As a teenager I can remember being taught that Lent was essentially a time of prayer especially penitential prayer and confession, fasting and mortification, and of almsgiving to the less fortunate in our neighbourhood and to the world hence our mission box! Little did I realise by adhering to these practices that I was fulfilling what Lancelot Andrewes preached to his contemporaries on Ash WednesdayS at the Courts of both Elizabeth 1 and James 1.
Like Mark Frank, he lamented that in his day the English Church retained only the name and not the deed, which had long been practised by the Church. Thus by omitting the imposition of ashes, we are no longer reminded "of our latter end", which makes "us more serious about it at this time than ordinary." Nevertheless he certainly impressed the necessity for repentance and penitence upon this day by suggesting to his contemporaries that they follow the "discipline of repentance" of the early Christians who during Lent were "open penitents in public" but now "in private". The true penitent will "confess humbly his sins before Thee, and ... crave pardon for them" and be thankful that God opened his eyes to sin. He always maintained that "it is a perfect signe of an humble and a good mind, when one can say from his heart, let me bear the shame and punishment of my sinne."
Andrewes also explained that the forty days originated in the early church in imitation of those forty days that God granted for "the famous repentance of Nineveh" and the pattern that Christ Himself commended in His days in the wilderness. Furthermore the early Church formulated Lent "to end, with the feast of Christ's rising" and so "the Fathers in the first great Council of Nice wish it, all being restored, and all prepared by it, we may of all hands celebrate that high day and bring to 'God a pure offering.'" Hence the Lenten fast "is called jejunium Paschale, ... for Easter and Lent stand upon one base, both stand and fall together."
Thus Lent for Andrewes is the preparation for the Paschal mysteries as indeed it always has been for the Church. That preparation is marked by an ascetic life in which we deny ourselves in order to identify with our Lord's passion. Andrewes suggested that the time of the year lent itself for renewal and returning to our God as we could see evidence of it in the natural world. If we take a moment to look around us we shall see that the birds "have a time ... [and] place" to return. When the cold weather is over "they fail not but find a time to turn back thither again." They teach us who are "less careful and more senseless than they" and who many times, "take our flight from God, occasioned by no cold or evil weather for commonly we do it when times are best and fairest", to find a time to return. These birds keep "their appointed season". It will not be long, but you will see the swallow here again."
The season of spring, also teaches us to return as it represents "the turning of the year. In heaven, the sun in his equinoctial line, the zodiac and all the constellations in it, do now turn about to the first point. The earth and all her plants, after a dead winter, return to the first and best season of the year. ... Everything now turning that we also would make it our time to turn to God in."
When this divine defined repentance he intimated that it "is nothing else but redire ad principa, 'a kind of circling' to return to Him by repentance from Whom by sin we have turned away." The Christian life is thus a circle, "which circle consists ... of two turnings. ... One, is to be done with the 'whole heart;' ... the other with it 'broken and rent.'" With the first turn "we look forward to God, and with our 'whole heart' resolve to 'turn' to Him" whilst with the second "we look backward to our sins wherein we have turned from God, and with beholding them our very heart breaketh." The first thus means "conversion from sin" and a resolve "to amend that which is to come", and "the other contrition for sin" and a "reflecting and sorrowing for that which is past". The first also involves a "declining from evil to be done hereafter" and "the other sentencing itself for evil done heretofore." Together they "make up a complete repentance, or ... a perfect revolution" which should result in a great change in the penitent's life as he discards the old life in sin for the new in the Spirit.
Like the Orthodox Andrewes taught repentance in terms of a resurrection. Sin is death of the soul but with repentance comes a rising, a rising that brings life. This was so well illustrated in one who "has lain dead in sin long", Mary Magdalene. Her raising from the death of sin was "no less a miracle than her brother raised from the dead". What happened to the Magdalen, Andrewes maintained, should be the model for all Christians. However there was no sense repenting and confessing our sins unless there was a desire for amendment of life. In other words repentance must also bring forth fruit like the trees of summer. Therefore "we may not stand ... about the tree, we are called on for proferte, to bring somewhat forth; else how shall we know it is a tree and no log? ... It is the bringing forth that makes the difference" that gradually enables us to grow towards perfection. Amendment of life when taken seriously also involves the fruit of mortification, which counters Eve's taking the fruit from the tree in paradise. One of these is fasting, and that is why Andrewes stressed that it was linked with repentance in Lent, that season "which has ever since from year to year been religiously observed, both as a time of public penance, and as a time of general abstinence in the Church of Christ." For those who neglected this, he preached that "there is a false imputation cast on us, that we should teach there goeth nothing to repentance but amendment of life; that these of fasting and the rest we let run by, as the waste of repentance, nay, that for fasting 'we proclaim a fast from it', and teach a penitence with no penal thing in it." Another reason Andrewes combined fasting with repentance is that it makes the body "a less mellow soil for the sins of the flesh", and is "a chastisement for sin already past". To those who remained unrepentant he pleaded that they make some effort as Christ will recognise some conscience made, some care taken, some zealous desire, some earnest endeavour ... [and] Some proffers ... towards those seven degrees in II Cor. 7 which may serve to assure ourselves and to shew the world, we dally not with repentance but make a serious matter of it and go to it in good earnest; in witness whereof, this and this fruit we have brought forth.
In due time such effort will lead to being a penitent, to whom Christ "would say, 'My grace is sufficient for you.' And in that we may rest." Andrewes indicated that the parable of the ten virgins should teach us to be like the wise, and not the foolish ones who were shut out when the Bridegroom arrived as they were unprepared.
Intertwined with Repentance and metanoia, is confession of those sins against God, neighbour and self. If we are truly penitent our sins should make us weep, and "smite our breasts", and bring forth "some sighs of devotion, some thoughts of grace, [and] some kind of thankful acknowledgement." In his Genesis lectures reflecting on Cain's unrepentant response to the murder of Abel, Andrewes declared that "the gate of repentance is confession of sinne, ... for the sore or wound cannot be healed so long as it is kept secret, but when it is disclosed, the physitian is willing to cure it." Thus God is waiting for our "voluntary confession" so that "He can "pour His grace into our sick souls and heal them." Unlike "in the Courts of men" where the confessing of faults "is the way to be condemned, ... with God the only way to be absolved and acquitted from sin is truly and unfainedly to confesse our sins unto him" in some structural form of confession.
As stated, fasting and self-denial are acts of mortification that help to amend our lives. Quoting from St. Chrysostom, Andrewes taught that the flesh was not meant to "pull down the spirit to earth", rather the spirit was meant to "exalt the flesh to heaven." This was the example given by "the saints and servants of God" whose "'knees have grown weak through fasting,' [and] given in alms at once, 'half of all that ever they had.'" Yet no number of acts of mortification, Andrewes insisted, could ever atone for all our sins, as these were but little in comparison with Christ's atonement.
Shall we put them into the balance to weigh the worthiness of our fruits with the unworthiness of our sins, and the consequent of our sins 'the wrath of God;'... . At this beam, no fruit of ours will hold weight; none so found worthy; no, not if we could, I say not shed or pour out, but even melt into tears, and every tear a drop of blood. ... The infinite incomparable high worth of Him That in our sin is wronged, the foul contempt that is therein offered, are far above the worth of any of our fruits.
In those Ash Wednesdays sermons Andrewes recommended in Pauline fashion that Christians should submit their bodies to the same discipline as that of athletes. The latter follow "a strict regiment" to win an earthly crown but the former to win a heavenly one. He himself "strictly observed [fasting] in his provisions of diet" as practised by the early Church and in those Lenten sermons emphasised how "in the prime of Christianity" fasting was held "in high esteem, ... in frequent practice, of admirable performance" in following Christ's example. "It is a custom this of the Church while it was a Christo recens, 'yet fresh and warm from Christ;' the Church which was the Mother of the Apostles themselves at all times kept, every where observed, then and ever since."
