Saint of the Week: Lancelot Andrewes

Chances are, you’ve probably read something by Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). ‘What is that?’ you may ask me. A fairly sizeable book that turns 400 this year. That’s right, the Authorised Version (KJV) of the Bible. Not that Lancelot Andrewes wrote the Bible. That would be worse historical revisionism than people who say the Roman Emperors chose the canon of Scripture, for goodness’ sake! Nor did he even do the whole of the KJV translation. He was, however, Dean of Westminster Abbey at the time of the translation’s preparation and one of the secretaries of the Translation Company.

Since, however, the KJV was a group effort and owes something like 60% of its phraseology to Tyndale, Andrewes must be memorable for more than this. And he is.

Andrewes was born three years before the accession of Elizabeth I to the throne of England. He was one of the notables when he studied at Cambridge, and was later to be a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1580 he took holy orders, and preached about the Ten Commandments, drawing great interest in his work. Indeed, he moved upward from there, as quoted Alexander Whyte: ‘Scholar and Fellow of Pembroke, Vicar of St. Giles’, Cripplegate, Prebendary, first of Southwell and then of St. Paul’s, Master of his College, Chaplain to Whitgift and to Queen Elizabeth, and Dean of Westminster.’ (Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, p. 5)

Under James VI/I, he was consecrated Bishop of Chichester in 1605. In 1606, he preached a sermon recalling the Gunpowder Plot that recommended people remember such events in years to come to keep them from happening. Thus, Guy Fawkes’ Night today. 1617 saw him in Scotland with King James in a (failed) attempt to convince the Kirk that episcopacy is a much better way of organising the church.

A shame that he failed, really.

He was translated to being Bishop of Winchester. One of his last public acts was to be present at the coronation of King Charles I; he was quite ill himself. In 1627, after a fairly successful career in the Church of England, Lancelot Andrewes entered the rest of the saints.

His churchmanship was that typically Anglican way of trying to steer between the Puritans and the Papists. Hurrah for that!

My first acquaintance with Lancelot Andrewes — besides a name in the Calendar in the front of my Book of Common Prayer — was through his Private Devotions. These were never meant for publication, but we can be grateful they have been put abroad. He organises his devotions along Times of Prayer, Places of Prayer, Circumstances and Accompaniments of Prayer, and then a Course of Morning Prayers for the Seven Days of the Week, Other Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Meditations and Prayers for Various Times and Seasons, and Communion Prayers and Meditations.

These are wonderful devotions, and I well recommend them to you. His sermons are also worthy of commendation.

It is evening when I write this, so here are some appropriate thoughts from Bishop Andrewes:

Meditations before Evening Prayer

In war there is the note of charge, fitted for the onset: of recall, whereby stragglers are recalled;

And the mind of man, as it must be stirred up in the morning, so in the evening, as by a note of recall, is it to be called back to itself and to its Leader by a scrutiny and inquisition or examination of self, by prayers and thanksgivings.

An Act of Thanksgiving

By night I lift up my hands in the sanctuary,
and bless the Lord.
The Lord hath commanded His lovingkindness
in the daytime,
and in the night His song shall be with me
and my prayer unto the God of my life.
I will bless Thee while I live,
and lift up my hands in Thy name.
Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense;
and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God,
the God of our fathers,
Who hast ordained the changes of day and night,
Who givest songs in the night,
Who hast delivered us from the evil of this day,
Who hast not cut off like a weaver my life,
nor from day even to night made an end of me.

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The Chester Mystery Plays: Medieval Drama and the Biblical Narrative

This past weekend I was blessed to be in the audience for a staging of the Chester Mystery Plays at Victoria College at the University of Toronto (the production’s website).  These plays were performed at Chester in England every year at Whitsuntide (ie. Pentecost) until 1572, when they were banned for fear of being a potential source of Catholic rebellion against Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I.

The plays took place over the course of three days from Saturday through Monday (Monday being Victoria Day).  They begin with the Fall of Lucifer and move on to Creation and the Fall of Man, thence to certain important pieces of Old Testament history such as Cain & Abel, Abraham and Melchyzedeck, Abraham and Isaac, the giving of the Law.  Then the audience gets a taste of the life of Christ, from Nativity and the Shepherds at the end of Saturday to Crucifixion at the end of Sunday.  Monday took the audience from the Harrowing of Hell through the Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, Antichrist, and Last Judgement.

That is to say, over the course of a single weekend, your average late-medieval theatre-goer in Chester would have seen the entire sweep of the biblical narrative played out before her.  This is a very important fact.  On Sunday, our priest was encouraging us to engage in the oft-recommended practice of daily Bible reading as a way to stay connected with the Holy Spirit.  For most of Christian history, this was not possible for most of the population.  Thus, for the Church in the Middle Ages, the public proclamation and performance of Scripture was important, for such was how the people would encounter the Bible on a regular basis, being unable to read it for themselves.  This is also why icons and stained glass were vital.

And in the Chester Mystery Plays one is not simply viewing a bunch of Bible stories acted out as so often occurs in ecclesiastical drama today.  In “Cain and Abel“, Adam proclaims:

Whyle that I slepte in that place /my gost to heaven banished was; /for to see I them had grace / thinges that shall befall. . . .  Alsoe I see, as I shall saye, /that God will come the laste daye / to deeme mankynde in fleshe verey, / and flame of fyer burninge, / the good to heaven, the evell to hell. / Your childrenn this tale yee may tell.

In my mind, God coming “to deeme mankynde in fleshe verey” is a reference to the Incarnation.  Indeed, the Old Testament plays, all of which I viewed, have Christ all over the place, in Abraham and Melchyzedeck, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Law.  Even when Balaam blesses Israel against Balaack’s wishes, there is content about Jesu.  The Medieval mind saw Christ everywhere, and rightly so, for he permeates the fabric of Scripture if we have eyes to see Him there.

I missed Sunday, but I caught the end of the Resurrection through the Last Judgement.  Here we see Christ in action.  He is appearing and disappearing in the Upper Room.  He is blessing St. Peter and the Apostles.  He is sending His Holy Spirit, Who gives to the Apostles the ability to understand different tongues as well as boldness to proclaim the Gospel.  He defeats Antichrist and judges the peoples with justice.

If you have the opportunity to view a staging of the Chester Cycle (such as that in Chester, England, in 2013), you should.  It is a shame that they have fallen out of the tradition of English drama and of Anglican Christianity.