Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

Christianity into this island are lost in impenetrable obscurity. Be this as it may, one thing is certain that the Irish Church acknowledged no allegiance to that of Rome, until the middle of the twelfth century, but was a free and independent church, differing in many points both of doctrine and discipline from the great church of Christendom. The popes, or bishops of Rome had made several attempts to subject Ireland to their authority; but all these failed until the year 1155, when pope Adrian IV. sanctioned the claim of Henry II.to the temporal sovereignty of the island, on the condition that he would, in return, bring the Irish Church to acknowledge the supremacy of the Roman pontiff. The same British soldiers that enabled Henry to establish his own political dominion, enabled him also to secure the spiritual authority of the pope; and, after a feeble resistance on the part of the inferior clergy, Ireland became one of the most submissive dependents of the see of Rome. In that state it continued until the reign of Elizabeth; and it is no little remarkable, that a country which was the last in Europe to recognise the authority of Rome, has ever since continued, in despite the most powerful Protestant influences, and the most disgraceful Protestant persecutions, to be one of the most faithful vassals of the popedom. I have heard, on what I believe to be unquestionable authority, that at this moment, after almost three centuries of civil pains and penalties, the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland is more purely and devotedly Catholic than any other church in the world. If this be a fact, as I believe it is, it affords another instructive lesson with regard to the impolicy, as well as the criminality, of persecution and reviling, on a subject where civil governments have no farther right to interfere than by affording the fullest protection to the free exercise of opinion and worship.

No one, therefore, need feel surprise that the Reformation made little, if any, progress in this country, during the reigns of Henry VIII. Edward VI. and Elizabeth. The imperious queen, indeed, found some ready converts amongst the bishops and other high dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church, but no impression was made on the great bulk of the clergy and people. Many Catholic bishops even, honourably sacrificed their livings rather than their consciences; and although certain English divines accepted the principal bishoprics and other important benefices on the eastern side of the island, the cathedrals and churches from which the Catholics had been driven, in other portions of the country, remained, for the most part, unoccupied. In point of fact, the Protestant Prelatical Church comprised scarcely any members except such English settlers as had come over to assist in governing and plundering the people; with a few insincere lay and clerical renegades from the Romish Church, who considered it convenient and profitable to conform to the religion of the State. Besides these, there were a few French Protestants, who had filed from papal persecution at homo—a few English Puritans, who had exposed themselves to proscription, because they refused to wear the yoke of prelacy, or to acknowledge the right of the Queen and Parliament to regulate the faith and worship of the nation-and lastly, a few Scotch Presbyterians, who, with the usual enterprise of their country, had settled in Ireland with the laudable object of improving their worldly condition. These persons were too few in number, and generally, too unimportant in rank, to awaken any jealousy amongst the clergy of the Established Church, and were, therefore, permitted to exercise their dissent unmolested. There is no record, so far as I can ascertain, of their having had any organized worshipping societies at that early period, oxcept one congregation in Dublin, consisting chiefly of English Puritaus and Scotch Presbyterians. These being naturally indisposed to attract attention, little is known of their history save from tradition ; but it is certain that some of them were afterwards distinguished in public affairs, and that several of their descendents still maintain a respectable position in society.

Such was the state of religion in Ireland at the death of Elizabeth, in the year 1603. Her successor, James VI. of Scotland, son of the unhappy Mary Queen of Scots, ascended the English throne under the title of James I. He was then in the vigour of life; and having been trained in the school of adversity, he came to the throne with general acceptance, and the reputation of prudence and moderation. His first proceedings, in relation to Ireland, were exceedingly judicious. The country had been devastated during the numerous rebellions in the reign of Elizabeth, and a bitter hatred of English authority generally prevailed. To allay this feeling, he proclaimed a general pardon, restored many forfeited estates, gave new titles of nobility, and brought all the people under the equal protection of British laws, without distinction of creed or race. These wise and equitable proceedings induced the Catholics to believe, as his mother had been of their faith, that, in all probability, the king was secretly the same. Under this impression, the multitude rose against the Protestant clergy, in several places, and expelled them from their churches; and consequently, a proclamation was issued by the Lord Deputy, commanding all the Romish clergy either to conform to the law or to leave the kingdom. This produced a fresh rebellion, under the auspices of the earls of Tyrconnell and Tyrone, and a powerful chieftain named O'Dogherty, which being suppressed, their entire estates, comprising the six principal counties of Ulster, became forfeited to the crown. The population having been greatly thinned by so many previous rebellions, and being now still farther reduced, James determined to adopt colonization, as the best method of at once cultivating and civ. ilizing the country. This plan had been tried on a small scale by Edward VI. and Elizabeth, but without much success, as few of the

