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I, Anomalies in the early Irish Church.-1. Foreigners did not recognise
the early Bishops. 2. Late introduction of Diocesan Episcopacy. II. Inferiority of the Irish exposed them to contempt.-1. The relative
positions of the two races unfavourable to the civilization of Ireland.
2. Weakness of the English Government in Ireland. III. 1. Penal laws against degeneracy of Anglo-Irish Colonists. 2. Evils
resulting from weakness of the Parochial System. IV. English and Irish Church before the Reformation contrasted. Sum
mary of difficulties transmitted from pre-Reformation times. V. 1. Weakness of Irish Bishops at the Reformation. 2. Native Clergy
opposed to the Reformation. 3. Difficulty in obtaining fit persons for
Irish Sees. 4. Irish Church distinctively Protestant.
the Church.—Disastrous effects on both races of difference of language. VII. 1. Difficulty of the Church increased by political changes effected
at the time of the Reformation. 2. These changes favoured the designs of the Roman Catholic Church. 3. The employment of the Irish language being discouraged, the ministrations of the Irish Church were, of necessity, confined to the Colonists and their descendants. VIII. The condition and character of the Colonists, and their relation to
the Natives. IX. 1. Irish prejudice against improvement, 2. turned against the Irish
Church and taken advantage of by the Roman Catholic Church. 3. Difficulties of Protestant Colonists in Ireland. 4. Tendency to de
generacy still existing, and weakening the Irish Church. X. Penal laws perpetuated this tendency:
THE writer of the following pages believes that the difficulties with which the Irish Church has had to contend have never been fairly estimated. It is the object of this paper to draw attention to the more remarkable of these difficulties, to shew the extent and the duration of their influence, as well as the traces of weakness which they have left behind. With
out some knowledge of the special nature of the work in which the Irish Church has been engaged, of the many impediments to her progress in past times, and of the restrictions under which she has been compelled to labour, it will be alike impossible to say how far that Church may be deserving of blame for past want of success, and to suggest the means whereby her efficiency may be increased.
In the course of this inquiry it will be found that the Irish Church is not accountable for the anomalies which have exposed her to so much hostile criticism; that these have arisen from circumstances altogether beyond her control; that (whatever judgment may be formed of her bishops and clergy since the Reformation) her present numerical inferiority has arisen from causes beyond the reach of the Church itself, and which have affected the general condition of Ireland.
Whatever weakness in numbers or in influence may now retard her progress and expose her to unfavourable comment, is the natural and inevitable result of the peculiar circumstances of Ireland both before and after the Reformation; or it has been caused by the restrictions which have controlled the legitimate action of the Church; or by political animosity excited against her as an instrument employed in promoting objects foreign to her proper function.
1. The first English colonists appeared in Ireland at a very critical period in the history of the National Church. The Irish Church was not yet consolidated into that form which the Christian Church had assumed in all the rest of Christendom. Many strange customs and irregularities which had long since ceased everywhere else still prevailed in Ireland. Several anomalies were found in Ireland which seemed to Churchmen of
the twelfth century subversive of all ecclesiastical order and propriety a. The decrees of the most famous early councils were not acknowledged by the Irish clergy b. Irish Christians were thought to be little better than hereticso; Irish customs were stigmatized as barbarous. Irish bishops were excluded from the courtesies usually extended to members of the episcopal order; holy orders conferred by their hands were not acknowledged by other bishops.
2. The foreigners who in the tenth and eleventh centuries came to Ireland from Northern Europe, refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Irish bishops. The Irish clergy, in their turn, did not recognize the foreign bishops. Long before the time of Henry II. there were thus two Churches in Ireland, independent of each other, having little intercourse, presided over by rival, often by hostile bishops,—the
a “They” (i.e. Irish bishops and priests) “ administered the Sacraments, consecrated churches, conferred holy orders and confirmation, and heard confessions, wherever they went, without any regard to parochial or diocesan regulations, or the decrees of Councils.”—“ Life of St. Patrick,” by the Rev. Dr. Todd, p. 39.
“The establishment of archiepiscopal and diocesan jurisdiction in the beginning of the twelfth century.”—Ibid., p. 1.
Ireland was never included within the bounds of the Roman Empire, and consequently did not receive the decrees of the Eastern and Western Councils, summoned under the authority of the Emperors.-Ibid., p. 48.
C“ Cum autem cæpisset pro officio suo agere tunc intellexit homo Dei, non ad homines se sed ad bestiam destinatum. Nunquam adhuc tales, expertus fuerat in quantacunque barbarie, nunquam respexerat sic protervos ad mores, sic ferales ad ritus, sic ad fidem impios, ad leges barbaros, cervicosos ad disciplinam, spurcos ad vitam, Christiani nomine, re Pagani. Non decimas, non primitias dare, non legitima inire conjugia." - St. Bernard's “ Life of Malachy."
foreign and the native Church. These two Churches remained distinct up to the time of the Reformation a.
3. The Irish bishops had not yet confined their jurisdiction within the limits of dioceses. There had been in Ireland bishops of monasteries (or rather bishops in monasteries under the direction of the abbot), and bishops of clans, either subject to the chieftain, or uniting in the same person the highest temporal and spiritual authority. The limits of dioceses were not finally settled till the eve of Strongbow's invasion. In the rest of Christendom diocesan episcopacy had long been the invariable rule. Bishops without dioceses confined within territorial limits were unknown. The distribution of the whole country into dioceses,-for each of which one person was responsible, who had also the superintendence of the sub
a The papal commission to his legate at the English Court in the reign of Richard I. empowers him to exercise his legantine jurisdiction in England, Wales, and those parts of Ireland over which the English had dominion. The rest of Ireland did not therefore acknowledge the jurisdiction of the see of Rome nor of the bishops in communion with it. (Matthew Paris, quoted by the Rev. Dr. O'Connor, “Letters of Columbanus,” vol. ii. p. 10.)
In the year 1484 Pope Innocent VIII. issued a bull for the erection of a collegiate church in Galway, wbich recites that the people of the parish of St. Nicholas were civilized men living in a walled town, and observing the decency, rite, and custom of the Church of England, and that their customs differed from those of the wild Highlandmen of that nation, who harassed them so that they could not hear the offices or receive the sacraments of the Church according to the form which they and their ancestors of old time were accustomed to follow.
Then follows the enactment that the college shall consist of one warden and eight presbyters, all civilized men, and duly holding the rites and order of the Church of England in the celebration of divine service. (“Policy of the Church of Rome in Ireland," by the Rev. William Phelan, p. 111.)
ordinate clergy labouring in the smaller districts called parishes,—was the most powerful instrument not only in keeping alive the religious sentiment in a turbulent age, in providing means of public worship on stated occasions and in fixed places, and thereby preserving whatever knowledge of the Christian faith was still to be found among the masses of an ignorant population; but was also the chief agent in fostering, fre. quently in calling into existence the spirit of liberty, and bringing the inhabitants together to consult and to co-operate for their common welfare.
This distinctive anomaly in the history of the Irish Church will be found to have seriously retarded its progress at all times, and especially at the time of the Reformation. What the bishop was to the diocese the priest was to the parish. Without diocesan epi. scopacy there was no parochial system.
It was one of the first acts of the English Crown to provide for the maintenance of the parochial system by giving to the clergy the tithes of their respective parishes. Whatever good may have flowed from this payment in supporting the Irish clergy, the imposition of a new tax by the foreign conqueror for their benefit made them unpopular. Tithes were hated as oppressive and anti-Irish. They were regarded as a badge of conquest. The conduct of the men appointed to high places in the Irish Church after the invasion, did not mitigate this prejudice. Many of them were taken from the ranks of the invaders. All who followed the native customs, or spake the Irish language, were excluded from preferment. The native Irish had little reason to love either the bishops or the clergy of the Irish Church. The original defect of the Irish diocesan episcopate was aggravated by the conduct and charac