To commemorate the feast of our national patron, Saint Patrick, below is a stirring sermon from the 'Lion of The West', Archbishop John Mac Hale (1789-1881). I think it's safe to say that he lived in interesting times. Born in the year that the French Revolution began, his lifetime also encompassed the 1798 Rebellion, Catholic Emancipation, the Great Famine and the campaigns for land reform and for Catholic education, all set against the backdrop of the growth of political and cultural nationalism. This sermon on Saint Patrick was delivered in Rome, in the Irish Franciscan church of Saint Isidore Agricola. It is thus no surprise to see the speaker making special mention of Saint Patrick's continental education at Auxerre and of the legacy left by the early Irish church on continental Europe. And no surprise whatever to see the Archbishop employ all of the tropes familiar to Irish Catholic writers of this period, in his portrayal of the Irish people as being prepared to suffer in order to cling to their faith, the price which their 'indissoluble bond with Rome' demanded:
SERMONS AND DISCOURSES.
ST. PATRICK'S DAY.
" We are the children of the saints, and look for that life which God will give to those who change not their faith from Him."—Tobias, ii. 18.
Among the various trials through which Ireland has passed, and may be still fated to endure, it has, in the recollection of the past, and in the hope of the future, one of the richest sources of human enjoyment. The records of an honourable lineage must console the humblest descendant who is conscious of not tarnishing the lustre of his name, and when there is hope it is capable of lighting up the horrors of a dungeon. Between those two lights it was the consolation of Ireland to walk in the darkest days of her adversity. By the past I mean not the glories of a profane and remote antiquity, on which the world dwells with rapture, but I mean the more valuable claims of a sainted heraldry, by which our people have been so signally distinguished. Whilst they contemplated the illustrious models, which their Church in every age held out to them, they were endued with courage to brave every persecution; and when, like the old Tobias, their devotion to their God was made a subject of bitter raillery, their piety rose superior to every provocation, and, like him, they exclaimed, "We are the children of saints, and look for that life which God will give to those who change not their faith from Him." Happy people, who have preserved with such fidelity the precious legacy bequeathed to them by our great national Apostle! I purpose, then, in this discourse to give a brief outline of his life and labours, and then to take a rapid glance at the various fortunes of the Irish Church, still so steadfast in the faith which he planted.
It has been the fate of St. Patrick, like that of other eminent men, to have rival nations contending for the honour of being the place of his nativity. It is no wonder the steps of boyhood, light and bounding as the spirits that guide them, seldom leave a sufficiently deep impression for the historian to track them by; and few there are, like St. John of God, over whose birth a heavenly light is seen to play, to direct the biographer through the earlier stages of his life. Our best guides in this question are his own confessions, and a metrical life of the Apostle by Fiech, one of his episcopal disciples. He tells us himself, in clear and distinct terms, where he was born; but, to a modern ear, more accustomed to the Saxon tongue than to the venerable language in which those confessions were written, the simple expression of the words would not decide the controversy. Much ingenuity has been resorted to in giving them interpretations of which they are not naturally susceptible, in order to confirm the opinions of the respective advocates of Scotland and of Gaul.
But notwithstanding the process of refinement to which they have been subjected, enough of their ancient form still remains to determine every intelligent and unprejudiced antiquarian in favour of the opinion that assigns the birth of St. Patrick to the northern provinces of France. But why occupy your time or patience upon a point which can have but little influence on the object for which you are assembled? It matters little where the Saint was born, since he is one of those extraordinary individuals that are sent by Providence to bless mankind at distant intervals, and who, on that account, may be claimed as the common property of the human race. Nor shall I stop to refute an opinion of which the malignity is neutralised by its folly, that because of this discrepancy of opinion regarding the place of his birth, St. Patrick was a phantom. Were such sophistry to have any weight, it would, assuredly, strip history of some of its most illustrious ornaments. What? must the inhabitants of Egypt doubt the existence of the source of their great river because European travellers cannot agree about the spot from which it springs? Let others, then, expend their darkling labours in exploring the small and distant fountain of the faith of Ireland, we shall be content with the incontestable proofs that are furnished of its existence, whilst we contemplate the majesty of the flood that has already filled the nations with the noise, and spread over a large country the fertility of its waters.
