15 May 2015

Church History (2014-2015, part-time)
7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3):
The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries:
how history shapes the Church agenda today

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)

Friday 15 May 2015, 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.

Making connections (1): Renaissance, Revolution and Enlightenment

7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and reshaping Christianity, from Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism.

7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.

7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.


We are almost in the middle of 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 (Irish Church Hymnal, 5th ed, No 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)

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)

The accounts of the Howth gunrunning in 1914 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 10 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)

Tomorrow (16 May 2015). Field Trip:

8.1: The National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.

8.2: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological. This lecture on 15 March 2015 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course (part-time).

Church History (2014-2015, part-time)
7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and
reshaping Christianity, from Kant and
Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism

A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids, William Holman Hunt, 1850 … our understandings of the Bible, the Church, mission, church architecture and church history were reshaped in the 19th century

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 15 May 2015, 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.

Making connections (1): Renaissance, Revolution and Enlightenment

7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and reshaping Christianity, from Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism.

7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.

7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and reshaping Christianity, from Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism.


The 19th century is sometimes called the “Protestant Century.” It was a century that saw new missions being established across the world; the formation of new societies, including mission societies (CMS, 1799; CMS Ireland, 1814), the Bible Society (1804), the Mothers’ Union (1876), Sunday Schools and so on; and the meeting of the first Lambeth Conference (1867), which served to identify the Anglican Communion as a cohesive and visible communion.

It was the century of a new thinking and challenges for Roman Catholics too, from Catholic Emancipation in Britain Ireland, to the collapse of the Papal States, the calling of the first Vatican Council, and the declaration of Papal Infallibility (1870).

But it was also the century that saw the beginning of new post-Protestant, post-Christian groups in the US, such as the Mormons (1820s-1840s), Jehovah’s Witnesses (1870s), and Christian Science (1879).

And it was a century when Christianity was challenged by new thinking, new philosophies and new politics, including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the publication of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, the development of psychoanalysis and Freud’s psychology.

It was the century of steam travel for both trains and shipping, the century European powers engaged in the scramble for Africa, opening new colonies and finding new resources, and it was the century of Alfred Nobel’s invention of modern dynamite.

It was the century of exploration, colonial expansion and the consolidation of the modern European nation state, from the United Kingdom in 1801, to the declaration of Greek independence, the unification of Italy (1861) and the unification of modern Germany (1871).

We were seeing the world in a different way, we were moving around it in a different way, we were exploiting it in a different way, and we were thinking about it and talking about it and shaping in a different way. And we were thinking and talking about Christianity and shaping it in a different way.

The reshaping of Christianity was expressed in art, architecture, hymn-writing, Biblical criticism, and poetry.

There were new attitudes to the role of religion in society, and a new openness to questioning long-accepted understandings of Christianity. There were new attitudes to the authority of Scripture, ushered in both by new philosophical thinking that led to changes in approaches to theology and to the development of Biblical criticism. There was new thinking too on slavery, racism, women and war.

From the Enlightenment to Biblical Criticism

The influences of the Enlightenment and the implications of the cultural and scientific revolution began to be felt in the churches in the 19th century. German theologians brought new critical approaches to their study of the Bible with Biblical criticism.

This morning I want us to look at the influences on the development and reshaping of Christianity in the 19th century through the works of six key thinkers: René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Georg Hegel, Charles Darwin and Karl Mark; to look at the development and shaping of new approaches to theology through critical thinking, and briefly at how the new thinking and shaping were seen and heard in new church architecture and new church music.

Six influential thinkers:

1, René Descartes (1596-1650)

René Descartes (1596-1650) … Cogito ergo sum

The French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) is best known for his saying “Cogito ergo sum, Je pense, donc je sui, I think, therefore I am.”

His proof for the existence of God starts with the idea of God which he finds within himself: whatever caused the idea must have all the perfections that are represented in it.

William Marshall, in Scripture, Tradition and Reason (Dublin: Columba, 2010), draws attention to the considerable influence the thinking of Descartes had on Archbishop William Wake of Canterbury, and through him on the development of 18th century Anglican ways of doing theology.

Later, however, William Temple would reject Descartes’s methods, and was strongly tempted to consider the most disastrous moment in European philosophical thinking was the day Descartes decided to lock himself away in his room and to ponder his thoughts until he could say: “Cogito ergo sum.”

2, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) … aimed to unite reason with experience

In the following century, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was the leading German philosopher of his day. He spent his whole life in Prussia and was Professor of Logic in Königsberg, the Prussian capital, from 1770.

Kant is known for his ‘Critical Philosophy’ first expounded in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781). He sought to discover a definitive rationale for the admitted validity of mathematics and natural science. He argued that every event has a cause; knowledge is the result of a synthesis between an intellectual act and what is presented to the mind from without; and that all knowledge requires an ingredient derived from nature.

Kant cut at the root of traditional metaphysics, with its claim to provide knowledge of subjects that transcend nature. In doing this, he invalidated the traditional proofs of the existence of God.

But, while he insists that natural theology is an illusion, Kant believes that the voice of conscience in an individual assures us of truths that reason is unable to establish.

Kant defines religion as the recognition of our duties as Divine commands. He holds that there is no place for mystical experience, no place for a personal redeemer, and no place for the historical as such.

3, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) … often called the ‘Father of Modern Liberal Theology’

The German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who was deeply indebted to the thinking of Immanuel Kant, reacted against both contemporary German rationalism and the dominant formal expressions of Christianity. He tried to win educated and thinking people back to religion. He argues that religion is based on intuition and feeling and is independent of all dogma, and he sees its highest experience in a sensation of union with the infinite.

He defines religion as the feeling of absolute dependence that finds its purest expression in monotheism, with Christianity as its highest form of expression.

He became influential in the evolution of Higher Criticism, and his work is foundational for the modern hermeneutics, and he is often called the “Father of Modern Liberal Theology.”

4, Georg Hegel (1770-1831)

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) … wrestled with ‘the history of the appearance of God’

Schleiermacher ‘s contemporary, the German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831), studied theology at the University of Tübingen and was deeply influenced by the 17th century German mystic Jakob Boehme. Hegel seeks to present all philosophical problems and concepts in an evolutionary perspective. He argues that no idea has an unchanging and eternal validity.

