Anglican Notables – Lancelot Andrewes – 25 September

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

Lancelot Andrewes

1555 (Near All Hallows-by-the-Tower, London, England) – 25 September 1626 (Southwark, Surrey, England)

Episcopal Sees: Bishop of Chichester (1605-1609); Bishop of Ely (1609-1619); Bishop of Winchester (1618-1626)

Other Ecclesiastical Posts: Dean of Westminster (1601-1605); Lord Almoner (1605-1619); Dean of the Chapel Royal (1618-1626)

Anglican feast days: 25 September (Church of England), 26 September (ECUSA)

One of the signal contributions Lancelot Andrewes made to Anglicanism is in the fact that he continued, along with Cranmer, Donne, and others, to put into practice the conviction that the beauty of holiness includes writing and speaking well.  Perhaps at the top of his list of accomplishments in this regard is his role as one of the translators of the Authorized Version (King James Version) of the Bible.  He is also credited with having been one of the editors-in-charge of the project, as we might put it today, and of having been the primary translator of the Pentateuch.

Andrewes was also considered an effective preacher because of “his charming delivery and classical style.”[1]  His sermons are too learned to serve as models in our era that privileges accessibility.  But at a minimum, Andrewes is an example of the fact that clergy should pray and think and prepare before they step into the pulpit.  And perhaps his sermons could spur us to re-consider whether immediate accessibility is always best.  Andrewes’s sermons apparently did stir worshipers emotionally in his day, but they also made intellectual demands, which can have a staying power stirred-up feelings do not.  References are often made to the importance of preaching in the Anglican tradition but often without noting that Anglicanism cherishes an intellectual-affective synthesis.  Andrewes’s sermons are classic examples of the Anglican desire to keep “[i]ntellect and sensibility … in harmony.”[2]

Andrewes showed his brilliance as a master linguist also in the collection of prayers he wrote, which were published posthumously as The Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester.  This work has become a classic of Anglican spirituality.  In our time, a couple of the prayers have gained a new audience due to John Rutter’s settings of two of the prayers as anthems.  Lancelot Andrewes has thus contributed to Anglicanism’s musical heritage.  (Information on those settings is at the end of this article.)

A number of talented writers have acknowledged Andrewes’s literary style as an important influence in their own work.  Andrewes would not have thought of himself as among the literati of his or of any age.  In this respect he also serves as an example in that he has achieved literary greatness without intending to do so at all.  Expressing beauty in sacred words (sermons, prayers, translations of Scripture) is at its best, Andrewes shows us, when it is not self-conscious or contrived.  Again, Andrewes’s sermons have their recondite passages, which will suggest literary and intellectual pretentiousness to many modern readers.  But Andrewes, the brilliant, well-educated scholar, probably knew how to speak no other kind of language, and his “charming delivery” probably caused any suspicions of pretentiousness to vanish from the minds of his listeners while no doubt atoning for the more obscure moments in a sermon.  Obscure moments in his sermons aside, Andrewes conveyed an understanding of theology that was in accord with that of “the church fathers: it was no abstracted exercise or speculative indulgence for him, but an expression of intimacy between the believer and God.”[3]

Among the writers Andrewes influenced was T. S. Eliot who, famously describing himself as an Anglo-Catholic, extended Andrewes’s example of linguistic mastery into twentieth-century Anglicanism and into the great works of twentieth-century world literature.  Eliot acknowledged that the “sermons of Andrewes are not easy reading.”[4] But he promised that giving Andrewes’s sermons their intellectual and spiritual due pays great dividends.  Not only did Eliot take the trouble to analyze what makes Andrewes’s sermons work as theological instruction and as literature (notably in their “ordonnance, or arrangement and structure, precision in the use of words, and relevant intensity”) but Eliot drew from one of them, Andrewes’s sermon on the Epiphany in 1622, for the opening lines of one of his finest poems, “The Coming of the Magi.”

It would have been enough of an achievement had Andrewes left us with his literary legacy.  But he probably did not think of his life’s work as being primarily on that level, if at all.  Indeed, he might have been taken aback by those who put so great an emphasis on the linguistic beauty of the Anglican patrimony, as though writing and speaking well should not be expected of any and every clergyman.

Perhaps even more significant is Andrewes’s role as one of the first lights among the so-called Caroline Divines[5] who produced the “first flowering of the Anglican tradition”[6] and consolidated a sense of an Anglican identity that lasted for centuries.  Andrewes was only a generation younger than the English Reformers, such as Cranmer, Jewel, Latimer, and Ridley, and he knew religio-political turmoil as did they.  But Andrewes’s theology was generally more mature in the sense that, even though the Civil War and the Commonwealth were smack-dab in the middle of this period, the theological reflections of the Caroline Divines reflected less fascination with the radical ideas from the continental Protestant movements.

Of course, the Caroline Divines also set themselves apart from what they considered the excesses and corruptions in the Roman Catholic tradition.  But Andrewes stands as a preeminent example of Anglican theologians who continued to recognize the authority of the Church Fathers.  Andrewes and the other Carolines thus affirmed an important contrast with continental Reformation movements while ensuring that Anglicanism shared a Catholic library with both the Catholic Church and the East.

Nor was this appeal to the Fathers simply a vague exhortation.  Convocation in 1571 “obliged pastors to refer not only to the Scriptures but to the ancient Fathers of the Church.”[7]  Andrewes was only sixteen at the time.  But it being sixteen in the sixteenth century was a different matter than being sixteen today.  Too, Andrewes was possessed of a brilliant mind.  It is therefore no surprise that not only had he entered Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, in 1571, this sixteen-year-old is also listed as one of the founding scholars of Jesus College that same year.  Andrewes would certainly have been aware of Convocation’s decisions in 1571.

Tracking Convocation in 1571 or not, Andrewes’s subsequent career as a churchman and theologian makes clear the importance of the patristic library in his life and works.  As is often the case with Anglican theologians who refer to the Fathers, Andrewes was not prepared to explicitly endorse all patristic literature.  But paradoxically, he tended to stop short of explicitly rejecting this or that patristic writer or text.  True, he is famous for having stated “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”[8]  But his sermons show no interest in such distinctions between approved and un-approved patristic writers.  One “constantly meets expressions such as, ‘The rule of the Fathers is,’ ‘So say the Fathers with uniform consent,’ ‘There is not one of the Fathers that I have read, but interpret it thus and so,’ … and so forth.”[9]  Indeed, the indications are that Andrewes’s initial wariness about the Fathers as a means of interpretation of Scripture broadened over time so that he “later relied on them very heavily.”[10]

Andrewes had less respect for the writings of the scholastics.  His library contained “such stalwart scholastics as Aquinas, Suarez, Cajetan, Canisius, Stapleton, Richard Middleton, Albertus Magnus, among many others.”[11]  And he certainly referred to them.  But he frequently did so with a “quasi apology by saying, ‘as the schoolmen call it,’ or ‘as the schoolmen term us,’ and so forth.”[12]  Andrewes thus stands as one of the minds and voices who ensured that the Anglican way of thinking theologically is one that does not privilege the logical and the systematic.[13]

As I have discussed here, Michael Ramsey reflected on this Anglican theological heritage in a 1945 lecture (delivered when he was, I believe, a canon of Durham Cathedral and a professor in Durham University’s Department of Theology).  Ramsey refers to what Anglican theology “may have” traditionally lost due to its “neglect of the angelic doctor.”  Ramsey and other Anglican theologians have felt this loss especially in “catastrophic times” and have not been surprised when Anglicans in search of theological answers have tended to look to the “two theologies upon [Anglicanism’s] flanks … rather than to their mother,” those two flanking theologies being the Confessional Protestant tradition, which better understands “the notes of crisis and judgment,” and the “wholeness of system which the Thomist offers.”[14]

But as the term “mutual enrichment” is often applied to a sharing of liturgical expressions from various traditions, whether within the same confessional tradition or across them, it should be expanded to embrace exchanges of theological methods and perspectives as well.  Andrewes lived in a time when this kind of openness and mutual enrichment was all but impossible.  Centuries later, however, the humility and breadth of vision of Michael Ramsey offered the following statement on how the Anglican theological tradition might have its own contribution to make in theologically enriching Christian life and thought:

“Anglican divinity may soon rediscover itself and, while claiming to say far less than the Schoolman and the Confessionalist, may speak both with a wider authority than they and to the whole man rather than to a part of him. For on the one side every sort of infallibilism demands … an infallible logician, and this means an authority speaking to far less than the whole man.   And on the other side Neo-Calvinism leads us to regard the use of our reason as a sinful titanism, and so dwells on our justification as to rob us of our sanctification through union with the divine life. If these judgments be true, the Anglican need not be too diffident or apologetic, though he may need to be more modest, in what he claims to say.”[15]

Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.

An Anglican prayer for the feast of Lancelot Andrewes:

O Lord and Father, our King and God, by whose grace the Church was enriched by the great learning and eloquent preaching of thy servant Lancelot Andrewes, but even more by his example of biblical and liturgical prayer: Conform our lives, like his, we beseech thee, to the image of Christ, that our hearts may love thee, our minds serve thee, and our lips proclaim the greatness of thy mercy; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Hymn to the Creator of Light

Glory be to thee, O lord, glory be to thee, / Creator of the visible light, / The sun’s ray, the flame of fire; / Creator also of the light invisible and intellectual: / That which is known of God, the light invisible. / Glory be to thee, O Lord, glory be to thee, / Creator of the Light. / for writings of the law, glory be to thee: / for oracles of prophets, glory be to thee: / for melody of psalms, glory be to thee: / for wisdom of proverbs, glory be to thee: / experience of histories, glory be to thee: / a light which never sets. / God is the Lord, who hath shewed us light.
(Lancelot Andrewes, Preces Privatae, tr. Alexander Whyte – set to music by John Rutter)

The Cambridge Singers, conducted by John Rutter – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InI__zYVxfc&list=RDInI__zYVxfc&start_radio=1&t=0

“Open Thou Mine Eyes”

Open thou mine eyes and I shall see: / Incline my heart and I shall desire: / Order my steps and I shall walk / In the ways of thy commandments. // O Lord God, be thou to me a God / And beside thee let there be none else, / No other, naught else with thee. / Vouchsafe to me to worship thee and serve thee // According to thy commandments In truth of spirit, in reverence of body, In blessings of lips, In private and in public.

(Lancelot Andrewes, Preces Privatae – set to music by John Rutter)

The Cambridge Singers, conducted by John Rutter – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9SjK9meWaE


[1] https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/protestant-christianity-biographies/lancelot-andrewes – accessed 23 September 2020.

[2] T. S. Eliot, “Lancelot Andrewes” in For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928), available online at http://mariannedorman.homestead.com/Eliot.html – accessed 23 September 2020.

[3] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/master-of-language-lancelot-andrewes/  – accessed 23 September 2020.

[4] Eliot, “Lancelot Andrewes.”

[5] Martin Thornton , “The Caroline Divines and the Cambridge Platonists,” in The Study of Spirituality, ed. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 432.

[6] Thornton, 432.

[7] Aidan Nichols, Catholics of the Anglican Patrimony (Leominster: Gracewing, 2013), 39.

[8] Lancelot Andrewes, Opuscula Posthuma, 91, quoted in Robert L. Ottley, Lancelot Andrewes (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), 163, and in Maurice Reidy, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, Jacobean Court Preacher: A Study in Early Seventeenth-Century Religious Thought (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1955), 78-79.

[9] Maurice Reidy, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, Jacobean Court Preacher: A Study in Early Seventeenth-Century Religious Thought (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1955), 48.

[10] Reidy, 38.

[11] Reidy, 49.

[12] Reidy, 49-50.

[13] Geoffrey Rowell, “Spirituality in the Anglican Tradition,” in An Introduction to Christian Spirituality, ed. Ralph Waller and Benedicta Ward (London: SPCK, 1999), 136.

[14] Michael Ramsey, “What is Anglican Theology,” http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/whatisanglicantheology.htm – accessed 23 September 2020.

[15] Michael Ramsey, “What is Anglican Theology,” http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/whatisanglicantheology.htm – accessed 23 September 2020.

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