Works of Archbishop Laud.
Laud is one of the many persons whose character has never been fairly studied, because his name has been made into a kind of symbol by two parties fiercely opposed to each other.
Lord Macaulay, in his review of Hallam's Constitutional History— written, it is true, when he was twenty-seven years of age — breaks out into the following characteristic expressions: 'For Laud we entertain a more unmitigated contempt than for any other character in our history. The fondness with which a portion of our Church regards his memory can be compared only to that perversity of affection which sometimes leads a mother to select the monster or the idiot of the family as the object of her especial affection.' The Parliament should have sent him to Oxford to continue 'that incomparable Diary which we never see without forgetting the vices of his heart in the imbecility of his intellect.'. . . 'Contemptuous mercy was the only vengeance which it became the Parliament to take on such a ridiculous old bigot.' There is a considerable dash of the Cambridge Union about this; but it seems to have expressed not unfairly the deliberate opinion of Lord Macaulay.
On the other hand, the 'portion of our Church' referred to has been of a diametrically opposite opinion. In his preface to Laud's Diary (which is adorned with pictures of stiff little angels saying their prayers and other quasi-ascetic devices) Dr. Newman draws a picture of Laud which, if quieter and in better taste than Lord Macaulay's—it was written in 1839, when Dr. Newman was nearly forty years old—is quite as strong in the opposite direction.
Laud is described as a Christian of the primitive type, 'cast in a mould of proportions that are much above our own, and of stature akin to the elder days of the Church.' There is some speculation as to whether he was technically a martyr, and the writer inclines to think he was. In short, the 'ridiculous old bigot' towers above the level of common men, and rises into an atmosphere which they cannot affect even to breathe. Such works as this preface hardly affect the character of dispassionate critical inquiry, and they considerably exaggerate the sentiment of the older class of Tories and High Churchmen.
These, however, were sufficiently strong, as may be inferred from the well-known lines in the 'Vanity of Human Wishes':—
See when the vulgar 'scapes despised or awed,If we want to get some notion of the man as he really was, we must turn from the views of later partisans, and look at the evidence supplied by his own works and by those who knew him.
Rebellion's vengeful talons seize on Laud;
Marked out by dangerous parts he meets the shock,
And fatal learning leads him to the block.
Around his tomb let Art and Genius weep,
But hear his fate, ye blockheads, hear, and sleep.
It is always convenient, even in the case of a man so well known, to have under the eye the leading dates of his life. They were as follows: Laud was born at Reading, 5th October 1573. He was elected Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, in 1593. After holding different livings, he was elected President of his College in 1611, and was made Chaplain to James I. In 1615 he became Archdeacon of Huntingdon; in 1621 Bishop of St. David's. In 1622 he had his famous controversy with the Jesuit Fisher; and in 1624 he was put into the High Commission Court. In 1626 he was made Bishop of Bath and Wells, in 1628 Bishop of London. In 1630 he became Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and in August 1633 he became Archbishop of Canterbury. From this time till the meeting of the Long Parliament he was nearly in the position of a Prime Minister, and was the chief agent in all the arbitrary acts of the time, such as the High Commission prosecutions, the introduction of the Liturgy into Scotland, the licensing of books, and the like. One of the first acts of the Long Parliament was to send him to the Tower in March 1641. His goods were plundered by various violent proceedings. He was brought to trial in March 1644, for high treason. The proceedings lasted, under one form or another, till January 1645, when he was beheaded, in the seventy-second year of his age.
The great events of Laud's life are too notorious to require, or even to justify, more than this passing reference; but it is worth while to try to get some sort of notion of the man from his writings. They consist of seven sermons; a report of the Conference with Fisher the Jesuit, held for the instruction of the Duke of Buckingham's mother; the Diary, of which Lord Macaulay spoke so contemptuously, and a small volume of private devotions; a variety of official papers connected with his duties as Chancellor of Oxford; reports of several of his speeches, especially of speeches at the Council Board and at the Court of High Commission; a history of his troubles and his trial; and a great mass of correspondence with various persons, of whom Strafford is the most remarkable. The most characteristic of them are his conference with Fisher, his speeches, his Diary and book of devotions, and part of his correspondence. The history of his troubles is an intricate and prolix account of forgotten details; and a large part of his correspondence refers to current matters of business which have ceased to have any sort of importance.
The view of his character which these materials suggest to us is as far from that of Lord Macaulay as it is from that of Dr. Newman. To speak of Laud as a 'ridiculous old bigot,' and to balance the vices of his heart against the imbecility of his intellect, is as unjust as it is altogether unreal and fanciful to idealise him into a saint and martyr.
