The Oxford Movement began in 1833 with the infamous sermon, "National Apostasy," offered by Keble in response to the reduction of Irish archbishoprcis by Parliament. Eight years later, one of the defining documents of the Movement was published. In 1841, the tract, "Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty-Nine Articles," or "Tract 90" was published by John Henry Newman. This was by far the most controversial of the Tracts because within its pages, Newman contended that the theological statements in the Articles, "were not directed against the authorized creed of Roman Catholics, but only against popular errors and exaggerations" (Wikipedia article). This tract broke the ties between Hackney divines and other High Churchmen with Newman.
However destructive and controversial this tract was in 1841, it is much more so today. For, in 1841, clergy and laity knew that Newman's ideas were innovative and contrary to the clear teaching of the Church of England and the Holy Scriptures. Nowadays, most Anglican parishioners have never heard of much less actually read the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion. The folly of Tract 90 is that it tries to reconcile two conflicting views of the Christian faith and what the catholic faith actualy is. Newman throws around the word "Catholic" throughout all of his writings, when in fact, he is referring to Romanism. The Reformation was not about abandoning the catholic faith, but restoring the Church to the purity of that faith. "[T]he Reformation debate was not one between self-designated Catholics and Protestants; it was a debate about where the Catholic Church was to be found" (Rowan Williams), as Archbishop Williams describes in this quote, the Reformation was not a debate between "Catholics" and "Protestants" but between two groups of people who equally claimed the title "catholic" for their view of the Church (obviously, I'd say that the Protestant side was right or else I'd be Roman). The Roman defined the "catholic faith" as the faith as it had been given to the Church by Christ and written about in Scriptures, and developed through Tradition. To be a part of the faith, one must be in communion with a valid bishop ordained by bishops in communion with the See of Rome. Protestants meanwhile said that the catholic faith was the faith, "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) this excluded medieval accretions to the faith. "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same" (Article XIX).
Some of the silliest claims I hear today about the nature of Anglicanism stem from Newman's ideas present in Tract 90 (or his other works, awaiting his Apologia pro vita sua in the mail). Newman has to dance around the text of the Articles to make it mean what he wants it to mean because the Articles were written to deny the doctrines of Trent. However, Newman's goal is to say that the Articles do not really condemn the doctrines of Trent but only popular misconceptions about what the council taught. A casual reading of the Articles, much less a systematic reading, will show how fanciful his initerpretation is.
Article XI, says, "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification." The last phrase of this article is odd in that there is no homily called "The Homily of Justification," presently in the collection in the Book of Homilies. It probably refers to the "Homily of Salvation." In clear contrast to the text of the Article, Newman reminds us that the article does not, "imply a denial of Baptism as a means an instrument of justification," Newman seems to miss the meaning of the word only, as do modern Anglo-Catholics who misinterpret the Scriptures and Anglican formularies. Although there was some internal debate between Evangelicals and High Churchmen as to the exact nature of justification, they condemned this deviation from (Protestant) Catholic truth.
Now, High Churchmen and some Evangelicals did rightly declare the redemptive significance of baptism in its close relation with regeneration. However, regeneration is a separate spiritual event from justification although closely related. Baptism is an instrument of regeneration and grafts us into the Church but faith alone is the instrument of justification. Newman next states that, "Nor does the sole instrumentality of Faith interfere with the doctrine of Works as a mean also," in direct contradiction with the Articles:
"The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will" (Article X)
"Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit" (Article XII)
"Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin" (Article XIII)
"Voluntary works besides, over and above, God's commandments which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for His sake than of bounden duty is required: Whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to do, say, We be unprofitable servants" (Article XIV).
Newman makes some interesting and contradictory statements about the nature of councils, "General councils then may err, [as such;--may err,] unless in any case it is promised, as a matter of express supernatural privilege, that they shall not err; a case which [as consisting in the fulfilment of additional or subsequent conditions,] lies beyond the scope of this Article, or at any rate beside its determination." The article he is referencing is Article XXI, which reads, "General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture." Newman has to wiggle around the clear meaning of the text by saying that the article refers only to "general" councils called by princes, "may be partly Catholic, partly not," and not ecumenical councils called by Christ. The Article makes no distinction between these types of councils and to do so is to read them in a sense apart from their "literal and grammatical sense." More than that, the Article places the authority of the council under the Supremacy of Scripture. Elsewhere, the Articles note the fallibility of the church, "As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith" (Article XIX).
Purgatory, Pardons, Images, Relics, and Invocation of the Saints
The comments Newman makes here have been the most destructive to Anglicanism's identity.
The Article plainly says,
"The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saint, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God."
Newman's comments are clever and the method he uses to get around the clear meaning of this article infects our churches to this day, "Now the first remark that occurs on perusing this Article is, that the doctrine objected to is "the Romish doctrine." For instance, no one would suppose that the Calvinistic doctrine containing purgatory, pardons, and image-worship, is spoken against. Not every doctrine on these matters is a fond thing, but the Romish doctrine. Accordingly, the Primitive doctrine is not condemned in it, unless, indeed, the Primitive Doctrine be the Romish, which must not be supposed. Now there was a primitive doctrine on all these points,--how far Catholic or universal, is a further question—but still so widely received and so respectably supported, that it may well be entertained as a matter of opinion by a theologian now; this, then, whatever be its merits, is not condemned by this Article." Newman fails to realize that there is only one doctrine of Purgatory, that of Rome, therefore the adjective "Romish" is not meant to condone another doctrine of purgatory but to condemn the only doctrine of purgatory. What Newman calls the "Primitive" doctrine is unclear. Perhaps there is room for a view of sanctification in heaven but this is beyond the scope of this post and must be clearly distinguished from the doctrine of purgatory. Newman continues with regards to pardons, "This is clear without proof on the face of the matter, at least as regards pardons. Of course, the article never meant to make light of every doctrine about pardons, but a certain doctrine, the Romish doctrine, [as indeed the plural form itself shows.]" What folly, there is no part of the doctrine of pardons which is complimentary to Sacred Scripture.
Newman continues, "And [such an understanding of the Article is supported by] some sentences in the Homily on the Peril of Idolatry, in which, as far as regards relics, a certain veneration is sanctioned by its tone in speaking of them, thought not of course the Romish veneration... If, then, in the judgment of the Homilies, not all doctrine concerning veneration of relics is condemned in the Article before us, but a certain toleration of them is compatible with its wording; neither is all doctrine concerning purgatory, pardons, images, and saints, condemned by the Article, but only 'the Romish.'" One hears this rhetoric throughout Anglican churches to allow the unlawful veneration of images and relics where the Article clearly condemns these practices as "repugnant to the Word of God."
"And further by "the Romish doctrine," is not meant the Tridentine [statement], because this Article was drawn up before the decree of the Council of Trent. What is opposed is the received doctrine of the day, and unhappily of this day too, or the doctrine of the Roman schools; a conclusion which is still more clear, by considering that there are portions in the Tridentine [statements] on these subjects, which the Article, far from condemning, by anticipation approves, as far as they go. For instance, the Decree of Trent enjoins concerning purgatory thus:--"Among the uneducated and vulgar let difficult and subtle questions, which make not for edification, and seldom contribute aught towards piety, be kept back from popular discourses. Neither let them suffer the public mention and treatment of uncertain points, or such as look like falsehood." Session 25. Again, about images: "Due honour and veneration is to be paid unto them, not that we believe that any divinity or virtue is in them, for which they should be worshipped (colendae) or that we should ask any thing of them, or that trust should be reposed in images, as formerly was done by the Gentiles, which used to place their hope on idols."—Ibid." The Council of Trent lasted from 1545-1563, the first edition of the Articles of Religion was released in 1563 by Elizabeth. I am not sure about Newman's assertion that the doctrine was "drawn up before the decree of the Council of Trent," perhaps he is referring to the original composition by Cranmer in 1552. However, this is superfluous because the Church of England accepted this doctrinal teaching during the Council and again in 1571 with the final form of the Articles and again in 1662 with the Act of Uniformity. The Council of Trent is not contradictory to medieval Roman doctrines but reaffirmed the teachings espoused by medieval churchmen. "If, then the doctrine condemned in this Article concerning purgatory, pardons, images, relics, and saints, be not the Primitive doctrine, nor the Catholic doctrine, nor the Tridentine [statement] but the Romish, doctrina Romanensium, let us next consider what in matter of fact it is," Here Newman continues in his distinction between "Primitive," "Roman," and "Tridentine," doctrine. Roman and Tridentine doctrines are one and the same and Newman's appeal to "Primitive" doctrine is ambiguous and vague.
The Number of Sacraments
The question of the number of sacraments has become an issue in Anglicanism while it was not an issue historically. There are many who say that Anglicanism embraces the seven sacraments of the Roman Church. This shows the destructive influence of the Tractarians on Anglicanism because Anglicanism has historically denied that there are seven sacraments but rather two. I refer to the Catechism first, before quoting the Article:
How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?
Answer. Two only, as generally necessary to salvation, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.
Now, many claim here that the Catechism means to say something like, "Two which are generally necessary for salvation but there are others which are not necessary for savlation." However, this contradicts the plain meaning of the text. Grammatically, the comma separates the answer "Two only" from an explanatory clause which is meant to say that these two sacraments are generally necessary for salvation, with the number of sacraments clearly defined as two. Newman rests on the part of Article XXV which deals with those "five commonly called Sacraments," however, I feel it necessary to quote the entirety of the Article:
"Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God's good will towards us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in Him.
There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.
Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.
The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, have they a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith."
Newman says, "This Articles does not deny the five rites in question to be sacraments, but to be sacraments in the sense in which Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacraments; "sacraments of the Gospel," sacraments with an outward sign ordained of God. They are not sacraments in any sense, unless the Church has the power of dispensing grace through rites of its own appointing, or is endued with the gift of blessing and hallowing the "rites or ceremonies" which, according to the Twentieth Article, it "hath power to decree." But we may well believe that the Church has this gift." I hear this rhetoric from modern Anglicans all the time. Newman clearly misses the plain meaning of the text. Newman tries to create a definition which is not in the text by creating a sacrament "not of the Gospel." The Catechism is a good reference here, for it answers our question as to how the Anglican Church defines a sacrament:
Question. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?
Answer. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.
Question. How many parts are there in a Sacrament?
Answer. Two: the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace.
Newman seems to think that there can exist sacraments without "an outward sign ordained of God," which contradicts the definition given both in the Article and the Catechism. The organization of the Article gives us an implication of the meaning of the Article. "There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord, & etc." then, "Those five commonly called Sacraments, etc." The Article then continues to say, "being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles," a negative statement implying that they are not Sacraments, implying here probably confirmation, penance, and unction, as growing from the Apostles and the others, "partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures," probably holy orders and matrimony. The next part is crucial, Newman creates a false dichotomy between "Sacraments of the Gospel" and "Sacraments of the Church" however, the Article does not have this distinction for it distinguishes between the Sacraments and "those commonly called Sacraments." The Article tells us why they are, "not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel," this is because they, "have not the like nature of Sacraments." Did you notice that? The Article is equating "Sacraments of the Gospel" with "Sacraments" therefore eliminating Newman's false dichotomy.
Newman claims that the Articles of Religion do not condemn official Roman teaching on transubstantiation but only popular misconceptions of it. The relevant portion of the Article reads:
"Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine, in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacraments, and hath given occasion to many superstitions."
Here, the Article does not condemn some misunderstanding of transubstantiation, but the whole doctrine, for transubstantiation, is the "change of the substance of bread and wine," into the "body and blood of the Lord," according to Roman teaching. This might have been misunderstood to imply a corporeal presence in the middle ages but the Article condemns the whole concept. The rest of the Article gives us the clear teaching of the Church of England on the Holy Communion. First, "The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ." The Article defines the sacrament as a partaking of the body and blood of Christ by those who receive the bread and wine worthily with faith. This is key to understand the position of the Church of England in comparison with other reformers. This statement puts the Church of England in company with Martin Bucer, John Calvin, and other Reformed theologians rather than Luther. For the Lutherans believe, "Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord," (Augsburg Confession) and more precisely, "It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself" (Small Catechism). Again the Articles affirm, " The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith," which distances the reception of the body and blood from the elements themselves and denies the eating of Christ in the mouth but the eating of Christ by faith. This leads to the next Article which says, "The wicked and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing." Here the Articles deny the manducatio indignorum or the eating of the unworthy which was affirmed by the Lutherans, "We hold that bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ, and are given and received not only by the godly, but also by wicked Christians" (Smalcald Articles). In case one thinks this not enough evidence, the Catechism supports the Articles,
Question. What is the outward part or sign of the Lord's Supper?
Answer. Bread and Wine, which the Lord hath commanded to be received. Question. What is the inward part, or thing signified?
Answer. The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper.
The Body and Blood of Christ are truly received by the "faithful" at Holy Communion yet the wicked, "visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ."
One more note about the Lord's Supper, there have arisen many practices which are condemned by Scripture. First, there are services of Benediction, where the people and priest gather together and pray before the Sacrament and venerate it yet do not receive from it. This is condemned by the plain words of Scripture and the Articles. Likewise, the elevation of the elements in church for worship is condemned. The Article condemns other beloved practices such as Corpus Christi processions.
"The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped."
The Sacrifice of the Mass
Newman says that the Church of England does not condemn the official Roman teaching but rather, "actual existing errors in it, whether taken into its system or not." He continues, "Here the sacrifice of the Mass is not spoken of, in which the special question of doctrine should be introduced; but " the sacrifice of masses," certain observances, for the most part private and solitary, which the writers of the Articles knew to have been in force in time past, and saw before their eyes, and which involved certain opinions and a certain teaching." A note here, there was no differrence in popular speech between "Sacrifice of the Mass," and "Sacrifices of the Masses," both were acceptable terms for the official Roman teaching in the 16th century. Likewise, the Roman Church has correctly interpreted our Confession as condemning their doctrine as it rightly does. "Now the "blasphemous fable" is the teaching that there is a sacrifice for sin other than CHRIST'S death, and that masses are that sacrifice," and again Newman believes that, "On the whole, then, it is conceived that the Article before us neither speaks against the Mass in itself, nor against its being [an offering, though commemorative,] for the quick and the dead for the remission of sin; [(especially since the decree of Trent says, that "the fruits of the Bloody Oblation are through this most abundantly obtained; so far is the latter from detracting in any way from the former;")] but against its being viewed, on the one hand, as independent of or distinct from the Sacrifice on the Cross, which is blasphemy; and, on the other, its being directed to the emolument of those to whom it pertains to celebrate it, which is imposture in addition." It in fact condemns all of those things. Enough of Newman's babbling, the Article is clear:
"The offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said that the priests did offer Christ for the quick and the dead to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits."
Again, our Communion Service reaffirms the uniqueness of Christ's offering,
"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again"
The Holy Communion is not anything we offer to God but only what God offers to us in Christ. It is a sacrificial meal stemming from the once for all Sacrifice of Christ where we receive the benefits of his Passion. It is a commemoration of His perfect Sacrifice for sin, once for all. It is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (i.e. Eucharist) for Christ's sacrifice, "O Lord and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving," and it is an oblation of ourselves to God, "And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee," we only offer ourselves to God in Communion and he transforms us into his likeness, it can be said that the real "transubstantiation" happens within our souls not the bread and wine.
I think many people would be able to simply understand the Articles if they sat down and read them. If you read this post and subscribe to the ideas of Newman, take a moment to read the Articles for what they say, not what Newman wants them to say. They are very clear where they need to be clear and comprehensive where they need to be comprehensive.