Chapter 4. Rome and the Habit of St. Philip

Idea of a lay life—At Oscott—At Maryvale—Five vans of books—
Studies and Ordination in Rome—"We are to be Oratorians"—
Return to Maryvale—Joined by Faber—At Cotton Hall—A call to
London—The choice of Birmingham—The Achilli trial—A
prisoner—A house in a slum—Cholera duty at Bilston—Literary
and other labour

AT first Newman had talked of "secular employment"; but Bishop Wiseman knew him better. The neophyte came to Oscott, near Birmingham, to be confirmed by the Bishop on November 1, 1845, together with Oakeley, who had been received into the Church by Father Newsham at Oxford, and Mr. Walker, a great friend of Stanton, and, like him, a young ex-clergyman, late of Brasenose, and afterwards a Catholic priest.

When Sir Bourchier Wray became a Catholic, at the age of eighty, he said with a smile that his conversion could not be assigned to the hot impetuosity of youth. Newman had a sensitive temperament; he had "the gift of tears," and shed them on many occasions; and that was enough to let loose the term "hysteria" upon him. Let those who can, discover signs of it in the following cool retrospect, written twenty years later: "From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this I do not mean to say that my mind {68} has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no changes to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment. I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself; on my conversion, of any difference of thought or of temper from what I had before. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of revelation or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption."

While at Oscott, Newman was taken by Wiseman to see a building, then used as a boys' school, near to the college and belonging to it. "Bring your friends here," said Wiseman, "and carry on your studies for the priesthood, with the help of our professors at Oscott." Newman accepted the house, and called it "Maryvale." Thither he went, accompanied by Bowles, inside the coach from Oxford, on Monday, February 23, 1846. Stanton and St. John had gone before to prepare the house, being clever in such arrangements; and Newman's own furniture and books—especially books—were on the road in five enormous vans.

The chief work at Maryvale was the passing through the press of the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, a book for which those who see in all natural facts but the symbols of spiritual truths found unexpected confirmation in the subsequent {69} revelations of Darwin. Of this Essay, which supplies a key to unlock many a door of the Future, otherwise barricaded by the dèbris of the Past, Newman, in a letter from Maryvale, wrote as to certain objectors: "It does not pretend to be a dogmatic work. It is an external philosophical view—as in Paley's Evidences our LORD is spoken of as 'a young Jewish peasant.' So the way in which the book approaches the Catholic Church is by phenomena, which phenomena, when we get inside the Church, do not turn out always to be the full measure of the truth. I say in the book that the phenomena of Catholic history, the visible growth of doctrine, may be accounted for by a certain theory. If, on further and truer examination, it be discovered that there be not so much growth, then that theory is so far not needed. The question of more or less does not affect the pretensions of the theory. Only two objections can be made to the theory—that it is a dangerous one, or that it is perfectly superfluous or inadmissible, there being no growth of doctrine at all. I never met with anyone who had read the Fathers who maintained there was no growth of doctrine, though they may account for it on other theories. The only question then is, Is the theory dangerous? Mr. Brownson says that it is, and that is a very fair objection. But to say that, as is sometimes said, I have mis-stated this or that particular doctrine, or overlooked this or that passage of the Fathers, though very necessary to notice, lest a dogma should {70} be compromised, yet to my book itself, as a philosophical argument, not a dogmatic treatise, is in my opinion no objection at all. Again, I think it very possible that my theory may require some modification, though I don't mean that I am aware of it. It is an attempt to give the laws under which implicit faith becomes explicit—this is the very subject of the book." [Note 1]

After a few months at Maryvale, Newman went to Rome, pausing here and there upon the way. The Univers of September 20, 1846, published the following communication from Langres: "The presence of the Rev. J. H. Newman in our city has {71} excited no less interest than it did at Paris. His simplicity and modesty charmed every one who had the advantage of an admission to his presence. Our venerable Bishop received him with the affection and cordiality of a brother. The marks of sympathy of which this learned writer was the object have spoken to him of the happiness which Catholics experience in counting him among their brethren. What admirable men are these Oxford converts! GOD has not without purpose chosen instruments so fitted to accomplish His great designs. Mr. Newman and Mr. St. John go from Langres to Besançon. They will travel through Switzerland to Milan, where they remain till they have learnt Italian [Note 2] before proceeding to Rome."

At Besançon the Archbishop, of whom Newman remarked that he had "the reputation and the carriage of a very saintly man," said, "What you want in England is a strong Bishop"; and Newman, who thought things went a little too easily, agreed. The arrival in Rome was recorded by the Roman correspondent of the Daily News, which had started, under Dickens's editorship, on the very day following Newman's departure from Oxford, and luckily this Roman correspondent was no other than "Father Prout": "On the evening of October 28 Mr. Newman, accompanied by Mr. Ambrose St. John, {72} entered the Eternal City. Next morning the ex-Anglican proselyte's first impulse was to pay his homage at the Tomb of the Apostles, when, as chance would have it, Pius IX was in the act of realizing Scott's ballad—

The Pope he was saying his High, High Mass
                    All at St. Peter's shrine.