It is hardly probable that Lord Macaulay had read any part of his works, with the exception of the grotesque bits of his Diary, when he launched his juvenile thunderbolts. It is impossible to read either his conference with Fisher or his speeches at the Council Board and the Court of High Commission without seeing that Laud was a man of great ability and extensive learning. In particular, he had remarkable gifts of style. His sermons are rather good in their way, and are by no means pedantic for the age in which they were written. Concede that a preacher ought to consider his text as a motto for observations more or less appropriate to the special subject of the day, and it will be hard to deny to Laud the praise of making a good many judicious and sensible remarks on the topics which he handled. His writings are clear, lively, and simple. His style has none of the involution and amplitude which was common amongst his contemporaries. It is far simpler, for instance, than the style of Clarendon, and has comparatively little of the pedantry of Williams, or his biographer Hacket. It has much resemblance, not merely in the choice and arrangement of words, but also in substance, to that of Chillingworth, whose discussion with Knott has much in common with Laud's conference with Fisher.
One point, which the common notions of Laud certainly would not suggest, is the existence of a distinct vein of humour in every part of his writings, especially in his correspondence with Strafford. They are continually joking with each other, especially on the subject of Oxford and Cambridge, on which ancient controversy they never miss a chance of having a little fun.
Here and there this humorous vein takes the savage form, and shows what Clarendon meant by Laud's roughness of manner. Preaching, for instance, about some Dr. Cumming of the seventeenth century, who believed in the restoration of the Jews, he observes: 'I cannot tell here whether it is Balaam that prophesieth, or the beast he rode on.' In a sermon on unity he gives this pithy piece of advice: 'Keep unity then, and be sour—it is honourable justice—upon any that shall endeavour to break it.' In a speech on his trial, in answer to one by Lord Say, he thus remarks on his antagonist's complexion: 'What a happiness hath this lord, that his pale meagreness cannot blush at such a speech as this!' In his speech 'at the censure of Bastwick, Burton, and Pryn,' he observes: 'This is the misery, 'tis superstition nowadays for any man to come with more reverence into a church than a tinker and his bitch come into an ale-house.' 'The comparison,' he adds, 'is too homely, but my just indignation at the profaneness of the times makes me speak it.'
If we turn from the style to the substance, and try to ascertain what Laud's real opinions were on the subjects on which his mind was most exercised, it will be very difficult for any fair critic to speak with contempt of him. The two great subjects on which he thought were religion and politics, which indeed in his age were only two sides of the same subject.
His position in regard to each has, we think, been much misunderstood. How he came to receive the worship of the High Churchmen of our own day, except by the accident of his execution, it is hard to understand. The great characteristic of the Oxford movement was the height to which those who belonged to it carried the ascetic, devotional, unworldly side of religion. They surrounded themselves with an atmosphere of mystery and symbolism. They had a leaning to what the rest of the world described as superstition, and, in general, appeared to find a positive pleasure in believing as much as they could.
To judge from his writings, there was singularly little, though there was just a touch, of this temper in Laud. In one or two of his prayers there is a trace of mysticism, and there are a few points in his conference with Fisher which more or less lead up to it, but the general tone of his writings is quite the other way.
The conference with Fisher, as we have said, strongly resembles Chillingworth's Religion of Protestants, though it is not so systematic. The book, indeed, is put into such a form that it is not easy, especially near the beginning, to make out who is speaking, and on what occasion. Fisher had two conferences with Dr. White, and afterwards a third conference (24th May 1622) with Laud. Fisher published in 1623 what his antagonists considered an unfair account of the conferences. White and Laud replied by giving their own account in 1624. In 1626 Fisher published an answer under the initials 'A. C.' In 1639 Laud published his final account in the form in which it now stands in his works, replying upon 'A, C.' Much of it, therefore, falls into the form of 'You say that I said that you said so and so, and that I answered so and so; whereas you say that you said something else, and that my answer is wrong. Now I say that I never said that you said what you say that I said that you said, and my answer to what I said that you said was right.' Moreover, 'A. C.,' 'F.,' 'D. White,' and 'B.' (i.e. Bishop Laud) come in, especially near the beginning, in a way which reminds the reader of the letter which old Mr. Weller and his literary friend jointly wrote to inform Sam of his stepmother's death.
