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Summary of chapter. This chapter deals with the Irish Protestants, and the main issues in the different Churches.
revival of religion (and this is true of all the Churches) may be dated from
the founding of the Moravian Brethren in
is not surprising that the spirit or spirituality of the Established Church in
regard to its organisation the diocesan and parochial structure of the medieval
Church was retained virtually unchanged, whether or not Protestants were
numerous in a given area. There were about thirty bishoprics. (Actually thirty
three named bishoprics survived from the Middle Ages,
but firm unions of dioceses had begun to be made as early as the year 1216.)
There were 33 deaneries and 34 archdeaconries. Archdeacons in
they did, and the visitation rather resembled the
assize of the visiting judge. The clergy and dignitaries assembled in the
cathedral to meet the bishop. The bishop then delivered a 'charge', i.e. made a
speech in which he called the attention of the clergy to various aspects of
discipline he wished to see better observed. The concerns of a reforming bishop
can be seen expressed in the charges of Archbishop William Magee to the clergy
of the dioceses of Raphoe and
were about 2,000
The revenues of tiny parishes being
insufficient to support a rector the bishops allowed the holding of more than
one parish or living. If the livings were distant from each other the rector
could not reside in all of them, but he could pay curates to deputise for him.
(In the Catholic Church only contiguous livings could be joined because
residence was enforced.) Lack of suitable accommodation in the parishes was
another cause of non-residence. In 1800 it was estimated that there were only
295 glebe-houses or residences for the clergy in the whole of
after these parishes at the beginning of the century were about 1,000
clergymen, of whom half were parish priests or
rectors, and the other half curates. By the year 1830 rectors numbered 1,200
and curates 750, the numbers equalling those of the Catholic priests who had
three times the number of communicants to administer to.
the beginning of the nineteenth century successive Lords Lieutenant took more
into consideration spiritual suitability and administrative capacity when
appointing to bishoprics. Being of the rank of gentleman was still essential,
but it was no longer sufficient. At the beginning of the eighteenth century
Archbishop King of Dublin advised the Dean of St Patrick’s cathedral that if he
wished for further preferment he should begin by studying theology, though
nominally he was a Doctor of Divinity.
The bishops in turn took greater care about
those they promoted to orders. It was no longer sufficient to be a younger son
of a good family looking for a secure income. From 1790 onwards the bishops
insisted on the possession of an Arts degree from
who became archbishop of Dublin in 1831, belonged to the generation of
clergymen at Oxford University which included Newman, Keble, and Pusey, the
founders of the Oxford Movement, though he himself did not belong to that
Movement. As befitted an age of classical scholarship one of Whateley's tests
was to ask a candidate to translate a page of the Greek New Testament. He
established a proper school for divinity for ordinands at
is not surprising therefore to find the Irish clergy, like their counterparts
early nineteenth century was a great period for the building and repair of
churches. During and after the Reformation the lands and funds for the upkeep
of ecclesiastical buildings were often lost or alienated. Money for
re-building, repairing, and beautifying the fabric of the churches and
cathedrals had to come from other sources. The vestry cess (payable by
Catholics as well) could not be used for this purpose. Some money came from the
revenues of the bishops and other dignitaries, some from the Board of First
Fruits, and some from contributions from the laity.
