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  • John Lynch and Renaissance Humanism in Stuart Ireland: Catholic Intellectuals, Protestant Noblemen, and the Irish Respublica *
  • Ian W.S. Campbell (bio)

Irish from his nurse; schools that taught first English, then Latin and some Greek; rarely out of sight of sea and ships; colleges that worked in Latin and French; a merchant-lawyer's dinner table in English but church duties, scholarly friendship, and research in Irish; gunfire, plague, and political preaching; long exile, more church duties, and a nobleman's dinner table, this time in French, furious writing in Latin throughout. Books defending the Irish kingdom; two books for a committee of cardinals designed to break an old friend; a biography of a brilliant kinsman; verse autobiography; the odd letter; a final book on every Catholic bishop that Ireland ever had. Of that life, only the books are left. We will be drawn to read these books, but how should we read them?

This article will argue that John Lynch (1600-77) was a premodern Irish intellectual worth the name. 1 Lynch was indeed archdeacon [End Page 27] of Tuam and a conservative Catholic churchman, but one whom circumstances forced to adopt some surprising positions when addressing the most difficult problems facing Irish society in general and the Irish kingdom in particular. Moreover, late Renaissance humanism provided Lynch with metalanguage that could cope with questions of kingship, citizenship, patriotism, theology, and conscience.

Intellectuals, in Terry Eagleton's words, were men and women always in search of a metalanguage in which they would have simultaneous access to questions of politics, ethics, metaphysics, and the rest, that would allow them some chance of working a change in their societies through their teachings, writings, or books. Throughout the Middle Ages, Eagleton argued, theology offered a metalanguage in which this could be done. During the Enlightenment the metalanguage was philosophy, and in Anglophone countries during the nineteenth century it was natural science. 2 Pierre Bourdieu has offered a compelling account of the man of letters emerging as such a transdisciplinary voice in nineteenth-century France. To warrant the name, an intellectual must be much more than a conventional, erudite university teacher, of a sort familiar in Europe since the twelfth century. Rather than being narrow specialists, intellectuals must engage in public life. In Diarmaid MacCulloch's economical description of the radical Thomas Cranmer, father of the Church of England, and his conservative opponent Stephen Gardiner, intellectuals must be "dons in politics." 3

Bourdieu would not be satisfied by political engagement alone. His intellectuals were romantic, prophetic figures: before Romanticism, no intellectuals. 4 But the term is a useful one to use before the nineteenth century. Many medieval and early modern authors wrote theology of very wide political and cultural relevance, and yet some stiff term like "political thinker" might make them sound like [End Page 28] system builders and cause us to pretend that there was a coherence to their interventions which they lacked. It would certainly be correct to describe someone like John Lynch as a "participant in political discourse," and this would be a term of which Bourdieu would approve, but it is both inconvenient and inadequate. 5 Lynch wrote long, complex, and ambitious books that sought to offer his contemporaries insights into their own society that would propel political change. It would be foolish to imagine that we should treat these books in the same way as the prayers and slogans chanted by a rioting peasant, though each set of utterances reward study. Lynch deserves a label that recognizes the difference between his contribution to discourse and, say, the snarled command of a sheriff. Moreover, Lynch was more than a Gramscian traditional intellectual, merely a mouthpiece for his class. 6 It is true that Lynch lived on the fringes of noble society all his life and that violent condemnation of political action undertaken by the poor is common in his work. The archdeacon quoted Livy with approval: the poor who do not serve humbly must be humbled, because they are always mad, enraged, and intemperate. 7 But Lynch was far from a simple servant of any interest himself; the arguments that he deployed in defending the Irish kingdom, Irish commonwealth...


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