16 August 2001

‘Anglicans have every reason to be
profoundly grateful for the gift’

Patrick Comerford

The Rev Dr Thomas Carroll, who has recently retired at the age of 68 to his native Longford, is a priest of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, but has spent most of his working life as lecturer in liturgy and church history in the US, England, Rome, and Australia. He holds doctorates from both the Angelicum University in Rome and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

Despite his retirement, Father Carroll has been in much demand as a lecturer in theological colleges in Dublin. It is to be hoped that in coming years his native Ireland will benefit from his wisdom and learning.

As a young student in Rome in the 1950s and 1960s, Tom Carroll was present at the Second Vatican Council. Since then, he has earned acclaim as a theologian, writing and lecturing extensively on preaching, liturgy and patristics, the study of the early fathers of the Church. His Preaching the Word was published in 1984, and Liturgical practice in the Fathers followed in 1988.

Academic life

But what makes him unusual as a Roman Catholic theologian, perhaps, is that more than 40 years of his academic life have been devoted to researching the life and writings of a 17th-century Church of Ireland bishop, and his work has been highly acclaimed by Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike.

In 1990, he was the editor of Jeremy Taylor, Selected Works, published by the Paulist Press in New York as part of its “Classics of Western Spirituality” series aimed at providing “a library of the great spiritual masters”.

In his review of that book, the former Archbishop of Dublin, the late Henry McAdoo proclaimed: “This volume … is the book I have been waiting for.” Dr McAdoo had been co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), a pioneering body in the field of securing ecumenical agreements. Moreover, he was the acknowledged expert on Taylor, and his insights from Taylor’s eucharistic theology are said to have been a major contribution to the ground-breaking agreements between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although Jeremy Taylor was born and educated in England, and spent his early years as a country rector and a junior chaplain to Charles I, he has always been seen as a key figure in the 17th-century Church of Ireland, alongside John Bramhall and James Ussher.

It is surprising that he managed to survive the turbulent years of the English Civil War. He owed his early promotions to the patronage of Charles I’s chaplain, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who was executed; his second wife, Joanna Bridges, is thought to have been an illegitimate daughter of Charles I, and in print condemned Cromwell as “the Son of Zippor … sent to curse the people of the Lord.”

Moved to Ireland

To save Taylor from a second spell in jail, Lord and Lady Conway invited him to become their chaplain at Portmore, near Lisburn, and he moved to Ireland at the age of 44 in June 1658. Within two years, the monarchy was restored, and Taylor, who was in London for the triumphal entry of Charles II on May 29th, 1660, might have expected to become a bishop in the Church of England. Instead, he was offered the diocese of Down and Connor in the Church of Ireland.

Taylor’s disappointment was undisguised. He wrote to the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Ormonde, complaining: “I am thrown into a place of torment … the ministers are implacable.” He referred to the Presbyterian ministers, who were in a majority in his new diocese, as “Scotch spiders” who “have threatened to murder”. His response would be swift: within weeks he declared vacant the parishes of 36 Presbyterian ministers.

Despite his complaints, Taylor was among the 10 new bishops and two archbishops consecrated for the Church of Ireland in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, on January 27th, 1661. In front of all the powers of church and state, Taylor was given the singular honour of being invited to preach at his own consecration. In February, he took possession of his diocese, but found it had neither cathedral nor bishop’s residence, and went to live at Hillsborough Castle.

Taylor never realised his ambitions to return to a more comfortable diocese in England. Indeed, his pleas to Ormonde to be moved to any other diocese, including Meath, Dublin and Armagh, were ignored too.

Perhaps by way of compensation, the adjacent Diocese of Dromore, with its burned-down cathedral and handful of priests, was added to his charge, and he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin. In time his reforms and revisions had set Trinity on his feet, he restored Dromore Cathedral at his own expense, and the parish church at Lisburn was serving as the cathedral for the Diocese of Connor.

Personal sadness

Taylor’s personal life was marked by great sadness. His seventh and only surviving son, Charles, died on August 2nd, 1667. The following day, the bishop caught a fever, and he died at the age of 54 on August 13th, 1667. His last words were: “Bury me at Dromore.”

For years, Dr McAdoo complained that Taylor’s voluminous works were inaccessible to the general reader. Father Tom Carroll’s scholarly and attractive Selected Works went a long way towards rectifying that.

More recently, he has been invited to contribute the entry on Jeremy Taylor for the new edition of the Dictionary of National Biography being published by the Oxford University Press.

Earlier this summer, Four Courts Press published a new selection of 11 sermons by Taylor, edited by Father Carroll as Wisdom and Wasteland: Jeremy Taylor in his prose and preaching today. The news that Four Courts Press had agreed to publish the book reached Dr McAdoo the day before he died. In his foreword, the late archbishop praises Tom Carroll for his “large benefaction”, and says: “Anglicans have every reason to be profoundly grateful for the gift”.

This feature was first published as ‘An Irishman’s Diary’ in The Irish Times on 16 August 2001.

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