Sabbatical Diary – July 26

What are you doing here …

That was a great question as I approached the door of the Radcliffe Camera, home to over 600,000 volumes in the Bodleian collection, to see that there was a sign on the door: CLOSED – the power is out.

The power is out!  Really?  Are you kidding me? You are not kidding me! Is it out at the Old Bodleian as well? Yes.  (My unspoken thougth bubble is something like: Don’t they know this is my last day to be able to use “The Bod!”  Can’t you manage to have the power out some other time?)

So I bumble off to find some lunch.  Oxford is especially crowded today.  It is Saturday, so there are loads of tours that clog the lanes and sidewalk, and visitors flowing in ever-shifting tides without predictability.  Is also a Degree Day.  Here that is not an official notice of high temperatures (though they are again today).  Degree Days are days, there are about twenty of them a year, when the University formally awards degrees to those who have completed their requirements.  At Oxford one is not required to “graduate” immediately upon completion of their work.  Some come back months, even years, later for a degree day.  This can result in highly disproportionate numbers of people getting their degrees at certain times.  Most of the days I have been here have been degree days.

So, no power in an undefined area and lots of people.  The pubs and restaurants that do have power will, no doubt, be jammed.  So, off to see if the Covered Market has power.  It does, so at a small sandwich stand I get a “toastie” and drink.  There is no place to sit anywhere around so I go out the back, find a ledge for the drink and lean against a wall that is no doubt several centuries old.  It still seems sturdy.

Lunch done, I walk back to the Radcliffe Camera and see the sign still on the door.  A woman who has been at the door talking to a staff member is coming down the walk, so I inquire about any update.  There is none, save that the staff is not leaving, and that the Old Bodleian does not have power, but may be open.  I can only presume that is because the Old Bodleian has very large windows on all sides, and even in the stairs so it is well lit.  Sometimes it good to have been built a very long time ago – before electric or gas lights.

I pull out my tablet to see, if by any chance the wireless system is on some other power source.  It appears not.  So I decide to just be for a bit in the Lower Level Reading Room where I have typically set up on the days I’ve been in the Old Bodleian.  As I do resign and settle in a bit, I realize that all around the room there are portraits that hang above the selves of books.  I had given them much notice before.  Possibly because I was looking down at the books.

My eye fell very quickly upon an image, registering the message, “Hey, I know that guy. I know that picture.”  The portrait was of Lancelot Andrewes, the 17th Century Anglican Divine whose life and work I have come to investigate. He’s been looking over at me the whole time.  I harbor no superstitions about this.  I do not consider it a matter of providence.  It just makes me happy.

Alak. (I just saw Shakespeare’s King Lear last night on the Old Quad right outside the window of the reading room I was using, and that his version of “alas.”) Perhaps I should tell you just a wee bit about this Anglican Doctor of the Church.  His life spanned 1555 to 1626.  Among other things he was a primary translator of the Authorized Bible (what we now commonly call the King James Bible).  He was the preferred court preacher of the English Kings, James I and Charles I.  It is said by scholars, that he is as responsible as Richard Hooker for the articulation of the archetype of Anglican theology – a take on Christianity that is apostolic (in the way that Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are apostolic) and yet unique. It is a theology that the Holy Spirit planted and nurtured for more than 1000 years before any of the actions that Henry VIII contemplated.

Andrewes was a rare combination of priest, academic, and astute administrator, who was unshakably committed to a discipline life of prayer and devotion, while remaining accessible to those who sought to inquire and learn.  He was the chief respondent on behalf of Charles I to Cardinal Perron and, upon this cardinal’s death, to Cardinal Bellermine, in defending the Church of England as fully catholic.  Andrewes’ point-by-point responses to Cardinal Bellermine, who would later become St. Robert Bellermine, is a breath-taking tour de force of theological and academic depth and skill.  However Rome may have come down – which of course we know, was Rome, yes; Canterbury, no – I just want say that, if I were around back then, I’d be saying to Andrewes, “Oh, oh, me, me, over here, pick me, let me be on your team.”

Whereas Richard Hooker’s legacy rests in the several volumes of his Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity (the Anglican summa theologica, if you will),  Andrewes’ rests in the sermons and letters that have been collected.  Often strongly encouraged to write books, or compile his sermons, Andrewes refused.  His humility was both genuine and very deep, and his mission was not about his works, but about a life of service to God in response to God’s gift of deliverance.  No matter what office he held, he never lost sight of that.

His influcence on the themes of English Romanticism likely run deeper than many have taken the time to investigation. A. M. Allchin writes in the Afterward to N. Lossky’s book, Lancelot Andrewes, The Preacher, “Considerting the depth of his understanding of the sacramental nature of creation as a whole, we may find a new light on some of the underlying thems of English Romanticism, as we find them in Wordsworth or S. T. Coleridge.”  He continues, “Above all we may come to understand better the nature of T. S. Elliot’s decision to embrace the Catholic faith in its Anglican form….”  It was in a small volume of Elliot’s work, For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order, that Elliot claimed himself “anglo-catholic in religion.”

I shall be leaving Oxford tomorrow.  It will be a bittersweet parting.  I will miss the time to study, read, write, and reflect, though some of that will not end as the train pulls out from the platform (not 9 3/4).  The architecture is transportive, but also isolating; something I will write about later, no doubt.  I have appreciated the time given me by the Rev’d Canon Dr. Edmund Newey, Sub Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, and the Rev’d Canon Dr. Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.  The Rev’d Canon Dr. Robin Gibbons, my Graduate Theological Foundation liason, was generous with his time and skillful in making a credentialing path smooth that could have otherwise been bumpy.  I am grateful, too, to the Graduate Theological Foundation.  The Oxford Foundation Fellowship has made possible my access to the Bodleian Libraries.  Most of all, I am grateful to the people and vestry of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, whom it is my honor and humble privledge to serve as priest and dean, for making this sabbatical time possible.

(There will be more writing to come, and more thanks given.  And, no doubt, I should thank you for bearing up under the length of this writing, and so I do.  Thank you.)

Though I have shared with you some of it, it will never be possible to share with you all of it.  “It” being the response to God’s question – the one asked of Elijah, and, I believe, untimately asked of me, and of each of us.  As I began, therefore, so with it I shall I remain:

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.