Friday, May 25, 2018


Here are links to sermons I have written for Trinity Sunday



St. Vincents Rule

The Commonitorium
By Fr. Matthew Mirabile

As I have stood back and surveyed the broken landscape that is the Anglican Communion  I have observed the dialogue in play over the meaning of Scripture.  The crisis in the Anglican Communion is a thoroughly postmodern one.  It is about more than the place of gay people in the leadership of the church or about the correct meaning of scripture.  It is about which “sect” best represents the authoritative community and where this authority derives from.  I have often watched with alarm as evangelical and orthodox Anglicans have failed to properly understand the fight they are in.  As they defend the traditional meaning of scripture they have often done so as people with no memory, as a church with no leverage.  The argument about the meaning of scripture is an argument about the truth about truth, and who owns it!  It is a war over the ownership of the Christian narrative and it has been hijacked by those who wish to “turn the historical patriarchal hegemony on its ear”.  These postmodern concerns have less to do with the gospel of Jesus and much more to do with the anti-gospel of Nietzsche, Derrida, and Spong.
In this context it will not do to stand up and quote scripture in typical evangelical fashion.  Those “hijackers of meaning” merely see the evangelical and orthodox wing of the church as a community that is passé, old, and ignorant – maybe even naive.  When evangelicals (the community I originally hail from) have attempted to defend the faith through the use of scripture they seem to have done so without any real authority.  They are right, and they know they are right, yet it comes off as private interpretation – their read of scripture against the errant read of  their counterparts.  It seems to be much like a conversation in front a mirror – a relativist speaking with his individualist reflection.  It seems that both sides have failed to really see that the starting point is not some personal and subjective understanding of the text.  Nor is it sufficient to say that it is the textual understanding of one “faithful” community against the other “corrupt/outmoded” community.  After all, who is to say who has the authority to interpret The Faith? Such arguments must have teeth.  And as long as the argument takes place in the realm of present opinion it lacks teeth because the argument is ultimately over whose is the authoritative community.  And that is the question. 
This crisis is one of authority first, and not merely meaning.  In order to answer the question of authority the conversation has to turn to discussions of what it means to have a catholic understanding of the church.  For it is where The Church is in consensus that the truth abides.  It is the entire catholic community that is authoritative and that has the right to interpret the meaning of scripture and thereby define the faith.  When the Truth is being hijacked you need more than words, you need the rod of authority.
St. Vincent of Lerins faced a similar set of circumstances in his day.  An ecclesiastical writer of the 5th century, he entered the monastery of Lerins, where in 434 under the pseudonym of Peregrinus he wrote the "Commonitorium”, also called the Vincentian Canon. He lived in a region that was heavily Semipelagian and during his time there were many Christian sects and schismatic groups, not unlike today.    He wrote the Commonitorium in answer to the problem that all these schismatic groups presented.  Which one represented the apostolic and catholic faith?  In so doing he left the church a rule for determining heresy from true doctrine that has been referenced repeatedly through the ages and provided lively discussion during the Second Vatican Council.
 Theological innovation and controversy is not new to the church and Vincent was surrounded by controversy and bishops claiming to have authority to interpret the faith differently than the way it had been received.  This left him with a problem like the one we have today.  Which brand of the faith was credible?  Which bishop was right?  Which community was authoritative?  In answer to this he found this rod of authority.  He fashioned an apologetic based upon a few simple rules, an apologetic that placed the argument outside of the opinion of any single community or person.  By doing so he re-centered the authoritative community across time and space rather than localizing it with any single bishop, or schismatic group, no matter how earnest they may have been.  The familiar phrase, “That which has been believed always, everywhere and by all” (qUOD UBIQUE, QUOD SEMPER, QUOD AB OMNIBUS CREDITUM EST) became a rule for determining the catholicity of the Church’s teaching.  Taking into account the depth of the meanings contained in the Word of God and the “multiform” opinions that may arise out of it he tells us that it is possible to derive “as many opinions as there are men.  “Novation”, he says, “expounds one way, Sebellius another, Donatus in another, Arius, Apollinarius, Pelagius and latterly Nestorius in another.  Therefore because of the intricacies of error there is great need for laying down a rule for the standard of interpretation of the church catholic.”(1)  He contended that there had to be a rule for determining which community could speak authoritatively.  The principles of universality (ecumenicity), antiquity, and consent became standards for determining what is truly catholic teaching form erroneous opinion. His work came to be called the “Commonitorium”.
