Monday, May 19, 2014

His Majesty's Declaration Prefixed to the Articles of Religion

His Majesty's Declaration to the Articles of Religion follows, with important portions highlighted. Following this a brief commentary on the same is to be found.

His Majesty's Declaration.

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:

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:

That we are Supreme Governor of the Church of England; and that if any difference arise about the external policy, concerning injunctions, canons or other constitutions whatsoever thereto belonging, the clergy in their convocation is to order and settle them, having first obtained leave under our broad seal so to do: and we approving their said ordinances and constitutions, providing that none be made contrary to the laws and customs of the land.

That out of our princely care that the churchmen may do the work which is proper unto them, the bishops and clergy, from time to time in convocation, upon their humble desire, shall have licence under our broad seal to deliberate of, and to do all such things as, being made plain by them, and assented unto by us, shall concern the settled continuance of the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England now established; from which we will not endure any varying or departing in the least degree.

That for the present, though some differences have been ill raised, yet we take comfort in this, that all clergymen within our realm have always most willingly subscribed to the Articles established, which is an argument to us, that they all agree in the true, usual literal meaning of the said Articles; and that even in those curious points, in which the present differences lie, men of all sorts take the Articles of the Church of England to be for them; which is an argument again, that none of them intend any desertion of the Articles established.

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 [a reference to Article 17], 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.

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.

His Majesty's Declaration to the Articles of Religion presents a number of challenges to those who wish to undermine the authority of the Articles of Religion as establishing the doctrine of the Church of England. The King's Declaration accomplishes a number of things in a small amount of space. First, it establishes the legal authority of the Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church of England, as all clergy are required to subscribe to. Secondly, it establishes how the text of the Articles is to be interpreted. Thirdly, it establishes where there is flexibility in the Articles.

In establishing the legal authority of the Articles, one need only look to the first few paragraphs, wherein this authority is established. It is important to note that the Formularies are secondary sources of authority in Anglicanism, as the primacy of Scripture is asserted in the same place that the authority of the Articles is established. The nature of the Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church of England requires universal profession in the same truth. After all, the Articles were established for the "avoiding of the diversities of opinions", meaning they are intended to limit the theological diversity of the Church of England.

The second thing that the King's Declaration does is to establish the correct way of interpreting the Articles, which is in the "true, usual literal meaning" of them. This contrasts to some of the more popular ways of interpreting the Articles today. The objective of both the liberal and Tractarian interpretations of the Articles is to avoid what they plainly and literally say. One could add that to more fully understand their plain meaning a bit of historical knowledge of their writing could be useful, although not necessary to understand them.

Thirdly, the Declaration spells out where diversity of opinion may be had. It must be remembered that the purpose of the Articles is to elaborate on the Church of England's teaching, as all confessions do. It is not meant to allow conflicting and contradictory teaching in one "tent". In the second to last paragraph of the Declaration, we see the one article which is allowed some breadth of interpretation in the Church, that is Article 17, on predestination. It is often claimed that the Articles are to be read in their "literal and grammatical" sense, particularly by Tractarians, thus meaning that if an interpretation of the Articles is possible by the nature of the grammar of the text, then it is a lawful interpretation, this, however, is not the case. The Articles are to be read in their "true, usual literal meaning". However, the 17th Article may be read in its "literal and grammatical sense" thus allowing some variety of opinion on this matter. 

No comments: