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Archbishop William Laud by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)
In the eyes of many, Sir Harbottle Grimston was a great man in the English parliament of 1640. He rounded up and prosecuted many who he and others saw as traitors to the state. Bringing one such enemy of the state to trial, Grimston declared, “We are now fallen on that great man: look upon him as he is in his highness, and he is the sty of all pestilential filth that hath affected the state and government of this commonwealth. He is the man, the only man, that hath raised and advanced all those that, together with himself, have been the authors and cause of all our ruins, miseries, and calamities we now groan under.” Grimston won his case, and the man he was speaking of was taken to the tower and finally beheaded in 1643 for his crimes. However, today, we do not celebrate Grimston, instead, we celebrate the one he saw beheaded: Archbishop of Canterbury, Blessed William Laud. You see, Grimston was a Puritan, and during their short lived rule in England they sought to remove anything and everything that looked, sounded, or tasted like a Catholic; and I don’t know about how he tasted, but William Laud very much looked and sounded like a Catholic, but he was also a staunch supporter of the Church of England and the monarchy, without separation of Church and state.
Laud looked and sounded so much like a Catholic that the Pope sent a special envoy to Laud and offered him a cardinal’s hat, stating that he would “accept clerical marriage, communion in both kinds, the English Prayer Book liturgy and only a conditional re-ordination for all priest” (Fr. John-Julian, 13) if Laud and the others would convert to Rome. Laud was not impressed with the state of the Roman Church, so he declined.
It would seem that Laud’s influence would have ended with his death, but when the Puritans were put out of power, it was the Church that Laud had somewhat envisioned that was restored.
Today, scholars and historians either hate all 5’2” inches of him or they love him. One says he was a “ridiculous old bigot” and the other says, “Laud was the one man who prevented the English Church from being bound in the fetters of an iron system of compulsory Calvinistic belief.” Can I get an, “Amen!” And another said that “He had the misfortune to think that he was born to set the world right.” I suppose we can always listen to what others have to say about someone, or we can listen to what that someone said themselves. On the scaffolds facing his execution, Laud said, “This poor Church of England hath flourished and been a shelter to other neighboring churches when storms fell upon them. I was born and baptized in the bosom of the Church of England. In that profession I have ever since lived, and in that I am now come to die… bless this kingdom [of England] with peace and charity, that there may not be this shedding of Christian blood amongst them.”
I do not know enough about his life to say one way or another, but one thing I have learned: if you are making people angry on both the left and the right, you may be on the correct path… or a fool.
Jesus said, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Archbishop William Laud had his strong points and his faults, but he is one who unashamedly acknowledged the Savior. So today, we celebrate one who believed, who died for what he believed, and who – unlike so many of the Saints we celebrate – was entirely… human.