to be the first to escape from the boat they believed to
Owing to these encroachments the bishop was obliged frequently to approve of the appointment of pastors who were in no way qualified for their position. The lay patrons nominated their own dependents and favourites, while both ecclesiastical and lay patrons were more anxious about securing the revenues than about the zeal and activity of the pastors and vicars. Once the system of papal reservation of minor benefices was established fully in the fifteenth century, the authority of the bishop in making appointments in his diocese became still more restricted. Ecclesiastics who sought preferment turned their eyes towards Rome. If they could not go there themselves, they employed a procurator to sue on their behalf, and armed with a papal document, they presented themselves before a bishop merely to demand canonical institution. Though, in theory, therefore, the bishop was supposed to be the chief pastor of a diocese, in practice he had very little voice in the nomination of his subordinates, and very little effective control over their qualifications or their conduct.
Very often benefices were conferred on boys who had not reached the canonical age for the reception of orders, sometimes to provide them with the means of pursuing their studies, but sometimes also to enrich their relatives from the revenues of the Church. In such cases the entire work was committed to the charge of an underpaid vicar who adopted various devices to supplement his miserable income. Frequently men living in England were appointed to parishes or canonries within the Pale, and, as they could not take personal charge themselves, they secured the services of a substitute. In defiance of the various canons levelled against plurality of benefices, dispensations were given freely at Rome, permitting individuals to hold two, three, four, or more benefices, to nearly all of which the care of souls was attached. In proof of this one might refer to the case of Thomas Russel, a special favourite of the Roman Court, who held a canonry in the diocese of Lincoln, the prebends of Clonmethan and Swords in Dublin, the archdeaconry of Kells, the church of Nobber, the perpetual vicarship of St. Peter's, Drogheda, and the church of St. Patrick in Trim.
This extravagant application of patronage and reservations to ecclesiastical appointments produced results in Ireland similar to those it produced in other countries. It tended to kill learning and zeal amongst the clergy, to make them careless about their personal conduct, the proper observance of the canons, and the due discharge of their duties as pastors and teachers. Some of them were openly immoral, and many of them had not sufficient learning to enable them to preach or to instruct their flocks. It ought to be remembered also that in these days there were no special seminaries for the education of the clergy. Candidates for the priesthood received whatever training they got from some member of the cathedral chapter, or in the schools of the Mendicant Friars, or possibly from some of those learned ecclesiastics, whose deaths are recorded specially in our Annals. Before ordination they were subjected to an examination, but the severity of the test depended on many extrinsic considerations. Some of the more distinguished youths were helped by generous patrons, or from the revenues of ecclesiastical benefices to pursue a higher course of studies in theology and canon law. As the various attempts made to found a university in Ireland during the fourteen and fifteenth centuries proved a failure, students who wished to obtain a degree were obliged to go to Oxford, from which various attempts were made to exclude "the mere Irish" by legislation, to Cambridge, Paris, or some of the other great schools on the Continent. If one may judge from the large number of clerics who are mentioned in the papal documents as having obtained a degree, a fair proportion of clerics during the fifteenth century both from within and without the Pale must have received their education abroad. Still, the want of a proper training during which unworthy candidates might be weeded out, coupled with the unfortunate system of patronage then prevalent in Ireland, helped to lower the whole tone of clerical life, and to produce the sad conditions of which sufficient evidence is at hand in the dispensations from irregularities mentioned in the /Papal Letters/.
As might be expected in such circumstances, the cathedrals and churches in some districts showed signs of great neglect both on the part of the ecclesiastics and of the lay patrons. Reports to Rome on the condition of the cathedrals of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise indicate a sad condition of affairs, but they were probably overdrawn in the hope of securing a reduction in the fees paid usually on episcopal appointments, just as the account given by the Jesuit Father Wolf about the cathedral of Tuam was certainly overdrawn by Archbishop Bodkin with the object of obtaining papal recognition for his appointment to that diocese. The Earl of Kildare represented the churches of Tipperary and Kilkenny as in ruins owing to the exactions of his rival, the Earl of Ormond, while the latter, having determined for political reasons to accept royal supremacy, endeavoured to throw the whole blame on the Pope. Both statements may be regarded as exaggerated. But the occupation of the diocesan property during the vacancy of the Sees by the king or the nobles, the frequent wars during which the churches were used as store-houses and as places of refuge and defence, the neglect of the lay patrons to contribute their share to the upkeep of the ecclesiastical buildings, and the carelessness of the men appointed to major and minor benefices, so many of whom were removed during the fifteenth century for alienation and dilapidation of ecclesiastical property, must have been productive of disastrous effects on the cathedrals and parish churches in many districts. Yet it would be a mistake to suppose that such neglect was general throughout the country. The latter half of the fourteenth century and particularly the fifteenth century witnessed a great architectural revival in Ireland, during which the pure Gothic of an earlier period was transformed into the vernacular or national composite style. Many beautiful churches, especially monastic churches, were built, others were completely remodelled, and "on the whole it would not be too much to say that it is the exception to find a monastery or a parish church in Ireland which does not show some work executed at this period."
The disappearance of canonical election, the interference of lay patrons, the too frequent use of papal reservations, and the appointment of commendatory abbots and priors, led to a general downfall of discipline in the older religious orders, though there is no evidence to prove that the abuses were as general or as serious as they have been painted. Even at the time when the agents of Henry VIII. were at work preparing the ground for the suppression of the monasteries, and when any individual who would bring forward charges against them could count upon the king's favour, it was only against a few members in less than half a dozen houses that grave accusations were alleged. Even if these accusations were justified, and the circumstances in which they were made are sufficient to arouse suspicions about their historical value, it would not be fair to hold the entire body of religious in Ireland responsible for abuses that are alleged only against the superiors or members of a small number of houses situated in Waterford or Tipperary. Long before the question of separation from his lawful wife had induced Henry VIII. to begin a campaign in Ireland against Rome, the Mendicant Friars had undertaken a definite programme of reform. In 1460 the Bishop of Killala in conjunction with the Franciscan Friar, Nehemias O'Donohoe, determined to introduce the Strict Observance into the Franciscan Houses, and from that time forward in spite of obstacles from many quarters the Observants succeeded in getting possession of many of the old Conventual Houses, and in establishing several new monasteries in all parts of Ireland, but particularly in the purely Irish districts. The Dominicans, too, took steps to see that the original rules and constitutions of the order should be observed. In 1484 Ireland was recognised as a separate province, though the houses within the Pale were allowed to continue under the authority of a vicar of the English provincial, while at the same time a great reform of the order was initiated. Several houses submitted immediately both within and without the Pale, amongst the earliest of them being Coleraine, Drogheda, Cork, and Youghal. The various religious orders of men did excellent work in preaching, instructing the people, in establishing schools both for the education of clerics and laymen, and in tending to the wants of the poor and the infirm. In the report on the state of Ireland presented to Henry VIII. it is admitted that, though the bishops and rectors and vicars neglected their duty, the "poor friars beggers" preached the word of God. That the people and nobles, both Irish and Anglo-Irish, appreciated fully the labours and services of the Friars is evident from the number of new houses which they established for their reception during the fifteenth century. The convents of Longford, Portumna, Tulsk, Burishool, Thomastown, and Gola were established for the Dominicans; Kilconnell, Askeaton, Enniscorthy, Moyne, Adare, Monaghan, Donegal, and Dungannon for the Franciscans; Dunmore, Naas, Murrisk and Callan for the Augustinians, and Rathmullen, Frankfort, Castle-Lyons and Galway for the Carmelites.
The abuses that existed in the Irish Church at this period arose mainly from the enslavement of the Church, and they could have been remedied from within even had there been no unconstitutional revolution. As a matter of fact those who styled themselves Reformers succeeded only in transferring to their own sect the main sources of all previous abuses, namely, royal interference in ecclesiastical affairs and lay patronage, and by doing so they made it possible for the Catholic Church in Ireland to pursue its mission unhampered by outside control. It ought to be borne in mind that the faults of certain individuals or institutions do not prove that the whole organisation was corrupt, and that if there were careless and unworthy bishops, there were also worthy men like the Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy of Cloyne, who though driven from his diocese by the aggression of the nobles, was venerated as a saint both in Ireland and abroad. The great number of provincial and diocesan synods held in Ireland during the period between 1450 and 1530 makes it clear that the bishops were more attentive to their duties than is generally supposed, while the collections of sermons in manuscript, the use of commentaries on the Sacred Scriptures and of concordances, the attention paid to the Scriptures in the great Irish collections that have come down to us, and the homilies in Irish on the main truths of religion, on the primary duties of Christians, and on the Lives of the Irish Saints, afford some evidence that the clergy were not entirely negligent of the obligations of their office. Had the clergy been so ignorant and immoral, as a few of those foisted into Irish benefices undoubtedly were, the people would have risen up against them. And yet, though here and there some ill-feeling was aroused regarding the temporalities, probates, fees, rents, rights of fishing, wills, etc., there is no evidence of any widespread hostility against the clergy, secular or regular, or against Rome. The generous grants made to religious establishments, the endowment of hospitals for the poor and the infirm, the frequent pilgrimages to celebrated shrines in Ireland and on the Continent, the charitable and religious character of the city guilds, and above all the adherence of the great body of the people to the religion of their fathers in spite of the serious attempts that were made to seduce them, prove conclusively enough that the alleged demoralisation of the Irish Church is devoid of historical foundation.
Nor could it be said that the Irish people at this period were entirely rude and uncultured. Though most of their great schools had gone down, and though the attempts at founding a university had failed, learning had certainly not disappeared from the country. Clerics and laymen could still obtain facilities for education at the religious houses, the cathedral and collegiate churches, at the schools of Irish law and poetry, and from some of the learned teachers whose names are recorded in our Annals during this period. Many of the clerics, at least, frequented the English universities or the universities on the Continent. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries one can point to several distinguished Irish scholars such as O'Fihely, the Archbishop of Tuam, who was recognised as one of the leading theological writers of his day, Cathal Maguire the author of the Annals of Ulster, Bishop Colby of Waterford, the author of several commentaries on Sacred Scripture, the well-known Carmelite preacher and writer Thomas Scrope, Patrick Cullen Bishop of Clogher, and his arch-deacon Roderick O'Cassidy, and Philip Norris, the determined opponent of the Mendicants, and the Dominicans John Barley, Joannes Hibernicus, and Richard Winchelsey. The catalogue of the books contained in the library of the Franciscan convent at Youghal about the end of the fifteenth century affords some indication of the attitude of the monastic bodies generally towards education and learning. In addition to the missals, psalteries, antiphonies, and martyrologies, the convent at Youghal had several copies of the Bible together with some of the principal commentaries thereon, collections of sermons by well-known authors, several of the works of the early Fathers and of the principal theologians of the Middle Ages, the Decrees of Gratian, the Decretals and various works on Canon Law, spiritual reading-books, including the life of Christ, and works on ascetic theology, the works of Boetius and various treatises on philosophy, grammar, and music, and some histories of the Irish province of the Franciscans.
Similarly the library of the Earl of Kildare about 1534 contained over twenty books in Irish, thirty-four works in Latin, twenty-two in English and thirty-six in French, while the fact that Manus O'Donnell, Prince of Tyrconnell, could find time to compose a Life of St. Columba in 1532, and that at a still later period Shane O'Neill could carry on his correspondence with foreigners in elegant Latin bears testimony to the fact that at this period learning was not confined to the Pale. Again it should be remembered that it was between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries that the great Irish collections such as the Book of Lecan, the Book of Ballymote, the Leabhar Breac, the Book of Lismore, etc., were compiled, and that it was about the same time many of the more important Irish Annals were compiled or completed, as were also translations of well-known Latin, French, and English works. ----------