Andrewes Contra Calvin?

In Anglican eucharistic theology there are few figures as prominent as Lancelot Andrewes. Beginning with E.B. Pusey, and reinforced by titans such as T.S. Eliot, Andrewes became the standard-bearer for a sort of Anglo-Catholicism avant la lettre.[1] These proto-Anglo-Catholics were thought to be a small but elite group of Anglicans who withstood Protestantism over the centuries and upheld a supposedly patristic theology, particularly a doctrine of the Real Presence in and under the forms of bread and wine. While modern scholars such as Peter Lake, Peter McCullough, and Nicholas Tyacke have thoroughly demonstrated Andrewes’ Protestant bona fides, there is a split consensus among scholars regarding whether or not he holds to a “Lutheran” understanding of the real presence.[2] However, research into sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Church of England sacramentology reveals striking similarities between Andrewes and other Reformed figures of the era regarding their doctrine of the Eucharist. If one examines the language Andrewes uses in his sermons and writings, as well as his influences, it seems much more likely that a “High Calvinism,” rather than a “Crypto-Lutheranism,” is at play. Then, the commonly cited instances of Andrewes’ affirmation of a Lutheran presence, upon closer examination, do not contradict this conclusion.


First, in Andrewes we find the exact language of both spiritual ascent to Christ in Heaven in the Eucharist, as well as spiritual, not oral, consumption of the Body and Blood deployed by the likes of Calvin, Cranmer, Jewell, Vermigli, et al.[3] This is perhaps most clearly laid out in two sermons during April 1621, late in Andrewes’ career. Plainly present is spiritual eating via faith:

Christ resolves the point, in that very place. The flesh, the touching, the eating it, profits nothing. The words He spake, were spirit: So, the touching, the eating, to be spiritual. And Saint Thomas, and Marie Magdalen or whosoever touched Him here on earth, nisi faelicius fide quàm manu tetigissent, if they had not been more happy to touch Him with their faith, then with their fingers end, they had had no part in Him; no good by it at all. It was found better with it, to touch the hem of His garment; then, without it, to touch any part of His body.

When placed next to the Gnesio-Lutherans, the contrast is stark. Take the Formula of Concord:

Also, that the oral participation of the body and blood of Christ in the Supper is denied [by the Sacramentarians], and it is taught, on the contrary, that the body of Christ in the Supper is partaken of only spiritually by faith, so that in the Supper our mouth receives only bread and wine.[4]

For Andrewes, regardless of how he discusses the bread and wine, the eating of the Body and Blood is always a spiritual one via the mouth of faith. Even in particularly high sermons, such as St. Giles Cripplegate, 1 October 1598, the outward sign exists to confirm faith, while it is the invisible word signified by the elements that works upon our souls.[5] However, this does not mean that the eating of the elements is inessential. The Calvinist school, sometimes referred to as “symbolic instrumentalism,” does believe that the bread and wine convey grace as they are received, but it is to our souls via the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we find the spiritual ascent present in 1621 as well:

Now if faith be to touch, that will touch Him no less in Heaven than here; one who is in Heaven may be touched so. No ascending can hinder that touch. Faith will elevate itself, that ascending in spirit we shall touch Him, and take hold of Him. Mitte fidem et tenuisti–it is St. Augustine. It is a touch to which there is never a noli, fear it not.

So do we then; send up our faith, and that shall touch Him, and there will virtue come from Him; and it will take hold on Him, as it shall raise us up to where He is; bring us to the end of the verse, and to the end of all our desires; to ascendo ad Patrem, a joyful ascension to our Father and His, and to Himself, and to the unity of the Blessed Spirit.[6]

A little over a week later, Andrewes returned to similar language:

He was found in the ‘breaking of the bread:’ that bread she [the Church] breaketh, that there we may find Him. He was found by them who had their minds on Him: to that end she will call to us, Sursum corda, ‘Lift up your hearts;’ which, when we hear, it is but this text iterated,Set your minds,’ have your hearts where Christ is. We answer, ‘We lift them up;’ and so I trust we do, but I fear we let them fall too soon again.[7]

While ascent language is certainly patristic, in the post-Reformation era it is a clear marker of Reformed theology, and is found in Gnesio-Lutheran writings only disparagingly, whereas with Calvin it is the foundation of his eucharistology.[8] This is not to be confused with a “figurative” ascent. Andrewes, like his predecessors, believed in a literal ascent of our souls to the throne room of God where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father.

In these two sermons we find the real crux of Andrewes’ eucharistic theology. The two-fold affirmation of both spiritual consumption and ascent not only present enormous obstacles to a Gnesio-Lutheran understanding of the presence, but place Andrewes well within the realm of Calvinist orthodoxy when it comes to the sacrament. Regardless of whatever “realist” language Andrewes might use, it exists within this framework.

Second, Andrewes frequently uses the descriptor “exhibits” when speaking of the sacrament. This usage can be seen in a variety of sermons: “And that, a great honour and power, not only to represent but to exhibit that it representeth,” and “For in Christ this sign is a sign, not betokening only, but exhibiting also what it betokens, as the Sacraments do.”[9] This usage puts Andrewes squarely within the sacramental lineage of Calvin and Bucer, both of whom use the phrase extensively when describing the Eucharist. This language also distinguishes Andrewes from more memorialist Reformed thinkers, as well as from the Gnesio-Lutherans, neither of whom use the phrase. Sacramental exhibition is an odd term, and no one is entirely certain what Calvin meant by it (his use of the verb exhibere serves to further obscure the meaning). However, Calvin seems to use the phrase to mean that the physical signs truly present us with the invisible realities in the sacrament. Regardless of the exact meaning of “sacramental exhibition,” anyone seeking to push Andrewes towards Augsburg will have to reckon with the widespread presence of the phrase in his writings.

A further reading reveals numerous additional markers that indicate Andrewes stands within the spectrum of Reformed orthodoxy. Take, for example, his labeling of the Sacraments as conduits and arteries of grace (alongside prayer, preaching, and scripture).[10] This language remarkably parallels that of Richard Hooker’s,[11] and one could build a convincing argument that Andrewes’ primary influence is Hooker. The Sacraments are labeled as “antetypes” as well as “seals of the covenant,” both common Reformed phraseology.[12] Andrewes mocks those who would utilize tabernacles to contain the presence of the sacrament, and says that the Holy Spirit is the “true ark of His Presence.”[13] Several instances of “instrumentalism” can be found in his sermons, such as,

“It doth manifestly represent, it doth mystically impart what it respresenteth. There is in it even by the very institution both a manifestation, and that visibly, to set before us this flesh; and a mystical communication to us in it or make us partakers of it. For the elements; what can be more properly fit to represent unto us the union with our nature, than things that do unite themselves to our nature?”[14]

Even the controversies that surrounded Andrewes during his lifetime support the argument that his sacramental theology fell along the Reformed spectrum. The most prominent issues dealt with his positions on predestination and the episcopacy–they did not involve his sacramental theology.[15] If there had been controversy about his view of the real presence, we would know about it. Remember: Andrewes preached in the most prominent venue in the land before an openly Calvinist king and court.[16] If there was even an inkling of heterodoxy surrounding his explanation of the sacrament, much would have been written.

What, then, should we make of all the quoted instances where Lancelot Andrewes appears to diverge from his contemporaries in regard to eucharistic presence? I believe that if we go through each one and inspect them, taking into account their broader Reformed context, far from contradicting Reformed theology, these instances actually confirm that Andrewes belongs to the ranks of the Reformed. I have formatted the following section as “Question and Answer” for the sake of brevity.

Question and Answer

Q: What of Andrewes’ discussion of the “sacramental union” on Christmas 1623, and other markers of Lutheranism?[17]

A: Although the phrase “sacramental union” did not appear frequently among the Reformed during the sixteenth century, the phrase gained in popularity during the seventeenth. Not only did “avant garde” churchmen, such as John Cosin employ this phrase, but it even ended up in the Westminster Confession of Faith![18] Beyond this, I find that claims of Lutheran influence on Andrewes’ sacramental views tend to be overblown. The Gnesio-Lutherans are quite explicit with their position that Christ is substantially present “in, under, and with” the forms of bread and wine, language that never appears in Andrewes. Likewise, Andrewes rejects Lutheran conceptions of ubiquity, as shown above. Additionally, if Luther truly had been a deep influence on Andrewes, one would expect to find a myriad of Lutheran works in Andrewes’ personal library.[19] However, based on the evidence available, none appear to be present.[20] Heavily present, however, are the Reformed who espouse very similar eucharistic views, lots of Bucer, Calvin, Zanchi, and Richard Hooker,[21] as well as the expected Fathers, Scholastics, and Renaissance Humanists. While Andrewes read beyond his personal library, the likely conclusion is that he is more broadly Augustinian than some of his Calvinist contemporaries, a known fact considering his response to the Lambeth Articles.

