Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

preaching the windows andrewes 2


The third in a series of sermons on the four men depicted in the Lady Chapel window of St Mary, Moseley

The Reverend Duncan Strathie
Vicar of Moseley

Sunday 24 September 2017, Trinity 15

On the 24 March 1603 Queen Elizabeth died. Her funeral was presided over by the Dean of Westminster, Lancelot Andrewes.

James VI King of Scotland, acceded to the throne in 1567. James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, positioning him to eventually accede to all three thrones.

Following Elizabeth’s death, he became the King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the Scottish and English crowns on 24 March 1603 until his death. And so, the royal House of Tudor was succeeded by the House of Stuart.

It is worth noting that under his reign, the colonisation of Ulster by mainly Scottish protestants and America by people from all parts of Britain began.

King James achieved most of his aims in Scotland but faced great difficulties in England, including the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and repeated conflicts with the English Parliament. Under James, the “Golden Age” of Elizabethan literature and drama continued, with writers such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Sir Francis Bacon contributing to a flourishing literary culture.

He was a ruler who pursued peace and resisted involvement in religious wars – particularly the 30 years war which devastated Germany and most of Central Europe. He continually had to rein in English members of parliament who were itching for a fight with Spain.

After the Gunpowder Plot, James sanctioned harsh measures to control non-conforming English Catholics. In May 1606, Parliament passed the Popish Recusants Act, which could require any citizen to take an Oath of Allegiance denying the Pope’s authority over the king. James was conciliatory towards Catholics who took the Oath of Allegiance, and even tolerated crypto-Catholicism at court.

However, growing influence from Europe was giving strength to a rising tide of Puritan pietism – even amongst Anglican clergy. In the Millenary Petition of 1603, the Puritan clergy demanded the abolition of confirmation, wedding rings, and the term “priest”, among other things, and rather than mandatory, the wearing of cap and surplice become optional.

James was strict in enforcing conformity at first, inducing a sense of persecution amongst many Puritans; but ejections and suspensions from livings became rarer as the reign continued.

As a result of the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, a new translation and compilation of approved books of the Bible was commissioned to resolve discrepancies among different translations then being used. The Authorized King James Version, as it came to be known, was completed in 1611 and is considered a masterpiece of Jacobean prose. It is, I believe, still in widespread use.

In Scotland, James attempted to bring the Scottish kirk “so neir as can be” to the English church and to re-establish episcopacy, a policy that met with strong opposition from Presbyterians.

James returned to Scotland in 1617 for the only time after his accession in England, in the hope of implementing Anglican ritual. James’s bishops forced his Five Articles of Perth through a General Assembly the following year, but the rulings were widely resisted. James left the church in Scotland divided at his death, a source of future problems for his son.

Lancelot Andrewes was born in 1555 near All Hallows, Barking, by the Tower of London. He was descended from an old Suffolk family. He may have acquired his flair for languages from his father, Thomas Andrewes, who was a merchant seaman and master of Trinity House. He undertook to master a new language every year, and it is said he was fluent in 15 or 16 languages, ancient and modern, as an adult, and could read 21 languages.

Lancelot Andrewes attended the Coopers’ Free School followed by the Merchant Taylors’ School, and then went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1571 – the year of the Elizabethan Settlement that saw the final and irrevocable break with Rome.

Andrewes’s academic reputation spread quickly, and at the foundation of Jesus College, Oxford, in 1571, he was named in the charter as one of the founding scholars. In 1576, he was elected a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

As the catechist at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Andrewes read lectures on the Ten Commandments which were later published in 1630. He proceeded to MA at Cambridge and at Oxford. He was ordained in 1581 and he was admitted Bachelor of Divinity at Cambridge in 1585.

In a sermon during Easter week on 10 April 1588, he stoutly vindicated the reformed character of the Church of England against the claims of Roman Catholicism and praised John Calvin as a new writer.

After a succession of clerical appointments and a spell as Master of his previous Cambridge College, he was appointed Dean of Westminster in 1601 having previously turned down the offer of being appointment Bishop of first Ely and then Salisbury as the posts didn’t pay enough.

This somewhat irked Elizabeth and accounts for Andrewes’s relatively slow pace of preferment when his ability was so obvious for all to see.

On the accession of James I, to whom his somewhat pedantic style of preaching recommended him, Andrewes rose into great favour. He assisted at James’s coronation, and in 1604 took part in the Hampton Court Conference which commissioned a new translation of the Bible. Andrewes’s name is the first on the list of divines appointed to compile the Authorized Version of the Bible.

On 31 October 1605 his election as Bishop of Chichester was confirmed and he was duly consecrated. Following the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot Andrewes was asked to prepare a sermon to be presented to the king. In this sermon Lancelot Andrewes justified the need to commemorate the deliverance and defined the nature of celebrations.

This sermon became the foundation of celebrations which continue today, 400 years later. In the sermon Andrewes says: “In remembrance of the great delivery from the destroying Angell, He himselfe ordained the day of the Passe-over yearly to be kept. The Church, by Him taught, tooke the same way. In remembrance of the dissappointing of Hamans bloudy lots, they were like wise appointed the dayes of Purim, yearly to be kept. The like memorable mercy did He vouchsafe us. The destroyer passed over our dwelings, this day: It is our Passe-over. Haman, and his Fellowes had set the dice on us, and we by this time had been all in peeces: It is our Purim day.

“We have therefore well done and upon good warrant, to tread in the same steps, and by law to provide, that this Day should not die, nor the memorial thereof perish, from our selfes or from our seed, but be consecrated to perpetual memory, by a yearly acknowledgement to be made of it through all generations. In accomplishment of which order, we are now here in the presence of God, on this day, that He first, by His Act of doing, hath made, and we secondly, by our act of decreeing, have made before Him, His holy Angels, and men, to confesse this His goodnesse, and our selves eternally bound to Him for it.”

In 1617 he accompanied James I to Scotland with a view to persuading the Scots that Episcopacy was preferable to Presbyterianism. He was made dean of the Chapel Royal and translated to Winchester, a diocese that he administered with great success.

Apart from the King James Bible and bonfire night, what other legacies did Andrewes bequeath the Anglican Church?

As Kenneth Stevenson writes, “Andrewes’s theology is thoroughly sacramental and eschatological”. He was typically Anglican, equally removed from the Puritan and the Roman Catholic positions.

Andrewes saw himself as standing in the long line of Christian tradition. He told Walsingham that his whole life and teaching were indebted to the Fathers. 

He had a keen sense of the proportion of the faith and maintained a clear distinction between what is fundamental, needing ecclesiastical commands, and what is subsidiary, needing only ecclesiastical guidance and suggestion.

He was regarded by many as the authority on worship, so that his practice in his chapel became their standard for the liturgy. He was steeped in the teachings of the Fathers and the liturgies of the Eastern and Western Churches and followed the 1549 Book of Common Prayer more than the 1559 edition. 

His practice shaped the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637, which was adopted by the American Episcopal Church in the 1789, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which restored the rubrics for the manual acts at the offertory and the consecration.

Since then, most Anglican liturgies are closer to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer which, for Andrewes was less Protestant and reflected the practices and beliefs of the Church for over 1,000 years. 

As a bishop, he stressed that the services of the Book of Common Prayer were to be taken by a properly ordained minister, the Eucharist was to be celebrated reverently, infants were to be baptised, the Daily Offices were to be said, and spiritual counselling was to be given where needed. 

Andrewes’s sermons and his prayers illustrate the centrality of the Eucharist in his life and teaching. For him, the Eucharist was the meeting place for the infinite and finite, the divine and human, heaven and earth. “The blessed mysteries … are from above; the ‘Bread that came down from Heaven,’ the Blood that hath been carried ‘into the holy place.’ We here “on earth … are never so near him, nor he us, as then and there”. Thus it is to the altar we must come for “that blessed union which is the highest perfection we can in this life aspire unto”.

Unlike his Puritan contemporaries, it was not the pulpit but the altar that was the focal point for worship in his chapel. 

His private chapel is said to have been fitted with an altar, candlesticks, two altar cloths, an altar book cushion, silver ciborium, a censer and five copes. 

Andrewes placed so much importance on reverence in worship because of his conviction that when we worship God it is with our entire being, both bodily and spiritually. At a time when little emphasis was placed on the old outward forms of piety Andrewes maintained: “If he hath framed that body of yours and every member of it, let him have the honour both of head and knee, and every member else”. 

He recommends that a preacher “raise to God a thirsting heart before he speaks of God with his tongue…” 

Convinced that true theology is based on sound learning, Andrewes is said to have given himself to five hours of prayer daily. He says he prays to “our Lord and Master” to give him “the internal and sweeter doctrine of His own inspiration…” so that he can set forth for his hearers the truth and that “from this very truth I desire to be taught the many things I know not…” 

Richard Church, the 19th century Dean of Saint Paul’s, said of him: “He … felt himself, even in private prayer, one of the great body of God’s creation and God’s Church. He reminded himself of it, as he did of the object of his worship, in the profession of his faith. He acted on it in his detailed and minute intercessions. He claimed for the English Church its full interest and membership in the Church universal”. 

If you use Common Worship Morning Prayer, you will be familiar with one of Andrewes’s prayers:

Blessed are you, creator of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As your dawn renews the face of the earth
bringing light and life to all creation,
may we rejoice in this day you have made;
as we wake refreshed from the depths of sleep,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What follows is a brief extract from the section of Daily Prayer Andrewes wrote for Thursday Morning. He commemorates three events associated with Thursday:

  1. the creation of air and water animals (mostly birds and fish) on the Fifth Day of Creation as described in Genesis 1;
  2. the institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper by Our Lord Jesus Christ on the evening before He was crucified (Matthew 26); and
  3. the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven forty days after His resurrection (Acts 1).
Blessed art Thou, O Lord
Who didst bring forth of water
moving creatures that have life,
and whales,
and winged fowls:
and didst bless them,
so as to increase and multiply.
The things concerning the Ascension:
Set up Thyself, O God, above the heavens
and Thy glory above all the earth.
By thine Ascension
draw us withal unto Thee, O Lord,
so as to set our affections on things above,
and not on things on the earth.
By the awful mystery of Thy Holy Body and Precious
Blood in the evening of this day:
Lord, have mercy.

Andrewes was considered, next to Ussher, to be the most learned churchman of his day, and enjoyed a great reputation as an eloquent and impassioned preacher, but the stiffness and artificiality of his style render his sermons unsuited to modern taste.

Nevertheless, there are passages of extraordinary beauty and profundity. His doctrine was High Church, and in his life he was humble, pious, and charitable. He continues to influence religious thinkers to the present day, and was cited as an influence by T. S. Eliot, among others.

Eliot also borrowed, almost word for word and without his usual acknowledgement, a passage from Andrewes’ 1622 Christmas Day sermon for the opening of his poem Journey of the Magi.

In his 1997 novel Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut suggested that Andrewes was “the greatest writer in the English language”, citing as proof the first few verses of his translation of the 23rd Psalm.

Andrewes died at Winchester House, Southwark, on 25 September 1626. On the day he died, Archbishop William Laud wrote in his diary: “Monday, about 4 o’clock in the morning, died Lancelot Andrewes, the most worthy bishop of Winchester, the great light of the Christian world.” Milton later wrote a beautiful Latin elegy on the death of Bishop Andrewes. 

John Buckeridge, Bishop of Rochester, preached at his funeral. Andrewes was buried by the high altar in the Church of Saint Mary Overie, then in the Diocese of Winchester but now Southwark Cathedral. In the Church of England, he is commemorated tomorrow, 25 September, with a Lesser Festival. 

Why we have Andrewes in our window I do not know – we might easily have had contemporaries John Jewel or Richard Hooker. Andrewes and Hooker along with other leaders and spiritual writers together became known as the Caroline Divines.

The Caroline divines were rediscovered by the leaders of the Oxford Movement in the 19th century. John Henry Newman translated into English part of Andrewes’ Private Devotions, the book that was still on his prayer desk at the end of his life. 

The church and the nation of England were on the brink of civil war when puritan theology empowered a political overthrow of the monarchy. But after a few decades of experimentation it was deemed far too radical for England and the previous status quo was largely restored with a few modifications.

And so the Church of England trundled on for a further 150 years with little happening and then John Keble preached a sermon on 14 July 1833 that gave birth to the Oxford Movement and that we shall pick up next week as we conclude our series on the men in our lady chapel window.

I leave you with a prayer of Lancelot Andrewes that he wrote for Evening Prayer.

Evening Prayer

The day is gone, 
I give Thee thanks, O Lord. 
Evening is at hand, 
make it bright unto us. 
As day has its evening so also has life;
the even of life is age, age has overtaken me,
make it bright unto us.
Cast me not away in the time of age; 
forsake me not when my strength faileth me. 
Even to my old age be Thou He,
and even to hoar hairs carry me ; 
do Thou make, do Thou bear, do Thou carry and deliver me.