Robert D. Crouse

NOTE: This article part of a conference report of the Atlantic Theological Conference (The Thirty-Nine Articles, ed. G.R. Bridge), and published by St. Peter Publications. Also, to view the text of the Thirty-Nine Articles, try this link.

[cranmer4.jpg]The traditional view of the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles for Anglicans is well stated by Dr. J.I. Packer, in the Latimer House study already referred to several times in the course of this Conference. The Articles, he says,
come to us as prior judgements, time-honoured judgements, on specific issues relating to the faith of Christ, as set forth in the Scriptures. They come to us as corporate decisions first made by the Church centuries ago, and now confirmed and commended to us by the corroborative testimony of all later generations that have accepted them, down to our time.... It is a prime obligation for Anglicans to take full account of the expository formulations to which our Church has bound itself; and to ignore them, as if we were certain that the Spirit of God had no hand in them, is no more warrantable than to treat them as divinely inspired and infallible.[1]
We conclude, then, that the authority to which the Articles may lay claim is the authority of faithful witness: the authority, that is, of a true echo and application of the biblical message. And the proper ground for endorsing them and, in the case of the clergy, consenting to subscribe them, is that one should have tested them by the Scriptures which they profess to expound and found them sure in their grasp of the Word of God.'

It is essentially that view of the authority of the Articles which is espoused by the Anglican Church of Canada, in our General Synod's "Solemn Declaration, 1893":

We are determined by the help of God to hold and maintain the Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded in his Holy Word, and as the Church of England hath received and set forth the same in the Book of Common Prayer ... and in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion; and to transmit the same unimpaired to our posterity (BCP, 1962, p. viii).
That Solemn Declaration remains as part of the fundamental constitution of our Church, and all our bishops and other clergy are solemnly committed to the authority of the Articles, either by explicit assent to them, or by implicit assent, in their solemn oath to uphold the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada. The precise legal and constitutional status of the Articles varies, of course, in various parts of the Anglican Communion; yet, even where the legal authority of the Articles may be questionable, there remains, surely, a strong moral obligation upon all who regard themselves as Anglicans to respect the authority of those time-honoured official formularies which have contributed to the shape and identity of Anglicanism as a distinctive form of Christian faith and life.

In our own time, however, the shape and identity of Anglicanism have been called radically into question, and it seems difficult to bring into focus the precise locus, or loci, of authority. The fashionable term to describe this state of confusion is "dispersed authority" - a term generated by the Lambeth Conference of 1948, which offered the following definition:

Authority .... is distributed among Scripture, Tradition, Creeds, the Ministry of Word and Sacraments, the witness of saints, and the consensus fidelium, which is the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through his faithful people in the Church. It is thus a dispersed, rather than a centralized authority, having many elements which combine, interact with, and check each other; these elements together contributing by a process of mutual support, mutual checking, and redressing of errors or exaggerations to the many-sided fullness of the authority which Christ has committed to His Church.[2]
The kaleidoscopic (or, perhaps, Democritean) image evoked by this description, although mulled over by many commissions and Primates' Meetings, and commented upon by many learned authors,[3] has, perhaps understandably, not yielded very much by way of lucid definition. To begin with, some of the elements in this dispersion are themselves extremely vague. What, for instance, is meant by "Tradition'? Does one mean the tradition of the ancient Church? Or of the universal Church? Or the tradition of the Anglican Church in particular? Or all of those? If one means to include them all, how does the authority of specifically Anglican tradition stand in relation to ancient or universal tradition, or to other particular traditions? Or do all traditions, and all elements in all traditions carry equal weight?

And what precisely is meant by consensus fidelium as a locus of authority? Dr. Hughes is right (as he usually is!) when he argues, in a recent article, that the concept is disastrous when it becomes synonymous with the majority vote of any ecclesiastical council or convention.[4] I myself tried to make something of the conception, in a paper for one of these theological conferences a few years ago,[5] and I certainly did not mean the consensus of the majority of contemporary Anglicans, or contemporary Christians, but the consensus of the faithful all down the ages. I took it to mean something akin to the "Vincentian Canon': quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. Inasmuch as Lambeth spoke of consensus fidelium as ‘The continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through his faithful people in the Church', I thought I might be right; but I must confess that the behaviour of synods and conventions in recent years seems to argue pretty strongly for Dr. Hughes's interpretation: "continuing" is certainly not the operative word!

The most basic problem with his conception of "dispersed authority" is (as Dr. Hughes indicates) that Scripture is simply one element in the dispersion: one of those elements which "combine, interact with and check each other". The Lambeth bishops certainly assign to Scripture a priority as "The ultimate standard of faith", as "The unique and classical record of the revelation of God in His relation to and dealings with man"; but, in their view, Scripture is essentially a description of "religious experience", which (on the analogy of "scientific method") must be "defined", "mediated", and "verified".[6] In other words, Scripture provides data, not doctrine.[7] The "experience" is "described in Scripture", "defined in Creeds and in continuous theological study", "mediated in the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments", and "verified in the witness of saints and in the consensus fidelium". Finally, "liturgy ... is the crucible in which these elements of authority are fused and unified in the fellowship and power of the Holy Spirit".[8] No doubt, thinking of this sort underlies the emphasis which the compilers of our Canadian Book of Alternative Services place upon "the theological principle lex orandi: lex credendi", which they interpret to mean that "liturgy is a reflective process in which theology may be discovered".[9]

Surely, all that stands in marked contrast to the traditional view of the authority of Scripture, as "God's Word written', actually presenting authoritative teaching, to which the Church must be a "witness". [10] In fact, according to the doctrine of the Articles, the Scriptures contain definite theological teaching, to which the Church's teaching must always be subordinate. "Holy Scripture", says Article VI, "containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation'. Article XX reinforces the same doctrine: The Church has "authority in Controversies of Faith; And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another'.

Thus, the Church's doctrinal authority is entirely contingent upon its faithfulness to the teaching of the Word of God revealed:

Jesus came and spoke unto them saying ‘All power (exousia: authority) is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world' (Mt. 28:18-21).
The Church is commissioned by the Word of God, the eternal Word Incarnate: commissioned by the Word, to proclaim the Word. That is the ground of its authority; creeds and councils, traditions, consensus, liturgies, and Articles of Religion have a valid, derivative authority, insofar as they are faithful to that divine commission.

The Church has its legitimate authority in the proclamation of the Word: the Word made audible in human words, and visible in holy sacraments. But the Church's proclamation of the Word is not identical with the Word himself. Indeed, as John Wyclif, that great evangelical "morning star of the Reformation", was at pains to explain at length, in his wonderful treatise, De veritate sacrae scripturae, even the sacred books are not the Word of God in the highest sense: they are revered as faithfully representing the divine Word, which as the Psalmist says, "endureth forever in heaven."[11] There is a distance between Word and words, which involves an activity of understanding and interpretation, for which the Church has a fundamental responsibility.

To be sure, the Church's understanding is always less than adequate to the perfectness of Truth which is the Word of God: "we know in part, and we prophesy in part", says St. Paul (I Cor. 13:9). "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us"(II Cor. 4:7). And yet, the Church charged with the proclamation of the Word for the salvation of humankind is compelled to make judgements about the interpretation of the Word. "Beloved, believe not every spirit," says St. John,

but try the spirits, whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world (I Jn. 4:1-3).
The fundamental judgement is, of course, simply the recognition of the fact of divine revelation in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; the fact without which there can really be no Christian Church at all. And the Church is continually compelled to make judgements in matters of faith, sometimes judgements of crucial importance for the salvation of souls. Athanasius, for instance, knew that a judgement about Arianism was necessary, because if Jesus were not the God, he could not truly be our Saviour. Thus, the Church has been, and is, compelled to judge in matters of greater and lesser importance. Certainly, those judgements are always relative: always relative to the revealed Word of God; and the weight or authority of the judgement is always relative to the measure of assurance which the Church can claim of conformity to that Word. Thus, our Articles declare that nothing must be required to be believed, as necessary to salvation, which cannot be proved from the Scriptures.

