Saturday, 20 April 2013

Church History (full-time) 6: Preparing for the third millennium

Some faces of the Church in the 20th century

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864), part-time

Saturday 20 April 2013:

2.30 p.m., The Hartin Room

Preparing for the third millennium.


It is said more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. It is impossible to disentangle Church history from secular, social, political and artistic history. For Christians, the major themes running through the 20th century include:

● Two World Wars that pitted nominally Christian nations against each other.
● The Holocaust, and Christian responses to anti-Semitism.
● The emergence of the charismatic movement within the churches and in separate denominations.
● The unfolding of the ecumenical movement.
● The revision of the liturgy, particularly in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
. ● The expansion of mission work throughout the world and the spread of Christianity in non-Western regions.
● New Bible translations: in English this included the NRSV, the NEB and the NIV, in French the Jerusalem Bible; in other languages, the Bible was translated into the languages of 95% of humanity.
● The accelerating secularisation of Western society, which began in the 19th century.
● The rise of Communism, Fascism and Nazism in Europe.
● The role of the Church in challenging racism in North America and South Africa.
● The development of Liberation Theology, especially in Latin America.
● Hearing the voice of women in the Church, through the ordination of women and the development of feminist theology and women’s reading of the Bible.

World War I and its consequences:

Karl Barth … post-World War I response to defeated optimism

World War I (1914-1918) began as a war between what were seen as Christian monarchies.

The war shattered the belief that humanity was evolving towards a socially better society. As the war came to a close, the challenges it posed to faith and our theological thinking were taken up by many theologians, most noticeably the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968), who published his Commentary on Romans in 1918.

Neo-orthodoxy is often used as a label to describe the theology of crisis or dialectical theology that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in reaction to 19th century liberal theology and as a re-evaluation of the teachings of the Reformation. Although Barth was uneasy with the term, it is primarily associated with Barth, Emil Brunner (1899–1966), Paul Tillich (1886-1965), Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and others who drew on the approaches of earlier theologians such as Søren Kierkegaard.

Pentecostalism, ‘Fundamentalism’ and Evangelicalism:

Billy Graham, rose to prominence is the 1940s … what do we mean by ‘fundamentalism’?

The Pentecostal revival movement at the beginning of the 20th century began out of a passion for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In 1902, two American evangelists, Reuben Archer Torrey and Charles M. Alexander, conducted meetings in Australia, resulting in more than 8,000 conversions. Torrey and Alexander were involved in the beginnings of the great Welsh revival (1904).

News of this revival travelled fast, and in 1906, the modern Pentecostal Movement was born at Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906. From there, Pentecostalism spread around the world.

The publication in 1909 of Scofield’s Bible, annotated by Cyprus Scofield (1843-1921), was a stimulus to millenarianism, dispensationalism and what has become known, perhaps dismissively, as “fundamentalism.”

The movement takes its name from The Fundamentals, a collection of five books first published in 1910. These depend on believing in:

● The divine inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture;
● The Virgin birth of Christ;
● Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin;
● The bodily resurrection of Christ; and
● The historical reality of Christ’s miracles.

How we use the term ‘fundamentalism’ in later generations often reflected where we stood ourselves. What is the difference between conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism? Where do you place Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell? What about evangelicals on the social left, such as Jim Wallis and Sojourners?

The rise of Communism:

The demolition of the Church of the Annunciation in Leningrad in 1929

Initially, the Russian Revolution appeared to bring hope to the Russian Orthodox Church. From the 18th century, the Russian Church had been run by the Most Holy Synod, which was made up of bishops and lay bureaucrats appointed by the tsar.

With the Russian Civil War, an independent Patriarchate of Moscow was re-established briefly in 1917. But after the October Revolution, there was no place for the Church in Lenin’s classless society. In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed. Among the martyrs revered in the Russian Church is the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna who was a nun.

In the decades that followed, many of the bishops and priests were jailed or killed, churches were confiscated or demolished, leading Church thinkers went into exile, and atheism was promoted by the state, although most forms of organised religions were never outlawed. As a consequence, the Church was transformed into a persecuted and martyred Church.

During the Mexican Revolution between 1926 and 1934, over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Roman Catholic Church came close to being identified with Franco’s anti-democratic putsch, and in 1937, in Divini Redemptoris Pius XI identified Communism as the main adversary of the Roman Catholic Church, blaming Western powers and media for a conspiracy of silence on the persecutions carried out by Communist, Socialist and Fascist forces.

The rise of the Nazis:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer … a leading light in the resistance to the Nazis

The relationship between Nazism and Protestantism, especially the German Lutheran Church, was complex. Though the majority of Protestant Church leaders in Germany supported the Nazis and their anti-Jewish activities, some such were strongly opposed to the Nazis.

As early as 1934, the Barmen Declaration issued by the Confessing Church opposed the Nazi-supported “German Christians” and their anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism. More specifically, the Barmen Declaration rejects the subordination of the Church to the state and the subordination of the Word and Spirit to the Church.

Karl Barth, who was the principal author the Barmen Declaration, later returned to Switzerland as an exile. Perhaps the best-known opponent of Nazism to continue living in German was the Lutheran pastor and theologian as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), author of The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison.

In the encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI warned Roman Catholics that anti-semitism is incompatible with Christianity. The encyclical, which was read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches on Passion Sunday, 14 March 1937, included a veiled attack on Hitler, criticised the elevation of one race above others, condemned pantheistic confusion, neo-paganism, “the so-called myth of race and blood,” and statolatry.

During World War II (1939-1945), the Nazi persecution of Jews and of the Church extended through the Netherlands and Poland across many parts of Europe. In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests, and many more were sent to concentration camps. In Dachau alone, the Priester-Block or priests’ barracks held 2,600 Roman Catholic priests.

Bonhoeffer was later found guilty in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and was executed in 1945.

The Post-War Church:

Archbishop William Temple … advocated the Welfare State

Many Roman Catholic lay people and clergy helped to shelter Jews during the Holocaust. But after World War II, many historians accused the Church of encouraging centuries of anti-Semitism, and accused Pope Pius XII of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities, although others contested these criticisms and spoke highly of Pope Pius’s efforts to protect Jews.

The Nobel prize-winning writer Elie Wiesel raised major questions for both Jews and Christians that challenged post-Holocaust thinking. In many ways, this challenge was taken up by theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann.

The conscience of Christians responded to post-war sufferings in Europe in ways such as the formation of aid agencies like Oxfam, founded by Oxford academics and Quakers, and Christian Aid. Later in the 1960s, similar responses to famine and poverty in Africa would give birth to agencies such as Concern in Ireland and Cafod in England.

Decolonisation in Africa and Asia saw the emergence of Autonomous churches in the former colonies.

The post-war Church also saw new approaches to Biblical studies, stimulated in part by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, and the unfolding of the modern ecumenical movement.

In many European countries, the welfare state is a response to the war-time and post-war demands of the Churches, articulated in Britain particularly by Archbishop William Temple and in Continental Europe to the demands of the Churches and of both Christian Democrat and Social Democrat politicians.

The Ecumenical Movement:

Bishop George Bell … a foundational figure for the World Council of Churches

The modern ecumenical movement traces its foundations to the International Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, which set the goal of “the evangelisation of the world in this generation.”

The Edinburgh conference gave rise to a number of movements that came together when the second conference of the Life and Work Movement in Oxford, and the second World Conference on Faith and Order in Edinburgh, both in 1937, approved the proposal for a World Council of Churches.

This ecumenical ideal faded with World War II, but the hopes for a World Council of Churches were kept alive by theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany and Bishop George Bell in England.

The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948. At the same time, united and uniting churches were being formed in Canada (1925), South India (1947), and later in North India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (1970), and Australia (1977).

Ecumenism also found expression in the monastic movements, with the formation of the Taizé Community by a Swiss Reformed pastor, Brother Roger Schütz, in 1944, and later with increased co-operation between monastic traditions such as the Benedictines and Franciscans.

The post-war Roman Catholic Church and Vatican II:

Pope John XXIII … called Vatican II in 1962

The Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was proclaimed in 1950, and half way through the 20th century it may have appeared that the Roman Catholic Church was going to continue in a conservative mode, remaining isolated from the other Christian traditions and the developments in the ecumenical movement.

However, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) accelerated the pace of the ecumenical movement. Vatican II was called by Pope John XXIII with the task of making the historical teachings of the Church clear to a modern world. Its debates and documents discussed the nature of the Church, the mission of the laity, religious freedom and liturgical revisions most noticeable in the introduction of local languages.

Vatican II reaffirmed papal primacy and infallibility, but it also developed a conciliar view of the Church. This collegiality holds that bishops are not to be seen as “vicars of the Roman Pontiff,” but in their local churches they are “vicars and legates of Christ,” and together they form a body, a “college,” whose head is the Pope.

Vatican II also made Christian unity a priority for Roman Catholics. In addition to finding common ground with Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church became open to reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1965, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras issued a joint expression of regret for the events that had led to the Great Schism and lifted the mutual excommunications dating from the 11th century.

Pope Paul VI also met Archbishop Michael Ramsey in the Vatican, and since then there have been meetings between every Pope and every Archbishop of Canterbury.

Vatican II also gave a new stimulus to the Liturgical Movement, which had been developing among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants. But for some Roman Catholics, Vatican II went either too far or not far enough. Hans Küng and Charles Curran had their authorisation to teach theology on behalf of the Church withdrawn, while others clung tenaciously to the old Tridentine Mass and rites, taking hope in 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI reinstated the old Mass as an option.

Latin America and Liberation Theology:

Archbishop Óscar Romero … murdered in San Salvador while he was saying Mass in 1980

Last month’s installation of Pope Francis I, who was born in Argentina, has reminded us all that Latin America historically was predominantly Roman Catholic.

In the 1960s, growing social awareness and politicization in the Latin American Church gave birth to liberation theology. Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez became its primary proponent,[ and in 1979 the bishops’ conference in Mexico officially declared the Latin American Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” Archbishop Óscar Romero became Latin America’s most famous contemporary martyr when he was murdered in San Salvador by government troops on 24 March 1980 while saying Mass.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger) denounced Liberation Theology. The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. While Pope John Paul II was criticised for his severity in dealing with proponents of the movement, he maintained that the Church, in its efforts to champion the poor, should not do so by resorting to violence or partisan politics.

The movement is still alive in Latin America, although the Roman Catholic Church there now faces the challenge of Pentecostal revival in much of the region. In recent decades, Latin America has also experienced a large Pentecostal revival and growth. For example, Brazil, which is Latin America’s largest country, is the largest Roman Catholic country in the world but is also largest Evangelical country in the world.

Social and sexuality issues:

The Revd Dr Martin Luther King … murdered in 1968

Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, 40 years after Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. Leo XIII addressed the conditions of the working class in industrial society, while Pius XI concentrated on the ethical implications of the social and economic order. He called for the reconstruction of the social order, but warned against both unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism.

The social teachings of Pope Pius XII repeated these teachings and applied them in greater detail not only to workers and owners of capital. Going beyond Pius XI, he also defined social teachings in the areas of medicine, psychology, sport, television, science, law and education.

The Church faced new challenging issues with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968) reaffirmed traditional Roman Catholic teachings on marriage, marital relations and contraception, affirming the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and condemning abortion and euthanasia.

That same year, the Revd Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (1968), just as the civil rights movement was coming to a climax in the US, where the churches, and especially the black churches, helped to empower the movement for black voting rights and black civil rights.

It took more than another two decades to end apartheid in South Africa, where the leading figures in the struggle against racism included church leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Allan Boesak, John de Gruchy and Beyers Naudé. Drawing on the principles first expressed in the Barmen Declaration, many South African theologians proclaimed apartheid a “confessing” issue for the Church and declared apartheid is a heresy.

The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe:

Pope John Paul II meets Lech Walesa

By 1957, about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches were active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated a campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church, forcing about 12,000 churches to close. By 1985, there were fewer than 7,000 active churches.

However, in Poland the election of Pope John Paul II helped to stimulate a movement that grew with the Gdansk shipyard strike and the rise of Solidarity. The Churches in East Germany were active in weekly protests, especially in Leipzig and through the ‘Swords into Ploughshares’ movement before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The Russian Church was assured of a new freedom when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. Later, many parts of China became more tolerant of religious expressions, so that today it is said there are more Church members in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Feminist theology and the ordination of women:

The ordination of women priests in Philadelphia in 1974

The ordination of women predates the emergence of feminist theology in the 20th century.

The first three women priests ordained in the Anglican Communion were in the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao: Li Tim-Oi in 1944 and Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett in 1971. In 1974, three Episcopal Church bishops in the US ordained 11 women as priests in an “irregular” ceremony and their ordinations were approved eventually in 1976. The first Anglican woman to be ordained a bishop was Barbara Harris (1989).

Pope John Paul II issue two documents reaffirming Roman Catholic teaching on women’s ordination: Mulieris Dignitatem (1988) and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994).

Post-Vatican II ecumenism:

Patriarch Bartholomew I with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in 1995

Although there has been progress in seeking to reconcile the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches., concerns over papal primacy and the independence of the smaller Orthodox churches has blocked any hopes of a resolution. Some of the most difficult questions that remain in areas including: doctrine, (for example the Filioque clause), understandings of Scholasticism, asceticism and Hesychasm, the legacy of the Crusades and the Latin Empire, and the Uniate churches.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, who was elected as the 273rd Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in October 1991, visited the Vatican for the first time in June 1995, and took part in the inter-religious day of prayer for peace at Assisi. Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I explicitly stated their mutual “desire to relegate the excommunications of the past to oblivion and to set out on the way to re-establishing full communion.”

The future

Pope Francis I welcomes Patriarch Bartholomew I at his installation last month

We have seen the installation of a new Pope and a new Archbishop of Canterbury last month.

In May 1999, Pope John Paul II visited Romania, becoming the first pope since the Great Schism to visit an Eastern Orthodox country. Greeting Pope John Paul II, the Romanian Patriarch Teoctist said: “The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity.”

But what does the new millennium promise the Church and the churches?

In Europe, there has been a general move away from religious observance and belief in Christianity and towards secularism. The secularisation of society, attributed to the Enlightenment and the thinking that followed, is largely responsible for the spread of secularism. For example, the Gallup International Millennium Survey showed that only about one sixth of Europeans attend regular religious services, less than half gave God “high importance,” and only about 40% believe in a “personal God.”

Nevertheless the large majority considered that they “belong” to a religious denomination.

