Chapter IV. Acton, Simpson, and the "Rambler," 1858

Josef L. Altholz, Professor of History, University of Minnesota


Chapter four of the author's The Liberal Catholic Movement in England: The "Rambler" and its Contributors, 1848-1864, which Burns and Oates (London) published in 1962. It has been included in the Victorian Web with the kind permission of the author, who of course retains copyright.

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decoarted initial 'T' he new management which assumed control of the "Rambler" at the beginning of 1858 was dedicated to the continuance of the policy of independence, liberalism, and breadth of view which the magazine had adopted in its first decade of existence. At the same time, the addition of the young Acton1 to the Rambler's staff meant a new infusion of energy; and Simpson's assumption of the editorship, no longer restrained by the comparative caution of Capes, signified that a more daring spirit, a greater boldness of inquiry and statement, would preside over its pages.

It was not, however, in an aggressive spirit that Acton and Simpson began their work. They proposed that the editor should be advised by a council composed of "everybody who is distinguished for position and talent and at the same time a friend of the Rambler" (Acton to Simpson, 28 Feb. 1858, Gasquet, p. 10), and included several persons, priests and laymen, who could not be described as Liberal Catholics. Acton was so little involved in the dissensions and factions of English Catholicism that he suggested for the council such men as Ward and Manning. Ward was asked to take charge of the theological department of the Rambler, but politely declined (Acton to Döllinger, 17 Feb. 1858, Woodruff MSS). Simpson was even willing to accept a theological censor. Eventually, however, both council and censorship were abandoned. Acton feared that a council might become an instrument for controlling the editor in the interests of the bishops or of the publisher, James Burns, whom Acton distrusted. Acton and Simpson found that they formed a team which worked well together [63/64], and they came to have a dread of outside interference. For Simpson, his position as editor meant an increased opportunity to pursue his favourite lines of thought. He was responsible for the department of "general literature," including the special field of history. He also wrote on philosophy, produced an occasional light article, shared in the reviewing, and was in general responsible for ensuring that there was a sufficiency of material to fill the pages of the Rambler. Acton was fascinated by Simpson's industry and productiveness: no one else could produce hack work of such quality in such quantity. Acton was also attracted by Simpson's sincerity and integrity, and the two became close friends.

The remaining proprietor, Frederick Capes, took a comparatively small share in the conduct of the Rambler. His particular department was fine arts; he also acted as informal treasurer of the magazine, paying the printers' and stationers' bills. His connection with the Rambler was kept secret, "as his professional business might be damaged by some of the Bishops" (Simpson to Newman, 26 Feb. 1859, Newman MSS.). One new contributor joined the staff of the Rambler: Dr. Charles Meynell, a priest at Oscott, who supervised the department of philosophy for some time.

Acton contributed articles on history and reviews of foreign literature, but he was principally interested in the political department of the magazine. He had joined the Rambler "to have an organ of this kind, with full intention of getting into Parliament as soon as possible" (Simpson to Newman, 5 May 1859, Newman MSS.). He did not, however, intend to pursue a conventional political career; he had no personal ambition, and his Catholicism limited the success he might obtain in English politics. Furthermore, he was extremely conscious at this time of his isolation from political parties. His ambition was rather to exert an influence on political thought, to be an educator of public opinion, especially Catholic opinion. Acton wrote Simpson on 16 February, "I would have a complete body of principles for the conduct of English Catholics in political affairs, and if I live and do well, I will gradually [64/65] unfold them. The Catholics want political education" (Gasquet, p. 4). In a letter to Simpson on 16 February, Acton set forth his ambitious programme for educating the English Catholics. They must be taught to prefer principle to expediency in political matters and to develop a sincere attachment to the principles of the English constitution as interpreted by Burke. Acton thought that "there is a philosophy of politics to be derived from Catholicism on the one hand and from the principles of our constitution on the other," for the two sets of principles "coincide and complete each other" (p. 3).

One of Acton's first contributions to the Rambler was "The Life and Times of Edmund Burke," a review of a biography of "the wisest, the most sincere, and the most disinterested of all the advocates of the Catholic cause" (IX (April 1858), 268), England's soundest political thinker. For a while, however, Acton left political writing to others. Simpson wrote several articles on France, criticizing the despotism of Napoleon III and the "unnatural union between the priest and the soldier" ("France", X Aug. 1858, 83) which sustained it. In "English Catholics and the English Government," Simpson urged English Catholics to "avoid all that looks like sectarianism" (IX March 1858, 145). W. G. Todd also wrote on the same theme in "The Mission of the Laity," pointing out that it was allowable for Catholics to differ among themselves in political matters: "the Church, as such, takes no sides in politics; and her cause is best promoted by the maintenance of liberty of opinion in all these affairs" (IX May 1858, 294).

At the beginning of 1859 Acton gave a detailed exposition of his political doctrines in an article entitled "Political Thoughts on the Church." Acton argued that the Church cannot be indifferent to politics, for its mission is to transform the lives of men as well in the public as in the private sphere.

The Christian notion of conscience imperatively demands a corresponding measure of personal liberty. The feeling of duty and responsibility to God is the only arbiter of a Christian's [65/66] actions. With this no human authority can be permitted to interfere. . . . The Church cannot tolerate any species of government in which this right is not recognised. She is the irreconcilable enemy of the despotism of the State, whatever its name or its forms may be. ["Political Thoughts on the Church," The History of Freedom, p. 203; reprinted from the Rambler, XI (Jan. 1859), 30-49]

This liberty did not depend upon a particular form of government, but rather upon a spirit of constitutionalism and recognition of autonomous corporations within the society. In the nineteenth century this spirit could be found only in Protestant countries, especially Britain, which, though it had abandoned the Catholic faith, had preserved the Catholic principles in its constitution. It was therefore the duty of British Catholics to defend the constitution against both the dangerous principles of the Radicals and the lack of principles of the not in print version Tories.

This doctrine of constitutional liberty was disregarded by the Catholic nations on the Continent. Acton was unsparing in his criticism of those Catholic leaders, such as Louis Veuillot, who, relying on the State to support the claims of the Church, were willing to accommodate Catholicism to the demands of absolutism. In "The Count de Montalembert," which was the first article in the Rambler to employ the term "Liberal Catholic" (p. 426), he proclaimed: "He that deems he can advocate the cause of religion without advocating at the same time the cause of freedom, is no better than a hypocrite and a traitor" (X (Dec. 1858), 422). The party of Veuillot, Acton asserted, was doing the work of the enemies of the Church by alienating from it the best intellects of the day and by teaching Catholics to rely upon the aid of the State rather than on the words of Christ. Acton aligned the Rambler on the side of Montalembert, to whom he acknowledged the deepest feelings of sympathy and admiration. Montalembert reciprocated these sentiments: "He is anxious to be more en rapport with us, deeming our cause nearly identical with his own" (Acton to Simpson, 13 Feb. 1859, Gasquet, p. 61). Acton brought Simpson into correspondence with Montalembert, and proposed a series of articles on the varieties of [66/67] Catholic opinion on the Continent, of which he wrote two, on Lacordaire and Montalembert, and secured another, on Lamennais, from the Baron d'Eckstein.

If the Rambler was severe in criticizing those Catholics who fell short of the highest standards in politics, it was equally demanding of Catholic historians. Simpson, for example, argued: "He who falsifies history falsifies the express teaching of the Supreme judge. Nothing can be weaker than the ecclesiastical historian's concealment of ancient corruptions for fear of giving scandal" (IX June 1858, 424). Acton welcomed every opportunity to preach the doctrines of German historical science, the independence of history and the necessity of original research. Above all, he insisted that history should be studied for its own sake, without concern for the effect or the utility of the results. "I think our studies ought to be all but purposeless. They want to be pursued with chastity, like mathematics" (Acton to Simpson, 22 Jan. 1859, Gasquet, p. 57. Gasquet prints this letter as part of the letter of 19 Jan).

There were times when it proved difficult to sustain this chaste attitude to history. In March 1858, the Rambler received for review Cardinal Wiseman's Recollections of the Last Four Popes. Acton, who found the book lacking in taste and talent, wrote Dölinger in 1858: "There is absolutely nothing new to be learned from it" (quoted Woodward, 253). Acton could not bring himself to write the favourable review which was expected of a Catholic magazine. He left the task to Simpson, who solved the problem in "Sunny Memories of Rome" by an evasion: "It is a work not so much of the critical faculties as of the affections and sentiments.... Such a scope as this takes the Cardinal's book out of the sphere of history" (IX April 1858, 274). Simpson was thus able to give it a favourable treatment.

Only in this instance was the Rambler's criticism muted. In "Father Theiner's Publications," a review of a book of documents edited by the Vatican librarian, Acton exposed the hindrances to which Theiner had been subjected by the authorities at Rome in his attempts to publish material from the Vatican archives, [67/68] and criticized the practice of concealing historical evidence: "in history, where ignorance is equivalent to error, secrecy is fraud" (X Oct. 1858, 267). The Pope himself was exempted from these criticisms. Acton held that historical science presented no danger to the Catholic faith, which would best be served by impartial examination and statement of all the facts. Science, operating according to its own laws, must lead to truths which could not be inconsistent with those of religion. "His principle is that whatever is true in speculation ought to be said at any time; and we ought to take on faith that it must do good" (Ward to Newman, "Mid-Lent Sunday" 1859; quoted by Ward, p. 451).

Acton and Simpson were not unaware that the discoveries of science might, in unfriendly hands, be made to appear destructive to religious faith. They recognized, as Simposon charged in "The Influence of Catholics in England," that the greatest danger to religion in the nineteenth century was the spirit of "infidelity and indifference" (X July 1858, 26). which dominated the intellectual movements of the day, and which was, in part, a response to modern scientific discoveries and theories. The great weakness of Catholic thought, they felt, was that it had failed to address itself to an age of unbelief. The Rambler had always been sensitive to the trends of non-Catholic thought; and it now addressed itself to the danger of scientific infidelity.

Acton and Simpson contended that the apparent hostility of science to religion was due to a superficial and unscientific interpretation of scientific knowledge by non-religious philosophers. In 1858 they directed their criticism particularly against the positivism of Comte and his followers. In this connection they projected a series of reviews of Buckle's History of Civilization in England. Two of these reviews were printed, one, by Simpson, "Mr. Buckle's Thesis and Method," criticizing Buckle from the philosophical standpoint, and the other, by Acton, "Mr. Buckle's Philosophy of History," criticizing him as an historian. Both articles have been republished, under Acton's name, in his Historical Essays (pp. 305-343). [68/69]

If non-Catholics had often misinterpreted science, Catholics were often ignorant of it; and this defect, more than any other, prevented Catholic writers from having any influence on the educated Protestant public. Acton and Simpson thought that this defect was evident in Catholic theology, which was unacquainted with the critical spirit of historical and biblical scholarship:

I should be no theologian unless I studied painfully, and in the sources, the genesis and growth of the doctrines of the Church.... It is the absence of scientific method and of original learning in nearly all even of our best writers that makes it impossible for me to be really interested in their writings.[Acton to Simpson, 22 Jan. 1859, Gasquet, p. 56]

Acton did not shrink from the reconstruction of theology which was required: "theology is not a stationary science, so that a man who says nothing that has not been said before does not march with his age (Acton to Simpson, 11 June 1858, ibid., p. 25). The scholastic theology was regarded patronizingly as "a system of ideology which, in spite of some old-fashioned errors, is entitled to the veneration of every Catholic mind" ("Ideology of St. Thomas," IX Jan. 1858, 50) but it must be brought up to date.

In their recognition of the backwardness of Catholic thought, Acton and Simpson were joined by W. G. Ward, who was fond of saying that "at the present time the Catholic world to the Protestant world is in much the same relation as barbarians to civilized men" (Ward to Simpson, 15 Feb. 1858, Gasquet, p. 37n). But the reconstruction of theology proposed by Acton, in which the theologian was transformed into the historian, was far more radical than the revival of Thomism which Ward had in mind. It meant a fluid rather than a static theology, a perpetual adaptation to increasing secular knowledge. It should be remembered, however, that when Acton and Simpson proposed a change in theology they did not mean that the defined dogmas of the Church should be subject to change; in this they differed from the "Modernists" of a later generation. Acton and [69/70] Simpson regarded dogma as the "Central core"27 of faith, immutable and incapable of being affected by scientific criticism. It was not the principles of faith, but rather the theological forms of expression and explanation of those principles, which they proposed to adjust in order to meet modern needs. This attitude brought them into sympathy with the Paulist Father Hecker in America 211 and with Newman in England. The Rambler recommended Hecker's Aspirations of Nature as "perhaps the most important work for the present day that we have yet had to review" (IX [Jan. 1858], 49; for Hecker, see Robert D. Gross).

Newman was the symbol of the Rambler's hopes. He represented a Catholicism in which religious sentiments were balanced by intellectual cultivation and sympathetic insight into the minds of those outside the Church. His Essay on the Development of Doctrine (1845) had been the beginning of historical theology in England: it "did more than any other book of his time to make his countrymen think historically" (CUL Add. MS. 4987). Newman acknowledged the need for a new formulation of theology designed to meet the requirements of the age and recognized the role which an intelligent, well-instructed laity could perform in the work of making Catholicism intellectually respectable and attractive to Protestants. Thus he was inclined to be sympathetic to the Rambler, whose proprietors reciprocated his sympathy. Simpson wrote to Acton: "I would as soon be boiled as betray Newman. He is the man of whose approbation I should feel more proud than of any other person, and under whom I hope some day to work" (Quoted by Acton, CUL Add. MS. 4987). Acton respected Newman as the finest intellect and best writer among the English Catholics, but he had less personal affection for him and was less able to regard him as a leader. Acton recognized that Newman, for all the daring of his [70/71] speculations and the liberalism of his sympathies, was cautious and conservative in temperament, submissive to authority, conscious of difficulties, inclined to compromise. Newman saw too much to be a man of action or the leader of a party. Conscious of the importance and value of the work which was being done by the Rambler, he was yet fearful of its tendencies; his main concern was to keep it from collision with the ecclesiastical authorities. Thus he could never fully engage himself in the work of the Liberal Catholics, and he remained their symbol rather than their leader.

In 1858 Newman, recovering from his failure at Dublin, was projecting new schemes to raise the intellectual level of British Catholicism. His experiences in Ireland and particularly his contact with the Young Irelanders had moved him to a more liberal political position and a greater interest in the role of the laity; see Ryan, 219. One of these was the foundation of a Catholic public school for lay boys, which was opened at Edgbaston in 1859; Acton was one of the sponsors. Another project was a magazine which he had founded just before leaving Dublin, the Atlantis, a semi-annual journal conducted by the faculty of Dublin University under the editorship of Professor Sullivan. The Atlantis, although it included every subject taught in the University, was primarily intended to keep Catholic readers abreast of the latest trends of science. Acton, who found that a monthly such as the Rambler was not an altogether suitable medium for the long scholarly articles which he wished to write, offered to contribute to the Atlantis. He saw in it an opportunity to extend the influence of the Rambler and hoped by this means to draw Newman from his virtual retirement at Birmingham into a greater association with the work of the Liberal Catholics. Acton proposed to make the Atlantis into a quarterly, with the material for the additional two issues to be supplied by himself and his friends, under Newman's superintendence; the scope of the magazine would be enlarged to give greater emphasis to history, politics, and philosophy. Newman, on the other hand, was anxious to limit the scope of the Atlantis to scientific topics, avoiding the dangerous ground of theology. Caution was uppermost in his mind, and he [71/72] stressed the difficulties of the project. Acton, confident of his own wealth and energy, was sanguine that all difficulties could be overcome; but Newman remained hesitant, and no conclusion had been reached by the end of 1858.32

In this year Acton and his friends came close to capturing the most important of the English Catholic periodicals, the Dublin Review. In the early days of the Catholic Revival, the Dublin had played a distinguished role as the leading organ of Catholic thought; but it had lately fallen into disrepute and was regarded as dull and dreary. Its early prestige was largely due to the articles of Wiseman, its proprietor, but he had virtually ceased to contribute. He retained his control over the review, which was edited by Henry Bagshaw, a barrister; under their cautious management all difficult topics were avoided, and the quality of the articles deteriorated. It was difficult to secure able contributors because the publisher, Thomas Richardson, allotted only a small sum to pay for articles. Bagshawe, in despair, resigned his editorship at the beginning of July 1858 (see Henry R. Bagshawe, Circular "To the Catholic Public," 25 June 1858; copy in Newman MSS). It appeared that the Dublin would have to be given up, as no new editor could be found.

At this juncture Thomas W. Allies, one of the contributors to the Dublin, proposed to Acton that be should take it over. Here was an opportunity for the Rambler to extend its influence. Under Capes, the possibility of amalgamating the two magazines had been considered; but Acton proposed to continue them both, under a common management. Newman, whose advice was solicited, told Acton that "I should very much like to see it in your hands" (Newman to Acton, 14 July 1858, Woodruff MSS). although he stressed the difficulties of the plan. Burns, the publisher of the Rambler, agreed to take the Dublin out of Richardson's hands and offered to give it adequate financial assistance. Acton now formally offered to take the editorship of the Dublin, [72/73] and Wiseman and Bagshawe seemed inclined to accept his proposal.

Wiseman, however, now began to have second thoughts on the matter. Acton had stipulated that he must have absolute control over the review, free from episcopal censorship, and he was determined to make Simpson his subeditor (Acton to Newman, 9, 25, and 29 July 1858, Newman MSS.) Acton, who wanted Newman to act as theological adviser to keep a rein on Simpson, also hoped that Newman would contribute to the new Dublin. The arrangement Acton proposed was unacceptable to Wiseman, who had long been suspicious of Simpson and was unwilling to abandon all control over the leading Catholic organ. As Wiseman wrote to Bagshawe in felt that Acton and Simpson were speculating on the difficulties of the Dublin and calculating on taking its place in the Catholic body (n.d. July or Aug. 1858, Westminster Archives). In August Wiseman broke off the negotiations and persuaded Bagshawe to resume the office of editor.

Acton had begun the year in high favour with Wiseman; but by August the Cardinal had come to be suspicious of Acton's influence. Wiseman thought it the duty of a Catholic journal "to steer clear of matter which could give rise to quarrels and divisions, especially among Catholics (Bagshawe, Circular "To the Catholic Public"). Certain articles in the Rambler had aroused his resentment, and he had begun to hear reports about its conductors which raised doubts as to their orthodoxy.