Their interview occurred in the crypt or subterranean sanctuary, the oldest portion of the basilica. It would appear that the inundations of Upper Italy opposed serious obstacles to the progress of the Oxford pilgrims, and that at one passage the cart which bore them, drawn by oxen, was well-nigh swallowed up by the rush of many waters. Safe from these semi-apostolic 'perils of the flood,' they are now engaged, under the guidance of the most intelligent of their countrymen and co-religionists, in a brief survey of whatever is most remarkable here; and in a few days Mr. Newman, late of Oxford, and his companions will take possession of chambers in the College of Propaganda, and enter on a preparatory course previous to re-ordination in the Church of Rome."

Newman received Holy Orders at the hands of Cardinal Franzoni, and in 1847 he announced in a letter from Rome to Mr. Hope-Scott the important plans already made: "We are to be Oratorians: Monsignor Brunelli went to the Pope about it the day before yesterday—my birthday. The Pope took {73} up the plan most warmly. He wishes us to come here, as many as can, form a house under an experienced Oratorian Father, go through a novitiate and return. I suppose we shall set up in Birmingham."

On the journey from Rome to England a visit was paid to Monte Cassino; and in the Visitors' book at that high place of St. Benedict may still be seen this entry: "O Sancti Montis Cassinensis, unde Anglia nostra olim saluberrimos Cathohicæ doctrinæ rivos hausit, orate pro nobis jam ex hæresi in pristinum vigorem expergiscentibus.—J. H. NEWMAN, September 6, 1847."

By the end of 1847 he was back in London, which he reached on Christmas Eve. He went to Bishop Wiseman, who had now settled in Golden Square as Administrator of the London District; and all at once a great development of his plans opened out. It happened in this wise. Frederick Faber, the rector of Elton, who had called himself Newman's "acolyte" at Oxford, and who had been detained in Anglicanism by Newman's influential persuasions to patience, did not wait many days, once he heard of Newman's submission to the Church, to follow it by his own. Then he drifted to Birmingham, where Father Moore at St. Chad's had received many of the Oxford converts; and he had already formed himself and the friends who came with him from Elton into a sort of community in a Birmingham {74} slum, when Newman first came to Maryvale. Faber's offer there and then to place himself and his companions under Newman was declined; and, before long, Faber found himself and his fellows established at Cotton Hall, near Alton, by the Earl of Shrewsbury, who bought for him a piece of land to build upon beside the Catholic church at Cheadle. Here the "Brothers of the Will of GOD," or "Wilfridians," grew and prospered for eighteen months, until the time came, in Advent, 1847, when Faber should proceed to London to take the community vows before Bishop Wiseman. Arriving in Golden Square, he found, with Wiseman, Father Stanton, just arrived from Rome—the first wearer of the Oratorian habit in England. "Why not combine?" said Wiseman, a thought which had already taken possession of Father Faber. Why not? The question was repeated to Father Newman, who arrived shortly afterwards, and to whom Faber paid a visit at Maryvale, in January, 1848, when all details were defined.

Next month Father Newman, with Fathers Stanton and St. John, visited Cotton Hall, and formally received Faber and his Wilfridians into the rule of St. Philip Neri. Writing a few days afterwards, Faber said: "Father Superior has now left us, all in our Philippine habits, with turn-down collars, like so many good boys brought in after dinner. In the solemn admission, he gave us a most wonderful address, full of those marvellous pauses. He showed {75} how, in his case and ours, St. Philip seemed to have laid hands upon us, whether we would or not. I hardly know what to do with myself for very happiness."

To Maryvale Faber went, with Newman for his novice-master; but he returned to Cotton Hall almost immediately; and his novitiate ending by Dispensation in July, 1848, he became novice-master there to the new Community. In the month of October in that year all the Fathers from Maryvale joined their brethren at Cotton Hall, at the instance of Bishop Wiseman. The Community were now forty in number, flourishing exceedingly. The ceremonies of the Church were carefully carried out, and Father Faber had already made some two hundred converts in the neighbourhood. Several lay friends came to live around; and Lord Arundel, Mr. David Lewis, Mrs. and Miss Bowden, may be called the nursing fathers and mothers of the infant congregation. Before this time a site in Bayswater had been offered to the Oratorians, by whom, however, it was declined, and it was afterwards to be the site of the church of the Oblate Fathers of St. Charles Borromeo and the home, for a season, of Henry Edward Manning.

But no one had forgotten that for the town, and not for the country, was St. Philip's rule designed; and now Bishop Wiseman wrote to Father Newman asking him to come to London to found an Oratory there. Newman had already thought of {76} Birmingham, and to the Pope had mentioned Birmingham as the place for his foundation. This, in Newman's opinion, was sufficient to allege as a reason for declining Bishop Wiseman's invitation. Great events have certainly been controlled everywhere by little incidents seemingly beneath the notice of pompous records: the "Go it, Ned!" scrawled in the corner of that despatch of the Duke of Clarence's which decided the Battle of Navarino, but is not found in the Blue Books; the chance wound which led Ignatius of Loyola to take up the Lives of the Saints; the passing of Gibbon when Vespers were being sung by monks by the Temple of Jupiter at Rome; the drowsiness of Ministers at a Richmond dinner while the Duke of Newcastle read the letter to Lord Raglan determining the invasion of the Crimea; the badly-cooked chop which lost Napoleon Leipzig—all the innumerable littlenesses which make up the domestic side of history. Newman's ultimate settling at Birmingham has been assigned to a variety of solemn causes: by some to his desire to hide himself; by others to the desire of his new authorities that he should be hidden. We have even heard about the banishment to Birmingham of this apostle for whom, in truth, fine society had no fascinations, of this man of letters who preserved in his seclusion an almost uninterrupted literary mood. And, after all, as Father Bowles has told me, the determining reason was a weighty one—the weight of his books. These had {77} been carted to Maryvale at an incredible expense—a sum making a good hole in what would have been a year's income of his old Oxford days, when that income, all told, never exceeded £500 a year. He had been moved already to Cotton Hall from Maryvale and from his books, not greatly liking the separation. They were a sort of magnet to him, and as he could get to them more easily and less expensively than they to him—to them he went.

A house in Alcester Street, Birmingham, was taken, therefore, into which he entered in January, 1849. His first work was to draw up, with the help of those about him, lists of names of the Fathers who should stay at Birmingham and of the Fathers who should be ceded to London. At last the approved list was sent to Cotton Hall to Faber, with a draft of the scheme for the foundation of the London Oratory, of which Faber was named the head. How it was formed, how it flourished exceedingly, going from King William Street to South Kensington, needs not to be told here. Stanton and Dalgairns, late of Littlemore, were among those put on the London foundation; Bowles and St. John were among those who remained at Birmingham. Father Newman preached, on the opening day of the London Oratory, his sermon on the "Prospects of the Catholic Missioner." In 1850 he released the London Community from their obedience, and gave them "Home Rule," a system under which they {78} have grown to be a great centre of London's spiritual activity—far surpassing the parent Oratory in the glory of stone and marble, and in the size and splendour of appointments. Father Newman stayed at the Oratory in King William Street in 1852 for the Achilli Trial; a time of excitement, during which he remained day and night, almost without interruption, before the tabernacle.

The trial began in June, before Lord Campbell and a jury; and it lasted for several days. Giovanni Giacinto Achilli, an undoubted apostate priest, had lectured in Birmingham against Popery, representing himself as one who had escaped the persecutions of the Inquisition. What manner of man he really was Newman set forth in one of the lectures on The Position of Catholics. The crucial passage, the place of which is taken by stars only in subsequent editions of the Lectures, began thus: "The Protestant world flocks to hear him, because he has something to tell of the Catholic Church. He has something to tell, it is true; he has a scandal to reveal, an argument to exhibit. That one argument is himself; it is his presence which is the triumph of Protestants; it is the sight of him which is a Catholic's confusion. It is indeed a confusion that our Holy Mother could have had a priest like him. He feels the force of the argument, and he shows himself to the multitude that is gazing upon him. 'Mothers of families,' he seems to say, 'gentle maidens, innocent children, look at me, for I am worth looking {79} at. You do not see such a sight every day. Can any Church live over the imputation of such a production as I am? I have been a Roman priest and a hypocrite. I have been a profligate under a cowl. I am that Father Achilli who, as early as 1826, was deprived of my faculty to lecture; and who, in 1827, had already earned the reputation of a scandalous friar.'"

One of the apostate's reverend supporters insisted that he should bring an action, which was laid, in the first instance, against Messrs Burns and Lambert, the publishers of the Lectures, but, by common consent, the name of Dr. Newman was substituted as that of the defendant. The defence (in the preparation of which Newman had the help of his constant friend, Mr. Hope-Scott, Q.C.) consisted of twenty-three paragraphs of justification; and woman after woman confronted the curious black-wigged man, who "smiled and smiled" as they denounced him as the perpetrator of their ruin. Against their evidence was pitted the denial of Achilli, and this prevailed. Newman was sentenced to pay a line of £100, and to be imprisoned until it was paid. While the cheque was being written a cordon of chairs was drawn around him, so that he might be technically in custody; a detention which adds his name to the long list of singing gaol-birds, that begins with Shakespeare and ends with Wilfrid Blunt. The Times, speaking of the result of the trial, said: "To Protestants and Romanists the case, truly viewed, is {80} unimportant; its real significance is in the discredit it has tended to throw on our administration of justice, and the impression which it has tended to disseminate—that, where religious differences come into play, a jury is the echo of popular feeling, instead of being the expositor of its own." [Note 3]

The house in Alcester Street was mean enough for a man who had lost in law expenses about £10,000. "We are in a poor place just now," Newman wrote to Dr. Russell in 1850, "but if you would condescend to it, we should not be on our part ashamed of it. In a year or two we hope to move to a better vicinity. But we cannot hope or desire to be prospered anywhere more than we have been here."

The church adjoining the house was an old gin warehouse. "British spirits, pass this way," was the legend painted on an old iron door at the back of the altar. To a writer in a Birmingham newspaper, who went to Alcester Street in those days and "saw John Henry Newman addressing a mere handful—sometimes, perhaps, a couple of hundred—of poor people, many of them Irish labourers," it appeared that "Rome had lost the skill with which she is credited of using with the greatest effectiveness {81} every instrument at her command. We happened to hear a discourse of his in those days in which there was a brilliant sketch of Napoleon and his influence on the national and religious life of Europe. It was delivered on a week-night, and the congregation, if we can trust to memory, did not consist of more than forty people, most of whom must have been very ill-educated." Newman himself; not "Rome," judged differently, however; nor did he hesitate, when cholera broke out at Walsall—doubtless also among "poor people, many of them Irish"—to put his life at their disposal; taking, with Father St. John, the place of a priest already prostrated by his labours.

Meanwhile, the Man of Letters was not idle. The Discourses to Mixed Congregations were issued from this house. The lectures on Difficulties felt by Anglicans were here composed, in which, as also in the lectures on The Present Position of Catholics in England, his style attained its greatest facility. These last-named lectures were delivered in the Birmingham Corn Exchange, the lecturer, who wore his habit, remaining seated, and reading from his MS. Admission was by ticket, and one ticket was held at the first lecture by "Mr. Manning, late Archdeacon." At the end of the course of nine Lectures, Bishop Ullathorne thanked the lecturer, who made, in reply, a singular confession: "It is a curious thing for me to say that, though I am of mature age, and have been very busy in many ways, yet this is the first {82} time in my life that I have ever received any praise."

Beyond this hall the Lectures on The Present Position of Catholics in England were heard, and praised, too. George Eliot read them "with great amusement (!)"—the mark of exclamation her own—"they are full of clever satire and description." Much more than that, they contain passages of noble English; and if they are now in a manner obsolete it is because they helped to end the prejudices that called them forth. Anglicanism, too, has undergone changes that put out of date much that was then pertinent. Newman, writing of these Anglican Lectures to Dr. Russell at the time of their delivery, said: "I am conscious that they are a mere ephemeral publication, and I shall be far more than satisfied if they do good at the moment." The situation changes; but the literature abides.

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1. The importance which thoughtful Catholics at once attached to this work as a real contribution to theological science may be gathered from a passage in one of Lord Acton's letters to Simpson: "I might have Gibbon or Grote by heart, I should yet have no real original scientific knowledge of Roman or Grecian history. So, in theology, I might know profoundly all the books written by divines since the Council of Trent, but I should be no theologian unless I studied painfully, and in the sources, the genesis and growth of the doctrines of the Church. That is why I said Newman's essay on St. Cyril, which on a minute point was original and progressive, was a bit of theology, which all the works of Faber, Morris, Ward and Dalgairns will never be. It is the absence of scientific method and of original learning in nearly all of even our best writers that makes it impossible for me to be really interested in their writings. They are to be classed with Formby's Bible History rather than with Newman's Essay [on Development] or Mohler's Symbolik. Altogether this is almost an unknown idea amongst us in England. Everything else has only a momentary passing importance ... Science is valueless unless pursued without regard to consequences or to application—only what the Germans call a subjective safeguard is required. Our studies want to be pursued with chastity like mathematics. This, at least, is my profession of faith."
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2. Newman had learnt some Italian before his tour with Hurrell Froude in 1833, but it was obliterated from his memory during his fever in Sicily; and he afterwards corresponded with his landlord there in Latin.
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3. A quarter of a century later a point in the case was quoted in one of the Courts as a precedent, when the following statement was made: "Lord Chief Justice Cockburn: The case referred to created a painful impression on my mind, which can never be effaced. I was beaten, and I ought to have been the victor."
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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