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Tract no. XCI [i. e. ninety-one] : the articles of religion from an American point of view online

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Rector of Grace Church, New York

{^Reprinted from The Hibbbrt }OTi'&xihX, for July, 1907']





During the sixty and six years that
have elapsed since 1841, the meteorite
known in ecclesiastical history as Tract
No. XC. has had ample time to cool.
Such was the heat of friction developed
by the stone's passage through the An-
glican atmosphere, so violent was the ex-
plosion caused by its impact upon the
hard surface of an evangelical England,
that, for the time being, a fair appraisal
of values was impossible. Any attempt
to lift and weigh the incandescent mass
would have been futile. But patience
has now had her perfect work, relative
temperatures have quietly adjusted them-
selves, and it is open to sober-minded
critics to subject Tract XC. to libration
and analysis; hence Tract No. XCI., or
The Same Subject Continued.

Cardinal Newman has left on record in
the Apologia a very full and frank state-
ment of his reasons for making the Arti-
cles of Religion the subject of a Tract.

He had been gradually leading his dis-
ciples on, through a sort of enchanted
forest, beautiful for leafage and under-
growth, though singularly deficient in
guide-posts, until some of them, as he
could not fail to discern, were on the point
of asking him awkward questions. On
the lips of more than one of the devotees
there trembled the anxious interrogatory,
" Master, whither?"

" From the time that I had entered upon the duties of
Public Tutor of my College," Newman writes, "when
my doctrinal views were very different from what they
were in 1841, I had meditated a comment upon the
Articles. Then, when the Movement was in its swing,
friends had said to me, 'What will you make of the
Articles ? ' but I did not share the apprehension which
their question implied. ... I had been enjoined, I
think by my Bishop, to keep these men straight, and I
wished so to do, but their tangible difficulty was sub-
scription to the Articles, and thus the question of the
Articles came before me. It was thrown in our teeth, —
' How can you manage to sign the Articles ? they are
directed against Rome.' 'Against Rome?' I made
answer, ' What do you mean by Rome ? ' and I pro-
ceeded to make distinctions of which I shall now give an

There follow some eight pages of ex-
planation, of a highly interesting character.
With Newman's dialectic method in hand-
ling the question of subscription, those

who have read Tract XC. are familiar.
His main thesis is that the Articles do not
oppose Catholic teaching, that they only
slightly oppose Roman dogma, and that, in
so far as they antagonise Rome at all, it
is mainly with a view to disowning certain
superstitions which are not necessarily a
part of the system with which, in the
Protestant mind, they are commonly asso-
ciated. In other words, Newman held
that the protest of the English Reformers
had been directed not so much against the
barque of Peter as against a lot of barnacles
encrusted upon the submerged portion of
her hull.

This theory of the true bearing of the
Articles was not wholly new ; what made
it startling in 1841 was the fact of its
having received, for the first time, the
imprunatur of an Anglican divine. As far
back as in 1633, one Abraham Davenport,
a Franciscan Father, known in religion as
Sancta Clara, had suggested that at least
some of the English Articles might be
dealt with in the fashion which Newman,
more than two hundred years later, recom-
mended. Eighteen of the famous Thirty-

nine Davenport declared to be thoroughly
orthodox from the Roman point of view,
two he regarded as mere logomachies,
while, as to the remaining nineteen, he
held that, even if they were not " ambitious
of a Catholic interpretation," they were,
to use the phrase of the keen analyst who
was to come after, ''patient" of such a
reading. But Sancta Clara, as has been
noted, was a Franciscan ; he looked at the
question from the other side of the stream
from that on which the English theologians
were supposed to stand ; his advances met
with no very cordial reception, and the
Articles continued to be regarded by suc-
cessive generations of educated clergy and
faithful laity as the nation's protest against
Rome. Sancta Clara and his devices had
long been lost out of mind when Newman
launched the torpedo destined to blow the
Thirty-nine Articles, in their supposed
character of a reasoned Protestant eirenic,
to shivers.

For really that is what has happened,
though the metaphor may seem to some a
little violent. A system which has failed
to serve the purpose it was originally con-

trived to answer, ma}^ fairly enough be
said to have been shivered by the agent
which has demonstrated the failure.