At Antioch, where 'the disciples were first called Christians', we find them at their fast. ... Our Saviour said to them, 'When He was gone they should fast.' So they did. St. Paul for one did it 'oft.' And for the rest they approved themselves for Christ's ministers, ... 'by their fasting.' And what themselves did, they advised others to do, even to 'make them a vacant time to fast in.'
He informed his contemporaries "which of the Fathers have not Homilies yet extant in the praise of it? What story of their lives but reports strange things of them in this kind?" To those who ignored the Church's teaching on fasting Andrewes suggested, "either we must cancel all antiquity, or we must acknowledge the constant use and observation of it in the Church of Christ."
Lent is kept as the great fast. But many of his day did not bother to fast, and so at the beginning of his sermon on Ash Wednesday for 1622 he stated that he would rather "spend the hour in speaking again for the duty to have it done, than to deal with the caution what to eschew in the doing." If "we cannot get men to it, to fast; what need we then spend any speech how they should not do it, when they do it not?"
To other contemporaries who for "the most part seem so faintly persuaded of fasting as if it were no needful part of a Christian man's duty", Andrewes declared that not only was it Christ's method for the mortification of the body, but His speaking of it in the present tense "when ye fast", in the same way as He told us to pray, means He wanted us to fast. "Christ cannot say, 'When ye fast,' if we fast not at all." Consequently if we do not "'turn to [God] with fasting,'" we must be ready "to show a good cause why, and to show it to God." That we are meant to fast is also reflected in the Church's appointed readings for Ash Wednesday, otherwise another epistle and Gospel would have been appointed. Andrewes also indicated that other professionals such as physicians, philosophers and politicians advocated fasting for different reasons and motives. However the gains from fasting for "religious motives" are far more worthy and more numerous than those gained for medical, philosophical or political reasons.
Those who refused to fast, he believed, were no different from those of antiquity who also questioned fasting. For instance in the Old Testament Zachariah indicated that many shrugged "at their fasts" and grumbled "What, and must we fast still? Yet more fasting? Have we not fasted enough, and have done it thus and thus long?" However they could not escape from it for "the Prophet held them to it and would not release them." Neither was it any different in the New. In describing the New Covenant's practice, Andrewes declared:
I had rather you heard St. Augustine than myself; Ego, saith he, animo revolvens, &c. 'I going over in my mind the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles in the New Testament, see fasting is commanded, there is a precept for fasting.' So fasting is in precept there if we will trust St. Augustine's eyes. And we may. He that in this place saith, cum jejunatis, 'when ye fast,' saith in another, tum jejunabunt, 'then they shall fast' and that amounts to a precept, I trow.
Since then "the Church for this day" has given "us an Epistle out of the Old Testament and a Gospel out of the New; ... she did it for this end, to show that fasting has the wings of both Cherubin to cover it; both Testaments, Old and New; Joel for the one, Christ for the other."
What then did fasting actually mean for Andrewes? It meant exactly as it always meant, having one meal each day and forgoing "dainty alluring meat". This was David's kind who fasted until the sun went down. However if that fasting was too hard, Andrewes suggested that "the Church as an indulgent mother, mitigates all she may; enjoins not for fast that of David," but also accepts the fast of Daniel which is "to forbear cibos desiderii, and 'flesh.'" If his contemporaries rejected these two kinds of fast, Andrewes insisted "a third I find not"; there is simply no other kind of fast ever practised by Christians. However by the grace of God all should be able to fast according to Daniel's as that was really practising abstinence, which is "'to deny ourselves that we might, for doing that we might not.'" Of course what applied to food, also applied to drink. Fasting acts therefore as "a chastisement for sin", and also as "a medicinal force, a special good remedy to prevent sin." He stressed that "if by abstinence we crop not the buds of sensuality, they will ripen and seed to the ruin of our souls."
