Church History, The Church of Ireland: 1660-1800
Church History 3 (1): The early Georgian Church and the age of Swift and Berkeley
Part 1: The Church of Ireland:
At the death of Queen Anne, the Church of Ireland – like the Church of England – was divided between those who wanted a Jacobite restoration and those who wanted the throne to pass to the House of Hanover. In 1715, in the face of the rebellion of the Old Pretender, Thomas Lindsay, Archbishop of Armagh, was reluctant to sign a covenant drawn up by the House of Lords; and eventually, when he signed it, it was said he had placed it at the end so it could be torn off in the event of a Jacobite victory.
And so the two principal archbishops – Thomas Lindsay of Armagh as a suspected Jacobite and William King of Dublin as a Lord Justice – were opposed to each other politically. King was worried that Convocation would give a voice to and an excuse for assembly to the clergy who were sympathetic to the Jacobite Pretender, and so Convocation was not called again once the Hanovers had ascended the throne.
The year 1715 also saw the appointment of a reforming Archbishop of Tuam, Edward Synge, who brought about practical reforms in the way portions of the tithes were collected in the parishes and dioceses to support the bishops and archbishops. He tried also to provide financial incentives for pluralist clergy to resign some of their benefices.
The tensions continued between the English-born and Irish-born bishops and senior clergy in the Church of Ireland: King’s recommendation of Theophilus Bolton, who was born in Co Mayo, for a vacant see was turned down, although Bolton eventually went to Clonfert and Kilmacduagh in 1722. Many of the English-born clergy were more likely to be Whigs, and therefore sympathetic to legislation conceding greater liberties to the Presbyterians.
Eventually, a law was passed freeing Protestant dissenters from the penalties of the Act of Uniformity if they took the oaths of allegiance and abjuration, and made a declaration against transubstantiation.
Eventually King fell out of favour with the Government, and in 1719 he was omitted from the list of Lords Justices.
Meanwhile, there were petty disputes and scandals too.
King refused to consecrate Josiah Hort as Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin – supposedly because the letters patent incorrectly described him as being D.D. In reality, King refused to consecrate him because of his intense personal dislike for the former nonconformist minister from Bath. Eventually Hort he was consecrated by the bishops of Meath, Kilmore, and Dromore, went on to become Archbishop of Tuam.
William FitzGerald, who was Bishop of Clonfert until his death in 1722 at the age of 88, had been demented for his last years in office. At 76, he married a young woman who was reputed to govern her husband and his diocese; there were no glebes in the Diocese of Clonfert, half of the tithes went to laymen and a quarter to the bishop, and there were only 10 beneficed clergy, of whom half were non-resident.
The Archbishop of Dublin went to court in a dispute with the Dean and the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, over whether the archdeacon had a right to a seat in the chapter, and over the archbishop’s right of jurisdiction and visitation in the cathedral.
Eventually, the case went to the English House of Lords, where it was settled in favour of the archbishop. But there were lasting wounds: Archbishop King accused the dean and chapter of squandering their possessions, turning the chapter house into a toyshop and the vaults into wine cellars, and allowing part of Christ Church Cathedral to be used for secular use as part of the law courts.
Archbishop Lindsay of Armagh died in 1724, and Archbishop King of Dublin, who was about to be reconciled with his Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, was not promoted to Armagh. King was the leading churchman of the land, but he was native-born, he was independent-minded, he was quarrelsome at times, he did not promise subservient co-operation with Whitehall, he opposed the Toleration Act, and he was 74. The new Primate, instead, was Hugh Boulter (1672-1742), who, before coming to Ireland, Boulter was both the dean of Christ Church Oxford and Bishop of Bristol at one and the same time, and was a former chaplain to Hanoverian George I.
As Archbishop of Armagh, Boulter was a keen supporter of the so-called English interest, filling top judicial, political, and ecclesiastical posts in Ireland with Englishmen – a position that made him unpopular. Boulter, in his own words, set out “to break the present Dublin faction on the bench.” He appointed more English-born bishops to Irish dioceses, including Timothy Godwin, who was moved from Kilmore to Cashel instead of the Mayo-born Theophilus Bolton (1678-1744) of Elphin. This was due to Boulter’s distrust of the Irish-born clergy, and also to provide more Whig bishops who would be more favourable to the government.
