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accounts must still go far to prove the fact, that in the age when they first became current, people entertained a prevalent impression that bishops were very numerous in Ireland during the lifetime of her apostle, and that the numerical proportion which they bore to the presbyters was much greater than in after times.
With regard to the 365 bishops whose ordi- Bishop nation is ascribed to St. Patrick, the learned bi- tion of the shop Lloyd suggests that "perhaps the meaning 365 bishops might be, that beside those 30 bishops which by st. PaPatrick ordained for the bishops' sees, he also trick, ordained as many suffragans as there were rural deanries, in each of which there were eight or nine parish priests, taking one deanry with another;"* an opinion which is confirmed by Keat- though coning in a passage of his History where he ob- firmed by serves that “the number of bishops that we have noticed above is the less to be wondered at, since we read in ancient books that there was a bishop in Ireland for every deanry" at present.t But appears litthis appears to be only a private and unfounded ant with conceit of these two writers; such a thing as a dis- sound reatribution of the island into 30 bishoprics in the time of St. Patrick or for many centuries afterwards, being no where noticed in our records ; and the very notion of rural deanries being a
• Aist. Acc. of Church Gov. &c. p. 92. Reeves, ut sup. p. 126. ^ ib.
as to the
matter of still more recent growth in this country; the office of rural dean having been altogether unknown in Ireland, according to the best authors, until the year
1152. The multi- Even at so late a period as in A.D. 1111, we plicity of bishops in Ire- find the synod of Fiadh-Mac-Aongusa attended, land continued so far
as its records inform us, by 50 bishops, and 300
priests, all apparently belonging to the southern 12th cen
half of Ireland.* tury. Its tendency “It was," as Bingham observes, "the distinto prove the early con- guishing feature between countries early conthe Irish to
verted and those at a later period, that the dioChris- ceses of the former were much more numerous tianity.
and circumscribed. Thus in Asia Minor which extended 630 miles in length, and 210 in breadth, there were 400 dioceses, while in Germany, which was of greater extent, there were but 40 bishoprics, because Christianized at a much later period. In Poland there were only 30, and in Russia 21 ;" and so of other countries. This circumstance therefore plainly indicates the early conversion of the Irish to the Christian
faith. These early But however numerous these our early bishops bishops had no accu- may have been, they had not, it seems, any accu
* See the “ Annals of the Four Masters, at the year of our Lord 1111; or the Annals of Ulster, in O'Conor, Rer. Hib. Scrip. vol. iv. p. 375, and p. 451 sup.
+ Bingham, Antiq. Book ix. ch. 6. Reeves, Antiq. of Down, &c.
rately defined territories allotted to them for rately dedioceses ; (or parishes, as the episcopal dis- date dispices tricts were also called at their first origin ;) no nor settled such distribution of the country having taken towns. place before the 12th century. Nor were there any perfect and uninterrupted successions of bishops in particular localities or Cathedral towns, unless perhaps in Armagh. Individual clergymen of particular places were made bishops, not so much from any feeling that those places ought to have bishops permanently located in them, but rather because the persons themselves who were so appointed appeared worthy of being elevated to the episcopal rank; without considering whether their predecessors in the same place had enjoyed it or not, or without arranging that their successors therein should always be persons holding the same dignity.
In fact, while it is most certain that the bi. Thebishop's shop's office, as distinct from that of the subor. the old Trisk dinate clergy, and as alone possessing in itself more com; the power of ordination to the sacred ministry, ordination, was highly esteemed among the ancient Irish, any excluno other than episcopal ordination being so much sive power as known to them, yet at the same time we find no traces among them of any thing like an approach to a strict notion of Church government by means of diocesan episcopacy. The multiplicity of bishops was maintained rather with a
view to securing to the Church the perpetuity of orders, than for any purposes of diocesan go
vernment. The authority of the Church in being large all matters of controversy, appears to have been pated in by exercised fully as much by the presbyters, espethe presby
cially by such as were abbots or successors of eminent founders of religious houses, or clergymen who were themselves eminent for learning, zeal, and piety, as by the bishops. Thus in the great contest about Easter, St. Cummian, anxious to appeal to an authority of high repute in his native Church, has not recourse to any parti. cular bishop or episcopal synod, but to his “fathers," namely “the successors of Bishop Ailbe, Kieran of Clonmacnoise, Brendan, Nessan, and Lugidus,” who passed a resolution by their own authority, to guide the practice of their countrymen in the matter in question. In like manner, St. Colman at Whitby speaks of his having been appointed to the bishopric and mission of Northumberland by the seniors" of Hy; not by the abbot exclusively, much less by the bishop; to whom indeed no special authority appears to be attributed in the narrative, beyond the power implied in it of conferring holy orders
upon the candidate presented to him.* The epis. But that the bishop's office was known and copal office held in much honour among the ancient Irish,
pp. 161, 182, sup.
them with due venera
is a fact abundantly testified by the evidence of viewed by our ancient records; an instance or two in illustration of which may be inserted here for the tion and resatisfaction of the reader. And first, in the Life of St. Columba attributed to Adamnanus, we
nanus' Life are informed that on a certain occasion there of St. Cocame to visit the Saint, a strange bishop from lumba, the province of Munster, “who from feelings of humility did all in his power to conceal his rank, so that no person might know that he was a bishop :" but however on the Lord's day, when the bishop, having been requested by Columba to consecrate the Holy Eucharist, had invited him to come forward " that they might break the bread of the Lord together, as two presbyters, the Saint on this coming up to the altar, and casting a sudden glance at his face, addresses him in these words—“The blessing of Christ be on thee brother ; break thou this bread by thyself alone, as it is meet for a bishop to do. For now know we that thou art a bishop; why then hast thou thus far attempted to disguise thyself, that we should not render thee the veneration due unto thine office.”*
Again, when the monks of Hy were sending and in Aidan to be their missionary in the Northum- dotes of bic brian realm, they took care to have him first shops Aidan "elevated to the episcopal order." Under * Adamn. Vit. s. Col. lib. i. 26, Canis. (44. Colg.)
t p. 174 sup.