- The culture, history and people of Ireland and the Irish

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Although the English and Irish professed the same religion during these ages, yet in the appointment of Bishops, the administration of ecclesiastical property, and in all their views of the relation of the Church to the State, the two nations differed almost as widely as in their laws, language, and customs. The Plantagenet princes and their Parliaments had always exhibited a jealousy of the See of Rome, and statute upon, statute was passed, from the reign of Henry II. to that of Richard II., in order to diminish the power of the Supreme Pontiffs in nominating to English benefices. In the second Richard's reign, so eventful for the English interest in Ireland, it had been enacted that any of the clergy procuring appointments directly from Rome, or exercising powers so conferred, should incur the penalty of a praemunire--that is, the forfeiture of their lands and chattels, beside being liable to imprisonment during the King's pleasure. This statute was held to apply equally to Ireland, being confirmed by some of those petty conventions of "the Pale," which the Dublin Governors of the fourteenth century dignified with the name of Parliaments.

The ancient Irish method of promotion to a vacant see, or abbacy, though modelled on the electoral principle which penetrated all Celtic usages, was undoubtedly open to the charge of favouring nepotism, down to the time of Saint Malachy, the restorer of the Irish Church. After that period, the Prelates elect were ever careful to obtain the sanction of the Holy See, before consecration. Such habitual submission to Rome was seldom found, except in cases of disputed election, to interfere with the choice of the clergy, and the custom grew more and more into favour, as the English method of nomination by the crown was attempted to be enforced, not only throughout "the Pale," but, by means of English agents at Rome and Avignon, in the appointment to sees, within the provinces of Armagh, Cashel, and Tuam. The ancient usage of farming the church lands, under the charge of a lay steward, or Erenach, elected by the clan, and the division of all the revenues into four parts--for the Bishop, the Vicar and his priests, for the poor, and for repairs of the sacred edifice, was equally opposed to the pretensions of Princes, who looked on their Bishops as Barons, and Church temporalities, like all other fiefs, as held originally of the crown. Even if there had not been those differences of origin, interest, and government which necessarily brought the two populations into collision, these distinct systems of ecclesiastical polity could not well have existed on the same soil without frequently clashing, one with the other.

In our notice of the association promoted among the clergy, at the end of the thirteenth century, by the patriotic McMaelisa, ("follower of Jesus"), and in our own comments on the memorable letter of Prince Donald O'Neil to Pope John XXII., written in the year 1317 or '18, we have seen how wide and deep was the gulf then existing between the English and Irish churchmen. In the year 1324, an attempt to heal this unchristian breach was made by Philip of Slane, the Dominican who presided at the trial of the Knights Templars, who afterwards became Bishop of Cork, and rose into high favour with the Queen-Mother, Isabella. As her Ambassador, or in the name of King Edward III., still a minor, he is reported to have submitted to Pope John certain propositions for the promotion of peace in the Irish Church, some of which were certainly well calculated to promote that end. He suggested that the smaller Bishoprics, yielding under sixty pounds per annum, should be united to more eminent sees, and that Irish Abbots and Priors should admit English lay brothers to their houses, and English Superiors Irish brothers, in like manner. The third proposition, however, savours more of the politician than of the peacemaker; it was to bring under the bann of excommunication, with all its rigorous consequences in that age, those "disturbers of the peace" who invaded the authority of the English King in Ireland. As a consequence of this mission, a Concordat for Ireland seems to have been concluded at Avignon, embracing the two first points, but omitting the third, which was, no doubt, with the English Court, the main object of Friar Philip's embassy.

During the fourteenth century, and down to the election of Martin V. (A.D. 1417), the Popes sat mainly at Avignon, in France. In the last forty years of that melancholy period, other Prelates sitting at Rome, or elsewhere in Italy, claimed the Apostolic primacy. It was in the midst of these troubles and trials of the Church that the powerful Kings of England, who were also sovereigns of a great part of France, contrived to extort from the embarrassed pontiffs concessions which, however gratifying to royal pride, were abhorrent to the more Catholic spirit of the Irish people. A constant struggle was maintained during the entire period of the captivity of the Popes in France between Roman and English influence in Ireland. There were often two sets of Bishops elected in such border sees as Meath and Louth, which were districts under a divided influence. The Bishops of Limerick, Cork, and Waterford, liable to have their revenues cut off, and their personal liberty endangered by sea, were almost invariably nominees of the English Court; those of the Province of Dublin were necessarily so; but the prelates of Ulster, of Connaught, and of Munster--the southern seaports excepted--were almost invariably native ecclesiastics, elected in the old mode, by the assembled clergy, and receiving letters of confirmation direct from Avignon or Italy.

