The Mixed Legacy of William Laud

On calendars across the Anglican Communion, January 10 is observed as the day of Blessed (or even Saint) William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr. He is pointed to – and quite rightly – as a defender of remaining and proponent of restoring various Catholic practises and beliefs to the life of the Church of England and (had he succeeded) the Church of Scotland as well. Before his judicial murder at the hands of the Long Parliament, he left behind a body of solid theological writing, and is of course one of the foremost of the Caroline Divines. Historians are divided as to how his personal temper and tactics advanced or hindered his and King Charles I‘s attempts to “re-Catholicise” Anglicanism; but no one can doubt his devotion to that cause, as far as it went. Nor, for that matter, can there be any question why the Puritans feared and hated him on that very ground. Telling is the fact that, as attempts to convict him of capital crime in a court of law failed, the Puritan Parliament passed a bill of attainder to execute him.

But what are Catholics – especially of the Ordinariate – to make of him? Well, on the one hand, unlike his Royal Master, he was no friend of Rome – as his laughing rejection of the Red Hat reminds us (an offer, let it be remembered, that could not have been made in the first place without the permission of the King). Certainly, he was an opponent of the Queen in Court politics, not least because of her Catholicity. In a very real sense, he and King Charles foreshadow the two types of Anglo-Catholicism symbolised by Percy Dearmer and Lord Halifax. That said, he nevertheless left behind a body of work which – pace its occasional anti-Roman sentiments – is well worth studying. And, of course, he was murdered by the same band who martyred Ss. Alban Roe, Henry Morse, and the other Catholic saints who died during the nominal reign of King Charles at Parliament’s hands – as did the King himself. At the very least, we may mourn Laud as another victim of our common persecutors.

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