We posted about Lancelot Andrewes, Nicholas Ferrar and the Little Gidding community, and George Herbert, and now will continue with more on the Caroline Divines—the Anglican clergy who typified a revival of piety in the Church of England in the seventeenth century.
Another prominent Caroline Divine was John Cosin (1594-1672). Having matriculated at Caius College, Cambridge before taking Holy Orders, once ordained his rise in the Church was rapid. He began as secretary to the Bishop of Lichfield, went on to be chaplain to the Prince-Bishop of Durham, a canon of Durham, and then archdeacon of East Riding in Yorkshire. Upon receiving his doctorate in divinity he was advanced to the Mastership of Peterhouse at Cambridge and then to vice-Chancellor of the University. In 1627 he had composed, at the command of Charles I, a book of devotions for the Protestant Ladies in Waiting to Charles’ Catholic Queen, Henrietta Marie. It was always troublesome to the High Church wing that the good Protestant ladies of the court often looked rather less devout than the Queen and her Catholic ladies. Cosin was a staunch royalist and pawned the silver plate of Peterhouse for the royal cause in the Civil War with the Parliamentarians. He was deprived by the Long Parliament of his benefices for his support of the King and fled to Paris where he served as the Protestant Chaplain to Charles II in his exile. At the Restoration he returned to England and was made Prince-Bishop of Durham. He was an ardent High-Churchman though he had no problem with non-episcopal ordination among the French Huguenots. He also tried valiantly to win compromise with the Presbyterians at the Savoy Conference of 1661 but without success. He was greatly responsible for the 1662 Prayer Book reviving both prayers and rituals more consistent with the ancient liturgies than the 1552 and 1559 books used previous to the Civil War. Durham was a rich see and Cosin was most generous in applying his revenues to works of charity and education.
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) is one of the better known Caroline Divines because of his extraordinary prose style. He came from humble origins at Cambridge but because of his intelligence and ability to learn quickly was able to secure a place in the university. He was only 20 when ordained to the priesthood. He was a protégé of Archbishop Laud, the High-Church Archbishop of Canterbury whose antagonism to the Puritan faction provided the spark that would set off the Bishop’s War in Scotland which morphed into the English Civil War and brought down both monarchy and episcopacy with King Charles and Archbishop Laud both losing their lives to the axe. Taylor, like Laud, was always suspect by the Puritans of being a crypto-Catholic and he was on friendly terms with many Catholics including the Franciscan friar chaplain to Queen Henrietta Marie. Yet, for all his cordiality to Catholics, Taylor was a convinced Anglican. He was a staunch defender of episcopacy against the Presbyterian polity of Cromwell’s Puritan Parliamentarians and this led to three imprisonments during the Commonwealth. Friends secured him a position in Lisburn, county Antrim in Ireland in the final years of the Commonwealth and at the Restoration he was named Bishop of Down and Connor and Vice Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin. It was a tremendous disappointment to him not to be called back to England. It was surprising that he was not given a better position as his wife (his second wife, his first having died in 1651) was an illegitimate daughter of no less than King Charles II himself.
He was a competent bishop in difficult circumstances with most of his clergy being Presbyterian and not willing to give it up and most of the populace being Catholic and not willing to give that up either. His literary contribution is perhaps greater than any of the other Carolines due to both the volume of his writing and quality of his prose. In addition to numerous sermons he wrote several books of devotions and prayers that have remained popular through the centuries. He also wrote manuals for the devout life and for preparing for a devout death as well as a worthy reception of Holy Communion. The Catholic Paulist Press did a volume of his work in the Classics of Western Spirituality Series.
Thomas Ken, 1637-1711, was an Oxford grad who, after holding several relatively inconsequential rectories, went on to be a canon at Winchester and a chaplain to the bishop there. He went on to be chaplain to the King’s neice, the Princess Mary (later Queen Mary of William and Mary fame) and afterwards a chaplain to King Charles himself. He later angered the King, however, when he refused the King’s infamous mistress, Nell Gwynne, hospitality in his home. He wrote many devotional prayers and hymns which are still used today, most notably “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” and “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night.” A trip to Rome in 1672 left him unimpressed with Catholicism.
In 1684 when the See of Bath and Wells (a very important diocese in the Church of England and the bishop of which plays a significant role in the coronation ritual) feel opened, King Charles remembered Ken’s scruples about hosting the royal mistress and in admiration for his pluck insisted that Ken be named bishop. The King allegedly declared: “where is that little priest who refused lodging to poor Nell?” When Charles was dying the following year, Ken was summoned to minister to him at his deathbed and his manner of ministry edified all present save for the dour Scot, Gilbert Burnet.
Ken was no friend to Catholicism and opposed a lifting of the penal laws proposed by the Catholic King James II who succeeded Charles II in 1685. James had him imprisoned and brought to trial for his résistance, but he was acquitted. Nevertheless, when William and Mary (to whom he had once been chaplain) deposed James in the Glorious Revolution, Ken felt that his oath of allegiance to James prevented him from giving allegiance to the new Protestant co-monarchs. (We will have postings on “The Glorious Revolution” to explain all this in the near future.) William and Mary deprived Ken of his See and he retired to the manor of his old friend Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, at Longleat. Somewhat penniless himself, Ken influenced Weymouth to be exceptionally generous to the poor of the surrounding countryside and even to establish a school for boys at Warminster.
There are other voices of seventeenth-century Anglican piety/spirituality that we could consider but I think these and those in the previous posting give us the flavor of the flourishing of Anglican spirituality in the seventeenth century. As the Church of England broke free of its Calvinist/Puritan heritage it was able to recover some of the vitality that it had known in the Middle Ages with spiritual writers such as Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. What we see with the Caroline Divines is a deep but not a saccharine piety rooted in scripture, sound theology, and an appreciation for the sacramental/liturgical life of the Church. It would be important—given that these Divines were all of the High Church camp—to give a clarification of seventeenth-century High Churchmanship lest it be confused with the ritualism of the Oxford movement which was still a long way off in the distance.
Seventeenth century High Churchmanship was marked not so much by ritual—though there was a deep concern for a dignified Church order—as by an appreciation for the patristic heritage which had, for a great part, been lost in the Puritan years. The seventeenth century saw a revival of interest in the ancient Church Fathers—both Greek and Latin—and a desire to align the life of the Church in its liturgy, its asceticism, and its canons with the theology and practice of the ancient church. They were not so much concerned about vestments (though they did insist on the prescribed vestments of the Prayer Book, namely the surplice) and ornaments as they were about adherence to the liturgical texts and rubrics. There was a great flourishing of hymnody as well as a restoration of organs—and some magnificent instruments—and music. In their study of the Fathers, they narrowed the gap between their and Catholic theology although pretty much to a man the Caroline Divines were by no means “papistically inclined.” There were some loose and unofficial ties established with the French Church (where there was also a spiritual renaissance at the time as well as an enthusiasm for Church music) which stood in a somewhat semi-autonomous relationship with the papacy. Unfortunately this spiritual revival would come crashing down by the end of the seventeenth century with the rise of rational liberalism but that is for future postings.