|The Lady Chapel at|
Well, back to what is becoming my magnum opus. Before we move on from the Stuart Age I would like to look briefly at the flowering of Anglican spirituality epitomized in a group of writers collectively referred to as the “Caroline Divines.” They get that moniker because they are generally considered to include Anglican writers extending from the reign of Charles I through the Commonwealth (where they were in disfavor) to the reign of Charles II. (Carolus, is the Latin for Charles, and Caroline here is not a proper name but an adjective designating the time frame from 1625 (accession of Charles I) until 1685 (demise of Charles II), though it really can be extended through the brief reign of Charles II’s brother, James II which ended with his deposition during the Glorious Revolution in 1688.
We have already looked at Lancelot Andrews, Bishop of Chichester and later Bishop of Winchester as well as Dean of the Chapel Royal. Andrewes defended the doctrine of the Real Presence (though he rejected Transubstantiation) claiming that after the bread is consecrated (his word) it is no longer bread in a natural sense. Bishop Andrews considered it somewhat blasphemous to examine too closely the “how” of Christ’s Eucharist Presence, comparing it to the mystery of the Incarnation where Divinity and Humanity are united in one Person.
Andrews used terms such as “sacrifice” and “altar” in referring to the Holy Communion and to the table on which it was celebrated. His private chapel was fitted out with silver candlesticks, a censer, and five copes among other High Church paraphernalia. But he wasn’t just another High-Church dilettante who liked smoke and to play dress up. He was a profound preacher who could stir his audience with both piety and theological precision. He is most famous, however for his book of private prayers (Preces Privatae). Here is an example, his night prayer.
"Let me think upon thy Name in the night season, and keep thy law: let the evening prayer go up unto Thee, and thy pity come down unto us, O Thou which givest songs in the night, which makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise Thee, which givest thy beloved wholesome sleep."
Or this in his old age
"Gotten past the day I give Thee thanks, O Lord. The evening draweth nigh: make it bright. There is an evening, as of the day, so also of life: the evening of life is old age: old age hath overtaken me: make it bright. Cast me not off in the time of age: forsake me not when my strength faileth. Abide with me, O Lord, for even now it is towards evening with me, and the day is far spent of this travailling life. Let thy strength be perfected in my weakness."
It’s a little baroque for my personal taste, but there is a depth of deep piety in the prayers and it echoes both the scripture and profound mystery appreciated by the best of Catholic writers of the period.
We also looked at Nicholas Ferrar and the pious household of his extended family at Little Gidding. For me, Little Gidding is the proof being in the pudding of Anglican Spirituality in the seventeenth century. We see people taking their faith seriously and grace welling up from deep within the soul to become charity for one’s neighbor. For over thirty years from 1626 and long beyond Ferrar’s death, the community at Little Gidding was marked by lives of deep prayer and practiced charity among the locals. The Ferrar household prayed the daily offices of the Church of England, kept the fasts, and maintained at least one person in prayer in the ancient church they had restored on the property while at the same time seeing to the education of local children and providing health services for the local population.
A close friend of Ferrar was the Church of England priest, George Herbert, the noted metaphysical poet. Herbert gave up a promising career in politics to be ordained and took a parish near Salisbury where his fervent devotion expressed itself both in worship and in the pastoral care of the people entrusted to his cure. Much of his poetry has been set to music, both as hymns and anthems, and is still sung in the Church today. He died quite young—aged 39—in 1633, worn out by his labors. Here is one of his poems which echoes the doctrine of the Dark Night of Saint John of the Cross.
When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears;
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse:
My breast was full of fears
My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
As good go any where, they say,
As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,
But no hearing.
O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! all day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.
Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung
O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favors granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rime.
These are only a few of the examples of the deep piety exhibited in the seventeenth-century Church of England. They parallel the spiritual renaissance flowering in Catholic France at the same period—and indeed are paralleled by a number of English Catholic authors of the period such as Dom Augustine Baker. We will look at several others in a future posting and they will provide a good foil against which we can examine the theological and spiritual decline of the Church in the eighteenth century, a spiritual bankruptcy that would deeply affect our American religious scene down to the present day.