An introduction to The Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester

Critic: F. E. Brightman
Source: The Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester by Lancelot Andrewes, translated by F. E. Brightman, Methuen & Co., 1903, pp. xiii-lx. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 5

[An English essayist, sermonist, and liturgiologist, Brightman was one of the most learned of a group of liturgical scholars that flourished in England during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Best known for his studies of oriental rites, within the narrower field of Anglican Church history Brightman edited Lancelot Andrewes's Preces privatae (1903) and Manual of the Sick (1909), and wrote a monumental two-volume work, The English Rite (1915), in which he set out the sources of the Book of Common Prayer. In the following excerpt from his introduction to Preces privatae, Brightman discusses Andrewes's sermon style and describes the form, temper, and sources of Preces privatae.]

The Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, the peculiar heritage of the English Church from an age of astonishing fruitfulness and distinction in devotional literature, was compiled for his own use and was not published till some years after his death. It is a collection of material to supply the needs, daily and occasional, of his own devotional life, providing for the great departments of the life of the spirit--faith and hope and love, praise and thanksgiving, penitence and petition. (p. xiii)

[Andrewes's] learning is conspicuous enough in his works, where, learned as they obviously are, and found to be still more so if anyone will be at the pains to examine their sources, he does not think it necessary, after the modern fashion, to give references for all he has to say. His extraordinarily minute knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is plain to everybody; and his command of it and of the rest of his learning, is such that it perhaps serves to conceal his originality. His wealth of reminiscence is such, and is so in-wrought into the texture of his mind, that he instinctively uses it to express anything he has to say. To one to whom knowledge is so large an element in life and is itself so living a thing; whose learning is so assimilated as to be identified with his spontaneous self, and has become as available as language itself, originality and reminiscence become in a measure identical; the new can be expressed as a combination of older elements. But originality was scarcely the chief note of his mind. He is marked rather by great, solid and readily-available learning than by great original ideas. He was scholarly, historical, inductive, rather than speculative and creative. His imagination was collective and organising, as it were, rather than originative. It showed itself in new combinations of existing material, rather than in substantively new contributions. He took up what he found and fused it into a new whole, and that often with something of real poetic distinction. He was a scholar, with a scholar's instinct for analysis and sense of the value of words and appreciation of form. But he was not a litterateur. His English style has been criticised, and justly. In formal composition he was not happy, so far as we have the means of judging. And in the period of his mature life, we have not much to judge from; for the great sermons are scarcely formal compositions, for all the pains he bestowed on them; they are rather exhaustive notes, written under the stimulus of a vivid imagination of a congenial audience, and in language not strictly literary but colloquial and in a way casual, and obviously different from what he used when he was writing to be read and not to be heard. It is clear, from what was said of him as a preacher, that his delivery was a very real part of the charm of his sermons; and perhaps no one could read them aloud with effect who did not possess a considerable faculty of dramatic interpretation. This applies chiefly to the great sermons which belong mostly to his later life. With the earlier ones the case is rather different; it seems clear that they are much more of the nature of formal compositions, and were not written under the same conditions. His audiences at S. Giles' and S. Paul's were not so congenial intellectually as the more educated audiences of the Court, and this probably reacted on his style; he had to compose his sermons, rather than to make notes, with the consequence that in form they were rather dull and unadorned. Besides, he was less experienced, and perhaps had not yet gained the colloquial confidence of his later years. But perhaps there is a reason for the defect of his English style quite apart from this. Isaac Williams has accounted for his own defective style by the fact that as a boy he habitually thought in Latin, and his written English was a translation of Latin thoughts. It is probable that the same was the case more or less with Andrewes, and that Latin was his language of soliloquy; and he lived too habitually in the medium of other languages than his mother-tongue to leave his English style much chance. His sermons are full of Latin and Greek, and he gives precedence to the Vulgate in reciting his text. It was the habit of preachers of his day to interlard their sermons with Latin; and sometimes this degenerates into a mere trick ..., in which the Latin seems often to be nothing but a quite gratuitous translation of what is just going to be said in English. But this is not so with Andrewes; his Latin and Greek and Hebrew has a reason, whether as the ipsissima verba of what he is quoting, or as adding something to the point and clearness and exactness of what he is saying. His Latin composition, in the Opuscula and the controversy with Bellarmin, is perhaps livelier and readier than his formal English; but it is not the living, lucid, limpid tongue of the Middle Ages, but the artificial classicised Latin that resulted from the Renaissance. Of his Greek perhaps no specimen remains outside the Devotions. (pp. xxix-xxxi)

The purpose of recalling all this is to suggest what is likely to be found in the Preces and to indicate what is in fact found there and illustrate it by anticipation.

