Evangaelical, or, a History of the Lutheran Faith in Ireland.

Premise
“Frederick, Elector of Saxony, as a young prince created one of the largest collections of sacred relics in Europe, yet he became after 1517 the patron and protector of Luther. Had Gerald, ninth Earl of Kildare (1487-1534) and Lord Deputy of Ireland, a Luther in his chapel, he might have been equally tempted to follow a reformist path. And if the matrimonial disorder of his monarch, Henry VIII, had not driven that ruler down the path of schism, what curiosities might have been seen in Ireland! In that circumstance a devoutly Catholic English king—already, in 1521 proclaimed Defensor Fidei by a grateful Papacy—could have found himself struggling (with Papal blessing) to expand his power over a ‘wild and heretical people’ in Ireland. In a European comparative framework the undoubted Catholicism of modern Ireland—like the religious character of other parts of Europe—appears a product of its relatively recent past, not some immemorial racial or ethnic character, unchanging and predestined.”


From: Bottigheimer and Lotz-Heumann: “Ireland in the European Reformation.” Early Modern History, issue 4, volume 6, winter 1998.

The premise of this TL is that Gerald FitzGerald gets such a chaplain, in the person of a minor and OTL fairly obscure English reformer named Thomas Bilney. Perhaps the most theologically modest of the English reformers (he favored the Lutheran position on justification, but supported papal authority, trans-substantiation and the sacrifice of the mass as of his death), Bilney fell afoul of Cardinal Wolsey, and was burned for his "heresy". ITTL, however, the intervention of some friends in Cambridge sees him exiled to serve as Gerald FitzGerald's chaplain in 1525 or so. From that point, butterflies will flap madly.

Please post any questions, comments, thoughts on the impact of these developments, etc.
 
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Thanks for the interest, guys. Initial post about the FitzGerald/Bilney relationship hopefully tonight, though I'm slammed at work.

In the meantime, one nugget of interest. Gerald's chief rival among the Lords of the Pale was Piers Butler, Earl Ormond. Butler was pushed out of his earldom by no less a figure than Thomas Boleyn, father of, you guessed it, Anne Boleyn.
 
Introduction.
A History of the Evangelical Church of Ireland: Being An Account of the Origins Thereof, The Great Works of its Hands, Its Suppression at the Hands of Ungodly Forces and the Triumph of the Gospel in the Pale and Beyond, by Columbanus Butler. Bilney College, Dublin, 1858.


Editor's preface to the 1956 edition:



Columbanus Butler was born in 1778, in Ulster, the son of a priest in the church to whose history he devoted his career. Obtaining doctorates in both history and divinity by the age of twenty-six, he was ordained a priest, serving the parish in and around Dublin University, and supplementing his income by lecturing on the history of the Irish reformation and the Evangelical Church of Ireland. Butler was active in Irish politics, standing as a National candidate to the Irish parliament in 1812 and again in 1814. Even for the Nationalists, Butler was considered a conservative, opposing many of what he called the "false and satanic notions of this age which calls itself enlightened". He was not a reactionary by any means; he favored women's suffrage, was sympathetic to the idea of evolution as part of God's plan, and strongly approved of the use of science to "obtain a richer and fuller understanding of God's world". Where Butler came in conflict with many academics, particularly those in Europe and, less so, the American nations, were on the twin issues of deism and higher criticism. Butler believed that the "new birth of atheism", which he saw as dawning from these two developments, threatened to undermine the Christianity of the western world. Thus, in writing his magnum opus, Butler self-consciously places Ireland at the center of Christian history, both European and global, and does so with polemical intent. In Butler's view, Ireland saved Christianity twice before, and in this new age of crisis, Ireland must do so again.