English could be induced to loave a better country, in order to improve a worse. James, however, being a Scotchman, and knowing the energy and perseverance of his countrymen, resolved to encourage settlers from Scotland as well as from England. He therefore granted districts of the fortified counties to several individuals and public companies, in whom he had confidence, on the condition that they should use all diligence to plant them with Protestant colonists from England or Scotland. In this way, the greater portion of the county of Derry, thence called London-Derry, was vested in the hands of the several Trades' Companies of London, on terms which still continue to be eminently advantageous to its inhabitants.

At the head of this scheme of colonization, James placed Sir Arthur Chichester, a man of moderation and prudence, and, as a reward for his services, granted him a large portion of those valuable estates in Ulster, still enjoyed by his descendants, the noble family of Donegall. Under these salutary arrangements, Scotch settlers rapidly occupied, in considerable numbers, the principal portions of Antrim, Down, Derry, and Tyrone, where their manners, customs, industrious habits, and, to a large extent, their language, are still preserved by their descendants. Many Scotch families also settled in the other counties; whilst in the valley running westward from Belfast, on a belt varying in breadth, and including most of the county of Armagh, as also districts about Derry and Coleraine, the settlers were chiefly English,-and, generally, English Non-conformists, either Puritans or Presbyterians. These brought with them industry, intelligence, manufactures; some skill in agriculture, and superior civilization; so that from their cordially mingling with each other, and occasionally with the native inhabitants, the ruined towns and neglected fields of Ulster not only began to revive, but to assume an air of comfort and prosperity which they had never before exhibited.

The population, however, thus congregated, was not, generally, from the best portion of the inhabitants of England and Scotland. Men of talent and enterprise, they undoubtedly were ; but many of them had been wild, careless, and extravagant at home. For such a population, religion was pre-eminently necessary; and that it might obtain a place in their affections, as well as in their understandings, it was desirable that it should come with doctrines and forms of worship to which they had been accustomed.

In religion, as in temporal affairs, demand begets supply ; and we accordingly find, that with the increase of colonization, in Ulster, Scotch and English ministers came to supply the spiritual wants of their countrymen. The Scotch were, of course, Presbyterians, the English, Non-conformists, or, as they were derisively termed, Puritans, on account of their strict observance of religious duties. The Puritans were generally Congregationalists or Independents, who maintained that every worshipping society was a complete church in itself, and

possessed of full powers to regulato its own temporal and spiritual concerns, without reference to the authority of either prelates or presbyteries. The views of the two parties, in doctrine, however, were identical—both being Calvinists-and, consequently, the Scotch and English settlers sat contentedly under the same ministers. The ininor question of discipline was little discussed, at a period when the Reformed pastors (including those of all denominations), were so few, that one minister had sometimes the oversight of six or eight parishes, from which the Romish clergy had been ejected ; and when, in many of the churches, religious worship was not celebrated at all. The bishops' sees were, indeed, all occupied; but as the prelates could not find an adequate supply of clergy connected with the Established Church, they freely inducted Scotch and English ministers into the vacant Livings, who enjoyed the tithes and other emoluments of the several benefices, in the same way as the clergy of the Establishment, but without reading the prescribed service of the church. Such mutual forbearance and co-operation, amongst the Reformers, were exceedingly favourable to their common cause ; and also to the diffusion of peaceful and virtuous habits amongst a population collected from so many quarters. James was too judicious to interfere with this salutary condition of affairs, in Ireland; although, at the very same time, he was lending his sanction to a disgraceful crusade against the Presbyterians of Scotland and the Puritans of England. These unworthy proceedings, however, not only tended to increase the numbers and respectability of the Irish colonists, by compelling multitudes of thinking and conscientious men to emigrate from England and Scotland, but likewise caused many learned and upright ministers to escape from persecution, and to seek an asylum in this country, where they could enjoy personal security and freedom of worship. Thus, it is evident, that the foundations of Irish Presbyterianism were laid by honest and magnanimous men, who had nobly rejected the authority of states and Churches, in the paramount concerns of religion ; and that those who accuse our Presbyterian and Puritan forefathers of coming, creed-bound, to Ireland, do great injustice to their venerated memories. I do not say, that they were not generally, perhaps universally, Trinitarians and Calvinists; or, that some of them had not assented to "human inventions,” in their own country; but, I do say, that here, they were Christian freemen, and that bishops who inducted them to livings, allowed them "to expunge any portions of the Ordination service which they scrupled.

The first Scotch Presbyterian minister settled in Ireland, on these honourable and independent conditions, was the Rev. Edward Brice, who had surrendered his parish in Stirlingshire, in the year 1607, and was compelled to leave his native country, because he opposed a modified system of prelacy, which the civil authorities were endeavouring to force upon a reluctant people. A Scotch gentleman, named Edmonstone, from the same county, had obtained a grant of some of the forfeited lands, at Broadisland (now Ballycarry), near Carrickfergus. On these lands, and in the adjacent districts, there were many Scotchmen settled ; and when Mr. Brice sought shelter with Mr. Edmonstone, the latter prevailed upon Echlin, bishop of Down and Connor, to induct his friend into the living of Broadisland, in the year 1613. He was subsequently made, in addition, prebend of Kilroot, in the same neighbourhood—an office held, about a century afterwards, by the celebrated Dean Swift. Mr. Brice acquired considerable landed property at Kilroot, which is still in the possession of his truly-independent and respectable namesake and descendant, Edward Brice, of Scoutbush, near Carrickfergus, who, some years ago, adopted the name of Bruce-probably the original patronymic of the family. Ballycarry is not only remarkable, as the locality in which the first Presbyterian minister was settled, but almost equally so for the singular fact, that its present pastor, the able and excellent William Glendy, is only the fourth in succession from Mr. Brice, and destined, I devoutly trust, like his venerable predecessors, to complete his half century of ministerial service. The same congregation is also distinguished, as having ever been the strenuous supporter of the great cause of civil and religious liberty-and pre-eminently so, in its noble and triumphant resistance to clerical violence and meditated usurpation, at the period of the Remonstrant separation, in the year 1829.

About the year 1615, the Rev. Robert Cunningham, who had been chaplain to the forces, under the Duke of Buccleuch, in Holland, was appointed by bishop Echlin, to the curacy or living of Holywood and Craigavad, in order to give him a legal title to its emoluments, although he was a staunch and avowed Presbyterian. Mr. Cunningham was a man of great worth and distinguished talents; and afterwards occupied a conspicuous place in the religious affairs of Ulster.

The third minister, amongst the Irish Non-conformists, was the Reo. John Ridge, an English Puritan, who had been for some years a deacon of the Established Church, but resigned his office on conscientious grounds. On coming to Ireland, he was presented to the vicarage of Antrim, in July, 1619, at the request of Lord Chichester, previously Sir Arthur. Mr. Ridge was protected and cherished by Sir John Clotworthy, the respectable ancestor of the noble family of Masserene ; as was also the Rev. Henry Calvert, another English Puritan, whom Roger Langford, the ancestor of the present Sir Hercules Pakenham, had presented to the living of Oldstone or Muckamore. Indeed, the ancestors of most of our northern nobility and gentry, were Presbyterians, or other Non-conformists, who, by their Christian integrity and many virtues, largely contributed to the religious and social improvement of Ulster, and laid the solid foundations of the peace, prosperity, and rational liberty, which we now enjoy.

(To be continued.)

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »