Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saint Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, 19 January.

St. Wulfstan of Worcester (watercolor of stained glass by myself)
Saint Wulfstan was a Saxon bishop of Worcester in the late 11th century who recognized the unimportance of the secular ruler in the context of his duties: to be spiritual shepherd  and whole comforter of the people entrusted to him as bishop. Wulfstan witnessed an ugly transition in the history of England: the transition from Saxon rule to the rough, oppressive Norman rule begun by William the Conqueror in 1066.

Born in 1008, Wulfstan began his career at Worcester as a monk in 1038 and then Prior of the Benedictine Cathedral Priory. When the bishop of Worcester, Ealdred, became Archbishop of York, Wulfstan was appointed the position which he reluctantly accepted like so many other saintly bishops (namely Sts. Cuthbert, Hugh and Peter of Tarentaise). After the conquest, Wulfstan submitted to William I and to his new Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, rather that risk his position (most other Saxon bishops were deposed) and thus his relationship to the people he led with great devotion and efficiency. Wulfstan incorporated the rules of his previous monastic life into his role as bishop, running his diocese, and sometimes others when they were vacant, as if he were following a rule. He designed a system for episcopal visitations (while many of his episcopal colleagues enjoyed their palaces), rebuilt Worcester Cathedral, consecrated numerous churches encouraged to be patronized by local lords, and was notorious for his charity and ministry to the poor and dispossessed. It was towards the end of his career that he cooperated with Lanfranc to end the capture and sale of English slaves at Bristol by Vikings. For his submission to the new regime and his passionate undertaking of the bishopric, he was trusted and valued by the first two Norman kings even though the court claimed he was unfit for his position as he could neither speak French and was "unlearned." Whether the latter was true or not (it probably wasn't as the Saxon Benedictines, like most others, were patrons of learning) his leadership, charity and devotion are ample evidence of his holiness. He died in 1095 while washing the feet of the local poor. He was the last surviving Saxon bishop when he died and was immediately venerated as a saint.

St. Wulfstan reminds us of the tentativeness, weakness and inhumanity of all human governments and regimes. For St. Wulfstan, a Saxon or a Norman king was of little importance though of great consequence, to his duty as shepherd and caretaker his people. Christ is the only perfect, just and eternal government, all others are stained by humanity's innate sin and fleeting. Before Wulfstan passed the government of his country from one ruler to another. He chose not to side with one or the other but with Christ, the real and only King, and continued his duties as laid out under his rules.
     In another sense, bishops and priests of today should look to St. Wulfstan as a model of administration. Wulfstan followed a kind of "episcopal rule" (a phrase I am making up) which allowed him to fully integrate his life with his duties as bishop. Such a rule for today's bishops and priests, whether it was one of evangelism, visitation, or ministry in particular, or each combined, would recast a much holier light on the episcopal office as it is and was once was regarded-the office of today's apostles and heralds of the risen Christ.

Collect: (From the Episcopal Church)
Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son hath led captivity captive and given gifts to thy people: Multiply among us faithful pastors, who, like thy holy bishop Wulfstan, will give courage to those who are oppressed and held in bondage; and bring us all, we pray, into the true freedom of thy kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

St. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 10 January.

William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.
     Another martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud is among the most important definers of Anglicanism and Church leaders since the reformation. Laud was born in 1573, the son of a Reading cloth merchant, went to the university of Oxford and was ordained to the priesthood in 1601. His first bishopric was that of St. Davids in Wales in 1621 and later the bishoprics of Bath and Wells,  London and finally Canterbury in 1633. From the beginning of his career, he stood for the high church camp of Anglicanism emphasizing the importance of the free will of man rather than thew double predestination of the Puritans, the Calvinist camp of the English Church. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of the Church's position as the continuation of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church as part of the ancient Apostolic Church and thus the importance of its ceremonies. As the psalmist says, "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." While he first became dean of Gloucester Cathedral, he moved the altar back behind the medieval rood screen and covered it in elaborate hangings and candles: a move which incurred the anger of local Puritans. Puritans remained the chief problem throughout his episcopate as they wanted to purge or "purify" the Anglican Church of all connection to the ancient/pre-reformation apostolic Church including its ceremonies and structure. The abandonment of episcopacy, however, would have left the English Church a sect instead of part of the Body of Christ-the "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church",as described in the Nicene Creed, which is descended from the 12 apostles and thus from Christ himself. Laud's effort to save and secure these principals in the Anglican Church would eventually lead him to his death.
     In his visits to the English and Welsh dioceses as Archbishop, Laud noted the extreme poverty of the majority of parish priests, who could "barely clothe or feed themselves." Laud made more enemies, especially in the House of Lords, when he suggested that some of the Church Lands confiscated under Henry VIII be returned for the livings of priests. While Archbishop, Laud increased his political involvement  through his friendship with Charles I, King and Martyr, and though he had no ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Scotland, where episcopacy had been abandoned and replaced with Calvinist Presbyterianism, had great influence on the re-establishment of the Church in that land. The bishops had returned to Scotland under James I soon after his ascension in 1603 but it was Laud who supervised much of the revision of Scotland's liturgy. In 1637 he and the Archbishop of St. Andrews made the Prayer Book of 1637 official. The book was very Anglican and Catholic in its liturgy and was completely rejected by the Scots in the Bishops War-which soon became the Civil War.Though he was a high churchman, however, he was not a Papist. He refused a seat in the College of Cardinals twice saying that first Rome would have to reform itself. Never-the-less, Laud was captured in 1641 and charged with High Treason and other ridiculous charges by the severely Puritan House of Commons and the House of Lords, offended by his proposition about the return of Church lands, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was formally tried in 1644 and sentenced to death though Charles tried to pardon him. Among the evidence presented against him was that he used incense an unleavened "host" in the celebration of the Holy Communion. He was martyred for the protection of the Church on this day, 10 January, 1645 praying "The Lord receive my soul, and have mercy on me, and bless this kingdom with peace and charity, that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them."

Trial of William Laud before Parliament.

     Today, William Laud's passion reminds us of the importance of the orthodox structure and doctrines of the Anglican Church. The structure of the Church, its apostolic bishops and its sacraments are a direct and historic connection to Christ and should be revered this way.  There is a sort of "Puritan" faction in some Churches of today's Communion which insists on the redundancy of structural or doctrinal commitments and instead reinforces simply Christian principals or ethics. Christianity, however is like an arch: Christ, who is the Church, is the keystone and so without him the arch falls away. The Church and her headers need to recognize and revive in focus that faith which is her heart. Though there are many people who want it to become a merely a secular, social, humanist force rather the force of love which comes directly from Christ and from all those who love him. William Laud stands for the persistence of those who live and breath Christ in faith against forces that want to turn it into an instrument for shifting popular demands. Now, when the Church is again being challenged, bishops and priests and laypeople should be willing to be persecuted like Laud because they recognize and support the importance of the orthodox faith and the Church's connection to its ancestors, saints, apostles and to Christ through episcopacy and the sacraments.

Collect (From the Episcopal Church): 

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like thy servant William Laud, we may live in thy fear, die in thy favor, and rest in thy peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The Church of St. Katharine Cree in London. Consecrated by Laud in 1631 in an elaborate ceremony which the Puritans later used as "evidence" of his Romish ways during his trial claiming that he had used incense and an unleavened host.