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are within the circles of our duty, when we teach our people to decline the crooked ways, and to walk in the ways of Scripture and Christianity.
But, we have observed, amongst the generality of the Irish, such a declension of Christianity, so great credulity to believe every superstitious story, such confidence in vanity, such groundless pertinacity, such vicious lives, so little sense of true religion and the fear of God, so much care to obey the priests, and so little to obey God; such intolerable ignorance, such fond oaths and manners of swearing, thinking themselves more obliged by swearing on the mass-book, than the four gospels, and S. Patrick's mass-book more than any new one; swearing by their father's soul, by their gossip's hand, by other things which are the product of those many tales are told them; their not knowing upon what account they refuse to come to church, but now they are old and never did, or their countrymen do not, or their fathers or grandfathers never did, or that their ancestors were priests, and they will not alter from their religion; and after all, can give no account of their religion, what it is only, they believe as their priest bids them, and go to mass, which they understand not, and reckon their beads, to tell the number and the tale of their prayers, and abstain from eggs and
flesh in Lent, and visit St. Patrick's well, and leave pins and ribands, yarn, or thread, in their holy wells, and pray to God, St. Mary and St. Patrick, St. Columbanus, and St. Bridget, and desire to be buried with St. Francis's cord about them, and to fast on Saturdays in honour of our lady. These and so many other things of like nature, we see daily, that we, being conscious of the infinite distance, which these things have from the spirit of Christianity, know that no charity can be greater than to persuade the people to come to our churches, where they shall be taught all the ways of godly wisdom, of peace and safety to their souls: whereas now there are many of them that know not how to say their prayers, but mutter, like pies and parrots, words which they are taught, but they do not pretend to understand.
But I shall give one particular instance of their miserable superstition and blindness.
I was lately, within a few months, very much troubled with petitions and earnest requests for the restoring a bell, which a person of quality had in his hands in the time of, and ever since, the late rebellion. I could not guess at the reasons of their so great and violent importunity, but told the petitioners, if they could prove that bell to be theirs, the gentleman was willing to pay the full value of
it; though he had no obligation to do so, that I know of, but charity: but this was so far from satisfying them, that still the importunity increased, which made me diligently to inquire into the secret of it. The first cause I found was, that a dying person in the parish desired to have it rung before him to church, and pretended he could not die in peace if it were denied him; and that the keeping of that bell did anciently belong to that family, from father to son: but because this seemed nothing but a fond and an unreasonable superstition, I inquired further, and at last found, that they believed this bell came from heaven, and that it used to be carried from place to place, and to end con- . troversies by oath, which the worst men durst not violate if they swore upon that bell, and the best men amongst them durst not but believe him; that if this bell was rung before the corpse to the grave, it would help him out of purgatory; and that, therefore, when any one died, the friends of the deceased did, whilst the bell was in their possession, hire it for the behoof of their dead, and that, by this means, that family was in part maintained. I was troubled to see under what spirit of delusion those poor souls do lie, how infinitely their credulity is abused, how certainly they believe in trifles, and perfectly rely on vanity, and how little they regard the truths of
God, and how not at all they drink of the waters of salvation. For the numerous companies of priests and friars amongst them take care they shall know nothing of religion, but what they design for them; they use all means to keep them to the use of the Irish tongue, lest, if they learn English, they might be supplied with persons fitter to instruct them; the people are taught to make that also their excuse for not coming to our churches, to hear our advices, or converse with us in religious intercourses, because they understand us not, and they will not understand us, neither will they learn that they may understand and live. And this and many other evils are made greater and more irremediable by the affrightment which their priests put upon them by the issues of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, by which (they now exercising it too publicly) they give them laws, not only for religion, but even for temporal things, and turn their proselytes from the mass, if they become farmers of the tithes from the minister or proprietary, without their leave. I speak that which I know to be true, by their own confession, and unconstrained and uninvited narratives; so that as it is certain that the Roman religion, as it stands in distinction and separation from us, is a body of strange propositions, having but little relish of true primitive and pure Christianity,
(as will be made manifest, if the importunity of our adversaries extort it); so it is here amongst us a faction, and a state party, and design to recover their old laws and barbarous manner of living, a device to enable them to dwell alone, and to be populus unius labii,'' a people of one language,' and unmingled with others. And if this be religion, it is such a one as ought to be reproved by all the severities of reason and religion, lest the people perish, and their souls be cheaply given away to them that make merchandise of souls, who were the purchase and price of Christ's blood.
Having given this sad account, why it was necessary that my lords the bishops should take care to do what they have done in this affair, and why I did consent to be engaged in this controversy, otherwise than I love to be; and since it is not a love of trouble and contention, but charity to the souls of the poor deluded Irish: there is nothing remaining, but that we humbly desire of God to accept and to bless this well-meant labour of love, and that, by some admirable ways of his providence, he will be pleased to convey to them the notices of their danger, and their sin, and to deobstruct the passages of necessary truth to them; for we know the arts of their guides, and that it will be very hard that the notice of these things shall ever be