CHAPTER VII. RELIGION IN IRELAND DURING THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY

Nor is there any evidence to show that Lollardy or any other heresy found any support in Ireland during the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. During the episcopate of Bishop Ledrede in Ossory (1317- 60), it would appear both from the constitutions enacted in a diocesan synod held in 1317 as well as from the measures he felt it necessary to take, that in the city of Kilkenny a few individuals called in question the Incarnation, and the Virginity of the Blessed Virgin, but it is clear that such opinions were confined to a very limited circle and did not affect the body of the people.[13] About the same time, too, the dispute that was being waged between John XXII. and a section of the Franciscans found an echo in the province of Cashel, though there is no proof that the movement ever assumed any considerable dimensions.[14] Similarly at a later period, when the Christian world was disturbed by the presence of several claimants to the Papacy and by the theories to which the Great Western Schism gave rise, news was forwarded to Rome that some of the Irish prelates, amongst them being the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Ferns, were inclined to set at nought the instructions of Martin V. (1424), but the latter pontiff took energetic measures to put an end to a phenomenon that was quite intelligible considering the general disorder of the period. The appeal of Philip Norris, Dean of Dublin, during his dispute with the Mendicants, to a General Council against the decision of the Pope only serves to emphasise the fact that throughout the controversy between the Pope and the Council of Basle Ireland remained unshaken in its attachment to the Holy See.[15] Although the first measure passed by the Parliament at Kilkenny (1367) and by nearly every such assembly held in Ireland in the fifteenth century was one for safeguarding the rights and liberties of the Church, yet the root of the evils that afflicted the Church at this period can be traced to the interference of kings and princes in ecclesiastical affairs. The struggle waged by Gregory VII. in defence of free canonical election to bishoprics, abbacies, and priories seemed to have been completely successful, but in reality it led only to a change of front on the part of the secular authorities. Instead of claiming directly the right of nomination they had recourse to other measures for securing the appointment of their own favourites. In theory the election of bishops in Ireland rested with the canons of the cathedral chapters, but they were not supposed to proceed with the election until they had received the congé d'élite from the king or his deputy, who usually forwarded an instruction as to the most suitable candidate. As a further safeguard it was maintained that, even after the appointment of the bishop-elect had been confirmed by the Pope, he must still seek the approval of the king before being allowed to take possession of the temporalities of his See. As a result even in the thirteenth century, when capitular election was still the rule, the English sovereigns sought to exercise a controlling influence on episcopal elections in Ireland, but they met at times with a vigorous resistance from the chapters, the bishops, the Irish princes, and from Rome.[16]

Towards the end of the fourteenth century, however, and in the fifteenth century, though the right of election was still enjoyed nominally by the chapters, in the majority of cases either their opinions were not sought, or else the capitular vote was taken as being only an expression of opinion about the merits of the different candidates. Indirectly by means of the chancery rules regarding reservations, or by the direct reservation of the appointment of a particular bishopric on the occasion of a particular vacancy, the Pope kept in his own hands the appointments. Owing to the encroachments of the civil power and the pressure that was brought to bear upon the chapters such a policy was defensible enough, and had it been possible for the Roman advisers to have had a close acquaintance with the merits of the clergy, and to have had a free hand in their recommendations, direct appointment might have been attended with good results. But the officials at Rome were oftentimes dependent on untrustworthy sources for their information, and they were still further handicapped by the fact that if they acted contrary to the king's wishes the latter might create serious trouble by refusing to restore the temporalities of the See. Instances, however, are not wanting even in England itself to show that the Popes did not always allow themselves to be dictated to by the civil authorities, nor did they recognise in theory the claim of the king to dispose of the temporalities.[17]