Scarce had Patrick attained his sixteenth year when he was seized by a band of freebooters, who infested the coast of Gaul, and carried him captive into Ireland. From a mind, less disciplined to piety, and a conformity with the will of God, such a disaster would have called forth murmurs against Providence. Far, however, from turning his misfortune into a theme of vexatious complaints, it became to him a rich source of spiritual consolation. It was his painful duty to tend his master's flock on the mountains of Antrim, in the province of Ultonia. His solicitude always anticipated the morning sun; the cold of winter could not chill the ardour of his devotions. From the rough elements which surrounded him he drew canticles of praise, commanding the frost and the snows, in the sublime apostrophe of the Hebrew youths, to praise the Lord; and in the canopy of heaven, which was spread over him, he beheld a faint image of the glory of its Creator. "When I came to Ireland," says the saint (for there is a simple unction in his own words, which evaporates in any other language) "I fed my master's flocks, and prayed frequently in the day. The fear and love of God were gradually increasing in me, and His faith and spirit gaining such ground, that each day I said a hundred prayers, and as many by night, so that I stayed in the woods and on the mountains, and rose to prayer before the light, through the frost, and the snow, and the rain; and yet I felt no in convenience, nor was there any sloth about me, because the spirit- was then fervent within my breast." What an interesting spectacle do we here contemplate in the early life of our Apostle; and how well adapted such a severe discipline to the lofty destiny to which he was afterwards to be raised. Yes; for those who are destined for the ordinary situations of life, an ordinary training may be well suited; but for him who was intended to be the Apostle of a nation, and the conqueror of its vices, the Almighty had prepared a discipline analagous to the arduous nature of his future labours. Hence he was early transplanted to that solitude without which no growth in the moral and intellectual, as well as the physical world, can ever attain strength or majesty. Far from the contagion of the world, his virtue was here pure as the atmosphere which he breathed; and his thoughts were simple and elevated as the lofty scenery around him. Such was the school in which St. Patrick's virtue was formed. The commands of a hard master exercised his obedience; his patience was tried by this man's capricious disposition. In the solicitude with which he watched his flock, he was inured to that vigilance which he was afterwards to exercise over a portion of Christ's fold; and if, according to the admonition of St. Peter, it be the perfection of a Christian pastor to become "a pattern of the flock from the heart," nothing could be more worthy of God's providence than thus to enable the future Church of Ireland to contemplate, in its great Apostle, the model which was shown it on the mount—being thus the most appropriate—and, as if the prophetic type of a priesthood, which, like him, was doomed to look for shelter from the cruelty of man, amidst the severity of frosts and snows, and to offer the pure sacrifice of the Lord in the caverns of the rocks and the solitude of the mountains.
