Thursday, August 25, 2011

Articles in Question: What are the Articles of Religion?

I'm going to begin a series on this blog about the Articles of Religion. This will be an adventure for me, because I will attempt to get out of my "comfort zone" and do a bit of theology and interpretation on the Articles. Bear with me, I am not a trained theologian nor does it interest me in the way that historical issues do (well, the thrust of this blog has been historical theology, but that's beyond the point). I see the need for such a series after reading continuous rejection and misinterpretation of the Articles online and in person. Many of these misinterpretations arise from Newman's faulty logic found in Tract 90 (and as I have written about elsewhere). Secondly, this series will not address all the Articles or the issues raised therein, but rather deal with the "hot topics" in the Articles, or the ones that I feel are most misinterpreted. The Articles included in this list are: 6, 11, 17, 19, 22, 29, 31. Respectively dealing with these issues: The Authority of Sacred Scripture, the Justification of Man, Predestination, The Church, Purgatory and other abuses, "Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper," and of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and abuses of it. I feel these issues are often most confused in modern Anglican discussion and a clear doctrine of these issues needs to be reasserted.

Briefly, this introductory post will introduce the reader to the Articles of Religion, though not in an exhaustive way. The 39 Articles of Religion are the culmination of a process of reform in the Church of England which occurred simultaneously with the reform of the liturgy. The history of the Articles actually begins fairly early on in the Henrician reformation. In 1536, the Ten Articles were released (this was after the Act of Supremacy in 1534, remember), which gave a theological vision for the reformed Church, according to the bishops and Henry at the time. Here is a list of things the Articles allowed:

1. That Holy Scriptures and the three Creeds are the basis and summary of a true Christian faith.
2. That baptism conveys remission of sins and the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, and is absolutely necessary as well for children as adults.
3. That penance consists of contrition, confession, and reformation, and is necessary to salvation.
4. That the body and blood of Christ are really present in the elements of the eucharist.
5. That justification is remission of sin and reconciliation to God by the merits of Christ; but good works are necessary.
6. That images are useful as remembrancers, but are not objects of worship.
7. That saints are to be honored as examples of life, and as furthering our prayers.
8. That saints may be invoked as intercessors, and their holydays observed.
9. That ceremonies are to be observed for the sake of their mystical signification, and as conducive to devotion.
10. That prayers for the dead are good and useful, but the efficacy of papal pardon, and of soul-masses offered at certain localities, is negatived.

(Taken from:

As you can see, this is a fairly conservative document, however, it does correct some abuses and limits (or does not address) the number of sacraments at three (baptism, eucharist, penance). The goal of this post is not to examine these articles in detail, but I thought it important to include them to show where the Articles of Religion began. Later in 1537, the Bishop's Book was released, generally thought to have a more "reformist" flavor, meaning that it desired further reform than what was found in the 1536 Ten Articles. In 1539, the Six Articles were released by the House of Lords, in a summary, they affirmed:

1. transubstantiation,
2. the reasonableness of withholding of the cup from the laity during communion,
3. clerical celibacy,
4. observance of vows of chastity,
5. permission for private masses,
6. the importance of auricular confession.

(according to the Wikipedia article:

Although many commentators view them as more conservative than the Ten Articles, it appears that Henry was in negotiation with a group of German Lutherans about a unity agreement between the Church of England, that group of Germans, and the Eastern Church. The last confessional document under Henry was the King's Book of 1543. Under Edward VI's reign, Cranmer released the 42 Articles of Religion, which, together with the 1552 BCP, moved the Church of England in a more reformist direction, although the outcome of the combined articles and liturgy was aborted with the death of Edward and the ascendancy of Mary Tudor. After her death, Elizabeth I, issued the 1559 BCP and the first edition of the 39 (really 38) Articles of Religion, which were based on the 42 Articles but edited slightly. Significantly missing was Article 29, being the one most offensive to Catholics, "Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper." In 1571, after Elizabeth's excommunication from the Church of Rome, the 29th Article was reinserted, despite the protestations of Bishop Guest (who held to the Lutheran view).

The history of the Articles in England ends there for they have no been altered since their final revision in 1571, a test to their effectiveness! However, they were adapted and revised when the Protestant Episcopal Church organized in the 18th century. Curiously, though, they were not released until 1801 and the PECUSA never required submission to them by the clergy, like was the case in England. The PECUSA did more than just "locally adapt" the Articles when they revised them in 1801. They made a few changes beyond that of the political reality, changes which also occurred in the Prayer Book and are reflective of the Latitudinarian spirit of the early Protestant Episcopal Church.

The most notable change occurs in Article 8, of the Creeds. In the original, all three apostolic creeds are affirmed, however, in the 1801 Episcopal version, only the Apostle's and Nicene are affirmed. This reflects a change found in the 1786 and 1789 Prayer Books which originated in the 1689 Liturgy of Comprehension. The whole of Article 21, "Of the Authority of General Councils" is ommited, 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 sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto 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."

