Sacramental Test in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXIV

Anne succeeded to the throne in 1702; and the following year the Duke of Ormonde was sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant. The House of Commons waited on him with a Bill "to prevent the further growth of Popery." A few members, who had protested against this Act, resigned their seats, but others were easily found to take their places, whose opinions coincided with those of the majority. The Queen's Tory advisers objected to these strong measures, and attempted to nullify them, by introducing the clause known as the "Sacramental Test," which excludes from public offices all who refused to receive the sacrament according to the forms of the Established Church.

As dissenters from that Church had great influence in the Irish Parliament, and as it was well known that their abhorrence of the Church which had been established by law was little short of their hatred of the Church which had been suppressed by law, it was hoped that they would reject the bill; but they were assured that they would not be required to take the test, and with this assurance they passed the Act. It seems to those who look back on such proceedings, almost a marvel, how men, whose conscience forbade them to receive the sacrament according to certain rites, and who, in many cases, certainly would have resigned property, if not life, sooner than act contrary to their religious convictions, should have been so blindly infatuated as to compel other men, as far as they had power to do so, to violate their conscientious convictions. The whole history of the persecutions which Catholics have endured at the hands of Protestants of all and every denomination, is certainly one of the most curious phases of human perversity which the philosopher can find to study.

Two of the gentlemen, Sir Toby Butler and Colonel Cusack, who had signed the Treaty of Limerick, petitioned to be heard by counsel against the Bill. But appeals to honour and to justice were alike in vain, when addressed to men who were destitute of both. The petitioners were dismissed with the insulting remark, that if they suffered from the Act it was their own fault, since, if they complied with its requirements, honours and wealth were at their command. But these were men who would not violate the dictates of conscience for all that the world could bestow on them, and of this one should think they had already given sufficient proof. The Bill was passed without a dissentient voice; and men who would themselves have rebelled openly and violently if the Sacramental Test had been imposed on them, and who would have talked loudly of liberty of conscience, and the blasphemy of interfering with any one's religious convictions, now, without a shadow of hesitation, imposed this burden upon their fellow-men, and were guilty of the very crime of persecution, with which they so frequently charged their Catholic fellow-subjects.