The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 1
The Christian religion, pointing the road to salvation by doctrines totally opposite to these of the Druids, we must suppose produced a sensible alteration in the conduct of its votaries, and it did so. At a very early period was Christianity preached in Ireland. The constant enmity between this country and ancient Rome prevented any kind of friendly intercourse. This doctrine came not immediately from thence here, but from the Churches of Asia; and this explains Tertullian's notes, "Britannorum inaccessa Romanis loca, Christo veró subdita." Mansuetus, an Irishman, the first Bishop and patron of Toul, and canonized by Leo IX., is said to have been adisciple of St. Peter. St. James, the son of Zebedee, it is affirmed also preached the Gospel in Ireland. To me it would seem, that Mansuetus, and the other early Irish Christians were rather the disciples of St. John the Evangelist, and I ground my opinion on what the Venerable Bede relates, with regard to the famous controversy about the celebration of Easter. He tells us, that in defence of the Irish time of celebrating this feast in opposition to that of Rome, Colman, the Irish Bishop of Lindisferne, among other reasons declared—"that he had received it from his forefathers, who sent him to Northumberland as their bishop; and that it was the same custom which St. John, Christ's especially beloved disciple, with all the Churches under him, observed." In the reign of Con, in the second century, Ireland sent forth the famous St. Cathaldus to preach the doctrine of Christ, and he became bishop and patron of Tarentum in Italy. In so flourishing a state was Christianity soon after, that in the next age, Cormoc—as great a legislator and as wise a prince as any nation produced—became before his death a Christian, and died in that faith, as we have observed already; soon after which it is expressly said in the Calha-Crabhra, that the Irish General Fion went to Rome. In the next reign we read of an Irish bishop's suffering martyrdom in Britain; and it is evident by the poem of Torna Eigis, chief bard to Niall the Grand, beginning with—"Dail Catha idir core and Niall," that he himself was a Christian, and Colgan offers his reasons for thinking his master one also.
The preceding chapter has shown the flourishing state of Christianity in Ireland before the days of St. Patrick, and if what is generally taken for granted be true, i. e., "that the more polished nations were, the speedier this doctrine spread itself among them," we must rank this country amongst the most civilized states of Europe; and what Cambrensis meant as an insult, was the highest encomium on the people, for he upbraided the archbishop of Cashel for that amongst the numbers of saints and confessors which Ireland boasted they could not produce one martyr.* But persecution and death for religious tenets was never the practice of truly polished people.
The missionaries in the fourth century not only preached, but founded churches and opened colleges in Ireland. Amongst these was the holy Dima, whose name a church near Adare in this county (Limerick) still bears. Heber, or lbarus, soon after founded an academy at a place called Beglire, in Leinster, where, as Ussher notes,† "he instructed very great numbers of Irish as well as foreigners in sacred and polite letters." Colman says,‡ "that the people from all parts crowded to his schools to be instructed in Christianity and letters."
* Topogr. Hib. dist. iii. cap. 29.
† Ussher, Primord, p. 801.
‡ Vita St. Abbani.
The zeal and success of the Irish missionaries in Britain and on the Continent at this time, sufficiently proved to the Roman Pontiff in what a respectable state Christianity must have been in Ireland; and though, as we have already observed, this doctrine was not introduced amongst us by Roman preachers, no more than amongst the early Gauls, (else, why would these last in that terrible persecution raised against them in the latter end of the second century prefer their complaints, and paint their distresses to their brethren in Asia and Phrygia rather than to the faithful in Rome?*) yet they naturally wished to establish their authority here. To this end, in the year 431, and in the reign of the present Emperor Loagaire, Pope Celestin sent Palladius, archdeacon of the Romish Church, as archbishop and apostle of Ireland with twelve Irish missionaries. This is affirmed by the Venerable Bede,† who tells us, "that in the eighth year of the reign of the Emperor Theodosius, Palladius was sent by Celestin, bishop of the Roman Church, to the Scots believing in Christ, to be their first bishop."
Prosper,‡ treating of the mission of Palladius, says, "that he was ordained by Pope Celestin, and sent the first bishop to the Scots believing in Christ." The great Primate Ussher, whose zeal for his country was equal to his erudition, contended that the word Primus was foisted into later copies of Prosper, and his reason for supposing this was, lest it might be thought that there had not been Christians in Ireland before this period, a point which he strenuously contends for.§ That there were, cannot be controverted, and yet it does not, nevertheless, lessen the authorities of Bede and Prosper. The political enmity betwixt Rome and Ireland cut off all communication between them. The Irish received the faith from the early Asiatic or African Churches, and Palladius was therefore the first bishop sent from Rome to establish the Roman hierarchy here. This becomes more clearly illustrated by what Prosper says afterwards in speaking of Celestin, "that having ordained a bishop for the Scots or Irish, whilst he endeavoured to keep the Roman island, i. e., Britain, Catholic, he made the barbarous island, i. e., Ireland, Christian." The evident sense of which is, that whilst he attended to the care of Britain, which always acknowledged the power of Rome, he forgot not the same zeal and concern for Ireland, though it never admitted of Roman jurisdiction. A confession highly honourable to this country, and a farther evidence of the truth of our ancient history. His mission was attended with no great success, for we must suppose by the opposition given to St. Patrick's ministry in the beginning, that the Irish were very unwilling to acknowledge spiritual supremacy in a people whose temporal power they manfully and successfully opposed. His stay was but a few months in Ireland, during which time he founded three new churches, and then retired to Britain, where he died soon after.
It is recorded of Patrick that during his mission in Ireland he consecrated no less than 365 bishops, and ordained 3,000 priests, none of whom were received, who had not given the clearest evidences of an holy and pious life and conversation. This number of bishops may surprise some readers, and therefore merits an elucidation. Amongst the other causes of Patrick's great influence on the people, one was, his attention to avoid whatever could alarm the national pride, or alter the established police of the kingdom.
As to the first we find no hint at a foreign supremacy during the whole of his mission, nor any disputes whatever about the tonsure, and time of celebrating the feast of Easter; though it is most certain that before, during, and for two centuries after his death, the Irish Church adhered most strictly to the Asiatic Churches in these modes of discipline. The same prudence governed him with respect to the internal police of the kingdom; and, provided religion was not materially hurt, he passed over small things. In Ireland all posts of honour and profit were hereditary in families.
* Fleury, Hist. Eccles. torn. i. p. 433.
† Hist. Eccl. lib. i. c. 10.
‡ Chron. ad annum 431.
§ Prim. Keel. Brit. p. 798.
Bollandus, Tellemont, and even Fleury, in his "Ecclesiastical History," have asserted that the Irish were unacquainted with letters till, the days of St. Patrick; nor should I attend much to these remarks of foreign writers, who, having no opportunities of consulting our annals, might be well excused for their mistakes, did I not see the same falsehood roundly asserted by English, and even some modern Irish writers too. To admit this is to annihilate all our pretensions to history and antiquity, but it will be hard to reconcile it to the Christian preachers being at the same time the founders of seminaries for letters, and to this doctrine's blazing with such superior lustre amongst us. Besides, since we had Christian teachers from the first century, who founded Churches and made converts, must we not suppose that they must have known the use of letters? We undoubtedly must. But to bring it to a point, if Patrick introduced any letters into Ireland, they must be the Roman alphabet. But will any one affirm that the Roman letters were in the same order or structure as the Irish! The Irish alphabet was arranged in an order peculiar to itself, beginning with the consonants. It consisted of but seventeen (though I think more justly but of sixteen, the F being an interpolation) letters; but will any scholar advance, that in the fifth century from Christ, the Roman alphabet contained no more? Will he be so hardy as to say, that even this number of letters (seventeen) were the same in structure with the Roman ones? If he does, Julius Cæsar shall be my witness of his deception: for, he tells us, that the British and Gaulish letters, in his days, were like the Greek, and such is the Irish at this day. Now, if this letter was not totally different in figure from the Roman, where is the necessity for this remark of Cæsar's? But as a gentleman of great eminence in the republic of letters, though he admits the Irish to be as early in the possession of letters as any nation whatever, yet contends, that St. Patrick absolutely destroyed their original letter, and in its place substituted t he present one, which he brought from Rome; it merits some discussion, more from the reputation of the author than the solidity of his arguments, He affirms, that Patrick gave them the same number of Roman letters which their ancient alphabet contained, and subject to the same