Q: What of the St. Giles sermon in October 1598 where the elements appear to be necessary to convey grace?

A: Again this language is extraordinarily similar to that of Richard Hooker’s, who in turn is clarifying aspects of Calvin and Bucer. Take Hooker in Book V: “those Mysteries should serve as conduits of Life, and conveyances of his Body and Blood unto them [the faithful]” or “so I give them [the faithful] in hand an actual possession of all such saving Grace, as my Sacrificed Body can yield, and as their Souls do presently need: This is to them, and in them, my Body.”[22] Michael Allen summarizes this theology well when he says: “the Supper and the very partaking of the elements served as a conduit or instrumental means by which Christ and the believer communed in the Spirit.”[23] One must remember that the sharp Cartesian distinctions between soul and body did not exist when Andrewes and Hooker were writing. For them, when the faithful consume the elements, the soul locally participates in the flesh and blood of Christ in Heaven via the Holy Spirit using the bread and wine.

Q: What of phrases such as “in the Sacrament” or “in these holy mysteries” or “Christ is set before us”?

A: This language is by no means unique to Andrewes. For instance, see John Jewell where he describes how, “here, in a mystery and Sacrament of bread, is set before us the body of Christ our Saviour; and his blood in the Sacrament of Wine.”[24] However, this sort of language can be confusing, as sometimes these English divines use “sacrament” to mean the signum, the elements, and at other times both the signum and the signatum, the elements as well the spiritual realities they signify. This is because the signatum is indeed substantially contained within a sacrament e converso, just not in and under the signum. This also helps us to understand passages such as the “Christ in the cratch” commentary on Christmas 1618.[25]

Q: What of Andrewes’ confirmation that the bread and wine are indeed transmuted[26] at the consecration in his response to Bellarmine?

A: This is another area where the Reformed are misunderstood. The application of Christ’s benediction to the bread and wine do indeed create something entirely new: a sacrament. The bread and wine, while retaining their substance, become sacramental bread and wine, and are therefore transmuted. Jewell illustrates this best in his treatise on the sacraments where he describes how when “we say, they are changed,” this means “that they have a dignity and preeminence which they had not before; that they are not now common bread, or common wine, but the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ: a holy mystery.”[27]

Q: What of Christmas 1620, when Andrewes discusses Patristic reservation of the sacrament, saying, “And in the old Ritual of the Church we find that on the cover of the canister, wherein was the Sacrament of His Body, there was a star engraven, to shew us that now the star leads us thither, to His body there”?

A: This may shock some of those who read this, but the Reformed are not opposed to reservation as an ontological impossibility. Rather, they are opposed because of the theological confusion reservation of the sacrament creates, as well as its disregard for verbum domini: take, eat. Many of them readily admit to the sacrament being reserved during the Patristic age as a viaticum. Again, Jewell is immensely helpful here:

Cyrillus [Cyril of Alexandria] answereth them, not that the flesh which Christ received of the Blessed Virgin continueth still as inclosed in the sacrament, as it is untruly reported by M. Harding; but that Christ’s institution, and the mystical benediction, which he calleth the quickening grace, continueth still. And his reason is this, for that all sacraments have their virtue[28] and power, not of themselves, but wholly and only from Christ. Wherefore, as Christ continueth still without change; even so must the grace that Christ worketh in us by his sacraments be likewise one, and continue still.[29]

It is important to remember that for the Calvin-Bucer school, a sacrament is created at the benediction. Much more needs to be written about this, but one can quickly see the confusion that begins to arise when the sacrament is removed from its context, as Andrewes makes clear in his response to Bellarmine:

A sacrifice has to be consumed; a Sacrament to be taken and eaten, not laid up and carried about. Let that be done which Christ desired when He said “Do this” and there will be nothing left for the priest to expose, or the people to worship, in the pyx.[30]

Q: What of the Answer to Bellarmine, when Andrewes affirms a presence as well as “adoration”?

