Kilkenny Castle … the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366) illustrate how Church and society alike were affected by legislation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Church of Ireland Theological Institute,
Church History Elective (TH 7864)
Friday 18 January 2013, 11.30 a.m.:
7.3, Meanwhile, back in Ireland: the Anglo-Norman and post-Norman Church.
We left the mediaeval church in Europe with the crusades and the growth in monasticism.
But in our closing session this week, I want us to go back to that time and to ask what was happening in Ireland?
For the Irish Church, the Middle Ages was a period of great change, and so this morning I want to look briefly at what was happening to the Mediaeval Church in Ireland.
The beginning of change
Detail from the ‘Market Cross’ in Kells, Co Meath … reform in Ireland begins at the Synods of Rath Breasail and Kells (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
We have seen already that change was introduced to the mediaeval Church in 12th century Ireland, most noticeably in the structural reforms introduced by the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111 and the Synod of Kells in 1152.
The structural reforms were not mere window dressing. They had a lasting impact through:
1, The mediaeval reforms of the Church;
2,The arrival of the monastic and mendicant friars;
3, The Anglicisation of the Church;
4, The contribution of women;
5, The advent of the Reformation.
1, The mediaeval reforms of the Church
The former shrine of the heart of Laurence O’Toole in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
We have already seen that Celtic Ireland was a largely rural and agricultural society. On the other hand, the churches in the cities were looking towards England for their stimulus. Before the death of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1109, six bishops-elect from this island – four from Dublin and one each from Limerick and Waterford – had sought consecration at Canterbury and had accepted the Archbishops of Canterbury as their primate.
For their part, when they looked at Ireland, two Archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc (d. 1089) and Anselm (d. 1109), identified specific faults in the Church, including simony, maladministration of the sacraments, and highly defective law of marriage. Anselm wrote: “It is reported that men exchange their wives as freely and publicly as a man might change his horse.”
He believed there were too many bishops in Ireland, and that these bishops had too little authority and not enough pastoral dynamism. He linked both these faults with the fact that the bishops had no defined territorial area in which to exercise their episcopal authority.
Half a century later, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) complained that “almost every single monastery [in Ireland] has its own bishop.”
So the Cistercian reforms on Continental Europe, introduced by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, had a strong influence on the reforms introduced to Ireland in the 12th century.
The foundation of the monastic houses was promoted by Archbishop Malachy of Armagh following the visit to Rome in 1139. Malachy so closely identified with the Cistercians that he died at Clairvaux in 1148, and Bernard later wrote his biography.
Three years after Malachy’s visit to Rome, the Cistercians established their first house in Ireland in Mellifont, Co Louth, in 1142, and one of the sittings of the Synod of Kells was held there in 1152.
By 1148, the Augustinian canons had had established over 40 communities in Ireland, and they were introduced to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, by Laurence O’Toole, when he became Archbishop of Dublin in 1162. These first Augustinian canons followed the reforms practised by the Augustinian canons at Arrouaise.
The integration of the Vikings and the Irish into one church was one of the ambitions of the Synod of Kells in 1152, and was embodied ten years later with the election of the Abbot of Glendalough, Laurence O’Toole, as Archbishop of Dublin in 1162.
But we also left the European Church at the point of Crusades and the expansion of both the Anglo-Norman interests throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region, and the expansion of the monastic movement.
The arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland in the second half of the 12th century, while Laurence O’Toole was archbishop, ushered in a period of further dramatic change and reform for the Church in Ireland.
At the Council of Cashel in 1172, the Bishops of Ireland acknowledged before Henry II that further, sweeping reforms were needed, and Archbishop Gelasius of Armagh and Archbishop Laurence of Dublin, welcomed Henry II to Ireland to their dioceses.
An indication that the Church was by that time moving closer to the Continental style of Church when Gilla Meic Liac deliberately chose the Latin name Gelasius when he became Archbishop of Armagh. He chose this name not simply to show he was in communion with Rome, but also as a sign that the Church in Ireland was breaking away from its past dependency on lay authority.
