Tuesday, July 20, 2010

“How Dreadful This Perversion”: John Henry Newman responds to Gladstone

Spy (Sir Leslie Matthew Ward (21 November 1851 – 15 May 1922))
The people's William
Published in Vanity Fair 1879
(Political caricature of W. E. Gladstone)
Colour lithograph
35.6cm (h) x 21.7cm (w)
The Houses of Parliament, London

Spy (Sir Leslie Matthew Ward (21 November 1851 – 15 May 1922))
Dr John Henry Newman 1877
Published in Vanity Fair 1877

Ape (Carlo Pellegrini (1839-1889))
Henry Edward Manning
Watercolour, published in Vanity Fair 25 February 1871
11 7/8 in. x 7 1/8 in. (302 mm x 181 mm)
The National Portrait Gallery, London

One of Newman`s greatest defences of the Church came as a result of a sustained and devastating attack from a rather surprising and unexpected source

William Ewart Gladstone (29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898) served as Liberal Prime Minister for four non-consecutive times in the United Kingdom. He had a good record of righteous opposition to anti-Catholic bigotry and intolerance.

His political career spanned more than sixty years. In terms of the importance of British Prime Ministers, he is usually ranked as one of the “Titans” alongside Churchill and Thatcher.

Many loved him; many detested him. But whatever your feelings, you could not ignore him.

He has been described as “the greatest English financier of economic liberalism” He was regarded as one of the greatest English intellects of his age.

From being an arch-Conservative in his early days, he moved steadily left.

He was always a devout High Church Anglican. He was his religion. Unlike some politicians today, he was genuinely religiously devout. As a young man sympathetic to the Oxford Movement, he had fallen under the influence of Bishop Joseph Butler's book The Analogy of Religion, applying its ideas in his peculiar own way to construct a theory of state religion

Acton said that he considered Gladstone as one "of the three greatest Liberals" (along with Edmund Burke and Lord Macaulay).

His first administration of 1868-1874 is generally regarded as one of the great reforming nineteenth century governments in Britain.

Therefore after he resigned as Prime Minister in 1874, it was something of a surprise and a shock when he published what seemed to be anti-Catholic pamphlet entitled “The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance” (November 1874)

It was this pamphlet which led the then Father John Henry Newman to compose his celebrated reply: A Letter Addressed to the Duke of Norfolk on Occasion of Mr. Gladstone's Recent Expostulation (27 December 1874; published February 1875)

Without understanding what impelled Gladstone to issue his attack in the first place, it is difficult to fully appreciate all the nuances of Newman`s reply and also its mastery and brilliance. And why of all the ripostes that were issued in response to Gladstone`s pamphlet Gladstone thought it was Newman`s which was the best and the most convincing.

It was the genius of Newman to see what underlay this essentially political, personal and religious attack of Gladstone`s and at the same time compose a complete and convincing defence without straying outside Catholic orthodoxy, a defence which was convincing both to Catholics and hostile non-Catholics alike.

Gladstone`s attack was a serious danger to the Church. Gladstone was a senior and very respected figure in the Establishment of the times. Bearing in mind that his opposite number, Disraeli, as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister was seeking to capture the working class Protestant vote, it seemed that the Catholic advance in British society since Emancipation was seriously under attack.

In his pamphlet, Gladstone alleged that Catholic Emancipation had only been granted on the assurances by the Catholic bishops in Great Britain that they did not adhere to the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility. As the First Vatican Council (1870) had defined the Dogma of Papal Infallibility contrary to such assurances, the obvious implication was that the whole question of Catholic rights and duties should be opened up again.

His attack went further. His charge was that the civil loyalty of lay Catholics had been made impossible by the First Vatican Council since the Pope had allegedly claimed the rights of their temporal sovereign of the undivided allegiance of Catholics in Britain.

Two conclusions seemed to Mr. Gladstone to follow. Either the Catholics must reject the possible civic interpretation of the new dogma, or the assurances of British bishops in the 1820s must be repeated.

What caused Gladstone to go down such a road which seemed totally contrary to what hitherto had been his “liberal” and tolerant attitude to Roman Catholics in Britain ?

In his First Administration, Gladstone had attempted (despite very great political difficulty and great political cost) to bring a measure of justice to the Catholics in Ireland which at that time were under direct rule from Westminster.

He dis-established the Anglican Church of Ireland and distributed the funds amongst among other bodies the Catholic Church in Ireland.

