Chapter 26. The Deadlock in Higher Education (1867)

{186} THE final relinquishment of the Oxford scheme left the extreme party triumphant; but it left the practical problem of higher education for English Catholics unsolved. The Catholic University in Ireland had originally been designed to solve it, but it had failed. Catholics were now authoritatively warned against Oxford and Cambridge; but where else were they to go for University training? It was part of what Newman afterwards called the policy of 'Nihilism' pursued by the authorities [Note 1]. Actual difficulties were not faced; practicable remedies were not found. It had been the same with his work for Christian thought in the Rambler. Defects had been censured; the work was crushed and not carried out on lines free from objection.

Newman could not but feel that to persevere now in an endeavour of which the utility was so little appreciated was but to waste his time. An opportunity would soon be found for the coup de grāce if he did not now of his own accord retire. It only remained to resign himself to uselessness in a matter in which his antecedents seemed to mark him out as so supremely useful, and to do faithfully his duty to all concerned—the Pope, the Bishops, and the Catholic parents.

His feeling at the time of finally abandoning the scheme, is given in a letter—very grave, very measured, very sad—to Father Coleridge:

'The Oratory, Birmingham: August 30th, 1867.
'My dear Father Coleridge,—Thank you for your affectionate letter. There are a hundred reasons why I was bound to bring the Oxford matter to an end.

'For three years complete it has involved me in endless correspondence, conversation, controversy, and bother, taking {187} up my time and thoughts. I felt it was wrong thus to fritter away any longer such remaining time as God gives me. It has been my Cross for years and years that I have gone on "operose nihil agendo."

'There was the Rambler matter. The Cardinal and our Bishop urged me to interfere with the conductors—and thanked me when I consented. It involved me in endless trouble and work. The correspondence is a huge heap. I have been obliged to arrange and complete it with notes and collateral papers, that I may ultimately be shown to have acted a good part. This was the work of four or five years, and what came of it?

'I seem to be similarly circumstanced as regards the Dublin University matters from 1852 to 1858. Letters and papers without end and about nothing—and those not yet sorted and arranged.

'I do believe my first thought has ever been "what does God wish me to do?" so I can't really be sorry or repine—but I have very few persons on earth to thank—and I have felt no call, after so many rebuffs, to go on with this Oxford undertaking, and I am come to the conclusion that, if Propaganda wants me for any purpose, it must be so good as to ask me—and I shall wait to be asked—i.e. (as I anticipate) "ad Graecas calendas."

'See what a time it has taken to tell you reason one. I will mention only one other, which is abundantly clear, (if it ever were doubtful) from the answers I have had to my late circular. The money was given to me personally—the subscribers wanted to see me in Oxford (I am talking of the majority of them)—they would not give their money for an Oxford mission merely. When the Propaganda decided that I was not personally to be there, it would have been a misappropriation of their money to spend it merely on an Oxford Church ...
'Yours affectionately,

Newman's letters during the remainder of this year show constantly his great anxiety both to clear completely his reputation for orthodoxy and loyalty at Rome and to act in strict conformity with his duty towards the Bishops. Hope-Scott had put down his solicitude as to Roman opinion to undue sensitiveness. Early in the year he had ascribed to the same cause Newman's fears lest the suspicions of his orthodoxy on the part of such men as Mr. Martin, and certain {188} rumours on the same subject which had found currency in the Chronicle, might do him further harm. When the existence of the 'secret instruction' became known Newman had written to him claiming that his suspicions were justified.


'Apri1 13, 1867.
'I think it is now proved that what you called my "sensitiveness" was not timidity, or particularity, or touchiness, but a true instinct of the state of the ecclesiastical atmosphere—nor is it wonderful that I should know more than you of what threatened and what did not, as you (I suspect) would know more than I could know about the temper of Parliamentary committees, and Gladstone more than myself about political parties. That neophyte, Mr. Martin, is an index of the state of the weather at Rome, as the insects swarming near the earth is a sign of rain;—and rash sayings in the Chronicle may be of as much danger indirectly to my influence in England, as an open window may avail to give me a cold ... No one but myself knows how intensely anxious I have been, since I have been a Catholic, never to say anything without good theological authority for saying it, and, though of course with the greatest care the humana incuria is at fault, yet I have no reason to suppose that my mistakes are more than those which all writers incur;—yet there is no doubt that I am looked at with suspicion at Rome, because I will not go the whole hog in all the extravagancies of the school of the day, and I cannot move my finger without giving offence.'

The report brought by Ambrose St. John from Rome in May had done something towards allaying Newman's fears as to Roman suspicions of his orthodoxy. And the more favourable impression was confirmed by a visit in August from Monsignor Nardi, which is recorded with a good deal of dry humour in a memorandum written by Newman at the time. That Italian prelate's words went to show that it was in England, rather than in Rome, that he had active enemies who impugned the soundness of his theology.

'August 24, 1867.
'Monsignor Nardi came here for an hour or two yesterday. I will set down some of the things he said in a long conversation. {189}

'I was a great man—no denying it—a great writer—good style—good strong logic—my style went very easily into Italian—it was a classical style. Of course I had my enemies—they are in England or Englishmen—but all Catholics, to speak as a whole, were my friends. He did not speak from flattery—no—he always spoke his mind, even to the Pope. He was one of the consultors of the Index. There were things in what I had written which he did not like—that about original sin (here I set him right, and he seemed to give in—he had forgotten "deprivation and the consequences of deprivation"—he could hardly believe I had made this addition) and that about a people's religion being a corrupt religion [Note 2]. But perhaps the vehemence of writing could not be helped. I had very good friends. Father St. John was a good friend of mine, very—and a great gentleman. Cardinal Cullen was a good friend, yes—a very good friend. I understood him to mean by "good friends" persons who had been a real service to me. I ought to send persons from time to time to explain things and keep authorities at Rome au courant. I ought to go to Rome myself. It would rejoice the Holy Father—I ought to be a Bishop, Archbishop—yes yes—I ought, I ought,—yes, a very good Bishop—it is your line, it is, it is—it was no good my saying it was not.

'I ought to take the part of the Pope. "We have very few friends," he said—"very few"—he spoke in a very grave earnest mournful tone—no one could tell what was to take place in Rome, the next, not year but, month. All through Italy the upper class was infidel—and the lower was getting profane and blasphemous. This was for want of education—the fault of Austria. Infidels were put over its education—the churches turned into granaries and stables. The next generation would be infidels, far worse than the present. There was no chance of a reaction. All this was no fault of the Priests—perhaps there were 1,000 Priests in Italy who had turned out bad—but what were they out of 160,000?

'What we wanted in England for Catholics was education—how could youths whose education ended at 17 or 18 compete with those whose education went on to 22? There was no chance of a Catholic University. He seemed to agree with me that London was as bad as Oxford—worse, he had been in the neighbourhood of (I think) Charing Cross {190} lately in the evening, no priest could walk there—no—he was obliged to call a cab.

'He wanted to see Father Ryder's pamphlet—William gave him a copy—he wanted my photograph. I gave him two.'

Although, however, both Ambrose St. John's report and the visit of the Roman Monsignor had somewhat encouraged Newman as to the friendliness of Rome, his anxiety was by no means at an end. The Oratory School was still gossiped about as preparing boys for Oxford against the wishes of the Holy See. His interchange of letters with Cardinal Barnabo showed that that prelate looked at the school with suspicion. With the memory still green of his two crushing rebuffs in the Oxford matter, it is not surprising that he became anxious lest some pretext might be found for bringing to an end the Oratory School. These fears he communicated to Hope-Scott on September 9:

'It seems to me certain, that, if we go on just as we are going on now, our school will be stopped. We shall have endless trouble, correspondence, inquiries, false reports, explanations, letters to Propaganda, journeys to Rome, ending, after some years and a languishing concern, in an order from Rome, or a recommendation from our Bishop, to wind up.

'The simplest way of all is to stop now, and on the ground of [Cardinal Barnabo's] letter, stating how we practically interpret it, and the result which it foreshadows;—but then, 1. I doubt whether we should carry our friends with us; friends and enemies would say it was "sensitiveness" in me, and enemies would have the double pleasure of blaming me and rejoicing in my act. 2. It would be a loss of perhaps as much as 50l. a year, the interest of the money which the Oratory or individual Fathers have lent to the school. 3. Better times may come; if we once stop the school, we cannot recommence it; it is gone for ever. 4. We are doing the Birmingham Oratory a great service in rooting it in the minds and affections of the next generation by setting up an educational system such as ours, and indirectly by our action in other Catholic schools.

'But then, on the other hand, look at this last reason. In proportion as we are doing good, we are offending the Catholic school interest throughout the country, and Ushaw and Stonyhurst neither like a new establishment to take their boys from them nor to put them on their mettle. That we {191} are something new tells with great force at Rome, where the defects of English Catholic secular education are not understood. I think there is a determination not to let me have anything to do with education. W. G. Ward openly confesses this; Manning does not, but then four years ago, in an enumeration in the Dublin Review of the English Catholic Schools, he pointedly left ours out; and about the same time his head Oblate at Bayswater, writing to me on another matter, let drop in the course of his letter that our school was only a temporary concern.

'What is the good of spending an additional penny on our school? is it not flinging away good money after bad?

'Suppose we limited our boys to the age of fourteen or sixteen, which is in principle what we originally intended;—and to this day no other school can boast, as we can, of our care of young boys. We could in our Prospectus and Advertisement enlarge on this. Or again, without committing ourselves to a limit, suppose we in our own minds prepared for it, made up our minds to it as a result of Cardinal Barnabo's letter to me. Suppose we left everything alone, but this, viz. to add to our Prospectus and Advertisement: "In consequence of special instructions received from the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda, and to carry out the wishes of our Bishops, as expressed in their united letter, Father Newman wishes it to be known (to his friends) that no boy is received at the Oratory School, who is intended by his parents for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and that he hopes for their friendly aid to enable him to observe bona fide this rule."

'You will let me have your thoughts on the whole subject. Ambrose is going to consult Bishop Clifford.'

While Newman was deliberating as to his best course with a view to preserving the school, he felt that his only safe plan when conversing with the parents of boys was to avoid the question of Oxford altogether. He definitely declined to speak of it in letters to parents who consulted him as to the future of their boys.

The Bishop of Birmingham issued a Pastoral in October discouraging Catholics from going to Oxford. Newman hastened to intimate his obedience. He at once inserted the following passage in the Oratory School prospectus:

'In accordance with the instructions contained in the Pastoral of the Bishop of Birmingham of October 13th, 1867, {192} there is no preparation provided for the examinations at Oxford and Cambridge.'

Newman's anxious conscientiousness did not go without its reward. Dr. Ullathorne and other friends were instant and indignant in their representations at Rome both as to his whole-hearted loyalty and his orthodoxy. On the other hand, the party which accused his writings of being unsound were active in making their views known at headquarters. In the end their busy gossip defeated its object. Pius IX., who had ever shown for Newman both regard and consideration, determined to bring matters to a head, and applied to Dr. Cullen, as a responsible authority who knew Newman's writings well, for an opinion as to their orthodoxy. The result was so entirely favourable that Newman was, with the Pope's approval, invited later on both to help in preparing matter for the Vatican Council and to assist at the Council itself as one of the official theologians.

Dr. Cullen's report was made known to Newman in the autumn of 1867 at the Pope's express desire. The news was a ray of sunshine in gloomy weather.

'I consider,' Newman writes in a note dated 1872, 'that the Pope having sent to Dr. Cullen to ask about the character and drift of my writings, and Dr. Cullen having reported to him most favourably, and he (the Pope) having wished this distinctly to be told me, and then two years after having invited me as a theologian to the Ecumenical Council, altogether wipes off Mr. Martin, Zulueta, &c., &c.'

It was perhaps the fresh courage which the good news from Rome gave which made him ready now to speak his mind more openly as to the Oxford question. A very full letter to a friend reviews the situation with great care:

'The Oratory, Novr. 10, 1867.
'My dear Lady Simeon,—Your letter came yesterday. I answer at once to the best of my ability, it being my matter as well as it is yours, and perhaps a greater difficulty to me than to you.

