Coherence, uniformity, conformity: the fruits of Laudian wisdom

In his study of the 1662 settlement - The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians 1649-1662 (1951) - R.S. Bosher seeks to address what he considers to be a conundrum:

The Convocation of 1661 had assembled when the Laudian party was at the height of its influence, and the membership of both houses was overwhelmingly of that school ... Accordingly, we might well expect the completed work to exhibit in a pronounced way the doctrinal and liturgical ideas characteristic of the Laudian revival in the previous half-century.

He is referring to the 'Durham Book', Cosin's proposed revision of the BCP on the basis of 1549 and the 1637 Scottish book.  Why did the deeply Laudian 1662 settlement not embrace the Durham Book?

Unquestionably, the revision at this stage ... if adopted, would have given the English Church a form of Common Prayer not far removed from the original Book of 1549.  But for some reason the Laudian leaders decided otherwise.

Instead, according to Bosher, they took the "decision to refrain from a Laudian type of revision".  He says of 1662 BCP, "the Laudian influence is barely apparent".

Bosher's conundrum increases when he considers the Puritan response.  Richard Baxter declared that "the Convocation ... made the Common Prayer Book more grievous than before".  Bosher is left bewildered by Baxter's response: "it is not easy to find any basis for the charge".

At this point, however, it is worth recollecting Laud's defence of the Scottish Book.  That defence recognised the English Book as the doctrinal standard and insisted that the Scottish Book did not depart from that standard. What is more, despite Laud's preferences, he fully recognised that there was nothing lacking in the English Book: "I shall not find fault with the order of the prayers, as they stand in the Communion-book of England, (for, God be thanked, tis well)".  In addition to this, there is Laud's determination that the book was not "Canterbury's work".  He accepts that he did "approve" the book, but describes this as ensuring "it be not contrary" to the English Book.  And what is more, his desire had been for a different approach by the Scottish Church:

I laboured to have the English Liturgy sent them, without any omission or addition at all, this or any other; that so the public Divine service might, in all his Majesty's dominions, have been one and the same. But some of the Scottish Bps. prevailed herein against me; and some alterations they would have from the Book of England.

Laud's defence of the Scottish Book, in other words, actually pointed to the absence of a need to restore the distinctive characteristics of 1549.  None of this was necessary.  The form of the existing Prayer Book was sufficient and its doctrine was normative.  The changes exemplified by the Scottish liturgy added nothing of substance, it was no "new Communion".  Put simply, there was no compelling theological case for such a revision of the English Book.

In the absence of such a case, the desire of a coterie of advanced Laudians for a liturgy akin to 1549 was incapable of overcoming the wider Laudian sentiments of laity and lower clergy loyal to the existing Book.  That loyalty had been demonstrated in strenuous lay opposition to the suppression of the Book of Common Prayer, and in parish clergy persisting with its use in the face of harassment and persecution from the Parliamentary authorities.  John Morrill notes the "spontaneity" which characterised the "restoration of the old Church" at Easter 1660, including the use of the Prayer Book, in anticipation of Charles II's return.  This popular attachment to the existing Book, combined with the absence of a compelling theological case for a 1549/1637-like revision, explains the apparent conundrum which confronted Bosher. 

There was no need for significant Prayer Book revision. The Laudian character of the Restoration Settlement, rather than supposedly compromised by the 1662 Book, is actually given expression by it.  Since early in the Elizabethan Settlement, those hoping for 'further Reformation' had sought significant revision of the Prayer Book.  1662 was the decisive defeat for this tradition, affirming Laud's commitment to uniformity, decency, and order.  The changes that were made to the Communion Office, while modest, were definitively Laudian: rubrics directing standing for Gospel and Creed, the placing of Bread and Wine on the Holy Table at the Offertory, commemoration of the faithful departed in the Prayer for the Church Militant, reference to the 'Prayer of Consecration', manual acts, explicit direction regarding additional consecration.  Above all, however, the Book remained, securing the uniformity and conformity prized by Laud, with clergy now required, through the 1662 Act of Uniformity, to assent to "all and everything contained and prescribed in" the Prayer Book.

In 1811, Charles Simeon preached a series of sermons entitled 'The Excellency of the Liturgy'.  Praising the Prayer Book as "a composition of unrivalled excellence", he continued:

I consider it as one of the highest excellencies of our Liturgy, that it is calculated to make us wise, intelligent, and sober Christians; it marks a golden mean; it affects and inspires a meek, humble, modest, sober piety, equally remote from the coldness of a formalist, the self-importance of a systematic dogmatist, and the unhallowed fervour of a wild enthusiast.

Simeon's words are testimony to the immense liturgical wisdom demonstrated by the Laudian party at the Restoration.  That an evangelical could praise the liturgy reverently used and esteemed by exponents of the High Church tradition such as Daniel Waterland and Charles Inglis points to its ability to provide a coherent centre for Anglicanism, both in worship and doctrine.  When Nockles refers to the "near consensus between Orthodox [i.e. High Church] and Evangelicals regarding Eucharistic doctrine" prior to 1833, this too is testimony to the Laudian wisdom of the 1662 Settlement, for in the Communion Office, in Simeon's words, there is a "partaking of the body and blood of Christ".  All of this would have been threatened if the coterie of advanced Laudians had their way, destabilising the liturgy, undermining conformity and assent.

The coherence, uniformity, and conformity following 1662, and lasting well into the 19th century, was a Laudian achievement, an achievement secured - perhaps ironically - by heeding Laud's defence of the Scottish Book and its recognition of the sufficient and normative nature of the English Book, and its admission that restoration of the features of 1549 was not a doctrinal necessity.  Given what John Milbank has described as contemporary Anglicanism's "ubiquitous liturgical chaos" and "theological incoherence", we would do well to revisit this Laudian liturgical wisdom.


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