How can the Commonitorium be applied to this present Anglican crisis? or indeed the Protestant crisis in general?  Firstly, we need to fix a broken leg – I am referring to Hookers three-legged stool.  Someone has sawed off the leg of Tradition – as in The Great Tradition.  Rather than going back to the Reformation, we must go back to what the Reformers went back to, namely the Church Fathers – antiquity.  Now, antiquity is not held in high regard by those who wish to hijack the faith.  There is a modern prejudice for things ancient.  But this does not stand alone, it stands together with universality and consensus.  We are in a stronger place now than St. Vincent was, to look across the span of communities and history belonging to the Church and derive from that shared history certain sets of “constants”.  We would argue that these “constants of the faith” - practices, principles and propositions - which are most common, represent the consensual witness of the Spirit of truth in the church.   So if any one group wishes to dispute the authority of antiquity itself it becomes much harder to make that stick when it is universal to place, community and time.  Since the opinions of modern innovators are inconsistent with the witness of the catholic faith across time, community and common consent they are not merely arguing against the interpretation of one community in the present, they are arguing against the believing community in every age.  By so doing they are arguing against the work of the Holy Spirit as He has been directing the Church into all truth, preserving the Catholic Faith from error.  Anglicans can authoritatively look outside of their own community to the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Churches, and even to the various Protestant churches (Not mainline perhaps, since they are more prone to this same historical amnesia, but to all others who hold to the Trinitarian faith and the law of God) to evidence universality.  Orthodox Anglicans can authoritatively claim the consensual historical witness of the universal church, wherever it may be found, in whatever culture and whatever time, as its own.  In short those things that are most commonly held, believed and practiced by the majority at all times.  To deny the consensuality of this witness is to deny the character and power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. 
The above being said, many people have found it difficult to make the Vincentian canon a workable formula. There are certainly things that have been enjoined upon the church in councils that the church never took up. In the absence of the sort of universality that fails to be apparent the Commonitorium has been reduced to a great idea, but has been rejected as a workable model.  In order to make the it a practical and workable formula we need to tighten it up and make it more specific.  We need to further express the rule and its intent clearly so that it can be put to work more easily.   Anglicanism can adopt St. Vincents formula for the present as follows:
       Arguments from the greater unity of historical consensus are stronger than those of personal conviction or the private interpretation of a community where historical consensus can still be justified by the *plain understanding of scripture. In other words and by example; the consensual interpretation and response to scripture is stronger than the private interpretation of any single community or individual at any time.  Thus, the plain understanding of scripture is understood as authoritative as it has been received by the greatest consensus.
       Where the consensus of any sum of ages is contrary to the clear and plain witness of scripture it is non-binding tradition: where the consensus of a greater sum of ages is not in clear violation of the plain witness of scripture it is generally accepted as received tradition.
       Where the consensus of one age, or community, is contrary to the greater consensus of the greater sum of ages and is not in clear violation of the plain witness of scripture it is provisional at best, suspect at worst.  In this case, any localized consensus still represents a minority view which should not quickly be forced into practice. 
       And finally, where the consensus of one age, or community, is contrary to the greater consensus of the greater sum of ages and is in clear violation of the plain witness of scripture it is to be rejected as false and heresy. 
These principles hold scripture as the norming norm together with the consensus of the believing community.  This results in a more universal and authoritative witness against error.  When armed with this rule orthodox Anglicanism can more effectively argue against innovations, locating the power of the argument outside of the infighting of a single bracketed community in its cultural context to the wider believing and faithful church.  After all, the Anglican communion did not come into existence to be a “Reformational” church, but a catholic one reformed.  We must again reclaim this broader catholic identity so as to locate our history, and the authority of our community, within the witness of the Spirit’s activity within the universal church in all places, at all times, and among all believing men.
       Plain Understanding of Scripture is that which has been generally received, commented on, and understood in common by the entire church.
1. St. Vincent of Lerins, 117-118, Bettenson, 1947
Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, 1947
Fr. Matthew Mirabile is the Rector of Trinity Anglican Church (Anglican Church in America) in Rochester New Hampshire.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


(Reposted from 2011)

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are 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 it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:1-4)

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23)

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:46,47)

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (I Tim. 1:15)

In the science of theology, finally and ultimately, every nature belongs to one of two categories; either a nature is created or not created. Of the category not created is but one nature, alone without equal; that is God. Everything else is created, and belongs to the same category with natures sub or super to each respective created nature. God exists, and by His will creatures exist; that is all there is, and nothing more. Angels do not share the nature of God. Rather, they share our created nature. Nothing shares with God the Divine nature; God is wholly other from every created nature. Perhaps the day will come when man-made technology can detect the presence of angels, demons and even departed human spirits (and sketchy evidence is reported to exist already). Matter is organized energy, and it is likely that a kind of energy is the stuff of which created spirits are made. The point is, God alone is wholly other from everything created; God alone is of that distinct order that is not part of the creation we live in. 
Really, we cannot speak of "the supernatural" as a wholly different order except when we mean God. Used otherwise, "supernatural" is merely a relative term, such as the supernatural order of man over that of dog (or the sub-natural order of dog compared to that of man). Here too we must distinguish between details, in which the intelligence of man is supernatural to the intelligence of dog, but the nasal ability of man is sub-natural to the superior smelling ability of dog. Like dog and angel, we belong to the created order; we belong to it along with demons, and insects, and along with angels and archangels. 
True Christology must begin with this distinction between God and the whole of creation. This is where St. John begins his Gospel, deliberately alluding to Genesis, to the Greek translation called the Septuagint (LXX) in his opening words. That connection is obvious: "In the Beginning" (בְּרֵאשִׁית) B'Rashet(ν ρχ)  En archē. 

ν ρχ ν  λόγος   or, "In the beginning was the Word." 

Unlike the opening of Genesis, which leads with the creative works of God, John leads by telling about God as God. 

"And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God."

Only after this does he write of God's work of creation. He builds on the ancient revelation in the Hebrew text, where God's word causes the creation to come to life. Genesis says, "And God said," using the word "said" (אָמַר) as the source of power. So, John writing with fuller and richer revelation teaches us that the Word or the λόγος (Logos) is more than an utterance; the Word is a Person Who is Himself God (κα  λόγος ν πρς τν Θεόν), and goes on to reveal concerning the Word, "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light," is answered by "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." 
The Word - that is, the Logos - is God (Θεόν) in the opening of John's Gospel, existing by, in and with the Father ("Begotten not made," as the Creed says). He gives life and light to the creation, and the whole creation is dependent on Him for its existence. It is made by Him; all of its order and all of its life comes by Him as a gift. He, the Logos, is separate from all creation because He is God. He is supernatural to every created nature, and wholly other from the entire order of creation. 

Creatio ex nihilo
Creatio ex nihilo, or creation from nothing, is not some idea imposed on the Biblical texts. It comes from the opening of Genesis itself, declaring that the heavens and the earth were created by God. They are not part of Him, neither did He give birth to creation. That is, we have no goddess who is one with Mother Earth; rather, part of the revelation of God as Father begins with creation strictly by His will.           
Some modern English versions of the Bible connect the first two verses of Genesis along the lines of, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was..." The connection of the first two verses into one long sentence, usually by adding the word "when," can suggest Pantheism; that God is the stuff of creation, or that the universe is God, implying that "the heavens and the earth" existed before creation. The King James Version, or the old (not the New) Revised Standard Version, for example, got it just right. The opening verse is a whole and complete sentence, indeed a separate sentence from verse two. In fact, the opening of verse two with the word "and" is a literal and perfect translation of the Hebrew. That is, God made it all, "and the earth" (וְהָאָרֶץ), after He made it initially, was without form and void at that early stage of its existence (of incidental interest, science tells us that the infant earth was dark because it was not yet in the orbit of the sun). In the Biblical text we read that God then spoke to create light and life, bringing us back to the point we have seen in the Gospel of John.          
The opening words of the Bible, when translated accurately, simply and straightforwardly, provide the revelation that God created everything by His will, that He made it out of absolutely nothing (Hebrews 11:3), for nothing that belongs to creation had already existed. Both the doctrine of Creatio ex nihilo and of God as Wholly Other, are revealed in the beginning of Scripture.

