The Established Church and Proselytism

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (10) | Start of Chapter

The priests of Ireland have had their wits well sharpened by the constant check held over them by penal laws, and a government church, and they have not been guilty of great proselyting, finding as much work as would keep them upon the alert, continually to keep their own hold, and the flock safe already in possession. The Episcopalians and Dissenters, on the other hand, knowing that they were the minority, and, that the power they held was not precisely "just and equal," feared that some new king or minister, or some sudden government squall, might blow down their uncertain bamboo fabric, had to double their cries of priestcraft and popery, persecutions and murders, to keep their citadels of self-defense well secured, with the stirring watchword of "popery" ever stimulating the soldiery to ready action, in case of insurrection. Thus, as they first preached Christ through bullets, bombshells, and fire, so they still hold him up as the "God of battles," to all who would not receive him through the breath of their mouths.

The soldiery stationed in Ireland are a living proof of this principle, and especially so, as this army is required to show its warlike power in defense of the missionaries stationed there, being called out to display their banners when any new converts are to be added to the Protestant ranks from the Romish church. An instance of this was related by a coast-guard officer, stationed in the town of Dingle. Some five or six years ago, a half-dozen or more of the Romans had concluded to unite with the Protestant mission establishment there, and the Sabbath that the union was to take place in the church, the soldiery were called out to march under arms, to protect this little band from the fearful persecutions that awaited them on their way thither. The coast-guard officer was summoned to be in readiness cap á pie for battle, if battle should be necessary; he remonstrated—he was a Methodist by profession, and though his occupation was something warlike, yet he did not see any need of carnal weapons in building up a spiritual church; but he was under government pay, and must do government work. He accordingly obeyed, and, to use his own words substantially, "We marched in battle array, with gun and bayonet, over a handful of peasantry—a spectacle to angels, of our trust in a crucified Christ, and the ridicule and gratification of priests and their flocks, who had discernment sufficient to see that with all the boasted pretensions of a purer faith and better object of worship, both were not enough to shield our heads against a handful of turf, which might have been thrown by some ragged urchin, with the shout of 'turncoat' or 'souper,' as this was the bribe which the Romanist said was used to turn the poor to the church; and though this was before the potato famine, yet the virtues of soup were well known then in cases of hungry stomachs, and the Dingle Mission had one in boiling order for all who came to their prayers." The coastguard continues, "We went safely to the church, and the next Mission paper, to my surprise and mortification, told a pitying world that so great were the persecutions in Dingle, that the believing converts could not go to the house of God to profess their faith in Him, without calling out the soldiery to protect them."

This circumstance is quite in keeping with much of what is called persecution there; and though it cannot and should not be denied, but that in some cases, there has been great opposition and much severity manifested by papists, toward those who have left their church, yet a spirit of retaliation will never deaden the life of that persecuting spirit, nor bring any to see the benefit of a religion which bears the same impress which is stamped on theirs. These two contending powers have had so much to do to keep, one his own foot-hold, and the other his flock, that little time has been left for preaching Christ, or carrying out his gospel; and I pray to be forgiven, if wrong, in saying, that in no place whatever, where Christianity is preached, have the sad effects of a nominal one been more fatal. The letter without the spirit has shown emphatically what it can do. It can make men proud, covetous, vainly puffed-up, and it can make them oppressive too; it can make them feel, and it can make them act as did the Puritan, in the early settlement of the New England colonies. "The earth," he said, "was the Lord's, and the fullness thereof, and what is the Lord's belongs to the saints also, therefore they (Puritans) had a right to drive out the savages and take their lands;" accordingly they did. The same spirit is literally carried out there in the tithe gathering; these "saints" have a claim on what belongs to God, and consequently the law covenant belonging to the Jewish priest, under Moses, is handed over to them, and whatever barbarian, Scythian, Jebusite or Perizzite dwells in the land, must to them pay tribute. The magistrates who collect this tribute sometimes do it in the face of spades and pitchforks, and stockings full of stones, which the brave women hurl; but having the "inner man" well strengthened, by both law and government gospel, they generally escape with the booty.

These ludicrous and shameful scenes have measurably abated since the tithes are gathered in a form not quite so tangible, by merging them in or behind the landlord's tax, who puts this ministerial "tenth" into an advanced rent on the tenant; but "murder will out," and the blow is felt as severely, and by many traced as clearly, as when the hand was more tangible. In the summer of 1848, in the city of Cork, one man belonging to the Society of Friends had a good set of chairs taken, which the owner affirmed was but a repetition of the same proceedings, the Church collectors having a peculiar fancy for his chairs; they had taken many sets in yearly succession. Now while all this is in progress in that country, talk not so loudly of popish heresy being the root of all the evil there. First, make the gospel tree, which was planted eighteen hundred years ago, on the Mount of Olives, bear a little fruit, pluck a few fresh boughs from its neglected branches, and kindly present them to these popish seared consciences, and see and mark well the result. If the book called the Bible had been kept entirely out of sight, and its principles been fully exemplified in deed as well as in word, there can scarcely be a doubt, but the prejudice which now exists against it would never have been known; and had the priests thundered their anathemas either from the confession box or the altar, louder and longer against reading or believing it, many of them would have defied all bulls of excommunication, as well as all purgatorial burnings, and have made their acquaintance with its pages. When any of these extortions are practiced, the ready response is, "This comes from the blessed book they're tachin' and prachin'." It is the substance that is wanting, not the shadow. If popery have concealed Christ behind the Virgin, with her long retinue of sainted fathers and maids of honor, in the persons of St. Bridgets, whose microscopic eyes can see him any clearer through mitred bishops and surpliced gownsmen, fattened on the gatherings of the harvests of the poor, and scanty savings of the widow and fatherless. If the incense from a Roman censer obscure the clear light of the Sun of Righteousness, think not to blow it away by the breath of alcohol, their smoke will only mingle together, and make the cloud still thicker. Some paste more adhesive than "stirabout," and some stimulus more abiding than "soup," will be required to keep the scrutinizing Paddy rooted and grounded in a new faith, whose fresh lessons are only, "Be patient, love, while I beat you, in true genteel and 'royal style.'" The Celt can quickly discern clean hands; and though his own may be filthy, yet he will content himself with the "holy water" of his own church to cleanse them, while he sees his neighbor's of the Protestant faith a little too smutty.

While speaking thus of proselytism, and the errors of the church, the soup-shops should not be cast into entire contempt; for though they may, and undoubtedly have been, used for bribery there, yet they have been used for better purposes, and by the Protestant church too. The missionary stations in Dingle and Achill, so far as they adhered to their professed object in the beginning, which was partly to provide a retreat from persecution, and give labor as far as it was practicable to those who wished to renounce popery, did well. But have they acted entirely in accordance with these principles? Let the fruits be the judges. That there are real God-fearing Christians in those churches must be believed, but this is not the question. Were most of them made so by going there, or had they not been taught of the Holy Spirit before entering them? The heaven-taught Christian in Ireland in many places is driven to great straits to find a fold where the flock are fed with the true bread, prepared by those who have really come out of the world, and they necessarily unite with any, where they can find a home. The Roman Catholic who turns to God with full purpose of heart, and has been really born of the Spirit, is indeed a spiritual Christian; he drinks deeply at the Fountain-head, and often exceeds those who had been in the path with the Scriptures in their hands for years. One Presbyterian clergyman observed, "we must take large strides to keep up with them."

I am not expecting, neither asking one pound of money, one good dinner, nor one blessing, for these unsavory statements, but they are the common sense observation of four years' practical experience among that strangely situated people, who have been the gazing-stock of the world for so many ages; and though the remark of a Roman Catholic barrister, in the county of Mayo, to his priest, was somewhat severe, yet it might be well for the clergy of all denominations to look at it, and inquire whether they have not given cause for the people to feel, that the benefits which have flowed from their ministrations are not on the whole a poor equivalent for the money which has been paid to them, and for the honor which has been bestowed upon their reverences.

This barrister observed that his occupation had led him to an acquaintance with the doings of the clergy of every denomination in Ireland; and he had settled on the firm belief, that if every one of all classes, Priests, Protestants, and Dissenters, were put into a ship and driven out to sea, and the ship scuttled, it would be better for Ireland than it then was. "Leave every man," he added, "to take care of his own soul, without being led hither and thither, by men who worked either for money or party, or for both, and they would be in a better condition than they were at present." The confounded priest uttered not one syllable in reply. It is somewhat amusing to a listener, who belongs to no one of them, to be present on any annual celebration of these clergymen, and hear the reformations going on under their management.

The Established Church astonishes you with confirmations and the increase of communicants, and if the speaker be a missionary, why a few thousand pounds would bring half of popish Ireland into his net—could he build more cottages and dig more drains, mountain and bog for many a mile would be blossoming like the rose, and crooked things be made straight among the benighted Catholics, and Ireland in the Lord's time be a habitation for the righteous to dwell in. The number of converts from popery astonishes the credulous hearers, and the self-denials and persecutions of the missionaries are second to none but Peter's or Paul's.