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Richard Fitzralph

Archbishop of Armagh, b. at Dundalk, Ireland, about 1295; d. at Avignon, Dec. 16, 1360

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Fitzralph, RICHARD, Archbishop of Armagh, b. at Dundalk, Ireland, about 1295; d. at Avignon, December 16, 1360. He studied in Oxford, where we first find mention of him in 1325 as an ex-fellow and teacher of Balliol College. He was made doctor of theology before 1331, and was chancellor of Oxford University in 1333. In 1334 he was made chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, and in January, 1335, canon and prebendary of Lichfield,” notwithstanding that he has canonries and prebends of Crediton and Bosham, and has had provision made for him of the Chancellorship of Lincoln and the canonries and prebends of Armagh and Exeter, all of which he is to resign” (Bliss, Calendar of Entries in Papal Registers, II, 524). He was archdeacon of Chester when made dean of Lichfield in 1337. On July 31, 1346, he was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh.

Fitzralph was a man who preeminently joined the speculative temperament with the practical. One of the great Scholastic luminaries of his day, and a close friend of the scholarly Richard of Bury, he fostered learning among his priests by sending many of them to take higher studies in Oxford. He was zealous too in visiting the various church provinces, and in bettering financial as well as spiritual conditions in his own see. He contended for his primatial rights against the immunity claimed by the See of Dublin; and on various occasions acted as peacemaker between the English and the Irish. He was in great demand as a preacher, and many of his sermons are still extant in manuscript. Whilst at Avignon in 1350, Fitzralph presented a memorial from the English clergy reciting certain complaints against the mendicant orders. After serving on a commission appointed by Clement VI to inquire into the points at issue, he embodied his own views in the treatise “De Pauperie Salvatoris”, which deals with the subject of evangelical poverty, as well as the questions then agitated concerning dominion, possession, and use, and the relation of these to the state of grace in man. Part of this work is printed by Poole in his edition of Wyclif’s “De Dominio Divino” (London, 1890). It was probably during this visit that Fitzralph also took part in the negotiations going on between the Armenian delegates and the pope. He composed an elaborate apologetico-polemic work, entitled “Summa in Quwstionibus Armenorum” (Paris, 1511), in which he displayed his profound knowledge of Scripture with telling effect in refuting the Greek and Armenian heresies.

Fitzralph’s controversy with the friars came to a crisis when he was cited to Avignon in 1357. Avowing his entire submission to the authority of the Holy See, he defended his attitude towards the friars in the plea entitled “Defensorium Curatorum” (printed in Goldast’s “Monarchia” and elsewhere). He maintained as probable that voluntary mendicancy is contrary to the teachings of Christ. His main plea, however, was for the withdrawal of the privileges of the friars in regard to confessions, preaching, burying, etc. He urged a return to the purity of their original institution, claiming that these privileges undermined the authority of the parochial clergy. The friars were not molested, but by gradual legislation harmony was restored between them and the parish clergy. Fitzralph’s position, however, was not directly condemned, and he died in peace at Avignon. In 1370 his remains were transferred to St. Nicholas’ church, Dundalk; miracles were reported from his tomb and for several centuries his memory was held in saintly veneration. His printed works are mentioned above. His “Opus in P. Lombardi Sententias” and several other works (list in the “Catholic University Bulletin”, XI, 243) are still in manuscript.


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