Thursday, February 2, 2017

February 2, 1879: A Cardinal's Hat for Newman?

At the end of January, 1879, Father John Henry Newman had a bad cold and was resting in bed when he received a summons from Bishop Ullathorne to come see him. Because he was so ill he sent another Oratorian, Father Pope, went to see the bishop and returned with the news that Pope Leo XIII wanted to make Newman a Cardinal!

Newman was delighted but concerned. It was a great honor: he felt it would eliminate the suspicion about the sincerity of his becoming Catholic and being loyal to the Church and the pope. He was also concerned that he'd be required to live in Rome; since he wasn't a bishop, that was the custom for "Cardinal Deacons". So he wrote a delicate message in reply and then Bishop Ullathorne wrote another letter--a cover letter--describing more fully what Newman was trying to say: he would be honored to become a Cardinal, but he did not want to leave the Oratory!

The Oratory, Birmingham:
Feb. 2, Feast of the Purification, 1879.
My Right Rev. Father,—I trust that his Holiness, and the most eminent Cardinal Nina will not think me a thoroughly discourteous and unfeeling man, who is not touched by the commendation of superiors, or a sense of gratitude, or the splendour of dignity, when I say to you, my Bishop, who know me so well, that I regard as altogether above me the great honour which the Holy Father proposes with wonderful kindness to confer on one so insignificant, an honour quite transcendent and unparalleled, than which his Holiness has none greater to bestow.

For I am, indeed, old and distrustful of myself; I have lived now thirty years in nidulo meo in my much loved Oratory, sheltered and happy, and would therefore entreat his Holiness not to take me from St. Philip, my Father and Patron.

By the love and reverence with which a long succession of Popes have regarded and trusted St. Philip, I pray and entreat his Holiness in compassion of my diffidence of mind, in consideration of my feeble health, my nearly eighty years, the retired course of my life from my youth, my ignorance of foreign languages, and my lack of experience in business, to let me die where I have so long lived. Since I know now and henceforth that his Holiness thinks kindly of me, what more can I desire?
'Right Rev. Father,
Your most devoted

Bishop Ullathorne sent Newman's letter to Henry Cardinal Manning with his explanation of Newman's letter the next day:

St. Mary's College, Oscott, Birmingham: Feb. 3, 1879.
My dear Lord Cardinal,—Your kind letter, enclosing that of Cardinal Nina, gave me very great gratification. As I could not with any prudence go to Birmingham, I wrote and asked Dr. Newman if he could come to Oscott. But he was in bed suffering from a severe cold, and much pulled down. I, therefore, took advantage of a clause in Cardinal Nina's letter, and asked him to send a Father in his intimate confidence whom he might consult in a grave matter of importance, to whom I could communicate in secrecy the Holy Father's message. Father Pope was sent, and with him I went into the subject, and sent the documents with a paper in which I had written my own reflections. {441}

Dr. Newman contrived to come himself today, although quite feeble. He is profoundly and tenderly impressed with the goodness of the Holy Father towards him, and he spoke to me with great humility of what he conceived to be his disqualifications, especially at his age, for so great a position, and of his necessity to the Birmingham Oratory, which still requires his care.

I represented to him, as I had already done through Father Pope, that I felt confident that the one intention of the Holy Father was to confer upon him this signal proof of his confidence, and to give him an exalted position in the Church in token of the great services he had rendered to her cause, and that I felt confident also that his Holiness would not require his leaving the Oratory and taking a new position at his great age. But that if he would leave it to me, I would undertake to explain all to your Eminence, who would make the due explanations to Cardinal Nina.

Dr. Newman has far too humble and delicate a mind to dream of thinking or saying anything which would look like hinting at any kind of terms with the Sovereign Pontiff. He has expressed himself in a Latin letter addressed to me, which I could send to your Eminence, and which you could place in the hands of Cardinal Nina.

I think, however, that I ought to express my own sense of what Dr. Newman's dispositions are, and that it will be expected of me. As I have already said, Dr. Newman is most profoundly touched and moved by this very great mark of consideration on the part of the Sovereign Pontiff, and I am thoroughly confident that nothing stands in the way of his most grateful acceptance except what he tells me greatly distresses him, namely, the having to leave the Oratory at a critical period of its existence, and when it is just beginning to develop in new members, and the impossibility of his beginning a new life at his advanced age.'I cannot, however, but think myself that this is not the Holy Father's intention, and that His Holiness would consider his presence in England of importance, where he has been so much in communication with those who are in search of the Truth.

I have also said to Dr. Newman himself that I am confident that the noble Catholics of England would not leave him without the proper means for maintaining his dignity in a suitable manner.

Although expecting me to make the official communication, Dr. Newman will write to you himself. I remain, my dear Lord Cardinal, your faithful and affectionate servant,

WILLIAM BERNARD, Bp. of Birmingham.

But Cardinal Manning sent on just Newman's letter without his bishop's explanation. Word got out and the story was published in the London papers that Newman had turned down the Cardinal's hat! It took months to straighten it out. You may read all the letters and narrative of the confusion here and here. And then he had his portrait painted by Sir John Everett Millais, one of the great Pre-Raphaelites!

Pope Leo XIII referred to Newman as "my cardinal" and said that "It was not easy, not easy… They said he was too liberal; but I had determined to honour the Church in honouring Newman. I always had veneration for him. I am proud that I was allowed to honour such a man."

1 comment:

  1. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Mrs. Battenburg ( ER2 ) often referred to the late Cardinal Hume as “my Cardinal.”