Review: Peter Lake, On Laudianism (Cambridge University Press, 2023)
The nature of the Church of England is an existential question to many Anglicans who study its history. Thus it’s often necessary to take an anatomical approach to formative periods that are often shrouded in pious myth and sentiment. Laudianism is no different, which has suffered from polemical ambiguity and misanalysis. Was Laudianism a foreign implement imposed upon the “Calvinist Consensus” of the Elizabethan church (Collinson)? Was Laudianism business as usual, conformity to the Church established by law (Sharpe, Kishlansky)? Or did Laudianism even exist, a permutation of a flexible spectrum of acceptable beliefs (White)?
For Peter Lake, perhaps the greatest living historian of the Jacobean-Caroline era Church of England, Laudianism was neither foreign nor native, but a novel development internal to the Church of England. It had its own coherent “worldview” as a vision of *what* the Church should become, simultaneously the crowned jewel among all European churches and in desperate need of repair. This program was manifest not only in doctrinal polemics and sermons but also in the material culture of church renovation. Using J. H. Hexter’s apt division of historians of “lumpers” and “splitters,” Lake plays both sides of the board. The first four parts of the book “lump” Laudians as a coherent movement to recreate the Church in their own image. The Personal Rule allowed Laudians to take a more vigorous approach to transformation. The fifth part “splits” and approaches the various kinds of people who joined the Laudian movement without accepting the whole program. Many were men in a hurry, young and old, often middling clergy, seeking to rapidly transform the terms of acceptable belief. In the end, Laudianism emerges as a distinct and coherent project to restore the glory of the Church.
The Polemical Nature of Moderation
But before summarizing each section, with points of interest, I want to make a point about the polemical nature of “moderation” and “conformity”. As Lake states in the introduction, and demonstrates throughout the work, historians (and especially Anglican theologians) have often been bamboozled by Laudian rhetoric and self-conception. Laudians were an aggressive minoritarian movement to save the Church from ruin. But rarely do radicals in the Early Modern era ever claim to act in the name of Progress. Therefore, Laudians always trumpeted that they were the old conformists, defending the reformation order of things (selectively interpreting evidence). Laudians postured themselves as “moderates” standing between Jesuitical superstition and puritanical zeal, both of which produced popular politics that threatened the throne (especially the novel absolutism of the divine right of kings). As Ethan Shagan has demonstrated in his conceptual history of moderation, it is a strategy (whether based in reality or not) to alienate factions or sections that are in the way of reform. Therefore, Laudians strategically positioned all moderate puritans on the side of Amsterdam (as much as puritans may have damned Laudians as crypto-Papists). One must always be on guard about the polemical nature of moderation, especially in our contemporary moment where many Anglicans are born from incoherence of a via media (more on that later).
Let’s begin: where did Laudianism come from if it was the default of the Church? As Patrick Collinson has effectively demonstrated, the Elizabethan Church developed a “Calvinist Consensus” (or, as Lake prefers, a Calvinist hegemony) which did not see anything fundamentally unique to the Church of England. Magisterial conformity to ceremonies combined with a broad predestinarian theology formed the basis of the Church. Archbishop Whitgift staunched the tide of Puritan Presbyterianism (seeking greater similarity to Geneva), but his was a cold pessimism on ecclesiastical questions (obedience was sufficient) (21). As Lake has written about elsewhere, a core figure in understanding the Laudian shift was the highly revered Richard Hooker, who may be considered an innovative defender of “Anglicanism,” a positive defense for the Elizabethan settlement. But he is too ambiguous historically, claimed on all sides and submerged in claims and counterclaims of what is truly “Anglican.” Instead, the Laudian ethos emerged from Lancelot Andrewes, particularly his court sermons that Laud had editorialized into a beloved work of devotion and vision. To quote Lake:
The starting point for any discussion of the theological roots of what emerged as Laudianism is Lancelot Andrewes and any starting point for any discussion of the divinity of Lancelot Andrewes is Christ. (47)
