“We Are Inferior to Them in Everything But for Possessing the True Faith”

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“We Are Inferior to Them in Everything But for Possessing the True Faith”
“We Are Inferior to Them in Everything But for Possessing the True Faith”

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.

The Rector of the English College in Rome, Msgr. (later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) Nicholas Wiseman first met with John Henry Newman in 1836. Msgr. Wiseman was immediately convinced that the Oxford Movement would lead many good-faith Protestants to the Catholic Church.

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Msgr. Wiseman’s desire to promote those conversions was one of the reasons he abandoned the scientific career he had started so brilliantly in Rome. He then dedicated himself exclusively to the apostolate in his homeland.

In England, Msgr. Wiseman created a Catholic intellectual movement parallel to the Oxford Movement. Although he had little contact with the latter, he contributed mightily to dispelling its members’ last doubts about converting to Catholicism. It was only natural that, when they abjured Protestantism, they turned to the future Cardinal for guidance in their new life.

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Mgr. Wiseman was fully aware of the intellectual value of Anglicans returning to the Catholic Church. “I am ready to admit,” he said in a letter to a friend, “that we are inferior to them in all things except in possession of the true faith. Some time ago, I declared to those around me that if the Oxford theologians joined the Church, we should be willing to go back into the shadows and move to a second plane.” Knowing Newman and his disciples and the needs of Catholicism in England, the zealous prelate did not hesitate to recommend doing intellectual apostolate with them.

The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri

With his faithful disciple, Fr. Ambrose St. John, who accompanied him to the end of his life, Newman traveled to Rome, the capital of Catholicism. His purpose was to choose the Order or Congregation in which he and his friends could fulfill their desires of religious life. They were determined to do the work Mgr. Wiseman recommended.

At first, it looked like they would prefer to join the Dominicans. Fr. Henri-Dominique Lacordaire had met with success in France when he restored the Order of Saint Dominic, dedicating himself to an intellectual apostolate there. This success gave Newman and his companions the impression that the Dominicans were the realization of the ideal they had in mind. However, they eventually chose to join the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, as they judged it the best adapted to the conditions of Catholicism in their homeland.

Pius IX warmly approved their choice. In Rome, the Oratory was one of the strongholds of Ultramontanism. Despite his kind welcome, the Pope felt some apprehension about their orthodoxy as they had so recently abandoned heresy.

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This apprehension was entirely justified. Engaged in restoring Thomism, Roman theological circles placed severe restrictions on Newman, who continued publishing his works. For example, Father Giovanni Perrone, S.J., one of the champions of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, said that Newman mixed and confused everything: “Miscet et confundit omnia.”

With their vocational question resolved, Pius IX sent them to the Monastery of Santa Croce for a quick novitiate under the direction of Father Rossi, an Oratorian from Rome. Four Oxford converts directly from England, and John Dobree Dalgaims, ordained in France, formed with Newman and Ambrose St. John the first core of English Oratorians.

The Important Role of Frederick Faber

After their novitiate and priestly ordination, the new priests returned to Great Britain. On February 2, 1848, the country’s first house of the Oratory was installed at Maryvale, near Birmingham. Newman was its superior, master of novices, and professor of theology. The small community soon received considerable reinforcement as Frederick William Faber and his Wilfridians1 joined the Oratory.

Raised in a Calvinist family, Faber was an Anglican pastor, and his austere life earned him remarkable ascendancy over those entrusted to his direction. Faber became one of Newman’s most enthusiastic disciples in the Oxford Movement. Long before Newman, he was convinced of the errors of Anglicanism. However, he did not make up his mind to immediately enter the Catholic Church partly because of natural difficulties, partly because he wanted a collective conversion.

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On a trip to Rome, Faber was received by Gregory XVI, who urged him not to wait for his companions. The Pope reminded him of his obligation to seek first the salvation of his soul. Later, Father Faber recounted that, after this audience, he had twice been on the point of leaving home to make his abjuration but lacked the courage at the last moment.

After Newman’s conversion, he joined the Catholic Church with seven companions.

Brothers of the Will of God

The eight decided to live together and established a small community called the Brothers of the Will of God. They dedicated themselves to helping parish priests, visiting the sick and instructing poor children. They lived in a two-story house. The ground floor had a lounge and kitchen. Upstairs, an unadorned room with a crucifix served as a chapel. The Brothers of the Will of God slept on the floor as the other rooms had no furniture.

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In his youth, Faber had devoted himself to literature and won the Newdigate prize with the poem “The Knights of St. John.” After his conversion, he planned to write a series of lives of saints that would serve as models for his disciples. He began with St. Wilfred’s life, a success that caused people to call the Brothers of the Will of God Wilfredians, a name they accepted. In turn, Faber’s hagiographies constituted a collection of Wilfredian saints.

The Earl of Shrewsbury,2 grieving for the extreme poverty of the small community, offered his Cotton Halt estate to house the Brothers, where they remained for two years. Its members continued their ascetic life under the sure guidance of Father Faber, ordained on April 3, 1847. Their example brought new disciples so that, when the Wilfredians decided to join the Oratory, Newman received seventeen novices. Maryvale’s residence was too small to house so many people. They all moved to Cotton Hall, where the Oratory was housed temporarily until obtaining a house in Birmingham in 1849.

Photo Credit:  © Wangkun Jia – stock.adobe.com


  1. Editor’s noe: The Wilfridians took their name after their patron, Saint Wilfrid of York
  2. John Talbot, the sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury and Lord High Steward of Ireland (1791-1852). The Earl has been called the most prominent British Catholic of his day. He was also a patron of the architect Augustus W. N. Pugin, a leader of the Gothic revival in Great Britain who converted to Catholicism in 1834.

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