For the Preces are in a measure an autobiography. In his prayers, Andrewes is real, actual, detailed. He recounts, in thanksgiving and intercession, his circumstances and the conditions of his time: his devotion is brought to bear on his experience, and is marked by the absence of all vagueness and mere generality. (p. xxxviii)

In his sermon on the "Worshipping of Imaginations," he reckons it among the vain imaginations, the "idiolatries," of contemporary puritanism, that it will not tolerate hearing any Latin or Greek, "no, though it be interpreted," nor "anything alleged out of the Jews' Talmud," "but especially no heathen example or authority." The Preces, like the Sermons, are a protest against all this. For, first, they are written in a combination of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the three tongues consecrated on the Cross. So far as can be judged, they were meant to be mainly in Greek; at least the Latin was certainly in some cases, perhaps in all, only preliminary, while the Hebrew passages form but a small proportion of the whole. From what has been said above, about his use of Latin generally, and from the actual condition of the text as a whole, it would seem probable that Andrewes wrote his prayers for the most part first in Latin, even when their sources were Greek, and then turned them, or turned them back, into Greek, when he had shaped them into satisfactory form. The Hebrew is used in most cases, if not in all, only in quotations from Hebrew sources, and is sometimes, in Old Testament passages, only an accompaniment to the corresponding Greek of the Septuagint, defining more exactly its meaning. The greater part of the finished forms ... is in Greek, even when the matter of them is derived from Latin or English sources, and the rest in Hebrew. Thus he recognises "the cleft which God hath made in his Word," which it is well to have "in our tongues too"; which "hath still a necessary service, and maimed are we without it: for we must else receive the embassage from God by an interpreter, which is not so convenient." ... One of his editors has suggested that he chose Greek as his principal devotional language, not only for its sacred associations, but also for its wealth of compound words and its consequent force of expression. His Greek is interesting and by no means commonplace; but both in vocabulary and in grammar it sometimes leaves something to be desired in point of correctness; and in particular he shares with his contemporaries, the translators of the Authorised Version of the New Testament, a curious elementary defect in his inability to manage the combination of article, adjective and substantive.... (pp. xli-xlii)

Like much of the Sermons, the Preces are not original. In the whole mass of them there are comparatively few lines, perhaps none, that, considered apart, are wholly original: they are for the most part a mosaic of quotations. What has been said of Gray as a poet can be said, mutatis mutandis, of Andrewes as a devotional writer: "Gray, if we may believe the commentators, has not an idea, scarcely an epithet, that he can call his own"; only the quotation must be continued--"and yet he is, in the best sense, one of the classics of English literature. He had exquisite felicity of choice; his dictionary had no vulgar word in it, no harsh one, but all culled from the luckiest moods of poets, and with a faint but delicious aroma of association; he had a perfect sense of sound, and one idea without which all poetic outfit (si absit prudentia) ["supposing the absence of practical wisdom"] is of little avail--that of combination and arrangement, in short, of art."

The range of his materials and the use he makes of them, if it is inadequate to represent, yet suggests and illustrates, his learning. He seldom indicates the sources of his matter. (p. xlii)

The first and principal source is Holy Scripture. For Andrewes devotion is the purpose of Holy Scripture.... Anyone who knows anything of the Sermons will recognise Andrewes' astonishing knowledge of the Bible, in its original texts and in its principal versions and in its minute details, and his spontaneity and dexterity in the use of it. And the same is observable in the devotions. In the Greek parts of them he uses of course the original of the New Testament; and for the Old Testament he uses the Septuagint version, but here he frequently corrects the text by the Hebrew, or uses the Hebrew instead of or in addition to the Septuagint. In the Latin prayers, while his basis is the Vulgate, he habitually corrects it by the originals, or renders these anew, with or without reminiscences of the Vulgate in his mind. There is the same range of quotation as in the Sermons, the same imaginative skill in combination, the same appreciation of symbolical language, the same pregnant use of types. (pp. xliii-xliv)

Next, Andrewes used existing devotional collections--those of the Synagogue, of the Eastern Church and of Latin Christendom. He uses them freely, either quoting them at length, or weaving together lines, phrases, words, picked up here and there over a whole book. But it is not merely a matter of direct quotation; he knows how to follow up a clue or a suggestion and to construct new forms on old models. And here as elsewhere, he freely modifies and adapts his material to the purpose he has in view. (p. xlv)