It may be too early to tell, but statistics appear, at the moment, to show that the “de-Christianisation” of Europe has slowly begun to swing in the opposite direction. There is renewal in some quarters of the Anglican churches, and among the Protestant churches in Continental Europe. But is this enough to signal an initial step towards the reversal of the secularisation of Europe?

In North America, South America and Australia, the other three continents where Christianity is the dominant professed religion, religious observance is much higher than in Europe.

Throughout this module, we have been asking ourselves whether history shapes us or we shape history. History helps us to understand how we became who we are today as we face the future.

And so, at the end of this module it is appropriate to ask: What is the future for the Church?


Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 20 April 2013 was the final lecture in the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, part-time.

Church History (part-time) 5: Challenging myths and memories (3): the decade of centenaries

Looking down the Liffey towards Liberty Hall … would the key players in the events 100 years ago recognise the Ireland of today? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864), part-time

Saturday 20 April 2013:

1.30 p.m., The Hartin Room

This afternoon:

5, Challenging myths and memories (3): the decade of centenaries.

6, Preparing for the third millennium.

5, Challenging myths and memories (3): the decade of centenaries.


Last year, we began a decade of anniversaries, and we are now into a roll-over series of commemorations of events a centenary ago, recalling the tumultuous events between 1912 and 1922 that shaped not only Irish identity but also shaped the map of Europe.

It is the decade that was marked by the demise of Chinese imperial dynasties, World War I, the Armenian Genocide, the Gallipoli landings, the Battle of the Somme, the Russian Revolution, the Balfour Declaration, the defeat of Germany, the fall of the Hapsburgs, the creation of the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union, the first non-stop transatlantic flight, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the winning of women’s voting rights, and the rise of Communism and Fascism.

But it was the decade too that brought us the modern zipper, stainless steel, and the pop-up toaster. It was a decade that saw the publication of Einstein’s theory of relativity, the first US feature film, the debut of Charlie Chaplin, the publication of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Women in Love and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.

For Irish people, this was the decade that saw the death of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, who was born into a Dublin Church of Ireland family. It was a decade that saw the publication of James Joyce’s Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, and of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. And it was a decade too that was marked by the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

‘The centre cannot hold’

The Rotunda in Dublin … a venue for many of the political meetings and heated debates on all sides in the decade between 1912 and 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The world was so changed and transformed WB Yeats could open his poem The Second Coming with these lines about Europe in the aftermath of World War I:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Dublin Castle … the seat of Government until 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Towards the end of that decade, the Church of Ireland was living with the consequences of a half century of disestablishment. But the Church was more concerned with social political upheaval on this island, and the way we were tearing ourselves apart as a people. Irish identity was changed violently over that ten-year period, so that the lines by Yeats about the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916 could be applied to the whole island and the whole population:

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Charles Stewart Parnell, founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party, influenced a later generation of nationalists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It was a decade that saw the reconstruction of Irish identity through the creation of myths that by-passed the facts, even as the main actors in those myths were still alive.

Language and identity

The Abbey Theatre contributed to the cultural expressions of Irish nationalism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is forgotten that modern Irish nationalism had its incubation and gestation in the revival of the Irish language – a revival in which the main players included Dr Douglas Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland rector, and Dr Eleanor Hull in hymns such as Be thou my vision (643).

Sean O’Casey, the playwright of the left, was born into the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The artistic expressions of the new nationalism were found in the Abbey Theatre, founded by Lady Gregory, WB Yeats and George Russell (AE), the poetry of Yeats and the plays of Sean O’Casey – all members of the Church of Ireland.

Since 1916, the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin have been transformed into either working class heroes or the personifications of what it is to be Green, Gaelic, Catholic and Irish. But the myths that have been created by those who have a blinkered vision of what it is to be Irish betray the truths of history.

The Garden of Remembrance treats the 1916 leaders as martyrs … but their backgrounds were diverse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Who remembers today that Pádraig Pearse was born Patrick Henry Pearse, the son of a Birmingham Unitarian who had come to Dublin from England as part of the Victorian arts-and-crafts movement?

There are other myths surrounding Pádraig Pearse, including one that he was “President of the Provisional Government,” a post that may have been held instead by Thomas Clarke. There is no manuscript version of the 1916 Proclamation, but on all printed versions, the leaders’ names are not printed in alphabetical order, so that Pádraig Pearse’s name is listed fourth, after Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada and Thomas MacDonagh.

Ironically, Thomas Clarke was not born in Ireland but in an army barracks on the Isle of Wight in England, where his father was a soldier in the British army.

Thomas MacDonagh had a middle class education in Rockwell College, Co Tipperary, and was a lecturer in English in UCD. In 1912, he married Muriel Gifford, a member of a well-known Church of Ireland family in Dublin. Éamonn Ceannt, an accountant, was born Edward Thomas Kent, the son of an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary.

James Connolly was born in Scotland and married a member of the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh, and spoke with a Scottish accent all his life. After joining the British Army at the age of 14, he spent seven years with the army in Ireland. In 1890, he married Lillie Reynolds, a member of the Church of Ireland, who was born in Co Wicklow.

