16 November 2015

Introducing the Spirituality
of the Caroline Divines

The Caroline Divines … their liturgical approach was marked by their desire to worship in the Lord in the ‘beauty of holiness’ (Photomontage: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

9 a.m., 16 November 2015

Opening hymn: ‘Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’ (Church Hymnal, 296).

Our opening hymn this morning is based on the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, which once required before the 9 a.m. divinity lecture on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in Anglican cathedrals. This version was written by Bishop John Cosin, one of the great Caroline Divines we are looking at this morning.

There are three waves of theologians who shaped the development of Anglicanism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

1, The first group of Anglican reformers includes Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who was largely responsible for compiling the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer. But they also include his contemporaries such as Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and the other early martyrs.

2, The second group includes those who played a part in the Elizabethan Settlement. They include John Jewel, who wrote An Apology for the Church of England, Archbishop Matthew Parker, who presided at the Convocation in 1563 that produced the 39 Articles, and Richard Hooker.

3, These two groups laid the foundations for classical Anglicanism and for the theologians of the 17th century who are seen by some as ushering in a golden era in Anglican theology. Known as the Caroline Divines, most of these great theologians lived during the reign of Charles I, the Cromwellian era and the reign of Charles II.

The Caroline Divines are the bridge between the post-Reformation, Elizabethan and Jacobean Church and modern Anglicanism. They were deeply committed to the faith articulated by the Elizabethan Settlement, but they also filled in the gaps left by the first two groups I have identified. They were committed to holy living, to prayer, to the careful explication of Scripture, to the sacraments and to the continuation of the sacred ministry, as well as to the monarchy.

The Caroline Divines are often commended for their Biblical and Patristic learning and their liturgical approach was marked by their desire to worship in the Lord in the ‘beauty of holiness’.

Their thoughts are found in their sermons, letters, and books. In their devotional writings, they emphasised the centrality of the incarnation: the incarnation revealed to humanity in Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, and in the revelation of Christ’s continuing presence in the holy example of the saints. In their devotion, they shied away from abstraction in favour of the fruits of love and charity, and their devotional life was worked out in their pastoral service.

The Caroline Divines viewed the via media of Anglicanism, not as a compromise but “a positive position, witnessing to the universality of God and God’s kingdom working through the fallible, earthly ecclesia Anglicana.”

They regarded Scripture as authoritative in matters of salvation, but they drew too tradition and reason, with special reference to the Church Fathers.

Politically, it is easy today to dismiss them as unquestioning royalists, but to understand them in their time it might be more helpful to talk about them as constitutionalists.

They valued of visual beauty in liturgy, art and church architecture, and this led to them being dismissed by the Puritans and other detractors. But this beauty is integral not only to their spirituality, but was seen by the Caroline Divines as combatting the appeal of Roman Catholicism. Rather than make a choice between austere Puritanism or elaborate Roman ceremonial, the Caroline Divines presented Anglicanism with a via media that had its roots in ancient, patristic Christianity.

Who are the Caroline Divines?

A copy of Sir Anthony van Dyck’s triptych of King Charles I in the Ancient High House, Stafford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There is no official list of Caroline Divines, and they lived not only in England but also in Ireland (James Ussher, William Bedell, Jeremy Taylor and John Bramhall), Scotland (William Forbes) and Wales (Henry Vaughan, Jeremy Taylor and William Beveridge). They include figures such as Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall, William Laud, Nicholas Ferrar, John Bramhall, John Cosin, Seth Ward, Jeremy Taylor, Anthony Sparrow, Thomas Ken and William Beveridge. We might also include William Bedell, and some lists even include Charles I as a martyr and because of his devotional writings.

They offer a fuller, richer picture of what it is to be an Anglican. Many were imprisoned or killed for holding to the Anglican expression of the Christian faith. Their example is inspiring, their writings are illuminating, and their work helps to clarify what it actually means to be Anglican, working out the via media.

Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626):

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 was a bishop and theologian in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, and he was the spiritual father of Charles I. He was an authority on worship and his celebrating of the liturgy became a standard. He was strongly influenced by the Patristic writers and the ancient liturgies of the Eastern and Western Churches.