Yet, despite his staunch political allegiance to England, Boulter did attempt to do his best for the people of Ireland, although his actions were often viewed with suspicion. When the harvest failed in Ulster in 1729, he bought food and supplied to help relieve hunger. He opened new schools, and forced through parliament a bill that revalued the price of gold in 1738, to the benefit of the poor. He also tried to reform clergy incomes and to improve the standards of living for the clergy, and he tried to tackle the thorny issue of pluralism.
Archbishop King ... died in 1729 and was buried in Donnybrook
Archbishop King died in 1729 and was buried in a country churchyard – Donnybrook in Dublin – reportedly in two feet of water and nine feet below the ground. The bequests he left included £400 to buy glebes for churches in rural parts of Dublin, and £500 to endow a lectureship on theology in Trinity College Dublin, which he had earlier endowed with another sum of £500.
King’s place as Archbishop of Dublin was filled by an Englishman – John Hoadly (1678-1746), who was translated from Ferns and Leighlin, where he was bishop (1727-1730) to Dublin and later became Archbishop of Armagh (1742-1746).
Eventually Bolton, who was Bishop of Elphin from 1724, and who had been passed over so often when it came to Episcopal promotion, was made Archbishop of Cashel in 1730. He is particularly remembered for the foundation of the Bolton Library in Cashel.
In this period, we also find the foundation of the first Protestant Charter Schools, principally through the initiatives of Henry Maule (1679-1758), Bishop of Cloyne (1726), Dromore (1732) and Meath (1744-1758). A royal charter was issued in 1730.
In other fields of education at this time, John Stearne (1660-1745) endowed a printing press at TCD, which became the foundation of the University Press, and left other bequests for TCD. Stearne was Swift’s predecessor as Chancellor, and later Dean (1702-1712), of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He became Bishop of Dromore in 1713 and Bishop of Clogher in 1717, but returned to Trinity College Dublin as Vice-Chancellor in 1721. Stearne was an intimate friend of both Swift and Stella, and owed becoming a bishop largely to Swift’s exertions on his behalf with Bolingbroke and Ormond. He published a manual for clergy, Tractatus de visitatione infirmorum (1697).
The Church of Ireland, as was the case with the Church of England, was facing problems with the state’s control of ecclesiastical new thinking and of appointments. In 1735, a storm arose over the appointment as Bishop of Derry of Thomas Rundle (1688-1743), a friend of Pope and Swift; Rundle had already turned down for appointment as Bishop of Gloucester because of his sceptical views.
The challenge of Deism:
New challenges to traditional methods of thinking were being posed in this period by Scepticism and Deism: by David Hume (1711-1776), the Scottish philosopher with whom Scepticism in Britain begins; and in Europe, with the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who was in turn a Protestant, a Catholic and a Deist; and Voltaire (1694-1778).
The most prominent Deist in the Church of Ireland was Robert Clayton (1695-1758), who was successively Bishop of Killala (1730-1735), Cork (1735-1745) and Clogher (1745-1758). A friend of the prominent English Arian, Samuel Clarke, Clayton became a leader of the movement for the abolition of subscription to the formularies of the Church of Ireland. In the House of Lords, he proposed that both the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds should be expunged from the Book of Common Prayer, and in a book published in 1751, he denied the doctrine of the Trinity.
Clayton’s views blocked his appointment as Archbishop of Tuam, but he repeated those views in another book published in 1757. He was prosecuted, summoned to appear before the bishops at the Primate’s house in Dublin, and faced censure and possible deprivation. However, before the hearing could begin, he was seized with a nervous fever and died.
But even bishops, including the English-born bishops of Irish dioceses, could be seen to have the best wishes of the Church of Ireland at heart. When Primate Boulter died in 1742, he bequeathed the bulk of his property, worth over £30,000, for the purchase of glebes for clergy and for supplementing the income of clergy in smaller parishes.
Archbishop Bolton of Cashel, who died the following year, left behind a library that still bears his name and is of cultural importance to this day.
Five years after Boulter’s death, in 1747, John Wesley, who experienced his dramatic, dynamic conversion in 1738, made his first visit to Dublin. But that, and the rise of Methodism, and the Church facing into the age of revolution, are more appropriate topics to consider next week.
Part 2: Key figures
1, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745):
Jonathan Swift ... played a key role in church and national politics
Jonathan Swift played a key role in church politics, helping to secure Marsh’s promotion to Armagh in 1703, for which Marsh thanked him. He expected a bishopric in England, but, when he was recommended for Hereford, his appointment was blocked by Archbishop Richard Sharp of York.
It is said that the levity and irreverence of the Tale of a Tub and other writings barred him from episcopal promotion in both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England. As a sort of consolation, Swift was made Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1713 in succession to John Stearne.
However, for the rest of his life, Swift remained bitterly disappointed. He found 18th century Ireland too narrow, too depressed, too poor, too limited intellectually, and too much outside the mainstream of life.
And yet he made his mark as Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. During his time as dean, he wrote Drapier’s Letters, there he restored weekly Holy Communion, attended Morning and Evening Prayer each day, and preached regularly.
In his letters signed W.B. Drapier, Swift was protesting against the introduction of a new coinage by William Wood, “Wood’s ha’pence.” The poor were suffering particularly as result of a debased currency, but the proposed new coinage would result in extravagant profits for a Birmingham ironmaster. As a consequence of Swift’s letters, the coins were refused universally, and were eventually withdrawn in 1725.
Swift complained too to Walpole of the way Boulter was filling the higher offices in the Church of Ireland with English-born clergy, and complained that those men were using their new offices to provide positions further down the ecclesiastical ladder to family members and friends. It was said that one bishop since his translation had allotted £2,000 in benefices to Englishmen.
Swift is best remembered today as a satirist and as the author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726). He died in 1745.
2, George Berkeley (1685-1753):
George Berkeley served the Church of Ireland both as Dean of Derry, and later as Bishop of Cloyne, but he is best remembered today as a philosopher.
Berkeley held that when we affirm material things to be real, we mean no more than that they are perceived. Material objects continue to exist when they are not perceived by us, solely because they are objects of the thought of God. The only things that exist in a primary sense are spirits, and material objects exist simply in the sense that they are perceived by spirits.
Berkeley’s views have been caricatured in Ronald Knox’s pair of limericks:
There was a young man who said, ‘God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no-one about in the Quad.’
And the reply, according to Knox was:
Your astonishment’s odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Sincerely observed by, Yours faithfully, GOD.
In 1721, Berkeley became involved in an enterprise to establish a university in the Bermudas to train missionaries to work among the American Indians. He obtained a royal charter and sailed for America in 1728. But the scheme collapsed, and Berkeley returned home.
Berkeley became Bishop of Cloyne in 1734. In 1747, it was rumoured that he was hoping to be appointed Archbishop of Armagh. But he denied he had any desire to become Primate, declaring, “I am not in love with feats and crowds and visits, and late hours, and strange faces, and a hurry after affairs often insignificant.”
Shortly before his death, he asked to be relieved of his episcopal responsibilities and to be given a university appointment. But the king insisted that Berkeley should die a bishop, and he was still Bishop of Cloyne when he died in 1753.
His best known works include The Minute Philosopher and The Querist. He advocated the admission of Roman Catholics to TCD without the obligation to attend chapel duties, catechisings, or divinity lectures. He also advocated church services in the Irish language, he wanted to build new roads and sought to make the rivers navigable.
Part 3: the other Churches:
As we have seen, the Presbyterians were provided with some relief from the provisions of the penal laws.
An interesting development theologically among Irish Presbyterians was the debate between the “Old Light” and the “New Light” parties. A “Non-Subscribing Presbytery” was first formed in 1726 in Antrim by Presbyterians who refused to subscribe to the Westminster Confession.
In Dublin and Cork today, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterians are also known as Unitarians.