As the book goes on, however, Laud expounds his own views more and more fully, and with less and less reference to Fisher, and it can hardly be denied that they are very vigorously conceived and stated. There is, of course, a great deal about the Fathers, and what they did or did not believe, and much collateral skirmishing upon various topics; but the point on which the whole controversy really turns is the question, What is the ultimate test of belief? Fisher argued, as Cardinal Manning argues in the present day, that the Church was the only trustworthy witness for the Bible, and that a belief in Church authority was thus the only foundation upon which Christian faith could rest. Laud's answer to this is substantially the same as Chillingworth's, and, strange as it may appear, his answer will well bear repeating even now. He says with pithy vigour:—
'I did never love too curious a search into that which might put a man into a wheel and circle him so long between proving Scripture by tradition and tradition by Scripture, till the devil find a means to dispute him into infidelity and make him believe neither. I hope this is not your meaning. Yet I doubt this question, How do you know Scripture to be Scripture? will cause more harm than you will ever be able to help by tradition, but I must follow that way which you lead me.'
He then proceeds to discuss four different ways by which Scripture may be shown to bear the character claimed for it, the last of which is the use of natural reason; and this method Laud declares to be the right one, though he adds—and in this he differs, more perhaps in expression than in substance, from Chillingworth—that the conviction produced by natural reason in the first instance may be deepened by prayer, and by acquaintance with the character of the Bible, till it becomes stronger than the mere force of the evidence would have made it. Reason, however, is the ultimate foundation of his whole system, and his style and habits of mind bear all the characteristics of that kind of rationalism.
There is in all his writings a remarkable absence of the mystical emotional way of looking at religion, and he argues with all the sturdiness and point of a man who is thoroughly determined to know his own meaning, and make other people know theirs. The following sentences are good instances of this:—
'For it may further be asked why we should believe the Church's tradition, and if it be answered we may believe because the Church is infallibly governed by the Holy Ghost, it may yet be demanded of you how that may appear? And if this be demanded, either, you must say you have it by special revelation, which is the private spirit you object to other men, or else you must attempt to prove it by Scripture, as all of you do.'Which of course would be a petitio principii. So, again:—
'Their final answer is, they know it to be so, because the present Roman Church witnesseth it according to tradition, so arguing primo ad ultimum from first to last; the present Church of Rome and her followers believe her own doctrine and tradition to be true and Catholic because she professes it to be such,'These are fair specimens of the terseness and vigour with which the whole book is written, and they certainly do not give the impression of a man of an imbecile mind. Besides this, Clarendon's description of Laud, and Laud's undoubted love for learning and learned men, and his benefactions to learned bodies, show that, whatever else he was, he was by no means a 'ridiculous old bigot.'
The principal evidence to show that he was is supplied by his Diary. It certainly does contain a great many odd notes about dreams. Dr. Newman speaks of these passages, in his preface, as showing 'a religious attention to dreams and possible indications of Providence.' They do not appear to me in that light, nor does Lord Macaulay seem to be quite fair about them. In most cases the dreams are simply mentioned without any religious application at all. '7th July. I dreamed that I had lost two teeth.' '21st Aug. In my sleep it seemed to me that the Duke of Buckingham came into bed to me, where he behaved himself with great kindness towards me,' etc. '4th Sept. Afterwards I dreamed of Sackville Crow, that he was dead of the plague,' etc.
This is rather grotesque and queer than superstitious. There is nothing religious about the entries. Laud does not seem to have drawn any omen from the loss of his teeth or the fate of Sackville Crow. He would appear rather to have had a sort of fancy for putting down dreams in a Diary which contains all sorts of odds and ends—for instance, his getting lamed in one leg 'by the biting of bugs,' his being startled by two robin redbreasts flying into the room where he was writing a sermon, the elm leaves being still upon the trees on the 1st of December, 'which few men have seen,' and scores of other trifles.
The Diary is a very short and slight affair altogether, and contains little that can fairly be considered remarkable. Perhaps the most striking sentence in it occurs in an entry on Strafford's execution. 'His mishaps in this last action were that he groaned under the public envy of the nobles, served a mild and a gracious Prince who knew not how to be, nor to be made, great,' etc. This is a singular, and surely not a very saintly, criticism on Charles's character. It tallies well with Clarendon's constant complaints that Charles was uxorious, and so weak-minded that he always allowed himself to be guided by his inferiors.
To those who take their notions of him from his works it will probably appear that the true bent of Laud's mind was far more towards politics than towards theology. How far he really cared about religion, except as the leading political question of the day, is a matter on which it would be presumptuous to form an opinion. That he was as keen a politician as it was possible for a man to be does not admit of a doubt. His whole heart is in his correspondence with Strafford, and it is obvious enough that they felt for each other that kind of strong personal sympathy and liking, which leads men to careless familiarity. It is sufficiently well known what their plans were, how they meant to carry them out, and what was the result.
