Sunday, 28 December 2014

St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Life of St. Malachy of Armagh, by H. J. Lawlor. Part 3.

III.—The Synod of Rathbreasail
 Geoffrey Keating quotes from the lost Annals of Clonenagh an account of a national Synod or Council held at Rathbreasail in the year 1110.47 The existing Annals record that a national Council met at Fiadh meic Oengusa in 1111. With the exception of the Annals of Inisfallen, none of them mention Rathbreasail; but the Inisfallen annalist tells us that it is another name for Fiadh meic Oengusa.48 I shall assume therefore that there were not two national Synods in successive years, but one; and, following the Annals of Clonenagh, I shall call it the Synod of Rathbreasail, and date it in 1110.

The Synod of Rathbreasail marks the beginning of the second stage of the Reformation movement. It was convened by the papal legate; its purpose was the Romanizing of the Irish Church, and, in particular, the establishment in it of diocesan episcopacy. Fortunately Keating's excerpts from its Acts give us ample information concerning the canons which dealt with this matter.

The annalists, as I have said, describe the council as a national assembly. But we can hardly claim so much for it. It is much more probable that it was in reality a meeting of the Reforming party. The first signature appended to its canons was that of Gilbert, who presided as legate of the Holy See. He was followed by Cellach, "coarb of Patrick and Primate of Ireland," and Malchus, "archbishop of Cashel," whom we have known as bishop of Waterford. The signatures of many bishops followed, but they have not been preserved. We know, however, that Bishop O'Dunan was present, as was also Murtough O'Brien, king of Ireland. These were all leaders of the Reforming party; and it is evident that they guided the deliberations of the Council. Moreover there were no representatives of the provinces of Connaught and Leinster, in which as yet, it appears, the Reform movement had not established itself. That is made clear by notes appended to canons which specially concerned those provinces. One of them begins thus: "If the Connaught clergy agree to this ... we desire it, and if they do not"—in that case they may do as they please, with certain limitations. The clergy of Leinster are accorded a similar liberty. It is obvious that if among the members of the Council there had been men who could speak with authority for the provinces mentioned such notes need not, and therefore could not, have been written. The Council represented Munster, Ulster and Meath. It was national, not because it could speak for all Ireland, but because it made laws for all Ireland.

I must now give an account of those laws, so far as they relate to the organization of the Church. I follow the Annals of Clonenagh, as reported by Keating: but in two or three places I have been obliged to amend his text.49

The fathers began by appealing to English precedent. "Just as twelve bishops were fixed under Canterbury in the south of England, and twelve bishops in the north under the city of York," so it was ordained that there should be twelve bishops in the south of Ireland, and twelve in the north. The constitution of the Irish Church was henceforth, it would seem, to be a copy of that of the English Church. But, as it happens, neither in 1110 nor in any other year of its history, had the Church of England twelve sees under Canterbury and twelve under York. How then can we explain the statement of the Synod? The answer is simple. Bede50 preserves a letter of Pope Gregory the Great, written in 601, in which St. Augustine of Canterbury was directed to consecrate twelve bishops as his own suffragans. He was also ordered to consecrate a bishop for York, who, if his mission proved successful, was likewise to consecrate twelve suffragans, and to be promoted to the dignity of a metropolitan. It is clear that the Synod found its precedent in this letter, not observing that Pope Gregory's ordinance was never carried into effect. But they made another mistake. For Gregory intended that there should be twelve bishops in the north of England, and twelve in the south, exclusive of the archbishops, twenty-six in all; while it is evident that the Council of Rathbreasail intended that there should be twelve bishops in the north of Ireland, and twelve in the south, including the archbishops, twenty-four in all. Some one whose lead the Synod followed—probably the papal legate—had read his Bede with little care. But that is not surprising. Lanfranc had misread Bede, when on his authority he claimed to be Primate of Ireland; why should not Gilbert have gone astray in like fashion? The point to be noticed and emphasized is that the first act of the Synod was to fix the number of the Irish sees, on the curious principle that what the wisdom of Pope Gregory held to be good for England would suit Ireland also.

Apparently the next step in the procedure was to determine the distribution of the dioceses among the provinces, and to fix the see of each prospective diocese. Ireland was divided into two portions by a line running, approximately, from Dublin to Galway. The part to the north of that line was known as Leath Chuinn, the part to the south as Leath Mogha. In Leath Chuinn were the provinces of Ulster and Connaught and the kingdom of Meath; in Leath Mogha were the provinces of Munster and Leinster. The Synod decreed that there should be five sees in Ulster, five in Connaught, and two in Meath, making twelve bishoprics for Leath Chuinn; there were to be seven in Munster and five in Leinster—twelve bishoprics for Leath Mogha. The names of all these sees were given in the Acts of the Synod.