The first part rightly was removed but the latter part speaks to an essential aspect of Anglicanism, in that it denies infallibility to councils. Although, this is affirmed elsewhere in the Articles, it often needs repeating. The 1801 Version adds this addendum to Article 35, "Of the Homilies,"

"This Article is received in this Church, so far as it declares the Books of Homilies to be an explication of Christian doctrine, and instructive in piety and morals. But all references to the constitution and laws of England are considered as inapplicable to the circumstances of this Church; which also suspends the order for the reading of said Homilies in churches, until a revision of them may be conveniently made, for the clearing of them, as well from obsolete words and phrases, as from the local references."

The 1801 Version also changes Article 36, "Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers,"

"The Book of Consecration of Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, as set forth by the General Convention of this Church in 1792, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering; neither hath it any thing that, of itself, is superstitious and ungodly. And, therefore, whosoever are consecrated or ordered according to said Form, we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered."

The original reads,

"The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated or ordered according to the Rites of that Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered."

The 1801 Version rightly changes Article 37, "Of the Power of Civil Magistrates,"

"The Power of the Civil Magistrate extendeth to all men, as well Clergy as Laity, in all things temporal; but hath no authority in things purely spiritual. And we hold it to be the duty of all men who are professors of the Gospel, to pay respectful obedience to the Civil Authority, regularly and legitimately constituted."

The original reads,

"The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction. Where we attribute to the King's Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.

The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.

The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.

It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars."

Which reflects an essential difference between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church, that of establishment. In England, the Monarch is head of Church and State, rightfully so, for the Monarch is a quasi-sacramental office ordained by God for the welfare of the Church. However, in the Protestant Episcopal Church ,there was no Christian King to submit to, therefore, the Church becomes spiritually independent of a secular state. It is unfortunate that the Episcopal Church did not reflect this thought in other aspects of the liturgy.

One perennial problem with the Articles in Anglicanism is that they are habitually ignored, at least they have been since the Oxford Movement. Another problem is that they are not read in their grammatical sense (as exemplified by Newman) but rather by a curious form of eisegesis, they are mangled and twisted to mean something which they expressly dismiss. Luckily for us, the Articles of Religion are prefaced by a declaration from King Charles I, exhorting churchmen to subscribe and folow the Articles.

Charles (it's important to remember his churchmanship), in his Declaration, first, bluntly states the reason for the Articles,

"Being by God's ordinance, according to our just title, Defender of the Faith, and Supreme Governor of the Church, within these our dominions, we hold it most agreeable to this our kingly office, and our own religious zeal, to conserve and maintain the Church committed to our charge, in the unity of true religion, and in the bond of peace; and not to suffer unnecessary disputations, altercations, or questions to be raised, which may nourish faction both in the Church and Commonwealth. We have, therefore, upon mature deliberation, and with the advice of so many of our bishops as might conveniently be called together, thought fit to make this declaration following..."

Firstly, the Articles were drawn up to maintain uniformity of doctrine in the Church of England and alleviate disputations among churchmen. This gives them a limiting character or something which narrows the acceptable opinions. Contrary to popular belief, the Articles do not authorize a "free for all" approach to Christianity nor Anglicanism. They are comprehensive in the sense that they do allow more liberty than other reformed Confessions. But they are restricting in that they limit Anglican comprehensiveness, which is often abused to get away with believing, frankly, anything. Charles then explains that the Articles contain the teaching and doctrine of the Church of England,

"That the Articles of the Church of England (which have been allowed and authorized heretofore, and which our clergy generally have subscribed unto) do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God's word: which we do therefore ratify and confirm, requiring all our loving subjects to continue in the uniform profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said Articles; which to that end we command to be new printed, and this our declaration to be published therewith..."

Again, the Articles contain what it means to be an Anglican. Clergy are required to subscribe to them and laity exhorted to "continue in the uniform profession thereof," it is thoroughly un-Anglican to allow the Articles to go into disuse. Charles has already expressed the need to adhere to the Articles, but in what sense? Can the Articles mean anything according to how they are interpreted? Next, Charles exhorts the plain, literal, and grammatical interpretation of them,

"That therefore in these both curious and unhappy differences, which have for so many hundred years, in different times and places, exercised the Church of Christ, we will, that all further curious search be laid aside, and these disputes shut up in God's promises, as they be generally set forth to us in the Holy Scriptures, and the general meaning of the Articles of the Church of England according to them. And that no man hereafter shall either print, or preach, to draw the Article aside any way, but shall submit to it in the plain and full meaning thereof: and shall not put his own sense or comment to be the meaning of the Article, but shall take it in the literal and grammatical sense."

