Arthur Middleton on Henry Hammond (1605-60)

‘Laudian’ describes those who shared the theological viewpoint of Laud, the churchmen who were in wholehearted agreement in their method of defending the church’s interests before and after the Restoration; though they were not unswerving followers of the Archbishop. They did not consider themselves ‘a party’, believing they represented the true Church of England, and it would be wrong to describe them as such. Groups and individuals were connected by an interchange of ideas and a measure of agreement cutting across differences of outlook.

These differences were contained and admitted by a theological method with a firm but adaptable centre, that was capable of contact with a variety of subjects and situations and able to readjust emphases in order to cope with new ideas. This was the basis for that general agreement that existed between individuals and groups including such people as Hooker, Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, William Chillingworth, Henry Hammond and Gilbert Sheldon. This was the spirit of Anglicanism, centred in the Incarnation, Scripture and the visibility and continuity of the Church, both confirmed by antiquity and illuminated by the freedom of reason and liberality of viewpoint that constitutes the shared attitude of the seventeenth century.

It was difficult to base both faith and practice upon the same foundations as the Church of Rome and raise something quite separate. Yet seventeenth-century Anglicanism claimed to be rooted in Catholic tradition and historically descended therefrom, while maintaining a vigorous growth through the translated services and the Book of Common Prayer. Hence the Romanists and the Puritans continually attacked her official formulae, but this dual offensive produced from the Laudian loyalists a spate of explanatory and defensive literature. The added pressure of laws against her required the stressing of the continuity and visibility of the church, and the Laudians set out to illustrate this, emphasizing the appeal to antiquity in relation to the form of church government. It was a time of defensive and offensive theology in the face of a concerted attack.

Henry Hammond (1605-60) was the leading light in this, and with others preserved the traditional balance of a theological method in which the beginnings of a specific orientation can be seen.

Bull, Pearson, Dodwell and Beveridge took it a stage further. When the Church of England was suffering persecution in the time of Cromwell, it was to Dr Hammond, more than to any other single man, that she owed the continuance of her existence. It was by his holiness, charity and devoted labours that a tone was given to the clergy of that period which bore good fruit afterwards.

He is the embodiment of Anglicanism in the seventeenth century in the tradition of Hooker and Andrewes, expressing himself in the same kind of way and through his writings illustrating the impact of the ecclesiastical polity on the thought of the day. It is not surprising to find that a balanced relationship between Scripture, antiquity and reason form the core of his theological method. There is a resemblance to Andrewes not in the style of his general approach but in his interests; they had a common concern for antiquity and history, biblical texts and language, liturgical and devotional matters. Grotius, a Dutch scholar, shared the basic conviction of Hammond’s ecclesiology, that the Church of England was ‘the most careful observer, and transcriber of primitive antiquity’.