During the reign of James I, he was successively Dean of Westminster Abbey and Bishop of Chichester, Ely and Winchester and he oversaw the translation of the King James Version or Authorised Version of the Bible. Among the other Caroline Divines who worked with him on the Authorised Version was John Overall (1559-1619), who also had a profound influence on John Cosin.

Lancelot Andrewes summarises the Anglican approach when he says: ‘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.’

He patterned the worship in his chapel on the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. He revived a number of practices such as the offering of the bread and wine at the offertory followed by the offering of the alms. He used unleavened bread and a mixed chalice for the communion, and he reintroduced the manual actions during the Prayer of Consecration. His celebration of the liturgy influenced the 1637 Scottish Prayer Book. His influence is also seen in the rubrics of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

In his Latin Devotions, he wrote memorably that “he who prays for others, labours for himself.” A renewed interest in Andrewes developed in the 19th century, when his writings were edited in 11 scholarly volumes in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. But much of his modern reputation stems from an essay published by TS Eliot in 1926, in which he ranked his sermons with ‘the finest English prose of their time, of any time.’

George Herbert (1593-1633)

George Herbert (left) with two other Cambridge theologians, Brooke Foss Westcott and Henry Martyn, in a window in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Caroline Divines were not all bishops and theologians. They also included country parsons such as George Herbert (1593-1633), who is remembered for his careful pastoral nurturing of his parish and his parishioners, and for his poetry, much of which has been adapted as hymns.

Herbert’s spirituality is the Anglican via media or Middle Way par excellence. His poetry is constantly evident of the intimacy of his dealings with God and his assurance that, alone in a vast universe, he is held safe by the Crucified Christ.

Richard Baxter later said of him that Herbert speaks to God like one that really believes a God and as one who whose business in this world is most with God.

In his poem Obedience, George Herbert wrote:

O let thy sacred will
All thy delight in me fulfil!
Let me not think an action mine own way.
But as thy love shall sway,
Refining up the rudder to thy skill

George Herbert ... Prayer, the Church’s banquet

For George Herbert, prayer is concerned not only with things heavenly, but also with the earthly. In his poem Prayer he writes:

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood

In this poem, Herbert is saying that in prayer it is possible to be transported, even if momentarily, to another realm. “Angel’s age,” “the milky way,” and a “tune beyond the stars” suggest that prayer touches the infinite. The poem concludes with “something understood” – a profound but elusive encounter with the mysterious otherness of God.

Herbert was close to Nicholas Ferrar and the Community of Little Gidding, which showed that prayer, community life, and a life of discipleship and service ought to be inter-woven.

George Herbert, like John Jewel and Richard Hooker, was profoundly influential on other Caroline Divines, including Lancelot Andrewes, John Cosin and Jeremy Taylor.

Five of his poems were set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his Five Mystical Songs in 1911. Four hymns in the Irish Church Hymnal are his or are based on his poems: ‘King of glory, King of peace’ (358), ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’ (360), ‘Teach me, my God and King’ (601), and ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ (610).

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in any thing,
To do it as for thee.

James Ussher (1581-1656)

Archbishop James Ussher … a key figure in shaping the Church of Ireland in the first half of the 17th century

The scholarly Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, was a Puritan who was widely respected by both sides in the English Civil War, and Oliver Cromwell gave him a state funeral.

Ussher was a prolific scholar, best known for his chronology that stated the time and date of creation as the night before Sunday 23 October 4004 BC, although we should know him as the author of the Irish 104 Articles and a key figure in shaping the Church of Ireland in the first half of the 17th century.

Ussher studied at Trinity College Dublin, and was ordained in the Chapel of Trinity College by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh.

In 1615, he was closely involved in drawing up the 104 Articles of the Church of Ireland. In 1621, King James I nominated him Bishop of Meath, but from 1623 until 1626 he was in England, excused from his episcopal duties, studying church history. He became Archbishop of Armagh in 1625.

Ussher was a Calvinist, and opposed any concessions by Charles I to the Roman Catholics of Ireland. In 1633, he wrote to Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury seeking support for the imposition of recusancy fines on Irish Catholics. He worked closely with the Lord Deputy, Thomas Wentworth, to deflect pressure for conformity by the Church of Ireland to the Church of England, seeking to resource and re-endow his church, and settling the long-running primacy dispute between Armagh and Dublin.

However, the 39 Articles were adopted by the Church of Ireland at a convocation in 1634, and the Irish canons had to be redrafted to conform to the English ones rather than replaced by them. After that convocation in 1634, Ussher left Dublin to live in Drogheda, and by 1635 he had lost de facto control of the church to John Bramhall, Bishop of Derry, in everyday matters, and to Archbishop Laud of Canterbury in matters of policy.

In 1640, he left Ireland for England for the last time. Despite his royalist loyalties, he was protected by his friends in Parliament. He watched the execution of Charles I in London, but fainted before the axe fell. When he died in 1656, Cromwell insisted on giving him a state funeral, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

John Donne (1571-1631)

John Donne’s monument in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The poet John Donne (1571-1631), who was Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, for his last ten years, is best remembered for his lines:

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee

But he is also remembered for the intensity of his love and longing for God:

Batter my heart, three person’d God
For you as yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’er throw me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

John Donne ... Each man’s death diminishes me

William Laud (1573-1645)

As Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud was a fervent supporter of Charles I. He was a sincere Anglican and was frustrated at the charges of ‘Popery’ levelled against him by his Puritan contemporaries.

Laud refused the cardinal’s hat when it was offered to him. Laud’s Conference with Fisher the Jesuite is a classic work of Anglican apologetics and has been called ‘one of the last great works of scholastic divinity.’ Like Lancelot Andrewes, Laud’s Private Devotions were printed posthumously, although never as popular.

In the same year as he became Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud also became the fifth Chancellor of the University of Dublin, and continued to hold that office until his execution in 1645.

Laud was influential in the introduction of the 1637 Book of Common Prayer into Scotland, although a similar policy had originated with James I. His views on the Presbyterians led to the Covenanter movement in Scotland and to the Bishops’ Wars.

The Long Parliament of 1640 accused him of treason, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and in 1644 he was put on trial, accused of teaching the doctrine of Transubstantiation and other charges. When his trial failed to reach a verdict, Parliament took up the issue, and eventually he was beheaded on 10 January 1645 on Tower Hill, despite being granted a royal pardon.

Thomas Traherne (1636-1674)

Thomas Traherne was a mystic of the same period, whose writings only became known long after his death in 1674. In his Centuries of Meditation, Traherne sees God in everything and everything praising God.

He was a contemporary of the Welsh metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), best known for his religious poems, although he also wrote a book of prose as a companion to The Book of Common Prayer.

He too was strongly influenced by George Herbert. Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886), a Victorian authority on English poetry and Archbishop of Dublin, argued that “As a divine Vaughan may be inferior [to Herbert], but as a poet he is certainly superior.” They are worth comparing and, for example, the opening to Vaughan’s poem ‘Unprofitableness’ is:

How rich, O Lord! How fresh thy visits are!

This is reminiscent of Herbert’s ‘The Flower’:

How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! Ev’n as the flowers in spring

However, let me quote from one of his poems, ‘The World’:

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.

Several of Vaughan’s poems have been set to music by the great composers, including Gustav Holst, Gerald Finzi and Hubert Parry.

John Bramhall (1594-1663)

John Bramhall (1594-1663), Archbishop of Armagh ... portrait in the Old Library in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After the execution of Charles I, both John Bramhall and John Cosin fled to the continent with the queen and the royal heirs. At the restoration in 1660, John Bramhall, Bishop of Derry, was nominated as Archbishop of Armagh, and he was formally appointed on 18 January 1661.

Without waiting for the Irish Parliament to sit, Bramhall threw himself into reorganising the dioceses of the Church of Ireland and to fill the ranks of the depleted episcopate. On 27 January 1661, more than three months before Parliament met, two new archbishops and ten new bishops were consecrated in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, including Jeremy Taylor (Down and Connor). These diocesan structures he restored were, more or less, retained unchanged for the next 170 years.

When Parliament met in Dublin on 8 May 1661, Jeremy Taylor preached at the opening and Bramhall presided in the House of Lords.

Bramhall moved to exclude from the Church of Ireland those clergy who had served during the Cromwellian era, he insisted on episcopal ordination and he refused to accept Presbyterian ordinations, even when these had been legal in the past. By the beginning of June, Bramhall could claim victory: “We have established the liturgy, doctrines and disciplines of the Church. We have condemned the Covenant engagement.”