This excludes the "word game" where certain "code words' are looked for in the Articles to dig out a special meaning of them which is not in the text. Quite simply, the Articles are not confusing, they are precise and punctual. It takes a great deal more effort to confect some interpretations of the Articles than it does to simply read them. Lastly, there is a warning against adding to or teaching contrary to the Articles,

"That if any public reader in either our Universities, or any head or master of a College, or any other person respectively in either of them, shall affix any new sense to any Article, or shall publicly read, determine, or hold any public disputation, or suffer any such to be held either way, in either the Universities or Colleges respectively; or if any divine in the Universities shall preach or print any thing either way, other than is already established in convocation with our royal assent; he, or they the offenders, shall be liable to our displeasure, and the Church's censure in our commission ecclesiastical, as well as any other: and we will see there shall be due execution upon them."

Now, some of you might complain and say that focusing on the Articles is not a very "high church" thing to do. On the contrary, the Articles are essential for High Churchmen, in conjunction with the Prayer Book as badges of our catholicity. A faithful and serious attempt to understand the doctrine of the Articles is needed in North American Anglicanism and I hope this series sparks discussion on this often neglected summary of our Faith.


aaytch said...

Looking forward to your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jordan,
Should I wait before commenting given this is an extended series?

Real quickly. I really think the 1536 and 1559 articles are important. Of course, the 1536 articles represent the foundation of what would become the 42/39. By reading the Ten Articles, this foundation is clearly justification by faith, especially how it applies to the reform of worship. That's the theme that ties the Henrician catechisms and confessions together. The six articles should be considered separately and are not necessarily retract anything in earlier articles or catechisms. Henry was deliberately pushing the envelope, and this was in part to gain an advantage over Lutherans. At the time, Lutherans might have been able to comprehend the six articles given Brandenburg subscribe to similar practice yet had signed the Augsburg. The points which upset the Lutherans was Henry's claim that clerical celibacy was a command of God, not so much claims in a substantial change. In the end, Henry taxed the Lutheran divines who left exasperated.

Anyway, the 1536 really represents a nucleus of theology. Another version of articles worth mentioning are the 1559 Eleven Articles (also found in Bray's anthology). Notice, the same emphasis on the reform of worship and practical application of justification. I really love reduced articles of faith. Not only the 1559 but the later Methodist and American as well. Why? Because they reveal what Anglicans believe is most fundamental to our Settlement. Consequently, you can gleam a "core" or 'summa' of theology. In the cases above, it would revolve around justification, and, note, this is unlike both Rome and Geneva. Rome developed an elaborate system of merit while Geneva's family of catechisms (which include the Scottish) are based on eternal decree. Ours is much more pastoral, dealing with practical application of justification. This is why article 25 is so fundamental. It is also why back door attacks on Anglican theology through ritual have been so devastating. It goes for the juggler of our Settlement confession.

I'd like to add something on the 1801 revision of article 37. But for now, I'll recommend people carefully read it against the 1662, asking where is the contradiction? Notice there isn't any...

Anonymous said...

I should have mentioned, as you know, despite the six articles, under Edward, and later, Elizabeth, the Henrician settlement moved unequivocally in the Augsburg direction (nay, the direction of the Philipist Variata), leaving the Six null and void chiefly through the Supremacy Act 1559. What was restated in the Eleven and continued from the 42 articles was that link to the Henrician. Of course, this is quite a bit. Again, the "core" or system of thought.

The Hackney Hub said...

In respect to the 37th, it is interesting that the reference to the Bishop of Rome was removed along with the clause about the death penalty and right to bear arms. I'm not sure why those were removed but the Article is spot on when it declares that the Magistrate has only temporal powers. It follows in the "chain of command" so to speak of, Church Universal --> Monarch --> Royal Family --> Bishops and Clergy --> Nobility --> Magistrates.

Anonymous said...

I suspect they were just simplifying it, removing unnecessary portions. Read the two articles closely. Article 37 also says, "we give not our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments"...

The English divines understood word and sacrament as the spiritual authority of the church which the Crown had no power. What prerogative does the Crown, then, claim? Only to charge externals.

Externals have two parts or bodies: the civil and ecclesiastical. The civil is merely the restraint and punishment of vice against "evil-doers." The Ecclesiastical body is spoken of in articles xxi and xxiv. These would be the right of convocation and the power to ordain church rites. Articles 23 and 33 also worth mentioning since clergy are to be 'lawfully called' and the excommunicated restored by a 'judge'. In the English context, these are references to common or public authority.

Not to get bogged down in details, article 37 basically says the prince does not rule the spiritual but only external, accidental, or temporal areas of the church. My question is if the 1801 version says anything different? The 1801 should be read as a terse summary of the 1571. Because of the revolution, the Queen or Crown was replaced with the more general 'magistrate'. The 1801 says nothing in disagreement while the final say on the question is left to our peculiar form of government. On this latter point, what liberty is given to the Pope and an armed citizenry is likewise left to the civil magistrate.

One last thought: the quasi-episcopal nature of the Crown was held by various (but not all) high churchmen. Aside from the King's touch and coronation rite, I believe the argument deals with the normal extension of authority the crown exercises in doctrine by way of depriving and appointing clergy as well as the more immediate pacifying of controversy via injunctions.