Thurlesianum / Thurles
Plenary Council; 1850 (22nd August - 10th September)
The first national synod since the penal era was held in the cathedral at Thurles Co. Tipperary from 22 August until 10 September 1850. Its decrees were approved by the Holy See in May 1851. The mastermind behind the event was Archbishop Paul Cullen of Armagh, who had returned to Ireland in February 1850 as Primate and Papal Legate. Cullen was transferred from Armagh to Dublin in 1852. Using his legatine authority Cullen held the Synod at Thurles rather than at the national seminary St Patrick’s College, Maynooth because that institution was paid for by the British government and subject to government oversight.
Cullen came back to Ireland from Rome, were he had spent most of his adult life, with a reforming ultramontane agenda. The Synod was intended to be the harbinger of change for the Irish church and it would set the agenda for Catholic life in Ireland well into the 20th century. It occurred as Irish Catholicism was emerging from a long period of mild persecution by the Protestant State. Most of the religious restriction of Catholicism had be rescinded by the time of the legislative union between Britain and Ireland in 1800, but full political rights had been granted as recently as 1829. More particularly it occurred at the end of the great Famine 1845-50 in which one million people perished from starvation and disease and another million left the country many the for United States.
Two great disputed issues faced the synod and they concerned the attitude of the Church to government sponsored education at the elementary and university levels. In all 19 of the 187 decrees of the Synod touched on these issues. The other decrees dealt with almost every aspect of church life from the administration of the sacraments, the life and dignity of priests, the role of bishops and the need for clergy to avoid public disagreements on issues of government policy: De Dissentionibus inter vios ecclesiasticos evintandis. Strangely there were no decrees on priestly training, nuns, or on ecclesiastical courts. The latter were not regularly established until 1927.
It is perhaps best to see Thurles as a culmination of a process that had been going on in the Irish Church for at least sixty years. Bishops had begun to meet annually and in the decades before the Famine there were a series of both provincial and diocesan synods. Many of these did not necessarily conform to canonical norms and it was not until the 1880s that the Holy See determined that all synods needed prior approval from Rome. In 1849, owing to fears of Gallicanism, Rome had refused the bishops of Germany and France permission to hold the type of National Synod over which Cullen presided at Thurles in 1850. It is a testament to Rome’s confidence in Cullen that permission was given to hold the Synod.
One other issue which confronted the fathers (Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Armagh and Apostolic Delegate, Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Slattery, Archbishop of Cashel, John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, Patrick McGettigan, Bishop of Raphoe, John Ryan, Bishop of Limerick, James Brown, Bishop of Kilmore, William O’Higgins, Bishop of Arda, John Cantwell, Bishop of Meath, George Brown, Bishop of Elphin, Michael Blake, Bishop of Dromore, Cornelius Denvir, Bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Kennedy, Bishop of Killaloe, Nicholas Foran, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Thomas Feeny, Bishop of Killala, Charles McNally, Bishop of Clogher, Laurence O’Donnell, Bishop of Galway, Edmund Walsh, Bishop of Ossory, William Delany, Bishop of Cork, John Derry, Bishop of Clonfert, Timothy Murphy, Bishop of Cloyne and Ross, Francis Kelly, Bishop of Titoplitamus coadjutor bishop of Derry, Michael Murphy, Bishop of Ferns, Bernard Durcan, procurator of the Bishop of Achonry, John McEnnery, procurator of the Bishop of Kerry, John MacEvilly, procurator of the Bishop of Kilmacduaght and Kilfinora, Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick O. Cist. Abbot of Mount Melleray) (Secretaries: Dominic O’ Brien, diocese of Waterford, Patrick Leahy, diocese of Cashel, Peter Cooper, diocese of Dublin) at Thurles was the fact that in 1844 the government had legislated the Charitable Bequests Act. Clerical and political opinion was divided as to the benefits of the Act so far as the Church was concerned. In the eyes of some, given the dubious legal status of Catholicism in Ireland, the measure seemed to inhibit charitable donations for the religious, as opposed to the charitable, activity of the Church. Given the extra legal status of Catholic parishes Decree 5 of section VIII of the Thurles legislation stipulated that a bishop must name three or four trustees, including himself, to secure ecclesiastical property ‘Ne ob legis defectum bona ecclesiastica in alienas manus transeant,’ (due to the failure of the law to prevent the goods of the Church passing into other hands.) There was also much concern over mixed marriages. A decree was enacted that from now on a papal dispensation was need for such unions and it was laid down that all children of the marriage must be raised as Catholics. A precept widely ignored.
Without doubt the Synod of Thurles was the most important ecclesiastical gathering in Ireland in the 19th century. From the beginning Cullen was clear that its purpose was to ‘lay the foundation of a good system of Canon law for the Irish Church’. Thurles and its decrees also provided the template for subsequent Irish Synods in 1875, 1900, 1927 and 1956.
QQ: Decreta Synodi Hiberniae apud Thurles.
Lit.: Ahern, Plenary Synod of Thurles; Barry, National Synod of Thurles; Id., The legislation of the Synod of Thurles; Cunningham, Church Reorganization; Larkin, Making of the Roman Catholic Church; Larkin, Emergence of the Modern Irish Political System.
Rafferty, Oliver P.
Rafferty, Oliver P., “Thurlesianum / Thurles: Plenary Council; 1850 (22nd August - 10th September)" in: Lexikon der Konzilien [Online-Version], Januar 2019; URL: http://www.konziliengeschichte.org/site/de/publikationen/lexikon/database/2828.html