Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Cromwells oath for the Irish Catholics

The oath devised by Cromwell, condensed into a few formulas all the virulence of Puritanism against the Catholic tenets. It was as follows

"I A. B. abhor, detest, and abjure the authority of the Pope, as well in regard of the Church in general, as in regard of myself in particular. I condemn and anathematize the tenet that any reward is due to good works. I firmly believe and avow that no reverence is due to the Virgin Mary, or to any saint in heaven; and that no petition or adoration can be addressed to them without idolatry. I assert, that no worship or reverence is due to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or to the elements of bread and wine after consecration, by whomsoever that consecration may be made. I believe there is no Purgatory, but that it is a popish invention; so is also the tenet that the Pope can grant Indulgences. I also firmly believe that neither the Pope, nor any other priest, can remit sins, as the papists rave. And all this I swear,"

The penalty enacted against all who should refuse to take this oath was the confiscation of two-thirds of all their goods,

In a note of the Sacred Congregation at this period, reference is made to a Brief sent by the Holy Father to console the Catholics of Ireland, and animate them to endure with constancy the persecution to which they were exposed. It was expected that the Catholic gentry, already reduced to poverty by continued exactions, would be terrified into compliance by the dread of absolute penury and utter ruin which now impended over them. As to the poorer class, another penalty was enacted, forsooth, slavery in the Barbadoes. In every town commissaries and officers were specially deputed to receive this oath, and these received instructions from Government to commence with such persons as would probably assent to the oath, and to proceed in the matter with the greatest energy. At this moment of peril for the faith of our people, the Catholic clergy were everywhere to be seen abandoning their hiding-places to encourage their flocks; they fearlessly went around from house to house admonishing the rich to despise their transitory possessions, when an eternal inheritance was at stake, and reminding the poor that God's providence would not abandon them, and that in his own good time God would repay an hundred-fold all their sufferings.

"These exhortations were not made in vain (we quote the words of a contemporary narrative), and the innate constancy of the whole nation in the Catholic faith, shone forth with such splendour, that a like instance of national constancy can nowhere be found in history; all, animated with the spirit of faith, declared that they were ready to endure extreme torture, rather than obey the impious edict. Even the most wealthy betrayed no apprehensions, and they avowed that of all the penal enactments, this was the most grateful to them; for in the others some secondary motive was often assigned, but here the only and express motive was hatred to the Catholic faith, for which it would be to them a matter of joy to sacrifice all they possessed. For once the heretics were found to second the efforts of the Catholic clergy. They yearned for new confiscations, and already had marked out for themselves the lands now possessed. The citizens of Cork had already distinguished themselves by their constancy in the Catholic faith; when summoned to take the impious oath their laurels were multiplied ten-fold.

To the city of Cork all the Catholics of the surrounding territory were ordered to repair on a stated day to have the new oath proposed to them; the penalty of imprisonment and confiscation of all their goods was enacted for all above fifteen years of age who should neglect to attend. On the appointed day, between five and six thousand Catholics entered the city walls; a few only absented themselves, anxious to await the result. According to the heretical custom of holding the assizes in the cherished sanctuaries of the Catholics, the magistrates took their seats in Christ's Church, a happy omen that even the material edifice should be dedicated to Him whose faith was now so nobly to be confessed. All were arranged in processional order, that the oath might be more easily administered individually to each of them. In the foremost ranks was a young man who entered the church with a light step, and whose looks beamed with joy. The clerk received immediate orders to administer to him for the first the oath; for the magistrate saw in his joyous countenance a readiness, as they imagined, to assent to their desires. The young man requested that the oath should be translated into Irish, for he feared lest some of those around him not understanding the English language, might inadvertently take the oath; a crier at once read it aloud in Irish, so that all within the church might hear. "And what is the penalty," he then asked, "for those who refuse the oath." "The loss of two-thirds of their goods," was the magistrate's reply. "Well, then," added he smiling, all that I possess is six pounds; take four of them; with the two that remain and the blessing of God, myself and my family will subsist; I reject your oath." An aged husbandman that Stood by his side, filled with admiration, cried out aloud, "Brave fellow, reject the oath." The.words were caught up from rank to rank till the church and the street without rang with the echo, "reject the oath, the impious oath." For half an hour these words and the exclamation, " Oh God look down on us;" " Oh Mary, mother of God, assist us," could alone be heard. The magistrates, as though a thunderclap had rent the heavens, were struck mute with terror; then rising from their seats, they commanded the assembled multitude to disperse, and every one of them under pain of death, to depart from the city within an hour. Thus, concludes the contemporary narrative, the glorious confessors of Christ went forth with joy, praising God for the mercy he had shown to them.

In other districts similar scenes of Catholic constancy were witnessed, and none could be found to assent to the impious oath, and barter for the momentary enjoyment of their perishable goods the priceless treasure of their faith.

The author of Cambrensis Eversus well contrasts the condition of the Irish nation, with that of other countries, at the close of this sad period :

"The happiness of the other nations of Europe has often excited our envy. They have peace on every side, and dwell every one under his own vine and fig-tree, but we are expelled from our home and country; others overflow with abundance of all things, we are emaciated by want; the foreigner is naturalized amongst us, the natives are made aliens. In foreign cities majestic piles of new buildings are every day towering to the skies, with us the foundations of not a single house are laid, while the old are heaps of crumbling ruins, their roofs open to the rains, and their walls rent, or mere shells and shapeless masses. In other countries temples are zealously decorated, with us they are either levelled to the ground or roofless, or desecrated by tribunals which condemn men to death, or by similar sacrilegious uses. The children of foreigners receive a learned education,which is contraband and penal in our country. With them the clergy are honoured, with us they are either in dungeons or forests, bogs or caverns. The universal law of the Christian world has exempted from slavery all who profess the Christian religion; but your Irish subjects are torn from the" arms of their wives and children by civic vultures, and transported and sold as slaves in India. Thus are the children of the Irish made a prey, and their wives carried off, and their cities destroyed, and their holy things profaned, and themselves made a reproach to the nations. . . . There is no species of injury which the enemies have not inflicted on the Irish, no virulence which they have not disgorged, no torture which they have not employed."

It would, indeed, be difficult to find in history a parallel for that ever-redoubled cruelty which the Puritans displayed. Yet it was impossible to weaken the innate attachment of the Roman Catholics to their holy religion. Countless was the number of those who perished by the sword of the persecutor, or on the scaffold, yet the survivors declared themselves ready to risk the same torments rather than renounce the Catholic faith. When they were offered the enjoyment of their possessions, should they embrace the new creed, all, as in Cork, went forth from their homes, embracing poverty, and cold, and nakedness, in preference to prosperity with the wicked ; when their lives were offered to them if they only delivered up their priests to the mercy of the enemy, they choose to be butchered with the martyrs of God rather than live with the impious ; when, as we have just seen, the oath of abjuration was commanded, under penalty of the loss of the little goods that yet remained to them, they, with one accord, resolved to cling to the cross of Christ, and reject the proffered boon. As a true Christian people, they looked upon all their sufferings as chastisements from the hands of God, and their chief care was, by penitential deeds, to avert his indignation. One instance is especially recorded in the "Description of Ireland in 1654" ;

"Throughout the entire kingdom prayers and fasting were ordered; the priest in each district exhorting- the people to appease the anger of God. With such exactness was this order obeyed, that there was not one Catholic throughout the entire kingdom who did not fast for three days on bread and water, and even the little children of four, or perhaps only three years, most rigorously observed that fast; moreover, all that had attained the proper age were consoled with the holy sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. No sooner did this piety of the people become known, than, like oil cast upon the fire, the fury of the heretics was rekindled three-fold, and, like hungry wolves, they now breathe nothing but slaughter, and threaten to pursue, with still more atrocious violence, the children of Christ."

Thus, as often in the ways of God, the immediate result of the piety of our people seemed to be only a redoubling of the persecutor's rage, and yet these prayers were not breathed in vain; "a remnant remained in Israel;" all the power and ingenuity of the enemy could not root out the tree of faith, and the 500,000 Catholics that then survived in Ireland were in less than two hundred years swelled to more than eight millions.
Sir William Petty, writing in 1672, states that the population of Ireland, in 1641, was 1,466,000, the Catholics being to Protestants as eleven to two. After the devastation of the country by the Puritans, the population could not be accurately determined, yet the same writer (page 29), estimates the proportion of Catholics to Protestants as eight to one- Lord Orrery, writing to the Duke of Ormond, Feb. 26, 1662, says "It is high time to purge the towns of the papists, as in most of them there are three papists to one Protestant." At the same time, in the rural districts, the Catholics were as fifteen to one. Dr. Plunket, in some of his letters, states the proportion of Catholics to Protestants throughout Ireland as eleven to one; but he subsequently adds that the proportion was small in the northern counties. It cannot, of course, be pretended that these calculations were accurate, for, owing to the state of the country, it must have been impossible to learn the precise number of the Catholic inhabitants in the rural districts. One thing, however, they sufficiently prove, that the persecutors had not attained the desired end, and that with the Irish race the Catholic religion was still firmly rooted in Ireland. Sir William Petty describes as follows the religion of our country at this period : "All the Irish are Catholics; the Scotch colonists are Presbyterians; the English are one-half Protestant, the other half Independents, Anabaptists, Quakers, and other dissenters."

