Skip to comments.The Rev. Peter Toon: "The Articles--how interpreted"
Posted on 08/15/2006 6:04:23 PM PDT by sionnsar
By email, I received this essay by the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon on "The Articles--how interpreted." I actually do expect this to be posted on the Prayer Book Society blog, but as of tonight it has not been posted. Therefore I thought I'd post it here as well to aid in its distribution, for I think Fr. Toon has written a timely essay:
The Thirty-Nine Articles, attitudes to in Anglicanism.From where I sit, this is one of three major issues that Anglicans in North America will have to wrestle with in the years ahead as we work towards the reassertion of orthodoxy: agreement on the Articles and other doctrinal matters, our view of Scripture, and the ordination of women. I believe Fr. Toon has made major contributions on all three of these issues in his recent writings, and we owe him greatly for this.
No-one disputes that The Thirty-Nine Articles, as a Statement of the Reformed Catholic Faith, is a Formulary of the Church of England (along with The Book of Common Prayer and The Ordinal) and also of most other Provinces of the Anglican Communion of Churches. It is found at the back of pew editions of The Book of Common Prayer (see, e.g., those of 1662, 1928 [USA] and 1962 [Canada]); and in the C. of E. clergy are still required to subscribe to it before being admitted into a parish or cathedral. In contrast, lay officers are not required to subscribe.
Before the extremes of Anglo-Catholicism and Latitudinarianism [Liberalism] came along in the late 19th century and persisting into the 20th., both openly rejecting this Formulary, there were, generally speaking, two basic attitudes or mindsets with regard to the meaning of subscription to The Articles. These are still with us amongst the serious-minded and would-be orthodox and faithful Anglicans, who have studied the Formularies in relation to sacred Scripture.
First of all, there is the attitude that subscription has basically negative force its doctrines are not openly to be contradicted in the Church by its clergy as the teachers of the Fasith. To illustrate this we may cite two famous Anglican theologians, Bishop George Bull (1634-1710) and Archbishop John Bramhall (1594-1662).
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.[Works, Vol.2, Oxford 1846, p.211]
We do not hold our Thirty-Nine Articles to be necessary truths without which there is no salvation; nor enjoin ecclesiastic persons to swear unto them, but only to subscribe them, as theological truths, for the preservation of unity among us, and the extirpation of some growing errors.[Works, Vol. II, Oxford 1842, pp.201 & 476]
John Keble of the Tractarian and Oxford Movement held this position see his "Catholic Subscription to the XXXIX Articles."
Secondly, there is the approach that subscription has positive force the doctrines are to be embraced and taught in a definite way. Here the purpose of subscription is to obtain consent for a recognized statement of doctrine that is authoritative. The late Dr. W.H. Griffith Thomas may speak for this position. After reviewing the forms of subscription required in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ex animo and early commentaries on them e.g. by Thomas Rogers (1607) he wrote:
It is clear, therefore, that subscription to the Articles is to be regarded as a definite adoption of their doctrines and something every much more than the negative position of restrain within their limits. [Principles of Theology, 1930, p. 1vi ]
Such active societies in England as The Church Society still hold this position.
What would be interesting to know is be the attitude of the Primate, Archbishops and Bishops of the Province of Nigeria to The Articles for this Province in 2005 re-affirmed in a deliberate and clear way its commitment to the classic three Formularies of the Anglican Way.
For the future of the Anglican Way in the whole world, it would seem that if it is to remain biblically based and orthodox, and at the same time be distinctively Anglican and not generically ecumenical (or something else), then it must hold on to its Formularies. However, the way that they are received (and subscribed) will have to be reasonably wide-ranging to admit the two schools of thought stated above. However, what is clear is that there is no room in the Anglican Way for those at the far right or the far left, that is extreme Catholicism or extreme Liberalism, for these reject The Articles out of hand one because they are Reformed Catholic and the other because they are traditionally Orthodox.
Closely related to this generous and comprehensive approach to The Articles is the much-quoted description by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) of the basis of the Anglican Way (not its possible perimeters but its agreed basis):
One Canon reduced to writing by God himself, two Testaments, three Creeds, four General Councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the border of our Faith. [ Opusc. Posthuma. p.91.]
And in the light of all this and more, I have recommended to the Common Cause of the Anglican Communion Network (based on the Canon A5 of the C of E) the following for their theological basis:
We accept the doctrine of the Anglican Way as it is 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. In particular, we receive such doctrine as is to be found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal (as all three of these are printed in the English edition of 1662, the American edition of 1928 and the Canadian edition of 1962 of The Book of Common Prayer).
Unless it can lose the extremes of the right and left, the Anglican Way in the USA and Canada has little chance of either stability or prosperity. Only as based upon unity in essentials and basics, and with comprehensiveness in churchmanship, does the Anglican Way have any future as a meaningful branch of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in North America.
The good doctor is absolutely right, except that we "nosebleed Anglicans" didn't outright reject the XXXIX . . . we just sort of pretended that certain ones didn't exist (like XXII) . . .
Well, I have meditated long and hard on XXII because the Romish doctrine was pounded into my head when I was a child in RC school. One of the key elements of that doctrine was the concept of the treasury of grace, which could be added to by prayer and subtracted from for the purpose of indulgence against the pains of purgatory. I found this to be rather mundane and mercenary and do not find it edifying.
To the contrary, my own understanding is that Purgatory is a purifying fire for the purpose of completing the soul's purgation as a preparation for the Beatific Vision. I think this is the portion of the doctrine of Purgatory that XXII suggests is not particularly Romish.
I believe that my prayers for the dead are presented as a pleasant smell to God and that He graciously conveys them as grace to those in Purgatory whose strength to endure the just punishment that has been meted out for them is thereby increased. That is to say, I believe that God's judgment at all times, in all cases and for all purposes is perfect just as it stands and perfectly suits the sinner being judged.
As to the rest, I venerate the saints and continually beg their intercession for me before the Throne of Grace, most particularly those of His Blessed Mother. I do not worship them, their doings or their prospects. I pray someday to stand beside them before God. Perhaps the Article confuses these terms. I believe that it was a tendentious attitude among Protestants to purposely misconstrue veneration as adoration. The times were rife with clerical corruption, particularly involving secular appointments to the bench of bishops. Multiple benefices, absentee vicars, substitutes for mean pay, all of these abuses were rampant in the Church as it descended to Henry and I fear that the abuses were ruled endemic when they were only symptomatic. The cure was reform and restoration of the practice of calling, ordaining and installing clergy, not the wholesale rejection of the concept of ordination. Here my RC upbringing was valuable as the distinction was both well-taught and carefully enunciated.
The one usage that is heterodox for me and which I do firmly reject is the condemnation of 'invocation'. That is simply Protestant diatribe for me and I do not find that invoking the Saints somehow impairs my faith in Christ Jesus or clouds my recognition that there is no salvation outside faith in Him. After all, we applaud these very same Saints without exception because they showed supreme devotion to Christ, often gave their lives in His Holy Name and taught everyone they could find to do the same.
If I was going to suggest an Article that seems discriminatory and would rule out Catholic belief it would be XXV. This seems to rule out the five Sacraments (the wording 'corrupt following of the Apostles' is pretty condemnatory) except Baptism and the Eucharist. Again, we have here, I believe, the disriminatory effect of hard-line first-generation Protestantism. I cannot reject the five, for they are one and all attested in Scripture, some many times. For example, much of the Acts is devoted to emphasizing the benefit dispersed among the faithful of having the Apostles come among them, lay their hands on them, praying that the Holy Spirit may fall upon them, which He then so graciously does.
My own position is that lumping together Confirmation and Penance with Holy Orders, Matrimony and Unction of the Sick mixes the true value and purpose of these sacraments. Given that Scripture is so clear on the necessity of being invested with the direct indwelling of the Spirit and that this indwelling is seen to arise as the direct consequence of Apostolic laying on of hands, Confirmation must therefore be considered indispensable. We hold it so and require it of every communicant before we will permit them to receive the Body and Blood.
Equally, the Exhortations in the BCP (pp. 85-89, directly between Holy Communion and the Collects, Epistles and Gospels) require each of us to 'consider the dignity of that holy mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof; and so to search and examine [our] own consciences thereof...and to confess [ourselves] to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life.' (p. 87) The wording here may be ambiguous whether personal confession to God is intended or if auricular confession to God in the presence of a priest may be permitted, but the wording is emphatic, does require the practice continually and does require the contrition to be authentic and suggests it must be sacrificial. That is, the confessing person must be giving up some secrecy about his/her own dealings as a guarantee that the contrition is true, that amendment is surely meant and that the sinner will attempt with all effort a reformation of life and behavior. How this could 'not...be counted for [a] Sacrament', as the Article says, I cannot understand, when justly considered and honestly researched in light of long Church practice and decent pious intent.
I do understand that the practice gives private information about parishioners into the knowledge of the priest and could therefore be exploited by unscrupulous ministers. And I also know that the English clergy of the early 16th Century included some very corrupt members, some of whom likely did exploit auricular confession for many unjust purposes. But the very next Article explicitly deals with this and in a Conciliar sense: 'Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments.' This specifically rejects Donatism and acknowledges sinfulness in the clergy (which is to be expected in any case). That being so, XXV should not have written off Penance as being capable of abuse, but have emphasized what constitutes abuse and have rejected that.
As for the others, the only limitation I allow is that they are optional. They are not strictly necessary for salvation. If it were otherwise, then everyone would be obligated to both enter Holy Orders and get married. But that Orders must be Apostolically entered into is obligatory, else the minister would be doing so in his own name and not that of Christ's. That the marriage bond must be consecrated within the Church is also required: the contract is one which offers up both partners' entire lives and fortune. Raising children demands every resource and every ounce of love any human couple can produce. God's grace is essential and His active participation in the union strengthens it beyond human capacity.
So, it is XXV with which I have the most difficulty as an Anglo-Catholic. If in Dr. Toon's estimation I am thereby not a reasonable moderate Anglican, then written off I must be. It would probably be best if someone well-qualified were to review each Article in turn, estimate it in view of wide Catholic practice, and to suggest what are the bounds of particular belief each permits, contra Dr. Toon, but I am not the person to do so, nor is this really the proper venue.
Thank you for pinging me. Your post was very well laid out and sensible; well reasoned. Now I must go read the article.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.