2, Roman Catholics:
The Roman Catholics of Ireland remained under deep suspicion of Jacobite loyalties. Those suspicions were strengthened by the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, although they had little direct impact on Ireland. But the first stirrings towards toleration were being heard among the Bishops of the Church of Ireland.
Preaching in 1725 before the House of Commons on the anniversary of the massacres of 1641, Bishop Edward Synge condemned the persecution of religious belief as useless and improper because belief is a function of the mind and cannot be affected by external force.
Bishop Synge found two Roman Catholic doctrines subversive of the state – the power of the Pope to depose, and his power to absolve subjects from their oaths of allegiance. But he was not convinced that these doctrines were held and believed by all Roman Catholics, and argued that they should be given the opportunity to disclaim them.
However, at the same time, Boulter promoted legislation introducing tougher restrictions on Roman Catholics. It was claimed that many members of the legal profession were covert Roman Catholics, and that they had only conformed nominally to qualify for their profession and office.
Boulter’s legislation required court officers and lawyers to make a declaration against Popery; to take an oath of abjuration; imposed an initial probation of five years on converts from Roman Catholicism to the Church of Ireland being admitted to the legal profession; and required those converts to rear their children as Protestants. He also promoted an act forbidding Roman Catholics to vote at elections.
This last act marks the climax of the Penal Laws and within two years Josiah Hort, Bishop of Kilmore, was arguing for its repeal. In 1745, an act was passed making null and void any marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant or ex-Protestant if a Roman Catholic priest celebrated.
Part 4: The wider church:
1, The Eastern Church:
At this time, there were important development in the Eastern Orthodox Church in both Greece and Russia.
In Russia, the rise of the Romanov dynasty brought new challenges to the pre-eminence of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Constantinople had become Istanbul, and the Patriarch was regarded as being captive to Ottoman interests. The Romanovs had proclaimed Moscow the “Third Rome,” the Bishop of Moscow had assumed the title and dignity of a Patriarch, and the Russian state and church increasingly saw themselves as the guarantors and protectors of the Orthodox world.
Fearing the growing claims of the Church of Moscow, Peter the Great abolished the Patriarchate in 1721, and replaced it and its powers with the Most Holy Synod in 1721. But the Russian Church was not averse to adopting some of the bad practices of the Western Church too. As Russian liturgy was reformed and brought closer to Greek practices, dissidents, including thousands of “Old Ritualists” and “Old Believers” were burnt at the stake.
Despite Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church was also facing new developments. Makarios Notaras, the Bishop of Corinth, assembled a large collection of spiritual writings, which were published later as the Philokalia (“Love for what is good”). It included guidance for the use of the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the Sinner,” which spread throughout the Orthodox world and has now entered Western spirituality.
Makarios was to have a particularly strong influence on Saint Nicodemus of Naxos, who was the primary figure in a new movement of spirituality and revival that spread from Aghios Horos, Mount Athos.
2, The Church in America:
We have a popular image of religion in North America being dominated at this time by the Puritans and their heirs, particularly the Congregationalists. But we should remember that there was a denominational mix and variety in the established churches of the colonies.
Maryland had been established as a safe haven for Roman Catholics, Pennsylvania began as a Quaker colony, founded by William Penn from Cork, and in Virginia and other colonies, the Anglican or Episcopal model of the church was dominant. In addition, the Dutch Reformed Church was present in strength in New York.
A key figure in American life at this time was Jonathan Edwards of Yale. He had a conversion experience in 1727, the year he became the pastor of a Congregational Church in Massachusetts. He was involved in the foundation of Princeton in New Jersey, and became swept up in the movement that became known as the “Great Awakening.”
That movement spread to England through the preaching of George Whitefield (1714-1770), who had an open breach with Wesley. Although they are often forgotten on this side of the Atlantic these days, both Edwards and Whitefield had profound and lasting influences on the development and growth of the Presbyterian and Baptist traditions in North America, and on the story of the churches in Wales and Scotland.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This lecture was first delivered in the B.Th. Year II course on Church History on Thursday 5 February 2009.
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