John Cosin (1594-1672)

Bishop John Cosin … sought to improve the worship and liturgy of the Church

Undoubtedly, most of you will hear our opening open hymn, ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’ by John Cosin, sung at your ordination.

Cosin was Bishop of Durham and sought to improve the worship and liturgy of the Church. His Collection of Private Devotions (1627), said to have been commissioned by Charles I, was the first work of royal-authorised devotional writing since the reign of Elizabeth I and was immensely popular in the 17th century. There Cosin made use of patristic sources, Elizabethan devotional material, and his own compositions.

The Long Parliament deprived Cosin of all his Church offices, and in 1644 he was dismissed as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He went into exile in Paris, but returned at the Restoration in 1660, became Bishop of Durham, and had considerable influence on the revision of The Book of Common Prayer in 1662. His influence included new translations of several collects, and the incorporation of his translation of the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus in the Ordinal.

He also published A Scholastical History of the Canon of Holy Scripture (1657). But most of his writings were published posthumously, including Historia Transubstantiationis Papalis (1675) and Notes and Collections on the Book of Common Prayer (1710).

A collected edition of his works, forming five volumes of the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, was published in Oxford between 1843 and 1855, and two volumes of his Correspondence were published later (1868-1870).

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

Jeremy Taylor … described as ‘the glory of the whole Anglican Communion’

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), who ended his days as a bishop in the Church of Ireland, in the dioceses of Connor, Down and Dromore, is best known for his Holy Living (1640) and Holy Dying (1641), which had a profound influence spiritually on later generations, including figures as diverse as John Wesley and John Keble.

No book other than the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer has had a more profound and lasting influence on the distinctive inwardness of Anglican devotion. No other book so clearly expresses the essence of the classical Anglican understanding of the spiritual life, with its insistence that there is no division between what is religious and what is secular.

His literary contribution is perhaps greater than any of the other Carolines due to both the volume of his writing and quality of his prose.

Jeremy Taylor first achieved fame as an author during the rule of Oliver Cromwell. He is sometimes known as the ‘Shakespeare of Divines’ for his poetic style of writing.

Taylor was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Through the patronage from Archbishop William Laud, he became a chaplain to Charles I. This made him politically suspect when Laud was tried for treason and executed in 1645, and after the English Civil War Taylor was briefly imprisoned several times.

Eventually, he was allowed to retire to Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. At the Restoration, he became Bishop of Down and Connor in the Church of Ireland, and vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin.

Jeremy Taylor has been described as ‘the glory of the whole Anglican Communion.’ Coleridge placed him among the four great geniuses of English literature, alongside Shakespeare, Bacon and Milton.

Izaak Walton (1593-1683)

Izaak Walton ... biographer of John Donne, Richard Hooker and George Herbert

A lay writer who should be considered among the Caroline Divines is Izaak Walton, best known as the author of The Compleat Angler, but of interest as the biographer of many of the key bishops and theologians among the Caroline Divines.

As a young man living in London, Walton befriended John Donne, who was then Vicar of the parish of Saint Dunstan’s. Walton also married into interesting Church circles: his first wife, Rachel Floud, was a great-great-niece of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, while his second wife, Anne Ken, was a half-sister of Thomas Ken, later Bishop of Bath and Wells, and then a leading Nonjuror. He was also related by marriage to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

Walton’s best known work in The Compleat Angler, which was first published in 1653, although he continued to add to it for a quarter of a century, so that is grew from 13 chapters to 21.

The full title of his book of short biographies is Lives of John Donne, Henry Wotton, Rich’d Hooker, George Herbert, &c. Walton had already contributed an Elegy to the 1633 edition of Donne’s poems, and he completed and published his biography of Donne in 1640. His biography of Sir Henry Wotton was published in 1651, his life of Richard Hooker in 1662, that of George Herbert in 1670, and that of Bishop Richard Sanderson in 1678.

Three of these subjects at least – Donne, Wotton and Herbert – were anglers.

Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) … a window in Wells Cathedral, installed in 1885 to mark the bicentenary of his consecration as Bishop of Bath and Wells

Izaak Walton’s brother-in-law, Thomas Ken, was Bishop of Bath and Wells, the most eminent of the English non-juring bishops, and one of the fathers of modern English hymnology. His Three Hymns (1700) contains the original version of the hymn ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow,’ which continues to be sung around the world.

Two of his hymns are included in the Irish Church Hymnal: ‘Awake, my soul, and with the sun’ (51), and ‘All praise to thee, my God, this night’ (63).

Ken was jailed by James II, but opposed the choice of William III, and later left the Church of England during the Nonjuring schism, which was a response to the crowning of William III. However, as a Nonjuror, Ken remained deeply committed to the Anglican tradition and to the unity of the Church.

He prayed: ‘Our God, amidst the deplorable division of your church, let us never widen its breaches, but give us universal charity to all who are called by your name. Deliver us from the sins and errors, the schisms and heresies of the age. Give us grace daily to pray for the peace of your church, and earnestly to seek it and to excite all we can to praise and love you; through Jesus Christ, our one Saviour and Redeemer.’

Before his death, he wrote: ‘I am dying in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West; and, more particularly, in the Communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from both Papal and Protestant innovation, and adheres to the Doctrine of the Cross.’ At his funeral, his friends sang his hymn: ‘Awake, my soul, and with the sun.’

Puritans among the Carolines

John Milton (right) and Oliver Cromwell (left) in the central pair of windows in the apse in Emmanuel Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Nor should we neglect the Puritan divines, who were contemporaries of the Caroline Divines but are often written out when it comes to telling the story of Anglican spirituality. Indeed, The Caroline age was also a period of great literary works by the heirs of the Puritan revolution.

John Milton (1608-1674), who had been a radical Presbyterian, then an Independent, and a critic of Cromwell, was blind by the time his Paradise Lost was published in 1667.

At the Caroline restoration in 1660, John Bunyan (1628-1688) was imprisoned for his preaching, and he remained in jail almost continuously until 1672. He was jailed again in 1677, and died in 1688 as the persecution of dissenters was coming to an end. In jail he wrote his best-known works, Grace Abounding (1666) and Pilgrim’s Progress (1678).

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was influenced by the poetry of George Herbert, and although he ended his days as a Presbyterian he spent most of his life as an Anglican. He described his faith as ‘catholic’ or ‘mere’ Christianity – a term that we can see was later to be adopted as his own by CS Lewis. One of his most joyful yet mystical contributions to our hymnody is Ye holy angels bright, with its mystical understanding of the Communion of Saints and our place in it.

The poet John Dryden (1631-1700) had been brought up as a Puritan and had served under Cromwell, but welcomed the restoration of Charles II and in 1670 was appointed poet laureate and royal historiographer. He defended the biblical scholar Richard Simon (1638-1712), generally regarded as the founder of Old Testament criticism, and his work on the Old Testament as compatible with Anglican freedom in his Religio Laici (1682), depicting Anglicanism as providing a middle way between Rome and fanaticism.

After James II’s accession, Dryden became a Roman Catholic, defending his new church as the “milk white hind” in the allegorical Hind and the Panther (1687).

Influence of the Caroline Divines

A monument to Charles II outside Lichfield Cathedral … the restoration of the monarchy brought with it the restoration of episcopacy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Curiously, the most influential book from this time, though, may have been one whose author remains unknown. The Whole Duty of Man, first published in 1657, reached its 28th edition in 1790, so that for more than a century, this anonymous book shaped an Anglican spirituality that was defined by the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer in terms of doctrine and worship, and in practice by an understanding ‘that religion without morals is but superstition, that Christianity is not a set of beliefs but a way of life.’

The defeat of the Royalists, the execution of Charles I, the abolition of The Book of Common Prayer, and episcopacy did not bring to an end the influence of the Caroline Divines. The death of Oliver Cromwell, the restoration of the monarchy, and the ascension of Charles II also restored the Carolines to favour.

The Caroline Divines left their mark on The Book of Common Prayer (1662) and The Ordinal (1661). The 1662 Book of Common Prayer was influenced by John Cosin’s Durham Book and by Bishop Matthew Wren who had helped to prepare the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637.

The 1662 book is substantially the 1559 Elizabethan book with many of the 1604 Jacobean revisions.

