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Lytton Strachey (1880–1932). Eminent Victorians. 1918

Cardinal Manning

Part V

WHEN Manning joined the Church of Rome he acted under the combined impulse of the two dominating forces in his nature. His preoccupation with the supernatural might, alone, have been satisfied within the fold of the Anglican communion; and so might his preoccupation with himself: the one might have found vent in the elaborations of High Church ritual, and the other in the activities of a bishopric. But the two together could not be quieted so easily. The Church of England is a commodious institution; she is very anxious to please; but, somehow or other, she has never managed to supply a happy home to superstitious egotists. “What an escape for my poor soul!” Manning is said to have exclaimed when, shortly after his conversion, a mitre was going a-begging. But, in truth, Manning’s “poor soul” had scented nobler quarry. To one of his temperament, how was it possible, when once the choice was plainly put, to hesitate for a moment between the respectable dignity of an English bishop, harnessed by the secular power, with the Gorham judgment as a bit between his teeth, and the illimitable pretentions of the humblest priest of Rome?

For the moment, however, it seemed as if the Fates had at last been successful in their little game of shunting Manning. The splendid career which he had so laboriously built up from the small beginnings of his Sussex curacy was shattered—and shattered by the inevitable operation of his own essential needs. He was over forty, and he had been put back once more to the very bottom rung of the ladder—a middle-aged neophyte with, so far as could be seen, no special claim to the attention of his new superiors. The example of Newman, a far more illustrious convert, was hardly reassuring: he had been relegated to a complete obscurity, in which he was to remain until extreme old age. Why should there be anything better in store for Manning? Yet it so happened that within fourteen years of his conversion Manning was Archbishop of Westminster and the supreme ruler of the Roman Catholic community in England. This time the Fates gave up the unequal struggle; they paid over their stakes in despair, and retired from the game.

Nevertheless it is difficult to feel quite sure that Manning’s plunge was as hazardous as it appeared. Certainly he was not a man who was likely to forget to look before he leaped, nor one who, if he happened to know that there was a mattress spread to receive him, would leap with less conviction. In the light of after-events, one would be glad to know what precisely passed at that mysterious interview of his with the Pope, three years before his conversion. It is at least possible that the authorities in Rome had their eye on Manning; they may well have felt that the Archdeacon of Chichester would be a great catch. What did Pio Nono say? It is easy to imagine the persuasive innocence of his Italian voice. “Ah, dear Signor Manning, why don’t you come over to us? Do you suppose that we should not look after you?”

At any rate, when he did go over, Manning was looked after very thoroughly. There was, it is true, a momentary embarrassment at the outset: it was only with the greatest difficulty that he could bring himself to abandon his faith in the validity of Anglican Orders, in which he believed “with a consciousness stronger than all reasoning.” He was convinced that he was still a priest. When the Rev. Mr. Tierney, who had received him into the Roman Catholic communion, assured him that this was not the case, he was filled with dismay and mortification. After a five hours’ discussion, he started to his feet in a rage. “Then, Mr. Tierney,” he exclaimed, “you think me insincere.” The bitter draught was swallowed at last, and, after that, all went smoothly. Manning hastened to Rome, and was immediately placed by the Pope in the highly select Accademia Ecclesiastica, commonly known as the “nursery of Cardinals,” for the purpose of completing his theological studies. When the course was finished, he continued, by the Pope’s special request, to spend six months of every year in Rome, where he preached to the English visitors, became acquainted with the great personages of the Papal court, and enjoyed the privilege of constant interviews with the Holy Father. At the same time he was able to make himself useful in London, where Cardinal Wiseman, the newly-created Archbishop of Westminster, was seeking to reanimate the Roman Catholic community. Manning was not only extremely popular in the pulpit and in the confessional; he was not only highly efficient as a gleaner of souls—and of souls who moved in the best society; he also possessed a familiarity with official persons and official ways, which was invaluable. When the question arose of the appointment of Catholic chaplains in the Crimea during the war, it was Manning who approached the Minister, interviewed the Permanent Secretary, and finally succeeded in obtaining all that was required. When a special Reformatory for Catholic children was proposed, Manning carried through the negotiations with the Government. When an attempt was made to remove Catholic children from the Workhouses, Manning was again indispensable. No wonder Cardinal Wiseman soon determined to find some occupation of special importance for the energetic convert. He had long wished to establish a congregation of secular priests in London particularly devoted to his service, and the opportunity for the experiment had clearly now arisen. The order of the Oblates of St. Charles was founded in Bayswater, and Manning was put at its head. Unfortunately no portion of the body of St. Charles could be obtained for the new community, but two relics of his blood were brought over to Bayswater from Milan. Almost at the same time the Pope signified his appreciation of Manning’s efforts by appointing him Provost of the Chapter of Westminster—a position which placed him at the head of the Canons of the diocese.