Besides these public or official collections, Andrewes apparently used directly or indirectly the more strictly private collections which were current under the names of S. Augustine and S. Anselm; like the Meditations, the Soliloquies and the Speculum attributed to the former, a somewhat formless accumulation of intense mediaval monastic devotion; and the Prayers and Meditations of the latter, which he certainly sometimes quotes through the medium of the Horae, and probably also directly. (p. xlvi)

Besides Holy Scripture and the directly devotional inheritance of the Church, Andrewes draws more or less on a long list of writers. It is not possible to enumerate them exactly, since it is not always possible to say from which of several authors, who repeat one another, he quotes a particular passage; but his sources include the Rabbinical writings; "the ancient Fathers and lights of the Church" ...; and pagan authors, Euripides, Cicero, Seneca--as the Apostles used them "to provoke Christian men to emulation, by shewing them their own blindness in matter of knowledge, that see not so much as the heathen did by light of nature; or their slackness in matter of conversation, that cannot be got so far forward by God's law as the poor pagan can by his philosophy."

Consequently the Preces fall into line with the traditional system, and are for private devotion, only even more comprehensively in respect of their sources, what the Book of Common Prayer is in its way for the Church. They represent for the individual what it was the mission of Andrewes and his fellows to vindicate for the English Church--the inheritance of all the past, criticised by the best spirit of the Renaissance, adjusted to the proportion of Holy Scripture, and adapted to the needs of the present. (p. xlvii)

Andrewes' scholarly temper, his sense of form and instinct for analysis, appears in the careful structure of the Preces. In his sermons on Prayer and in the Catechistical doctrine he has drawn out schemes of prayer in its several departments; and in the Preces he has other schemes, and one in particular which is developed with great and even exhaustive fulness of detail and articulation. And the devotions themselves are constructed on strict plan; the more they are examined, the more close and exact the articulation is found to be. It is not only that in the general scheme of them the departments of devotion are represented in their order; but within these departments, the several acts imply a systematic use of the sources and are themselves articulated into their subordinate movements. The best specimen of external order and construction is the morning prayers for the week.... [It may be seen] that the whole is conceived on a plan, that the materials are used in a certain order, and that on several at least of the days certain subjects are more or less kept in view: Sunday, God--perhaps suggested by the service of ordinary Sundays in the Breviary; Monday, the Angels; Thursday, one's own life; Friday, the Passion; Saturday, the Departed.

But the structure is not merely an external scheme or framework: the internal structure is as close as the external. Andrewes develops an idea he has in his mind: every line tells and adds something. He does not expatiate, but moves forward; if he repeats, it is because the repetition has a real force of expression: if he accumulates, each new word or phrase represents a new development, a substantive addition to what he is saying. He assimilates his material and advances by means of it. His quotation is not decoration or irrelevance, but the matter in which he expresses what he wants to say. His single thoughts are no doubt often suggested by the words he borrows, but the thoughts are made his own, and the constructive force, the fire that fuses them, is his own. And this internal, progressive, often poetic structure is marked outwardly.... The prayers are arranged, not merely in paragraphs, but in lines advanced and recessed, so as in a measure to mark the inner structure and the steps and stages of the movement. Both in form and in matter Andrewes' prayers may often be described rather as hymns. (pp. xlviii-1)

Of the character of Andrewes, the devotions are necessarily the monument. They represent as a whole what he was and what he aspired to be; what men knew of him and what they could not know--"all the world's course thumb and finger failed to plumb." They shew us the background, the spring, the force and inspiration of his public life and activity, the root of what men recognised in him: his piety, a serene and filial faith, a profound penitence, a living hope, a passionate love of God and a longing to be true to all he knew of Him; a large, detailed, imaginative charity, alive to all the varied conditions, needs and interests of peoples and individuals, resting on a keen alertness to all that experience had brought with it and the obligations created by it; a gratitude alive to all that God had done for him, whether immediately or through men and through nature; and a genial appreciation of life, its joys and its sorrows, and a belief in the possibility of its consecration.

The qualities and significance of the devotions have been often appreciated, and from different points of view. And perhaps enough has been said already to indicate their chief characteristics. But a few paragraphs may be devoted to recalling two or three suggestive points.

