“I can never forget the summer night just after the decision when I reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building” ... Archbishop William Alexander (1824-1911), cartoon image from Vanity Fair, 1891
Church of Ireland Theological Institute
MTh Year II
EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:
Thursdays: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., The Hartin Room.
Thursday, 10 March 2011, 2 p.m.:
Anglican Studies (7.1):
Partition, conflict and peace: the Church of Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The pressures for further reforms of the Church of Ireland continued. Eventually, in 1869, Gladstone introduced the legislation that brought about the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871.
Archbishop William Alexander – then Bishop of Derry and the last Church of Ireland bishop to sit in the House of Lords – later recalled leaving the House of Lords after the late night vote that passed the second stage of the legislation enacting disestablishment: “I can never forget the summer night just after the decision when I reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building.”
The Church of Ireland would no longer be a state church, bishops would no longer sit in the House of Lords, and the Church of Ireland, once again, was separated from the Church of England.
But the church moved hastily to reorganise itself. The archbishops called provincial synods, each of which agreed to meet with the other “in a general synod or council,” which agreed that “the synod is now not called upon to originate a constitution for a new communion but to repair a sudden breach in one of the most ancient churches in Christendom.”
The general convention met in 1870, approved a new constitution, set up a system of ecclesiastical courts, and arranged for the formation of a representative body, the Representative Church Body (RCB) to hold and manage the church’s property.
The constitution established government at every level of the church, from select vestries at parochial level, to diocesan synods, to general synod.
By 1880, £5.5 million of funds from the Church of Ireland had been redistributed for educational purposes, including endowments to Maynooth and to the Presbyterians for training in ministry.
Disestablishment created a number of crises for the newly independent and self-governing Church of Ireland. There was a loss of income, there was a loss of some buildings, and the Church needed to find its own system of appointing bishops and of church government. Many of the leading evangelicals of the day wanted a complete overhaul that would have provided a Presbyterian-style of government for the Church of Ireland.
These controversies did not mean the Church was completely dominated by evangelicals. In Dublin, for example, new churches in the High Church tradition had been built in Ballsbridge and Sandymount, enhancing a tradition that had already found expression at All Saints’ in Grangegorman.
The Church also debated whether it needed to revise the Book of Common Prayer. The debates on liturgical reform also included the form of absolution used in visiting the sick, and there were other rows about the use of the Athanasian Creed.
The debate on the form of absolution to be used in the visitation of the sick focused on words that seemed to suggest that that the priest by virtue of his priestly authority had the power to forgive sins. Eventually, a compromise was reached by substituting the form of absolution already used at the Holy Communion.
When it came to the Athanasian Creed, Trench opposed any efforts to rephrase or edit the damnatory clauses, declaring “the creed, lopped at the beginning, lopped at the end, lopped at the middle,” reminded him of “unhappy victims of oriental cruelty.”
The differences over the Athanasian Creed were resolved by omitting the rubric regarding its use.
There were debates too about the Baptismal service, and the ordination service, although major alterations were rejected.
Two new services were also added: one of the consecration of a church, the other an order for Harvest Thanksgiving.
The West Door of Saint John’s Church, Sandymount … one of the churches that was the focus of liturgical controversies (Photographs, Patrick Comerford)
The debates also resulted in new canons, including Canon 36 prohibiting placing a cross on the altar – a moved directed pointedly against three Tractarian churches in Dublin: Saint Bartholomew’s, Ballsbridge; Saint John’s, Sandymount; and All Saints’, Grangegorman.
The compromises that were accepted are summarised in that beautiful statement that concludes the 1878 preface to the revised Book of Common Prayer:
“And now, if some shall complain that these changes are not enough, and that we should have taken this opportunity of making this Book as perfect in all respects as they think it might be made, of if others shall say that these changes have been unnecessary or excessive, and that what was already excellent has been impaired by doing that which, in their opinion, night well have been left undone, let them, on the one side and the other, consider that men’s judgements of perfection are very various, and that what is imperfect, with peace, is often better than what is otherwise more excellent, without it.”
