The Church in the Articles (II): Article XX (a)

Continuing with our series from Kidd’s commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles . . .

In Article XIX, the church is defined as a visible institution, that is, an institution whose visibility was intended by her Creator, as Kidd was at pains to make clear. As a divine creation, therefore, the church has both certain powers and responsibilities as well as limitations. These are set out in Article XX, wherein it is made clear that the visible church, while having divine power, yet being a creature has limits to that power. There are thus two possible errors as regards the nature of the Church. One is the argument that the true church is invisible, and thus that the institutional church is a convenience that can be entirely shaped according to the perceived needs or desires of the ‘true’ Christians of the ‘invisible’ church. The second is the belief that the visible church, being divine, thus has in theory no limit on its power to alter what it chooses under the perceived inspiration of the “prophetic” Spirit and to label such innovations ‘developments’ (or, as the Bishop of Pennsylvania Charles Bennison once put it, “We wrote the Bible; we can rewrite it.) Neither of these views can be supported by the Articles.

Thus, in Articles XIX, XX, and XXI, the Church itself is part of the fixed deposit of faith, and thus enshrined in the creed as ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic.’ When read in conjunction with the other formularies of Anglicanism—the Prayer Book and the Ordinal—it is clear that both the episcopal structure and the teaching authority of the visible, institutional church are divine yet delineated.

Kidd’s commentary thus continues. I have broken his comments on Article XX in two. Here is the first.



De Ecclesiae Auctoritate: Habet Ecclesia ritus statuendi jus et in fidei controversiis auctoritatem; quamvis Ecclesiae non licet quicquam instituere quod verbo Dei scripto adversetur, neque unum Scripturae locum sic exponere potest, ut alteri contradicat. Quare licet Ecclesia sit divinorum librorum testis et conservatrix; attamen, ut adversus eos nihil decernere, ita praeter illos nihil credendum de necessitate salutis debet obtrudere.

Of the Authority of the Church: The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God’s word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.

(i) Source.—Composed by the English Reformers, 1552-3, with the exception of the first clause, in thick type, which was added in 1563 from the Confession of Würtemberg. There has been some doubt as to the authority of this clause. (1) It is not found in (a) the Latin MS. of the Articles which received the signatures of the bishops on January 29, 1563; nor in (b) an English ‘minute’ of the Articles dated January 31, 1563, and now preserved among the Elizabethan State Papers; nor in (c) the English edition printed by Jugge and Cawood in 1563, which was the edition referred to by 13 Eliz. c. 12. But the value of this evidence rests on the assumption that these copies present us with the Articles as finally authorised. On the other hand, (2) the clause is found in (a) an early but undated Latin draft of the Articles preserved among the Elizabethan State Papers, where it was inserted, in the same hand, after the draft itself was made; and in (b) the earliest Latin edition, which was published by Wolf the Queen’s printer, and contains her imprimatur. It is possible that the clause was added by the Lower House of Convocation after the Bishops had signed their final draft: but it is more probable that it was added at the bidding of the Queen. In either case the clause was deficient in full synodical authority. This was made good in 1571: and when Archbishop Laud was charged, at his trial, with having added the clause himself, he was able to produce a transcript of the records of Convocation, attested by a notary public, containing the words in question.

(ii) Object.—To give a clear and balanced statement of the authority of the Church in view of attempts made by some to minimise, and by others to exaggerate, it. The Anabaptists denied it altogether, and were sufficiently met by the claim of the Church to ‘expound’ Scripture which underlay the Article as it stood in 1553. The additional clause prefixed in 1563 was wanted in view of the Puritan claim, then rising into prominence, that the Church had no power to enforce rites or ceremonies other than those for which explicit sanction might be found in Scripture. This was the familiar position of the Swiss reformers, who held that the Bible and the Bible only is the rule both of faith and practice: and the Article repudiates it, as Luther did. On the other hand, it equally repudiates the position to which the Roman Church had committed herself in 1546 (Conc. Trid. Sess. iv), that in doctrine the Church is not limited by what is contained in Scripture or may be proved thereby.

(iii) Explanation.-Under the general subject of the authority of the Church and its limitations, the Article deals with three points :—(1) The legislative power of the Church; (2) The judicial power of the Church; and (3) the relation of the Church to the Scriptures.

(1) The legislative power of the Church. The ambiguity of the word ‘Church’ makes it
a little uncertain whether the Article refers to the authority of the universal Church or of particular Churches. The statement that the Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies would be true of the Church as a whole; for the Council of Nicaea, in 325, fixed the time for keeping Easter. But in 1563, when the statement was first prefixed to the Article, the opposition was to the exercise of such power by the national Church. Probably, therefore, ‘Church’ is used in the more restricted sense; and the clause thus merely anticipates the fuller statement of the last clause of Art. 34, also added in 1563, to the effect that ‘every particular or national church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.’

As a matter of fact, such changes have usually been made on the authority of local Churches. The earliest liturgies are those belonging to particular Churches: and it is only the greater influence of some particular Church that has led to the growth of the later uniformity in rites and ceremonies. Thus the importance of the Church of Constantinople has led to the adoption of her liturgies of S. Basil and S. Chrysostom throughout the orthodox East; while the unique position of the Roman See in the West has resulted in the abandonment of the Mozarabic and Gallican rites in favour of the liturgy of the local Roman Church. In the sixteenth century the English Church reverted to the principle that, as a local Church, she hath power to decree rites or ceremonies for herself.

A rite is the ‘order’ or ‘form’ of service, as expressed in words, for any particular purpose, e.g. ‘The Order for Morning Prayer,’ or ‘The Form of solemnization of Matrimony.’ (In Canon 23 of 1604 ‘ritus’ is translated ‘order.’) Such rites the Church of England has not hesitated to modify whether by way of omission, re-arrangement, or addition. Thus, at the last revision of the Prayer Book in 1662, she omitted explicit prayer for the departed; retained that sequence in the parts of the Eucharistic rite which was first adopted in 1552; and prefixed to the Order of Confirmation an additional rite for the renewal of the baptismal vows. In dealing with ceremonies, which are the gestures or acts accompanying the rite (Canon 18 speaks of kneeling, standing, and bowing as ‘outward ceremonies and gestures’), she has exercised the same discretion; retaining in use kneeling at the Communion, the sign of the Cross at Baptism, and the ring at Marriage, though all were ceremonies once sharply contested; and abandoning others whether in the interests of simplification or of edification (cf. ‘Of Ceremonies’ in the Prayer Book).

But the Church claims this power only under limitations :—

(alpha) In principle, it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s word written: and again, it ought not to decree anything against the same. Thus, on the ground that ‘both the parts of the Lord’s sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to he ministered to all Christian men alike,’ Art. 30 condemns the denial of the Chalice to the laity, i.e. not as a doctrinal, but as a disciplinary, error. But short of this, where Scripture is silent about rites and ceremonies, it need not be consulted. To hold, as the Puritans held, that every rite and ceremony must have express warrant in Holy Writ, is to misconceive its purpose. Scripture is ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness’ (2 Tim. iii. 16; cf. Rom. xv. 4). It is the supreme authority in matters doctrinal and moral, but not in matters disciplinary. On the contrary, questions of practice were left, as the Scriptures themselves testify, to be settled by the authority of the Church. Thus the Jewish Church added the observance of the Feasts of Purim and of the Dedication (John x. 22) to the round of feasts divinely ordained (Deut. xvi. 1-17); and our Lord not only sanctioned its claim by His presence at the Feast of the Dedication, but recognised in the Jewish hierarchy an authority equal to that of Moses for such purposes (Matt. xxiii. 2, 3) and in its minor ceremonial precepts an obligation, secondary indeed, but still real (Matt. xxiii. 23).

When the Christian Church was set up, similar powers were exercised by its leaders. In the absence of express precept, it is difficult to attribute the substitution of Sunday for the Sabbath to any authority short of Apostolic; which must also be held responsible for the connection of the Eucharist with the earliest hours of ‘the first day of the week’ (Acts xx. 7). At any rate, this is the authority which regulated the conduct of worship. Thus, S. Paul orders that men should pray with head uncovered (1 Cor. xi. 4) and hands uplifted (1 Tim. ii. 8 ); that women should be veiled (1 Cor. xi. 5), and be in silence (1 Cor. xiv. 34; 1 Tim. ii. 12); that the prophets should exercise their gift in turn (1 Cor. xiv. 29 sqq.). Details, apparently of direction for celebrating the Eucharist, he reserves till he come (1 Cor. xi. 34). Meanwhile he lays down general principles for the conduct of worship. It is to have an eye first to edification (1 Cor. xiv. 26) and then to decency and order (1 Cor. xiv. 40), and where doubts arise, they are to be settled by appeal to the ‘custom’ delivered by Apostles (1 Cor. xi. 2) or prevalent among ‘the churches of God’ (xi. 16). It is abundantly clear then that powers of regulating rites and ceremonies are assigned, in Scripture, to the Church: and later history shows that they have been freely exercised by local churches.

(beta) In practice the English Church is further limited, in legislating upon rites and ceremonies for herself, by the existing conditions of Establishment. When in 1532 she permitted the Crown to rob her synods of the right of meeting, debating, and legislating for her needs at their own pleasure, she lost all freedom of self-government; and when she allowed herself, as in the successive Acts of Uniformity, to accept from Parliament coercive powers for the enforcement of the Prayer Book, she bartered away her liberty of reviewing it without the consent of the civil power, then but not now necessarily Christian. Hence deadlocks have arisen.

But in theory it is still to the Church and not to the civil authority, whether Crown or Parliament, that such power to decree rites or ceremonies belongs. As in former days, ‘When any cause of the law divine happened to come in question, or of spiritual learning, then it was declared, interpreted, and showed by that part of the . . . body politic, called the spiritualty, now being usually called the English Church, which . . . is . . . sufficient and meet of itself . . . to administer all such offices and duties as to their rooms spiritual doth appertain’ (24 Henry VIII. C. 12): so now, ‘If any difference arise about the external policy, concerning the Injunctions, Canons, and other Constitutions whatsoever thereto belonging, the Clergy in their Convocation is to order and settle them, having first obtained leave under Our Broad Seal so to do: and We approving their said Ordinances and Constitutions; providing that none be made contrary to the laws and customs of the land.’ (His Majesty’s Declaration, prefixed to the Articles)


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