Front Page Titles (by Subject) Subsection I.—: Necessity of destroying the supremacy of the Anglican Church. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Subsection I.—: Necessity of destroying the supremacy of the Anglican Church. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 2.
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Necessity of destroying the supremacy of the Anglican Church.
Finally, it would not be sufficient to deprive the Irish aristocracy of their social and political privileges, unless they were at the same time stripped of their religious privileges. These are the supremacy and predominance of the worship, which, though followed only by a small minority, is the legal religion of all; and the great wealth with which that church has been endowed by the state.
How could the aristocracy, after the loss of its social and political privileges, retain its religious supremacy, which was only an accessory to its other privileges? It is with great difficulty that the Anglican church maintains itself while supported by the temporal powers of the aristocracy,—what would become of it when these are removed? Doubtless, in the midst of the ruins of the old edifice this church would not be preserved; for it is so great a scourge to Ireland, that were all the other privileges of the aristocracy spared, its destruction would be necessary; how then is it to be preserved if they fall?
In the midst of the vicious elements in Irish society, the supremacy of the Anglican church stands out in more prominent and revolting relief than the rest, not only because it is the most pernicious, but also because it is the most absurd. The obstinacy displayed in maintaining the legal principle and official existence of a Protestant church in Catholic Ireland proves that there are in human institutions degrees of selfishness and folly, to which it is impossible to assign limits.
We can understand the Anglican church in Ireland only at the moment of its birth; the religious zeal of the period explains it. In the sixteenth century, every sect believed that it exclusively possessed the absolute truth, and regarded it as a sacred duty to impose its creed, even by force, on those who were so unhappy as to have a different faith. The spirit of proselytism then reigned over all parties, and the Anglicans, who possessed the temporal power, would have shown at this period wondrous moderation if they had limited themselves, as at present, to placing before the Catholics of Ireland what they called the model church, the type of the true faith; and whilst offering to them this only form of true devotion, they had not forbidden every other mode of worshipping the Divinity.
It may further be conceived, that if such a religious passion existed in our days, it might have become obstinate in an enterprise, the inutility of which has been demonstrated by three centuries of fruitless efforts.
But has not toleration in our days replaced the spirit of proselytism even in England? In spite of its Anglican nature, the English government recognises all creeds; and the most different sects which formerly raved against each other, now live quietly under the protection of the laws. What, then, is the meaning of a church, erected in a country by religious fanaticism, and which, after three centuries of barren persecutions, continues to exist when the fanaticism is destroyed?
We find still, it is true, among some of the religious Protestants of England, Ireland, and Scotland, an enthusiastic zeal and religious ardour, which recal the early times of the Reformation; but we must render the Anglican church of Ireland this justice, that it is totally exempt from such passions, and that, condemned to live in the midst of a Catholic population, it appears quite resigned to its misfortune.1 The Anglican ministers do not seem much occupied with the care of making converts; and the best proof that they can give of their perfect toleration is, that they do not even reside amongst those whose conversion they ought to attempt. It is, besides, a common custom with the Anglican ministers of Ireland to reproach the Catholics with their spirit of proselytism. Assuredly this moderation is laudable, and must be highly approved. But if the Anglican ministers are not in Ireland to make proselytes, why are they there at all? Placed in the country to attain an object whose pursuit is abandoned, why do they remain? If not kept by passion, must it not be by interest? And though they have not converted Ireland to their creed, do they not, nevertheless, hold the privileges, lands, and revenues given them, on the condition of effecting this conversion?
What a sad condition for a church which, in order to avoid the reproach of selfishness, must either be intolerant, or perish! If, in spite of the lessons of the past, the Anglican church of Ireland still dreamed of the conversion of this country to Protestantism, it might excite more passion, but it would be less offensive to taste; it would be more irritating, but less absurd. Its first establishment was an act of violence, its present maintenance is sheer nonsense. In its recognised weakness to communicate its creed to those who pay it, it endeavours to render itself inoffensive, and does not see that the more it obtains indulgence the more it revolts reason.
Since the church has ceased to persecute the Catholics with the penal laws of the eighteenth century, it manifests singular surprise at the attacks of which it is the object. With what is it to be reproached? Do not its ministers live peaceably on their lands? Are they not found indulgent to their tenants, good neighbours, and good fathers of families? Do they not expend their revenues for the profit of the labouring population? And is it not a great benefit for a country still in a wild state, and where the upper classes are non-resident, to have here and there scattered over its surface a certain number of intellectual men, who, though they do not extend Protestantism, at least spread the germs of civilisation? Such is the language of the church of Ireland and its ardent supporters.1 Still, if the Anglican ministers, so often absent from their post, never quitted it, they would be powerless to effect the good required of them. Vainly will tithes be converted into rent-charges; the clergy will still be regarded by the people as the ministers of a hostile creed. Their fortune, however moderate, is a burthen to the poor, and a scandal to the Catholic. The violent and direct persecutions of the church have ceased, but the moral oppression which has succeeded them is still a heavy burthen; the mere existence of the church in Ireland, as at present constituted, is a constant tyranny.
So long as the Anglican creed remains the religion of the state in Ireland, the state will be odious to the country, and neither prosperity nor tranquillity will be possible.
Anglican supremacy is the principal and continued source of all the evils of Ireland. To the Irishman it means confiscation, violence, caprice, cruelty; it is in his eyes the certain sign of injustice, falsehood, and spoliation. So long as the Anglican church shall be the established religion of Ireland, right or wrong, the country cannot be looked upon as free; it must always esteem itself treated as conquered and oppressed, because the bitterest recollections of the country are all mingled with Protestantism, and there is no recollection of Protestantism which is not mingled with tyranny.
This Anglican root of the aristocracy must therefore be extirpated, for, whilst it continues to remain in Ireland, it will throw up poisonous sprouts. Whatever government may be established in Ireland, woe unto it if it manifests any sympathy for the old Anglican privileges!
This principle of religious domination, in which all the grievances of Catholic Ireland are contained and perpetuated, will be, whilst it endures, an inexhaustible source of divisions, animosities, attacks, and resistances; it will render all authority impossible, even the most beneficent, if supported by it. Vainly would a government, however national, aim at establishing itself in Ireland; it would be powerless and weak if it rested on this vicious base. Vainly would internal reforms be effected in the Anglican church, its abuses corrected, its sinecures abolished, the wealth of its clergy diminished; the evil will always be the same, so long as the principle prevails which gives the Anglican worship a predominance over all other creeds; and this evil will always provoke the same resistance; the same deeds of violence, and the same popular rebellions, will appear again. In what form will the new resistance show itself? What will be the occasion? I cannot tell, but the event is certain.
It is a common error to believe, that a diminution in the revenues of the Anglican church would lessen the religious evil. In the first place, this reduction could not without injustice exceed certain limits. The higher ranks of the clergy are alone opulent in Ireland. The rectors have not, on an average, more than 500l. a year. This sum, enormous to those who pay it against their will, is barely sufficient for the ministers who receive it. These are almost all the younger sons of high families, to whom the church is an estate; their fortune, however large it may appear, is far inferior to their condition and their wants; they are married; they have children to educate and establish in the world; they have rich friends, relations, and connexions in the fashionable world; their charges are heavy, and their revenues below their wants. Perhaps, to be impartial and just, we should add, that the Irish clergy has never rigorously insisted on the whole of its claims. Tithe in Ireland is doubtless lighter than in England.2 In place of a tenth, the Irish parsons frequently receive only a twentieth; and this is not the mere result of the law; it has always been the case in Ireland, either from the moderation of those who claimed, or the resistance of those who paid. Nevertheless, the riches of the clergy excite complaints in Ireland, which they do not provoke in England. The high pay of the Irish church is indeed a mere pretext, and not the real cause of complaint.
Those who believe that reforms in the recognised vices of the church of Ireland would render it a beneficent institution, have only to cast a glance at the past. The hatred which this church excited, having in 1824 attracted the notice of the English parliament, it was imagined that the hatred of the institution arose from the mode in which tithes were levied, and that every grievance would be removed when the vicious form was corrected. The Tithe Composition Act was then passed, by which tithes were commuted for a fixed sum. Still, after this law was enacted and put into execution, tithes and the church were attacked as before.
It was then pretended that the hatred of the Irish to the Anglican church could only be attributed to the political incapacities with which the dissidents from its worship were punished, and that when Catholic emancipation was granted, the enmities of Irishmen would be at an end. Still, after the emancipation measure of 1829, was the Irish church less hated and attacked? In 1830, resistance to tithe commenced; in 1831, all Ireland was in open revolt against the rights of the church. Then it was supposed that these agrarian aggressions had their source in some forgotten grievances.
“Tithe is odious,” it was said, “on account of the personal relations it produces between the Catholic payer and the Protestant minister; it was not enough to authorise commutation, it must be rendered obligatory.” A new law was consequently passed,3 which, instead of permitting commutation, rendered it necessary. This reform was doubtless a step in advance; and assuredly, if the institution, which was its object, had not been radically vicious, the benefit of the change would have been felt and received with gratitude.
Still this law, designed to stifle, served only to irritate passions; the change was made in 1832, and during that very year Ireland was in open insurrection against tithes.
But misapprehension still prevailed; it was said that the insurrection was not directed against the institution, but against some abuse still undiscovered. An abuse in the church was sought; it was easily found; and in 1833 it was supposed that the clamour against the church would be quieted by the abolition of the most vexatious of its imposts, church-rates and vestry-cess; and that all attacks would be at an end when they reduced the number of Protestant bishops, diminished their revenues, and provided for the better administration of ecclesiastical property. This law, however, passed without the designed effect; resistance to tithe has continued; the church still excites the same passions, and is exposed to the same attacks.
