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THE IRISH CHURCH QUESTION.
THE question of separation is no longer put forward in Ireland with the same pertinacity that it was in the first half of the present century. All educated Irishmen have become aware that whatever injury Great Britain might experience from the severance of the Union, the far greater injury which Ireland would suffer is beyond comparison. Situate on the western shores of England and Scotland, Ireland, in ceasing to be incorporated with Great Britain must inevitably become her foe and be reconquered. There can be no doubt that Great Britain could exist and flourish independent of Ireland, but unless, as has been proposed by the political Magog of the day, it were removed to some distant part of the Atlantic, or in closer proximity to the American Fenians, it must be dependent on, if not united with, England.
But if the question of separation is no longer put forward as a simple proposition, as of yore, it is being worked out in a far more sure and insidious manner. No one, with a head on his shoulders, but must feel that the disestablishment and disendowment of the Protestant Church-a measure carried by a Romanist and Dissenting majority, and by one of the most revolutionary Governments that have swayed the destinies of the country since the days of the Commonwealth-must lead to Roman Catholic ascendancy, and that the ascendancy of a foreign power will be as obnoxious to Irish Protestants as it will be incompatible with British rule. Putting aside the extraordinary policy which rewards loyalty by spoliation, and disloyalty, contumacy, and rebellion by toleration and clemency, how can a Church, overtly disestablished and disendowed, be expected to continue loyal ?
It is not only the estrangement of the ministers of the Irish Protestant Church that will entail disloyalty, but also that of the Protestant laity, and which has already declared itself in an unmistakable manner. Hitherto all movements in favour of a repeal of the Union have emanated from the Roman Catholics. They have been the only agitators for what is called the parliamentary independence of Ireland, from which they alone expected to derive any benefit. But Repeal has now become a Protestant, as well as a Roman Catholic cry, and the numbers of malcontents will be seriously increased when the untoward measure of disestablishment is carried into effect. This precious bill has indeed had for sole effect that of swelling the ranks of the discontented and disloyal party. The substitution of a papal for a Protestant ascendancy, while it has not been thorough enough to make those who were before disaffected any more loyal, has added to their
number a new class of malcontents, burning with a keen sense of the injury and insult which are sought to be laid upon them in the destruction of that Church, which, in their eyes, is the symbol and bond of the British connexion.
Mr. Gladstone's measure has been designated in the Queen's speech as a mere "ecclesiastical arrangement," but it is also a question of the fidelity of the Protestant laity. The traditional upholders of the British connexion, the descendants of those who, for centuries, have been the supporters of the British rule in Ireland, whose fathers fought for our common liberties, and who are the representatives of all that was loyal, free, orderly, and industrious in the island, are as much the victims of Irish disestablishment, as are the ministers of that Church, of which they constitute a part, and indeed the living emblem.
The Protestant Church having been cast away upon the plea that its presence in Ireland is obnoxious to the Celtic and Milesian portion of the population, it is obvious that the same Romanist majority will soon discover that the presence of Protestant and alien landlords is still far more obnoxious. The large proprietors will learn that "tenant-right" means permanent occupancy free of rent, and the possessors of estates who have received their property from former confiscations will find that the names of alleged rightful heirs are still carefully registered, and that reconfiscation will be of easy enactment by a mob representing Roman Catholic ascendancy, a foreign ruler, and "Ireland for the Irish."
Yet has Ireland never been purely Irish, as it is termed, no more than it has been Roman Catholic, since the introduction of Christianity. We know as little of the aborigines of Erin as we do of the early inhabitants of Albion; but separated from the poetical and fabulous traditions with which early records are enveloped, we do know that the Firl-bogs came from Belgium, the Danonians from Norway and Denmark, the Milesians from Spain, the Picts and Scots from Scotland, and the Saxons and Normans from England. We know also that such was the ever exemplary state of the precious island, that of one hundred and seventyeight monarchs of the Milesian colony, from Heber and Heremon down to Roderick O'Connor (who was ruler when the English arrived, A.D. 1170), only twenty died natural deaths; sixty were treacherously murdered and succeeded by their assassins, and seventy-one were slain in battle. "No man," says Sir John Davis, the historian of these eleven centuries of Milesian domination, "could enjoy his life, wife, lands, or goods in safety, if a mightier man than himself had an appetite for them, and the weak had no remedy against the stronger."
"The crime," says Montgomery Martin, "which Henry was invited over to Ireland to punish-the want of almost the commonest architectural structures for the people-the deep degrada
tion to which the mass of the populace were subjected, as also the very trifling number of inhabitants which the whole island contained-all demonstrate that Ireland could not even then be considered as ranking among the kingdoms of the earth. Yet this is the only period which can be named as a confirmatory proof that Ireland ought to become a kingdom as before."*
Ireland, indeed, never was an independent kingdom in the true sense of the word, and never possessed a free constitution until her legislative union with England in 1800.† Assemblies under the designation of parliaments were, it is true, convened at different periods for the better government of the country, but Ireland never possessed that essential branch of a constitution denominated a House of Commons, in the only correct designation of the term. The chief legislation was carried on in England, for the Irish have never shown themselves fit to govern themselves. The country is divided into too many races, parties, factions and religious creeds.
Although, previous to the conquest, "the most ferocious or the most subtle man was nominally ruler of the whole island," there were also four or five provincial kings or rulers, as well as innumerable grades of chiefs, hating each other, but at times tributary to or professing fealty to the power directly above them; still there is no question but that historically speaking, if any claim to ascendancy could be put forward, it would be by the Milesians, certainly not by the Roman Catholic Irish. The Milesians did not acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope at the epoch of their rule. The Established Church is, in fact, the ancient Church of Ireland, and its income, amounting to one shilling per head annually, could never have been justly considered a national grievance or a cause of general suffering.
But a turbulent and ambitious Church, acknowledging foreign supremacy, having induced its flock to declare that the presence of a National Church, which has only become hateful to them since the introduction of Romanism, was a grievance, the existing Government and a majority of the House of Commons have, in the sense of "justice to Ireland," and in the hopes of further conciliating the people, given their countenance and support to a bill for the disestablishment and disendowment of the said National Church. Justice to one race or section in a country ought never to imply injustice to another, or it is no longer justice at all. If the Protestant Church had succeeded to the Roman Catholic Church, there might be some grounds for disclaiming against a Church being supported by the State, which was not that of the majority. But it is not so, and the early Christian Church, if not
"Ireland before and after the Union."
† Sir Robert Peel: "House of Commons Debate," Feb. 25, 1834.
what is termed a protesting Church, did not acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope, and was not therefore Roman Catholic. "The religionists, now termed Roman Catholics, were (at the time of the formation of a Romish Church in Ireland), properly speaking, dissenters from the reformed or restored Church of Christ; and but for the intrigues and discontent of the Bishop of Rome and his emissaries, they would have gradually merged into the Established Church, or formed an inconsiderable body of dissenters, after the manner of the Presbyterians."
As to the prospects of conciliating that factious Romanist party in Ireland, who will be satisfied with nothing less than "Ireland for the Irish," the land, whether belonging to corporations or to persons, for the frieze coats, and the supremacy of the Roman Church, let all past history speak. Ever since that history has been handed down, the country has been torn by factions and intestine feuds, and, ever since the Union, the whole island has been kept in the most wretched turmoil by furious communities under the designation of patriots, agitators, Right-boys, Whiteboys, Peep-of-day boys, Houghers, Emancipators, United Irishmen, Fenians, and a host of others.
What has been the history of conciliation? Ireland has obtained, by means of the oft-calumniated Union, parliamentary reform, Roman Catholic emancipation, a national system of education, a legislative provision for the poor, a commutation of tithes, a reform in her corporations, a perfect freedom of trade with Great Britain, and many other important advantages, such as she never before possessed, and such as she never could have gained from her local and dependent legislature. She especially enjoys a liberty and a license for political disquisitions which would not be tolerated in this country. Her population has doubled, and her shipping and commerce, internal and external, have quadrupled since the Union, and were going on prospering under the existing state of things, yet she is not satisfied, but asks for the disestablishment and disendowment of the Established Church; not so much for the thing itself, as to gain a step in advance towards a general supremacy and confiscation. Every present and additional attempt to conciliate a party which recog nises the supremacy of a foreign potentate will be as vain as all that have preceded, until perfect ascendancy has been attained. If this is not a fair and just deduction from the past, as further attested by the daily acts and words of the discontented, then is history of no avail, and its teachings are futile and useless. On the other hand, if there is any truth in history, and any lesson to be gained by the experience of the past, the most effective step that could possibly be taken to ensure the ascendancy of a foreign dominion, and to either annihilate the loyal, industrious, wealthy, and well-affected portion of the population of the island, or to drive
it into rebellion against the more ignorant, debased, criminal, and envious portion of the population, is in progress of being carried out, to the great grief of all well balanced, well disposed, and truly thoughtful and humanitarian minds, and to all who have the real interests of the future of Ireland at heart.
It is uncertain at what precise period Christianity was introduced into Ireland. It suffices to know that the first great expounder of the Gospel truths was St. Patrick, in the fifth century. At this epoch no celibacy of the priesthood was enjoined, no invocation to saints, no earthly remission of sins, no transubstantiation, no mention of purgatory, no prayers for the dead, no miraculous and absurd legends, no subservience to tradition, no earthly rule of guidance but the scriptures was inculcated, and, above all, no supremacy was acknowledged to the bishops of Rome. It is not surprising that, in return, the Roman Church does not admit St. Patrick into the list of canonised saints. It is an omission, however, which cannot be said to be either complimentary or conciliatory to a country which is fast becoming the last refuge of ultramontane Romanism in Europe.
The religion of St. Patrick and that of his worthy successor, St. Columba, was the faith of the pure and primitive Christian Church, before the word and its doctrines became perverted by popish delusion and that artfully inculcated superstition by which foreign Romish priests sought to bind the bodies and souls of men to the will of one or more individuals. Like St. Patrick, St. Columba, who founded three hundred monasteries and churches in Ireland. and Scotland, makes no mention of purgatory, or any other Romish rite; the dissemination and expounding of the Scriptures was his great delight and business in life, and he held no communion and received no mission from the Bishop of Rome.
The physical contests between the British and Saxon races were, however, succeeded by contentions between the Saxon Church and that of the Scots-as the Irish were then termed—the Saxon claiming authority from the Bishop of Rome; the British and Irish, repudiating any supremacy in the Romish Church. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are said to have been originally established by the early British and Irish Churches, and not by the Saxon Church. The Irish Church not only kept free from the heresies, superstitions, and enslaving doctrines of the Church of Rome for several centuries, but it utterly repudiated and opposed all attempts at conciliation, and it held out against the Romish Church much more vigorously than did the British Church, which became corrupted in the reign of Alfred. There is, indeed, no trace of the Irish Church having been in subjection to the See of Rome up to the period of the landing of Henry II. One of the reasons for the Popes Adrian IV. and Alexander III. granting bulls to Henry II. for the occupation of Ireland, was to bring that