Arthur Middleton on William Laud and Calvinism

For William Laud (1573-1645), Lancelot Andrewes was an intellectual father figure. In Oxford Laud emulated Andrewes’ opposition to the Calvinism he had faced in Cambridge and found in the Greek Fathers an appeal from aspects of modern Protestantism. His tutor, John Buckeridge, said against Scottish Presbyterianism that ‘in a reformation [of a Church] we should conform ourselves…to the rule of the ancient Scriptures, apostles and Fathers… rather than after the new cut of those who have not above the life of a man on their backs, sixty or seventy years’ Given that predestination was a crucial issue among Elizabethan bishops with Calvinist sympathies and reservations about the orthodoxy of the Greek Fathers on the subject of predestination, this statement is significant.

The English Reformation looked to the primitive Church for a non-papal Catholicism when confronted by Calvinism which threatened the integrity of the English church. Calvinists resented the fact that predestination and its corollary reprobation had no place in Anglican doctrine because of a deeper understanding of Scripture and primitive theology, and objected to the doctrine of the Prayer Book. Laud’s stance safeguarded the future of Anglicanism in Creeds, Episcopacy and Sacraments.

Three centuries later the parish churches and their worship expressed a realization of his hopes concerning uniformity which, with some variations, the Book of Common Prayer was to achieve. Dean Hutton said that Laud saved the English Church from the Puritans and established her right to regard herself, not as the creation of either Parliament or King, but as part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, national in her liturgy, but faithful to primitive doctrine.

Laud’s object was a doctrinal clearance; the subjugation of the Calvinistic spirit in the Reformed Church of England, which J.B. Mozley described as a Church overrun with heresy. Laud opposed the prevalent Calvinist theology in the universities, among bishops and clergy, and in parliament. Buckeridge taught him the primary importance of sacramental grace and the episcopal organization of the Church, guiding Laud’s studies in the spirit of the Canons of 1571, which prescribed the study of the Fathers and ancient doctors as the best commentary on Holy Scripture. From Buckridge he derived his conviction that the Church of England is part of the Catholic Church of Christ. Bishop Young of Rochester, who ordained him, said he would be an instrument of restoring the Church from the narrow and private principles of modern times.

Labelling a person Calvinist implies that they hold the following five beliefs. Firstly, God has chosen a certain number in Christ to everlasting glory before creating the world, of his free grace and love, without faith or good works performed by the creature. The rest he condemned to dishonour and wrath for their sins. Secondly, Christ by his death made atonement only for the sins of the elect. Thirdly, humans are totally depraved by the Fall, inheriting a corrupt nature from Adam’s sin that subjects them to death, and all miseries temporal, spiritual and eternal. Fourthly, all whom God has predestinated to death he will call in his own time out of that state of sin and death to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. Fifthly, that those whom God has effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit shall never finally fall from a state of grace. Essential Calvinist doctrine is particular election, particular redemption, moral inability in fallenness, irresistible grace and the final perseverance of the saints.