Friday, 31 December 2010

The Supercelestial Thoughts & Subterranean Conduct of Lancelot Andrewes

He was regarded by many of his time (and since) as the most pious Englishman ever to have lived. He was chair of the committee which produced the Authorised Version of the Bible. Reading his sermons is said to have converted T.S. Eliot (who lifted one of the lines he read therein for the opening line of his poem Journey of the Magi without acknowledgement). His name is hallowed in the Church of England, which honours his memory in its Calendar with a Lesser Festival. He has been called the greatest ever writer the English language has ever known (by the self-declared sceptic, novelist Kurt Vonnegut). He prayed for five hours every morning, handkerchief in hand to dry his copious tears. He assisted at the coronation of a king, yet was known to give counsel to the poor of London. He was regarded as so holy by his contemporaries that they thought it entirely fitting to bury him beside the high altar of Southwark Cathedral. He is often considered to be the founding - and most brilliant - theologian of Anglo-Catholicism, and followers of that movement still use his prayers in their devotional life. He has even been portrayed as a saint in contemporary art in the Eastern iconographic style.

Yet the story of his life exhibits a dark side that provides more confirmation (as if we needed it) of the truth of Montaigne's shrewd observation that "supercelestial thoughts and subterranean conduct are often found to go hand in hand". Some contemporaries who came up against him thought his countenance strangely distant, a mask that hid his true nature, which was cold, calculating, ambitious and vindictive. The historical record indicates he was certainly guilty of nepotism (and hypocrisy, as this was a sin he condemned in others from the pulpit), and of the most serious neglect of pastoral duty by abandoning his parish during the plague (he had a man who publicly criticised him for this imprisoned for 18 months until he retracted). He could humble himself before God in private prayer as "a worm and no man" while at the same time coveting high office in the church and courting those whose influence could make it happen. His glittering ecclesiastical career seems to owe as much to his role as an Anglican Inquisitor who interrogated supposed heretics, a role which he carried out with remarkable insouciance, as it does to his undoubted gifts as a preacher.

He is Lancelot Andrewes (+1626), and he is yet another example from history of the disturbing combination of worldliness and piety which often marks the personalities of those who achieve high position within the church. You can read about the contradictions of his life over at church historian Dr Chris Armstrong's Grateful to the Dead blog (click on the post title to go).

Andrewes's life reminds me of another aphorism, this time from Luther: we remain all our lives simul iustus et peccator, at the same time righteous and yet still sinners. The regenerated Christian is freed from the bondage to sin which marks the lives of unbelievers, but he or she never entirely escapes the power of sin in this life. Andrewes seems to have been blind to his own most grievous sins, surely an affliction that all of us share to some degee, and yet he - and we - can be comforted with the knowledge that all our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!


matthias said...

'Lord I pray that You will ever cause me to follow You and seek your Kingdom and protect me from the power of sin. Thank You Lord that it is Your Grace unabounded for me the Chief of sinners".

Jnorm said...

I personally like the Caroline Divines......regardless of their flaws. I liked them in my protestant years, and I still like them now as an Orthodox Christian. Also I think what you call the darkside had more to do with the realities of every day life in Protestant England. From King Henry the 8th onward. Anglicanism was in a state of flux for many decades from protestants killing catholics and catholics killings protestants. And so it's easy to understand why one would behave in the way that he did. That dark side can be seen from a number of people before him in that same position. I think what made him different. What made him stand out was his positive side.

But yes, I personally love the Caroline Divines and the later Non-Jurors and Oxford movement.

Acroamaticus said...

Hi Jnorm - I love them too! I have some reservations about the Oxford movement, though. Check out the book by Peter Toon, listed in the right hand column "book shelf" for a brilliant study of the Anglican evangelical reaction. Unfortunately, like most reactionary movements, both the Oxford Mov't and the Evangelical response lost important scriptural truths. That's why I'm Lutheran (short version).

Jnorm said...

Pr Mark Henderson,

Thanks for the Toon recommendation. I was raised Baptist, but when I became Episcopal I joined an Anglo-Catholic parish over a more contemporary Evangelical and Charismatic one. The low parish did good missionary work with the poor and homeless while the high parish had the theology I wanted. And so I joined one while constantly helping out and volunteering with the other. However, it would be good to read why the more Reformed wing didn't like the Anglo-Catholics. I could be wrong but I think in America the Reformed Episcopal Church was formed because of it.

I know that the Sola Scriptura views between the Reformed and Lutherans are different. The Reformed rule of Faith of worship principle tends to make their interpretation of Sola Scriptura slide into a more Anabaptist and Restorationist understanding while the Lutheran rule of Faith of worship tends to be open to things not mentioned in Scripture.

But when one argues against the Anglo-Catholic Reform of Anglicanism, they seem to slide into a more Anabaptist view of Sola Scriptura. You know, a view that says if it's not in Scripture then you can't do it. Or teach it as doctrine.

At least that's how I saw it. Please forgive me for the rant. And if I sounded disrespectful please let me know. You are a clergyman.....a person of the cloth, and the last thing I want to do is show disrespect.

John Norman

Acroamaticus said...

Hi John,

Welcome back!

No, not a rant at all - very intelligent comments which I appreciate.

Have a look at Toon and let me know what you think. I have a lot of respect for him.
Also, do check out my quotes from the Fathers on the scripture principle over at Lutheran Catholicity.