After six years of servitude he was at length released under circumstances which impress a conviction that his life was under the immediate guidance of heaven. On landing in his own country, he had to traverse a vast and dreary wilderness, in which he and his companions were exposed to perish from hunger. The Saint sustained their desponding spirits by his reliance on his God; when lo! a herd of swine, like the quails that relieved the Hebrews of old, seasonably appeared and convinced them of the justness of his confidence. A few years elapsed, and he was again carried into a similar captivity, and after the short interval of six months again restored to the embraces of his affectionate parents. When absent, they deplored his loss, and now that he was returned, they adjured him not to quit them more, in hope that, like the young Tobias after his escape from a strange country, he would become "the light of our eyes, the staff of our old age, the comfort of our life, the hope of our posterity." But St. Patrick was destined to be the father of a different and a holier offspring. It was not for the improvement of his family fortune he was exercised in his early warfare. The Almighty had destined another sphere for his exertions, and whilst, perhaps, the secret whispers of grace calling him to a holier state were in danger of yielding to the louder importunity which repeated the subduing language of father and mother and of home, he was favoured with a vision of the night, in which he beheld an old man of the name of Victor, standing on the western shore of Ireland, in the barony of Tyrawley, handing him one of many letters which he held in his hand, inscribed with these words: "The voice of the Irish," on perusing which he fancied to have heard the collected voices of numbers of children, who, with outstretched arms, adjured him in the following earnest supplication: "We entreat thee, holy young man, to come and walk among us;" and thus were the entreaties of parents and of friends drowned amidst the more imperative and importuning cries of a people who were perishing for want of religious instruction. The Saint hesitated not, but, like Samuel, who was only anxious to know the divine will, immediately obeyed the call of heaven. Far, however, from imitating those who mistake their own presumption for the impulse of the Spirit, he had recourse to the regular channel through which God has ordained the conveyance of His high commission, and accordingly sought, like the Apostle, another Ananias in the person of St. Germanus, the holy Bishop of Auxerre, into whose hands he resigned himself, in order to become duly qualified for the ministry. Under the advice of this eminent prelate, he spent, as we are informed by the Bishop who wrote his life, a portion of his time in the islands of the Tuscan Sea, and most probably in the Island of Lerins, then famed for a learned seminary, in which the monastic discipline of St. Martin of Tours was associated with the successful cultivation of ecclesiastical learning.
Thirteen years are said to have been employed by the Saint in the alternate exercise of solitary study and of active duties in the ministry, under the immediate direction of St. Germanus, by which long and laborious preparation he became admirably fitted for the great work to which he was called by the Almighty. Thus prepared and furnished with ample testimonials of his merits, he sets out for Rome, the centre of Christian unity, to obtain, ere he embarked on his intended mission, the benediction and approval of the Sovereign Pontiff. St. Celestine then sat on the chair of St. Peter, who, having already invested Palladius, with episcopal powers for the mission of Ireland, now gives his sanction to St. Patrick, as a subordinate associate in the same holy work. Palladius' stay in Ireland was but short, the success of his mission partial; in less than a year he quitted Ireland, and before St. Patrick had time to reach that country he was informed that Palladius died in Great Britain. This recent death of one who had been sent to convert Ireland, together with his own early captivity there, as well as the mysterious vision which he saw upon its shores, must have impressed upon his mind that to him was reserved the spiritual conquest of that country. He therefore receives without delay the episcopal consecration, and, accompanied by a few select associates, burns with a holy impatience to impart to that benighted land the glad tidings of salvation. Accordingly, he lands on its shores in the year of our Lord 432, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, and soon shapes his course to the northern province, which had been the early scene of his captivity. There he gained a few converts; but it was only from the festival of Easter the following year we may date the glorious era of Ireland's liberation from spiritual bondage. Instead of wasting his time in obscure and unprofitable labours along the extremities, he meditates at once his attack upon the centre, and directs his spiritual thunders against the very citadel of paganism. On Holy Saturday, the day set apart by the Church for the blessing of the fire, a large mass of flame, kindled by the saint on an opposite eminence, is seen from the royal residence at Tara, and the jealousy of the Druidical priests trembled for the reigning superstition. The monarch, who was taught by those artful ministers to connect the safety of his throne with the Druidical worship, was alarmed at the sight of those flames, which were to spread nought but sedition through the land. He, therefore, sets out, accompanied by those who were most skilled in the devices of his craft, in order to extinguish those forbidden fires. They were met by the Saint, with no other arms than the crucifix, who soon convinced them that theirs were the lurid and murky fires, lit by a dire and sanguinary superstition, whilst his was but an emblem of that mild light which came from heaven to dissipate the darkness of sin and death; and in the universal tradition of the country, that when the fire of St. Patrick was kindled, those of Baal went out, we may recognise another truth, that the feeble light of the Magi was eclipsed by the overpowering splendour of his religion. On the following day he was summoned to give an account of the faith that was in him before the assembly of Pagan sages who crowded the monarch's court. Like Moses, he spoke before kings, and was not confounded: all the arts with which the Druids were gifted were put in requisition to rival the wonders which he wrought; but the wisdom of the world was subdued by the folly of the cross; all the powers of superstition gave way before the virtue that went forth from the man of God, and though, like Festus or Pharaoh, the heart of the monarch remained unsubdued, the conversion of numbers on that memorable day, among whom are ranked some of the King's children, attested the triumph of St. Patrick and the discomfiture of his enemies.
