Friday, September 26, 2008

Lancelot Andrewes

Today is the Feast Day for one of the great Anglican divines: Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). Here's how Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Church Publishing, 2006) characterizes his importance within the Anglican tradition:

Lancelot Andrewes was the favorite preacher of King James the First. He was the author of a great number of eloquent sermons, particularly on the Nativity and the Resurrection. They are "witty," grounded in the Scriptures, and characterized by the kind of massive learning that the King loved. This makes them difficult reading for modern people, but they repay careful study. T. S. Eliot used the opening of one of Andrewes' Epiphany sermons as the inspiration for his poem, "The journey of the Magi:"

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a Journey, and such a long journey:
The way deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

Andrewes was also a distinguished biblical scholar, proficient in Hebrew and Greek, and was one of the translators of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible. He was Dean of Westminster and headmaster of the school there before he became a bishop, and was influential in the education of a number of noted Churchmen of his time, in particular, the poet George Herbert.

Andrewes was a very devout man, and one of his most admired works is his Preces Privatae ("Private Devotions"), an anthology from the Scriptures and the ancient liturgies, compiled for his own use. It illustrates his piety and throws light on the sources of his theology. He vigorously defended the catholicity of the Church of England against Roman Catholic critics. He was respected by many as the very model of a bishop at a time when bishops were held in low esteem. As his student, John Hacket, later Bishop of Lichfield, wrote about him: "Indeed he was the most Apostolical and Primitive-like Divine, in my Opinion, that wore a Rochet in his Age; of a most venerable Gravity, and yet most sweet in all Commerce; the most Devout that I ever saw, when he appeared before God; of such a Growth in all kind of Learning that very able Clerks were of a low Stature to him" (p. 396).

The compilers of Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness (Oxford University Press, 2001) add this: "His theology is much marked by patristic and Eastern Christian themes, and his preaching shows a particularly 'high' sacramental doctrine" ( p. 111).

You can read sermons, prayers and other writings by Bishop Andrewes here.

The following is one of my favorite prayers that he wrote (those of you who pray the office of Compline in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will recognize it):

I will lay me down in peace
and take my rest:
for it is Thou Lord only
that makest me dwell in safety.
Into thy hands, O Lord,
I commend my spirit,
for Thou hast redeemed me,
O Lord Thou God of truth.


Anonymous said...

But Andrewes did not write "I will lay me down in peace" etc. He may have written the words down in his Preces Privatae, but he quotes Psalms 4:9 and 31:6 from the Coverdale Psalter (4:8 and 31:5 in the 1979 BCP). Still, lovely words.

Bryan Owen said...

Good point, Anonymous, and one on which I stand corrected. In line with the Prayer Book tradition (the liturgies of each BCP either quote, paraphrase, or allude to Holy Scripture on virtually every page in its liturgies), Andrewes quotes or paraphrases Scripture in putting this prayer together. What a fine example of how we, as Anglicans, use scripture as the basis for our common prayer!

William Tighe said...

Two of the best and most stimulating essays on Andrewes, his theological thought and his influence that I have ever read are:

(1) “Lancelot Andrewes, John Buckeridge and Avant-Garde Conformity at the Court of James I” by Peter Lake, in *The Mental World of the Jacobean Court* ed. Linda Levy Peck (Cambridge University Press, 1991). Here is a reference to it:

(2) “Lancelot Andrewes and the Myth of Anglicanism” by Nicholas Tyacke, in *Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church, ca. 1560-ca. 1660* ed. Peter Lake and Michael Questier (Boydell & Brewer, 2000). You may be able to read that essay, in whole or in part, here:,M1

(Actually, you can read here only the introduction to the book and the first half of Tyacke’s essay there, but at least you can get a sense of it. Note well, in particular, on the last page reproduced here, Andrewes slashing, if understated, attack on the interior/liturgical arrangements of English churches ca. 1590 — an attack that clearly echoed attacks by Marian Catholic authors in the 1550s on the liturgical arrangements and worship practices of the Church of England from 1549 to 1553, when the Latin Catholic services had been suppressed and replaced by those of the successive Prayer Books. Tyacke argues that while in some respects the “early Andrewes” shared some ideas with Calvinists, e.g., predestinarianism [which he later repudiated] and sabbatarianism [which he retained to his dying day], his views on the regenerating effect of baptism and especially on the sanctifying and cleansing effect of the physical reception of Christ’s Body and Blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, was the central point on which his whole theology pivoted and on which his later developed sacramental and ecclesiological ideas were founded. Both Tyacke and Lake see Andrewes as rather more important than Hooker [as well as distinctly more “extreme” in his views] for the later development of “high-church” Anglicanism and its tendency to disavow or repudiate any real connection with continental Protestantism, save perhaps a political one.)

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for your interesting comments and for sharing these resources on Andrewes, William. Looks like good stuff.

Chris Johnson said...

Thanks for this piece on Andrewes it's amazing to see such a keen theological mind. His ability to hold a Highchurch mindset while arguing against the Roman positions of his day required such insight. Anyway thanks for the piece.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Chris. We can't be reminded too often of predecessors in the faith like Andrewes!