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Faith and Devotion: The Eucharistic Theology of Lancelot Andrewes

9 March 2012

Lancelot Andrewes, Laudian divine, early High Churchman, and one of the great preachers of his age, left a sizable impression on Anglican Eucharistic theology despite the paucity of his written works on the topic. Andrewes was a great advocate of frequent reception of the Eucharist and his sermons, including those before the courts of Elizabeth I and James I & VI, frequently expounded upon the great value of Communion. His Eucharistic theology, communicated principally in his published sermons and private devotions, emphasised the immense grace of the gift of the sacrament of Communion and the great benefits for unworthy humanity to be found in receiving it. Andrewes lived his life during a period of relative calm in the life of the Kingdom and Church of England. Born after the Elizabethan Religious Settlement and preaching for much of his career before her tolerant and theologically-learned Presbyterian successor, James, Andrewes enjoyed the luxury of an ecclesial environment where the most heated debates were generally academic in character, even when they were polemical. The great issues facing the Church of England in Andrewes’ day were the rise of Puritanism and the problems of recusancy and religious toleration. Of these Andrewes engaged mostly with the former, including in an early, oft overstatedly labelled ‘Puritan’ phase, the evidence for which is entirely in sets of unreliable notes taken by hearers of some of his earlier sermons. By the time Andrewes reached the greater heights of his career his Puritanism, if ever that had been an accurate label, had passed, and he faced the problem of working his Roman Catholic leanings into his written work and preaching in an age when ‘popery’ was a serious, career-ending accusation. Andrewes navigated this minefield of conscience and politik deftly and his sermons reflect far more of Calvinistic orthodoxy than do his private prayer and devotions.[1] However, all differences in emphases aside, the sources of Eucharistic theology which Andrewes has left to present a coherent picture of a clear theology with strong spiritual and ascetic leanings.

The first and most obvious sources to turn to in search Andrewes’ Eucharistic theology are his sermons. Andrewes left an extensive collection of posthumously published sermons, largely selected from sermons preached before Elizabeth and James, in addition to collections of other, ‘parochial,’ sermons (though the authenticity of these sermons is sometimes questioned). These sermons span much of Andrewes’ career as a preacher at court and reflect not only his theology but the pastoral situation in which he found himself. His role as a favoured preacher to the monarch meant that Andrewes frequently found himself preaching on the same topics and the same feasts before the same engaged and attentive congregation.[2] The majority of Andrewes’ published sermons, and those which can more reliably be considered authentic to him, were those preached before the courts of Elizabeth and James and published posthumously. The sacrament of the Eucharist played a major role in these published sermons, with Andrewes expounding upon its important role in the economy of salvation and the duty of Christians to regularly obey the dominical ordinance to receive.

Of Andrewes’ court sermons perhaps the one that best exemplifies the high regard in which he held the Eucharist was his Nativity sermon preached before James I in Whitehall on Christmas Day, 1623. So great a feast is Christmas, says Andrewes, and so highly to be honoured, that it deserves to be marked by the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Preached on Ephesians 1.10, this sermon describes the Eucharist as the gathering of Christ himself, the recapitulation of all creation in Christ through the great mystery of the sacrament.[3] In his typical style, Andrewes’ exegises the phrase ‘gathering together into one’ and the word ‘dispensation,’ both from the passage on which he preached. He equated the former to the Greek ‘synaxis,’ calling the Eucharist the principle gathering of the Church. The latter he explicates by explaining that “we are styled by the Apostle ‘dispensers of the mysteries of God;’ and in and by them, of all the benefits that came to mankind by this dispensation in the fullness of season of all that are recapitulate, in Christ.”[4] Andrewes sees the Eucharist as the coming together of the Christian community, the Church, to share in the dispensation of the grace that entered the world with the first Christmas. It also looks forward to the day of judgement, which Andrewes describes as “the last and greatest gathering of all,” which shall bring “the fullness of eternity, and in it the fullness of all joy.”[5] The Eucharist, for Andrewes, encapsulates the entire narrative of creation, bringing the church together to share in the grace of Christ’s salvation and look forward to the Christ’s second coming and final ‘gathering into one’ of all creation in him.

In one of Andrewes earlier sermons, preached while he was an incumbent at St Giles’ Cripplegate, on 1 Corinthians 12.13 Andrewes describes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as he refers to it, as completing the benefits conferred in baptism. Baptism, says Andrewes, incorporates us into the body of Christ, like the image of the tree-graft employed by the Pauline epistle on which Andrewes preached, and the Eucharist nourishes us. The Eucharist provides the continual nourishment without which the spiritual body cannot survive, like the water needed by the tree-graft, without which the body would wither and die.[6] Once again Andrewes explicates the Eucharist in terms of encapsulation in Christ. The incorporation of the Christian into the body of Christ which takes place in baptism is sustained by the Lord’s Supper through the gift of grace in the Spirit that comes in reception.[7] Andrewes understood the reception of Communion to be essential to the reception of the Spirit. God, says, Andrewes, conveys the Spirit only to those who obey him, and since we are commanded to partake of the sacrament, lest, as says John 6.53, we should have no life in us, reception of the Eucharist is necessary to life in the Spirit.[8] It is easy to see why Andrwes advocated frequent reception if his viewed participation in the Eucharist as essential to life in the Spirit. However, he cautioned that mere reception is not sufficient to ensure the gift of the Spirit. Rather, the recipient must receive whilst thirsting after the spiritual no less than the earthly, and must pray to receive the Spirit; otherwise the communicant receives only the outward sign of the sacrament.[9]

Andrewes’ famed Preces privatae, private devotions composed in Latin and Greek and never intended for publication, also provide a wealth of Eucharistic theology. These preces are written for all number occasions, from daily prayers for the keeping of the divine office to prayers for special feasts. Those written for the celebration of the Eucharist center on themes of human unworthiness before the grace of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the benefits of comfort and grace be found therein, and the praise for and commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross in the Eucharistic celebration. All of these themes are prominently and concisely displayed in Andrewes’ “An Act of Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Day.” “O Lord, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies,/ and all the truth, which Thou has shewed unto thy servant;/”[10] prays Andrewes, emphasising his own unworthiness for the gracious mercies to which he feels himself and other unworthies privy in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Andrewes’ ascetical nature is strongly reflected in all of his devotions for the Eucharist and his Act of Thanksgiving treats even the opportunity to worship as a gift of divine grace:

Thou who has deigned, O Lord, to grant me on this holy day and at this hour/ to lift up my soul to Thy praise,/ and to give unto Thee the glory due unto Thy name,/ receive, O Lord, this spiritual sacrifice from my soul,/ and, receiving it to Thee unto Thy spiritual altar,/ be pleased in return to shed on me the grace of/ Thy Most Holy Spirit.[11]

Andrewes’ extensive personal devotions for use during and around the Eucharistic celebration itself also attest to his strong spiritual nature and ascetical orientation. The first devotion for use in the Eucharist itself is entitled “An Act of Self-Examination before the Lord’s Supper” and in Andrewes asks himself if he approaches the sacrament with adequate penitence and prayer and whether he is sufficiently sorry for his sins. His prayer for recitation immediately before Communion itself speaks of his own unworthiness that God should condescend to commune with so great sinner, comparing it to God’s condescending to born as a mere human being, to keep court with social outcasts, and to die a shameful death upon the cross. The tone of the prayer then shifts dramatically to one of thanks and praise for the immense gift of sanctifying grace that takes away the stain of sin.[12] Perhaps the most moving of Andrewes’ Communion devotion is that composed for Communion itself, in which Andrewes commemorates the paschal mystery of Christ on the cross, making a long remembrance of Christ’s passion and resurrection and praying that in receiving Communion he may not be damned for his sins but have their burden lifted off of him and his soul enlivened to live the life of faith “for fulfillment of Thy commandments,/ growth in Thy divine grace,/ and possession of Thy Kingdom.”[13] Central to all of these Communion devotions is Andrewes’ awe before the sacrament in which he has been privileged to participate and his great thankfulness for the gifts which he hopes to have received.

