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There is a great resemblance between the whole frame and constitution of the Greek and Latin churches. The secular clergy, in the former, by being married, living under little restraint, and having no particular education suited to their function, are universally fallen into such contempt, that they are never permitted to aspire to the dignities of their own church. It is not held respectful to call them papas, their true and ancient appellation, but those who wish to address them with civility, always call them hieromonachi. In consequence of this disrespect, which I venture to say, in such a church, must be the consequence of a secular life, a very great degeneracy from reputable christian manners has taken place throughout almost the whole of that great member of the christian church.
It was so with the Latin church, before the restraint on marriage. Even that restraint gave rise to the greatest disorders before the council of Trent, which together with the emulation raised, and the good examples given by the reformed churches, wherever they were in view of each other, has brought on that happy amendment, which we see in the Latin communion, both at home and abroad.
The council of Trent has wisely introduced the discipline of seminaries, by which priests are not trusted for a clerical institution, even to the severe discipline of their colleges; but after they pass through them, are frequently, if not for the greater part, obliged to pass through peculiar methods, having their particular ritual function in view. It is in a great measure to this, and to similar methods used in foreign education, that the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland, miserably provided for, living among low and ill-regulated people, without any discipline of sufficient force to secure good manners, have been prevented from becoming an intolerable nuisance to the country, instead of being, as I conceive they generally are, a very great service to it.
The ministers of protestant churches require a different mode of education, more liberal and more fit for the ordinary intercourse of life. That religion having little hold on the minds of people by external ceremonies, and extraordinary observances, or separate habits of living, the clergy make up the deficiency by cultivating their minds with all kinds of ornamental learning, which the liberal provision made in England and Ireland for the parochial clergy, (to say nothing of the ample church preferments, with little or no duties annexed) and the comparative lightness of parochial duties, enables the greater part of them in some considerable degree to accomplish.
This learning, which I believe to be pretty general, together with an higher situation, and more chastened by the opinion of mankind, forms a sufficient security for the morals of the established clergy, and for their sustaining their clerical character with dignity. It is not necessary to observe, that all these things are, however, collateral to their function; and that except in preaching, which may be and is supplied, and often best supplied, out of printed books, little else is necessary for a protestant minister, than to be able to read the English language; I mean for the exercise of his function, not to the qualification of his admission to it. But a popish parson in Ireland may do very well without any considerable classical erudition, or any proficiency in pure or mixed mathematics, or any knowledge of civil history. Even if the catholic clergy should possess those acquisitions, as at first many of them do, they soon lose them in the painful course of professional and parochial duties : but they must have all the knowledge, and what is to them more important than the knowledge, the discipline necessary to those duties. All modes of education, conducted by those whose minds are cast in another mould, as I may say, and whose original ways of thinking are formed upon the reverse pattern, must be to them not only useless, but mischievous. Just as I should suppose the education in a popish ecclesiastical seminary would be ill fitted for a protestant clergyman. To educate a catholic priest in a protestant seminary would be much worse.
The protestant educated amongst catholics has only something to reject: what he keeps may be useful.
But a catholic priest learns little for his peculiar purpose and duty in a protestant college.
All this, my lord, I know very well, will pass for nothing with those who wish that the popish clergy should be illiterate, and in a situation to produce contempt and detestation. Their minds are wholly taken up with party squabbles, and I have neither leisure nor inclination to apply any part of what I have to say, to those who never think of religion, or of the commonwealth, in any other light, than as they tend to the prevalence of some faction in either. I speak on a supposition, that there is a disposition to take the state in the condition in which it is found, and to improve it in that state to the best advantage. Hitherto the plan for the government of Ireland has been, to sacrifice the civil prosperity of the nation to its religious improvement. But if people in power there are at length come to entertain other ideas, they will consider the good order, decorum, virtue, and morality of every description of men among them, as of infinitely greater importance than the struggle (for it is nothing better) to change those descriptions by means which put to hazard, objects, which, in my poor opinion, are of more importance to religion and to the state, than all the polemical matter which has been agitated among men from the beginning of the world to this hour.
