The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion
Anglicans, as Reformed Catholic Christians, receive from the Early Church, the gift of the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. These Creeds state clearly the central truths of the Christian Religion and, in particular, the clear statement in precise terms of the two basic doctrines of the Faith. Firstly, that God is a Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity and, secondly, that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity, who for our sake assumed our humanity, became Man (Incarnate) and was henceforth One Person made known in two natures.
The sixteenth century English Church produced no new Creed, the three ancient Creeds, without change, remained the Creeds of the Church in that period. However, the English Church did produce a number of formularies or series of doctrinal statements as occasion demanded, culminating in The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. The Articles of Religion are derived from a series of doctrinal statements, partially dependent on Lutheran texts, of which Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley were the composers of the first draft, under Henry VIII, in 1536 and known as The Ten Articles. In 1553, under Edward VI, appeared The Forty-Two Articles. These were reduced to thirty-nine by an act of the Convocation of the Church of England, under Elizabeth I, in 1563. Modest revision took place, under Matthew Parker and, the final version was authorized, for all clergy to subscribe, in 1571.
The Articles are not a complete account of Christian doctrine, even less an Anglican systematic theology. They are a response to matters of controversy in the sixteenth century. They make certain central affirmations directed against several specific targets, namely, anti-trinitarianism (Articles 1-5), Roman Catholicism (Articles 6, 11, 21, 22, 24, 30, 31, 32, 37), for example: “The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England” (Article 37) and radical Protestantism (Article 17), in particular the Anabaptists (Article 27).
By their origins, the Articles are a sixteenth century statement of the Faith. They express the mind of the Church of England on the questions under dispute during the Reformation. They do not claim to be a final and complete system of theology. Bishop John Pearson (1613-86) wrote: “the book is not, nor is pretended to be, a complete body of divinity or a comprehension and explication of all Christian doctrines necessary to be taught: but an enumeration of some truths, which upon and since the Reformation have been denied by some persons: who upon denial are thought unfit to have any care of souls in this Church or realm; because they might by their opinions either infect their flock with error or else disturb the Church with schism or the realm with sedition”. The Articles avoid the sweeping anathemas of the Council of Trent or the protracted arguments of contemporary confessions. They may be seen as providing a significant pointer and guide through the debates, controversies and divisions of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation period.
More importantly, the Articles may be seen as pointing the way into a Reformed Catholic expression of Christianity that is, as Canon A5 of the Church of England states: “grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures”. They are the basis and content of Reformed Catholic Faith. They may also be seen as setting boundaries for this Reformed Catholic Faith, making clear when and where crossing the boundaries leads into error, heresy and immorality.
The Articles contain the patristic and catholic doctrine of God the Holy Trinity, a Trinity of Persons in the One Godhead and of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, the One Person with Two Natures, Divine and Human. They also contain the distinctive doctrines of the Reformation, for example, the authority of Scripture, the nature of sin, justification by faith, of the Church and, the priority, as means of grace, of the Dominical Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In addition they contain statements concerning, the ordination of clergy, the marriage of clergy, the traditions of the Church, excommunication, the civil magistrate, possession of property and the taking of oaths. Although the Articles do not specifically mention the Book of Common Prayer, they do refer to the Bible, the Ordinal and the Books of Homilies.
The Historic Formularies, namely: The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and The Ordinal, as stated in the Preface to the Declaration of Assent (Canon C15) of the Church of England, bear witness to Christian truth. These three Formularies, together with The Books of Homilies (1559) and The Canon Law (1604, ), constitute Classical Anglicanism. That is, the expression of Christianity known since 1549, as the Religion of the Church of England and later called Reformed Catholicism. Classical Anglicanism is based upon: the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and, the canons and decrees of four Ecumenical Councils, namely: Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), where they are agreeable to Holy Scripture.
The Articles are necessary for an understanding and receiving of Classical Anglicanism, as Reformed Catholicism, subscription by the clergy being a requirement under Canon C15 of the Code of Canon Law. They stand, with the other Formularies, as the standard of Faith of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion.
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Moorman, J. R. H.: A History of the Church in England, A. & C. Black, 1973.
The Book of Common Prayer (1662): Articles of Religion, CUP, 2003.
Toon, P.: The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture, Preservation Press, 2006.
Canon Geoffrey Andow