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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
archbishop of Armagh, one of the most noted characters in Irish Church History, was born of a noble family at Armagh about 1195. While vet a youth he retired from the world to subject himself to a most rigid asceticism under the abbot Imar of Armagh. His humility and fervor soon gained him a great reputation for sanctity, and. quite contrary to the canonical rule, he was ordained priest when only twenty-five years old, by Celsus, then archbishop of Armagh, who took a special interest in Malachy, and favored him in many ways. He also employed Malachy as assistant in the discharge of the archiepiscopal office, Celsus intending thus gradually to introduce Malachy to the archiepiscopal duties, with a view of securing him as successor. Of these opportunities Malachy availed himself for the furtherance of a plan he had long cherished, that of bringing the Irish Church, which since the conquest of the south-western provinces by the Normans had remained independent of Rome, into subjectivity to the papal chair. Malachy gradually introduced the Roman method of reciting the hours, and also established the rites of confession, confirmation, ecclesiastical marriage, etc., in the several convents. Then, in order to become better acquainted with the details of the Roman Catholic ritual, he resided for some years with bishop Malchus of Lismore, also a native of Ireland, but who had been a monk of Winchester, England, and had there become thoroughly acquainted with the practices of Rome. Upon his return to his native land, Malachy was engaged by his friends for the restoration of the Bangor monastery, which had remained in ruins since its destruction by the Danes, and which was now the possession of Malachy's uncle. Assisted by ten monastic associates, he erected an oratory and a small house for their accommodation, and, as their superior, remained there until about 1225, when he was called away to preside over the see of Connereth (Connor), where, by unwearied exertions, he built up the cause of Christianity.
About 1129 he was further promoted by a call to the archbishopric of Armagh, the place for which Celsus had long intended him. Malachy accepted the position, however, only upon condition that he should be permitted to resign it "as soon as it was rescued from its present unbecoming situation." Hitherto, by custom, the archiepiscopacy had been hereditary, and in consequence, though Celsus had himself nominated Malachy, the latter had not undisputed possession of the primatial see until about 1135, when he at once applied himself most earnestly and zealously to perfecting the reforms he had inaugurated while yet with Celsus. Previous to Malachy's accession to the arch-see there never had been a hierarchy or a legalized support for religion in the Irish Church. The ministry had been sustained by voluntary offerings, and in some instances by the donation of Tremon, or free lands, the rents of which were to be appropriated annually to the bishop and the poor. These lands, however, were neither large nor numerous. During the commotions of the 10th and 11th centuries those which had been given to Armagh were again claimed by the lineal descendants of the original donors as their rightful inheritance. At this time they had been thus held for eight successive generations. Malachy's great endeavor was to do away with this abuse. (See IMPROPRIATION). But he failed to accomplish this object, and in consequence resigned the primatial office and retired to the bishopric of Down, hitherto a part of his former see of Connor.
Malachy untiringly devoted himself to the one great object likely to be successfully accomplished — the Romanizing of the Irish Church. To accomplish this object — the greatest task which could have been undertaken by any person in his day, and which in consequence has made the name of Malachy one of the most prominent connected with the ecclesiastical annals of Ireland — he first traveled extensively in his own country, and then all the way to the Imperial City, where he was affectionately received by the pope (Innocent II), bishops, and cardinals, all vying with each other in their attentions to him. The pallium, or pontifical investure, however, for which he had come, the pope refused to grant until a request for union with Rome should come from one of the Irish synods. Malachy received, however, a sure proof of the pleasure of his holiness with the proposed scheme in his appointment to the legateship for all Ireland, and returned to his native land expectant of the immediate realization of his life-long dream.
On his way homeward he became intimately acquainted with Bernard of St. Clairvaux, whom he had already visited on his way towards the Eternal City, and so charmed was he with the order and rule of the Cistercian monastery that he determined to establish the order also in his country, and in 1142 opened the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland. In the mean time, however, Malachy busily employed himself, his legative power also, in behalf of union, and in 1148 at last succeeded in moving a synod to make the request which Rome demanded previous to the bestowal of the pallium on the Irish clergy. It is, however, not a little remarkable that the synod from which this very important request emanated was not one convened in any province or principal city. It was held in Inis Padrig (Patrick's Island), a small, inconsiderable island near the Sherries, in the northern channel of Ireland (Haverty's History of Ireland [New York, 1866], p. 161). Could no more conspicuous place be found? From this and other internal evidences there is abundant reason to infer that the Irish clergy were not then in favor of union with Rome. The request, however, was issued, and St. Malachy set off immediately with it, expecting to meet the pope (now Eugene III) at Clairvaux; but, having been long delayed in England by the jealousy of king Stephen, Malachy, to his sore disappointment, did not reach there till the pope had left. Shortly afterwards he was taken ill, and died (1148) in the arms of his friend and future biographer, St. Bernard. Although Malachy did not personally obtain the cherished wish of his heart, he yet inaugurated and put in train the measures which brought the pallium a few years later.
St. Malachy was by far the most prominent and powerful native ecclesiastic of Ireland in her early days. "His personal influence," says Todd (Irish Ch. p. 116), "was so great tat t he was able to direct the minds of his countrymen as he saw fit;" and for this he was admirably fitted by his descent, his learning, his eloquence, and his fascinating address. In A.D. 1152 St. Bernard wrote his Life in elegant mediaeval Latin. Previous to an acquaintance with the Irish saint, Bernard had written many hard things against the Irish, calling them "a stiff-necked, intractable, and ungovernable race;" but, in reference to Malachy, he declared that he could not find words to express his admiration of the saint.
A curious Prophecy concerning the Future Roman Pontiff is extant under the name of Malachy. It designates, by a few brief phrases, the leading characteristics of each successive reign, and in some instances these descriptive characteristics have proved so curiously appropriate as to lead to some discussion. The characteristic of Pio None, Crux de Cruce (cross after cross), was the subject of much speculation. That the prophecy really dates from the time of St. Malachy no scholar now supposes; it was unknown not only to his biographer, St. Bernard (Liber de vita S. JMl.), but neither does any other author allude to this work until the beginning of the 17th century. It may be a sufficient indication of its worth to state that neither Baronius nor any of his continuators deemed it deserving of attention. It is now supposed to have been prepared in the conclave of 1590 by the friends of cardinal Simoncelli, who is clearly described in the work (comp. Dollinger, Fables respecting the Popes of the Middle Ages, edited by Prof. H. B. Smith [Dodd and Mead, N.Y., 1872, 12mo], p. 150 sq.). See Menestrier, Traite sur les propheties attribusees at saint Malachie; John Germano, Vita gesti e predizioni del padre san Malachia (Naples, 1670, 2 vols. 4to); Brenal, Eccles. Hist. of Ireland, p. 267 sq.; Todd, Hist. Anc. Ch. in Ireland, p. 106-117; Inett, Origines Anglicanae (see Index); Jahrb. deutsch. Theol. 1871, p. 564. (J. H. W.)
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Malachy, St.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/malachy-st.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.