Faith of our Fathers

Arthur Middleton on a perennial theology

 

Lancelot Andrewes, who was consecrated Bishop of Chichester on 3 November 1605, had a reputation for saintliness and scholarship.

With Hooker, he recoiled from the popular systems and traditions, which under Elizabeth had claimed to interpret exclusively the English Reformation. They identified the true and positive basis of Anglican theology, sharing ‘that devotional temper, those keen and deep devotions of awe, reverence and delight, which arise when the objects of theological thought and interest are adequately realised according to their greatness by the imagination and the heart’ (Dean Church).

True theology is always mystical, always a spirituality expressing a doctrinal attitude whose roots lie in the praying and worshipping Church. For Andrewes, devotion and theology are not opposed; the one cannot be conceived without the other. Spirituality means the experience in the Church of the union of man with God and is not an individualistic pietism. Andrewes’ theology is not a speculative, intellectual system about God, but the translating of this ecclesial experience into terms that can be used to transmit it. It is a vision of God, not a system of thought; a theology that can be preached, and must be understood from within that ecclesiological context and not reduced to pure polemics or ideology.

His sermons represent the true mind of the English Church where his aim is to convert his hearers to this ecclesial experience of God in the rectitude of the lex credendi (the rule of faith), which must be in profound harmony with the lex orandi (the rule of prayer). He does not merely quote the Fathers, but has integrated their essential attitude to theology itself, which is not thinking about God but translating into intelligible terms the experience of life in God. The ‘mind of the Fathers’ is what makes Andrewes himself a Father of the Church, because he has acquired their essential attitude to theology that characterizes the patristic mind. This ecclesial context embraced both East and West because Andrewes encountered in himself the convergence of East and West, succinctly expressed in his Private Devotions where he prays ‘for the whole Church Catholic, Eastern, Western, our own.’

His theological base is, ‘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...determine the boundary of our faith.’ Anglican authority rests on Scripture and the Primitive Church, holding as de fide neither more nor less than the Fathers. This is not antiquarianism because Andrewes admits subsequent developments when not de fide.

He provided a standard within the history of the Church identifying the pure norm of faith in the New Testament and in the Fathers. Continuity with antiquity places the Anglican Church in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. His primitivism does not retreat into simple conservationism but is a dynamic process, transcending ordinary time without destroying it. It is living in time in the light of eternity, recapitulating past, present, and future in contemporaneity with the Gospel.

He led his contemporaries into a theology of adoration, self-surrender and blessing.

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