Lancelot Andrewes, the Star of Preachers


Why Read Lancelot Andrewes?

Besides contending for the greatest name in British history, Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) was the most renowned preacher of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Nicknamed stella predicantium (“star of preachers”) by Thomas Fuller, Andrewes has been a source of fascination and reverence for Catholic-leaning Anglicans from Archbishop William Laud in the immediate wake of Andrewes’s death to T.S. Eliot in the 20th century. Andrewes devoted himself, as did many others in the Church of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, not only to prayer, preaching, and penitence but also to defending the English settlement, the via media or “middle way,” against both its Roman and Puritan detractors.

A Master of Preaching and Prose

Andrewes’s homiletical style was dense and “metaphysical,” filled with literary allusions, classical literary tropes, and Latinisms, qualities that have been criticized from his day onward [1], but which have also intrigued and impressed others. He marshaled all of his erudition for his preaching, as Paul Welsby reports: “Andrewes made full use of illustrations from biblical, patristic, and other sources, and all are made to help on and enforce the central thought of the sermon. In his three Good Friday sermons, for example, a brief list of the non-biblical references would include St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Chrysostom, Leo, Theodoret, the Greek Liturgy, Aristotle, Livy, and Juvenal.” Maurice Reedy, SJ also attests to the breadth in Andrewes’s sermonic application of the Scriptures, rooted in his absorption of the vast tradition of interpretation:


Andrewes felt himself the heir of all the Christian past, and it was largely in his appeal to it that he departs from the Puritan principle of regarding the Scriptures as the sole and exclusive source of Christian teaching. He ranges through the fathers, the early Christian writers, and the scholastics with a sense of possession and familiarity. Augustine, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory, Eusebius, Aquinas, Bernard—these as well as the sacred writers were his to use, and use them he did. It is as if he should say: These men are Christians, and so are a part of my heritage; they are not Roman Catholics, or Puritans, and therefore of an opposing camp; they are Christians. Christianity is the great fact in history, and for Andrewes Anglicanism (though he would not have used the term) is but the English expression of it. (Reedy, 46-7)

Theological Themes

Christological and Trinitarian Theology

Andrewes was most at home when writing or preaching on the Christological and Trinitarian themes of the creeds and the early church, and he disliked in the extreme what he thought of as speculative theology on questions such as the nature of predestination. Andrewes was, for instance, an opponent of the Lambeth Articles, which asserted that “God from eternity has predestined some men to life, and reprobated some to death,” less because he disagreed and more because he believed the matter incapable of resolution (see Welsby, 42-4 on the Lambeth Articles and 165-7 on Andrewes’s conversations with the Arminian Hugo Grotius). He focused his efforts on the beliefs that he saw as de fide, of the essence of the faith, though somewhat controversially he believed some aspects of faith (like bishops) to be part of this apostolic deposit that others, including his own contemporaries like Richard Hooker, did not.

Preaching and Piety

Although he was drawn into theological controversy by the commission of Elizabeth I and James I and wrote refutations of Cardinals Bellarmine and du Perron, he was not a natural pugilist and found the matter distasteful [2]. His true interest was in homiletics, liturgy, penitence, and prayer. It was in these areas, his sermons and his private devotions, the Preces Privatae, that one finds the richest areas of his thought [3]. For Andrewes, truth and the well-lived Christian life went together: “Mercy leads to Truth, and the knowledge of it; and Truth to Righteousness, and the practice of it; and Righteousness to Peace, and the ways of it” (Andrewes, Works, i.196). Nicholas Lossky says that for Andrewes, “Theology and life are inseparable; there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy” (Lossky, 78). Andrewes’s faith was characterized by moral seriousness: he spoke and wrote little, and he refused to publish anything unless he was commanded to by authority in order to keep a close watch over his speech. He defended fasting and auricular confession in an age where many dismissed such practices as “popish.”

Reformed Catholicism and Via Media

Much like John Jewel and Richard Hooker, Andrewes envisioned a Reformed Catholic Church of England, based upon the Scriptures and interpreted by the ecumenical creeds and the first five centuries of the church [4]. In a famous sermon, Andrewes summed up the position of the English church: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith” (Andrewes, Opuscula quaedam posthuma, 91 [5]). Welsby describes Andrewes’s contributions to the Elizabethan and Jacobean churches:

to the via media of the English Church, Andrewes brought theological and historical enrichment, investing it with a positive apologia based on Scripture and the Fathers and delivering it from a predominatingly negative defense against Rome or a too close alliance with Calvinism…..In the process of this achievement he introduced two other related features which became characteristic of Anglicanism and which differentiated it from both Rome and Geneva – a reserve about points of doctrine which are not central, and a freedom of private judgement outside these central articles of faith. (Welsby, 275, see also 154-6).


Early Life and Education

Lancelot was the first of twelve children born to Thomas and Joan Andrewes, a modestly prosperous London family. Thomas was a mariner and prominent member of Trinity House, the mariner’s guild that controlled the port of London. Early on Lancelot was recognized as an exceedingly promising scholar, and he won a prestigious scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge. Andrewes evidently shunned games and was excessively devoted to study. His only recreation was walking, alone or with someone “with whom he might confer and argue, and recount their studies” (Isaacson, sig. *2r). After graduating B.A. and before proceeding to a B.D., Andrewes developed the ability to read in fifteen different languages. During this early part of his life, Andrewes may have gone through a “Puritan” phase, since he defended the keeping of the Sabbath and was on good terms with moderate Puritans like John Knewstubb, Lawrence Chaderton, and Richard Greenham.

Elizabethan Appointments

In 1590, Andrewes was appointed chaplain to John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to Queen Elizabeth herself. While in service to Whitgift, Andrewes met John Buckeridge, who with Richard Neile and Andrewes later formed the Durham House Group, a high church liturgical party devoted to what Nicholas Tyacke has called “avant-garde conformity.” This group of Arminian theologians (Andrewes drifted toward an Arminian position on soteriology from the 1590s onward) would ultimately give rise to the prominent high church Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud (Tyacke, ch. 5). Andrewes preached before the Queen one to two months out of each year, usually in November it seems, with special appointments to preach on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as well. The Queen was impressed with Andrewes’s scholarly seriousness, and with her approval, he became Dean of Westminster Cathedral in 1601.

Jacobian Appointments

At the accession of James I in 1603, the King was similarly impressed with Andrewes, and he continued to receive preferments. By this time, Andrewes was hostile to the Puritan party within the Church of England, and at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, he defended the sign of the cross at baptism, which Puritans had rejected. In 1605, James appointed Andrewes to the vacant see of Chichester. The foiled Gunpowder Plot of that year led James to institute an oath of loyalty designed to separate out loyal Catholics from unloyal ones. The oath provoked a response from Robert Bellarmine, a Catholic Cardinal and one of the church’s chief polemicists. James commissioned a response from Andrewes, with ripostes to Bellarmine and du Perron coming later defending the catholicity of the English church.

Episcopal Ministry and Death

In 1609, Andrewes was promoted to bishop of the diocese of Ely and became a permanent court preacher, preaching regularly before James on Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, and on the anniversaries of the Gowrie conspiracy (August 5) and the Gunpowder Plot (November 5). Andrewes’s fame as a homilist had grown by this time to such a degree that these sermons always drew a large crowd. In 1618, Andrewes became bishop of Winchester after the death of James Montagu. By this point, Andrewes was part of a decidedly anti-Calvinist group of divines including John Cosin, Richard Neile, and Richard Montagu, and he was part of a committee in 1626 after the accession of Charles I that absolved Montagu of heterodoxy for his “crypto-popery” (ODNB). By 1625, Andrewes’s strength was failing, however, and he died “peaceably and quietly” in September 1626 in Winchester House.