He tackled the question of Irish Land Reform by curbing the powers of Landlords and increasing the rights and powers of Irish tenants (generally Irish Catholics).

However his administration fell in 1873 over an Irish issue: the establishment of an Irish University. His Irish Universities Bill 1873 was defeated by amongst other things the opposition of the bench of Irish bishops. Needless to say Gladstone was not pleased. The subsequent General Election had led to a massive Liberal defeat and the forming of a Tory Administration under Disraeli. Liberal support had collapsed in its traditional areas such as Lancashire and had gone Tory. The reason was religion.

It appeared that giving concessions to Catholics was a “vote loser” at that time in terms of the restricted franchise and an electoral system which had not yet been fully reformed.

As a result of the defeat Gladstone had lost power, become Leader of the Opposition and lost the leadership of the Liberal Party.

In February 1874, Gladstone wrote to his brother explaining the reasons for the defeat at the General Election:

“We have been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer. Next to this has been the action of the Education Act of 1870, and the subsequent controversies.

Many of the Roman Catholics have voted against us because we are not denominational; and many of the Nonconformists have at least abstained from voting because we are.

Doubtless there have been other minor agencies; but these are the chief ones”

During his time as Prime Minister, the First Vatican Council was called by Pope Pius IX for 1869 and lasted until 1870.

At that time, Gladstone had wanted to intervene with Germany and France to “close the Council down”. Archbishop Manning wrote directly to Gladstone on April 6, 1870, warning him against any intervention with the Council. Manning wrote:

‘For the sake of us all, for your own sake, for your future, for the peace of our country, do not allow yourself to be warped, or impelled into words or acts hostile to the Council.”

At the time, it was only the efforts of Queen Victoria, his Foreign Secretary (Clarendon) and his Cabinet which prevented him from taking formal action against the calling of the Council.

Therefore in 1874 it was true to say that Gladstone was not well disposed to the Dogma of Papal Infallibility and to its definition by the Council.

The depth of this feeling was aggravated by a number of factors.

Since 1870, as a result of the Syllabus and the First Vatican Council and the loss of temporal papal sovereignity, Gladstone was firmly of the view that the Papacy intended to involve Europe in mass bloodshed to recover its temporal sovereignity.

He always had a rather ambivalent attitude towards Roman Catholicism.

His sister had converted to Catholicism and this had led to an estrangement

There had been a similar cutting of relations by Gladstone when his close cousin, Mrs Bennet had converted in the 1850s.

In 1854, he wrote to William Wilberforce that if any of his children became Catholics, it would be better that they had never been born

Yet he had a number of very close friends who were Catholics such as Acton, Döllinger and even Manning. In his public dealings, he certainly was not regarded as animated by an anti-Catholic prejudice. Rather it was the opposite view which prevailed.

His vision was of the re-unification of Christianity against secularism. Christianity would be a reunification of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Greek and Russian Orthodoxy. He thought that Ultramontanism had set back the unity of Christendom by more than one hundred years.

In 1868-70, he had been lobbied by a number of personal friends who were Catholics to intervene in the question. Acton, in particular, was one of his friends who were dead set against the Doctrine. As was his friend Professor Johan Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890). Döllinger`s opposition can be seen from his trenchant and polemical articles in the Allgemeine Zeitung and in the Neue Freie Presse. Not only did Döllinger attack the definition, but the Dogma itself, the Vatican and the Curia and the various personalities who advocated the calling of the Council and the definition.

Döllinger was eventually excommunicated in 1871 for refusing to accept the definition. It is perhaps no coincidence that before Gladstone wrote his Pamphlet in November 1874, he had spent several months on holiday in Germany where he spent much time with his friend, Döllinger

There had been talk that Döllinger would join the Old Catholics. Gladstone encouraged this as he saw the Old Catholics who did not accept Papal Infallibility as a way of weakening the Papacy and increasing the chances of the eventual reunion of Christendom.

For some reason Gladstone thought that he should encourage a split in the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom and undermine the position of the hierarchy in England and Wales, especially that of Archbishop Manning who had been one of the main proponents and supporters of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility. In this way, the Ultramontanes would be greatly weakened.

Indeed the Pamphlet War initiated by Gladstone did lead to a permanent estrangement with Manning.

Perhaps his contacts with Acton and others had led him to this dream.

But it was true that a large number of English Catholics were not particularly enamoured of the Dogma and its definition. Many recent converts to the Church were in this group.

In 1868, there started a series of pamphlets and newspapers which began with the appearance of Sir Peter Le Page Renouf `s (1822-1897) pamphlet opposing papal Infallibility, Pope Honorius before the Tribunal of Reason and History. Le Page Renouf was a convert under Dr Newman.

John Henry Newman himself adopted a position very similar to that of Bishop Dupanloup of Orleans who was the main advocate against the Definition at the Council. Newman was especially very critical of the timing of the definition. He believed in Papal Infallibility, but did not think it was expedient to define it in those troubled times.

On 27th June 1870 he wrote to O`Neill Daunt:

“I certainly think this agitation of the Pope’s Infallibility most unfortunate and ill-advised...I believe that even if the Holy Ghost protects the Fathers from all inexpedient acts, (which I do not see is anywhere promised) as well as guides them into all the truth, as He certainly does, there are truths which are inexpedient.”

A letter expressing similar sentiments which Newman had written to his Bishop, Bishop Ullathorne was somehow leaked to the Press and widely publicised.

But Gladstone`s dreams in this connection were just dreams. His mind was not focused. Events had moved on since 1870.

The Catholic Church had not broken over Papal Infallibility. And it was not going to break. From a position of great weakness in 1870 when it lost its temporal sovereignty, it recovered remarkably quickly much to the disappointment and expectations of peoples outside the Church.

All the opposing Bishops at the Council had signed up to the Definition of the Dogma. The French Church which had been the one most likely to lead the opposition had been shocked by the Paris Commune when the Archbishop of Paris had been murdered by the mob.

In Germany, Bismarck`s reaction to the Vatican Decrees was the Kulturkampf. The purpose was to restrict and severely curtail the power of the Catholic Church in Germany where one third of the population was Catholic. However by 1875 it was running into the sand despite the harsh measures inflicted on the German Catholic Church.

It seemed that the State persecution had led ironically to the internal strengthening of the Church. The Catholic Centre Party increased its support substantially.

At first many in the British Establishment had approved of the measures of the Kulturkampf but as it became fiercer and despotic and ultimately self-defeating, the British view changed.

In 1872, the Jesuits were expelled from Germany. More severe anti-Roman Catholic laws of 1873 allowed the government to supervise the education of the Roman Catholic clergy, and curtailed the disciplinary powers of the Church. In 1875, civil ceremonies were required for weddings, which could hitherto be performed in churches.

The Congregations Law of 1875 abolished religious orders, stopped state subsidies to the Catholic Church, and removed religious protections from the Prussian constitution

In this Bismarck was aided by the secular National Liberal Party. Liberals in Germany considered Catholics the enemy of the modern German nation, a dangerous 'ancient superstition' that needed to be fought. Some historians see the Kulturkampf as Bismarck's means of cementing in place his alliance with the National Liberal Party.

Priests and bishops who resisted the Kulturkampf were arrested or removed from their positions. By the height of anti-Catholic legislation, half of the Prussian bishops were in prison or in exile, a quarter of the parishes had no priest, half the monks and nuns had left Prussia, a third of the monasteries and convents were closed, 1800 parish priests were imprisoned or exiled, and thousands of laypeople were imprisoned for helping the priests

The Kulturkampf was simply the expression of Bismarck’s conviction that a citizen`s allegiance to his sovereign must be one sole and exclusive Bismarck declared:

If such a sect as the Ultramontanes, can not be at one with the ambitions of the State, and even endangers those ambitions, clearly the State can not tolerate their existence.’

For Bismarck, Kulturkampf was

‘the primeval fight for supremacy between royalty and priesthood.... What we aim at is the protection of the State, the establishment of a distinct boundary-line between priestly dominion and Royal rule, defined in such sort that the State may be enabled to abide by it. For, in the kingdom of this world, the State is entitled to power and precedence.’

For a while after Gladstone wrote his pamphlets attacking “Vaticanism” some said that Gladstone who had hitherto defended religious liberty was going to follow Bismarck`s line in excluding Roman Catholics from that liberty.

However the Liberals in the United Kingdom were a different entity. They were an unstable coalition, incorporating Nonconformist artisans as much as often anti-clerical parliamentary Whigs; Irish Catholics in uncomfortable alliance with Scots ultra-Protestants.

But the question lingered: was Gladstone going to assemble a new coalition excluding the Catholics if he felt that they could not be trusted in public life because of their religious persuasion? Gladstone was known as a conviction politician and would put conviction above party interest if required. At this time having resigned as Party Leader he was a bit of a loose cannon. Perhaps a touch of being “demob happy” was affecting his conduct. No one really knew (and no one still really knows) what was animating Gladstone at this time.