Henceforth the progress of the Gospel was rapid and irresistible. In the county of Meath, which was the cradle of the Christian religion, he remained for some time propagating his infant Church, and fortifying it by the establishment of piety and learning. From hence he directed his way to the West of Ireland, spreading the blessings of the Gospel over the country which he traversed. Wherever he went he was received as the messenger of heaven. By his preaching the people were reclaimed from turbulence and immorality; at his interposition rival chieftains forgot their feuds, and left their resentments as a sacrifice at his feet; females in the full enjoyment of youth and fortune were glad to exchange the fleeting prospects of life for the happiness of virginity; and princes gladly resigned their crowns to purchase the promised blessings of religion. From a lofty mountain on the shores of the Atlantic, which still bears his name from being the scene of his penitential exercises, he turns his steps towards the people of the district, now the Diocese of Killala, who were the first to invite him in the vision to come to Ireland. There his spiritual succours were commensurate with the wants of the inhabitants. After appeasing the deadly feuds that raged between the children of the chief, he baptised them, together with twelve thousand people in a running fountain, which still remains as a monument of their immersion ; and in the language of the Psalmist, "We will adore in the place where his feet stood." Ps. cxxxi. 7. I am aware that, like other practices of Catholic piety, this feeling of reverence for the footsteps of the saints has been much misrepresented. But surely it is not necessary to dwell, especially here, on its vindication, surrounded as I must be by generous individuals who have resigned all the solace of their domestic circle to come and meditate among the monuments of those ancient masters whose lofty deeds and ardent language first kindled in their own hearts the like aspirations. Those who would loiter an entire day along the fabled fountain where a benevolent monarch studied those lessons of wisdom by which he subdued a turbulent race to the arts of civilised life; or gladly forego their morning's repast to look for those spots, on which the violation of female virtue was avenged, and utterance was given to those burning appeals to a nation's justice and a nation's freedom, of which the warmth has not been chilled through the transit of ages—men who would cheerfully risk all the perils of distant voyages to visit those fields in which their fancy might behold the spirits of the heroes of Marathon thronging round them, invoked by the Athenian orator, and awakened by the magic of that invocation—yes; those at least who have a heart can understand and for those who have not, preaching is useless, what must be the feelings which burn within the breast of a Catholic when he touches those hallowed spots that streamed with the Redeemer's blood, or were sanctified by His baptismal immersion; or what must be the similar sentiments, though fainter in degree, that must fill his mind as often as he treads over ground which bears the monuments of the benevolent power of Christ's Saints and Apostles? Do we not view with admiration every trophy which a country has erected to those warriors who conquered its enemies and protected its freedom? And are we to evince no gratitude towards those who conquered vice and error, the deadliest of man's foes? Nay, they are deserving of a more heartfelt homage, since such is the vicissitude of war that the glory and the greatness of one country cannot be purchased without a corresponding depression and misery in another, whereas the saints of God are the only heroes whose laurels were never soiled with a single tear, and whose success has not cost mankind one solitary execration.
