A challenge to catechists

It’s here! It’s here! The router has arrived at last, and I am finally able to resume blogging.

There is much to catch up with on, and much to continue, and I expect to do so in the coming days and weeks. However, for now . . .

I just returned two days ago from the Mere Anglicanism conference in Charleston. Readers unfamiliar with this conference, or who may have heard about it but otherwise know little, can find out more by clicking

here, and then

here, and then

here, and then

here, and then

here.

This was an event about which I have various thoughts and feelings—mostly positive, but with a few points of concern, which I may share in the days and weeks ahead. For now, one point that I would like to share with readers is the concern often expressd at the conference concerning catechesis. Many lamented the lack of careful adult instruction typical of so many Anglican churches and bemoaned the degree of theological illiteracy among our congregations, the appalling ignorance of so many on matters as basic as the creeds and their meaning. In the spirit of Mere Anglicanism, then, I would like to propose one possible solution, or subject for an adult education class, that is thoroughly biblical, thoroughly orthodox, and (even!) thoroughly Anglican. I refer to the formulations of creedal belief in the Private Prayers of Lancelot Andrewes.

Andrewes (1555-1626), the Dean of Westminster and bishop of Winchester, is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the Caroline Divines, those churchmen of the late 16th and 17th century who did so much to define what is sometimes referred to as “classical Anglicanism.” Self-taught in fifteen languages, he was one of the principal translators of the Authorized Version. For me (and I believe many others) it is Hooker and Andrewes, rather than more theologically problematic figures such as Cranmer or Jewel, who came to define the proper limits to any distinctively “Anglican” theology. Interested readers may read an excellent (and concise) summary of Andrewes’ life, works, and thought by Canon Arthur Middleton here, visit the website of Marianne Dorman devoted to Andrewes’ work here, and of course follow the blog of the budding Andrewes scholar Fr. Jeffrey Steel here. They may also find some of Andrewes’ famous sermons on the Project Canterbury website here, though I should warn the uninitiated that these are pretty heavy going. Selections of the sermons have been published over the years, most recently in a short paperback edited by P. E. Hewison and in an (absurdly expensive) volume published by Oxford University Press and edited by Peter McCullough.

Along with his sermons and various other works, Andrewes composed for his own private use a collection of prayers known as the Preces Privatae Quotidianae, or Daily Private Prayers. I say “composed” advisedly because hardly a word in them was actually written by Andrewes. Rather, the texts are almost entirely drawn from Scripture and the ancient liturgies of the church. Andrewes took these texts and masterfully arranged them, in their original Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, in the form of meditative prayer, including a set of seven such compositions for the morning of each day of the week. They have been translated into English several times, perhaps best by the great liturgical scholar F. E. Brightman (though you will have to use a used book service to find a copy), and more recently in contemporary language by David Scott. They are difficult to display here, even in translation, since the very placement of the words on the page is itself a part of the prayers’ design (rather like some of George Herbert’s poems), and that is nearly impossible to duplicate on a blog.

But while the texts that form the prayers vary for each day of the week, the overall pattern is the same. First there is commemoration, a remembrance of the particular biblical events or devotional pattern appropriate for each day. Thus for Thursday, for example, Andrewes composed (using Brightman’s translation and source notes)

Blessed art Thou, o Lord
which broughtest forth of water (Gen. 1:20)
moving creatures that have life,
and whales, (Gen. 1:21)
and winged fowls,
and didst bless them, (Gen. 1:22)
so as to increase and multiply.

The things touching the Ascension.
Set up thyself, o God, above the heavens (Ps. 108:5)
and they glory above all the earth.
By thine Ascension
draw us withal unto Thee, o Lord, (John 12:32)
so as to set our affections on things above, (Col. 3:2)
and not on things on the earth.

By the awful mystery of the holy body and precious blood
in the evening of this day:
By the birthday of thy humble servant:
Lord, have mercy.

Thursday is thus marked in turn by creation, the ascension, and the last supper.

Commemoration is then followed (using the categories supplied by Brightman) by Penitence, Deprecation, Comprecation, Faith, Hope, Intercession, Blessing, Commendation, and Thanksgiving. Since my topic is catechesis, I want to point out the ingenious way that Andrewes set about rehearsing the deposit of apostolic faith each day.

For every day of the week, a different recitation of faith is set down, but in each case it is set to the pattern of the one of the ancient creeds so familiar to Anglicans, either the Apostles’ or Nicene, forming virtually a scriptural and patristic commentary on the creeds. The basic creedal divisions of belief in (1) the Father, (2) the Son, (3) the Spirit, (4) the Church, and (5) the last things are set out in lines taken from, or modeled on, Scripture, the Fathers, or the ancient liturgies. For Thursday, Andrewes composed

Coming unto God,
I believe that He is,
and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

I know that my redeemer liveth (Job 19:25)
that He is the Christ, the son of the living God; (Matt. 16:26)
that He is indeed the Saviour of the world; (John 4:42)
that He came into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am chief. (1 Tim. 1:15)

Through the grace of Jesus Christ we believe that we shall
be saved,
even as our fathers withal. (Acts 15:11, 10)

I know that on the earth shall stand my skin,
that endureth these things. (Job 19:26)

I believe verily to see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:15)

So, my challenge to those seeking to improve our basic adult instruction is: use the statements of faith from the Private Prayers of Lancelot Andrewes as a means of catechizing. Start a class on the last Sunday before Lent (what we used to call Quinquegesima in the good ol’ days) and use one day from the Preces Privatae each Sunday as a guide to understanding and meditating on the creeds. You will finish up on Palm Sunday, and trust me, you can’t go wrong.

Then, maybe we can get an Andrewes scholar for next year’s Mere Anglicanism conference!

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