Downfall of Heresy, The
DESCRIPTION: Gladstone, supported by the Queen, has undone Cromwell's proclaimed Church. Salvation comes only through the true Church and not "where every man could preach" following Luther. "The Parson now must emigrate And leave his handsome dwelling place"
EARLIEST DATE: 19C (broadside, Bodleian 2806 b.9(128))
KEYWORDS: Ireland nonballad political
July 26, 1869 - Irish Church Disestablishment Act
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Zimmerman-SongsOfIrishRebellion, p. 99, "A New Song on the Downfall of Heresy" (1 fragment)
Bodleian, 2806 b.9(128), "A New Song on The Downfall of Heresy" ("Good people all attention pay"), P. Brereton (Dublin), c.1867
cf. "Let Recreant Rulers Pause" (subject)
NOTES [1309 words]: Zimmerman-SongsOfIrishRebellion p. 99: "We find many allusions to the 'Wheel of Fortune', an image of the precariousness of things in life..... It provided the Irish ballad-writers with a refrain suggesting the idea of revolutionary changes" and Zimmermann quotes part of a chorus slightly different from the one found here. The Bodleian version is
The lofty wheel is moving round
The side that's up is getting down
A rotten Creed can not be sound
When lost is the foundation
Zimmermann p. 99 is a fragment; broadside Bodleian 2806 b.9(128) is the basis for the description.
Gladstone drafted the Irish Church Disestablishment Act and Queen Victoria intervened in its behalf. The act "ends the legal link between Church and state in Ireland, abolishes the tithe and ecclesiastical courts.... It confiscates the Church's property...." (Source: "26 July 1869 Irish Church Disestablishment Act" on the Channel4.com site) - BS
The Wheel of Fortune, "Rota Fortunae" in Latin, Thompson motif N111.3, truly was famous in the Middle Ages; it was almost an article of faith that fortune could "turn her wheel" and knock down the wealthy and powerful while raising those who were poor and weak. King Arthur was often held up as an example of fortune turning her wheel. For example, take "The Awntyrs off Arthur at the Tarne Wathelan" ("The Adventures of Arthur at the Wathelan/Wadling"), lines 264-272 (this is the numbering of Mills, p.169) or lines 265-273 (so Hahn, p. 186). Guinevere's mother, with the knowledge of those imprisoned in Hell, is speaking to Guinevere and Gawain. The text (in Mill's edition; Hahn's has several substantive differences) reads,
'Yaure king is to covetus an his kene knyghtus;
Ther may no strength him stir quen the quele stondus,
Quen he is in his magesté most in his myghtus,
Then schall he light full lau bi the see sondus.
Thus your chiualreis kynge chefe schall a chaunse;
[Felle] Fortune in fyghte,
That wonderfull quele-wryghte,
That lau will lordis gere light:
Take witteness be Fraunce!
Your king is too covetous, and his keen knights [Hahn: ...covetous, I warn you Sir Knight]
No strength may upset him while the wheel [of fortune] stands [still]. [Hahn's line very different]
When he is in his majesty, at the peak of his might,
He shall fall full low on the sea sands.
And this chivalrous king shall receive his change [=fate].
Fell [Hahn "Falsely"] Fortune in fight,
That wonderful wheel-wright
That law will make lords become light [Hahn "Shall make lords to light"=fall]
Take witness by France!
Chaucer made much use of the image, e.g. in "The Book of the Duchess," "The House of Fame," and "Boece," the latter being Chaucer's translation of Boethius (Rossignol, p. 139; Boethius was one of the major sources of the concept in the Middle Ages). The fickleness of fortune is the entire theme of "The Monk's Tale": "The Monk's tragedies center on the workings of the ancient Roman goddess Fortuna, whose capricious turnings of a great wheel were thought to govern the fates of men" (Chaucer/Benson, p. 930). The tale includes so many instances of fortune turning that the Knight eventually asked the Monk to leave off; it is by no means clear that Chaucer agreed with the Monk, but clearly many did.
Cambridge University MS. OO.7.32 also has a verse on fortune's wheel (Brown, #42, p. 56):
Þe leuedi fortune is boþe frend and fo,
Of pore che makit riche, of riche pore also,
She turneȝ wo al into wele, and wele al into wo,
No triste no man to þis wele, þe whel it turnet so.
The lady Fortune is both friend and foe;
Of poor she makes rich, of rich poor also.
She turns woe all into weal, and weal all into woe,
No man should trust to this weal, the wheel it turns so.
There is a version of this in both French and English from around the year 1325, according to Brown, p. 260, and occur in many manuscripts.
Shakespeare, too, wrote at times about the caprice of fortune (consider "King Lear"!), and at least once refers to the Wheel directly: in Henry V, Fluellen says, "Fortune is painted blind, with a muffler afore his eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is painted also with a wheel, to signify to you, which is the moral of it, that she is turning, and inconstant, and mutability..." (Act III, scene iv, lines 30fff.; p. 952 in ShakespeareEvans).
By 1869, Catholics no longer suffered significant legal discrimination in Ireland (they could own property, join parliament, etc.) -- except in one regard. They still paid tithes to the Anglican church. Not directly -- the Tithe War had taken care of that (see, e.g., "The Battle of Carrickshock"). But landlords were still required to come up with the money. This particular rule was still around mostly because the tithes had supported many otherwise-useless clergy members. The Disestablishment Act did its best to phase them out.
This sounds minor today. It was not minor at the time. Even if you ignore the predictable sectarian complaints, the Protestant Ascendency was written into the Act of Union. British law has a great deal of respect for precedent; this was more like Americans amending the constitution than simply passing a law.
The irony, of course, is that the Act, as it gave greater rights to the majority of the Irish, created grievances among the Protestants. Which would cause trouble later on, since the Protestants no more wanted to be ruled by Catholics than the Catholics wanted to be ruled by Protestants.
We should note incidentally that Queen Victoria was not particularly fond of disestablishing the Church -- though that may be because the proposal came from Gladstone, whom she disliked and strongly disagreed with.
She of course was not the only one. For an example of the Irish Protestant reaction, see "Let Recreant Rulers Pause."
The crack about "rotten Creeds" strikes me as ironic coming from Catholics. The two most important creeds of the Western church are the Nicene Creed (which was actually finalized at the Council of Chalcedon) and the Apostles' Creed (which is not apostolic). The Nicene Creed is of course the most important of all, since it defines the relationship between the persons of the Trinity, and is thus the key to excluding the myriad heresies of Arianism, Docetism, and Monophysitism.
And the Catholics have altered the Creed. As originally adopted, it read that the Holy Spirit "proceeded" (in Latin, procedit) from the Father (Bettenson, pp. 25-26). Period. End of story.
In the Catholic church, the Latin word "filoque," "and the Son," has been added, so that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND THE SON (Clifton, p. 103). This "filoque clause" is generally said to have been inserted in the creed by a council at Toledo in 589 (Christie-Murray, p. 97).
Since no one really claims to know what it means for the Holy Spirit to "proceed" from the Father, or from the Father and the Son (none of this has any basis in the Bible, and the Council of Nicaea was trying to find a formula which would be somewhat vague and so avoid causing fights; Christie-Murray, p. 48), it is obviously possible to argue for either position. But the version without "filoque" was agreed by the entire church, Catholic and Orthodox both. It was the Catholics, and they alone, who changed it -- one of the myriad reasons why the Catholic and Orthodox churches cannot heal their schism, now almost a millenium old. And, of course, Catholic theology gives the Vatican the right to change the result of a church council at any time. But any external observer would have to say that it is the Catholics who had corrupted the Nicene Creed.
What's more, the Anglican church adopted much Catholic credal language.
On the other hand, the reference might, I suppose, be to the Book of Common Prayer, which might be considered a very long creed, which the Catholic church would not accept. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.2
- Bettenson: Henry Bettenson, editor, Documents of the Christian Church, 1943, 1963 (I use the 1967 Oxford paperback edition)
- Brown: Carleton Brown, editor, English Lyrics of the XIVth Century, Oxford University Press, 1924
- Chaucer/Benson: Larry D. Benson, general editor, The Riverside Chaucer, third edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1987 (based on F. N. Robinson, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, which is considered to be the first and second editions of this work)
- Christie-Murray: David Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy, Oxford, 1976
- Clifton: Chas S. Clifton, Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, 1992 (I use the 1998 Barnes & Noble edition)
- Hahn: Thomas Hahn, editor, Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1995
- Mills: Maldwyn Mills, Ywain and Gawain, Sir Peryvell of Gales, The Anturs of Arther, J. M. Dent/Everyman, 1992
- Rossignol: Rosalyn Rossignol, Chaucer A-Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Works, Facts on File, 1999
- ShakespeareEvans: G. Blakemore Evans, textual editor, and others, The Riverside Shakespeare, Houghton Mifflin, 1974
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