One of these reports was based on the activities of J. M. Capes, the former editor of the Rambler. In the months after his resignation from the editorship, Capes experienced a recurrence of the religious doubts which had assailed him in 1849. He found himself unable to accept the doctrine that the Catholic faith must be held as absolutely certain, not as merely probable. The demand for the absolute submission of the intellect, he wrote in To Rome and Back, seemed to him "equivalent to a demand for the surrender of my reasoning faculties" (320). Capes began to question other Catholic doctrines: transubstantiation, which seemed to him a metaphysical impossibility, and penance, which he considered an inducement to morbidity. He was [73/74] convinced that the Church was ruled by an anti-historical school of Ultramontanes, whose object was to enslave the intellect. Thus he came to reconsider the grounds of his conversion to Catholicism, the belief in the necessity of an absolute doctrinal infallibility. Capes now believed that there was, after all, no final source of certainty, no infallible authority, to which Christians might have recourse; he found himself unable to accept "a literal orthodoxy as an explanation of the great mystery of life" (Capes to Newman, 11 May 1863, Newman MSS). At this point he quietly ceased to communicate in the Roman Catholic Church and took up a position apart from all religious bodies (see both To Rome and Back, pp. 353ff, and his Reasons). In 1870, after the definition of Papal Infallibility, Capes rejoined the not in print version Anglican Church. Before his death, however, he returned to the Church of Rome.

Capes, who had never allowed others to become aware of his doubts, kept his new position secret and retained his associations with his Catholic friends. He even took over the editorship of the July 1858 number of the Rambler in order to allow Acton and Simpson to go to the Continent. Soon afterwards he made known his position to them. Simpson wanted to "cut him off" (Acton to Simpson, 2 July 1858, Downside MSS. Part of this letter is published by Gasquet, p. 29; but Gasquet excised Capes' name. Acton criticized Capes for his dislike for prayer and asceticism and for an "intellectual contempt for fellow-Catholics."). but Acton was anxious to avoid giving Capes any annoyance which might confirm him in his present state of mind. Acton hoped that Capes might yet be brought back to the Church, and extended himself to that end, recommending books for him to read and arranging for him to meet Dbllinger on the latter's visit to England in September.

Meanwhile Capes had privately printed a statement of his difficulties, which he sent to a few friends. Among these was Newman, who was shocked by the news; even now he found it difficult to grasp the point of Capes' difficulties. After an agitated correspondence, Newman formulated an answer to Capes' greatest problem, the certainty of faith. The argument from probability leads us, Newman said, only to the [74/75] point where we recognize an obligation to believe; at this point, it is a matter of duty, by an act of will, to direct the mind to believe with. absolute faith: "we are so constituted as to be bound by our reason to believe what we cannot prove" (Newman to Capes, 1 Oct. 1858, quoted by Ward, Life, 1, 443. Portions of Newman's other letters are quoted by Ward, 440-43; Capes' letters are in the Newman MSS). Ward suggests that this discussion was the genesis of Newman's Grammar of Assent, published in 1870 (Life, II, 245-6). But Capes, whose logical mind demanded more rigorous proof, found Newman's arguments unsatisfactory. Nor was he convinced by Dollinger, Acton and Simpson, when he met them at Aldenham in September. Capes continued his drift away from Rome.

The meeting at Aldenham was to have unfortunate results for the conductors of the Rambler. Although Capes insisted on secrecy, news of the meeting leaked out (Simpson to Acton, 20 Feb. 1859, Woodruff MSS.). The meeting had been held for the purpose of inducing Capes to remain in the Church; but rumours perverted the facts and made it appear that the gathering was for some seditious purpose. These rumours reached the ears of the most influential Englishman in Rome, Monsignor George Talbot. Talbot, a convert, had been appointed one of the Pope's chamberlains, and exercised a great influence on English Catholic affairs; he was Wiseman's agent in Rome. Talbot reported to Wiseman at the end of October that he had heard a disedifying account of the meeting at Aldenham: "the spirit was most detestable that was manifested in it. The only subject of conversation was abusing your Eminence, the Bishops, all Ecclesiastical Superiors, and ridiculing old Catholics (Talbot to Wiseman, 30 Oct. 1858, Manning MSS.) Talbot also wrote to Canon James Patterson, one of Wiseman's confidants, in the same sense but in more extreme language (9 Nov. 1858, Westminster Archives.) This was the first of the secret denunciations of the Rambler that were to be sent to Wiseman. [75/76]

Meanwhile Wiseman had come to have his own suspicions about the new management of the Rambler. When Simpson reviewed Wiseman's Last Four Popes in April, he gave special attention to a passage in which Wiseman had sought to refute the story that the historian Lingard had been made a cardinal in petto by Leo XII in 1826; Simpson described Wiseman's arguments as "solid and conclusive." (IX April 1858, 280). A cardinal in petto is one who is created but not proclaimed as cardinal, the appointment remaining "in the Pope's breast." This attempt to please Wiseman displeased Lingard's biographer, Canon Tierney, who was one of the old Catholic clergy and an opponent of Wiseman's programme of "Romanizing" the Church in England. Tierney, canon of Southwark and chaplain to the Duke of Norfolk, took umbrage at Wiseman's remarks on Lingard, regarding them as an attempt to defame one of the greatest of the old Catholics. Tierney, who had clashed with Wiseman several years earlier on the same issue, wrote a long and violent letter -- "Was Dr. Lingard Actually a Cardinal?" -- to the Rambler, published in June, denouncing Wiseman's "misrepresentations" (425), and attempting to prove that Lingard had in fact been made a cardinal. Simpson prefaced this letter with an editorial note to the effect that "we willingly insert the following correction of a mistake into which we fell in an article in our April Number" (425). This was simply an attempt on Simpson's part to pacify Tierney; but his words "we willingly insert" gave the impression that the Rambler was siding with Tierney in his attack on Wiseman.

Wiseman, who believed that the cardinal created in 1826 was not Lingard but Lamennais, printed a private pamphlet addressed to the canons of Westminster, setting forth his arguments at length. He had at first considered replying in the Rambler, but finally chose to reply in a letter which was "printed, not published," and sent only to a limited number of influential Catholics, in order to prevent a public controversy. At [76/77] Wiseman's request, it was not reviewed by the Rambler; but Tierney replied in a pamphlet, A Reply to Cardinal Wiseman's Letter to His Chapter ("not published"), which he sent to the recipients of Wiseman's letter.

It is impossible to ascertain whether Tierney was right in asserting that Lingard had been made a cardinal, since the cardinalate remained "in the breast" of Leo XII and died with him. The only thing certain is that Lingard himself believed the story. The Rambler, when it finally gave its own judgment on the matter a year later, concluded that both Lingard and Lamennais had probably been made cardinals.51

Simpson and Acton, whose sole purpose throughout the affair had been to avoid offending either side, endeavoured to smooth things over. They both wrote to Wiseman, emphasizing that the Rambler did not endorse Tierney's attack on him:

The Rambler has been independent from the first, and it will remain so. But the proprietors do not consider that independence means personal opposition to you. They know that you are the head and representative in England of the religion which they defend and profess, and that a systematic opposition to you, so far from being real independence, would be only slavery to passion and to In uncatholic idea.52

Wiseman accepted their disclaimers of opposition; but it was too late to allay the irritation which the incident had caused.

The Rambler soon gave more positive offence. In "Bossuet," which aoppeared in in June, Acton asserted that Bossuet had held Jansenistic opinions on the subject of grace: "he considered himself, rightly or wrongly, a thorough Augustinian" (388; The article had been begun in the previous issue, pp. 320-337. It is reprinted (somewhat abridged) in Essays on Church and State, pp. 230-245. [78/79]

This implicit equation of the Jansenist heresy with the doctrines of St. Augustine provoked no reaction until it was repeated by Acton in August, in a review of Chéruel's life of Catherine de Medici. Protesting against the tendency of Catholic historians to be partial and uncritical in discussing eminent Catholics, Acton argued for perfect impartiality and openness: "nor because St. Augustine was the greatest doctor of the West, need we conceal the fact that he was also the father of Jansenism." 54 This time there was a sharp reaction, and many protesting letters were sent to the editor.

Simpson attempted to placate the critics with a notice in the September issue: "we protest that we never intended to identify any errors which the Church has proscribed with the teaching of 'the greatest doctor of the West" when properly understood; and that we most sincerely hold and profess whatever the Holy See has propounded, and condemn what it has condemned, on the questions of grace, free-will, and justification" (X Aug. 1858, 135). It is possible that the phrase was deliberately inserted by Acton in order to arouse a reaction: in preparing the short notices for the previous issue, he had said that he would "take care to say a few startling things" (Acton to Simpson), 6 June 1858, Gasquet, p. 22. 51 Rambler, X Sept. 1858, 216). But Acton was not inclined to be conciliatory:

I do most deliberately hold that errors condemned by the Church are to be found in the works of the Doctor Gratiae. I think it is worth following up, in order that men may learn that we do not choose even our illustrations without delibera- tion, and are ready to justify everything we write. There could be no better opportunity than this, as it will at the same time help to break down that narrow and invincible ignorance with which our theologians judge the writings of other people.56

