Modern History Sourcebook:
Negating the 39 Articles
A big problem for Anglo-Catholics was presented by the overtly Calvinist Thirty Nine Articles, the statement of faith included in
the Book of Common prayer. Various strategies were developed to limit the authority of the
articles. The fact remains that until recent decades all Church of England priests had to
affirm the articles upon their ordination.The following is from Vernon Staley, The Catholic Religion: A Manual of
Instruction for Members of the Anglican Church, 22d ed., (London: Mowbray,
1924), in which it is included as Appendix I.
THE XXXIX ARTICLES The Thirty-nine Articles are not Articles of Faith like the Creeds, and they are not
imposed on members of the Anglican Church as necessary terms of communion. The clergy only
subscribe them, and the sense in which the subscription is understood, has been stated by
Archbishop Bramhall as follows; -- "We do not hold our Thirty-nine Articles to be such necessary truths, `without
which there is no salvation;' nor enjoin ecclesiastical persons to swear unto them, but
only to subscribe them, as theological truths, for the preservation of unity among us.
Some of them are the very same that are contained in the Creed; some others of them are
practical truths, which come not within the proper lists of points or articles to be
believed; lastly, some of them are pious opinions or inferior truths which are proposed by
the Church of England as not to be opposed; not as essentials of Faith necessary to be
believed."(1) Bishop Bull wrote similarly, -- "The Church of England professeth not to deliver all her Articles as essentials of
faith, without the belief whereof no man can be saved; but only propounds them as a body
of safe and pious principles, for the preservation of peace to be subscribed, and not
openly contradicted by her sons. And, therefore, she requires subscription to them only
from the clergy, and not from the laity."(2) "The Articles are to be subscribed to in the sense intended by those whose
authority makes the subscription requisite."(3) It must always be remembered that the same Convocation, in the same set of Canons which
first required subscription to the Articles, in 1571, enjoined that preachers should only
teach "that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and
that which the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected out of the same
doctrine." "It seems" says Mr. Keble, "no violent inference, that the
appointed measure of doctrine preached, was also intended to be the measure of doctrine
delivered in the way of explanation of doubtful passages in formularies."(4) It is quite evident, therefore that the Articles would be understood by the clergy who
first subscribed them as Articles of Peace for the preservation of unity. They were not
religious tests, or Articles of Faith; they were made as comprehensive as possible, and
they weere to be interpreted and understood in accordance with the general rule of
Catholic tradition, i.e., in the Catholic sense.(5) Footnotes: (1) Works, vol. ii., pp. 201, 476. (2) A Vindication of the Church of England, xxvii. (3) Keble's Catholic Subscription to the XXXIX. Articles, p. 13. (4) ibid., p. 15. (5) "I understand by the Catholic sense, that sense which is most comfortable to
the ancient rule, `Quod semper, quod ubiqua, quod ab omnibus.'"
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998