Monday, 23 June 2014

Penal Laws enacted against the Irish Catholics— General State of the Kingdom in 1652. part 8.

§ 8.—The Oath Of Abjuration.

Father Richard Shelton, Superior of the Jesuits in Ireland, writing to the Sacred Congregation, on 28th of April, 1658, conveyed the sad intelligence, that the persecution of Cromwell against the Irish Catholics was carried on with ever increasing fury; two of the Jesuit fathers had lately been arrested, and were treated with great cruelty, especially, he adds, "every effort is now made to compel the Catholics, by exile, imprisonment, confiscation of goods, and other penalties, to take the sacrilegious oath of abjuration, but all in vain, for as yet there has not been even one to take it, with the exception of a stranger residing in our island, who had acquired large possessions, and being afraid of losing them, and at the same time being ashamed of the other Catholics, undertook a journey of more than 200 miles, to present himself to one of Cromwell's commissaries "

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 other 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," &c.

( 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.)

The penalty enacted against all who should refuse to take this oath was the confiscation of two-thirds of all their goods, which was to be repeated each time that they should prove refractory. 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 whatsoever 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 in Connaught by the transplanted Irish gentry. The better to secure their prey, they assumed the sheep's clothing, and going round amongst the Catholics, they declared that the act of parliament was most unjust, that no one should interfere with their conscientious convictions, that they admired the steadfastness of the Catholics in adhering to principle despite every enactment, and that this heroic constancy of the nation had won for it an immortal fame throughout the kingdoms of Europe. The Catholics were not deceived by these vain appearances, but, nevertheless, they clung unflinching to their holy resolve.

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 whatis 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.