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Paper

Presentation #1 Title

"The Scum of Controversy": Recantation Sermons in Eighteenth-Century England and Ireland

Presentation #1 Abstract

In a 1779 publication, Father Arthur O’Leary, a Franciscan priest of Cork, attacked a recent sermon, in which Charles Farrell, who was formerly a Catholic priest, had renounced ‘the Pope’s infallibility’, along with various other alleged Roman Catholic ‘articles’. Farrell’s recantation sermon marked his conversion to Protestantism – more specifically, that of the established Church of Ireland. The sermon, according to O’Leary, exhibited all ‘the scum of controversy’ that he wished to see cleansed from the pulpit. O’Leary also alleged that Farrell’s conversion was fuelled by self-interest. The sentiments conveyed in Farrell’s sermon were, of course, nothing new. Indeed, recantation sermons can be traced back to the early days of the Reformation. While several scholars, notably Michael Questier, have explored sixteenth- and seventeenth-century recantation sermons, the persistence of these sermons into the ‘long’ eighteenth century has gained considerably less scholarly attention. By exploring eighteenth-century recantation sermons, this paper interrogates several interlinked themes. First, by identifying commonalities and differences in the theological themes and rhetorical strategies used by preachers, it questions whether we can speak of recantation sermons as a discernible ‘genre’ during this period. Second, by comparing eighteenth-century recantation sermons to earlier ones, it interrogates the extent to which we should view the eighteenth century as part of a ‘long Reformation’, as proposed by scholars, such as Jeremy Gregory and Robert Ingram. Finally, this paper seeks to chart the decline of recantation sermons, and identify why they became increasingly unpopular.

At-A-Glance Bios- Presenter #1

I completed my PhD at Oxford in 2017. In October 2018, I commenced a two-year post as Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at Trinity College Dublin.

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"The Scum of Controversy": Recantation Sermons in Eighteenth-Century England and Ireland

In a 1779 publication, Father Arthur O’Leary, a Franciscan priest of Cork, attacked a recent sermon, in which Charles Farrell, who was formerly a Catholic priest, had renounced ‘the Pope’s infallibility’, along with various other alleged Roman Catholic ‘articles’. Farrell’s recantation sermon marked his conversion to Protestantism – more specifically, that of the established Church of Ireland. The sermon, according to O’Leary, exhibited all ‘the scum of controversy’ that he wished to see cleansed from the pulpit. O’Leary also alleged that Farrell’s conversion was fuelled by self-interest. The sentiments conveyed in Farrell’s sermon were, of course, nothing new. Indeed, recantation sermons can be traced back to the early days of the Reformation. While several scholars, notably Michael Questier, have explored sixteenth- and seventeenth-century recantation sermons, the persistence of these sermons into the ‘long’ eighteenth century has gained considerably less scholarly attention. By exploring eighteenth-century recantation sermons, this paper interrogates several interlinked themes. First, by identifying commonalities and differences in the theological themes and rhetorical strategies used by preachers, it questions whether we can speak of recantation sermons as a discernible ‘genre’ during this period. Second, by comparing eighteenth-century recantation sermons to earlier ones, it interrogates the extent to which we should view the eighteenth century as part of a ‘long Reformation’, as proposed by scholars, such as Jeremy Gregory and Robert Ingram. Finally, this paper seeks to chart the decline of recantation sermons, and identify why they became increasingly unpopular.