January 10: William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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About this Commemoration

William Laud, born in 1573, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, having been Charles I’s principal ecclesiastical adviser for several years before. He was the most prominent of a new generation of Churchmen who disliked many of the ritual practices which had developed during the reign of Elizabeth I, and who were bitterly opposed by the “Puritans.”

Laud believed the Church of England to be in direct continuity with the medieval Church, and he stressed the unity of  Church and State, exalting the role of the king as the supreme governor. He emphasized the priesthood and the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, and  caused consternation by insisting on the reverencing of the Altar, returning it to its pre-Reformation position against the east wall of the church, and hedging it about with rails.

As head of the courts of High Commission and Star Chamber,  Laud was abhorred for the harsh sentencing of prominent Puritans. His  identification with the unpopular policies of King Charles, his support of the war  against Scotland in 1640, and his efforts to make the Church independent of  Parliament, made him widely disliked. He was impeached for treason by the Long Parliament in 1640, and finally beheaded on January 10, 1645.

Laud’s reputation has remained controversial to this  day. Honored as a martyr and condemned as an intolerant bigot, he was compassionate in his defense of the rights of  the common people against the landowners. He was honest, devout, loyal to the king and to the rights and privileges of the Church of England. He tried to reform and protect the Church in accordance with his sincere convictions. But in  many ways he was out of step with the views of the majority of his countrymen, especially about the “Divine Right of Kings.”

He made a noble end, praying on the scaffold: “The Lord receive my soul, and have mercy upon me, and bless this kingdom with peace and charity, that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them.”

Collects

I Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like thy servant William Laud, we may live in thy fear, die in thy favor, and rest in thy peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servant William Laud, we may live in your
fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Isaiah 6:1–8

Hebrews 12:5–7,11–14

Matthew 10:32–39

Psalm

73:24–29

Preface of  of a Saint (2)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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13 Responses to January 10: William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645

  1. Leonel L. Mitchell says:

    Ihave always been a “fan” of Laud’s. I like the biography, and the new OT reading seems a good addition to the propers. He is aa most important like between the Henrician Church (and the pre-Reformation Church) and the modern church. Laudianism inspired many of the 19th Century Ecclesiologists..

  2. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    Why “the Puritans” in para 1 but naked Puritans in para 3? It might be well to specify some of those harsh punishments in para 3: ear cropping and nose slicing were common ones. Of course, these were not invented by Laud; he merely applied the punishments available to him. Was it not Laud who, with Charles, disasterously tried to impose the Prayer Book on the Scots?

  3. Celinda Scott says:

    Interesting that we can honor Seabury and Laud, both on the “wrong side” of some important issues: Seabury on the side of the British at least at the beginning of the American Revolution, and Laud on the side of the unity of church and state and the “Divine Right of Kings”(some of my ancestors came to this continent in the early 1640s because of Laud’s repressive policies).

  4. Michael Hartney says:

    Bio. He could use a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement.
    [Not that I don’t know who he is and why he is important – I’ m just sayin’.]

  5. Nigel Renton says:

    Laud is not honored just because he was Archbishop of Canterbury. I suggest a subtitle, reading “Theologian and Archbishop”.

    The present article is more a summary of the political situation than a biography of a Holy Man.

    I find the second sentence totally confusing. Surely Laud was someone who liked the ritual practices?

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “at Reading, England, on October 7, 1573. He was educated at Reading Grammar School, and obtained a scholarship to attend St. John’s College, Oxford, where he was elected a Fellow in 1593, before earning his B.A in 1594. He was ordained in 1601, and became a D.D. in 1608. Because of his ability, and with the assistance of various patrons, he rose rapidly, being elected President of his college in 1611.”

    Delete the remainder of the first paragraph: see below.

    Suggested new second paragraph:
    “Ecclesiastical preferment followed in rapid succession: Prebendary, Archdeacon, and Dean. In 1618, he traveled to Scotland with King James I,. His first appointment as a bishop came in 1621, With the accession of King Charles l in 1625, Laud soon became the king’s principal ecclesiastical adviser, being successively translated in 1626 and 1628, when he became Bishop of London. In 1629, he began a very important Chancellorship of Oxford University, and in 1633 was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Here begin the existing second paragraph.

    Line 7, third paragraph: add “on Tower Hill, London” after “beheaded”.

  6. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    I agree with Nigel about thebiography. Laud was a difficult man in difficult – and dangerous – times.

    Churches during his time were open all the time, and often the only indoor public spave in villages and towns. People wandered in and out, conducted business, etc. Their dogs wandered in and out also, so fencing the altar had a practical as well as a symbolic purpose.

  7. Philip Wainwright says:

    This is a very difficult commemoration to analyse, for both personal and historical reasons. Personal, because my own churchmanship is the one Laud would have driven out of the church if he could, and historical because it there is still so much dispute among historians about what can be said about him once he is separated from his opponents’ descriptions of him, and his of his opponents. It’s not clear that it’s even possible at this late date to separate him from those things, and it may be that we simply have to accept that Anglo-Catholics will go on admiring him, while Evangelicals will go on doing something else. Whether it’s helpful for the national church to give this implicit imprimatur to such a divisive figure is perhaps the discussion we ought to be having. If we’re going to commemorate Laud, there’s no reason not to commemorate Charles I; but if we’re going to commemorate them, we ought in fairness to commemorate Calvin and even Cromwell. Better to leave them all to their fans, and for the national church to stick to those that the whole church can agree on.

    But understanding that the likelihood of him being dropped from the calendar is close to zero, I’ll make the following suggestions:

    ‘Who disliked many of the ritual practices which had developed during the reign of Elizabeth I’—Nigel is right to question this. What he disliked was the fact that many medieval ritual practices were hardly used in the Elizabethan church, although perhaps the replacement of the altar by a table, and moving it from the east end of the church to the middle of the chancel could be described as a ritual practice.

    ‘And who were bitterly opposed by the “Puritans”‘. This should read ‘and who bitterly opposed, and were bitterly opposed by the Puritans’. There was bitterness and worse on all sides of these differences.

    ‘Laud believed the Church of England to be in direct continuity with the medieval Church’—Laud recognised that the C of E had broken continuity with the medieval church, and he wanted to restore it.

    ‘Laud was abhorred for the harsh sentencing of prominent Puritans’—the phrase ‘harsh sentencing’ should be replaced by ‘barbaric treatment’. He ordered their ears to be cut off. The judgement of this as ‘barbaric’ is not the imposition of 21st century standards on the 17th century, by the way, but the majority judgement of his contemporaries. And if we repaced the phrase ‘prominent Puritans’ with ‘widely respected members of the C of E’ we might better understand what was happening, and why ‘Laud’s reputation has remained controversial to this day’.

    ‘He was out of step with the views of the majority of his countrymen, especially about the “Divine Right of Kings.”’ He also held views about the divine right of bishops that many in today’s church would find troublesome.

    ‘Widely disliked’—‘abhorred’ in the previous paragraph was more accurate.

    In the collect, if we omitted the phrase ‘like your servant William Laud’, I could say ‘Amen’. Could I still say ‘Amen’ if I omitted the phrase while the rest of the congregation said it? I shall have to think about that one. Probably better to look on this as another commemoration to politely avoid.

  8. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    If we are going to be honest about folks we commemorate who instigated crusades and their accompanying pogroms, then we have to be honest about Laud. My instincts are higher church than not, but I still fjnd much of what Laud did politico-religiously very repugnant.

  9. John LaVoe says:

    William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645
    .
    It is sadly ironic that someone whose name calls up so much pain would be named “laud.” I hope the Commission will take to heart the comments listed by others already and not just push it through without trying to hear and respond to so much that is said here from people’s hearts, and potentially representing other important voices besides their own. Writing the bio with more of a “point and counterpoint” balance (as is suggested and illustrated several times in people’s comments) seems like a big step in that direction. Philip’s comment on the collect — specifically the words “like your servant William Laud” — following the paean of “constant in faith and zealous in witness,” could do with some contextualization about excesses in violence, and abuse of power, characteristic of the period on almost all sides. (Interesting that George Fox is not up for inclusion in HWHM.)
    .
    This collect begins with “Keep us, O Lord,” which, while not unprecedented, drops the usual invocation’s inclusion of an attribute or historical self-revelation of God, and plunges right into petition. Philip pointed out that the “so what” of the collect (present in the words “that … we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace”) is completely welcomed. This suggests not only my predictable repeated comments about collects, but more importantly this time, the fact that the presentation here in (HWHM’s biography AND collect) is falling to the temptation to oversimplify and whitewash an inherently complex, and sinful, mix of polemic extremes. Take whatever side you think was more urgent, it still falls shockingly short of what goes on the cover of next year’s Christmas card.
    .
    Readings: The OT, Psalm, and Gospel all seem fine. Thank you! The Epistle isn’t fine. We have a controversial figure here, and an epistle selection couched in a framework of talking down (a superior speaker to forgetful naughty “children”), admonishing with “discipline talk.” I won’t try to elaborate the point, but it just doesn’t seem like a wise selection in a case with contentious possibilities – proper interpretation of the passage and its original context notwithstanding. He cut off their ears and they beheaded him, and the last line of the epistle is, “14 Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” If that line applies, neither Laud nor anyone involved belongs in HWHM!
    .
    Epistle suggestions are not my forte, but the Revelation to John may be preferable for a source, and two options that come to mind are, 6:9-11 (the martyrs under the altar calling on God to fulfill his purposes), or all of chapter 5 (the Lamb that was slaughtered can open the scroll) — or a segment of chapter 5. They bring a very different backdrop to the hearing of the Word of eternal life.

    I am very grateful for the deep sharing expressed by people in the comments for this commemoration. Thank you!

  10. Michael Hartney says:

    And, just a reminder: The Archbishop is already approved by General Convention in previous editions of LFF. Efforts to remove him from the calendar would provoke … well, interesting conversations at General Convention.

    Our comments on the bio and lections though can be considered for alteration without the controversy removal would invoke.

  11. Phil Dinwiddie says:

    Repugnant as some of his deeds obviously were, there are parallels to be drawn here between Laud and Christ in their arrest, “trials”, and martyrdom for desire to reform the religious establishment. Both saw it coming, and neither fled, as they could have.

    I mention this as a preacher, primarily.

    Along the same lines, I think there is great redemption in his last words, focusing as they do on peace and charity, two things that did not particularly mark his life and ministry.

    So, at the last, he lived complicated life in a complicated time, and in giving his life for the sake of the church found insight and spirit enough to call others to peace and charity.

    Sounds awfully saintly to me.

  12. Pingback: Wind Chimes: 10 Jan 2013 | Hear what the Spirit is saying

  13. First time I have head of this guy and a lot of what he advocated e.g. unity of Church and State is anathema to most of us in this day and age. However even today we don’t/can’t separate religion and politics because most of us are influenced by our beliefs and upbringing. He was a person of his time and acted accordingly. He is to be admired for “sticking to his guns” He definitely died for his convictions and as such is to be honored.

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