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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

There is a paragraph in that part of the Book of Armagh known as the Book of the Angel, in which the writer speaks of ‘The Special Reverence due to Armagh, and the Honour (or prerogatives) of the Prelate of that City.’ They are worth noting, if not exactly as the authentic canon law of the Church of Ireland, still as the expression of what the prelates and clergy of Armagh believed and claimed as of right for themselves and the Royal City of St. Patrick, in virtue of his primatial jurisdiction.

I. Now this city has been constituted by God supreme and free from all service (libera); and it has been specially dedicated by God’s Angel and by the holy apostolic man, Patrick the Bishop.

II. By special privilege, therefore, and by the authority of the chief Pontiff, its founder, it is the head (praeest) of all the churches and monasteries of the Irish without exception. Furthermore, it ought to be venerated in honour of the greatest of the martyrs, Peter and Paul, Stephen, Laurence, and the others (whose relics it contains). How very great then is the veneration and honour due to it by all.

III. But, more than this, it is to be venerated on account of that priceless treasure which it possesses by a secret arrangement, namely, the most precious Blood of Jesus Christ, in the linen winding sheet, together with the relics of other saints preserved in the Southern Church, where repose the bodies of the holy pilgrims from afar beyond the sea, together with Patrick and the other holy men.

IV. Wherefore, in consequence of this, its aforesaid preeminence, it is not lawful to set up as co-ordinate with it the authority of any church of the Scots, or of any prelate, or abbot, in opposition to its ruler (heredem); yea, rather its authority is rightly invoked even on oath against all churches, and the rulers thereof, whenever real necessity may require it.

V. Again: Every free church and city of episcopal grade throughout the whole Island of the Scots, and every place which is called Domnach (Dominicus) appears to have been, through the mercy of God, founded by our holy Doctor, and, according to the word of the Angel, ought to be under the special jurisdiction or custody (societate) of Patrick the Bishop, and the comarb of his city of Armagh, because, as we have said above, God granted the whole Island to him.

VI. Again: We ought to know that any monk of any church, if he returns to Patrick’s Church of Armagh, does not break his religious vow, especially if he devote himself (to the service of Patrick) with the consent of his former abbot.

VII. Wherefore, no one is to be blamed or to be excommunicated if he go to the church of Patrick through love of him, because he it is who will judge all the men of Ireland in the last terrible day in presence of Christ.

The Liber Angeli then recounts the privileges of the prelate of Armagh on his primatial visitations. It is headed:—

CONCERNING THE PREROGATIVES (HONORES) OF THE PRELATE OF ARMAGH, WHO OCCUPIES THE SEAT OF THE CHIEF PASTOR.

I. If the aforesaid high priest shall come in the evening to the place where he is to be received, one refection fit for the comfort of the visitors to the number of a hundred shall be supplied, together with forage for their horses, not to speak of entertainment for the strangers, and the sick, and the nurses of the foundlings, and others, whether good or bad.

And if anyone shall refuse to furnish the aforesaid prelate with this hospitality, and close his doors against him, he shall be compelled to pay by way of fine the price of seven handmaids, or do seven years of penance.

Moreover, if anyone shall despise or profane the consecrated relics of the Saint, that is, of Patrick, he shall pay twofold for the injury done. But if the contempt was shown to the relics or insignia of other saints the fine shall be two cumals—that is, the price of two handmaidens to be paid to the Heir of Patrick, the holy Doctor.

Furthermore: Whosoever, of malice aforethought, shall inflict any wrong or injury on the religious family or diocese of Patrick, or shall despise his insignia, shall come for trial before the just tribunal of Patrick, which will investigate the whole cause without regard to any inferior tribunal whatsoever.

The last of these Armagh Canons is by far the most important, because it shows that no matter how much they were intended to extend the prerogatives of the primatial See, they still recognised the papal supremacy as of superior binding force in Ireland, as was elsewhere explained.

The extracts given above show very clearly that St. Patrick and his comarbs were regarded, at least in the 8th century, as possessing a primatial jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland, and he certainly claimed and exercised the same himself. Throughout the Confession he speaks of the Irish as a people whom he had won for God at the end of the world, and in the opening of the Letter to Coroticus he professed himself to be, however unworthy, the divinely appointed Bishop of Ireland. No man ever had a better right to the title and the jurisdiction it involved than St. Patrick had in Ireland. He was sent to preach to the Irish by the Pope; he converted them to Christ by sixty years of incessant labour; he ordained, practically speaking, all the priests and bishops in Ireland; so that he had every claim to be regarded as supreme in his jurisdicdiction over the whole country. As it is expressed in the Book of the Angel, he was Apostolic Teacher and Chief Guide of all the tribes of Ireland, and, therefore, it was said he also obtained from God the privilege of judging all the men of Erin on the last day.

Fiacc also recognises expressly that the spiritual sovereignty of all the land resided in Armagh, just as the temporal sovereignty was at Tara; and Sechnall in his Hymn truly says that the Irish Church, of which God had made him the Apostle, was built on Patrick, as the Universal Church is built on Peter. And, so far as we can judge, no Irish ecclesiastic ever questioned this primacy of Patrick’s See down to the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion, and it was then for the first time questioned, not by Irishmen, but by Englishmen, for their own purposes.

Neither was it in those days a mere primacy of honour. It was a real primacy of jurisdiction, as set forth in the Book of Armagh, involving (a), the right of visitation; (b), the right of appeal; (c), the right of tribute. During periods of violence the exercise of these rights might remain for a time in abeyance; but we have ample evidence that the ‘Law of Patrick,’ that is, the right of tribute and visitation, was recognised and exercised in all the provinces of Ireland except Leinster. We find no express reference to any visitation of the churches of Leinster by the Primate or his representative, which was probably due to the almost constant state of warfare that existed between Ulster and Leinster, so that it was unsafe for the Primate to venture into that province. But even there the right was recognised, and the venerable Gelasius presided as Primate at the Synod of Clane in the year 1162.

Another striking proof of the recognition of the primacy throughout all Erin is derived from the fact that Brian Boru himself, from Mogh’s Half, solemnly recognised Armagh as the seat of the primacy, and laid his offerings on the altar of the great Church in recognition of that primacy. We know also, from the testimony of St. Bernard, that Celsus, in virtue of his primatial authority, appointed a second archbishop in the South of Ireland, although the appointment could not at the time be deemed canonical until the new archbishop was recognised by the Pope and received the pallium, as he afterwards did, at the Council of Kells.

We need not here refer to the subsequent claims to the primacy set up by the English prelates of Dublin. Even though they obtained some title thereto from the Crown, such title would, of course, be uncanonical, except in so far as it was sanctioned by the Pope. When the rival claimants afterwards, at different times, referred the matter to Rome, the decision was always in favour of the successors of St. Patrick. He alone was recognised as the ‘Primas,’ the first of all the prelates in Ireland, for many centuries both in honour and jurisdiction; but, in later times in Ireland, as elsewhere, it has become merely a primacy of honour.






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