The Laudian vision was Christocentric, ecclesiocentric, and heavy on the sacraments. His sermons formed around the high holidays of the liturgical calendar (Christmas, Easter, Whitsun), and the life of the Christian was shaped around Christ. Bishops were not simply jure humano inventions of the Apostles (which most Anglicans accepted as part of the Church’s well-being). Rather episcopal ordination was a sacramental reflection of Christ’s authority, creating bishops is creating apostles, empowered on Pentecost through the Holy Spirit for ministry (57-58). Similarly, for Andrewes, the monarch was a divine institution for the civil life of men. To attack the king was to attack God, a political theology of divine right monarchy (59-65). For Andrewes, popery and puritanism both threatened the royal supremacy through countenancing the idea of tyrannicide. Presbyterianism was republicanism (read: anarchy) in church, and thus republicanism in state (66-68). The problem with puritanism was an entire religious style, a weltanschauung of Logocentric piety. Puritans fixated on words, doctrine, teaching, neglecting the visible acts of ritual. Rather than Christians, puritanism created hypocrites obsessed with debate and dogma. Puritanism simultaneously produced arrogant clods sure of their salvation, as well as despair in the weak who cower before God the Tyrant (68-69). Therefore predestination often came under fire. It was not that Andrewes (or any Laudian) was in fact an Arminian (though some made great strides to be) but were (per Nicholas Tyacke’s book) anti-Calvinists. As a great moderate, Andrewes postured himself between the Manichaean fatalism of the puritans and the Pelagian heresy of Anabaptist sects. Instead, the average Christian can find salvation in the works of repentance (85-100). Andrewes was not against sermons but against puritan sermons. Preaching should exhort good behavior and not be the center of worship. Instead of taking consolation from election and unknowable decrees of God, the “ordinary means of salvation” (adopting a puritan phrase) were the sacrament and prayer. The church was a corporate body of the nation at prayer, humbly on pilgrimage towards the New Jerusalem. It was not a militant, and possibly sectarian, body of the godly against the sins of the many (101-108).
Two Rival Ideals for Anglican Conformity
Andrewes’ views became normative for the avant-garde of Laudianism. To transform churches from houses of preaching (often suffering disrepair and vulgar disrespect), renovation became a key plank in the platform. Conformity as such was not enough. Laudians advanced views that raised altars (not common tables), rails, and images were not simply the law but Scriptural and Patristic (148-151). Pews that obstructed a view of the altar were removed and altars were placed higher than pulpits to show superiority (173-188). As the sacrament was better than the word (even described as a kind of sacrifice), so too were the clergy (who alone could be past the rails) superior to the laity (190). Episcopacy was not only an Apostolic invention (even if jure divino), it was from Christ himself. To denigrate bishops was to attack good Christology (208-211). Sabbatarianism was rejected as impugning the authority of the Church for scripturalism. Sunday was sacred because the Church decided, not as a product of obedience to the Fourth Commandment (223-234). Additionally, puritan practice saw the rise of home worship or conventicles, a “private” (and thus potentially seditious) practice opposed to the public worship of the Church (242-243). Such was the problem with puritan “sermon adding,” turning worship into a consumer choice of the best preachers (271-281). As political theology, puritan emphasis on sabbath and sermon dovetailed with political “popularity” and criticisms of the king. Puritans were tribunes of the plebs, ready to manipulate the ignorant masses to attack authority in the name of faction (308-316). Who better to counter this rabble than the enabling monarchy of Charles Stuart, who found the Laudians essential allies against militant patriot critics? As Laudian Robert Skinner rhetorically asked: “What is Defensor Dei but Rex Evangelicus?” Charles’ impeccable piety granted additional weight to the project (342-343).
In all of these emphases, Laudians styled the puritans as an “evil twin” that stood to antagonize their entire project (254-255). But let us not get too ahead of ourselves. Lake’s project, as he self-describes, is “descriptive” – the view Laudians had of themselves and their enemies. There was a wide swathe of what constituted puritanism, ranging from moderate conformists to those willing to flirt with antinomian sects like Familists. But for Laud and his fellow travelers, these were all part of a grand conspiracy oriented to subordinate both the monarchy and the church. Even as Laud was in many ways a political paranoiac, he was justified in his suspicions. There really were two competing worldviews within the Church of England, with many actual people scattered across the spectrum of views. It would be easy (and lazy) to lapse into pseudo-modest indistinction. One is confronted with the question of what is central to Anglican worship: word or sacrament? Easy enough to say “both”, but such is to fall into the same rhetoric polemic that is more smoke than fire. The Elizabethan moderates put themselves between Wittenberg and Geneva as Via Media, as much as Laudians postured as being between Rome and Amsterdam (i.e. hardline Calvinists at the Synod of Dort). To prioritize one over the other does not require an ideological commitment to trash the other, but it does demonstrate priorities (a point we shall return to later).