Often as the story has been told, there is one point in it, specially connected with Laud, and singularly illustrative of his character and position, which is perhaps less generally known than it might be. This is the nature and practical drift of his views of Church government. We do not think that he was in the least degree disposed to be a Roman Catholic. We believe, on the contrary, that he had a genuine intellectual dislike to the Romish system, and that he had a good deal of sympathy with the incipient liberalism which was so strongly developed in Chillingworth, who wrote under his special patronage and direction, and in Jeremy Taylor, who was his chaplain.
There are many passages in his Conference with Fisher, in his sermons, and in his speeches, which show that he held Hooker's theory of the identity of the Church and State, and that he was quite sufficiently inclined to despise the Puritans as illiberal and narrow-minded, and to entertain, mutatis mutandis, similar views of the Roman Catholics.
This being so, it is no doubt odd how his name came to be a proverb for petty, narrow-minded bigotry. The answer is to be found in the theory of Church government which he wished to turn into fact. In common with many statesmen and writers of the day —Charles I, Clarendon, Chillingworth, and Jeremy Taylor, for instance—he believed with all his heart in the divine right of episcopacy; a doctrine, by the way, which has an aspect extremely unfavourable, and even diametrically opposed, to the later forms of Popery.
This doctrine substantially was, that the Christian Church was an aristocracy of which the bishops were the rulers, each bishop having, by God's appointment, certain powers in his own bounds, and the bishops of each nation having also certain powers paramount to all human authority, and closely connected with, and forming the natural support to, the powers of the King, the origin of which was also divine.
Like all aristocratic theories, this had no doubt its liberal and high-minded side. As we have shown on other occasions, it had a strong natural affinity for intellectual liberalism, and for learning of every kind. Moreover, the notion of a national Church, governed by an aristocracy of bishops, closely united with the temporal rulers of the nation, is not only larger-minded than the notion of a conventicle, but is really far more dignified than the notion of an immense spiritual despotism with a Dalai Lama, in the shape of a Pope, at the head of it.
It should never be forgotten that the modern Ultramontane view of the Church is not only irrational in itself, but is a modern innovation, for which the world is obliged to a variety of ingenious authors, and especially to the Jesuits. The earlier view, and especially that of the Gallicans, attributed the greatest importance to the rights of national Churches, and Laud and his party held much the same sort of position, as far as Church government was concerned, as would have been held by the Gallican Church had Louis XIV. gone one step farther than he actually went. Their theology was greatly more liberal.
It is important to recognise the dignified and attractive aspect of the intellectual side of Laud's theory, because the other side of it is better known. It cannot, however, be said that the evils usually ascribed to it are exaggerated. If ever there was a system in this world which deserved to be called a 'tyranny of professors,' it was the one which Laud and Strafford laboured to set up, and we are perhaps tempted rather to underrate than to overrate the danger of it.
In the present day we are inclined to smile when a wrongheaded colonial bishop chooses to play at being a judge, and to try to set up a system of jurisprudence which he can mould at his own pleasure, under the name of the common law of the Church; but this in Laud's time was no laughing matter. There was then a real substantial contest, and a most acrimonious and doubtful one, between the law of the Church and the law of the land. So complete was the victory of the latter that the way in which the battle was fought and won has been almost forgotten.
A few words on the subject may perhaps be interesting to some of our readers. If the controversy between the lawyers and the divines had been clearly worked out, it would have resulted in two counter-propositions. The lawyers' proposition was that the ecclesiastical law of England was nothing else than that part of the law of England which related to ecclesiastical affairs, and that it owed its binding force to the will of the English Legislature. This view is worked out elaborately, and asserted with extreme and almost passionate emphasis, by Coke and Hale.
The proposition of the divines was that the ecclesiastical law of England was the common law of the Christian Church as interpreted by clerical judges. To do full justice to their view of the subject, and especially to Laud's view of it, would no doubt be a matter of some difficulty; but this, in general terms, was its character, and the practical consequence was that, in the court of High Commission and in the Ecclesiastical Courts all over the country, the clergy could make pretty nearly whatever laws they thought proper upon all ecclesiastical and moral subjects.
In Clarendon's significant words Laud was determined 'that the discipline of the Church should be seen and felt as well as talked of,' and the way in which he carried out his resolution is to be traced in all the proceedings of the High Commission Court. The imprisonment of persons of high rank for adultery, simply on the ground that adultery was a spiritual offence—or, in other words, a sin— was a strong illustration of the spirit in which he proceeded; but the general tendency of the system is seen more clearly in its daily application.
This is to be traced in a curious publication of Archdeacon Hale on the records of the different Ecclesiastical Courts from the end of the fifteenth till the middle of the seventeenth century. The practical application of the system is set in the clearest possible light by this remarkable book. It shows that the clergy of the day, and especially the archdeacons, were more like our stipendiary magistrates than anything else. They held courts constantly, as often as twenty times a year, and took cognisance in them of every sort of moral offence—breach of trust, defamation, irregular attendance at church; above all, incontinence in all its forms. The procedure was by the course of the civil law, and the parties (till the lay power interfered to prevent it) were compelled, by what was called the oath ex officio, to give evidence against themselves. The consequences to which the parties were liable on conviction were either penance or excommunication, the temporal effects of which were most serious.
The High Commission Court dignified, centralised, and methodised this power; and, if the Court had been able to maintain itself, it would have given the bishops a degree of power which, according to our modern notions, would have been altogether intolerable, and which, even in the seventeenth century, people were thoroughly determined to resist, even at the expense, if necessary, of civil war. To us it is not only easy to understand this feeling, but barely possible to understand how the state of things which called it forth should ever have come into existence.
It ought, however, to be observed, and indeed it is one of the most curious points in the whole matter, that in point of discipline the Presbyterians (as witness the Scotch Kirk Sessions) were more severe than the bishops themselves, though probably they were more on a level with those over whom their power was exercised, and had in every way a greater hold on their sympathies.
It ought also to be observed that the dispute to which the King, the Church, and the two Houses were parties was emphatically a question, not of law or liberty, but of power and sovereignty. In England, as in every other part of Europe, the question, Who was sovereign? had, in the seventeenth century, to be settled by the same means by which the States of the American Union settled the question whether they formed a nation or a confederacy.
Logic might be chopped, and authorities quoted, to any length. The real question was, Whom did the people really wish and intend to obey? They were quite clear that they did not mean to obey the bishops or the clergy, except in a very modified manner indeed. They were divided between the King and the two Houses, though with a considerable majority, as events showed, against the King, and this was caused principally by his adherence to the bishops.
Laud appears to us to have been a rather favourable specimen of the class to which he belonged, but his history leaves no room for doubt as to the reasons of the failure of his schemes. A learned, well-meaning, and, in his way, liberal-minded College Don is perhaps the last person in the world whom the English nation is likely to receive as a ruler and governor in all matters human and divine. We think that those who reviled him as a disguised Papist, or derided him as a bigot and fool, misunderstood him as much as those who turned him into a glorified saint. We also think that it was very wrong to cut off his head; but, with considerable intellectual merits, he was utterly intolerable as a Prime Minister, and deserved almost anything short of what actually happened to him.
In conclusion we may give the following short extracts, both as remarkable in themselves and in proof of our assertion that there was a side on which Laud's views were directly opposed to bigotry, and were such as to expose him rather to the charge of liberalism. They occur in his speech at the censure of Pryn, Bastwick, and Burton. He had been charged with making innovations of a Popish kind in the Liturgy. The following are two of the charges, with his answers:—
'The third innovation is, that the prayer for seasonable weather was purged out of the last fast-book, which was, say they, the cause of shipwrecks and tempestuous weather.'Laud was also charged with having left out of the Litany a prayer to 'cut off those workers of iniquity whose religion is rebellion.' He justified himself as follows:—
'Ans. When this last book was set out, the weather was very seasonable. . . . 'Tis most inconsequent to say that the leaving that prayer out of the book of devotions caused the shipwrecks and the tempests which followed; and as bold they are with God Almighty in saying it was the cause, for sure I am God never told them it was the cause, and, if God never revealed it, they cannot come to know it.'
'If you make their religion to be rebellion, then you make their religion and rebellion to be all one, and that is against the ground both of State and law. For when divers Romish priests and Jesuits have deservedly suffered death for treason, is it not the constant and just profession of the State that they never put any man to death for religion, but for rebellion and treason only? Doth not the State truly affirm that there never was any law made against the life of a Papist, quatenus Papist only? and is not all this stark false if their very religion be rebellion? For if their religion be rebellion, it is not only false but impossible that the same man should suffer for his rebellion and not for his religion.'
Saturday Review, December 9, 1865.