Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles
The Romish doctrine concerning Pugatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.
Doctrina Romanensium de Purgatorio, de Indulgentiis, de veneratione tum Imaginum tum Reliquiarum, nec non de Invocatione Sanctorum, res est futilis, inaniter conflicta, et nullis Scripturarum testimoniis innititur; imo verbo Dei contradicit.
Fr. Robert Hart
In the sixteenth century, Reformers in the West had to deal with the entire subject of salvation from sin and death by recovering the Biblical doctrine, that same doctrine the ancient Church had protected from the onslaught of heresies. At certain times the defense of the Gospel required a clear statement about Who the Savior is, either by defending the truth that He is Divine (as at Nicea in 325) or by defending the truth that He became fully human (as at Chalcedon in 451). The need for fallen mankind, sinners all, to be saved by God’s grace also needed to be defended, most clearly, as we look back, when Augustine refuted the teaching of Pelagius. Pelagius was a British heretic, and the substance of his error was that Man can save himself without the grace of God.
In the sixteenth century the teaching of justification, a very real subject of doctrinal clarity in the New Testament, had been obscured. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls each person to faith and repentance, turning not merely from a few sins here and there, but from all willful sin by a radical turning to God. And, it calls each person to a life of faith, and with it a readiness to die safely in that faith. It replaces terror of the grave with hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. But, a doctrine had developed, and as the term “development of doctrine” implies, as opposed to the meaning of revelation, it developed with the all the inherent dangers created by the imagination of fallen men.
Instead of the Gospel of Christ, with its clear call that “Today is the day of salvation (II Cor. 6:2),” a strange religion had sprung up that called for “Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints,” as a means of shortening one’s time in Purgatory. Instead of turning to God with the hope of complete forgiveness, the average Western European Christian looked for ways to shorten a time of suffering after death. Instead of being saved from sin and death, with the danger of eternal damnation as one possibility and eternal life with God as the only other possibility (John 5:28,29), the average person living with that developed doctrine sought merely to shorten time of suffering, or to prepare for no way to avoid a long period of suffering.
Along with this the power of the papacy over the minds and fears of the people was increased, as the doctrine of “The Treasury” of saintly merits was supposedly in the pope’s hands alone to dispense. It was this teaching, specifically, that caused the error of Indulgences to become so grave that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door. And, for that courageous stand, he was hounded by the pope who sought to have him killed for it.
Make no mistake. On the subject of that “Romish doctrine” the Anglican Reformers stood solidly on the same side as Martin Luther. For that is the only side of the issue that is consistent with the Bible, and the stand that all of the Church Fathers would have taken. The religion of Western Europe, that of “The Romish doctrine concerning Pugatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints,” all centered on shortening the sentence, was completely unknown to them. It had nothing to do with the Christianity they knew in the ancient Church.
Proper use of the word Purgatory?
However, if by Purgatory one means a process of purification that finishes in some way the incomplete process of sanctification, then it becomes another matter altogether. It is not possible for the work of sanctification, that is, the work of the Holy Spirit to transform each believer into a saint (i.e. holy person), to be complete in this fallen world. Furthermore, until we are clothed with immortality on the Last Day, and given our full share in His resurrection life, we will not be perfected. What does that include? Might it include some degree of suffering? Might the change of nature itself involve some kind of suffering as it gives way to perfect and eternal joy? We could speculate endlessly, but none of our speculation amounts to revelation.
“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming,” and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more (Luke 12: 42-48 RSV).’”
The last lines from this passage have been cited as a Scriptural justification for Purgatory. But, the context is not so promising, as the servant who decides in favor of willful sin is placed among “the unfaithful.” Looking at this passage honestly, it is also clearly referring to the Day of Judgment, the Last Day, when He comes again. It cannot be used to speak of any time at all, for time, as we know it, will be no more.
However, if we use the word “purgatory” to imply hope for purification, as in taking a bath and putting on clean clothes before entering the King’s presence, then such a hope is certainly not the same as “The Romish doctrine” that the Reformers sought to correct, “a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.” The problem with the word "Purgatory" then is the association it generally carries with that old Roman doctrine. The idea that God, to be just, must assign us "temporal punishment" for sins, even though they are forgiven in some larger sense, makes a complete mockery of the cross. It is not a "Pious Belief." After all, no “Pious Belief” can be “repugnant to the word of God.”
Again, the version of Purgatory for which Anglicanism provides no toleration is not the idea of purification (which some might call "Purgatory"), but specifically "the Romish doctrine," that is, the idea that justice requires a punitive process. The term "temporal punishment" means that Purgatory exists strictly to satisfy the requirements of the Law, not to perfect or even help the soul. The desire of the soul for purification, that bath and clean clothes, becomes irrelevant in this distorted, legalistic debtor's prison in which we supposedly pay to God the debt we owe. Indeed, if it were for the good of the soul, why the Treasury, and the indulgences, and so forth, that shorten the time? The whole notion of purification for the good of the soul is simply not “The Romish doctrine” that enslaved minds all over Europe at that time. That doctrine turned God into a legalistic magistrate, someone who simply wants His pound of flesh rather than the Father who has given His only begotten Son to save us.
Contrary to the Gospel
Whereas purification is an idea we can all be glad for (especially if we see it also as grace), the idea that Christ paid for our sins only in part, and that justice requires a further "temporal punishment" denies the sufficiency of Christ as the Propitiation for our sins. And, if it denies the sufficiency of His sacrifice and death, it denies Him as God in the flesh. If saints, by their alleged merits (another serious problem) can make up for some insufficiency in Christ's sacrifice with further partial payment, than the concept brings Christ down to the level of His creatures who have needed and received His grace. It almost seems as bad as listing the Lord among His saints as a mere equal.
That the publican in the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14) goes home justified (δικαιόω, dikaioō ) is no small matter. The whole theological meaning of justification is of major importance in the New Testament, and the theme receives its greatest development by St. Paul. It is obvious that Paul builds his meaning on the same understanding of justification that is very clear in this parable. On the cross, as He died, Jesus uttered the word τελέω (teleō), which takes three English words to say: “It is finished (John 19:30).” In those days, when Greek was the international tongue, the word τελέω was written on a final receipt of payment; so we may conclude that the usage of the word was meant to convey not only the completion or perfection of a thing, but full payment. Christ has paid in full for it all, for “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2)."
No one else could pay for our sins (Psalm 49:7), because everyone else, even the saints, are all sinners themselves. The saints have received grace, including the grace to acquire virtues; Christ alone of all mankind has merits of His own. Furthermore, because of Who it is that died for us, no further payment is needed. And, if it is paid in full and we are justified, how could God be just in requiring yet more, as if we could imagine the Father finding fault with the sacrifice and death of His only begotten Son? He would be unjust; but as it is, God is "just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:26)."
As for the phrase, “Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints” that seems to have been in the context of Purgatory, we may take “Pardons” to mean the doctrinally developed error of Indulgences. The word “indulgences,” acquired the meaning that I defined above rather than its true ancient meaning of being excused by the bishop from church disciplines for specific reasons (i.e. excused from fasting for an individual’s health). Instead it had come to mean pardons from “temporal punishment” by means of the worship and invocation mentioned in what directly follows.
It must be remembered that the ancient Church, even in the Seventh Ecumenical Council (or Second Council of Nicea in 787) that condemned the teaching of the Iconoclasts, never approved of giving that special worship properly reserved only to God, namely λατρεία (latreia), to anything or anyone else. So, again, the English Reformers in their opposition to “The Romish doctrine” were defending the genuine and authentic Catholic Tradition, namely the beliefs set forth in Holy Scripture. And, so it was in many other things, which is what these Thirty-Nine Articles were all intended to do.
Fr. Laurence Wells
This, I suppose, is the point in the Articles where we might have a real donnybrook between those who understand Anglicanism as Tridentinism Lite (a genteel version of the Baltimore Catechism) on the one hand and the rest of us on the other. To lay the groundwork for such an engagement at least two things must be said. First, the Articles, especially Article XXII, were addressed not to the theology of the schools but to the popular religion of the day. If this seems unfair, we must recall that this popular religion was the religion of the masses, a debased religion which stood as a barrier between the Gospel and those for whom Christ died. Secondly, the Articles occasionally engage in rhetorical flourishes which modern readers find abrasive.
If one looks at the Latin version, it is a little clearer that this Article says “The Romish doctrine …. Is a fond thing, vainly invented.” Purgatory, etc, as popularly understood are examples of a religion “grounded upon no warranty of Scripture.” So the purpose of Article XXII is not to attack this or that point of Roman doctrine, but to assert the absolute primacy of Scripture. When the Church sits loose to the authority of Sacred Scripture, then it quickly descends into a state of spiritual decadence like that described in the Canterbury Tales. Apologists for the pre-Reformation Church will not care to read of Chaucer’s Pardoner, hawking his feathers plucked from the wings of the Holy Ghost and other dubious relics.
We must allow that a Biblical case can be made (and has been made) for a number of things which the Articles condemn. There is a Biblical doctrine for the Intermediate State between our death and the General Resurrection (for which the name “purgatory” seems malapropos). Likewise, one might find a devout use of holy relics and religious art not inconsistent with the Bible. It is not necessarily superstitious to say, “St ----, pray for us.” The Puritan Westminister Confession asserts the “communion of saints” more glowingly than any edition of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Puritan Richard Baxter wrote:
Ye blessed souls at rest
Who ran this earthly race
And now, from sin released,
Behold the Saviour’s face,
God’s praises sound
As in his sight
With sweet delight
Ye do abound.
While this Article might require a decree of balance and nuance, its central point remains solid and critical. Scripture is normative, Scripture is supreme, Scripture is final.
While the notion of Purgatory is a subordinate issue in this Article, I will insert a modest footnote to Fr Hart’s excellent discussion. There are surely few Anglicans who would attempt to defend the popular mediaval notion of the intermediate state, the horrible idea of suffering temporal penalties as yet not paid. When one examines the mercifully brief discussion of Purgatory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he might be reminded of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, a thing which gradually vanished so that all that was left was the smile.
But I must confess my private skepticism with the theory popular these days among many Anglicans, that between death and the General Resurrection we must undergo further sanctification. Many state this in terms of personal humility: “A terrible sinner like me must have a thorough scrubbing before I can enjoy the beatific vision.” Again, pious as this sounds, it betrays a very bad theological method, the route of speculation rather than the way of exegesis. A Bibical basis for this idea is surely lacking. Our American Prayer Book in its 1928 revision added a phrase to the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church, “grant them continual growth in thy love and service,” with similar petitions in the Order for the Burial of the Dead. But this was a 20th century novelty. The revisers would have done better to confine themselves to the 1549 language, “Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace,” which is well grounded in 2 Tim. 1:18.
The fanciful idea of a “through scrubbing” in the afterlife raises an unnecessary question about the power of God, who is able to give us perfect holiness and purity immediately after we depart this world.
It also contradicts what St Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, concerning those still alive at the Second Coming. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” Here is the Gospel lying before us: Not a “thorough scrubbing” in some incorporeal realm, but the victory of God in the resurrection of His Son.
The Reformation doctrine was surely the Biblical doctrine. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.