Nonjuror liturgical, theological and devotional writing had a considerable impact upon Anglican tradition, especially in the 19th century, and in the 19th century, the Tractarians claimed they were the successors of the Caroline Divines.

Caroline Divines continues to influence religious thinkers and writers, and both Lancelot Andrewes and Nicholas Ferrar had profound influences on the poet TS Eliot.

For example, Eliot borrowed, almost word for word and without his usual acknowledgement, a passage from the Christmas Day sermon in 1622 by Lancelot Andrewes for the opening of his poem ‘Journey of the Magi.’

For Eliot, as for many Anglo-Catholics, Andrewes was an iconic figure, alongside Richard Hooker, George Herbert and William Laud, and they seemed to embody Catholic continuity and spiritual moderation in Anglicanism, maintaining a via media between the fanaticisms of Geneva and of Rome, with Andrewes embodying that middle way.

A year after his 1926 essay on Lancelot Andrewes, TS Eliot was baptised an Anglican in 1927, and in 1928 he reprinted the essay in a volume entitled For Lancelot Andrewes.

Eliot worked from a popular selection of 17 Christmas sermons, published in 1887. One of his illustrative quotations, from Andrewes’s sermon on the role of the Magi in the Nativity story, preached at the court of James I at Christmas 1622, was to be incorporated virtually word for word into the opening lines of the 1927 poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’: ‘A cold coming they had of it, at this time of the yeare; just the worst time of the yeare . . . the waies deep, the weather sharp, the days short . . . the very dead of Winter.’

Eliot also worked phrases from other passages by Andrewes cited in this essay into other poems, notably ‘Ash Wednesday’.

He valued Andrewes because his magnificently dense prose subordinated personality to the demands of text, community and tradition. Andrewes by-passed subjective feeling in favour of a brilliant and demandingly close linguistic analysis, designed not to publicise his own interior drama, but to extract every drop of meaning from the sacred page. Eliot said: ‘The voice of Andrewes is the voice of a man who has a formed visible church behind him, who speaks with the old authority and the new culture.’

On the other hand, TS Eliot thought the sermons of John Donne were marred by an excess of self-indulgent personalism. He said Donne, ‘the religious spell-binder … the flesh-creeper, the sorcerer of emotional orgy’, had about him the whiff of ‘impure motives’ and ‘facile success.’ His preaching, Eliot thought, betrayed the early Jesuit influences of his Roman Catholic upbringing, ‘in his cunning knowledge of the … weaknesses of the human heart … and in a kind of smiling tolerance among his menaces of damnation.’

‘Little Gidding' (1942), which is the last of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets is Eliot’s reflection on his visit to Nicholas Ferrar’s chapel and the site of his community in Huntingdonshire, visited by Charles I before it was damaged and dispersed by Puritan forces in 1646:

...You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

More recently, Laud’s College is a fictitious Cambridge college in Susan Howatch’s Starbridge novels, and contains the (fictitious) Cambridge Cathedral. In Glittering Images, Canon Charles Ashworth is a Fellow of Laud’s College, a Lecturer in Theology and a canon of the cathedral.

In his 1997 novel Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut suggested that Lancelot Andrewes was ‘the greatest writer in the English language,’ citing as proof the opening verses of Psalm 23.

The emphasis of the Caroline Divines on liturgical renewal and development, like their emphases upon learning and piety, has had a pervasive influence on the Anglican ethos that extends down to our own day.


A collect written by John Cosin for the Third Sunday of Advent and for Ember days:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare thy way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient unto the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for your are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father …

Closing hymn:

‘Awake, my soul, and with the sun’ by Thomas Ken (Church Hymnal, 51).

Further reading:

John Booty, ‘Standard Divines,’ pp 176-187 in S Sykes, J Booty and J Knight (eds), The Study of Anglicanism (London: SPCK, 1988).

Benjamin Guyer, The Beauty of Holiness: The Caroline Divines and Their Writings (London: Canterbury Press, 2012, Canterbury Studies in Spiritual Theology).

Richard H Schmidt, Glorious Companions, five centuries of Anglican Spirituality (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 16 November 2015 was part of the Monday morning Spirituality programme in the chapel at CITI.

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