Matt Kennedy’s essays on the Articles of Religion

Posted by The_Elves

Over at Stand Firm, Matt Kennedy has now posted two entries in a series of essays on the Articles of Religion.

On the First Article of Religion

Who is the Son?: Essays on the Articles of Religion part 2

It has become apparent recently through reading responses to the proposed Covenant Draft, that many reappraisers within TEC reject the truth and authority of the Articles of Religion. This elf is thinking especially of SE Florida's response which stated:

The statement “led by the Holy Spirit, it [i.e. each member Church, and the Communion] has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons,” is factually untrue and inappropriate for a Communion-wide Covenant. [...] Moreover, the “truthfulness” of several of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion is debatable (e.g. Articles VII, XIII, XVII, XVIII, XX, XXIX, and XXXIII). The validity of several of the Articles has been a subject of debate and doubt in The Episcopal Church since its inception.

Obviously the question of a Covenant raises the question of the Formularies. Thus this elf really welcomes and appreciates Matt's effort to help us examine the Articles afresh. Go read his essays!

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Posted July 6, 2007 at 9:29 am

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1. Jimmy DuPre wrote:

True or false; 100 % of reappraisers do not agree with the 39 Articles; 80 % of reasserters do not agree with several key articles, including 9 ( Original Sin), 10 ( Free Will), and 17, (Of Predestination)

July 6, 9:47 am | [comment link]
2. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

I’m inclined to agree (assuming I got Jimmy’s point correctly). Do we have to accept the 39 Articles in toto to be counted in the reasserter camp? Are we to regard the Oxford Tracts as an unfortunate historical accident? (a paraphrase of Peter Moore’s response to me when I put the question to him not so long ago). That would have come as a surprise to James DeKoven and Charles Grafton, for whom I assume some T19 readers have a fondness. If the Covenant is to be grounded in the 39 Articles, what will the consequences be for orthodox unity?

The Articles are more than a historical artifact, but they have never functioned in the way Protestant confessions have generally functioned. Of course, that’s not necessarily a reason for not doing so now. Conciliarity was previously implied but it is now recognized that it must needs be more formal and active. Still, if we are to have an Anglican confession, I suspect some of us would prefer something a little more catholic.

July 6, 10:11 am | [comment link]
3. William Tighe wrote:

Perhaps my own essay on the subject might be of some interest.  I will post it here (in several installments), now that it has effectively disappeared from the internet with the loss of “Pontifications.”



During the Reformation, and for centuries afterward, Protestant bodies defined their theological stances, towards Catholicism and one another, by means of “Confessions of Faith.”  Such Confessions were issued by the Lutherans, the Reformed and the Radicals alike, and some Protestant bodies (such as the Mennonites, an offshoot of the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation) have continued to do so to the present day.  Perhaps the first such Confession issued by a group, as opposed to a statement of an individual Reformer, was the Anabaptist Schleitheim Confession of 1527, but others soon followed.  Three such Confessions were presented to the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 at the command of the Emperor Charles V, a Catholic, who had demanded a clear account of the position of the Reformers and their supporters.  On behalf of the Lutherans, and with Luther’s agreement, Philipp Melanchthon presented the Augsburg Confession, which remains to this day the primary—and for some Lutheran churches the only—binding statement of their belief; on behalf of the Swiss Reformed churches (which had reached an impasse with the Lutherans over Eucharistic doctrine in the preceding year), Huldrych Zwingli’s Reckoning of the Faith; and on behalf of four south German cities the Tetrapolitan Confession, composed by Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Capito and Caspar Hedio, which sought to mediate between the Lutherans and the Reformed.  Lutherans, Reformed and Radicals alike continued to produce further confessions, in the case of the Radicals as often as not to differentiate various groups from one another, but in the case of the Lutherans and the Reformed to amplify their original statements, respond to further controversies and to differentiate their views from one another, and from Catholicism.  In the case of the Lutherans, such key Confessions as the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles (1537), the Formula of Concord (1577), among others (ten in all), were gathered together in 1580 in the Book of Concord, which itself became normative for most Lutheran churches, but in the case of the Reformed, by contrast, there were many confessions of faith, similar but far from identical with one another, promulgated by various national or regional churches.  These included the First Helvetic Confession (1536), the Scots Confession (1560), the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Second Scots Confession (1581), the Irish Articles of Religion (1615), the Westminster Confession (1647) and the Confession of the Waldenses (1655).  Most Reformed churches, but by no means all, accepted the Canons of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) which defined the “five points” of Calvinism, namely, namely, total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. In almost all such “confessional churches” subscription to the confessions was a prerequisite for ordination, promotion or teaching in a Theology Faculty; and in some Protestant countries subscription was a requirement for those holding public office.

In England, of course, Henry VIII’s breach with Rome (1532-34) had nothing to do with Protestant doctrinal ideas of any sort, although to be sure it is doubtful that if the continental Reformation had not happened Henry would have had the willingness or the ability to break with Rome and to have himself declared to be “only Supreme Head under Christ of the Church of England” in 1534.  Although Henry came to see himself as a “reformer” as well as a “godly prince” his idea of “reform” extended only so far beyond despoiling the Church as to attack “superstitious devotion” to saints and images, as well as, half-heartedly, the existence of Purgatory.  (Henry allowed the existence of Purgatory to be denied, but believed in prayer for the dead; towards the end of his reign he signed a law allowing him to dissolve chantries, endowed foundations that provided for Masses for the dead, but in his own will he endowed thousands of Masses for the repose of his own soul.)  For political reasons Henry engaged in sustained negotiations for an alliance with the Lutheran princes of Germany in the 1530s, and since these princes insisted that a religious/confessional agreement had to accompany a political alliance he allowed reform-minded English theologians, among them Archbishop Cranmer, to strive to come to a theological agreement with the Lutherans.  Among the results of these negotiations were the Wittenberg Articles of 1536, the Ten Articles later in the same year and Cranmer’s own Thirteen Articles of 1538.  These all showed a good deal of practical reform-mindedness, but although they all employed to a greater or lesser extent Lutheran-sounding terms and phrases, they were never promulgated or ratified: Henry had an abiding, if uncomprehending, hostility to the Lutheran doctrine of “Justification by Faith Alone” and an equally abiding devotion to clerical celibacy, and once it became clear by mid 1539 that he had no need for a Lutheran alliance, he cast them aside and upheld a strongly Catholic view on all controverted theological issues for the remainder of his reign.

England had a Protestant Reformation imposed on it in the course of Edward VI’s reign (1547-1553), although the rapidity and spontaneity of the restoration of Catholic practice and rites after Edward’s death in July 1553 and the succession of his catholic half-sister Mary, even before the law was altered to legalize and restore Catholicism, shows how superficial was its effect.  Under Edward, changes in practice—the replacement of the Latin Mass by successive Books of Common Prayer in 1549 and 1552, the implementation of communion in both species in 1548, the allowance of clerical marriage in 1549, the removal of altars in 1550 and their replacement by wooden tables, to name the most notable—preceded changes in doctrine, and it was only in June 1553, less than a month before the king’s death, that 42 “Articles of Religion” drafted by Archbishop Cranmer were promulgated by the authority of the Privy Council (no ecclesiastical body or assembly ever debated or approved of them), and they died with the king.  Nevertheless, as they formed the basis for the later 39 Articles, it is only right to glance at a few of their distinguishing features.  Taken as a whole, they are Protestant, they are Reformed and they are unCatholic (and certainly not in any sense “Anglo-Catholic”).  As they were formulated in the 1550s they do not dwell upon matters such as predestination, election, perseverance in grace and assurance of salvation which were to agitate the Reformed world generally and English Protestants particularly from the 1580s onwards, but on matters such as the Eucharist, on which a great chasm had opened between the Lutheran and Reformed camps in the 1520s and which was rapidly becoming more embittered in the 1550s, the 42 Articles took a decidedly Reformed stance.  For example, Article 29 (which corresponds to Article 28 in the 39 Articles) “Of the Lord’s Supper” contains a passage, subsequently omitted, which runs “For as much as the truth of man’s nature requireth, that the body of one and the selfsame man cannot be at one time in diverse places, but must needs be in one certain place; therefore the body of Christ cannot be present at one time in many and diverse places.  And because, as Holy Scripture doth teach, Christ was taken up into heaven, and there shall continue until the end of the world, a faithful man ought not either to believe or openly to confess the real and bodily presence, as they term it, of Christ’s flesh and blood, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”  Taken together with the “Black Rubric” (which rejected “anye reall and essencial presence there beeyng of Christ’s naturall fleshe and bloude” in the eucharistic elements) of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer their fully Reformed stance is clear enough.  The 42 Articles also contained condemnations of universalism, millenarianism, and the “sleep of souls” until the general resurrection which were omitted from the later 39, as well as the clear statement that “the decrees of predestination are unknown to us” to which many later Calvinists would have objected (if it was interpreted to mean that the elect could not be aware of their own election).

No doctrinal stance beyond the mere repudiation of the papacy and whatever was implicit in the restoration of a slightly modified version of the 1552 Prayer Book (from which the “Black Rubric” had been removed) was mandated by or in the 1559 “Elizabethan Settlement.”  It was not until the Convocation of Canterbury (the assembly of bishops and clerical representatives of the Province of Canterbury under its Archbishop, which met in tandem with Parliament) assembled in the period from 13 January to 10 April 1563 that the newly re-reformed Church of England’s leadership was able to reformulate its theological stance, in the form of 39 Articles.  This they accomplished by 29 January, and it appears that the process of revision was largely undertaken the bishops, who first considered a revision of the Articles (still keeping to the number 42, but involving deletions and rewritings) which some of their number had prepared for consideration, and then went on to revise it further, producing 39 Articles, which were approved in Convocation and subsequently presented to Elizabeth I.  The Queen, it appears, made two changes, insisting on the total omission of Article 29 (“Of the Wicked which do not eat the Body of Christ in the Use of the Lord’s Supper”), probably because of its clear repudiation of the Lutheran sacramental teaching that both the good and the wicked do indeed receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacramental elements, the former to their benefit, the latter to their condemnation—she allowed the inclusion of Article 29 only in 1571, as we shall see with an accompanying qualification—and insisted that the phrase “The Church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith; and yet” be prefixed to Article 20, before authorizing their promulgation (as 38 Articles) later in the same year.

(to be cont’d)

July 6, 10:21 am | [comment link]
4. William Tighe wrote:


It is no part of this essay’s purpose to enter upon an detailed theological analysis of the Articles.  It is important to note, though, that at a time when Lutheran and Reformed confessions were becoming more detailed and specific in their affirmations and repudiations as old controversies continued and new ones arose both within and between these groups, the reduction of the 42 Articles to 38 or 39 was at the same time a movement towards imprecision and, if one may write anachronistically, “inclusivity,” and that without any clear guidelines as to its limits.  The Articles as they emerged in 1563 were somewhat more strongly worded in their implicit or explicit condemnation of certain traditional Catholic practices or beliefs than their earlier counterparts—Article 24 was stronger in its condemnation of non-vernacular worship, Article 34 in its assertion of the competence of “particular or national churches” to alter rites and ceremonies on their own authority, Article 6 in distinguishing between Old Testament canonical books and other apocryphal books (some of which had been declared fully canonical by councils considered by Catholics as ecumenical, i.e., Florence [1441] and Trent [1547]) and Article 30 (a new article) insisting on communion in both kinds—but on specifically theological matters they were less specific and less comprehensive.  The articles on the Eucharist are a good example of this.  As mentioned above, the rejection of the Real Presence on the basis of the “localization” of Christ’s body in Heaven was removed from what became Article 28, and in its place there appeared the statement that “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.”  The “feel” is clearly Reformed, rather than Catholic or Lutheran, but Catholics, and “traditionalists” in general, could without too much difficulty interpret “after an heavenly and spiritual manner” and “faith” in such a way as to allow their own views.  And we know that this was intentional, because it was done almost immediately thereafter.  The author of this portion of the article was Edmund Guest (1518-1577), Bishop of Rochester from 1560 to 1571 and of Salisbury from 1571 to 1577. We know Guest to have been Reformed in his general theological outlook, like almost all of Elizabeth’s initial Episcopal appointees, and we also know that, again like most of his colleagues, he would have preferred a religious settlement that in its liturgical provisions and as regards clerical vestments had been more sweeping in its purge of Catholic survivals; but he also seems to have been more accommodating in his views, and deferential to the queen’s religious eccentricities (he may have prepared a revision, one that proved to be abortive, of the 1549 Communion Service at the queen’s behest in the opening months of the reign, until she realized that she had little choice but to accept the more Protestant 1552 service, modified in a slightly more “traditional” direction) than many of his colleagues.  In any event, when the most conservative of Elizabeth’s first bishops, Richard Cheyney (1513-1579; bishop in 1562) of Gloucester, refused to subscribe to this article in 1566 on the grounds that the word “only” in this section denied the presence of the body of Christ in the sacrament, Guest replied that “it did not exclude the presence of Christis body fro the Sacrament, but onely the grossnes and senseblenes in the receavinge thereof.”  Cheyney appears to have been less than fully convinced by this explanation, as he persisted in his refusal to subscribe when all 39 Articles were ratified in 1571, and as a result was briefly excommunicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury—and even then he may have been absolved without giving in—and it is less than clear whether Guest’s explanation revealed his own views or were an attempt to accommodate Cheyney’s.  In a similar manner, Article 35, which affirmed the validity of Cranmer’s Ordinal for ordaining bishops, priests and deacons, when taken together with the insistence of Article 23 on a formal public call for preaching and ministering the sacraments in a congregation, could be read as either interpreting the particular form of ecclesiastical polity in the Church of England (episcopacy) as a matter of indifference (an adiaphoron), or else as endorsing its continuance without any suggestion that it might be subject to alteration.

For reasons which remain obscure, Queen Elizabeth yielded to the insistence of almost all of her bishops in the 1571 Convocation that the Articles be reissued, this time with the inclusion of the previously vetoed Article 29, and this despite a last-minute plea from Guest that it remain excluded.  At the same time, however, this same Convocation passed a canon asserting that the Articles were in agreement with the “Catholic bishops and fathers” of the Early Church and insisted that they be interpreted accordingly.  This was a remarkable canon, for despite the fact that advocates of all sides to the 16th-Century religious conflict, Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed alike, were given to claiming that their particular doctrinal stances and, in some cases, distinctive practices, were in accord with those of the Early Church Fathers, or at least with those of high standing (such as St. Augustine), none were willing to require, or even permit, their confessional stances to be judged by, or subordinated to, a hypothetical “Patristic consensus” of the first four or five centuries of Christianity.  Even in England the canon had very little effect at first, beyond, perhaps, serving as an encouragement to “conformist Calvinists” in the 1570s and 80s who were unsympathetic to the “puritan” campaign to substitute a presbyterian polity for the traditional episcopal order to carry the battle into the enemy’s camp by vaunting the universality and antiquity of episcopacy, as opposed to the novelty of the “Geneva Discipline.”  Once Reformed and, more specifically, Calvinist ideas on predestination, election and perseverance, which had dominated the English academic/theological scene from the 1560s began to come under attack from a small number of academic theologians, especially in Cambridge, in the 1590s, some of whom were foreign Reformed refugees and most of whom—Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) being the major exception and the discreet-to-the-point-of-silent John Young, Bishop of Rochester from 1578 to 1605 another— were “recovering Calvinists,” however, and it became clear that the 39 Articles were a useless tool to uphold Calvinist orthodoxy and silence dissenters, a number of English Calvinist divines conferred together privately in London in 1595, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift (1530-1604; archbishop in 1583) among them, to create the “Lambeth Articles.”  These nine articles asserted (1) double predestination, (2) election owing to God’s inscrutable good pleasure and not from His foreknowledge of faith and good works, (3) the fixed number of the elect, (4) the necessary damnation of the reprobate, (5) the perseverance of the saints (i.e., the elect can never fall “finally” or “totally”), (6) the “full assurance of salvation” of the elect, (7) saving grace is not offered to all men, (8) no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him, but not all are so drawn by the Father, and (9) it is not in everyone’s power to be saved.

The purpose intended by the framers of the Lambeth Articles is mysterious, especially as the meetings which produced them were conducted clandestinely.  All those involved in their framing were aware that the queen would be unalterably opposed to them, and even more to the fact that those involved in the business had proceeded on their own initiative without her knowledge and consent, and yet a number of high government officials were aware of the meetings and discreetly encouraged them.  More mysteriously still, when news of the sudden death at the age of 48 of the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, William Whitaker (1547-1595), the driving force behind the Lambeth Articles, reached London, Whitaker’s patron, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s Lord Treasurer, a man who had been fully aware of the discussions, promptly informed the queen about them, evoking an outburst of fury on her part, and a hasty end to the project.  I wrote an article on this affair some years ago, and came to the conclusion that its obscure essence was largely political in nature.  By 1598 it was becoming clear that the queen’s likely successor—she refused to name an heir or to allow any discussion of the succession throughout her reign—would be her cousin, King James VI of Scotland, and if that wily monarch were to prove himself to be both a Calvinist in his theological outlook and one who regarded the Church of England as an institution in need of “reform” on the Scottish semi-Presbyterian and ultra-Calvinist model (no one in 1598 could know that James would find the “model” of the Church of England much more to his satisfaction after he inherited the English throne in 1603 than that of his native Scotland, especially as he had spent much of the 1590s professing the contrary in an attempt to divide radical Calvinist “presbyterianizers” from ordinary “loyal” Calvinists who would leave the shape of the Scottish Church to the king if he, in turn, would uphold Calvinist theological orthodoxy), the English religious and secular establishment, or at least the most influential elements and personalities in it, would be able to brandish the Lambeth Articles as proof that they had agreed with James’s views all along.

However—and this is the relevance of the abortive Lambeth Articles to the larger story with which this essay is concerned—although the Lambeth Articles never achieved any official status in the Church of England, they did, for a time, in the Church of Ireland.  Ireland had for centuries been a “lordship” dependent on the English Crown, until in 1540 Henry VIII promoted himself to be King of Ireland as well as King of England.  The Church of Ireland, like the Church of England, returned to the communion of the Catholic Church in the reign of Mary Tudor, and in 1560 the Irish Parliament, like the English Parliament a year earlier, enacted laws repudiating papal jurisdiction and replacing the Latin rites with a Book of Common Prayer in every respect identical with that adopted in England in 1559.  For whatever reason, though, whether through policy or negligence, the Church of Ireland never adopted the 39 Articles at any point in Elizabeth’s reign, and by the end of her reign, once any possibility of retaining more than a small fraction of the native Irish people or the old Anglo-Norman aristocracy in what they came to term “the Queen’s religion” (as opposed to “the Pope’s religion”) had passed and the Church of Ireland had become the church of the English governing elite and colonial settlers, its clergy and hierarchy had become in practice as thoroughly Calvinist in their theological outlook as those of Scotland (but without the presbyterianism).  In 1615, when James allowed the bishops and clergy of the Church of Ireland to assemble in Convocation and adopt a Confession of Faith, instead of adopting the 39 Articles they drew up and promulgated the “Irish Articles of Religion,” an elaborate and systematic document of 104 articles, thoroughly Calvinist in character and drawing upon the language of both the 39 Articles and the Lambeth Articles.  It remained in force only until 1634, when at the behest of Charles I and over the strong objections of many of the Irish clergy and bishops it was withdrawn and replaced by the unmodified 39 Articles.

By 1630 the English ecclesiastical scene had changed dramatically from what it had been a mere ten years earlier.  From the 1590s onward there emerged a group of clerical theologians who were increasingly open in their rejection of aspects of what may well be termed the “Calvinist consensus” of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church of England.  Many of these men continued to embrace a theological outlook that was more Reformed than not, even while rejecting other aspects of Calvinist or even Reformed theology—Richard Hooker is a good example of this, embracing as he did an attitude towards the role of reason and the purpose of worship that differed strikingly from that of most Reformed theologians while retaining a Reformed view of the Eucharist (while Lancelot Andrewes, by contrast, seems in many respects not to be a theological Protestant at all)—and in later years this group attracted the label “Arminian” because of the rejection of the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination that it shared with the Dutch followers of Jacob Arminius (d. 1609), although in most other theological respects the Dutch Arminians and their English counterparts were worlds apart.  James VI and I, although he disappointed the hopes of those who looked to him to “reform” the Church of England, was far more Calvinist in his theological outlook than Elizabeth I had been (although in the last five years of his life his views may have begun to alter).  Nevertheless, it was he who appointed Andrewes and other like-minded men to high office in the Church of England, it would seem more out of appreciation for their high views of monarchical authority and their opposition to “puritans” (whom James regarded as kindred spirits to the aggressive presbyterianizing clergy whom he had come to detest in his youth in Scotland, as much for their minimizing notions about monarchical authority as for their ideas on church polity) than for their theological views—and to provide a counterweight to the still preponderantly Calvinist clergy and bishops.  By the early 1620s, however, a number of circumstances, including James’s desire to avoid involvement in the Thirty Years War (in opposition to the strong desire on the part of many English Protestants, lay and clerical alike, for England to assume the leadership of “the Protestant cause”) and to arrange a marriage to a Catholic princess for his heir, his son Charles (a desire opposed just as strongly by the same people who supported English involvement in the war), as well as, perhaps, his own shifting theological views, caused James to appoint an increasing number of anti-Calvinist clergy to high church positions.  More significant than this, though, was the fact that during the last years of his father’s life Prince Charles became a firm and total supporter of the anti-Calvinist party in the Church of England: to Charles the kind of anti-Calvinist theological outlook embodied by Andrewes and his disciples and followers such as William Laud was simply “orthodox” while all Calvinists were by definition “puritans,” even if they had no designs to alter the polity or the liturgy of the Church of England.  Shortly before Charles succeeded his father in 1625, Andrewes and a number of his like-minded colleagues met privately with one of the Prince’s chaplains to ascertain his master’s sentiments, as well as how church affairs were likely to fare in a new reign, and at it they learned that Charles would support their views to the uttermost when he became king.  And so it proved: from the beginning of the reign Charles’s Episcopal appointments tilted heavily from what was popularly termed the “Arminian” party, so much so that the quip was soon in circulation that when one man asked another “what do the Arminians hold?,” the reply was “all the best bishoprics and deaneries in England.”