rules. We have seen the Greeks by degrees reject the signs annexed to some of their original Cadmean alphabet, for new letters, and it was an useful alteration; the Saxons did the same, and so did the northern nations of Europe, who, like them, took their original alphabet from Ireland. But to suppose a learned nation to substitute one alphabet for another, without any visible advantages for the better, as in the present case, is absurd. Besides, by the testimony of Cæsar, the Gaulish and Irish letters must differ from the Roman, as in effect they did. But, what confusion must not arise in the public records of the kingdom from such alteration? Would all the bishops in England prevail on the Parliament to alter the present letter without some uncommon advantages? In Ireland, by this hypothesis, none was pretended; the great influence, the veneration for, and miracles of, St. Patrick, are held forth by our writers in a most conspicuous point of view; everything relative to him has been preserved with uncommon reverence, the officers of his household, and even his meanest domestics are on record, and yet not the smallest notice taken of this wonderful change, except the crude assertions of ill-informed foreigners! It is then an incontrovertible fact, that our present letter is the same we had from the most remote antiquity, the same the early Greeks adopted; the same the Gauls used in the days of Cæsar; and, what we find the oldest MSS. in Europe are wrote in.
Thus it appears to demonstration that in the days of St. Patrick, first, the order of the Irish letters was different from that of the Roman; secondly, that our alphabet had seven letters less than theirs; and, thirdly, that in structure they differed totally from the Roman! It is indeed confessed, that before the page 18 death of this apostle, the Christian bishops, in imitation of the Romans, altered the old form of our alphabet, such as we have exhibited in the second book of this history; and, instead of beginning it with the consonants, like them, commenced it with the letter A; and that in process of time the whole nation adopted the same mode. It is not improbable but that Patrick introduced amongst us the Roman alphabet, and that he gave copies of it to different churches in order to celebrate the rites of the Church in Latin; but, it may certainly with as much propriety be inferred, that because the Jesuits in China made their converts, especially the clergy, acquainted with the Roman alphabet, that the Chinese were totally illiterate before this period—as that the Irish were so before the days of St. Patrick.
My account of this great apostle shall close with some remarks on the celebration of Easter, because they are curious and historical, and display the genius of the people, the state of the Irish Church at that time and for many centuries after, and the great good sense and moderation of Patrick. We have already noticed that the first Irish converts were the disciples of St. John, at least that they received Christianity from the Churches of Asia, and adopted their mode of tonsure and time of holding the festival of Easter. The Jews had their Pascha or passover to commemorate their being unhurt on the night that the destroying angel killed the first-born of man and beast throughout the land of Egypt. The apostles after the death of Christ judged that nothing could be more expressive of our deliverance from sin than the institution of a similar festival. The Jews were commanded to celebrate their Passover the fourteenth day of the moon of the first month, which corresponded with our March, this being the time of the vernal equinox, when the sun is in Aries, the days and nights of equal length, and the new year beginning to spring. They had put Christ to death whilst they were celebrating the feast of the paschal lamb; and this circumstance determined the Christians to celebrate theirs at the same time. St. Peter and St. Paul, after quitting Palestine, judged that the keeping this feast on the fourteenth day of the first moon was rather adopting the Jewish, than forming a new festival; they, therefore, transferred it to the Sunday after, unless that Sunday fell on the fourteenth. But St. John and the Churches of Asia and Africa adhered to the first institution. It was, however, a matter of mere discipline in which Christians might differ without sin or schism. St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and an immediate disciple to St. John, came to Rome, a.c. 158, on purpose to confer with Pope Anacetus on this subject. He defended the Asiatic custom on the authority of that saint; and the Pope defended the Western Church on the general tradition from St. Peter and St. Paul. But though they did not agree on this matter, yet they remained in peace and communion as before.* In the year 196 this question was agitated with great heat between Pope Victor and the Asiatic bishops. Several councils were held, and one by the bishops of Asia at the request of this pope, at which Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, presided. But the result was, that they were more unanimous in adhering to the original institution.† The Asiatics and all the Churches deriving under them continued this practice of celebrating Easter till the year 325, when the Council of Nice issued a decree for observing this feast everywhere on the Sunday immediately following the vernal equinox, and this decree was enforced by command of the Emperor Constantine.
