“It was no summer progress”: Lancelot Andrewes on the Magi

Lancelot AndrewesToday is the feast of the Epiphany, and thus a good day to post Lancelot Andrewes’ Christmas sermon from 1622 (PDF). (That PDF is my tidied-up version of the copy found here, with formatting errors corrected and transliterations reverted to the original Greek.)

Why is it a good day to do so? T.S. Eliot fans will be able to spot the reason when I quote one well-known passage from the sermon (from page 4 of the PDF):

Last we consider the time of their coming, the season of the year. It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solsitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.’

Not to mention the start of the second section, a few paragraphs further down the page:

Secondly, set down this…

That said, there is more to Bishop Andrewes’ sermon than spotting the bits T.S. Eliot pillaged for my favourite poem ever. Take the statement in Matthew 2:11 that “they knelt down and paid him homage”. Andrewes applies this to argue for the importance of physical posture in worship:

We can worship God but three ways: we have but three things to worship Him withal. 1. The soul He hath inspired; 2. the body He hath ordained us; 3. and the worldly goods He hath vouchsafed to bless us withal. We to worship Him with all, seeing there is but one reason for all.

If He breathed into us our soul, but framed not our body, but some other did that, neither bow your knee nor uncover your head, but keep on your hats, and sit even as you do hardly. But if He hath framed that body of yours and every member of it, let Him have the honour both of head and knee, and every member else. […]

But surely what matters is not our bodily posture, but what is in our hearts? Bishop Andrewes gives this gnostic idea short shrift:

If all our worship be inward only, with our hearts and not our hats as some fondly imagine, we give Him but one of three; we put Him to His thirds, bid Him be content with that, He get no more but inward worship. That is out of the text quite. For though I doubt not but these here performed that also, yet here it is not. St. Matthew mentions it not, it is not to be seen, no vidimus on it. And the text is a vidimus, and of a star; that is, of an outward visible worship to be seen of all. There is a vidimus upon the worship of the body, it may be seen—procidentes. Let us see you fall down. […] Specially now; for Christ hath now a body, for which to do Him worship with our bodies.

And he applies a similar argument for offering our worldly goods in Christ’s service, as the Magi paid homage and offered gifts:

And now He was made poor to make us rich, and so offerentes will do well, comes very fit.

Related: I haven’t read it myself yet, but T.S. Eliot’s essay on Lancelot Andrewes is available here.

Edit: I should also have quoted this lovely, wry paragraph in which Andrewes contrasts the Magi’s haste in following the star with our indifference and spiritual idleness:

And we, what should we have done? Sure these men of the East will rise in judgment against the men of the West, that is with us, and their faith against ours in this point. […] Our fashion is to see and see again before we stir a foot, specially if it be to the worship of Christ. Come such a journey at such a time? No; but fairly have put it off to the spring of the year, till the days longer, and the ways fairer, and the weather warmer, till better travelling to Christ. Our Epiphany would sure have fallen in Easter week at the soonest.

And finally: I’ve uploaded an editable (.odt) copy of the sermon here. If you spot any remaining typos – quite likely, as I keep spotting new ones every time I look at it – then feel free to download and edit the document for yourself. Please let me know what changes you made so I can update my copy and the PDF.


2 thoughts on ““It was no summer progress”: Lancelot Andrewes on the Magi”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s