In 1630 Charles I ordered the republication of the 39 Articles, to which was prefixed “His Majesty’s Declaration” and to this day it remains in that position in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (1662).  The Declaration was explicitly intended to put an end to theological controversy over the meaning of the Articles, and its most significant section ended with the king’s commandment “that no man shall hereafter print or preach to draw the Articles 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 seems an unexceptionable and perhaps even commendable, if futile, gesture, but its purpose, and immediate effect, was to “deprivilege” and hence undermine the Reformed and Calvinist reading of the Articles that had been “traditional” for the previous sixty-five years.  Within a short time of the Declaration’s issuance, an increasing number of “Caroline divines” began to interpret the Articles, or some of them, in ways explicitly repudiated Reformed readings, and to align then as closely to what they saw as the views of the “Catholic bishops and fathers” which had in some general sense been presented as exemplary back in 1571, and at the same time the publications of Calvinist divines began to encounter censorship or outright suppression, as contravening the Royal Declaration and contradicting the views of those “Catholic bishops and fathers” mentioned earlier.  In 1634 the English Franciscan friar Franciscus de Sancta Clara (Christopher Davenport, brother of the Puritan first minister of the New Haven colony, John Davenport), published his monumental Deus, Natura, Gratia …, an appendix to which sought to demonstrate the Articles’ compatibility with the dogmatic decrees of the Council of Trent in order to promote a future reconciliation between the Church of England and the Catholic Church; and although Davenport admitted that there were some few respects in which they appeared to be at variance with one another, his work aroused a good deal of interest at the time, especially among the “Caroline divines” and even from the king himself (who seemed to think the theological differences between the two churches “trifles,” as opposed to the political claims of the papacy over kings and princes).  All of these hopes and aspirations came to nothing as Crown and Church went to a common ruin in the 1640s; and after the Restoration of both institutions in 1660 a broad range of latitude interpreting the Articles became the norm in the Church of England and in its later offshoots, as the pendulum of influence swung, usually under the impetus of political forces, between the various “parties” that were entrenched in the Church of England thereafter.  When the “Catholic Revival” of the Oxford Movement and Tractarianism arose in the 1830s after a long period in which the Evangelical or “low-church” party and the Latitudinarian or “broad-church” party had been the predominant groups in the Church of England, and even the “high-church” party had stressed its “Protestant character,” the future Cardinal Newman’s Tract 90 (1841) set out “to show that, while our Prayer Book is acknowledged on all hands to be of Catholic origin, our Articles also, the offspring of an uncatholic age, are, through God’s good providence, to say the least, not uncatholic, and may be subscribed by those who aim at being catholic in heart and doctrine.”  He went on to justify this using arguments that included those excerpted below:

1. In the first place, it is a duty which we owe both to the Catholic Church and to our own, to take our reformed confessions in the most Catholic sense they will admit; we have no duties towards their framers. Nor do we receive the Articles from their original framers, but from several successive Convocations after their time; in the last instance, from that of 1662 …

3. Whatever be the authority of the Declaration prefixed to the Articles, so far as it has any weight at all, it sanctions the mode of interpreting them above given. For its enjoining the “literal and grammatical sense,” relieves us from the necessity of making the known opinions of their framers, a comment upon their text; and its forbidding any person to “affix any new sense to any Article,” was promulgated at a time when the leading men of our Church were especially noted for those Catholic views which have been here advocated …

7. Lastly, their framers constructed them in such a way as best to comprehend those who did not go so far in Protestantism as themselves. Anglo-Catholics then are but the successors and representatives of those moderate reformers; and their case has been directly anticipated in the wording of the Articles. It follows that they are not perverting, they are using them for an express purpose for which among others their authors framed them. The interpretation Anglo-Catholics take was intended to be admissible; though not that which those authors took themselves. Had it not been provided for, possibly the Articles never would have been accepted by our Church at all. If, then, their framers have gained their side of the compact in effecting the reception of the Articles, let Catholics have theirs too in retaining their own Catholic interpretation of them.

The Protestant Confession was drawn up with the purpose of including Catholics; and Catholics now will not be excluded. What was an economy in the Reformers, is a protection to us. What would have been a perplexity to us then, is a perplexity to Protestants now. We could not then have found fault with their words; they cannot now repudiate our meaning.

Newman’s arguments met with a generally outraged response, and were repudiated by the bishops of the Church of England.  However, not only were his arguments not without precedent, but the tendency of this essay is to demonstrate the substantial accuracy of those three points of Newman’s argument that have been excerpted above, however one evaluates his overall argument.  Attempts of a similar sort continue to be made in order to assert the “Catholic essence” of Anglicanism, one of the most scholarly and comprehensive being The Council of Trent and Anglican Formularies by H. Edward Symonds (Oxford, 1932); and it seems to me that if the overall account of the Articles that I have given be accepted as accurate, then any and every attempt to wrest the Articles’ sense into a Catholic, Evangelical or liberal/modernist sense can only be judged by their fidelity to their “literal and grammatical sense” and perhaps also the congruence of the results with the teachings of the “Catholic bishops and fathers” of the Early Church.  Depending on whether one seeks conformity with the first of these two criteria, or with both of them, the scope for allowable interpretation will be remarkably different.

To return at length to the question that gives a title to the essay, the answer that emerges from it is a decided negative: the Articles are almost wholly useless as a Confession of Faith for contemporary Anglicans, just as they have been of fairly limited usefulness virtually since they received their final form early in the reign of Elizabeth I.  They are frequently vague concerning what they mandate and what they repudiate, and it seems that this was a design feature rather than a flaw; they have no authoritative interpretation and no one tradition of interpretation so dominant as to compel assent; they do not compel any particular deference to the views of their framers and so cannot yield to an “original intent” hermeneutic, and hence there is no compelling argument to favor Jewel’s theological framework as authoritative rather than Andrewes’, Hooker’s rather than Pusey’s, E. L. Mascall’s rather than J. I. M. Packer’s or (for that matter) Keith Ackerman’s rather than Fitz Allison’s—no more than there is to prefer the “Anglicanism” (if one can call it that) of Elizabeth I’s reign to that of Charles I‘s, or that of the Tractarians to that of the members of Via Media.  As a sympathetic but far from uncritical Catholic onlooker, I have strong affinities and antipathies towards the individuals and “tendencies” paired above, but they all serve to illuminate, as does the question with which this essay has attempted to deal, the real underlying problem: the question of authority, or rather the fact that there is effectively no “authority” in Anglican churches, save the authority of governing structures—whether these are envisaged as synodal structures whose purported “conciliar” or “democratic” nature somehow ensures them “the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit” or else as resting with Anglican bishops and their purported “apostolic authority.”  But to whichever alternative one inclines, it appears that both of them are mystifications meant to conceal the true essence of Anglicanism as an institutional phenomenon, and as a religious ideology, and that is its bedrock Erastianism.  For the purposes of this essay contemporary “Erastianism” can be summed up in the phrase (which I remember reading with disgust years ago, although I have forgotten its source) “the World sets the agenda, the Church responds to it”—or, more succinctly, “go with the flow.”  Historically, Anglican Erastianism took the form of, in England, the authority over the church of the Crown-in-Parliament and, more recently, by the Church of England’s slavish obsequiousness to bien-pensant public opinion, and, in America, the “social Erastianism” of deference to elite secular opinion and social consensus, spiced up at times by romantic Anglophilia and medievalism; and as elite opinion has moved away from Christian moral and social teaching in both countries (if at different speeds and in different ways), so Anglican bishops and clergy have found ways to “sanctify” its every stage and advance in a facilis descensus Averni that has led from the approval of contraception to that of routine remarriage after divorce and from p********es to the sanctification of sodomy.  A sad confirmation of the analysis of this essay can be found in the utter inability over the past three decades of “Continuing Anglican” bodies to arrive at a coherent and prescriptive consensus about what constitutes the “Anglican orthodoxy” that they profess, for the most part, to preserve—save by their clear if (for the most part) tacit repudiation of the distinctive views of the English Reformers and striving instead to embody a purported non-papal Western Catholicism, and one in which the 39 Articles seem more an embarrassment than an asset. 

POSTSCRIPT: On more than one occasion I have advised Continuing Anglican clergy and bishops that they would be better off jettisoning the 39 Articles in their entirety and substituting for them the 1977 “Affirmation of St. Louis.”  I was pleased to see, in the comment thread following the original posting of this essay, such a widespread endorsement of this suggestion, including one from Bishop David Chislett of FIF/OZ (Australia) that in supervising the theological education of “his” ordinands he had done precisely that.

July 6, 10:32 am | [comment link]
5. libraryjim wrote:

In a class on Anglicanism, Fr. Petty suggested a serious revision of the Articles, particularly because many of the articles ASSUME a knowledge and faith base that may no longer be present among the Church.  His suggestion was a sort of ‘annotated’ and ‘amplified’ version of the articles, spelling out more clearly what is meant in each article.  (Especially the one sentence article on the Holy Spirit.)

“The world is a dangerous place to live — not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”—Albert Einstein

July 6, 10:37 am | [comment link]
6. The_Elves wrote:

For the record, by posting the links to Matt’s essays here, this elf was not trying to take a position as to whether the Articles should be the part of the basis for an Anglican Covenant.  But the questions, being raised on both sides (specifically among reappraisers and Anglo-Catholics), force us to reexamine the Articles and consider to what extent they can or should be used in the Covenant process, and in my opinion, Matt’s essays can help us in that process.


Got questions about T19? E-mail us! .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

July 6, 10:38 am | [comment link]
7. William Tighe wrote:


If my two postings above (#s 3 & 4) are in any way mal a propos, please feel free to move them, delete them or (perhaps) make a separate article of them.


Dr. Tighe.  They are just fine by us.  No complaints.  Obviously it is sometimes hard to read something so long in the comments.  I will let Kendall make the call on whether to post them as a top-level entry.  My comment following yours was in no way a complaint against your comments.  I’m just conscious that I am guest blogging for Kendall and I am trying not to editorialize too much.  But since my writing style is different from his, I find it hard to be as studiously neutral in tone as Kendall manages to be most of the time.

July 6, 10:49 am | [comment link]
8. samh wrote:

Forgive my naivete, but what is wrong with Article VII?

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

July 6, 11:01 am | [comment link]
9. samh wrote:

Futhermore, there is less disagreement about Article XVII (Predestination & Election) than there has to be.  It does not assume a 5-point Calvinistic doctrine.  The New and Old Testaments are both clear that God does, in some way shape or form predestine people to his saving grace.  Whether you believe his mercy is forced upon people against his will, or their lives are orchestrated such that they cannot do anything but accept it, or that he doesn’t elect specific individuals… all of those are compatible with a plain reading of Article XVII.  To say that there is no such thing as election at all seems sort of silly in light of Paul’s writings in the NT.  Nor do I believe Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer or Hooker would agree that there is no concept of predestination or election found in scripture.

July 6, 11:05 am | [comment link]
10. The_Elves wrote:

#9 I hope it is clear that it is the Executive Council and general Convention deputies of SE FL who are criticizing Article VII.  Neither Matt Kennedy+ nor the elves are raising an objection!

You’d have to ask the SE FL authors of the Covenant response since they do not elaborate at all as to what they find objectionable about the Articles they cite.

Matt+  (#8)  Thank you VERY much for chiming in with that clarification as to the intent and scope of your essays.  I probably did you a disservice by framing them as I did in the context of the Covenant.  I obviously had the SE FL response on my mind and its rejection of the Articles. 

Speaking personally, I greatly appreciate and admire your commitment to Christian education and formation in your parish, and your focus on APPLIED theology.  What do the Articles mean for our day to day faith?  Really excellent work.  Thank you for your teaching ministry.


Got questions about T19? E-mail us! .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

July 6, 11:07 am | [comment link]
11. samh wrote:

Sorry for the three posts in a row, but what would anybody’s grief with Article XX be?

July 6, 11:08 am | [comment link]
12. samh wrote:

Elves, I realize that.  I just don’t understand what part the reappraisers would throw out.

July 6, 11:09 am | [comment link]
13. Bill in Ottawa wrote:

As a mild correction, TEC has 38 articles. Article 21 (On the Authority of General Councils) was removed in 1801 without renumbering the remaining articles. The reponse from SE Florida has serious concerns with the following articles. I underlined some of the key phrases that I think the reappraiser side objects to.

VII. Of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, <u>no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.</u>

XIII. Of Works before Justification.
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his 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, <u>we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.</u>

XVII. Of Predestination and Election.
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: <u>So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall</u>, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God’s promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

XVIII. Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.
<u>They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth</u>, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.

XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and <u>yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written</u>, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper.
The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, <u>to their condemnation</u>, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

XXXIII. Of excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided.
That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, <u>until he be openly reconciled by penance</u>, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

All of the above point away from the current innovations. Article 7 settles the “shellfish argument” rather handily, and was in place long before the current controversy. Article 13 requires conversion before the MDG has any standing in God’s eyes. Article 17 has the temerity to suggest that not everyone goes to Heaven and that there are rules to follow in order to finally get there. Article 18 not only denies pluralism, but curses it as well. Article 20 denies GS the authority to decree things contrary to Scripture. Article 29 logically denies Communion before Baptism, as well as warning us that we endanger our souls if we take communion lightly and without faith. Article 33 commands us to avoid those persons who are excommunicate and Tradition tells us that a formal excommunication is merely a public acknowledgement of the excommunicate state of the person so judged. Therefore, as false teachers are by definition excommunicate, we must avoid them until they publicly repent.

If anyone actually read the Homilies, even within the advice of the 1801 rubric (“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…”) there would be strong objections to it as well, because the Christian doctrine expounded in them is very strongly expressed and runs counter to many of the innovations.

July 6, 11:18 am | [comment link]
14. Dee in Iowa wrote:

I once had someone say to me that the 39 articles were nothing but historical documents.  My reply was so is the Bible…...but I took out the “nothing but”.

July 6, 11:26 am | [comment link]
15. libraryjim wrote:

The articles are proof that the Anglican Church does have a “core doctrinal position” on certain issues.  Which is why ECUSA/TEC was so insistent that they be relegated to a position of “nothing but historical documents”.

“The world is a dangerous place to live — not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”—Albert Einstein

July 6, 11:48 am | [comment link]
16. Stan W wrote:

The articles are a wonderful expression of our faith. I believe it is necessary to declare in general what we believe both for explanation and accountability. It is also a noble endeavor to further delineate in today’s language what the articles meant(that is if it is in keeping with the original spirit of the confession). For me the articles are refreshingly broad enough to include those evangelicals like myself who are now on the Canterbury trail.

There is room for an re-examination of the wording to make sure that it is in harmony with an orthodox understanding of Scripture, but not for the purpose of forcing the Scriptures to fit the philosophy and ideals of our present culture.

July 6, 12:54 pm | [comment link]
17. Jimmy DuPre wrote:

In the first comment; my point was that if reasserters were to be given free rein to correct the errors of the past 30 years, we would not end up with any consistent support of reformed theology.

I myself also affirm the articles as being true to the Gospel;recognizing that they were writen in response to what was sen as errors in the Churches teachings at the time, and so may not address all issues

July 6, 12:55 pm | [comment link]
18. evan miller wrote:

Dr. Tighe,
Thanks for sharing your excellent essay.  I found it very helpful and illuminating.  Lots of good information and perceptive analysis there.

July 6, 1:15 pm | [comment link]
19. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

If anyone is interested in some of the background and commentary on the 39 Articles there is a useful resource on the following link
Bear in mind that some of the coverage is from the CofE perspective which along with much of the Communion considers them very relevant to understanding our doctrine.  In some ways reading them makes clear the issues on which the reformed but catholic Church of England diverged from the Roman Catholic church. It includes JC Ryle, evangelical Bishop of Liverpool’s tract on them written in the 19th Century.

Some days I sit and think. Other days I just sit!!

July 6, 1:20 pm | [comment link]
20. Ross wrote:

I will admit that the last time I went through the Articles to count up how many I agreed with, I ended up somewhere in the low twenties.  I don’t recall off the top of my head which ones rankled; but since there are many ways in which I’m not particularly a “Reformation” Christian it was probably the more specifically Reformed-versus-Catholic articles that did me in.

Mind you, despite growing up Episcopalian, I had never even heard of the 39 Articles until one day when I decided to read through the entire BCP and see what was in it other than that well-worn sheaf of pages from 355-366.  I do plan to take my Sunday School class through them at some point, and I’ll explain them as best I can; but I leave it up to the kids to make up their own minds on these things.

Who am I?  Visit my web page or my blog  to find out.

July 6, 1:24 pm | [comment link]
21. mathman wrote:

Dr. Tighe refers to the “percolation” effect, in which ideas work their way into the church from the society at large. I believe the modern word for this is paradigm, and Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote about paradigm shifts extensively in his works.
Paradigm shifts are common in all areas of human activity. One need only look at the steady shift of opinion about the spontaneous generation of life which resulted from the experiments of Pasteur.
Or look at Jaroslav Pelikan’s book about Christ Through the Ages (I think that is the title). He shows how different groups of people viewed Jesus, with an evident impact on theology which came from the culture.
Tighe’s discussion of the ups and downs of Calvinistic thought in England display this paradigm shift in microcosm.
There is a major problem here. Each of us is perforce a member of our current culture. Our world view shapes (and distorts) those things which we view and consider. To properly consider weighty issues such as confront us today is neither simple nor straightforward. To my sorrow, partisans on both sides of many issues seem to resort to polemics, straw men, and ad hominem attacks, rather than (as do Tighe and Kennedy) dwell on the basic issues at hand.
Would that there be more who follow Kennedy and Tighe in setting forth issues in a comprehensive and historic manner!

July 6, 9:06 pm | [comment link]
22. Father Will Brown wrote:

One Anglo-Catholics Two Cents:

I would resist an effort to promulgate the Articles officially.  They’ve never been in force in TEC hitherto (as far as I know), nor in other Provinces of the Communion—which demonstrates that you CAN be an Anglican without signing on to them.  The situation may be different in other parts of the Communion (the C of E, for example).  But a hard push of the Articles would throw a wrench into the already somewhat unnatural alliance of Catholics and Evangelicals in the Communion at the moment.  So why push them? I guess what I’m saying is that adherence to the 39 Articles as a communion-wide confessional standard is an innovation, and it will cause political problems, of which we’ve already got plenty.

On the other hand, if the Evangelicals must foist the Articles on the Catholics, I suppose that I, for my part, could accept them IF AND ONLY IF I could accept them explicitly along the lines of Tract 90.

Anglican Catholic

July 7, 1:49 pm | [comment link]
23. Eugene wrote:

I think it is hard to deny that the articles are Reformed (albeit Reformed lite!).  The same is to be said about the homilies.  The PECUSA stopped enforcing the articles in the 19th Century.  Before that, the sacrament was not reserved in an aumbry no carried about as in the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. (Article XXVIII).  Article XXIX is Reformed in teaching that the unworthy do not partake of Christ in the Sacrament (note not MAY not, but DO not).  I believe this is called the receptionist view of the Supper.  And so forth.

That being said the question is can 21st Century Reformed Christians and Anglo-Catholic Christians write a statement of important aspects of the Faith, the is broader than the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, and actually agree with one another?  My hope is that we can: I suspect however that it will not work.

July 7, 2:32 pm | [comment link]
24. TomRightmyer wrote:

The minutes of the General Convention of 1801 indicate that the purpose of establishing the revised form of the Articles was to make clear the content of the doctrine of the Protestant Episcopal Church. American clergy ordained from 1787 on have promised to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this church.

    I appreciate the comments about the parts of several Articles that some might object to. It is on these points that I think the objectors are in serious theological error.

    Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC.

July 7, 10:01 pm | [comment link]
25. libraryjim wrote:

I don’t think that clergy have to make reference to the 39 in their ordination vows anymore.  And haven’t several key bishops (including our last PB) publically stated that there is NO core doctrine of the Episcopal Church?

“The world is a dangerous place to live — not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”—Albert Einstein

July 9, 6:10 pm | [comment link]

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