Monday, December 30, 2019

Theological Foundations - The Articles of Religion

The theological foundations of Anglican were long accepted to be the Bible, the Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. To a greater or lesser extent modern Anglicanism, even in some of it relatively conservative manifestations, often bypasses or radically reinterprets several or all of these. As a result Anglicans have become very confused about their identity. The Articles are probably subjected to more revisionist treatment than the other three put together simply because a lot of modern Church-people think they are irrelevant, or have definite reasons for not wishing to accept that Anglicanism ever held the theological position held by framers of the Articles, so perhaps it is time for me to give a page or two to the History of the Articles of Religion (AOR).

The text of the AOR that you have in your 1662 BCP is that of 1571 when the Articles reached their present form. The version used in the USA is a very light revision of the 1571 text made in 1801. This, apart from the omission of Article XXI - Of the Authority of General Councils and the deletion of the Athanasian Creed from the text of Article VIII, do not differ theologically from the Articles of 1571. This suggests that at the very least the leadership of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1801 were prepared to accept the theology of the English Reformation as it was then understood. The years immediately after 1801 saw an upswing in Evangelicalism (the old sort, not what passes for Evangelicalism today) which if anything strengthen the adherence of the Protestant Episcopal Church to the Reformation by creating a party that consciously sought to maintain and propagate Reformed theology. There can be little doubt that for most of the nineteenth century the dominant theology of the Evangelical Party in the PECUSA was that of Old Princeton, and that tradition was carried on well into the twentieth century by the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia. Whilst Princeton theology is at some distance from the Reformation - it represents a sort of early nineteenth century redaction of Reformed Scholasticism - it was a good deal nearer the mark than the Latitudinarian theology of the eighteenth century. But what about the Articles in their original context?

It may be stating the blindly obvious but the Articles had a long gestation. The first attempts to write an English Confession of Faith come within a couple of years of Henry VIII's break with Rome with the Wittenberg Articles, the Thirteen Articles leading to the Ten Articles of 1538, which attempt to take a middle road between the Humanist influenced by conservative Catholicism of Henry VIII and the Augsburg Confession, and these Articles probably represent the high water mark of Lutheran influence in England. The Ten Articles lasted less than two years before being replaced by the reactionary Six Articles of 1540, and there matters official rested until after Henry's death in January 1546/7, though the pressure on Protestants eased somewhat after the crisis of 1542/3. After Henry's death Cranmer and his circle produced "some Articles" in late 1547 that were intended to pave the way for reform, but it was not until late 1552 that a full English Confession was produced in the form of the Forty-Five Articles that Cranmer submitted for comment and revision, and which were approved by Parliament in June 1553 by which time their number had been reduced to forty-two. The ink scarcely had time to dry on these before Edward VI died, and the full scale reversion to Catholicism often referred to as the Marian Reaction takes place.

The Articles that were produced in 1552 were very similar to those produced ten years later, though they contain several articles specifically condemning in Anabaptist heresy, which were felt to be unnecessary at the later date. They are organised in the way that had been traditional since the time of Peter Lombard in that they begin with the doctrine of God. Gerald Bray in "The Faith We Confess" divides the Articles into the following sections; the Catholic Articles - 1 to 9; the Protestant Articles 10 to 34; and the Anglican Articles 35 to 39. I would go a little further and divide the Protestant Articles into those which apply to all Protestants - basically 10 to 23; and those which are more specifically Reformed 24 to 34. Not every article fits neatly into its assigned category, for example, all protestants would accept the teaching contained in Article 32 - Of the Marriage of Priests, but at least this scheme gives us pegs on which to hang the structure of the Articles.

The Articles themselves are very largely a product of the interplay between domestic and continental reforming forces. In the end, the teachings of Wycliffe only find a place in the Articles in as far as they reflect the ideas of later Reformers. Wherever possible Cranmer and his colleagues avoided taking sides in the dispute between the followers of Luther and those of Zwingli, Bullinger, and Bucer. For example Article 17 - Of Predestination, uses language that would not have been unacceptable to Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, or Bullinger. When considering the sacraments, the Articles commit themselves to the Swiss camp, but not vehemently so. Bucer's language about a spiritual real presence is there, as is language reminiscent of Bullinger's understanding of the Baptism. On the whole they are conciliatory without loosing sight of the fact that the principle influences with England were committed to Reformed theology, but from whence did they get this reformed theology?

There can be very little doubt that Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Holgate, and the other protestant minded clerics of the 1530s and 1540s were a pretty independently minded bunch. Unlike the Scots who soon traded the Scots Confession of 1560 for the admittedly superior Second Helvetic Confession, the English Church seems to have displayed a certain insularity whilst still being engaged with the European mainstream of Protestant thought. We are told that Cranmer read slowly with a pen in his hand ready to mark any passage that caught his eye, and there is evidence of the same thoroughness in the other Reformers. Yet at the same time as they were engaged in their own studies of the Scriptures and of the early Fathers, they were reading the current Reforming literature, and corresponding with Reformers in Germany and beyond. The reign of Edward VI afforded Cranmer the opportunity to invite a number of these theologians to take shelter in England in the wake of the Schmalkaldic War. Bucer, Fagius, Laski, Occhino, and Vermigli all spent time in England and Fagius and Bucer were doomed not to survive the cold winters of Cambridge. Datheen, the Dutch Reformer also spent one of his periodic exiles in England 1551-53, and a number of lesser lights passed through England in the hopes of gaining patronage and employment during these years.

This all came to an end quite suddenly in July 1553 when Edward VI died of tuberculosis. The botched attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne implicated Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley in treason to a greater or lesser extent, and these architects of the Article of Religion perished in the flames of Mary's persecution of Protestantism. Some of the rising generation of evangelical leaders laid low in England during Mary's reign, such as Matthew Parker and John Whitgift. Others scattered to the Low Countries, Germany, and Switzerland with appreciable numbers settling in Basle, Emden, Frankfurt, Geneva, Strasburg, and Zurich. This enabled the Reform-minded Englishmen, and women, to see the Reformed Church at work at close quarters. The preference for Reformed cities indicates the degree to which by 1553 Lutheran influence had waned in England. Men like Barlow, Coverdale, Cox, Grindal, Sandys, and Whittingham were already familiar with Reformed ideas before their exile, and tended to gravitate towards the cities where these ideas were practiced. Bucer's influence made Strasburg attractive, whilst Bullinger's made Zurich the natural home for others. Geneva attracted a small but vocal exile contingent which included John Knox, Pilkington, and Whittingham. Knox, of course, went back to his native Scotland to provide the moral and intellectual leadership to the Reformation there, whilst Pilkington and Whittington, along with Scory and Coverdale, to some degree provide the link between the exiles and Puritanism.

Bloody Mary died in November 1558 and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth. Attempts have been made to depict Elizabeth as everything from a closet Catholic to an agnostic, but in as much as she had any strong religious views they were the product of the circle that educated her which included Sir Thomas Cheke and William Grindal (brother of the later Archbishop.) Both Cheke and Grindal were sympathetic to Reformed theology, and indeed, Cheke eulogized Bucer after his death in 1551. Matthew Parker, another member of the Bucer circle at Cambridge, also seems to have had an association with Elizabeth that predates her accession. It would reasonable to assume from her education and associations that she favoured the sort of moderate Reformed settlement that emerged between 1558 and 1571. Elizabeth's choice of Bishops seems to confirm her preference for moderate men. Matthew Parker went reluctantly to Canterbury; Thomas Young to York; Edmund Grindal to London where he was reluctant to discipline the proto-Puritan element among the clergy; Robert Horne to Winchester; and James Pilkington to Durham where he did his best to push Protestant views in an Catholic-leaning environment. Other prominent sees went to men like Richard Coxe, who had led the Prayer Book faction in Frankfurt, and Nicholas Bullingham who seems to have been a reliable upholder of the settlement even though he was a lawyer not a theologian by training.

After re-establish the use of the BCP in 1559, and cleansing churches of much of their remaining Popish imagery from 1560 onwards, official attention then turned to the establishment of a confession of faith. Cranmer and Cheke's 42 Articles of 1553 were the obvious starting point. Of the 42 three were removed as being redundant, and Article 7 re-written with most of the 'donkey work' of revision falling on Matthew Parker and John Jewel. The combination of Parker and Jewel ensured there would be no radical alterations in the Articles. Parker had lain low during the Marian reaction, whilst Jewel had ended up in Zurich. Elizabeth I suppressed Article XXIX as being offensive to Lutherans until 1571 at which point the present English text, albeit without Charles I's somewhat peculiar preface of 1628, became the primary summary of the Church of England's teaching. In theology and outlook they smack more of Bucer's Strasburg, or Bullinger's Zurich than either Wittenberg or Geneva. They avoid speculative points wherever possible, and it is only by close comparison to the First (1536) and Second (1564) Helvetic Confessions, the Belgic Confession (1561), and the Scots Confession (1560) that their moderate Reformed tone can be detected.

The Articles have proved a remarkably enduring document, and have been endlessly interpreted, misinterpreted by way of commentary down the centuries. Although large parts of the Anglican Communion have decided to relegate them to the category of an historical document, some provinces, for example, Nigeria continue to regard them as important in defining the nature of Anglicanism. Although some Continuing Church, such as the ACC have bypassed the Articles of Religion, other continuing Churches such as the United Episcopal Church, and the Reformed Anglican Church continue to see them as significant statements that encompass the basic framework of Anglican theology.

1 comment:

  1. A great essay Your Grace- sincere thanks for this excellent teachinhg. In light of your comment about the similiar status accorded to the Articles by the UECNA and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is there any possibility of closer cooperatuon or intercommunion or even merger between the UECNA and the Church of Nigeria's Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

    From an outsider's perspective it would appear that the UECNA and CANA/ Church of Nigeria have alot in common in that both jurisdictionsc are strongly committed to the Scriptural, creedal, patristic Faith of the ancient catholic and apostolic church as mediated through the English Reformation, both uphold the importnce of the Articles of Religion and classic BCP & Ordinal, both are committed to Biblical morality, both restrict the apostolic ministry of bishop, priest and deacon to baptised and confirmed males and both jurisdictions have rejected theological libetalism and extreme Anglo-catholicism/Tractarianism.

    I realise this question is somewhat off topic and beg Your Grace's charity in considering it, but a union between CANA and the UECNA may add mote gravity to promoting Classical Anglicanism in the USA and Canada.