The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a basic statement of Anglican theology. They were first drawn up by Archbishop Cranmer as Forty-two Articles in Edward VI’s reign (1553), and after being suppressed (with the rest of the reforming programme for the church) in Mary’s reign, were revived by act of Convocation in Elizabeth’s reign (1563). A modest revision took place (1563 and 1571), reducing them to Thirty-nine Articles, and in 1571 the English clergy were required, by act of Parliament, to give their assent to them, as a condition of being instituted to a cure of souls. Though forms of subscription have changed over the years, this is still a requirement in the Church of England and in many other Churches of the Anglican Communion, at ordination or institution or both.
The sacraments were one of the main topics of controversy at the Reformation, and it was chiefly for their teaching on the Lord’s Supper that the martyred Anglican bishops (Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper and Ferrar) were put to death. We have in Oxford a great stone cross in the surface of the road, marking the spot where Ridley and Latimer, and afterwards Cranmer, were burned to death; and one hundred yards away stands an elegant memorial erected in the nineteenth century, which those who have visited Oxford will have seen, from which the figures of Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley look out northward, westward and eastward across the university city.
Latimer was the great preacher among the Reformers, but Ridley was an able theologian, who led the way for his companions in his reformed eucharistic beliefs; while Cranmer was the great man of learning, slow in reaching conclusions but establishing them with great care, and it is to him that we owe not only very extensive theological writings on the Lord’s Supper, but also most of the brief summary statements on the sacraments which are included in the Thirty-nine Articles. As commentary on these Articles we have not only Cranmer’s own writings, but the Latin text of the Articles, which is of equal authority with the English; the Book of Homilies (of which two homilies in particular are concerned with the sacraments); the sacramental services of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer; and the Prayer Book Catechism, of which the part on the sacraments was added by Bishop Overall slightly later, in 1604, though drawing to some extent on the Elizabethan catechism of Alexander Nowell.
The sacraments are the last main doctrinal topic in the Articles, occupying the six articles 25, 27-31 and being touched on in five others (16, 19, 23, 24 and 26). Read More