CONFORMITY TO THE NEW CANONS, 1635–40
Nicholas Bernard's Penitent death of a woeful sinner (Dublin, 1642) transforms the penitence of the most embarrassing contemporary figure in the Church of Ireland into a critique of its government from 1633 onwards. Atherton finally comes to true contrition when he repudiates not only his carnal sins but also his ecclesiastical sins. What are those sins? Prosecuting ‘too bitterly in the High Commission court’, attending too much to ‘law business’, too much ‘over-reaching of men’ (criticisms of Atherton's part in the temporalities campaign) and his neglect of public preaching. At the root of it was ‘his too much zeal, and forwardness, both in introducing and pressing some church innovations, and in dividing himself from the House of Convocation, Anno 1634 in opposition to the Articles of Ireland’. Atherton had been motivated in order to ‘please some mens persons’. Bernard understood the imposition of the English articles as the work of a few powerful people. He went still further and equated corruption and sexual immorality with the 1634 settlement, High Commission and the means by which church property had been restored. Wentworth and Bramhall were not only misguided, they were also immoral.
The Penitent death was, above all, a work of sensational edification but it also tapped into a current of resentment flowing through the Church of Ireland during the 1630s.