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Vatican 2

Given his own complicity, it was impossible for Acton to respond to Gladstone, even had he wanted to; and there is no sign that he did. The obvious thing would have been for Manning to have riposted, but, not wanting to add oxygen to the fire, he did not do so. Newman was equally reluctant to enter the fray, not least because of Gladstone’s use of his letter to Ullathorne.. Gladstone’s hope that he might become the English Döllinger became, in the hands of the press, the certainty that he had been tempted to follow that route and had only been prevented by the ‘earnest’ efforts of ‘several members of the Roman Catholic Episcopate’. Newman denied these rumours, as he had denied the other stories about his unhappiness with the declaration of Infallibility; but he knew people well enough to be aware that where there was reputed to be smoke, there would also be assertions that fires were to be found. Newman, knowing himself to be an object of mistrust to Manning and the Ultramontanes, had a ‘fear’ of what ‘men would say, if I spoke as I would like … I might get into great embarrassment, if the Pope knew it.’ Despite these words to the Duke of Norfolk, by 3 December Newman had decided on his modus operandi, and wrote again asking him: ‘Will you let my Pamphlet take the shape of a letter addressed to you?’ It was thus as a Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, that Newman’s response to Gladstone was published on 14 January 1875. The question of why Newman decided to write is capable of no definitive answer, but despite the dangers, and in spite of his many disclaimers, Newman was not averse to controversy. One of the most formidable apologists of his own, or any other, time, it was never likely that he could avoid plunging into the fray. It was true that the thinnest of lines existed between saying what he believed and avoiding being delated to Rome, but Newman’s was an intellect which could trace it if it existed. The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk showed his skill in such matters was undiminished – as was his ability to trace the edge of the cliff. It was a tour de force.
Newman saw ‘no inconsistency in my being at once a good Catholic and a good Englishman’, but acknowledged the difficulty of demonstrating this to his fellow countrymen. Boldly, he laid some of the trouble for this firmly at the door of those ‘among us … who for years past have conducted themselves as if no responsibility attached to wild words and overbearing deeds.’ The ‘chronic extravagance of knots of Catholics here and there’ had, he confessed, help excite the ‘public mind against our Religion’; few could have been in any doubt about the identity of the ‘knots’. He put the key question at the front of his essay: ‘Can Catholics be trustworthy subjects of the State?’ Neither did he seek to avoid the corollary of that question, which was the charge that Catholics had forfeited their ‘mental and moral freedom’. His argument on the issue of the freedom of conscience and the right relationship which should subsist between the Church and the State remains as relevant now as it was at the time.
Newman first dealt with the issue of the anti-Catholic prejudice upon which Gladstone’s arguments played: ‘No rhetoric is needed in England against an unfortunate Catholic at any time’. In saying what he had, Gladstone was, at the very least, guilty of playing to popular prejudice in a manner irresponsible for a political leader: ‘I venture to think he will one day be sorry for what he has said.’ In that, at least, Newman proved how little he knew about politicians. He went on to make a point which is now so familiar to Catholic apologists that one might be forgiven for thinking it a truism, except for the fact that it needed to be made. Newman argued that traditionally, the Pope’s infallibility had been thought to be limited to the occasions when he was ‘teaching the universal Church, as their supreme visible head and pastor, as successor to St. Peter, and heir to the promises of special assistance made to him by Jesus Christ.’ It was only then, and when his decrees and decisions ‘in that capacity’ on ‘doctrinal points of faith and morals’ were made, that Catholics were bound to obedience. This had, in his opinion, finally been established in Rome, although many bishops had held, right up to the last cry of ‘placet’, that it was actually impossible to define it; such, although he did not stress it in his letter, had been Newman’s own view. Here, as time would confirm, Newman was correct to assert that Manning had obtained less than he had assumed