Come into the world
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) 

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23) 

In a simple phrase of St. John that separates the doctrine and spirit of Christ from the spirit of Antichrist, "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." As used above in a quoted passage (...every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, etc. I John 4:1-4), we may well appreciate the incarnate meaning of His human name, and the familiar reality of "flesh." But, the word "come" also is loaded with meaning. No one else has ever come into the world; all the rest of us originated here. The word "come" is the operative word that speaks of Christ's Divinity as the Logos, a Person not created. For, the spirit of Antichrist denies that He is come in the flesh; that is, it denies the Incarnation of the Word by one of two means: Either the spirit of error denies that Jesus Christ is truly human in every real way; or it denies that He is God, the One Who has come into the world of His own making.  This is an essential fact of Christology, that he came into the world. We do well to consider the Greek word translated "world" in the original New Testament; it is the familiar word κόσμος (cosmos). The Logos, a Person equal to the Father Who is not part of the creation at all ("begotten not made"), but rather is God in His own true nature, entered the created order.  He took the fullness of human nature into His Divine Person.   
The First Council of Nicea (325 AD) rejected the teaching of Arius (who asserted that the Word was a creature) by recalling the revelation that Christ alone saves us from sin and death. Yes, the texts of Scripture showed clearly all of the things we have seen in the portions quoted from the Gospel of John, and several more such passages that unmistakably teach that the One who is Himself called both the Logos and the Son, is equal to and one with the Father, without beginning or end. But, in the final analysis, they recognized above every other consideration that Soteriology, the study of salvation, always centers on the Person of the Son of God.   
It is no small matter, therefore, to understand the Gospel. Unless we see Christ as Divine, and as coming into His creation by taking a second nature alien to His "begotten not made" Person as "Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance (ομοουσιον) with the Father," we may be inclined to feel a need for an additional savior, or perhaps some means of making our own atonement. If we limit His atonement we limit Him, treating Him as less than God. We can add nothing more to His salvation, nor can there be any need to do so.
The words of our own Holy Communion liturgy, which come from the Scriptures and most directly reflect the Epistle to the Hebrews, are as much a matter of Christology as they are of Soteriology: "All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."    
These words also reflect the First Epistle of John, "And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (2:2) For, although Christ by His death as our full atonement and propitiation has met with limited reception from the fallen human race, His work is "full, perfect and sufficient" because of Who He is.        
"Who has believed our report?" said the prophet (Isaiah 53:1), and in that same Suffering Servant passage spoke of the One and the many; for "many" in that passage is not properly contrasted against the concept of all; rather the one man upon Whom the burden of sin is placed, is one contrasted against the "many." 

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all...He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53: 5,6,11)        

That is, "many" speaks of the entire human race, everyone except this Man Who takes away all sin; and this is taken up by Saint Paul: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Romans 5:18, 19) There we see the One and the many. So, although not everyone believes, from the Divine perspective and by Divine initiative, salvation is offered to everyone in Christ. However one views the mystery of predestination, a very large subject indeed, it is very dangerous to speak of Christ's work as "Limited;" for, we might then imagine that His death is not sufficient, meaning that He is not sufficient, to take away the sins of the world. (John 1: 29)       
Just as it is unnecessary, not to mention unorthodox, to try to add to the Atonement, whether by the merits of saints from some supposed "treasury," or by calling the Lord's blessed virgin mother "Co-redemptrix" (a popular idea among some contemporary Roman Catholics), and so forth, it is also error to use the term "Limited Atonement" when speaking of Christ's sacrifice. From two opposite ends these ideas limit Christ's work, and therefore treat Him as less than fully Divine. "Full, perfect and sufficient" means just that, as does "once for all." (Hebrews 10:10)   
We serve no need by solving false problems. Reconciling the full, perfect and sufficient work of Christ with the unbelief of a fallen world, is a false problem; and, it would be no solution to undervalue the meaning of the words, "And 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) For that speaks of God's generous will and infinite love, whatever men may do about it.          
Finally, the great Christological passage from Paul's Epistle to the Philippians also connects Soteriology to the whole study of Christ's Person and Incarnation, rehearsing the Gospel in the context of Christ's two natures:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, etc. (see Phil. 2:5-11)

Exorcising the spirit of Antichrist
The revelation recorded in Scripture shows only Christ as coming from outside the fallen world, coming into it by taking our nature to save us from sin and death. No one else is from above; no one else came into the world (cosmos). No one else entered the created order from some other venue. The other venue is His Divine nature that is itself separate from the created order. The mystery of the Incarnation is beyond our comprehension. But, though we can never understand it fully, we are given grace to believe what has been revealed. "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."

