Hypersensitivity

[Life and Times of Bishop Ullathorne, Dom Cuthbert Butler, Benziger Brothers, 1926.]

{312} It has become the fashion to speak of Newman as hyper-sensitive, a souffre-douleur. But when count is taken of the nature of the persistent campaign carried on against him in England and in Rome by Ward, Talbot, Coffin, Herbert Vaughan, and with Manning's assent; how such charges as unorthodoxy, unsoundness, disloyalty, worldliness, lowness of view, evil influence, Gallicanism were freely levelled against him during a period of ten years and more; and further when it is remembered that he knew quite well all the time all that was being spoken and whispered against him, so that he felt the cloud he was under: when all this is taken into consideration, it will be recognized that to possess his soul in peace and not to mind, he must needs have been not merely uncommonly thick-skinned, but even rhinoceros-hided.

But for the cardinalate at the end—like a radiant summer sunset after a dark and stormy day—Newman's Catholic life was, from the human point of view, a sad one. The trials were very real, and beyond the lot of most of us. Not owing to his own oversensitiveness or temper, but to unaccountable failures and mishandlings on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities at whose call he embarked with zeal on enterprises of much magnitude, was he involved in vexation on vexation, disappointment on disappointment, failure on failure. This stands out big in the Life. The chief of these cases was the Catholic University in Ireland, which consumed six years of his prime of life. Lesser cases of such troubles were the Achilli affair, the Rambler episode, the non-presenting of the letter thereon to Wiseman, with the consequent seven years of suspicion on the part of Rome; the Oxford Oratory; the attacks on him, in public and private, kept up {313} without intermission for so long a time; the publication of the letter during the Vatican Council: all this and more made up a very real cup of bitterness.

But more bitter still was the abiding sense of powers wasting, of arms rusting, that might be used—he knew it well, and proved it on occasion, as in the Apologia—powerfully and effectively in the cause of religion, of dogmatic truth, of the Catholic Church, the great causes which at all times he had sought to serve. And the sense of impotence was made more poignant by the contrast with the past. The herald and chief teacher in a religious revival; the leader in setting on foot a religious movement that still went on after his leadership was withdrawn, and has been gathering force from that day to this; the object of the devoted loyalty, reverence, and love of an ever widening group of earnest and zealous disciples; and all this broken, given up, when the call became clear to recognize and accept the Roman Communion as the One Catholic Church of Christ: and then, in the eyes of the great world, no apparent recompense for the sacrifice, no adequate scope for his proved power of religious leadership. It was, from the standpoint of this world, a long-drawn tragedy. No wonder that Ullathorne once said to him that he was being led by the way of mortification. It was indeed the way of the Obscure Night. The explanation of it all is to be found in the spiritual diaries and intimate letters reproduced by Ward: not insensibility, but acceptance, resignation, faith, trust, are the dominant notes. I call to mind only one note of querulousness, in a letter to Ullathorne, when he says, 'I really think no one has so many troubles as I, and I hope they are a proof of God's love to me.' Well earned were the words of the final public setting right of all that seemed so mysterious and wrong, unless in the light of the Cross: {314}

The Holy Father, deeply appreciating the genius and learning which distinguish you, your piety, the zeal displayed by you in the exercise of the Holy Ministry, your devotion and filial attachment to the Holy Apostolic See, and the signal services you have for long years rendered to religion, has decided on giving you a public and solemn proof of his esteem and goodwill.—Cardinal Nina's formal letter (Ward, Newman, II, 583).

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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