We have already often had occasion to refer to a manuscript narrative of the Jesuit Mission in Ireland, written about the year 1655; from it we extract the following record of the devotedness of the surviving natives in enduring every suffering rather than abandon the Catholic faith ;

"Although heresy and tyranny, in the fullness of its pride, strove by every artifice and cruelty, to extirpate this people, and wished that there" should be no smith in Israel, that thus the nations might be either overwhelmed in ignorance, or compelled to whet their arms in the forges of the Philistines; nevertheless, the Irish, despising every danger, choose rather to send their children to distant lands in search of learning, than that they should enjoy at home domestic ease under heretical masters, imperiling their faith. So tenaciously and indomitably has the whole nation clung to the Catholic faith in its full integrity and purity, that in a thousand Irishmen, scarcely one can be found who is not thoroughly devoted to the Holy See; and even the heretics who came to Ireland from other countries, when th'ey have lived there for a little while, and become accustomed to the genius of the people, gradually detest their heresies, and embrace the Catholic religion."

That Protestant colonists have never been able to secure a permanent hereditary succession in Ireland, is a matter of notoriety. As regards the Puritan hordes that rushed over to seize on the devastated country, we shall merely cite an extract from the manuscript narrative now referred to:

P Cambrensis Eversns writes in 1662 almost in the same strain. "They have drawn their precedent from the policy of the Philistines who, after banishing all smiths from the land, fell upon the Israelites unarmed.

"The English Parliamentarians in the beginning of the war, inflated with their own power and strength, did not hesitate to parcel out Ireland for sale to the London merchants, and other heretics throughout England. The whole kingdom was thus divided, as if by agrarian law, into geometrical portions, a certain price being fixed for each farm. Each one purchased for himself some vast territory, subdividing it at a higher price to others. New colonists thus flocked to Ireland in countless numbers; artizans, merchants, soldiers, and others, numbering more than 200,000. To consummate the insolence of their pride, they already prepared ships with chains and cords, and more than 30,000 iron manicles are said to have been made, to transfer the Irish slaves (it was thus they designated our free and innocent people) to the Indian islands to cultivate the tobacco-plant, and they were all persuaded that the old inhabitants being expelled they had nothing to do but settle down at their ease and enjoy their estates. But, behold the hand of the Lord struck these persecutors, I might say, with Egyptian plagues. They were not, as yet, three months in Ireland, when most fetid vermin crawled forth from their bodies in such swarms, that their hair, and beard, and garments, were covered with them, so that they could not appear in public through shame, nor could they anywhere fmd rest, and what increased the wonder, though their beds and rooms were filled with this pest, yet the contagion did not spread to the neighbouring Irish, nor did it even touch the Irish servants of those who were infected with it, not one of whom is known to have suffered from this disease; it was confined to the strangers alone, and by that disease, and in other ways, God so humbled their pride, that from 1641 to 1650 more than 180,000 English in various parts of Ireland were carried away, not so much slain in war, as destroyed by this herodian disease and other plagues. And though the Puritans have now nearly all Ireland in their own hands, still we are confident that they will not last, nor strike deep roots ;f but when our offended God will have through them scourged us for our iniquities, the earth shall, in the words of scripture, vomit them forth, and like their predecessors they, too, will fall away. For it is observed and confirmed by experience, since the beginning of the anglican schism, all the heretics that went from England to inhabit Ireland, though they were by rapine and exactions raised on a sudden to immense wealth and the highest titles, yet, like snow at sun-rise, they melted gradually away, and as smoke and vapour they quickly disappeared. Not that this is to be imputed to the English nation, whose natural disposition and innate uprightness, were they not infected with heresy, would be admired and loved by all; but in these facts we recognize the special punishment of God for heresy, and the special protection of St. Patrick for our island, who, as he expelled all serpents from our shores, so that nothing venemous can, to the present day, subsist there, so did he obtain for us this blessing from God, that the Catholic religion being once planted in Ireland, it should never be infected by the poisonous breath of heresy. The Catholic religion has certainly continued untainted for twelve hundred years and more, in our island; so that from the blessing already received through the intercession of our holy Patron, we have reason to hope for the future blessing, and the present firmness of the nation in the faith of Christ, is a pledge of its future constancy."

From Memoirs of the most rev. Oliver
Plunket, archbishop of Armagh
and primate of all Ireland, who
suffered death for the catholic
Faith in the year 1681

Patrick Francis Moran