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Essays and Grtracts.
IRELAND. HER FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
To the Editor of the Irish Missionary
Magazine. Dear Sir,-As the beauty of a picture is much enhanced by the proper distribution of “ the lights and shadows,” I shall by way of relief to the deeper shading of the sketch of the Holy Wells, and other superstitious observances of the people of Ireland, which appeared in your first number, endeavour to afford your readers a vista-like view of THE ANCIENT IRISH CHURCH, and of the character of the early Christians of Ireland. On this subject, you are aware, Sir, great ignorance prevails, and even where ignorance does not prevail, many mis-representations are made.
By thousands it is believed that the Christian religion was first introduced into our island by Romish missionaries, and that the peculiar tenets of the Church of Rome were those at first inculcated on the minds of the people, and held by them and their teachers. To some of your readers it may be necessary to observe, that such opinions are altogether erroneous: nothing can be farther from the facts of the case ; and yet with the page of authentic history staring them in the face, from interested motives, the delusion is still kept up, and the people are told that theirs -the Romish religion—was the religion of those excellent men who existed in the first ages of the Irish Church, and who were afterwards sainted by the Church of Rome.*
To enter fully into the subject would require more space than you could afford, and more time than I could give to it. There are, however, a few prominent points which I think you will agree with me, are quite sufficient to enable any reasonable individual to come to the conclusion, that the ancient Irish Church, so far from being in any way connected with, or under the influence or control of the Church of Rome, was, in its principles, its doctrines, and its practices, perfectly opposed to it.
At what precise period, or by whose instrumentality, the Gospel was first introduced into our island, has never been ascertained, and I presume to think never can be ascertained.
It is thought by some that so early as the middle of the first century, St. Paul himself
* Patrick, and other good men among the early Irish Christians, now in the Calendar of Romish saints, were not canonized for several centuries after they lived.
promulgated the glad tidings in this “uttermost end of the earth," as Ireland was at one time thought to be. However it is certain that in the cond century, Christianity prevailed very generally over the island. "That it was introduced by missionaries from the East, and not from the West, is evident from the circumstance of the time of Easter having been observed in the early Irish Churches at the period of the year appointed by the Eastern Churches, and to which the Western Churches were altogether opposed. You are aware, Sir, of the long continued controversy which was carried on at a very early period between the Eastern and Western Churches on this subject—and however unimportant such a controversy may be considered, so far as regards the matter in dispute; still, as affecting the question of the first missionaries to Ireland, by whose instrumentality the ancient Irish were at first converted to the Christian faith, and by whom the first Christian Churches were formed in the island, I think it must be considered conclusive, as it is admitted on all hands, that the Irish Churches agreed with the Eastern and not with the Western. This is allowed by all Roman Catholic writers of any credit ; and thus far the assumption of the Church of Rome ; as to any hereditary right of Ecclesiastical sovereignty or authority over the people of Ireland, is completely set aside.
There can be no doubt that at a very early period the greatest exertions were made by the Church of Rome to induce the Christians of Ireland to adopt its forms and ceremonies, and with them its errors and superstitions : and it is equally evident from the page of history, that they were the last on the face of the globe to submit to Romish usurpation—that in fact they never did submit till forced by the sword of a tyrant, aided by the powers of a pope. For centu, ries, the emissaries of Rome laboured hard to obtain and establish an influence in the Irish Churches ; but, evidently with very little effect. The early Irish Christians were Bible Christians, and manfully opposed any doctrine or practise which was not sanctioned by the Word of truth. That their seminaries of learning were highly esteemed by men of every nation, you are aware, Sir; while, above all things, their learned men were renowned for their profound knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. From all that can be ascertained, it appears perfectly clear to
• The festival of Easter was celebrated in Ireland, and in the British churches, as it was in Asia Minor ; the vernal eqninox regulating the festival in both.
me that their churches were formed on the independent plan. They allowed no head but the Lord Jesus Christ-and it was on this point especially they resisted the influence of Rome, and never would submit to it. Archbishop Usher informs us that at a very early period, centuries before Henry enabled the pope to establish his claim there were between 400 and 500 churches in Ireland, each having its bishop and deacons ; and that so far from having any foreign church or prince as their head, they were each of them perfectly independent of each other-no one church or parish exercising authority over the other. The ministers were a kind of chorepiscopi, or village bishops“ pastors, or overseers; they had the superintendence of the spiritual affairs of all in their immediate neighbourhood ; but each church was perfectly independent of the other. The ministers were supported by voluntary contributions ; and it is even stated that the deacons frequently worked with their own hands for their support. You are aware, Sir, that from various parts of the world, individuals flocked to the schools of Ireland, as to seats of learning-glad to find in this distant part of the then known world, a peaceful retreat from the wars and clang of arms with which the other portions of the earth were at the time convulsed and disturbed.
For ages, the unadulterated Word of truth, and the simple ordinances of the gospel were preserved amongst them. As I have said, it was not till forced by the sword of a tyrant (Henry II.), aided by the powers of Pope Adrian, that they were compelled to relinquish their independence, or to acknowledge the supremacy of the Romish See. Numbers had migrated to other lands, and the remainder were forced to submit. So great was their abhorrence of the intolerance of Rome, that they even refused to admit a legate from the pope to a conference, or to sit at meat with one of his emissaries. Now, Sir, these are historical facts-all of them capable of proof-and most of them admitted by both Protestant and Romish historians. Indeed, it has often surprised me how the Romish party in this country, at the present day, can ever complain of being obliged to pay tithes or church rates, when they must well know that the Irish Christians never paid tithes or tenths until forced to do so by the power of the Romish Church. On this there can be no question. Pope Adrian's bull, granted to Henry, authorising him to come over and conquer this country, will stand an imperishable
monument of the intolerance and rapacity of the Romish power, of the character and integrity of the ancient Irish Christians, and of the cruelty and injustice exercised towards them by individuals who should have been their proteclors. As many of your readers may not
have seen this precious document, and as it will go far to substantiate the various positions I have advanced, I shall be excused for giving it at length ; it is as follows :
“Adrian, servant of the servants of God, to his son in Christ Jesus, Henry, King of England, sends greeting an apostolical benediction—The desire your magnificence expresses, to advance the glory of your name on earth, and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven, deserves the highest commendations ; for as a good Catholic Prince, you are very solicitous to enlarge the boundaries of the church, propagate the knowledge of the truth among the barbarous and ignorant, and pluck up vice by the roots in the field of the Lord ; and with this view you apply to us for countenance and direction. We are, therefore, confident that your undertaking will be crowned with success, since whatever is undertaken from a principle of faith and religion, never proves abortive.
“ It is certain that, according to your own confession, Ireland, as well as all other islands that have embraced the doctrines of Christianity, is unquestionably St. Peter's right, and belongs to the jurisdiction of the Romish Church : and for this reason, after mature deliberation, we have concluded it to be expedient to plant in that island colonies of the faithful who may be acceptable to God.
“You have given us to understand, most dear son in Christ, that you intend an expedition into Ireland, in order to reduce it into subjection to just laws, and to extirpate vice which has long been triumphant there: and you promise to pay us out of every house an annual acknowledgement of one penny; and to maintain the rights of the church without the least detriment or diminution. Upon this promise, we readily consent and allow that you make a descent into that island, to enlarge the boundaries of the church : to reform the manners of the natives, and to promote the growth of virtue and the Christian religion ; and we exhort you to do whatever you apprehend to be proper to promote the honour of God, and the salvation of the people, whom we charge to own you for their sovereign lord. Provided that the Peter's pence be punctually paid, and the rights of the church inviolably preserved. If then you put your design into execution, labour above all things to improve the natives of Ireland in virtue, and use both your own and the endeavours of those you shall judge worthy to be employed in this work, that the church of God and true religion may flourish in the country, the honour of God, and the salvation of souls in such a manner advanced as may entitle you to an everlasting reward in heaven, and an immortal fame upon earth. ADRIAN."
