Monday, 12 January 2015

St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Life of St. Malachy of Armagh, by H. J. Lawlor. Part 16.


A.—St. Bernard's Description of the State of the Irish Church.

Life, §§ 7, 16, 17.

In two passages of the Life serious charges are made against the Irish Church of the early years of the twelfth century. These charges refer primarily to the dioceses of Armagh and Connor; but it is probable that those dioceses were typical of many other districts throughout the country. If St. Bernard's statements are true of them, they may be applied with little reserve to the greater part of Ireland. Indeed he himself gives us more than a hint that the abuses which he condemns were by no means confined to eastern Ulster (§ 19). It may be well, therefore, to bring them together and to discuss them.

1. There was no such thing as chanting at the canonical hours. In the whole bishopric of Armagh "there was none who could or would sing" (§ 7). "In the churches [of Connor] there was not heard the voice either of preacher or singer" (§ 16). We may suspect that there is some exaggeration here; for if church song was absolutely unknown, how could Malachy have "learnt singing in his youth" (§ 7)? But that St. Bernard's remarks are substantially correct need not be questioned. He is not speaking of the Irish Church as it was in its earlier period, but of its state at the time when it had probably fallen to its lowest depth. His assertion, therefore, is not disposed of by references to the chanting at the funerals of Brian Boroimhe in 1014 and Maelsechlainn in 1022 (O'Hanlon, p. 34). Indeed in the notices of those events in A.F.M. there is no express mention of ecclesiastical song.

2. At Armagh Confession was not practised (§ 7); in the diocese of Connor "nowhere could be found any who would either seek penance or impose it" (§ 16). It may be true that Confession had been much neglected among some classes of the people: Malachy on one occasion met a woman who had never confessed (§ 54), and the very fact that he put the question to her "whether she had ever confessed her sins" suggests that she was not singular in this respect. But it is remarkable that the anmchara (soul-friend), or Confessor, is frequently mentioned in Irish literature. The obits of several persons to whom that title is given are recorded in the Annals in the twelfth century. And penance is often alluded to in the obituary notices of distinguished persons, clerical and lay. In his sweeping statement St. Bernard may have had in mind some differences of method in penitential discipline between the Roman and Irish Churches.

3. The sacrament of Confirmation was not celebrated, at any rate in Armagh (§ 7). This rite has always been used in the Irish Church, though possibly neglected locally at some periods. St. Patrick tells us that he "confirmed in Christ" those whom he had "begotten to God" (Epistle, 2; cp. Confession, 38, 51)—thus giving us one of the earliest instances in literature of the application to the rite of its present familiar name. But in his practice (Epistle, § 3), as in the Stowe Missal, about a.d. 800 (ed. Sir G. F. Warner, vol. ii. p. 31), it seems to have consisted of an anointing with chrism without laying on, or raising, of hand, or a direct prayer for the Holy Spirit. According to the Stowe Missal it was administered by a presbyter. It is improbable that St. Bernard or his romanizing friends would recognize the rite so performed as true Confirmation.

