We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tract 99

I think The 39 Articles come in for a lot of abuse and bad press. Of course, this is not news: we were, after all, scrupulously instructed in the "catholic dodge": "I assent to The 39 Articles" means nothing more than "I acknowledge their existence."

Of course, the document is modelled on Lutheran confessions of the Sixteenth Century. But it often departs from these, softens elements, and carefully avoids saying more than it should, again and again. Let's take another look.

Our communion can neither add to nor subtract from the deposit of faith: the Articles are no dogma. They are our doctrine (our attempt to explicate and teach foundational dogma), our theology (our attempt to interpret and expound certain dogmatic issues), and our praxis (our "godly order and discipline"). None of this is infallible and all of it may change. But changes should be organic and rooted only in our improved understandings of Scripture and the Fathers, in light of Catholic tradition. (Note this hermeneutic perspective is Anglican and implicit in the Articles themselves.)

Articles I-VIII merely reiterate orthodox doctrine on the Trinity, Christ, etc, affirm the Scripture and the Creeds, and, thus, recapitulate the refutations of any number of ancient heresies. (The most important points, I would insist, and the least controversial.)

Articles IX-XVIII are the reformed teachings, which ought to be taken in light of new scholarship and such things as the Anglican-Roman Catholic and Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues. For instance, once pistis christou is rightly understood as "the faithfulness of Christ," I have no problem whatsoever in affirming that we are reckoned as righteous only by the faithfulness of Christ. (Also, Article XI is further "softened" by Article XII ("Of good works").) Article XVII ("De praedestinatione") is careful to elaborate no specific version of the same, beginning by noting, first and foremost, that "the everlasting purpose of God" is praedestinatio ad vitam.

Articles XIX-XXXI are expressions of our Anglican theology, carefully balancing a number of competing claims: the visible church may err (XIX) and (yet) the authority of the church (XX); limiting the scope of Ecumenical Councils (XXI), repudiating Romish innovations (XXII)*, and, yet, demanding ordained ministers (XXIII), etc. etc. It affirms the two great Sacraments -- Baptism and Eucharist -- without altogether repudiating the sacramentality of "Confirmatio, Poenitentia, Ordo, Matrimonium, et Extrema Unctio" (XXV). It affirms our theological embrace of communion in "both kinds" (XXX) and use of "such a tongue as the people understandeth" (XXIV), which certainly does not preclude Latin where it may be understood (especially in the Universities).

Following the clearly descending order of importance, the last, Articles XXXII-XXXIX, articulate our Anglican praxis, beginning with "De Conjugio Sacerdotum" (XXXII). Not much to get excited about here, unless you are a Pacifist or a Jehovah's Witness. (That the Romanus Pontifex "hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England" is clearly a statement of fact.)

Having inhabited many of the different worlds of Anglo-Catholicism, I find myself now going back to my start. Strange, passing strange.

* The 42 Articles are even clearer on this point: what is being rejected here is nothing more than the "Scholasticorum doctrina (Romanensium)" (xxiii).

Postscript: Would that the following practice (from XXXIV, my emphases) be enforced!

Traditiones et caeremonias ecclesiasticas quae cum verbo Dei non pugnant et sunt autoritate publica institutae atque probatae, quisquis privato consilio volens et data opera publice violaverat, is ut qui peccat in publicum ordinem Ecclesiae, quique laedit autoritatem magistratus, et qui infirmorum fratrum conscientias vulnerat, publice, ut caeteri timeant, arguendus est.

Whosoever through his private judgement willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly that other may fear to do the like, as he that offendeth against common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of the weak brethren.

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