« PreviousContinue »
TO MRS. HENRY GAMBLE, OF ASHBURN.
MADAM,— I know not any one to whom I may so appropriately dedicate these volumes as to the generous lady who founded “The Gamble Library" in the College over which I have the honour to preside. The rare and valuable works contained in that collection have supplied no small portion of the information presented to the reader in the following pages. It is but due to you thus publicly to acknowledge that the literary toil expended on the preparation of this History has been greatly stimulated and encouraged by your munificence. That you may be long spared to honour the Lord with your substance, and that your last comforts may be your sweetest comforts, is,
The earnest prayer of your obliged servant,
COLLEGE PARK, BELFAST,
October ist, 1875.
In the following work an attempt is made to illustrate a section of the history of the Christian Church which has hitherto been very imperfectly explored.
As many of its transactions have been variously described, and have excited keen discussion, it has been found necessary to sift the evidence throughout, and to recognise no fact which cannot be established by direct or circumstantial testimony. In every case of consequence, care has been taken to give the authorities for the statements advanced ; so that all, who desire more fully to investigate the subject, may have an opportunity of judging for themselves as to the credit of the witnesses who vouch for the conclusions adopted. To facilitate reference, the date of the publication of the volume quoted, as well as the page, is generally indicated.
The reader may perceive that, throughout this work, primary use has been made of contemporary information. In this way the truth can be best ascertained and most satisfactorily exhibited. During the present century immense additions have been made to the materials available for the study of Irish history. A new. aspect has been given to many occurrences by the publication of some poem, or memoir, or letter, or state paper, or other document, long entombed in gloomy and inaccessible manuscripts. These new materials haye been carefully surveyed; and, in the following work, frequently employed.
The early Ecclesiastical History of Ireland reveals singular arrangements. As the country lay outside the bounds of the old Roman empire, its Church, when originally organized, did not come under the operation of the canons of the General Councils; and thus it was that, until a comparatively late period, it continued to differ in polity and worship from most of the other churches of Europe. But withal, in the seventh century, it enjoyed perhaps the purest spiritual light in Christendom. In this work its ancient constitution is pourtrayed; subsequent changes are explained ; and an account is given of the form it presented at the time of the English invasion. We then enter on a dark and dreary period of long duration ; and, when the Reformation dawns elsewhere, its rays do not reach Ireland. The extraordinary position of its Church during the reign of Elizabeth has here received special attention.
In the time of James I., when Protestantism began to be an element of importance in the country, it presented, in the northern province, a divided front; as, alongside the Established Church, there stood forth a vigorous Non-Conformity. The same diversity continues to this day. It is the object of the present work to trace the proceedings of all the religious denominations in the island; so that the reader, as he passes on from age to age, may be acquainted with their relative strength, their peculiar arrangements, and their mutual influence. In this respect the Ecclesiastical History of Ireland now submitted to the reader differs from any publication of the kind which has yet appeared. It comes down to the times in which we live; and, whilst it details the movements of the adherents of the See of Rome, it also records the operations of the various Protestant Churches.
The history of Ireland since the Reformation cannot fail to awaken deep yet melancholy interest. We here see a form of religion set up by the State, but rejected by the mass of
the population; and we find the maintenance of the dominant creed producing perpetual discord for centuries. The causes which contributed to impede the progress of the Reformed faith are minutely described; and no attempt is made to conceal the errors of either Romanists or Protestants. It is the duty of history to daguerreotype, as plainly as possible, the proceedings of the various parties in the ecclesiastical drama; and a pure theology has nothing to fear from a correct report even of the faults of its advocates.
Some of the views presented in this work may be new to many readers; but they have not been hastily adopted. The student of history should desire simply to know the truthno matter how it may interfere with particular interests; and the writer ventures to anticipate that all who are in pursuit of information in a right spirit will not seek for it in vain in the following pages.