established two churches under a single government. But in 1712 a Tory majority in the British parliament was able to pass the Scots Toleration Act which permitted public worship by Scottish episcopalians, provided their clergy took the oaths of obedience to the reigning monarch and abjuration of the Stuart claimant. The Act met with strong Presbyterian opposition in Scotland. The Toleration Act was followed immediately by the Patronage Act which restored ecclesiastical patronage to lay owners of livings, many of whom were episcopalians. When local congregations or presbyteries resisted the installation of patron's candidates into parish livings, the General Assembly felt obligated to instruct the presbyteries to install them according to the civil law. By the 1720s, patrons were becoming aggressive, abuses increased, and opposition to what many perceived as the General Assembly's growing power and influence eventually became the catalyst for the first theoretical defences of religious liberty in Scotland. Dissent in these circumstances took the form of Presbyterian secessions from the established church, but because the seceding congregations posed no political threat, no civil sanctions were pressed against them.

With the Church of Ireland comprising only about 10 per cent of the population, Ireland presented the anomalous situation of a minority religious body established by law. Protestants in Ireland were not happy with William III's lenience towards Catholics, and when they gained the upper hand in the mid-i690s, anti-Catholic legislation banished Catholic bishops and clergy living under rule. The confiscation of Catholic property followed in stages, and when combined with the denial of education, the franchise, and office-holding, these laws soon reduced Catholic political influence in Ireland to insignificance.14 A flood of immigrants from Scotland in the 1690s meant that by the beginning of the eighteenth century Presbyterians in Ulster were more numerous than Anglicans. To address this situation, a Sacramental Test for office-holding was imposed by the Irish House of Commons in 1704 in terms almost identical to the English Law. About the same time, the legitimacy of Presbyterian marriages came under attack by the Church of Ireland, leading to prosecutions and even occasionally to prison sentences.

In i705 the Synod of Ulster, the highest ecclesiastical court for Presbyterians in the north of Ireland, enacted a measure making subscription to the Westminster Confession compulsory for licentiates to the ministry. Toleration in Ireland was not connected to subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles as it was in England, and the subscription issue was an internal matter within Presbyterianism. The leader of Irish Presbyterian anti-subscription sentiment, John Abernethy, preached a sermon in 1719 entitled 'Religious obedience founded on personal persuasion' and thereby provoked a controversy among

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment