Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore, 1667

Jeremy Taylor, one of the most influential of the Caroline Divines, was educated at Cambridge and, through the influence of William Laud, became a Fellow of All Souls at Oxford.  He was still quite young when he became chaplain to King Charles the First and, later during the Civil War, a chaplain in the Royalist army.

The success of the Parliamentary forces brought about Taylor’s imprisonment, and after the final Parliamentary victory in the Civil War, Taylor spent several years in forced retirement as chaplain to the family of Lord Carberry in Wales.  It was during this time that his most influential works were written, especially Holy Living and Holy Dying (1651).

Among his other works, Liberty of Prophesying proved to be a seminal work in encouraging the development of religious toleration in the seventeenth century.  In it, Taylor states:

“[W]hatsoever is expressed, or is to these purposes implied, is made articulate and explicate, in the short and admirable mysterious creed of St Paul, Rom. x.8.  ‘This is the word of faith which we preach, that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’  This is the great and entire complexion of a Christian’s faith; and since salvation is promised to the belief of this creed, either a snare is laid for us, with a purpose to deceive us, or else nothing is of prime and original necessity to be believed, but this, Jesus Christ our Redeemer; and all that which is the necessary parts, means, or main actions working this redemption for us, and the honor for him, is in the bowels and folds of the great article….”

Despite Taylor’s unquestioned literary genius, he was not asked to have a part in the Prayer Book revision of 1662.  The first American Prayer Book, however, incorporated one of his prayers, part of which has been adapted to serve as the Collect for his commemoration.  Another of his prayers has been added to the American Prayer Book of 1979.

Taylor’s theology has sometimes been criticized, most bitingly by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who claims that Taylor seems to “present our own holy life as the grounds of our religious hope, rather than as the fruit of that hope, whose ground is the mercies of Christ.”  No such complaint, however, was ever made about his prayers, which exemplify the best of Caroline divinity, blended with great literary genius.

In later life, Taylor and his family moved to the northeastern part of Ireland, where he accepted a lectureship in the patronage of the Earl of Conway.  After the restoration of the monarch, King Charles the Second nominated him to the bishopric of Down and Connor, to which the small adjacent see of Dromore was later added.  As bishop, Taylor labored tirelessly to rebuild churches, restore the use of the Prayer Book, and overcome continuing Puritan opposition.  As vice-chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, he took a leading part in reviving the intellectual life of the Church of Ireland.  He remained to the end of his life and man of prayer and a pastor.  Taylor caught fever from a sick person whom he had visited and died on this day in 1667.  He was buried in Dromore Cathedral.

taken from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980),
with amendments and additions

The Collect

O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, like your servant Jeremy Taylor, deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let your Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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