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Mivart, George Jackson, St.


Biologist; b. London, Nov. 30, 1827; d. London, April 1, 1900. He converted to Catholicism in 1844. He was confirmed at Oscott in 1845, the same year as William George ward and John Henry newman. Barred by the religious tests from matriculation at Oxford or Cambridge, Mivart studied law at Lincoln's Inn Court and was called to the bar in 1851. Financially secure, he did not practice law, but became active in biology. With Richard owen and Thomas huxley as both friends and teachers, he pursued investigations in comparative anatomy that resulted in significant monographs in vertebrate anatomy with emphasis on the primates. He accepted evolution as an explanation for the origin of species, although he rejected as a primary agent the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection because he considered it to be in conflict with Catholic doctrine. In his On the Genesis of Species (1871), he criticized the Darwinian theory and put forth a theory of his own that he thought compatible with both science and religion. For his attempts to reconcile science and revelation, he was awarded a doctorate by Pius IX in 1876. His gradual estrangement from the scientific community resulted from his nonsecular approach to scientific questions, and Mivart became increasingly involved in attempts to reconcile the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church with knowledge derived from science. This was expressed in articles on biblical criticism, liturgical reform, education of the clergy, the nature of hell, and the Catholic Church as an evolving institution. The last was considered heretical by Cardinal Herbert vaughan, archbishop of Westminster, who demanded that Mivart sign a profession of faith. In a letter of Jan. 23, 1900, Mivart, following a detailed explanation of his position, refused, after which Vaughan denied him the sacraments. He died two months later.

Bibliography: j. w. gruber, A Conscience in Conflict: The Life of St. George Jackson Mivart (New York 1960).

[j. w. gruber]

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