The Catholic Church and Revolution

  • Sheridan Gilley
Part of the Problems in Focus Series book series (PFS)


After the death of Daniel O’Connell in 1847, his heart was sent to Rome, where a number of requiems were sung, the most important in the great Church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle, and there a packed congregation heard a two-hour sermon from Father Gioacchino Ventura di Raulica, one of the finest orators of the age.1 For Ventura, O’Connell had united what the French revolutionaries had divided — ‘true religion and true liberty’: for ‘being at once a great Christian and a great citizen, he called religion to his aid in the sublime enterprise of giving liberty to the people’. The time seemed propitious for this reconciliation of ideals: Ventura, disgraced for a time under the rule of the conservative Gregory XVI, was now high in the counsels of the liberal Pio Nono, who was unwittingly to precipitate the revolutions of 1848, when the priests of Paris would all be in the streets blessing trees of liberty. But the mood did not last: the trees of liberty mostly died — poisoned, the anti-clericals claimed, by the holy water. The pope, an exile from the Roman Republic, was to return to his city as the century’s greatest scourge of Liberalism, while Ventura himself fled to France and found a new career as a preacher before the ex-Carbonaro Emperor Napoleon III.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    On Ventura, see the New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14 (New York, 1967) pp. 605–6.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Funeral Oration of Father Ventura on the death of the Liberator, preached at Rome on June 28 and 30, 1847. Translated in full (Dublin, 1847) pp. 7, 17– 18. Ventura took a further hour at another requiem to finish the sermon. I am grateful to Mr David Hall of the Cambridge University Library for a copy of this work, which belonged to Ann Jerningham, of the East Anglian Catholic family. I also wish to thank for assistance with this paper Dr Christopher Wright of the British Library, the National Library of Ireland and the Library of University College, Galway.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On this general theme of religious and national renewal, see Timothy L. Smith, ‘Religion and Ethnicity in America’, American Historical Review, 83 (December 1978) 1155–85. See also Basil Hall in note 7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Owen Chadwick, The Popes and European Revolution (Oxford, 1981) pp. 471–81;Google Scholar
  5. T. C. W. Blanning, ‘The role of religion in European counterrevolution, 1789–1815’, in Derek Beales and Geoffrey Best (eds), History, Society and the Churches Essays in honour of Owen Chadwick (Cambridge, 1985) pp. 195–214.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 6, p. 1096.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Chadwick, The Popes, p. 559.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Basil Hall, ‘Alessandro Gavazzi: a barnabite friar and the risorgimento’, in D. Baker (ed.), Church, Society and Politics. Studies in Church History (Oxford, 1975) vol. 12, pp. 303–56.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Alec Vidler, Prophecy and Papacy, A Study of Lamennais, the Church and the Revolution (1954).Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    J. Derek Holmes, The Triumph of the Holy See (London and Shepherdstown, 1978) pp. 87–8.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    The argument about the relationship of Catholicism and nationalism is best stated, if sometimes overstated, in Patrick O’Farrell’s ingenious Ireland’s English Question: Anglo-Irish relations, 1534–1970 (1971).Google Scholar
  12. On the wider place of Catholicism in Irish life see the excellent short introduction by Sean Connolly, Religion and Society in Nineteenth-Century Ireland (Dundalk, 1985), with a useful bibliography. Also his Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland 1780–1845 (Dublin, 1982).Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Oliver MacDonagh’s phrase on the Clare election of 1828: ‘The politicization of the Irish Catholic Bishops, 1800–1850’, HJ, 18 (March 1975) 43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. MacDonagh defines the ‘jihad’ as ‘conflating the racial, the tribal and the religious appeals’, but he stresses the temporary character of ‘such powdery stuff’ in the context of Catholic emancipationist grievance politics. Yet he has surely defined the underlying emotional current of Irish politics throughout the century.Google Scholar
  15. 12.
    See the survey in Desmond J. Keenan, The Catholic Church in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: A Sociological Study (Dublin, 1983) pp. 178–97.Google Scholar
  16. Crude clerical intimidation has little place in the exhaustive, definitive and sparkling K. Theodore Hoppen’s Elections, Politics, and Society in Ireland 1832–1885 (Oxford, 1984).Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    J. H. Whyte, ‘The Influence of the Catholic Clergy on Elections in Nineteenth-Century Ireland’, English Historical Review, 75 (April 1960) 248. This article is the source for much of what follows.Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    C.J. Woods, ‘The general election of 1892: the Catholic clergy and the defeat of the Parnellites’, in F. S. L. Lyons and R. A.J. Hawkins (eds), Ireland under the Union: Varieties of tension. Essays in Honour of T. W. Moody (Oxford, 1980) p. 319. On the decline of the parish priest as politician, see J. Lee, The Modernisation of Irish Society 1848–1918 (Dublin, 1973) pp. 90–2.Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    So Emmet Larkin argues that the Church in 1922 ‘threw the weight of its power and influence to the side of the constitutional majority… As long as the party in the [Irish] state fulfilled its part of the agreement and was the legitimate party sanctioned by the nation, the Church could in fact do no less.’ Larkin, ‘Church, State and Nation in Modern Ireland’, American Historical Review, 80 (December 1975) 1273.Google Scholar
  20. 16.
    O’Donovan Rossa, quoted by John Newsinger, ‘Revolution and Catholicism in Ireland, 1848–1923’, European Studies Review, 9 (1979) 461;Google Scholar
  21. cited also in Hugh McLeod, Religion and the People of Western Europe (Oxford, 1981) p. 20.Google Scholar
  22. 17.
    J. H. Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland 1923–1979 (Dublin, 1980) p. 9.Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    Thomas G. McAllister, Terence Bellew McManus (1811(?)–1861) A Short Biography (Maynooth, 1972) pp. 15, 21, for much of what follows.Google Scholar
  24. 19.
    ‘A most remarkable and exciting letter from the Rev. Patrick Lavelle, Adm., on the non-reception of the remains of the martyr, T. B. McManus’ … Battersby’s Catholic Registry, entry for 6 November (Dublin, 1862) p. 269.Google Scholar
  25. 20.
    See also on k. Lavelle, D. J. Hickey and J. E. Doherty, A Dictionary of Irish History since 1800 (Dublin, 1980) pp. 298–9;Google Scholar
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  28. Gerard P. Moran, ‘The Land Question in Mayo, 1868–1890’, M.A. thesis, University College, Galway (1981).Google Scholar
  29. 21.
    There is now a large literature on Cullen. See the summaries of his correspondence in Peadar Mac Suibhne, Paul Cullen and his contemporaries. Five volumes of this work have so far appeared (Naas, 1961–77).Google Scholar
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  31. 22.
    E. R. Norman, The Catholic Church and Ireland in the Age of Rebellion 1859–1873 (1965) p. 117.Google Scholar
  32. Norman notes (note 4) the long memory of Moriarty represented by Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy (1961) p. 254.Google Scholar
  33. 23.
    Norman, Age of Rebellion, p. 118.Google Scholar
  34. 24.
    Thus the Fenian John O’Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, vol. 1 (1896) p. 63.Google Scholar
  35. 25.
    Emmet Larkin, The Making of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, 1850–1860 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1980) p. 296;Google Scholar
  36. cf. Whyte, ‘The Influence of the Catholic Clergy’, p. 251: ‘In each diocese of Ireland the priests had a definite esprit de corps, and where several dioceses shared a constituency, rivalry between them was not unknown.’Google Scholar
  37. 26.
    Bernard O’Reilly, John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam. His Life, Times and Correspondence, vol. II (New York and Cincinnati, 1890) pp. 532–3, 545.Google Scholar
  38. 27.
    See ‘Revolution’, in the New Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. 12, pp. 450– 1. The nineteenth-century eclipse of the subject is indicated by the lack of an entry on ‘Revolution’ in the Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1907–14.Google Scholar
  39. 28.
    The Right Rev. Monsignor E. A. D’Alton, History of the Archdiocese of Tuam, vol. I (Dublin, 1928) p. 332.Google Scholar
  40. 29.
    Paul Bew, Land and the National Question in Ireland 1858–82 (Dublin, 1978) p. 10.Google Scholar
  41. 30.
    Lee, Modernisation, p. 120: MacHale had got into ‘bad company’.Google Scholar
  42. 31.
    On Kenyon, see the numerous indexed references in O’Leary, Recollections. Also the numerous references in Norman’s index under ‘Young Ireland priests’, and William O’Brien and Desmond Ryan (eds), Devoy’s Post Bag 1871–1928, vol. I (Dublin, 1948) pp. 14, 97–8, 280–1, 353.Google Scholar
  43. 32.
    Donal McCartney, ‘The Church and the Fenians’, University Review, IV (Winter 1967) 206.Google Scholar
  44. 33.
    Desmond Ryan, The Phoenix Flame, A Study of Fenianism and John Devoy (1937) pp. 137–8. Cf.Google Scholar
  45. The Jesuits mentioned in Leon O Broin, Revolutionary Underground. The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood 1858– 1924 (Dublin, 1976) p. 149.Google Scholar
  46. 34.
    D’Alton, History, vol. 1, p. 332.Google Scholar
  47. 35.
    Bew, Land, p. 133.Google Scholar
  48. 36.
    Ibid., pp. 39–40.Google Scholar
  49. 37.
    Emmet Larkin, The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the Fall of Parnell 1888–1891 (Liverpool, 1979) p. 73.Google Scholar
  50. For the case of another priest involved in a murder, Father McFadden, see Proinnsias O Gallchobhair, The History of Landlordism in Donegal (Ballyshannon, 1975).Google Scholar
  51. 38.
    See James O’Shea, Priest, Politics and Society in Post-Famine Ireland: A Study of County Tipperary 1850–1891 (Dublin, 1983). ‘In the case of the Fenians, similarly, the hostility of the Catholic clergy, as O’SHEA makes clear, was shared by the majority of their congregations, and in particular by the farming population’, Sean Connolly, Religion and Society, p. 39.Google Scholar
  52. 39.
    Norman, Age of Rebellion, pp. 25–6.Google Scholar
  53. 40.
    Oliver MacDonagh, States of Mind: A Study of Anglo-Irish Conflict 1780–1980 (1983) pp. 90–103.Google Scholar
  54. 41.
    O’Leary, Recollections, vol. II, p. 53; cf. vol. I, pp. 218–19, on the Fenian Father O’Flaherty.Google Scholar
  55. 42.
    J. H. Whyte, The Independent Irish Party 1850–9 (Oxford, 1958) pp. 110–23.Google Scholar
  56. 43.
    Larkin, The Making of the Roman Catholic Church, p. 306.Google Scholar
  57. 44.
    Bew, Land, p. 115.Google Scholar
  58. 45.
    Mark Tierney, Croke of Cashel. The Life of Archbishop Thomas William Croke, 1823–1902 (Dublin, 1976) p. 66.Google Scholar
  59. 46.
    Ibid., pp. 93–4.Google Scholar
  60. 47.
    Ibid., p. 91.Google Scholar
  61. 48.
    Ibid., p. 117.Google Scholar
  62. 49.
    O’Brien and Ryan, Devoy’s Post Bag, vol. I, pp. 342, 377–9.Google Scholar
  63. 50.
    O’Leary, Recollections, vol. II, pp. 31–54.Google Scholar
  64. 51.
    Tierney, Croke of Cashel, p. 129.Google Scholar
  65. 52.
    Ibid., p. 123.Google Scholar
  66. 53.
    This is the argument of Emmet Larkin’s two volumes, The Roman Catholic Church and the Creation of the Modern Irish State 1878–1886 (Philadelphia and Dublin, 1975);Google Scholar
  67. and The Roman Catholic Church and the Plan of Campaign in Ireland 1886–1888 (Cork, 1978). See especially the latter volume, pp. xiii– xv.Google Scholar
  68. 54.
    John J. Horgan, Parnell to Pearse: Some Recollections and Reflections (Dublin, 1948) p. 285;Google Scholar
  69. Rev. Professor Francis Shaw, SJ, ‘The Canon of Irish History — A Challenge’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, LXI (1972) 113–53.Google Scholar
  70. 55.
    F. S. L. Lyons, Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890–1939 (Oxford, 1979) p. 86.Google Scholar
  71. 56.
    See, on Pearse, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Patrick Pearse, The Triumph of Failure (1977)Google Scholar
  72. Seamas O Buachalla (ed.), The Letters of P. H. Pearse (Gerrards Cross, 1980).Google Scholar
  73. 57.
    There is some debate about the genuineness of Connolly’s Catholicism. I incline to the view of Bernard Ransom and Owen Dudley Edwards. Ransom suggests that for Connolly ‘marxism was itself a standpoint committed to the realisation of universal values long embodied in the christian conscience’, and that ‘Connolly attempted to bridge the same conceptual gap between scientific determinism and the christian intellectual heritage’, this last remaining with romantic Gaeldom a source ‘of spiritual and ethical values which determinist science could not logically comprehend …’ Bernard Ransom, Connolly’s Marxism (1980), pp. 29, 94.Google Scholar
  74. For Owen Dudley Edwards, the Socialist denial of Connolly’s Catholicism is as ‘sectarian’ as the Catholic denial of his Socialism; in fact, his Socialism was an outgrowth and extension of his Catholicism. Owen Dudley Edwards, The Mind of an Activist — James Connolly (Dublin, 1971) pp. 28–64. Connolly’s anti-clericalism is of course not anti-Catholicism, and it is certainly of great symbolic significance that he died with the last rites of the Church.Google Scholar
  75. 58.
    Cited Lyons, Culture and Anarchy, p. 90.Google Scholar
  76. 59.
    J. H. Whyte, ‘1916–Revolution and Religion’, in F. X. Martin (ed.), Leaders and Men of the Easter Rising: Dublin 1916 (1967) pp. 221–2.Google Scholar
  77. 60.
    David W. Miller, Church, State and Nation in Ireland 1898–1921 (Dublin, 1973) p. 341.Google Scholar
  78. 61.
    Ibid., pp. 357, 391–425.Google Scholar
  79. 62.
    David Fitzpatrick, Politics and Irish Life 1913–1921: Provincial Experience of War and Revolution (Dublin, 1977) p. 138.Google Scholar
  80. 63.
    Ibid., p. 140.Google Scholar
  81. 64.
    Ibid., pp. 140–1.Google Scholar
  82. 65.
    Dermot Keogh, The Vatican, the Bishops and Irish Politics 1919–39 (Cambridge, 1985) pp. 25, 29, 37.Google Scholar
  83. 66.
    MacDonagh, States of Mind, p. 102.Google Scholar

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© Sheridan Gilley 1988

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  • Sheridan Gilley

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