We’ve been asked to pray for the upcoming Lambeth Conference, which perhaps nowadays should be called the Canterbury Conference. It is many years since the bishops attending a decadal conference could fit into the library of Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

With enormous irony those in our church most suspicious of the Conference, or at least those on the left wing of TEC, are also keen to assert that the emergence of the Episcopal Church as an organized “national” body at the end of the 18th Century signalled the creation of the Anglican Communion. This theory ignores the Scottish Episcopal Church which pre-existed TEC. Granted this “continuing Anglican” body was formally recognized by the Church of England at that time but at least a passing nod should be made to the church which provided America with its first official bishop. Yet even if our Scottish brethren are disqualified there remains the Church in Ireland, complete with its separate succession of bishops going back to St Patrick.

In a review in the “Church Times” of a recent book on Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, the wonderful post-reformation scholar and historian Dr Judith Maltby writes:

“We usually think of the origins of the Anglican Communion as lying in the emergence of the Atlantic colonies, but the roots are much closer to home. Archbishop Laud conducted a determined campaign to impose his brand of orthodoxy not only on the Church of England, but on the Scottish and Irish Churches as well. I most admire Ussher for his dogged persistence in maintaining that he was Laud’s peer and equal (he even suggested to the English Primate that they were not so much brother metropolitans, as brother patriarchs!) in the face of a determined, at times ruthless, campaign to subject the Irish Church to the English. As Ford puts Ussher’s vision, “the Church of England and the Church of Ireland were engaged, not in a parent-child, but in a more equal, sisterly relationship, which entitled them to defend their own rather different version of ecclesiastical orthodoxy.”

Ussher is perhaps notoriously remembered for his attempt to date Creation. Despite this now seemingly odd adventure, he is better remembered for his seminal rehabilitation of the works of Ignatius of Antioch against Puritan attempts to discredit the authenticity of that earliest Father of the Church, whose views on episcopacy and the sacraments did not commend themselves to radical evangelicals who sought to reform the Church of England “root and branch”.

Dr Maltby also commends Ussher – the only bishop to attend the Westminster Assembly which produced the famous “Westminster Confession” – for his irenic attempts to forge a way between Laudianism and Puritanism. Ussher failed. Whether Ussher’s example provides a goodly example for others to follow in seeking to comprehend the “prophetic” utterances of contemporary TEC establishmentarianism and classical Anglicanism perhaps is open to question. It might be noted that if “Laudianism” is viewed not so much as a High Church revival as an example of an intolerant ascendant “party” determined to enforce its agenda on the rest of the church, if necessary by the force of law, then perhaps in that limited sense the official TEC position is “Laudian”.

Certainly pre-1662 the Irish Church represented a more unified example of Reformed Anglicanism than its troubled and divided sister church in England. “Laudian” bishops such as Bramhall and Jeremy Taylor, both Englishmen, would represent a change in all that after the Restoration but that was then the future.

The Church of Ireland does have a claim to be a part of the original “Anglican Communion” pre-dating TEC by centuries. Of course that doesn’t really matter very much. That its “character” was comprehended by the Elizabethan and Jacobean Anglican family of churches, despite its differences, is also true.

I must also admit that although I appreciate the legacy of “Laudianism” and the heroic witness of those we later described as the Caroline Divines, I must also admit that I deplore the means used to force reforms on church people who were moderate Anglicans and not anti-church Puritans, forcing many of them to embrace schismatics rather than conform.

When Charles II returned from his journeys in 1660 it was hoped that the Laudians had learnt their lessons. They had contributed to the very destruction of the church they wished to reform because they were so sure of the virtue of their cause and brooked no opposition. Yet instead of learning from their mistakes, in a fit of revenge and righteous indignation, in 1662 and thereafter they used the force of law to eject from the church even moderate Puritans like the saintly Richard Baxter.

Nowadays the 1662 Prayer Book is viewed by many as a living memory of comprehensive classical Anglicanism. In 1662, to many, it was a symbol of resurrected oppression on the part of the High Church party bent on securing its place and accomplishing its agenda. Yet the victory of Laudianism in the Restoration Church came at a great price. Those ejected formed permanent Nonconformity, depriving the Church of England, at least in practical terms of its claim to be the comprehensive church of the English people. Was smaller better? Perhaps those in our church intent on establishing their agenda may wish to think about this lesson?

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