Friday, February 21, 2014

The Thirty-nine Articles and the Episcopal Church

There seems to be an idea, especially amongst Episcopalians, that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion have no authority in the Protestant Episcopal Church, even though they were, "established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention, on the twelfth day of September, in the Year of our Lord, 1801." 

It is true that Episcopal clergy were not required to separately subscribe to the Articles of Religion, as their English counterparts did (it would have been better if they had followed English practice…), however, Episcopal ministers do have to make the following oath in ordination:
I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church.
Arguably, determining just what the "doctrine" of the Episcopal Church is can be a bit of a losing battle. Yet, the "discipline and worship" are easily discernible, as this is clarified in Article X of the Constitution, requiring the use of the Book of Common Prayer (1979) in all dioceses of this Church. Now, you may be thinking, well this establishes the authority of the 1979 Prayer Book, but what of the Articles? It doesn't mention that! Well, yes, it doesn't currently, that is true, but this does not mean that the Articles are not implied. This might sound strange, but in order to properly understand the nature of the Articles' canonical authority in the Episcopal Church, one has to do a bit of research (probably an intended consequence of some General Convention resolutions…)

The original title of the (now official) 1979 Prayer Book was, "The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, the Form of Consecration of a Church or Chapel, the Office of Institution or Ministers, and Articles of Religion," when it was adopted in the same year. However, if you open up any copy of the 1979 book, you will not find these words on the title page (or anywhere else). What happened was in 1985, the General Convention decided to shorten the title of the book by deleting a majority of that text to include what is now standard, "The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David According to the use of The Episcopal Church." The relevant sections of the Constitution (Art. X) and the Canons (Title II, Canon 3, Sec. 1) were edited accordingly in resolutions 1985 A029 and 1985 A010. Here is the text of A029:
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That Title II, Canon 3, Sec. 1 be amended to read as follows:
Sec. 1. The copy of the Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the Use of the Episcopal church, together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, the form of making, ordaining, and consecrating Bishops, Priests, and deacons, the form of consecration of a Church or Chapel, and the office of institution ministers, and Historical Documents of the Church, including the Articles of Religion, accepted by the General Convention of this Church, in the year of our Lord 1979, and authenticated by the signatures of the Presiding Officers and Secretaries of the two Houses of the General Convention, is hereby declared to be the Standard Book of Common Prayer of this Church.
We are assured in the explanation to this change:
Resolution A010 Amended, adopted by the 68th General Convention, amended the title of the Book of Common Prayer as found in Article 10 of the Constitution. Lest any question be raised concerning the effect of this Amendment on the Articles of Religion, the drafter of the original Resolution A010, the Very Rev.Orris G. Walker, Jr., member of the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons, stated on August 29, 1985: "As a member of the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons, I was responsible for drafting the part of our report now entitled A010. It was not my intention, nor that of the Commission, to repeal the Articles of Religion by the proposed Amendment. Since this is a Constitutional change, I am sure my fellow Commission member, Fred Scribner, Chairman of the House of Deputies Committee on the Constitution, will make note of our intention. We simply wished to bring this language into conformity with the title in the present Prayer Book." Fred Scribner was, unfortunately, unable to attend the 68th General Convention, and the Constitution Committee of the House of Deputies was chaired by Mary Lou Crowley, who, together with the Chairman of the Constitution Committee of the House of Bishops, the Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland, concurred in the statement of intention of the author of Resolution A010. This intent is reflected in the wording of Resolution A133 of the 1979 General Convention, as found on page C-9 of the Journal, which incorporates the Articles of Religion in a shortened title "The Book of Common Prayer."
To me, this points out that the Articles of Religion are still canonically normative in the Episcopal Church. The question is a matter of enforcing the Church's own standards. However, some might point out that the Articles are to be found in the "Historical Documents" section of the 1979 book. Does this not negate their authority, if they are just "historical documents"? My response to this is twofold, first, by way of analogy, you should note that the infamous Lambeth Quadrilateral is also just an "historical document", a simple Google search will show you how this is viewed as having authority in PECUSA. Secondly, in order for the placement of the Articles in the "Historical Documents" section to be an act of invalidating their authority, there must be some record and explanation of this either in the rubrics, or in a GC resolution or even in the canons, but there is not. The fact remains that holding the position that because the Articles are in the Historical Documents section means that they have no authority is a matter of pure speculation and not subject to any legitimacy by the Church's standards.


underground pewster said...

Pure speculation trumps constitutional legitimacy all the time in the Episcopal church these days. In practice, the 39 Articles are neither studied nor heard in revisionist parishes lest the simple pewsitters awake and point out the wayward paths their priests and usually their bishops have blazed.

The Hackney Hub said...

I wouldn't doubt that they are probably unheard of in most Episcopal parishes. The point was really to point out their canonical and constitutional authority. This means that every priest who is not upholding their teaching is ipso facto breaking their ordination vow.

Lawrence said...

If you do not require clergy to subscribe, and you do nothing when they teach against them, in fact you endorse teaching against them, then they have no authority.

I had to sign a statement of subscription and belief at ordination, but I think the REC is the only body that requires that.

The Hackney Hub said...

That's a rather poor argument. If you read the piece, the PECUSA does not require an ADDITIONAL subscription. Clergy are required to uphold the doctrine of the Church, which is contained in the Prayer Book. This includes the Articles of Religion. Your notion that canonical authority is based on democracy is a horrible idea and led to the current situation in TEC.

Lawrence said...

I'm not arguing that it based on democracy but that putting a phrase in the canons does not equal real authority if it is not enforced.

There are plenty of historical references that indicate that the PECUSA did not require subscription because they felt it was unreasonable to ask clergy to subscribe to or actually believe the doctrine which they were required to teach. THIS is where the current situation came from.

One can state whatever doctrine they want but if you do not neither require nor care that they believe it and do that for over 100 years no less, then it is not really your doctrine is it?

The Hackney Hub said...

Your first statement indicates that you do believe authority in the Church is governed by democracy and not by due authority. If canons only have authority if they are practiced, then essentially canons have no authority in themselves but only the current governing body does.

I wouldn't argue with you. I have stated multiple times that PECUSA does not require an additional subscription to the Articles. They are required to uphold the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Church ,as contained the Prayer Book, including the Articles of Religion.

Lawrence said...

You are missing the distinction that I am making. Whether willfully or not I do not know, but I will not waste more time on it. The histories are clear on the matter.