“What do you propose?” asked Tony, his face white with
The fiction of two churches in Ireland, one the Anglo-Irish acknowledging the authority of the Pope, the other the Irish fighting sullenly against papal aggression, has been laid to rest by the publication of Theiner's /Vetera Monumenta Hibernorum et Scotorum/, the /Calendars of Papal Letters/, the /Calendars of Documents (Ireland)/ and the /Annats/. If any writer, regardless of such striking evidence, should be inclined to revive such a theory he should find himself faced with the further disagreeable fact that, when the English nation and a considerable body of the Anglo-Irish nobles fell away from their obedience to Rome, the Irish people, who were supposed to be hostile to the Pope, preferred to risk everything rather than allow themselves to be separated from the centre of unity. Such a complete and instantaneous change of front, if historical, would be as inexplicable as it would be unparalleled.
Nor is there any evidence to show that Lollardy or any other heresy found any support in Ireland during the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. During the episcopate of Bishop Ledrede in Ossory (1317- 60), it would appear both from the constitutions enacted in a diocesan synod held in 1317 as well as from the measures he felt it necessary to take, that in the city of Kilkenny a few individuals called in question the Incarnation, and the Virginity of the Blessed Virgin, but it is clear that such opinions were confined to a very limited circle and did not affect the body of the people. About the same time, too, the dispute that was being waged between John XXII. and a section of the Franciscans found an echo in the province of Cashel, though there is no proof that the movement ever assumed any considerable dimensions. Similarly at a later period, when the Christian world was disturbed by the presence of several claimants to the Papacy and by the theories to which the Great Western Schism gave rise, news was forwarded to Rome that some of the Irish prelates, amongst them being the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Ferns, were inclined to set at nought the instructions of Martin V. (1424), but the latter pontiff took energetic measures to put an end to a phenomenon that was quite intelligible considering the general disorder of the period. The appeal of Philip Norris, Dean of Dublin, during his dispute with the Mendicants, to a General Council against the decision of the Pope only serves to emphasise the fact that throughout the controversy between the Pope and the Council of Basle Ireland remained unshaken in its attachment to the Holy See. Although the first measure passed by the Parliament at Kilkenny (1367) and by nearly every such assembly held in Ireland in the fifteenth century was one for safeguarding the rights and liberties of the Church, yet the root of the evils that afflicted the Church at this period can be traced to the interference of kings and princes in ecclesiastical affairs. The struggle waged by Gregory VII. in defence of free canonical election to bishoprics, abbacies, and priories seemed to have been completely successful, but in reality it led only to a change of front on the part of the secular authorities. Instead of claiming directly the right of nomination they had recourse to other measures for securing the appointment of their own favourites. In theory the election of bishops in Ireland rested with the canons of the cathedral chapters, but they were not supposed to proceed with the election until they had received the /congé d'élite/ from the king or his deputy, who usually forwarded an instruction as to the most suitable candidate. As a further safeguard it was maintained that, even after the appointment of the bishop-elect had been confirmed by the Pope, he must still seek the approval of the king before being allowed to take possession of the temporalities of his See. As a result even in the thirteenth century, when capitular election was still the rule, the English sovereigns sought to exercise a controlling influence on episcopal elections in Ireland, but they met at times with a vigorous resistance from the chapters, the bishops, the Irish princes, and from Rome.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century, however, and in the fifteenth century, though the right of election was still enjoyed nominally by the chapters, in the majority of cases either their opinions were not sought, or else the capitular vote was taken as being only an expression of opinion about the merits of the different candidates. Indirectly by means of the chancery rules regarding reservations, or by the direct reservation of the appointment of a particular bishopric on the occasion of a particular vacancy, the Pope kept in his own hands the appointments. Owing to the encroachments of the civil power and the pressure that was brought to bear upon the chapters such a policy was defensible enough, and had it been possible for the Roman advisers to have had a close acquaintance with the merits of the clergy, and to have had a free hand in their recommendations, direct appointment might have been attended with good results. But the officials at Rome were oftentimes dependent on untrustworthy sources for their information, and they were still further handicapped by the fact that if they acted contrary to the king's wishes the latter might create serious trouble by refusing to restore the temporalities of the See. Instances, however, are not wanting even in England itself to show that the Popes did not always allow themselves to be dictated to by the civil authorities, nor did they recognise in theory the claim of the king to dispose of the temporalities.
It is difficult to determine how far the English kings succeeded in influencing appointments to Irish bishoprics. About Dublin, Meath, and Kildare there can be no doubt that their efforts were attended with success. In Armagh, too, they secured the appointment of Englishmen as a general rule, and in Cashel, Waterford, Limerick, and Cork their recommendations, or rather the recommendations of the Anglo-Irish nobles, were followed in many instances. Outside the sphere of English influence it does not seem that their suggestions were adopted at Rome. At any rate it is certain that if they sought for the exclusion of Irishmen their petitions produced little effect. During the early years of the reign of Henry VIII. more active measures seem to have been taken by the king to assert his claims to a voice in episcopal appointments. In the appointments at this period to Armagh, Dublin, Meath, Leighlin, Kilmore, Clogher, and Ross it is stated expressly in the papal Bulls that they were made /ad supplicationem regis/.鈥淲e鈥
Unfortunately several of the ecclesiastics on whom bishoprics were conferred in Ireland during the fifteenth century had but slender qualifications for such a high office. On the one hand it was impossible for Rome in many cases to have a close acquaintance with the various candidates, and on the other the influence of the English kings, of the Irish princes, and of the Anglo-Irish nobles was used to promote their own dependents without reference to the effects of such appointments on the progress of religion. The Archbishops of Dublin and Armagh, and the Bishops of Kildare and Meath were more interested as a rule in political and religious affairs than in their duties as spiritual rulers. They held on many occasions the highest offices in the state, and had little time to devote their attention to the government of their dioceses. Absenteeism was as remarkable a characteristic of the Church in the fifteenth century as it was of the Established Church in the eighteenth, and in this direction the bishops were the worst offenders. Very often, too, Sees were left vacant for years during which time the king's officials or the Irish princes, as the case might be, wasted the property of the diocese either with the connivance or against the wishes of the diocesan chapters. Of the archbishops of Ireland about the time of the Reformation, George Cromer, a royal chaplain, was appointed because he was likely to favour English designs in Ireland, and for that purpose was named Chancellor of Ireland; John Alen, another Englishman, was recommended by Cardinal Wolsey to Dublin mainly for the purpose of overthrowing the domination of the Earl of Kildare; Edmund Butler, the illegitimate son of Sir Piers Butler, owed his elevation to the See of Cashel to the influence of powerful patrons, and Thomas O'Mullaly of Tuam, a Franciscan friar, passed to his reward a few days before the meeting of the Parliament that was to acknowledge Royal Supremacy, to be succeeded by Christopher Bodkin, who allowed himself to be introduced into the See by the authority of Henry VIII. against the wishes of the Pope.鈥淲e鈥
But, even though the bishops as a body had been as zealous as individuals amongst them undoubtedly were, they had no power to put down abuses. The patronage of Church livings, including rectories, vicarages, and chaplaincies enjoyed by laymen, as well as by chapters, monasteries, convents, hospitals, etc., made it impossible for a bishop to exercise control over the clergy of his diocese. Both Norman and Irish nobles were generous in their gifts to the Church, but whenever they granted endowments to a parish they insisted on getting in return the full rights of patronage. Thus, for example, the Earl of Kildare was recognised as the legal patron of close on forty rectories and vicarages situated in the dioceses of Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Limerick, and Cork, and he held, besides, the tithes of a vast number of parishes scattered over a great part of Leinster. The Earl of Ormond enjoyed similar rights in Kilkenny and Tipperary, as did the Desmond family in the South, and the De Burgos in Connaught. The O'Neills, O'Donnells, O'Connors, McCarthys, O'Byrnes, and a host of minor chieftains, exercised ecclesiastical patronage in their respective territories. Very often these noblemen in their desire to benefit some religious or charitable institution transferred to it the rights of patronage enjoyed by themselves. Thus the monastery of Old or Great Connal in Kildare controlled twenty-one rectories in Kildare, nineteen in Carlow, one in Meath and one in Tipperary, while the celebrated convent of Grace-Dieu had many ecclesiastical livings in its gift.鈥淲e鈥
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.鈥淲e鈥
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.鈥淲e鈥