was also the time when the laity, especially but by no means exclusively the
working-class laity, began to take religion seriously. The Regency period (1811-20)
was famous for the dissolute lifestyle of the upper classes, but already even
statesmen were taking religion more seriously. The arrival in England of Albert
the Prince Consort in 1840 was not the beginning of 'Victorians' but set the
seal of approval on trends that had originated forty years earlier. More
attention was paid to church-going and bible-reading; more emphasis was placed
on sobriety, truthfulness, honesty and industry; there was a greater rejection
of card-playing, cursing, and swearing; there was greater concern for the
unfortunate, especially Negro slaves, and a desire to spread the Gospel to the
'benighted' creatures from the west of
the Irish Church had always been conservative, largely reflecting the views of
the English reformers during the reign of Edward VI as expressed in the Book of
Common Prayer (1549), but perhaps being slightly more 'Protestant' or
'Lutheran' in an emphasis on salvation by faith alone. Nevertheless it held
strongly to the need for a visible Church, lawfully ordained ministers, and
public worship in the forms prescribed by law. Bishops repeatedly stressed that evangelical preachers, who were not ordained clergymen,
could not conduct services in the parish churches. There were always a few
'High Churchmen' like the Rev. Charles Leslie of Glaslough in the reign of
Anne, who believed that the visible Church had an essential role to play in
salvation in exhorting and instructing the faithful and bearing witness to the
true meaning of the Gospel. In the nineteenth century, Dr Jebb of
regard to worship the
Bible and the Book of Common Prayer had been translated into Irish in the
seventeenth century. The New Testament in use was based on the 1681 revision of
William Daniel's translation, while Bedell's translation was used for the Old
Testament. It is unclear how widely they were used in the nineteenth century,
though many Protestants still spoke Irish. Under Anne the policy had been
adopted of teaching only English in the schools.
the exception of the Whig Archbishop Whately and a few others the Irish clergy
joined the Tories in the Thirties in fending off Whig attempts at reform. This
does not mean that they were averse to reform: far from it. They were, however,
very impressed by the sermon of Keble before the assize judges in
revenues of the
was no such a thing as a Consolidated Fund into which all ecclesiastical
revenues were poured and out of which all payments were made. There were
several sources of income, but each was devoted to a particular object, and
money from one source could not be spent on a different object. Some dioceses
were rich and others poor, but there was no transfer of funds between them.
Bishops might have large incomes and curates small ones, but the bishops'
income could not be diverted to assist them. A bishop, while he lived, might
personally assist poorer clergymen, but he could not bind his successor.
were supported by the income from extensive grants of land. Most Irish sees had
between 10,000 and 20,000 acres including unprofitable land. Of the wealthy
rents of Church lands were far below what were obtained by lay proprietors.
They were scarcely more than nominal, having been fixed in the seventeenth
century by the 10 Charles I. Most of the bishop's income was derived from
'renewal fines', but these too were not as great as they might have been for
most of the lands were held by the descendants of former bishops. The parcels
of Church lands held by each tenant were never surveyed before the Ordnance
Survey, and so the fines were fixed by custom. This system of holding was
called a 'bishop's lease renewable forever'. It was a bit of a misnomer for no
bishop could bind his successors, so the lease was only valid until the bishop
died. A new lease had to be obtained from his successor. According to Leslie
Foster, a reforming Tory layman, this system militated against improvements in
lands, for nobody knew when the lease would have to be re-negotiated. Church
lands were therefore notoriously unimproved.
the Middle Ages, grants of land were made to bishops
for four purposes: to assist the poor, to support the clergy, to build and
repair churches, and to maintain the prelate himself. At the time of the 'Tithe
War' Dr. James Doyle stressed this point, but it was doubtful if a formal canon
was ever adopted in the
parish clergy were supported by tithes. Tithes became a contentious issue among
Catholics in a way that no other source of Church income did. The reason for
this may be that objections to tithes (along with rents and 'dues' to the
Catholic clergy) were among the traditional grievances in the countryside
always mentioned and exploited by the agrarian conspirators. It was also an
issue on which the more militant Catholics who supported Repeal felt that the
Government was vulnerable, and which could also be exploited as a great
burden of tithes in
land was not tithed, though if it were made up into hay a nominal tithe was
payable (about 2/6). Neither was the agistment, or letting out, of grassland titheable
all the tithes were paid to the clergy. In some parishes the landlord had the
right to the tithe revenue. Such parishes were said to be 'impropriate', i.e.
the revenues did not belong (to the Church). The rights to such tithes were
property in the legal sense, and if tithes were suppressed the owners of the
rights would have to be compensated. Most politicians were sensitive to charges
that they did not respect 'property'.
the beginning of the century many people including the Prime Minister Spencer
Perceval considered the grievance. It
was taken for granted in every State at the time (except briefly in
tithe composition was meant that the tithe-owner agreed to accept a fixed sum
annually, in fee farm as it were, in place of the annual assessment. The people of the parish would then guarantee
to pay to the rector this sum annually.
By commutation was meant imposing the tithe only on the landlord who
would then recover the sum by an additional rent charge. Tenants would then
have only one payment to make each half year and this would be known when they
entered into the tenancy. The idea was unpopular with the landlords who had
enough troubles with arrears in rents as it was.
the 1820's when Richard Wellesley was Lord Lieutenant the Irish Government
introduced legislation to allow composition and commutation by local agreement.
This also allowed a clergyman to bind his successors in the matter. The
parishioners in many parishes compounded with the rector, and it was considered
that the objectionable features of the system would disappear.
in 1830 there began one of those episodes in Irish history of which few have
reason to be proud. The series of mass meetings and demonstrations with
wholesale violence and intimidation, agrarian crime and murder, assaults on the
police, and attempts to enforce the collection of the tithes is commonly
referred to as the 'Tithe war'. The clergy on either side made little attempt
to calm excited feelings. Indeed many of the Catholic clergy made every effort to
stir up the feelings even when it was known that a murder campaign against
Protestant clergy was in operation. The Protestant clergy for their part made
little attempt to grant concessions. Some Protestant gentlemen considered that
payment could be enforced by means of Commissions of Rebellion from the Court
of Exchequer. O’Connell kept up the agitation for a total abolition of tithes
long after it was clear that the Whigs envisaged nothing more than a reduction.
Eventually, in 1837, he settled for what he could have obtained in 1830. By the
Tithe Commutation Act (1838) the tithe was commuted to a rent charge and the
amount payable was reduced by 25%
Clergymen in the towns were supported by a tax called Ministers' Money. By Common Law houses were not titheable, and before the seventeenth century no provision had been made for the support of secular clergy in towns apart from the clergy in the cathedrals. The friars and other religious clergy were supported by alms, or by endowments of lands. An Act of the 16th and 17th Charles II (1666) imposed a rate on property in the towns for the support of the parish clergy. The rate was about one shilling in the pound of annual value, or rental if let. The houses were valued by the parish valuators for the parish cess. About 1840 around £11,400 was being collected annually. Sir William Somerville, the Irish Secretary in 1848, remarked that successive Secretaries had sought a substitute but without avail.
Irish Church Act (1833) undertook a considerable reform of the Church. By this
act the number of bishoprics was to be reduced progressively to thirteen. The
revenues of the suppressed sees were to be vested in and administered by a
Government Board of Church Commissioners. The Board of First Fruits whose revenues
were used for the construction of new churches was suppressed. The vestry cess
was abolished, the Church Commissioners being made responsible for the parish
more radical reform took place in 1869 when the
Dissenters refused to believe in the necessity for an Established Church. The
'Old Dissenters', mainly Presbyterians, broke from the Established Church in
the seventeenth century. The 'New Dissenters' were mainly Methodists who broke
from the Established Church in 1817 (Latimer).
organisation of the dissenting Churches differed fundamentally from that of the
episcopal Churches. The latter were organised as it were from the head down,
recognising a supreme authority (king or pope) under whom was a hierarchy of
authority, bishops, priests, and laymen. The dissenting Churches were rather
organised from the bottom up, authority being primarily vested in each local
church or congregation, from which various grades of authority were devolved
upwards to presbyteries and synods. The moderator of a synod was merely a
chairman and had no authority outside the synod.
local congregation or 'church' ('kirk' in Scotland), was responsible for local
worship, building and maintaining the house of worship, selecting or calling
the clergyman or minister from among those approved by the Presbytery, and
providing for his support, and in general maintaining discipline in the
congregation. Each congregation elected elders or 'presbyters' who corresponded
to the parish officers or to the select vestry in the Established Church.
churches in a region about the size of a county or diocese banded together into
a Presbytery, and each church sent delegates to meetings within it. It was
responsible for preparing students for the ministry, licensing preachers,
ordaining clergymen, and supervising the morals and orthodoxy of the clergy.
could remain independent or form unions called Synods over a larger area like a
province. The chief purpose of a Synod, which was normally held once a year,
was to determine policy on controversial subjects. A Synod was presided over by
a Moderator, elected for the year, who had no authority except to carry out the
resolutions of the Synod. There could be rival Synods in a given region. This
was particularly true of
regard to doctrine the Presbyterians followed the teaching and interpretation
of Jean Calvin of
congregation was responsible for the support of its own minister. From the
reign of Queen Anne this was supplemented by an annual royal grant, the Regium Donum. As the number of ministers
increased so too was the size of the grant augmented by the Government from
time to time
the eighteenth century candidates for the ministry learned Latin from a
minister in the Presbytery, and then made their way to
main issues divided the Presbyterians in
remained the question of subscription. Towards the end of the eighteenth
century fewer Presbyteries were insisting on subscription as a condition for
ordination. But a question came to the fore as to whether Presbyterians were
bound to believe that the Three Persons in the Trinity were equal in all things
as the ancient synods of the Church and the Confession of Westminster asserted.
Or was it allowable to accept at face value the text of John 14.20 'the Father
is greater than I'?. Some leading Presbyterian divines
considered that any interpretation could be followed so long as no forcible
interpretation was given to other texts like John 10.30 'I
and the Father are one'. Opponents described non-subscribers as Arians saying
that they denied the divinity of the Son, or Unitarians saying that they
believed in only one divine Person. The non-subscribers could retort that such
ancient theological formulae were merely 'words of men' and were not to be put
on the same level as the 'words of God' in the Bible.
the main issue was not one of theological interpretation but of personal
liberty. Non-subscribers might hold the traditional interpretation themselves,
but wished to allow liberty to others to disagree. The Subscribers, led by the
Rev. Henry Cook, finally achieved a majority in the Synod of Ulster for
enforcing subscription, so the Non-subscribers, led by the Rev. Henry
Montgomery, broke away to form a protesting or Remonstrant Synod. There was a
political side to this dispute. Traditionally the Presbyterians had supported
liberty of conscience and personal liberty, and so sided with the Catholics in
their struggle for Emancipation. Henceforth the majority of Presbyterians led
by the Rev. Henry Cook supported the Tories. Apart from that the internal
disputes had little effect on Irish politics. But the peculiar organisation of
the Presbyterians meant that the Government had no one individual with whom it
could discuss matters such as participation in the system of National
Education. A Moderator, sent to discus
terms with the Irish Secretary could not negotiate; he could only refer
proposals back to the next Synod.
The Irish Methodists or followers of John and Charles Wesley, were usually recruited from among the ranks of the Presbyterians. It proved very attractive to many people. It had a warm and enthusiastic spirit that was expressed in lively hymn-singing. Preachers in the Established Church read their sermons in order to instruct, and religious 'enthusiasm' was frowned on. Methodist preachers preached their sermons to rouse their hearers to religious emotions. Great stress was laid on the feeling of conversion to God, of being born again to a new religious life, and of being saved. Doctrinally, there was little difference between the Methodists and the Established Church. Adherents were expected to live a strict sober life. Opponents said that the Methodists were unduly restricting themselves to a few narrow aspects of Christianity. Their worship was even more simplified than that of the Presbyterians, consisting almost exclusively of hymn-singing and a sermon.
organisation was simple, local congregations being joined together into a
Conference. They were divided into two main groups. The Wesleyan Methodists
were regarded about 1830 as numbering 55,000 with 90 travelling preachers, 24
missions, and 35 supernumary preachers. The Primitive Methodists, who split
from the main body in 1810 to keep the old preaching methods of the Wesleys,
were credited with 40,000 members, 19 missions, and 40 preachers on circuit
besides local preachers. The leading figure among the Irish Methodists was the
Rev. Gideon Ousley. He was an effective preacher in Irish as well as English,
and was well-read in Catholic works of divinity. Methodists, following the
example of the Wesleys, often preached in the open, and as they were likely to
be stoned by a Catholic mob liked to station themselves in front of the windows
of a Catholic-owned shop!
Though rather few in numbers the Methodists were probably the most
influential religious body in the British Isles in the first half of the
century. Within the Established Churches they had a large following of
people who did not go so far as to actually join them. The Oxford Movement, which stressed the functions of the Church, was in
some ways a reaction to them. The terms High Church and Low Church distinguish
the followers of the Oxford Movement from those of the
Evangelicals. The Irish Protestant bishops at first associated themselves with
the Methodist preachers, but gradually found themselves forced to dissociate
themselves from their methods, to insist on the observance of Canon Law, and to
set up rival organisations for the same ends. The Catholics singled out the
Methodists, or Biblicals, for their opposition and detestation, because they
had not the slightest objection to 'poaching' adherents from other Churches.
The more extreme Catholics deliberately confused the methods of the 'Biblicals'
with those of the other Churches. The Government made its dislike of
proselytising known to the clergy of the Established Church, for such activity
usually stirred up local riots.
Quakers, or Society of Friends, existed in Ireland since 1653. As noted above,
the numbered about 5,000. Their schools were highly respected. John Rutty, the
pioneer of meteorology in Ireland, belonged to this group. The Shackelton
family kept a famous school at Ballitore, county Kildare, and it was there the
future Cardinal Cullen was educated. (The polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton,
was of this family.)
was a series of disconnected attempts by various evangelical groups or
societies in Great Britain and Ireland to bring what they regarded as the light
of the Gospel to the Gaelic-speaking cottiers in the west of Ireland. It had
little or no connection with the official Protestant Churches in Ireland. The
Government, as noted above disapproved of their activities, as it did of all
activities calculated to emphasise sectarian differences. The Government made
it clear that no clergyman who supported the activities of the evangelisers
could expect promotion. The bishops and clergy of the Established Church were
normally careful to ensure that no undue influence was placed on Catholics to
conform to the Established Church, and to see that no influence at all was
placed on Catholic children in schools under their care, or in the schools of
the Kildare Place Society. Also, when giving alms, which they did generously,
they ensured that no connection was made with any act of worship, even to the
extent of saying a grace.
so far as we can see, was any attempt made in schools belonging to the Bible
Societies to exercise any undue influence on Catholic children to forsake their
parents' religion. It was trusted that the reading of the Bible itself would be
sufficient. Nor apparently did Catholic masters supported by the Bible
Societies on condition that they made the Bible a textbook see any danger of
proselytism. This being the case it is difficult to see the reason for the
paranoia that gripped many of the Catholic clergy with regard to the supposed
proselytism. As early as 1819 they were writing to Rome to denounce the schools
of the Bible Societies. The future Archbishop
MacHale was among the first priests to denounce them, and among his followers
was fostered the suspicion that the Irish Government, or the 'British'
Government, was involved in a plot to subvert the Catholic religion in Ireland.
Report of the Commissioners of Education Enquiry in 1812 publicly signalled the
end of official attempts to convert the Irish Catholics. Many Protestants felt
that the superior merits of a 'reformed Church' would become obvious to all
Catholics, and that the steady trickle of converts from the Catholic middle and
upper classes would soon become a flood. Education and the reading of the Bible
would, it was hoped, be equally effective among the working classes. That these
influences were not negligible can be seen from the resentment they provoked
among many of the Catholic clergy who felt that the balance was loaded against
them. They were ultimately driven to use political methods to try to load the
balance in their own favour.
Both the Presbyterians and the Methodists organised small scale preaching missions, especially among the Gaelic-speaking peasants and cottiers. But the vast bulk of attempted proselytism was carried out by the Bible and Missionary Societies. There were many of these, both British and Irish, with shared beliefs and strategies for conversion. They believed that Roman Catholics in Ireland, Spain, Italy, etc, were deliberately kept in poverty and ignorance by the their clergy and by their monks for their own monetary gain. (It should be noted that Irish observers as different as the Duke of Wellington and Dr James Doyle were unimpressed by much of what they saw in the Peninsula.) They further believed that all that was necessary to convert them to Christ was to preach the pure words of the Gospel to them and to let them read it for themselves. Having once read the Bible they would renounce their errors and be saved. For this it was essential that they be taught to read.