Andrewes also made it clear that when we are serious about our fasting as an act of devotion to our Lord, the devil will do his utmost to persuade us not to fast at all by offering "us a license not to keep Lent, to keep what diet we will." Thus "when we have ... resolved that fast we will, and when we will, and we set ourselves seriously to it", are we safe? "Will the devil be gone away? ... No indeed; but hovers about us still, as if there were yet somewhat for him to do." Just as he tempted our blessed Saviour, "when the 'Spirit led Him into the wilderness,' and He fell to His fast", so we must expect the devil to tempt us in like manner. We are never out of his reach by eating or fasting, as he "attends our feasts, 'to make our table a snare;' attends our fasts, 'to turn them' as well as our prayers 'into sin.' Eating, he is busy with us to make us eat like Esau. Fasting, no less busy to make us fast like the Pharisee." Satan also tricks us with the notion of hypocrisy to persuade us not to fast and to make suspect "some sparks of a Pharisee" in those who preach on fasting. If Satan cannot use hypocrisy as a reason for not fasting, he has a third temptation by suggesting we do it for our own glory and vanity, rather than for God and our own humility. This is what Andrewes called a "stage fast" where by looks one appears to fast, but inwardly there is no thought of contrition, humility and honesty.
To those who succumb to this temptation and make fasting "their 'reward, to be seen of men,'" do have their reward now, but in so doing they forsake the eternal reward which is heaven. Yet it really is not a "reward" but a "punishment", for although it would seem there is "no great harm to receive a reward of praise", yet when "man's praise" is weighed against God's, it is but a poor thing and of no eternal value. The end result of all these temptations is to "keep no Lent, not to fast at all." However God's way was to use fasting as "one of the nails of the cross to which the flesh is fastened" and as a help against temptation as illustrated by Christ Himself who fasted in the wilderness "before His temptation". After all the end result of fasting is that we "fast to God, not to the world; to our hearts, not to other men's eyes; to conscience, not to form; not to set us up a stage to do it, but with Christ to do it apart 'in secret.'"
Closely associated with fasting is prayer because it "gives strength to fasting", which in turn is "a special friend to" prayer as it puts "a vigour or fervour" into our devotions by elevating "our minds unto God". Or in the words of Tertullian quoted by this prelate, fasting keeps "'our wits more fresh, our spirits more about us.'" Thus it stops our devotion being dull and our yawning in prayer "when the brain is thick with the vapour and the heart pressed down with the charge of the stomach." Praying as taught by Andrewes should be continual, starting with "the key to open the day" and finishing with "the bar to shut in the night". In between "a man ought perpetually to be present and conversant with God, and in our words send up short prayers and praises to God", which is our "bounden duty, daily to" perform. Continual prayer had been the heart of monastic life, which had continued with the recitation of the daily Offices according to the Prayer Book, and which was in the Jewish tradition of "daily sacrifice every morning and evening, offering oblations and incense to God."
Although Andrewes believed that it is public prayer when the Offices of the Church are offered to God daily that is of prime significance in the life of a Christian, he always advocated the importance and value of private prayer, especially at the beginning and end of each day. Accordingly on awakening we "shut and close up the entrance to thy heart, from all uncleane, prophane and evill thoughts, and let the consideration of God and goodness enter in" as we "offer to God the first fruits of the day," in our "praying to him, and praising him". Provided "we call upon him faithfully, he will hear us". He also insisted that we can prayer almost ceaselessly as there is never a time when we do not "stand in need of God's particular assistance", nor is there ever a place where we cannot pray. Therefore we can pray in the night, morning, mid-day, evening, at home or abroad, in the city or country, in our beds, and at our work. From these comments Andrewes surely was recommending the importance of ejaculatory prayer, so that in the midst of labour, study and rest the Christian could always be in constant communion with God. However there was never any suggestion by Andrewes that laborare est orare, the Benedictine motto.
Lent is also a time to think of others, what has been termed 'almsgiving'. Andrewes thought of this in mediæval terms - "a work of mercy" because it is so acceptable unto God that He pours His mercy upon the almsgiver. He also expressed it as "a work of charity" when we share "our goods" with others, and more specifically when we share them with the poor for "in the tidings of the Gospel they are not left out." He maintained that in actual fact it took little of a man's wealth to keep the poor. Accordingly in his Lenten sermon in 1593/4 he preached, "that our goods may go, not to some end, nor to some good end, but the very best end of all, the relief of the poor." He stated that he would have applauded Judas' outcry against the extravagance of Mary Magdalene towards Christ, if it had been for the right reason. Of course there should be nourishment for "many hundreds" rather than ointment for one, "necessary relief" rather than "needless delight"; "continual good" rather than "a transistory smell"; "many hungry bellies filled" rather than "one head anointed".
For Andrewes Lent is too a time for silence and meditation. Undoubtedly the heart of Andrewes' meditative life was Calvary and so it should be for us during Lent.. "The cross is but a little word, but of great contents; but few letters, but in these few letters are contained multa dictu gravia, perpessu aspera, 'heavy to be named, more heavy to be endured.'" Andrewes' approach to devotions to the blessed Jesu and His sufferings were similar to those of Anselm and Bernard. In a time when a crucifix was definitely described as Popish, and the only "crucifying" that Puritans were interested in was the "crucifixion of the old Adam in him by the power of the new Adam, Christ", Andrewes dared to suggest how helpful a crucifix could be for meditation. Of course he was helped by the fact that the Royal Chapel was adorned with a crucifix placed there by Elizabeth. As he was wont to say, "to what end were those passages written but for our instruction and meditation" on our Saviour's "death upon the crosse". Therefore "let us leave the story and reflect upon" Christ on the cross and our part in his sufferings upon which are "many excellent contemplacions" to be had.
What especially did Andrewes recommend for meditation on a crucifix? Firstly the love of Christ as He taught, "'greater love than this hath no man, but to bestow his life for his friends,'" but His "love went further" as He lay it down for His enemies, including those "who sought His death" and "pierced Him". Yet that great love stretched out on the cross, enduring "all those injuries even to the piercing of His very heart" was also for us. By contemplating on the Saviour's love we should surely recognise that we are delivered from the "evil of our present misery"; and restored "to the good of our primitive felicity". Another aspect for contemplation was the cause of those outstretched arms - sin, the sin of mankind. "It was the sin of our polluted hands that pierced His hands", and caused that blood to flow from His broken heart and wounded side. Such reflection should strike a "deeper degree" of remorse than ever felt before, and "make us cry out with St. Augustine, 'Now sure, deadly was the bitterness of our sins, that might not be cured, but by the bitter death and blood-shedding Passion of the Son of God.'"
Another focus for meditation was linking Calvary with the Jewish Passover and its message of deliverance and freedom. Accordingly "by the death of this undefiled Lamb, as by the yearly Passover", we can "look for and hope for a passage out of Egypt, which spiritually is our redemption from the servitude of the power of darkness." Hence "by the death of the Sacrifice we look to be freed from" all kinds of "evil, so by the death of the High Priest look we for, and hope for restitution to all that is good; even to our forfeited estate in the land of the Promise which is heaven itself, where is all joy and happiness for evermore."
As always with Andrewes meditation could not be a passive thing, and so the time spent, for example, at the foot of the cross has to lead to some fruits. "Shall we always receive grace, even streams of grace issuing from Him Who is pierced, and shall there not from us issue something back again, that He may look for and receive from us that from Him have, and do daily, receive so many good things?" Those fruits, "if love which pierced Him have pierced us aright", will be abundant in love and thankfulness to Him. It also leads to caring for others. Accordingly in his 1596 Lenten sermon Andrewes commended meditating on the cross to the Dives of this world, and to picture it with these words above it recordare fili, and then to read it, "not once, but often". By pondering on those words it may help us to "remember in time" "the fire, the thirst and the torments" to be endured by us who do not share our wealth with the Lazarus of this world or love our neighbours as we should.
Andrewes thought that the keeping of Lent had become old fashioned in his time, some four hundred years ago. What would he say to us to-day who are often lethargic about keeping those three great precepts taught by Our Lord fasting, praying and almsgiving that are so intertwined with the keeping of Lent? Undoubtedly his message would have the same urgency that unless we fulfil these precepts then we fail in living out the Christian life and growing closer to our Lord's own passion and death which is whole purpose for the season of Lent.