen, which had just been vacated by the Archbishop of York, and was almost certain to lead to a mitre. The offer threw Manning into an agony of self-examination. He drew up elaborate tables, after the manner of Robinson Crusoe, with the reasons for and against his acceptance of the post:—
|1. That it comes unsought.||1. Not therefore to be accepted. Such things are trials as well as leadings.|
|2. That it is honourable.||2. Being what I am, ought I not therefore to decline it—|
And so on. He found in the end ten “negative reasons,” with no affirmative ones to balance them, and, after a week’s deliberation, he rejected the offer.
But peace of mind was as far off from him as ever. First the bitter thought came to him that “in all this Satan tells me I am doing it to be thought mortified and holy”; and then he was obsessed by the still bitterer feelings of ineradicable disappointment and regret. He had lost a great opportunity, and it brought him small comfort to consider that “in the region of counsels, self-chastisement, humiliation, self-discipline, penace, and of the Cross” he had perhaps done right.
The crisis passed, but it was succeeded by a fiercer one. Manning was taken seriously ill, and became convinced that he might die at any moment. The entries in his diary grew more elaborate than ever; his remorse for the past, his resolutions for the future, his protestations of submission to the will of God, filled page after page of parallel columns, headings and subheadings, numbered clauses, and analytical tables. “How do I feel about Death?” he wrote.
What shall I do?
He decided to mortify himself, to read St. Thomas Aquinas, and to make his “night prayers forty instead of thirty minutes.” He determined during Lent “to use no pleasant bread (except on Sundays and feasts) such as cake and sweetmeat”; but he added the proviso “I do not include plain biscuits.” Opposite this entry appears the word “kept.” And yet his backslidings were many. Looking back over a single week, he was obliged to register “petulance twice” and “complacent visions.” He heard his curate being commended for bringing so many souls to God during Lent, and he “could not bear it”; but the remorse was terrible: “I abhorred myself on the spot, and looked upward for help.” He made out list upon list of the Almighty’s special mercies towards him, and they included his creation, his regeneration, and (No. 5)
For he had other doubts besides those which held him in torment as to his own salvation; he was in doubt about the whole framework of his faith. Newman’s conversion, he found, had meant something more to him than he had at first realised. It had seemed to come as a call to the redoubling of his Anglican activities; but supposing, in reality, it were a call towards something very different—towards an abandonment of those activities altogether? It might be a “trial,” or again it might be a “leading”; how was he to judge? Already, before his illness, these doubts had begun to take possession of his mind.
It was significant, but hardly surprising, that, after his illness, Manning should have chosen to recuperate in Rome. He spent several months there, and his Diary during the whole of that period is concerned entirely with detailed descriptions of churches, ceremonies, and relics, and with minute accounts of conversations with priests and nuns. There is not a single reference either to the objects of art or to the antiquities of the place; but another omission was still more remarkable. Manning had a long interview with Pius IX., and his only record of it is contained in the bald statement: “Audience to-day at the Vatican.” Precisely what passed on that occasion never transpired; all that is known is that His Holiness expressed considerable surprise on learning from the Archdeacon that the chalice was used in the Anglican Church in the administration of Communion. “What!” he exclaimed, “is the same chalice made use of by every one?” “I remember the pain I felt,” said Manning, long afterwards, “at seeing how unknown we were to the Vicar of Jesus Christ. It made me feel our isolation.”
On his return to England, he took up once more the work in his Archdeaconry with what appetite he might. Ravaged by doubt, distracted by speculation, he yet managed to maintain an outward presence of unshaken calm. His only confidant was Robert Wilberforce, to whom, for the next two years, he poured forth in a series of letters, headed “Under the Seal” to indicate that they contained the secrets of the confessional, the whole history of his spiritual perturbations. The irony of his position was singular; for during the whole of this time Manning was himself holding back from the Church of Rome a host of hesitating penitents by means of arguments which he was at the very moment denouncing as fallacious to his own confessor. But what else could he do? When he received, for instance, a letter such as the following from an agitated lady, what was he to say?