Gladstone was a devout High Anglican. In 1873-4, he and other High Anglicans were much exercised by the question of the regulation of “Oxford Movement” or “Puseyite” practices (“Ritualism”) in the Church of England.

Gladstone told members of his former Cabinet that his mission was to hold together the Church of England as Ritualism now appeared to threaten to divide the Anglican Church.

The early members of the Oxford Movement had not been concerned with questions of liturgy and ritual. However the Second Generation of the Oxford Movement started to introduce “liturgical innovations” such as the use of Eucharistic vestments, the thurible and incense , lights and candles, unleavened bread, signs of the Cross, bells, describing the Eucharist as “the Mass” and the like.

It provoked an adverse Reaction.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait introduced a Private Members Bill into Parliament to regulate and reduce such practices in 1873. He referred to the practices of the Oxford Movement as "a mass in masquerade."

The Conservatives under Disraeli scenting a popular issue decided to take over the Bill and strengthen its provisions against Ritualism. Gladstone led the fight against the strengthened Bill as he saw it as an unwarranted attack on the freedom of worship within the Anglican Church as well as undermining the freedom and independence of the Church.

He also saw it as a measure which would herald an exodus from the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church, undermining the Anglican claim that it was the Christian Church in England. By attacking the Catholic Church in the way he did, Gladstone no doubt saw it as deflecting criticism that he was “soft on Romanism” and at the same time making the Catholic Church a less desirable destination for those who might leave the Anglican Church.

Such converts would be “disloyal Englishmen”

Despite Gladstone`s opposition, the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 was passed and did in fact lead to the conviction and imprisonment of some Anglican Ritualist clergyymen.

It is perhaps rather strange that when Anglicans today criticise Roman Catholic discipline now and in the past, the imprisonment of Anglican clergy under the Act only about 130 years ago should escape their recollection

With his Oxford connections and his position as one of the founders of the Oxford Movement, Newman would have been loathe to see a possible source of new converts to Catholicism drying up because of an unfounded accusation of disloyalty.

There was also one final personal and professional happening which fuelled some of the strong language and arguments of Gladstone in his attack on Catholicism in 1874. In fact it was one of the great “scandals” of the time: the conversion to Roman Catholicism of one of his closest and trusted colleagues in the Liberal Party who had served in his Cabinet,

In Gladstone's first administration he was Lord President of the Council (1868–73). During this period he acted as chairman of the joint commission for drawing up the Treaty of Washington with the United States. For this he was created Marquess of Ripon. He was also made a Knight of the Garter in 1869.

What was particularly galling was that he was Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England from 1870 until his conversion to Catholicism in 1874. (It must have been particularly difficult for some as Pope Pius IX had in his Encyclical Etsi multa (November 1873) declared that the Kulturkampf in the German Empire and the anti- Catholic campaigns in Switzerland and Italy were chiefly motivated by Freemasonry.)

The reaction to Ripon`s conversion was hostile and adverse amongst the Establishment. There were many hostile comments, private and public, made on his conversion.

"How dreadful this perversion of Lord Ripon's," Queen Victoria commented. "I knew him so well and thought him so sensible."

The Times said, "His conversion by itself was a proof of his having renounced his mental and moral freedom," that by his conversion " he forfeits at once the confidence of the English people," and "abandons every claim to political and even social influence."

It went on:

“To become a Roman Catholic and remain a thorough Englishman are it cannot be disguised almost incompatible conditions. . . . We do not for a moment doubt that men who have been born and brought up in the Roman Catholic Faith may retain their creed as a harmless and colourless element in their opinions. But when a man in the prime of life abandons the faith of Protestantism for that of Rome his mind must necessarily have undergone what to Englishmen can only seem a fatal demoralization.”

There was a feeling that somehow Ripon had acted underhand and had perhaps betrayed the Liberal Government while still in office. It was even rumoured that Ripon had long been in secret a member of the Jesuits and that he had actually been received into the Church of Rome eighteen months before his conversion was publicly announced.

The shock and hostile reaction is reminiscent of what a number of years ago would have been the public reaction if a middle aged married senior Cabinet Minister suddenly announced that he had decided to leave his wife of long standing and his children for a younger man.

Gladstone added to the public censure of Ripon in a public speech of Mr. Gladstone's on Ritualism, repeating the first comment of The Times accusing him of disloyalty

However Ripon`s conversion appears to have been the result of a gradual process from 1870 onwards after the assassination of his brother-inlaw, Frederick Vyner that year. It was hastened after April 1874 when he was out of office. However he would have converted earlier but for two difficulties: the issuing of the Syllabus by Pope Pius IX, and the Dublin Review, whose editor unduly extended the sphere of infallibility by claiming it for almost every ecclesiastical pronouncement, and in condemning those who disagreed with him as unorthodox.

Interestingly among the forces which brought him into the Church were the writings of Doctor John Henry Newman as well as talks with Father Dalgairns (one of the earliest disciples of Newman`s)

The fact that Ripon`s conversion did have an effect on Gladstone`s pamphlet is seen from the following.

While in Munich in September 1874, Gladstone received from London the proofs of an article on " Ritualism and Ritual " which he had written for the Contemporary Review some weeks before.

In this article he gave the following reasons for believing that the

" effort of the Ritualists to Romanise the Church and people of England was " utterly hopeless and visionary: ...

1 . Rome has substituted for the proud boast of semper eadem a policy of violence and change of faith.

2. She has refurbished and paraded anew every rusty tool she was fondly thought to have disused.

3. She has equally repudiated modern thought and ancient history."

On reading over these passages Gladstone inserted a fourth reason between numbers two and three in the following terms :

" No one can become her [Rome's] convert without renouncing his moral and mental freedom and placing his civil loyalty and duty at the mercy of another."

The point was not thought of in the original text of the article and was only inserted when Ripon's conversion had given it a noisy actuality.

Ripon and Gladstone then entered into correspondence on this particular point: the disloyalty of Ripon. While Gladstone conceded that Ripon had not in fact been personally disloyal, he did not drop his contention that a true Catholic could not be a loyal citizen.

Gladstone virtually repeated these reflections on the loyalty of Roman Catholics in his famous pamphlet on the " Vatican Decrees " and challenged them, to make a public declaration that they would resist any order the Pope might make which would interfere with their civil duty.

It was in reply to this charge that John Henry Newman devoted a large section of his reply relying on the Doctrine of Conscience. It is this section in A Letter Addressed to the Duke of Norfolk on Occasion of Mr. Gladstone's Recent Expostulation on “Conscience” which is still quoted today – usually not fully and usually out of context.

At the time, Ripon was made an outcast by the Establishment. It looked as if his political career was finished after his conversion. Newman`s own experience of conversion would have meant that he strongly sympathised and empathised with Ripon`s position and predicament. He would also have realized that if Ripon and his ilk were not fully vindicated, there would be an adverse effect on the number and type of Anglicans wishing to come over to Catholicism,

In His Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, it is Newman`s sections on Conscience and his refutation of the proposition that a British Catholic (especially a convert to Catholicism) cannot be a loyal citizen or subject which impress one by its sheer emotion and drive. It is truly from the heart. No one can doubt the sincerity of the writer. This is Newman at his best. He is fighting not for his own reputation. He lost the fear of loss of his reputation long ago. He is fighting for the faith and for the hearts, minds and souls of future converts to the faith..And in the fight he used every weapon in his formidable arsenal.

He was up against one of the great controversialists of his time, In a line by line forensic examination, he demolished Gladstone`s case to such an extent that Gladstone`s argument was never seriously put forward by a major British politician after that time.

It was a major victory. It was a political victory over a political giant. The victory was total

In 1917, the atheist and political theorist Harold Laski said of Newman`s reply in his Studies in the Problem of Sovereignity:

" The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, the Apologia apart, was Newman’s masterpiece.

Its profound psychology, its subtlety, its humour, its loyalty to his friends, its whimsical castigation of his enemies, place it in a class by itself of the controversy of which it formed a part.

But it is more than a piece of ephemeral argument.

It remains with some remarks of Sir Henry Maine and a few brilliant dicta of F. W. Maitland as perhaps the profoundest discussion of the nature of obedience and of sovereignty to be found in the English language.

In the reply to his critics which Mr. Gladstone published it is clear that of this argument alone did he take serious account.

For Newman, even apart from his theology, was an able political thinker who had devoted the twelve years of his connexion with the Oxford Movement to the study of the problem of sovereignty in its acutest phase—that of Church and State. The pamphlet, in a sense, was the summation of his life’s work.

He seems to have felt that the clouds which had gathered about so much of his early life were now dispersing and that he might hope, if not for justification, at any rate for peace."