Finally, after five years of anarchy and confusion, Ireland, say they, “is about to regain peace and order; tithes themselves will be reduced, the burthen will be transferred from the poor to the rich. This great innovation has been made; we are its witnesses. But are not those greatly deceived who expect considerable effects from this reform? The new Tithe Act reduces the tithes twenty-five per cent., and changes them into a rent-charge, which in future will be paid by the landlords, and not as heretofore by the petty farmers.
The intention of this law is generous; but people will be deceived who suppose, from the date of its passing, tithes in Ireland will cease to weigh upon the poor population, and to excite popular resistance. The situation and feelings of Irish landlords are sufficiently well known, to judge of the impatience with which they have received the burthen imposed upon them. How will these rich, already so poor, pay the new debt? Many will hardly have the power, the greater part will not have the inclination. In the first place, we may fairly reckon on all, or nearly all, endeavouring to throw the charge upon the people, and for this they will have the simple means of raising the rent in proportion to the new charge; thus they will indirectly obtain from the people what could not be raised directly. But what will be the consequence? The hatred of the tenant to his landlord will be increased, and the landlord will vainly attempt to throw upon the church the odium of an exaction from which alone it is the gainer; the unfortunate peasant, who toils from morning until night, will only understand that, before, he paid a sum to a church which he hated, and he now pays a landlord whom he scarcely hates less.
Every one must foresee the repugnance to tithes that must be produced even amongst the Protestant landlords in a charge which will not only add to their pecuniary embarrassment, but expose them to fresh popular resentments. But not only Protestant landlords, Catholic landlords also will be called upon to pay tithes. Is it to be supposed that these landlords, whose number is rapidly on the increase in Ireland, will be better disposed to pay tithes than their tenants? Will not their consciences as forcibly reject the tribute paid to a hostile creed? Does not their reason suggest the same objections? Does the rich feel less forcibly than the poor Catholic the wrong of being forced to pay a Protestant church? The same resistance will manifestly continue. The only difference will be in the modes of procedure. The resistance of the rich will be more skilful and enlightened; it will have chances for succeeding without violence, which it had not when allied to the lower classes. But if recourse to open force shall be necessary, it will still be more powerful, because better directed; it will rest on people interested in rejecting a burthen which in the end always falls on the labouring classes. There are, besides, in Ireland popular masses, suffering and irritated, which will not long be wanting to the support of violent parties.
But why should we speculate upon the future? Does not the present convey sufficient instruction? Months have elapsed since this expedient for the tranquillisation of Ireland became law, and we already see tithes, under their new name, excite the same resentment and the same fury amongst the people. Whence arises this inutility of all the efforts that have been made to reform the Anglican church in Ireland? It is simply because Ireland requires not the reform of the Anglican church, but its abolition. The radical vice of this church is, that it has been appointed the legal and official religion of a people which has a different religion. The abuse is the very fact of its establishment; its creation, in the midst of a Catholic people, is an outrage perpetuated so long as it endures. The great wrong of the church of Ireland is, that it is placed in the midst of a Catholic population which rejects it without examination. Its riches, its luxury, its idleness, are assuredly great defects; but the most enormous of all its vices is its existence. Its destruction must be the first step in Ireland towards good order and common sense.
When we speak of abolishing the Anglican church, our meaning is, not that the episcopal form of worship should be annihilated, but simply that it should be deprived of its supremacy over all other forms.
In abolishing the supremacy of the Anglican church, care should be taken that the domination of the Catholic hierarchy should not be established in its stead. Equality of creeds is what is necessary for Ireland. The popular masses in Ireland are indeed Catholic, as they are Anglican in England, and Presbyterian in Scotland; and it would be strictly logical that Ireland should have a Catholic establishment, as England has an Anglican, and Scotland a Presbyterian. But, in the first place, the expediency of connecting church and state is a great problem. How are the frail and fleeting institutions of man to be associated with the eternal institution of God? Besides, what would be the result of making Catholicity the established religion of Ireland, save to destroy the religious privileges of the Protestants, and transfer them to the Catholics? After having abolished the injurious supremacy of the Anglican church, which offends the majority of the people of Ireland, might we not see the Protestant faith oppressed by the creed over which it formerly tyrannised? One of the greatest perils to which Catholic Ireland is exposed is, that, after having been domineered over, it should attempt to exercise domination. It would be a fatal source of peril for England and for itself;—for England, which could not endure such a domination of a sect, which would revive all the old passions of the Reformation, and the ancient horrors of Popery; and for Ireland herself, which would be again crushed by England.
It is important, then, to both countries that Ireland should accustom herself to religious liberty. Now what better means can be devised to teach lessons of mutual tolerance than to place all religions on the same level? And it is precisely at the present moment, whilst England protects Ireland, that she ought to give the Catholics of the country a lesson of this kind. Equality of religion should come to the Irish as a benefit; at a later period, they will perhaps consider it an evil; and this will assuredly be the case, if equality is delayed until the Catholics become masters of political society; they will then believe that equality is introduced for the purpose of lowering their creed.
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[2.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[3.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]