… I am sure you would pity me and like to help me, if you knew the unhappy, unsettled state my mind is in, and the misery of being entirely, wherever I am, with those who look upon joining the Church of Rome as the most awful “fall” conceivable to any one, and are devoid of the smallest comprehension of how any enlightened person can do it.… My old Evangelical friends, with all my deep, deep love for them, do not succeed in shaking me in the least.…
My brother has just published a book called Regeneration, which all my friends are reading and highly extolling; it has a very contrary effect to what he would desire on my mind. I can read and understand it all in an altogether different sense, and the facts which he quotes about the articles as drawn up in 1536, and again in 1552, and of the Irish articles of 1615 and 1634, startle and shake me about the Reformed Church in England far more than anything else, and have done ever since I first saw them in Mr. Maskell’s pamphlet (as quoted from Mr. Dodsworth’s).
I do hope you have sometimes time and thought to pray for me still. Mr. Galton’s letters long ago grew into short formal notes, which hurt me and annoyed me particularly, and I never answered his last, so, literally, I have no one to say things to and get help from, which in one sense is a comfort, when my convictions seem to be leading me on and on and gaining strength in spite of all the dreariness of my lot.
“Do you know I can’t help being very anxious and unhappy about poor Sister Harriet. I am afraid of her going out of her mind. She comforts herself by an occasional outpouring of everything to me, and I had a letter this morning.… She says Sister May has promised the Vicar never to talk to her or allow her to talk on the subject with her, and I doubt whether this can be good for her, because though she has lost her faith, she says, in the Church of England, yet she never thinks of what she could have faith in, and resolutely without enquiring into the question determines not to be a Roman Catholic, so that really you see she is allowing her mind to run adrift, and yet perfectly powerless.
“Forgive my troubling you with this letter, and believe me to be always your faithful, grateful and affectionate daughter,
P. S. I wish I could see you once more so very much.
How was Manning, a director of souls, and a clergyman of the Church of England, to reply that in sober truth there was very little to choose between the state of mind of Sister Emma, or even of Sister Harriet, and his own? The dilemma was a grievous one: when a soldier finds himself fighting for a cause in which he has lost faith, it is treachery to stop, and it is treachery to go on.
At last, in the seclusion of his library, Manning turned in an agony to those old writings which had provided Newman with so much instruction and assistance; perhaps the Fathers would do something for him as well. He ransacked the pages of St. Cyprian and St. Cyril; he went through the complete works of St. Optatus and St. Leo; he explored the vast treatises of Tertullian and Justin Martyr. He had a lamp put into his phaeton, so that he might lose no time during his long winter drives. There he sat, searching St. Chrysostom for some mitigation of his anguish, while he sped along between the hedges to distant sufferers, to whom he duly administered the sacraments according to the rites of the English Church. He hurried back to commit to his Diary the analysis of his reflections, and to describe, under the mystic formula of secrecy, the intricate workings of his conscience to Robert Wilberforce. But, alas! he was no Newman; and even the fourteen folios of St. Augustine himself, strange to say, gave him very little help.
The final propulsion was to come from an entirely different quarter. In November, 1847, the Reverend Mr. Gorham was presented by the Lord Chancellor to the living of Bramford Speke in the diocese of Exeter. The Bishop, Dr. Phillpotts, was a High Churchman, and he had reason to believe that Mr. Gorham held evangelical opinions; he therefore subjected him to an examination on doctrine, which took the form partly of a verbal interrogatory, lasting thirty-eight hours, and partly of a series of one hundred and forty-nine written questions. At the end of the examination he came to the conclusion that Mr. Gorham held heretical views on the subject of Baptismal Regeneration, and he therefore refused to institute. Mr. Gorham thereupon took proceedings against the Bishop in the Court of Arches. He lost his case; and he then appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The questions at issue were taken very seriously by a large number of persons. In the first place, there was the question of Baptismal Regeneration itself. This is by no means an easy one to disentangle; but it may be noted that the doctrine of Baptism includes (1) God’s intention, that is to say, His purpose in electing certain persons to eternal life—an abstruse and greatly controverted subject, upon which the Church of England abstains from strict definition; (2) God’s action, whether by means of sacraments or otherwise—concerning which the Church of England maintains the efficacy of sacraments, but does not formally deny that grace may be given by other means, repentance and faith being present; and (3) the question whether sacramental grace is given instrumentally, by and at the moment of the act of baptism, or in consequence of an act of prevenient grace rendering the receiver worthy—that is to say, whether sacramental grace in baptism is given absolutely or conditionally: it was over this last question that the dispute raged hottest in the Gorham Case. The High Church party, represented by Dr. Phillpotts, asserted that the mere act of baptism conferred regeneration upon the recipient and washed away his original sin. To this the Evangelicals, headed by Mr. Gorham, replied that, according to the Articles, regeneration would not follow unless baptism was rightly received. What, then, was the meaning of “rightly”? Clearly it implied not merely lawful administration, but worthy reception; worthiness, therefore, is the essence of the sacrament; and worthiness means faith and repentance. Now, two propositions were accepted by both parties—that all infants are born in original sin, and that original sin is washed away by baptism. But how could both these propositions be true, argued Mr. Gorham, if it was also true that faith and repentance were necessary before baptism could come into operation at all? How could an infant in arms be said to be in a state of faith and repentance? How, therefore, could its original sin be washed away by baptism? And yet, as everyone agreed, washed away it was. The only solution of the difficulty lay in the doctrine of prevenient grace; and Mr. Gorham maintained that unless God performed an act of prevenient grace by which the infant was endowed with faith and repentance, no act of baptism could be effectual; though to whom, and under what conditions, prevenient grace was given, Mr. Gorham confessed himself unable to decide. The light thrown by the Bible upon the whole matter seemed somewhat dubious, for whereas the baptism of St. Peter’s disciples at Jerusalem and St. Philip’s at Samaria was followed by the gift of the Spirit, in the case of Cornelius the sacrament succeeded the gift. St. Paul also was baptised; and as for the language of St. John iii. 5; Rom. vi. 3, 4; 1 Peter iii. 21, it admits of more than one interpretation. There could, however, be no doubt that the Church of England assented to Dr. Phillpotts’ opinion; the question was whether or not she excluded Mr. Gorham’s. If it was decided that she did, it was clear that henceforward there would be very little peace for Evangelicals within her fold.
But there was another issue, even more fundamental than that of Baptismal Regeneration itself, involved in the Gorham trial. An Act passed in 1833 had constituted the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council the supreme court of appeal for such cases; and this Committee was a body composed entirely of laymen. It was thus obvious that the Royal Supremacy was still a fact, and that a collection of lawyers appointed by the Crown had the legal right to formulate the religious doctrine of the Church of England. In 1850 their judgment was delivered; they reversed the decision of the Court of Arches, and upheld the position of Mr. Gorham. Whether his views were theologically correct or not, they said, was not their business; it was their business to decide whether the opinions under consideration were contrary or repugnant to the doctrine of the Church of England as enjoined upon the clergy by its Articles, Formularies, and Rubrics; and they had come to the conclusion that they were not. The judgment still holds good; and to this day a clergyman of the Church of England is quite at liberty to believe that Regeneration does not invariably take place when an infant is baptised.
The blow fell upon no one with greater violence than upon Manning. Not only was the supreme efficacy of the sign of the cross upon a baby’s forehead one of his favourite doctrines, but up to that moment he had been convinced that the Royal Supremacy was a mere accident—a temporary usurpation—which left the spiritual dominion of the Church essentially untouched. But now the horrid reality rose up before him, crowned and triumphant; it was all too clear that an Act of Parliament, passed by Jews, Roman Catholics, and dissenters, was the ultimate authority which decided upon the momentous niceties of the Anglican faith. Mr. Gladstone, also, was deeply perturbed. It was absolutely necessary, he wrote, to “rescue and defend the conscience of the Church from the present hideous system.” An agitation was set on foot, and several influential Anglicans, with Manning at their head, drew up and signed a formal protest against the Gorham Judgment. Mr. Gladstone, however, proposed another method of procedure: precipitate action, he declared, must be avoided at all costs, and he elaborated a scheme for securing procrastination, by which a covenant was to bind all those who believed that an article of the creed had been abolished by Act of Parliament to take no steps in any direction, nor to announce their intention of doing so, until a given space of time had elapsed. Mr. Gladstone was hopeful that some good might come of this—though indeed he could not be sure. “Among others,” he wrote to Manning, “I have consulted Robert Wilberforce and Wegg-Prosser, and they seemed inclined to favour my proposal. It might, perhaps, have kept back Lord Fielding. But he is like a cork.”
The proposal was certainly not favoured by Manning Protests and procrastinations, approving Wegg-Prossers and cork-like Lord Fieldings—all this was feeding the wind and folly; the time for action had come.
On April 6, 1851, the final step was taken: Manning was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Now at last, after the long struggle, his mind was at rest.