Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Protestant Dictionary: History of the Articles

The history of the series of Articles of Faith,culminating in the XXXIX. Articles, is a record of the attempts which the Church of England made in the sixteenth century to define her doctrinal position after that she, like the Reformed Churches on the Continent, had broken away from the corrupt Church of Rome. These Articles, drawn up at different times and despite many obstacles, exhibit a growing clearness and accuracy of statement, till in their last revision they appear definite and unmistakable in meaning, and pure and scriptural in doctrine. This progress of the Articles towards scriptural truth, from their inception in 1536 till their final recension in 1571, will be evident from the following facts, stated in the briefest possible manner. (1) The X. Articles of 1536 rejected four of the seven Romish sacraments, acknowledging only " the sacraments of Baptism, Penance, and the Altar." (2) The XIII. Articles of 1538 found among Cranmer s papers were based upon the Augsburg Confession and the previous X. Articles, and were "evidently designed to be
the basis of a Concordat with the Lutherans " (Bishop Barry). A check to progress was given by (3) The VI. Articles of 1539 (see p. 47) which were intended to put a stop to the Reforming movement. They enjoined : 1. Transubstantiation ; 2. Communion in one kind ; 3. Clerical celibacy ; 4. Vows of Chastity ; 5. Private Masses; 6. Auricular Confession. (4)The XLII. Articles of 1552. Of these Cranmer and Ridley (both martyred afterwards for protesting against Romish errors) were the chief compilers. To quote the words of Canon R. W. Dixon, "the broad soft touch of Cranmer lay upon them as they came from the furnace." (5) The XI.Articles of 1559 [1] approved of the restoration of the Cup to the laity which had actually been restored by the first Parliament of Elizabeth, and they rejected private masses and the veneration of images and relics. (6) The XXXIX. Articles of 1563 were remodelled on the basis of the XLII. Articles, and bear the mark of Archbishop Parker’s influence. One of these was omitted by the printers at the bidding of the Queen, but restored in 1571. (7) The XXXIX. Articles of 1571. These are our present Articles, and must be described more in detail. They contain a clear and comprehensive statement of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, a repudiation of the chief corrupt novelties of the Church of Rome, and a condemnation of the doctrines of the fanatical sects of their time. They were edited by Bishop Jewel, and appeared both in Latin and English. The Latin and English copies were subscribed by both houses of Convocation, but not by Parliament, which enacted only the English Version. Both versions are valuable in determining the exact meaning of the other. The first five Articles treat of the doctrine of the Trinity ; the next three establish the Rule of Faith; the ten following relate to Christians as individuals ; the next eighteen deal with Christians as members of a society the Church whose nature, authority, discipline, and sacraments are defined; and the last three Articles treat of the Church and individuals in their relation to the civil power.

"In these Articles we have a reference to existing heresies, and find in them not only the positive doctrine of the Gospel asserted, but also the principal errors and corruptions of the Church of Rome and most of the extravagances in which Protestant sects fell at the time of the Reformation rejected and condemned" (Bishop Tomline).

"In the interpretation" of the Articles, Bishop Harold Browne wisely remarks, "our best guides must be, first, their own natural, literal, grammatical meaning; next to this, a knowledge of the controversies which had prevailed in the Church and made such Articles necessary; then, the other authorised formularies of the Church; after them, the writings and known opinions of such men as Cranmer, Ridley, and Parker, who drew them up; then, the doctrines of the primitive Church, which they professed to follow ; and lastly, the general sentiments of the distinguished English divines, who have been content to subscribe the Articles, and have professed their agreement with them for now 300 years. These are our best guides for their interpretation. Their authority is derivable from Scripture alone." (Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, 1882. Introduction, pp. 10, 11.) The XXXIX. Articles must be subscribed by candidates before Ordination, also before Institution, and they must be read in church after Induction. Although the laity are exempt from subscription, their assent to the doctrines of the Articles is required if they would lay claim to be loyal members of the Church of England. This fact requires to be stated, as some writers on the Articles have asserted that all that is necessary in the case of the laity is an assent to the Apostles Creed. A reference to the Service for the Public Baptism of Infants however, demonstrates the absurdity of this assertion, for we there find the God-parent exhorted to take care that the child baptized " may learn the Creed, the Lord s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in the vulgar tongue, and all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health."

The history of the nineteenth century presents no sadder sight than that of men, professedly seekers after truth and defenders of the same, yet setting themselves to undermine the scriptural teaching of the Articles. This is the task, however, to which the Tractarian applied themselves in the tracts from which they derived their name. In Tract XC., written by John Henry Newman, " it was deliberately maintained," says Archbishop Whately, "that the XXXIX. Articles do not, when rightly interpreted, condemn the doctrine of Transubstantiation, or the Invocation of Saints, or the Adoration of Relics, or Purgatory or Indulgences, as sanctioned by the Council of Trent ; and that the true rule for interpreting the Articles is, not to take the words in their plain natural sense, but in such a sense often non-natural as the person signing them may think to be most in accordance with Catholic tradition " (Cautions for the Times, 1854, p. 231). No wonder that the publication of this notorious tract provoked a storm which was not quickly allayed, and that the Heads of Houses at Oxford condemned it for "evading rather than explaining the sense of the XXXIX. Articles and reconciling subscription to them with the adoption of errors which they were designed to counteract." In spite of its almost universal condemnation, Dr. Pusey and other supporters of the Tractarian movement defended it. In a letter penned in the year 1865 (twenty years after his reception into the Church of Rome) Newman writes to Pusey: "You have from the first, as all the world knows, boldly stood up for it, in spite of the obloquy which it brought upon you; you are now republishing it with my cordial concurrence." And we find Pusey in his Eirenicon (published in 1865) boldly maintaining that the Articles of the Church of England and the Decrees of the Council of Trent are reconcilable, the differences between them being only in appearance and not in reality. Almost, it would seem, with a prescience of the evil which has befallen us in this century, a royal declaration was issued as far back as the year 1628, by Charles I, directing " 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." Newman, by a process of verbal juggling, strove to maintain that the Articles would harmonise with Romish doctrines and practices which they were designed to oppose. Archbishop Whately says: " To bring the Articles to bear such a sense as what Mr. Newman thought Catholic tradition required, was a task of no little difficulty. Indeed, he set such an example of hair-splitting and wire-drawing of shuffling equivocation and dishonest garbling of quotations as made the English people thoroughly ashamed that any man calling himself an Englishman, a gentleman, and a clergyman, should insult their understandings and consciences with such mean sophistry" (Cautions for the Times, 1854, p. 231). In 1883 Newman wrote (Via Media, ii. 351-6), " What the Article abjures as a lie is just that which the Pope and Council declare to be Divine truth. Nothing can come of the suggested distinction between mass and masses. " [S. R. Gilpin]

[1]1 This is the date given by Hardwick, but the true date is 1561. See Perry on the Purchas Judgment, p. 170 note, and p. 453.

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