History of the Church: Later Modern Times - Notre Dame

The Catholic Revival in Germany and England

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I. The German Revival

"What is the German Fatherland?" is the first line of a popular German song, which goes on to reply that the Fatherland exists wherever German hearts beat true to the sound of the German tongue. The Protestant Reformation and the Classical Renaissance had held this realm of German speech in strict bondage for nearly three centuries. Then, after the Napoleonic wars, a change came. With Milton one might have said, "Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks." The political resurrection of Germany was accompanied, if not preceded, by an intellectual revival in arts, letters, and religion. A portion of the stream sought once more its ancient channel and found Catholicism. The current that remained Protestant flowed on to what Heine considers its only possible outlet—the free thought which ends in negation of all religious truth.

The Romantic Revival in literature, by casting off the formality of classicism and returning to Nature, led many minds to the contemplation of God; and, by directing attention to the legendary lore of the Middle Ages, created an interest in the medieval Church. Men of poetical temperament, such as Count Stolberg, the brothers Augustus and Frederic Schlegel, "Novalis," and Tieck, began to sympathize with Catholicism, and some of them ended by seeking refuge within the pale. They drew upon themselves the attacks of the school of negation, but they continued their course in spite of opposition. Mohler, in his "Symbolism," proved the superiority of Catholicism over Protestantism; Gorres and many others devoted their literary talents to the defence of religion; while Overbeck and Cornelius founded a new school of Christian art, destined to supersede to some extent the pagan ideas which had so long prevailed, and possibly to lead the way to the English "pre-Raphaelite" Movement. The French and German revivals were contemporaneous, and though the world at large may have been more dazzled by the brilliancy of the great Frenchmen, there was a depth and earnestness in the Germans which could not easily be surpassed.

Romanticism, as manifested in German literature, attracted the attention of English men of letters, and was made known in this country directly by Coleridge, and indirectly, through Coleridge's influence, by Wordsworth. It drew both these poets closer to the true faith, and even to love and devotion to Our Lady, as she is addressed in one of Wordsworth's most beautiful sonnets.

"Woman, above all women glorified,

Our tainted nature's solitary boast,"

Again, the old German legends contained a mysterious fascination for many who owed them a lesser debt than did Scott. Their study led him to attempt a similar rescue of the Border minstrelsy, and thus brought him into contact with pre-Reformation thought and feeling. All readers of Scott's work, whether in prose or verse, will readily acknowledge that the Catholic Church, however he may have misunderstood her at times, was the mainspring of his romantic enthusiasm.

II. The English Revival

It would be a mistake to think that the Oxford Movement was the chief factor in the wonderful expansion and rejuvenation of the Catholic Church in England to which Cardinal Newman has given the suggestive title of "The Second Spring." Bishop Casartelli opens out a wider horizon when he says that it was but one chapter, however glorious a one, of a complete history. "The influence of the Oxford Movement was an influence external to the Catholic Church, a movement primarily in the bosom of the Anglican Establishment, working therein with an effect at once elevating and disintegrating, and, as its final result, bringing over to the Catholic Church much of what was noblest and best of Anglican intellect and heart. But I wish to show that the modern revival of Catholicity has not been the exclusive outcome of this mighty influence from outside. There are other chapters in the history scarcely, if at all, less worthy of record. To take an example which will occur to every mind, a very important share in the resuscitation of Catholic life and practice, and in the multiplication of both clergy and laity, must be attributed to the great stream of immigration from Catholic Ireland consequent upon the famine and disease which in 1846, 1847, and following years, drove so many poor, yet staunch, Catholics to these shores and spread them all over the country."

The learned Bishop goes on to explain that the object of his paper, which he entitles, "A Forgotten Chapter of the Second Spring," is to recall the fact that a veritable "Italian Mission "was at that time established within the English Catholic body. He refers to the coming in 1835 of the Fathers of the Institute of Charity, with Dr. Gentili at their head. Their labours were blessed with immense success both among Catholics and among all who listened to their zealous preaching. An Oxford graduate, one of Newman's favourite disciples, afterwards Father William Lockhart, was received into the Church by Dr. Gentili, "who had the great privilege of culling this first ripe fruit of the Second Spring."

Four novelties in religious practice were introduced by the Italians. They are no novelties to us to-day, but to our fathers they were strange indeed. We have still—(1) the preaching of popular missions; (2) the ceremony of the renewal of baptismal vows; (3) the Quarant' Ore, or Forty Hours: (4) the devotions of the month of Mary. "Looking back," continues Bishop Casartelli, "it appears to us as if religious life must have been almost torpid without these now familiar works of devotion and charity." The present costume of the secular clergy was also adopted about this time, for brown had, so far, been the nearest approach to severity of colour, and the Roman collar was introduced from Italy. The title "Father," instead of "Mr "and "Sir," was certainly not of earlier date, for there are venerable priests still living who, in their younger days, were never spoken of or addressed as "Father."

Other religious Orders, both of men and women, sprang up all over the country: Passionists, like Father Dominic and Father Ignatius Spencer, inspired with the zeal of their founder, St. Paul of the Cross, for the conversion of England; Redemptorists, ready to undertake the great work of giving public missions; nuns of various congregations from Ireland, France, and Belgium, devoting themselves to the education of girls—all vying with each other in the apostolic labours from which religious had been so long debarred. England was to some degree familiarized with monastic life by the refugee monks and nuns whom she had so hospitably received during the French Revolution; but the days were still far off when the religious habit could be worn in public; and the Catholic chapels were so unsafe that none dared burn a lamp before the spot where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved.

Dr. Gentili died in Dublin in 1848, during the overwhelming fatigues of a great mission, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. "So ended a saintly and brilliant career, one that has left its mark deeply upon the religious life of this country, one to which we all owe more than we are probably aware of." The movement he set on foot was lasting; it continues to our own day, and has increased a hundredfold in strength and influence, giving well-founded hopes that, if the same law of progression holds good, there need be no limit to the extension of the Catholic Church in England.

The University of Oxford, like a stream flowing into an underground channel, disappeared from the pages of Catholic Church history soon after the introduction of the new learning. Its theological services to the Protestant religion were of no particular value, and did not prevent the Established Church of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries from falling into a state of inactivity which seemed to denote an advanced old age and the near approach of dissolution—"the last stage of theological decay," as Mr. Leslie Stephen expresses it. If there were to be an awakening and a regeneration, the impetus must come from without.

Cardinal Newman mentions Scott and Coleridge as having first roused interest in pre-Reformation Catholicism. With this for a beginning, the influence of German Catholics soon made itself felt among scholars. Mohler's "Symbolism "was to be found in the rooms of tutors at Oxford; the pictures of Overbeck and Cornelius led the way to the study of pre-Raphaelite art. Knowledge and love of the ancient faith having reappeared in the University, the current was not easily checked. It soon took the form of literature in the famous "Tracts for the Times," published in Oxford at intervals between the years 1833 and 1841. Ninety of these tracts, dealing with the then condition of the Church of England, saw the light, and owed their authorship to such men as Newman, Pusey, Keble, Hurrell Froude, and other leaders of the new High Church Movement. The Anglican divines realized that it was time to bestir themselves. The issue of the Tracts met with an opposition which ended in their total suppression.

From his position as President of the English College at Rome, Dr. Wiseman was eagerly watching the signs of the times. God was meanwhile preparing him for the great work of establishing the Catholic Church in England once more upon a broad and solid foundation. An accomplished and unprejudiced scholar, an easy and brilliant orator, a patron of literature, science, and the fine arts, the future Cardinal, untrammeled by ancient Catholic grievances or Anglican memories, was just the man required for the difficult task of meeting the advancing parties on either side, and uniting them in a common cause. Catholics were, on the one hand, emerging from their previous obscurity, while the new element of the Oxford converts was about to enter the Church. The points of view of the two parties were different, and yet it was essential that they should dwell together in unity. To bring about this happy issue was to be Wiseman's privilege—a privilege not unaccompanied by painful toil and heroic self-sacrifice.

Dr. Wiseman visited England in 1835, and delivered in London a course of lectures on "The Doctrines of the Catholic Church." Catholics and Protestants alike flocked to hear him, and all were charmed with his varied talents and his persuasive and gentle manners. There was in him neither the timidity nor the severity of the ecclesiastics who had just been relieved from the tyrannical subjection of the penal laws. "Protestants were equally astonished and gratified to find that acuteness and urbanity were not incompatible even in controversial argument. The spacious church of Moorfields was thronged on every evening of Dr. Wiseman's appearance. Many persons of position and education were converted, and all departed with abated prejudice and with very different notions about Catholicism from those with which they had been prepossessed by their education." Another good fruit of this visit was the establishment of the Dublin Review, in which Dr. Wiseman proposed to deal with questions raised by the "Tractarians." One of the articles on the Donatist heresy sent by him to this Review in 1839 was so convincing that Newman at least confessed the impossibility of further doubt.

The inner history of each individual concerned in the Oxford Movement is fraught with supreme interest. The reader follows the sublime autobiography to which Cardinal Newman gave the immortal name of Apologia pro Vita Sua  as he would follow the thrilling pages of a romance. The two works in which the career of Dr. W. G. Ward is described by his son are a full and complete exposition of the subject. Mr. T. W. Allies related his struggles and sacrifices in the volumes entitled A Life's Decision  and Per Crucem ad Lucem. And so of the others: their lives and works and writings are at hand for whoso wills to study them. We cannot here do more than trace the mighty movement which gave so many worthy sons back to the ancient faith.

Cardinal Newman


In March, 1841, the famous Tract 90  appeared. It maintained that the thirty-nine articles of Queen Elizabeth admitted of a completely Catholic interpretation, and that they contained no contradiction of the decisions of the Council of Trent. This bold assertion roused the sleeping sentinels of the Protestant camp, and a universal outcry was raised against the Tractarians. As no more Tracts appeared, the storm soon died away, but only to rise again in 1844, when Ward published his Ideal of a Christian Church, proving with merciless logic that such a Church could not exist out of communion with Rome. Newman had by this time retired to Littlemore, where in fasting and prayer he was seeking further light. Conversions followed each other in rapid succession, and at length Newman himself was ready. In October, 1845, the Passionist, Father Dominic, had the happiness of receiving him into the Church, and together with him a little band of earnest disciples. The movement did not stop here. Scholars have not ceased to join the Church and to add to her long roll of converts names not unworthy to rank with those of Lockhart and Formby, Oakeley and Dalgairns, Faber and Manning.

It would be difficult to estimate the sacrifices made by men such as these in thus turning away from all that had held them in the past. Their new position was to many of them a source of intense moral suffering, all the more severe that it was little understood by the Catholics whose ranks they had joined. They had lost position, emoluments, and friends—all, in fact, that the world holds dear. The bitterness of the cross was not lessened by the fact that it was willingly accepted. In this early struggle with adversity they found no more sympathetic friend than Dr. Wiseman. Yet even he was at times blamed for the favour he showed to these new allies at the expense, it was said, of those who had suffered the persecution of the penal code. The Oxford converts were looked upon with suspicion, and, it is to be feared, with some prejudice. Time, however, softened these feelings, and Newman, at least, outlived all hostility, even that of his deserted Alma Mater.

It must be remembered also that a heroic part, too often overlooked, was taken in the movement by ladies who, like Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Allies, were the chief support and encouragement of their husbands. Many a cultured woman chose the path of obscurity and poverty rather than shut her eyes to the light, and not a few daughters of Oxford converts consecrated their lives to God in the religious state. Their example led others to the faith, and among them must be mentioned Augusta Theodosia Drane, afterwards the Dominican, Mother Frances Raphael, whose contributions to Catholic literature were as opportune as they are valuable.

While the Oxford Movement was in progress the increase in the number of Catholics, subsequent to the Emancipation Act, determined Pope Gregory XVI. to double the number of Vicars-Apostolic. This was done in 1840, and proved to be but a prelude to the restoration of that ancient Hierarchy which had become extinct during the Elizabethan persecution. The eight Vicars-Apostolic united in petitioning the Holy See for so great a blessing. Dr. Wiseman, now Bishop of Melipotamus (in partibus infidelium), coadjutor of the Central District, and President of Oscott College, had great influence in Rome. His thorough acquaintance both with the methods of the Roman Court and with the current opinions and tendencies of English society rendered him the best possible medium of communication between the two. While negotiations were pending, Dr. Wiseman applied himself chiefly to the task of smoothing away the difficulties of the Oxford converts, and making of St. Mary's College, Oscott, a centre of light and learning to the Church in England. The later years of the pontificate of Gregory XVI. passed uneventfully, and in 1846 his death was followed by the election of Pius IX., who was destined to re-establish the Hierarchy.

In 1847 Bishop Wiseman went to Rome for the purpose of laying the state of English affairs clearly before the new Pope. The troubles of the year 1848 interfered with the deliberations, and delayed the restoration of Catholic England "to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament from which its light had so long vanished." The long waiting came to an end in 1850, when the Papal brief was issued, erecting the Archbishopric of Westminster, with twelve suffragan dioceses. The first Archbishop was Cardinal Wiseman, who had previously been admitted to the Sacred College. He lost no time in publishing a pastoral letter announcing the good news to English Catholics. But Protestants took the matter up, and the "Papal aggression "was received with a storm of angry vituperation. An Act was passed prohibiting the assumption of ecclesiastical titles, and timid souls feared that the Catholic Church in England was doomed. But Cardinal Wiseman was more than equal to the occasion. He not only pacified the British public, but gained their confidence and admiration by his masterly "Appeal to the Reason and Good Feeling of the People of England on the Subject of the Catholic Hierarchy." This was followed by popular lectures and public proceedings of all kinds, by means of which the great Cardinal won a position for himself and for his successors in the Archiepiscopal See which a more cautious or a less imaginative mind would have deemed unattainable.

The first provincial Synod of the new Hierarchy was held at Oscott in July, 1852, and gave occasion for an inspired sermon preached by Dr. Newman. Referring to the Bishops who were there assembled, he said: "A second temple rises on the ruins of the old. Canterbury has gone its way, and York is gone, and Durham is gone, and Winchester is gone. It was sore to part with them. We clung to the visions of past greatness, and would not believe it could come to nought; but the Church in England has died, and the Church lives again. Westminster and Nottingham, Beverley and Hexham, Northampton and Shrewsbury, if the world lasts, shall be names as musical to the ear, as stirring to the heart, as the glories we have lost; and saints shall rise out of them, if God so will, and doctors once again shall give the law to Israel, and preachers call to penance and to justice, as at the beginning. What is to startle you? What to seduce you? Who is to stop you, whether you are to suffer or to do, whether to lay the foundations of the Church in tears, or to put the crown upon the work in jubilation?"

The nineteenth century had run half its course when this trumpet note resounded through the land. The Catholic hearts of England were roused and encouraged. They responded to the call by renewed labours and sacrifices, and by, their strong, united endeavours covered England with churches and schools. The latter half of the century saw progress out of all proportion to the numbers and influence of the Catholic body, and justified the enthusiasm with which the country was once more dedicated to Our Lady under its ancient title of "The Dowry of Mary."

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