Tuesday, September 21, 2004

On September 21, 1849
Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O., wrote to his friend Henry Wilberforce, who was seriously considering entering the Catholic Church, but was still somewhat hesitant.

Carissime,—This may cross one of yours, but I can't help writing.

How can you delay? O my dearest H. W., may not this be a crisis in your eternal destiny?
Ever yours most affectionately,

This was one in a series of letters that the Venerable had been writing to his friend since the previous year....

Christmas Day, 1848
I leave the above to show my good intentions. You are ever in my thoughts, and yours. This blessed day, my first Mass at twelve (midnight), I gave to the Pope—my second at half past two to our Congregation—my third at seven to all my friends and acquaintances, who still are Protestants. You, dearest Henry, were not forgotten, but I will not believe, you shall not make me, that you are for ever so to be classed, so to be remembered. The midnight mass was a high one—and I communicated 120 persons at it. We have had masses going on literally through the night, 36 in all—as if in emulation of the angels who sang through the night 1800 years ago "Glory to God, peace on earth." Some of us have not been to bed at all. Dear Father Ambrose especially, as Sacristan, has been hard worked. He got to bed between five and six, and we were amused to find on his door, "Please don't call me, and don't knock"—but he is up again now and has just left me in order to sing his third Mass, which is also High Mass—but we don't expect many people this morning. (P.S.—On the contrary, there is a very fairly full Church, and Benediction will be crowded.) The midnight Mass was not over till three. A large portion of the congregation live two miles away.

If this were in the centre of the town I declare I think it would convert a good half of it by its very look. We have had a number of most splendid functions—but we shall soon (many of us) leave it for Birmingham—for a gloomy gin distillery, of which we have taken a lease, fitting up a large room for a Chapel. When we shall get to London we don't know—prospered as we have been, still we want hands for such an undertaking. Lately several of our Fathers held a mission in this neighbourhood. They heard between 700 and 800 confessions and received 22 persons into the Church. Never surely were the words more strikingly exemplified, "The Harvest is great, the labourers are few," than in England. We could convert England, humanly speaking, at least the lower classes, had we priests enough.

With all best wishes of this happy season, my dear Henry,
Ever yours affectionately,

January 1849
I have heard something about you which makes me sad—that you countenanced on November 1st the changes in Margaret Street which (if what I hear they are) I will not designate. What have you to do with Subdeacons and the like? I should have thought you far too sensible a fellow to go into such ways. While you stick to the old Church of England ways you are respectable—it is going by a sort of tradition—when you profess to return to lost Church of England ways, you are rational—but when you invent a new ceremonial, which never was, when you copy the Roman or other foreign rituals, you are neither respectable nor rational. It is sectarian. That is what I say of Pusey now—he does not affect to appeal to any authority but his own interpretation of the Fathers, and [to] the sanction of old Anglicans for this or that—but as a whole, he is not reviving anything that ever was anywhere for 1800 years. There is a tradition of High Church, and of Low Church—but none of what now is justly called Puseyism.
Thank you for dear Robert's letter. I am glad he speaks better of me than he did two years since—when he dissuaded a man from following me on the ground of his personal knowledge, that 20 years since I was on the verge of madness. This was a rhetorical argument—when he came to Oxford, rhetoric went to flight and the heart spoke. Ought not conscience to be the child of such a pair as heart and rhetoric.

Now you are saying, Carissime, "What's the matter with him? He is in a terribly bad humour, he does nothing but bite." I wish I could bite you with my madness, though I know you dread large dogs and little.

March, 1849
As to my Essay [on Development] you mistake in one minor matter,—it is not the argument from unity or Catholicity which immediately weighs with me, but from Apostolicity. In that book is asked why does its author join the Catholic Church? The answer is, because it is the Church of St. Athanasius and St. Ambrose. Vid. the passage about St. Athanasius and St. Ambrose coming from Treves to Oxford. And it is an argument natural to weigh with me who have so many years been engaged in the meditation of early Church History—and it is as natural that the difficulties I had felt, and the difficulties I there answer, should be difficulties of doctrine, since I have studied in Church History the history of doctrine more than anything else. You may recollect too that the one idea which for years was before me, was, "the Anglican Church corresponds to the Semi-arians, corresponds to the Monophysites"—It is contained in the letter I wrote to Robert in Autumn of 1841; it had been in my mind as early as summer 1839. I never shook it off—how could I? when to every reader of Church History it is so plain. Nothing is more day-clear than this, that unless there never was a Church and heretics round it, the Anglican Church is a loco, in the position of one of those early sects. This again I kept saying—I think I wrote to Keble, "I am far more certain that the Anglican Church is in loco haereseos, than that the Roman corruptions are not developments." No one can maintain the Anglican Church from history, (whatever they may try to do on the ground of doctrine)—and those who speak against my Essay as inconclusive, most of them, do not see its drift.

September 19, 1849

My dearest Henry,—I heard of you this morning here,—where I had just come for a day or two, having been overworked. I had gone to Bilston to attend the poor cholera patients, but found the scourge nearly over, and I was not wanted,—so I came here. Father Ambrose and Father Minister are there still. They say that two thirds of the population would become Catholics if they had priests to take care of them.

But now I write about you, Carissime—I have heard something about you this morning, which makes me say "Send for me, and I will come to you at once—by return of post." Do not let anything stand between conviction and its legitimate consequence. Carissime, you must die some day or other ...
Ever yours affectionately,

Even after the 21st, Wilberforce continued to hesitate, and Newman continued to write letters of encouragement- and warning lest he should make his step too late.

"There is no alternative between Catholicism and Infidelity to the clear thinker—flee Babylon while you can"....
"O, the joy it will be to me to see you and embrace you as the Patriarch turned himself with yearning heart to his lost son!"...

Henry Wilberforce and his wife were received into the Church in early 1850.


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