But notwithstanding all this, numbers in Asia and the Church of Ireland, with all those deriving under it, as the Britons, the Picts, and Dal-Riada, adhered firmly to the discipline of St. John in this point. What Patrick's opinion on this head was docs not appear. We do not even find any mention of it during his mission; and yet it is most certain, that the Irish did then observe this feast after the Asiatic manner, and did treat the decisions of Rome on this point with great respect. Not only this, but such of them as spread Christianity and founded Churches in foreign countries strongly inculcated their mode of celebrating Easter. Such was the great Columba, apostle of the Picts, Columbanus in France, St. Aidanus, Finian, Colman, &c., in Britain, &c
* Fleury, Histoire Eccl torn. i. p. 375.
† Ibid. torn. i. p. 518.
‡ His. Eccl. Brit. lib. iii. c. 4.
Columbanus*, with a number of disciples, retired to France, and in the year 590 founded in the midst of a desert in Burgundy an abbey for himself and his followers; but these became so numerous that he was obliged to raise two others. The fame of his piety, austerity, charity, and miracles, drew after him numbers of followers, and this perhaps was the true reason that persecutions were raised against him. He with his monks celebrated the feast of Easter on the fourteenth day of the first moon, without at the same time pretending to stretch this custom beyond his own authority. The Gauls complain to Gregory the Great of this schism. Several councils are called, and Columbanus is cited to appear before them. He appeals to the pope, and with great learning, sense, and modesty defends his opinion and those of his country and ancestors on this head, and at the same time writes to the Gaulish bishops assembled on this occasion. He observed, that it was established by St. John, Christ's especially beloved disciple, by St. Philip, and the Churches of Asia; that it was proved by the calculations of Anatolius confirmed by St. Jerome. That those of Victorius (employed by Leo the Great in the fifth century to adjust the lunations and the exact time of the equinoxes) were vague and uncertain. He requests the holy Father's decisions on this matter, but adds—"that whoever opposes his authority to that of St. Jerome will be rejected as an heretic by the Western Church; that is, the Church of Ireland." "After all," he observes to the bishops assembled, "if I am in ignorance bear it with charity, since I am not the author of this discipline. Let me live in obscurity in this desert, near the remains of seventeen of our brethren already dead. We wish to adhere to the customs of our ancestors to our deaths. You should rather console than distress poor, aged, and afflicted strangers. In a word, if it be the will of God that you should expel me from this desert, to which I came from so great a distance for the love of Jesus Christ, I shall only say with the prophet, If I am the cause of this storm let it cease by my being thrown into the sea."
* Floury, His. Eccl. torn. viii. p. 18, 19, 191.
† His, Eccl. lib. iii. cap. 25.
As it is universally agreed upon that it was in the reign of Mortogh† that the famous Council of Kells, in Meath, was held, in which Cardinal Paparo presided on behalf of Pope Eugene III., and in which he distributed palliums to the Irish archbishops, the state of the Irish Church since the last General Council of Uisneach, merits our attention.
* Bede, His. lib. Hi. c. 25.
† O'Halloron, vol. ii. p. 320.
‡ Opera p. 1937.
It is not particularly said, but I think it must be admitted, that the powers originally granted to St. Patrick were, on his return to Rome, confirmed to his successors, because we see them exercised even in his own life-time (and he lived to 493) without the least restraint, and had they been irregular or usurped he certainly would forbid them. Thus the unlimited powers of the Irish archbishops were powers they derived from Rome, and which they employed for the advancement of religion only. It is certain, now that all Europe became Christians, that this power was too great, and seemed to eclipse, in some measure, that of Rome. The Irish clergy were admonished on this head, and we see that thirty-nine years before St. Bernard wrote the life of St. Malachy (i.e., a.d. 1111) they, in full convocation, resigned it; though he adds it to the other charges against the nation! We see, also, in that famous page 22 council, that they agreed to lessen the number of Irish bishops, and St. Malachy himself, in 1139, made a surrender of all the other exclusive privileges of the Irish Church to Innocent II., "who was so pleased, that after appointing him legate, he placed the mitre that was on his own head on the head of Malachy, gave him the stole and manipule which he used himself at the altar, and giving him the kiss of peace, he dismissed him with his benediction." St. Malachy, on his return to Ireland, called synods in different parts of the kingdom, "and everywhere," says St. Bernard, "were his counsels and instruction received and submitted to, as if they had come directly from heaven! These surely are not marks of a barbarous people, Christians only in name! Thus we see, at the very time Bernard was employed in writing the present work, that Ireland acknowledged the supremacy of Home, but the Popes, though they got the power of approving of future Irish bishops, had not yet that of nqminating them. This was the grand desideratum, and the want of this the source "of that universal dissolution of Church discipline, and that decay of religion over all Ireland," which has been so confidently affirmed, though by no means proved. Had the Irish ecclesiastics, like the Saxons in the reign of Alfred, been so totally ignorant as not to understand the Latin tongue, or could it be recorded of them, as we find it in a council held at Oxford a.d. 1222, where the "archdeacons are directed to take care that the clergy shall rightly pronounce the formulary of baptism and the words of the consecration in the canon of the mass," there might be some pretence for so severe a charge. As to the hereditary Episcopal right, it is to be noticed that in Ireland all posts and public employments whatever, were confined to certain septs. When Christianity superseded Druidism, those great families who founded bishopricks reserved the power of nominating to them, to their own blood. Persons were set apart for the clerical function, but none were nominated or ordained who had not given the clearest proofs of pious and irreproachable lives. Hence the remarkable piety and humility of the Irish ecclesiastics proved in every period of our history. We have but two instances where the impetuosity of our ecclesiastics hurried the nation to war, and both were in defence of clerical power, and yet, in both instances, were their proceedings condemned and themselves censured, though both of the blood royal; namely, St. Columba in the sixth, and the Abbot of lniscalha, in the tenth age. But we have thousands of instances where they have been indefatigable in their endeavours to restore peace and concord between the princes of the land. As to our princes, certain it is that they were proud, haughty, and ambitious, fond of war, and ready to decide every contest by the sword. But, amidst all these excesses and l ravages, I challenge any nation under the sun to produce so few instances of proscriptions or deliberate cruelties. But to return from St. Bernard. The privileges exercised by the Irish Church were, it must be confessed, too great, and held longer, might engender a schism. It was a wise measure to reduce them, but we see it was unjust to suppose them usurped, or that "an universal dissolution of Church discipline" was the consequence: it was not, and the moment the Churches of Rome and Ireland became united proved it, since all the difference found between them was, that the Irish nation paid these small dues called Peter's pence to the see of Armagh, which the rest of Europe paid to Koine! The bishops, in full convocation in 1111, surrendered up to Koine the rights which they till then enjoyed, and great pains were every day taken to lessen the other privileges of the Irish Church. What then remained for Malachy to