Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter IV.

The Captain’s opinions on Tithe matters.—Testimonies in favour of Tithes from the Old Testament.—From the Heathens.—From the Gospel.—From the Fathers.–Civil Right to Tithes.

As Ecclesiastical matters very early attracted my attention, and have formed a considerable part of the business and glory of my existence, I shall not, I trust, be thought to digress unseasonably, in devoting a few pages to the interesting and lively subject of Tithes.

In the practical part of Tithe affairs, I am (thanks to my Reverend antagonists, and the bellum sacrum that has been so long waged between us) tolerably conversant. But I have also, during those intervals of learned leisure, which a compulsory residence in some of his Majesty’s strong places has afforded me, made researches into the history and antiquities of Tithes—with a few of the results of which I shall, as briefly as possible, acquaint the reader.

By most of those writers who have argued for the Divine Right of Tithes, the quarrel between Cain and Abel is considered to be the first Tithe-case upon record—so that bloodshed appears to have been an ingredient in the transaction from the very first.

In a Penitential written for the direction of Priests in Confession, about the time of Henry VI., the Priest, in his advice “upon the point of Tithing,” thus refers to this precedent:—“Afterward, Adam had two sonnes, Caine and Abell. Abell tithed truly, and of the best; Caine tithed falsely, and of the worst. At last, the fals tither Cayn slough Abell, his brother; for he blamyd him, and seyed that he tithed evil. And wherefore our Lord God accursed Cayn, and all the erth in his work. So ye now see that fals tything was the cause of the first manslaughter that ever was.”

Other Reverend antiquarians have gone still higher, and assert that Adam himself was the first tithe-payer. In mentioning this wise opinion two hundred years ago, Selden said, “I think that in the time of this light of learning, none have durst venture their credits upon such fancies.” But, if Selden had lived in the beginning of the nineteenth century, he would have found a much more adventurous spirit of absurdity; and in an “Essay on the Revenues of the Church of England, &c. by the Reverend Morgan Cove, D.C.L. Prebendary of Hereford, and Rector of Eaton Bishop,” he would have read the following passage:—“Nor does there remain any other method of solving the difficulty, but by assigning the origin of the custom (of Tithes), and the peculiar observance of it, to some unrecorded revelation made to Adam, and by him and his descendants delivered down to posterity.”

It has been asked, to what parish church Adam paid his tithes? but the Reverend Mr. Cove has not yet returned an answer.

In general, however, the Tenths paid to the Levites are the scriptural precedent upon which a claim to Tithes is founded,—in other words, a ceremonial of the Jewish Law, which, together with the other ceremonials of that Law, was set aside by the Gospel, and which the Jews themselves no longer practise, is considered by a Christian Priesthood good and sufficient authority, for taking a tenth part of the produce of all England and Ireland unto themselves. If the early Fathers may be accused of Judaizing, what shall we say to this more modern Levitism?

Let it be remembered, too, that, though the Jewish ordinance enjoined the payment of Tithes to the tribe of Levi, within the land of Canaan only, these Reverend antiquarians do not at all the less gravely quote it, as applicable to their own peculiar parishes and purposes—and some Reverend Mr. O’Flaherty (who is not of the tribe of Levi), and who dwells in Ballynakilty, which is not the land of Canaan,) may yet, perhaps, at this moment, be quoting Leviticus and Deuteronomy, to prove to the Ballynakiltians his sacred right, to the tenth ridge of every miserable potatoe-crop within his reach.

If authorities from the Old Testament are to be cited, the best prototype of Tithe-takers (at least, of Irish Tithe-takers) is to be found among those sons of Eli, in Samuel, who struck their flesh-hooks into the pots and pans of the people, and “all that the flesh-hook brought up, the Priest took for himself.”—who said, “thou shalt give it me now, and if not, I will take it by force;” and who at last, by their rapacity, brought these priestly dues into such disrepute, that “men abhorred the offerings of the Lord.”—1 Samuel, ii. 14.

Not content with Jewish authorities, the Reverend writers in defence of Tithes have condescended to call in even Pagans to their assistance; and inform us, with much complacency, that not only the Greeks and Romans, but the Arabians, Ethiopians, Phoenicians, &c. were all most strict and exemplary tithe-payers.

Hercules, it appears, was a considerable receiver of Tenths; and if he was also his own Collector, practised as I am in skirmishes with Proctors, I should hesitate, I own, before I encountered so formidable a Tithe gatherer.

The story of Cacus, stealing away the flocks of Hercules*, is, no doubt, an allegory, prophetic of the loss which the Irish Clergy sustained, in having the Tithe of agistment of Cattle taken from them by the Irish Parliament. The character, indeed, given of Cacus by Virgil, represents the Parliament of that penal period, to the very life—

At furiis Caci mens effera, ne quid inausum,
Aut intractatum sceleris dolive fuisset.

The circumstance, too, of Cacus pulling the cattle by the tail may possibly allude to the method of ploughing by the tail, so long practised in Ireland:—

Aversos cauda traxit in antra boves;

but this I throw out merely as a suggestion.

We are next presented, by these classical clergymen, with an association between Poets and Tithe-holders, which is as unexpected as it is edifying. From the lucubrations of the Reverend Mr. Cove and others, it appears that Apollo, also, was so much in the receipt of this kind of dues, that one of the epithets by which he was distinguished was δεκάτῃφόρος, the Tithe-bearing, or, as Selden more fancifully renders it, “crowned with Tithes”**.

This, no doubt, is the secret of that inspiration, which has made the Church sofertile in good poets at the present day—and, if the Tithe-crowned Apollo could always boast such votaries as Crabbe, Bowles, Crowe, Milman, and Croley, even Captain Rock would bow the knee to him in homage, and acknowledge his Tenth Muse to be worth almost all the other Nine.

When we add to the above classical examples of Tithing, that of the Tenth allotted by Juno to the Priests of Cybele, for the trouble they took in teaching Mars to dance, we shall have done full justice to the argument in favour of Tithes, derived by Church Divines from the religious institutions of the Heathens.

We come now to the Gospel authorities for this practice—and here, at least, we might expect to find its Reverend advocates, armed with such texts in support of their claim, as would at once reduce us to reverential silence; and justify the assertion of Archdeacon Coxe in a late pamphlet, that Tithes “are derived from such a high and sacred source, as no believer in revelation can speak of without respect.”

But, no—on the contrary, all here is silent. Neither from the lips of the Divine Founder of Christianity himself, nor from the pen of any of his disciples has there fallen a single precept, enjoining the payment of Tithe to any class of priesthood whatever. Out of this sacred region, therefore, I may hurry without another word—happy to find it unmarked by a single foot-print of the Tithe-gatherer, and only regretting that my Reverend antagonists should, by seeking authority for their worldly-mindedness in such sources, make it necessary for unhallowed feet like mine, to follow them so near the confines of all that should be most holy and unapproachable.

*According to some accounts (Halicarnass.) Hercules himself first spent the Tenth of what he took from Cacus, in a jolly feast with Evander and his companions—from whence (says Dionysius) originated the offering of Tithes at the altar which they raised to him.

This jolly method of spending the Tithes is still preserved in Ireland most classically.

**The famous courtezan, Rhodopis, used to send annually the tithe of her earnings to Delphi; where, doubtless, the venerable priests of the temple defended the sacredness of the due with all proper spirit—pronouncing every man an atheist, who dared to question or even smile at it.

This singular sort of Tithe was not confined to Heathen Church establishments, but, like all other profitable practices, found its way also into the Christian church. “Some Canonists,” says Hume, “went so far as to affirm that the Clergy were entitled to the tenth of the profits made by Courtezans.”

In the same manner, though not with the same reverential feelings, I shall pass over the testimonies to Tithing cited from the Fathers—those convenient authorities, whose folios have always served as a sort of spare bolsters to Theology, to be placed wherever an occasional support was wanting, and then thrown aside when the purpose was served. Thus, for instance, if Origen, in the simplicity of his benevolence, refuses to believe in the doctrine of eternal punishment, he is instantly and indignantly pronounced a heretic, a blasphemer, and even disseised of his Saintship for a notion so abominably charitable. But, if the same Origen should recommend, (as he does in one of his Homilies) that First-fruits and Tenths should be duly paid, he is then the very “top of judgment,” and is quoted by Archdeacon Coxe and brethren, with all the reverence which an opinion so clerical and orthodox demands.

The brief sum, however, of this part of the History of Tithes is as follows. It was not till the fourth Century that this mode of providing for the Clergy was introduced into the Church; and, even then, the Priest was entitled but to a third part of the Tenths, the remaining two portions being appropriated to the repair of Churches and relief of the Poor. In the course of time, however, the Priest contrived to monopolize all to himself*, and from that moment the struggle between the Laity and the Clergy began—the former paying reluctantly, or not at all, and the latter cursing them with all the flowers of Church eloquence, in consequence.

The following specimen of the style of malediction used on those occasions, will serve to show what a kindly feeling this Jewish custom was the means of introducing into the Christian Church:—“Siquis autem haecomnia non decimaverit, praedo Dei est, et fur et latro, et maledicta quae intulit Dominus (tw) Cain non recte dividenti congeruntur.”

Not only disputes, but bloodshed followed in the wake of this new Tithing system—and the Danes put their king, Knout the Fourth, to death, for no other cause, than having attempted to impose it upon them**.

*About the year 1200, we find Pope Innocent III. complaining bitterly of those who were so ungodly, as to pay their Tenths away from the Church to the Poor. “Graviter ergo peccant,” says his Holiness, “qui decimas et primitias non reddunt sacerdotibus, sed eas pro voluntate sua distribuunt indigentibus.”—SELDEN.

**It is not improbable that the Danes gave my ancestors some lessons when they were in Ireland—as the Danish mode of dealing with Tithe-owners resembles our own treatment of Proctors most closely. Under King Waldemar the First, when the Clergy threatened to discontinue their functions, unless Tithes were paid more regularly than heretofore, the People answered that they must either do their duty, or quit the country; otherwise (in the true Rock style), “non solum rerum amissionem, sed membrorum etiam truncationem demorarentur.”

Let us now see whether the Civil Right, on which the Clergy rest their claim to Tithes, is bottomed on grounds more tenable or respectable.

The most ancient law concerning this right in England was made by Offa, King of Mercia—who, having murdered under his own roof, Ethelbert, King of the East Angles, who had come to sue for his daughter in marriage, invested the Church, by way of atoning for this bloody violation of hospitality, with a legal property and inheritance in Tithes.

Such is the origin to which the Clergy themselves refer for the first establishment of Tithes as a Civil right in England—and it is thought by them, at this day, a sufficient reason, for taking a fifth or fourth of the rental of all England, that king Offa, in the year 753, could not sleep easy in his bed, without making a present of the Tenth part of his domains to the Clergy.

He was followed by another pious patron of the Church, King Ethelwolf—who, being alarmed by threats of fresh invasion from the Danes, consulted his Clergy as to the most efficacious mode of propitiating heaven and averting the calamity. The Clergy recommended Tithes, as a specific in all such cases; and King Ethelwolf, improving on the piety of Offa, who had given them but a Tenth of his own domains, made over to them that proportion of the produce of the whole kingdom—by the blessing of which donation, as well as of three hundred marks annually to the Pope, for the purchase of oil for the lamps at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, he got rid of his Royal panic about the Danes, found Tithes, as he says in his Charter, “beneficial to the health of his soul”*, and, like Swift’s generous country-gentleman, who, out of his great bounty, Built a bridge at the expense of the County, saddled posterity with the payment of his “soul’s health” for ever. “Thus” says the Reverend Mr. Cove triumphantly, “were the Saxon Clergy endowed** with a legal, hereditary, and permanent right and property in Tithes, by which their successors have ever since holden them, and by which they are as fully entitled to and possessed of their tenth parts, as all proprietors of lands are of the other nine.” That is to say, King Ethelwolf gave to the Church—not the Tenth part of any actual estates or possessions, for here lies the fallacy under which Tithes are represented as Property***—but the Tenth part of what King Ethelwolf did not then possess, and therefore could not grant away, namely, all future profits and increase upon lands, arising from the labour and skill of husbandmen yet unborn****—or, in other words, a mortgage without equity of redemption, upon the industry of all future English farmers, for ever. This too, because King Ethelwolf was in a fright about the Danes, and thought the only chance of safety, for either his soul or his body, lay in filling the pockets of the Priests of England with money, and the lamps at St. Peter’s at Rome with oil.

