The Books of Homilies are those seemingly forgotten volumes, which, together with the Articles of Religion of 1571 and the Prayer Book of 1662, make up the corpus, or body of works, which define Anglican theology, most commonly called the Formularies. For whatever reason, most Anglican clergy and laity, including the most zealous advocates of the Prayer Book and Articles, have sadly forgotten the Homilies. I have to admit that I was one of those zealots who upheld the Articles and Prayer Book with religious diligence; yet, I neglected the Homilies, both as works, which exhort the Christian to godly piety and also build up biblically sound theology in the believer.
The tendency in some circles is to attach particular significance to the decisions of the Church universal over and (perhaps) against the Church particular, or national. This plays out especially in dealing with the Homilies, which are seen as regionally bound documents by some and therefore not really as authoritative as, say, a general council. The Homilies also construct doctrine in a different manner than the Articles of Religion. It is often said that the Articles are a negative response to the Council of Trent or certain medieval abuses. The Homilies, while offering criticism of the abuses of the medieval church, are expressly intended to teach important doctrines of the Church of England. The Homilies are very much foundational to our identity as Anglicans and contain therein the core theology, which shapes us as Anglicans. In referencing the Fathers and councils above, the Homilies (and other Formularies) are the lens through which we read these other documents.
It is important to remember that the Homilies do not possess an individual authority on their own. They derive their strength from their presentation of biblical doctrine for it is the Bible that governs our lives as Christians and from thence we derive our theology. The Homilies are a faithful exposition of God’s Word written and for this reason we owe them our allegiance as Anglicans. Keep reading
Articles on the Formularies and Their Use
If you have not read the homilies, I definitely recommend that you read them. The language and spelling in places is sixteenth century Tudor English. A number of the words are archaic and have fallen into desuetude. In the Tudor period, which includes the reign of Elizabeth I, no standardized spelling for English words had been adopted. At the same time reading the homilies is worth the effort.