Franco Manni


A Very Important Intellectual and Moral Issue (2022) 



Since 2017, I have been publishing articles in international journals of philosophy and theology, in which I gradually communicated the results of my research on Herbert McCabe , research that later resulted in my book Herbert McCabe. Recollecting a Fragmented Legacy, Eugene-Oregon: W&S Cascade Books 2020.

In this research, many aspects previously ignored by the (not very extensive) critical literature on McCabe have been highlighted, systematised and commented on for the first time.

The book containing all the research has been favourably reviewed by leading international journals.

Unfortunately, in October 2021 it was plagiarised in this article:
Simon Hewitt's article 'Herbert McCabe on God and Humanity', in New Blackfriars Volume102, Issue1101, September 2021, Pages 815-833

Here I put my correspondence with Brian Davies, the actual editor of New Blackfriars :

Esteemed Fr Davies, Wed, 26 Jan, 07:37

I write you this letter now because last night I sent it to Fr Kerr , because I thought he was still editor of New Black Friars. But one hour after my envoy he wrote me saying that he had left the editorship in 2020 and that you are his successor.
It was only about a month ago that I became aware that you had published Simon Hewitt's article 'Herbert McCabe on God and Humanity', in New Blackfriars Volume102, Issue1101, September 2021, Pages 815-833.
You are quite familiar with the secondary literature (critical literature) on McCabe, most of which has come out in the journal you edit, and you also certainly know that I am the author of the only book on McCabe, published in 2020, which is also the only comprehensive and systematic study of all of McCabe's philosophical and theological ideas (reviewed extensively and in great detail in L'Osservatore Romano, Rivista di Teologia, Doctrine and Life, Divus Thomas, Rivista di filosofia neoscolastica, Revue de theologie et de philosophie, The Catholic Herald, The Tablet, New Blackfriars, .
Some of the ideas I set out in this book of mine had already been presented in detail in international theological journals in previous years from 2017 onwards: Angelicum (on McCabe's life and intellectual figure), Acta Theologica (on his Christology), Divus Thomas (on his doctrine regarding Creation), Lumen Veritatis (on McCabe's demonstration of the existence of God), on Religious Enquiries (on McCabe's apophatic theology), Politheia (on his Philosophical Anthropology), Annales Theologici (on McCabe's position within the late 20th century Thomist debate on the knowability of the essence of God), Theology and Science (on McCabe's refutation of both Paley’s 'intelligent design' and Dawkins’ critique of it).
I am therefore profoundly amazed, surprised, grieved and confused as to how you could publish in your journal such an article, which for the first time in the secondary (critical) literature on McCabe contains thematic content and key quotations that only my own writings cited above have reported. And in that article my writings are never mentioned.
Here are some examples of passages from Hewitt's article that have never appeared in the secondary/critical literature on McCabe , before my mentioned writings had been published. Regretfully, in this article Hewitt never refers to those writings or mentions my name, not even once.
Here are the passages (in italic) and my comments (in bold):

1) McCabe’s influence was considerable, with a diverse range of figures including Alasdair MacIntyre, Denys Turner, and Terry Eagleton acknowledging intellectual debts to him.
[in my book for the first time all these influences are documented, proven, described and commented on from p. 27 to p. 58].

2) This paper presents a brief overview of McCabe’s thought, focusing first on his understanding of God and then on his conception of human beings. After presenting McCabe’s ideas on these topics, the paper moves to consider his understanding of the coming together of God and humanity in the Incarnation of the divine Word
[this tripartition is exactly the structure of the parts in this same order in my book and never before described in this clear and concise manner in whatever study about McCabe].

3) McCabe illustrates this by noting the different ways we can ask, of a dog, ‘how come Fido?’ The question could communicate an enquiry after Fido’s parentage, or after the evolutionary biology of dogs, or the biochemistry of living organisms, or even after the astrophysics that provides the conditions for there to be living organisms. In each case, something about the existence of Fido is being asked about, and contrasted with an alter etc etc etc

[this exemplification of the argument to prove the existence of God for the first time in extended form has been published and commented on by me in some of my cited writings]

4) there something rather than nothing?’ Plenty of philosophers have made, and continue to make, this denial: the most famous example is Bertrand Russell. Creation, instead, is the act by which God makes everything other than God to be, over and against nothing, for every moment of its existence. Creation is to be distinguished sharply from making; things are made out of pre-existing materials – a potter makes a pot out of clay. Making is something entities within the world do to other entities within the world. Manipulating some amongst those entities, the maker makes a difference, brings about a change in things, through making one entity (or some stuff) into another entity. Whereas, as McCabe is fond of insisting, ‘God makes no difference to the universe’…

[ the peculiarity of creation as a cause that produces no change in the world was first emphasised, focused on and commented on in several of my writings and conference papers. How 'creating' is very different from 'doing'].