Joseph Mary Plunkett was the son of Count George Noble Plunkett, and his distant cousin, Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, was a prominent lay member of the Church of Ireland and a Home Rule MP. The poet was born into a privileged family in Fitzwilliam Street, then an affluent suburb of Dublin, and was educated by the Jesuits at Belvedere and Stonyhurst, a Jesuit-run public school in Lancashire. Hours before his execution, he married Grace Gifford, who, like her sister Muriel MacDonagh, had been born into a prosperous Dublin Church of Ireland family.

In other words, two of the seven signatories were not born in Ireland, one was the son of an Englishman, one had served in the British army, one was the son of an RIC officer, one was born in a British army barracks, one was a titled aristocrat who went to an English public school, and at least three married women who were born into the Church of Ireland.

The General Post Office in Dublin … but the Easter Rising is not the only important anniversary to remember (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These backgrounds were similar to those of many prominent figures on the Republican side in 1916. For example, Liam Mellows, later executed in 1922 at the height of the Civil War, was born William Joseph Mellows in an army barracks in Manchester, and his father was born in a British army barracks in India.

It should be remembered too in the coming years that while the 1916 Rising was being planned, Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin still favoured establishing a form of dual monarchy linking Ireland and Britain, similar to the dual monarchy in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that Sinn Féin did not take part in the 1916 Rising.

Voices for the oppressed

Dr Kathleen Lynn took command of the rebel position in City Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Many of the women who took prominent roles in the Rising were members of the Church of Ireland: Countess Markievicz, the suffragette and a leader of the Irish Citizens’ Army, was born Constance Georgine Gore-Booth in Buckingham Gate, London, the daughter of Sir Henry Gore-Booth of Lissadell House, Co Sligo. She and her younger sister, Eva Gore-Booth, were childhood friends of Yeats, who frequently visited their home and described them in one poem as “two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle.”

Dr Kathleen Lynn, a founding member of the Irish Citizen’s Army too, took command of the rebel garrison in City Hall in Easter Week 1916. She remained a pious member of the Church of Ireland until her death in 1955.

Jim Larkin … “The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Alongside James Connolly, Jim Larkin Countess Markievicz and Kathleen Lynn, the founding members of the Irish Citizens’ Army in 1913, included Captain Jack White, a Presbyterian from Broughshane, Co Antrim, and the son of Sir George Stuart White.

Much of O’Connell Street, Dublin, was destroyed during the 1916 Rising (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Indeed, the first informal meeting to form the Irish Citizens’ Army was held in Trinity College Dublin in the rooms of the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn. He was a communicant at Saint Bartholomew’s until his death in 1962, and is buried in Whitechurch Churchyard in Co Dublin. One of his brothers, Brian Gwynn, was the father-in-law of the late Archbishop George Simms. Through their mother, the Gwynns were grandsons of William Smith O’Brien, the exiled 1848 revolutionary whose statue in O’Connell Street is close to the GPO and the statue of Jim Larkin.

The house in Rathgar where George Russell (AE) was living in 1913 during the Dublin lockout (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In a letter of protest during the Dublin lockout, George Russell (AE) accused the employers of “refusing to consider any solution except that fixed by their pride” and he accused them of seeking “in cold anger to starve one-third of this city, to break the manhood of the men by the sight of the suffering of their wives and the hunger of their children.”

Howth Harbour ... the Howth gunrunning must have appeared almost like a Church of Ireland parish vestry meeting! (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

A year after the Dublin lockout, members of the Church of Ireland were among the most prominent organisers of the Howth gun-running. Erskine Childers, a cousin of the Bartons of Glendalough House, sailed into Howth on the Asgard and landed 2,500 guns.

The organisers included his wife Molly Childers, Sir Roger Casement, Alice Stopford Green and Mary Spring Rice – all Church of Ireland parishioners, as were many of those waiting for them on the pier, including Countess Markievicz, Douglas Hyde and Darrell Figgis.

Edward Conor Marshal O’Brien (1880-1952), skipper of the Kelpie, one of the yachts involved in the gun-runnings , was a member of the Church of Ireland from Limerick and his first cousin, Brian Gwynn, was the father of the late Mercy Simms, wife of Archbishop George Otto Simms.

Kilcoole, Co Wicklow ... the gunrunning organised by Sir Thomas Myles is often forgotten in the shadows of the Howth gunrunning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The accounts of the Howth gunrunning seem to overshadow the equally dramatic Kilcoole gunrunning in Co Wicklow, which was organised by the skipper of the Chotah and the King’s Surgeon in Ireland, Sir Thomas Myles (1857-1937), who was baptised in Saint Michael’s Church of Ireland parish church in Limerick City.

Sir Thomas Myles ... knighted by Edward VII

Nor can we dismiss Myles as a marginal member of the Church of Ireland: his father-in-law, the Revd George Ayres (1825-1881), was a Church of England clergyman; and his youngest brother was the Very Revd Edward Albert Myles (1865-1951), Dean of Dromore. Sir Thomas Myles was knighted at King Edward VII’s coronation while he was President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

After the Kilcoole gunrunning, when World War I began, he became an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was later appointed one of the honorary surgeons to the King in Ireland.

Written in or written out?

The War Memorial Park in Islandbridge, Dublin, recalls the Irish dead of two world wars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The myths that have accumulated over the past century have written members of the Church of Ireland, their consciences and their role out of the shared history of this island.

In these coming years, we must remember that more Irish soldiers – Catholic and Protestant – died at the Gallipoli landings in 1915 or at the Somme in 1916 than died in the Easter Rising.

Five Irish Home Rule MPs fought in the British Army in World War I: Sir John Lymbrick Esmonde, Stephen Gwynn, Willie Redmond, William Redmond and DD Sheehan.

Nor should we forget that more than 400,000 people on this island, including five bishops of the Church of Ireland, signed the Ulster Covenant, and in doing so were led by Sir Edward Carson, who was born in Harcourt Street, Dublin.

A divided family

A family divided ... Colonel Thomas Comerford on his wedding day; and his sister Marie Comerford

Many families in this part of the island – both Protestant and Roman Catholic – were totally divided when it came to loyalties at this time. Colonel Thomas James Comerford (1894-1959), who was raised in Co Wexford and Co Waterford, came from an interesting background. His grandfather, Colonel Thomas Esmonde (1831-1872), was decorated with the VC for his part in the Battle of Sebastopol in the Crimean War, his mother was three times tennis champion of Ireland, and his cousin, Sir John Lymbrick Esmonde, was one of those five Irish MPs who fought in the British Army in World War I. Thomas Comerford served in World War I, initially with the Royal Irish Regiment and later with the Royal Irish Rifles. He fought at Gallipoli in 1915, where he was wounded, and was at home in Dublin on sick leave in 1916 when the Easter Rising broke out.

The family story says he was taken out of Dublin immediately so he would not be compromised by the curious activities of his sister. He was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, and went on to spend 25 years in India, where he was married in Bombay in 1921 and where he was active in World War II, organising supplies for the Chindits.

His sister, the journalist and writer Mary (‘Máire’) Eva Comerford (1893-1982), was also raised in Co Wexford and in Co Waterford. She became involved in politics initially as a Redmondite Home Ruler activist in Wexford Town, but later became a life-long Republican activist, and took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin. Little wonder that her brother had to be moved out of the city.

The Four Courts … burned in the clashes of the Civil War in 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Archbishop JAF Gregg of Dublin said in a sermon in December 1921, the month the Treaty was signed:

It concerns us all to offer the Irish Free State our loyalty. I believe there is a genuine desire on the part of those who have long differed from us politically to welcome our co-operation. We should be wrong politically and religiously to reject such advances.

Archbishop Gregg and Eamon de Valera together in the 1930s.

In 1922, after many Protestants were forced to leave their homes because of threats and some had been murdered in Co Cork, a delegation of southern members of the General Synod met Michael Collins and WT Cosgrave, and asked whether the government of the new Free State was “desirous of retaining” the Protestant community. The new government readily gave the assurances sought.

WB Yeats ... We are no petty people

A few years later, when the Irish Free State was poised to outlaw divorce, the poet WB Yeats delivered a famous speech in the new Senate of the Irish Free State on 11 June:

I think it is tragic that within three years of this country gaining its independence we should be discussing a measure which a minority of this nation considers to be grossly oppressive. I am proud to consider myself a typical man of that minority. We against whom you have done this thing, are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence. Yet I do not altogether regret what has happened. I shall be able to find out, if not I, my children will be able to find out whether we have lost our stamina or not. You have defined our position and have given us a popular following. If we have not lost our stamina then your victory will be brief, and your defeat final, and when it comes this nation may be transformed.

The Mansion House in Dublin, where the First Dáil held most of its meetings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘No petty people’

Over these ten years (2012-2022), it is important that one single event should not dominate all the other centenaries and the memory of what has made the Ireland we know today. We should remember the Ulster Covenant, the lockouts, Gallipoli, the Somme, the men who rallied to Redmond’s call, and the poetry of Tom Kettle. Nor should we forget the diversity of contributions made by members of the Church of Ireland in those ten years.

For in the words of Yeats, we “are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence.”

The Luas in Abbey Street … have we moved on in shaping a modern Irish identity? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


6, Preparing for the third millennium.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 20 April 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course (part-time)

‘Who was I that I could hinder God?’ – Bible study (Acts 11: 1-18)

Peter Preaching, Fra Angelico, ca 1400-1455 (see Acts 11: 4-18)

Patrick Comerford


In our Bible studies in this tutorial group over this year, we have been looking at the Old Testament reading in the readings provided in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday of the following week.

Sunday week [28 April 2013] is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. The Year C readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Acts 11: 1-18 or Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21: 1-6; John 13: 31-35.

