A Laudian Epiphany

[T]he rhythms and rituals of parish life ... were central to his perception of the ecclesia Anglicana.

Kevin Sharpe's description of the values at the heart of the ecclesiastical policies of Charles I can function as a description of the heart of the Laudian vision.  This had been inherited from Hooker's defence of Conformity and emphasis on the formative significance of the reading of prayers and Scripture ahead of preaching:

A great part of the cause, whereof religious minds are so inflamed with the love of public devotion, is that virtue, force and efficacy, which by experience they find the very form and reverend solemnity of common prayer duly ordered (LEP V.25.1)

Likewise, Hooker's apologia for the "holiness and virtue we ascribe to the Church more than other places" also provided an anticipation of 'parochial Laudianism':

for performance of this service by the people of God assembled we think not any place so good as the Church, nor any exhortation so fit as that of David, 'O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness' (V.16.2).

This was to be reflected in a common theme in Laudian preaching on the Epiphany. The Adoration of the Magi was compared to public worship in the parish church. Cosin in his 1621 sermon, for example, used the journey of the Magi to illustrate the importance of participating in public worship in "God's house":

what a far worse shame is it for us, which be Christians now, when the heathen that dwelt at the world's end, and had so hard a journey, would come to solve and worship Christ; and we, that dwell even at the next door, will scarce take the pains to do it, nay if our chambers look into God's house, as we read the king's entry was turned into the temple, yet we stir but at our leisure; the least business, if it be but a little more desire of sleep, will hinder us; and if we be seated but a little way off once, why then Jeroboam's counsel is very good, it is too much to go up to Jerusalem. These Wise Men here shall not have our company by the mountains and deserts, we are more tenderly brought up; by them? No! not through a shower of rain (nay if it rains we will not go to church;) our ordinary sleep, or the beams of the sun will keep some of us in, so dainty we are that we cannot endure it truly; and if no body else will go, Christ may comfort Himself with His Mother's arms, for we have neither worship, nor gold, nor frankincense, nothing for Him. A greater offence, sure then, we use to make of it. These men of the East shall rise up in judgement, nay many more shall come from the East, and from the West, and sit with Christ one day, to tell us as much.

Richard Gardyner's 1639 sermon made a more explicit comparison between the Adoration of the Magi and worshippers gathered "before the Altar":

The Eastern Sages travell'd far in the extremity of winter to present a solemn worship to our Lord and Saviour, where are they that will scarce step out of doors to God's public worship, when the Church stands hard by, if perchance there fall a few drops of rain to wet their dress, or to discolour their shoes? These in the text had but the irradiation of one star for a Convoy to Christ, we have a Constellation of many stars, and some of the first Magnitude, shining clearly in this Horizon. Eminent, and powerful Preachers of the Gospel, those great Lights of the Church have a long time convey'd a bright illustration upon this Goshen, this our land of light, and shall we come short of the darkest times in the lustre of religion? What a shame is it that they should be more devout before the Manger in the state of Christ's humiliation then we are before the Altar now he is in the height of his Exaltation! All the postures of their bodies, and souls were awfully affected to Christ's infinite gentleness, & goodness, even then, when he made a Stable the Chamber of his Presence. And therefore 'tis to be fear'd, if we leave not of our profane carelessness, that the men of the East will rise up in Judgement against the Men of the West against many in our days, who present themselves in the Courts of the Lord at times of divine service in ambulatory motions, irreverent deportment, vain Communications, as if they made little or no difference betwixt the Exchange and the Church, the common Tavern and the sacred Tabernacle.

Here the Magi become icons of the Laudian concern with decency and order, with a hint that their posture before the Christ Child exemplifies what the Prayer Book rubric required.  As Saint Matthew says of the Magi before the Christ Child, "they ... fell down".   

It is in Mark Frank's Epiphany sermon that we find the most characteristically Laudian comparison of the Adoration of the Magi and public worship in the parish church.  He invites his hearers to view the house in Bethlehem as a parish church:

I do not wonder Interpreters make this house the Church of God; It is the Gate and Court of Heaven now Christ is here; Angels sing round about it, all Holiness is in it, now Christ is in it; Here all the Creatures, reasonable and unreasonable, come to pay their homage to their Creator; hither they come, even from the ends of the earth, to their devotions; a house of Prayer it is for all people, Gentiles and all; hither they come to worship, hither they come to pay their Offerings and their Vows; here's the Shrine and Altar, the glorious Virgin's Lap, where the Saviour of the World is laid to be adored and worship'd; here stands the Star for tapers to give it light; and here the Wisemen this Day become the Priests, worship and offer, present prayers and praises for themselves, and the whole world besides, all people of the world, high and low, learned and ignorant represented by them.

Thus, like the Magi, we must journey to the parish church:

rejoice we ever in the light of Heaven, walk by it, make much of it, of all holy motions and inspirations, continue in it; and let neither the tediousness of the way, nor the frailty of our own flesh, nor any stormy or tempestuous weather, any cross or trouble, nor any Winter coldness of our own dull bosoms, nor sometime the loss even of our guides, (those heavenly and spiritual comforts which God sometimes in his secret Wisdom withdraws from us) nor any carnal reason or interest deter us from our search after this Babe of Heaven, after Christ the Saviour; but go on constantly, and cheerfully through all these difficulties to the House of God, to the Church of Christ; then shall we be sure to find him.

In these sermons we see the warm, homely quality of a 'parochial Laudianism': Laudianism away from the high politics and polemics, lived out in the parish, around common prayer, feast and fast, and the beauty of holiness embodied in the parish church.  In the words of the 'Homily of the Right Use of the Church' (a reminder of the continuity between the Elizabethan Settlement and Laudianism):

For, like as men are well refreshed and comforted when they find their houses having all things in good order and all corners clean and sweet, so, when God's house, the church, is well adorned with places convenient to sit in, with the pulpit for the preacher, with the Lord's table for the ministration of his Holy Supper, with the font to Christen in, and also is kept clean, comely, and sweetly, the people is the more desirous and the more comforted to resort thither, and to tarry there the whole time appointed to them.

This, in other words, was Laudianism at its best: on cold, dark January days, carrying us with the Magi to the parish church, there with them kneeling in humble and grateful acknowledgement of the benefits of Christ given to us, there with them adoring Christ the Lord presented to us in common prayer, the reading of Scripture, and the administration of the Sacrament.


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