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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 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)


(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.'"


Vernon Staley, The Catholic Religion: A Manual of   Instruction for Members of the Anglican Church, 22d ed., (London:   Mowbray, 1924)

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998

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