Jeremy Taylor (1613 - 13 August, 1667) was a clergyman in the Church of England who achieved fame as an author during The Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He is sometimes known as the "Shakespeare of Divines" for his poetic style of expression and was often presented as a model of prose writing. He is remembered in the Church of England's calendar of saints with a Lesser Festival on 13 August.
Taylor was educated at The Perse School, Cambridge before going on to Gonville and Caius College, at Cambridge, where he graduated in 1626. He was under the patronage of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. He went on to become chaplain in ordinary to King Charles I as a result of Laud's sponsorship. This made him politically suspect when Laud was tried for treason and executed in 1645 by the Puritan Parliament during the English Civil War. After the Parliamentary victory over the King, he was briefly imprisoned several times.
Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. At the Restoration, his political star was on the rise, and he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland. He also became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin.
In the next year he married Phoebe Langsdale, by whom he had six children, the eldest of whom died at Uppingham in 1642. In the autumn of the same year he was appointed to preach in St Marys on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, and apparently used the occasion to clear himself of a suspicion, which, however, haunted him through life, of a secret leaning to the Roman Catholic position. This suspicion seems to have arisen chiefly from his intimacy with Christopher Davenport, better known as Francis a Sancta Clara, a learned Franciscan friar who became chaplain to Queen Henrietta; but it may have been strengthened by his known connection with Laud, as well as by his ascetic habits. More serious consequences followed his attachment to the Royalist cause. The author of The Sacred Order and Offices of Episcopacy or Episcopacy Asserted against the Arians and Acephali New and Old (1642), could scarcely hope to retain his parish, which was not, however, sequestrated until 1644. Taylor probably accompanied the king to Oxford. In 1643 he was presented to the rectory of Overstone, Northamptonshire, by Charles I. There he would be in close connection with his friend and patron Spencer Compton, 2nd earl of Northampton.
From time to time Jeremy Taylor appears in London in the company of his friend Evelyn, in whose diary and correspondence his name repeatedly occurs. He was imprisoned three times: in 1645 for an injudicious preface to his Golden Grove; again in Chepstow castle, from May to October 1655, on what charge does not appear; and a third time in the Tower in 1657, because of the indiscretion of his publisher, Richard Royston, who had decorated his Collection of Offices with a print representing Christ in the attitude of prayer.
The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living provided a manual of Christian practice, which has retained its place with devout readers. The scope of the work is described on the title-page. it deals with the means and instruments of obtaining every virtue, and the remedies against every vice, and considerations serving to the resisting all temptations, together with prayers containing the whole Duty of a Christian. Holy Dying was perhaps even more popular. A very charming piece of work of a lighter kind was inspired by a question from his friend, Mrs Katherine Phillips (the matchless Orinda), asking How far is a dear and perfect friendship authorized by the principles of Christianity? In answer to this he dedicated to the most ingenious and excellent Mrs Katherine Phillips his Discourse of the Nature, Offices and Measures of Friendship (1657). His Ductor Dubitantium, or the Rule of Conscience . . . (1660) was intended to be the standard manual of casuistry and ethics for the Christian people.
At the Restoration, instead of being recalled to England, as he probably expected and certainly desired, he was appointed to the see of Down and Connor, to which was shortly added the small adjacent diocese of Dromore. He was also made a member of the Irish privy council and vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin. None of these positions were sinecures.
Of the university he writes:
Accordingly he set himself vigorously to the task of framing and enforcing regulations for the admission and conduct of members of the university, and also of establishing lectureships. His episcopal labours were still more arduous. There were, at the date of the Restoration, about seventy Presbyterian ministers in the north of Ireland, and most of these were from the west of Scotland, with a dislike for Episcopacy which distinguished the Covenanting party. No wonder that Taylor, writing to the duke of Ormonde shortly after his consecration, should have said, "I perceive myself thrown into a place of torment". His letters perhaps somewhat exaggerate the danger in which he lived, but there is no doubt that his authority was resisted and his overtures rejected.
This was Taylor's golden opportunity to show the wise toleration he had earlier advocated, but the new bishop had nothing to offer the Presbyterian clergy but the alternative of submission to episcopal ordination and jurisdiction or deprivation. Consequently, at his first visitation, he declared thirty-six churches to be vacant; and repossession was secured on his orders. At the same time many of the gentry were apparently won over by his undoubted sincerity and devotedness as well as by his eloquence. With the Roman Catholic element of the population he was less successful. Not knowing the English language, and firmly attached to their traditional forms of worship, they were nonetheless compelled to attend a service they considered profane, conducted in a language they could not understand.
As Heber says
The troubles of his episcopate no doubt shortened his life. Nor were domestic sorrows wanting in these later years. In 1661 he buried, at Lisburn, Edward, the only surviving son of his second marriage. His eldest son, an officer in the army, was killed in a duel; and his second son, Charles, who was destined for the ministry, left Trinity College and became companion and secretary to the duke of Buckingham, at whose house he died. The day after his son's funeral Taylor caught fever from a sick person he had visited, and, after a ten days illness, he died at Lisburn on the 13th of August 1667.
His great plea for toleration is based on the impossibility of erecting theology into a demonstrable science. It is impossible all should be of one mind. And what is impossible to be done is not necessary it should be done. Differences of opinion there must be; but heresy is not an error of the understanding but an error of the will. He would submit all minor questions to the reason of the individual member, but he set certain limits to toleration, excluding whatsoever is against the foundation of faith, or contrary to good life and the laws of obedience, or destructive to human society, and the public and just interests of bodies politic. Peace, he thought, might be made if men would not call all opinions by the name of religion, and superstructures by the name of fundamental articles. Of the propositions of sectarian theologians he said that confidence was the first, and the second, and the third part.
Of a genuine poetic temperament, fervid and mobile in feeling, and of a prolific fancy, he had also the sense and wit that come of varied contact with men. All his gifts were made available for influencing other men by his easy command of a style rarely matched in dignity and color. With all the majesty and stately elaboration and musical rhythm of Milton's finest prose, Taylor's style is relieved and brightened by an astonishing variety of felicitous illustrations, ranging from the most homely and terse to the most dignified and elaborate. His sermons especially abound in quotations and allusions, which have the air of spontaneously suggesting themselves, but which must sometimes have baffled his hearers. This seeming pedantry is, however, atoned for by the clear practical aim of his sermons, the noble ideal he keeps before his hearers, and the skill with which he handles spiritual experience and urges incentives to virtue.
-- From Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying