Nicholas Wiseman

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Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman
Cardinal, Archbishop of Westminster
Primate of England and Wales
Cardinal Wiseman
Appointed29 August 1847 (Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic)
Installed29 September 1850
Term ended15 February 1865
PredecessorThomas Walsh (as Vicar Apostolic)
SuccessorHenry Edward Manning
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of Santa Pudenziana
Ordination19 March 1825
Consecration8 June 1840
by Giacomo Filippo Fransoni
Created cardinal30 September 1850
by Pius IX
Personal details
Nicolás Patricio Esteban Wiseman[1]

(1802-08-03)3 August 1802[2]
Died15 February 1865(1865-02-15) (aged 62)
York Place, Portman Square, London, England
BuriedWestminster Cathedral
ParentsJames Wiseman and Xaviera Wiseman (née Strange)
Previous post(s)
Styles of
Nicholas Wiseman
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal

Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman[3] (3 August 1802 – 15 February 1865) was a Cardinal of the Catholic Church who became the first Archbishop of Westminster upon the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales in 1850.[4]

Born in Seville to Irish parents, Wiseman was educated at a school in Waterford before attending St. Cuthbert's College at Ushaw. From there he went to the English College in Rome, where he subsequently became Rector. While in Rome, he was assigned to preach to the English Catholics there. As Rector, he was the representative of the English bishops. During a visit to England in 1836, he helped initiate the periodical Dublin Review. In 1840, he was appointed president of Oscott College.

Early life[edit]

Birthplace of Cardinal Wiseman, 5 Calle Fabiola, Seville, Spain.

Wiseman was born in Seville on 2 February 1802, the younger son of merchant James Wiseman and his second wife, Xaviera (née Strange), of Waterford, Ireland, who had settled in Spain for business.[5][6] On his father's death in 1805, he was brought to his parents' home in Waterford. In 1810, he was sent to Ushaw College, near Durham, where he was educated until the age of sixteen.[7] Wiseman would later recall that John Lingard, Vice-President of the college at the time, showed the quiet, retiring boy much kindness. In 1818, Wiseman proceeded to the English College in Rome, which had reopened in 1818 after being closed by the Napoleonic Wars for twenty years. He graduated with a doctorate of theology with distinction in July 1824, and was ordained to the priesthood 10 March 1825.[2]

He was appointed vice-rector of the English College in 1827, and rector in 1828, although he was not yet twenty-six years of age. He had this office until 1840. From the first a devoted student and scholar of antiquity, he devoted much time to the examination of Oriental manuscripts in the Vatican library, and a first volume, entitled Horae Syriacae, published in 1827, showed that he had promise as a good scholar.[6][7]

Pope Leo XII (1823..1829) appointed him curator of the Arabic manuscripts in the Vatican, and professor of Oriental languages in the Roman University. His academic life was, however, interrupted by the pope's command to preach to English residents of Rome. A course of his lectures, On the Connexion between Science and Revealed Religion, attracted much attention. His general thesis was that whereas scientific teaching had repeatedly been thought to disprove Christian doctrine, further investigation has shown that reconciliation is possible.[7] It is much to Wiseman's credit that his lectures on the relationship between religion and science were approved by a critic as stern as Andrew Dickson White. In his extremely influential A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, the primary contention of which was the conflict thesis, White wrote that "it is a duty and a pleasure to state here that one great Christian scholar did honour to religion and to himself by quietly accepting the claims of science and making the best of them.... That man was Nicholas Wiseman, better known afterward as Cardinal Wiseman. The conduct of this pillar of the Church contrasts admirably with that of timid Protestants, who were filling England with shrieks and denunciations".[8]


Wiseman visited England during 1835–1836 and delivered lectures on the principles and main doctrines of Catholicism in the Sardinian Chapel, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and in the church in Moorfields.[9] The effect of his lectures was considerable. At Edward Bouverie Pusey's request, John Henry Newman reviewed them in the periodical British Critic during December 1836, treating them for the most part with sympathy as a triumph over popular Protestantism. To another critic, who had claimed a resemblance between Catholic and pagan ceremonies, Wiseman replied admitting the likeness, and saying that it could be shown equally well to exist between Christian and non-Christian doctrines.[7]

In 1836, Wiseman initiated the periodical Dublin Review, partly to give English Catholics greater ideals for their religion and enthusiasm for the papacy, and partly to deal with the Oxford Movement. In 1916 the name was changed to the Wiseman Review.[10] At this date he was already distinguished as a scholar and critic, fluent in many languages, and informed on questions of scientific, artistic or historical interest.[7]