Unlike many historians writing with an agenda, Butler's work does not suffer over much for his emphasis. His pros are clear and lucid, and he paints even the villains of his story: Wolsey, the Boleyns, Mary Tudor, the various parties in the English Wars of Religion, with humanity. His explanations of the impact Ireland's Lutheran reformation had on the broader religious dynamic of Europe is interesting, though some continental scholars might justly accuse him of taking the point to excess. Though he keeps Ireland in the center of his narrative, he is careful to provide a clear explanation of events occurring in the wider world, with particular and welcome attention to political and religious developments in the Americas. No English historian wrote with the level of clarity and objectivity about the first and second Lollard republics as Butler displayed until Bosworth's magisterial history of the subject thirty years ago. Above all, Butler is painstaking in his discussion of the astonishing scope of the ECI missionary enterprise, with an explanation of its rise and effectiveness that is more persuasive than any other account. If his parenthetical asides swiping at other historical schools give him, at times, a decidedly curmudgeonly feel, it is nonetheless balance by the quality of his scholarship.


John Hollands Chatburn, Oxford.



Introduction:



It is commonly believed by many men of learning that Ireland, an island far removed from the concerns of the European mainland, has made but a small impact on the affairs of Europe. Yet, bearing in mind the admonitions of Saint Paul regarding worldly wisdom, it is the object of this work to throw such facile conclusions greatly in doubt. For, indeed, a fair and sober examination of the history of, not merely Europe, but the Christian world entire, shall show that this small island, kept beneath the boot of foreign tyranny though it has oft been, nevertheless has shaped the Christian character of the world in many and various ways, and always with an impact of the most wholesome and beneficial kind. In two eras, it can be shown, Ireland was the very light of the church, a true beacon of the Gospel in an age when men called themselves Christians but forgot the teachings of Christ in a manner most barbarous. The first of these times was in that age called dark by those wise men of enlightenment who take it upon themselves to write histories of medieval time designed primarily to flatter and glorify their own prejudices. For, though much of Europe was darkened by the collapse of cities and the rise of petty barbarian kings educated slightly, if at all, in the teachings of the faith, Ireland shone with the light of the gospel and, not hiding it beneath a basket, brought that light to the lands from whence it came. It was through the efforts of Columba and Aidan, of Columbanus the great and countless others, that the church in northern Europe was planted anew. Such efforts were only halted through the intervention of Rome, which despised the Irish for daring to deviate, even in a small way, from their papist notions. Though these Romans claimed jurisdiction over the Irish church, it is an ancient and venerable tradition among our people that the sources of the Christian faith among the Irish were two-fold. One such source was the mission of Patrick, that British saint who fled the Pelagian heresy of his native land now embraced by Rome itself (1). The second was a body of worthy men from Egypt who, seeking desolate places for their hermitages, traveled to Ireland, establishing here their own unique monastic pattern (2). Thus, it can be asserted that the theological foundations of this primordial Irish church were Augustinian and theology and Cyriline in Christology (3), such that the eventual Lutheranism of Ireland was an outcome providentially for-ordained by God himself.



Of this first great Irish salvation of the church: how Irishmen traveled hither and yon across Europe, founding monasteries, replanting churches, turning kings from wickedness to orthodoxy, and preserving the knowledge and character of the church fathers, much has already been written, and no finer work than that composed by the opening subject of my own, humble history, Thomas Bilney, Bishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland and first Apostle of Lutheranism in Ireland. In his Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, Bishop Bilney argued persuasively all of the points I have summarized briefly above, and though many skeptics and scoffers have attempted to disprove his claims, they provide no evidence save only conjecture that, for example, a people so remote from our own in time would not be capable of travel from Egypt to Ireland, as though trade were entirely a function of the modern enlightenment.