'Let me begin by saying plainly that after the Propaganda Rescript, only under very peculiar, extraordinary circumstances could I make myself responsible for a youth's going to Oxford. If he turned out ill, it would not satisfy my {193} mind to say "There are greater dangers in periodical literature than in Oxford, he would have gone wrong wheresoever he was." I should have before me a result which I had directly caused, not an hypothesis.

'Having said this at starting, let me now state the case as it really lies.

'1. I say with Cardinal Bellarmine whether the Pope be infallible or not in any pronouncement, anyhow he is to be obeyed. No good can come from disobedience. His facts and his warnings may be all wrong; his deliberations may have been biassed. He may have been misled. Imperiousness and craft, tyranny and cruelty, may be patent in the conduct of his advisers and instruments. But when he speaks formally and authoritatively he speaks as our Lord would have him speak, and all those imperfections and sins of individuals are overruled for that result which our Lord intends (just as the action of the wicked and of enemies to the Church are overruled) and therefore the Pope's word stands, and a blessing goes with obedience to it, and no blessing with disobedience.

'2. But next, I say, there is no command, no prohibition in the Propaganda Rescript which is the subject of your letter: And this, on purpose. The Pope might have prohibited youth from going to Oxford had he been so minded, but he has not done so. For three years past it has been declared by the Bishops in England, that there should be no prohibition. At the Episcopal meeting in December 1864 two, and two only, of the Bishops were for a prohibition. In the spring Cardinal Barnabo told Father St. John that there would be no prohibition. He said "We shall do as we did in Ireland twenty years ago. Archbishop McHale wished a prohibition but we only dissuaded. This we shall do now."

'3. What then is the message if not a prohibition? It is the greatest of dissuasions. It throws all the responsibility of the act upon those who send a youth to Oxford. It is an authoritative solemn warning.

'4. Is not this equivalent to a prohibition? No. A prohibition must be obeyed implicitly—but when the Pope condescends not to command, but to reason, he puts the case as it were into our hands and makes us the ultimate judge, he taking the place of a witness of preponderating authority.

'5. What follows from this? That all the responsibility falls on the parent who sends his son to Oxford, that he must in his own conscience make out a case strong enough to overcome in his particular case the general dissuasion of {194} the Vicar of Christ. Every rule has its exceptions. He has to prove to the satisfaction of his conscience on his death-bed, to the satisfaction of the priest who hears his confession, that the case of his own boy is an exceptional one.

'6. And such exceptions there are. Let me illustrate what I mean. We must take care of the young one by one, as a mother does, and as an Archbishop does not. We know our own, one by one (if we are priests with the pastoral charge) as our ecclesiastical rulers cannot know them. It were well indeed if some high prelates recollected more than they seem to do the words of the Apostle: "Fathers provoke not your children to anger lest they become pusillanimous," depressed, disgusted, disappointed, unsettled, reckless. Youth is the time of generous and enthusiastic impulses; young men are imprudent, and get into scrapes. Perhaps they fall in love imprudently. To carry out an engagement on which they have set their hearts may seem to their parents a madness; most truly, yet it may be a greater madness to prohibit it. All of us must recollect instances when to suffer what is bad in itself is the lesser of great evils, as the event has shown. When there has been a successful prohibition it has resulted in a life-long ruin to the person who is so dear to us, for whose welfare we have been mistakenly zealous. It does not do to beat the life out of a youth—the life of aspirations, excitement and enthusiasm. Older men live by reason, habit and self-control, but the young live by visions. I can fancy cases in which Oxford would be the salvation of a youth; when he would be far more likely to rise up against authority, murmur against his superiors, and (more) to become an unbeliever, if he is kept from Oxford than if he is sent there.

'7. Now as to —— I am far from making such dreadful vaticinations about him. I will but say that he, being a boy, must be treated with the greatest care. It is certain that the prospect of going to Oxford roused him into an activity which he had not before. Also I am told that he was considerably excited on hearing in Church our Bishop's Pastoral read.

'8. This then is what I recommend, viz.: He is only seventeen. Youths do not go to Oxford till they are nineteen. Do nothing at present. His name is already down at ——. Wait for a year and a half; many things may turn up in that time. For instance there is a talk of Oxford Examinations and degrees being opened to those who have not resided, and Father Weld said the other day to {195} me that he should prefer such an opening for his students to their taking their degrees at the London University. This is one outlet from the difficulty, others may show themselves. Therefore I recommend waiting and temporizing.

