The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lancelot Andrewes (Again)


I finished recently the biography of Lancelot Andrewes by Paul A. Welsby. It was a very interesting read on various levels, but I will not bore you too much with my thoughts. Here are some thoughts of Andrewes himself:

I know not how, our carriage, of many of us, is so loose; covered we sit, sitting we pray; standing, or walking, or as it takes us in the head, we receive.

Our 'holiness' is grown too familiar and fellow-like, our carriage there can hardly be termed service, there is so little of a servant in it.

One of the fights in Andrewes' generation of course was restoring some dignity to God's house and worship. After the Reformation, the English Church seemed to be beset with the same utilitarianism and naturalistic impulses that plaugue us now. It never quite recovered from it, but Puritanism, at least to this rather superficial observer of things, rather than just wanting to shed the world of idolatry, wanted to do so in order to plunder the Church, set up an easier form of religious praxis, and make the world a totally secular place. The parallel to what is happening today is to me obvious: the "liberals" have the moral high ground of wanting to get rid of the snobbish and anachronistic "smells and bells", but why are they doing it, really?

Andrewes, as Welsby is quick to point out, was not free of fault. Apparently he was not a very effective man of action, nor did he act consistently on his principles. He seems to have had a rather exaggerated concept of the role of the king in the Church, i.e. he almost thought the king to be the Pope's replacement in the reformed Church. Of course, this is not the case. All I will say in Andrewes' defense is that it is very difficult to pray when someone is trying to steal your stereo. We postmoderns take the security of power for granted. We expect the powers that be to protect us, to treat us fairly, and respect our "rights". Far from us is the time when life was nasty, brutish and short; when a despot had absolute, willy-nilly power of life and death over his subjects. We then are stupified by the sycophantic tendencies of the Universal Church toward monarchs throughout the ages, whether they existed in Rome, Byzantium, or Canterbury. We like to exult the examples of the times when Christian Truth spoke up to Power, sweeping under the rug the ordinary times in the Church when this was simply not the case. When the life of the Christian, the life of the State, and the life of the institutional Church were all synchronous, you better believed that people fervently prayed for the monarch. We simply no longer understand this.

I will end on a less polemical note, from one of Andrewes' sermons:

He sits now at ease That before hung in pain. Now on a throne, That before on the Cross. Now at God's right hand, That before was on Satan's left, That before Men may drowsily hear it and coldly affect it, but principalities stand abashed at it.

Deliver them He could not except He destroyed "death, and the lord of death, the devil." Them He could not destroy unless He died; die he could not except He were mortal; mortal He could not except He took our nature on Him.

Here is joy, joy at a sight, at the sight of a day, and that day Christ's.

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