Thursday, September 06, 2012
Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles
Of Ministering in the Congregation
It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.
De vocatione Ministrorum
Non licet cuiquam sumere sibi munus publice praedicandi in Ecclesia, nisi prius fuerit ad haec obeunda legitime vocatus et missus. Atque illos legitime vocatos et missos existimare debemus. Qui per hominess, quibus potestas vocandi Ministros atque mittendi in vineam Domini publice concessa est in Ecclesia, cooptati fuerint et asciti in hoc opus.
Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the People understandeth.
It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.
De precibus publicis dicendis in lingua vulgari
Lingua populo non intellect publicas in ecclesia preces peragere, aut Sacramenta administrare, verbo Dei et primitivae Ecclesiae consuetudini plane repugnant.
Fr. Laurence Wells
At first glance, Article 23 sounds extremely Protestant, as that term is commonly understood nowadays. It does not speak of priesthood but of an “office of public preaching.” It does not mention bishops, but merely “men to have public authority given unto them,” without specifying exactly how this “public authority” comes to them. We hear nothing here of the threefold ministry, nor of any sacerdotal power to confect sacraments (although the term “potestas” is used in another context), nor of any “character indelibilis.” But at the same time there is nothing here that could be labeled as Erastian (the doctrine baffling to Americans, which the mother Church of Anglicanism has been accused of, that the Church is a department of state and subject to the control of the secular state).
This article reminds us that the Elizabethan Doctors were battling on two fronts. So far, the Articles are mostly concerned with the various debates between the Reformation and the Church of Rome. But here the issue was not with Rome but with the radical sectarians at the fringe of the Reformation.
When a man undertakes to lead public worship, to expound the Scriptures and preach the Gospel, and to administer the Sacraments, what is the source of his license for such highly presumptuous acts? Where there is a prevailing belief in a “priesthood of all believers” the explanation is simple. The assembly of believers has elected someone to preside and has deputized him or her to take charge at both pulpit and table. While Lutheranism tended somewhat in that direction, for the record we must say this was never a classical Calvinist, Reformed or Presbyterian concept of doing things “decently and in order.”
This article was directed at a number of enthusiastic sects, in which a person of either sex who felt called to preach was free to collect an audience and develop a band of followers. The opportunities for abuse are still obvious, but in a time when many parishes had absentee clergy and duly ordained clergymen were in short supply the self-anointed exhorters could have a field-day. The “Protestant” tone of the article, therefore, is due to the fact that it addressed a Reformation problem. As the mediaeval Church-order had broken down (which had occurred long before Henry the VIII cast his eyes on Anne Boleyn), it had become necessary to assert the importance of order. We can hear a faint echo here of the struggles between the mendicant friars and the diocesan clergy a couple of centuries before this Article was written.
Beyond this polemic against the Enthusiastic Sects, a couple of points deserve to be mentioned. The concept of legitimate authority here is derived neither from the king nor from the assembly. What is clearly assumed is the principle of continuity and succession within a Divinely instituted ministry. The reference to “the Lord’s vineyard” is no mere rhetorical flourish.” The doctrine of Apostolic Succession is clearly in the background. The “men who have public authority given unto them” are not identified, but when the logic of it is pressed, we are quickly back to Jesus calling and commissioning the Twelve.
Secondly, the importance of “public preaching” is prominent in this Article. This Reformation concern was well grounded in the great tradition of the true Catholic Church. The mediaeval religious orders specialized in homiletics, as St Dominic recognized that the way to convert heretics was to preach the Gospel to them. In an earlier period, the Church Fathers were highly competent preachers. One should take note of how much of the voluminous Patristic literature consists of their sermons. Where preaching is neglected, heresy thrives, souls starve and Christ is dishonored.
The other extreme
If Article 23 is addressed to an error rampant in the Reformation, Article 24 confronts another error from the opposite quarter. Keeping the Mass in Latin or translating it into the vernacular had long been a bone of contention between the Western and Eastern branches of the Church. The sixteenth century was a period when many things other than the liturgy were at issue, as the various European languages began to assert themselves. Rome itself has caved on this point. This has unleashed a swarm of problems which people in the sixteenth century did not anticipate. Is a “tongue understanded of the people” the same as street slang or journalistic English? If the liturgy (a term not found in the Articles) is to be in the vernacular, what sort of vernacular is it to be?
That sort of problem is beyond the scope of this essay. But we should not fail to mention the blunt and forthright manner in which Article 24 speaks of “the Word of God.” By that term, the Bible is intended. In the 16th century, neither Romanist nor Anglican, neither Protestant nor Sectarian, had any hesitation in speaking of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as “the Word of God.”
Fr. Robert Hart
I have been dragged into many a defense of Anglican catholicity by people who were either Roman Catholic polemicists with missionary zeal, or by people on the opposite extreme who want Anglicanism to be no different from all the other Protestant traditions. The former refuse to acknowledge our Apostolic validity, and the latter do not believe in Apostolic Succession, or at least they do not believe it matters. What they have in common is reliance on the same arguments.
They claim to have history on their side. They will discover some Protestant clergyman who sneaked in “under the radar” to minister in the Church of England, either because of carelessness or because of the rule for “Stranger’s Churches.” That rule allowed foreign ecclesiastical ministers to care for the pastoral needs of Continental Protestants, such as German Evangelicals (Lutherans), or members of the Dutch Reformed Church, etc. who resided in England. Stating only part of the truth, enough to make one’s case, and neglecting the rest of the story is common to politics, but most egregious as history or religious apologetics.
Another tactic is to make reference to the temporary establishment of the Anglican-Lutheran joint bishopric in Jerusalem. That episode led directly to the conversion of John Henry Newman to Roman Catholicism in 1839, because he wrongly assumed the Church of England would abandon Apostolic Succession or compromise it. The contemporary polemicists/ missionaries fail to read the whole story including the reason why the Church of England and the Lutherans had to abandon the project. The Church of England had entered into the whole arrangement with the intention of accepting Lutheran ministers as bishops only after they would submit to consecration by English bishops with Apostolic Succession. When this proved unacceptable to the Lutherans, the joint bishopric collapsed.
One key word in Article XXIII is “lawfully,” as also in the Preface to the Ordinal. Why do so many of our detractors assume that the Canon Law of the Church of England, and consequently that of Anglicanism in other countries, has no correlation to Anglican beliefs? Why do they assume that strict practice and Canon Law, along with the written liturgy of the Ordinal and Book of Common Prayer that allows only the bishop to ordain, and bishops to consecrate, that reserves the sacrament of Confirmation to the laying on of the bishop’s hands, that forbids any but the priest to celebrate Holy Communion and say Absolutions, is all meaningless? All this law, all these rubrics, all the words in the actual rites of the Ordinal, just somehow exist without any beliefs and principles behind them. Really? That entire assumption deserves no respect, “historical” anecdotes not withstanding.
Another assumption that we may dispense with is that the Apostolic Succession of bishops is not to be found in Scripture. The Bible does not explain Apostolic Succession, but it does model it and demonstrate it as a charismatic reality (II Timothy 1:6, Titus 1:5) . And, it does so in the same spirit of Article XXIII, that is, with an emphasis on more than a sacramental relay race, or spiritual genealogy, of who laid hands on whom. For, in itself, that could be nothing more than a “historic episcopate” that even an atheist would have to acknowledge. No. Along with that sacramental line of Succession must be a public ministry that proclaims the true Gospel and that both teaches and defends sound doctrine (II Timothy 2:2).
Anglicanism in its expressed priorities, including the Ordinal as well as Article XXIII, rightly places equal emphasis on the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. It was necessary to get away from the Roman perception that the priesthood is almost exclusively about celebrating the Eucharist. Therefore, our Ordinal restored balance with a proper understanding of the office and work of the πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) summed up in the words, “…And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments…” That simple direct phrase says what needs to be said.
Article XXIII, the Ordinal, the Canon Law and the rubrics, all prove that Anglicanism has no room for Lay Administration or any other kind of innovation. The Church has been plagued by innovations from many quarters, including Rome, including Enthusiastic Sects, and in modern times, including the Diocese of Sydney. For order, sacramental validity, pastoral care, proclamation and teaching of God’s word, and defense of sound doctrine, God provides the public ministry that was established by Christ Himself through His Apostles, endowed by every gift of the Holy Spirit.
Article XXIV borrows a Biblical principle from an ancient historical context, one with a different emphasis, and a different problem. The Church in Corinth was so enamored with spiritual gifts, almost to the point of Enthusiasm, that they practiced public speaking in unknown tongues that did not serve to edify the people (I Corinthians 14). So too, Latin in the ears of people who could not understand it, might well have edified the priests because of their education; but, the people were left out of the very act of prayer and worship. And they did not hear the word of God, as liturgy ceased to be the people’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and became exclusively the property of priest craft.
The problem was, therefore, very similar to what had long ago been addressed by Saint Paul: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air… Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified (I Corinthians 14:8,9, 16,17).”
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).” The people’s faith must be built up and fanned into flame. Neither uninterrupted tongues, Latin not understood, nor silence, includes the people in worship and prayer, nor permits them to hear the word of God and believe.