A devoted scholar, hard-working and accurate, and a master of fifteen languages, Lancelot Andrewes was renowned for his learning and for his preaching, and was a seminal influence on the development of a distinctive reformed Catholic theology in the Church of England. Born in the parish of All Hallows, Barking, Andrewes was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where he was elected Fellow in 1576 and Catechist in 1580. In 1589 he became Vicar of St Giles, Cripplegate, and Master of Pembroke Hall. His incumbency at Cripplegate was attached to a prebend at St Paul’s Cathedral, where his remarkable preaching abilities first attracted notice. In 1601 he became Dean of Westminster. Under James the First (reigned 1603-1625), who held Andrewes in high esteem, he was made Bishop of Chichester in 1605, of Ely in 1609, and of Winchester in 1619.
A distinguished biblical scholar proficient in both Hebrew and Greek, in 1604 Andrewes attended the Hampton Court Conference and was appointed one of the translators of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible. He was largely responsible for the translation of the Pentateuch (the Books of Moses) and the historical Books (including the Chronicles and Kings). Andrewes was involved in vigorous correspondence with Roman Catholic controversialists and critics of the Church of England, including Cardinal Bellarmine, and in this correspondence he gave a robust defense of the catholicity of the Church of England.
Andrewes died at Winchester House, Southwark, in 1626, on either the twenty-fifth or the twenty-sixth of September (the uncertainty of the date accounts for the variance among Anglican Churches in the date of his commemoration). He was buried in the parish church which later became Southwark Cathedral.
Andrewes was one of the principal influences in the formation of a distinctly reformed Catholic Anglican theology, which in reaction to the rigidity of the Puritanism of his time, he insisted should be moderate in tone and catholic in content and perspective. Convinced that true theology must be built on sound learning, he cultivated the friendship of such divines as Richard Hooker and George Herbert, as well as of scholars from abroad, including the French Reformed pastor-theologians Isaac Casaubon and Pierre du Moulin. His aversion to Calvinism probably explains his absence from the Church of England’s delegation to the Synod of Dort in 1618. Andrewes held a high doctrine of the Eucharist, emphasizing that in the sacrament we receive the true Body and Blood of Christ, and he consistently used sacrificial language of the rite. He desired the Church of England to express its liturgy in ordered ceremonial and in his own chapel used the mixed chalice (wine and water), incense, and altar-lights (candles).
In his lifetime Andrewes’ fame rested particularly on his preaching. He regularly preached at court on the greater Church festivals, being the favorite preacher of the King. His “Ninety-Six Sermons”, first published in 1629, remain a classic of Anglican homiletical works. The sermons are characterized by sophisticated verbal conceits, a minute (and to modern sensibilities overworked) analysis of the text, and constant Greek and Latin quotations. The noted Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky has written perceptively of the deeply patristic character of Andrewe’s theology in these sermons.
Andrewes was also a deeply devout man, and one of his most admired works is his Preces Privatae (“Private Devotions”), a collection of devotions, mainly in Greek, drawn from the Scriptures and from ancient liturgies, compiled for his personal use. The Preces were translated in partial versions from 1630 onwards, and the first comprehensive edition was published in 1675. The Preces illustrate Andrewes’ piety and throw light on the sources of his theology.
Andrewes was respected by many as the model of a bishop at a time when the episcopate was held in low esteem. His student, John Hacket, later Bishop of Lichfield, wrote of him:
“Indeed he was the most Apostolical and Primitive-like Divine, in my Opinion, that wore a Rochet in his Age; of a most venerable Gravity, and yet most sweet in all Commerce; the most Devout that I ever saw, when he appeared before God; of such a Growth in all kind of Learning that very able Clerks were of a low Stature to him.”
prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
Lord and Father, our King and God, by your grace the Church was enriched by the great learning and eloquent preaching of your servant Lancelot Andrewes, but even more by his example of biblical and liturgical prayer: Conform our lives, like his, to the image of Christ, that our hearts may love you, our minds serve you, and our lips proclaim the greatness of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.