The Gospel and CITC
A brief historical survey.

"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others."
2 Timothy 2:2

This paper is set out under three headings. The first deals with the history of the theological education of the clergy for the Church of Ireland; the second with the battle to establish Evangelical teaching in the training of students; and the third with suggestions to promote a more Evangelical ministry.

1. Historical Background
There has only ever been one period in the history of the theological training of the Irish clergy, when Evangelical teaching dominated the curriculum. This was the period from 1592 to 1633, a span of some 41 years when the Provosts of 'The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity' (TCD) were of a strongly Calvinistic and Puritan stamp. In a recent book published by CIEF, Rev Eric Culbertson remarks that from its founding in 1592, TCD immediately ' became that missing key to the success of the Reformation in Ireland, a centre for training godly and reformed clergy.'[1]

The foundation document of TCD said that the aim for its establishment was the moral and religious advancement of the students '…that here in all places specially set apart for God's honour and service, true religion and sound learning may for ever flourish' [2](italics mine). Certainly students were given a thorough grounding in the Scriptures; for example students were required to know Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and for examinations for the B.A. degree were required to translate the whole of the Greek NT and the first two Psalms from Hebrew into Latin!

The depth of Biblical scholarship of TCD at this time was exemplified in James Ussher, its first student and later Professor of Divinity from 1607-1621. His detailed knowledge of the Bible, church history and doctrine, especially his work on early church manuscripts and the early Church Fathers were respected throughout Europe[3].

One interesting feature of the College at this time was that it took definite steps under Provost Bedell (1627-1629) 'to familiarize native students with the Prayer Book and New Testament in the Irish tongue, providing for an Irish lecture and a chapter from the Irish New Testament to be read publicly in Hall and for prayers in Irish in Chapel on Holy Days.'[4] This policy was discontinued when William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury became the Chancellor of TCD from 1633 and appointed William Chappell as the new Provost in 1634. Under a new 'Anglicizing' policy, 'the Irish lecture was at once abandoned and all care to promote natives ceased'.[5] The importance of this period (1592-1633) must not be overlooked since the general character of clergy training was not only deeply biblical but also profoundly evangelistic. This contrasts sharply with the training that ordinands receive today, when the Scriptures are regarded as merely the work of men[6] and no provision is made for imparting skill either in expository preaching or in evangelistic outreach.

During the 18th and particularly during the 19th centuries, the structure of theological training for the Church of Ireland slowly evolved. A major change came in the year 1833, when the old system was overhauled and a new two-year 'Divinity Testamonium' course was introduced by the Provost, Dr. Lloyd, and the Regius Professor of Divinity, Dr. Elrington. This course was to remain the basic theological training for Church of Ireland clergy until 1978.

At first the prevailing tone of the content of this new course in the TCD Divinity School could be described as a 'conservative, robust, but reasonably balanced Protestantism.[7] However, as we shall see, resistance to the promotion of Evangelical or Biblical orthodoxy in the Divinity School soon developed, especially in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. This was due to both the rise of Tractarian influence and also to the growing acceptance by the Trinity theological Professors of the theories of the so-called 'Higher Criticism', emerging out of Germany.

A major re-organization of theological training for ordinands took place between 1978 and 1981. This was a result of the request of the House of Bishops in 1968 to Trinity asking for top-level discussions on the future training of ordinands. The Bishops indicated to Trinity 'their willingness to move towards a situation where ordinand training would be centred in a "theological college" in the Hostel, with biblical and theological instruction supplied in Trinity through an interdenominational faculty of theology. The proposal envisaged a structural division between the academic and pastoral aspects of the training, and the Board (of Trinity) signified its agreement to this approach.'[8]

This was achieved when the three 'Chairs' of Hebrew, the Archbishop King's Professorship and the Regius Professorship of Divinity fell vacant in 1978, 1980 and 1982 respectively. All three posts were suspended and a new non-denominational Chair was created and in January 1981 the University appointed Sean Freyne to be the first incumbent.

As a result of these changes, the Divinity Hostel at Braemor Park, which had replaced the old Divinity Hostel in 1962, now became known as 'The Church of Ireland Theological College (CITC). Furthermore, with the demise of the old Divinity Testamonium, ordinands are now expected to study for one of three degrees. According to the TCD calendar, these are the diploma in theology, the ordinary degree in theology and the honours degree in theology.[9] The content of these courses is dictated solely by TCD, whereas formerly up until the changes in the 1980s, the Church of Ireland Bishops, through their membership of the Board of the TCD Divinity School, could direct what studies were to be pursued. Not only that, when the House of Bishops gave up their three Chairs in TCD, they gave up the right of the Church of Ireland to appoint their own (Anglican) Professors of Theology.

Historically, therefore, a college that began specifically to instruct godly Protestant ministers to promote the Gospel throughout Ireland, has evolved into a theological department that has no commitment to promoting orthodox Christian doctrine and Gospel truth. Indeed, since Roman Catholics and atheists can be selected as head over the TCD School of Hebrew, Biblical and Theological Studies, the content of theological study for Church of Ireland Clergy will hardly be concerned with the promotion of the Reformed theology of the Church of Ireland.

2. The Battle for Evangelical Truth
Over this past century, Evangelicals have battled with both Trinity and the House of Bishops to maintain biblical and reformed Theology in the curriculum for ordinands. The origins of the battle began when Trinity, by an Act of Parliament, known as Fawcett's Act, became a 'secular' university in 1873. By this Act, Trinity became a non-denominational university. Although the Divinity School remained untouched by the Act - i.e. Professors of Theology still had to be Protestant Episcopalians - the church was worried, since the rise of liberal and secularist attitudes raised the prospect that the Board of TCD would be under the control of academics who might be hostile to the Church of Ireland interest.[10] There then followed a 30-year battle, during which the Church sought greater control over appointments to the Divinity School and which ended in 1911, when a Divinity School Council was created. This consisted of members of the House of Bishops, representatives from the Board of TCD and teaching staff of the Divinity, who were given the power to nominate, subject to the approval of the Board of TCD, to all Professorships and Lectureships and to make recommendations concerning the content of Divinity courses and examinations. This Divinity School Council remained until the changes in 1980, when it went 'into limbo'[11] and authority in dictating the content of Biblical and Theological studies reverted back to TCD.

It was during this struggle for greater control that the modern battle for Evangelical truth began to emerge. During the 1870's and 1880's, the 'Church of Ireland Protestant Defence Association' (!) continued a public debate with the Board of TCD over the teaching of two Divinity Professors, asking for their removal from office. These two Professors, the Archdeacon of Dublin, William Lee and the Rev. Dr. R Gibbings had vehemently opposed the changes to the Prayer Book by the new disestablished Church of Ireland and especially the dominance of the Evangelicals at this time. Lee said of the disestablished Church that it was 'the last invented of the sects by which Christendom is distracted' and Gibbings disparagingly commented of the new General Synod body that it was a bunch of 'uninformed enthusiasts and sectaries'.[12] Since these men were responsible for a large part of the training of future Church of Ireland Clergy, Evangelicals were naturally worried and called (unsuccessfully) for their removal.

As the Professors of the Divinity School in TCD were composed largely of men of 'High Churchmanship'[13], who tended to give a cautious acceptance to the German theories of 'Higher Criticism', the booklists of the course became a source of controversy as well. In 1909, in a speech to the joint Dublin Synod, T. C. Hammond complained of the insufficient teaching on the Atonement at the Divinity School and the second-rate liberal books that students were required to read.[14] He remarked for example on the OT course that the students were required to study liberal scholarship on the OT without being exposed to good contemporary conservative evangelical scholarship. For instance, the Trinity Professors were ignoring James Orr's first-rate work on the 'Problem of the Old Testament' (1908), which was a masterly study of liberal arguments concerning the OT and incidentally whose arguments have still not been answered by liberal scholarship.