*The same generous motives are professed by King Stephen, in his confirmation of these Grants.—“For the salvation of my own soul, and the souls of my father and mother, and all my forefathers and ancestors, &c.” In like manner, in the year 852, “Raginer, Duke of Lorraine,” says Selden, “gave a whole town away to the Abbey of Vito in Verdun, with the appurtenances and all the Tithes of the Land, for the health of his own soul, and the souls of his wife, children, and parents.”
Most expensive, to be sure, were the souls of Kings and Dukes in those times. But why, in the name of common sense, should England be the only country that continues paying for them still?

**The author of the Article on Ecclesiastical Revenues, in the last Quarterly, No. 50, well aware that this alleged origin of the right of tithes, is, though sufficiently royal, not very reputable, has endeavoured to get rid of the two Saxon inonarchsaltogether—and prefers seeking the source of all Ecclesiastical property in certain grants of private individuals, which, he yet acknowledges, “it is impossible to prove by any existing documents.” It would have been wiser, like Dr. Cove, to hold fast by Offa and Ethelwolf. Besides, the objection to a right of bequeathing away the results of future labour, skill, expenses, &c. lies, in principle, as strongly against the private individual as against the monarch. “If Tithes,” says an honest Quaker, who has written very sensibly on the subject, “be the Tenth of the Profit or Increase of the Land, and they that settled Tithes were actually seised of them in Law, then surely they could settle no more than they were actually seised of, and they could be actually seised of no other profits or increase, than what did grow, increase, or renew upon the land while they were actually seised of it. So that such settlement, how valid soever while they lived, must expire with them.”

***It is amusing to observe how the word Property, as applied to tithes, eludes the grasp of definition. “This property,” say some of the Reverend claimants, “doth not belong to either the Person or the Office apart, but the Property belongs to the Person as qualified by holy orders, and put into actual possession by institution or induction.” To this Ellwood, the quaker already quoted, answers:—“If the property doth not belong to either the Person or the Office apart, what becomes of the property when they are parted? where resteth the property when the office is void? Doth the property cease? They had best have a care of that, for that will shrewdly endanger their title.”

In a late Manifesto of the Irish Church, entitled “The Case of the Church of Ireland stated,” the difficulty is got rid of by considering every individual Parson as a Corporation in himself “Besides aggregate corporations, there are others called sole, as consisting at a given time of a single individual. By the act of incorporation, these legal persons, like the former, are exempted from mortality, and invested with rights as perpetual as their existence. Such is the King, who, to the Constitution never dies. Such too is the Parson of every Parish.”

The King and the Parson!—The vast “importance of a man to himself,” so happily illustrated in “the Memoirs of P. P. Parish Clerk,” is also strikingly exemplified in every page of this Reverend Champion.

****“A perpetual grant of Tithes implies a grant not only of other men’s stocks, in which the granters had no property, but of other men’s labour, skill, diligence, and industry also, long before they were begotten; upon which supposition all men but Priests, since Ethelwolf’s time, must be born slaves, under an obligation to employ their time, pains, industry and skill in working for the Priests.”—Ellwood, Foundation of Tithes shaken.

My Reverend opponents answer (in the same spirit with which a Priest of Delphi would have defended the Tithe of the fair courtezan, Rhodopis) that it matters not what were the character or motives of the donor—that the grant has been made, and a right thereby instituted, which, whatever may be the consequences, “ruat coelum,” cannot be recalled. Where, then, are all the other wise grants and imposts of that enlightened period—the Peter’s-pence, the Church-scot, the rich endowments of monasteries and churches, most of them bestowed for the same laudable purposes, namely, the health of such souls as Offa’s and Ethelwolf’s? where is all this sacred property now? where all the charters, deeds, seals, &c. by which it was ratified? Gone to the moon-to that repository of things lost on earth, where Astolpho found the Deed of Gift from Pope Silvester to Constantine, and where I see no earthly or heavenly reasons why the Charters of Offa and Ethelwolf should not join them.

In fact, till the time of Henry VIII, there was no effective statute law, to enforce the payment of Tithes in England. The Church had, it is true, for centuries before, brought into play the whole battery of decrees, canons and curses, for the purpose of establishing a right to these dues; but the people had never, either by themselves or their representatives, consented to such an encroachment on their property*. The exaction of Tithes, therefore, under the authority of Papal decrees, was in no respect different from the rest of those pious robberies, which his Holiness, the Pope, was in the habit of committing on all the high-ways of Europe. It is singular enough, too, that Reformed England should now be almost the only country in the world, where this truly Papal impost is still retained.

“Apud Anglos (says Gesner) hodie disputatur adhucan Decimae sint res juris divini. Nostri Principes in Germania sunt sapientiores; illi abrogarunt eas.”

To the Acts, therefore, of the 27th and 32nd years of Henry VIII. the Clergy can alone refer for a legal right to Tithes—and to all the sacredness which the Laws of Henry VIII. can confer on their claims, they are fully entitled.

But the sweeping alienation into lay lands, not only of Tithes, but of all other sorts of Ecclesiastical property, both under this monarch in England** and James VI. in Scotland—and the confirmation by Charles I. in the latter kingdom, of the titles of those Parons, who had plundered the “Spirituality” of the Church, sufficiently show how little sacred, in any sense of the word, this species of property has been held even by those, to whom the Clergy look up as their Supreme Heads.

The Ecclesiastics of Scotland, previous to the Reformation, engrossed, in one form or another, half the landed property of the country, and their Tithes alone are said to have amounted to one fourth of the rents of the whole kingdom. Yet, now, so little scruple has there been in getting rid of this obnoxious burden, that they no longer exist in Scotland, as a contribution of the produce

of the land; but, assuming the form of a fixed rent, leave the farmer his whole crop to manage as he likes, and the minister his whole time to devote to works of peace and usefulness—no fear of severance to interrupt the labours of the one, nor any decimal calculations to disturb the devotions of the other.

I have thus hastily, but to myself satisfactorily, exposed, the futility of those claims as well divine as civil, which my Reverend Antagonists set up to an inviolable property in Tithes. I shall, in a future Chapter, lay open some of the machinery of the Tithing system—particularly as brought into operation in Ireland, and as connected with the interests and prosperity of my own family there.

Like a physician, who writes a treatise upon the diseases by which he lives, without any fear of losing practice by his exposure of its diagnostics, I shall freely point out all the ravages of this Ecclesiastical malady, without much dread of being superseded in my manner of treating it, or of being doomed. to idleness by any radical removal of the complaint. The perusal of Mr. Haslam’s Work on Insanity, has never, that I know of, prevented any gentleman, so disposed, from going mad; and I shall not be surprised to hear of Mr. Wetherell, rising from the perusal of this very Chapter of mine, to state gravely in the House of Commons, that “Tithes are a sacred vinculum between the Clergyman and his parishioners, and possess a certain noli me tangere quality about them, which makes it necessary to leave them in statu quo, and go on paying them in saccula sacculorum***.

*See “Reply to Archdeacon Coxe on the subject of Tithe Commutation by John Benett, Esq. M. P.”—a pamphlet, which shows how easilyan intelligent country-gentleman may foil even an Archdeacon at his own weapons, and assert the supremacy of good-sense over the vain pretensions of learning.

**“In the Act of 32 Henry VIII,” says Antony Pearson, “Tithes are called Spiritual Gifts; and there, of impropriate Tithes, sold after the Dissolution, it is said they are now made Temporal; and, before that time it was never heard that tithes were called a Tem, poral Right.”—Great Case of Tithes.

***A faint imitation of this gentleman’s learned style of speaking. May I venture to recommend for his perusal the Diatribae of Bishop Montague on Tithes, where he will find specimens of this tesselated style, almost equalling his own? For instance:—“Scilicet, you are gallinae filius albae in your own opinion. But had erat illa Helena, good master Selden, not as you mistake the matter.”

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