2, The impact of the monasteries and the mendicant friars
The face of the mediaeval church changed with the arrival in Ireland of the monastic houses and four mendicant orders.
The Cistercians, who were introduced by Malachy, arrived in 1142. They spread phenomenally throughout Ireland. Within four years of arriving at Mellifont, five Cistercian houses had been established, including Baltinglass (1148), Co Wicklow. Even before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, French speaking monks were prominent in new Cistercian houses such as and Jerpoint Abbey (1160-1162), Co Kilkenny.
So, the Cistercians were already assimilating French-Norman and Anglo-Norman culture into Irish society in the mid-12th century.
The Cistercians in Ireland:
● Were highly structured, compared with loose organisation of earlier Celtic monasteries;
● Had a rigid hierarchical structure within their monasteries;
● They were part of a wider community, with links throughout Europe;
● Their structures allowed them to resist local and family interests;
● They also introduced major economic and educational reforms, in agriculture, land reclamation.
Around the same time and in the decades that followed, four new mendicant orders were introduced to mediaeval Ireland:
● Franciscans (Greyfriars);
● Dominicans (Blackfriars);
● Carmelites (Whitefriars);
In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome, called by Pope Innocent III, prohibited new orders being founding new orders. However, an exception was made for the Franciscans. On the other hand, the Order of Preachers or Dominicans, founded that year, was persuaded to follow the Rule of Saint Augustine.
The Carmelite rule was amended in 1247 so that they became fully mendicant, and a new rule for Augustinian friars, as opposed to the Augustinian canons, who were already in Ireland, was imposed in 1244-1256.
As the new mendicant orders moved out across Europe, they brought with them the church and liturgical reforms being introduced in Rome.
But as they moved out of their hermitages and into the towns and cities, they also faced resistance from the secular or diocesan clergy and from diocesan bishops, from whose jurisdiction they were exempt.
These mendicant friars preached, heard confessions, buried the dead, and lived among the people. And progressively they amassed wealth as they received more and more endowments from the laity.
The Irish Church was represented at the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome in 1215 by four archbishops, 14 bishops and two bishops elect, as well as representatives of the cathedral chapters and monastic houses. Did any of them meet Saint Francis of Assisi or Saint Dominic?
Certainly, the Irish bishops were familiar with the friars when they arrived in Ireland.
The Dominicans first arrived in Ireland in 1224. They were soon followed by the Franciscans ca 1224-1231, who probably arrived from England. The Carmelites probably arrived around 1271, and the Augustinian friars arrived in the early 1280s.
The Franciscans in Ireland
Early morning on the banks of the River Shannon in Athlone … the Franciscan church in Athlone was consecrated by the Archbishop of Armagh in 1241 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The friars brought with them a revolutionary approach to the Church. At first they used the local parish churches, but they soon founded their own churches and houses.
The Franciscans arrived in Ireland ca 1224-1231, probably from England, and spread so quickly that a separate Irish province was formed ca 1230.
In 1233, they received a royal grant to repair their house in Dublin. But many of the Franciscan friaries were Irish in origin, including Buttevant, Armagh, Ennis, Timolegue, Killeigh and Cavan.
The influential place they soon found in the Church in Ireland is indicated by the fact that the Franciscan church in Athlone was consecrated by the Archbishop of Armagh in 1241. Between 1244 and 1317, 17 Franciscan friars were appointed as bishops to dioceses in Ireland.
However, there were ethnic and racist tensions between the friars. In 1285, the Franciscans and Dominicans of Dundalk were accused of making too much use of the Irish language and the Irish way of life. In 1291, blood was spilt between the Irish and the English at a meeting of the general chapter of the Franciscans in Cork, when 16 friars were killed in the clash. Donal O Neill protested to Pope John XXII in 1317 that Simon le Mercer, a friar in Drogheda, believed that was no more a sin to kill an Irishman to kill a dog.
The tensions and conflicts meant the Franciscan friars divided into two separate “custodies” and this was institutionalised in 1325.
However, there is no doubt that they lived among the people and died among the people: the Black Death dealt a severe blow to the friars in 1348, and serves to illustrate the way they lived closely with the people.
On the other hand, Richard II stayed with the friars of Drogheda in 1394, which illustrates how powerful they had become.
Example 1: John Duns Scotus
A plaque in Cloister Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, recalls John Duns Scotus and the Franciscans (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
An interesting example of an early learned Irish Franciscan theologian and philosopher of the High Middle Ages may be John Duns Scotus (1266-1308). The name Scotus may indicate he was born in Ireland, and an entry the Franciscan library in Assisi dated 1381 refers to him as Irish. That entry designates Duns Scotus’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard as “magistri fratris Johannis Scoti de Ordine Minorum, qui et Doctor Subtilis nuncupatur, de provincia Hiberniæ” (“the work of master John Scotus of the Franciscan Order known as the subtle doctor, from the province of Ireland).
The prominent 16th and 17th century Irish Franciscans who translated his works, including Mauritius de Portu (O’Fihely), Hugh MacCaghwell, and Luke Wadding, also regarded Duns Scotus as Irish. However, he is also claimed by Duns in Berwickshire.
Duns Scotus was known in the Middle Ages as Doctor Subtilis (“Subtle Doctor”), and was one of the most important philosophers and theologians of the High Middle Ages, alongside Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham. The theological concepts for which he is best known are:
● the “univocity of being” – that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists;
● the “formal distinction” – a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing;
● the idea of “haecceity” (“this-ness”) – the property supposed to be in each individual thing that makes it an individual.
Scotus also developed a complex argument for the existence of God and he argued for the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
According to tradition, he was educated by the Franciscans in Oxford, and he was a member of the Franciscan community in Cambridge. He became a lecturer in the University of Paris in 1302, and died in Cologne in 1308. Although he is buried in Cologne, he is named in a memorial recalling the Franciscans in the Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, which stands on the site of a former Greyfriars house.
His reputation suffered during the English reformation, not because he was seen as but primarily because of his association with the Franciscans. Still, in the 16th and 17th centuries, there were even special Scotist chairs at universities in Paris, Rome, Coimbra, Salamanca, Alcalá, Padua and Pavia, and his influence can be seen in the writings of Descartes and Bramhall.
When his style of metaphysics went out of fashion, his name gave rise to the word “dunce.” Yet Scotus remains one of the most important Franciscan and Scholastic theologians.
The Dominicans in Ireland
The Dominicans arrived in Ireland in 1224. But they were never an independent order in Ireland, and continued to be part of the English Dominicans structures until 1484.
The first Dominican friaries were in Dublin, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Waterford, Limerick and Cork. But they soon expanded, and within half a century of their arrival, the Dominicans had established 23 priories in Ireland.
In the 13th century, seven of the dioceses in Gaelic areas chose Dominicans as their bishops, and in the early 14th century, four Dominicans were involved in a failed attempt to found a university in Dublin in 1320.
Example 2: Richard FitzRalph and his conflict with the mendicant friars
Saint Nicholas’, the Church of Ireland parish church, is known locally as the ‘Green Church’ ... Richard FitzRalph was buried here in 1370 (Patrick Comerford)
Richard FitzRalph (ca 1300-1360), who was Archbishop of Armagh in the 14th century (1346-1360), was born into an Anglo-Norman family in Dundalk, Co Louth. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, and by 1331 he was a Regent Master in Theology. He was still in his early 30s when he became Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.
As Vice-Chancellor, FitzRalph face a crisis caused by the secession of masters and students to Stamford in Lincolnshire. The crisis led to his first visit to the Papal Court in Avignon in 1334. He returned to England the following year having been appointed Dean of Lichfield.
He again visited Avignon in 1337 and remained there until 1344. His return to Lichfield was brief – in 1346, the Chapter of Armagh forestalled any papal intervention and forced Pope Clement VI to accept their election of Richard FitzRalph as Archbishop of Armagh. Despite papal demurring, he was consecrated that year in Exeter Cathedral. As Archbishop of Armagh, he was a thoughtful and competent Primate. His writings include his thoughts on infinity, predestination and freewill, and he sent many of his priests to study in Oxford.
FitzRalph played an important role in dialogue with the Armenian Church and was one of the first western scholars to seek to understand the Quran. But he is best remembered for becoming embroiled in a controversy with the Franciscan friars in his diocese.
In the diocese and the province of Armagh, he criticised parochial clergy for their laxity of vocation, and merchants for wasteful extravagances and underhanded trading practises. But among his people he was a popular preacher. In the face of hostile relations between the English-speaking and Irish clergy, he took an honourable stand in denouncing discrimination against the Gaelic Irish.
He went on a third visit to Avignon in 1349-1351, and on his return to Ireland in 1351 he became involved in what eventually became a very personal and bitter attack on the mendicant friars. He tried to stop them from hearing confessions and from preaching, and to stop them undermining his secular parochial clergy. In nine propositions, he attacked their poverty and their privileges.
This dispute led to his fourth visit to Avignon in 1357 for talks with Pope Innocent VI. He died in Avignon on 16 December 1360. His body was brought back to Ireland in 1370 and buried in Saint Nicholas’s Church, Dundalk. He is commemorated in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) of the Church of Ireland on 27 June.
The Carmelites in Ireland
The Carmelites were in Ireland by 1271. The first Carmelite friary in Ireland was founded in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, in 1272, and the Carmelite Friary in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, dates from 1279.
By 1500, there were 25 Carmelite monasteries in Ireland.
Perhaps the most notable and the most detested of the Carmelite friars in Ireland was John Bale (1495-1563), who was Bishop of Ossory for seven months in 1553. However, his story is part of the story of the Reformation in Ireland.
Example 3: Ralph Kelly, Archbishop of Cashel
Ralph Kelly, a Carmelite friar from Drogheda, became Procurator General of his order and later became Bishop of Leighlin and then Archbishop of Cashel.
In 1353, the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Roger Craddock, put two Irishmen on trial for heresy and had them burned to death. Kelly was angered, not by the trial and execution, but by the fact that as Metropolitan he had not been consulted. The archbishop marshalled his troops and attacked and wounded his suffragan bishop.
The Augustinian friars in Ireland
Selskar Abbey, Wexford … an early Augustinian foundation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The Augustinian friars first arrived in Ireland ca 1259, and they established their first house in Dublin in 1280, on the south side of the river. By 1300, they also had houses in four other centres: Dungarvan (1290), Drogheda (ca 1295), and Cork and Tipperary (1300).
By 1340, there were 86 houses of friars in Ireland: 33 Franciscan, 26 Dominican, 16 Carmelite and 11 Augustinian. But they did not establish a firm, noticeable presence in Irish areas of the island early 15th century.
In the first half of the 15th century, the Augustinian situation in Ireland had changed dramatically. Between 1413 and 1500, all eight new Augustinian houses founded were located in a cluster within Gaelic areas in the west of Ireland.
It is worth remembering that Martin Luther was an Augustinian friar, and many Augustinians in Ireland supported the Reformation, including the Augustinian Vicar Provincial, Richard Nangle, who became the Reformation Bishop of Clonfert, George Browne, the Augustinian provincial in England who became Archbishop of Dublin, and Robert Castle, Prior of Holy Trinity Dublin, who became the first Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
The legacy of the friars
There is no doubt that internal tensions continued within the mendicant houses up to the Reformation. For example, in 1455 the mayor and council of Dublin directed all mendicant orders to expel any members with Gaelic surnames.
Still, the 15th century saw a thorough-going reform and renewal movement in all four orders of mendicant friars in Ireland. About 90 new houses were founded in Ireland, many of them in Gaelic-speaking areas in Connacht and Ulster.