A few incidents in the history of the Church of Cashel will better illustrate the character of the contest between the native episcopacy and the foreign power. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, Archbishop McCarwill maintained with great courage the independence of his jurisdiction against Henry III. and Edward I. Having inducted certain Bishops into their sees without waiting for the royal letters, he sustained a long litigation in the Anglo-Irish courts, and was much harassed in his goods and person. Seizing from a usurer 400 pounds, he successfully resisted the feudal claim of Edward I., as lord paramount, to pay over the money to the royal exchequer. Edward having undertaken to erect a prison --or fortress in disguise--in his episcopal city, the bold Prelate publicly excommunicated the Lord Justice who undertook the work, the escheator who supplied the funds, and all those engaged in its construction, nor did he desist from his opposition until the obnoxious building was demolished. Ralph O'Kelly, who filled the same see from 1345 to 1361, exhibited an equally dauntless spirit. An Anglo-Irish Parliament having levied a subsidy on all property, lay and ecclesiastical, within their jurisdiction, to carry on the war of races before described, he not only opposed its collection within the Province of Cashel, but publicly excommunicated Epworth, Clerk of the Council, who had undertaken that task. For this offence an information was exhibited against him, laying the King's damages at a thousand pounds; but he pleaded the liberties of the Church, and successfully traversed the indictment. Richard O'Hedian, Archbishop from 1406 to 1440, was a Prelate of similar spirit to his predecessors. At a Parliament held in Dublin in 1421, it was formally alleged, among other enormities, that he made very much of the Irish and loved none of the English; that he presented no Englishman to a benefice, and advised other Prelates to do likewise; and that he made himself King of Munster--alluding, probably, to some revival at this time of the old title of Prince-Bishop, which had anciently belonged to the Prelates of Cashel. O'Hedian retained his authority, however, till his death, after which the see remained twelve years vacant, the temporalities being farmed by the Earl of Ormond.

From this conflict of interests, frequently resulting in disputed possession and intrusive jurisdiction, religion must have suffered much, at least in its discipline and decorum. The English Archbishops of Dublin would not yield in public processions to the Irish Archbishops of Armagh, nor permit the crozier of St. Patrick to be borne publicly through their city; the English Bishop of Waterford was the public accuser of the Irish Archbishop of Cashel, last mentioned, before a lay tribunal--the knights and burgesses of "the Pale." The annual expeditions sent out from Dublin, to harass the nearest native clans, were seldom without a Bishop or Abbot, or Prior of the Temple or Hospital, in their midst. Scandals must have ensued; hatreds must have sprung up; prejudices, fatal to charity and unity, must have been engendered, both on the one side and the other. The spirit of party carried into the Church can be cherished in the presence of the Altar and Cross only by doing violence to the teachings of the Cross and the sanctity of the Altar.

While such was the troubled state of the Church, as exemplified in its twofold hierarchy, the religious orders continued to spread, with amazing energy, among both races. The orders of Saint Francis and Saint Dominick, those twin giants of the thirteenth century, already rivalled the mighty brotherhood which Saint Bernard had consecrated, and Saint Malachy had introduced into the Irish Church. It is observable that the Dominicans, at least at first, were most favoured by the English and the Anglo-Irish; while the Franciscans were more popular with the native population. Exceptions may be found on both sides: but as a general rule this distinction can be traced in the strongholds of either order, and in the names of their most conspicuous members, down to that dark and trying hour when the tempest of "the Reformation" involved both in a common danger, and demonstrated their equal heroism. As elsewhere in Christendom, the sudden aggrandizement of these mendicant institutes excited jealousy and hostility among certain of the secular clergy and Bishops. This feeling was even stronger in England during the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II., when, according to the popular superstition, the Devil appeared at various places "in the form of a grey friar." The great champion of the secular clergy, in the controversy which ensued, was Richard, son of Ralph, a native of Dundalk, the Erasmus of his age. Having graduated at Oxford, where the Irish were then classed as one of "the four nations" of students, Fitz-Ralph achieved distinction after distinction, till he rose to the rank of Chancellor of the University, in 1333. Fourteen years afterwards he was consecrated, by provision of Pope Clement VI., Archbishop of Armagh, and is by some writers styled "Cardinal of Armagh." Inducted into the chief see of his native Province and country, he soon commenced those sermons and writings against the mendicant orders which rendered him so conspicuous in the Church history of the fourteenth century. Summoned to Avignon, in 1350, to be examined on his doctrine, he maintained before the Consistory the following propositions: 1st, that our Lord Jesus Christ, as a man, was very poor, not that He loved poverty for itself; 2nd, that our Lord had never begged; 3rd, that He never taught men to beg; 4th, that, on the contrary, He taught men not to beg; 5th, that man cannot, with prudence and holiness, confine himself by vow to a life of constant mendicity; 6th, that minor brothers are not obliged by their rule to beg; 7th, that the bull of Alexander IV., which condemns the Book of Masters, does not invalidate any of the aforesaid conclusions; 8th, that by those who, wishing to confess, exclude certain churches, their parish one should be preferred to the oratories of monks; and 9th, that, for auricular confession, the diocesan, bishop should be chosen in preference to friars.

In a "defence of Parish Priests," and many other tracts, in several sermons, preached at London, Litchfield, Drogheda, Dundalk, and Armagh, he maintained the thesis until the year 1357, when the Superior of the Franciscans at Armagh, seconded by the influence of his own and the Dominican order, caused him to be summoned a second time before the Pope. Fitz-Ralph promptly obeyed the summons, but before the cause could be finally decided he died at Avignon in 1361. His body was removed from thence to Dundalk in 1370 by Stephen de Valle, Bishop of Meath. Miracles were said to have been wrought at his tomb; a process of inquiry into their validity was instituted by order of Boniface IX., but abandoned without any result being arrived at. The bitter controversy between the mendicant and other orders was revived towards the end of the century by Henry, a Cistercian monk of Baltinglass, who maintained opinions still more extreme than those of Fitz-Ralph; but he was compelled publicly and solemnly to retract them before Commissioners appointed for that purpose in the year 1382.

The range of mental culture in Europe during the fourteenth century included only the scholastic philosophy and theology with the physics, taught in the schools of the Spanish Arabs. The fifteenth century saw the revival of Greek literature in Italy, and the general restoration of classical learning. The former century is especially barren of original belles lettres writings; but the next succeeding ages produced Italian poetry, French chronicles, Spanish ballads, and all that wonderful efflorescence of popular literature, which, in our far advanced cultivation, we still so much envy and admire. In the last days of Scholasticism, Irish intelligence asserted its ancient equality with the best minds of Europe; but in the new era of national literature, unless there are buried treasures yet to be dug out of their Gaelic tombs, the country fell altogether behind England, and even Scotland, not to speak of Italy or France. Archbishop Fitz-Ralph, John Scotus of Down, William of Drogheda, Professor of both laws at Oxford, are respectable representatives among the last and greatest group of the School-men. Another illustrious name remains to be added to the roll of Irish Scholastics, that of Maurice O'Fihely, Archbishop of Tuam. He was a thorough Scotist in philosophy, which he taught at Padua, in discourses long afterwards printed at Venice. His Commentaries on Scotus, his Dictionary of the Sacred Scriptures, and other numerous writings, go far to justify the compliments of his cotemporaries, though the fond appellation of the "flower of the earth" given him by some of them sounds extravagant and absurd. Soon after arriving from Rome to take possession of his see he died at Tuam in 1513, in the fiftieth year of his age--an early age to have won so colossal a reputation.

Beyond some meagre annals, compiled in monastic houses, and a few rhymed panegyrics, the muses of history and of poetry seem to have abandoned the island to the theologians, jurists, and men of science. The Bardic order was still one of the recognized estates, and found patrons worthy of their harps in the lady Margaret O'Carroll of Offally, William O'Kelley of Galway, and Henry Avery O'Neil. Full collections of the original Irish poetry of the Middle Ages are yet to be made public, but it is scarcely possible that if any composition of eminent merit existed, we should not have had editions and translations of it before now.

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