4. One of the things which was neglected at Armagh was "the marriage contract" (§ 7). In the diocese of Connor there was "no entry into lawful marriages" (§ 16). By the labours of Malachy this abuse disappeared. In Armagh he "instituted anew" the marriage contract; in Connor it came to pass that "the celebration of marriage" was revived (§ 17). Putting these statements together we may conclude that St. Bernard's meaning is that marriages had ceased to be celebrated in the face of the Church, and that in consequence the vow of a life-long union was often evaded. Now contemporary writers charge the Irish of this period with loose sexual morality, especially in regard of arbitrary divorce, matrimony within the prohibited degrees, exchange of wives, and other breaches of the law of marriage. Such accusations are made, for example, by Pope Gregory VII. (Haddan and Stubbs, Eccl. Docs. ii. 160), Lanfranc (Ussher, 490; P.L. cl. 535, 536), Anselm (Ussher 521, 523; P.L. clix. 173, 178) and Giraldus Cambrensis (Gest. ii. 14; Top. iii. 19). Their evidence is the more worthy of credence because the usages to which they refer were characteristic of the Irish at an earlier period (Encycl. of Religion and Ethics, v. 456, 460), and might be expected to recur in an age of spiritual decline. But both Lanfranc and Anselm testify to the existence of marriage as an institution among the Irish. The former speaks of the divorce of a wife "lawfully joined to her husband," and the latter uses terms of similar import. So also does St. Bernard himself. His praise of Malachy's mother (Life, § 1) is inconceivable if she did not live in wedlock; and he expressly states that eight "metropolitans" of Armagh were "married men" (§ 19). But if there was nevertheless a revival among large sections of the people of pagan ideas of marriage, which tolerated polygamy, concubinage, incest and easy termination of unions, it can be understood that marriage in the face of the Church, which included a vow absolutely prohibitive of all these things, would be commonly avoided. Malachy's anxiety to restore the marriage ceremony was no doubt due to a desire to purge the nation of immoral customs of which St. Bernard makes no express mention. But, however that may be, we have contemporary native evidence that the rite of marriage had fallen into desuetude, and that Malachy was successful in his effort to restore it. For in the document quoted on p. 170, we are told that in a district which was part of the diocese of Armagh when he was Cellach's vicar (L.A.J. iv. 37), and under the rule of his patron, Donough O'Carroll, "marriage was assented to."

5. "There was no giving of tithes or firstfruits," writes St. Bernard (§ 16). He is speaking of the diocese of Connor. But there is no doubt that the remark might have been made of other districts. There was no such custom as the payment of tithes in Ireland before the twelfth century. They are first mentioned by Gilbert of Limerick, about 1108, in his De Statu Ecclesiae (Ussher, 507); and they were enjoined at the Synods of Kells in 1152 (Keating, iii. 315) and Cashel in 1172 (Can. 3, Giraldus, Expug., i. 35). From the document quoted above we learn that in Oriel, under Donough O'Carroll, "tithes were received"—evidently a new impost.

6. "Ministers of the altar were exceeding few" in the diocese of Connor (§ 16); and accordingly it is observed that Malachy provided his new churches with clergy (§ 17). This is not proved, nor is it in any great degree corroborated by the statement of A.F.M. (1148) that Malachy "ordained bishops and priests and men of every order"; but the parallel is perhaps worth noting.

7. The voice of the preacher was not heard in the churches (§ 16). This statement cannot, so far as I know, be checked.

8. The same remark must be made about the statements that the people would not come to church (§ 16), and that Malachy's exertions at length induced them to do so (§ 17), though they are sufficiently probable.

9. That "churches were rebuilt" (§ 17) cannot be questioned. No doubt the monasteries of Bangor and Saul would be counted among the number. We have explicit and independent evidence of the fact. The foundation of churches and re-edifying of monasteries were a conspicuous feature of the reign of Donough O'Carroll (see p. 170). And A.F.M. (1148) lay great stress on Malachy's activities in this direction. He "consecrated many churches and cemeteries," and "founded churches and monasteries, for by him was repaired every church in Ireland which had been consigned to decay and neglect, and they had been neglected from time remote."

On the whole it appears that St. Bernard's strictures are at least not without foundation in fact, in so far as they can be tested. But he can scarcely be acquitted of some measure of exaggeration in the rhetorical passages in which they occur.

B.—The Hereditary Succession of the Coarbs Of Patrick.

Life, §§ 19. 20, 30.

The assertions of St. Bernard in Life, § 19, concerning the coarbs of Patrick are controlled by A.U. The ninth predecessor of Cellach, Cathasach II. († 957) is described in them (s.a. 956) as "coarb of Patrick, learned bishop of the Goidhil." None of the following eight is said to have been a bishop, though all are called coarbs of Patrick. Moreover Cellach himself was appointed abbot before he "received holy orders," and the record of his ordination on St. Adamnan's Day (September 23) 1105, several weeks after his "institution," seems to indicate that it was unusual for the abbots to be ordained. All this corroborates the statement that his eight predecessors were "without orders." It is true, indeed, that according to A.F.M. Amalgaid, one of the eight, anointed Maelsechlainn king of Ireland, on his deathbed in 1022. But it does not follow from this that he was a priest. In early times, as is well known, unction was administered to the sick by laymen; and there appears to be no evidence that this office was confined to the priesthood till well on in the ninth century (Dict. of Christ. Antiquities, ii. 2004). It is at least possible that the older usage lingered on in Ireland to a much later date than on the Continent. But the statement of A.F.M. as to the anointing of Maelsechlainn is not confirmed by the more reliable authority of A.U.

