Paul Cullen (cardinal)

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His Eminence

Paul Cullen
Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin
and Primate of Ireland
See Dublin
Installed 1852
Term ended 1878
Predecessor Archbishop Daniel Murray
Successor Cardinal Edward MacCabe
Other posts Archbishop of Armagh (1850–1852)
Ordination 1829
Consecration 24 February 1850
by Cardinal Castruccio Castracane degli Antelminelli
Created Cardinal 22 June 1866
Rank Cardinal priest of San Pietro in Montorio
Personal details
Born 29 April 1803
Narraghmore, County Kildare, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Died 24 October 1878(1878-10-24) (aged 75)
Dublin, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Buried Holy Cross College,
Drumcondra, Dublin, Ireland
Denomination Roman Catholic Church
Alma mater St. Patrick's College,
Pontifical Urban College

Paul Cullen was a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin who became the first Irish cardinal,[1] but is more controversially remembered for his Ultramontanism which spearheaded the Romanisation of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

A trained biblical theologian and scholar of ancient languages, Cullen is best known for his crafting of the formula for papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council. Depending on one's view, Cullen is largely credited with, or blamed for, ushering in the devotional revolution experienced in Ireland through the second half of the 19th century and much of the 20th century.


Early years[edit]

Cullen was born at Prospect, Narraghmore, Athy, County Kildare. His first school was the Quaker Shackleton School in nearby Ballitore. He was one of 16 children. Following the relaxation of some of the Penal Laws, his father, Hugh Cullen, had purchased some 700 acres (2.8 km2), giving him the status of a "strong" Catholic farmer,[Note 1] a class that greatly influenced 19th-century Irish society. They were fervent in their Catholicism and fearful of the sort of social unrest which had led to the failed 1798 Rising.[2][3]

Cullen entered St. Patrick's, Carlow College, in 1816, and in 1820 proceeded to the Pontifical Urban College in Rome where his name is registered on the roll of students as of 29 November 1820. At the close of a distinguished course of studies, he was selected to hold a public disputation in the halls of propaganda on 11 September 1828, in 224 theses from all theology and ecclesiastical history.[4]

This theological tournament was privileged in many ways, for Pope Leo XII, attended by his court, presided on the occasion, while no fewer than ten cardinals assisted at it, together with all the élite of ecclesiastical Rome. Vincenzo Pecci, the future Pope Leo XIII, was present at the disputation. During his studies, Cullen acquired knowledge of classical and Oriental languages. He was later appointed to the chairs of Hebrew and Sacred Scripture in the schools of propaganda, and receiving at the same time the charge of the famed printing establishment of the Congregation of Propaganda Fidei. This later charge he resigned in 1832, when appointed Rector of the Irish College in Rome, but during the short term of his administration he published a standard edition of the Greek and Latin Lexicon of Benjamin Hedericus, which still holds its place in the Italian colleges; he also edited the Acts of the congregation in seven quarto volumes, as well as other important works.[4]

Rector of the Irish College[edit]

In late 1831, Cullen was appointed rector of a fledgling and struggling Irish College. He successfully secured the future of the college by increasing the student population and thereby strengthening the finances of the college. He astutely fostered relationships with the Irish hierarchy, on whom he relied for students, often becoming their official Roman agent. This role yielded income and influence and was to remain a key function of future rectors. He endeavoured to chart a middle ground between conflicting parties of Irish bishops but usually found himself in agreement with Archbishop McHale of Tuam (as opposed to Archbishop Murray of Dublin) on the divisive issues of education and charitable bequests. He was active in his opposition to the establishment of the secular Queen's Colleges. This early alliance with McHale was however to be short-lived and the two men were to frequently clash swords over the forthcoming decades.[5]

While rector of the Irish College (1832–1850), Cullen was admitted to the intimate friendship of Gregory XVI and Pius IX. He profited by the influence which he thus enjoyed to safeguard the interests of the Irish Church and to counteract the intrigues of the UK diplomatic staff who at this period were lobbying the Vatican for support in European affairs.[citation needed]

During the revolution that marked the demise of the Papal States and the beginning of the Roman Republic, he accepted the position of rector of the College of Propaganda while retaining charge of the Irish College. Soon after his appointment the Revolutionary Trimuvirate issued orders that the College of Propaganda was to be dissolved and the buildings appropriated. The rector appealed to Lewis Cass, a United States politician, for the protection of the citizens of the United States who were students of the college. Within an hour, the American flag was floating over the Propaganda College. A decree was issued to the effect that the Propaganda should be retained.[citation needed]


Cullen was promoted to the primatial See of Armagh on 19 December 1849 and was consecrated by the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda at the Irish College in Rome on 24 February 1850. He was transferred to the See of Dublin on 1 May 1852. He was elevated to the cardinalate as Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Montorio in 1866, the first Irish cardinal.[6]

Cullen's first major act as Archbishop of Armagh was to convene the Synod of Thurles (1850), the first national synod held in Ireland since the Reformation. This occurred during the period of the debilitating Irish Famine which reduced the population of the country by over 2 million people through starvation, disease and emigration. The purpose of the synod was to establish a new ecclesiastical discipline in Ireland. Twenty-five years later, Cullen, once more presided at the national synod held in Maynooth in 1875. He recruited new clergy and the orders of lay religious celibate brother and sisterhoods. Cullen was particularly intent on promoting Roman Catholic controlled religious education in Ireland. His views on the national system of education in Ireland, given before the Earl Powis' Royal Commission in 1869, has been lauded by experts as a most complete statement of the Roman Catholic claims in the matter of primary education.[citation needed]

