Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Classic Formularies in the Anglican Church in North America: The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion of 1571

By Robin G. Jordn

In his book review of Gerald Bray’s The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles in Church Society’s quarterly publication Churchman, Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society, points out that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) have given the Thirty-Nine Articles prominence in the Jerusalem Declaration. Gatiss goes on to express the hope that this will help the Articles gain an importance in the life and witness of the church which they have recently been in danger of losing. I do not see that happening in the province-in-formation that Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen has described as “GAFCON in North America”—namely the Anglican Church in North America.

To my knowledge Archbishop Jensen has never visited the United States and interviewed members of the ACNA, clergy and lay, in regards to their personal knowledge of the Jerusalem Declaration and their commitment to that document’s teaching, much less their knowledge of the Thirty-Nine Articles and their commitment to the Articles’ teaching. Rather he has relied on the assurances of Archbishop Bob Duncan and other ACNA leaders. They are quite capable of telling him what he wants to hear and even of believing their own misrepresentation of the state of the ACNA.

To be fair to the ACNA leaders, they may have been forthright with Archbishop Jensen and he may be the one who is not admitting to himself and others that the ACNA, while it may be a constituent member of GAFCON, it is far from “GAFCON in North America.” To describe the ACNA as “GAFCON in North America” on the basis that it is a constituent member of GAFCON is like describing the Episcopal Church in the USA as “Anglican” on the basis that it is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. Membership in a particular club replaces adherence to a particular set of beliefs and practices.

What may be worse than the two foregoing possibility is that a tacit agreement exists between ACNA and GAFCON leaders to publicly avoid any admission of the significant differences between the ACNA and GAFCON and to maintain the pretense that everyone fully affirms the Jerusalem Declaration without qualification.

The theological climate in the United States historically has not been very friendly to the reformed teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles. In the 1785 Proposed Book of Common Prayer the Thirty-Nine Articles were cut-down to twenty. In the 1789 Prayer Book the Articles were left out altogether.

At the 1799 General Convention a committee of the House of Deputies reported:

“That the articles of our faith and religion, as founded on the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament, are sufficiently declared in our creeds and liturgy, as set forth in the book of common prayer established for the use of this church; and that further articles do not appear to be necessary.”

A committee appointed to frame articles of religion for the Protestant Episcopal Church at the 1799 General Convention recommended that the Thirty-Nine Articles should be reduced to seventeen. In The New American Prayer Book Episcopal Church historian Clowe Chorley writes:

“The revision was ruthless. Among the Articles eliminated were those on ‘Christ the Son of God’; ‘The Descent into Hell’; ‘Sin after Baptism’; ‘Traditions of the Church,’ etc. Fundamental Articles on such subjects as ‘The Church’; ‘The Sacraments’; ‘The Lord's Supper’ and ‘Predestination’ were changed beyond recognition.”

General Convention did not take final action on articles of religion for the Protestant Episcopal Church until 1801. The bishops and deputies were not happy with the language of many of the Thirty-Nine Articles. At the same they had come to recognize how extremely difficult it would be to frame new Articles. They concluded that “the old ones were more likely to prove acceptable than any new ones which might be drafted.” The 1801 General Convention did authorize a number of alterations to the Thirty-Nine Articles.

The 1801 Protest ant Episcopal version of Article 8 eliminates the inclusion of the Athanasian Creed as one of the three creeds to "be thoroughly received and believed.” Article 21, "Of the Authority of General Councils" is omitted in its entirety, primarily due to its assertion that "General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes." Its omission, however, also results in the omission of this important doctrinal statement from the Articles:

“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 sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to 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 1801 Protestant Episcopal version of the article claims that “the remaining parts” of Article 21 are “provided for… in other Articles.” However, examination of the 1801 Articles shows that this is not actually the case.

The 1801 Protestant Episcopal version of Article 35, “Of Homilies,” adds the following:

“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.”

As a consequence the two Books of Homilies did not receive in the Protestant Episcopal Church the attention that they received in the Church of England as formularies of the church. The Protestant Episcopal Church would never produce a revision of the Homilies clearing them of local references and obsolete words and phrases.

