WILLIAM LAUD, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTAUR,
In the Great Hall in Lambeth Palace, London there are over thirty ecclesiastical portraits but none draws one’s eye as much as the portrait of William Laud does. It was painted when he was sixty- seven, not long before his death and so one would think at that stage in his life it would show the strain of all those years labouring for the cause of the English Church against his enemies. Yet it does not at all. He seems rather youthful and almost triumphant. It gave me the impression of saying to future archbishops, “beware of those who try to cause trouble.”
Laud joined Alphege and Becket as a martyr for his faith as the Primate of All England. When Charles I fell from favour in the 1640’s so did Laud. Perhaps Church and State had never been so close as they had been during the personal rule of Charles from 1629-1640. Both in their own ways loved the English Church. Since the Reformation there probably has not been another monarch as devout as Charles I. When he crowned king on Candlemass, 1626, it was Laud who had been responsible for the actual service arrangements as the Dean of the Abbey, Dr. Williams was in disgrace. It would be hard to decipher at times what was Charles’ policy and what was Laud’s as both worked towards a uniformity in worship and discipline in the English Church. Then it all came crashing down. I have often thought if Laud and even Charles has been more like one of their mentors, Lancelot Andrewes, and had been more tolerant of others then events may have turned out differently. It was a shame that Andrewes died at the beginning of Charles’ reign.
Laud was a Reading son and so his early education was at the Reading Grammar School before going to St. John’s College, Oxford. This College would be very much part of Laud’s life until his death. Here his tutor was William Buckeridge of the same school as Lancelot Andrewes that promoted beauty of worship, universal redemption and a great love of classical studies and patristic theology. All of these things Laud seemed to inherit.
As Buckeridge was a prebendary of Rochester Cathedral, Laud was ordained by Bishop Young in 1601, the same bishop who had been tutor to Andrewes. In that same year Laud became a senior Fellow of St. John’s and two years later a university proctor
It would seem that Laud’s life was shrouded in controversy from an early time. In 1606 in the university church of St. Mary’s after preaching he was cited for “scandalous and Popish practices” Two years later his D.D. thesis argued that the episcopate was a separate order from the priesthood and as it was by divine right it was superior. His belief that only a bishop could ordain was not novel, although it conflicted with Reformation theology that was popular in England.
In that same year Laud became a chaplain to Richard Neile, the next year, clerk of the closet and in 1611 a chaplain to James’s I. the following year his name first appeared on the list of preachers for Lent. He becomes President of his college in Oxford at this time too. Perhaps one of the most uncontroversial positions in his life was his presidency. He worked hard for his college in many ways, one of which was beautifying it. The chapel was enhanced by new stained glass and an organ loft. He also commissioned the composing of anthems to be sung as Cosin did. A new quadrangle, Canterbury quad, was constructed in an Italian mode with its “open loggia” at each end of the quadrangle, “but the façades above are extremely medieval.” The sculptured figures represented both theology and the liberal arts. Accordingly “the spandrils of the loggia are filled by busts of the Theological and Cardinal virtues on the west and the liberal arts on the east, while half-length figures of angels appear above the central arch.”
George Abbot who became archbishop of Canterbury in 1610 (and not Lancelot Andrewes) had become an enemy of William Laud very early in the latter’s life, and so when Laud preached in the University Church on Shrove Tuesday, 1615 he quickly saw it as an attack on Calvinism that did not promote the ancient three-fold ministry and brought it to the attention of the king. However his patron, Bishop Neile, was able to keep him out of trouble.
The following year Laud was appointed Dean of Gloucester. Shortly afterwards he placed the altar at the east end of the church to which the parishioners were expected to acknowledge when they entered the church. The bishop of the diocese was not amused, neither were many others but he had Bishop Neile to defend him at Court. What it does show that early in his life Laud felt strongly about how the altar was desecrated by people by having it left in the nave of the church. That desecration appeared in many a Visitation Article!
The following year Laud accompanied James I to Scotland to have the Scottish parliament to ratify the Articles of Perth to bring the Scottish Presbyterian Church more in line with the English. The articles provided for (1) kneeling during communion, (2) private baptism, (3) private communion for the sick or infirm, (4) confirmation by a Bishop and (5) the observance of Holy Days. During his stay north Laud made it obvious his disdain of Presbyterianism.