An article by Wiseman on the Donatist schism, appearing in the Dublin Review in July 1839, made an impression in Oxford, Newman and others seeing the analogy between Donatists and Anglicans. Wiseman, preaching at the opening of St Mary's Church, Derby, in the same year, anticipated Newman's argument on religious development, published six years later. In 1840, he was consecrated bishop, and was sent to England as coadjutor to Bishop Thomas Walsh, vicar-apostolic of the Central district, and was also appointed president of Oscott College near Birmingham.[7]

Oscott, during his presidency, became a centre for English Catholics. The Oxford converts (1845 and later) added to Wiseman's responsibilities, as many of them found themselves wholly without means, while the old Catholic body looked on the newcomers with distrust. It was by his advice that Newman and his companions spent some time in Rome before undertaking clerical work in England. Soon after the accession of Pope Pius IX, Bishop Walsh was assigned to be vicar-apostolic of the London district with Wiseman still as his coadjutor. For Wiseman, the appointment became permanent on Walsh's death in February 1849.[7]

On his arrival from Rome in 1847, Wiseman acted as an informal diplomatic envoy from the pope, to ascertain from the government what assistance England was likely to give in implementing the liberal policy with which Pius inaugurated his reign. In response, Lord Minto was sent to Rome as "an authentic organ of the British Government", but the policy in question proved abortive. Residing in London in Golden Square, Wiseman threw himself into his new duties with many-sided activities, working especially for the reclamation of Catholic criminals and for the restoration of the lapsed poor to the practice of their religion. He was zealous for the establishment of religious communities, both of men and women, and for performing retreats and missions. He preached on 4 July 1848 at the opening of St George's, Southwark, an occasion unique in England since the Reformation, 14 bishops and 240 priests being present, and six religious orders of men being represented.[7]


Cardinal Wiseman, daguerreotype by Mathew Brady studio.

The progress of Catholicism was undeniable, but Wiseman found himself opposed by a minority among his own clergy, who disliked his ultramontane ideas of his "Romanizing and innovating zeal", especially in regard to the introduction of sacred images into the churches and the use of devotions to the Blessed Virgin and the Blessed Sacrament, lately forgotten among English Catholics. In July 1850, Wiseman heard of the pope's intention to create him a cardinal, and took this to mean that he was to be permanently recalled to Rome. But on his arrival, he ascertained that a part of the pope's plan for restoring a diocesan hierarchy in England was that he himself should return to England as cardinal and archbishop of Westminster. The papal brief establishing the hierarchy, Universalis Ecclesiae, was dated 29 September 1850, and Wiseman wrote a pastoral, dated "Given out of the Flaminian Gate of Rome, this seventh day of October, in the year of our Lord MDCCCL",[note 1] a form diplomatically correct, but of bombastic tone for Protestant ears, in which he said enthusiastically, "Catholic England has been restored to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament, from which its light had long vanished".[7][note 2]

Wiseman travelled slowly to England, via Vienna. When he reached London on 11 November, the whole country was ablaze with indignation at the "papal aggression," which was interpreted to imply a new and unjustifiable claim to territorial rule.[11] Some indeed feared that his life was endangered by the violence of popular feeling. Wiseman displayed calmness and courage, and immediately penned a pamphlet of over 30 pages titled Appeal to the English People, in which he explained the nature of the pope's action. He argued that the admitted principle of toleration included leave to establish a diocesan hierarchy. In his concluding paragraphs, he effectively contrasted that dominion over Westminster, which he was taunted with claiming, with his duties towards the poor Catholics resident there, with which alone he was really concerned. A course of lectures at St George's, Southwark, further moderated the storm. In July 1852, he presided at St Mary's College, Oscott over the first provincial synod of Westminster, at which Newman preached his sermon on the "Second Spring"; and at this date, Wiseman's dream of the rapid conversion of England to the ancient faith seemed capable of realisation. But many difficulties with his own people shortly beset his path, due largely to the suspicions aroused by his evident preference for the ardent Roman zeal of the converts, and especially of Manning, to the dull and cautious formalism of the old Catholics.[7]

During the autumn of 1853, Wiseman went to Rome, where Pius IX gave full approval to his ecclesiastical policy. It was during this visit to Rome that Wiseman projected, and began to write, the most popular book that he ever wrote, the historical romance, Fabiola, a tale of the Church of the Catacombs. The book was published at the end of 1854, and its success was immediate and phenomenal. Translations of it were published in almost every European language.[6] Wiseman wrote Fabiola in part as an answer to the vigorously anti-Catholic book Hypatia (1853) by Charles Kingsley.[12][13] The novel was mainly intended the aid the embattled Catholic minority in England.

The year 1854 was also marked by Wiseman's presence in Rome at the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin on 8 December.[7]

In 1855, Wiseman applied for a coadjutor bishop. George Errington, who was then Bishop of Plymouth and his friend since boyhood, was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Westminster and Titular Archbishop of Trapezus. Two years later, Manning was appointed Provost of Westminster. During Wiseman's later years Errington was hostile to Manning, and to himself insofar as he was supposed to be influenced by Manning. The story of the estrangement, which was largely a matter of temperament, is told in Ward's biography. In July 1860 Errington was deprived by the Pope of his coadjutorship with right of succession. He retired to Prior Park, near Bath, where he died in 1886.[14]

Wiseman's speeches, sermons and lectures, delivered during his tour, were printed in a volume of 400 pages, showing an extraordinary power of speaking with sympathy and tact. He was able to use considerable influence with English politicians, partly because in his time English Catholics were wavering in their historical allegiance to the Liberal party. He was in a position to secure concessions that bettered the condition of Catholics in regard to poor schools, reformatories and workhouses, and in the status of their army chaplains. In 1863, addressing the Catholic Congress in Mechelen, he stated that since 1830 the number of priests in England had increased from 434 to 1242, and of convents of women from 16 to 162, while there were no religious houses of men in 1830 and 55 in 1863. The last two years of his life were troubled by illness and by controversies in which he found himself, by Manning's influence, compelled to adopt a policy less liberal than that which had been his during earlier years.[14]

Wiseman had to condemn the Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom, with which he had shown some sympathy at its inception during 1857, and to forbid Catholic parents to send their sons to Oxford or Cambridge, though at an earlier date he had hoped (with Newman) that at Oxford at least a college or hall might be assigned to them. In other respects, however, his last years were cheered by marks of general regard and admiration, in which non-Catholics joined. After his death on 16 February 1865, there was an extraordinary demonstration of popular respect as his body was taken from St Mary's, Moorfields, to St Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, where it was intended that it should rest only until a more appropriate place could be found in a Catholic cathedral church of Westminster. On 30 January 1907, the body was removed with great ceremony from Kensal Green and was reburied in the crypt of the new cathedral, where it lies beneath a Gothic altar tomb, with a recumbent effigy of the archbishop in full pontificals.[14]

Wiseman's birthplace on Calle Fabiola in Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish part of Seville, features a commemorative plaque, as does Etloe House in Leyton, London E10, where he lived from 1858 to 1864.


"The doctrine and practice of the Church must not be allowed to be impugned by those who have no claim at all to Scripture, and who can prove neither the canon, its inspiration, nor its primary doctrines, except through that very authority which they are questioning, and through treacherous inconsistency with the principles on which they are interrogating it. When many years ago this ground was boldly adopted, it was charged with being an attempt to throw Protestants into infidelity, and sap the foundations of the Bible. Years of experience, and observation not superficial, have only strengthened our conviction, that this course must be fearlessly pursued. We must deny to Protestantism any right to use the Bible, much more to interpret it. Cruel and unfeeling it may be pronounced by those who understand the strength of our position, and the cogency of the argument, but it is much more charitable than to leave them to the repeated sin of blaspheming God's Spouse and trying to undermine the faith of our poor Catholics. The cry of 'The Bible! [T]he Bible! [N]othing but the Bible!' is as perilous to man's salvation as the Jews' senseless cry, 'The Temple of the Lord! [T]he Temple of the Lord! [T]he Temple of the Lord it is!' (Jeremiah 7:4)"[15]

Artistic recognition[edit]

Wiseman was sculpted by Christopher Moore during 1853.[16]

In Robert Browning's 1855 poem "Bishop Blougram's Apology", the speaker, a somewhat hypocritical English Catholic cleric, is based on Wiseman.


Several schools have been named after Wiseman, including:


  1. ^ From closing of pastoral letter.
  2. ^ From body of pastoral letter.




Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Vicar Apostolic of the London District
Last appointment
New title Archbishop of Westminster
Succeeded by
Preceded by Cardinal priest of Santa Pudenziana
Succeeded by