This double promotion was the signal for the outbreak of an extraordinary intestine struggle, which raged without intermission for the next seven years, and was only to end with the accession of Manning to the Archbishopric. The condition of the Roman Catholic community in England was at that time a singular one. On the one hand the old repressive laws of the seventeenth century had been repealed by liberal legislation, and on the other a large new body of distinguished converts had entered the Roman Church as a result of the Oxford Movement. It was evident that there was a “boom” in English Catholicism, and, in 1850, Pius IX. recognised the fact by dividing up the whole of England into dioceses, and placing Wiseman at the head of them as Archbishop of Westminster. Wiseman’s encyclical, dated “from without the Flaminian Gate,” in which he announced the new departure, was greeted in England by a storm of indignation, culminating in the famous and furibund letter of Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister, against the insolence of the “Papal Aggression.” Though the particular point against which the outcry was raised—the English territorial titles of the new Roman bishops—was an insignificant one, the instinct of Lord John and of the English people was in reality sound enough. Wiseman’s installation did mean, in fact, a new move in the Papal game; it meant an advance, if not an aggression—a quickening in England of the long dormant energies of the Roman Church. That Church has never had the reputation of being an institution to be trifled with; and, in those days, the Pope was still ruling as a temporal Prince over the fairest provinces of Italy. Surely, if the images of Guy Fawkes had not been garnished, on that fifth of November, with triple crowns, it would have been a very poor compliment to His Holiness.

But it was not only the honest Protestants of England who had cause to dread the arrival of the new Cardinal Archbishop; there was a party among the Catholics themselves who viewed his installation with alarm and disgust. The families in which the Catholic tradition had been handed down uninterruptedly since the days of Elizabeth, which had known the pains of exile and of martyrdom, and which clung together, an alien and isolated group in the midst of English society, now began to feel that they were, after all, of small moment in the counsels of Rome. They had laboured through the heat of the day, but now it seemed as if the harvest was to be gathered in by a crowd of converts, who were proclaiming on every side as something new and wonderful the truths which the Old Catholics, as they came to be called, had not only known, but for which they had suffered, for generations. Cardinal Wiseman, it is true, was no convert; he belonged to one of the oldest of the Catholic families; but he had spent most of his life in Rome, he was out of touch with English traditions, and his sympathy with Newman and his followers was only too apparent. One of his first acts as Archbishop was to appoint the convert W. G. Ward, who was not even in holy orders, to be Professor of Theology at St. Edmund’s College—the chief seminary for young priests, in which the ancient traditions of Douay were still flourishing. Ward was an ardent Papalist, and his appointment indicated clearly enough that in Wiseman’s opinion there was too little of the Italian spirit in the English community. The uneasiness of the Old Catholics was becoming intense, when they were reassured by Wiseman’s appointing as his coadjutor and successor his intimate friend, Dr. Errington, who was created on the occasion Archbishop of Trebizond in partibus infidelium. Not only was Dr. Errington an Old Catholic of the most rigid type, he was a man of extreme energy, whose influence was certain to be great; and, in any case, Wiseman was growing old, so that before very long it seemed inevitable that the policy of the diocese would be in proper hands. Such was the position of affairs when, two years after Errington’s appointment, Manning became head of the Oblates of St. Charles and Provost of the Chapter of Westminster.

The Archbishop of Trebizond had been for some time growing more and more suspicious of Manning’s influence, and this sudden elevation appeared to justify his worst fears. But his alarm was turned to fury when he learnt that St. Edmund’s College, from which he had just succeeded in removing the obnoxious W. G. Ward, was to be placed under the control of the Oblates of St. Charles. The Oblates did not attempt to conceal the fact that one of their principal aims was to introduce the customs of a Roman Seminary into England. A grim perspective of espionage and tale-bearing, foreign habits and Italian devotions, opened out before the dismayed eyes of the Old Catholics; they determined to resist to the utmost; and it was upon the question of the control of St. Edmund’s that the first battle in the long campaign between Errington and Manning was fought.

Cardinal Wiseman was now obviously declining towards the grave. A man of vast physique—“your immense,” an Irish servant used respectfully to call him—a sanguine temperament, of genial disposition, of versatile capacity, he seemed to have engrafted upon the robustness of his English nature the facile, child-like, and expansive qualities of the South. So far from being a Bishop Blougram (as the rumour went) he was, in fact, the very antithesis of that subtle and worldly-wise ecclesiastic. He had innocently looked forward all his life to the reunion of England to the See of Peter, and eventually had come to believe that, in God’s hand, he was the instrument destined to bring about this miraculous consummation. Was not the Oxford Movement, with its flood of converts, a clear sign of the Divine will? Had he not himself been the author of that momentous article on St. Augustine and the Donatists, which had finally convinced Newman that the Church of England was in schism? And then had he not been able to set on foot a Crusade of Prayer throughout Catholic Europe for the conversion of England? He awaited the result with eager expectation, and in the meantime he set himself to smooth away the hostility of his countrymen by delivering courses of popular lectures on literature and archæology. He devoted much time and attention to the ceremonial details of his princely office. His knowledge of rubric and ritual and of the symbolical significations of vestments has rarely been equalled, and he took a profound delight in the ordering and the performance of elaborate processions. During one of these functions an unexpected difficulty arose: the Master of the Ceremonies suddenly gave the word for a halt, and, on being asked the reason, replied that he had been instructed that moment by special revelation to stop the procession. The Cardinal, however, was not at a loss. “You may let the procession go on,” he smilingly replied. “I have just obtained permission, by special revelation, to proceed with it.” His leisure hours he spent in the writing of edifying novels, the composition of acrostics in Latin Verse, and in playing battledore and shuttlecock with his little nieces. There was, indeed, only one point in which he resembled Bishop Blougram—his love of a good table. Some of Newman’s disciples were astonished and grieved to find that he sat down to four courses of fish during Lent. “I am sorry to say,” remarked one of them afterwards, “that there is a lobster salad side to the Cardinal.”

It was a melancholy fate which ordained that the last years of this comfortable, easy-going, innocent old man should be distracted and embittered by the fury of opposing principles and the venom of personal animosities. But so it was. He had fallen into the hands of one who cared very little for the gentle pleasures of repose. Left to himself, Wiseman might have compromised with the Old Catholics and Dr. Errington; but when Manning had once appeared upon the scene all compromise became impossible. The late Archdeacon of Chichester, who had understood so well and practised with such careful skill the precept of the golden mean so dear to the heart of the Church of England, now, as Provost of Westminster, flung himself into the fray with that unyielding intensity of fervour, that passion for the extreme and the absolute, which is the very life-blood of the Church of Rome. Even the redoubtable Dr. Errington, short, thickset, determined, with his “hawk-like expression of face,” as a contemporary described him, “as he looked at you through his blue spectacles,” had been known to quail in the presence of his antagonist, with his tall and graceful figure, his pale ascetic features, his compressed and icy lips, his calm and penetrating gaze. As for the poor Cardinal, he was helpless indeed. Henceforward there was to be no paltering with that dangerous spirit of independence—was it not almost Gallicanism?—which possessed the Old Catholic families of England. The supremacy of the Vicar of Christ must be maintained at all hazards. Compared with such an object, what were the claims of personal affection and domestic peace? The Cardinal pleaded in vain; his life-long friendship with Dr. Errington was plucked up by the roots, and the harmony of his private life was utterly destroyed. His own household was turned against him. His favourite nephew, whom he had placed among the Oblates under Manning’s special care, left the congregation and openly joined the party of Dr. Errington. His secretary followed suit; but saddest of all was the case of Monsignor Searle. Monsignor Searle, in the capacity of confidential man of affairs, had dominated over the Cardinal in private for years with the autocratic fidelity of a servant who has grown indispensable. His devotion, in fact, seemed to have taken the form of physical imitation, for he was hardly less gigantic than his master. The two were inseparable; their huge figures loomed together like neighbouring mountains; and on one occasion, meeting them in the street, a gentleman congratulated Wiseman on “your Eminence’s fine son.” Yet now even this companionship was broken up. The relentless Provost here too brought a sword. There were explosions and recriminations. Monsignor Searle, finding that his power was slipping from him, made scenes and protests, and at last was foolish enough to accuse Manning of peculation to his face; after that it was clear that his day was over; he was forced to slink snarling into the background, while the Cardinal shuddered through all his immensity and wished many times that he were already dead.

Yet he was not altogether without his consolations; Manning took care to see to that. His piercing eye had detected the secret way into the recesses of the Cardinal’s heart—had discerned the core of simple faith which underlay that jovial manner and that facile talk. Others were content to laugh and chatter and transact their business; Manning was more artistic. He watched his opportunity, and then, when the moment came, touched with a deft finger the chord of the Conversion of England. There was an immediate response, and he struck the same chord again, and yet again. He became the repository of the Cardinal’s most intimate aspirations. He alone sympathised and understood. “If God gives me strength to undertake a great wrestling-match with infidelity,” Wiseman wrote, “I shall owe it to him.”

But what he really found himself undertaking was a wrestling-match with Dr. Errington. The struggle over St. Edmund’s College grew more and more acute. There were high words in the Chapter, where Monsignor Searle led the assault against the Provost, and carried a resolution declaring that the Oblates of St. Charles had intruded themselves illegally into the Seminary. The Cardinal quashed the proceedings of the Chapter; whereupon the Chapter appealed to Rome. Dr. Errington, carried away by the fury of the controversy, then appeared as the avowed opponent of the Provost and the Cardinal. With his own hand he drew up a document justifying the appeal of the Chapter to Rome by Canon Law and the decrees of the Council of Trent. Wiseman was deeply pained. “My own coadjutor,” he exclaimed, “is acting as solicitor against me in a lawsuit.” There was a rush to Rome, where, for several ensuing years, the hostile English parties were to wage a furious battle in the antechambers of the Vatican. But the dispute over the Oblates now sank into insignificance beside the rage of contention which centred round a new and far more deadly question; for the position of Dr. Errington himself was at stake. The Cardinal, in spite of illness, indolence, and the ties of friendship, had been brought at last to an extraordinary step: he was petitioning the Pope for nothing less than the deprivation and removal of the Archbishop of Trebizond.

The precise details of what followed are doubtful. It is only possible to discern with clearness, amid a vast cloud of official documents and unofficial correspondences in English, Italian, and Latin, of Papal decrees and voluminous scritture, of confidential reports of episcopal whispers and the secret agitations of Cardinals, the form of Manning, restless and indomitable, scouring like a stormy petrel the angry ocean of debate. Wiseman, dilatory, unbusinesslike, and infirm, was ready enough to leave the conduct of affairs in his hands. Nor was it long before Manning saw where the key of the whole position lay. As in the old days, at Chichester, he had secured the good will of Bishop Shuttleworth by cultivating the friendship of Archdeacon Hare, so now, on this vaster scale of operations, his sagacity led him swiftly and unerringly up the little winding staircase in the Vatican and through the humble door which opened into the cabinet of Monsignor Talbot, the private secretary of the Pope. Monsignor Talbot was a priest who embodied in a singular manner, if not the highest, at least the most persistent traditions of the Roman Curia. He was master of various arts which the practice of ages has brought to perfection under the friendly shadow of the triple tiara. He could mingle together astuteness and holiness without any difficulty; he could make innuendoes as naturally as an ordinary man makes statements of fact; he could apply flattery with so unsparing a hand that even Princes of the Church found it sufficient; and, on occasion, he could ring the changes of torture on a human soul with a tact which called forth universal approbation. With such accomplishments, it could hardly be expected that Monsignor Talbot should be remarkable either for a delicate sense of conscientiousness or for an extreme refinement of feeling, but then it was not for those qualities that Manning was in search when he went up the winding stair. He was looking for the man who had the ear of Pio Nono; and, on the other side of the low-arched door, he found him. Then he put forth all his efforts; his success was complete; and an alliance began which was destined to have the profoundest effect upon Manning’s career, and was only dissolved when, many years later, Monsignor Talbot was unfortunately obliged to exchange his apartment in the Vatican for a private lunatic asylum at Passy.

It was determined that the coalition should be ratified by the ruin of Dr. Errington. When the moment of crisis was seen to be approaching, Wiseman was summoned to Rome, where he began to draw up an immense “scrittura” containing his statement of the case. For months past the redoubtable energies of the Archbishop of Trebizond had been absorbed in a similar task. Folio was being piled upon folio, when a sudden blow threatened to put an end to the whole proceeding in a summary manner. The Cardinal was seized by violent illness, and appeared to be upon his deathbed. Manning thought for a moment that his labours had been in vain and that all was lost. But the Cardinal recovered; Monsignor Talbot used his influence as he alone knew how; and a papal decree was issued by which Dr. Errington was “liberated” from the Coadjutorship of Westminster, together with the right of succession to the See.

It was a supreme act of authority—a “colpo di stato di Dominiddio,” as the Pope himself said—and the blow to the Old Catholics was correspondingly severe. They found themselves deprived at one fell swoop both of the influence of their most energetic supporter and of the certainty of coming into power at Wiseman’s death. And in the meantime Manning was redoubling his energies at Bayswater. Though his Oblates had been checked over St. Edmund’s, there was still no lack of work for them to do. There were missions to be carried on, schools to be managed, funds to be collected. Several new churches were built; a community of most edifying nuns of the Third Order of St. Francis was established; and £30,000, raised from Manning’s private resources and from those of his friends, was spent in three years. “I hate that man,” one of the Old Catholics exclaimed; “he is such a forward piece.” The words were reported to Manning, who shrugged his shoulders.

  • Poor man [he said] what is he made of? Does he suppose, in his foolishness, that after working day and night for twenty years in heresy and schism, on becoming a Catholic I should sit in an easy-chair and fold my hands all the rest of my life?
  • But his secret thoughts were of a different caste.
  • I am conscious of a desire [he wrote in his diary] to be in such a position (1) as I had in times past, (2) as my present circumstances imply, (3) as my friends think me fit for, (4) as I feel my own faculties tend to.
    But, God being my helper, I will not seek it by the lifting of a finger or the speaking of a word.
  • So Manning wrote, and thought, and prayed; but what are words, and thoughts, and even prayers, to the mysterious and relentless powers of circumstance and character? Cardinal Wiseman was slowly dying; the tiller of the Church was slipping from his feeble hand; and Manning was beside him, the one man with the energy, the ability, the courage, and the conviction to steer the ship upon her course. More than that; there was the sinister figure of a Dr. Errington crouching close at hand, ready to seize the helm and make straight—who could doubt it?—for the rocks. In such a situation the voice of self-abnegation must needs grow still and small indeed. Yet it spoke on, for it was one of the paradoxes in Manning’s soul that that voice was never silent. Whatever else he was, he was not unscrupulous. Rather, his scruples deepened with his desires; and he could satisfy his most exorbitant ambitions in a profoundity of self-abasement. And so now he vowed to Heaven that he would seek nothing—no, not by the lifting of a finger or the speaking of a word. But, if something came to him—? He had vowed not to seek; he had not vowed not to take. Might it not be his plain duty to take? Might it not be the will of God?

    Something, of course, did come to him, though it seemed for a moment that it would elude his grasp. Wiseman died, and there ensued in Rome a crisis of extraordinary intensity. “Since the creation of the hierarchy,” Monsignor Talbot wrote, “it is the greatest moment for the Church that I have yet seen.” It was the duty of the Chapter of Westminster to nominate three candidates for succession to the Archbishopric; they made one last effort, and had the temerity to place upon the list, besides the names of two Old Catholic bishops, that of Dr. Errington. It was a fatal blunder. Pius IX. was furious; the Chapter had committed an “insulta al Papa,” he exclaimed, striking his breast three times in his rage. “It was the Chapter that did it,” said Manning afterwards; but even after the Chapter’s indiscretion, the fatal decision hung in the balance for weeks.

  • The great point of anxiety with me [wrote Monsignor Talbot to Manning] is whether a Congregation will be held, or whether the Holy Father will perform a Pontifical act. He himself is doubting. I therefore say mass and pray every morning that he may have the courage to choose for himself, instead of submitting the matter to a Congregation. Although the Cardinals are determined to reject Dr. Errington, nevertheless I am afraid that they should select one of the others. You know very well that Congregations are guided by the documents that are placed before them; it is for this reason that I should prefer the Pope’s acting himself.
  • But the Holy Father himself was doubting. In his indecision, he ordered a month of prayers and masses. The suspense grew and grew. Everything seemed against Manning. The whole English episcopate was opposed to him; he had quarrelled with the Chapter; he was a convert of but few years’ standing; even the congregated Cardinals did not venture to suggest the appointment of such a man. But suddenly the Holy Father’s doubts came to an end. He heard a voice—a mysterious inward voice—whispering something in his ear. “Mettetelo lì! Mettetelo lì!” the voice repeated, over and over again. “Mettetelo lì!” It was an inspiration; and Pius IX., brushing aside the recommendations of the Chapter and the deliberations of the Cardinals, made Manning, by a Pontifical act, Archbishop of Westminster.

    Monsignor Talbot’s felicity was complete; and he took occasion, in conveying his congratulations to his friend, to make some illuminating reflections upon the great event.

  • My policy throughout [he wrote] was never to propose you directly to the Pope, but to make others do so; so that both you and I can always say that it was not I who induced the Holy Father to name you, which would lessen the weight of your appointment. This I say, because many have said that your being named was all my doing. I do not say that the Pope did not know that I thought you the only man eligible; as I took care to tell him over and over again what was against all the other candidates; and in consequence he was almost driven into naming you. After he had named you, the Holy Father said to me, “What a diplomatist you are, to make what you wished come to pass!”
    Nevertheless [concluded Monsignor Talbot] I believe your appointment was specially directed by the Holy Ghost.
  • Manning himself was apparently of the same opinion.

  • My dear Child [he wrote to a lady penitent], I have in these last three weeks felt as if our Lord had called me by name. Everything else has passed out of my mind. The firm belief that I have long had that the Holy Father is the most supernatural person I have ever seen has given me this feeling more deeply still. I feel as if I had been brought, contrary to all human wills, by the Divine Will, into an immediate relation to our Divine Lord.

    If indeed [he wrote to Lady Herbert], it were the will of our Divine Lord to lay upon me this heavy burden, He could have done it in no way more strengthening and consoling to me. To receive it from the hands of His Vicar, and from Pius IX., and after long invocation of the Holy Ghost, and not only without human influences, but in spite of manifold and powerful human opposition, gives me the last strength for such a cross.