« PreviousContinue »
Protestant population consists of only five hundred and twentyseven individuals. These are facts which ought to be carefully pondered by the English public. In such facts lie the materials of discord and of continual agitation.
The immense revenues of the state church form another main item in the monster grievance.' The precise amount of these it is extremely difficult to ascertain. We have made every effort to do so, but without success. It is our firm belief. that the full amount is known only to their recipients. The income of the primate has been estimated at about £23,000 per annum, and it certainly, all items included, is not less than £20,000 per annum. The bench of bishops enjoy among themselves about £160,000 per annum. By the Church Temporalities Bill of 1833, several dioceses were united, and their revenuestransferred to and vested in the ecclesiastical commissioners,' so that the amount of revenue referred to in round numbers may be a trifle less than stated above. But still, all things considered, it is monstrously great. And this, be it remembered, in a country proverbially poor, where, even according to government statistics, every fourth man is a pauper.
But perhaps the position and incomes of the parochial incumbents are more offensive in the eyes of the mass of the people than the enormous revenues of the dignified clergy. Previously to the Tithe Commutation Act, the collection of the parochial tithes was an incessant source of irritation. The scenes of ruffianism, swearing, and even bloodshed, connected with their collection, are not yet forgotten. Moreover the incomes of some of the clergy in places where they have little or no official duty to perform, having few, if any, adherents, amount to a very large sum. We could name fifty parishes, containing only about one hundred and twenty-seven individuals professing the Protestant faith, whose united clerical revenues exceed £11,000. Such facts are not without their influence on the minds of a keenly-observant people.
Another item in the budget of disaffection, may be fairly traced to the contrast between the seeming self-denial of the clergy of the Romish church and the opulence of the ecclesiastics of the Church of England. On the one side there is the appearance of self-denial, laborious attention to official duty, humility and condescension, while on the other there is the aspect of opulence, dignity, and lordly power. Who does not perceive the effect of such a contrast?
It were tedious to enumerate all the items of social dissatisfaction, traceable to the existence of the state-church of Ireland. They are numerous, and their aggregate influence is tremen
dous. Until, therefore, this monster grievance is removed, all the schemes of our statesmen for the amelioration of that country must prove nugatory. Agitation will survive O'Connell, the priests will continue to inflame the minds of the people, and the nation will heave with discontent. The Coercion Bill recently introduced into parliament by Sir Robert Peel, was a delusion. It did not touch the root of the evil, and has been wisely rejected by the legislature. While Ireland remains torn with religious dissensions, the battle-field of bigotry and intolerance, its history will be disfigured by out-breaks, MollyMaguirism, and murders, in spite of the most stringent legislative enactments. What is wanted is the removal of the sources of religious intolerance and discontent. Social harmony would then commence her benign reign. Absenteeism would receive a check. Landlords would come to their paternal estates. Avaricious and grinding agents would be dismissed, or at least be subjected to the control of their masters. The serfs of the soil, for the peasantry are little better, would find in most cases, that if the lord of the soil was their master, he was at the same time their friend. No doubt there would be some cold-hearted and tyrannical proprietors still, as there are even now among resident landlords. But it must not be forgotten, that no small share of this tyranny is to be ascribed to the bigotry infused into their minds by their connexion with the state-church. This institution has a most baneful influence on Protestant landlords, (and by far the majority of proprietors of land in Ireland are Protestants) in connexion with their tenantry, who,in the south and west, are almost entirely Roman-catholics. Taking all things therefore into account, the abolition of the statechurch would have a most happy effect both on the lords and on the tenants of the soil. By removing the grand source of religious irritation, it would pave the way to national prosperity, and do more for the tranquillization of the country and the security of life, than all the acts of parliament since the days of Henry the Eighth.
Under existing circumstances the spirit of commercial enterprise cannot be expected to extend and flourish. Men of capital will not risk it in a country so distracted, where their presence would be uncomfortable, and their persons unsafe. The consequence is, that the great mass of the people are entirely thrown on the culture of the soil for support. The possession of a small patch of ground, becomes, in many cases, indispensable to subsistence. To be deprived of the occupancy of a few acres, is to many families the certain road to beggary or starvation. Hence agrarian outrages. Now this state of things has an intimate connection with the religious distractions of the country. By
means of these the tide of capital is diverted into a foreign channel, and the minds of the people are so absorbed in religious domestic strife, as to be literally incapable of that concentration of thought necessary to its successful employment among themselves. Every impartial man must see, that the first remedy for such a social distemper is the removal of the irritating cause— the state church. No palliatives will do, no endowments of colleges, no pandering to the appetites of the priesthood, no railway projects, no bills for the security of life-nothing but a radical cure. The state physician, if he would do his work to good purpose, must probe the sore to the very bottom, extract the poison, close the wound gently, and then do his best to heal it up by the appliances of a righteous, liberal, and conciliatory policy.
Our view of the matter is thus strong and obvious. We are not ignorant, as already observed, of the shifts of Orange churchmen, to evade the force of our arguments. It is popery, horrid popery, they are ready to exclaim, that is the cause of all the mischief. Well, 'good friends, sweet friends,' let us grant it for the sake of argument. The more shame we say upon you. Have you not been well paid, and long paid for its destruction? But we ask further, what has preserved popery in such life and vigour in Ireland? Why are Irish papists the most bigotted, the most thoroughly popish in the world? The cause, we think, is fairly traceable to the state church. No man's understanding was ever yet enlightened by the spoiling of his goods; no man's prejudices were ever yet slain by penalties and imprisonment; no man was ever yet schooled into obedience to the truth by dragoons and grape shot. Coercion was never yet the instrument of conversion. Hence the complete failure of the Irish state church.
The truth is, the minds of the people are so absorbed in their religious dissensions, and so stung with a sense of injustice by the exactions and opulence of the established church, that they have neither time nor inclination to examine the truth or falsity of their own system. They naturally enough conclude that that must be a bad religion which requires to be upheld by such means; and, on the other hand, that their own must be every thing that is excellent. We feel, therefore, most fully convinced that the great barrier to the conversion of popish Ireland has been the state church. If Romanism in that country is ever to be displaced by the evangelism of the primitive age, it must be approached by men in the attitude of voluntaries. Let Romanism then, if churchmen choose, have its full share of blame. It is only shifting it off one step from themselves. Ultimately it must rest, in a large measure, on their beloved establishment.
Considering that the great majority of the Irish people are Roman-catholics, we have often wondered, not that there are religious dissensions, discontents, and outbreaks, in that unhappy country, but that they are not more abundant. We have as bad an opinion of the essential elements of popery as most churchmen, and, perhaps, a somewhat worse. There is much truth in the old adage, 'oppression will make a wise man mad.' What then must be its effects on those of an opposite character? In the case of truly Christian men we might expect patient submission to unkind treatment; we might expect that, in imitation of their divine Master, when reviled they would not revile again; when subjected to suffering they would not threaten, but commit the matter to Him that judgeth righteously. But have we any right to expect such demeanour on the part of injured and irritated Roman-catholics? We trow not. Those who are acquainted with all the circumstances of the case know well, that the amount of outward discontent and social turbulence, is much less than might reasonably have been expected.
We can affirm from personal knowledge, that in not a few instances the power of the priesthood has been employed in restraining and subduing the passions of the multitude, when swollen with indignation and hatred against the state-church, and ready to burst forth in open violence on its adherents. It is quite true, nevertheless, that the priests do work upon their feelings, and inflame their passions, by directing their attention to their wrongs: but they not unfrequently exercise a salutary influence in preventing their excited votaries from rushing into lawless outbreaks. That they should be excited, that they should hate the state church, and be somewhat turbulent, suits their purpose; but rebellion and bloodshed would countervail their policy.
At present we can see but little ground of hope for Ireland from any party in the state. As regards the real source of the evil, politicians of every shade and colour are marvellously blind. Lord John Russell and his party will only make 'confusion worse confounded.' The usual policy of the Whigs will be brought into play: professing to reform the hierarchy, they will seek really to strengthen it. Some meretricious ornaments may be removed, but it will be on the condition and as a means of rendering the foundation more stable, and of perpetuating the shelter afforded within the precincts of the establishment, to their younger kinsmen and needy dependents. The lessons of history, so far at least as the church is concerned, have hitherto been lost on the Whig party. They have tried their utmost again and again to conciliate her. With the utmost
patience they have waited on her pleasure, have borne with her frowardness, have sought to calm her anger, and to win her into good fellowship and love. But it is all to no purpose. They have not, they never will, they cannot succeed. There is that in Whig doctrines, at least, which the hierarchy repudiates as the worst of heresies, and her faithful sons recoil from the men by whom those doctrines are professed. It is not enough to conciliate her that principle and practice should be opposed; that the advocates of the representative system should be amongst the stoutest opponents of the extension of the suffrage; or that the professed champions of religious liberty, should rally to the defence of ecclesiastical monopoly and intolerance. One would think this might have been enough to satisfy the craving even of an established church; but the Whigs have found, to their cost, that it was not. What is really good in their political creed has awakened her settled distrust, and she has therefore refused to be soothed by the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. Whig professions have been mistrusted, Whig zeal has been regarded as more than doubtful. Past concessions to righteous claims have been appealed to in disproof of present professions, and the legitimate tendency of principles has been regarded as more powerful than the exigences of the passing hour. The Whigs, therefore, though constituting the most aristocratic party in the kingdom, have utterly failed to conciliate the good-will of the church. They are suspected, disbelieved, and hated. Bishops of their own creation speedily turn against them, and the whole power of the hierarchy stands ready, at any moment, to assume a hostile attitude. The state priests, wise in their generation, wait their opportunity, and whenever that comes, neither conscience nor prudence prevents their being found in the front rank of toryism.
Notwithstanding, however, all this, the Whigs are still toying with the church, in the delusive hope of securing an ally in their hitherto embittered foe. Their recent return to power affords another opportunity for the display of their short-sightedness and infatuation, and we regret that Ireland is the scene on which these qualities are to be exhibited. We are not unmindful of the fact that they are churchmen, and should be disposed to give more weight to this plea, did we believe that their churchmanship had respect to the religious superiority of the state system. This, however, we cannot do. With few exceptions, they care nothing about the religion of the matter. They never trouble themselves to look at it in this light, they are wholly incompetent to do so, and are engrossed by the other and secular bearings of the system. The money or governmental interests involved, are uppermost in their minds, and hence the