Article 36, "Of the Consecration of Bishops and Ministers," substitutes the 1792 Ordinal for the 1552 Ordinal. Article 38, "Of the power of Civil Magistrates" is replaced with a new one:

“The power of the civil magistrates 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 1801 revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, while they were the official statement of the doctrine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, would have very little weight in that denomination. Clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church were not required to subscribe to the 1801 Articles. What Bishop William White had feared would happen if the Thirty-Nine Articles were not adopted came to pass: every minister of the church became his own judge of orthodoxy and his judgment was affected by his particular prejudices.

The 1925 General Convention voted to remove the Thirty-Nine Articles from their place at the end of the Book of Common Prayer. Since the Articles were are part of the constitution of the church, this action required confirmation at the subsequent General Convention. The 1928 General Convention would withhold that confirmation. It would adopt a new Prayer Book that was to a large part a repudiation of the reformed doctrine of the Articles. The 1976 and 1979 General Conventions would relegate the Thirty-Nine Articles to the historical documents section of the new Prayer Book.

The Affirmation of St. Louis is the founding document of the Continuing Anglican Movement in the United States. It was accepted by acclamation by the delegates at the 1977 Congress of St. Louis. Although it was not formally adopted at the Congress, most Continuing Anglican churches consider it to be an official statement of their faith. The Affirmation of St. Louis contains no specific reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles. It does, however, include the following statement:

The Use of Other Formulae
In affirming these principles, we recognize that all Anglican statements of faith and liturgical formulae must be interpreted in accordance with them.”

It also contains the following statement:

“We repudiate all deviation of departure from the Faith, in whole or in part, and bear witness to these essential principles of evangelical [sic] Truth and apostolic Order....

The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by 'the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,' and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.”

In regards to the position of the Affirmation of St. Louis on the Seven Ecumenical Councils the late Peter Toon made the following observation:

“At the same time [from reading the Thirty-Nine Articles] one will learn that Councils may err and so one will not accept automatically the teaching of “the Seven Ecumenical Councils.” And this is especially important with regard to the seventh, the Second Council of Nicea, whose teaching on the veneration of icons is effectively rejected by the Articles and specifically by the Book of Homilies to which Article XXXV points. The historic Anglican Way has always affirmed four general councils and stopped at that – leaving to the area of discretion by local churches whether to affirm more. (In this regard the Affirmation of St Louis set forth by Anglo-catholic Continuers in 1977 went way past any previous official, provincial or Lambeth Conference Anglican statement in relation to the Councils by making 7 councils and their teaching mandatory – a big mistake.)”

In 1999 the Anglican Mission in America submitted a Solemn Declaration of Principles to its sponsoring primates. It contained the following statement:

“This Church subscribes to the teaching of the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England. These are to be interpreted, as ordered in the Declaration which prefaces them in the English Book of Common Prayer, ‘in the full and plain meaning thereof’ and ‘in the literal and grammatical sense.’ Further, it is understood that there are places in the Articles (i.e. Art. 37) that assume past and present political structures in England which do not directly apply to this Church located as it is in North America.”

It required all candidates for Holy Orders, all clergy, and all vestry members to annually subscribe to the theological norms, formularies and guidelines of the AMiA, particularly those articulated in the Solemn Declaration of Principles. While the AMiA religiously and with great ceremony observed this requirement, few AMiA clergy in practice adhered to the reformed teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Very early in its history the AMiA began to drift from the theological moorings represented by its Solemn Declaration of Principles.

The Anglican Province of America, a Continuing Anglican jurisdiction, and the AMiA were two of the original Anglican entities that formed the Common Cause Partnership in 2004. The other Common Cause Partners were the Anglican Communion Network, the Reformed Episcopal Church, Forward in Faith North America, and the American Anglican Council. By this time the Reformed Episcopal Church was no longer the Reformed evangelical body that it had been in the nineteenth century. It had experienced a Catholic revival of its own and was moving in an Anglo-Catholic direction. It was negotiating a merger with the Anglican Province of America. Forward in Faith North America was a leading champion of traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism. The Common Cause Partners would draft a theological statement in 2006.

The proposed Common Cause Theological Statement took the following position on the Thirty-Nine Articles:

“We affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as foundational for authentic Anglican belief and practice and as correctives to doctrinal abuses.”

In other words, the Articles provide a basis for Anglican teaching but not the only one. They are intended to correct doctrinal abuse. This also sums up what was the Tractarian view of the Articles in the nineteenth century and has been the Anglo-Catholic view of the Articles since then. It is found in John Henry Newman’s Tract 90.

Not all nineteenth century Tractarians subscribed to this view. Neither do all contemporary Anglo-Catholics. Some Tractarians rejected the Articles altogether and called for their abolition. A number of Anglo-Catholics take the same position to this day.

The proposed Common Cause Theological Statement also confessed the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, including the Second Council of Nicaea, which permitted the veneration of images.

The final Common Cause Theological Statement adopted the following position on the Thirty-Nine Article:

“We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1562, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.”

In the Thirty-Eight Articles of 1562 Article 29 is omitted. Article 29 asserts that though the wicked and those in whom a vital faith is absent consume the bread and wine of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they are in no sense partakers of Christ. It rejects an opere operato view of the operation of the sacrament.

There are other differences between the 1562 Articles and the revised Articles adopted by Convocation, approved by Parliament and assented to by Elizabeth I in 1571. The latter Articles are the long-recognized doctrinal standard of Anglicanism, alongside the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Ordinal of 1661.

In the nineteenth century Tractarian leader John Henry Newman interpreted the phrase “taken in their literal and grammatical sense” to mean that interpreters of the Articles could disregard to historical context or authorial intent in their interpretation of the Articles and could interpret them in a Roman direction. Anglo-Catholics would interpret the inclusion of this phrase in the final Common Cause Theological Statement’s position on the Thirty-Nine Articles as inferring that they could continue do so.

The phrase “as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time” infers that the Articles are relics of the past and the disputes over the issues that they address have been resolved. The reality is that the Articles are as authoritative today as in the sixteenth century, as the Fellowship of Confession Anglicans (GAFCON) affirms in the Jerusalem Declaration. Anglicans and Roman Catholics are still divided over a number of these issues, as are Anglicans themselves.

The position of the Common Cause Theological Statement on the Thirty-Nine Articles was adopted as the position of the Anglican Church in North America in Article I “Fundamental Declarations of the Province,” in its constitution. Two changes were made in the language of the Common Cause Theological Statement. The article “the” was dropped from before the phrase “fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief” completely changing its meaning. Implicit in the phrase “as expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief” is that the Articles only express some tenets of authentic historic Anglicanism. It represents a disclaimer of the view that the Articles are the confession of faith of the Church of England and historic Anglicanism. The Church of England has held this view of the Articles from the reign of Elizabeth I and has never formally disowned or rejected it. It constitutes the view of a large number of Anglicans around the world.

1562 was corrected to 1571 at the last minute, at the Provincial Council meeting that preceded the inaugural Provincial Assembly at which the ACNA constitution and canons were ratified.

The ACNA fundamental declaration on the Thirty-Nine Articles in Article I is written in such a way that, while it recognizes the Thirty-Nine Articles as a historic Anglican formulary, it evades full acceptance of their authority. The extent to which their authority is accepted is left to the individual conscience. The ACNA constitution and canons contain a number of doctrines to which they require adherence in addition to the teaching of the Scriptures and the three ecumenical creeds. But to the doctrines of the Thirty-Nine Articles interpreted in their plain, natural and intended sense the ACNA governing documents do not require adherence.

More recently PEARUSA, former AMiA clergy and congregations that remained loyal to the Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR) after the AMiA’s break with that province, have drafted a charter for ministry for a PEAR missionary district in North America. This charter makes the 1801 Protestant Episcopal Church’s revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles the doctrinal standard of the missionary district and requires subscription to these Articles. The Anglican Province of America and the Anglican Church of America, another Continuing Anglican jurisdiction, have jointly drafted a letter to the ACNA, urging that ecclesial body to become more “Anglican,” to do away with the ordination of women and to move closer to the doctrinal positions of the Affirmation of St. Louis.

While the ACNA does contain a number of clergy and congregations that “uphold the Thirty-Nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today,” they are a decided minority in the ACNA. The likelihood of the Articles gaining an importance in the life and witness of the ACNA appears quite remote.

1 comment:

Andy Becky Carlson said...

I think of the 39 Articles as a "manners" book of the Church. We don't seem to teach our children social manners any longer. It is not surprising that our Church no longer gives voice to the Articles at all, with our without differences of opinion. All the more reason for them: to discover the body of written "directions" that we may all behave similarly. The explications given provide the Scriptural foundations..and we don't consult or use them...shame on us for keeping use ignorant..there certainly is more to the Book of Common Prayer than the "dirty pages"....lets "re discover" the Articles