When the polemicists and self-appointed apologists for Rome seek to straighten us out, they sometimes begin by revealing a fascinating presumption that we are uninformed; that we are ignorant and, in the words of one of their wordiest writers with the least to say, "don't get it." They presume that if only we understood, we would leap into the Tiber and swim merrily. They think that their church believes and practices everything exactly the same today as they did in the 16th century with the exception of vernacular vs. Latin. They believe that where Anglicanism deviates from the practices of Rome it is the Anglicans who came up with something new. How little they realize that we are the ones who have preserved many older Catholic practices that they have abandoned. In fact, our own Fr. Matthew Kirby wrote an excellent article that shows the many ways in which Anglicanism has been in the lead, and Rome has followed our example, and come around to our beliefs or practices on various matters. Is that because the Infallible Church realized the heretics were right? It is more likely that they recognized the truth, the Catholic truth, of our practices and teaching.
It is even more troubling that some Anglicans often learn from the RC apologists, and so abandon their Anglican patrimony due to ignorance and misinformation. Afterward, they testify about their wonderful conversion, and begin to argue against Anglican teaching based on a completely flawed understanding of what it is. They appear to have authority as ex-Anglicans, but in fact reveal that they never had an Anglican mind in the first place.
Let us take our Article XIX as an example, once again, of flawed understanding on the part of some modern readers who cannot appreciate the perspective of those who wrote this, originally in 1553.
So too, they misunderstand Article XXI:
The most common mistake is failing to recall what was in the works when these Articles were being written (and forgetting that several ancient councils were rejected by the Universal Church). They forget that Rome was at that time holding the Council of Trent, and that the Church of England had no idea what would emerge. The reason these two Articles appeared was to remind the people of England that their Faith need not be shaken by any error that could come from a council limited only to the west, lacking the consent of the Universal Church, run by fallible men.
In their view the Church of Rome had erred, not only in a few ancient examples such as E.J. Bicknell recorded ("The latter section justifies the breach with Rome by denying her infallibility. As she has erred in the past, so she may err again at the Council of Trent. The allusion is to such events as the acceptance of by Pope Liberius of an Arian creed, the acquittal of Pelagius by Pope Zosimus and the lapse of Pope Honorius into Monothelitism."1) Also, she had erred in more recent times by allowing the false doctrines that caused the famous heresy of Indulgences being sold for money, offering salvation by means that even Simon Magus had never imagined. No hearty repentance and true faith was required, just the sound made when the coin in the coffer rings. These included the following:
Frankly, the errors of more recent times included the requirment of celibacy in the priesthood, which thing contradicts scripture (I Timothy 3:2,12, Titus 1:6).
The programmed response even of many Anglicans is this: "That's probably unwise, but not error. It is not a matter of teaching." True enough, the Church of Rome has no doctrine of clerical celibacy. Nonetheless, this error of polity evolved from a larger error: That any idea could be good for the Church even if it flies in the face of Scripture; that the "Apostolic See" could have greater wisdom than the Apostles. This cannot be a proper exercise of Right Reason. The compounded problems that come from requiring celibacy of priests cannot be hidden; they are obvious to everyone who is willing to see facts.
The Reformers were rather clear in why they saw the Church of Rome as having erred in the past.
But, to the modern polemicists Article XIX automatically appears to deny the Infallibility of the Church. The Article does not deny the Infalliblity of the Church at all, but rather states facts of history. Neither does it say the churches are any less the Church for having erred. What is clear is that they saw the Church of Rome, that is the Church in Rome itself, as a particlular church that needed to submit, like everyone else, to the mind of the Universal Church. It was the practice of Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, (the last real ABC) to use the word "antiquity" where others use "Tradition." Indeed, the Scriptures and the Tradition are ancient, and the mind of the Universal Church as expressed in Antiquity carries authority to which every later generation must bow. When there was only One visible Church able to meet in Ecumenical Council (during the first millennium) it established doctrine and polity against which Rome was creating innovations and new doctrines, making a claim to have the power to create dogmas unknown to the Fathers (considering that no one had yet imagined the 1870 doctrine of Papal Infallibility, it is irrelevant to anything that was intended by writers in the Elizabethan era).
From the perspective of the Reformers in the Elizabethan era Rome was no longer fully Catholic in doctrine and practice, having abandoned Antiquity and the mind of the Universal Church, and was transgressing by its new and innovative doctrines, no matter how logically deduced. It fell to Hooker to do in greater detail what the writers of the various Articles did simply and briefly. That was to explain why Protestantism (as they used the word) was the only way to restore the Catholic Faith corrupted by Rome, and at the same time to defend the Church of England against other Protestantisms that also created new doctrines with innovations every bit as troublesome as those of Rome. For this reason the Articles imitate a Lutheran format, and show in the process a strong contrast and disagreement with the extremes of Lutheranism; and also the Articles make use of the vocabulary employed by Calvinists in order to correct the extremes and outright errors of Calvinism.
What is also misunderstood in modern times is that the theological terminology of the English Reformers, and the issues raised in their works, makes use of langauge and arguments that had been generally considered within the boundaries of acceptable thoughts and beliefs by many Catholics for centuries. For example, the opening of Article VI has caused some to make the accusation Sola Scriptura!
Holy Scriptures 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.
It is not clear what they think sola scriptura means, except that they presume it is a rejection of the authority of Tradition (as indeed it does mean to some fundamentalists these days). But, as Fr. Laurence Wells has pointed out, the problem with the phrase is that no one ever explains what they mean by "Scripture alone." That is, alone for what exactly? In the Article we see that, assuming they had the phrase in mind at all (since they never actually used it), it would have been that the "scriptures [alone] containeth all things necessary to salvation."
And, though they never used the phrase sola scritpura or "scripture alone," if they had used it they would have considered it to be a very Catholic concept. As I have demonstrated before, it was not the Continental Reformers who came up with the phrase, but St. Thomas Aquinas.2 And, that alone indicates that they would have meant the phrase, had they used it, to be understood in a manner wholly consistent with the Tradition.3
The problem our critics have, and that some of our own who are weak in the faith have, is that they read every olde thing with the a modern mind. They cannot even understand what was meant by the words "Catholic" and "Protestant." How much less can they begin to put themselves into the world of the 16th century. If they want to read and understand the formularies of Anglicanism they may need the gift of tongues and of the interpretation of tongues.
At least they might allow Anglican teachers to interpret.
1) E.J. Bicknell, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.
2) St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt. Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti E ditori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.
Translated into English: ""It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.' Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" The reason is that canonical Scripture alone is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John 21)
3) Most likey they avoided the phrase so as not to promote the excesses of Lutherans and Calvinists.