What We Can Learn from Andrewes

Liturgical Preaching

Although we will likely never again see an “Andrean” moment in preaching (it’s difficult to imagine even the most scholarly sitting through one of Andrewes’s sermons), there is nonetheless a great deal to learn from how Andrewes thought of the task of homiletics. His was a “calendrical piety” par excellence—his preaching follows the cycle of the Christian year and returns over and over again to the life of Christ and foundation of the Church, showing the close connections between these epochal events and the contemporary life of the church. Preaching on the nativity, for instance, Andrewes shows that Christ’s incarnation is also the source and goal of our salvation:

It is sure, there were no better guide than the way itself, if the way could speak to us when we were right or wrong in it. Now He, ‘He is the Way:’ the Way and the End both. As God, He is the End;—the fruition of the Godhead, the end of our journey. As man, He is the Way; both Way and Guide too. His doctrine, our guide; His example, in the whole tract of His life, the very way thither (Andrewes, Works, i.166)

The dense tapestry of Andrewes’s preaching draws the listener/reader into the great story of the gospel. It allows the “fullness of time” of Christ’s story to penetrate our present time, placing our cultural moment and our lives in conversation with the “true laws of the universe” as Flannery O’Connor once put it [6]. We are invited to become characters in Christ’s redemption of the world, both as those who are healed by him and who are participating in his healing of the creation. Christ was born once in Bethlehem to Mary, but Andrewes’s aim was that Christ would be born again in the hearts of each of his hearers, as Nicholas Lossky writes (Lossky, 76).

Charles Taylor has written that our age is dominated by a conception of time that is one-dimensional. It is related “horizontally” to other moments, but it does not have any “vertical” relationship to the transcendent or eternal. Time is in this sense “meaninglessness” outside of the meaning we impose upon it, which is one of the aspects of our contemporary experience of life that most hollow out our belief in the gospel [7]. In such a context, preaching the church calendar takes on an unprecedented importance. David Taylor has wisely remarked that “If the church doesn’t tell us what time it is, the surrounding culture surely will, and we usually end up all the worse for it” (quoted in McKenzie, 124). We can learn from Andrewes in our preaching to connect the experience of our congregations to the great story of Christ, so that, in the words of Bobby Gross, “a whole season can become charged with meaning” (Gross, 22).

Equality of Word and Sacrament

Secondly, we can learn from Andrewes to value word and sacrament equally in the Eucharistic context of worship. Andrewes believed that the Eucharist was the heart of worship, but that it was always attended and contextualized by the reading and preaching of the Scriptures. His sermons tend to set up the auditor for our reception of the Eucharist. Sometimes the connections he draws between word and sacrament are especially illuminating, as in one of his sermons on the Nativity:

For as there is a recapitulation of all in heaven and earth in Christ, so there is a recapitulation of all in Christ in the holy Sacrament. You may see it clearly: there is in Christ the Word eternal for things in Heaven; there is also flesh for things on earth. Semblably, the Sacrament consisteth of a Heavenly and of a terrene part, (it is Irenaeus’ own words); the Heavenly—there the word too, the abstract of the other; the earthly—the element….And the gathering or vintage of these two in the blessed Eucharist, is as I may say a kind of hypostatical union of the sign and the thing signified, so united together as are the two natures of Christ….it is our office, we are styled by the Apostle ‘dispensers of the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor. 4:1); 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. Which benefits are too many to deal with. One shall serve as the sum of all; that the very end of the sacrament is to gather again to God and His favour, if it happen, as oft it doth; we scatter and stray from Him. And to gather us as close and near as alimentum alito, that is as near as near can be. And as to gather us to God, so likewise each to other mutually; expressed lively in the symbols of many grains into the one, and many grapes into the other….And even…to be recollected at this feast by the Holy Communion into that blessed union, is the highest perfection we can in this life aspire unto. We then are at the highest pitch, at the very best we shall ever attain to on earth, what time we newly come from it; gathered to Christ, and by Christ to God; stated in all whatsoever He hath gathered and laid up against His next coming. (Andrewes, Works, i.281-3)

Real Presence

We can also learn from him to take seriously what we are doing when we receive the Eucharist. As he made clear in his Two Replies to Cardinal Perron, the English church rejected transubstantiation. But like John Jewel, the spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament was imaged in patristic terms as the presence of Christ’s body and blood being really and truly present by the power of the Holy Spirit to us so that we might be made into the people of Christ: “there is another congruity for the Sacrament, that the ‘great mystery of godliness,’ which is ‘God manifested in the flesh,’ might not be celebrated without the mystery of His flesh; that the day He came among us to be partaker of flesh and blood, we also might be partakers of the flesh and blood which He took from us to give them us again” (Andrewes, Works, i.231) [8].

