Many Catholics today are unaware of the immense contributions of the Ultramontanes of the nineteenth century to the resurgence of Catholicism worldwide. Prof. Fernando Furquim de Almeida (1913-1981) studied the movement and produced dozens of articles detailing its work. We have edited these articles and will be featuring them. They highlight the actions of Ultramontane leaders in England, Spain, Italy, France and Ireland.
In 1875, all of England applauded when Pius IX created Archbishop Manning a cardinal. In 1850, British public opinion received Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman’s appointment with resentment and protests. Twenty-five years later, Catholics, and several prominent Protestants, deemed it an honor for the country to have one of its sons elevated to the Sacred College. The progress of the English Catholic movement was such that, in a mere quarter-century, people’s attitude toward Church matters profoundly changed.
During this period, Father Manning had been Cardinal Wiseman’s efficient helper and brilliant collaborator in the struggle to restore Catholicism in his homeland. He strove to form genuine, pious, learned Catholics who would raise the social level of the movement. He extended the apostolate to all strata of society. He helped transform Catholics, whom Newman—even after his conversion—had described as pariahs, into citizens capable of imposing respect for their religious rights on the government and influencing the nation’s political life. It was only natural, therefore, that everyone saw the Sovereign Pontiff’s choice as a just reward to one who had raised the prestige of the Church to new heights.
In previous articles, we mentioned Bishop Manning’s apostolate with the upper strata of society, for which Father Newman sharply criticized him. However, Manning never abandoned the poor and the workers. Instead, he cared for them with the same zeal—establishing countless works to lighten their burden and teaching them the doctrines of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The League of the Cross was one of his most famous initiatives.
Alarmed at the number of drunkards in Ireland and Scotland, Father Theobald Matthew, a Capuchin, founded the Temperance League in 1838. Its members pledged to stop drinking. So great was its success that many Dublin pubs closed for lack of customers. With Father Matthew’s death in 1856, the League went into decline.
In 1872, Archbishop Manning restored the Temperance League under the name of the League of the Cross. He personally and publicly undertook to abstain from alcoholic beverages. He was faithful to such an extent that, already old and sick, he refused some wine the doctor had prescribed. He explained: “If London workers learned the old Cardinal sipped wine, they would think themselves authorized to maintain the habit of drinking strong liquors.”
Every year, the League of the Cross celebrated a great feast during which its members paraded in an imposing procession along with the Cardinal. The participants were escorted by the most faithful elements of the so-called Cardinal’s Guard, which later became famous. The procession stopped at predetermined points, where the Archbishop addressed the participants, who always responded with enthusiastic applause.
The League of the Cross was one of Archbishop Manning’s most beloved works. Even while sick and in danger of his life, he liked to remember that the League had saved many poor drunkards. Through it, he captured workers’ sympathy.
The Archbishop’s prestige was such that he could successfully intervene in an 1889 strike by London dock workers demanding greater pay. This episode became famous as the issue had evolved into an open struggle between employers and employees and even threatened England with civil war.
For three weeks, the government tried in vain to calm tempers. They then resorted to the good offices of several eminent personalities, asking them to serve as mediators. They, too, failed. At last, the Lord Mayor of London requested the Cardinal’s intervention.
After nine days of work, Archbishop Manning got the employers to agree to a compromise formula. He devoted another five hours urging the workers’ leaders to accept it. As the leaders resisted, it also seemed the Cardinal would fail to restore peace. He was inspired to remind the assembled strike leaders of their families’ situations and duties to their comrades and nation. He ended with this warning: “If you refuse this peace mission, I will speak to the strikers myself; twenty-five thousand of them are my spiritual children, and they will heed me.” Impressed by his firmness, the workers’ leaders accepted the proposal and ended the strike when all hope seemed lost.
After this episode, the Cardinal’s prestige in England became immense. Even Protestants claimed that no Anglican dignitary would ever achieve such renown and moral authority.
The famous politician and former Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, used Cardinal Manning as a model for Bishop Nigel Penruddock, a character in his 1880 novel Endymion. A portion of this portrait is reproduced below:
“Nigel Penruddock had obtained great celebrity as a preacher, while his extreme doctrines and practices had alike amazed, fascinated, and alarmed a large portion of the public…. Nigel was changed. Instead of that anxious and moody look which formerly marred the refined beauty of his countenance, his glance was calm and yet radiant. He was thinner, it might almost be said emaciated, which seemed to add height to his tall figure….
“Instead of avoiding society, as was his wont in the old days, the Archbishop sought it. And there was nothing exclusive in his social habits; all classes and all creeds, all conditions and orders of men, were alike interesting to him; they were part of the mighty community, with all whose pursuits, and passions, and interests, and occupations he seemed to sympathize, but respecting which he had only one object—to bring them back once more to that imperial fold from which, in an hour of darkness and distraction, they had miserably wandered. The conversion of England was deeply engraven on the heart of Penruddock; it was his constant purpose, and his daily and nightly prayer.
“So the Archbishop was seen everywhere, even at fashionable assemblies. He was a frequent guest at banquets which he never tasted, for he was a smiling ascetic, and though he seemed to be preaching or celebrating high mass in every part of the metropolis, organizing schools, establishing convents, and building cathedrals, he could find time to move philanthropic resolutions at middle-class meetings, attend learned associations, and even occasionally send a paper to the Royal Society.”
Photo Credit: © Stephen – stock.adobe.com