And what was the purpose for which
the Tliirt3^-nine Articles were originally
set forth ? The ofHcial documents of the
sixteenth centur}' supply us with a per-
fectly clear answer to the question. They
were published as having been agreed
upon " by the Archbishops and Bishops of
both Provinces and the whole clergy, in
the Convocation holden at London in the
year of Our Lord 1542, for the avoiding
of the diversities of opinions and for the
establishing of consent touching true re-
ligion." Have the Articles, as a matter
of fact, accomplished these salutary ends ?
Has there been any real avoidance of ** di-
versities of opinions"? Has there been
any genuine establishing of consent ? Not
certainly since 1841, whatever may have
been the case in earlier years. One may,
to be sure, buy at the theological book
shops either Forbes on the Thirt^^-nine
Articles, or Browne; but if he attempts to
make the Bishop of Brechin keep step with
the Bishop of Winchester, he wall meet

with onh' indifferent success. Can two
walk together except they be agreed ? The
prophet Amos thought not.

I repeat, then, that in so far as the ac-
complishment of their avowed purpose is
concerned, the Thirt3'-nine Articles of the
Church of England have been and are an
open failure. The}^ attempted the estab-
lishing of a common standard of religious
belief with respect to a multitude of details,
and it sinipl}^ could not be done, — could
not be done to last. English Christianity
owes a debt of gratitude to John Henry
Newman for having made this point clear.
His logic metamorphosed what had been,
for so many years, hypocritically denomi-
nated ^'Articles of peace," into unmistaka-
ble articles of war. Ever since his day the
cry has been concerning them, " Not peace,
but a sword." ''How many sacraments
hath Christ ordained in his Church?"
" Two," answers the ingenuous child, fresh
from his Catechism. "Oh, no;" inter-
rupts the Anglo-Catholic, backed, as he
now contends, b}'- Article twenty-five; "Oh,
no ; seven, m}^ good child ; only 3-ou must
be careful not to call them sacraments of

the Gospel." This is a fair sample of what
Tract XC. did for the better explication of
those fourteen Articles which constitute
what may be called the disputed posses-
sions, as contrasted with the common terri-
tory of English and Latin Christianity.

We pass from the Thirty-nine Articles
of the Church of England to the Thirty-
eight of the American Episcopal Church,
since it is with these latter that the present
paper undertakes more particularly to deal.
Three questions with respect to the Ameri-
can Articles force themselves upon us : —
What is their legal status ? What, under
twentieth century conditions, is their theo-
logical value ? Why should they continue
any longer to be bound up with the Book
of Common Prayer? Let us begin with
the question of status.

So long as the Colonial Church contin-
ued under the nominal oversight of the
Bishop of London, the Articles, as a matter
of course, had for American Churchmen
precisely the same binding obligation that
they had for English Churchmen, no
more no less.

Since no candidate for Holy Orders


could be ordained in those days save b}^ a
Bishop of the home Church, whom he
must needs cross the ocean to find, every
Church of England clergyman exercising
his office on this side of the Atlantic must,
at some time or other, have actuall}- put
his name to the Articles.

During the period, however, that inter-
vened between the overthrow of the British
sovereignty on this soil and the firm es-
tablishment of an autonomous Church in
what the Preface to the Prayer Book
calls '' these American States, "the Articles
were, to all intents and purposes, in mibibus.
Nobody seems to have known precisely
where they stood, or what was the exact
measure of their binding force. It was
evident that to throw them overboard alto-
gether, especially after the bold step taken
in the practical repudiation of the Qtii-
cunqiie vult^ would be a somewhat violent
break of doctrinal continuity with the
Church of England, while, at the same
time, formally to adopt them without some
measure of revision was impossible. The
twenty-first of the Thirty-nine, for exam-
ple, literall}^ reeked with the flavour of


monarchy, asserting, as it did, that General
Conncils might "not be gathered together
without the commandment and will of
Princes." To have sounded that note in
the ears of " these American States," in
the first flush of their democratic pride,
might have subjected White to insult, and
Seabury to banishment. In the Book of
Articles appended to the American Prayer
Book, nothing follows the title "x\rticle
XXI. Of the Authority of General Coun-
cils" save an asterisk; and if the asterisk
be pursued to the bottom of the page, we
find the following naive footnote: — " The
Twenty-first of the former Articles is
omitted; because it is partly of a local
and civil nature " (as if there were any-
thing really " local " or " civil " about a
General Council)," and is provided for, as
to the remaining parts of it, in other
Articles." A happ}^ phrase this — "pro-
vided for in other Articles " ; it shall be
given a broader application presently.
The upshot of the debate over the recog-
nition or non-recognition of the ^Articles
was their "establishment," with a few
modifications (the most important of which


is the one just noted), by the General
Convention of 1801.