Back in England and manifesting a more unified approach on Commonwealth and Church, Laud preached at the opening of the 1621 parliament. He approached:
For both Commonwealth and Church are collective bodies, made up of many into one; and both so near allied, that the one, the Church, can never subsist but in the other, the Commonwealth; no, so near, that the same men, which in a temporal respect make the Commonwealth, do in a spiritual make the Church. In this same sermon he declared that Church and State can never be happy until "they are both at unity in themselves and one with another." This theme runs through all his parliamentary sermons of the 1620's, evident in this sermon for the opening of the 1628/9, "And I make no doubt but this day may be a day of happy success to this Church and State, if Saint Paul may be head, and that yet, before it be too late, there be a hearty `endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of pleace.'" However by the end of the twenties that unity between Church and Commonwealth existed only between the Church and the Prince of the Commonwealth, a bond which became more cemented in the 1630's. In the same year he was consecrated bishop for the see of St. David. In the bishop’s residency at Abergwili, Laud built a chapel and he furnished it in the style of Andrewes’ epicocpal church with the altar at the east end upon which were placed two silver candlesticks, and other silver vessels. Near the altar, following Andrewes’ example, he placed a credence table for the elements. He would later do the same to the chapel at Lambeth when he became archbishop. He also replaced the old crucifix with a hanging one, and the old stained glass windows with images depicting “the whole story from the creation to the day of judgment”. Previously as bishop of St. David, he built a new chapel for his residency at Abergwili in similar fashion. As bishop it meant he had to resign his presidency of St. John’s College, Oxford but he would return some nine years later when he was elected chancellor of the university. As Chancellor he procured a charter that would guarantee for the university its ancient privileges. He also set up an Arabic professorship and built a bishop’s residence at Cuddesden for the bishop of Oxford. In the following year James sought his advice together with Francis White in the matter of the Countess of Buckingham intended conversion to Roman Catholicism. Both Laud and White conferred with Fisher, a Jesuit in the presence of the Countess and Lord Buckingham on the differences over those doctrines necessary for salvation. When the debate concluded the king commanded Laud to have his answers to Fisher printed. Although the debate did not prevent the Countess from converting Laud became the chaplain of Lord Buckingham. That would bring about a very close relationship and much favour for Laud. In 1624 that was tested with the Montagu affair when Laud informed him if this priest was brought down, then it would not be long before the Church herself would be brought low.
With the succession of Charles I after his father’s death in 1625, Laud’s promotion seemed inevitable. As Charles had a deeper sense of beauty and the devotional aspect of worship he had already gravitated towards what was known as the Durham House Group in the Savoy. It was not surprising that these anti-Calvinist divines received promotion. Laud himself was appointed bishop of Bath and Wells in 1626 and two years later to London.
When the personal rule began in 1629 most of the bishoprics were held by these divines. Laud himself followed Abbot as archbishop of Cantaur in 1633 whilst Richard Neile was the archbishop of Ebor. Until 1640 king and bishops strove to make the English Church what they believed it should be. Sometimes this has been described as the policy of “thorough” by historians, but surely it was an attempt to make worship beauty and holy as well as encouraging a strong personal devotional and sacramental life. In order to accomplish this the church had to be re-arranged with the altar placed at the east end of the church and railed off (known as the altar policy). Quite often the Holy Table was abused as on it churchwardens kept their accounts, parishioners carried out the business of the parish, schoolmasters taught and the boys in turn deposited their hats, bags and books. It was also fouled by dogs and birds.
Churches as was evident also in George Herbert’s writing were to taken care off and looked after as fitting for the house of God. On entering the church parishioners were expected to reverence the altar before kneeling to pray and to do likewise before leaving.
Perhaps what was envisaged came be captured in the following two scenarios: The vicar of a small village enters the thirteenth parish church wearing his surplice and stole on this Whitsunday to celebrate the Holy Communion for Pentecost, one of the Church's great festivals. As he approaches the Communion Table, now permanently placed at the east end and railed off to prevent its misuse, he bows. This holy Table or as it is sometimes called the altar, is covered with a clean cloth on which have been placed two small candlesticks, alight for the service. In a church where the leaking roof has been repaired recently, the broken stained glass window replaced, and the squire's pew-box removed, the Vicar conducts the service according to the Prayer Book in a dignified and devout manner. The congregation, in a short sermon, is exhorted to live piously and prayerfully in order to show the fruits of the Spirit such as love, joy and patience in their lives. When it is time to receive Communion all those present, except the local yeoman, come up the Communion rail and kneel to receive the Sacrament. After the service, the Yeoman as he does on every Sunday protests about having to communicate at the rails. Even warnings about being fined in the consisitory court against such outbursts does not deter him. His friend Josiah, the blacksmith also runs the risk of going to court for his pheasant shooting during Divine Service. Meanwhile a few miles away in the cathedral, the Mother church of the diocese, the organist has ascended the loft, the clergy and choir have robed in the sacristy, the candles have been lit, the alms dish on the altar catches the morning sun, and the poinsettias placed in the sanctuary reflect the significance of this Sunday. The signal that the service is about to begin is the processing of the choir to the quire. The cathedral awakens as the organ, recently purchased, plays the Whitsun hymn as the clergy, in their red copes, process to the altar while the heavenly voices of the choir echo throughout this Norman cathedral. At the altar the clergy bow lowly; the celebrant is the Deaan, the epistoler, one of the prebendary and the gospeller, the archdeacon. Being an important feast day, incense is used, candles glow on the altar decked in its richly embroidered frontal, and a special anthem is sung by the choir. The sermon which is a little longer than that of the village vicar, is basically the same. The Dean urges his congregation to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them, so that their lives may be Christ-like. At the offertory the elements are offered with great solemnity, while the prayer of consecration is chanted in a dignified tone, but there is no elevation as in pre-Reformation days. As in the village church, the parishioners come up to the Communion rail to receive the Sacrament. The service ends as it had started, with the sound of the organ filling the cathedral, a fitting conclusion to this whole service which has been offered to the glory of God with much splendour, reverence and dignity. Accompanied by this reverent and dignified worship the homilies expressed an universal salvation for mankind through the loving death of Christ. None is condemned provided one is penitent. God’s grace is always present to direct one’s life to the Lord. Homilies also expressed a reverence towards Mother Church and its bishops and priests. Parishioners were expected to be obedient to the Canons of the Church. Parishioners would not hear the gloom that came from Puritan preachers but a ray of hope. If one lived one’s life faithfully to Christ then one could be assured of eternal life.
All this sounds idyllic but sometimes oppressive means were used to have people comply. This of course defeated the purpose aimed for by Laud and Charles I. Cases against Prynne and company did not go down well amongst the Puritans. It built up anti-feeling against the Laudian/Caroline administration, especially under Personal Rule. However it was not the English situation that would be the undoing but a Scottish one.
On the 26th September, 1634, exactly eight years after the death of Lancelot Andrewes Charles gave command to Laud to make marginalia comments in the 1604 Prayer Book in preparation for a Prayer Book for Scotland. In making those comments it is obvious that he was dictated by Andrewes’ notes and practices. At least the archbishop realised that his mentor was a better theologian and liturgist than he was. The Prayer Book was published three years later in 1637 and its liturgy was basically a return to the 1549 Mass. The rubric, stating that “a fair white linen cloth” be placed upon “the holy Table” “with other decent furniture meet for the holy mysteries there to be celebrated” reflected Andrewes’ concept of cleanliness and decency. Like this prelate’s practice there was a definite offertory at which the elements of bread and wine are offered, whilst some of the offertory sentences such as Genesis 4:3-5, Exodus 25:2, Psalm 96:8 were those devised by Andrewes. His teaching that the Eucharistic sacrifice was not only offered for the living but also for the dead was reflected in the Prayer for the Church, which restored praying for the dead and also gave thanks for the lives of the saints. For the prayer of consecration the celebrant moves towards the centre of the altar in order to make his manual acts of taking the paten and chalice supposedly easier but at the same time more visible. This prayer included the epiclesis, anamnesis and oblation, as celebrated by Andrewes. At Communion the communicant only heard those words in the 1549 Prayer Book, “the Body/Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” Andrewes’ insistence on the communicant saying “Amen” after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ reverently also became a rubric. The final rubric directed that any consecrated elements remaining “shall be reverently eaten and drunk” and not to be taken out of the church as had been the case in the 1552 rite. It therefore emphasised Andrewes’ teaching that the bread and wine did indeed become the Body and Blood of Christ.
Although Laud laid the foundation for the content of this Prayer Book its final version was in the hands of the Scottish bishops. However it was not its content that was so inflammatory as the manner of its imposition upon the Scots. It was simply commanded by royal proclamation without any consultation to the Scottish people, parliament or church assembly. Riots followed with its introduction and the Scots drew up their own covenant, binding them against the Prayer Book.
Although Charles withdrew the Prayer Book he also wanted to make it an excuse for war. To take on the Scots meant raising money. With all the other problems, of which the basic was the need for money, Charles was forced to recall Parliament. If Charles did not know what that meant I think Laud did. Events would prove him right and he was sent to the Tower. Stafford had already been a scapegoat for Charles, and Laud knew he would be too. That blackened day dawned on the 10th January, 1644/5.