'9. I don't see there is any call upon you to initiate anything, though you are bound to speak when questions are asked for. But this is a matter for your confessor. One thing I am strong upon;—boys are ticklish animals and I think you had better not write to ——.

'Excuse, my dear Lady Simeon, the freedom of this letter and believe me, &c., &c.
'J. H. N.'

Although there was no positive and universal prohibition from Rome on the Oxford question, it was clear that the Catholic young men as a body would now keep away from the Universities. There was naturally a strong feeling among the laity that their sons were left with no provision for their education. And many thought the objection to Oxford quite ungrounded. 'The only foundation,' wrote Newman himself, 'for the statement that Catholics at Oxford have made shipwreck of the faith that the Bishop and we could make out was that Weld Blundell ducked a Puseyite in Mercury, and Redington has been talking loosely about the Temporal Power in Rome.' The Jesuits and Archbishop Manning now discussed the formation of a Catholic University College, and Father Weld, a Jesuit father, sought Newman's co-operation. Newman felt, however, that such a scheme had little chance of success. It was not likely to be in the hands of a really representative committee, but rather in those of Manning's friends. The laity would not be fairly represented. And he had come, after his Irish experience, to think a Catholic University not practicable. There is little heart or hope in his letter to Hope-Scott on the subject:


'Rednal: Sept. 25, 1867.
'My dear Hope-Scott,—The Archbishop is going to set up a House of higher studies—report says it is to be near Reading and that he has got large sums of money. I suppose he has been urged on by the Pope, or by Propaganda—for I don't think he will like this additional and most anxious work on his hands. I know it from Father Weld, {196} who has sent me word that he is going to call on me about it.

'This concerns both you and me, for your influence as a layman cannot be overlooked; and I wish to act with you, though our lines are separate; for they will come to you with the desire of finding means; and as to me I don't suppose they want my advice or co-operation, but only my name.

'Now suppose he comes to say that there is to be a Committee, and the Archbishop wishes me to be on it; what shall I answer? Are there laymen on it? "Yes. As to Hope-Scott he is so full of work, we could not hope to get him; as to Monsell he is Irish"—and so "our laymen are W. G. Ward, Allies, H. Wilberforce, Lord Petre, Lewis, and Sir G. Bowyer," &c. ... Is not the upshot, that I must know who constitute the Committee, and what they are going definitely to do, before I say anything to the proposal?

'As to the plan itself, I cannot of course object to it, except on the ground of its impracticability, for I have written several volumes in support of it, as Father Weld indirectly reminded me. Nor are you likely to object to it, for it is not so long since you talked of our setting up a House of Higher Studies—that is, about four years ago, before the Oxford projects came up. If you thought it practicable then, why should you not think so now? If then you have difficulties, it must be in the particular scheme put forward.

'I have been trying to recollect our Dublin difficulties, in order to profit by my experience. As far as I can recollect, they were these: 1. division among the Bishops, which is not likely to be the case in England. 2. the want of power to give degrees. 3. the exclusion of laymen from influence in the management, not only of the University, but even of the accounts. For this reason, I think even to this day, More O'Ferrall is not a subscriber to it. Of these the second is the best in argument, and as good as any. It seems to me almost fatal. If it be said, "We will affiliate ourselves to London," should not I answer, "Why not to Oxford?" which they will be able to do shortly, I believe—but they won't.

'As to the third reason, it concerns you. I should add to it the prospective difficulty of securing the appointment of lay Professors ... Father Weld being sent to me seems to show that some at least of the Professors are to be Jesuits. I won't say anything to offend them, but this at least I am resolved on, I think, that I will have nothing to do with the plan, unless the Professors are lay. But if so, and if they are {197} not to be lay, had not I better have nothing to do with the scheme from the first?

'I have written as my thoughts came, that you may have something to think about, and when you have anything to say, let me hear from you.
'J. H. N.'

When the plan was made known to Newman in detail by Father Weld, it did not prove to be in the direction of the kind of University College in which he was disposed to feel any confidence.

