History of the Irish (Presbyterian) Church from the Reformation to the Great Revival of 1625 (2)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER VI.continued

The accession of Edward VI., while it was favorable for the advancement of the reform in England, accomplished very little for Ireland. In the former it was diligently fostered, and, meeting with only slight opposition, made rapid progress. A book of homilies was composed for the use of the clergy, English Bibles were placed in every parish church, the mass was changed for the communion in both elements, tables were substituted for altars, divine worship was conducted in English, and a book of common prayer compiled. But a single one of these various methods of promoting the Reformation was adopted in Ireland, and this was accompanied by an inexcusable artifice, designed to impose upon the ignorance of the clergy and people. A proclamation was issued in 1551, requiring the English common prayer-book to be used throughout the kingdom in the celebration of divine worship. Anticipating resistance to the order on the part of the Romish clergy, the council represented the new liturgy as “a mere translation of the Romish service,” thus attempting to conceal its real character. It was in vain that the priests were commanded to use it.

Dowdal, the primate, contended earnestly against the proposed innovation; the lord-deputy was firm, and on Easter-day the new liturgy was read in the cathedral of Christ church, Dublin, in the presence of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Little advantage, however, resulted to the truth from this change in public worship brought about by civil power. Only four of the bishops adopted the liturgy, and their example had but slight influence upon their own suffragans. Even though more conciliatory measures were subsequently employed, they were not successful. The primate refusing to yield, harsher methods were at last brought into requisition. In order to mortify him and his partisans, the primacy of Ireland was transferred from Armagh to Dublin. This deprived the popish party of its most influential leader, but the want of Reformed preachers, even in the metropolis, prevented the Reformation from making any marked progress.

Several of the Irish sees, as well as the primacy, becoming vacant, efforts were made in England to find proper persons to fill these important places. Richard Turner, of Canterbury, on the recommendation of Archbishop Cranmer, was selected by the king for archbishop of Armagh. He, however, declined to accept the honorable situation, giving as the chief reason that his ignorance of the Irish language, which he was not disposed to learn, would forbid him access to the minds of the native population and compel him to preach “to the walls and stalls.” Nor could Cranmer overcome his reluctance to accept the office. If it was so difficult to fill an archbishopric, it was more hopeless to provide gospel-preachers for humbler stations.

Two of the vacant sees were at length filled by men in every way qualified for the office, and who were willing to make the needed sacrifices for the gospel’s sake. These were Hugh Goodacre and John Bale. The first was raised to the see of Armagh, but within three months was poisoned at Dublin, “by procurement of certain priests of his diocese, for preaching God’s verity and rebuking their common vices.” Of Bale, who occupied the see of Ossory, we have honorable testimony. He is said to have been learned and pious as a reformer, energetic and courageous as a champion of the truth. For his honest boldness in exposing the errors of popery he had been twice imprisoned in England by the ruling clergy. Released by Lord Cromwell, he fled to the Continent upon the death of his patron, where for eight years he enjoyed opportunities of converse and intimate friendship with Luther, Calvin and other distinguished Reformers.

His firmness was put to the trial on the occasion of his consecration to his office. The dean of the cathedral insisted upon using the popish form, and even Goodacre, the primate-elect, was disposed to acquiesce for the sake of peace, as were also the other assembled prelates. But Bale was decided in his opposition, and would not consent to adopt the ritual of so corrupt a Church, and his firmness secured the adoption of the Reformed ritual. The apprehended tumult did not follow, and the people were permitted for the first time to make the acquaintance of a man whose consistent course won respect for the doctrines which he preached. His views and his conduct on this memorable occasion had doubtless been somewhat shaped by his long and familiar intercourse with the Genevan Reformers. His zeal was untiring and his labors in his diocese abundant. He abolished the service of the mass and sought to lead the clergy and the people to a knowledge of the true religion.

The death of Edward VI. and the accession of Queen Mary drove him from Ireland. Five of his servants were murdered before the doors of his residence, and it was only from the fact that a large escort of his affectionate people gathered around him and protected him from violence that he escaped with his life from the hands of his persecutors. After many perils he reached the Continent; but when he returned to England on the accession of Elizabeth, nothing could induce him to accept a bishopric. His sympathies were on the side of the nonconformists.

Under Mary the Roman Catholic religion was formally restored by Parliament, and the pope’s supremacy acknowledged. Eight prelates who had professed the Reformed doctrines returned at once to the Church of Rome. Others were prevented from a similar apostasy for the reason that they were married. The people speedily relapsed into their former condition, and scarce a trace of the Reformation could be seen in Ireland.

Indeed, the general adherence of the people to the Romish faith made Ireland a place of shelter for some of the persecuted Protestants of England. The bigotry of the queen was not directed against them, owing to their limited numbers, and for the same reason they did not excite the suspicion of the papal clergy. Several small colonies of English Protestants, accompanied by their ministers, consequently found an asylum for years on Irish soil; and when at length Dean Cole, in 1558, was dispatched by the queen with a persecuting commission to punish these Protestants, the brief respite secured through the substitution of a pack of cards in place of his commission by a friend of the persecuted people deferred all hostile measures until the accession of Elizabeth. The dean, much to his surprise and dismay, on presenting to the council of Dublin the box which was supposed to contain his commission, that it might be formally read, found in place of it only a pack of cards with the knave of clubs faced upward. Evidently not displeased at being thus relieved from the discharge of his invidious office, he humorously replied, “Let us have a new commission, and we will shuffle the cards in the mean time.” Another commission was procured, but unfavorable winds prevented the sailing of the vessel from England until after the death of the queen, and thus God preserved the Protestants.

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