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Sermons as Standards of Faith
The Prayer Book Society [1928 BCP] ^ | 10/25/2005 | The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon

Posted on 10/27/2005 8:17:38 AM PDT by sionnsar

The Two Books of Homilies & the Protestant Episcopal Church
“Let us dig again the wells of Abraham.”

It may seem odd to some people that a part of the doctrinal foundation of the Reformed Catholicism of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion of Churches are two Books of Homilies. Few people read them in the twenty-first century, but some of us are hoping to increase the number of those who do so in 2006, howbeit slowly and surely. This will be possible in part because of a new edition of the two Books as one book, to be released by Edgeways Books of the U.K. in 2006 (

Where does it state that the two Books of Homilies are Formularies of the Church of England?

The answer is in Article XXXV of The Thirty-Nine Articles (which with the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal) is a major Formulary of the Church. The first Book was published in the reign of Edward VI in 1547, and the second in the reign of Elizabeth I in 1563 and both are stated “to contain a godly and wholesome doctrine” and most suitable “to be read in churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly that they may be understanded of the people.” Further, the titles of the 21 sermons of the second Book are listed in the Article. Book One is shorter with only twelve sermons, not a few of which are by Archbishop Cranmer.

Wherever the Anglican Way has gone and The Articles have been received as a Formulary in the new Province then the two Book of Homilies have naturally been included. Thus, for example, they are now part of the Standards of Faith of Churches in West and East Africa, from Nigeria to Uganda.

There was even a Prayer Book and Homily Society in the early nineteenth century, founded May 20, 1812 to make available copies of each for the people of the expanding British Empire. It stayed in business until the 1870s.

The Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA received the Articles and, after a little editing, made them a Formulary of the Church in 1801. Included in the editing was the addition of this paragraph into Article XXXV:

This Article is received in this Church, so far as it declares the Books of Homilies to be an explication of Christian doctrine and instructive to piety and morals. But all references to the constitution and laws of England are considered as inapplicable to the circumstances of this Church; which also suspends the order for the reading of said Homilies in churches, until a revision of them may be conveniently made, for the clearing of them, as well from obsolete words and phrases, as from the local references.
As far as I know, a specifically American edition of the two Books of Homilies was not prepared and any copies used in the PECUSA were imported from Britain. In fact, apart from scholars and a few earnest Evangelicals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries few American Episcopalians appear to know of, let alone, to have read, the Homilies. This may be said to be regrettable for within them there is provided in great detail a portrayal of Reformed Catholicism, which may be called the Catholic Protestantism of the Church of England, and of Churches founded from her.

Article XI, named “Of the Justification of Man,” was received by the PECUSA intact from the C of E, and this points specifically to one Homily in the first Book of Homilies for more exposition of what it means to say that we are justified by faith only, and that this is a most wholesome doctrine. How many people who are faithful Episcopalians inside or outside the ECUSA of today have read this powerful Homily and taken its message to heart? It has been reprinted from time to time but is not in print right now as far as I know.

Regrettably and disastrously, in 1979 the Episcopal Church set aside its Formularies and created new ones, all within the 1979 Prayer Book; and by this act it made not only the Articles but also the Books of Homilies into merely historical documents of this Church. Today the ECUSA is much advanced in progressive liberalism with a religion markedly different from Reformed Catholicism!

If the remnant of this Church is to be renewed evangelically by the Scriptures and the Gospel therein, then the Books of Homilies will provide a tremendous resource of exposition of the Gospel and of Reformed Catholic Faith for those with the seriousness of mind and patience to study them for their souls’ health.

Perhaps there ought to be a Conference in 2006 [repeated in various centers] to introduce the two Book of Homilies to the doctrinally awakened Anglican and Episcopal constituency of North America! Personally I would be most happy to see such a thing happen, to join the Conference on the Articles already planned for NYC on April 21-22, 2006 and arranged by the REC there in Manhattan.

Be sure to look out for the Edgeways edition of the Homilies, edited by Ian Robinson, a meticulously careful scholar and an expert in the origins of the English language and of its religious use in the Reformation era.

Second-hand copies are rare but you may find one by a search on the web.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 10/27/2005 8:17:39 AM PDT by sionnsar
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2 posted on 10/27/2005 8:18:07 AM PDT by sionnsar (†† || (To Libs:) You are failing to celebrate MY diversity! || Iran Azadi)
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