That at least five of the eight were, as St. Bernard says, "married men" is shown by the following table, compiled from A.U. and MacFirbis (R.I.A., MS. 23 P. 1, p. 308). The persons whose names are printed in italics were coarbs of Patrick.

coarbs of Patrick
This table also confirms the statement that the abbots all belonged to the same family, and so obtained office by a sort of hereditary right. St. Bernard gives no hint which would enable us to identify this family. But the genealogy given by MacFirbis enumerates the ancestors of Cellach in a direct line up to Fiachrach, son of Colla fo Crich, and is headed "Genealogy of Ui Sinaich, i.e. the coarbs of Patrick." The Bodleian MS., Rawl. B. 502,1201 has the same genealogy, and entitles it "Genealogy of Clann Sinaich." The family then from which the abbots of Armagh were taken was the principal branch of that sept. From the genealogy it appears that the sept was derived from Sinach, from whom the fifth in descent was the Cellach whose name appears at the head of foregoing table.

St. Bernard represents Malachy to have said in 1132, when he was induced to oppose Murtough, that the system of hereditary succession had already lasted nearly two centuries (§ 20). This statement is in accord with known facts. The genealogical table gives sufficient evidence that it began not earlier than the accession of Dubdalethe II. (965), and continued to the accession of Murtough. If there is no evidence that the three predecessors of Dubdalethe were of the Clann Sinaich, neither is there anything to disprove it. But their immediate predecessor, Joseph, was certainly not of that sept; for A.U. (ms. A, 935) tells us that he was of the Clann Gairb-gaela, and the list of coarbs in the Book of Leinster notes in addition that he came from Dalriada (R.I.A. xxxv. 327, 359). Thus the succession cannot have been established before the death of Joseph (936). Hence it lasted for a period of between 167 and 196 years. A period of 167 years, or a period of 196 years, might be described as "well-nigh two hundred years" (annos ferme ducentos), though the latter suits St. Bernard's language better than the former.

But how can this be harmonized with the statement that "fifteen quasi-generations had passed in this wickedness" (§ 19)? Obviously a "quasi-generation" is not a generation of human life: apart from the facts just mentioned, the very word quasi forbids the supposition. Colgan (Trias, p. 301) suggested that the word indicates the period of office of a coarb; and this is very probable. The figure of generations, so applied, is in line with St. Bernard's conception of a bishop as "the seed" of his predecessor (§ 34). But the first of a series of coarbs, of which Murtough was the fifteenth, was Maelcoba, the second predecessor of Joseph. So that, even on Colgan's hypothesis, St. Bernard's two statements are irreconcilable. Yet it is difficult to believe that an error so manifest was in his source. I suggest that he wrote "fifteen" in error for "twelve": in other words his document had xii, and he misread it xu. The confusion of u with ii is very common in manuscripts. If this explanation is accepted, St. Bernard's authority implied that the hereditary succession was upheld without interruption from the death of Joseph to the accession of Murtough, which is "well-nigh two hundred years."

This investigation may convince us that St. Bernard depended on an excellent document for his knowledge of the history of Armagh. But he certainly went astray in the interpretation of the document when he styled the predecessors of Cellach metropolitans (see p. 45, n. 1). And he goes further when he asserts that none were allowed to be bishops who were not of their family (§ 19); thus leaving the impression that under the rule of the eight lay abbots—that is, for a century and a half—Armagh was deprived of episcopal ministrations. But this is wholly unhistorical. The Ulster Annals mention six bishops of Armagh, contemporary with the lay abbots. They seem to have followed one another in regular succession, and there is no indication that any one of them belonged to the Clann Sinaich. They were no doubt monastic bishops, such as are found in the Irish Church from the sixth century onwards, who exercised the functions of their order at the bidding of the abbots. They were probably not referred to in St. Bernard's document; and if they were, one who had been trained in an entirely different ecclesiastical system would have been at a loss to understand their position.