5) Because anything that could possibly exist, other than God, would have to be created by God, there is no particular feature of the universe that, to the exclusion of others, points to the universe being created by God. A universe lacking any given feature would be no less cre-ated, and there could be no uncreated feature of a universe. For this reason, McCabe rejects a form of argument for the existence of God common in modern philosophy which argues from particular features of the world to the existence of a designer

[this argument about not being able to distinguish in the universe between those particular entities in which God or a footprint of his is/is found/seen and everything else for the first time has been expounded at length in my writings].

6) McCabe’s approach to God, and to reading Aquinas on the doctrine of God, was profoundly influenced by his Dominican teacher, Victor White. A passage from White’s God the Unknown expresses a theme that is pivotal for McCabe

[the lengthy exposition and discussion in detail of the influence of this Victor White book on McCabe is first there in my 2019 Angelicum article, and then in my book ]

7) If God is whatever answers our question, how come everything? then evidently he is not to be included amongst everything. He is not a thing, an existent among others. It is not possible that God and the universe should add up to make two….

[the emphasis on this true and total externality of God to the world as a doctrine peculiar to McCabe (and not to any of his other disciples) was first highlighted in detail, with plenty of citations and repeatedly in several of my writings cited from 2017 onwards]

8) McCabe on Human Beings

[I coined and used this precise phrase for the first time in my book of 2020 and wrote about it in detail and in depth (Philosophical Anthropology), which is certainly the first one published (p. 149 to p. 210).]

9) Against such theology McCabe agrees with Thomas, ‘my soul is not me’. We are human animals, inhabitants of the material world. To get clear about how McCabe understands what it is to be a human animal we should examine first animality, which we have in common with other animals, before going on to consider what is distinctively human.

[this agenda (to study animality first and rationality second) in the McCabe studies was first conceived, expounded and articulated in my writings]

10) Living beings, which include plants as well as animals, have a certain kind of unity to them, which distinguishes them from merely artificial assemblages such as machines. Here McCabe takes his lead from Aristotle as well as Aquinas

[this difference proposed by McCabe between machines and living beings I first picked up, reported and articulated in my own writings ]

11) But Lola is not simply alive, she is an animal. And that, according to McCabe, involves the world being meaningful for her…. The sense organs of an animal are the means by which the world is mean-ingful to it. The forms and structures of the world around it are taken up into the complex organic structures of the animal body and thereby be-come meanings for that animal.

[in 'The Meaning of Meaning' p. 153-155 and 'Sentient Animals' p. 155-157 sections I for the first time collect, logically, link and comment in detail on McCabe's texts on the 'spirituality' (endowment of meaning) of animals' sentient experience).]

12) language, and so can possess concepts such as ‘in a few days time’ and ‘next Wednesday’. Through language more of the world becomes meaningful for us….This capacity for linguistic meaning is, according to McCabe, constitutive of human freedom: ‘it is [the] creative capacity to make new ways of interpreting the world that consitutes our freedom’.31 The open-ended possibilities for interpreting the world that come with linguistic ability enable us to form judgements about what is good and desirable, judgements that might differ from those of others. Language also, and crucially, enables us to form intentions…..What is special about the human animals is that we not only, like the dog, have things we like to do and things we are reluctant to do, we also formulate aims and intentions for ourselves. This formulation or setting of aims can only be expressed by saying ‘We did what amounted to saying to ourselves: “This is what I am trying to achieve and this is how I am going to achieve it”’. This is different from simply having an aim in that you might not have formulated it or set it for yourself. It is just this ‘is-but-might-not-have-been’ that language exists to express.

[these particular concepts and arguments about linguistic animals according to McCabe in the connection with freedom were first noted, collected, linked and commented on by me from p. 157 to p. 159, p. 175 to p. 178].

