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Mar 15 Cardinal Manning & Catholic Social Teaching


Today in 1875, Henry Edward Manning was made a cardinal at a consistory convoked by Pope Pius IX, and unusually for Cardinals in the Catholic Church, Manning was a widowed man. A convert to Catholicism, having been ordained in the Church of England, sadly his marriage had not lasted long: his young and beautiful wife had died childless of consumption. Understood then simply as a wasting disease but now it would be classified as pulmonary tuberculosis. When Manning himself died many years later, a locket containing his wife's picture was found on a chain around his neck.

His journey to Rome had begun 13 years after his wife’s death when he disagreed with what he saw as political interference in the Church of England. The Privy Council (a formal body of advisers to the sovereign of the United Kingdom) ordered the Church of England to institute an evangelical cleric who had denied the objective effects of the sacrament of baptism. This became known as the Gorham judgement and gravely disturbed Manning's conscience. The denial of the objective effect of the sacraments was to Manning and many others a grave heresy, contradicting the clear tradition of the Church from the Fathers of the Church onwards.

There maybe some irony to the fact that an obstinate Evangelical disturbed Manning so much. As a young student in Oxford, it had been the influence of an evangelical that had turned his mind towards an ecclesial career away from a high-ranking colonial office that would have been open to him. However, now that a civil and secular body had the power to force the Church of England to accept someone with such an unorthodox opinion troubled Manning's conscience. He had already been a member of the Oxford movement, which sought a return of the Church of England to more High Church ideals. A son of a banker and member of Parliament who had been ordained a priest in the Church of England. Manning was very well connected and had a lot to lose by ‘crossing the Tiber’.

He was received into the Roman Catholic Church on April 6, 1851, and ordained a priest by Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman on June 15, 1851. His path to conversion was fairly smooth because he was the sort of well-connected establishment convert that gave the English Catholic Church credibility after being forced underground in Elizabethan times. Times were changing, and Sir Robert Peel had carried the Catholic Emancipation Act in Parliament only 22 years before which had admitted Roman Catholics to Parliament and to all but a handful of public offices. But it would be still another 20 years until the universities were opened to Catholics.

Manning flourished in the Catholic Church, studying theology in Rome and back in London he founded the Oblates of St. Charles. He became Archbishop of Westminster in 1865 and on this day 10 years later was made a cardinal. In this new, relaxed climate for Catholicism in the UK , he became a vigorous builder of Catholic schools and other institutions, acquiring the site for Westminster Cathedral. He was respected across the communities for his social concern and successfully intervening in the London dock strike. The Strike was very influential in the trade union movement in Britain and led to the growth of the New Unions of casual, unskilled and poorly paid workers, in contrast to the craft unions already in existence. It also shone a light on the problem of poverty in Victorian Britain and the dockers' cause attracted public sympathy. Manning's involvement in the strike, as a mediator trusted by both sides, explicitly supported the right of labour to form unions, but also rejected socialism and affirmed private property rights.

This would lead to him becoming a key influence on the encyclical Rerum Novarum ('Of New Things') that was issued by Pope Leo XIII two years later. Hugely influential, and seen as the beginning of a long tradition of social encyclicals, it addressing "the condition of the working classes". Using the sociological language of capital and labour, which the London based writer Karl Marx had made popular twenty years earlier, the encyclical states "Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labour, nor labour without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and savage barbarity". Cardinal Manning's middle position made him a trenchant critic both of unbridled capitalism and of many aspects of socialism