Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lancelot Andrewes' Decalogue

Unfortunately I missed the Thursday night lecture on the Jewish theologian Maimonides. If you are especially interested in the Decalogue Conference, you can hear all the lectures at

The first lecture Friday morning was on Lancelot Andrewes. Never heard of him? Neither had I, but he is not a minor leaguer. Dr Jeffrey Greenman of Wheaton College used his survey of Andrewes’ views on the Decalogue to make an argument that Andrewes was in fact the first Anglican moral theologian, about 50 years ahead of later, more famous theologians cut from the same cloth.

Behind the Anglican’s Book of Common Prayer, Lancelot Andrewes’ spiritual classic Private Prayers is the most used book in Anglicanism. The influence of the Decalogue on these written prayers is apparent to an attentive reader. As a theologian, Andrewes was not an innovator, but more of an aggregator. He collected and compiled the ideas of his many predecessors and recapitulated them in his sermons and writings, and creating a comprehensive theology in doing so.

As for his work on the Decalogue, during his career at Pembroke Hall, University of Cambridge, Andrewes presented 110 academic lectures on the topic around 1585, while he served as catechist. This easily surpasses Calvin’s 200 weekday lectures, who “only” spent about 2 months in Deuteronomy.

Like Calvin, Andrewes not only understood the Decalogue to be calling for restraint but also inverted the commands and understood them as virtues to be espoused. That is, don’t just “not steal,” but also “give to others.” In Prayers, Andrewes referred to the prohibitions as “deprecation” and the directives as “comprecation.” Deprecation in prayer served as confession, while comprecation in prayer served to “interiorize” the Decalogue into the spiritual life. The Decalogue thus oriented spiritual life and conduct.

In keeping with normal interpretation, Andrewes had two tables, 1-4, 5-10. In his thinking the first table regards love of God (holiness) and the second regards love of neighbor (righteousness). The fourth command, while in the first table, was subordinate to the first three. Meanwhile in the second table, in moving from 5 to 10, Andrewes discerned a movement from common (general) to private (particular). For Andrewes, the Decalogue served as the true Christian Ethic, surpassing all others. The Decalogue was the foundation of Christian moral ethics.

Andrewes did weigh in on the argument surrounding the Sabbath. Is it universal or particular? Is it moral or ceremonial? Andrewes rooted the Sabbath commandment in the creation story, before the Fall, and so argued that the command was not ceremonial in nature but universal. The ceremonial law came only after the Fall.

Andrewes expanded the fifth commandment to apply to all relationships of superiors to inferiors, establishing a manner for living in the social hierarchy of his day. But this was not a matter of power for the leaders, but of responsibility to those whom they lead.

Andrewes was, in all, a very practical theologian, with a pastor’s heart. He was not concerned with treading new ground but with applying orthodoxy to daily living. His thinking echoed Calvin’s and was steeped in the church fathers and other medieval theologians. Like Calvin, and like later successors in moral theology and Puritanism, Lancelot Andrewes was comprehensive in his theology. Comprehensive more like a heavy blanket than a driving rain.

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