do but, as the successor of St. Patrick, to make a formal surrender of his see to Rome, in his own name and in the names of his successors? But it required no small difficulty to persuade these princes and chiefs, who hitherto inducted to bishopricks, to resign so great a power. This it was that Innocent required of Malachy. For this purpose he appointed him his legate, and to promote it did he assemble so many synods in the different parts of the kingdom. Early in the year 1148 a finishing hand was put to the great work of reformation, for at a council then held at Holm-patrick, composed of Gelasius, successor to St. Patrick, and fifteen bishops, with two hundred priests, many abbots, and others, and in which St. Malachy, as legate, presided, it was agreed to send him again, to Rome, with full powers to compose all differences between the Church and the Irish nation, but he died at Clarevale in his way to Rome. Immediately after, through the interest of St. Bernard, page 23 Christian I., Abbot of Mellefont, and who had resided some time at Clarevale, was appointed legate, and soon after Bishop of Lismore. In 1150 he repaired to Rome with fresh authority from the princes and clergy on the same business, and the following year he was dispatched, in company with Cardinal Paparo, but they did not arrive till early in the year 1152, A council was then held at Kells, in which the legate presided, and which, besides the prelates and principal clergy, was also honoured by the presence of Mortagh O'Neill (who, it appears, even at this time was ranked as monarch), with several other princes and nobles. Many useful regulations took place; among the rest, the state of the hierarchy was taken into consideration. In the General Council of Uisneach the number of Irish bishops was reduced to twenty-eight, under two metro-politans. The instructions to Cardinal Paparo were to have the Church under the government of four archbishops, namely, Armagh, Cashell, Tuam, and Dublin, but we find that it met with great opposition in the council. It was observed, that the most general division of Ireland was that of Leath-Mogha and Leithcuin; that in the days of St. Patrick it was so, for which reason he himself ordained St. Albe Archbishop of Munster. It is true that afterwards St. Jarlath had assumed the title of Archbishop of Connaught, and St. Conlaeth, of Leinster, but they were not regularly consecrated or generally acknowledged. That in the Council of Uisneach two Archbishops only were appointed, and under them a certain number of Bishops, but if the present regulation took place, these must necessarily be deprived of some of their suffragans, or a new creation of bishops must take place. But the cardinal observed, that Connaught and Leinster were always particular kingdoms, and therefore entitled to those marks of distinction, but that the Archbishops of Ulster and Munster should not imagine that he intended to encroach upon their rights or lessen the number of their suffragans, he would, by virtue of the apostolic power, appoint particular bishops as suffragans to the new metropolitans. He was positive, though we are unacquainted with the reason, and it did not become new subjects to disobey the Papal authority. The following, taken from an Ancient Roman provincial, was the regulation then received and adopted. Under the Archbishop of Armagh, the Primate of all Ireland, were twelve suffragans, namely, Meath, Down, Clocher, Connor, Armagh, Raphoe, Ratlure, Duleek, Derry, Dromore, Breffni, and Clanmacnois. Under the Archbishop of Munster or Cashell twelve, to wit, the Bishops of Killaloe, Limerick, lnis-calha, Killfenuargh, Emly, Ross-Crea, Waterford, Lismore, Cloyne, Cork, Ross, and Ardfert. The Archbishop of Connaught had nine suffragans, who were the Bishops of Cilmac, Driach, of Mayo, of Enachdun, of Inis caltra, Rosscommon-Clonfert, Achonry, Killalalla, and Elphin; and under the Metropolitan of Leinster were the Bishops of Glendaloch, Ferns, Ossory, Leighlin, and Kildare. In all, thirty-eight bishops; and because it was known that the Archbishops of Connaught and Leinster had no certain fixed seats, it was decreed that Dublin should be the future residence of the Metropolitans of Leinster, and Tuam of those of Connaught. Some regulations were made in this council with regard to marriages, but this must certainly regard the clergy, because in no other country was the purity of blood more carefully attended to, as all posts of honour were hereditary. After this, Cardinal Paparo presented palliums to the four archbishops in great pomp and form, and remained, says M. Fleury,* in Ireland till the Easter of 1153.
Macintosh, Printer, Great New Street, London.
* Histor. Eccl. tom. xiv. p. 685.