In any event, it is with the second Irish salvation of the true church and preservation of the Gospel, which came in conjunction with the reformation and the establishment of many Protestant confessions and churches in Europe, that this history shall be primarily concerned. In these pages I shall endeavor to demonstrate, as conclusively as Bishop Bilney of Blessed Memory did with regard to the first acts of the Irish church, the indispensable role played by the Evangelical Church in Ireland in both the preservation and propagation of that more perfect Gospel of Christ first preached in Wittenberg. That my reader is familiar, in broad terms, with the contours of the movement begun by Martin Luther, I believe I may freely assume, for even in these benighted times, Luther is still remembered as a great champion of the modern age. What is meant by the “modernity” Luther was said to champion often resembles Luther's actual beliefs no more closely than an elephant resembles a thorn bush, but the tenor of Luther's beliefs: justification by grace alone through faith alone, baptism and the Lord's Supper as means of grace wherein Christ is really and physically present, and the preservation of harmony with the order and teachings of the church fathers in so far as circumstances permitted, has not yet been obscured. How these doctrines came to Ireland, and dug such deep roots in our fair land's green soil that no power of hell nor scheme of man has subsequently dislodged them, I shall, in the following pages, endeavor to explain.


Notes on the Introduction from Chatburn:

1. The Pelagian heresy argued against the notion of original sin and in favor of salvation by works. Here, Butler is following in a tradition, begun by Bilney, of attributing to Saint Patrick an anti-Pelagian tendency. The truth or falseness of this claim cannot be recovered by any surviving writing of Patrick, but it would play a vitally important role in early Irish Lutheran arguments.

2. There is some evidence of, to sight one example, patterns found in Celtic artwork that are also found in Egypt and Syria. It is also true that the style of monasticism found among early Irish monks was much more similar to that found in Egypt than patterns in continental Europe. Thus, the claimed link between Irish and Egyptian monasticism may be accurate, but requires more thorough substantiation. For Irish Lutherans including Butler, this claim of an Egyptian origin for their church was of great importance, as they sought to establish a non-Roman but ancient pedigree for their church.

3. Cyril of Alexandria was the great enemy of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus, and played a role in opposing the doctrine of separation between the human and divine nature. For Lutherans, the claim of a Cyriline element to native Irish Christology was important to differentiate their church from the traditions of Calvin and Zwingli, who denied the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist and, consequently, were seen as crypto-Nestorians by some Irish Lutherans. There is no evidence of a continuous Christological tradition in the vain of Saint Cyril in Ireland.
 
Sorry, most of this is necessary introductory stuff, but there are some nice spoilers there, if you feel like hunting for them.

Next update probably toward the end of the weekend.
 
Although I have to admit my heritage bristles at the thought of a Protestant dominated Ireland, I love this TL so far and am really excited to see where it develops. Also - glad to see a fellow practitioner of the "work spoilers and foreshadowing into a TL in such a way that most people miss it" school :)
 
Although I have to admit my heritage bristles at the thought of a Protestant dominated Ireland, I love this TL so far and am really excited to see where it develops. Also - glad to see a fellow practitioner of the "work spoilers and foreshadowing into a TL in such a way that most people miss it" school :)

If it makes you feel better, it'll be the most Irish Protestantism in the vast alt-historical multiverse of Irish Protestantisms. And, really, Bilney was an extraordinarily moderate Protestant, who will be pulled just slightly Lutherward by circumstances. And also by virtue of not being killed in 1531.
 
If it makes you feel better, it'll be the most Irish Protestantism in the vast alt-historical multiverse of Irish Protestantisms. And, really, Bilney was an extraordinarily moderate Protestant, who will be pulled just slightly Lutherward by circumstances. And also by virtue of not being killed in 1531.

Well, just make sure that it justifies itself with heavy inspiration from the early Irish Church, and we should be fine :)
 
Chapter 1.
Chapter 1. Of Thomas Bilney: His Thought, Character and Preaching, and Arrival in Ireland.


The first and greatest Apostle of Christ to the Irish was Patrick of blessed memory, a man from Britain educated in the Christian faith, who came to Ireland. He taught them all he knew in so winsome a fashion as to unite all Ireland in the grace of the Gospel. Likewise, the truth of the Lutheran reformation came to Ireland at the hands of a man from Britain, educated in Christianity, who fled from the specter of persecution, and brought to Ireland the sweetness of Gospel truth. That man, Thomas Bilney, was born in the north of England, sometime around 1495. His parents were of modest means and he himself was of slight stature, but his intellect and character were of so high a quality that it was inevitable he should find his way to Cambridge. Thence, he received education and ordination, and encountered also the radical sweetness of the Gospel. In the writings of Paul, he found that joyous consolation of grace which, in their time, moved Augustine, Luther, and many doctors of the church. In these days, he seems to have believed this doctrine compatible with Rome, as did Augustine and, in his earliest days, Luther. It was also at such a time that he made the acquaintance of many men that would play a leading role in English Lollardy: Parker, Barnes, Latimer, and many others (1). Whether he knew Tindale, greatest and most controversial of the English Lollards of that time, is lost to history.


In 1525, Bilney was given license to preach in the Diocese of Ely, at which point, he preached many sermons explicating his views on grace, and the inefficacy of mediation by the saints. In such fashion, he came to the notice of Cardinal Wolsey, who saw in him dangerous echoes of the Lutheran doctrine. It was Wolsey's intent to bring Bilney to answer for his views at the Tower of London. According to God's providence, however, men sympathetic to Bilney learned of Wolsey's intent, and made provision for their friend. Through the intervention of Latimer and other Cambridge men, Bilney's perilous position was made known to Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. This same Lord of Kildare was no great friend to Wolsey, finding him too apt to favor the interests of men in Ireland willing to be deferential to the whims of England (2). Thus, Gerald seized the opportunity to vex the powerful prelate, offering Bilney a position as his chaplain. Wolsey found Bilney's doctrine troubling enough that he approached the king, asking him to intervene with Kildare. Henry, however, was unwilling to interject himself yet again into Irish affairs, for the quarrel between FitzGerald and Piers Butler, Earl Ormond, was already roiling the peace of the lands within the Pale. "Let the little priest rusticate in Ireland," Henry told his Cardinal, "for he can do little enough harm there". God, in His infinite wisdom, delights in mocking such vain and foolish pronouncements.


Thus, Thomas Bilney arrived in Ireland late in 1525, and took up his post as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant. This Gerald FitzGerald was, in person, a man of high intelligence and gentle character to his intimates. Yet, in matters political, he was often quarrelsome to a high degree, feuding in particular with his brother-in-law, the afore-mentioned Earl of Ormond. Yet Gerald found the preaching of Bilney "a balm to the soul" and "a source of deep faith and ineffable comfort". Not only did he zealously embrace Bilney's doctrine of grace, the Earl urged upon him the both the spreading of these doctrines in Ireland and a project of biblical translation. Through Bilney's friendship with Robert Barnes, whose connections with continental reformers ran deep, Bilney obtained for his patron a Tindale bible. It was also through Barnes that Bilney himself came in possession of the works of Martin Luther. "It was my intent", he wrote his friend Hugh Latimer "to read the works of the monk from Wittenberg for the purpose of refuting them. Yet, as I read more, I refuted less, and found myself and, still more, scripture, in agreement with them." As yet, Bilney was not ready to call himself a Lutheran, for he hoped for some amendment from the Pope, held still the doctrine of trans-substantiation, and felt Luther unjustified in his call for the abolition of the episcopal and monastic offices. These differences would persist, and in later life, Bilney objected also to Luther's doctrines on the Jews and peasants, though discussion of such controversies must come in a later chapter. Still, Bilney took from Luther both a more robust understanding of the prominence of grace in the New Testament and the conviction that men ought to read and understand scripture for themselves, and in their own language. So it was that, in 1526, he began his great project of translating the Bible into Gaelic.


For Bilney, a gifted linguist, the first task was to learn the new language. This he did with the help of monks from beyond the pale, some of whom possessed manuscripts of great age that told the history of Ireland's church. Even as he hoped to make accessible to those he called the "wild Irish" the fullness of scripture, he also sought to better understand Ireland's primitive Christianity. In due course, his studies of the great age of early Irish mission lead him to compose his Ecclesiastical History.