On the Prayer Book, students were required to study Frere's revision of Proctor's older book, a book that manifestly reflected Tractarian sentiments. Hammond asked " is it a right or proper thing that a book so manifestly anti-Protestant in its character should be the sole text-book on the Prayer Book…?[15] His remarks also underline the fact that there was a deliberate policy of Divinity Professors to keep Evangelical teaching off the curriculum. ' This book', he says, 'with such grave limitations and defects, is supplied as the sole authority on the history of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Deputy Regius Professor, Dr. White, devoutly hopes it may long remain on the course.'[16] This bias by the Professor's in TCD against Evangelical scholarship still remains today, as even a passing glance at students' booklists reveal. More worryingly, a world-respected liberal scholar as Professor A. D. H. Mayes of TCD remarked in a 1993 edition of 'Search' of the need to resist the growth of 'fundamentalism' in the Church of Ireland today.[17]

Hammond's conclusion on this whole debate is worth noting: 'the text-book', he says, 'occupies a most important place in the curriculum…The textbook determines the student's fate'.[18] The teaching in the textbook remains in the student's mind and if the textbook contains (flawed) scholarly arguments, which are destructive to biblical belief and faith, at the very least, the student's confidence in the Bible and indeed in ministry are going to be seriously undermined. Therefore, he writes, Reform is an absolute necessity.

In the same debate, a layman, Captain Wade, remarks that the 'output from Trinity College is anti-Evangelical…and that it is almost impossible to obtain the services of a Clergyman from the Divinity School of TCD with Evangelical views.'[19] Remarking that the Evangelical teaching was not represented on either the Divinity School booklist or among the staff, he argued that the present state of affairs was the result of the dominance of a narrow school of thought. What he and others were now asking for was not that the Evangelical school of thought should dominate the Trinity curriculum, but rather that students should be exposed to Evangelical teaching to help them judge for themselves what was the stronger argument.[20]

It is interesting to note that the context of the above debate was in the wider struggle by the Church of Ireland to gain more control over the Divinity School and when they did so in 1911, Evangelical teaching remained as ignored as ever. The early part of the 20th century witnessed the triumph of liberal scholarship and the experience of the Church in those decades was a decline in Evangelicals in the ministry.[21]

With the growth of Evangelicalism in the Church in the latter part of this century, many of these issues have come to the fore again. The problem has become particularly acute since the House of Bishops, following the changes made to theological education in the 1980's, closed the door to men going to English colleges. This meant that CITC has become the sole option for those desiring to be trained for the Church of Ireland, unless students are prepared to undergo a further two years in Dublin following their three-year training in an English Theological College. Since, for family and financial reasons, this is not a viable option for many seeking ordination in Ireland, CITC has the monopoly on training men (and women) for the ministry.[22]

Therefore in 1992, following increased dissatisfaction in the Evangelical community over the procedures surrounding the selection of candidates in CACTM, the lack of Evangelical conservative books on the College lists and the lack of Evangelicals on the staff of CITC, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy (EFIC), wrote to the House of Bishops to seek redress. In the correspondence that ensued, the House of Bishops assured EFIC that it did not discriminate against Evangelicals in the selection procedure, refused to comment on allegations that it had declined to interview Evangelical candidates for College posts, and referred the matter of College booklists to the Principal, JR Bartlett. In the period since then, none of these grievances have been settled and Evangelicals in the Church of Ireland have continued to press, without success, for redress on these matters.

Concerning the College booklists and the lack of Evangelical teaching the experience of Evangelical students in recent years has been reflected in a letter that EFIC received in 1998 from some College students.[23] In it they outline the anti-Evangelical bias of both what is taught and of those who teach it. For example, they write, 'TCD has no interest in the contributions of evangelical scholarship, whilst CITC rivals them in this regard. It is not just a question of booklists: rather, the question is one of the respect that lecturers in Biblical studies courses do not have for the contributions of evangelical scholarship.'[24] The outcome of this kind of approach in Biblical Studies is that the clergy that are emerging from CITC as we move into a new millennium are not equipped to preach the Scriptures as the very Word of God, since they have lost all confidence of it being so. In fact, the question needs to be asked whether or not ordinands trained in and convinced of such liberal biblical theory, can with a clear conscience take ordination vows, which ask them to affirm that they 'unfeignedly' believe the Holy Scriptures.[25]

But it is not just in Biblical Studies that the narrow, one-sided liberal-catholic teaching of CITC is undermining the Evangelical Protestant nature of the Church of Ireland. These same students write of the second and third year Anglican theology and Liturgy courses stating that, 'to say that they are anti-evangelical is an understatement.' In fact, not only are the Formularies of the Church interpreted in a deliberate anti-evangelical fashion, but also the teaching actually 'is little more than an attempt to unchurch Anglican Evangelicals.' In the area of Pastoral Studies, 'the various methodologies and theologies presented in the course have one thing in common - they are consistently unbiblical.' There is also a bias against any kind of attempt to construct a biblical systematic theology, which is the natural outcome of the handling of the Scriptures by liberal scholarship.

The response of CITC has been to consistently dismiss claims of bias and academic dishonesty, yet the experience outlined above makes nonsense of their claims. In his reply to the EFIC in 1993 and in recent correspondence in the Church of Ireland Gazette, concerning the teaching of history and theology, the Principal JR Bartlett seems to work on the premise that 'there is no such thing as evangelical or Anglo-catholic scholarship.'[26] As far as he is concerned there is only good scholarship or bad scholarship, but since virtually no conservative scholarship appears on College booklists, this attitude amounts to sheer patronizing arrogance. For according to his appraisal of the scholarly situation, there are no scholars in the conservative evangelical community. This is not only highly subjective, but it is also erroneous, for there is a wealth of evangelical scholarship in every field of theological study today. The problem lies in Professors, who are stuck in the outdated and discredited theories of a liberal scholarship of yester-year and do not seem to be capable of dealing with new theories that undermine and threaten their own presuppositions. In any field of academic study, competing theories are laid before the student, who then is able to make up their own mind on the strength and weaknesses of any theory. Students for the Church of Ireland ministry are not presented with that option at CITC or Trinity, for they are merely told that the liberal-catholic scholarship is the only good scholarship that exists and conservative scholarship is not worthy of consideration. Such arrogance smacks of an entrenched and fearful ghetto mentality that is in effect an intellectual dead-end.

3. The way ahead
From the remarks above, surely it is obvious that it is a matter of some urgency that we work to secure a godly, believing ministry, where the clergy unfeignedly hold to and preach the Word of God as something which in the power of the Holy Spirit brings life to men and glory to God. Yes, we want clergy who are informed of modern biblical scholarship, but we also want more than that. The Church, if it is to survive as a healthy witness to the Gospel, needs to produce men for the ministry, who know Christ as their own Saviour and are convinced of the need to fulfill Christ's Great Commission to preach the Gospel to all men, that they too may be saved and become disciples of Christ.

For that task we need to urgently address the training given to Clergy in the Church of Ireland. In CITC's own brochure, there is no clear sense on how the training of Clergy relates to this evangelistic and missionary task of the Church. On the one hand, in the section dealing with 'vocation', there is a vague description of the task of the ordained ministry as one of proclamation, service and sacrament. On the other hand, in the section dealing with College courses, we are told that' ministerial training at the Church of Ireland Theological College seeks to encourage the pursuit of theological understanding….'[27] Seeking to encourage the pursuit of theological understanding is all very well, but the danger in liberal theological colleges, is that it can and has become a goal in itself with no connection whatsoever to the Gospel commands of Christ. This is the situation at present in CITC.

When we compare the lack of biblical training in CITC with the clear biblical aims of other theological colleges, such as Oak Hill in London, the poverty of our own College becomes even more obvious. In their prospectus, Oak Hill describes their commitment.[28]

  • We recognise that above all, today's church needs men and women who are advancing in godliness and seeking to lead others to maturity in Christ
  • We aim to develop leaders who know God personally…
  • We endeavour to make the Bible the foundation of all that we do and are….
  • We provide ministry that is a potent combination of the academic, the missionary and the pastoral.
  • We encourage a deepening love and respect for one another through listening, discussion and debate.

How can we then address our own situation, either to rectify it or to ameliorate its worst excesses? Below are a number of suggestions, which individuals, vestries and churches may be able to implement. They are not easy solutions, nor are they the only solutions, but merely a pointer to what can be done to try to change things:

  • First and foremost, we need to pray - fervently! There has in recent years been an increase in the numbers of Evangelicals managing, by the grace of God, to squeeze their way into CITC. Jesus commanded us to pray for an increase in 'workers for the harvest' (Luke 10:2). This should always be a part of our prayers. Also, let us remember to pray for those whom we know, who are at College. That is powerful too. Further, let us pray for learned and godly Evangelicals to be selected as Lecturers in the College, when posts become available. Lastly, we should pray for change at the College.
  • Secondly, we need to support those who are already students at CITC.
    1. Recently the College Fellowship has formally affiliated itself to EFIC with the intention that EFIC should take an active part in pastoring Evangelical students. This link needs to be strengthened be the EFIC, which must become more pro-active in terms of looking after Evangelical students.
    2. Individuals in parishes can also help in the pastoring of students. As mentioned above, prayer is a key factor, but also financial help is also appreciated. For example, each year Church Society helps to pay for a number of students and Curates to go to Evangelical theological conferences in England, where they have the benefit of learning from well-known Evangelical scholars and receive teaching on how to develop a biblical ministry. Now and again Church Society also gives book grants to students. It is obvious that none of this help can be given without individual financial giving. Therefore, by making a regular donation or by a bequest to Church Society, specifically for the support of Evangelical students, individuals can play a major part in forwarding Evangelical ministry in the Church of Ireland.
  • Thirdly, we must continue to take action to try to get redress. EFIC, Reform and Church Society have over the years been writing letters to Bishops about all these concerns. This has been in line with the scriptural necessity of opposing error in the church (Galatians 1:6-9; Titus 1:13-14; 2:1, 15). Martin Luther wrote: ' if I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ however boldly I might be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all battlefields besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point'. It is not trouble-making or playing church politics to write to Bishops for redress on these issues, rather it is a scriptural mandate that we oppose error in the church, as our Reformed Forefathers did.

Therefore, we can:

  • Support Church Society, EFIC, or Reform's efforts to get redress by attendance, where possible, at meetings concerned with these issues and by talking about these issues to fellow parishioners as well as with our Rector.
  • Ask the vestry to become aware of the situation at CITC and to take action. Vestries can write to the Bishop to share their concern. Bishops do sit up and take notice when the laity are deeply concerned with what is happening in the Church.
  • Individuals too should write to their Bishop about their concern about College. An excellent opportunity has now presented itself with the article in the Gazette (27th August 1999) by the present Principal, denying that the Scriptures are God's revealed Word. Remind them of the vows that they took when they were consecrated as Bishops. In that service, they were asked by the Archbishop, " Are you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same?" They answered, "I am ready, the Lord being my helper."[29]
  • Letter writing both by individuals, groups and vestries is important. However, one of the lessons to be learnt from the history of Evangelical protest about these matters, is that we cannot stop there. If we are serious about getting reform in CITC, then we must be prepared to do all this and more. We must also protest financially. Every parish contributes to the support of CITC through its giving to a fund known as the 'Priorities Fund,' out of which approximately one-third of expenditure each year is used to support the CITC. This fund is meant to be a voluntary fund and is not to be confused with the money, sometimes called 'the diocesan levy, that each parish must pay towards the upkeep of its minister, Bishop, and Diocesan expenses. In some Dioceses, such as recently in Armagh, the two funds have been combined, presumably to ensure that parish churches pay up their quota on the Priority Fund. Surely, it is time to withhold some portion of this Priority Fund money, as a protest about CITC. Some parishes are already doing this. This need not be a lot, but surely vestries can at least hold back a token amount, to make the point that parishes are not happy that their sacrificial giving is being used to support the heretical, liberal indoctrination, that goes on in CITC.
There are other avenues that can be explored, concerning the theological training of candidates for the Church of Ireland ministry. It may be that some students might be prepared to go the 'long route' into the Church of Ireland, by training at an Evangelical College in England, serving a first Curacy in England, before returning to a parish in Ireland. If this is the case, perhaps Church Society, Reform and EFIC could with the help on concerned Evangelicals set up a Trust Fund to help support such people. We certainly ought to be praying and working for the day, when Bishops will not only allow candidates to go to England to train (as was the case with some of our present Bishops), but also pay for them. This has been the situation in the past, before the recent changes in theological training in Dublin and could yet be an answer to the problem of CITC.

Let me finish with the words of John Stott, in his commentary on 1Timothy and Titus, concerning theological colleges. He says, ' the more false teachers there are, the more true teachers are needed. This is why the key institution in the Church is the seminary or Theological College. In every country, the church is a reflection of its seminaries. All the church's future pastors and teachers pass through a seminary. It is there that they are either made or marred, either equipped and inspired or ruined. Therefore we should set ourselves to capture the seminaries of the world for Evangelical faith, academic excellence and personal godliness. There is no better strategy for the reform and renewal of the Church…'[30]

[1] The Evangelical Roots of the Church of Ireland: James Ussher and the Irish articles. (CIEF No. 14 1999) page 12

[2] Quoted from the Bidding Prayer, used in College Chapel before the beginning of each term. 'The Study of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin Since the Foundation'. J E L Oulton. (Dublin 1941) available from RCB Library, Dublin.

[3] See pages 12 & 13 CIEF booklet No.14

[4] Oulton, op. Cit. Page 9

[5] Oulton, op. Cit. Page 9

[6] '…. we realize that the words of the Bible are human words, conveying a human's author's interpretation of human experience of the presence of God in the world…' Professor John R. Bartlett, Principal CITC . C of I Gazette, 27th August 1999

[7] R. B. McDowell & DA Webb: Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952, (CUP 1982) pages 162ff give details of the content of this new course.

[8] David Luce, The Church of Ireland and Trinity College, Search article (Vol.15, No.1, Spring 1992). A useful summary of the history of theological training in the Church of Ireland.

[9] 1997/98 calendar pages K15-19

[10] R. B. McDowell, The Church of Ireland 1869-1969, London 1975, page81ff.

[11] Luce, Search Spring 1992, page 15. 'The Divinity School Council has not been formally abolished, but it has gone into limbo since it is felt that it no longer has a role to play in College appointments or the regulation of courses.'

[12] The Church of Ireland Protestant Defence Association. Collection of Pamphlets and letters in TCD Divinity School 1873-1886, available in RCB Library. Page 11

[13] R. B. McDowell, The Church of Ireland, 1869-1969, page 87. 'About 1890 all the Professors in the Divinity School (with one exception) were said to be High Churchmen.'

[14] The Divinity School and the Church of Ireland - speeches at the joint Dublin Synod 1908. Booklet No.1 The Divinity School and the Church of Ireland - The textbooks in TCD Divinity School. Booklet No.2. Both of these are available in the RCB Library.

[15] Speeches in the Dublin Synod, Booklet No.1, page 11.

[16] Speeches in the Dublin Synod, Booklet No.2, page 11

[17] Search, Winter 1993, Volume 16, Number 2, page 84, where in his editorial he writes that "the insidious power of fundamentalist thinking is taking an ever stronger grip both within and outside the Church of Ireland."

[18] Speeches in the Dublin Synod, Booklet No.2, page 18

[19] Speeches in the Dublin Synod, Booklet No.1, page 13

[20] ibid.

[21] Alan Acheson, A History of the Church of Ireland, 1691-1996, Dublin 1997. Page 220 tells of the decline of Evangelicalism in the early part of this century and page 254, something of its recent growth.

[22] Recently, the Bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller has publicly stated that he is prepared to sponsor Irish ordinands to train in English Colleges, if a case can be made out for it.

[23] This letter raised more issues than the booklists, containing a call to redress the same grievances as those that the 1992 EFIC correspondence with the House of Bishops had outlined.

[24] Ibid.

[25] The Ordering of Deacons, Book of Common Prayer. This question has been left out of the new service, presumably because of the influence of liberal scholarship in the Church of Ireland.

[26] Letter to EFIC, 1993

[27] College Brochure is available on request from CITC.

[28] Taken from their 1998 Prospectus.

[29] BCP 1926, The Consecration of Bishops. This promise is 'watered down' in the new service of Ordination of Bishops, nevertheless, they are required, even there, to 'guard the faith'.

[30] John Stott, The Message of 1Timothy and Titus, Bible Speaks Today, IVP 1996.




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