CHAPTER X. STATE OF RELIGION AND LEARNING DURING THE FOURTEENTH AND FIFTEENTH CENTURIES.
Although the English and Irish professed the same religion during these ages, yet in the appointment of Bishops, the administration of ecclesiastical property, and in all their views of the relation of the Church to the State, the two nations differed almost as widely as in their laws, language, and customs. The Plantagenet princes and their Parliaments had always exhibited a jealousy of the See of Rome, and statute upon, statute was passed, from the reign of Henry II. to that of Richard II., in order to diminish the power of the Supreme Pontiffs in nominating to English benefices. In the second Richard's reign, so eventful for the English interest in Ireland, it had been enacted that any of the clergy procuring appointments directly from Rome, or exercising powers so conferred, should incur the penalty of a praemunire - that is, the forfeiture of their lands and chattels, beside being liable to imprisonment during the King's pleasure. This statute was held to apply equally to Ireland, being confirmed by some of those petty conventions of "the Pale," which the Dublin Governors of the fourteenth century dignified with the name of Parliaments.
The ancient Irish method of promotion to a vacant see, or abbacy, though modelled on the electoral principle which penetrated all Celtic usages, was undoubtedly open to the charge of favouring nepotism, down to the time of Saint Malachy, the restorer of the Irish Church. After that period, the Prelates elect were ever careful to obtain the sanction of the Holy See, before consecration. Such habitual submission to Rome was seldom found, except in cases of disputed election, to interfere with the choice of the clergy, and the custom grew more and more into favour, as the English method of nomination by the crown was attempted to be enforced, not only throughout "the Pale," but, by means of English agents at Rome and Avignon, in the appointment to sees, within the provinces of Armagh, Cashel, and Tuam. The ancient usage of farming the church lands, under the charge of a lay steward, or Erenach, elected by the clan, and the division of all the revenues into four parts - for the Bishop, the Vicar and his priests, for the poor, and for repairs of the sacred edifice, was equally opposed to the pretensions of Princes, who looked on their Bishops as Barons, and Church temporalities, like all other fiefs, as held originally of the crown. Even if there had not been those differences of origin, interest, and government which necessarily brought the two populations into collision, these distinct systems of ecclesiastical polity could not well have existed on the same soil without frequently clashing, one with the other.
In our notice of the association promoted among the clergy, at the end of the thirteenth century, by the patriotic McMaelisa, ("follower of Jesus"), and in our own comments on the memorable letter of Prince Donald O'Neil to Pope John XXII., written in the year 1317 or '18, we have seen how wide and deep was the gulf then existing between the English and Irish churchmen. In the year 1324, an attempt to heal this unchristian breach was made by Philip of Slane, the Dominican who presided at the trial of the Knights Templars, who afterwards became Bishop of Cork, and rose into high favour with the Queen-Mother, Isabella. As her Ambassador, or in the name of King Edward III., still a minor, he is reported to have submitted to Pope John certain propositions for the promotion of peace in the Irish Church, some of which were certainly well calculated to promote that end. He suggested that the smaller Bishoprics, yielding under sixty pounds per annum, should be united to more eminent sees, and that Irish Abbots and Priors should admit English lay brothers to their houses, and English Superiors Irish brothers, in like manner. The third proposition, however, savours more of the politician than of the peacemaker; it was to bring under the bann of excommunication, with all its rigorous consequences in that age, those "disturbers of the peace" who invaded the authority of the English King in Ireland. As a consequence of this mission, a Concordat for Ireland seems to have been concluded at Avignon, embracing the two first points, but omitting the third, which was, no doubt, with the English Court, the main object of Friar Philip's embassy.
During the fourteenth century, and down to the election of Martin V. (A.D. 1417), the Popes sat mainly at Avignon, in France. In the last forty years of that melancholy period, other Prelates sitting at Rome, or elsewhere in Italy, claimed the Apostolic primacy. It was in the midst of these troubles and trials of the Church that the powerful Kings of England, who were also sovereigns of a great part of France, contrived to extort from the embarrassed pontiffs concessions which, however gratifying to royal pride, were abhorrent to the more Catholic spirit of the Irish people. A constant struggle was maintained during the entire period of the captivity of the Popes in France between Roman and English influence in Ireland. There were often two sets of Bishops elected in such border sees as Meath and Louth, which were districts under a divided influence. The Bishops of Limerick, Cork, and Waterford, liable to have their revenues cut off, and their personal liberty endangered by sea, were almost invariably nominees of the English Court; those of the Province of Dublin were necessarily so; but the prelates of Ulster, of Connaught, and of Munster - the southern seaports excepted - were almost invariably native ecclesiastics, elected in the old mode, by the assembled clergy, and receiving letters of confirmation direct from Avignon or Italy.