13) It is striking that the resulting view is one on which rationality, far from be-ing a private and purely cerebral affair, is thoroughly social. Language is a social practice, one to which we need to be introduced by others. The language by means of which I am able to function as a rational creature is received from others…. For the Cartesian consciousness is a way of being private; it belongs to an essentially hidden inner life; for the Aristotelian, thinking belongs to a world more social, in the sense of more shared, than any other. So long as, like other aimals, I am restricted to sensual experience, my life is private. No one can have my sensations; everyone can have my thoughts. If they could not they would not be thoughts. There is a special kind of conversation that we call discussion or argument which is a way of testing whether what I take to be my thoughts really are thoughts – they are not unless they can be shared by others. The use of language, then, is what frees us from imprisonment in the isolated [self]; it is a way of transcending my individuality; to use the old jargon, it is a way of being ‘immaterial’.

[McCabe's fundamental anti-Cartesian idea that feelings are private whereas ideas are public was first (in the critical literature) noted, expounded and commented on in detail by me on p. 167-170].

14) Importantly, language is the means by which we tell stories. As linguistic animals we can understand ourselves narratively, tell our auto-biography, and we can understand ourselves as part of wider stories

[this concept of McCabe's was first expounded by me from p. 183 to p. 186]

15) McCabe wrote about the Incarnation in a context in which the Chalcedonian doctrine was being called into question in English-speaking theology. In particular, the essays collected together in The Myth of God Incarnate had interrogated the traditional understanding of the

[McCabe's discussion of the dogma of Chalcedon for the first time set out with passages from all his texts and arranged in the paragraph 'Chalcedon Revisited' from p. 219 to p. 221].

16) Chalcedon maintained that Jesus was truly human, ruling out docetism, the view that he only appeared to share the fullness of our humanity. McCabe recognises, and applauds, in the Myth of God Incarnate authors a desire to avoid Docetism.

[McCabe's reference to 'docetism' in relation to dogma first appears in my article on McCabe' Christology in Acta Theologica (2019) and then in my book in the section 'The Transcendence of God' from p. 216 to p. 218].

It is obvious that all the topics mentioned, listed and numbered so far are present in McCabe's works, but until my own scholarly writings on McCabe they had remained ignored by all scholars.

Therefore even if - perhaps ! - it is not easy to speak of plagiarism from a formal point of view, but on a substantive level of ideas it seems morally very wrong that all these topics were dealt with on the basis of my writings, without them ever being mentioned even once.

What do you think? What do you say? What will you do?

Franco Manni

Fri, 28 Jan, 07:21

Dear Dr Manni,

Thank you for your recent email to me.

Having reflected on it carefully, I have to say that I do not think that Simon Hewitt was plagiarizing you in his article for the September 2021 issue of New Blackfriars. He was talking about ideas of McCabe that are in the public domain, as he did in his 2018 New Blackfriars article 'Not Crying "Peace": The Theological Politics of Herbert McCabe'. And he was referencing facts about McCabe that are well known from sources other than your book (cf.The McCabe Reader published by me and Paul Kucharski in 2016).

With good wishes,

Brian Davies OP


Sat, 5 Feb, 18:55

Esteemed Father Davies,

I have read your reply which, in my opinion, does not respond either in whole or in part to my analytical examination of the 16 points in Hewitt's essay, which 16 points, prior to my writings, had not been highlighted and commented on by any scholar, including Hewitt.

However, I am writing to you first of all  for another reason, and that is to ask you this: how come Hewitt never mentioned my book, which is the only existing book, i.e. a systematic and in-depth study published on Herbert McCabe, and which was favourably reviewed by the renowned international journals (including the one you edited) that I mentioned in my last letter?


Hewitt could have criticised and disagreed, but why did he not mention my book (or the  other my studies I mentioned in my previous letter to you)  even once?

What do you think?


Franco Manni


12 Feb 2022, 21:44

Dear Dr Manni,

Thank you for your email of February 5th.

I have thought carefully about what you say.  I have also consulted some scholars who are familiar with McCabe's life and works.  All of this leaves me believing that Simon Hewitt cannot rightly be thought to have plagiarized you.

With good wishes,

Brian Davies



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