Page images

enough of wealth, or of factitious consequence, to secure them from the terrors of excommunication; those, in fine, whom a generous government ought to protect with the greatest vigilance; are left at the mercy of an order, which has renounced all natural charities. They may, indeed, declare themselves Protestants; but this is an alternative, which may be rejected from various motives ; from conscience, from a spurious yet not dishonourable pride, from a natural wish to decline the unenvied honours of martyrdom; - and to which, at all events, no government has a right to compel any of its subjects.

This oath would have been a proper test to separate papists from Roman Catholics, had not the duplicity of Rome, constantly growing with its necessities, devised an expedient for evading its force. While the mass of its followers was prohibited, under the severest denunciations, from giving this or any other pledge of loyalty, the general rule was dispensed with, from time to time, in favour of those persons, whom the papal government was employing upon some special mission, and of whose skill and fidelity it was well assured. To countenance this perfidious policy, equivocation was wrought up into a system in the papal schools; distinctions were made, between the popular and the scholastic meaning of words; it was taught, that, although articles of faith were never to be denied, a greater latitude was allowable with respect to opinions; and that, when the good of the church required, a man might lawfully speak and act, upon the opinion of any eminent authority, although it differed from his own.

Thus trained to dissimulation, the papal emissaries began to make smooth professions of loyalty; and to work their way into parliament, and the closet of the prince. A criterion between papists and Roman Catholics had now become, if not impossible, at least full of difficulties, which a protestant government, harassed by a century and a half of intrigue, may well be excused if it judged insurmountable. On the one hand, it was necessary to select a test from which Rome could not absolve; on the other, the

system of licensed perjury, extended, or appeared to extend, to all tests, except those which the church had ratified under the sanction of an anathema : - one of these was accordingly adopted. Such is the account given by Father Walsh *, a contemporary writer : “ If any shall object,' he says, those penal statutes, which may be thought by some to bend all their force against some doctrines and practices of our religion, as for example, against the doctrine of transubstantiation, which this present parliament at Westminster may be thought to make their principal mark; — the answer is clear and consequential. The law-makers persuaded themselves; first, that the Roman Catholics in general had always declined to disown by any sufficient public instrument, the pope's pretences to supreme dominion; secondly, that their missionaries labour to infuse into as many of them as they think fit, all their own principles of equivocation and mental reservation, and of forswearing any doctrine, except only those articles, which, by the indispensable condition of their communion, they may not dissemble upon oath ; thirdly, that the tenet of transubstantiation is one of those articles. Therefore, to discover by this, (however otherwise, in itself, a very harmless criterion) the mischief which they conceived to go along with it, they made it the test : which they would not have done, if the Romanists had, by any sufficient test, distinguished among themselves.'

* History of Irish Remonstrance, Introduction, xvi.



The short reign of Edward presents nothing worthy of particular notice. [1546.]

That of Mary is equally void of interest; with the exception of the negotiation between her and the pope. Immediately upon her accession [1553], this princess had announced her design of restoring the ancient worship; but a year and a half were consumed in arranging the ceremonial of reconciliation. At length, however, the humiliating preliminaries seemed to draw to a close, and the pontiff declared his willingness to receive an English embassy; — as soon as one great difficulty, which still remained, was adjusted to his satisfaction. Mary had retained the royal style assumed by her father and brother for their Irish dominions : perhaps this was done accidentally, perhaps in the hope of surprising the Vatican into some unguarded admission of her temporal independence; but neither cunning nor inadvertency could escape the keen eye of the holy father. Before her ambassador could be presented, she was obliged to dispatch a private memorial, in which she apologised for her indiscretion, and prayed to be confirmed in the title of her predecessors; after a

suitable delay her prayer was granted; and a bull, under the ring of the mystical fisherman, raised his obedient daughter to the dignity of queen of Ireland. Thus the civil governor became once more a feudatory of the holy see; and a difficulty,' says an eminent Roman Catholic writer, which might otherwise have arisen, was dexterously, but dishonourably eluded:' - this excellent man has left his readers to conjecture, at which side the loss of honour lay.

In the act which was passed upon this occasion by the parliament of the Pale, we discover an attempt, more instructive than effectual, to save the honour of both sovereigns. This important statute opens with an account of Cardinal Pole's mission to Mary and her consort, “as unto persons undefiled by the common infection of heresy, that he might call the people home again to the right way.' It acknowledges the condescension, with which • the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons, had been excused from repairing to the presence of the said most reverend father, there to make their humble submission.' After this it recites the cardinal's bull of absolution, which, it states, ' was right reverently delivered by the lord deputy to the lord chancellor, who read it upon his knees, while the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons, right reverently and humbly kneeling for declaration of their repentance, did embrace the same.' In the instrument, received in this lowly attitude, and submissively incorporated into the law, of the land, the cardinal declares, • that the parliaments of Henry and Edward, had, for themselves, and the whole nation, damnably incurred those penalties, as well temporal as ecclesiastical, which the church has decreed against heresy and schism.' • But,' he proceeds, as representing the vicar of Him, whose property it is to have mercy and to spare, we absolve the island, and all its provinces, domains, cities, towns, lands, and places whatsoever, from the aforesaid heresy and schism, and from all censures and penalties, whether temporal or ecclesiastical, which they may have incurred in consequence.

* Mr. Butler. Historical Memoirs, i. 137.

We absolve in the forum of conscience; we absolve in the forum of external law; we remove every disability, and every spot or stain of infamy, howsoever contracted by the transgressions aforesaid ; we restore all honours, dignities, fame, any goods, with all privileges, and favours, whether granted by the Roman pontiffs, or by others, to be possessed and enjoyed, as the other faithful subjects of Christ do possess and enjoy the

This plenary absolution, as it is most justly styled, by the very profusion with which it lavishes its benefits, exposes the native poverty of the temporal power. The supposed guilt, its penalties, and the act of grace by which both are remitted, are national and federal, as well as personal, things; and the submission of the prostrate parliament is not only a retraction of speculative


[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »