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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 16. Subjection of Ireland to English and Roman Rule.


The success of the Roman mission of Augustin among the Anglo-Saxons encouraged attempts to bring the Irish Church under the papal jurisdiction and to force upon it the ritual observances of Rome. England owes a good deal of her Christianity to independent Irish and Scotch missionaries from Bangor and Iona; but Ireland (as well as Germany) owes her Romanism, in great measure, to England. Pope Honorius (who was afterwards condemned by the sixth oecumenical council for holding the Monothelite heresy) addressed to the Irish clergy in 629 an exhortation—not, however, in the tone of authoritative dictation, but of superior wisdom and experience—to conform to the Roman mode of keeping Easter. This is the first known papal encyclical addressed to that country. A Synod was held at Magh-Lene, and a deputation sent to the Pope (and the three Eastern patriarchs) to ascertain the foreign usages on Easter. The deputation was treated with distinguished consideration in Rome, and, after three years’ absence, reported in favor of the Roman cycle, which indeed rested on a better system of calculation. It was accordingly adopted in the South of Ireland, under the influence of the learned Irish ecclesiastic Cummian, who devoted a whole year to the study of the controversy. A few years afterwards Thomian, archbishop and abbot of Armagh (from 623 to 661), and the best Irish scholar of his age, introduced, after correspondence with the Pope, the Roman custom in the North, and thereby promoted his authority in opposition to the power of the abbot of Iona, which extended over a portion of Ireland, and strongly favored the old custom. But at last Abbot Adamnan likewise yielded to the Roman practice before his death (704).

The Norman conquest under William I., with the sanction of the Pope, united the Irish Church still more closely to Rome (1066). Gregory VII., in an encyclical letter to the king, clergy and laity of Ireland (1084)., boldly, challenged their obedience to the Vicar of the blessed Peter, and invited them to appeal to him in all matters requiring arbitration.

The archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc and Anselm, claimed and exercised a sort of supervision over the three most important sea-ports, Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick, on the ground that the Norman settlers applied to them for bishops and priests. Their influence was exerted in favor of conformity to Rome. Clerical celibacy was more generally introduced, uniformity in ritual established, and the large number of bishoprics reduced to twenty-three under two archbishops, Armagh for the North and Cashel for the South; while the bishop of Dublin was permitted to remain under the care of the archbishop of Canterbury. This reorganization of the polity in the interest of the aggrandizement of the hierarchy was effected about 1112 at the synod of Rathbreasail, which was attended by 58 bishops, 317 priests, a large number of monks, and King Murtogh O’Brien with his nobles.7171    See details in Lanigan and Killen (ch. vii.).

At last Ireland was invaded and conquered by England under Henry II., with the effectual aid of Pope Adrian IV.—the only Englishman that sat on the papal throne. In a curious bull of 1155, he justified and encouraged the intended invasion in the interest of the papacy, and sent the king the ring of investiture as Lord of Ireland calling upon that licentious monarch to “extirpate the nurseries of vice” in Ireland, to “enlarge the borders of the (Roman) Church,” and to secure to St. Peter from each house “the annual pension of one penny” (equal in value in the twelfth century to at least two or three shillings of our present currency).7272    This papal-Irish bull is not found in the Bullarium Romanum, the editors of which were ashamed of it, and is denounced by some Irish Romanists as a monstrous and outrageous forgery, but it is given by, Matthew Paris (1155), was confirmed by Pope Alexander III. in a letter to Henry II. (a. d.1172), published in Ireland in 1175, printed in Baronius, Annales, ad a. d.1159, who took his copy from a Codex Vaticanus and is acknowledged as undoubtedly genuine by Dr. Lanigan, the Roman Catholic historian of Ireland (IV. 64), and other authorities; comp. Killen I. 211 sqq. It is as follows:
   “Adrian, Bishop, Servant of the servants of God, to his dearest son in Christ, the illustrious King of England, greeting and apostolic benediction.

   “ Full laudably, and profitably has your magnificence conceived the design of propagating your glorious renown on earth, and of completing your reward of eternal happiness in heaven, whilst as a Catholic prince you are intent on enlarging the borders of the Church, teaching the truth of the Christian faith to the ignorant and rude, extirpating the nurseries of iniquity from the field of the Lord, and for the more convenient execution of this purpose, requiring the counsel and favor of the Apostolic See. In which the maturer your deliberation and the greater the discretion of your procedure, by, so much the happier, we trust, will be your progress, with the assistance of the Lord; because whatever has its origin in ardent faith and in love of religion always has a prosperous end and issue.

   “There is indeed no doubt but that Ireland and all the islands on which Christ the Sun of Righteousness has shone, and which have received the doctrines of the Christian faith, belong to the jurisdiction of St. Peter and of the holy Roman Church, as your Excellency also acknowledges. And therefore we are the more solicitous to propagate a faithful plantation among them, and a seed pleasing to the Lord, as we have the secret conviction of conscience that a very, rigorous account must be rendered of them.

   “ You then, most dear son in Christ, have signified to us your desire to enter into the island of Ireland that you may reduce the people to obedience to laws, and extirpate the nurseries of vice, and that you are willing to pay from each house a yearly pension of one penny to St. Peter, and that you will preserve the rights of the churches of this land whole and inviolate. We, therefore, with that grace and acceptance suited to your pious and laudable design, and favorably assenting to your petition, hold it good and acceptable that, for extending the borders of the church, restraining the progress of vice, for the correction of manners, the planting of virtue, and the increase of the Christian religion, you enter that island, and execute therein whatever shall pertain to the honor of God and welfare of the land; and that the people of that land receive you honorably, and reverence you as their lord—the rights of their churches still remaining sacred and inviolate, and saving to St. Peter the annual pension of one penny from every house.

   “If then you are resolved to carry the design you have conceived into effectual execution, study to train that nation to virtuous manners, and labor by yourself and others whom you shall judge meet for this work, in faith, word, and life, that the church may be there adorned; that the religion of the Christian faith may be planted and grow up, and that all things pertaining to the honor of God and the salvation of souls be so ordered that you may be entitled to the fulness of eternal reward in God, and obtain a glorious renown on throughout all ages.”
Henry carried out his design in 1171, and with a strong military force easily subdued the whole Irish nation, weakened and distracted by civil wars, to British rule, which has been maintained ever since. A Synod at Armagh regarded the subjugation as a righteous judgment for the sins of the people, and especially for the slave trade. The bishops were the first to acknowledge Henry, hoping to derive benefit from a foreign régime, which freed them from petty tyrants at home. A Synod of Cashel in 1172, among other regulations, ordered that all offices of the church should hereafter in all parts of Ireland be conformed to the observances of the Church of England. A papal legate henceforward was constantly residing in Ireland. Pope Alexander III. was extremely gratified with this extension of his dominion, and in September, 1172, in the same tone of sanctimonious arrogance) issued a brief confirming the bull of Adrian, and expressing a hope that “the barbarous nation” would attain under the government of Henry “to some decency of manners;” he also wrote three epistles—one to Henry II., one to the kings and nobles of Ireland, and one to its hierarchy—enjoining obedience of Ireland to England, and of both to the see of St. Peter.7373    Killen, I. 226 sq.



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