The Lectionary is urging us to use readings from the Acts of the Apostles on these Sundays in the Easter season instead of the Old Testament reading. The Old Testament readings are reflecting the provided reading from Acts, rather than following a natural sequence. Why do you think this is so?


How many of you are following the Acts readings?

How many of you are preaching that Sunday?

How many of you would choose the alternative Old Testament reading (Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18)?

If so, why?

If not, then why not?

I have prepared some short notes on the Acts reading for Sunday week (Acts 11: 1-18), and we can then see how this relates to the alternative Old Testament reading, and how it relates to the other readings provided in the RCL.

Acts 11: 1-18

1 Ἤκουσαν δὲ οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ οἱ ὄντες κατὰ τὴν Ἰουδαίαν ὅτι καὶ τὰ ἔθνη ἐδέξαντο τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ. 2 ὅτε δὲ ἀνέβη Πέτρος εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ, διεκρίνοντο πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς 3 λέγοντες ὅτι Εἰσῆλθες πρὸς ἄνδρας ἀκροβυστίαν ἔχοντας καὶ συνέφαγες αὐτοῖς. 4 ἀρξάμενος δὲ Πέτρος ἐξετίθετο αὐτοῖς καθεξῆς λέγων, 5 Ἐγὼ ἤμην ἐν πόλει Ἰόππῃ προσευχόμενος καὶ εἶδον ἐν ἐκστάσει ὅραμα, καταβαῖνον σκεῦός τι ὡς ὀθόνην μεγάλην τέσσαρσιν ἀρχαῖς καθιεμένην ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ ἦλθεν ἄχρι ἐμοῦ: 6 εἰς ἣν ἀτενίσας κατενόουν καὶ εἶδον τὰ τετράποδα τῆς γῆς καὶ τὰ θηρία καὶ τὰ ἑρπετὰ καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. 7 ἤκουσα δὲ καὶ φωνῆς λεγούσης μοι, Ἀναστάς, Πέτρε, θῦσον καὶ φάγε. 8 εἶπον δέ, Μηδαμῶς, κύριε, ὅτι κοινὸν ἢ ἀκάθαρτον οὐδέποτε εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸστόμα μου. 9 ἀπεκρίθη δὲ φωνὴ ἐκ δευτέρου ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, Ἃ ὁ θεὸς ἐκαθάρισεν, σὺ μὴ κοίνου. 10 τοῦτο δὲ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ τρίς, καὶ ἀνεσπάσθη πάλιν ἅπαντα εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν. 11 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐξαυτῆς τρεῖς ἄνδρες ἐπέστησαν ἐπὶ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐν ἧ ἦμεν, ἀπεσταλμένοι ἀπὸ Καισαρείας πρός με. 12 εἶπεν δὲ τὸ πνεῦμά μοι συνελθεῖν αὐτοῖς μηδὲν διακρίναντα. ἦλθον δὲ σὺν ἐμοὶ καὶ οἱ ἓξ ἀδελφοὶ οὗτοι, καὶ εἰσήλθομεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ ἀνδρός: 13 ἀπήγγειλεν δὲ ἡμῖν πῶς εἶδεν [τὸν] ἄγγελον ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ σταθέντα καὶ εἰπόντα, Ἀπόστειλον εἰς Ἰόππην καὶ μετάπεμψαι Σίμωνα τὸν ἐπικαλούμενον Πέτρον, 14 ὃς λαλήσει ῥήματα πρὸς σὲ ἐν οἷς σωθήσῃ σὺ καὶ πᾶς ὁοἶκός σου. 15 ἐν δὲ τῷ ἄρξασθαί με λαλεῖν ἐπέπεσεν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ἐπ' αὐτοὺς ὥσπερ καὶ ἐφ' ἡμᾶς ἐν ἀρχῇ. 16 ἐμνήσθην δὲ τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ κυρίου ὡς ἔλεγεν, Ἰωάννης μὲν ἐβάπτισεν ὕδατι, ὑμεῖς δὲ βαπτισθήσεσθε ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. 17 εἰ οὖν τὴν ἴσην δωρεὰν ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ὁ θεὸς ὡς καὶ ἡμῖν πιστεύσασιν ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, ἐγὼ τίς ἤμην δυνατὸς κωλῦσαι τὸν θεόν; 18 ἀκούσαντες δὲ ταῦτα ἡσύχασαν καὶ ἐδόξασαν τὸν θεὸν λέγοντες, Ἄρα καὶ τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὁ θεὸς τὴν μετάνοιαν εἰς ζωὴν ἔδωκεν.

1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3 saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 8 But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’

Reading the text:

In the two previous chapters (9 and 10), Saint Peter has been in the coastal area north-west of Jerusalem. Already, Christians of Jewish origin are living in this area. Further up the coast, in Caesarea Philippi, Cornelius, an officer in the Roman army and a Gentile, has had a vision in which a messenger from God tells him to send for Saint Peter (Acts 10: 1-8).