For Hegel, the highest religion is Christianity, for in Christianity the truth that the Absolute manifests itself in the finite is symbolically reflected in the incarnation. Philosophy, however, is conceptually supreme, because it grasps the Absolute rationally. Once this has been achieved, the Absolute has arrived at full self-consciousness, and the cosmic drama reaches its end and goal. Only at this point did Hegel identify the Absolute with God. “God is God,” Hegel argued, “only in so far as he knows himself.”

Scholars are still divided on whether Hegel was a Christian or an atheist. But he remained a Lutheran all his life, and he believed Lutheranism was superior to other expressions of Christianity. By the time he died in 1831, Hegel had become the most prominent philosopher in Germany. His views were widely taught, and his followers ranged across the spectrum of theological, social and political thinking, including Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx.

Hegel describes one of the deepest fundamental structures of Christian belief – namely, that the death of Jesus is an event in God, and that this event can be understood only if God is the triune God:

The history of the resurrection and ascension of Christ to the right hand of God begins at the point where this history [of Christ’s death] receives a spiritual interpretation. That is when it came about that the little community achieved the certainty that God has appeared as a human being.

But this humanity in God ... is natural death. ‘God himself is dead,’ it says in a Lutheran hymn, expressing an awareness that the human, the finite, the fragile, the weak, the negative are themselves ... within God himself, that finitude, negativity, otherness are not outside of God and do not ... hinder unity with God.... [D]eath itself is this negative, the furthest extreme to which humanity as natural existence is exposed; God himself is involved in this.

... For the community, this is the history of the appearance of God. This history is a divine history, whereby the community has come to the certainty of truth. From it develops the consciousness ... that God is triune. The reconciliation in Christ ... makes no sense if God is not known as the triune God, if it is not recognised that God is, but also is as the other, as self-distinguishing, so that this other is God himself..., and that the sublation of this difference, this otherness, and the return of love, are the Spirit.
– GWF Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: The Lectures of 1827, (ed. PC Hodgson, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp 468-469.

5, Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) … ‘Nor can I remember that I have ever published a word directly against religion or the clergy’

Charles Darwin’s work was pivotal in the development of modern biology and the theory of evolution and played a prominent part in debates about religion and science.

Darwin was baptised in the Church of England, and studied at Christ’s College, Cambridge, with the original intention of preparing for ordination as an Anglican priest. There he became interested in the theology of William Paley who presented the argument from divine design in nature to explain adaptation as God acting through laws of nature.

On the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin remained orthodox in his Christianity and looked for “centres of creation.”

His interest in Paley was life-long, and his own theological views are reflected in On the Origin of Species (1859), continuing to believe in God as First Cause. In 1879, he explained that he had never been an atheist. A year earlier, he said: “Nor can I remember that I have ever published a word directly against religion or the clergy.”

Darwin continued to support his local parish in Downe, Kent, and its Sunday school and to contribute to the South American Missionary Society (SAMS). He said: “Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities.”

His funeral took place in Westminster Abbey, with the full rites of the Church of England.

Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) is remembered not so much as the founder of Cuddesdon Theological College but for his strident opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. At a famous debate in Oxford 1860, he asked Thomas Henry Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey, and got as answer that “he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth.”

6, Karl Marx (1818-1883):

Karl Marx (1818-1883) … wrote on ‘the union of believers with Christ’ when he was 16

Karl Marx was born to a Jewish Lutheran family in Trier in 1818. Both his father and his mother were descended from long lines of rabbis, and his father, Heinrich Marx, converted to Lutheranism in 1816 or 1817. Karl was born in 1818 and baptised in 1824, but his mother Henriette did not convert until 1825, when Karl was seven.

At about the time of his confirmation in the Evangelical Church of Prussia at the age of 16, when he was graduating from the gymnasium or high school, Marx wrote an extended essay entitled: “The union of believers with Christ according to John 15: 1-14, showing its basis and essence, its absolute necessity, and its effects.”

The essay is available in full at this link.

The young Marx writes:

When we consider also the history of individuals, when we consider the nature of man, it is true that we always see a spark of divinity in his breast, a passion for what is good, a striving for knowledge, a yearning for truth. But the sparks of the eternal are extinguished by the flames of desire; enthusiasm for virtue is drowned by the tempting voice of sin, it is scorned as soon as life has made us feel its full power; the striving for knowledge is supplanted by a base striving for worldly goods, the longing for truth is extinguished by the sweetly flattering power of lies; and so there stands man, the only being in nature which does not fulfil its purpose, the only member of the totality of creation which is not worthy of the God who created it. But that benign Creator could not hate his work; he wanted to raise it up to him and he sent his Son, through whom he proclaimed to us: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15: 3)

A few paragraphs later he explains his understanding of what it means to be united with Christ:

In union with Christ, therefore, we turn above all our loving eyes to God, feel the most ardent thankfulness towards him, and sink joyfully to our knees before him. Then, when by union with Christ a more beautiful sun has risen for us, when we feel all our iniquity but at the same time rejoice over our redemption, we can for the first time love God, who previously appeared to us as an offended ruler but now appears as a forgiving father, as a kindly teacher.

Thus, union with Christ consists in the most intimate, most vital communion with him, in having him before our eyes and in our hearts, and being so imbued with the highest love for Him, it also causes us to keep his commandments by sacrificing ourselves for one another, by being virtuous, but virtuous solely out of love for him (John 15: 9, 10, 12, 13, 14).

For an interesting discussion of Marx’s adaptation of Christian ideas, including the Kingdom of God as found in European millenarianism, read: http://mises.org/daily/3769

The development of Biblical Criticism

A copy of the King James Version of the Bible, dating from 1611, at a recent exhibition in Lambeth Palace

Biblical criticism grew out of this rationalism the developed from the 17th to the 19th century.

In the 19th century it was divided between the higher criticism, the study of the composition and history of Biblical texts, and lower criticism, the close examination of the text to establish their original or “correct” readings. These terms are largely no longer used, and contemporary criticism has seen the rise of new perspectives that draw on literary and multidisciplinary sociological approaches.

Historical and literary criticism:

Historical criticism seeks to locate the text in history: it asks such questions as when the text was written, who the author(s) might have been, and what history might be reconstructed from the answers.

Literary criticism asks what audience the authors wrote for, their presumptive purpose, and the development of the text over time.

Historical criticism was the dominant form of criticism until the late 20th century, when Biblical critics became interested in questions aimed more at the meaning of the text than its origins and developed methods drawn from mainstream literary criticism. The distinction is frequently referred to as one between diachronic and synchronic forms of criticism, the former concerned the development of texts through time, the latter treating texts as they exist at a particular moment, frequently the so-called "final form", meaning the Bible text as we have it today.

Both Old Testament and New Testament criticism originated in the rationalism of the 17th and 18th centuries and developed within the context of the scientific approach to the humanities, especially history, which grew during the 19th century. Studies of the Old Testament and New Testament were often independent of each other, largely due to the difficulty of any single scholar having a sufficient grasp of the many languages required or of the cultural background for the different periods of the texts.

Modern biblical criticism begins with the 17th century philosophers and theologians – Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, Richard Simon and others – who began to ask questions about the origin of the Biblical text, especially the Pentateuch. They questioned the tradition that these books were written by Moses and asked who had written them.

Jean Astruc (1684-1766), borrowing from methods of textual criticism used in examining Greek and Roman texts, he discovered what he believed were two distinct documents within Genesis.

His methods were adopted by German scholars such as Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827) and Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780-1849) in a movement that became known as the higher criticism. This school reached its apogee with the influential synthesis of Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) in the 1870s.

The implications of “higher criticism” were not welcomed by many religious scholars. Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) condemned secular biblical scholarship in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus, and it was not until 1943 that Pope Pius XII gave the new scholarship his approval in his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.

The seminal figure in New Testament criticism was Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768), who applied to it the methodology of Greek and Latin textual studies and became convinced that very little of what it said could be accepted as incontrovertibly true. His conclusions appealed to the rationalism of 18th century intellectuals, but were deeply troubling to contemporary believers.

In 1769, Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789) wrote Ecce Homo – The History of Jesus of Nazareth, a Critical Inquiry, the first Life of Jesus in which he is described as a mere historical man. It was published anonymously in Amsterdam. It was translated into English by George Houston, and published in Edinburgh (1799) and London (1813). For this “blasphemy,” Houston was sentenced to two years in prison. It was later published in New York in 1827.

Important scholars in the 19th century included David Strauss, Ernest Renan, Johannes Weiss, Albert Schweitzer and others, who investigated the “historical Jesus” within the Gospel narratives. For his part, HJ Holtzmann established a chronology for the composition of books in the New Testament, and established the two-source hypothesis – the hypothesis that the Gospels according to Saint Matthew and Saint Luke drew on the Gospel according to Saint Mark and a hypothetical document, known as “Q”.

In other modules, you have opportunities to explore these and other approaches to Biblical criticism, including textual criticism or “lower criticism,” source criticism, and so on.

But how did these approaches have an impact on Anglican theology in the 19th century?

Benjamin Jowett (centre) outside the Master’s Lodgings in Baliol College, Oxford, 1890 …

These 19th century challenges posed by science, reason and Biblical criticism and by the complete shift in thinking and understanding, at first polarised Anglican theological thinking in England, with many arguing that there was a clear-cut choice between the Bible and atheism.

But Anglicanism woke in a very dramatic way to Biblical criticism in March 1860 with the publication of a collection of seven essays, Essays and Reviews, edited by John William Parker. The topics covered the biblical research of the German critics, the evidence for Christianity, religious thought in England, and the cosmology of Genesis.

Each essay was written independently and there was no overall editorial policy, each contributor choosing his own theme. The seven essayists were: Frederick Temple, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury; Rowland Williams, then tutor at Cambridge and later Professor and Vice-Principal of Saint David’s University College, Lampeter; Baden Powell, Anglican priest and Professor of Geometry at Oxford; Henry Bristow Wilson, fellow of Saint John’s College, Oxford, and the sole layman among the authors; Charles Wycliffe Goodwin; Mark Pattison, tutor at Lincoln College, Oxford; and Benjamin Jowett, Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford (later Master) and Regius Professor of Greek, Oxford University.

The book was published just four months after Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and it summed up a three-quarter-century-long challenge to biblical history by the higher critics and to biblical prehistory by scientists working in the new fields of geology and biology. Essays and Reviews sold 22,000 copies in two years, more than Darwin’s On the Origin of Species sold in its first 20 years.

Today, the essay topics and conclusions may seem innocuous or innocent, but the collection sparked five years of increasingly polarised debate.

Baden Powell wrote of “Mr Darwin’s masterly volume” that the Origin of Species “must soon bring about an entire revolution in opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature.”

The essay ‘On the interpretation of scripture’ was written by Benjamin Jowett, who insisted that the Bible ought to be treated as scholars treated classical texts.

Jowett contended that revelation was ongoing and that the scriptures were always subject to reinterpretation as each generation encountered them. In 1863, he was brought before the vice-chancellor's court for teaching contrary to the doctrines of the Church of England, but the case was eventually dropped.

In a letter to The Times, the Archbishop of Canterbury and 25 other bishops threatened the theologians with the ecclesiastical courts. In response, Charles Darwin quoted a proverb: “A bench of bishops is the devil’s flower garden,” and joined others in signing a counter-letter supporting Essays and Reviews for trying to “establish religious teachings on a firmer and broader foundation.”

Two of the authors, Williams and Wilson, were indicted before the Court of Arches for heresy and lost their jobs by 1862. They appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and in 1864 it overturned the judgment, “dismissing hell with costs,” to the fury of Bishop Wilberforce. In all, 137,000 members of the laity signed a letter of thanks to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for voting against the committee, and a declaration in favour of biblical inspiration and eternal torments, was drawn up in Oxford and signed by 11,000 of the clergy. Wilberforce went to the Convocation of Canterbury and in June obtained synodical condemnation of Essays and Reviews.

The ‘Cambridge Triumvirate’ (from left) … Westcott, Lightfoot and Hort

However, three key Cambridge theologians would develop these approaches and ideas: Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889), and the Dublin-born FJA Hort (1828-1892). They argued that scientific discoveries, historical-critical arguments and sceptical conclusions deserved rational discussion.

Together, they produced a new, definitive version of the Greek New Testament and were instrumental in producing the Revised Standard Version. Their thinking also influenced Charles Gore (1853-1932) and the other scholars who contributed to the collection of essays Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation (1889). Ten editions were published within a year. Over the span of a generation, Anglican theology had moved from seeing Darwin as an enemy to recognising him as a friend.

