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Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman
NICHOLAS PATRICK STEPHEN WISEMAN (1802-1865), English cardinal, was born at Seville on the 2nd of August 1802, the child of Anglo-Irish parents recently settled in Spain for business purposes. On his father's death in 1805 he was brought to Waterford, and in 1810 he was sent to Ushaw College, near Durham, where he was educated until the age of sixteen, when he proceeded to the English College in Rome, reopened in 1818 after having been closed by the Revolution for twenty years. He graduated doctor of theology with distinction in 1825, and was ordained priest in the following year. He was apppointed vice-rector of the English College in 1827, and rector in 1828 when not yet twenty-six years of age. This office he held until 1840. From the first a devoted student and antiquary, he devoted much time to the examination of oriental MSS. in the Vatican library, and a first volume, entitled Horae Syriacae, published in 1827, gave promise of a great scholar. Leo XII. apppointed him curator of the Arabic MSS. in the Vatican, and professor of oriental languages in the Roman university. At this date he had close relations, personal and by correspondence, with Mai, Bunsen, Burgess (bishop of Salisbury), Tholuck and Kluge. His student life was, however, broken by the pope's command to preach to the English in Rome; and a course of his lectures, On the Connexion between Science and Revealed Religion, deservedly attracted much attention, his general thesis being that whereas scientific teaching has repeatedly been thought to disprove Christian doctrine, further investigation has shown that a reconstruction is possible. He visited England in 18 351836, and delivered lectures on the principles and main doctrines of Roman Catholicism in the Sardinian Chapel, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and in the church at Moorfields, now pulled down. Their effect was considerable; and at Pusey's request Newman reviewed them in the British Critic (December 1836), treating them for the most part with sympathy as a triumph over popular Protestantism. To another critic, who had taken occasion to point out the resemblance between Catholic and pagan ceremonies, Wiseman replied, boldly admitting the likeness, and maintaining that it could be shown equally well to exist between Christian and heathen doctrines. In 1836 he founded the Dublin Review, partly to infuse into the lethargic English Catholics higher ideals of their own religion and some enthusiasm for the papacy, and partly to enable him to deal with the progress of the Oxford Movement, in which he was keenly interested. At this date he was already distinguished as an accomplished scholar and critic, able to converse fluently in half-a-dozen languages, and well informed on most questions of scientific, artistic or antiquarian interest. In the winter of 1838 he was visited in Rome by Macaulay, Manning and Gladstone. An article by him on the Donatist schism appearing in the Dublin Review in July 1839 made a great impression in Oxford, Newman and others seeing the force of the analogy between Donatists and Anglicans. Some words he quoted from St Augustine influenced Newman profoundly: " Quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum." And preaching at the opening of St Mary's church, Derby, in the same year, he anticipated Newman's argument on religious development, published six years later. In 1840 he was consecrated bishop, and sent to England as coadjutor to Bishop Walsh, vicar-apostolic of the Central district, and was also appointed president of Oscott College near Birmingham. Oscott, under his presidency, became a centre for English Catholics, where he was also visited by many distinguished men, including foreigners and non-Catholics. The Oxford converts (1845 and later) added considerably to Wiseman's responsibilities, as many of them found themselves wholly without means, while the old Catholic body looked on the newcomers with distrust. It was by his advice that Newman and his companions spent some time in Rome before undertaking clerical work in England. Shortly after the accession of Pius IX. Wiseman was appointed temporarily vicar-apostolic of the London district, the appointment becoming permanent in February 1849. On his arrival from Rome in 1847 he acted as informal diplomatic envoy from the pope, to ascertain from the government what support England was likely to give in carrying out the liberal policy with which Pius inaugurated his reign. In response Lord Minto was sent to Rome as " an authentic organ of the British Government," but the policy in question proved abortive. Residing in London in Golden Square, Wiseman threw himself into his new duties with many-sided activity, working especially for the reclamation of Catholic criminals and for the restoration of the lapsed poor to the practice of their religion. He was zealous for the establishment of religious communities, both of men and women, and for the holding of retreats and missions. He preached (4th July 1848) at the opening of St George's, Southwark, an occasion unique in England since the Reformation, 14 bishops and 240 priests being present, and six religious orders of men being represented. The progress of Catholicism was undeniable, but yet Wiseman found himself steadily opposed by a minority among his own clergy, who disliked his Ultramontane ideas, his Romanizing and innovating zeal," especially in regard to the introduction of sacred images into the churches and the use of devotions to the Blessed Virgin and the Blessed Sacrament, hitherto unknown among English Catholics. In July 1850 he heard of the pope's intention to create him a cardinal, and he took this to mean that he was to be permanently recalled to Rome. But on his arrival there he ascertained that a part of the pope's plan for restoring a diocesan hierarchy in England was that he himself should return to England as cardinal and archbishop of Westminster. The papal brief establishing the hierarchy was dated 29th September 1850, and on 7th October Wiseman wrote a pastoral, dated " from out of the Flaminian Gate " - a form diplomatically correct, but of bombastic tone for Protestant ears - in which he spoke enthusiastically, if also a little pompously, of the " restoration of Catholic England to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament." Wiseman travelled slowly to England, round by Vienna; and when he reached London (11th November) the whole country was ablaze with indignation at the " papal aggression," which was misunderstood to imply a new and unjustifiable claim to territorial rule. Some indeed feared that his life was endangered by the violence of popular feeling. But. Wiseman displayed calmness and courage, and immediately penned an admirable Appeal to the English People (a pamphlet of over 30 pages), in which he explained the nature of the pope's action, and argued that the admitted principle of toleration included leave to establish a diocesan hierarchy; and in his concluding paragraphs he effectively contrasted that dominion over Westminster, which he was taunted with claiming, with his duties towards the poor Catholics resident there, with which alone he was really concerned. A course of lectures at St George's, Southwark, further moderated the storm. In July 1852 he presided at Oscott over the first provincial synod of Westminster, at which Newman preached his sermon on the " Second Spring "; and at this date Wiseman's dream of the rapid conversion of England to the ancient faith seemed not incapable of realization. But many difficulties with his own people shortly beset his path, due largely to the suspicions aroused by his evident preference for the ardent Roman zeal of the converts, and especially of Manning, to the dull and cautious formalism of the old Catholics. The year 1854 was marked by his presence in Rome at the definition of the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin (8th December), and by the publication of his historical romance, Fabiola, a tale of the Church of the Catacombs, which had a very wide circulation and was translated into ten languages. In 1855 Wiseman applied for a coadjutor, and George Errington, bishop of Plymouth, his friend since boyhood, was appointed, with the title of archbishop of Trebizond. Two years later Manning was appointed provost of Westminster and he established in Bayswater his community of the " Oblates of St Charles." All Wiseman's later years were darkened by Errington's conscientious but implacable hostility to Manning, and to himself in so far as he was supposed to be acting under Manning's influence. The story of the estrangement, which was largely a matter of temperament, is fully told in Ward's biography. Ultimately, in July 1860, Errington was deprived by the pope of his coadjutorship with right of succession, and he retired to Prior Park, near Bath, where he died in 1886. In the summer of 1858 Wiseman paid a visit to Ireland, where, as a cardinal of Irish race, he was received with enthusiasm. His speeches, sermons and lectures, delivered during his tour, were printed in a volume of 400 pages, and show an extraordinary power of rising to the occasion and of speaking with sympathy and tact. Wiseman was able to use considerable influence with English politicians, partly because in his day English Catholics were wavering in their historical allegiance to the Liberal party. As the director of votes thus doubtful, he was in a position to secure concessions that bettered the position of Catholics in regard to poor schools, reformatories and workhouses, and in the status of their army chaplains. In 1863, addressing the Catholic Congress at Malines, he stated that since 1830 the number of priests in England had increased from 434 to 1242, and of convents of women from 16 to 162, while there were 55 religious houses of men in 1863 and none in 1830. The last two years of his life were troubled by illness and by controversies in which he found himself, under Manning's influence, compelled to adopt a policy less liberal than that which had been his in earlier years. Thus he had to condemn the Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom, with which he had shown some sympathy in its inception in 1857; and to forbid Catholic parents to send their sons to Oxford or Cambridge, though at an earlier date he had hoped (with Newman) that at Oxford at least a college or hall might be assigned to them. But in other respects his last years were cheered by marks of general regard and admiration, in which non-Catholics joined; and after his death (16th February 1865) there was an extraordinary demonstration of popular respect as his body was taken from St Mary's, Moorfields, to the cemetery at Kensal Green, where it was intended that it should rest only until a more fitting place could be found in a Roman Catholic cathedral church of Westminster. On the 30th of January 1907 the body was removed with great ceremony from Kensal Green and reburied in the crypt of the new cathedral, where it lies beneath a Gothic altar tomb, with a recumbent effigy of the archbishop in full pontificals.
Wiseman was undoubtedly an eminent Englishman, and one of the most learned men of his time. He was the friend and correspondent of many foreigners of distinction, among whom may be named Dellinger, Lamennais, Montalembert and Napoleon III. As a writer he was apt to be turgid and prolix, and there was a somewhat un-English element of ostentation in his manner. But his accomplishments and ability were such as would have secured for him influence and prominence in any age of the Church; and besides being highly gifted intellectually and morally, he was marked by those specially human qualities which command the interest of all students of life and character. He combined with the principles known as Ultramontane no little liberality of view in matters ecclesiastical. He insisted on a poetical interpretation of the Church's liturgy; and while strenuously maintaining her Divine commission to teach faith and morals, he regarded the Church as in other respects a learner; and he advocated a policy of conciliation with the world, and an alliance with the best tendencies of contemporary thought. It was, in his judgment, quite in accordance with the genius of the Catholic Church that she should continuously assimilate all that is worthy in the civilization around.
See the biography by Wilfrid Ward, The Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman (2 vols., 1897; fifth and cheaper edition, 1900).
(A. W. Hu.)
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