Acton chose this as the field of battle on which he would defend the integrity of Catholic history. Having no doubts about the historical propriety of the phrase he had used, Acton wrote to Döllinger and secured from him a letter which justified, on historical and theological grounds, the description of Augustine as the "father of Jansenism." [78/79] In "The Paternity of Jansenism," Döllinger pointed out that Augustine was not accused of fathering Jansenism in the same manner as Luther had fathered Lutheranism; the phrase meant only that "in his dispute with Pelagians and semi-Pelagians Augustine did not merely state and defend the universal doctrine of the Church, but in some points went beyond it." These peculiar doctrines, of which the Jansenists took possession, were at no time the teaching of the Church -- a fact which would be denied by no theologian who had studied the subject "accurately and in the source themselves." Therefore "Jansenius and his school were not altogether in the wrong when they proudly called themselves the disciples of St. Augustine" (362-63). Jansen had derived his doctrine from a thorough study of the saint's writings. Augustine's later theories of predestination and the resistlessness of grace had, in fact, been criticized by many leading Catholic theologians since the sixteenth century, as Döllinger proved by copious citations. In suspecting that Augustine's writings provided a basis for Jansenist heresies, Acton had been in "very good, I may say, in most select company. I know none better in the Church" (373).

Döllinger's letter, published in the December Rambler, was a challenge to the old-fashioned theologians who taught in the English Catholic schools. Its provocativeness was enhanced by the editorial note prefixed to it by Simpson, who protested against the "unfounded accusations" made against the Rambler, intended to "cramp our independence by sowing suspicions of our orthodoxy. It is our right ... to prove that the denunciations made against us spring rather from the timidity of ignorance, the dogmatism of party views, or a ceremonious reverence to great names, than from such a knowledge of the subject in dispute as could give those who accuse us any right to sit injudgment on our opinions" (360). Simpson's review of Mansel's Bampton lectures, in the same issue, was turned into an attack on this tendency of some Catholics to denounce their fellow-Catholics as unorthodox: 415. Döllinger's letter was unsigned, Simpson describing its author merely as "a divine of European reputation both as a [79/80] theologian and as a historian" (360). However, Dbllinger s authorship was generally known, as Acton had made no secret of it.

Acton had thought that the letter would "astonish rather than offend" (Acton to Simpson, 13 Nov. 1858, quoted by Watkin and Butterfield, p. 89). Acton had written to Wiseman to prepare him for a "stunning reply" in the December number. The letter, in fact, give great offence among the English Catholics. Several protesting letters were sent to Acton and Simpson. The Weekly Register for 11 December published two letters criticizing the Rambler, one by a professor of theology at Ushaw College, Dr. Gillow, who later published a pamphlet on the subject; for Gillow, see Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics, II, 479. More serious was the reaction of Father Faber of the London Oratory, who denounced Acton to Cardinal Wiseman (see Acton to Father Darnell, 3 Feb. 1859 (Newman MSS.), referring to a time when Faber "had not yet denounced me as you wot." Cited by Mathew, p. 121n1. This explains the reference to "Brompton" (the London Oratory) in Acton to Simpson, 1 Jan. 1859, Gasquet, p. 47).

Wiseman was now placed in a difficult position. He was still fond of Acton, and he had long been bound to Döllinger by sentiments of friendship and admiration; but the letter on the paternity ofJansenism had distressed him and scandalized his subjects. Wiseman determined to delate Döllinger's letter to the Congregation of the Index in Rome. "I am sorry," he wrote to Simpson, "that the letter in defence of St. Augustine's 'paternity of Jansenism' is exciting considerable uneasiness, likely to lead to the principles and opinions contained in it being referred to authority superior to mine" (Wiseman to Simpson, 22 Dec. 1858, Downside MSS). That the delation was actually made is attested by letters from Dr. Weathers (of Oscott) to Simpson, 14 Jan. 1859 (Downside MSS.), and Newman to Acton, 25 Jan. 1859 (Woodruff MSS.). Nothing, however, seems to have resulted. It appeared likely that the Rambler would be condemned.

On 30 December, Acton called on Newman at the Birmingham Oratory to inform him of this development. Newman, who did not share in the general disapproval of the position taken by Acton and Döllinger, was shocked and [80/81] indignant on learning of the denunciation of Döllinger's article: "He was quite miserable when I told him the news and moaned for a long time, rocking himself backwards and forwards over the fire, like an old woman with a toothache" (Acton to Simpson, I Jan. 1859, Gasquet, p. 47). Acton, as this letter shows, had little personal reverence for Newman, whom he referred to as "old Noggs." Newman cast aside his usual reserve, much to Acton's surprise, and talked freely about the tendency of men in power to tyrannize and the ignorance and presumption of English Catholic theologians. The result of the meeting was that Newman finally agreed to Acton's proposal to make the Atlantis a quarterly, thus providing a second organ for the Liberal Catholics.

