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!