Letters from a Scientist: Newman’s Correspondence with St. George Jackson Mivart

By Elizabeth Huddleston
Published in History & New and Noteworthy
February 11, 2021
2 min read
Letters from a Scientist: Newman’s Correspondence with St. George Jackson Mivart

Dated 9 February 1893, the priests of the Diocese of Birmingham delivered a memo to Cardinal Vaughan and the Bishops of Westminster concerning St. George Jackson Mivart’s “Happiness in Hell,” which was published in the Nineteenth Century Magazine in December 1892. The Bishops were concerned that Mivart’s article not only contradicted the Catholic faith, but also led the faithful into undue confusion about the state of human souls of those who perish in a state of mortal sin. In part the memo reads:

“The result of this flagrant contradiction between the ordinary ‘magisterium’ of the Church and the teaching of one who has long been popularly regarded as a representative exponent of Catholic sentiment, is, that many Catholics, especially amongst the young, are beginning to believe that the doctrine they have hitherto heard in the pulpit and the confessional is, to say the least, a gross exaggeration, and that what Mr. Mivart is allowed to ventilate with impunity they have an equal right to accept.

As a further consequence, inasmuch as the doctrine of the eternal misery of the lost is, in our day, of all others that which makes the largest demand upon the ‘obsequium fidei’ [obedience of faith], it follows that when once this is plausibly called in question, a suspicion is generated in many minds that their ‘obsequium’ has hitherto been too trustful and unqualified, and that where they have been deceived once they may be deceived again.”

Foreshadowing the Modernist Crisis, which would reach its climax in 1907 with the promulgation of Pascendi Dominici Gregis, this memo would set the tone for what would eventually lead to Mivart’s excommunication in 1900, the same year as his untimely death. While the unravelling of Mivart’s reputation among the Catholic leadership primarily occurred after Newman’s death in 1890, a correspondence between Newman and Mivart is housed in the NINS Digital Collections.

In a letter dated 15 October 1871, Mivart thanked Newman for the gift of Essays Critical and Historical.

In November of 1883, two letters from Mivart were sent to Newman. The first letter is dated 1 November 1883, and the second 10 November 1883. Both letters are about the Bishop of Birmingham’s involvement in Buckfast Abbey, which was founded the year before the correspondence, in October 1882.

The more complete correspondence occurs between March and May of 1884 and covers a range of topics. In a particularly interesting letter dated 9 May 1884, Newman discusses the development of scientific thinking.  Read the entire correspondence here.

The NINS Digital Collections contain over 250,000 images featuring letters, library records, photographs, maps, manuscripts, music scores, and more.

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Letter from a Poet: Gerard Manley Hopkins to Ignatius Ryder
Elizabeth Huddleston

Elizabeth Huddleston

Associate Editor, Newman Studies Journal

Elizabeth Huddleston is Head of Research and Publications at the National Institute for Newman Studies and is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Catholic Studies at Duquesne University.


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