It was a
fundamental belief of these preachers that the Bible was literally true, that
it was written in a simple plain language that everyone could understand, and
that salvation came solely from a simple belief in the word of God. This being
so there was no need for a Church or a priesthood.
Everyone could read the word of God, understand it, assent to it, and in turn
become a preacher or missionary. In addition they believed that the King James version of the Bible was free from errors found in other
versions like the Latin Bible.
Societies were first established in England towards the end of the eighteenth
century, and one existed in Dublin as early as 1800. But the re-organisation of
the British and Foreign Bible Society in London in 1804 and the founding of the
Hibernian Bible Society in Dublin in 1806 more properly marks
their beginning. By 1814 the Hibernian Bible Society had established
repositories for Bibles in 100 Irish towns. By 1819 it had established 480
schools in which the Bible could be read without note or comment. This latter
condition was unpopular with Protestant bishops as it did not allow a role for
the Church to ensure orthodox interpretation, and by 1820 they were beginning
to withdraw their support from the Bible Societies. By 1824 there were at least
30 different Bible or Missionary Societies working in Ireland, mostly from
bases in England. Some of the Catholic clergy described them as 'locusts from
the Pit' (Revelation chap. 9).
Besides the Bible Societies there were Sunday School Societies and Religious
Tracts Societies for the distribution of religious pamphlets or books. Also,
evangelically-minded gentlemen like the Earl of Roden made great efforts to
promote church-going and Bible-reading among their tenants.
totally different aspect of the 'Second Reformation' was a series of public
debates between the clergy on both sides. Some enthusiastic young clergymen of
the Established Church, notably the Rev. Mortimer O’Sullivan, began this. As the French Revolution had deprived the
Catholics of access to universities on the Continent a considerable number of
poorly-educated men were ordained to the Catholic clergy. These
the university educated Protestant clergymen assumed to be typical of
all Catholic priests. It seemed a good idea therefore to challenge them to
public debate, and expose their ignorance to the people. Their flocks would
then realise that the Protestant clergy was teaching the true Gospel. It did not work out like that. Formidable
skills in controversy were discovered among the Catholic clergy who also had
the advantage of having to hand books printed on the Continent refuting the
doctrines of the Protestants. Each side, in practice, studied its own authors
and ignored the arguments of the other side. The arguments were no more than
repetitions of standard arguments on both sides developed in Germany and France
two centuries earlier. Each side was cheered by its supporters and regularly
claimed the victory.
is worth comparing the style of controversy of the Rev. Mortimer O’Sullivan
with that of the Catholic politician, the Rev. James Maher. Each presented part
of the truth as if it were the whole truth. Neither bothered
to check his facts to see if they were complete or accurate. Each was
convinced that he was unmasking a sinister plot to undermine his religion. Each
tore facts out of context and then gave them the most lurid interpretation,
being convinced that they had finally unmasked the villainy of their opponents
and shown the rogues in their true light. Each resolutely refused to accept the
explanations of their opponents. After all, if there is a plot its authors can
be expected to deny the fact!
moderate clergy on either side, and these were growing
fewer and fewer, people like Archbishop Whateley and Archbishop Murray,
deplored this kind of controversy and tried to prevent their clergy from
becoming involved in it. Unsurprisingly, Archbishop Murray was denounced by a
majority on his own side as a dupe of the Government.
Another strategy was adopted after 1830 and this was attempts to establish Protestant colonies in the remote parts of the Gaelic-speaking West. The idea was derived from the Missionary Societies. The idea was to purchase a tract of bog, and to drain and reclaim it. Protestant settlers would be established on the new farms, a church and school built, and Protestant services held. The local 'natives' would see the benefits of true Christianity in action and would be converted. Economically, despite high hopes, the colonies were only marginally profitable, and the Catholic clergy urged a boycott of every Catholic who associated himself with the colony.
Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.