In the meantime, his second, and perhaps more difficult project was the reconciliation of FitzGerald with his brother-in-law and be'et noir, the Earl of Ormond. What misunderstanding led to the breech between the two is obscured by history, yet that there was a breech, and quite a serious one, is beyond debate. Through careful preaching and assiduous cultivation of both men, Bilney was able to broker a meeting in the late Fall of 1526. After much suspicion and mutual recrimination, a peace was brokered between the two men. Bilney then persuaded both men to draw as many of the clans from beyond the pale as possible to their banners, lest the peace of Ireland should be again disturbed. This process proved painstaking and slow, but was aided by Bilney's Gaelic Bible (3). Many a young Irish priest beyond the pale would read these Gaelic texts, and brought teachings from scripture back to their congregations. By slow and steady increments, then, the Lutheran faith put down roots in Ireland, both among English-speakers and those who spoke Gaelic. The state of affairs stood thus, when Henry VIII launched his fateful Irish campaign of 1529-1530.


Notes from Chatburn:



1. Butler follows a practice common in church historians before this century of making no distinction between Lollards and Evangelicals in England before the disputation of 1535. It was assumed that the pre-reformation Lollards such as Wycliffe were essentially proto-Lutheran in most ways, and that distinctions on matters Eucharistic and ecclesiological were imported from Ireland and Scotland respectively. Subsequent research into Wycliffe has demonstrated that his views more closely echoed Calvin, Zwingli, and the later Lollard movement of the reformation era, and so it is common to call both Barnes and Latimer not Lollard but Evangelical as early as 1520. Cranmer, Cromwell and Coverdale, for example, can be consistently identified as Lollards. For Tindale and Parker, of course, very different circumstances, addressed substantially in this work, make the identification as anything beyond "English Protestant" more complicated.



2. Here, Butler reads his own Irish nationalist prejudices, and subsequent events, back into Gerald's enmity to Wolsey. In reality, the combination of Irish fractiousness and Wolsey's own tendency to distrust any concentration of power not in his own hands probably led to the initial breech. Of course, in antagonizing Wolsey by sheltering Bilney, FitzGerald widened the breech, as Butler demonstrates in chapter 2 of this work.



3. Again, the process Butler describes here is somewhat idealized, as subsequent historical investigation has cast doubt on the notion of reformation, or even pro-Gaelic sentiment as a motivation for the Irish clans in uniting behind FitzGerald. In reality, it was likely as much the unity of the lords of the Pale, substantial financial incentives, and concern over future English actions that led the Irish beyond the Pale to tacitly accept FitzGerald's peace. It should be noted that the Earl of Kildare had not hesitated, in the past, to attack various Irish factions in the name of King Henry before 1525. What may be said with some certainty is that Bilney began to change FitzGerald's own thinking about Ireland, and that the peace established in Ireland from 1527-1529, combined with the subsequent campaign of Henry VIII and Wolsey in Ireland, did much to consolidate the Irish behind the new Gaelic Bible, and Bilney's other ideas. Though sources from the Irish Gaelic perspective are rare before Father O'Toole's Historia Gaelicum of 1563, a few surviving letters attest that it was through meetings with FitzGerald that the Gaelic Bible came to the attention of the Irish, and not the reverse.
 
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This is really fascinating, kudos for taking the ecclesiastical history angle on it. I do wonder what the effects of Lutheranism in Ireland will have on England and if Henry goes through with the creation of Anglicanism this time around. I wonder what the impact on Silken Thomas and his efforts against the King of England this will have.
 
Intriguing though I have my doubts about anyone even Kildare and Ormond persuading the Irish clans and especially the Burke's to stop fighting each other. Also wasn't the Kildare/Ormond feud primarily about who was the First Man of Ireland. It would take some fairly exceptional preaching to get Ormond to ever accept Fitzgerald leadership.
 
Intriguing though I have my doubts about anyone even Kildare and Ormond persuading the Irish clans and especially the Burke's to stop fighting each other. Also wasn't the Kildare/Ormond feud primarily about who was the First Man of Ireland. It would take some fairly exceptional preaching to get Ormond to ever accept Fitzgerald leadership.

On the Irish clans: Butler's reading a lot of his contemporary ideas back into history, in a similar way to the interpretations by some German nationalists of Luther's impact. The reality is that FitzGerald beat several of the clans into submission in the late 1510s and early 1520s, so there's probably a lot of sub-rosa feuding going on about which he neither knows nor cares. Since even the conversion of Ireland to Christianity couldn't stop the clans from feuding, neither would this, but there's an illusion of peace, at least, that could allow later nationalists to draw on the moment as indicative of Irish unity.

On Butler and FitzGerald: while Bilney's preaching does play a role in convincing FitzGerald to try and reduce tensions, Butler had his own reasons. By 1526/27, Thomas Boleyn is starting to agitate for an Irish earldom. OTL, Butler was persuaded to give up the title to Ormond in exchange for another earldom. ITTL, FitzGerald's attitude of conciliation, concern about the Boleyns and his recognition of the opportunities that might come from pulling the Irish church out of Wolsey's orbit have him playing ball, for now. Some historians will also speculate about a genuine religious conversion on Butler's part, though evidence one way or the other is hard to come bye. Finally, the alt-historian I'm using for this is distantly related to Piers Butler, and so Columbanus will go out of his way to make Piers seem sympathetic.
 
This is really fascinating, kudos for taking the ecclesiastical history angle on it. I do wonder what the effects of Lutheranism in Ireland will have on England and if Henry goes through with the creation of Anglicanism this time around. I wonder what the impact on Silken Thomas and his efforts against the King of England this will have.

Glad you're enjoying.

As of 1529 ITTL, Henry is still Catholic, as are the Boleyns. They are pursuing the annulment, as per OTL, and as the next update begins, Henry is starting to get frustrated with Wolsey.

Beyond that, anything I say might spoil things. I will say that the next update will cover a number of English figures: Charles Brandon and his Tudor wife prominent among them.
 
Excellent update! I wonder if some of those Gaelic Bibles will make their way to Scotland? At any rate, the earlier translation of the Bible into Gaelic is going to have some pretty far reaching linguistic effects I'd wager.
 
The King James Bible along with Shakespeare basically defines modern English, the Gaelic Bible complete with the quirks of it's author is going to define Gaelic ITTL.
 
On the Irish clans: Butler's reading a lot of his contemporary ideas back into history, in a similar way to the interpretations by some German nationalists of Luther's impact. The reality is that FitzGerald beat several of the clans into submission in the late 1510s and early 1520s, so there's probably a lot of sub-rosa feuding going on about which he neither knows nor cares. Since even the conversion of Ireland to Christianity couldn't stop the clans from feuding, neither would this, but there's an illusion of peace, at least, that could allow later nationalists to draw on the moment as indicative of Irish unity.

So the various Burke factions are still fighting each other it's just being studiously ignored? That makes much more sense.

On Butler and FitzGerald: while Bilney's preaching does play a role in convincing FitzGerald to try and reduce tensions, Butler had his own reasons. By 1526/27, Thomas Boleyn is starting to agitate for an Irish earldom. OTL, Butler was persuaded to give up the title to Ormond in exchange for another earldom. ITTL, FitzGerald's attitude of conciliation, concern about the Boleyns and his recognition of the opportunities that might come from pulling the Irish church out of Wolsey's orbit have him playing ball, for now. Some historians will also speculate about a genuine religious conversion on Butler's part, though evidence one way or the other is hard to come bye. Finally, the alt-historian I'm using for this is distantly related to Piers Butler, and so Columbanus will go out of his way to make Piers seem sympathetic.

OK so I'm guessing from this King Henry still has the hots for Anne meaning Katherine has still failed to give him a Prince of Wales. I'm guessing if England remains Catholic either the Pope wants to piss off the Hapsburgs or Katherine is going to conveniently die.
 
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