Inaugural Foreword of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, October, 1864

Cardinal Cullen was close to Pius IX and authored the draft definition on the dogma of papal infallibility at Vatican I

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, established by Cardinal Paul Cullen in 1864, will be familiar to every serious student of the modern history of the Irish Catholic Church, for no other publication better reflects the internal temper of the flourishing, self-confident Irish Catholicism that existed from the post-Famine era right up until Vatican II. The Record embodied a forceful mix of unimpeachable orthodoxy, a high degree of literary skill and scholarly articles on theology, liturgy, Church affairs, international issues, literature, philosophy, history and Irish social and economic conditions. I have always found this distinguished journal a delightful read, and it significantly influenced my thinking. The Maynooth theologian Walter McDonald (1854 – 1920) reckoned it was the only European theological journal to remain entirely untinged by the spirit of modernism. (Fr McDonald is most famous for his fascinating but scandalous Reminiscences of a Maynooth Professor – which had to be published posthumously – but he also founded the more liberal Irish Theological Quarterly in 1909, which, although terminated after his death, was successively revived in 1951 and continues publishing to this day.) The Record‘s neo-scholastic orientation had become something of an anachronism in the iconoclastic post-Vatican II era and it ceased publication in December, 1968 (ostensibly because of commercial difficulties). The fact that Cardinal Cullen’s Record has vanished while Fr. McDonald’s Quarterly lives on is a sad metaphor of both the subsequent revenge of repressed early 20th-century modernism and the dramatic transformation of Irish Catholicism since 1962.

The following is the opening foreword from the inaugural issue of the Record from October, 1864. (Note how it seems so pertinent to our time!)

“Christian is my name, Catholic my surname”, said one of the early Fathers, when he wished to give an adequate description of his religious belief. In the same way, the name and surname of this publication sufficiently indicate its character and scope. First of all, it is Ecclesiastical, by reason of its subject matter, of the class which it addresses, and of the sanction under which it appears. Next, it is Irish, because, to the best of its humble ability, it is intended to serve the Catholic Church of our native country. Father Segneri tells us in one of his sermons, that in his day men used to flock to the religious houses in Italy, eagerly asking: “What news from Ireland?” Those were the stormy days of the latter half of the seventeenth century. How often, on such occasions, in the cool cloisters of Roman colleges, where he had spent so much of his blameless life, was the name of Archbishop Plunket pronounced by the old friends to whom his worth was so well known! How many a listener went straight out from such conferences to pray for his stricken brethren of the suffering Irish Church! At that time the trials, the wounds, the sorrows, the triumphs, the hopes of Irish Catholics were the subject of many a discourse, the anxious care of many a heart. Today all this is changed in great part. No foreign preacher nowadays would allude to his hearers’ widespread interest about the Irish Church, as one of the signs of the times. And why? Not because due allowance made for changes our country has become less interesting; for surely our Catholicity, in the bloom of its second spring, is not less remarkable than it was when torn and beaten to the ground by persecution. And if fraternal love made our distant brethren look sorrowfully over the sea upon our Church when in ruins, surely the same love would teach them not to turn away their eyes from us now that we are once more setting in fair order the stones that had been displaced. Brothers share each other’s joys as well as each other’s sorrows. The reason of the change is, that Irish Catholic intelligence does not find its way abroad. There is much to be said about the Church in Ireland, there are many anxious to hear it, but there is no messenger to bear the news. It is not, perhaps, too much to say, that there is less known abroad about the state of the Irish Church in these days of telegraph and railway, than there was when Dr. Plunket had to borrow a name under cover of which to write to the internuncio, and when Irish news was not thought out of place among the Epistolae Indicae et Iapanicae of the Jesuit Fathers. The Irish Ecclesiastical Record will endeavour to meet this want. It will give some account of the necessities, the progress, the efforts of the Irish Church. Facts of Ecclesiastical administration, Episcopal letters of general interest, various documents that go to make up the history of a Church, shall find their place in its pages. By these means we shall have at hand a ready answer, when we are asked what are we doing in Ireland. Otherwise, our silence is likely to be taken as an admission that we have nothing to show worthy of the Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum.

Besides, as the world goes on, history is ever repeating itself, but with a difference. In Father Segneri’s time the Catholics of Italy asked after the news from Ireland; now it is our turn to ask: “What news from Rome?” Then the Head was tenderly solicitous about the suffering members; now the members are troubled for the perils of the Head. This being the case, it is intolerable that modern journalism, with its lies, clumsy or clever, should be teachers of Pontifical history to the Irish Clergy. The sheep should hear the very voice of the Chief Shepherd, and not the distorted echo of that voice. We want no unfriendly medium between us and our Holy Father’s words as they run in his Allocutions, Briefs, Decisions, or in the responses of the Sacred Congregations. It will be the privilege of the Record to publish from genuine copies those documents, which, if left to hostile or indifferent channels, might otherwise either be cast away as useless or mutilated in the carrying. In addition, we shall give from time to time Roman Intelligence of general interest to the Clergy. A distinguished German scholar has lately said that the candlestick of theological science has been moved in our days from its primitive seats, and that upon the German mind has devolved the charge of becoming the principal support and guardian of theological knowledge. We do not share this view. The science of Theology being supernational in its nature, although at a given date it may flourish more in one country than another, can never become the special property of any. In Rome, above all, and in Italy generally, in Belgium, in France, in Spain, in America, as well as in Germany, much is being done for Theology. The literary and scientific labours of Catholics in all these countries ought to be better known amongst us. Surrounded by a literature which, non-Catholic at its best, is fast losing all colour of Christianity, we have need to profit by all that modern research has anywhere contributed to the Catholic solution of the great questions of which the age has been so fertile. Nor is Catholic Ireland without her own proper treasures to give in exchange for what she receives from abroad. Not to speak of the actual labours of Irish Divines in Theology and History, it may be said that few Churches are so rich as ours in remains of ecclesiastical antiquity of the highest importance. A catena could be formed from the unpublished writings of Irish Fathers so complete and so full, that scarcely a single dogma of faith or practice of religious life would be left outside the circle. Fresh researches will every day bring new treasures to light, and the application of sound critical principles will teach us to estimate at their true value those already in our possession. These remains have been scattered over many countries, but pious hands are even now bringing them together once more. The Record will tell how the work of restoration progresses, and give from time to time some of the more valuable documents to the light.

The Record would thus be, in some degree, a link between the clergy of Ireland and their foreign brethren. It would likewise serve as an organ for direct communication between the Priests of Ireland themselves. We have, no doubt, many excellent Catholic newspapers and periodicals which are of material service to our holy religion. But it is quite true, nevertheless, that ecclesiastical subjects cannot well be treated of in publications devoted to general literature. Liturgical decisions, rubrical questions, remarkable cases, points of theology, notices of books treating of clerical or pastoral duties, Christian archaeology, if they can gain admission to their pages at all, look strangely out of place in the midst of an indiscriminate gathering of the changing topics of the day. Besides, the general reader might complain, were too much space given in such works to the discussion of new phases of Protestantism or infidelity, to accounts from the Foreign Missions, to the claims of Catholic Education; whilst the clergyman would regret to find his letter or paper on some ecclesiastical matter cut down to a size altogether out of keeping with its importance. In one word, the Catholic Clerical body requires a special organ for itself. This want has been felt in Italy, in France, in Belgium, in Bavaria; and in all these countries the clergy now have a publication exclusively devoted to what concerns their sacred calling. We have abundant assurance from many quarters that these periodicals are esteemed as of great advantage to the clergy. Today the Irish Ecclesiastical Record takes a humble place among them, content to do even a little in so great a work. We are confident that it will receive the sympathy and support of our brother Priests of this country; for the feeling that has called it into existence is a feeling that lies close to the heart of every one amongst us, namely, a true love for the Catholic Church of Ireland.

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Posted on September 2, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Habemus Papam!

    Great to see a new entry in your blog ‘Lux Occulta’ on the day the Church has a new Pope, who who, I pray will be filled with the Evangelical Simplicity and effectiveness of a St Francis Assisi, the Missionary zeal of a fellow Jesuit St Francis Xavier and the sublime holiness of that other Jesuit saint, St Francis Borgia, who by his goodness and holiness succeeded in transforming a corrupted age and in rehabilitating a family name which had been much besmirched by scandal and sin.

    I am very proud of my Irish ancestry, so it was a delight to read this entry and to be reminded of the importance of prayer for the Irish church that she might once more show the light of Christ to the world and again be, for the whole world, a land of Saints and (orthodox) scholars.

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