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Protestant Episcopal Church of Ireland

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Until 1871 this body formed an integral part of the United Church of England and Ireland. It is still called by a majority of its members the Church of Ireland. Its official title is "The Irish Church."

Of the first introduction of Christianity into Ireland we have written under the article IRELAND (See IRELAND) (q.v.). It has been shown there that the Roman Catholic Church succeeded in establishing her hierarchical power in the 12th century, and that even after the Reformation in England the Irish Church remained attached to Rome, and only by the influence of the bishop of Rome, first felt in the island through the Danes, who made their earliest settlements on the east coast at the close of the 8th century. Bishop Malachy, who filled successively several sees in Ireland, and who was full of enthusiasm for papal authority, strove hard to induce the Irish bishops to accept palls from the pope. But it was not till after his death, in 1152, that, at the Synod of Kells, the four archbishops received these honors, which, though ostensibly marks of distinction, were in reality badges of servitude, binding Ireland to the footstool of the papacy. Three years later, pope Adrian IV, the only Englishman who ever wore the triple crown, sent Henry II of England a bull, authorizing him to invade Ireland. What the papal see then thought of the religious condition of the Church of Ireland may be learned from a bull published in 1172, confirming that of 1155. The pope states the object of permitting the invasion of Ireland to be that "the filthy practices of the land may be abolished, and the barbarous nation which is called by the Christian name may, through your clemency, attain unto some decency of manners; ant that when the Church of that country, which has hitherto been in a disordered state, shall have been reduced to better order, that people may by your means possess for the future the reality as well as the name of the Christian profession." In the reign of Henry VIII., papal supremacy was abolished in Ireland, the bishops and clergy all accepting the king as head of the Church. Queen Mary re-established the pope's authority, but Elizabeth's reign gave a distinctively Reformed character to the Church. Many rebellions occurring among the native Irish during this reign, and Rome astutely throwing all her weight against England, the Reformation came to be regarded as essentially English, though the leading clergy of the time assented to the change.

The pope took advantage of the anti-English feeling by sending to the island multitudes of missionary bishops and priests, who succeeded in holding the native Irish within the pale of Roman Catholicism. During the two following centuries, the Protestant Episcopal Church (to which we now give this name, as during this period the Presbyterian Church of Ireland rose to importance), suffered many vicissitudes; but by the Revolution of 1688 and the battle of the Boyne it was placed in a position of assured stability as a Protestant body. Still, the very intimate connection between the Church and the government, necessitated by the hostile elements with which both had been surrounded, had exercised upon the former a very unwholesome influence. The Church had been treated as little more than a mere department of government. "Many of the bishops, during this period, seem to have held High-Church views; and, with some bright exceptions, a general deadness in religious matters prevailed, and along with it an indisposition to tolerate dissent in any shape whatever. This deadness of religious life characterized all the churches in the reigns of Anne and the Georges, though bright examples may be cited of the contrary spirit.

The names of Richardson, Atkins, and Brown may be mentioned with honor as those of clergymen who, in the early part of the 18th century, took an active interest in the work of evangelizing the native Irish through the medium of their own language. Archbishop Boulter, bishop Berkeley, and others may be noted among the members of the Episcopal bench who exhibited an earnest spirit of devotion and practical godliness. Wesley and his followers among the Methodists did much by their labors, first inside and then outside the Church, to awaken evangelical life among all ranks of the national clergy. But English influence was, during this period, too often used in a wrong direction. English clergymen were frequently thrust into the best Church livings in Ireland, and Irish bishoprics were filled with Englishmen, while the earnest parochial clergymen of the land were neglected and despised. Dean Swift's witty description of the honest clergymen nominated to Irish bishoprics being waylaid and murdered by highwaymen on Hounslow Heath, who then seized on their letters patent,' came to Ireland, and got consecrated in their room, shows what was thought, in some quarters, of many of the men who, at this dark Tera, bore spiritual rule in the Church of Ireland" (Wright's Lecture on the Church of Ireland).

Perhaps no other Church in Christendom was so much influenced by the Wesleyan revival of religion. The evangelical leaven imparted at that time, assisted by an intense antipathy to Romanism, has spread through the whole Church, so that ritualistic and Broad-Church elements are almost unknown within its bounds. This fact is the more striking as some of the most influential prelates have been, and are, Englishmen of High-Church tendencies.

By Gladstone's disendowment act, known as the "Irish Church Act, 1869," it was provided that on and after Jan. 1, 1871, the "Church of Ireland" should cease to be established by law. A corporate body, named "The Commissioners of Church Temporalities in Ireland," was appointed, to which body were intrusted all the temporal affairs of the Church until such time as the representative body of the Church should supersede them. This corporation was endowed with extensive powers for carrying out the purposes of the act. They were freed from all restraints of the courts of law, and received all the powers and privileges of the High Court of Chancery. The Commissioners were ordered to ascertain the amount of yearly income which any person, lay or clerical, derived from the Church, and "to pay each year to every such holder an annuity equal to the amount of yearly income so ascertained." This annuity was to continue, even though the annuitant should become disabled from attending to the duties of his office, "by age, sickness, or permanent infirmity, or by any cause other than his own wilfull default." All laws were repealed which would hamper the Church in exercising the utmost freedom in sell-government. The ecclesiastical laws existing at the time of the disestablishment, including "articles, doctrines, rites, rules, discipline, and ordinances," were to continue binding on the members of the Church, as if subsisting "by contract;" except that nothing in these laws "should be construed to confer on any bishop, etc., any coercive jurisdiction whatsoever." It was also provided that no change should be made in the laws of the Church, so as to deprive any person of his annuity.

By a convention of bishops and representatives of the Church, held in Dublin in 1870, a constitution was agreed upon. The preamble asserts a belief in the inspiration of the Bible, and a determination to preserve the "three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry." It contains also a protest "against all those innovations in doctrine and worship which. at the Reformation, this Church did disown and reject."

The supreme court of the Church is the General Synod. It consists of three orders, viz., bishops, clergy, and laity. It is also divided into two houses, viz., the House of Bishops and the House of Representatives; the former consisting of all archbishops and bishops, the latter of 208 representatives of the clergy and 416 representatives of the laity, all these to be elected for three years. " The bishops shall vote separately from the representatives; and no question shall be deemed to have been carried, unless there be in its favor a majority of the bishops present, if they desire to vote, and a majority of the clerical and lay representatives present, voting conjointly or by orders; provided always that if a question affirmed by a majority of the clerical or lay representatives, voting conjointly or by orders, but rejected by a majority of the bishops, shall be reaffirmed at the next ordinary session of the General Synod by not less than two thirds of the clerical and lay representatives, it shall be deemed to be carried, unless it be negatived by not less than two-thirds of the then entire existing order of bishops." The General Synod has power to alter, abrogate, or enact canons, and to control any regulation made by a diocesan synod, so far as may be necessary to provide against the admission of any principle inexpedient for the common interest of the Church.

The Diocesan Synod consists of the bishop, of the beneficed and licensed clergymen of the diocese, and at least one layman, called synodsman, for each parish in the diocese. The bishop, clergy, and laity sit and debate and vote together; but six members of either order may call, upon any question, for a vote by orders. If the bishop dissent from the other two orders with respect to any proposed act of the synod, all action thereupon is suspended until the next annual meeting of the synod; and should such act be then reaffirmed by two thirds of each of the other orders, and the bishop still dissent, it is submitted to the General Synod, whose decision is final.

The representative body consists of the archbishops and bishops, of one clerical and two lay members for each diocese, and of such number of other persons elected as shall be equal to the number of dioceses. This body is a Board of Trustees, holding the temporalities of the Church. There is a Committee of Patronage in each diocese, consisting of the bishop, one lay and two clerical members. In each parish there are three persons named parochial nominators. When an incumbent is to be appointed, the Committee of Patronage and the parochial nominators form a Board of Nomnination, presided over by the bishop, who has an independent and also a casting vote. This board nominates a clergyman to the bishop, who, if he decline to institute the nominee, must give him, if so required, his reasons in writing for so declining. Bishops are nominated by the diocesan synods, and confirmed by the Bench of Bishops.

The disestablished Church has already taken advantage of its freedom to revise carefully the Book of Common Prayer. Some extracts from the preface to the Revised Prayer-book, to be printed during this year (1878), will show the object and animus of the revision: "When this Church of Ireland ceased to be established by law, and thereupon some alteration in our public liturgy became needful, it was earnestly desired by many that occasion should be taken for considering what changes the lapse of years or exigency of our present times and circumstances might have rendered expedient." "We now afresh declare that the posture of kneeling prescribed to all communicants is not appointed for any purpose of adoration of Christ's body and blood under the veils of bread and wine, but only for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder as might ensue if some such reverent and uniform posture were not enjoined." "In the Office for Visitation of the Sick we have deemed it fitting that absolution should be pronounced to penitents in the form appointed in the Office for the Holy Communion." The portions of the Apocrypha which were in the Table of Lessons have been expunged, and the rubric has been omitted which directed the use on certain days of the Athanasian Creed.

The Church has no official voice in the management of this school, but until very lately no one could obtain a theological degree from it without signing the Thirty-nine Articles. In Nov., 1876, a statute was passed by the senate of the university abolishing this test and admitting even laymen to degrees. The board of Trinity College has also lately provided that any Christian Church of the land may establish a theological faculty alongside that of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The act of disestablishment technically decreed also disendowment, but by far the greater part of the endowment of the Church was absorbed by the compensations granted. Most of those who were entitled to annuities commuted their income, or compounded with the ecclesiastical commissioners for a fixed sum, so arranged as to leave a large capital sum for church endowment, and this endowment was augmented by lame donations, amounting, in the first five years of disestablishment, to £1,180.108. As an example of composition, the bishop of Derry was entitled to an annual income of £13,781. Upon compounding, he received £101,493, leaving a balance to the Endowment Fund of the Church of £100,288. The present endowment of the Church is upwards of £7,000,000.

See Dr. Todd, St. Patrick; Killen, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland; King, Church History of Ireland; Froude, History of England; Godkin, Ireland and her Charches; pamphlets by Dr. C. H. H. Wright, on The Divinity School of Trinity College, The Church of Ireland, etc.; The Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, from 1871 to 1878; The Irish Church Directory; Lanigan, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland. (G. C. J.)

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Protestant Episcopal Church of Ireland'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​p/protestant-episcopal-church-of-ireland.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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