Despite Liberal Attacks, Archbishop Manning Guides English Catholics to Accept the Papal Infallibility

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Despite Liberal Attacks, Archbishop Manning Guides English Catholics to Accept the Papal Infallibility
Statue of Pope Bl. Pius IX in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.

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.

The history of the first Vatican Council is found in an upcoming series of articles on “French Catholics of the Nineteenth Century.” They commend the excellent attitude of the English episcopate, which was totally in favor of infallibility.

This unanimity was primarily due to the clear and energetic orientation that Archbishop Manning of Westminster imprinted on England’s burgeoning rediscovery of Catholicism. The Archbishop’s personal qualities, particularly his active and unshakable faith, meant that his influence went beyond the circle of his countrymen. He played a prominent role in the work of the Council, and even authors biased against him could not fail to praise him at this point in his life.

Paul Thureau Dangin, in his book La renaissance catholique en Angleterre au XIXe siècle, is one such author. As a staunch Newman supporter, he is often unfair to Manning but recognizes the Archbishop’s great worth when referring to his participation in the Council:

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“From the beginning, this prelate took his position as one of the leaders of the majority. At age 63, in full possession of all the gifts of the intellect and will, he worked with passionate energy and unparalleled skill to achieve the triumph of papal infallibility. His speeches were enormously effective, albeit he only spoke twice in plenary sessions. This is especially the case with what he said in the general discussion of infallibility, which kept the assembly attentive for nearly two hours. After seeking to refute the objection that infallibility would upset public opinion in England and make conversions difficult, he maintained that non-Catholics would be even more scandalized by those who professed to believe in infallibility but were unwilling to proclaim it, so in their eyes, only Ultramontanes would be consistent, frank and incapable of subterfuge.

“More than in the sessions, he acted behind the scenes, in individual conversations, in everyday work, always on the move, able to persuade, convince and impose himself, revealing in these maneuvers the qualities that would have made him a first-rate parliamentary whip in the House of Commons, to the point of astonishing and sometimes upsetting some old prelates. Enjoying Pius IX’s confidence, he saw the pope whenever he wanted and had free access to his apartments. His opponents, aware of his influence, did not spare him. He saw their attacks as a title of honor, and nothing gave him greater satisfaction than being called “il diavolo del Concilio [The Council’s devil]”by Italian newspapers.”

The good that Archbishop Manning did during those historical days is incalculable. Here we relate only one fact, which clearly shows how his enemies in the Church respected him and how his intransigence prevented gross absurdities from disturbing the deliberations of the universal episcopate.

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Archbishop Manning’s one-time colleague, Edward Pusey, one of the Oxford Movement’s unconverted leaders, still looked for a way to rebuild the Anglican Church. When the Council was announced, he hoped to reach an agreement with the Vatican. His ideas were very confusing, and no one quite knew what he wanted. It appears he sought to establish a federation of the various existing churches. Father Newman, who had reconciled with him personally after a period of severed relations, did not support his project. Still, with his reluctance against breaking definitively with anyone, he maintained an active correspondence with his former companion.

Bishop Félix Dupanloup, Archbishop Georges Darboy, and Lord John Acton went further: they asked Pusey to present to Rome the conditions he deemed indispensable for a return of the Anglican Church to unity with Rome. In early 1869, a Jesuit, Father Buck, spontaneously offered to serve as an intermediary between Pusey and the Holy See. He drafted a letter that laid out a set of conditions by which Anglicans might reconcile with the Church. They could gain conditional renewal of their clergy’s ordination, continue to offer communion under both species, keep their Prayer Book with a small number of doctrinal modifications, get permission for married ecclesiastics to keep their wives and establish a minimum of indispensable Marian beliefs, while possibly offering a condemnation of “excessive developments” in Our Lady’s veneration.

Father Buck went to Rome to speak with Superior General Peter Jan Beckx of the Society of Jesus. He also sent Cardinal Billio a confidential memo about the negotiations. On November 17, 1869, the Holy Office asked the Superior General to instruct his subject to “completely break off the negotiations he had undertaken for conciliation with some Anglican heretics.”

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It is not clear why Father Buck did not abandon the project, but he continued to correspond with Pusey, asking the Anglican to present a concrete proposal to the Council. Bishop Darboy and Lord Acton strongly supported the idea. Pusey decided to send Bishop Dupanloup the propositions that Anglicans desired should the Church approve an eventual union.

By this time, the Council’s “de Fide” commission was established. Archbishop Manning prevented the inclusion of liberal Catholics and limited membership to Ultramontanes. Upon learning this, Pusey realized his project was not feasible.

In a letter to Lord Acton, Pusey explained why he would not present the proposal for a possible agreement. “Having known Manning for a long time, I have no hope that propositions such as those I could consciously prepare would be accepted by a committee in which he is the leading figure.” A few days later, Pusey wrote Father Newman: “The composition of the dogma commission has discouraged us. Those on whom we would have placed more hope, Bishops Dupanloup and Darboy, have been excluded, but Manning remains. It would be absolutely illusory to think that any proposal to a committee led by Manning would stand a chance to succeed.” The matter was closed.

The archbishop rendered yet another excellent service to the Council’s smooth operation. In 1870, England’s Prime Minister was William Ewart Gladstone, a staunch Anglican who had participated in the Oxford Movement. In their youth, Gladstone had been a great friend of Archbishop Manning before he converted. Prime Minister Gladstone did not look favorably on the Council, and Lord Acton took advantage of that fact to propose an intervention by the English Government.

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Liberal Catholics urged their respective governments to oppose the definition of papal infallibility. Lord Acton believed that England, led by a staunch heretic free from the political barriers that prevented other countries’ interference, could limit the Council’s freedom.

Aware of this, Archbishop Manning got in touch with England’s unofficial ambassador to the Papal States, Odo Russell. With Pius IX’s permission, Manning provided Russell with detailed information about the Council’s sessions. That allowed the British Foreign Minister, Lord Clarendon, to fight in cabinet meetings against the measures Lord Acton proposed to Gladstone. In this way, the three men managed to prevent England’s interference in Church affairs.

Archbishop Manning’s performance significantly contributed to the Vatican Council’s success. The declaration of papal infallibility, for which he fought so hard, was the greatest reward for this outstanding nineteenth-century bishop.

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