And first, the method of the Preces is notable in two respects: first, in the orderly completeness with which they cover the departments of devotion--the exercise of Faith, Hope, Charity, Penitence, Petition, Deprecation, Intercession, Praise and Thanksgiving. And perhaps this touches what most people are conscious of in their devotions--a lack of completeness through the inadequacy of at least one or other department of what ought to cover every side of their being and be the outgoing of themselves to all that is within their imaginative range. Andrewes may teach us how in our measure to make our devotional life complete and to determine its proportions, not by our own tastes and feelings at the moment, but by an objective standard of what ought to be. And secondly, the method of the Preces is instructive in the use of sources. It suggests the spiritual use of our interests and the consecration of them, by the appropriation of what they supply to us to the purposes of devotion. To Andrewes literature and nature and experience were a field in which he gathered fuel for devotion; in other words, he secured their moral and spiritual effectiveness by using what he found in them as the offering with which he drew near to God, through which he learned more of God and of his own possibilities. It is the trial of all our lives to bridge the interval between the world of everyday experience and the world of the spirit; and one way of doing something to effect it is deliberately to carry over the best we find in the one into the "chamber" in which we do what we can to enter wholly into the other.

In the second place, Andrewes' detail may be noted, especially in the departments of Penitence, Thanksgiving and Intercession. He had ancient and mediaval models for this; but perhaps in some respects he goes beyond his models. His Thanksgivings and Intercessions seem to embrace with more or less of explicitness every possible relation and circumstance of life. In his acts of Penitence he seems to strive to bring home to himself the seriousness of sin by every consideration he can bring to bear on it, to realise the mercy of God by the contemplation of every evidence he can find for it, and to appeal to it by every plea he can anywhere lay hold of. At the same time, in the matter of self-examination, where great minuteness may be, to some temperaments at least, a snare and a peril, whatever may have been his own practice, and whatever he may imply in what he says in the Sermons, the only form contained in the Preces which has any appearance of completeness is not a detailed inquiry into particular sins, but the suggestion of a positive ideal by which to try ourselves. Again, it may be thought that the Preces are defective in the scope of their petitions--that there are many things we might naturally pray for, and many conditions in which we habitually find ourselves, which find no explicit recognition here; in other words, that the section of "Comprecation" is meagre in comparison with the collection of occasional prayers in ordinary devotional books. But perhaps this is no real defect. In our devotions we are deliberately withdrawing from the detail of life and "getting time" directly to "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness," to habituate ourselves to the point of view from which we are called to look at life, and to realise anew the spirit which ought to inform its details. And at least the Lord's Prayer, except for a fraction of one of its petitions, has in view only large spiritual ends, and takes no notice of the mass of detailed desires and particular circumstances, which we are only too ready to look upon as the first subject-matter of our prayers. And the familiar practice of using the Lord's Prayer as often as occasion requires or suggests, and applying it for ourselves by special intention to particular conditions, is a healthy one. "Hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done" covers and interprets all conditions "in earth, as in heaven."

Another characteristic of the Preces is their compressed fulness, and the consequent demand they make on those who use them to do a great deal for themselves. It has been already noticed that for the most part they are a collection of select passages from the most sacred and authoritative sources, chosen, it may be assumed, for something in them which seemed to make them specially worth choosing and collecting. And these passages, so selected, are woven together into a close-textured whole, with the addition of no unnecessary words; with the result that they give us little, if anything, but solid matter. And again the forms of prayer sometimes consist of lists of words, phrases, synonyms, topics, and this sometimes without context or any external connexion with what goes before or follows. Consequently the Preces challenge reflexion, and if they are to be used as profitably as they obviously may be, must generally be regarded as matter for meditation, and sometimes, if they are to be used at all, must be treated as germs left to us to develop, rather than as prayers which can be recited as they stand. And the external arrangement, isolating as it does, by the use of lines, the several steps which go to make up the movement, at once suggests and encourages this use of the devotions.

And lastly, it may be added, the Preces are interesting. The feeling that this is so may be a personal one, which will not be generally shared. But at least, if a reminiscence may be pardoned, I can recall that one to whom I once gave a copy of Newman and Neale's version, told me that, on receiving it, he sat down and read the book through "like a novel," for the interest of it. This is probably not the common fortune of books of prayers. But the solid matter of the Preces privatae, the beauty of their materials, the picturesqueness and imaginativeness of treatment, their relation to the facts of the author's life, the originality and pointedness of their structural form, might well issue in such a result. (pp. liv-lvii)

Source: F. E. Brightman, in an introduction to The Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester by Lancelot Andrewes, translated by F. E. Brightman, Methuen & Co., 1903, pp. xiii-lx. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 5.