[From Ellan Vannin, 1895]



The expression "Manx Reformation" does not often occur in Manx history; it is once used by Bishop Wilson where he states that it came later than the English Reformation. The full transition meant by the words has, however, taken place, for there was once a period of mediaeval Papal darkness. and there is now an era of evangelical light.

The primary blow to Manx Popery was in 1422, when the ecclesiastical barons were disestablished and disendowed who refused their homage at Tynwald to the lord of the Isle, the rest submitting, and the civil authority made supreme over the ecclesiastical. Between 1521 and 1594, as the course of legislation shows, it is evident that the Derby rule was not unwilling to see changes both in doctrine and ritual. The annexation of the diocese to the province of York in 1542 favoured right tendencies; though it seems premature in Bishop Merrick, in 1577, to state that there was universal conformity to the formularies of the Church of England, while in 1594 it was still necessary to forbid prayers for the dead and other Popish practices. In 1660 mention is made of the Book of Common Prayer as part of the Church service and as enforced by a Commission appointed by the ruling Earl. An official letter from the Archbishop of York to Bishop Hildesley urged greater freedom from Popish observances, and public feeling began to demand further reformation. Yet the silent flow of events had been favourable. There was substantial release from Papal supremacy, and Romish practices were for- bidden. The Prioress of the Nunnery had, in 1538, ventured on marriage, In 1569 a married clergyman (Salisbury) became Bishop. The restrictions on the marriage of the clergy were removed in 1610. In 1688 it was reported by the Bishop that the people were " nothing inclined to Popery," though the view was too sanguine, for several of the old Popish customs had been retained. Not until 1736 was the Spiritual Court abolished, with its fines, imprisonment, and excommunication. Religious liberty and the rights of conscience were denied until late in the Reformation movement ; and the shadows of the old system lingered over clerical ministration. The great doctrine of the Lutheran Reformation-justification by faith in Christ-had not risen upon the island. But the movement gradually increased in power; steps were initiated for a Manx translation of the Scriptures ; and in 1775 the Methodist revival gave to the Reformation its full development in the preaching of the Gospel. In the progress of things, a lectureship against Popery was endowed at St. George's Church, in Douglas.

There were reasons for this slowness in the Reformation. Manx Romanism does not seem to have been of an earnest type. There was no leader in the Reformation as in the method of Reformers elsewhere. There was not the conviction to produce martyrs, nor the hostility which the martyr spirit awakens. The tide slowly rose, without the storm, from 1422 to 1775. The Government policy caused delay. The Stanleys themselves had been Papists. To a great extent their collision with Romanism had been on political grounds. In the earlier days, in the days of Wycliff, there were signs of Stanley sympathy with the Reformer; and, later, as the third volume of the Manx Society shows, there was continued antipapal legislation ; yet policy sometimes restrained. In the interval of the Commonwealth, new impulses were given toward Reformation. Under Chaloner as Governor, from 1651 to 1660, it is true the Bishopric was suppressed; but there was much religious enthusiasm in the age, and the clergy were allowed to retain their livings, though the island had been transferred from the Earl of Derby to Lord Fairfax. And yet the onward movement fell short of completeness.

The transition from the old superstition had at first been but limited. For a time it was chiefly a protest, against Papal supremacy and ownership, a withdrawal from the former ecclesiastical relations, a transfer of the headship of the Church from the Pope to the monarch, a change without the theology and spirit of the great Reformation ; it was also a continuance of some essential errors, and of the denial of religious liberty to those who might not conform; it was largely the Anglican ideal, admired by Keble in his Biography of Bishop Wilson, which is substantially Popery under Canterbury instead of Rome. As initiated, it was not even doctrinal, still less evangelical. When two centuries had passed since the great Reformation, the Manx people were still without the Scriptures in the nitive tongue. There was no formal change in doctrine, after the manner of the English movement. The canons adopted at Braddan and elsewhere in the dark centuries remained and were, in substance, re-enacted in 1703. We note no adoption in form of the Thirty-nine Articles, and no revision of the terms of union with the State. It was the same Bishop, Thomas Stanley, one of the Derby family, at once Governor and Bishop, both before and after the English Reformation. He held the position from 1542 to 1545, under Henry VIII., again in the reign of Mary, and then from 1562 to 1569 in the reign of Elizabeth. The difference could not then be great between the past and the present. Happily, the great Earl did not resist the reforming tendency, nor his Countess, who, as the family historian relates, disliked the ways of Rome, as indeed was likely in a descendant from the noble race of the Huguenots.

In its aspects and mode, the Manx Reformation was a striking contrast to what obtained elsewhere, It was without violent commotion. Possibly the old superstitions had not gained a strong hold. There is no evidence, I believe, that the priests ministered in the language of the people. The ordinary Romish service was in Latin ; was thus in Ireland until 1551, and, therefore, probably in Man. The monks of Rushen wrote in the Latin of their age, and even in giving the boundaries of their Manx properties used terms more like Norwegian than Manx. A church not using the native language of a people will never win their enthusiasm. A preacher who thinks in one language and, mentally translating, speaks in another, can never mightily move what to him are a foreign community. The principle explains the failure of the Established Church in Ireland; the peculiar position of Methodism in the island where at first, when Manx was essential, the preaching was largely by native local preachers, to " the manner born," and accounts, perhaps, for the popular indifference when Man left its old profession.

The contrast between the quiet course of the Manx Reformation and the reformation in other lands where martyrs died is singular. The Lollards, under the rule of Henry IV., who gave the island to Sir John Stanley, were the victims of violent persecution. In the time of his successor, Henry V., Huss was martyred, and the bones of Wycliff burnt to ashes. In Ireland, in 1540, under Henry VIII., when Monarch displaced Pope, society was deeply stirred, though the change was remote and almost theoretical. In Mary's time the fires of Smithfield were kindled. A few years after came the massacre of the Huguenots, and then the Spanish Armada. In its reformation, Man was only slightly moved. Strange that in times when the principles implied moved Europe-the Waldenses, Flanders, Spain, Italy, and, near at hand, the Covenanters of Scotland--the Manx people did not share the commotion affecting religious life and freedom, That about the same time there should be much excitement because of the appropriation of tithes by the English Government, and, by the Lord of the Isle, of the one-third of the tithes which had belonged to Rushen Abbey, only shows how, under the Romish sway, the material eclipsed the moral in the Manx mind. It was a state of popular ignorance and insensibility which might partly come from the isolation of ages, but also from the moral prostration which the history explains. At last, however, the reforming movement, notwithstanding the peculiarities noted, reached its meridian, and the Manxman -like the labourer who looks at noon with shaded eyes to note the hour, and says " Te vunlaa "-could say in a higher sense, 'It is noon," and desire that the sun may no more go down.


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