15 May 2022

Francis Hutchinson, Rector
of Passeham who was
also a bishop in Ireland

A man and his daughter by the Flemish painter Jan Vierpyl (1721) … now believed to depict Bishop Francis Hutchinson (National Gallery of Ireland)

Patrick Comerford

I took a walk along the banks of the Great Ouse River between Stony Stratford and Passenham during the weekend. Earlier, I had finished writing a magazine feature that refers to the church in Passenham, where the dedication to Saint Guthlac (674-715) is rare.

About 1,000 years after Saint Guthlac, Francis Hutchinson was the Rector of Passenham in 1706-1727, and was also Bishop of Down and Connor from 1720 until his death in 1739. He was a key figure in the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and was obsessed with witchcraft and with trying to convert Irish-speaking population of Rathlin Island.

But how did this 18th century bishop in the Church of Ireland find himself in this small parish in the Diocese of Peterborough and this small village in Northamptonshire, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes?

Francis Hutchinson (1660-1739) was born in Carsington in Derbyshire, on 2 January 1660. He studied at Catherine Hall, Cambridge (BA 1680, MA 1684, DD 1698), and was ordained deacon (1683) and priest (1684) by Henry Compton, Bishop of London.

He was first a curate (lecturer) in Widdington, Essex (1684), and then became Vicar of Hoxne, Suffolk (1690). He became perpetual curate (vicar) of Saint James’s, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 1692 and resigned from Hoxne when he became the Rector of Passenham in 1706.

Throughout those years, Hutchinson was known for his low church latitudinarianism and his sympathy for Protestant dissenters. But he was also a key early figure in the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).

Following the Hanoverian succession, Hutchinson was seen as a dependable Whig. He was a prolific writer, constantly writing pamphlets supporting the Whigs on the great issues of the day, such as the war of Spanish succession.

His tracts repeated Whig ideology and anti-Catholic propaganda. His most famous work, An historical essay concerning witchcraft (1718), defended the Whigs’ social and cultural ideology, advocating sociable forms of religion and condemning unsociable forms of religion such as traditional witchcraft beliefs.

Although there was a widespread belief in and fear of witchcraft, witchcraft trials and executions were extremely rare. The last person in England was executed for witchcraft in Exeter in 1685.

Hutchinson began writing his book on witchcraft in the early 18th century while he was still in Passenham. By then, accusations of witchcraft continued to be made. Occasionally these led to trials, such as the trial of Jane Wenham in Hertfordshire in 1712.

Wenham was acquitted after a bitter and socially disturbing trial that Hutchinson attended. As a result, he became convinced that witchcraft trials posed a serious threat to public order and to social and political stability.

Through the influence of Francis Godolphin (1678-1766), 2nd Earl of Godolphin, Hutchinson became a royal chaplain on 17 March 1715. Then, on the recommendation of two leading Whigs – the Lord Chancellor Thomas Parker (1667-1732), 1st Earl of Macclesfield, and William Wake (1657-1737), Archbishop of Canterbury – he became Bishop of Down and Connor in 1720 following the death of Edward Smith.

Archbishop William King refused to consecrate Hutchinson, leaving the task to a commission formed mainly of English bishops, and he was finally consecrated bishop on 22 January 1721.

Hutchinson soon found he was thoroughly disliked by the other Irish bishops. John Evans, Bishop of Meath, was concerned by his lack of social skill and reluctance to socialise with the other bishops. Other bishops dismissed him as political appointee, eager to collect the income his see offered but indifferent to its spiritual needs. Indeed, he was more concerned with his temporal duties in the House of Lords than with his spiritual duties as a bishop.

In his own diocese, he was denounced by his largely Tory clergy for not being concerned about the large numbers of Presbyterians in the diocese. There, he continued to be a vocal supporter of the Whig and Hanoverian regime, but most of his literary output was concerned with matters religious and economic.

For Hutchinson, Catholicism posed the greatest threat to the Anglican status quo in Ireland. Yet he argued that the Penal Laws, passed from 1691, had failed to achieve the anticipated mass conversion of Catholics. Instead, he encouraged printing religious materials in Irish, such as the Book of Common Prayer, the catechism, a primer, the Psalms and the New Testament.

In his scheme to convert the Irish-speaking Catholic population of Rathlin Island, he built a charity school and church and printed a bilingual catechism, written in a new, easy-to-read, phonetic form of the Irish language he developed.

Hutchinson’s catechism (1722) used a more phonetic writing system that bore a closer resemblance to English than traditional literary Irish. He consequently increased the number of letters in the Irish alphabet from 18 to 26, and printed his Irish translations in a Roman typeface rather than the traditional Gaelic one. But his hope remained that English would supplant Irish as the common language.

He chose Rathlin Island as the site for a pilot scheme because it was one of the few places in his diocese with a large proportion of Irish-speaking Catholics. There was no resident Catholic priest resident on Rathlin to oppose his plans, and in 1722, the bishop confirmed 40 Catholic schoolchildren from Rathlin.

But his Rathlin project was controversial and eventually failed. His reforms of the written Irish language were mocked and condemned by his clergy and bishops. A squib on his versatility, published in Dublin in 1725-1726 as a broadsheet, is attributed to Dean Jonathan Swift.

Eventually, his experience of living among Catholics on his estate near Portglenone (1729-1731) convinced Hutchinson that only a small proportion of Irish Catholics were committed to a bloody rebellion or the slaughter of Protestants.

Hutchinson also wrote pamphlets on the social, cultural, and economic ‘improvement’ of Ireland, suggesting ways to develop fisheries, find employment for the large numbers of poor, make the River Bann more navigable, and drain the bogs around Lough Neagh.

Despite the hostility he faced, Hutchinson remained in the diocese until his death, living first in Lisburn and from 1730 at his new estate in Portglenone, Co Antrim. He died on 23 June 1739 at Portglenone, and was buried two days later under the chancel in the private chapel he built there in 1737.

He was twice married, to Dame Mary Crofts Read and to Peregrine, or Anne, North. His sons-in-law included John Hamilton, Dean of Dromore, and John Ryder, Archbishop of Tuam. His younger brother, Samuel Hutchinson (1666-1748), fought at the Battle of the Boyne, and was the father of: Samuel Hutchinson, Dean of Dromore (1729-1759), Archdeacon of Connor (1736-1759) and Bishop of Killala (1759-1780); Francis Hutchinson, Archdeacon of Down (1733-1768); and James Hutchinson, Vicar of Killead.

Samuel Hutchinson was also the ancestor of Richard Hely-Hutchinson (1756-1825), 1st Earl of Donoughmore, and John Hely-Hutchinson (1757-1832), 2nd Earl of Donoughmore.

Saint Guthlac’s Church in Passenham, near Stony Stratford … Francis Hutchinson was the Rector of Passenham (1706-1727) and Bishop of Down and Connor (1720-1739) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
15 May 2022 (Psalm 81)

‘I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket’ (Psalm 81: 6) … a basket on a ledge in Aghios Giorgios on the Greek island of Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and I am planning to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles this morning (15 May 2022). Before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 81:

Psalm 81 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 80.

This is the tenth of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 81 relates to the themes of celebration and repentance. This psalm emphasises praising a God who saves and a national return to liturgical worship.

The concept of choosing to act on the desires and wants of humans rather than walking with God and being in his favour is brought to light in this psalm. It also calls for repentance from the people to reorder God’s protection upon them.

The reference to the new moon and full moon as well as the blowing of the trumpet in verse 3 may reflect the celebration of New Year and Tabernacles.

This psalm can be divided into two parts:

1, verses 1-5b: The beginning of Psalm 81 is like a hymn. The reference to the new moon and full moon as well as the blowing of the trumpet in verse 3 may reflect the celebration of New Year and Tabernacles.

2, verses 5c–16: This hymn is followed by an oracle. In particular, verses 6-10 describe ‘God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt,’ while verses 11-16 recall the past disobedience of the people and promise to give victory over their enemies if they obey God.

The teaching of verses 9 and 10 is similar to the beginning of the Decalogue, although the words for ‘strange’ god and ‘foreign’ god are different from the ‘other gods’ in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, with the verb ‘brought [you] up’ and the order of the phrases reversed.

Some commentators argue that Psalm 81 is the poetic centre of the Psalter being the middle book (book 3 of 5), middle Psalm (8 of 17) and even point to the middle verses of this Psalm (Psalm 81: 8, 9 with ‘if you would but listen to me’).

‘Your hands were freed from the basket’ (Psalm 81: 6) … baskets in a shop in Ennistymon, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 81 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.

1 Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
4 For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5 He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
6 ‘I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
7 In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Selah 8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

11 ‘But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
13 O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their doom would last for ever.
16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.’

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’ It is introduced this morning this way:

Located in the capital of Brazil, the Anglican Diocese of Brasília is at the centre of political and economic decisions in the country. In February 2021, the diocese launched its own Department of Advocacy and Human Rights. The Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca was appointed as coordinator of the department. Under the pastoral leadership of Bishop Maurício Andrade, the diocese began to act on the national political scene, making the Church’s voice heard in debates, especially in matters relating to human and environmental rights.

In April 2021, the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca participated in a public hearing with the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Chamber of Federal Deputies. During his speech, the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca highlighted the importance of the Church being part of public debate, placing itself on the side of socially vulnerable people.

The creation of the Diocesan Department of Advocacy and Human Rights is an important milestone in the history of the Anglican Diocese of Brasilia, as it now explicitly represents the Church in the political arena.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (15 May 2022, Easter V) invites us to pray:

Holy Father,
we give thanks for the gift of family.
May we embrace those around us,
Remembering that we are all your children.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org