The northern coast, from Killala to Down, through the intermediate county of Donegal, was the next theatre of his labours. Those who hitherto sat in darkness saw now a great light, and the joyous sounds of mercy and salvation were heard amidst those remote solitudes which were hitherto involved in all the darkness of paganism. Again, from the north, the Apostle turns his steps to Meath, the first scene of his mission, and labours, in the province of Leinster, to enlarge the boundaries of the Church. The trophies which everywhere marked his progress, and the fame that was gathering round him as he went, rendered obedience prompt and resistance fruitless, so that on his arrival in Cashel, the centre of Munster, the monarch of that province, surrounded by his nobles, came forth to greet a conqueror, who, instead of leaving desolation in his path, filled the land with gladness, and was cheered with the blessings of its inhabitants. Not Cashel alone, but various other places in the south, were favoured for some years with the enlivening presence of the Apostle. In short, there was scarcely a portion of Ireland which felt not his joyous influence. Like the Saviour of the world, he went round doing good unto all; monuments of mercy and beneficence long attested the footsteps of the man of God, and the passage of St. Patrick through the land, like the broad and lucid zone which is seen to cross the heavens, could be tracked by the superior brilliancy that streamed along the path which the Apostle had traversed.
Now that the vineyard which was let out to this faithful labourer was reclaimed and cultivated, his solicitude was naturally turned to the means by which it might be protected. For the purpose, then, of modelling the Church of Ireland to the rest of the Catholic Church, which is beautifully compared to an army in battle-array, in the ascending gradation of its hierarchy, from the humblest levite who ministers in the temple to the Supreme Pontiff, he appointed bishops in the different Sees which he established, leaving to his successors in Armagh the authority of Primate, with which he himself was invested, and bequeathing to them all, as a most valuable inheritance, obedience to that See from which his own mission was derived. Never was bequest preserved with more devout reverence; and the tenacity with which the Irish Church has clung to the faith of Peter has been only equalled by the enlightened docility with which it was first adopted. I have passed over the numberless miracles of the Saint, content to observe,with St. Augustine, on the propagation of Christianity, that such an astonishing submission to the yoke of the Gospel, unaccompanied by miracles, would have been more miraculous than the signs and wonders in which St. Patrick was so powerful. Content with the proofs of those miracles, and the piety of its first preachers, the Irish people readily embraced the Christian religion. Its martyrs were reserved for a remoter period ; and the cheerfulness with which those martyrs died for the faith showed how strong and indelible were its first proofs, which the interval of centuries could not weaken. Besides, they kept a steady eye on the source from which that faith was first imparted. There is no example of a national church, having sundered its connection with the chair of Peter, that can resist the storm by which the Church is continually assailed. Firm, therefore, in its indissoluble connection with Rome, the Irish Church resisted every innovation; and if it has risen triumphant over the tide which deluged the faith of other countries, it is because its anchorage was never torn from that rock on which the Church of Christ was erected.
After thus providing for the safety of that Church, which he planted with so much care, the Saint went to rest from his labours in the enjoyment of that reward which his virtues had merited. His obsequies were celebrated with peculiar veneration. From the remotest parts of Ireland the clergy assembled to pay the last rites to his remains. The people mourned for him twelve successive days ; and, in the simple tradition, that during that period there was a continual day without any interval of darkness, we may perceive how brilliant and continuous was the light of the funeral tapers which dispelled the gloom of the night during the melancholy solemnity.
However, the hopes of religion were far from being buried in his grave. The seeds which he had scattered fell on a grateful soil; and not many years elapsed from the death of St. Patrick when the Church of Ireland became one of the fairest and most flourishing portions of the extensive vineyard of Christ. Every province had its colleges and its cloisters, in which the youth of Ireland might spend their time in perpetual vigils round the sacred fire of the temple, or go forth to cast its light and heat into the midst of a corrupt world. Besides Clonard and other schools which arose in the centre of the kingdom, Armagh and Bangor in the north, Cashel and Lismore in the south, Clonfert and Mayo in the west, at once became seminaries of learning, which not only educated the natives of Ireland, but soon attracted by their fame the youth of the Continent who panted for science. Not only were these colleges gratuitously opened to strangers, they were likewise furnished with books and other necessaries for instruction; and, far from relying on legendary lore, or the high-wrought praises of national minstrelsy in this picture of the hospitality and learning of the Irish Church, I am only translating the sober testimony of Bede, who tells us, that such was the confluence of strangers into Ireland, that Mayo was denominated, from the number of its Saxon monks, Mayo of the Saxons. No; it is not to Ireland I shall turn, lest it should become abashed by repeating the echo of its own eulogy. I shall appeal to the people of the Continent, who have been too grateful for the benefits of the faith to conceal the source from which it was derived. To commence with the north.
No scholar is ignorant of the labours of Columba, the Apostle of the Picts, who, from his zeal to multiply the temples of God, has been known by the name of Columbkill, or Columba of the Churches; and though many of the monuments of his piety have been since defaced, his fame still sheds its grateful odour round the hallowed tombs of Iona. From this island, likewise, came forth some of the principal missionaries of Great Britain; and to the zeal of Aidanus and the Irish Monks, the companions of his labours, was the kingdom of Northumberland indebted for the Christian religion. The memory of St. Livinus, who shed his blood for their conversion, is still revered by the devout gratitude of the Belgians. Colman, an Irish saint, is honoured as the Patron of Austria. The episcopal throne of Strasbourg was twice filled by Irish ecclesiastics; nor need I allude to Virgilius, the Bishop of Salzburg, famed for his piety, but still more famed for his persecutions, because his mind had outstripped, in its pursuit of astronomical knowledge, the slow progress of the age. Luxeuil is still associated with the historic monuments of the Island of Saints. Amidst the recesses of the Alps, the memory of St. Gallus is inscribed on the grateful hearts of the Swiss peasantry; and while the confines of France and Germany were preoccupied by more of his countrymen, such was the zeal of St. Fridolinus that he sought fresh ground for his labours by building a monastery in one of the hitherto uninhabited islands of the Rhine. Even Italy herself, the mistress of the world in religion and in arts, as once in arms, did not disdain to participate in the blessings which the Irish Church poured forth with such profusion. The name of Frigidianus is enrolled in the catalogue of the bishops of Lucca. Florence felt the holy influence of the neighbourhood of Donatus; and when I recollect the position of his episcopal seat, I am only transcribing the Scriptural allusion in saying, that he shone like a burning light from the lofty eminence of Fiesole. Far, however, from imitating those systematic absentees, who are forever arraigning the crimes which they inflict, and calumniating the country which they plunder, Donatus never forgot his duties to his country, which distance had only endeared to him; and in lines which a fastidious critic would not find unworthy of a more classic period, the Arno was heard to resound with the just praise of the land of his nativity. Bobio preserves the fame of Columbanus in the depths of the Apennines; and such was the veneration of the natives of the north of Italy for this illustrious saint, that they have associated his name with the topography of their soil. Naples, too, exhibits traces of the holy heroism of our Church; and without dwelling on the circumstance that an Irish ecclesiastic was one of the masters of the illustrious doctor who has filled the world with his fame, the name of Cataldus appears conspicuous among the Bishops of Tarentum. I have thus only glanced at some of the most conspicuous theatres of the labours and the learning of the Irish Saints, since, to dwell on them with more minuteness would require to transcribe a large portion of the ecclesiastical history of the Continent. In short, from the most southern point of Europe to the Wall of Adrian, and from the shores of the Atlantic to the banks of the Vistula there is not one solitary district over which the massive fragments of Irish genius and of Irish sanctity are not profusely scattered; and though a stone should not be left upon a stone in that ill-starred land to tell of the holy men by whom it was once trodden, still, through the luminous and faithful pages of a Bede, a Bernard, a Muratori, a Mabillon, a Tillemont, and a Fleury, the learned scholar may yet view, as in so many mirrors, a strong though imperfect image of the ancient splendours of the Irish Hierarchy.