Acton believed that he had succeeded in drawing Newman from his virtual retirement into active collaboration with himself and Simpson, and he rejoiced over this accession of strength more than he lamented the threatened condemnation by Rome. Newman, as it turned out, was not prepared to go quite so far. His agreement to expand the Atlantis was intended to draw some of the sting from the Rambler. He stipulated that the Rambler should cease to treat theology in its pages and announce that fact to the public; the Rambler would confine itself to history and politics, leaving weightier matters such as theology to the Atlantis. Acton agreed to this, without any confidence that it would restore the Rambler's good repute: "People of the kind we have to conciliate are quite as sensitive and as intolerant in such subjects as history and politics as in theology.... There is a dread not only of particular conclusions, but of the free and sincere inquiry which may lead to them" (Acton to Newman, 4 Jan. 1859, Newman MSS).

It was this dread of free inquiry which had caused the denunciation of the Rambler, and which Acton was resolved to combat. Acton had come to have a distaste for periodical literature, which he found "inconsistent with the sort of studies I have pursued and with my slow and pacific habits of thought" (Acton to Simpson, 1 Feb. 1859, Downside MSS); he wished to be able to retire to Aldenham and engage in serious historical work. But the unintellectual [81/82] habits of the English Catholics made it necessary for a Catholic scholar to spend "almost as much time justifying his intellectual pursuits as pursuing them."68 The denunciation of the Rambler aroused in Acton a determination to fight for the freedom of the Catholic scholar, regardless of the consequences; "and it is upon this ground that I shall say when we are condemned Eppur si muove." -- "But it does move" -- the protest of Galileo when forced to recant. (Acton to Simpson, 22 Jan. 1859, Downside MSS; this clause, which follows the passage about the "chastity" of mathematics (cited, p. 67), was omitted by Gasquet).

References

Acton, Sir John. Essays on Church and State. Ed. Douglas Woodruff London, 1952).

_______.The History of Freedom and other Essays. Ed. J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence London, 1907.

_______.Letters of Lord Acton to Mary Gladstone. Ed. Herbert Paul. New York, 1904.

Selected Correspondence of the First Lord Acton. Ed. J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence. London, 1917.

Blennerhasset, Lady. "The Late Lord Acton." Edinburgh Review CXCVII (April 1903).

Butterfield, Herbert. "Journal of Lord Acton: Rome 1857," Cambridge Histarital Journal, VIII (1946), 186-204.

Butterfield, Herbert. Lord Acton. "Historical Association, General Series." London, 1948.

Capes, John Moore. Reasons for Returning to the Church of England. London, 1871.

_______. To Rome and Back London, 1873.

Constantin, C. "Libéralisme Catholique," Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, 15 vols. Paris, 1909-50. IX, 625-6.

Conzemius, Victor. "Aspects ecciésiologiques de 1'évolution de Döllinger et du vieux catholicisme." Revue des sciences religieuses, XXIV (1960).

Fasnacht, G. E. Acton's Political Philosophy. London, 1952.

Figgis, John Neville. "Acton," Dictionary of National Biography, 2nd supplement. London, 1912.

[W. A. Finlayson], "Bad Popes," Dublin Review, XXXVIII (March 1855), 1-72, and "Luther," ibid., XXXIX (Sept. 1855), 1-60.

Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond. The Life of Granville George Leveson Gower, Second Earl Granville 2 vols. London, 1905.

Gross, Frank Leslie. John Henry Newman. London, 1933.

Gross, Robert D. The Emergence of Liberal Catholicism in America. Cambridge, Mass., 1958.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics Chicago, 1952.

Kochan, Lionel. Acton on History. London, 1954.

Lord Acton and his Circle. Ed. Abbot Gasquet. London, 1906.

Ryan, Alvan S. "The Development of Newman's Political Thought." Review of Politics, VII (April 1945).

Ward, Wilfrid. Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman. 2 vols. London, 1912.

_______. William George Ward and the Catholic Revival. 2nd ed., London, 1912.

Wiseman, Nicholas. Letter to the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter of Westminster. London, 1858. [The pamphlet bears the following postscript (p. 26): "Whoever receives this letter is sincerely requested not to allow it to be published, entire or in part."]

Woodward, E. L. "The Place of Lord Acton in the Liberal Movement of the Nineteenth Century," Politica, IV (1939).


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