Finally the Synod defined the boundaries of the dioceses to which the sees severally belonged. It is not my purpose to give a minute description of these boundaries. That would involve an excursus on Irish topography, which would be, to say the least, out of place. It will suffice to indicate roughly those of the five dioceses of Ulster. To the west was what was called the "parish" (fairche)51 of Derry or Raphoe. It was nearly identical with our diocese of Raphoe. The only important difference is that it included Inishowen, the district between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle, which now belongs to the diocese of Derry. Next to the parish of Derry or Raphoe the Synod placed the parish of Ardstraw.52 Ardstraw never became the see, and the diocese was subsequently known as "of Derry." It extended eastward to the Carntougher Mountains, and coincides pretty closely with the present diocese. It subsequently gained Inishowen from its western neighbour, and the strip between the Carntougher Mountains and the Bann from its eastern neighbour. But otherwise it remains much as the Synod of Rathbreasail determined. Next to it was to be the parish of Connor or Down. When the portion of it to the west of the Bann was transferred to Derry, it coincided almost exactly with the modern Down, Connor and Dromore. On the other hand the parish of Armagh seems originally to have included the modern county of Monaghan: it has shrunk to little more than half its size. The parish of Clogher, at first very small, has extended east and west, and is three times as large as it was intended to be. On the whole the work of the Synod has stood well the test of many centuries of history.

It is indeed wonderful that it should have done so. For the method of the Synod—fixing the number of the dioceses before their boundaries were discussed—was unstatesmanlike. Always, and necessarily, ecclesiastical divisions have coincided with civil divisions. We may find the germ of the rule in the Acts of the Apostles.53 If this was inevitable in other lands it was even more inevitable in Ireland in pre-Norman days. The Irish people was a collection of clans, having, it is true, certain common institutions, but bound together by no sort of national constitution, and often at war with each other. If ecclesiastical divisions were to be permanent in Ireland, they must take account of the tribal divisions of the country. The primary ecclesiastical unit must be the territory of a tribe, just as it was the primary civil unit.54 But to base the limits of dioceses, consistently and in every case, on tribal boundaries was impossible when the number of dioceses was arbitrarily fixed beforehand. It could not be that exactly the same number of dioceses would suit Ulster as suited Leinster and Connaught. In one province the tribes would be more or less numerous, and more or less mutually antagonistic, than in another. By reason of its method, therefore, the Synod was doomed to fall short of complete success in its work.

We have instances in Ulster of the soundness of the principle that I have stated. Take the diocese of Raphoe. It was designed to include Inishowen. But from a tribal point of view Inishowen (Inis Eoghain) belonged to the next diocese, which included the tribeland of Tír Eoghain. Its inhabitants were of the same stock as the Cenél Eoghain, and were known as the Cenél Eoghain of the Island. So the natural result followed. Inishowen broke off from the diocese of Raphoe and became part of the diocese of Derry. When this happened the diocese of Raphoe was stabilized. It consisted of the land of a single tribe, the Cenél Conaill; and so henceforth its limits were never altered.

We can easily understand, therefore, that the disregard of tribal boundaries, forced on it in many cases by its method, was an element of weakness in the Rathbreasail scheme. And yet it was natural that special stress should be laid on the arbitrary limitation of sees which was its main cause. Ireland was overrun with bishops. It is said that over fifty of them attended the Synod of Rathbreasail; and they represented only part of the country. But Gilbert had laid down the rule that an archbishop could not have more than twenty suffragans. On this principle, if all the existing bishops had been provided with dioceses, or all the larger tribes had been given bishops, Ireland would have had not two, but six or seven archbishops: and this would have been a travesty of Catholic Church order, as it was then understood. It was essential that the number should be ruthlessly cut down.

But the legislators of Rathbreasail did not entirely ignore tribal boundaries. On the contrary, so far as the numerical basis of their scheme permitted, they took them into account. And here we find that the Synod was confronted with another difficulty. The territories of tribes were fluctuating quantities. Hence, even if a diocese was the district of a single tribe, with very definite boundaries, no one could be sure that in the course of years its limits would not change. Again I take an example from Ulster. The Synod selected the Carntougher Mountains as the boundary between the dioceses of Derry and Connor. And wisely. For between those mountains and the Bann there dwelt a sept—the Fir Li—whose affinities were altogether with the people to the east of the river. But only a few years after the Synod that territory was overrun by the O'Kanes of the Roe Valley, and the Fir Li retreated across the Bann, never to return. The result followed which might have been expected. Their territory was transferred from Connor to Derry, and the Bann to this day is the boundary of the two dioceses.55

It may be well, before I pass to another subject, to call attention to some special features of the Rathbreasail canons.

First, let us note the prominence which is given to Limerick, the diocese of Gilbert, the president of the Synod. Usually a diocese is somewhat vaguely defined by four places on its borders. But here no less than thirteen are named. So full are the indications that a fairly exact map of the diocese could be drawn. Further, in this diocese alone mention is made of a Cathedral Church: "The Church of Mary in Limerick is its principal church."56 Note the present tense: "The Church of Mary is"—not shall be—"its principal church." We remember that Gilbert insisted in the De Statu Ecclesiae that a diocese should have a "pontifical church." Again, the boundaries of this one diocese are protected by a clause which has no parallel elsewhere: "Whosoever shall go against these boundaries goes against the Lord, and against Peter the Apostle, and St. Patrick and his coarb and the Christian Church." Who but the legate of the Pope would have thus invoked St. Peter?

Surely this portion of the ordinances of the Synod must have been penned by Gilbert himself. And the whole passage—by the minuteness of its description of the diocese, by the strength of the terms in which it is expressed, by the reference to the Cathedral Church as already existing—suggests that the diocese was formed and organized before the Synod met, as I have already assumed. We may even suspect that an attempt had been made to invade it, which Gilbert stoutly resisted, relying on his legatine authority.

In the list of dioceses there is an omission which demands explanation. No mention whatever is made of Dublin, the oldest diocese in Ireland. Not only so; the northern limit of the diocese of Glendalough is marked by Lambay Island and Greenogue, which lies due west of it in the County Meath. Thus the diocese of Glendalough, as contemplated by the Synod—and, it may be added, as it was in fact forty years later57—included the whole of the actually existing diocese of Dublin. The Danish Christians of Dublin and their Irish bishop are treated as interlopers; they are absolutely ignored. It may be said that this was due to the mutual hostility which divided the diocese of Dublin from the native Church, and to the fact that the bishops of Dublin had always been subject to Canterbury. But it is not enough to say this; for the estrangement of Dublin from the Irish is the very thing that has to be accounted for.

It had its root in the growing prosperity of the Danish city. The Irish had no towns. Town life was introduced among them by the Norsemen. And of their towns Dublin was always the chief. By this time it had become so important that it had good right to be called the metropolis of the country. And its citizens were thoroughly aware of this. As early as 1074 the burgesses of Dublin and their bishop, Patrick, claimed for it that title.58 Now in all reason a metropolis should have a metropolitan as its bishop; and no doubt the bishops of Dublin thought themselves de facto, if not de jure, superior to the other bishops of Ireland. In fact we find one of them playing the archbishop. We have two interesting letters of Anselm, written apparently about 1100. One of them is addressed to Malchus, bishop of Waterford, directing him to rebuke Samuel O'Hanley, bishop of Dublin, for various irregularities, in particular for having his cross carried before him like an archbishop; the other is addressed to Samuel himself, and complains of the same actions.59 These proceedings are not likely to have been brought to an end by Anselm's letters; and we may assume that they were continued as long as Samuel held the see of Dublin. It was but natural that Cellach should strongly resent them, for they were disrespectful both to himself and to the archbishop of Cashel. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that on the death of Samuel in 1121, eleven years after Rathbreasail, Cellach tried to get possession of the Church of Dublin,60 most probably with the intention of bringing it under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Glendalough. Nor are we surprised that the men of Dublin at once replied by electing another bishop and bidding Ralph of Canterbury to consecrate him if he desired to retain the suffragan see which they had so long preserved for him.61 We shall see hereafter how the bishops of Dublin were at length induced to look with favour on the Irish Church. Meanwhile we learn that they were not very obedient suffragans of Canterbury; and we cease to wonder that they were ignored in the Rathbreasail decrees.