As Saint Peter approaches Caesarea, he too has a vision in which he saw “the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered” (verse 10). In the sheet are “all kinds” of animals, reptiles and birds (verse 12). A voice says: “Get up, Peter; kill and eat” (verse 13). But at first, Saint Peter resists eating any animals forbidden by Jewish law (verse 14).

At the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, Saint Peter tells the assembled company, which includes both Jews and Gentiles: “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (verse 28).

Saint Peter summarises the good news, telling them that “God shows no partiality” (verse 34). The Holy Spirit falls on all who hear him (verse 44), and many of the people who are there, including Gentiles, are baptised.

Now, news of this has reached Judea. When Saint Peter arrives back in Jerusalem, the Christians who are of Jewish origin, who ask why he has broken Jewish law by visiting and eating with Gentiles (Acts 11: 2-3).

Saint Peter explains what has happened, and why. He does this, not chronologically but from the viewpoint of God’s plan of salvation (verses 5-15).

Just as the Holy Spirit came on the apostles at Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and the members of his household. He recalls a post-Resurrection appearance, in which Christ promises the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (verse 16, see Acts 1: 5).

In defending his actions, Saint Peter say God gave those gentile believers in Caesarea the “same gift” when they believed as he gave to the first Jewish Christians when they came to faith (verse 17).

Saint Peter’s critics are silenced into acceptance (verse 18). God is seen to be working in a new way, and it is accepted in Jerusalem that even Gentiles who turn to God can receive new life (verse 18).

The other readings:

Christ Washing Peter’s Feet (Ford Madox Brown)

Revelation 21: 1-6:

In this reading, Saint John brings us to his vision of the end-times. He has told of the destruction of the old order, under Babylon (or Rome) and of the old heaven and the old earth (Revelation 20: 11). Now Saint John sees the new creation. The “sea” – the time of turbulence, unrest and chaos – is no more (21: 1).

He sees “the holy city, the new Jerusalem” (21: 2) prepared as a “bride” for her wedding. Saint John then hears “a loud voice from the throne” announcing that this New Jerusalem is God’s home among with “his peoples” (verse 3). Death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more (verse 4).

God speaks from his throne, promising to make all things news, transforming all of history, for he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of everything, and he brings water to the thirsty, life to all.

John 13: 31-35

The Gospel reading was one of the Bible studies earlier this week at the Porvoo Communion Consultation on proclamation on diaconal ministry. The Bible study on Wednesday morning [17 April 2013] was led by Father Kieran O’Mahony, and it provided my reflection at the Eucharist earlier that morning.

In this reading, Christ is preparing the disciples for his departure. After the Last Supper, he washes their feet in a sign of servanthood. Peter misunderstands Christ’s action. Christ tells him that to share in Christ requires accepting Christ as his servant as well as his master. Peter will understand later (verse 7).

Our reading ends with Christ giving his new commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35).

Relating the readings to one another:

Can you see the connection between the readings from Acts, Revelation and Saint John’s Gospel?


What about the images of water in Revelation, and the water at the washing of the feet?

What about Peter’s resistance to having his feet washed by Christ, and his resistance to baptising the new Gentile believers?

Can you make a connection between the Old Jerusalem as the location for both the readings from Acts and Saint John’s Gospel, and the passing away of the Old Jerusalem in Revelation 21?

Between the old laws that hold Peter back and the new promises that urge him on?

How about the Old Jerusalem as the location of the old believers and the New Jerusalem that opens its gates to all believers?

Is the New Jerusalem the Church or a promised future that the Church must symbolise, must be a sign of or a sacrament of?

The Old Testament reading:

The Old Testament alternative (Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18) to the reading from Acts (Acts 11: 1-18). It calls the people to be holy (verse 2), like the new Jerusalem is holy. But how are we to be holy?

Being holy involves loving care, but not just for our neighbours (verses 11-13). It involves providing for the poor and the alien (verses 9-10), being just to the worker who can only live by earning wages through labour (verse 13), being just to the deaf and the blind (verse 14), and loving our neighbours as ourselves (verse 18), which is repeated but brought to a new height of expectation in our Gospel reading.

A note on the art work:

The reading from Acts 11 tells the story of Saint Peter preaching in Jerusalem. The painting of Saint Peter preaching is by Fra Angelico (ca. 1400-1455). It dates from 1433 and is the Museo di San Marco in Florence.

This work is part of the Linaiuoli Tabernacle, a large altarpiece that is Fra Angelico’s earliest mature work. The section of Saint Peter Preaching is one of three smaller panels below the main one. The scene shows Saint Mark writing down the sermon on a tablet as Saint Peter preaches, an illustration of the non-canonical ancient tradition that Saint Mark’s gospel is essentially Saint Peter’s eyewitness account.

The illustration comes from ‘Art in the Christian Tradition’, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved 18 April 2013]. Original source:


Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God
in word and sacrament
we proclaim your truth in Jesus Christ and share his life.
In his strength may we ever walk in his way,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared as an introduction to a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 20 April 2013.