Some of the Church's judgements are judgements of the universal Church, and have universal authority. Such, for instance, are the ecumenical creeds. Others, such as our Articles of Religion, are the judgements of particular churches, and have authority among those who owe allegiance to those particular communities. But they are judgements of the Church, and not just of particular individuals or groups; it is the Church which "hath authority in controversies of faith" (as the Articles say), and must determine and declare how Scripture is to be rightly understood. Consider, for instance, now explicit Article VII is on how the Old Testament must be interpreted. But the authority is derivative: that Article can speak authoritatively as it does, because it states exactly the way Scripture itself, in the New Testament, interprets the Scripture of the Old.

But, because the authority of the Church is a derivative authority, it is not absolute in itself, but always relative to its source, and reformable in relation to that source. Thus, the Thirty-Nine Articles are not, in principle, infallible, nor exempt from revision. Whether they should now be revised is, of course, another question. Given the present theological climate, one hesitates to think what the result might be. Mr. Beckwith, in the Latimer House study already mentioned, suggests that we might better produce a supplement, and he makes some proposals about the content. But is it conceivable that the General Synod of the Church of England could agree upon those excellent proposals? And is it conceivable that other General Synods and General Conventions in the various provinces of the Anglican Communion, with their manifest inclination towards unilateral policies, would subscribe? I think that we shall have to content ourselves with the Articles as we have them!

The Articles are really quite minimal in their prescriptions. Certainly, they have sometimes been contentious - witness the commotion which surrounded the notorious Tract 90, [12] yet, they have been sufficiently elastic to elicit the sincere and serious adhesion of such diverse standpoints and personalities as those of Samuel Wilberforce, Edward Pusey and Frederick Denison Maurice. Of Maurice, in particular, an historian has written:

He found complete satisfaction in the Church of England, not in its personnel, nor in its popular fashions, but in its principles. His friends, Mill and Carlyle, could not think why, at a time when so many were "emancipating themselves from the chains of dogma", Maurice could take positive delight in binding himself to Creeds, and even Articles. To him, it seemed that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a sort of classical period, which gave him a larger air in which to breathe than any modern wind of theological fashion. "I look upon the Articles", he said, "as an invaluable charter, protecting us against a system that once enslaved us, and might enslave us again; protecting us also against the systems of the present day - against 'Records' and 'Times' newspapers, and Bishops of Exeter and Heads of Houses."[13]
I am sure you could translate that sentiment into more contemporary terms for yourselves!

The fact, which Maurice understood, is that agreed, authoritative statements of truth are not so much binding as liberating. They are defenses against the arbitrary will of powerful individuals, and the despotism of contemporary majority opinion. As Bishop Allison explained so eloquently the other evening, and as Lady Philosophy long ago explained in the Consolation of Philosophy - that great classic of spirituality, which, translated into the vernacular by King Alfred, Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I, did so much to shape the spiritual life of Christians in the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and early modern times freedom of the mind is not found in the chaos of fluctuating opinion. "Human souls", says Boethius, "must be the more free as they preserve themselves in contemplation of the divine mind".[14] And that is also, surely, what Plato meant, when, in his great "Allegory of the Cave", he represented the realm of opinion by the image of prisoners bound in chains.[15]

But, as Bishop Allison also reminded us, authorities, particularly ifthey are old authorities, and especially if they claim authority in matters of religion or theology (which are understood to be, after all, matters of individual opinion or feeling) are not very welcome in contemporary culture. Anthony O'Hara, in a recent essay on "Philosophy and Modernism", puts the matter this way:

If anything is characteristic of modernism, in whatever field you look, it is the assertion of the validity of the present experience or thought of the individual. Present experience is a fundamental given: something historically pristine, against which all that is past is to be judged, and from which one can move on to create afuture free from what will no doubt be regarded as the dross of history. ... There is little sense that the judgements we are inclined to make about what is true and valuable have their roots in forms of life which we share and owe their power, their dignity, and even their content, to generations who are long since dead.[16]
In such a climate of thought, the assumptions are that there is no truth (in "non scientific' matters) which is not immediately accessible to opinion, and that all opinions, or "feelings", have essentially equal claims. Conflict becomes the argument of a screech against a scream, "Truth" must be measured in decibels, and there can be no resolution of the issues except by the imposition of a decision by the most powerful individual or group - a decision which, in a democratic society, must be, or at least must be represented as being, the will of the majority. One is reminded, surely, of the argument of Thrasymachus, the sophist, against Socrates, to the effect that justice is simply the will of the stronger party.[17] The governing bureaucracy seeks to impose its will, with the aid of "educational"campaigns, by which it would discredit older positions and convince its subjects that "change" means "growth", and is, ipso facto, a good thing; and that "community" is, after all, what really matters. Such methods, however, inevitably breed endless contention, and tend towards the destruction of community.

The bureaucracy of the contemporary Church seems to be committed to just such policies as these, with all the attendant trappings of "chronolotry".[18] Such documents as the Articles of Religion are thought to command only "historical" interest, and ft is widely supposed that creeds, and even the texts of Scripture, where they seem to be in conflict with current directions of change, might well be adjusted to conform to the sensibilities of the modern community and its progressive causes. In such a position, doctrine, obviously, must become something very like propaganda. As John Macquarrie wrote, with reference to the doctrinal commission of the Church of England which produced the report, Believing in the Church (1981),

There seems to have been some danger that questions about the truth and falsehood of doctrine might be submerged in the idea that corporate beliefs are primarily expressions of the solidarity of the community - the chairman {John Taylor, Bishop of Winchester], for instance, wrote that "believing is mainly belonging".[19]
The traditional authorities are regarded as valuable or not, to be exploited or ignored, just insofar as they are perceived as serving or failing to serve the changing agenda of the contemporary Church: which is to say, they are not regarded as authorities at all. The final court of appeal is simply "The direction in which our Church is moving". But one wonders whether the chronolaters have seriously considered the true nature of their great god, Cronus, who looses Titans upon the earth, and reigns in heaven, consuming his own children, until Zeus banishes him to Tartarus.[20]

The effective restoration of the legitimate authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles (as well as the authority of creeds and Scripture) must require, I think, things of modern Anglicans. First, we must be liberated from that characteristic prejudice of modernism (or chronolotry) which regards contemporary opinion as the only valid criterion of truth, and uncritically identifies each new wind of doctrine as "the leading of the Holy Spirit". "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God" (I Jn. 4:1).

In many aspects of our life, the experience of the late twentieth century has administered severe shocks to that modernist prejudice, as supposedly "progressive" measures have turned out to be disastrous folly. Perhaps it is only through suffering the effects of our folly that we learn the importance of critical evaluation of change, and perhaps current tribulations in the Church will have that salutary effect.

Secondly, we must learn to approach our traditional authorities with that spirit of reverent attentiveness which alone will permit them to inform us. I do not mean that we should be uncritically "conservative' or ‘fundamentalist'; I mean that the only genuinely reasonable and profitable approach is one which assumes that they have something substantial and important to teach us, and that wisdom was not born with us.

I am reminded of an incident from my time as a graduate student. I had elected to be a member of a seminar on the Philosophy of the Church Fathers, which was conducted by an elderly and very distinguished scholar; and during the first meeting, various Patristic texts were assigned, on which members of the class would be expected to report in the course of the year. One of my fellow students, obviously trained in the most "progressive" methods, said he presumed that what the professor wanted were our own critical opinions. The venerable professor looked puzzled, and responded, "Oh, do you think that would be useful?" Then he went on to advise us that we should study the texts very closely, examine the comments of great historians of past centuries, and try not to have "opinions" until we had spent some years trying to understand what the texts were saying. We must begin, he said, by submitting our minds to the authority of the texts before us. For some of us, who had supposed that education was chiefly a matter of "Self expression", that seemed a revolutionary view!

The recognition of authorities, in the proper sense, involves always a certain act of faith: the initial appropriation of a truth yet to be demonstrated. The pattern of knowledge is always a movement from faith to understanding. As St. Augustine puts it (quoting the Old Latin version of Isaiah, 7:9), Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis: "Unless you will believe, you will not understand."[21] The pattern is always, as in St. Anselm's famous phrase, fides quaerens intellectum: "faith seeking understanding'.[22] Thus, John Wyclif, in the treatise on Scripture already mentioned, explains that fruitful study depends upon the virtuous disposition of the reader: he must approach the text with an attitude of discipleship, with the intention of receiving the text in devotion to its truth; and he must receive the witness of the Holy Doctors of the Church, for thus he will be taught by other disciples who have learned conformity to Scripture.[23] As Dante has it, at the outset of the "Purgatorio", the pilgrim enters upon the upward road, armed not with some magical, theurgic golden bough, but girded rather with l'humile pianta, the humble reed of intellectual humility.[24]

Effectual recognition of the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles in the Church today must involve more than an acknowledgement of their formal, legal, "historical" status in Anglican tradition, and more than a private judgement about their conformity to Scripture; it must involve an intellectual humility which is ready to listen reverently and attentively to the witness of those who have been in Christ before us. There is an old proverb which says, "We become too soon old, and too late smart"; but surely, it is not too late for wisdom, even if we come at the last, eleventh hour.


1 . J.I. Packer and R. T. Beckwith, The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today (Oxford: Latimer House, 1984), pp. 51-52.

2. "The Meaning and Unity of the Anglican Communion", a section of the report of a Committee of Bishops, under the chairmanship of archbishop Carrington, on "The Anglican Communion", The Lambeth Conference 1948 (London, 1948), Part II, pp. 84-86. The report is reprinted, as an appendix, in S. W. Sykes, ed., Authority in the Anglican Communion (Toronto, 1987), pp. 284-286, with the note: "Reports of this kind are said to have the authority, not of the whole Lambeth Conference, but of those bishops who prepare and present them".

3. See, for instance, the commentary by S.W. Sykes, The Integrity of Anglicanism (London and Oxford, 1978), pp. 87-100; cf. Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1987-88, "Preface", p. 61.

4. P. E. Hughes, "The Crisis of Authority', The Evangelical Catholic, Vol. XII, No. 7 (April, 1989).

5. R. D. Crouse, "The Prayer Book and the Authority of Tradition", in G. R. Bridge, ed., Anglican Church Polity and Authority (Charlottetown, 1984), pp. 54-61; also printed in The Anglican Free Press, and in The Seabury Journal (June, 1986), pp. 9-13.

6. The Lambeth Conference 1948, loc. cit.

7. This conception of Scripture as "data', and its radical implications for theology, are discussed by B. Lonergan, "Theology in its New Context", in L. K. Shook, ed., Theology of Renewal (Montreal, 1968), Vol. 1, pp. 34-46. On the origins and development of such a view, and its problems, in the modem history of biblical criticism, see W. J. Hankey, "The Bible in a Post-Critical Age", in W. Oddie, ed., After the Deluge (London, 1987), pp. 41-92.

8. The Lambeth Conference 1948, loc. cit.

9. The Book of Alternative Services (Toronto, 1 985), p. 1 0; cf. A. Hayes, "Lex Orandi Lex Credendi and the BAS", Insight (Wycliffe College, Toronto), No. 21 (November, 1986), pp. 1-4.