The Ascension

Click on the illustration.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

Article XXIV

Of the Traditions of the Church

It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's word.

Whosoever through his private judgement willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly that other may fear to do the like, as he that offendeth against common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of the weak brethren.

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.

Traditiones atque caeremonias easdem non omnino necessarium est esse ubique, aut prorsus consimiles; nam et variae semper fuerunt et mutari possunt, pro regionum temporum et morum diversitate, modo nihil contra verbum Dei instituatur.

Traditiones et caeremonias ecclesiasticas quae cum verbo Dei non pugnant et sunt autoritate publica institutae atque probatae, quisquis privato consilio volens et data opera publice violaverat, is ut qui peccat in publicum ordinem Ecclesiae, quique laedit autoritatem magistratus, et qui infirmorum fratrum conscientias vulnerat, publice, ut caeteri timeant, arguendus est.

Quaelibet Ecclesia particularis sive nationalis autoritatem habet instituendi mutandi aut abrogandi caeremonias aut ritus ecclesiasticos, humana tantum autoritate institutos, modo omnia ad aedificationem fiant.

Archbishop Peter Robinson

The History of this Article

According to Griffith-Thomas' "Principles of Religion," Article 34 derives largely from the Thirteen Article of 1548. The word "times" was added to the first sentence in 1563 to make the article more comprehensive, and the final paragraph was also added 1563 incorporating one of the major points of discussion with the Marian bishops in the disputations of 1559.


The title of the Thirty-Fourth Article is a little bit misleading in that it does not deal with just the Traditions of the Church, but with the whole authority to regulate its own worshipping life. In order to understand this Article it is useful to be acquainted with the circumstances that applied in late mediaeval Europe where there was no absolute uniformity of Rites even within the Roman Catholic Church. Every major diocese had it own use, and as the Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer pointed out, there had been five Uses - local variants of the Roman Rite - in England and Wales. In order of importance, these were Sarum, York, Lincoln, Hereford, and Bangor. An attempt had been made in 1542/3 to impose the Sarum Use on the whole of the Province of Canterbury, but how successful that had been is perhaps demonstrated by the fact that six years later Cranmer still found it necessary to mention the five main Uses of the English Church. Apart from the final clause, the first sentence of the Article simply reflects the everyday reality of Catholic worship in pre-Tridentine Europe. Indeed, it was not until the 19th century, and the Ultramontane extirpation of surviving diocesan Uses, such as that of Lyons, that almost complete uniformity as to the published Office and Mass applied in the Roman Church, and, even then, local customs hung on, as well as the Dominican and Carthusian Uses. One also should mention that the ecclesiastic Province of Milan has its own Ambrosian Rite, and that a last vestige of the old Gallican Rite hands on in the Mozarabic Chapel of Toledo Cathedral in Spain. 

 The final clause of the first sentence "so that nothing be ordained against God's Word" confronts us with a common concern of the Reformers - that the worship of the Church should not contain anything that was against Scripture. The way in which this Article expresses this requirement is more reminiscent of Lutheran formularies than it is those of the Reformed Churches in that its concern is that worship contain nothing "against God's Word," rather than that everything in worship should have specific Scriptural warrant.

The second sentence is a straightforward condemnation of those who take the law into their own hands, which was something that was a common problem at the time the Article was written. The first well-known piece of "guerrilla liturgics" during the Reformation was Andreas Karlstad's German Mass in Wittenberg at Christmas 1522, whilst Luther was still in safe keeping in the Wartburg. This caused disorder in the city, precipitated Luther's return to the city, and the commencement of his, and Bugenhagen's work on reforming the Mass and Office. Unfortunately unofficial liturgical reform was to remain a problem throughout the Reformation era, and in the England of Edward VI and Elizabeth I there were folks who deviated away from the official line both to the right hand and to the left by making their own modifications of the appointed liturgy. One of these non-conformists was Miles Coverdale, the former Bishop of Exeter, who refused to wear the surplice, and took liberties with the 1559 Book of Common Prayer in a Reformed direction. The framers of the Articles call for such people to be 'openly rebuked,' that is publically disciplined basically for disturbing the peace. The framers state three reasons for rebuking such folk; that they offend "against the common order of the Church," that they hurt the authority of the Magistrate, and wound the consciences of the weak. 

The order of priority is interesting in that the Church comes first. The Church of England (or for that matter any other place) has the authority to set its own liturgy subject to three conditions: that it follows the traditions of the Church; that it be edifying; and that it contain nothing contrary to Scripture. This was the common theme of the moderate Reformation when dealing with liturgy. The Magistrate is then mentioned because in all the Reformation settlements, from Ansbach to Zurich, the Civil Magistrate, be he bishop, burgher, duke, or king, had had the final word on what shape the Reform would take in that region, even if the matter were not legislated through an Act of the Parliament or Estates, or Royal Decree. In sixteenth century Europe there was no clear division of the secular and the sacred. Indeed, the dictum enunciated by the Peace of Augsburg (1555), cuius region eius religio, neatly describes the accepted situation. Only a few eccentric outliers such as the United Provinces (basically the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands) granted any measure of freedom of conscience in religious matters. In both Roman Catholic, and Protestant realms, the Church Settlement was backed up by the authority of the Magistrate, and his or her active enforcement in an issue which was believed by men of that time to be absolutely essential to the peace and unity of the state.

The final sentence, deriving as it does from the 1559 articles of disputation with the Marian bishops, both insists on the right of national churches to reform there own rites and ceremonies, but also limits that authority to those matters which are of human institution. For example, it might be licit for a national church to omit the proper prefaces from the Eucharist in its local rite, but it would be utterly disqualified to make a change in the actual elements of the Eucharist - bread and wine - which are set by Scripture. This is not such a redundant discussion as it might seem. The Anabaptists had played fast and loose at times with the Biblical norms for worship, and even mainstream Reform was not immune, as the 1560s saw the 'Liquorist Controversy' in the diocese of Västeraas, Sweden, where a priest with Calvinist leanings substituted water for wine in the chalice. Needless to say, Laurentius Petri, the Archbishop of Uppsala soon put a stop to such nonsense.

Article 34 therefore places the amendment, abridgement, and revision of the liturgy in the hands of the competent Church body and the Magistrate in line with the usual Reformation era thinking. It also accepts the principle that liturgy can be culturally adapted, whilst setting limits on how far that process should go. The typical Reformation era concerns that worship be edifying, and contain nothing contrary to Scripture here find their Anglican expression. It should be noted that Article 34 provides the authority for the provincial revisions of the Book of Common Prayer that have taken place since the Church of England, and the Church of Ireland spread their wings and became an international body. If one discounts the Irish Prayer Book of 1666 as being the product of an Established Church, the first of these revisions happens to be that undertaken by the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in 1785-89.

Fr. Robert Hart

This Article should not be used to create a free-for-all approach to liturgy, or to justify much of the liturgical revision among mainstream Anglican bodies since the second half of the twentieth century. In fact, had Article XXXIV been observed in (for example) the Episcopal Church in the United States, revision would not have been forced on unwilling people by means of "Trial Use," or anything else that was troubling, objectionable and disturbing to faithful members. For, if anything, what changes the Article does justify can be only conservative compared to what was done. Although, in the United States and  some other countries, the "Authority of the Magistrate" had, and has, no ecclesiastical relevance, "the common order of the Church," and "the conscience of the weak brethren," always have relevance. So does the conscience of brethren who may not be classified as weak, and who, based on learning and knowledge, may object to a given revision. 

The first paragraph of the Article is basic historical fact. The Shape of the Liturgy by Dom Gregory Dix, despite some of the flaws in the book, provides a good collection of liturgical samples drawn from ancient times and various places. Some of the ancient Eucharistic liturgies remain in modern sources, such as Hymn 195 in the Hymnal 1940 (Father we thank Thee who hast planted):

As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
was in this broken bread made one,
so from all lands Thy church be gathered
into Thy kingdom by Thy Son.

The Article acknowledges, in keeping with Article VI and the whole understanding that is throughout the Articles, the difference between the supreme authority of God's word, and that which is "ordained only by man's authority." However, in the context of the Article as a whole, any change requires a conservative approach. This is in keeping with the thinking of Richard Hooker.

“Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other, what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after this the Church succeedeth that which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” (Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5.VIII.2)

“Is it a small office to despise the Church of God? ‘My son, keep thy father’s commandment,’ saith Solomon, ‘and forget not thy mother’s instruction: Bind them both always about thine heart.’ It doth not stand with the duty we owe to our heavenly Father, that to the ordinances of our mother the Church we should show ourselves disobedient. Let us not say we keep the commandments of the one, when we break the law of the other: for unless we observe both we obey neither.” (Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book  3.IX.3)

Let us consider (though not exclusively) the service of Holy Communion. The Lord did certain things, using bread and wine, speaking His words of Institution. He commanded us to "Do this" in His remembrance. Throughout the centuries the Church has faithfully obeyed His command in various times and places, but not always in completely identical ways. Nonetheless, a certain universal pattern is obvious, one in which every essential part of "Do this" is observed. The differences show human authority in evidence, but always with the intention of obedience to the word of God. The Lord told us what to do, but His commandment was, unlike the sacrifices in Leviticus, without specific details on precisely how to go about it. So, we may speak of human authority. On the other hand, when it comes to the Church as the Body of Christ, we should not assume hastily that any particular part of what has been decided and handed down to us, whether specifically written in scripture or simply instituted by means of Reason and wisdom, is indeed merely human. The New Testament has much to say about the Church as the Body of Christ indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit. For that reason alone, we ought to consider the wisdom of rushing into changes, and to consider, in fact, the wisdom given to the Church in past generations for establishing good means of obeying the Lord's commandment in regard to this service. For those who feel compelled to revise anything, a sign before the mind's eye is in order: "Approach with Caution."

However, the Article provides what may be regarded as sufficient cause to make changes, and, equally, sufficient cause to leave well enough alone. Furthermore, the Church of England revised its Book of Common Prayer more than once before 1662; and in various countries we have excellent Books of Common Prayer that are true to that same spirit and tradition. But if changes are to be considered, this Article provides the rationale. First of all, is anything in liturgical use contrary to God's word? To be frank, in our traditional Anglican Prayer Book tradition (though not in all modern books so-called), I would say No; none of it is contrary to God's word. Despite the efforts of various schools of thought to drag us into sectarian emphases and ideas, our Common Prayer remains essentially faithful to what can be proved from Scripture, as understood by the ancient and Universal Church, and is, indeed, quite accurately a means to pray to God in accord with, in fact drawn from, His own word. 

In accord with that very intention, I acknowledge that some changes may serve well. For example (taking the liberty to speak of what has crossed my own mind), when we pray for the Whole State of Christ's Church in the Holy Communion service, I find it insufficient to pray only "for all Christian rulers." The command in I Timothy 2:1,2 is to pray for "all in authority," and that for our own peace and for the Church's overall mission to bring all persons to salvation (that our mission not be hindered). It was written in a time and place of Pagan, not Christian, rulers. In my country we do not have rulers, but representatives; and they are not all Christians. They exercise authority by means of legislation, and it has a very real effect on how much we are able to "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." A revision, drawn from the Daily Morning and Evening Prayer of our American Book of Common Prayer (1928), could be to add the words, "And for all in authority." Both the Bible and circumstances provide the basis for doing so. It is not against Scripture, could not offend the order of the Church, and could not offend anyone's conscience.

It is also important to see how this Article emphasizes (in accord with St. Paul's instruction to the Church in Corinth) that "all things be done unto edifying." For purposes of edifying we should never revert to old foolish customs that make us neglect the needs of the congregation, such as silent celebrations, or "non-communicating Masses." Neither is it helpful for a priest to expect an "Amen" to a "secret prayer" unless, as seems reasonable, the people can at least read it, or know to what they have spoken affirmation in church before Almighty God. And, because our services are to provide edification they always include a healthy dose of the Bible. Because the celebration of Holy Communion should provide edification, in addition to the sacrament itself the service reminds everyone present of the whole content of the Gospel message in the Prayer of Consecration. It teaches, instructs, preaches, that is, it edifies.

"Let all things be done unto edifying...Let all things be done decently and in order. (I Cor. 14:26, 40)."