I am trying to identify the whole range of attitudes, especially in North America, towards The Thirty-Nine Articles , which are printed at the back of the 1662 (English), 1928 (USA) and 1962 (Canada) editions of the classic Book of Common Prayer as a Formulary. The text also appears at the back of the 1979 Prayer Book of The Episcopal Church in a reduced-size print as “a historical document.”
Further, it seems to be a fact that clergy attitudes and lay attitudes towards this historic Formulary [Standard of Faith] differ, with the clergy in general being more negative. And are they different in The Episcopal Church and the Anglicans outside this Church in North America.
Please share with me (email@example.com) if you can spare the time, the attitudes and/or approaches that you are familiar with and state whether they are lay or clerical or both.
Meanwhile I list below those that I have encountered in books, conversation and in e-mail traffic recently.
1. The Articles are, and should be, only “a historical document” showing where the Church of England was theologically in the 16th and seventeenth centuries. [This position seems to be shared by revisionist liberals and extreme Anglo-Catholics.]
2. The Articles present a clear and distinct form of Reformed Catholicism and this account provides the principles and sets the limits of permissible worship, doctrine and practice in the Anglican Way. [ This position seems to be shared by High-Church Evangelicals and Evangelical High-Churchmen. ]
3. The Articles are to be interpreted not only within their initial Reformed Catholic setting but also in the light of the advance of Anglo-Catholic principles since the 19th century in Anglicanism. [ This position seems to be held by moderate Anglo-Catholics who look to Keble, Pusey, Gore etc and do not use The Anglican Missal or its equivalent. ]
4. The Articles are to be interpreted (when and if they are taken seriously) in the light of the doctrinal decrees and canon law of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, especially the seventh which requires the invocation of the saints, the veneration of icons and assumed the authority of unwritten tradition. [This position seems to be required by The Affirmation of St Louis, 1977, adopted or required by some continuing Anglican groups (e.g. ACC & EMC) and effectively nullifies everything in The Articles except the initial statements on the Trinity and the Person of Christ. ]
5. The Articles represent the truly Protestant character of the Anglican Way and their doctrine is the true teaching of that way and ought not to be changed or modified. [This is held by traditional, conservative Evangelicals.]
6. The Articles are a real part of the Anglican tradition and should be received and interpreted according to modern knowledge; thus their authority is subject to the process of interpretation and reception. [ This is held by conservative liberals who care for the institution, its history and traditions.]
THANK YOU for reading this and thinking about it.
[The Prayer Book Society sells a CD on which are 12 expositions of The Articles and these reflect varied approaches – visit as soon as possible www.anglicanmarketplace.com to buy or call 1-800-727-1928 ]
The Revd Dr Peter Toon August 15, 2006