Eventually the changes guaranteed the survival of the Church of Ireland in the form we find it today, and the Church of Ireland soon entered on a long period of internal peace and institutional stability.
The post-disestablishment Church
So, was disestablishment a good or bad thing for the Church of Ireland?
Most of us would agree today that disestablishment was, by-and-large, good for the Church of Ireland.
● set the Church of Ireland on a sound, independent financial footing;
● resulted in the reform of the liturgy;
● saw an overhaul of church structures with the introduction of synods at national (General Synod) and local (diocesan synod) level;
● was followed by an upsurge of lay initiative and of giving;
● freed the church of time-serving, careerists from England.
The Romanesque doorway in Kilmore Cathedral … the later Bedell Memorial Church was one of the new cathedrals completed after Disestablishment (Photograph © Kieran Campbell, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence)
Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral Cork ... one of the new cathedrals completed after Disestablishment (Photograph: Charlie Cravero)
Disestablishment also led to new buildings, including:
● Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork;
● Kilmore Cathedral in Co Cavan;
● the rebuilding of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin;
● Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare;
● Saint Luke’s, Cork (1873);
● Bangor Abbey (1880);
● Saint Kevin’s, Dublin (1888);
● Saint Saviour’s, Arklow (1899).
● Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast (foundation stone, 1899, consecrated 1904).
Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast … a post-disestablishment cathedral (Photograph © Brian Shaw)
In addition, in the immediate aftermath of Disestablishment:
● A new teacher training college was established in Kildare Place in 1884 (now the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines);
● Two new vibrant mission agencies were founded in Trinity College Dublin in the 1880s and 1890s – the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission and the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur.
● New mission links were established with emerging churches in Spain and Portugal.
● The Church of Ireland made immeasurable contributions to the growth of Anglicanism, particularly in Canada, Australia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Africa.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, where three Irish missionaries were bishop … the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission was a sign of the vibrant new missionary life of a disestablished church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The Church of Ireland in the 20th century
If the Church of Ireland could bounce back like that at the end of the 19th century, what happened that caused a decline in numbers at the beginning of the 20th century?
Some of the factors were political. For example, after the initial phases of the Industrial Revolution, which saw imported labour, many of the skilled labourers were replaced by Irish-born Roman Catholics when they acquired those skills from the mid-19th century on. Then the Wyndham Act and the expropriation of landlords led to the decline of many of the big estates. The effects of the land acts on church finances was, in part, mitigated by the launching of the Auxiliary Fund in 1909, which raised about £250,000 for clergy stipends.
The Ne Temere decree of 1908 also took its toll on the renewal of the membership of Church of Ireland through marriage and birth, as we have already seen in previous weeks.
World War I saw not only large number of men enlist, but many of them who survived stayed away. With a declining population, there was a pressing need to reduce the number of rural incumbencies, but this was coupled with the Minimum Stipend Act (1920), which fixed stipends at £400 for an incumbent and £200 for a curate.
The War of Independence saw the move of many Protestant civil servants from the state.
The bishops of the Church of Ireland were not above politics, so that every single one of northern bishops subscribed to the Ulster Covenant, the Solemn League and Covenant, opposing Home Rule.
And yes, we have to say that there was some “ethnic cleansing” in some areas too. The Bishop of Killaloe reported this at the time of the War of Independence and the Civil War in North Co Tipperary, and the Sunday Independent journalist, Eoghan Harris, has written about this in Co Cork.
But, members of the Church of Ireland were also involved in the political and cultural expressions of the movement for independence.
● Maud Gonne and Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz) were born members of the Church of Ireland.
● Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and the first President of Ireland, was a rector’s son.
● So too was the poet W.B. Yeats.
● The Irish Citizens’ Army is said to have agreed on its name at a meeting in the rooms of the Revd R.M. Gwynn in Trinity College Dublin – he was a regular communicant in Saint Bartholomew’s, Ballsbridge, intensely involved in the Irish Labour Movement, and for many years he chaired the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission (DUFEM).
Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge … the Revd R.M. Gwynn of the Irish Labour Movement and the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission was a regular communicant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
It is often forgotten in GAA circles that members of the Church of Ireland continue to be honoured in the names of the Semple Stadium and the Sam Maguire Cup.
Primate and President … Archbishop John Gregg and Eamon de Valera
In 1920, the Church of Ireland agreed to allow women to be members of select vestries. Archbishop Gregg supported this initiative, although his successor, Archbishop Bernard, was opposed. Bernard was content to see the “great lady of the parish” on the select vestry … but not “the gardener’s wife.” He said: “Parochial squabbles would be trebled if they admitted women.”
In 1932, while the Roman Catholic population was celebrating the Eucharistic Congress, the Church of Ireland was vigorously celebrating what was proclaimed to be the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.
By and large, things were settling down, and Archbishop Gregg, who was assured by the new government of the place of Protestants in a new state, advised Eamon de Valera on the wording of the 1937 Constitution regarding Church of Ireland. Curiously, though, the Church in this jurisdiction retained the king’s name in the liturgy until the final declaration of a republic in 1949.
The Church of Ireland continued to reform itself, despite initial reluctance to concede structural reform.
Changes were made in the ways bishops were elected, in 1939 and again in 1945.
There were changes in mapping diocesan organisation along the way too:
● The Diocese of Clogher, which was united to Armagh from 1850, became a separate diocese once again in 1886.
● The Dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore, which had been united since 1842, were separated into the Diocese of Connor and the Diocese of Down and Dromore in 1945.
Eventually, a new way of electing bishops through electoral colleges was adopted in 1959, replacing the previous system by election by diocesan synods.
However, in 1967 proposals for further reforms were rejected. These included:
● reducing the size of general synod from 648 members to 501;
● the creation of a new diocese centred on Belfast;
● leaving each diocese with just one cathedral and chapter;
● amalgamating diocesan synods, councils and offices;
and – perhaps most significantly –
● providing for team ministries and a greater potential for mobility among the clergy.
The Dioceses of the Church of Ireland today
The only reform accepted was a reduction in the number of dioceses from 14 to 12. As a consequence:
● The Diocese of Kildare was separated from Dublin and Glendalough in 1976, and united to Meath.
● The Dioceses of Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh were united to Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1976.
● The Diocese of Emly, united to Cashel since 1569, was transferred to Limerick in 1976.
● The Diocese of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin were united to Cashel, Waterford and Lismore in 1977.
However, legislation at this time to unite Tuam and Kilmore was rescinded – and we have been reminded of the consequences of this in recent weeks. In more recent years too, proposals to reform the numbers, structures and method of working of general synod have continued to meet strong resistance.
The continuing failure to face the need for reform also turned to heartbreak when it came to closing many rural churches in the second half of the 20th century, because closure was often seen as cost-saving rather than part of a process of reform and change.
On the other hand, an openness to the insights of the liturgical movement in the 1930s and 1940s, and especially in the 1950s and 1960s, led to new baptismal and Eucharistic rites, and eventually to a modern-language Alternative Prayer Book in 1984, supplemented by the Alternative Occasional Services in 1993.
By the 1990s, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population (Photograph: Jan Butter/ACO)
By then, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population.
Meanwhile, in 1978-1980, the long, formal links with TCD were broken, the Faculty of Theology became non-denominational, three divinity chairs fell vacant, the old course of training for clergy was abolished, and the Divinity Hostel was eventually transformed into the Church of Ireland Theological College – now the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
Changes in patterns of ministry were introduced with the introduction of Non-Stipendiary Ministers (NSMs) or auxiliary ministers – the first NSM in Dublin was the Revd Michael Heaney who was ordained deacon in 1976 and priest in 1977 – and the ordination of women was approved in 1990.
The legislation in 1990 provided for the ordination of women as priests and bishops, but to date, more than 20 years later, no woman has yet been elected a bishop in the Church of Ireland.
A new Church Hymnal was published in 2000, and the new Book of Common Prayer was published in 2004.
Where was the Church of Ireland ecumenically as we moved through the 20th century?
Talks with the Presbyterian Church were initiated in 1931. They agreed to recognise each other’s ordinations and sacraments as a way to move towards unity. But these proposals were rejected by the House of Bishops, and the talks have never progressed.
Indeed, Archbishop Gregg openly referred to non-episcopal churches as “the deprived children of Christendom,” and he boasted that he had never appeared on a public platform with what he called a “non-conformist” minister.
The formation of the Church of South India in 1948 caused some curious and interesting problems. Indeed, an Irish Presbyterian, Donald Kennedy, and an Irish Anglican, Anthony Hanson, were among the new bishops of the new Church, and an Irish Methodist minister, Ernest Gallagher, was ordained in that church too, so that, technically, his orders were valid in the Church of Ireland when he returned to Ireland, although he returned to work in the Methodist Church.
Relations with the Methodists flowered in a more favourable climate, and we now have a covenant that pledges the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland to work together and to seek unity.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey meets Pope Paul VI
When it comes to Roman Catholics, the climate changed with visits to the Vatican by two Archbishops of Canterbury, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to Pope John XXIII (1960), the first meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope since the Anglican Reformation, and Archbishop Michael Ramsey to Pope Paul VI, at the time of the reforms introduced by Vatican II.
The new opportunities that this created were ably seized by the late George Simms, successively Archbishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Armagh. He is credited with creating the climate that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, so that today it is accepted in many communities that no happening actually happens unless the rector has also been invited.
During his visit to Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II also met the bishops of the Church of Ireland.
Archbishop Henry McAdoo … co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) (Photograph of portrait in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Patrick Comerford)
The late Archbishop Henry McAdoo, first as Bishop of Ossory and then as Archbishop of Dublin, co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), and his expertise on and love for the insights of Jeremy Taylor and the Caroline Divines and their sacramental theology helped to bring about agreed statements on the Eucharist.
It is often forgotten that those agreements were accepted by the Church of Ireland, but have remained in cold storage in the Vatican. Archbishop McAdoo’s vision of full and visible unity in 1970 was that it would happen by the end of the century: 30 years then appeared a long stretch, but full and visible church unity now seems further away than ever.
In 1996, the Porvoo Communion was formed, linking the four Anglican churches on these islands with the Episcopal Lutheran churches of Northern Europe and the Baltic countries.
At the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland loomed in 1868, Archbishop Trench expressed the fear that a disestablished Church would inevitably “cease to exist after a few years.” He said he preferred “instant death” at the hands of Gladstone to the “gradual starvation” by Disraeli.
George Salmon, Regius Professor in Trinity College Dublin, expressed the fear that the Church of Ireland might find itself reduced to “a local sect.”
Richard Travers Smith, one of the outspoken high church figures of the day, expressed the fear that the Church of Ireland might become “a church of half assertions and diluted doctrines.”
But Trench’s fears of “instant death,” Salmon’s fears of becoming “a local sect,” Travers Smith’s fear of doctrinal dilution, and Alexander’s premonition of the crash of this great building were never realised. The Church of Ireland survived, and in the 140 years since disestablishment, the church has not broken intro schismatic factions, as many feared, nor have we broken communion with the Church of England or other parts of the Anglican Communion.
● What does the future hold for the Church of Ireland?
● What do you think are the major issues facing the Church of Ireland in the future?
● The election and consecration of the first woman bishop?
● The unity of the churches on these islands?
● The unity of the Anglican Communion?
● The debate within Anglicanism on sexuality?
● The integration of immigrants and their families?
● The future of the covenant with the Methodist Church
● Economic and financial collapse?
● Emigration and immigration?
● The environment?
7.2: Theologies of reconciliation and the challenges of divided societies (M Volf, R Schreiter, J de Gruchy).
17 March, Saint Patrick’s Day. No lectures.
Thursday 24 March:
8.1: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the emergence of an Anglican Covenant.
8.2: Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh course on Thursday 10 March 2011.
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