Another feature of the canons of the Synod is worth noting. In several instances the see of a diocese was not absolutely fixed. Two places were named, and it was apparently left to the bishop of the future to select that one of the two which he preferred to be his city. Thus we have a diocese of Derry or Raphoe, a diocese of Connor or Down, another of Wexford or Ferns, and so forth. The meaning of this is best seen by taking a single example. To one of the dioceses of Munster was assigned the area now occupied by the two dioceses of Waterford and Lismore. It consisted of the original Danish diocese of Waterford, together with a much more extensive non-Danish area. Alternative sees were named; it was described as the parish of Lismore or Waterford. Now Lismore was the most sacred spot in the enlarged diocese. It was the site of a monastery founded by St. Mochuta. It was an ideal place for a bishop's see. But it was doubtless ruled at the moment by an abbot, the coarb of Mochuta. Unless he was prevailed on to accept episcopal orders, or was deprived of his authority, a diocesan bishop could not be established there. On the other hand, Waterford had no sacred traditions; but it was already the see of a diocese. In default of Lismore it would be a convenient place for the see. Between Lismore and Waterford the circumstances of the future must decide. Ultimately, it appears, Malchus retired from the archbishopric of Cashel, and became bishop of his older diocese, now so much greater than it had been. He placed his stool, however, not at Waterford but at Lismore.62 A similar, but not always identical course was followed in other such cases.

What the Synod of Rathbreasail actually accomplished was this. It gave to Ireland a paper constitution of the approved Roman and Catholic type. But by doing this it had not achieved the purpose of its existence. In the years that followed, its enactments had to be carried into effect. And here was the real crux. Before the Church came to be ruled by diocesan bishops, the existing rulers—the coarbs of church founders—must be dispossessed of their authority; the numerous bishops of the old Irish type must be got rid of; the jurisdiction of the new bishops must be fixed by common consent, or enforced without it; and revenues must be provided for them. A mere synodal decree could not accomplish all this. The diocesan system could become a fact throughout the whole Church, and the last vestiges of the ancient constitution be made to disappear, only after determined effort, and probably bitter contention. And when all was done it would certainly be found that the scheme of dioceses arranged at Rathbreasail had been largely departed from.

I can best illustrate the nature of the difficulties which had to be encountered, and the length of time which might be required to overcome them, by giving a short outline of the history of the forming of the dioceses of the kingdom of Meath.

In Meath, as we have seen, there were dioceses ruled by bishops before Rathbreasail. But these dioceses were of small size. It may be doubted whether most of them fulfilled the condition laid down by Gilbert, that a bishop should have not less than ten churches within his jurisdiction. They had therefore to be grouped under a smaller number of prelates. What had to be accomplished in this case was not so much the clipping of the wings of the abbots, as the extirpation of the more recently appointed diocesan bishops. The Synod determined that the kingdom should be divided into two dioceses, one in the west, the other in the east. The western see was to be at Clonard, at the moment, as it seems, the see of O'Dunan, and famed as the site of the great monastery of St. Finnian, founded in the sixth century; the eastern see was to be at Duleek, near Drogheda. Now a few months after the Synod of Rathbreasail there was held at Usnagh a local synod of the men of Meath, at which the king and many notable persons were present.63 This synod ordained that the parishes of Meath should be equally divided between the bishops of Clonmacnoise and Clonard. It will be observed that the principle of the Rathbreasail decree was accepted, that there should be two, and only two, dioceses in Meath. But the change made in the sees is significant. The Synod of Rathbreasail intended that Clonard should be the see of the western diocese, which would include Clonmacnoise. The Synod of Usnagh demanded that Clonmacnoise, founded by one of the most noted of Irish saints, St. Ciaran, should be one of the surviving sees, and that Clonard should be the see, not of the western, but of the eastern half of the kingdom. Thus the Synod of Rathbreasail was at once met with strenuous and, as it proved, successful opposition in Meath.

And here I may mention another fact. A few years after the Synod we have proof of the existence of a diocese in the north of the kingdom, which has not hitherto been mentioned, and which is not named in the Rathbreasail canons. We know it as the diocese of Kilmore.64 It may have been one of O'Dunan's dioceses, or it may have been founded later. One thing is certain. The diocese formed the territory of a strong tribe. Consequently it had in it the element of stability. It was never suppressed: it exists to this day. So far as it was concerned the canons of Rathbreasail were a dead letter from the beginning.

But let us return to Clonard. It was the business of its successive bishops, in accordance with the decrees of Usnagh, to annex the small neighbouring bishoprics of east Meath. They had considerable success. We possess a list of churches granted by Eugenius, the last Irish bishop of Clonard, to the monastery of St. Thomas the Martyr, Dublin.65 They are scattered over the three deaneries of Dunshaughlin, Skreen and Trim. Thus Eugenius had absorbed into his diocese the bishoprics of those three places. Another document tells us that this same Eugenius consecrated the church of Duleek;66 which implies that the diocese of Duleek was also suppressed. Thus by 1191, the year of Eugenius's death—within eighty years of the Synod of Rathbreasail, and before the Anglo-Normans had captured the ecclesiastical domination of Meath—the diocese of Clonard had expanded to four times its original size. Its bishop ruled the whole area of the modern county of Meath which lies south of the Boyne and Blackwater.