It is worth while, before we pass this
point, to quote Bishop White. He re-
marks, in his Memoirs (p. 33), that "the
object kept in view in all the consultations
held and deliberations formed was the per-
petuating of the Episcopal Church on the
ground of the general principles which she
had inherited from the Church of England;
and of not departing from them, except so
far as either local circumstances required
or some very important cause rendered
proper. To those acquainted with the
history of the Church of England it must
be evident that the object here stated was
accomplished on the ratification of the
Articles." Tiffany, in his History, com-
menting upon this memorandum, suggest-
ively adds that an attempt, three years
later, that is to say, in the General Con-
vention of 1804, to make subscription to
the Articles compulsory upon the Clergy,
by canonical enactment, failed.

The just conclusion from these historical
data would seem to be that, since 1801,
the Thirty-eight Articles of Religion have,


in some sense, been of binding force upon
the consciences of onr clergy, thongh in
precisely what sense or to what extent it is
not easy to say. Few wonld venture to
assert that they stand on the same footing
with the Catholic Creeds in respect to
essential dogma ; while, on the other
hand, few would go so far as to declare
them, in round terms, non- obligatory.
They would appear to be held, to use a
most illusory phrase, forced upon us by
the exigencies of these difficult times, ''for
substance of doctrine," though where the
*' substance " ends and the " accidents "
begin, who shall determine ?

And just here would seem to be the
proper point for a distinct intimation of the
present writer's motive and purpose in
opening this subject. We are all of us
more or less disquieted by the evident dis-
inclination of the flower of our youth to
seek the ministry of religion as their call-
ing in life. Whether or not the same ten-
dency is observable in communions other
than our own is a separate question. But,
without going further afield than our own
immediate ecclesiastical limits permit,


wli3' is it, we may well ask, that with such
magnificent sources of suppl}' as our great
Schools, Concord, Grotou, Southborough,
Pomfret, Cheshire, Newport, (not to men-
tion others) afford, the current setting
towards Holy Orders should be so slug-
gish and intermittent? After all due
allowance has been made for the fact that
many of these bo3^s have been brought up
at home in such luxurious surroundings
that it is not in them to face possible
hardship, it still remains a difficult ques-
tion, Why do the}^ not in larger numbers
flock to the Colours? It is the writer's
conviction that in many instances — by no
means in all, but in mau}^ — the reason is
that no clear-cut, frank, direct answer is
to be had to the question, To what do I
commit m3^self doctrinally if I enter the
ministry of the Church?

The Lambeth Platform, to be sure, has
an answer to this question, as clear as a
bell. " The Nicene Creed," it declares,
is " the sufficient statement of the Chris-
tian Faith."

" But what about the Articles of Re-
ligion ? " urges the level-headed, keen-


eyed young college graduate, on the edge
of postulancy, though doubtful al^out can-
didateship, — " To what extent am I bound
by them? They contain, I find, many
hundreds of propositions. Must I feel in
my heart that I give honest assent to every
one of these when I am asked in Ordi-
nation whether I will minister the doctrine
of Christ, not only ' as the Lord hath com-
manded,' which would be a comparatively
simple obligation, but ' as this Church
hath received the same ' ? Tell me, O
Bishop, Guardian of the fold and Shep-
herd of the flock, tell me, am I bound
by an equally strong tie to the affirmation
that ' works before justification ' have the
nature of sin, and to the affirmation 'on
the third day He rose again from the
dead ' ? " To which the Bishop, as things
now are, can but reply, ''You have Burnet
and Beveridge, Browne, Forbes and Hard-
wicke ; hear them."

The Articles of Religion, w^hen anal3^sed
and classified, fall into seven groups —
the theological, strictly so called, the
embryological, the anthropological, the so-
teriological, the ecclesiological, the biblio-


logical, and the sociological. The sections,
moreover, follow in the order named.
Under the head of Theology, pure and
simple, come the first five, with these
titles, '^Of Faith in the Holy Trinity,"
'*Of the Word or Son of God which was
made Very Man," ''Of the going down of
Christ into Hell," " Of the Resurrection
of Christ," "Of the Holy Ghost."

Under the head of embryology — a
word which may be used, for lack of a
better, to define the study of sources — are
to be classed Articles six, seven, and eight,
which deal with the germ-plots of Chris-
tian doctrine, the Scriptures of the Old
and New Testaments, and the Catholic
Creed in its two forms — the so-called
Apostolic and the Nicene. Under the
head of Anthropology come Articles nine
and ten, dealing respectively with Birth-
sin and Free-will. Soteriology fills no
fewer than eight Articles, namely, the
eleventh, Of the Justification of i\Ian ; the
twelfth, Of Good Works ; the thirteenth.
Of Works before Justification; the four-
teenth, Of Works of Supererogation ; the
fifteenth, Of Christ alone Without Sin;


the sixteenth, Of Sin after Baptism ; the
seventeenth, Of Predestination and Elec-
tion ; and the eighteenth, Of obtaining
Eternal Salvation only by the Name of
Christ. All these in answer to the ques-
tion, ''What must I do to be saved? " — an
inquiry originally replied to, it will be re-
membered, at a place called Philippi, in
fewer words.

Ecclesiology, not in its petty sense of
the science of priestly vestments and
chancel furniture, but in its dignified and
lofty sense of the science of the Church's
corporate life, is dealt with in fifteen Ar-
ticles, to wit, Nos. nineteen to thirty-four,
No. twenty-one of " the former Articles "
counting zero. In these ecclesiological
Articles we have the Church's constituency
defined, its authority, as limited by Holy
Scripture, declared, its existence in a
purgatorial state questioned, its ministry
safeguarded, the language of its w^orship
confined to the vernacular, its sacraments
numbered, explained, and protected against
both misinterpretation and misuse, the
marriage of its priests justified, its sen-
tences of excommunication made valid,


and its traditions and ceremonies given
such subordinate rank as rightfull}^ at-
taches to them. The bibliographical Ar-
ticles are two in number, and deal with
the Books of Homilies and the Book of
Consecration of Bishops and Ordering of
Priests and Deacons.

Finally, under the head Sociological
may be classed the last three Articles, one
of which touches upon the power of the
civil magistrates, one upon communism,
and one upon the lawfulness of making
oath in courts of justice.

The Thirt3^-eight Articles having been
thus summarised, it is timel}^ to call at-
tention to the fact that the x\merican
Episcopal Church has in its custody three-
and-twent}' more, nameh', the Twelve
Articles of the Catholic Creed, and the
Eleven Articles of her Constitution or
Organic Law. The thesis which this
Tract No. XCI. has been written to set
forth and to maintain is, that the twent} -
three amply suffice for our purpose without
the thirty-eight. Suppose we tr}^ the
several groups just enumerated by this test.

As for the Trinitarian theology, with


which the Book of Articles opens, it is
evidently identical, in fact almost verbally
identical, with the teachings of the Nicene
Creed. So much, therefore, may be set
down as surplusage.

The open Bible on our lecterns testifies
to our respect for the authority of the
Book, if it be a '' Standard " Bible, and its
table of contents will be a sufficient defi-
nition of what is held to be canonical

Similarly, it may be said of the two
Creeds that their very presence in our
manual of worship is ample enough proof
of our thinking that they " ought thor-
oughly to be received and believed." This
disposes of the trilogy of Articles con-
cerned with the source of authority in

On Anthropology, the next subject
treated, it is enough to know that man is
undoubtedly a sinner; while, of Soteri-
ology, it is enough to know that Christ is
incontestably a Saviour. Upon both of
these cardinal points the Creed insists,
when of the Only-begotten of the Father
it affirms that "for us men and for our


salvation " He came down from heaven.
Were we not lost, saving we slionld not
need; were He not Saviour, his coming
down had been in vain.

In a Church which, like our own, has
committed its organic law to writing, the
proper place for ecclesiological teaching
is the Constitution ; and if the eleven
Articles of that document, as we now have
it, do not suffice, it would be quite within
the power of our ecclesiastical legislature
to add a twelfth.

Passing to bibliography, it is certainly
unnecessar}^ to have a special Article of
Religion to declare that our Ordinal has
nothing in it that, " of itself, is supersti-
tious and ungodly." The fact that we
continue it in use ought to be suificient
evidence that we resent such imputation ;
while, as for the Homilies, since the ver}^
Article which commends them also sus-
pends them, — postpones, that is to say,
the public reading of them in churches
until they shall have been revised, — we
need not trouble ourselves about them.
It is more than a century since this good
resolution was put into print ; and though


there have been revisions many, we still
wait for the homiletical one.

There remain to be disposed of the three
Articles designated as sociological. Of
these, the first, '' Of the Power of the Civil
Magistrates," is a very different thing
under its American form from what we
find in the corresponding place in the
English Book — in fact, may not unfairly
be said to teach an opposite doctrine; for
whereas the English Article affirms that
godly Princes " should rule all estates and
degrees committed to their charge by God,
w^hether they be ecclesiastical or tem-
poral," the American Article quietly ob-
serves that '' the Power of the Civil Magis-
trate hath no authority in things purely
spiritual " — not a flat contradiction, per-
haps, but dangerously near to it.

The second of the Sociological Articles
antagonises Communism as taught by
*' certain Anabaptists." But anarchists,
not anabaptists, are the men with whom
we have to do ; and, moreover, if we are to
have an Article of Religion to confront
each and every one of the economic here-
sies that disturb our peace, we shall need.


not thirty-nine, but a hundred. The Book
concludes with the Article entitled " Of a
Christian Man's Oath." It confesses tliat
vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christ-
ian men, but insists that in a good craise
a Christian man may swear if the magis-
trate requireth it. This is acceptable
enough doctrine to all who do not take
the Sermon on the Mount too literally ;
but, in view of the fact that in the courts
of most English-speaking countries, and
even in the House of Commons, since
Bradlaugh, an affirmation is accepted in
place of an oath, the Article has that be-
lated look which befits its position at the
end of the column.

This Tract has been written in no acri-
monious or destructive spirit. The writer
has no wish to contravene a single state-
ment in the Articles of Religion. He
candidl}^ acknowledges that Christian men
ma}^ swear, and he is utterly unwilling
that other Christian men should esteem
his goods and riches common, touching
his own "right, title, and possession of the
same." A like cheerful assent he gives to
all the propositions of the formulary, as he


understands them ; for it would be strange
indeed if, among the multitude of inter-
pretations now allowed, he should fail of
finding the special one suited to the idio-
syncrasies of his particular mind. But
while this is his present attitude, he re-
calls the day when it was not. He recalls
the day when, to his youthful and un-
tutored vision, the Articles seemed to ob-
scure rather than to elucidate the answer
to the question, What is the doctrine of
the Episcopal Church ? He cannot help
being of the opinion that to-day young
men in great numbers are similarly em-
barrassed. They can believe the Creeds,
but what are they to make of this lengthy
addendum to the Creeds ?

It may be urged that some addendum
is necessary, seeing that the Creeds do
not interpret themselves. There is truth
in this objection, but has the bringer of it
considered what an immense amount of
interpretative power is stored up in the
historic liturgy of the Church? The
Creed, for example, is very concise, very
concise indeed, in the region of anthro-
pology and soteriology; but the Prayers


of the Ages, in a singularly full and satis-
factory way, show us how Christians have
always thought, or, what is, perhaps, still
more to the point, felt upon these subjects.

What need of Article twelve, "Of Good
Works," when we have learned, on the
Second Sunday before Lent, to say, " O
Lord God, who seest that we put not our
trust in anything that we do," and on the
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity are again
to pray, '' Almighty and merciful God,
of whose only gift it cometh that thy
people do unto Thee true and laudable
service "? It is safe to sa}' that there is
not a single Article of the Creed that does
not find similar expansion and elucidation
somewhere between the covers of the
Prayer Book before you reach the Psalter,
and long before you reach the Articles.

It is just here that Anglicans enjoy a
great advantage over Presbyterians. To-
day the Westminster Confession totters
to its fall. The Brief Statement will not
save it, for the Brief vStatement was only
allowed to come into existence upon an


Online LibraryWilliam Reed HuntingtonTract no. XCI [i. e. ninety-one] : the articles of religion from an American point of view → online text (page 1 of 2)