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)."

1 comment:

Ken said...

Excellent, sirs, thank you.

Please endeavor to complete the series.