Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages - George Hodges


Archbishop Laud


Sometimes the saints heard the saints. There were good men on both sides, as there are heroes on both sides in all the wars. But it was hard for the good men who were on one side to believe that the good men on the other side were good: they seemed to them to be the enemies of the right.

For the right is almost always made up of two quite different parts, either of which without the other is wrong.

Thus the earth keeps its even course around the sun by the action of those two forces which are called centrifugal force and centripetal. If the centrifugal force acted by itself without the centripetal, the earth would fly away into space and be burned up among the stars. If the centripetal force acted by itself without the centrifugal, the earth would be pulled straight into the white hot sun. The earth goes quietly upon its way because both of these forces act together.

So it is with our life. One of the great right things is liberty, and another of the great right things is order. If we have liberty without order, and everybody does whatever he wishes to do, and there are no laws, everything falls into confusion: society becomes like a family in which none of the children obeys his father or mother. If we have order without liberty, and nobody may have his own way, and no experiments may be tried, and no changes may be made, people become like prisoners in a jail. The world of men goes quietly along when liberty and order are in even balance.

Now the Middle Ages were centuries of order. There were strong nations with kings upon their thrones, and the kings said to the people, "All that you have to do is to mind what we say." There was a great, strong Church with a pope ruling over it, and the pope said to the people, "You do not need to think; I will do your thinking for you. Your part is to believe what I tell you." And while the people were barbarous and ignorant, all this was excellent.

But the Reformation brought in the centuries of liberty. Men began to govern themselves without regard to the commands of kings, and they began to think for themselves without regard to the instructions of popes. In the light of this new liberty, they began to see that both popes and kings had often been mistaken, and had been on the side of wrong instead of on the side of right. And the result was that some of them rejected the old order altogether. Thus Luther and Calvin declared their independence of the ancient Church, and proceeded to make new churches according to their own ideas. And they were followed by men who cared even less than they did for the old order. They were on the side of liberty. They proposed to do whatever they thought best.

And, as in the Middle Ages, there were men, like Wycliffe and Hus, who tried to bring liberty into the midst of order, so in the new times, which began with the Reformation, there were men who tried to keep the rule of order in the midst of the new liberty. These men felt that there was too much liberty. They believed in liberty, but they believed also in law. They were afraid of confusion. They were unwilling to have all the old customs abandoned. They wished to bring whatever was good in the past into the present. They tried to keep their neighbors from going too fast and too far.

Thus there were two parties, as there always are, the party of liberty and the party of order. And they contended, as they always do. and the saints who were on the side of liberty hated the saints who were on the side or order; and the saints who believed in order hated the saints who believed in liberty. For example, William Brewster, who held that every community of Christian men should be free to choose its own ministers, and to make its own creed, and to say its prayers in its own way, saw nothing good in the men who as bishops and archbishops were trying to keep the old order in England, and to preserve the old customers, and to maintain the old Church.

Such a man was William Laud.

Laud disliked the Puritans. He disliked them because they offended his sense of order. They refused to go quietly to church like other people, and held meetings in their own houses. This, it is true, was because the bishops would not let them change the services to suit themselves. The bishops would not let them wear their ordinary coats instead of the surplice, nor pray their own prayers instead of those which were provided in the book. Laud stood for the fine and necessary principle of order, as Brewster stood for the fine and necessary principle of liberty.

The England of Laud's time was growing every day more Puritan. The number of people who believed in the doctrines and customs of Calvin, and admired Knox, and wished to change the Church so as to make it as unlike the Mediaeval Church as possible, increased continually. King James, indeed, had disliked the Puritans as heartily as Laud ever did, and had done his best to discourage them. And King Charles, when he came to his father's throne, was of the same mind. The bishops in defense of law and order had turned many of the Puritan clergy out of their places, and had made England an uncomfortable residence for Puritan people. Many had sought refuge across the ocean in New England. But the times were steadily changing, and kings and bishops were as powerless against the new ideas as if they had stood with brooms on the shore of the sea and tried to sweep back the tide. The day came, indeed, when the tide turned, and the party of order got the better of the party of liberty, but not in the lifetime of Laud. He stood against the convictions of a majority of the English people. He was the leader of a lost cause, like one who tries to defend an ancient fortress, and is driven back from one hold to another, and at last dies fighting in the midst of defeat.

For ten years after his graduation at Oxford, Laud was president of one of the colleges of that university, St. John's. Already the Puritans perceived that he was a man of growing power and influence, and that he was against them; and when he was declared elected to the presidency one zealous Puritan not only protested, but tore up the voting papers, so that the matter had to be referred to the king. It is remembered, however, that Laud not only made a good president, but that he was particularly friendly toward the young Puritan who so violently opposed him. When he became bishop of London, he made his opponent president of St. John's College.

Laud was always a devoted friend of the University of Oxford. He never forgot the pleasant years which he spent there as student and master. He loved learning and learned men, and desired to have the pulpits of the Church of England occupied by scholars. Every year he sent books and manuscripts of value to the library of his old college. When he became great and rich, one of the first things which he did was to erect new buildings for St. John's. The king and queen came to the dedication of these buildings, and were welcomed with speeches and music; a play was acted in their honor; and a mighty feast was served in which the baked meats were shaped by the cook into the forms of archbishops, and bishops, and doctors of divinity.

When Laud became Chancellor of the University he brought into its affairs the same spirit of order which was characteristic of him in all his dealings. He had an account sent him every week of the condition of the colleges, kept professors diligent in their duties, attended to the discipline of students, brought in new teachers, made new laws. Nothing was too small for his attention. "Particularly I pray," he says, "see that none, youth or other, be suffered to go in boots or spurs, or to wear their hair indecently long, or with a lock in the present fashion, or with slashed doublets, or in any light or garish colors." He was at that time one of the busiest men in England, yet he concerned himself with the fashion in which the college students had their hair cut. It illustrates that sense of order to which no details are insignificant.

In 1621, Laud was made a bishop. In 1625, Charles the First became king of England, and made Laud one of his chief advisers. In 1628, he became bishop of London. He now set out to do for the Church of England what he was doing so well for the University of Oxford. He found the nation filled with confusion in religion. Puritans were making experiments in church services, and using the prayer-book, or not using it, as they liked. Laud felt about it as a schoolmaster feels about disorder in his school. He proposed to establish discipline, to have the rules obeyed, and to punish those who were unwilling to obey them.

This was all very unpleasant for the Puritans, who liked their new ways better than the old, and who felt that laud was interfering with their rightful freedom. No doubt, it would have been better to have allowed more liberty. It would have been better to have permitted the Puritans, so many of whom were grave and devout men, to make some of the changes which they desired in the worship of the Church. It is easy to see that at this long distance of time. Laud did not see it. To him the Puritan novelties were simply interferences with order. Sometimes in school the pupils are wiser than the teachers and ought to have the liberty which they demand: but not often. And whether the pupils are in the right or not, the teachers are apt to judge according to the teachers' point of view. That is what Laud did. He was an earnest, faithful, Christian man who thought that a bishop, like a schoolmaster, ought to keep people in order.

In 1633, he became Archbishop of Canterbury, and was this in a position to give commands to the English clergy. To him was committed, so he felt, the care of all the churches.

At that time there was a good deal of debate as to the right place in which the communion table should stand. The Puritans wished to have it down in the church, a plain table like any other, according to their belief that the Holy Communion was simply the Lord's Supper, where bread and wine were eaten and drunk in remembrance of Him. Laud and those who agreed with him wished to have it at the end of the church against the wall, where the altar had always stood, according to their belief that the Holy Communion was an act of worship, the offering of a sacrifice of praise and adoration. It was intolerable to Laud that the Holy Table should be taken out of its ancient, accustomed place, and brought down among the people, where sometimes men sat upon it. It was not only against his idea of the meaning of the sacrament, but against his sense of order. He ordered that the tables should be put back in the chancels.

The same care which he had used at Oxford regarding the conduct of the students, and the fashions of their dress, he now used regarding the conduct of the clergy. He required every minister to wear a surplice when he officiated in the church, in spite of the fact that the clergy who were of the Puritan opinions wished to wear their coats, or black gowns like Calvin. He required every minister to read the services out of the prayer-book, just as they were set down there, without omission or addition. Those who disobeyed, he turned out of their parishes: as a schoolmaster would dismiss a disobedient pupil, or a captain would punish a soldier who refused to wear the uniform of the regiment.

In all this, there was more than a sense of order. Laud perceived that religion in England had come through the Reformation without breaking with the past. The Church government had continued out of the old time into the new, with little change other than that involved in making the clergy subjects of the king instead of subjects of the pope. The worship had likewise continued, with little change other than that involved in translating the services out of Latin into English. The church in which Laud was archbishop was the same church in which Anselm and Becket had occupied the same position. This continuous life was represented by the bishops, whom the Puritans wished to reject, and in lesser ways by the surplice and the book of prayers. The purpose of Laud in insisting on the old customs was to keep the Church in his time in union with the Church of all the former ages. The difference between him and the Puritans was like a debate as to what to do with an ancient church building. The Puritans said, "Pull it all down, and let us build a new one in the new style." Laud said, "Repair it, keep it."