Now, Sir, I would just ask your readers, after perusing this epistle, what do they think of the claim of the Pope of Rome at the present day, as to ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Ireland ? Has he, or the Roman Catholics, any other claim than that which would be made by a robber to property he himself had stolen ? And what must we think of the opinions of men in power, who, to please and gratify the priests of Rome, feel no objection to the Roman Catholic religion being maintained and supported here by the State, as the ancient religion of the country ? The object of the Pope in allowing Henry to invade Ireland, is said in the Bull to be * to enlarge the boundaries of the Romish Church ?—" to plant Christianity”—be it remembered in a country in which the Christian religion had flourished for centuries—“ to root out heresies”—and, though last, not least,“ to secure to St. Peter the payment of one penny from each house.” What the heresies were, we are enabled by contemporary writers at once to discover. Bernard, a Romish ecclesiastic, in his Life of Malachy, informs us that “they (the Irish) rejected auricular confession, as well as authoritative absolution.” They confessed to God alone, as believing God alone could forgive sins—“they would neither give to the Church the tenths, nor the first fruits”
-"nor would they be legitimately married"
-that is, according to the forms required by the Romish Church—the laity would not do any penance, nor would their priests impose it.
“ they were Christians in name, but in reality Pagans."* From the testimony of their enemies, who blamed them for their
obstinacy, it is perfectly evident the early Irish Christians did not believe in the efficacy of prayers to saints or angels—that " they neither prayed to dead men, nor for them,” are the words used by the early historians; that the doctrines of purgatory and transubstantiation were repudiated and condemned by their most learned divines, and never sanctioned till the time of Henry II., there is not the shadow of a doubt. Among others, Johannes Scotus Erigina,—who, on account of his wit and learning, was a peculiar favorite at the court of Charles the Bald, ----attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation, with such power and effect on its first promulgation to the world, that notwithstanding the intluence of Charles, he had in consequence to fly from the French court, and take refuge in a land where the influence of the papal See could not reach him. In the same manner was the power of the Romish See brought to bear upon all in this country who remained firm to their principles ; and in the end they were either extirminated or driven
* Christiane nomine, re Pagani-non decimas, non primitias dare --non legitima inire conjugia--non facere confessiones-penitentias nec qui peteret -nec qui daret penitus invenire; Usun Meluberrimum confessiones, aut ignorahant, aut negligebeut." BERNAHD Vir. MAL. cap 6.
from the land. The last remnant of the real Christian people of Ireland were the Culdees, who, even from their enemies, extorted by their Christian conduct, a meed of praise sufficient to shew their real character. Some of them took refuge in the Hebrides, and the various neighbouring islands—while others emigrated to parts of England and the continent, where they established schools and planted Christian churches. The light of divine truth, thus driven from the island, the people relapsed into a kind of semi-barbarism. The religion established by the Church of Rome, encumbered with a multitude of idle ceremonies, and lucrative inventions for the aggrandisement of the holy see, degenerated into splendid mummeries. Wealth became the chief passport to Heaven, whose gates a venal and ambitious priesthood assumed the pretended power of opening or closing at their pleasure. Preaching was entirely laid aside, and the Book of God was hermetically closed from the view of the people. For centuries, matters remained in this position, or rather they grew worse and worse ; and even when in other countries, reason slowly awakening from the slumber of ages, discovered the imposition, and dissolved the spell by which the Church of Rome had continued to keep the minds of men in bondage, but a few faint beamings of the light of that glorious reformation reached the shores of this island. Its eastern and northern frontiers were, indeed, in a measure irradiated ; but the rays were so faint and feeble as to have left altogether unblessed its southern and western districts.
And, now, Mr. Editor, having afforded your readers a very hasty glance at the character and condition of the early Christians who inhabited this “isle of the west,” and endeavoured in some measure to account for the present condition of the people, let me ask-can any thing be done to give them back those blessings which an English Monarch unhappily assisted in wresting from their forefathers ? Can any thing be done by friends connected with our denomination to remove their present ignorance and superstition ?-to take them out of the grasp of the priests of Rome ?-and to give them back that glorious Gospel with which the island was once so richly blessed? I am aware that exertions for these purposes have been made by individuals, and by congregations, and by none more than by the friends connected with Hoxton Chapel, London : but what are these exertions-or all that has been done by the Irish Evangelical Society, or any other Society for the evangelization of Ireland, when compared with the vast necessity of the case ? lions of people within a day's journey of the great city of London, perishing for lack of knowledge :-with scarcely an effort worthy
of the name to rescue them from the power of the man of sin, from the very verge of eternal ruin! But I feel it would not become me to dilate on this point-let conscience make the application to the reader's heart. The case is a simple one; the people are perishing--and the question is, shall they be allowed to perish ?
I have made the sketch in the hope of arresting the attention of some who may have it in their power to do something towards relieving the spiritual destitution of Ireland. My friend, Mr. COOPER, has already set in motion a species of machinery which I deem well calculated, under the Divine blessing, to do much good, by sending Scripture Readers through various parts of the country, to read the Scriptures to the people, and to explain their meaning. * The Irish Society," connected with the Church of Ireland, is also employing a similar kind of agency, and is effecting much good; while the Irish Evangelical Society has for years been training young men for the ministry, and sending them forth and sustaining them in various parts of the land. Through any of these agencies much good can be effected ; and while the wants of distant countries are attended to by the Christians of Great Britain, assuredly the descendants of the ancient Irish Christians should not be forgotten ! Wishing every success to your undertaking, I am, dear Sir,
P. DIXON HARDY.
letter to the Government of the time, will furnish some idea :
“Wherefore the Kings of Scotland made it their business to break the power of the superiors and chiefs, particularly King James V., as may be seen in the whole transactions of his reign ; but all endeavours to this purpose proved weak and ineffectual till the Gospel came to be established by a reformation from popery,
“Since the reformation, the strength of the nation stands upon another bottom; the preaching of the Gospel has brought in light upon their consciences. The far greater part of the nation will now no longer follow superior or chief; but so far only as they are convinced that the undertaking is consonant with the laws of God, and the kingdom.”
Has this method been tried-has the Gospel been proclaimed through Ireland in her native tongue ; on her mountains and in her beauteous valleys ? Has her harp been taken down from the willows ; or are Erin's cries only left to be hushed by her mountain streams ? Can Protestant England say, “Who has believed our report ?" Arise. 0! England! shake off the apathy that hath so long enshrouded you ; give to Erin the bread and water of life. Let Churches bestir themselves ; and try what united effort can do. One penny weekly from each church member, would support numerous Scripture Readers--build chapels, however humble ; and carry the glorious Gospel into every cabin in Ireland ! Also, I would suggest that boxes be fixed in every chapel, with the words conspicuously printed on the front
FOR THE SPIRITUAL WANTS OF IRELAND.' At this time, England expects every “ Protestant” to do his duty.*
ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY PROTESTANT
TO DO HIS DUTY.
To the Editor of the Irish Missionary
Magazine. Sir,—What more can we do to give quiet to Ireland ? is the cry both
in the political and the religious world. This will be the case, and there will be cause for this cry while England neglects the spiritual welfare of Ireland. What has England done in return for the sacrifices the sons of Erin have made of their blood in defence of Great Britain ? What do the Christians of England virtually say ? “The Bread of Life is here ; at 'Tahiti, or elsewhere ; and if you wish to have it, and enjoy its blessings, you know where to send and obtain it !” notwithstanding the command,“ Go, preach
in all lands.” Say not Roman Catholics cannot be enlightened: look at the islanders of Scotland. In 1745 they were found in rebellion. Roman Catholics fighting against the Protestant monarch, with the Pretender at their head. What are they now? The following extract from Forbes
A SUNDAY HORSE RACE. We are not yet prepared to enter fully upon the important question of national education in reference to Ireland ; and hoping in our next number more distinctly to notice the Hibernian Sunday School Society, and perhaps other educational Institutions in the Sister Island, would rather defer our observations on the subject to some future opportunity. Meantime, we should be glad to keep the subject before our readers by occa. sional communications bearing upon it; and are better pleased with its being thus brought before them in the first instance by a statement of facts, and in its practical bearings, than by any theories or discussions of ours on the subject. It will be seen from the subjoined letter to a minister in Dublin, that notwithstanding all the national schools and
* We highly approve of the plan proposed by our esteemed Correspondent, and shall provide Boxes for this purpose,which may be had (gratis) of the Printers.
government arrangements, there are still parts of Ireland deplorably destitute of the necessary provisions for ordinary, not to speak of scriptural education ; and that the attention of British Christians must be directed to this, as well as to other necessities of this long neglected and still needy land.
There is another particular in the subjoined letter on which we wish to fix the attention of our readers. And that is, the sort of amusements which are considered by some of the Roman Catholic inhabitants of Ireland as compatible with the character of the Christian Sabbath. The justly celebrated Father Mathew was written to by a friend of the Temperance cause in Dublin on this subject, and replied to his letter in terms of apology and even defence as to this violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath-day. He seemed to intimate that its observance in the Romish Church might commence at an earlier hour, say Saturday evening, than with Protestant communities, and that therefore the sanctification of it might come earlier to a close. Any friends, who visit Ireland may easily see whether this is the case or not ; and will probably come to the conclusion that Saturday evening is not observed as a part of the Sabbath day; and that SABBATH evening too, is spent in a manner that does not bespeak much of serious or solemn impression of the sanctity of that day from its toregoing services. But of this, anon. Now for the letter that has called forth these observations.
“ F. Cottage, F. Sept. 4th, 1814. “Rev. and dear Sir-I earnestly hope both you and your dear family are well, and that the cause of truth is prospering in Z
“ I suppose, ere this time, you have heard from Mr. S. all about the wild mountains of F— and the efforts that have been made to educate the poor around us here. Indeed the people are very anxious to get instructions, and are daily making applications to me to establish more schools in this neighbourhood.
“I am very thankful to the friends in Dublin, for sending Mr. S. here. Indeed he has been of the greatest use to me ; and I have reason to believe that his labours in this place, under Divine Providence, have been a blessing to many a poor soul. He left us with the sincere wishes and prayers of all who had the pleasure of knowing him. Even the priest has acknowledged that he is a good young man, and that his labours amongst the people have been of much use.
“On Sunday last, there was a horse race at a place called - Mountain, about eight miles from here. I went there and took a parcel of tracts with me. I believe there were about two thousand people assembled there together. I spoke to them about the sin of breaking the Sabbath, and offered
them some tracts; but I could not find ten persons amongst them all who could read. I then commenced to read a tract for them, but very few of them seemed to understand what I was saying. I then addressed them in Irish ; and told them of the great wickedness of not keeping holy the Lord's-day. Many of them seemed to regret their stale of ignorance, and said, they were never taught better.' However, notwithstanding all I said to them, the poor beasts were started for the race. But as one of the horses was closing near the winning post, his rider fell to the ground, and he seemed for some time to be a lifeless corpse. I was standing near, and I took the poor fellow up in my arms; and after a little time he was able to be moved home to his house. So the sport of that day was ended. I spoke to the people about getting their children educated and taught to read the word of God, and not to suffer them to be brought up in total ignorance. Many of them shed tears, and said, 'What can we do, when there is no school for us ?'
" I intend, God willing, to set about building a school-house in this place as soon as possible. But, to find meaus to do so is the difficult part of the work. Please have the goodness to give me some advice how I could raise some money to carry on this desirable object. I know that many a good man has plenty to spare, and it is a pity to see so many of our fellow-creatures in these remote parts of the land, perishing for want of instruction. Have the kindness, dear Sir, to take this case into your consideration, and direct me how I may be able to raise funds towards this object.
“The people here are very poor, so I could not expect to get much help from them ; but they would assist me with labour. I think it would cost about fifty or sixty pounds. I can get a lease of a small piece of land rent free. I hope the Lord will assist me to carry on the work.
“My dear Sir,
“Ever, ever faithfully,
Note. The case pleaded for at the close of the above letter has been already set before friends in England, by an advertisement in the Patriot, and it is hoped the writer has already by the kindness of some liberal friends, been enabled to overcome his only difficulty, and to realise his benevolent object. If not, the Rev. C. Townley, L.L.D., will be happy to become the almoner of any friends who wish to assist towards its promotion.-ED.
THE TRUE FRIENDS OF JESUS CHRIST.
They visit him; they value him; they vindicate him; they welcome him; they walk with him; they lay all their concerns at his feet; they love at his friends, and look for his second appearance in glory.—Matthew Henry.