Recently, in preparation for my yearly treatment of the subject of March 17, I was re-reading the very first article I wrote on the subject, five years ago. It was a fiery, if a bit immature, nationalist appeal to abandon the green in favour of sombre blue and black in repentance of the violence that has been done to Irish culture because of our drunken, debauched, disgusting “celebration” of this holiday on the American continent. Then, recently, a friend pointed me in the direction of IrishCentral.com, “the largest Irish site in North America,” a site full of all the nostalgia and nationalism that is found throughout most of the half-educated Irish diaspora. While the site itself is full of vulgar Americanisms that infest the whole Irish diaspora on this continent—one fellow who refuses to attend the “Paddy’s Day” Parade in New York (to which I said “hurrah!”) because his kid doesn’t get to see any gays (to which I said “...what?”), and an article on the “Irish-American Hall of Fame” (one of several, it turns out) that includes buffoons like Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews as exemplars of our race—one article nevertheless gave me pause in light of my first piece on S. Patrick's Day.
|Fr Luke Wadding, OFM|
It is the history of Fr Luke Wadding, which the article presents as another in a long line of Irish priests who mixed prayer and politics but failed to organise the stubborn Irish masses in a national struggle against Protestant persecutors. It would make brilliant television. The article prompted me to do a little bit of historical research of my own and found the priest to be a great deal more admirable than the man described by IrishCentral.
Luke Wadding was born to a wealthy Waterford mercantile father in 1588. His (maternal) uncle was the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland (S. Patrick's own See)—about whom a word ought to be said. Named for the famous author of the Libri Quattuor Sententiarum, better known as the Sentences, which some readers will recognise as the textbook of the Medieval Papal church, Archbishop Peter Lombard spent practically no time at all in Ireland. Appointed to the See of Armagh, he recognised the dangers posed to him due to the English penal laws and refused to go. He was famously the personal enemy of James I, who attacked him at length in Parliament, and made himself and enemy of Charles I by writing a particularly venomous denunciation of the King from the safety of Rome. He is nevertheless quite famous as a leading contributor to the Irish Counter-Reformation, largely due to his catechetical works on the Sacrament of Penance and an early appeal to James I for Irish religious rights. In Rome, he was close to Pope Gregory XV (r. 1621-1623), and was appointed to preside over a commission investigating Jesuit activities in India, where he grew close to Robert Bellermine, now a saint on the Roman calendar. Ulster Catholics held him in somewhat lower esteem—considering him a coward for not occupying his See, they found their religious life directed by a Munster bureaucrat, the Bishop of Ossory, whom they detested.
Fr Wadding, therefore, already had the support of both great wealth and that age-old fixture of Roman nepotism (here in the truest sense—his benefactor was his uncle). He, too, spent most of his time outside of Ireland—he entered the Franciscan Order in 1607 in Matosinhos, Portugal, was ordained a priest in 1613 by the Bishop João Manuel of Viseu, and appointed President of the Irish College at the University of Salamanca in 1617, before being appointed Chaplain to the Spanish Ambassador at Rome the following year (Bishop Antonio Trejo de Sande, also a Franciscan). His meteoric rise was not all money and favour, however—he had a marked gift as a catechist and a teacher. During his time at Rome, he organised funds for S. Isidore College—a school specifically for the education of Irish priests (which opened in 1625). He would be rector of the college until 1635 (when he was obliged to hand it over to the Ignatian order) in addition to being appointed Procurator of the OFM in Rome. He was a prolific author—aside from his 8-volume magnum opus, the Annales Minorum (the standard work on the Franciscans for centuries), he also edited and published editions of famous Franciscans like Duns Scotus and Francis of Assisi, making him the author or editor of some 36 volumes altogether in both Greek and Latin. His greatest unfinished work was a planned edition of Annales Regorum Hibernensis (Annals of the Kings of Ireland).
In addition to this great learning and love of his church, which the IrishCentral article omits entirely, his closeness to the Irish cause is what makes Fr Wadding worth mention on this occasion. His nationalistic leanings have already been hinted at in the founding of S. Isidore’s, but his real connexion to the nationalist movement came in 1641, when he, in league with Archbishop Giovanni Rinuccini, attempted to send arms and money to the Irish Catholic Confederation. Many of the students at S. Isidore participated in the conflict, and the school earned a reputation as a hotbed of Irish nationalism well into the 19th century—Abp. George Errington reported in the 1860s that the seminarians of S. Isidore’s made many of the most extreme secular Irish politicians appear conservative.
|Seal of the Irish Catholic Confederation|
He was so well-beloved by the Confederate cause that they petitioned the Pope to promote Fr Wadding Priest-Cardinal, but, to his great credit, the Franciscan used his contacts in Rome to prevent the petition from reaching the desk of Urban VIII (r. 1623-44) and it was not found until years later in the archives of S. Isidore’s. The Catholic Encyclopedia goes as a far as to call him “the official representative and indefatigable agent in the Roman Curia of the archbishops and bishops of Ireland,” adding that “the Holy See took no measure of importance concerning that country without consulting him.” Really, it’s amazing that IrishCentral didn’t directly appeal to this text, since it is practically a nationalistic hagiography. I have added emphasis to some sections:
“He procured letters from the Holy See to the Catholic powers of Europe to enlist their sympathies and secure their aid in favour of the Irish war. In 1645 he prevailed on the new pope, Innocent X, to send another envoy to Ireland, with the powers and dignity of an Apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Rinuccini being sent. On his departure from Rome the nuncio received from Wadding the sum of 26,000 scudi towards the Irish cause. Wadding sent him a similar sum the year after through Dean Massari, to mention only some of his contributions. Great was the interest now evinced in Irish affairs at the Roman Court. The tidings of O'Neill's victory at Benburb (5 June, 1646) caused much rejoicing; a solemn Te Deum was sung in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, and the standards taken in the battle, being sent out by the nuncio, were hung as trophies in the cupola of St. Peter's. Innocent X, through Wadding, sent is blessing to Owen Roe O'Neill and with it the sword of the great Earl of Tyrone.”
No greater celebration of the Irish victory was celebrated even in Ireland. It should be little surprise, then, that the most enduring legacy of Fr Wadding is his successful appeal to the Pope to insert the Feast of S. Patrick, long remembered in the local Irish Church, into the General Roman Calendar, therefore making it a Feast of the Universal Church. This had much to do with the number of his students at S. Isidore’s who returned to Ireland and were martyred—each year the dead, and the plight of Ireland in general, would be remembered with tremendous solemnity on the Feast of S. Patrick at S. Isidore’s. Among his many rôles in Rome, Fr Wadding was fortunate enough to have been appointed to a commission for the reform of the Breviary (now the Liturgy of Hours), and in this capacity convinced the other commission members to support him in his petition to set aside a special liturgy for S. Patrick on March 17.
Reportedly, contemporaries considered him a candidate to the Papacy itself in the conclaves of 1644 and 1645. While this information cannot be substantiated, and he was not a cardinal, it speaks to his reputation both at Rome and among his fellow Irishmen that such rumours even existed. The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes its article by reporting that his death in 1657 “was that of a saint”.
It strikes me as especially ironic that a pedestrian group like IrishCentral should seize upon Wadding as the “origin” of the “Irish holiday” of S. Patrick’s Day, when in reality his contribution was quite the opposite. Saint Patrick was already celebrated in Ireland and, clearly, among the Irish abroad—Wadding had nothing to do with this at all. Far from linking the church at Rome with the Irish nationalist cause, Wadding was responsible for making the Irish struggle against England a Catholic struggle—giving it universal significance in the Papal church. Some might argue that he robbed the Irish Confederate Wars of their national significance by attempting to turn it into a proxy war between the Papal church and her hated enemies among the English parliamentarians—thus making the chief crime of Cromwell the regicide of Catholic-friendly Charles I, not the genocide of the Irish people. The bitter irony is that the Irish Confederates kept the fight more Irish than Catholic through their in-fighting and jealousy, losing the entire war and creating the conditions of Cromwellian genocide.
Following this line of argument, I see an especially appropriate analogy to draw here between the obstinacy of the Irish Confederates who kept their war about Irish nationalism and therefore lost it and those who maintain the fight for S. Patrick as a national icon. Fr Wadding offers us an exemplar of the way S. Patrick ought to be remembered—as a Saint of the Universal Church, who brought Ireland into the Church, not as a national figure who brought the Church to Ireland. The Irish Confederates refused to put down the green banners of jealousy, to repent of their arrogant contests for fame and power and instead to take up the cross as one front against radical English republican aggression—for this, they were beaten, and Ireland ravaged by the cruelty of the Parliamentarians. Likewise, today, Irish nationalists of the diaspora jealously cling to S. Patrick as their emblem, and by refusing to distance Irish identity from him, allow both his memory and Irish identity to be desecrated, defiled, and defamed every March.
It is time to learn a lesson from the mistakes of our ancestors, and to embrace the humility of our faith instead of the pride of our race—and if an Irishman would not keep S. Patrick’s day in a church alone, he ought not keep to it at all, for what we celebrate on the Feast of Saint Patrick, if it is not the Cross which Patrick proclaimed, is the heathenry he denounced, and we become the snakes, the villains, and the desecrations of Ireland. Every pint of beer becomes a gallon of venom, every shamrock the sign of the Beast—the green is no longer the lushness of pastures but of rot and decay, the orange the blood of the martyrs on our hands. For just as Fr Wadding wished all to see the Christian spirit of Saint Patrick, making S. Patrick’s Day a celebration of the Cross, so the Enemy of Mankind loves nothing better than Paddy’s Day, for it is precisely the inverse of all things good, all things noble (lat. patricius), all things Christian, and all things Irish.
|S Patricie Hibernensis|
Ora pro nobis