Simon Rochfort, the first English bishop, stretched his arm further. We have a charter of his, which may be dated before 1202, confirming to St. Thomas's Abbey a number of churches in his diocese.67 It includes most, if not all, of the churches granted by his predecessor, but adds others. Among these are some in the deanery of Slane. The bishopric of Slane had been absorbed.

The rapid extension of his diocese towards the north suggested to Rochfort the desirability of having for his headquarters a more central place than Clonard. So in 1202 he translated the see to Newtown, near Trim,68 and began to call himself Bishop of Meath. Ten years later, as we know, this "impudent bishop" captured the diocese of Kells.69 The bishop of Meath (no longer of Clonard) from his see at Newtown had the oversight of nearly the whole of the modern county. Within the confines of his diocese were the seven older dioceses of Clonard, Dunshaughlin, Skreen, Trim, Duleek, Slane and Kells. This was probably the whole of the eastern diocese as designed by the Synod of Usnagh.

But the policy of annexation still went forward apace. Another document enables us to measure the progress of half a century. It is a concordat concerning metropolitical visitations, between the archbishop of Armagh and Rochfort's third successor, Hugh de Tachmon. It is dated 9th April, 1265.70 The tenor of the concordat does not concern us: it is important for our purpose because it proves that in 1265 there were eleven rural deaneries in the diocese of Meath. Four more petty dioceses had been suppressed, Mullingar, Loxewdy, Ardnurcher and Fore. The diocese was co-extensive with that of the present day, except that the diocese of Clonmacnoise—as small in 1265 as it had been in 1100—was not yet brought in.

Clonmacnoise preserved its independence three centuries longer. It was incorporated with Meath in 1569. Thus at length the dream of the fathers of Rathbreasail was fulfilled. There were two dioceses in the ancient kingdom of Meath—Meath and Kilmore. But neither Duleek nor Clonard nor Clonmacnoise was a see. From that day to this, in fact, the diocese of Meath has had no see. And the boundary which parts Meath from Kilmore is very different from the line which the fathers of Rathbreasail drew between the dioceses of Clonard and Duleek, or that which the assembly of Usnagh drew between Clonmacnoise and Clonard.

[47] Keating, iii. 299 ff. The date is there misprinted 1100.

[48] I formerly disputed this identification, on the ground that the archbishop of Cashel who was present at Fiadh meic Oengusa was O'Dunan (G. T. Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church, ed. 6, 1907, p. 372). I am now convinced that he was archbishop of Cashel. I was not then aware that all MSS. of Keating date the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1110.

[49] On p. 298 read no (or) for is (and) before Dun dá Leathghlas; and on p. 306 chathar for chuigear ar fhichid (i.e. twenty-four for twenty-five). On p. 306 a portion of the note on the Leinster diocese has evidently dropped out, which should be restored to bring it into conformity with the corresponding passage on p. 302.

[50] H.E. i. 29.

[51] I.e. diocese.

[52] The parish (using the word in its modern sense) in which is Newtown Stewart, co. Derry.

[53] Ramsay, Paul the Traveller (1907), p. 173.

[54] Some changes of phraseology might have been made here and elsewhere if Professor MacNeill's Phases of Irish History (1919) had come into my hands before this volume went to press. But they would not have affected the argument.

[55] See Irish Church Quarterly, vol. x. p. 234.

[56] Agus is é teampull Muire i Luimneach a príomheaglais.

[57] When Cardinal Paparo came to Ireland in 1151 he found "a see constituted at Dublin in the diocese of Glendalough."—Crede Mihi (ed. Gilbert), p. 11.

[58] Ussher, 488 (P.L. cl. 534), 564.

[59] Ibid. 528, 530; P.L. clix. 109, 216.

[60] See p. 20, note 3.

[61] See p. xxii.

[62] See p. 18, note 6.

[63] See above, p. xxviii.

[64] There was a bishop of Breifne (i.e. Kilmore) in 1136 (A.T.).

[65] R.T.A. p. 269.

[66] Ibid. p. 259.

[67] Ibid. p. 241.

[68] Cal. of Papal Letters, v. 75. For date see Cal. of Documents, Ireland, i. 168.

[69] See p. xxviii, note 1.

[70] R.T.A. p. 71.