Harris, Paul (c.1572/3–p. 1642), Roman catholic priest and author, was born Paul Green in Derbyshire, England, but was subsequently to become more widely known both to contemporaries and future historians by his alias ‘Paul Harris’; nothing is known of his parents. He studied at the English college of St Gregory's in Seville, where he was ordained a priest in late 1602. In summer 1603 he appears at the English college in Douai, under the assumed name ‘Paul Washington’, on his way to England. He came to Rome in May 1609 and left that October as chaplain to Robert Shirley, who was about to go on a diplomatic mission to Spain. While in Spain, he hoped to become chaplain at the English hospice of St George at San Lucar de Barameda.
After another period in England, he settled in Dublin city (c.1614) to serve as chaplain to the Luttrell family of Co. Dublin, and assumed the surname Harris. He also acted as rector of a catholic school at Bridge St. in Dublin, and seems to have enjoyed missionary status for some time after his arrival in Ireland. In 1627 he published at Saint-Omer A briefe confutation of . . . Mr James Usher, in which he attacked a sermon preached in the presence of James I in 1624 by James Ussher (qv), then Church of Ireland bishop of Meath. He refuted Ussher's claims that pre-reformation Christians had in reality only believed in those doctrines that protestants held to be true, and that the early Christians had not known or believed in the rest of the doctrine of the Roman catholic church.
After this relatively orthodox rebuttal to a protestant clergyman's sermon, Harris became involved in a bitter dispute with the Franciscans in Ireland and in particular with Archbishop Thomas Fleming (qv) of Dublin, who was a member of that order. In response to a sermon preached by Fr Thomas Strong, OFM, which extolled the merits of the regular clergy, Harris wrote a pamphlet denouncing the regulars. Attempts by the catholic church in Ireland to erect an effective parochial system along the Tridentine model during the 1620s exacerbated pre-existing jurisdictional and financial rivalries between the secular and regular clergy, with the regulars regarding this process as an attack on their independence. Harris had little sympathy, and his views in this regard appear to have been influenced by his English background, as he believed that the widespread privileges granted to the regulars in England had undermined the unity and purpose of catholicism there.
In 1629 the dispute worsened when Patrick Cahill, a priest in the Dublin archdiocese, circulated a set of eleven propositions that, he claimed, represented the teachings of the regular clergy in Ireland. In fact Harris was most likely the real author of these propositions, which included a number of spurious claims. He forwarded these propositions to the Sorbonne theological faculty in the university of Paris, which roundly condemned them on 7 January 1631. In this, he was aided by the English theologian and Sorbonne staff member Henry Mailer, who had been a contemporary of Harris at the English college in Seville and who was also heavily involved in efforts to discredit the regular clergy in England. This sparked a furious reaction among the Irish religious orders, who vehemently denied the validity of the propositions attributed to them; on 6 March 1631 Fleming excommunicated Harris. The same year Harris translated into English and arranged the publication at Douai of the Sorbonne's condemnation both of the so-called ‘Irish propositions’ and of books written by two English regular clergy. However, the authorities in Rome took a more sceptical view of the propositions and empowered a commission of Irish prelates, including Fleming, to investigate them, which ruled in September that the regulars had been falsely accused. As a result, Cahill was imprisoned for a time at Rome.
Meanwhile in Ireland, Harris repeatedly demanded the right to meet and present his arguments to Fleming, who refused to meet him till he first acknowledged and sought absolution from his sentence of excommunication. By autumn 1631 Harris was threatening to appeal to the protestant authorities and appears to have done so at some point thereafter, securing victory in summer 1633 in a civil suit brought against a friar and a priest for seizing some of his books. At this time he also had a suit pending in the consistory court of St Patrick's against a regular clergyman for libelling him. These alleged libels were probably part of an intense pamphlet war that raged between Harris and his detractors from 1631. While the regulars’ attacks on Harris were either published abroad or circulated in manuscript form, Harris's broadsides were published in Dublin. Clearly, the protestant government had decided to throw its weight behind him in order to foment the divisions within the catholic clergy. During the 1630s he fraternised with leading royal and Church of Ireland officials, relating biographical details to the part-time antiquarian Sir James Ware (qv) and engaging in theological debates with the Church of Ireland bishop William Bedell (qv) of Kilmore. He also presented TCD with a copy of each of his series of anti-regular works published during 1632–5. These works would not otherwise have survived, as his enemies were assiduous in destroying copies of them.
His first Dublin publication was To all the . . . archbishops and . . . bishops of Ireland . . . (1632), in which he accused Fleming of exercising his power in Dublin like a tyrant, and of being intent on replacing the secular clergy of the diocese with Franciscans. This was followed by: The excommunication published by the L. [sic] Archbishop of Dublin . . . (1632), in which he denied that Fleming's excommunication of him had any validity; Arktomastix (1633), which sought to discredit a work by Fr Francis Matthews, OFM, entitled Examen juridicum . . .; and Fratres sobrii estote, in which he repeated his claim that Fleming sought to expel the secular clergy from the diocese and damned the Franciscans for propounding further false doctrines, including the claim that those who died in the habit of St Francis would die a happy death.
In late 1634 the congregation of cardinals in Rome empowered the bishop of Meath, Thomas Dease (qv), to banish Harris from the diocese of Dublin. However, Dease shrank from doing so, fearing that he and his clergy would suffer government persecution in retaliation. In late summer 1635 a frustrated Fleming tried to discredit Harris by disseminating throughout Dublin a letter he received from Rome, informing him of the decision by the congregation of cardinals to exile Harris. Later that year, Harris published his Exile exiled, in which he pointed out that as Dease had not proceeded to promulgate his banishment, it could not take effect. Moreover, he declared that he would not accept the banishment anyway, as only the king had the authority to inflict such a punishment on him. In this work he emphasises that it is possible to be both a loyal catholic and a loyal subject. The extraordinary and bitter war of words appears to have ceased thereafter, possibly because the pope created each archbishop an apostolic delegate in 1636 and thereby reaffirmed Fleming's authority within his diocese, or because the royal government had felt Harris had served his purpose.
In summer 1642 he was, along with the rest of the catholic clergy remaining in the city, expelled from Dublin, the government being no longer prepared to tolerate any catholic clergy within the city after the outbreak of a catholic uprising throughout the country the previous autumn. He made his way to France landing at La Rochelle by July and had settled in the Irish college in Paris by October. The date and place of his death are unknown.