Saturday, October 6, 2012

John Hazlewood on Jeremy Taylor

This is the fifth instalment of John Hazlewood's lecture on the Caroline Divines, given to the Institute of Spiritual Studies at St Peter's Eastern Hill in 1982. It was included in a book published by the Institute, Anglican Spirituality.  

John Hazlewood on The Caroline Divines 
Part 5: Jeremy Taylor

Taylor must be regarded as the greatest scholar and writer amongst the erudite and serious Caroline Divines. Unlike most of them he had no aristocratic relations or patrons. Unlike most of them he also knew what insides of prisons were like and yet he produces theology, piety and wisdom in an amazing number of books. He was the son of a Cambridge barber and by sheer ability alone managed a poor scholarship to Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. He was ordained after that and an accident which took the preacher at St Paul's Cross, the famous outdoor pulpit behind the Cathedral in London, was his chance. He was asked to fill in. His sermon was so excellent that he attracted the patronage of William Laud the last Archbishop of Canterbury to be martyred. Bishop Juxon of London gave him a living at Uppingham where as parish priest his reputation as a spiritual director went far and wide. The upheaval that was the Civil War snatched him from his parish and he was for a year or two a chaplain with the royalist armies. Following that he went into retreat, as it were, in the remote country of Cardiganshire near the Carberry estate of Golden Grove. Here in his happiest years be wrote much theology and above all as far as we are concerned his double book "Holy Living and Holy Dying". These were instructions to loyal Anglicans deprived of their priests and Bishops during the sad days of the Commonwealth.

"Holy Living" was and is one of the greatest books of piety, instruction and quiet confidence any Anglican could wish to have and to use. Like the work of Herbert, Andrewes and Donne it is still being published and is still available today. C. J. Stranks writes (in "Anglican Devotion"):

"The distressed condition of the Church of England was being used by some as an argument that she was no true Church and to weaken the faith of those who belonged to her."

Against these people Taylor in one trenchant paragraph describes the marks of a Christian:

"That man does certainly belong to God who believes and is baptised into all the articles of the Christian faith, and studies to improve his knowledge in the matters of God, so as may best make him to live a holy life; he that in obedience to Christ worships God diligently, frequently, and constantly with natural religion, that is of prayer, praises, and thanksgivings; he that takes all opportunities to remember Christ's death by a frequent sacrament, as it can be had, or else by inward acts of understanding, will and memory (which is the spiritual communion) supplies the want of the external rite; he that lives; and is merciful; and despises the world, using it as a man, but never suffering it to inure his duty; and is just in his dealing, and diligent in his calling; he that is humble in his spirit; and obedient to government; and content in misfortune and employment; he that does his duty because he loves God; and especially if after all this he be afflicted, and patient, or prepared to suffer affliction for the cause of God; the man that hath these twelve signs of grace and predestination does as certainly belong to God, and is His son as surely, as he is His creature."

Taylor was not a crusader. He preferred to chide gently and to prove his theological position in loving kindness than with thunderbolts which on the battlefield of contrary religion he had learnt to fear and to despise. He often said that the Lord of Hosts had replaced the lovely Prince of Peace. He followed the other Carolines in teaching that there is no real division between what is religious and what is secular. He wrote:

"God is pleased to esteem it as part of His service, if weeat and drink, so it be done temperately, and as may best preserve our health, that our health may enable our services towards him; and there is no one minute of our lives, after we are come to the use of reason, but we are or maybe doing the work of God, even then when we most of all serve ourselves."

As Stranks adds,

"We may take delight in all created things, for they come from God, and minister to God. Taylor could always still delight in all that God delights in, and in God himself. That being so a man must be very much in love with sorrow and peevishness, who loses all these pleasures, and chooses to sit down upon his little handful of thorns."

Taylor's teaching of a holy contentment, a holy charity, a holy peace and the need for spiritual direction and penitence is a prose extension of Herbert's work and one that was worked out in exile, poverty and fear for the return of the Church and its King. I shall close these all too slight peeps at so great a man with words Stranks quotes concerning his beliefs with regard to the Blessed Eucharist.

"He tells us that in it priest and people on earth join with the great Sacrifice of Christ's death upon the Cross which the Son of God perpetually pleads before his Father in Heaven. Those who take part in this supreme act of worship must make the fullest possible preparation of themselves before they draw near. In it they must dedicate utterly to the service of God, who has so greatly shown his love for them. When the worship is over the rest of the day must be spent in prayer for all estates of men, and in thanksgiving for the great privilege which has been enjoyed. He advises that 'all persons should communicate very often even as often as they can'. "

In 1655 Taylor left Golden Grove for secret London royalist congregations. He was put in prison on two occasions and eventually went to Ireland in the train of Lord Conway. Having completed an important work on casuistry and dedicating it to Charles II about to be restored, Taylor received a stormy Irish bishopric in Ulster. Down, Connor and Dromore. It is said that an old argument with Sheldon, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, prevented Taylor's return to England. He was bishop for only six years plagued by Presbyterian incumbents whom he was forced to remove. They, of course, are the antecedents in Ulster of the Paisley group today. His treatise on Confirmation remains a classic until this day. He also found time to build a new Cathedral at Dromore. In that he was buried in August 1667 having caught a fever while visiting the poor sick in Lisburn, part of his difficult diocese.

C. J. Stranks sums his contribution to the Caroline Spirituality in well chosen words,

"'The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.' To forget that is to overlook a part of the Divine Majesty. Every revelation of God, whether to the eye or to the mind, or to the soul, or in the body, is something Taylor would have us accept with delight. He certainly did not ignore sin. He found it hideous and alien, an affront to God and an intrusion in his work. Perhaps, with his own peculiar innocency, Taylor overlooked the attraction which evil has for some characters. He believed men to be reasonable creatures and Christianity the most reasonable way of life. The chief duty of a guide of souls was to teach the plain way of holiness as the Bible and the Church lay it down. Prayer, Bible reading, the use of the Sacraments, and obedience to such reasonable rules as the Church gives to her children, would lead the soul to the acquisition of all necessary graces, and inspire a life in which sympathy for others, loveliness of spirit and quiet faith have a continuous development."


Post a Comment