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The Feast Day of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury

January 10, 2011

Dr. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1633-1645

A number of years ago, I got a book (which I unfortunately have either since lost or lent out to not have it returned, so if you’ve got it, send it back please!) called Celebrating the Saints.  It was sort of like Lesser Feasts and Fasts, except instead if biographical sketches of the saints and honored men and women of the day, it had an excerpt of something they actually wrote.  So, there I was, one January 10, several years ago, encountering William Laud for the first time.


I began to read the excerpt selected from his corpus of work and was immediately stunned.  It was from a sermon, and his opening words apologized for being nervous, but that this was an uncomfortable place from which to preach.  Glancing back, I saw the notation: “From the Archbishop’s sermon from the scaffold.”  I was in awe.  He was about to be executed and his initial concern was that he was too nervous to deliver his sermon.  But he managed it.  Wow.


Not everyone was as taken by Archbishop Laud as I was and am (the chiefest evidence for that being that he was killed!), but he is one of my heroes of the faith and of the Anglican tradition.  He was a staunch defender of good liturgy, an equitable dispenser of justice, and a deeply pious and faithful servant of God.  One of the biggest controversies he was involved in was the now infamous “Surplice Controversy.”  Many in 17th century England believed that the wearing of the surplice was far too Roman Catholic and abhorrent to God in that the surplice was not mentioned in the Bible.  The offending vestment, the surplice, is of course simple white garment with broad sleeves worn over the black cassock for non-Eucharistic services such as the Daily Office.  Its origins were as an academic garment.  People were deadly serious about this.  Archbishop Laud defended the surplice as being a dignified garment worthy of being worn in church so as to help the minister and people celebrate the offices of the faith “decently and in good order,” as St. Paul put it.  The Surplice Controversy is one I point to now to try and say that the controversies of the church today, while they seem deadly serious to us, may in 500 years seem actually quite silly.


The other thing that got Archbishop Laud in trouble is how he handled justice.  As Archbishop, his duty was to try those who committed crimes against the church – quite different from nowadays!  In that role, he was as harsh with rich offenders as he was with poor offenders, breaking an unwritten rule that the wealthy could get away with certain things. He was also a strict believer that the support of the clergy should not depend upon the wealth of the people to whom they are called to serve.

There is, of course, a lot more I could say about Archbishop Laud, but perhaps I have said enough for now.  He is one of my Anglican Heroes, and if we had Anglican trading cards, his would be one of my most valuable.  To honor his memory, I wore my Cassock, Surplice, and Tippet to morning prayer this morning, to the quiet amusement of my congregation of one.  I will leave you with two things.  One, as always, the Collect of the Day, which I find to be shamefully lacking in substance, but there it is.  And two, a series of silly photographs of me when I first got my new surplice at graduation; I call the series, the Priestly Poses series.  The gravitas of them is balanced by the presence of my bare feet.  Everything I know about Archbishop Laud suggests to me he was not a man given to much humor, but I offer these photos to you in the hopes that, in the end, he was.


The Collect for William Laud

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like thy servant William Laud, we may live in thy fear, die in thy favor, and rest in thy peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Fr. Ryan+

For the photos, click the keep reading link…

The Priestly Poses Series

featuring, The Surplice

(not intended to be taken seriously)

The Priestly Hand Fold

Priestly Poses - Admonition

Priestly Poses - Stern, Yet Loving

Priestly Poses - Dang, that was a heckuva sermon...

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Pete permalink
    January 10, 2011 1:14 pm

    I notice on the catalog page that you could choose either the waist length surplice or the full length, which you chose. Is this necessary? Could it be argued that you have a surplus of surplice?

  2. Roy Bergerman permalink
    June 3, 2011 1:41 am

    I recently came across Archbishop Laud in my genealogy research, having discovered that he was my 9th Great Grand Uncle. A tenuous relationship, and somewhat amusing in that I was born and raised a Roman Catholic. Perhaps my Catholic ancestors, and perhaps Archbishop Laud are rolling over in their graves as we say. Reading about his life, and the run up to the trial which acquitted him, only to see him beheaded by a legal manoeuvre, it struck me that we must judge the situation with the time as it was. While some of his acts seem extreme today, he also exhibited many forms of justice and fairness that we find normal today. A man perhaps ahead of his times in some ways, and one that much more learned scholars than I have declared “A great man, and one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury”. I will gladly accept their counsel, and I was delighted to see that there is a Feast Day for Archbishop Laud. I shall pray for him and hope it is not mistaken as a further sign of his “Popery”!

    Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

    • June 7, 2011 1:53 pm

      What a fascinating discovery for you! Congratulations! I think you’re right in stating that he exhibited a lot of what we would judge to be justice and fairness today. Thanks for writing in with your story, Mr. Bergerman!

      Fr. Ryan+

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