A: I’m a little surprised at how much these passages get cited to defend Andrewes as having a radically different eucharistic theology than his contemporaries. For one, he openly denies the Body being “in, with, or under.” He denies a need for a “natural” mode of communication, and as far as the presence goes, he uses John Calvin’s exact language when stating that the (spiritual) presence in the supper is “true.”[31] And if we are working from a use of “presence” alone, we must take into account that Andrewes doesn’t use as strong of language as many of his Calvinist contemporaries. Take for example Edward Reynolds, the great Reformed divine, who willingly states, “in this Sacrament wee doe most willingly acknowledge a Reall, True, and Perfect Presence of Christ.”[32]

Regarding adoration, Andrewes clearly plays the sophist a bit here. The sacrament is not adored, but Christ, the res sacramenti, is via faith. His citation of James I is telling as well: James’ Calvinism is well documented, and unless one wants to believe in some sort of secret Cult of the Blessed Sacrament operating at the Court of St. James, we can rest assured that no adoration of the bread and wine occured.


I hope to have laid out a strong case for reevaluating Lancelot Andrewes’ eucharistic theology from a Reformed perspective. I encourage those who disagree to dig further into Andrewes’ Church of England contemporaries, as well as the articulations of Lutheran theology during the period Andrewes was writing. No longer can mere use of the term “presence” or a high view of elements stand in as markers for a theology divergent from mainstream Reformed thought, as scholars such as Bryan Spinks have thoroughly demonstrated.

At the same time, it is clear that Andrewes does not fit easily into our twenty-first century understanding of what it means to be a “Calvinist.” His views on predestination, episcopacy, ceremonial, the sacraments, and prayers for the dead all mean that he will not be welcome in modern Reformed circles. However, he may serve as the strongest indicator that our modern definitions of what it means to be “Reformed” or “Calvinist” need to be heavily revised for the sake of clarity. Likewise, he is a stark reminder of how far eucharistic piety has fallen within Anglicanism, particularly of the Reformed variety. If those of us who hope for a resurgence of classical Anglicanism plan to succeed, we must take the realist language of churchmen like Andrewes seriously, and not look to sweep them aside for fear of being misunderstood.

  1. Eliot, T. S. 1929. For Lancelot Andrewes : Essays on Style and Order. 1st ed.. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Doran.
  2. See Mccullough, Peter E. 2008. “Lancelot Andrewes’s Transforming Passions.” Huntington Library Quarterly 71 (4): 573–89
  3. See Calvin’s Institutes (all editions), Cranmer’s True Doctrine, Vermigli’s Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist, and Jewell’s A Defence of the Apologie of the Churche of Englande for nearly innumerable reiterations of these two doctrines.
  4. Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, VII, 114
  5. Lancelot Andrewes, VIII. A Sermon on Isaiah 6.6–7 Preached at St. Giles Cripplegate, 1 October 1598 (1598)in Peter McCullough (ed.), Lancelot Andrewes: Selected Sermons and Lectures.
  6. Andrewes, Lancelot, Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Sunday the First of April, A.D. MDCXXI, XCVI. sermons by the Right Honorable and Reverend Father in God, Lancelot Andrevves, late Lord Bishop of Winchester. Published by His Majesties speciall command, (London: George Miller, 1629). Henceforth I will just cite the sermon title and “XCVI. sermons”
  7. Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Sunday the Twelfth of April, A. D. MDCXIII, XCVI. sermons
  8. Some scholars even go as far as to say that ascent language is the marker of Reformed Eucharistic theology. Christopher Kaiser’s excellent ‘Climbing Jacob’s ladder: John Calvin and the early church on our eucharistic ascent to heaven,’ Scottish Journal of Theology, 2003, Vol.56(3), pp. 247-267, summarizes the scholarly work on this topic so far. For an example of disparaging usage of ascent language in Gnesio-Lutheran writings see the Formula of Concord: Epitome, Section 7, V. Kaiser has found over 33 instances of ascent language in Calvin’s writings.
  9. Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Sunday the twenty-fourth of March; Preached before King James, at the Cathedral Church at Durham, on Sunday the Twentieth of April, D. MDCXVII, XCVI. sermons
  10. For “conduits,” see the sermon Andrewes preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Wednesday, the Twenty-fifth of December, A.D. MDCXI, XCVI. sermons. For “arteries,” see Preached before the King’s Majesty, at Greenwich, on the Eighth of June, A.D. MDCVI, being Whit-Sunday, XCVI. sermons.
  11. And ultimately Calvin’s. See page 2574 of the Institutes.
  12. For “antetypes” see the sermon Andrewes preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Wednesday, the Twenty-fifth of December, A.D. MDCXI, XCVI. sermons. For “seals of the covenant” see Andrewes, Lancelot, 1854, vol. III, Sermon III, pg. 162, The Works of Lancelot Andrewes, Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. Thanks to Bryan Spinks for this source.
  13. For opposition to the practice of reserving the sacrament in a tabernacle see the sermon Andrewes preached before the King’s Majesty, at Windsor, on the Twelfth of May, A.D. MDCXI, being Whit-Sunday. Although Luther would take the same position, I believe this example is worth including because it helps put a nail in the coffin of Eliot’s conception of Andrewes. For the description of the “true ark” see A Sermon Preached before the King’s Majestie, At Whitehall, on the IX. of April, A. D. MDCXV. being Easter Day, XCVI. sermons.
  14. Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Thursday, the Twenty-fifth of December, A.D. MDCVII, XCVI. sermons. Strong parallels, again, to Hooker.
  15. Indirectly, this is untrue. Predestination does indeed shape the sacramental controversies of the 17th century, but they have to do with the sacraments conveying grace rather than merely “confirming and sealing” the faith of the elect.
  16. I don’t find the argument that Andrewes “tones it down” to be persuasive. All of his “high” language from hisparochial sermons can be found at court if you go looking.
  17. Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Thursday, the Twenty-fifth of December, A.D. MDCXXIII, XCVI. sermons
  18. For Cosin’s usage see Cosin, John, pg. 45, History of Popish Transubstantiation, (London: Andrew Clark, 1676). For its presence in the Westminster Confession of Faith see Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 27, Sec II.
  19. Working off of both those books listed in his will and those documented by Matthew Wren.
  20. I actually wasn’t able to find any, but assume he must have had a couple. Since Andrewes spent his career around vast libraries, we can also assume he read far beyond his personal one.
  21. Andrewes not only had the first volume, containing books 1-4, but the second, containing the mighty book 5. As Hooker was not broadly read in the early 17th-century, it is notable that Andrewes placed him among a carefully groomed selection of some of the most influential writers in history.
  22. Hooker, Richard, Book V, Chapter 67, The works of Mr. Richard Hooker (that learned and judicious divine), in eight books of ecclesiastical polity compleated out of his own manuscripts, (London: Thomas Newcomb, 1666)
  23. Allen, Michael, “Sacraments in the Reformed and Anglican Reformation” in Boersma, Hans, and Levering, Matthew. 2015. The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology. First edition.. Oxford, United Kingdom; New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pg. 292
  24. Jewell, John, Treatise on the Sacraments, (London, 1611)
  25. Preached before King James, at Whitehall, on Friday, the Twenty-fifth of December, A.D. MDCXVIII, XCVI. sermons
  26. Not to be confused with transubstantiation. Pusey still uses it as an indicator of objective presence, however.
  27. Jewell, John, “On the Body and Blood of Christ,” Treatise on the Sacraments, (London, 1611)
  28. Some clarity should probably be given to the distinction between “holiness” and “virtue” here.
  29. Jewell, John, and Ayre, John. 1845, Vol. II, “Reply Unto M. Hardinge,” The Works of John Jewel. Cambridge [Eng.]: Printed at the University Press. pg. 781
  30. Andrewes, Lancelot, and Bliss, James. 1851. Responsio Ad Apologiam Cardinalis Bellarmini. Oxonii: J.H. 267
  31. Calvin, John, Institutes, Chap. 17, pg. 2571. Also, note how Andrewes never states a presence in the bread and wine but in the supper or the sacrament, a subtle but profound difference.
  32. Reynolds, Edward, Meditations on the holy sacrament of the Lords last Supper Written many yeares since by Edvvard Reynolds then fellow of Merton College in Oxford. (London, 1638) Pg. 87. Thanks to Bryan Spinks for this source. Some of Reynolds language is startling; he states that the spiritual presence is concomitant with the elements, and that “by the Sacrament wee have the presence of things farthest distant and absent from us,” implying a “spatial” presence.