'Rednal: Oct. 10, 1867.
'My dear Hope-Scott,—Father Weld called on me on Monday. He was making a round, apparently, of the Catholic Schools. He went from us to Oscott.

'His plan is simply a Jesuit one, as you said. He proposes to transplant the philosophy and theology classes from Stonyhurst and St. Beuno's to some place on the banks of the Thames. This will give it sixty youths as a nucleus. Then he will invite lay youths generally to join them, having a good array of Professors from the two Colleges I have named.

'He had not a doubt, but he made a question, whether it would do to put Jesuit Novices and lay youths together; but he said he thought it would succeed, for their novices were too well cared for to be hurt by the contact of lay youths,—though students for the secular priesthood might in such a case suffer. I ventured to say that I thought the difficulty would lie on the other side, in the prospect of getting parents to send their sons to a sort of Jesuit Noviceship; and, if they did, of getting the youths themselves to acquiesce in it. I am not sure he entered into my meaning, for he passed the difficulty over.

'When I mentioned it to Father St. John, he reminded me that good Father Bresciani S.J. at Propaganda, twenty years ago, detailed to us with what great success they had pursued this plan in Piedmont—and how pious the young laymen were in consequence. I wonder whether Cavour, Minghetti, &c., &c., were in the number of these lay youths.

'Then he said he thought it would be a great thing to indoctrinate the lay youths in Philosophy, as an antidote to Mill and Bain. I tried myself to fancy some of our late scholars, ... sitting down steadily to Dmouski, Liberatore, &c. &c. {198}

'I said, that, if I had the opportunity, I certainly would do my part in sending him youths, though I did not expect I should be able to do much. And I sincerely wish him all success—for it is fair he should have his innings.

'It will amuse you to hear that I contemplate publishing in one volume my verses; and still more that I think of dedicating them to Badeley.      Yours affectly.,
'J. H. N.'

The proposed Catholic University found such small support that it could not at this time even be brought into existence. A few years later it was attempted in the Catholic University College founded by Cardinal Manning at Kensington: and it proved a ludicrous failure [Note 3]. Newman's views received the sad justification of experience both in Ireland and in England—that, to act on ideal principles with little or no attempt to forecast accurately what was practicable, was to court failure.

In view of this state of things it would not have been surprising if Newman had allowed all who applied to him for his opinion to know how keenly he felt on the whole subject. It is well therefore to place here on record the chivalrous loyalty with which he did his best to defend to outsiders the action of Propaganda and the Bishops which he deplored. He wrote thus on the subject to Canon Jenkins of Lyminge:

'The Oratory, Birmingham: Dec. 12, 1867.
'My dear Mr. Jenkins,—Thank you for your kind letter. The Oxford Scheme has been at an end since April last when I ceased to collect contributions for it.

'The cause is very intelligible. It was most natural for authorities at Rome to take the advice of Oxford converts as to whether youths should be allowed to go to Oxford. Accordingly the late Cardinal applied to various among the Oxford men. Every one of name who was applied to, dissuaded Propaganda from allowing Catholic youths that liberty. Among these were Dr. Manning, Mr. Ward, {199} Dr. Northcote, Mr. Coffin, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Dalgairns; and Cambridge men, such as Mr. Knox, and Mr. Marshall, supported them. It is not wonderful, then, that, deferring to the opinion of such men, Propaganda has resolved on putting strong obstacles in the way of youths going to the Universities. And if it did this, it could not help hindering my going to Oxford—for many parents would consider that the presence of any Priest who knew Oxford well, was a pledge that their children would be protected against the scepticism and infidelity which too notoriously prevail there just now.
'Yours very sincerely,

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1. See p. 486.
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2. In his Letter to Pusey he had written as follows: 'A people's religion is ever a corrupt religion in spite of the provisions of Holy Church.'—Difficulties of Anglicans, ii. 81.
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3. So unwilling, however, was Manning to own to failure that the name 'Catholic University College' was for years retained, when the only corresponding reality was a group of three or four boys taught by that very able Professor and man of science, the late Dr. R. F. Clarke, at St. Charles' College, Bayswater.
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