Today (January 10th) the Episcopal Church– as well as the C of E– remembers the life of William Laud, the controversial churchman and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of King Charles I.
Laud opposed the Calvinist theological impulses of the Puritans and other more vociferous Reformers in the English Church. Because of Laud’s devotion to certain liturgical trappings, he (along with his followers, the “Laudians”) was seen as dangerously flirtatious with the idolatrous excesses of Roman Catholicism.
Laud’s legacy as a High Church ritualist carries on in the Anglo-Catholic wings of Anglicanism still today, though much of what he supported is now considered fairly uncontroversial even amongst many “Low Church” Anglicans. (Some may dispute how “uncontroversial” Laud’s legacy really is, but that’s for another time.)
Laud was eventually beheaded on this day in 1645.
In addition to the more well-known theological debates raging at the time, one of the (related) arguments roiling the different parties in the Church had to do with what sort of clothing was appropriate for clergy to wear during worship. Laud was caught squarely in the middle of these controversies. As amateur hagiographer James Kiefer writes:
An example is the surplice controversy… in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, there were Christians in England who objected to the garment called the surplice. When participating in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer in Church, clergy, including choir members, normally wore a cassock (a black, floor-length, fairly tight-fitting garment) covered by a surplice (a white, knee-length, fairly loose garment with loose sleeves). The Puritans objected to the surplice (a) as not mentioned in the Bible, and (b) as something that the Roman Catholics had worn before the Reformation, which made it one of the props of idolatrous worship, and marked anyone who wore it as an idolater. Archbishop Laud regarded it as a seemly, dignified garment, an appropriate response to the Apostle Paul’s injunction, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” The Puritans stood by their objections, and violently interrupted services at which the surplice was worn. On one occasion, a group of Puritans broke into an Oxford chapel the night before a service and stole the surplices, which they thrust into a the dung-pit of a privy.
Surplices… in a privy!? How very Puritanical! (Literally.)
Given the sartorial title of this site, as well as my own liturgical and ceremonial proclivities, I feel I can’t help but acknowledge William Laud and his place in the Great Vestments Controversy of the English Reformation.
To you, Abp. Laud!
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Link here.)