10. Article XX.

11. John Wyclif, De veritate sacrae scripturae, ed. R. Buddenseig (London, 1905, repr. 1966); see M. Treschow's excellent analysis of that work, "John Wyclif's Metaphysics of Scriptural Integrity in the De veritate sacrae scripturae", forthcoming in Dionysius, Vol. XIII (1989)

12. Cf. J.H. Newman's Tract XC, published together with E.B. Pusey's "Historical Preface" and J. Keble's "Catholic Subscription to the XXXIX Articles" (Oxford and London, 1865). Pusey comments: "Newman and Keble taught that every word was to be used in its known sense, and every definite statement in its definite meaning." (p. xliii).

13. S. C. Carpenter, Church and People 1789-1889 (London, 1933), p. 528.

14. Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae, V, prose 11.

15. Plato, Republic, Book Vil, 514a.

16. A. O'Hara, "Philosophy and Modernism", The Salisbury Review, Vol. 5, No. 4 (July, 1987), pp. 4-5; cf. R. D. Crouse, "Dwarfs on Giants' Shoulders: The Contemporary Past", in K. Jaeger, ed., The Sense of the Contemporary (Halifax, 1989), pp. 1-9.

17. Plato, Republic, Book 1.

18. I owe this term to J. Maritain, Lepaysan de la Garonne (Paris, 1966), pp. 25-28; cf. t. Gilson, Les tribulations de Sophie (Paris, 1967), p. 155: "Le mot merite de faire fortune, car la vice d'esprit qu'il designe est partout a l'oeuvre et corrompt mainte discipline ou, en principe, le temps ne devrait pas, etre en cause".

19. J. Macquarrie, "The Anglican Theological Tradition", in R. Holloway, ed., The Anglican Tradition (Wilton, Connecticut, and Toronto, 1984), p. 35.

20. For these stories of Kronos, later identified as "chronos" (time), see Homer, Iliad, VIII, 479; XIV, 203; Hesiod, Theogony, 137- 453f; 494.

21. St. Augustine, De doctrina Christiana, 11, 12, 17; cf. R.D. Crouse, "St. Augustine's De Trinitate: Philosophical Method", in E.A. Livingstone, ed., Studia Patristica, Vol. XVI (Berlin, 1985), pp. 501-510.

22. St. Anselm, Proslogion, Prologue.

23. On these points in Wyclif, see the article by Michael Treschow, referred to in Note 11.

24. Dante, The Divine Comedy, "Purgatorio", 1, lines 94-136.


Barry L. Craig

I would like to thank Dr. Crouse for his paper. Needless to say, it has comfortably met the usual high standards of its author. I must confess however, that framing a response to such a presentation has proven quite daunting. The comments that I have to make, therefore, will be brief and fairly simple.

In his conclusion to Tract XC, John Henry Newman writes:

Whatever be the authority of the [Declaration] prefixed to the Articles, so far as it has any weight at all, it sanctions the mode of interpreting them above given. For its injoining the "literal and grammatical sense," relieves us from the necessity of making the known opinions of their framers a comment upon their text....
Newman's effort to interpret the Articles within their "literal and grammatical sense, so as to "take our reformed confessions In the most Catholic sense they will admit,"[1] is at least a legitimate expression of theological speculation. However, I do not allow that we are so easily relieved of the responsibility of allowing the known opinions of the framers to be a comment upon the text.

To deny the original Intentions of the framers a place within the interpretative process is to render the Articles practically meaningless as expressions of authoritative teaching. While them will always be debate over interpretation, the actual framers of the Articles must at least have a voice in the debate, inasmuch as their position is known to us.

While Newman's fear was that allowing the intention of the framers to determine the meaning of the Articles would undermine a "Catholic interpretation" of them, the contemporary concern is somewhat different. At present, the opinion is rather that the Thirty-Nine Articles "are an historic document and should be interpreted only within their historical context” [2] While this position is laudable and valuable, them is linked to it a corollary. That is, the Articles "are agreed propositions showing what attitude the Church of England took on certain controverted points of divinity in the sixteenth century". [3] This somewhat limited view of the character of the Articles tends to diminish their importance as representing a theological system”. Given this position, most modern treatments of the Articles view them as somewhat irrelevant to our present situation, just because of their topical nature.

If indeed the Articles exist primarily as historical documents, which chiefly serve to illuminate the theological struggles of a bygone era, the question of their authority for us becomes moot. If the questions they address are not our questions and the answers they give are not our answers, how can we even contemplate accepting them as authorities?

It is within Fr. Crouse's distinction between the legal and moral authority of the Articles that we might find the way forward. For us to try to impose the Articles simply upon the basis of an abstract legal authority would have dubious value in our present predicament. In addition, such an exercise would prove utterly futile in practice. If we have reason to believe that the Articles have a theological Integrity and correspondently compelling importance for our Church, then we can work for a recognition of their authority upon those grounds. But, for us to attempt to beat people about the head with the legal authority of the Articles, without first re-presenting the Intellectual foundation of the Articles is worse than useless - it is self-destructive.

Them is a clear analogy here to our present discussion concerning the Book of Alternative Services. Simply to stress the authority of the Prayer Book against the BAS is, as we now know, a waste of our time. The real work of value is in recovering the rational and spiritual character of the Prayer Book. To rediscover the ground and value of Anglican worship and doctrine will involve real intellectual and devotional labour - not simply invocation of authorities that are no longer understood or recognized. This is not to say that the authoritative place of the Prayer Book must be abandoned in the face of general indifference towards it, but rather the authority of the Prayer Book can only be maintained if it can be shown to possess that authority legitimately. This legitimacy is possessed by virtue of the relation the Prayer Book bears to the Word of God – not to any abstract human pronouncement.

In the same way, the Thirty-Nine Articles possess their authority inasmuch as they "contain the true Doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God's Word". [4] In his commentary on the Articles, Prof. Oliver O' Donovan writes:

The church's authority never floats free of Scripture, and can never be posited independently of Scripture, as though it could dispense with its text and establish Its own commentary irrespective of what the text contained. At every point the Church's authority conforms to the rule which we have spelled out for teaching authority in general: it consists in making the truth appear, in Illuminating the reality which is the only judge of its eflectiveness. [5]
To apply this directly to what I have been saying, the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles consists in their presentation to us of the Word of God. However, this presentation is not separate from the work of theology. As Dr. Hankey has demonstrated to us, the Articles present a real theological system. That is to say, they not only are the products of theological reflection, but are themselves systematically presented. They do not simply repeat Scripture but systematically present it to us. Therein lies their authority - in the rational presentation of the pure Word of God.

Fr. Crouse has presented to us the character of the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles. The challenge before us lies in the recognition and development of a new praeparatio evangelica This preparation is the way by which might obtain that "spiritual humility" or virtuous disposition which ought to mark the reader of Holy Scripture (and the Articles). This presentation has clearly pointed to the magnitude of our present duty, for it involves the working through of virtually our entire faith. However, if the Anglican Church is going to continue to exist as a recognizable entity, true to the principles upon which the Articles were framed, it is a necessary task. For his assistance in describing the route which we must follow, I would again express our thanks to Fr. Crouse.


1. J. H. Newman, Tract XC (London, i841), Conclusion.

2. Subscription and Assent to the Thirty-Nine ArticIes: A Report of the Archbishops' Commission on Christian Doctrine (London: S.P.C.K., 1968), p. 72.

3. Ibid., p. 31.

4. His Majesty's Declaration of 1628, prefixed to the Thirty-Nine Articles.

5. Oliver O'Donovan, On the Thirty Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christianity (Exeter Paternoster Press, 1986), p.115.

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