But no; the Church of Ireland will not, I trust, be obliged to seek among foreign nations alone, the title deeds of its fame, nor be doomed to taste that bitter solace which springs from the consciousness that the source which supplies it is no more. It is deserving of a better destiny, and it is a pleasing reflection that amidst all its calamities its religion promises to be lasting and immortal. Yes, there is something providential in the relation which this insular Church, embosomed in the Western Ocean, has maintained with the nations of the Continent. When the Roman empire, which was destined for the easier propagation of the Gospel, had, on the fulfilment of its end, been consigned to destruction, and law and order threatened to retire from the world, scared by the savage conflicts of the tribes who fought for the fragments of the mighty ruin; when the holy men who survived the shock of one revolution were swept away by another, and the asylums of religion, which stood after one storm, were buried under a more disastrous hurricane; when, in short, amidst the strife of fierce and contending passions, the materials of God's temple were sometimes seen adrift upon the tide, and the few that attempted to arrest its fury were almost ready to sink in the common ruin, exhausted by their unremitting labours: then comes forth a body of men full of all the life and energy with which a youthful faith inspired them, having had just sufficient time to be trained to that discipline which, by detaching man from the cares of life, braces his spirit to that lofty tension of virtue which worldlings cannot understand; at such a critical and perilous juncture are the exertions of the Irish Church called forth to succour the labouring virtue of the Continent; and from the West the dove-like spirit of religion was felt to come across the deep, passing over the dark and troubled mass of a falling empire, and calming, as it passed, the mutinous elements of society. Think you that I speak those things in the spirit of national vaunting? What! shall the earthen or more polished vessels presume to interrogate the craftsman who fashioned them of different materials? No, I allude to those topics rather to teach us humility by showing how the exaltation or depression of Churches, like those of kingdoms, are only instruments in achieving the higher purposes of Providence. I instance them to show how the Churches, like the members of which they are composed, are all knitted together by the spirit of unity; and how, as the Apostle says, they ought to sympathise in each other's sufferings, or rejoice in each other's glory.
It was thus the Irish Church, in the days of its prosperity, extended its relief to its distressed brethren of the Continent, little, perhaps, imagining that in the revolution of human affairs it should stand in need of a reciprocal assistance. I do not allude to the ravages of the Danes. Though their fury was violent it was not artful or systematic, and, like the fiery eruptions of Vesuvius, its traces disappeared in the labour and industry of a few years. Not so with the hostility of heresy; it is more dangerous because more enduring; and when the attempts of violence and storm become frustrated, it has recourse to the slow and insidious process of the mine. Thus it was with the Irish Church. The fury of the Danes passed over it without tarnishing a faith that resembles in its freshness the verdure of the national symbol, the shamrock, that clothes its soil. It was destined to pass through a severer ordeal. Ireland gave the Continent aid against the destructive rage of pagan idolatry. It now sought its assistance against a foe which is always more deadly in its hostility to the Church, because it springs from its own bosom. Never was call more faithfully responded to; and the nations that might have felt the sense of former favours have since nobly cancelled the obligation. I shall not detail, for the detail would be harrowing, all the violence that was offered to the piety and tenderness of the human heart by a code of laws which have had no parallel in the annals of the most sanguinary legislation. Suffice it to say of the Church of Ireland, that "her sanctuary was desolate like a wilderness, her festival days were turned into mourning, her Sabbaths into reproach, her honours were brought to nothing," [I Mac. i. 41] " and the vessels of her glory were carried away captive." Then her priests, who returned from a far country fraught with that knowledge which was made penal in their own land, snatched the fire from the altars of the falling temples and hid it in a valley; and like the tabernacle which was rescued by the prophet from the ruins of Jerusalem, the ark of our religion has been preserved amidst the solitude of our mountains.
Do I allude to those scenes in order to stir up any angry recollections? God forbid! From the lips of a minister of the Saviour of the world no accents but those of charity should fall, and the Church should be always an asylum in which a truce should be given to the passions of mankind. I allude to them in the instructive spirit of the historian of Rome, in order that from the experience of the past, people should draw a lesson for the future, and that those who are still anxious for the pure perpetuity of the faith, should imitate the holy disinterestedness of their fathers. The whole secret of the fortitude of the Irish people lay in the deep-rooted sentiment so well expressed in the language of my text: "We are the children of saints, and look for that life which God shall give to those who never change their faith from Him." Yes, they looked forward to that life which their faith clearly revealed to them, and in the brightness of that vision every other object disappeared. No courtly arts, no crooked intrigues, no cunning schemes of a wily and tortuous diplomacy were suffered to insinuate themselves into their councils. Their purpose was single and straightforward—the preservation of their faith; and compared to this one object every other consideration was valueless. Hence no compromise with a hostile government in the nomination of their chief pastors. For they knew from the history of Alcimus, the unprincipled high priest of Judea, as well as from the present melancholy experience of other countries, that those whose sins should exclude them from the sanctuary would be the most unremitting and successful in their canvass for an appointment to the high places of God's temple. Hence no compromise in the education of their children by suffering them to drink out of those impure fountains formed by the experiments of a chemical theology combining the various ingredients of error in stated proportions. Hence, in fine, no compromise on the part of the priesthood in bartering the affections of their flocks for the gold of the Government, well knowing that the measure was fraught with the Macedonian policy of purchasing by bribes that unconquerable attachment to the country's faith which open warfare was not able to subdue. But like the virtuous Fabricius, they have hitherto rejected the bribe; and like him, they might conduct the diplomatists of corruption into their humble cots to show whether those who could be content with the most homely fare were likely to be seduced into the betrayal of their country's faith or freedom. It was this virtuous poverty and ascetic independence which, like the similar early virtues of Rome, achieved all the triumphs of the Irish Church; and if ever the lust of money succeeds such pious disinterestedness—a curse which may heaven avert— it is then, and only then, like the same Roman state, it shall be seen to verge to its decline. It was by keeping aloof from the contagious atmosphere of kings and courts that the faith of Ireland burned with so much brilliancy, and whoever looks on the contrast between two lamps, the one scarcely winking its dark and flickering flame in the midst of halls laden with the effects of intemperance, and the other streaming its bright and unbroken blaze in the pure air of heaven, will not be surprised at the incessant splendour that has played around the Catholic hierarchy of Ireland. If we wish to transmit to after ages the purity of the faith of our fathers, we must labour to imitate their virtues, and, in order to cultivate those virtues, to follow the same process under which they had thriven. Yes, by keeping aloof from those occasions that are often fatal to its influence, not only will the faith of Ireland be preserved, but likewise those virtues that invariably follow in its train, but principally that virtue of chastity which has exclusively grown out of Christianity, and which may be called the touchstone by the practice or neglect of which you may ascertain its progress or decline: a virtue which has always distinguished in a peculiar manner not only the priesthood of Ireland, but likewise inspired its laity with an instinctive horror for vices to which, alas! a profligate world labours to give currency by opening its fashionable saloons for their admission, but which, like its other noxious reptiles, found death in the atmosphere of Ireland, or were obliged to creep away, shunned and detested, from its soil. Knowing, however, that it is in vain that we plant or water unless God give the increase, we should fervently implore the Almighty that He pour his blessing upon our labours. Let us also implore the intercession of St. Patrick that he continue to watch over that nation to which he has been an Apostle, and to protect the faith which he planted. For, if the friends of Job were required to have recourse to him as a condition of their acceptance with Heaven while as yet he struggled with the temptations of life, it surely cannot be imagined that the friends of God have less influence with Him when their spirits are freed from every earthly dross; or that they have less charity when in contact with the source of charity itself. But recollecting that all the apostles were only the ministers of Him who came to throw down the wall of separation, and to gather into one fold the scattered children of mankind let us endeavour to promote the great object for which they all laboured, by endeavouring to inspire all with the same faith, and animate them with the same charity; that after having enjoyed the happiness of living as children of the same family on earth, we may be associated in the enjoyment of the plenitude of that happiness which we hope to possess in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father. Amen.
T. Mac Hale, ed., Sermons and Discourses by the late Most Rev. John Mac Hale, D.D., Archbishop of Tuam (Dublin, 1883), 148-169
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