25 September 2014

‘The still unspeaking and unspoken Word’
… remembering Lancelot Andrewes

Lancelot Andrewes ... editor of the Authorised Version of the Bible, and inspiration for TS Eliot

Patrick Comerford

In the Church of Ireland, the calendar of Book of Common Prayer (2004) today [25 September] commemorates Saint Fin Barre of Cork (see p. 23). His name is commemorated too in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the Church of Ireland cathedral in Cork. The Cork phrase, “Where Finbarr taught let Munster learn,” has become the motto of University College Cork.

In the Church of England, Common Worship remembers Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) today with a Lesser Festival (see p. 13). At Choral Evensong this evening, some of the prayers draw on the prayers of Lancelot Andrewes.

We are singing the canticle Hail Gladdening Light as Hymn 699 (John Keble’s translation, with a setting by John Stainer), and the canticle Magnificat as Hymn 704 (‘Mary sang a song, a song of love’ by Michael Perry).

But instead of the canticle Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2: 29-32), we shall hear TS Eliot’s poem A Song for Simeon, which is intimately tied to Eliot’s reading of Lancelot Andrewes’s sermons and his thinking on conversion.

Lancelot Andrewes was an Anglican bishop and scholar who played a key role in the translation of the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible. Although he worked mainly through the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, he is counted as one of the early Caroline Divines.

Andrewes summarises Anglican doctrinal authority in memorable form: “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 three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

Lancelot Andrewes was born in 1555 near All Hallows, Barking, by the Tower of London, and was educated at Pembroke Hall (now Pembroke College), Cambridge.

In 1601, he became Dean of Westminster Abbey. In 1604, he took part in the Hampton Court conference, and a year later became Bishop of Chichester. In 1609, he became Bishop of Ely. Meanwhile, he was working on King James’s grand project for a new translation of the Bible into English.

His name comes first on the list of divines appointed by King James to translate the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible. He directed the scholars who translated the first books of the Old Testament, from Genesis to II Kings, and acted as a general editor for the project, leading up to publication in 1611. He became Bishop of Winchester in 1618, and remained there until he died in 1626.

As Kenneth Stevenson writes, “Andrewes’ theology is thoroughly sacramental and eschatological.” He was typically Anglican, equally removed from the Puritan and the Roman Catholic positions. A good summary of his position is found in his First Answer to Cardinal Perron, who had challenged James I’s use of the title “Catholic.”

Andrewes saw himself as standing in the long line of Christian tradition, and his whole life and teaching were indebted to the Fathers, especially the Eastern Fathers. He drew on the Cappadocian Fathers on the Eucharist, the Trinity and Christology, on Saint Cyprian on prayer, on Saint Anselm on sin and on Saint Bernard on atonement.

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.

For Andrewes, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer reflects the practices and beliefs of the undivided Church for over 1,000 years.

His 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.’ And I add, ubi Corpus, ubi sanguis Christi, ibi Christus” (“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” Colossians 3: 1-2).

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.

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes by the high altar in the Church of Saint Mary Overie, then in the Diocese of Winchester but now Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lancelot Andrewes is one of the literary giants of English literature. For Kenneth Stevenson, he “is without doubt along with [Richard] Hooker one of the two giants of the era in which Anglicanism took shape.” Rowan Greer, Emeritus Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School, says he is “arguably, the most brilliant scholar the Church of England has ever produced.”

He had a particular influence on TS Eliot, who describes Andrewes as “the first great preacher of the English Catholick Church” who always spoke as “a man who had a formed visible Church behind him, who speaks with the old authority and the new culture.”

For Eliot, the sermons of Andrewes “rank with the finest English prose of their time, of any time.” Eliot also borrowed, almost word for word and without his usual acknowledgement, the opening words of Andrewes’s sermon on Christmas Day 1622 for his poem The Journey of the Magi.

Andrewes in his own words:

He who prays for others, labours for himself. If thou prayest for thyself alone, thou alone wilt pray for thyself. If thou prayest for all, all will pray for thee. (Private Devotions)


And thou, all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, despise me not, thy breath, despise not thine own holy things; but turn thee again, O Lord, at the last, and be gracious unto thy servant.

Blot out as a thick cloud my transgressions, and as a cloud my sins; grant me to be a child of light, a child of the day, to walk soberly, holily, honestly, as in the day, vouchsafe to keep me this day without sin. Thou who upholdest the falling and liftest the fallen, let me not harden my heart in provocation, or temptation or deceitfulness of any sin.

Moreover, deliver me today from the snare of the hunter and from the noisome pestilence; from the arrow that flieth by day, from the sickness that destroyeth in the noon day. Defend this day against my evil, against the evil of this day defend thou me.

Evening Prayer

The day is gone, and 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.

Abide with me, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent of this fretful life. Let thy strength be made perfect in my weakness.


To my weariness, O Lord, vouchsafe thou rest, to my exhaustion, renew thou strength. Lighten mine eyes that I sleep not in death. Deliver me from the terror by night, the pestilence that walketh in darkness. Supply me with healthy sleep, and to pass through this night without fear.

Deliver me, O Lord, from the terror by night, from the pestilence that walketh in darkness. Give me to seek thee early, even for thy praise and service. Preserve my lying down and my uprising from this time forth even for evermore.

‘Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair’ (TS Eliot) … stone stairs in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

A Song for Simeon (TS Eliot)

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose only Son has opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
Give us pure hearts and steadfast wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect (Common Worship):

Lord God,
who gave to Lancelot Andrewes many gifts of your Holy Spirit,
making him a man of prayer and a pastor of your people:
perfect in us that which is lacking in your gifts,
of faith, to increase it,
of hope, to establish it,
of love, to kindle it,
that we may live in the light of your grace and glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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