From the first days of his episcopate Cullen had planned and pursued a Roman Catholic university for Ireland. The university project was welcomed generally by the Irish at home and abroad and the beginnings of the institution in Dublin gave some promise. Cullen's intransigence, however, caused problems and the Catholic University of Ireland did not succeed.[citation needed]


In political matters Cullen made it a rule to support every measure, whatever its provenance, conducive to the interests of his vision for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. He condemned the ecumenical Young Ireland movement of 1848. He opposed the Fenian movement. He supported redress by constitutional means. The Gladstone government disestablished the Church of Ireland during his episcopacy. The Industrial Schools Act of 1868, a huge boon to the system of educational and institutional control of education by Religious Brothers and Religious Sisters was passed.[citation needed]

Cullen was a frequent visitor at the vice-regal lodge to lobby the government. In 1867, the Fenian leader, General Thomas F. Burke, had been sentenced to death and efforts to obtain a reprieve had been in vain. He had fought with distinction in the Civil War of the United States, and the UK government was determined to deter other skilled military leaders from enlisting with revolutionaries. The orders of execution from London were peremptory. The scaffold was already erected and the next morning General Burke was to be hanged. Through mediation from Archbishop Hughes of New York, and others, Cullen became convinced of the character of the accused and was able to obtain a grant of reprieve for Burke.[citation needed]

Cullen paid frequent visits to Rome. He took part in the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1854, and with the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul in 1867. On these occasions he stayed at the Irish College.

During the Vatican Council, Cardinal Cullen took an active part in its deliberations. His first discourse in defence of the prerogatives of the Holy See, mainly on historical grounds, in reply to the Bishop of Rottenburg, was highly regarded by the placets (those in favour of the definition of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility). Towards the close of the council at the express wish of the Central Commission, Cardinal Cullen proposed a formula for the definition of Papal Infallibility. It was a matter of great delicacy, as promoters of the definition were split up into various factions, some anxious to assign a wide range to the pope's decisions, while others would set forth in a somewhat indefinite way the papal prerogative. Most accepted the form of definition proposed by Cullen.[citation needed]

He died in Dublin. His remains rest at Holy Cross College in Drumcondra, Dublin, Ireland.


Monument to Cardinal Cullen in Saint Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin

Cullen is most notable today for being the first Irish cardinal after 1,400 years of Christianity on the island. In addition, his followers—relations, friends, and students referred to as "Cullenites", exerted great influence overseas, with Patrick Francis Moran, archbishop of Sidney, as one notable example.[7] The term also refers to a style of leadership resembling that of Cullen, characterized as "authoritative"[8] and "intransigent".[9]

Father Thomas N. Burke, O.P., wrote in the triumphalist language of post-Vatican I in 1878: "The guiding spirit animating, encouraging and directing the wonderful work of the Irish Catholic Church for the last twenty eight years was Paul, Cardinal Cullen, and history will record the events of his administration as, perhaps, the most wonderful and glorious epoch in the whole ecclesiastical history of Ireland."[citation needed]

Cullen also started the practice of Irish priests wearing Roman collars and being called "Father" (instead of "Mister") by their parishioners.[10]

Cullen has been credited with the revival of regular Catholic devotion in Ireland and what has been considered sexual repression[clarification needed]. An extreme Ultramontanist, he vigorously opposed secret societies with revolutionary aims, as well as the system of mixed education then in force. His opposition was largely responsible for the failure of Gladstone's Irish Universities Bill in 1873, and he is held by some historians to have frustrated Cardinal John Henry Newman's plans for setting up a Catholic university along the lines proposed in Newman's The Idea of a University.[citation needed]

In James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the protagonist's father mentions Cullen as one of the Catholic clergy who were very destructive to Ireland: "Mr Dedalus uttered a guffaw of coarse scorn. O, by God, he cried, I forgot little old Paul Cullen! Another apple of God’s eye!"[11]


  1. ^ "The term 'strong' Catholic does not have a specific definition" Catholic Answers to Explain and Defend the Faith


  1. ^ Miranda, Salvador. "Paul Cullen". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  2. ^ Paul Cardinal Cullen and the shaping of modern Irish Catholicism
  3. ^ Biodata at
  4. ^ a b The Catholic Encyclopedia (1914)
  5. ^ Irish
  6. ^ Larkin, Emmet (2004). "Cullen, Paul (1803–1878)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2011-02-09. 
  7. ^ Buckley, James; Bauerschmidt, Frederick Christian; Pomplun, Trent (2010). The Blackwell Companion to Catholicism. John Wiley & Sons. p. 223. ISBN 9781444337327. 
  8. ^ Magee, Jack (2001). Barney: Bernard Hughes of Belfast, 1808-1878: Master Baker, Liberal and Reformer. Ulster Historical Foundation. p. 112. ISBN 9781903688052. 
  9. ^ Jenkins, Brian (2006). Irish Nationalism and the British State: From Repeal to Revolutionary Nationalism. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 183. ISBN 9780773560055. 
  10. ^ Essay by David Kennedy The Catholic Church in Ulster since 1800, BBC publications, 1958, p. 178
  11. ^ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
William Crolly
Archbishop of Armagh
Succeeded by
Joseph Dixon
Preceded by
Daniel Murray
Archbishop of Dublin
Succeeded by
Edward MacCabe

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.