Andrewes’ thought reflects his walking the line between Calvinistic and Roman Catholic theologies of the Eucharist. Andrewes rejected both the Calvinist theology of ‘virtual presence’ in the Eucharist and the doctrine of transubstantiation. His own teaching does not make clear any explicit theology of the presence or absence thereof of Christ in the Eucharist, though he did accept some form of real presence.[14] There seems to exist a tension within his thought between the political need to reject anything savouring of Roman Catholicism and his own inclinations toward the ascetical implication of the Catholic theology of the Eucharist. Despite that evident tension Andrewes did formally reject the doctrine of Transubstantion while teaching the real presence.[15] In Andrewes’ Nativity sermon before James I of 1623 he expounds upon the reality of Christ’s presence in the sacrament, comparing the sacramental union of the signified and sign of Christ’s body and blood to the Eucharistic elements to the hypostatic union of Christ’s divine and human natures.[16] One of his parochial sermons at St. Giles Cripplegate even states that the reception in both kinds is lawful only to the ordained priesthood, and that the laity receive the entire sacrament in the bread alone.[17]

The doctrine of the real presence looms far larger in Andrewes’ private devotions than in his sermons. Though important in his preaching, the real presence takes a back seat to the grace to be received in the frequent gathering together in Christ in the Lord’s Supper. In this way Andrewes’ Eucharistic doctrine is more reflective of the Augustinian tradition of Eucharistic thought, emphasising the classical sign-signified relationship and the necessary coming together of the church in the Eucharistic celebration.[18]In his private devotions the intense grace of the true presence of Christ in the sacrament for the reception of lowly sinners sits front and center. This may reflect a more ‘Catholic’ orientation in Andrewes’ Eucharistic theology than that which he shared publically in his sermons, which more strongly reflect the influence of Augustine, the Reformation’s favourite Church Father. Together these emphases speak to a strong and traditional Eucharistic theology, as in line with the Patristic period as with the Medieval, which contributed to a personal devotional spirituality of prayer and reflection. Andrewes’ theology and his devotions provide a rich, uniquely Anglican resource for a devotional Eucharistic theology, which more Anglicans would do well to turn to in when search of a Christian spirituality.

Notes and Bibliography


MacKenzie, Iain M., God’s Natural and Natural Law: The Works of the Laudian Divines (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002).

[1] “Andrewes, Lancelot (1555–1626),” P. E. McCullough in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eee ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, January 2008, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/520 (accessed 17 February 2012)

[2] Rody, Maurice F., s.j., Bishop Lancelot Andrewes Jacobean Court Preacher: A Study in Early Seventeenth-Century Religious Thought (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1955),21.

[3] Chapman, Raymond, ed., Before the King’s Majesty: Lancelot Andrewes and His Writings (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008), 54.

[4] Chapman, Before the King’s Majesty, 55.

[5] Chapman, Before the King’s Majesty, 56.

[6] Andrewes, Lancelot, “Lecture XIV,” in Parochial Sermons Preached at St. Giles’s Cripplegate by Lancelot Andrewes, D.D., Sometime Bishop of Winchester (London: J. Burns, 1845), 121.

[7] Andrewes, “Lecture XIV,” 122.

[8] Andrewes, “Lecture XIV,” 124.

[9] Andrewes, “Lecture XIV,” 124-125.

[10] Whyte, Alexander, D.D., Lancelot Andrewes and his Private Devotions: A Biography, A Transcript, and An Interpretation (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier, 1896), 217.

[11] Whyte, Lancelot Andrewes and his Private Devotions, 217-218.

[12] Whyte, Lancelot Andrewes and his Private Devotions, 227-228.

[13] Whyte, Lancelot Andrewes and his Private Devotions, 230-231.

[14] Rody, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, 74.

[15] Rody, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, 74; Chapman, Before the King’s Majesty, 54.

[16] Chapman, Before the King’s Majesty, 55.

[17] Andrewes, “Lecture XIV,” 124.

[18] Chapman, Before the King’s Majesty, 55-56.

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