If at conflict with this “evil twin” it would make the most sense that Laudians would confront the centerpiece of puritan divinity: predestination. Whereas the Andrewesian emphasis on Christ meant a liturgical calendar of public ceremony and good works of repentance, the puritan Christocentrism was placed into the will of God. As stated above, Laudians were not necessarily Arminian (some were even Calvinistic) but had become exhausted with popular focus on election. For Laudians, God’s will was mysterious and efforts at divining it were foolish (360). However, in polemics to depreciate Calvinist “innovation,” many Laudians developed the alternative as a matter of course. True faith was not a guarantee of salvation but could be lost (371-375). The sacraments provided the divine support to save, but they required Human cooperation to be efficacious (405-407). Rather than inward reflections of the gracious will of God to save, Christians were saved through good works of piety and repentance, manifested through the outward worship of the church (420-425). While often non-confrontational (with Laud occasionally censoring rabid Arminian pamphlets or sermons), the king and the archbishop hoped to subtly “Arminianise” England by changing the parameters of debate. The puritanical “science” of speculative divinity was to give way to the practical divinity of “conscience” with a focus on obedience and piety (429-430).
Lake then turns his focus to a “splitter” approach, showing how the wide platform of Laudianism could attract a variety of different figures. From the avant-garde hotheads (which Laud would implicitly or tacitly support) in the colleges of Cambridge to some moderate Puritan and conformist Calvinist fellow travelers (frustrated with puritan agitation from a Prynne or desiring needed aesthetic renovations), Laudians held a diverse coalition. And as always, there were trimmers and tackers, feeling the way the wind blows and sticking by a winner. Laud had to nervously govern this coalition, allowing unknown allies to vocally advance anti-Calvinist doctrine (such as James Buck’s rejection of Sola Fide, questioning of original sin, and making confession a normative requirement (524-530) or a Cambridge chapel having images of angels, which were turned forward during the liturgical advocative prayer (“With Angels and Archangels…” 496-499)). In these varied accounts (worth reading about firsthand) Lake successfully demonstrates the central Laudian vision, even if not everyone agreed at the same time to it.
Of course, the Laudian mo[ve]ment passed after the failed attempt to impose the Scottish Prayerbook, the calling of the Short/Long Parliament, and the execution of Strafford, Laud, and (eventually after two bloody civil wars) Charles himself. It would be later reabsorbed (and severely modified) by the so-called “High Church” party in the Church, struggling against ecclesiastical poverty, lay domination, and Parliamentary attacks on royal prerogative. Laudianism (or perhaps neo-Laudianism) would stumble over the Glorious Revolution, where it was left in an awkward stall between Non-Jurors (other neo-Laudians) and the dominant Whiggish mood of the Church. Even “High Church” Whigs like Edmund Gibbon or John Potter would accept Parliamentary supremacy, even as they defended ritual and clerical privilege. These problems roared back to life against supposed decay and corruption after the Augustan era of the Hanoverians. The magisterial Peter Nockles demonstrated the Oxford Movement’s conservative radicalism to reimpose their vision upon an Erastianized Whiggish Church. Whereas 19th c. Evangelicals harkened to the high days of Elizabethan Calvinist hegemony, the Tractarians sought to rekindle a myth of continuity from Edward VI through the Laudians, the High Churchmen, and the Non-Jurors until their day. They too were willing for some Carolinian cold-water and shock treatment, as Lake puts it: “It was just as much a Laudian, as it was to become a Thatcherite axiom that if it wasn’t hurting, it wasn’t working.” (569) Old-fashioned Boomer leftism aside, the point is clear: Laudianism was innovative in a radical attempt to force (by hook or crook) a restoration of Tradition. In some ways Laudianism can be considered a kind of patristic-puritanism, the camera obscura of Calvinistic scripturalism, that prioritized the Fathers, philology, and “the beauty of Holiness” sacramental-ecclesiastical ideal. As some Tractarians (like Froude or Newman) and even Non-Jurors would candidly admit, the Edwardian/Elizabethan reforms were not enough and often ended up with the Church more a political creature than the Bride of Christ. Is it any wonder Newman swam the muddy Tiber waters?
What does any of this mean beyond Lake’s “descriptive” view (being himself an outsider as a stodgy old-lefty atheist)? Is there anything proscriptive out of this sprawling (and excellent) tome? There are two sets of lessons to be learned for any thinking Anglican, neatly bracketed as Positive and Negative.
Anglican Lessons from Lake’s Observations
The Negative lesson is the need to do away with self-serving myths. The Church of England (or Anglicanism) was not an easy-going “moderate” reform. As Karl Gunther has argued elsewhere, the Henrician Evangelicals were hotheads and desired extreme changes. There was a positive vision for a Reformed Church, one that created the not-quite Calvinist Consensus of the late 16th c. Such is part of Anglican history as much as Andrewes, Laud, and what would eventually become Anglo-Catholicism. There is no appeal simpliciter to Tradition or an Anglican patrimony. Laudianism (or the proto-Laudian conformity of earlier figures) is part of Anglican history as much as the Calvinist-Evangelical idea. Compromise and moderation between the two only ever existed as a product of necessity and politics. There truly are two different worldviews at stake, perhaps one preferable over another (I will return to this later). Anglicans must disabuse themselves of selectively reading the past, especially if they are converts hypnotized with ideas of incensed altars and divine-right monarchs. Both are part of the Church of England – historically and institutionally.
The Positive lesson is the need for a spine to sort out the difficult path forward. Forthrightly, I am more inclined to the Evangelical-Calvinist strain. To iterate, giving an account of two worldviews does not require an either-or in terms of various practices (it was precisely Laudians who tried to drum out moderate puritans as incorrigible sectarians). But it does raise the fundamental question of priority: are Anglicans Evangelicals (and thus brethren with Presbyterians and even Baptists) or are Anglicans some kind of “Third Branch” among Communions? Is the center of worship the Word or sacramental ceremony? It’s an ordering of priority, even if the two can come nearly neck and neck for importance. As politics (including ecclesiastical politics) are always shaped through vocal minorities, playing the centrist will not do. Who would you rather find your fellow traveler: a puritan or a papist? Would you find common cause with Chick tracts denouncing the Roman Whore, or would you ally with those Catholics/Orthodox who do not consider the vast majority of Lutherans and Reformed in valid orders (and thus without a church)? What would be more damning: a Sunday without the Eucharist or a Sunday without the sermon?
Would you Rather…?
This may sound unnecessarily polarizing, especially when it is not dire in a world that is increasingly hostile to Bible-believing and Traditional Christians. Now, perhaps, is the time for a common front. I agree, but this does not resolve the fundamental contradiction at the heart of Anglicanism. The tensions snap more often than not and see departure to the seemingly sunny vistas of the Vatican or Constantinople. All the muddled thinking about three-strands, third-ways, Via Media are often self-deluding coping mechanisms, dependent less on history than assertion. While Laudianism may appear as the preferable option, if a choice must be made, let me offer some caveats.
First, the Laudian world is gone. The perennialist esoteric rainbow-flag monarchy of Charles III is the head of the Church of England (which has rapidly dissolved into witchcraft and apostasy). Sanguine authoritarianism has been a way to attack modern corruption without any meaningful alternative or analysis (like Jacobites, you can dream about a king over the waters).
Second, the emphasis on outward conformity has been a dead-end. The Liturgical Movement (deemphasizing doctrine for ritual) is *precisely* what produced the modern Mainline. If unity is strictly through high liturgy (whatever that exactly may be), then there’s little reason not to suffer the poisonous waters of the Episcopal Church. The average Mainline church has robes, candles, rote prayer, and altars, combined with petit sermonettes on the sacraments of abortion and sodomy. Maybe the Puritans had a point in being Logocentric. As Tractarians themselves recognized: their movement was a Progressive innovation towards Traditionalism (JB Mozley) ala the Newmanian Development of Doctrine. It would not be wrong for today’s Episcopalian priestess to claim the mantle of Laud and Newman. Such is not to depreciate traditional liturgy (especially when many non-demoninationals invent their own “High Church” liturgy of incensing smoke-machines, rock bands, and sensory overload). However, it is the order of things, the priority of first things over second things, distinguishing the esse of worship from the bene esse.
Third, clericalism is something that has been more often a terror than a boon. Not a few pastors (in any communion or confession) can confuse the nature of their authority. They decide to convene inquisitorial boards without any of the pomp or majesty. Today a nosy clerk may not be able to crop your ears or brand your flesh, but he might get you fired or break up a family. Again, this is not to depreciate the need for ministerial authority (let alone buy into the Laudian lay captivity of the Church), but the love of authority is often ruined when one examines too closely who bears said authority. In an age where security-state surveillance and its bio-political legitimation are overbearing in the extreme, it is perhaps best not to convert the Church into an incensed Post Office with petit bureaucrats looking to exact their pound of flesh.
In the end, Lake’s descriptive history of Laudianism is perhaps the final word (for the time being) on a very convoluted era, a time of great partisanship and polarization. It is worth dwelling on to not only better understand the questions Anglicans (of all stripes) must answer, but gain a better perspective on the use of rhetoric and polemic to shape coalitions and beliefs.