Reshaping the Church

The interior of Saint Giles’ Church, Cheadle, designed by AWN Pugin … the Gothic revival reshaped the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

At the same time as theology and biblical studies were being reimaged, reshaped and reimaged, the Church was being reimaged, reshaped and reimaged by architects, poets, hymn-writers and artists.

In England, the liturgical revival introduced by the Oxford Movement created a demand for new and large churches to cater for the growing population. The movement inspired an interest in Gothic architecture, which was seen as the most appropriate style for parish churches.

The Cambridge Camden Society, through its journal The Ecclesiologist, encouraged Gothic architecture which soon became the standard for new cathedral and parish churches in England and Wales.

Saint Luke’s Church, Chelsea (1820-1824) was the first Gothic Revival church in London.

The Gothic style was developed by AWN Pugin, who also made it fashionable in Ireland, George Edmund Street, Charles Barry, and William Burges, and it replaced the previous preference for classical design.

John Ruskin supplemented Pugin’s ideas in two influential works, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1853).

Ruskin also influenced the Pre-Raphaelites who gave us a new way of looking at Biblical scenes and images, including John Everett Millais (1829-1896), William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Consider these works:

John Everett Millais, Christ in the house of his parents (1850)

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World (1854)

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat (1856)

William Holman Hunt, The Shadow of Death (1871)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850)

Rossetti’s sister, the poet Christina Rossetti (11830-1894), has given much-loved carols and hymns as ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter.’

Yes this was a century of great hymn-writers and composers: in Ireland, we had Cecil Frances Alexander, in America there was Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby; for composers think of the Irish-born Charles Villiers Stanford, or think of Hubert Parry.

By the end of the Victorian era, we had come to read the Bible in a new way, but we had also come to look at churches in a new way, to look at Biblical art in a new way, to sing new hymns, to read new poems. The ways we thought in the Church, and the ways we thought about the Church had been reshaped.


7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.

Tomorrow (16 May 2015). Field Trip:

8.1: The National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.

8.2: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological. This lecture on 15 March 2015 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course (part-time).

Church History (2014-2015, part-time)
7.1: Making connections (1): Renaissance,
Revolution and Enlightenment

The French Revolution by Delacroix (1830) ... the 18th century is known as the Age of Reason, or the Age of Revival, but was also the Age of Revolution

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 15 May 2015, 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.

Making connections (1): Renaissance, Revolution and Enlightenment

7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and reshaping Christianity, from Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism.

7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.

7.1: Making connections (1): Renaissance, Revolution and Enlightenment

In terms of Church History, the 18th century is often seen as the century of mission and expansion. However, the Canadian church historian, Gerald Cragg, has described that period as “The Age of Reason.” Indeed, we could equally also call this “The Age of Revival” or even the “Age of Revolution.”

It is a constant debate in the field of Church History whether the rise of Methodism and the preaching and impact of the Wesley brothers forestalled a revolution in England.

As we explore this period in the history of the Church (1660-1800), we cannot ignore the social and political impact of Methodism. Nor can we ignore its impact on the Church of Ireland.

At the same time, as we consider the wider political and social context in which the Church of Ireland found itself, we have to realise that there is a clear link connecting Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue.

And we also have to take account of the impact of the American Revolution on the Episcopal Church and the future shape of the Anglican Communion; the impact of the French Revolution on French Church, and more generally on the whole Christian Church; and, of course, the impact of the 1798 Rising on the Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland.


John Wesley ... his Journal records his travels over 250,000 miles, and he visited Ireland 21 times in a 42-year period from 1747 to 1789

Jakob Spenner and the rise of Pietism in Germany in the late 17th century, and Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and the Great Awakening in America at the beginning of the 18th century are the expressions of two movements – the Pietists and the Great Awakening – that had important influences on the Wesley brothers and the rise of Methodism later in the 18th century.

The sobriquet “Methodist” was originally given in 1729 to a group at Oxford known as the Holy Club and led by John Wesley (1703-1791). Wesley traced the “first rise” of Methodism to those early years, and the second stage to 1736 when the “rudiments of a Methodist society” appeared in Georgia, where the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were working as Anglican priests and missionaries with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, later SPG and now the United Society or simply Us).

During their voyage to America, and their stay in Georgia, the Wesley brothers were deeply influenced by the Moravians, who in turn had taken on much of the teachings and experiences of the German Pietists. But John Wesley alienated the colonists, and returned to England in 1737.

Then, in 1738, Wesley helped to reframe the rules of an Anglican society that met in Fetter Lane, London.

Once again, the Wesleys were in close contact with the Moravians in London, and within three days of each other in May 1738 the brothers John and Charles had vital Christian experiences – what John described as his heart being “strangely warmed” when a passage was being read from Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

We could see this as the turning point in the Evangelical Revival on this side of the Atlantic. The Wesleys preached throughout Britain and Ireland: John Wesley’s Journal records his travels over 250,000 miles, and he visited Ireland 21 times in a 42-year period from 1747 to 1789.

When John Wesley found the doors of Anglican churches closed to him, he followed the example of George Whitefield, and preached in the open.

The first Methodist Conference met in 1744, and the first Methodist circuits were organised as early as 1746. Methodism gained strong positions throughout Ireland, England and Wales, but notably made slower headway in Scotland.

In America, Methodism owed its beginnings to two Irish emigrants, Robert Strawbridge from Drumsna, who settled in Maryland, and Philip Embury, who settled in New York.

The break with Anglicanism came when John Wesley decided to ordain local preachers for areas in which Methodists could not receive the sacraments. Although Wesley hoped that Methodism could stay within the boundaries of Anglicanism, and he died an Anglican priest, Methodism became a separate organisation and a separate church.

The American Revolution of 1776

Although the American Revolution pre-dated the French revolution by 13 years, many of the American revolutionaries owed a lot to French thinking at the time. This contained a strong element of religious polemic and debate.

The political philosophy of the American revolutionaries had much in common with, in some places, René Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher who has been called the “Father of Modern Philosophy,” and, in others, with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who began life in Geneva as a Calvinist, moved to France where he converted to Catholicism, returned to Geneva and reconverted to Calvinism, and then ended his days in France as a Deist.

The American Declaration of Independence appeals to God as the ultimate source of justification for the liberties demanded by the authors, and the appeal to self-evident truth, in order to justify the basis of the Declaration, can be traced to Descartes.

Karl Barth (1886-1968) observed that the Declaration of Independence represented a Calvinism gone to seed, although its principal author, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a Deist at heart and owed much to English and French political theory.

In the Declaration, the American revolutionaries declared:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The impact on the Episcopal/Anglican Church:

After the American Revolution, many Anglicans fled New England, moving north and settling in Canada. There, Anglicanism has been strongly influenced by a steady flow of clergy and missionaries from the Church of Ireland.

Anglicans who remained in the new United States after the revolution felt isolated from the Church of England, whose bishops were unwilling or unable to provide new bishops to serve the new church.

The first American bishop was not secured for another 18 years, until 1784 – the same year American Methodists broke with Anglicanism as a consequence of John Wesley’s ordinations of a superintendent or bishop for America. That same year saw the consecration of Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) by bishops from the nonjuring Episcopal Church of Scotland.

Although Seabury was elected Bishop of Connecticut in 1783, the bishops of the Church of England found they could not consecrate him because he could not take the Oath of Allegiance. As a consequence, the “high” liturgy of the Episcopalians of Scotland strongly influenced the Episcopal Church in America for generations.

The King’s Chapel was the first Anglican or Episcopalian church in Boston, and the first church in the US to call itself a Unitarian church.

As an aside, we should also note that, although Unitarian teachings in America first arose among the Congregationalists of New England, the first preacher to call himself a “Unitarian” was a post-independence Episcopalian, James Freeman (1759-1835). King’s Chapel, which had been founded in 1686, was the first Anglican or Episcopalian Church in Boston and in New England.

The Rector, the Revd Henry Caner, a Loyalist, had been forced to leave in 1776 when the British troops evacuated Boston. Freeman was chosen as the minister of the King’s Chapel in 1782, and he immediately set about revising The Book of Common Prayer for use in his church.

Bishop Samuel Seabury refused to ordain Freeman, who had been chosen as the minster of the King’s Chapel, and in 1785 Freeman turned the King’s Chapel in Boston into the first Unitarian church in North America. The church continues to use its own unique Anglican-Unitarian hybrid liturgy.

The French Revolution of 1789

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Voltaire (1694-1778) ... two of the key writers and thinkers in the wave of revolutionary thought that led to the French Revolution

Two of the key writers and thinkers in the wave of revolutionary thought that led to the French Revolution were Rousseau and Voltaire.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was, in turn, a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Deist. Rousseau argued that people, if left to themselves, are noble and good. Instead of the concept of the divine right of kings, he put forward the concept of the Social Contract (1762), which would pave the way for the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and, of course, the French Revolution.

Voltaire, the alias used by Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), believed God was to be adored and served, not to be argued over or made the object of institutional religion. Voltaire attacked the Church with remorseless wit, and saw nothing in it but deceit and corruption. His monumental works was his Philosophical Dictionary, based on his articles for Denis Diderot’s Encyclopaedia, first published secretly in 1759.

The French Revolution was a revolution against the excesses of both church and state. Most of the land was owned by the nobility or the clergy. Although violence was not part of the original plan for social change of either Rousseau or Voltaire, the Bastille was attacked on 14 July 1789, the prisoners were freed, and the building was razed to the ground.

Within a month, a “Declaration on the Rights of Man” was promulgated, at the suggestion of Bishop Talleyrand (1754-1838), and Church lands were taken into public ownership in an attempt to finance the revolutionary changes taking place.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord is an interesting figure in the French revolution. A prince by birth, he became Bishop of Autun in 1789. That year he joined the revolution, and became a member of the Constitutional Assembly, taking the oath to the Civil Constitution, and consecrating as bishops priests who were prepared to take that oath as bishops to fill the vacated dioceses.

Talleyrand was excommunicated in 1793, but he continued to be active in politics, becoming Foreign Minister in 1796, taking charge of the Provisional Government in 1814, and serving as the French ambassador to England from 1830 to 1834.

The French Church was reorganised in 1790, and over the next year the number of bishops was reduced from 140 to 83, bishops and priests were to be elected by the people, and the clergy were compelled to swear allegiance to the French constitution rather than the state. Gallicanism had its victory in 1791.

But during the early days of the French revolution, the Jacobins emerged as a key party. They were so named because they first met regularly in the Jacobin convent in Paris. Their leaders included Marat, Danton, and Robespierre, and with an army of peasants they marched on Paris in 1792. Those nobles and clergy who opposed the revolution were executed summarily, and Louis XVI went to the guillotine on 21 January 1793.

The Jacobins also took the affairs of religion into their own hands. On 10 November 1793, a group of deputies marched to Notre Dame Cathedral. There they enthroned a dancer of doubtful morals as “the Goddess of Reason.”

From 1793, France was almost continuously at war with its European neighbours, including England, which had consequences for Ireland, and for the churches in Ireland, too.

The Irish Revolution of 1798:

The Battle of Ballynahinch on 13 June 1798: there is a direct chain linking the events of 1776, 1789 and 1798

I said earlier there was clear connection, linking Bunker Hill, the Bastille and Boolavogue. We should not see the events in Ireland in 1798 in isolation from the events in France nine years earlier, or from events in North America 22 years earlier. Nor should we fail to put the events of 1798 into a context at home, either.

The Rising of 1798 comes as a natural sequence to a number of reforms, and unmet demands for reform throughout Ireland at this time, demands and reforms that had major impact on the Church of Ireland and its members.

In the mid-18th century, the towns and cities of Ireland were governed and controlled by self-appointing and self-perpetuating ruling oligarchies with exclusively Church of Ireland memberships, and the greatest proportion of Irish land was in the hands of Protestants, and more particularly in the hands of members of the Church of Ireland.

By 1745, a vigorous campaign was under way in Dublin to overturn the oligarchic powers of the self-selecting aldermen who ruled the city, which now had a population of 110,000. This campaign was led by two members of the Church of Ireland – Charles Lucas and James Digges La Touche. Lucas was also more open to the rights of Presbyterians, which further alienated him from many of the bishops, clergy, and others in the Church of Ireland.

But the successes of Lucas and La Touche inspired similar reforms in other cities and towns.

The Church of Ireland was also arousing increasing hostility because of the contentious issue of tithes. Tithes were an important factor in agitation in the 1760s associated with the Hearts of Oak (drawing support from Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics) in Ulster, and the Whiteboys (mainly Catholics) in Munster. Draconian legislation was introduced in 1776, and in that year 20 Whiteboys were executed, some of them on the orders of magistrates who were also clergy of the Church of Ireland.

That was the year of the American Revolution, and it saw the growth of the Volunteer movement, aimed on the one-hand at controlling the Whiteboys and on the other at replacing the soldiers withdrawn from Ireland to fight in America.

The next wave of agrarian unrest came with the Rightboys in the 1780s. Curiously, by now some of the gentry realised that release from the burden of tithes would quieten their tenants, and also leave them to pay their rents more easily. This challenge provoked a famous response from Richard Woodward, Bishop of Cloyne, who warned in 1786 that if the existing established church were overturned, the state would soon share its fate.

But the Roman Catholic Church was gaining in confidence, and Catholics were gaining in the extension of liberties by a government anxious to secure their loyalty, particularly in the face of threats from revolutionary France. Catholics were admitted to the legal profession in 1792, allowed to take degrees at Trinity College Dublin, in certain circumstances even allowed to bear arms or to become army officers – between 1793 and 1815 about 200,000 Irish recruits, the vast majority of them Roman Catholics, entered the British army and navy. And the franchise was extended to a limited number of Roman Catholics.

The government was worried that continuing clerical training in France would provide a new generation of revolutionary priests – those who were trained in France at the time of the French Revolution included Father John Murphy of Boolavogue. And so, in 1795, the same year as the formation of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Maynooth was founded with government funding as the Royal College of Saint Patrick.

Despite the popular image of a rising led by Presbyterians in the north-east in 1798 and by Catholic priests like John Murphy in the south-east, many of the leading members of the United Irishmen and their sympathisers were prominent members of the Church of Ireland, often finding inspiration for their revolutionary ideals in their religious beliefs and maintaining close links with church life.

Among the founding members of the United Irishmen in 1791 were Thomas Russell, Theobald Wolfe Tone and Simon Butler, all active and pious members of the Church of Ireland. After the society was proscribed, Russell, Tone and others climbed Cave Hill outside Belfast in June 1795, and solemnly swore not to desist in their efforts until Ireland had asserted its independence.

Prominent among the United Irishmen in 1798 was Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763-1798), whose uncles and cousins included a Bishop of Cork, an Archdeacon of Ross, and a Rector of the famous Shandon church in Cork. The brothers Henry Sheares (1755-1798) and John Sheares (1766-1798), were the most noticeable of United Irishmen among the parishioners of Saint Michan’s, Dublin – both were hanged publicly on 14 July 1798.

Other leading United Irishmen with intimate church links included Wolfe Tone, who married the granddaughter of a clergyman; Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, commander of the Wexford rebel forces, who was the grandson of two and the nephew of a third clergyman in the Diocese of Ferns; and Cornelius Grogan, a conscientious patron of the Parish of Ardamine and churchwarden of Rathaspeck, both in Co Wexford. As Grogan went to his death on Wexford Bridge, accompanied by the Rector of Wexford, Archdeacon John Elgee, it is said (by the local historian, Nicky Furlong) that “the sailors of the Royal Navy who hanged him were amazed when … they heard him recite Protestant prayers.”

In the north-east, it is often forgotten that the hero and heroine of the Battle of Ballynahinch, Henry Monroe and Betsy Gray (if she ever existed as a real historical character), were both members of the Church of Ireland.

Many of these laymen and women had been fired in their revolutionary zeal by their religious convictions, shaped and moulded in the Church of Ireland. Among those religious United Irishmen was Thomas Russell (1757-1803). Known in song and folklore as “the Man from God-knows-where,” Russell combined his revolutionary politics with a strong visionary brand of millenarianism and pious sacramentalism, and his knowledge of the Bible was so exact that he could argue with professional theologians on interpretations from both Hebrew and Greek.

By 1791, he had formed his lasting attachment to radical Christianity. Influenced by the recently published works of the Jesuit Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, Russell considered the comparatively beneficial system of government instituted by the Jesuits in Paraguay as “beyond compare the best, the happiest, that ever has been instituted.” On the other hand, he contended, tyranny had endeavoured to support itself “by perverting Christianity from its purposes and debasing its purity.”

Russell was arrested before the 1798 Rising began, and his writings in Newgate Prison, Dublin, exhibit a deep self-examination coupled with a strong personal faith:

O Lord God … it is not from thy justice
Before which I stand condemned
That I expect salvation,
But from thy mercy that I expect pardon and forgiveness,
My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

When the 20 key surviving leaders of the Rising were deported to Scotland in 1799, ten (half) of them were members of the Church of Ireland, Russell among them. When he was eventually executed in 1803, it was after he had spent his last hours translating from his Greek New Testament verses from the Book of Revelation that summarised his politically beatific and visionary millenarianism: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (Revelation 21: 1).

Russell was buried in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral. Henry Monroe, who shared so many of his ideals and who was executed three years earlier, is buried in a quiet corner of the churchyard at Lisburn Cathedral.

Biographical notes on some key figures:

1, John Wesley (1703-1791)

John Wesley preaching at his father’s grave

John Wesley was an Anglican priest and theologian who was an early leader in the Methodist movement. Methodism had three rises:

• At Oxford University with the founding of the so-called “Holy Club.”

• While Wesley was a parish priest in Savanah, Georgia.

• After Wesley’s return to England.

The movement took form from its third rise in the early 1740s with Wesley, along with others, itinerant field preaching and the subsequent founding of religious societies for the formation of believers. This was the first widely successful evangelical movement in Britain. Wesley’s Methodist Connection included societies throughout these islands before spreading to other parts of the English-speaking world and beyond.

Methodists, under Wesley’s direction, became leaders in many social justice issues of the day including prison reform and abolitionism movements.

Wesley’s strength as a theologian lay in his ability to combine seemingly opposing theological stances. His greatest theological achievement was his promotion of what he termed “Christian perfection,” or holiness of heart and life. Wesley insisted that in this life, the Christian could come to a state where the love of God, or perfect love, reigned supreme in one’s heart.

His theology, especially his understanding of perfection, was firmly grounded in his sacramental theology. He continually insisted on the general use of the means of grace (prayer, Scripture, meditation, Holy Communion, &c), as the means by which God transformed the believer. Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the Church of England and insisted that his movement was well within the bounds of Anglicanism.

Wesley was born in Epworth Rectory, 37 km north-west of Lincoln, the fifteenth child of the Revd Samuel Wesley, a Church of England priest, and his wife Susanna Annesley. At the age of five, John was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind; and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a “brand plucked from the burning.”

He was ordained a deacon in 1725, was elected a fellow of Lincoln College Oxford the following year, and received his MA in 1727. He was his father’s curate for two years, and then returned to Oxford to fulfil his functions as a fellow.

Leading Wesley scholars point to 1725 as the date of Wesley’s conversion. In the year of his ordination he read and began to seek the religious truths which underlay the great revival of the 18th century. He said the reading of Christian Perfection and Serious Call by the mystic and Nonjuror William Law (1686-1761) gave him a more sublime view of the law of God; and he resolved to keep it, inwardly and outwardly, as sacredly as possible.

The year of his return to Oxford, 1729, marks the beginning of the rise of Methodism. The famous “Holy Club” was formed by John Wesley’s younger brother, Charles Wesley, and some fellow students, derisively called “Methodists” because of their methodical habits.

John Wesley left in 1735 for Savannah, Georgia. In the midst of a devastating storm on the way to Georgia, he was deeply impressed by a group of Moravians who remained calm by singing hymns. In Georgia, he built up a positive relationship with the Moravians. Some of the charges brought against him in Georgia were on account of his unusual liturgical “experiments.” A Journal entry in 1735 reports that he spent three hours “revising” The Book of Common Prayer. This indicates that Wesley’s intense reading of the Church Fathers and writers from the Eastern Orthodox Church influenced his approaches and baffled those who knew him.

But in Georgia, he had an unhappy love affair, which culminated in John's refusal to serve communion to his prospective wife and her husband. Her husband charged John with slander for disgracing his wife's honour. He returned to England in 1738, depressed and beaten.

It was at this point that he turned once again to the Moravians. After his Aldersgate experience on 24 May 1738, at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, when he heard a reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he penned the now famous lines: “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” This revolutionised the character and method of his ministry.

Soon Wesley found most of the parish churches were closed to him, and he preached his first open-air sermon near Bristol in April 1739. Later that year, he formed his first Methodist Society. Similar societies were soon formed in Bristol and Kingswood, and wherever Wesley and his friends made converts.

Wesley and the Methodists were attacked in sermons and in print and at times attacked by mobs.

As early as 1739, he approved of lay preaching and pastoral work, and his first chapel was built that year in Bristol.

As his societies multiplied, and the elements of an ecclesiastical system were gradually adopted, the breach between Wesley and the Church of England widened. But the Wesley brothers refused to leave the Church of England, believing the Anglican Church to be “with all her blemishes … nearer the Scriptural plan than any other in Europe.”

In 1746, he read Peter King (Lord King) on the Primitive Church (An Enquiry into the Constitution, Discipline, Unity and Worship of the Primitive Church that flourished within the first Three Hundred Years after Christ), and was convinced by this that apostolic succession was a fiction, that in fact that he was “a scriptural episcopos as much as any man in England.” Some years later, Bishop Edward Stillingfleet’s Irenicon led him to renounce the opinion that neither Christ nor his apostles prescribed any form of Church government, and to declare ordination valid when performed by a presbyter/priest. It was not until about 40 years later that he ordained by the laying on of hands, and even then only for those who would work outside England.

The Bishop of London continued to refuse to ordain a minister for the American Methodists who were without the sacraments, and so in 1784 Wesley ordained preachers for Scotland and America, with power to administer the sacraments. Although Thomas Coke was already a priest in the Church of England, Wesley consecrated him, by the laying on of hands, to be superintendent in America. He also ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey as priests.

Wesley intended that Coke, and Asbury (who was subsequently consecrated in America by Coke) should ordain others in the newly founded Methodist Episcopal Church. This alarmed his brother Charles Wesley, who begged him to stop before he had “quite broken down the bridge,” and not “leave an indelible blot on our memory.” Wesley replied that he had not separated from the Church, nor did he intend to, but he must and would save as many souls as he could while alive, “without being careful about what may possibly be when I die.”

Although he rejoiced that the Methodists in America were free, he advised his English followers to remain in the Church of England, and he himself died within it.

He died peacefully on 2 March 1791, and is buried in a small graveyard behind Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London. Wesley is listed as Number 50 on the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Britons.

2, Samuel Seabury (1729-1796):

A window in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Edinburgh, commemorating the consecration of Samuel Seabury as a bishop

Samuel Seabury was the first American Episcopal bishop, the second Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, and the first Bishop of Connecticut.

Seabury was born in Ledyard, Groton, Connecticut, in 1729. His father, also Samuel Seabury (1706-1764), was originally a Congregationalist minister in Groton, but was ordained deacon and priest in the Church of England in 1731, in 1731, and was the Rector of New London, Connecticut, from 1732 to 1743, and in Hempstead, Long Island, from 1743 until his death.

Samuel Seabury (the son) graduated from Yale in 1748. He studied theology with his father, and studied medicine in Edinburgh (1752-1753). He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln and priest by the Bishop of Carlisle (1753). He was the Rector of Christ Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey (1754-1757), Rector of Jamaica, New York (1757-1766), and of Rector of Saint Peter’s, Westchester (now part of the Bronx) (1766-1775).

He was one of the signers of the White Plains protest in April 1775 against all unlawful congresses and committees, and during the American Revolution was a devoted loyalist. He wrote the Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress (1774) by AW Farmer (i.e. A Westchester Farmer). This was followed by a second Farmer’s Letter, The Congress Canvassed (1774), answered by Alexander Hamilton in A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies. A third Farmer’s Letter replied to Hamilton’s View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies, in a broader and abler treatment than in the previous pamphlets. To this third pamphlet Hamilton replied with The Farmer Refuted (1775).

These three Farmer’s Letters – a fourth was advertised but apparently was never published – were forceful presentations of the pro-British claim, written in a plain, hard-headed style. Seabury claimed them in England in 1783 when he was seeking episcopal consecration. At the same time he claimed the authorship of a letter, not signed by a Westchester farmer, which under the title An Alarm to the Legislature of the Province of New York (1775) discussed the power of this, the only legal political body in the colony. Seabury’s clarity of style and general ease of reading would set him apart from his ecclesiastical colleagues throughout his life.

Seabury was arrested in November 1775 by a mob of Whigs, and was kept in prison in Connecticut for six weeks. He was prevented from carrying out his parochial ministry, and after some time in Long Island he took refuge in New York City, where in 1778 he was appointed chaplain to the King’s American Regiment.

On 25 March 1783, a meeting of 10 Episcopal clergy in Woodbury, Connecticut, elected Seabury bishop as their second choice (their first choice declined for health reasons). There were no Anglican bishops in the Americas to consecrate him, so he sailed to London on 7 July.

In England, however, his consecration was rationalised as impossible because, as an American citizen, he could no longer take the oath of allegiance to monarchy.

Seabury then turned to the nonjuring Scottish Episcopal Church, whose bishops at that time refused to recognise the authority of George III. Seabury was consecrated in Aberdeen on 14 November 1784, with the condition that he would study the Scottish Rite for the Holy Communion and work for its adoption rather than the English rite of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

To the present day, the ECUSA/TEC liturgy follows to the main features of the Scottish Episcopalian rite in one of its Eucharistic liturgies.

The anniversary of Seabury’s consecration is now a lesser feast day in the calendars of both ECUSA/TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Seabury’s consecration by the bishops in Scotland caused alarm in the (Whig) British government, raising fears of an entirely Jacobite church in the US. Parliament was persuaded to make provision for the consecration of foreign bishops. Seabury’s tenacity made possible a continued relationship between the American and English churches.

Seabury returned to Connecticut in 1785 and made his home in New London, Connecticut, where he was the Rector of Saint James’ Church. At first, the validity of his consecration was questioned by some, but it was recognised by the General Convention of his church in 1789.

In 1790, Seabury took charge of the Diocese of Rhode Island also. In 1792, he joined Bishop William White and Bishop Samuel Provoost, who had received English consecration in 1787, and James Madison (1749-1812), who had received English consecration in 1790, in the consecration of Thomas John Claggett as Bishop of Maryland in 1792, thus uniting the Scottish and the English successions.

Seabury played a decisive role in the evolution of Anglican liturgy in North America after the Revolution. His Communion Office (New London, 1786), was based on the Scottish Book of Common Prayer rather than the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Seabury was the probably the only liturgically literate member of the House of Bishops in his day.

Seabury kept strictly his obligation to the Scots to study and quietly advocate their point of view in Eucharistic matters. His defence of the Scottish service – especially its restoration of the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit, influenced the first Book of Common Prayer adopted by the Episcopal Church in 1789. The Prayer of Consecration in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England ended with the Words of Institution. But the Scottish Rite continued with a Prayer of Oblation based on the ancient classical models of Consecration Prayers found in Roman and Orthodox Christianity.

In addition to the epiclesis, Seabury argued for the restoration of another ancient custom – the weekly celebration of Holy Communion on Sundays. In An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion (New Haven, 1789), he wrote that “when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ, and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday’s solemnity.”

Seabury was ahead of his time. Two centuries later the custom of a weekly Eucharist was rapidly spreading through many Anglican parishes under the impact of the Liturgical Movement.

Seabury died in New London on 25 February 1796, and he was buried in a small chapel at Saint James’.

3, Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798):

Edward Delaney’s statue in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763-1798), a leading United Irishman and a member of the Church of Ireland

Theobald Wolfe Tone was a leading figure in the United Irishmen and is regarded as the father of Irish republicans. He died from a self-inflicted wound after being sentenced to death for his part in the 1798 Rising.

He was born in Dublin in 1763, the son of a coach-maker who was a member of the Church of Ireland. He studied law at Trinity College Dublin and qualified as a barrister from the King’s Inns at the age of 26, and attended the Inns of Court in London. As a student, he eloped with Elizabeth Witherington, daughter of William Witherington, of Dublin, and his wife, Catherine Fanning, and they were married in Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin. Tone and his wife, whom he renamed Matilda, he had two sons and a daughter. She was only 16 when they married, and she lived on for 50 years after his death.

Tone submitted a scheme for founding a military colony in Hawaii, but the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, took no notice of it. Tone then turned to politics. An able pamphlet attacking the administration of the Marquess of Buckingham in 1790 brought him to the notice of the Whig Club, and in September 1791 he wrote an essay using the pseudonym of “A Northern Whig,” of which 10,000 copies were said to have been sold.

About this time, the principles of the French Revolution were being eagerly embraced in Ireland. At a meeting in Belfast two months before Tone’s essay was published, a resolution was passed calling for the abolition of religious disqualifications, “giving the first sign of political sympathy between the Roman Catholics and the Protestant Whigs.” Tone’s essay and that meeting emphasised the growing breach between Whig patriots like Henry Flood and Henry Grattan, who aimed at Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform without breaking the connection with England, and those who sought a separate Irish Republic.

In October 1791, Tone, Thomas Russell (1767-1803) and James Napper Tandy – all three members of the Church of Ireland – and others joined in founding the Society of United Irishmen. In the years that followed, Tone worked closely in his plans for revolution with a Church of England priest, the Revd William Jackson, who came to Ireland to negotiate between the French Committee of Public Safety and the United Irishmen, but Jackson was arrested in April 1794. In May 1795, on the summit of Cave Hill in Belfast, Tone made the famous compact with Russell and Henry Joy McCracken, promising “Never to desist in our efforts until we subvert the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence.”

Tone was arrested on board the Hoche by an English squadron at Rathmullan on Lough Swilly, Co Donegal, on 12 October 1798. He was sentenced to be hanged on 12 November 1798. Before this sentence was carried out, he suffered a fatal neck wound. According to contemporary accounts, the wound was elf-inflicted; he died a week later at the age of 35 in prison in Dublin and is buried in the former Church of Ireland churchyard in Bodenstown, Co Kildare.


7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and reshaping Christianity, from Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism.

7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.

Tomorrow (16 May 2015). Field Trip:

8.1: The National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.

8.2: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological. This lecture on 15 March 2015 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course (part-time).