William Laud is one of those people in history that is either loved or hated, misunderstood or understood, an enforcer of punishment or an enforcer of order. Yet I think there is a side to Laud that is seldom emphasised and that is his own personal piety. In compiling his Prayer Book, Laud was much influenced by Andrewes, Preces Privatae The much loved Bishop of Winchester had given Laud a copy before he died and so within there are direct quotations. Both had a strong sense of their unworthiness. When one reads Laud’s personal prayer book one discovers a soul who struggled with his own sins and overcoming of them.
O eternal God and merciful Father, pardon, I beseech Thee, all the sins, omissions and commissions, thoughts, words and deeds, by which I have provoked Thee unto anger, from the time of my birth to this present moment. That no one, nor all of my sins together, may ever be able to cry oftener or louder in Thine ears for vengeance, than the cry of my prayers may ascend up unto Thee for mercy and for forgiveness, and obtain that they sue for. Particularly I humbly beseech thee, forgive unto me my grant and my clamorous sins, such as are …. O Lord, against heaven, and against Thee have I sinned, and committed foul transgressions in Thy sigh, but I beseech Thee wipe them all out of the book of remembrances which Thou hast written, through Jesus Christ our Lord and only Saviour. Amen. One’s unworthiness was always tempered with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to God: O my God, I will go into Thy gates with thanksgiving, and into Thy court with praise: I will be thankful unto thee, and speak good of Thy name: for Thou, Lord, art gracious, thy mercy is everlasting, and Thy truth endureth gtom generation to another. Amen. There is no doubt that he was a faithful son of the English Church, a church that he loved. O merciful God, bless this particular Church in which I live, make it, and all the members of it, sound in faith, and holy in life, that they may serve thee, and Thou bless them, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. The Eucharist was at the heart of Laud’s devotional life and like Andrewes and others he believed in a proper preparation to receive the blessed Sacrament in order to receive the benefits thereof: O Lord, into a clean, charitable, and thankful heart, give me grace to receive the Body and Blood of Thy Son, my most blessed Saviour, that it may more perfectly cleanse me from all dregs of sin; that being made clean, it may nourish me in faith, hope and charity, and obedience, with all other fruits of spiritual life and growth in Thee; and that in all future course of my life, I may shew myself such an engrafted member into the Body of Thy Son, that I may never be drawn to do anything that may dishonour His name. Grant this, O Lord, I beseech thee, even for His merit’s and mercy’s sake. Amen. On the day that he was accused of High Treason by the House of Commons this was his prayer: O eternal God and merciful Father, I humbly beseech thee to look down upon me in this time of my great and grievous affliction. Lord, if it be Thy blessed will, make my innocency appear, and free both me and my profession from all scandal thus raised on me. And howsoever, if Thou be pleased to try me to the utmost, I humbly beseech Thee, give me full patience, proportionable comfort, contentment with whatsoever Thou sendest, and an heart ready to die for Thy honour, the King’s happiness, and this Church’s preservation. And my zeal to these is all the sin (human frailty excepted) which is yet known to me in this particular, for which I suffer. Lord, look upon me in mercy, and for the merits of Jesus Christ pardon all my sins many and great, which have drawn down this judgment upon me, and then in all things do with me as seems best in Thine own eyes; and make me not only patient under, but thankful for whatsoever Thou dost, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen. When he imprisoned this prayer book that would have been a comfort to Laud was confiscated by Prynne on 31st May, 1643 and was not returned until 6th November, 1644, only two months before his death. After receiving it, he added his Meditation in Preparation for Death, which included texts from Andrewes. In it we see a confession of sin as illustrated in the first prayer above. It is followed by a collection of verses from the psalms and New Testament that give comfort and support in time of adversity and in death. All of these are gathered up into this prayer, also based on Scripture and a text from Andrewes. O Lord, I wear Thy Name; ‘tis Thy Name that is called upon me. For Thy Name’s sake, therefore, be merciful unto me. O spare, Lord, if not me, yet Thine own Name in me. And do no remember my sin, O Lord do not, as that in remembering it, Thou forget Thine own Name. I have desired to fear Thy Name, to love and honour Thy Name. And now I desire to depart this life in the invocation and confession of Thy Name. Lord, I confess it, and call upon it, O come, Lord Jesu. Amen. Undoubtedly Laud went to the block on Tower’s Green believing he was a martyr for the English Church and that is way he has been commemorated each tenth of January. Whatever one may think of Laud he was a dignified and brave Christian soul who loved his Lord and the Church. He erred as we all do but he was quick to acknoweldge his sins and his need for God's grace in his life. In that he has set an example to us all.