Wiseman, Nicholas Patrick

views updated


Cardinal, archbishop of Westminster; b. Seville, Spain, Aug. 3, 1802; d. London, Feb. 15, 1865. The family returned to Ireland after the death of Wiseman's father (1804), and the boy was sent to school at Waterford, Ireland. In March 1810 he entered Ushaw College, Durham, and studied under the historian John lingard, who became his lifelong friend and counselor. In 1818 Wiseman was among the first students to attend the reopened English College in Rome, where he obtained a doctorate (1824), acquired a wide knowledge of the arts, and engaged in theological and linguistic researches. He published, in 1827, an exposition of a Syrian version of the Old Testament, Horae Syriacae, which won him an international reputation as an Oriental scholar and an appointment as professor in Oriental languages in the Roman University.

Catholic Revival. In 1828 Wiseman was named rector of the English College, Rome, a post in which he was called upon to act as the Roman representative of the English bishops. The arrival of George Spencer, a recent convert, as a student at the English College brought the oxford movement to Wiseman's attention and led him to believe that a Catholic revival in England was imminent. This belief was strengthened when John Henry newman, still an Anglican, and Richard Hurrell froude visited him (1832). Wiseman abandoned academic pursuits to encourage this revival, although he was able to deliver an influential course of lectures on The Connection between Science and Revealed Religion (1835). In 1835 he visited London, where he gave a successful series of lectures on aspects of the Catholic faith, published as Lectures on the Principal Doctrines and Practices of the Catholic Church (1836). They received a favorable review from Newman in the British Critic, and they mark the beginning of the Catholic revival. Before returning to Rome, Wiseman helped to found the dublin review (Wiseman Review 19611965) as a literary quarterly presenting the Catholic viewpoint.

Wiseman devoted his remaining years in Rome to the restoration of the English hierarchy. As a preliminary step Rome increased the number of vicariates apostolic from four to eight (1840). At the same time, Wiseman was named coadjutor bishop to the vicar apostolic of the central district of England and president of Oscott College, Birmingham. Before leaving Rome Wiseman wrote for the Dublin Review an article on the Donatists, which drew a parallel between Donatism and Anglicanism. This essay profoundly affected Newman, then reaching the crisis of his Anglican career. Observing the Oxford Movement from nearby Oscott, Wiseman entertained high hopes for England's proximate conversion. He was oversanguine, because Newman delayed his conversion another four years, and the number of Anglicans who imitated Newman proved smaller than Wiseman had expected.

Restoration of English Hierarchy. At the request of the English bishops, Wiseman visited Rome in 1847 to present their case to the new Pope Pius IX (184678). Bishop ullathorne soon replaced Wiseman, whom the Pope sent back to England to persuade the British government to resist Austria's ambitions against the states of the church. This diplomatic venture resulted in the mission of Lord Minto to Rome. Upon the death of the vicar apostolic for London, Wiseman was named to the post (1848). In September 1850 the Holy See decreed the restoration of the hierarchy. Wiseman became a cardinal and archbishop of westminster, the sole metropolitan see, with 12 suffragans.

English Protestants bitterly resented his new title, and the British press denounced the restored hierarchy as "the papal aggression." Wiseman's publication of a jubilant but tactlessly phrased pastoral letter, From out of the Flaminian Gate (October 7), excited the public to further demonstrations on Guy Fawkes's Day, during which pope and cardinal were burned in effigy. The cardinal helped to calm fears by his published defense of the hierarchy, Appeal to the Reason and Good Feeling of the English People, but Protestants remained suspicious, as priests and laymen belonging to old Catholic families continued to assail Wiseman in signed and anonymous attacks. Wiseman was accused, not without foundation, of needlessly arousing the public by his pomposity, love of display, and desire for complete control over church properties and charitable bequests. Parliament in 1851 enacted the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, which forbade Catholic clergymen to assume an English territorial title, and made those who did so liable to a fine of £100. The government did not enforce this law and repealed it in 1871; yet the furor that Wiseman stirred up over his title cost him the confidence of the British government and the public.

Archbishop of Westminster. Wiseman's period at Westminster was one of tremendous Catholic growth in England, largely because of Irish immigration. Anglican conversions continued. In 1850 Wiseman received into the church Henry manning, who succeeded him as archbishop. To adjust to the new conditions, Wiseman encouraged religious orders to establish houses in the country. He also convened the first provincial synod (1852); during it Newman preached his famous sermon on the "Second Spring." As anti-Catholicism subsided, the cardinal frequently delivered lectures to very receptive audiences. He published one of his most popular lecture series as Recollections of the Last Four Popes (1858). Wiseman's best-known book, the extremely popular novel Fabiola, appeared in 1854.

Dr. George Errington became coadjutor bishop of Westminster in 1855. Since he and Wiseman differed widely in temperament and outlook, their association became increasingly unworkable. Errington's outlook was that of the old Catholic families who distrusted the cardinal's ultramontanism and his promotion of converts such as Manning, who became a provost of the cathedral chapter in 1857. Serious misunderstandings arose between the archbishop and his coadjutor. In 1860 Pius IX removed Errington from office; he did not replace him during Wiseman's lifetime.

Wiseman was tall, generously proportioned, genial, and dignified. His intellectual and literary talents did much to increase Catholic prestige and to overcome the hostility that marked his appointment in 1850. His funeral was the occasion for numerous manifestations of popular interest and respect. Wiseman may be regarded as the architect of the English Catholic revival.

Bibliography: w. p. ward, The Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman, 2 v. (London 1897). d. gwynn, Cardinal Wiseman (Dublin 1950). b. fothergill, Nicholas Wiseman (London 1963).

[b. fothergill]