Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Saints of Autumn: Lancelot Andrewes

Today is the feast day of one of the greats of our Anglican tradition, Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). Born in Barking, England (I love the name of that town), Andrewes oversaw the translation of what became known as the King James Bible (Authorized Version, as it is officially called). Andrewes did much of the translating himself and was the chief editor of the overall project.

He was made bishop successively of Chichester, Ely and then Winchester. He served in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I with great distinction.

Yet is not just for his political and church accomplishments we honor him today. He should be chiefly remembered as a writer. He crafted prayers that still set the bar high in the English language. Anglicanism's soul is in our prayer book and our poetry, and that is no small measure a credit to Andrewes.

Other Protestant churches produced lengthy statements of doctrine, or "confessions," with towering theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin setting forth the intricacies of Christianity as they saw it.

We produced poets.

The English reformers set their course by a different compass: their theology was in the music of the words, in the poems and prayers, and they crafted hundreds of them. Sonnets sang to people in ways that doctrinal petitions could not. Andrewes shared the stage with John Donne, William Shakespeare, Richard Hooker and other luminaries of English letters.

He was certainly an accomplished scholar, and his preaching carried heft. But the words did not have to be turgid. Theology did not need to be measured in run-on sentences.

Many of the prayers and phrases in our contemporary prayer book have their origins with Lancelot Andrewes. Here is one of his prayers:

Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord,
Our God, the God of our Fathers;
Who turnest the shadow of death into the morning;
and lightenest the face of the earth;
Who separatest darkness from the face of the light;
and banishest night and bringest back the day;
Who lightenest mine eyes,
that I sleep not in death;
Who deliverest me from the terror by night,
from the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
Who drivest sleep from mine eyes,
and slumber from mine eyelids;
Who makest the outgoings of the morning
and evening to praise Thee;
because I laid me down and slept and rose up again,
for the Lord sustained me; because I waked and beheld,
and my sleep was sweet unto me.

No comments: