25 September 2018

Learning from Lossky’s Lancelot

Dr Lancelot Andrewes

Dealing with my Jennifer complex has not been a particularly easy thing. There’s a lot in it that’s probably more than a little unhealthy; but there is that in it which can, as my father confessor tells me, fertilise new growth. One of the books I had picked up, which Fr Paul encouraged me to keep reading, was a volume on Lancelot Andrewes, the Preacher: the Origins of the Mystical Theology of the Church of England by Fr Nicholas Vladimirovich (Lossky) – scion of Orthodox philosophers Nikolai Onufrievich Lossky and his son Vladimir Lossky who reposed last year. Now, Dr Lancelot Andrewes was familiar to me as one of the Caroline Divines and one of the great forefathers of the Anglo-Catholic socialism that had been so attractive to me in my college years. But I had never engaged as deeply with his work as I had with, say, Charles Gore or Frederick Denison Maurice, who seemed at any rate more ‘relevant’ to what I was thinking and doing in college. But now, after having swum the Bosporus and looking back on a journey that seems oddly parallel to a well-travelled historical route, I wonder if perhaps there isn’t something to learn from an old Englishman who ‘drew near’ the Greek Church Fathers as did Dr Andrewes. After all, what drew me to the Church of England in the first place was a movement of the heart, a movement toward beauty. And Dr Lancelot Andrewes would be the first to tell me, as would Fr Paul, that what has been required of me always – whether as an Episcopalian or as an Orthodox Christian – is not merely a turning ‘of the brain’, but rather a turning of the heart to Christ.

Fr Nicholas paints a broad-canvassed landscape painting of the theology of Dr Lancelot Andrewes that has four key ‘landmarks’. It is Incarnational; it is Patristic; it is Christological and Pneumatological in equal measure. Some of these landmarks can be spotted from afar in the brief biographical sketch he gives of Dr Lancelot at the beginning of the book: he notes Andrewes’ education in Syriac and Arabic (!) as well as Greek; lays special stress on the importance of the Church’s apostolic historical continuity to Andrewes; and highlights specifically the ‘intense interior life’ and the ‘theology lived in prayer’ which defined the spirituality of the first of the Caroline Divines. He also plays some defence for Andrewes: pointing out the common criticisms of Andrewes, court preacher to Queen Elizabeth I, King James (V)I and King Charles I, as a extreme absolute royalist and supine supplicant for King James (V)I’s favour, but then explaining how these criticisms are mitigated both by circumstance and by the balanced attitude Dr Andrewes himself took to the events in question (for example, the Essex-Howard divorce affair). He also treats Dr Andrewes’s uncharacteristically polemical exchanges with the Jesuit Cardinal Robert Bellarmine with a similar degree of understanding. But for the meat of the book, he looks to the sermons of Dr Lancelot Andrewes, and impressionistically paints the landscape as he goes by highlighting certain themes he returns to in his sermons at different occasions of the year and seasons of the Church calendar.

The incarnational Christology of Andrewes is central to understanding the rest of his work, and indeed the unity between public and private devotions that we see expressed in his life. Andrewes’ Christ is both God and a flesh-and-blood man; His birth is a historical event – indeed, it is the central historical event. Thus, for Andrewes, place and circumstance take on particular importance: for him Christ is not just any man. His parentage, His poverty, His location and His movements in history all obtain for Andrewes a deep significance for the way Christian theoria and praxis must both be done in the present. The poverty of Christ is the marker that He cares for the poor in our own age also – but it is also a marker of how far Christ has assumed human nature, how truly infinite in degree from the ineffable majesty of the Godhead are the sufferings which He bore for us from the beginning. Andrewes points to this with a ‘realist’ approach to Scriptural symbolism – the sense-objects and meanings which symbolise the holy are not merely markers. The logic, the logos of the Incarnation itself sanctifies these symbols, which participate and partake in the holy. The opposition between the awesome, insurmountable righteousness of God the Father, and the infinite and all-embracing mercy of God the Son, so keenly felt and yet never resolved within the puritanical religion of too many of the English reformers, for Dr Andrewes found a resolution in the person of Christ. The old dialectical problem, posed by Plato’s Socrates in the Protagoras, of the division and identity of the virtues, can be resolved only in a personal reality. For Andrewes, this personal reality is Christ Himself, who exemplifies, embodies and dynamically enacts through the Incarnation, the Passion and the Resurrection both Righteousness and Mercy, both Justice and Peace:
Christianity is a meeting, and to this meeting there go pia dogmata as well as bona opera—Righteousness as well as Truth. Err not this error then, to single any out as it were in disgrace of the rest; say not, one will serve the turn,—what should we do with the rest of the four? Take not a figure of rhetoric, and make of it a plain speech; seek not to be saved by Synecdoche. Each of these [Righteousness, Mercy, Justice, Peace] is a quarter of Christianity, you shall never while you live make it serve for the whole.
Peace,’ indeed, ‘is a frequent concern of Andrewes’s,’ says Fr Nicholas. Christ as the Prince of Peace figures large in the landscape of his thought. Indeed, special stress is laid both on the insistence with which Andrewes lays hold of the Incarnational theology of the early Church Fathers (on which more later), and on the ways he would try to allude to the situation of the Church in England under monarchs beset by sedition, rebellion and foreign threat. In his sermons on peace, he was clearly addressing those who wield power – the sovereigns of England and Scotland. And it is in this light that we must see Andrewes’ detestation of military vainglory. Asks Andrewes:
What comes of this [lust for power]? Pacem contemnentes et gloriam appetentes, et gloriam perdunt et pacem: even this peace, their own part, they set light by; glory, God’s part, they gape after, and lose glory and peace both by the means; and when they have brought all to confusion, set down by their losses. For… by seeking glory, glory is lost.

Glory and Peace must be sung together. If we sing Glory without Peace, we sing but to halves. No Glory on high will be admitted without Peace upon earth. No gift on His Altar, which is a special part of His glory, but ‘lay down your gift there and leave it, and first go your way and make peace on earth’; and that done come again, and you shall then be accepted to give glory to Heaven, and not before.
For Dr Andrewes, because the Incarnate Christ’s ministry was both public (His sermons on the mount, His feeding of the multitudes) and private (His teachings to the disciples, His withdrawals into the wilderness), so too should both the public and the private aspects of the individual Christian’s life be transfigured by Christ, to the point where the distinction disappears. Andrewes is a fervent English patriot and, yes, a royalist. In his sermons he likens the monarchs to Scriptural figures like Moses and David – the implication being that the Kingdom of England is a worthy successor to the Kingdom of Israel, and the Byzantine Empire. He can often come near to some disturbing conclusions in his work: for example, he is a steadfast supporter of the high justice of the king and the English state over the lives of criminals – that is to say, of the death penalty. Interestingly, he grounds this support for capital punishment in a theory that the criminal is radically responsible for his own sin; not society, not the state, not the devil and not God. Freedom of will is a visceral reality for Andrewes. As regards politics, Fr Nicholas is keen to point out that in terms of political panegyric, Andrewes is nowhere close to abasing his intellect or scraping before royal power to the degree that his continental contemporaries did. Two pillars exist for English rule, which he draws from the Psalms and likens to the British royal motto: Dieu et mon droit. God and justice. Woe to the English sovereign who ignores either.

Fr Nicholas Lossky notes that Dr Lancelot Andrewes can be justly accused of an extreme kind of royalism in his politics. This makes itself apparent in his exchanges with Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (with which Fr Nicholas does not treat), but also in his homiletics on various ‘political’ occasions – like 5 August (commemorating the conspiracy of the Gowries) and the 5th of November (remember, remember?). Dr Lancelot Andrewes could be strident, stern, even unforgiving, in his treatment of rebels and political subversives against the king. He exhorted his flock to give thanks for the destruction and deaths of John Ruthven and Guy Fawkes. Fr Nicholas Lossky acknowledges these faults in Dr Andrewes’s thinking and does not excuse them; instead he makes an argument for clemency. In addition to marking the ‘Byzantine’ character of these ‘political’ sermons, and their argument for the sacralisation of space and time and the consecration of the political sphere to the religious, he sees in these sermons no apologetic for tyranny – indeed, these declamations on the inviolability of the person of the sovereign are always counterbalanced with a reminder of the sovereign’s dependence on God’s grace and a stern admonition to the ruler not to trample upon God’s justice. He sees in these sermons ‘a theology of man, responsible for the cosmos’, in which even ordinary men and women are given a certain priesthood over creation for which they will be answerable to God.

But the Incarnational theology of Andrewes lends itself to yet another, more radical kind of political homiletics. Fr Nicholas points out that Dr Andrewes’s first sermons were preached against usury and in favour of the mediæval practice of tithing. Christ’s Passion, and indeed the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, are meant to call us to a remembrance of death. This remembrance brings to us an awareness of our earthly blessings, and urges upon us the need to seek both God and justice within this life, rather than awaiting the next in a spirit of complacency. ‘And of others not some other,’ Dr Andrewes preaches, ‘but Lazarus iste, one of those poor people whom we shun in the way, and drive our coaches apace to escape from; that of them, it may fall, we shall see some in bliss.’ The implication is clear: Christ having been born poor, Christ preaching among the poor, Christ living among the poor, Christ dying between two poor thieves – the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, and the rich enter it on their sufferance! This was a deep rebuke to the puritans. The riches we amass ‘here below’ are no sure sign of divine favour. Andrewes preached of hell to the rich during Lent; and he did so in a manner directly recalling St John Chrysostom. (It is easy to see where the ‘Anglo-Catholic socialist’ tendency found one of its main wellsprings.)

Dr Lancelot Andrewes, being conversant in the languages of the eastern Mediterranean, is notably a student of the Holy Hierarchs – Basil, Gregory, John Chrysostom – as well as the Desert Fathers and even Origen. For example, he uses the word ‘hypostatickal’ instead of ‘personal’ to refer to the nature of the Trinity and the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ. He resorts with emphatic and insistent frequency to the old Patristic formula: ‘God became man, so that man might become God.’ (To Dr Andrewes theōsis was not a foreign concept.) And he also places a great emphasis, particularly during the Lenten cycle, on the good works of the spiritual and ascetic disciplines, the fruits of the Tree of Repentance: ‘fasting, prayer and almsgiving’. His homiletic style is noted by Fr Nicholas to veer from the intellectual into something like poetry, and poetry at that resembling Byzantine hymnody. But it is St John Chrysostom who seems to exert the greatest ‘pull’ on the imagination and greatest influence on the homiletics of Andrewes, as seen above in his Lenten preaching on Lazarus.

Andrewes’ Lenten preaching in fact, during his own time, had certain links to the ‘mysticism’ of Saint Julian of Norwich (yes, she is a saint in my book), to the effect that his Patristic approach to the Incarnation led him to accentuate the joy and the eschatological hope implicit in the act of bringing to life of a dead human body from the grave. It is an overturning of the entire ‘natural’ order such as we understood it in our heathen blindness – and his preaching on the holy fear of the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb accentuates precisely the depth at which this overturning of nature struck the hearts of those who beheld it first, indeed went to the very depths of their hearts. The historical event of Christ’s life becomes, in His death and resurrection, ‘transhistorical’. Another order is established that will not pass away. The tears of Good Friday are turned at once into hosannas. It is hard not to hear certain echoes of the Golden-Tongue’s Paschal homily here:
Of all that be Christians, Christ is the hope; but not Christ every way considered, but as risen. Even in Christ un-risen there is no hope. Well doth the Apostle begin here; and when he would open to us ‘a gate of hope’, carry us to Christ’s sepulchre empty; to shew us, and to hear the Angel say, ‘He is risen.’ Thence after to deduce; if He were able to do thus much for Himself, He hath promised us as much, and will do as much for us. We will be restored to life.
For Andrewes, Christ – Christ born among men, Christ baptised in the Jordan, Christ at the Last Supper, Christ crucified, Christ risen – is the centre, the core of all theology worthy of the name. It is to this that our minds are recalled, not only each year at Lent and Easter, but each time the Eucharist is received. Resurrection and remembrance (in the Christo-Platonic-cum-Greek Patristic sense) are imbibed each time we receive the Host, which is Christ Himself. Baptism and the Eucharist regenerate the state of man through this ‘remembrance’; they call man to himself (just as the prodigal son was called to himself in the parable), they enable man to repent, to turn around. Andrewes, as we have seen, stands firmly on the assertion of human free will, in the same way that Abba Cassian did, as did most of the Eastern Church Fathers. He avoids the charge of the heresy of Pelagius, levelled at him by puritan critics, precisely through his placement of Christ at the centre of his theology – but hidden within this ‘Christocentrism’, as Fr Nicholas terms it, is also a ‘Pneumatocentrism’: the freedom of man is a gift of the Holy Ghost. Fr Nicholas sums up Andrewes’ view thus: ‘Man’s only true vocation… is union with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.’ And this participation, this union, is achieved only through the exercise of freedom in repentance and in the ascetic disciplines. The perspective changes from season to season: the redemptive logic of the Incarnation beheld in the Nativity, though complete, becomes dynamic, active, effective in the Passion and Resurrection.

Fr Nicholas demonstrates quite adroitly how all of these aspects of Dr Andrewes’s theology – his Incarnationalism, his Patristic emphasis, and his placement of Christ and the Holy Spirit at the core, at the heart, of his spiritual life, as the way to participate in the life of the Father – support and reinforce each other in a way reminiscent of, even where not directly owing to, the Byzantine theological tradition. This volume is not mere wishy-washy ‘œcumenical’ thinking; not a hare-brained ‘grand project’ to show how, because Anglicans and Orthodox Christians believe some of the same things, that we are fundamentally alike. This carefully-researched portrait of an Anglican Divine’s spiritual life and theological contributions to the English tradition, painted by a Russian-French priest of the Orthodox Church, is much more modest in its scope. Not being a vanity project, therefore, I found it both touching in its sympathy and surprising in its depth. I came away from this book with both a much deeper awe and respect for Dr Lancelot Andrewes; with a much deeper – maybe healthier? – appreciation for the roots of the ‘Anglo-Catholic socialist’ tradition for which Andrewes sowed the seed; and also, unfortunately, with a distinct sadness for the comparative paucity of modern Episcopalian praxis.

One of the great things about the Episcopalians is their discernment for beauty, and this is certainly something that I still treasure. After all, my own intellectual formation was shaped and ‘tuned’ by certain erotic facets of my own heart. Among the Protestant formations the Anglican Communion is the one that best approached an understanding of Dostoevsky’s maxim that ‘beauty will save the world’. One sees the same understanding of beauty in Dr Lancelot Andrewes’s theology as presented here: he is able to take the theological poetry of the Church Fathers and craft a similar symmetry within his own homilies. But there is something in Andrewes’s work that goes beneath the surface, and touches the hidden depths of the person. His Incarnational, Patristic Christology and his theology of the Holy Spirit actively seek out where the prodigal son lingers in his self-imposed exile. It seeks to show the reality of the tomb, and the way in which Christ can overturn that reality and transform that tomb of our heart into a place of resurrection.

I can see in part why my father-confessor encouraged me to read this book. (Of course part of it was that Fr Paul attended lectures by Fr Nicholas Lossky, and has immense personal respect for the man.) Fr Nicholas treats with a ‘Byzantine’ image of Dr Lancelot Andrewes. He presents to us an interpretation of Andrewes’s work in depth rather than in a watered-down form, and he presents us with an image of an English clergyman steeped in Greek, Syriac and Arabic theological learning, concerned with man in his depths, in the heart which is infinite in its depths.

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