Centrality of the Gospel

Lastly, we can learn from Andrewes to focus our attention on doing “the work of evangelists” (2 Tim. 4:5) on proclaiming what is central to the gospel and allowing space for divergent opinions in doubtful questions in the service of the truth and unity. Jake Belder has recently written that one of the virtues (and sometimes vices) of Anglicanism is that it has not functioned like other confessional traditions which narrows the scope of theological exploration. At its best, Anglicanism makes room for asking difficult questions within the bounds of a capacious orthodoxy. We can thank Andrewes for contributing to the ethos of our tradition in this respect.

Works Cited

Andrewes, Lancelot, Opuscula Quaedam Posthuma (1852).

Andrewes, Lancelot, Works, 11 vols., eds. JP Wilson and James Bliss, Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology (1848-1854).

Gross, Bobby, Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

Isaacson, Henry, The Life…of Lancelot Andrewes (1650).

McKenzie, Thomas, The Anglican Way: A Guidebook (Nashville: Colony Catherine, 2014).

O’Conner, Flannery, The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Conner, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988).

Of Episcopacy: Three Epistles of Peter Moulin Doctor and Professor of Divinity, Answered by…Lancelot Andrews, Late Lord Bishop of Winchester. Translated for the Benefit of the Publike (1647).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Andrewes, Lancelot.”

Reedy, S.J., Maurice, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, Jacobean Court Preacher: A Study in Early Seventeenth-Century Religious Thought (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1955).

Taylor, Charles, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

Tyacke, Nicholas, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c. 1590-1640 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).

Welsby, Paul, Lancelot Andrewes, 1555-1626 (London: SPCK, 1958).

Whyte, Alexander, Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions: A Biography, a Transcript, and an Intepretation, 2d. ed. (1896).


[1] Paul Welsby notes that “Andrewes’s actual style of preaching was not for lesser men to imitate, and when they did so it usually descended into punning and word-playing for its own sake. Bishop Felton once said: ‘I had almost marred my own natural trot by endeavouring to imitate his artificial ramble.’ It was for this reason that Andrewes’s style went out of fashion. John Evelyn listened to a sermon on 15 July 1683, preached ‘much after Bish. Andrewes’s method, full of Logical divisions, in short, & broken periods, & latine sentences”, and he commeted that this method is ‘now quite out of fashion in the pulpit; [which is] grown into a far more profitable way, of plaine & practical [discourses].’ Even George Herbert, an admirer of Andrewes, could declare that the ‘way of crumbling a Text into small parts, as, the Person speaking, or spoken to, the subject, and object, and the like, hath neither in it of sweetness, nor gravity, nor variety, since the words apart are not Scripture, but a Dictionary” (Welsby, 197-8).

[2] Andrewes wrote to Pierre du Moulin, “I never could learn this trick of sawing, or (which is all one) of tossing replys. No, not, when my years were fitter for it. But now old age, which of it self is a diseas, and yet never cometh without diseases attending it, plucks me by the ear, and bids me get me out of this cockpit, and rank myself with them, whose whole business is Prayer” (Of Episcopacy, 43). He was by nature quiet, studious, and retiring, and rather like John Jewel, aspired to an ascetic life not unlike monasticism in another era would have provided. This tendency is illustrated by the following reported conversation with Henry Barrow: “when Barrow went on to complain about the length of his imprisonment…[Andrewes] said, ‘you are most happy. The solitary and contemplative life I hold the most blessed life. It is the life I would choose.’” To which Barrow, not inappropriately, responded, “You speak philosophically, but not Christianly” (quoted in Welsby, 56-7).

[3] Of his private devotions, Alexander Whyte wrote that “When Andrewes met with a verse or a clause or so much as a word in any scripture that specially suited his own case…on the spot he took that word down, and that too in its own native Hebrew or Greek as the case might be. And he did the same things when he would be reading any of the ancients of the Latin or Orient Kirks, as Robert Bruce called them….Andrewes made such a constant practice of this, and had formed such a settled habit of it, that as his life went on his book of secret prayer came to be filled with all the best passages in the Psalms, in the Prophets, in the Gospels, and in the Epistles, as also in the sermons and litanies and liturgies of the Fathers and the Saints, till we have a perfect portrait before us of Andrewes’s inmost soul, and that too in lines and in colours borrowed from those hands which could best draw such deep lines and best mix such strong and lasting colours (Whyte, 35).

[4] But Maurice Reedy, SJ notes that early in Andrewes’s career he inclined toward the Reformed position that denied the right of private interpretation but also insisted that Scripture was self-interpreting (Reedy, 36, 41). In his Pattern of Catechetical Doctrine, Andrewes writes, “They have the Fathers, Councils, the Church and the Pope. We have not so. But as it is 2 Pet. i. 20, the Scripture is of no private interpretation; so to make it plain what we hold, we will first lay down these three grounds; — 1. That as to the eunuch, Acts viii.31, so much more to us there is need of an interpreter. 2. That there is a certain and infallible interpretation; else if we were always uncertain, how should we build upon the rock? 3. As we must take heed of private interpretation, not to distort the scriptures; as Hilary saith, non afferre sensum ad scripturas, sed referre, ‘not to devise a sense for scripture but to give it its proper sense;’ so must we, as 1 Cor. xii.10, hold, that God hath given the gift of interpretation, which gift its not given to any but those which are in the church, 1 Cor. ii.10-14, and of those not to the common sort of every private man, but to the learned. And seeing it is, 1 Cor. xii.11, singulis prout vult, ‘to each man as God pleaseth’, it is not to be restrained to some one bishop, as the gross papists do….Now for the sense of the word….the letter is not the word of God, but the meaning, and that it is which we seek; and for the meaning Thomas Aquinas saith, 1. In a matter of faith or manner we must take the literal sense; 2. For other things we may make a tropological sense; 3. There is but one true sense of one place; 4. That is it which the construction will give, if there follow no absurdity” (Andrewes, Works, x.57-8).

[5] Translating from the Latin: <<Nobis Canon unus in Scripta relatus a Deo, Duo Testamenta, Tria Symbola, Quatuor Priora Concilia, Quinque saecula, Patrumque per ea series, trecentos ante Constantinum annos, ducentos a Constantino, regulam nobis Religionis figunt.>>

[6] O’Conner wrote, “the virgin birth, the incarnation, the resurrection . . . are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of those laws. . . . [It] would never have occurred to human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.” (O’Conner, 100).

[7] Taylor writes, “In earlier ages, the understanding was that this profane time existed in relation to (surrounded by, penetrated by; it is hard to find the right words here) higher times. Premodern understandings of time seem to have been always multi-dimensional. Time was transcended and held in place by eternity, whether that of Greek philosophy or of the biblical God. In either case, eternity was not just endless profane time, but an ascent into the unchanging, or a kind of gathering of time into a unity; hence the expression “hoi aiones ton aionon” or “saecula saeculorum” (through the ages of ages)….The Christian liturgical year draws on this kind of time consciousness, widely shared by other religions, in reenacting the ‘founding’ events of Christ’s life….Modern secularization can be seen from one angle as the rejection of higher times and the positing of time as purely profane. Events now exist in this one dimension, in which they stand at greater and lesser temporal distance and in relations of causality with other events of the same kind. The modern notion of simultaneity comes to be, in which events utterly unrelated in cause or meaning are held together simply by their co-occurrence at the same point in this single profane time line” (Taylor, 97-8, cf. 155)

[8] Welsby notes that for Andrewes, “The English Church asserts the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament no less than the Romanists do. It is over the method of the presence that the differences arise. Transubstantiation, Andrewes pointed out, was a late invention which never existed in the first four centuries. Positively, he asserted that ‘at the coming of the almighty power of the Word, the nature is changed so that what before was a mere element now becomes a Divine Sacrament, the substance nevertheless remaining what it was before.’ Moreoever, Andrewes declared that the Church of England held fast to the essentially Catholic conception of the Eucharist as a Sacrifice” (Welsby, 151).

Image: Bishop Andrewes (unknown painter). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Published on

June 30, 2014


Jonathan Warren Pagán

Jonathan Warren Pagán is a priest currently living and serving in Austin, Texas. He is married to Tish, also a writer and priest in the ACNA, and they have three children.

View more from Jonathan Warren Pagán


Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments