Under Father Manning’s Leadership, English Ultramontanes Flourish Despite John Acton’s Promotion of Liberal Doctrines

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Under Father Manning’s Leadership, English Ultramontanes Flourish Despite John Acton’s Promotion of Liberal Doctrines
Under Father Manning’s Leadership, English Ultramontanes Flourish Despite John Acton’s Promotion of Liberal Doctrines

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 the movement’s 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.

As we have seen, Father (later Cardinal) Henry Manning asked Father John Newman to advise John Acton to stop publishing articles in The Rambler against the pope’s temporal power. Failure to do so would force the English episcopate to condemn the magazine. Newman acquiesced but wrote Archbishop Nicholas Wiseman a letter clearly stating his views. Newman explained that he did not consider the pontiff’s territorial sovereignty indispensable for the Church to fulfill its mission. This letter revealed such a state of mind that Father Manning understood that no collaboration with the Oratorian was possible. He completely distanced himself from Newman.

The Rambler ceased publishing at precisely the time when the liberal movement around the world was growing. With his characteristic energy, Father Manning managed to prevent that growth from happening in England.

John Acton felt he could not give up the ground without trying to regain lost positions. In July 1862, three months after closing The Rambler, he launched a new periodical, The Home and Foreign Review. The new magazine’s articles were even more liberal than those of The Rambler.

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Father Newman suspended his contacts with liberal Catholics when he was forced to abandon The Rambler. However, he resumed his correspondence with Acton to moderate the editor’s excesses. The effort was useless. Acton was irritated by the Ultramontanes, especially William Ward. Ward attacked The Home and Foreign Review in brilliant articles in the Dublin Review. Thereafter, John Acton promoted the liberal movement heart and soul, loudly supporting its boldest initiatives.

In 1863, liberal Catholics sought to gain prestige within the Church through a major offensive. They announced a conference for liberal Catholics from around the world in Mechelen, Belgium. Their goal was to disseminate their respective apostolate activities widely.

Meanwhile, in Munich, Father Ignaz von Doellinger sought to bring together German Catholic scientists to provoke a revolt against papal authority. In Mechelen, Charles Forbes, Comte de Montalembert gave the sadly famous speech defending the thesis of a free Church in a free State, a view that Pope Pius IX condemned in his Syllabus shortly afterward.

In Munich, German historical theologians sought to counter the revival of Thomism, which Italian theologians were promoting with the Pope’s support. As John Acton had studied with Doellinger, the Assembly of Catholic Scientists in Munich had great influence in England. The Home and Foreign Review was deeply committed to it, which is why we will briefly explain its genesis.

Doellinger was one of the chief liberal leaders and most qualified representatives of the so-called historical theology. Highly erudite, he dominated German universities, fought Thomism and opposed the Ultramontanes. The liberals often tried to promote a congress to debate theses opposing the two schools, but the Ultramontanes refused.

In early 1863, Herder Publishers convinced Doellinger to hold the congress anyway. Doellinger, Father Johann Alzog, and the Orientalist Hannenberg invited all German, Austrian and Swiss Catholic scientists to meet in Munich in September. The meeting’s real purpose was not officially divulged. However, in letters to his friends, Doellinger revealed that he intended to unleash a civil war among German theologians and concentrate their efforts against their common enemy, the Thomist movement.

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Matteo Eustachio Gonella, the apostolic nuncio in Bavaria, did not welcome the idea of the congress. He went so far as to declare that it would be a synod meeting without ecclesiastical approval. The Bishop of Paderborn, Most Rev. Konrad Martin, forbade his priests to attend. Other prelates, however, encouraged the initiative. The Assembly of German Scientists convened with 84 participants. At its first meeting, on September 28, 1863, Doellinger was elected president and delivered a very moderate speech to reassure the Ultramontanes, who had accepted the invitation.

Indeed, numerous Ultramontanes attended. Others, like those in Tubingen, collectively refused to participate. However, the anti-liberals did not react uniformly. The assembly gained prestige when many anti-liberals agreed to participate, allowing historical theologians to debate their most advanced theses.

Pius IX was alarmed by the liberals’ audacity. Montalembert’s Mechelen speech had been delivered earlier in August 1863. Now, the Germans rose up a month later. In 1864, although the Syllabus and the Encyclical Quanta cura were almost ready for publication, the pope sent Montalembert a letter of censure. He wrote the archbishop of Munich, regretting that the congress had met without the hierarchy’s influence to direct and control theology. A few months later, the Holy See implemented regulations that made new meetings of this kind impossible.

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The Home and Foreign Review had become one of the assembly’s most enthusiastic supporters and was fully committed to it. However, John Acton realized that he, too, had been hit by the pope’s censure and decided to suspend the magazine’s publication. He explained the reasons for the closure in an article in its last issue, titled “Conflicts with Rome.” Without renouncing his ideas, he said he did not want to put up an active and persevering resistance to the Holy Father’s stated will.

The Home and Foreign Review’s short life span—from July to December 1863—prevented it from having the influence The Rambler had undeniably achieved. It had been one more effort, one last attempt to check the continuous progress of English Ultramontanism. Henceforth John Acton definitively renounced publishing any magazine. He limited himself to assembling a liberal library designed to research a history of liberalism, which he intended to write.

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