Henry Edward Manning, Cardinal of Social Justice

Henry Cardinal Manning was one of those remarkable men and women of 19th century England who reversed the decline of Roman Catholicism and helped make the religion acceptable in England, Scotland and Ireland again. Others who worked alongside Cardinal Manning include his own nephew, Reverend William Anderdon, Henry Cardinal Newman and, a little later, writer Hillaire Belloc.

Little was it thought that the child, Henry, would be a foremost authority figure of the Roman Catholic Church, for, you see, he was born into a rich Anglican family in 1808. This date lands him growing up in a time of massive empire building by the United Kingdom. Life was good. The Church of England was the social establishment. And, his family was definitely Establishment! His father, William Manning, was a West Indian merchant, the director and governor of the Bank of England and a member of Parliament for thirty years. Henry’s older sister had married and had a son only seven years older than Henry. The two would become very good friends.

Henry grew up mostly in Kent and Hertfordshire, counties surrounding London, giving him respect for the country folk, yet easy access to the urban pleasures. In school, he was not distinguished aside from being a pretty competent cricket player. When he got to Balliol College at Oxford, he made a reputation for himself as a debater until his graduation in 1830.

At this point, his father’s fortune took an extreme turn to the worse. Giving up his dreams as a politician, he took a job as a clerk in the Colonial Office. However, this did not satisfy him.

Henry chose to go back to college two years later, entering Merton College at Oxford, an institution well noted for academic success. Within a year, he was ordained an Anglican deacon. He took a position as curate in a little church in West Sussex, then, shortly, became the rector. In months, he had also married Caroline, a sickly young woman. As in many Victorian novels, Caroline died without children in less than four years. He carried her picture over his heart until he died fifty-five years later.

The Anglican Church had divided itself into the High Church and the Low Church, each espousing several different views. The High Church was quite similar to the Roman Catholic in its teachings. The Low Church was more like the Evangelicals. His writings show that by 1837, he was leaning more towards the High Church teachings. In a year, he was seen writing to the bishop, criticizing certain actions. That same year, Henry went on vacation to Rome, to meet Nicholas Wiseman, an activist priest, whom we now know as Cardinal Wiseman.

In 1841, Henry was appointed Archdeacon of Chichester, which required that he visit each Anglican parish in the diocese, which he did in under two years, learning much about the teaching going on in each church. He developed quite the reputation as an eloquent and succinct preacher, to the point where he started to publish his sermons. they were quite popular and went through several editions.

By the midpoint of the century, a major argument broke out in the Church regarding the purpose of baptism. As the arguing went on, through letters and newspapers, Henry came to the realization that the Anglican Church was a man-made institution which no longer followed the teachings of the early Fathers. His reasoning eventually morphed into: “There are only two centers, God and ourselves, and we must rest on one or the other. We cannot rest on both.” He had to turn completely to God, himself.

With that, Henry was received into the Catholic Church and was ordained a priest three months later. He was following the footsteps of Henry Newman and others of the Oxford Movement, who had crossed into the Catholic Church just a few years before. It was no time at all that his friend and nephew, William Anderdon, followed suit.

Now, all of a sudden, there were a number of Anglican intelligentsia who were Catholic. These men wrote hymns, tracts and books describing their conversions and their thoughts on the Catholic Church’s teachings. At almost the same time, the Vatican ordered the reinstitution of Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the country of England. This lead to cultural upheaval, since it was considered popular and correct to mock and cajole Catholics. These men had their work cut out for them.

In 1865, Father Manning became Archbishop of Westminster, the head of the Catholic Church in England. Bishop Manning went to work expanding the system of Catholic education. This was a first step towards welcoming back those who had Catholicism in their backgrounds. He tried to establish a Catholic University, which did not last long. Eventually, Catholic clubs began to be established at colleges, named after Cardinal Newman. He selected a site for the new Westminster Cathedral, which was not finished until after his death. In addition, the archbishop approved the founding of the Catholic Association Pilgrimage.

While working to spread Catholic evangelism throughout his country, Bishop Manning was well received in Rome, becoming a confidant to Pope Pius IX. He promoted a Roman Catholic view of social justice and contributed much thought to Pope Leo XIII for his writing of “Rerum Novarum”, the premiere encyclical on social justice.

In 1865, Bishop Manning was raised to Cardinal-Priest, showing how well thought of he was by Pope Pius IX and others in the Vatican.
As Vatican Council I began in 1868, Cardinal Manning was a proponent of the decree of Papal Infallibility, although many others thought it inopportune. The Council was cut short by violence and Papal States takeover. If things had been different, the cardinal may have made his opinions known more thoroughly.

Even in his old age, Cardinal Manning, a friend of many in the British government and in the arts and letters communities, was obligated to handle many problems outside his scope. In 1889, he was asked to settle the London Dock strikes, persuaded by a number of young activist artists.

Despite his busy public life, Henry Manning took the time to aid in the conversion of many notable figures. One of the most notable was Elizabeth Belloc, the mother of the acclaimed author, Hillaire Belloc. Although Belloc was two generations younger than the cardinal, Manning had a strong influence on the young man’s thinking.
Henry Edward Cardinal Manning is influential in setting the direction of modern Roman Catholicism, especially its stance on social justice. This direction is not related to secular social justice. He was very concerned with the maintenance of love of God:

“God attracts us to Him by instincts, and desires, and aspirations after a happiness higher than sense, and more enduring, more changeless, than this mortal life. God speaks to us articulately in the stirring life of nature, and in the silence of our own being.”

© Debbie McCoy

Debbie McCoy

Debbie McCoy

Debra Booton McCoy is a cradle Catholic and is a native of central New York. She works in the health care field and spends her spare time writing and enjoying her family, two grown children, and husband Bob. Debra is a published author, having written a column for a women’s monthly newspaper in the mid-1990s and published her first book in 2014, an edited version of a French book from the 1800s, “A Catholic Mother Speaks to Her Children” by Marie, Countess de Flavigny. This is an advice book for children. She is finishing the edit of “Conferences for Boys”, by Fr. Reynauld Kuehnel, the first of four books by this priest. Debra started a Catholic publishing company in 2013, Lanternarius Press, with the purpose of adding another moral compass to print media.You can visit her website at lanternariuspress.net or visit Lanternarius Press on Facebook

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