Thus we conclude that St. Bernard, in the passage which we are considering, used good material with conscientious care, but that he was misled by lack of knowledge of Irish ecclesiastical methods. This result is important because it may apparently be applied to the whole of his memoir of St. Malachy. His statements, as a rule, stand well the test of comparison with the native records; and when he is at fault we can usually explain his errors as misunderstandings, due to ignorance of conditions of which he had no experience.

St. Bernard has been charged with gross exaggeration in another passage. "A great miracle to-day," he writes (§ 30), "is the extinction of that generation, so quickly wrought, especially for those who knew their pride and power." It is an extravagant hyperbole to say that either the O'Neills, or the great tribe of the Oirgialla, represented to this day by the Maguires, the O'Hanlons and the MacMahons, was blotted out when the Life of St. Malachy was written. So argued some in the time of Colgan (Trias, p. 302). But they misrepresented St. Bernard. The word "generation" obviously means in the sentence before us what it meant in § 19 ("adulterous generation")—not an extensive tribe, nor even the Clann Sinaich as a whole, but the branch of that sept which provided abbots for Armagh. The speedy extinction of a single family is not a thing incredible. And it is worthy of remark that neither the Clann Sinaich, nor any person described as ua Sinaich or mac Sinaich is mentioned in the Annals after 1135 (see p. 58, n. 9).

For a more detailed treatment of the subjects discussed in this note reference may be made to R.I.A. xxxv. 232-238, 340-353.

C.—Malachy's Contest with Niall.

Life, §§ 22-31.

The narrative of the series of events between the death of Murtough and the consecration of Gelasius, both in St. Bernard's Life and in A.F.M., is obscure, and our two main authorities contradict each other in some particulars. In this note, I propose to attempt a reconstruction of the story.

1. Among the native authorities A.F.M. stand alone in giving what approximates to a full account of the struggle between the rival abbots. A.T. record only three incidents; the Chronicon Scotorum also records three incidents belonging to the year 1134, and then breaks off, to be resumed in 1142; in A.U. and A.I. there are hiatus which cover the whole period; the other Annals ignore the events with which we are concerned. The information supplied by A.F.M. runs as follows:

1134.(1) Malachy O'Morgair made a visitation of Munster and obtained his tribute.

(2) A chapel, which was erected by Cormac Mac Carthy, king of Cashel, was consecrated by a synod of clergy assembled at that place.

(3) Murtough died 17 September.

(4) Niall was installed in the coarbate of Patrick.

(5) A change of abbots at Armagh, i.e. Malachy O'Morgair in place of Niall.

(6) Malachy afterwards made a visitation of Munster and received his tribute.

1135.(7) Flann Ua Sinaich, keeper of the Staff of Jesus, died after good penance.

(8) Malachy O'Morgair purchased the Staff of Jesus, and took it from its cave 7 July.

1136.(9) A visitation of Munster was made by Malachy O'Morgair, coarb of Patrick.

(10) A change of abbots at Armagh, i.e. Niall in place of Malachy.

(11) Malachy O'Morgair resigned the coarbate of Patrick for the sake of God.

1137.(12) A change of abbots at Armagh, i.e. the erenach (recte abbot) of Derry in place of Niall.

1138.(13) Christian O'Morgair died.

A.T. record the second and fifth of the above events, and subjoin to the latter notice the passage quoted p. 51, n. 4. The Chronicon Scotorum records, the second, third and fifth.

There is obvious confusion in the narrative of the Masters. They put the death of Christian O'Morgair under 1138, which is a year too early (see p. 66, n. 1), and they credit Malachy with having made three visitations of Munster within three years, which he is very unlikely to have done. But it is to be observed that the notices of the visitations are not mere repetitions, for they differ from each other verbally. Thus we may suspect that the Masters copied those entries from three different sources, and that they refer to the same visitation, which, in at least one of the sources, appeared under the wrong year. Now the consecutive sentences 9, 10 are probably connected with each other: the absence of Malachy in Munster would give his opponents opportunity to reinstate his rival. In like manner entries 1, 2 (not consecutive) may be connected. It would not be surprising if Malachy, even at some risk to the security of his tenure of the abbacy at Armagh, took part in the consecration of his patron's church at Cashel. And it may be added that he would not improbably make this visit to the south the occasion of a circuit in Munster. The visitation, on that hypothesis, must have taken place in 1134 or early in 1135. Again, the note of time in entry 6 implies that it was made not very long after the appointment of Malachy, recorded in the immediately preceding entry 5. Finally, entry 8 mentions an event which must have greatly strengthened his hands. Having possessed himself of the more important and revered of the abbatial insignia he was at length more than a match for his antagonist. Probably, therefore, the restoration of Niall (10) should be placed rather before than after it. For these reasons we seem to be justified in placing the recorded incidents in the following order. When Malachy secured possession of the see (5) he remained long enough in Armagh to establish himself in the abbacy. During this time may have occurred the abortive conspiracy against him related in A.T., but not alluded to in A.F.M. He then went to Cashel for the consecration of the Chapel (2), and held his visitation of Munster (1, 6, 9). When he returned he found that Niall had once more entered Armagh (10). By July 1135 the power of his rival had considerably decreased, and Malachy got possession of the Staff of Jesus (8). Finally he resigned his office (11) and Gelasius was appointed to it (12). If this is a true account of the course of events, one statement of the Annals needs correction. They tell us that Gelasius succeeded Niall; on our hypothesis he succeeded Malachy. But that the Masters should have substituted the former for the latter was to be expected; for according to their previous (as I believe misplaced) statement Niall, not Malachy, was in possession in the latter part of 1136.

2. We now turn to St. Bernard's narrative of these transactions. Sections 22 and 23 present no difficulty. They are simply an amplification, with differences in detail, of what we learn from A.T. In the early part of § 24 it is stated that Malachy remained in Armagh after the king, with whose aid he had "ascended the chair of Patrick," had returned home; and in the succeeding narrative it is implied that he never left it till he went to Down. That is to say, the visitation of Munster is ignored. This need cause no surprise. It is quite possible that St. Bernard had never heard of it. Again, there is no explicit mention of the reinstatement of Niall. But it seems to be implied in § 24 (see p. 53, n. 9). The whole story becomes more intelligible if we assume that Niall was in possession for a short time, and then fled, but continued to exercise his functions outside the city, as Malachy himself had done in a previous period (§ 21). If we suppose that the visit to Munster took place shortly after the episode of § 23 we can explain the only difficulty in the narrative, the return of Niall after he had been driven out. The latter part of § 24 seems to intimate a lessening of opposition to Malachy's rule. The whole passage, §§ 24-27, with the exception of the last two sentences of § 27, must relate to the period before July 1135, inasmuch as Niall is represented as carrying about with him the Staff of Jesus as well as the Book of Armagh.

Up to this point St. Bernard's narrative harmonizes admirably with the story as it has been reconstructed above from the Annals. But we must carry our comparison of the two accounts a little further. They agree in giving 1137 as the date of the appointment of Gelasius as coarb of Patrick; but while St. Bernard puts the resignation of Malachy in the same year the Masters record it under 1136 (p. 61, n. 7). Now their phrase (11), that he "resigned for the sake of God," in its present context (10) can have only one meaning. Malachy, seeing that his contest with Niall was hopeless, determined to retire rather than continue the strife, and left Niall in possession. But apart from entry 10, which seems to have been misplaced, the words have no such implication, and are in harmony with the reason given by St. Bernard for Malachy's return to his former diocese (§§ 20, 21). Since the dates of the Masters for this period are already suspect we need not hesitate to follow St. Bernard's guidance here. But we may go further. The annalists were compelled, if they would be consistent, to suppose that there was a considerable interval between the retirement of Malachy and the accession of Gelasius. How was it possible that when Niall had finally routed his formidable rival, who was in possession of the Staff of Jesus, another should at once step in and, apparently without any difficulty, deprive him of the fruits of his victory? The difficulty is increased if we accept the statement of St. Bernard—not contradicted by the Annals, and not easy to dispute—that Gelasius was nominated by Malachy himself, and was therefore presumably favourable to his cause. Thus we perceive that there was good reason that the annalists should separate the two events as far as possible, by antedating Malachy's resignation, and by connecting it rather with Niall's restoration than with the appointment of Gelasius.

3. In weighing the respective claims of St. Bernard and the annalists to credence in this part of Malachy's life it is well to remember that of it St. Bernard may be assumed to have had full and first-hand information. The main facts were probably communicated to him by Malachy himself, though some particulars were no doubt added by other Irish informants. It is true, we must also allow for bias on St. Bernard's part in favour of his friend. Such bias in fact displays itself in §§ 25, 26. But bias, apart from sheer dishonesty, could not distort the whole narrative, as it certainly must have been distorted in the Life, if the narrative of A.F.M. is to be accepted as it stands.

4. It is important to observe that in the earlier stages of Malachy's conflict with Niall the lord of Oriel was Conor O'Loughlin, who was apparently not friendly to the reformers of the Irish Church (cp. §§ 18, 20, p. 40, n. 2, and p. 46, n. 5). No doubt his defeat by O'Brien and Mac Carthy in 1134 (p. 43, n. 5) made him a less ardent supporter of Niall than he had been of Murtough; but it is not likely that he entirely discouraged his attempts to seize the abbacy. The ultimate success of Malachy was in fact probably due to O'Loughlin's murder at the end of May 1136 and the rise to power of Donough O'Carroll (see p. 58, n. 11), his successor in the kingdom of Oriel. St. Bernard never mentions O'Carroll by name, though he possibly alludes to him in one passage (§ 28: see note there). But we may infer from other sources that he was a zealous friend and helper of Malachy. The most important of these is a contemporary document, part of which has been copied on a blank page of a fourteenth-century Antiphonary of Armagh (T.C.D. ms. B. 1. 1.) opposite the first page of the Calendar. Unfortunately the scribe laid down his pen at the end of a line and in the middle of a sentence. The document was first published by Petrie (p. 389) with a translation. As it is referred to several times in the notes to the Life it may be well to print here, with a few slight alterations, Dr. Whitley Stokes' revised rendering (Gorman, p. xx.).

"Kalend. Januar. v feria, lun. x. Anno Domini mclxx. A prayer for Donnchad Ua Cerbhaill, supreme King of Oirgialla, by whom were made the book of Cnoc na nApstal at Louth and the chief books of the order of the year, and the chief books of the Mass. It is this illustrious king who founded the entire monastery both [as to] stone and wood, and gave territory and land to it for the prosperity of his soul in honour of Paul and Peter. By him the church throughout the land of Oirgialla was reformed, and a regular bishopric was made, and the church was placed under the jurisdiction of the bishop. In his time tithes were received and marriage was assented to, and churches were founded and temples and bell-houses [round towers] were made, and monasteries of monks and canons and nuns were re-edified, and nemheds were made. These are especially the works which he performed for the prosperity [of his soul] and reign in the land of Oirgialla, namely, the monastery of monks on the banks of the Boyne [as to] stone and wood, implements and books, and territory and land, in which there are one hundred monks and three hundred conventuals, and the monastery of canons of Termann Feichin, and the monastery of nuns, and the great church of Termann Feichin, and the church of Lepadh Feichin, and the church of...."

O'Carroll, then, was an ardent supporter of Malachy. Is it likely that after his long struggle to secure the Chair of Patrick, and when he was in actual possession of it, Malachy should voluntarily surrender his claim to Niall at the very moment when the new king of Oriel had come to his aid? Yet, unless we are prepared to place his resignation before June 1136, that is the assumption we must make if we adhere to the statements of A.F.M.

5. There are other documents of high authority which must be taken into account: the contemporary record of the succession of coarbs of Patrick in the Book of Leinster, and the copy of a similar record in the Yellow Book of Lecan. The former of these seems to have been written by a partizan of Malachy, since it ignores Murtough. The latter assigns to that abbot a rule of three years, in agreement with St. Bernard (§§ 20, 21). But neither of them so much as mentions Niall; and both make Gelasius the successor of Malachy. Thus they contradict A.F.M. and corroborate the narrative of St. Bernard. See R.I.A. xxxv. 355 f.

[1201] See Kuno Meyer's Facsimile edition, p. 146, e. The genealogy there begins with Amalgaid, not with Cellach.