The Observant movement, calling the friars back to their original principles and rules, was particularly strong among the Franciscans from the middle of the 15th century, and fortified the Franciscans for resistance to the Reformation in the following century and for providing leadership for the Counter-Reformation.
What was the impact of the mendicant friars on the life of the Church in Ireland in these centuries before the Reformation?
● They changed the face of parochial life.
● They raised the expectations of the laity when it came to the education and skills of the parochial clergy.
● They challenged the attitudes of slack and ignorant clergy.
● Their loyalty to their orders, and through them, to the Pope challenged the episcopal and diocesan structures.
3, The Anglicisation of the Church
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin … the Anglicisation of the Church also brought new styles of architecture to Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Apart from the spread of the monastic and mendicant houses, another great factor in reform and change in the Irish Church was the Anglicisation of Ireland following the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, and which reached its peak within a century in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307).
When those 20 bishops from Ireland attended the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome in 1215, six or seven of them were English. By the end of the 13th century, about half the bishops in Ireland were English or from English families.
The early historian Giraldus Cambrensis notes that the Synod of Cashel agreed that the Irish Church would accept the practices and customs of the Church in England. This included similar diocesan structures, liturgy, ecclesiastical courts, cathedral chapters with cathedral monasteries – even an English style of Church architecture.
By the reign of Edward I, this would include following the English practice in the appointment of bishops, and the Roman curia seldom interfered in this process except when disputes arose between competing interests.
The bishops became territorial lords and at times there were efforts to exclude Irish-born clerics from appointment to the episcopacy. However, when Pope Honorius III heard of attempts to exclude Irish priests from episcopal office, he vigorously denounced this discrimination (acceptio personarum, see Romans 2: 11), pronouncing it contrary to divine law: “There is no respect of persons with God.”
But in other parts of Ireland, the Gaelic Irish clergy tried to block English priests from being admitted to cathedral chapters, and this too was condemned by Pope Innocent IV.
Yet this discrimination – which we could describe as an early form of apartheid – was enshrined in civil law and passed into legislation with 35 acts of parliament known as the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366, reasserting the primacy of English culture, customs and manners.
The Statutes of Kilkenny forbade intermarriage between the native Irish and the native English, the English fostering of Irish children, the English adoption of Irish children and the use of Irish names and dress.
English common law became the norm, and the separation of the Irish and English churches was ensured by requiring that “no Irishman of the nations of the Irish be admitted into any cathedral or collegiate church ... amongst the English of the land.”
But, while the Statutes were sweeping in scope and aim, they never fully succeeded because the government did have the resources to fully implement them.
4, The contributions of women
While the public face of the Church in the High Middle Ages may have been the bishops and the male monks and mendicants, it should not be forgotten that women also played interesting roles in the development of life in the Church in Ireland.
In late mediaeval western European society, women were, in the main, more profoundly religious than men.
Their role in the development of the Church was not confined to the cloisters of enclosed communities of women. Mary Ann Lyons has written an interesting study on “Lay female piety and church patronage in late medieval Ireland.”
She shows that women played a key role in the development of the Church in both Gaelic and English-speaking areas, and she explores those by examining their religious beliefs, church patronage, funeral customs and their attitudes towards death and salvation.
She has documented interesting examples of the inversion of gender authority roles that characterise church patronage in pre-Reformation Irish society. They were the organisers of pilgrimages, the founders of monastic and mendicant houses, and the benefactors of the poor, the clergy and scholars. They often had great collections of books, and were generous with their endowments.
5, Awaiting the Reformation
During these centuries of the High Middle Ages, we should not forget, there were other signs of truly religious life and great cultural awakenings in the Church in Ireland. Great manuscripts were being illuminated, great churches were being built, and they were being decorated with great windows.
But by the 16th century, while the mendicant friars were totally identified with the people, particularly in the towns and cities, only handfuls of monks remained in the great Cistercian abbeys, and the church in general was failing to meet the needs of the people and was in need of reform.
8.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus
8.2: Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli
8.3: The Anglican Reformation.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 17 January 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.