Matters came to a crisis in Scotland. John Knox was dead, but his spirit lived in the hearts of his people. He had made Scotland a Presbyterian country, in whose religion there was neither a bishop nor a prayer-book. King James, indeed, had brought the bishops back, little by little; but neither the bishops nor the king had ventured to bring back the book. The prayers in all the churches were prayed in the minister's own words, and the service was like that which Knox had found in Geneva. To the Scots the bishop and the book,—but especially the book,—meant the old bondage and superstition from which Knox had set them free.

Now one of the defects of the people who have a keen sense of order is a disregard of human nature. They are sure that the thing which they desire is right, and they propose to have it whether men like it or not. They do not stop to ask whether the thing is best for the people under the present conditions, nor do they consider whether the people may be patiently persuaded to accept it against their will.

Thus there are sometimes fathers and mothers who insist that all the rooms in the house shall be kept in perfect order, without regard to the fact that children are children. Boys and girls are disorderly by nature. They leave things lying about, because they are made that way. And this must be taken into account. Children must not be treated as if they were forty years of age.

Also there are people who have an idea that they can get their neighbors to do what they like by saying "You must."

That is the proper thing to say to children. But when one grown man says it to another grown man who is as good and as wise and as old as he is, the natural reply is "I will not." It makes little difference whether the thing commanded is bad or good. The man resents being ordered about by one who has no right to give him orders. For that is human nature, and must be taken into account by all who would change the ways of their neighbors. People who are forty years of age must not be treated like children.

These two things Laud did not understand. The one thing which was clear to his mind was that the prayer-book was both ancient and excellent, and that all good people in Scotland as well as in England, ought to use it. He did not consider that the Scotch were different from the English, and had had a different religious experience. Neither did he consider that, whether Scotch or English, men will change their minds not by compulsion but by persuasion; he did not understand that when he said "You must," they would instinctively say "No."

So he proposed to introduce the English prayer-book into the Scotch churches. The book was prepared and the day was set when it must be used. And on that day in St. Giles's Church in Edinburgh, the minister began to read the service. The church was filled with people, and the hearts of the people were filled with resentment. Then up rose a stout woman named Jenny Geddes, and flung her kneeling-stool across the church at the minister's head. Immediately the people were in an uproar and the service proceeded no further. The attempt to force the book upon the people failed. All over Scotland, they refused to listen to it. And not only that, but Laud's mistake was like a lighted match applied to a pile which had been heaped high for burning. The nation rose in rebellion. A paper called the Covenant was passed about for signature in all the towns, declaring that the signers would resist all attacks upon the liberty of Scotland. And the Covenanters were formed into an army, and marched on England. And in England multitudes of men who were on the side of liberty sympathized with them. All were against Laud.

One night Laud found his picture, which Vandyke had painted, "fallen down upon the face, and lying on the floor, the string being broken by which it hanged against the wall." He took it as an omen of disaster. One Sunday, five hundred rioters attacked his house, seeking to kill him, but he escaped. Then the Parliament, which was now largely composed of Puritans, impeached him of high treason. That day in the psalms which were said in the service he noted the words: "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest,

O Lord, and teachest him in the thy law, that thou mayest give him patience in time of adversity." And in his book of private prayers he wrote: "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 mine 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 uttermost, I humbly beseech thee give my full patience, proportionable comfort, contentment with whatsoever thou sendest, and an heart ready to die for thine honor, the king's happiness, and the Church's preservation. And my zeal to these is all the sin yet known to me in this particular for which I thus suffer."

He was taken to the Tower. And outside, the great uprising continued and increased whereby the party of liberty overcame and overturned the party of order. Charges were formally made against him: thus and thus had he done. But the real charge was that he stood for the old ways. He was for the king and the Church. They took away his books and papers, even his book of private prayers. They must "needs see," he said, "What passed between God and me." they read his diary. Even so, after a long and bitter trial, no ground was discovered on which the accusation of treason could be fairly based. He had, indeed, made mistakes. He had been severe against all Puritan disregard of the customs of the Church. He had kept order, like a strict schoolmaster. He had brought on the Scotch rebellion. But his real offense was leadership of a lost cause. The cause, for the time, was lost, and the leader perished with it. On the same day in which Laud was condemned to death, the Book of Common Prayer was forbidden in England. The House of Commons made the use of it in any church or by any person an offense to be punished by the law.

On the scaffold where he was beheaded Laud stated I a single sentence the purpose for which he had lived. "What clamors and slanders I have endured," he said, "for laboring to keep a uniformity in the external service of God, according to the doctrine and discipline of this Church, all men know and I have abundantly felt." It was not the highest of ideals, "to keep a uniformity in the external service of God according to the doctrine and discipline of this church"; but it expressed the honest conviction of an honest and devout man. Laud believed that religion thrives best under the quiet conditions of reverent order. In the endeavor to secure such order he died a martyr.