On this idea, an education fitted to each order and division of men, such as they are found, will be thought an affair rather to be encouraged than discountenanced : and until institutions at home, suitable to the occasions and necessities of the people, are established, and which are armed, as they are abroad, with authority to coerce the young men to be formed in them, by a strict and severe discipline,—the means they have, at present, of a cheap and effectual education in other countries, should not continue to be prohibited by penalties and modes of inquisition, not fit to be mentioned to ears that are organized to the chaste sounds of equity and justice.
Before I had written thus far, I heard of a scheme of giving to the Castle the patronage of the presiding members of the
catholic clergy. At first I could scarcely credit it: for I believe it is the first time that the presentation to other people's alms has been desired in any country. If the state provides a suitable maintenance and temporality for the governing members of the Irish Roman catholic church, and for the clergy under them, I should think the project, however improper in other respects, to be by no means unjust. But to deprive a poor people, who maintain a second set of clergy, out of the miserable remains of what is left after taxing and tithing—to deprive them of the disposition of their own charities among their own communion, would, in my opinion, be an intolerable hardship. Never were the members of one religious sect, fit to appoint the pastors to another. Those who have no regard for their welfare, reputation, or internal quiet, will not appoint such as are proper. The seraglio of Constantinople is as equitable as we are, whether catholics or protestants: and where their own sect is concerned, full as religious. But the sport which they make of the miserable dignities of the Greek church, the little factions of the harem, to which they make them subservient, the continual sale to which they expose and reëxpose the same dignity, and by which they squeeze all the inferior orders of the clergy, is (for I have had particular means of being acquainted with it) nearly equal to all the other oppressions together, exercised by mussulmen over the unhappy members of the Oriental church. It is a great deal to suppose that even the present Castle would nominate bishops for the Roman church of Ireland, with a religious regard for its welfare. Perhaps they cannot, perhaps they dare not do it.
But suppose them to be as well inclined as I know that I am, to do the catholics all kind of justice, I declare I would not, if it were in my power, take that patronage on myself. I know I ought not to do it. I belong to another community; and it would be intolerable usurpation for me to affect such authority, where I conferred no benefit, or even if I did confer (as in some degree the seraglio does) temporal advantages. But, allowing that the present Castle finds itself fit to administer the government of a church which they solemnly forswear and forswear with very hard words and many evil epithets, and that as often as they qualify themselves for the power which is to give this very patronage, or to give any thing else that they desire; yet they cannot ensure themselves that a man like the late lord Chesterfield will not succeed to them. This man, while he was duping the credulity of papists with fine words in private, and commending their good behavior during a rebellion in Great Britain, (as it well deserved to be commended and rewarded) was capable of urging penal laws against them in a speech from the throne, and of stimulating with provocatives the wearied and half-exhausted bigotry of the then parliament of Ireland. They set to work, but they were at a loss what to do; for they had already almost gone through every contrivance which could waste the vigor of their country: but, after much struggle, they produced a child of their old age, the shocking and unnatural act about marriages, which tended to finish the scheme for making the people not only two distinct parties for ever, but keeping them as two distinct species in the same land. Mr. Gardiner's humanity was shocked at it, as one of the worst parts of that truly barbarous system, if one could well settle the preference, where almost all the parts were outrages on the rights of humanity, and the laws of nature.
Suppose an atheist, playing the part of a bigot, should be in power again in that country, do you believe that he would faithfully and religiously administer the trust of appointing pastors to a church, which, wanting every other support, stands in tenfold need of ministers who will be dear to the people committed to their charge, and who will exercise a really paternal authority amongst them? But if the superior power was always in a disposition to dispense conscientiously, and like an upright trustee and guardian of these rights which he holds for those with whom he is at variance, has he the capacity and means of doing it? How can the lord lieutenant form the least judgment of their merits, so as to discern which of the popish priests is fit to be made a bishop? It cannot be: