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  • Adam Embry

Lancelot Andrewes: Prelate, Preacher, Pray-er

This article is part of our new 1000 words theologian series. We continue with Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

by Fr. Joey Odell

“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 centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after – determine the boundaries of our faith.”

~ Lancelot Andrewes, Opuscula Quædam Posthuma, p. 91

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1655-1625) was a giant of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era in the Church of England and the development of the orthodox faith in the Anglican tradition. Born in 1555, Andrewes was recognized throughout the realm as a man of high intellect, erudite and poignant communication, and private piety. He was selected and appointed to a series of important ecclesiastical and political positions, including Bishop of Chichester, Ely, and Winchester. culminating in his appointment as the as the Dean of the Chapel Royal for both Elizabeth I and James I. In the early 1600s he participated in the Hampton Court Conference and the translation for the Authorized Version of the Bible, known today as the King James Version. In this role he functioned as the royal preacher for specific days in the church calendar – especially commemorations of the Gunpowder Plot and the Gowrie Conspiracy, as well as Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun (Pentecost).

Bishop Andrewes likely rose to these positions based upon his reputation as a fierce supporter of the crown and the established church, and refuted arguments made by the church of Rome in which not only was papal supremacy over the church claimed, but also the right of the pope to absolve subjects of their duty to obey their monarch. Andrewes argued that the Church of England was fully catholic, denying both the Puritan claims of an invisible church with no hierarchical structure, as well as the historically novel claims of papal supremacy. He also held that the three-fold order of clergy was divinely ordained and not merely a beneficial option. Though he supported the duty of citizens to obey the monarch, he also held firmly to the church’s authority in matters of faith and practice. Andrewes helped to firmly establish the theological and historical foundations of the Church of England in his public arguments and in (less public) discussions among national and Continental church leaders.

It was said of Andrewes that he was the only man whom James I held in awe. Andrewes’ intellect and strong faith were not only displayed in his writings, but also in his preaching. While, on the one hand, Andrewes’ preaching reflected the tendency of the times to be very erudite, integrating elements of classical languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew) and classical literature, he was also well ahead of his time in his use of oratory to make memorable and powerful points for the listeners of all levels of education. A reader of some of Andrewes’ sermons may be struck by the resemblance to 20th century gospel-style preachers in his use of allusion, contrast, and alliteration. For example, in his 9th sermon on the Nativity, he quips, “If without Him in this [world], then without Him in the next; and if without Him there, it be not Immanu-el, but Immanu-hell! If we have Him, we need no more, He is Immanu-el and Immanu-all!” In his Whitsun sermon of 1615, he rattles off, “No hearing [of the Spirit], no receiving [of the Spirit]! No baptism, no belief! God no glory, men no blessing!” In another sermon on the Nativity he memorably pronounced, “Instead of a palace, a poor stable; of a cradle of state, a beasts’ cratch; no pillow, but a lock of hay; no hangings, but dust and cobwebs; no attendants, but in medio animalum” (among the animals, referencing the Vulgate of Ezekiel 1:13). His purpose in his preaching was not merely to communicate eternal truths, but to convey through language the experience of the life lived in Christ. He even preached about the proper use of preaching, in an age when some seemed to believe that sermon attendance was the important duty, he emphasized the application of the sermon as well as the participation in the Sacraments. He preached on the great themes of the faith – the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, and the sending of the Spirit, as well as key doctrines of importance particularly in his time – the relationship between faith and works, between the church and the state, and between people and their leaders.

He also was the chief translator of the first portion of the Old Testament of the King James Version of the Bible, covering the books of Genesis through 2 Samuel. He was exceptionally well-read, familiar with far more languages than nearly any educated man of his age or any other, and reportedly had an exceptional memory. These characteristics made him a natural selection for the translation project. However, perhaps even more than his intellect and his reputation, as someone who would not participate in unnecessary disputes, his reputation as a man of devoted prayer and study of the Word of God raised his image to the heights of his contemporaries and successors. His Book of Private Prayers, the Preces Privatae, is a masterful blend of Scripture and historic liturgical prayers, both edifying and humbling for the person using them to pray. The text still enjoys use today among the faithful, and it comes across not as dated, but timeless and relevant, reflecting the quiet devotion and penitential emphasis that is emblematic of both the early church and the Anglican ethos.

Today, as in the times of the Tractarians, many believe that the time of the Stuarts is the one to which the church should attempt to return, and the writings and biography of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes would seem to support that idea. However, he was not emblematic of the age, but instead, a stalwart of faith, devotion, and courage in an age of treachery, manipulation, violence, and national and international political and ecclesiastical strife. As a man who sought to build unity where possible and charity elsewhere, while still holding firmly to the boundaries of orthodoxy in the face of heresy and dissension, Andrewes draws us not to his age, nor even to himself … but to the One whom he glorified in all things.


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