All the different sections into which Western Christendom broke up in consequence
of the Reformation proceeded to issue statements declaring their doctrinal
position as opposed to that of their rivals.
These confessions of faith belong to an age of division.
They emphasize the points on which Christians differ rather than those on which they agree.
They have never received universal consent, and they all display strongly the marks of the age in which they were made.
The Lutherans published the Confession of Augsburg as the statement of their
The principal statements of the Reformed position are the Heidelberg Confession and the Westminster Confession.
The Roman Communion issued the decrees of the Council of Trent, summed up in the Creed of Pope Pius IV.
The Church of England stated her position in the Thirty-Nine Articles.
The Articles were given ecclesiastical authority by Convocation and were
enforced by Act of Parliament in 1571.
Their earlier history does not concern us here.
At one stage they were strongly influenced by Continental confessions, especially the Confession of Augsburg, but they contain nothing that is peculiar to Lutheranism or Calvinism.
They did not recognize the authority of the Council of Trent, which had
finished its work before they were finally authorized.
Their attitude towards Trent and towards all the Medieval Latin councils, which have claimed to be "general", is stated in Article 21.
But various attempts have been made, from the Roman side by Christopher Davenport (1633),
[Otherwise Father Sancta Clara, chaplain to Queen Henrietta Maria.]
from the Anglican side by J. H. Newman in the famous Tract 90 (1841), and by Father Symonds, to reconcile their teaching with that of Trent.
All such attempts are useless.
The fundamental claim of Trent is that tradition is equal to Scripture as the basis of doctrine, and Articles 6 and 20 reject this.
Davenport, writing in the seventeenth century, rather strangely accepted the principle of the 6th and 20th Articles as orthodox from the Roman standpoint.
Newman contented himself with proving that the Anglican Rule of Faith is not Scripture but the Creed.
Father Symonds does not attempt to prove the Creed of Pope Pius IV from Scripture, which is the main obstacle to the reconciliation of the Thirty-Nine Articles with the decrees of Trent.
Nevertheless, the Articles are not a sufficient bulwark against Romanism,
though they have often been defended as if they were.
[The Old Catholic "Declaration of Utrecht", though much shorter, is far more effective for this purpose (see Report of the Lambeth Conference of 1930).]
The only references to the Papacy are
The Church of Rome hath erred ... in matters of faith (Article 19), and
The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England (Article 37,
which, being entitled "Of the Civil Magistrates",
might refer only to civil jurisdiction).
Naturally the Articles do not refer to later developments such as the decrees of the Vatican Council, or the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
It is probable that the Articles were drawn in such a way as to include as many as possible of those who preferred the unreformed Church but were willing to accept the Royal Supremacy.
Even the reference to "Romish doctrine" in Article 22 may refer, not to the decrees of Trent, but to the extreme opinions commonly taught in the period just before the Reformation.
The Church of England states her own position in the Articles, but condemns no one except the people (afterwards called Latitudinarians) who held
that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth
The Articles are imposed by the authority of the English provincial synods
and by some of the other Anglican churches, but not by all.
They are not imposed on the laity who are in no way bound by them.
Even the clergy do not sign them but only give a general assent to them and declare that the doctrine of the Church of England therein set forth is agreeable to Holy Scripture.
No one is required to adhere to every word of the Articles.
They are not articles of faith but of peace.
They were intended to set limits beyond which the clergy were not to go.
The English Church does not expect other communions to accept the Articles as a condition of reunion.
They belong to the internal discipline,
not to the external relations, of the Anglican Communion.
But within these limits the value of the Articles is very great.
They declare the official teaching of the Church of England on many subjects which are not mentioned in any other official formulary.
Some of the Articles, especially 12 and 35, are obsolete.
Others use language which would certainly not be used today,
such as the sentence in Article 19 declaring that the Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred,
which has caused much misunderstanding,
but which only means that those churches once fell into heresy for a time,
and therefore are not incapable of error.
But some articles, especially 6, 20, 21, and 34, are of vital importance.
It is a mistake to despise the Articles.
Unlike the creeds they are of local, not universal, authority.
They are partly concerned with questions, which were urgent in the sixteenth century but are of less interest now;
and they include many statements that are not proved from Scripture and, therefore, are not necessary to the faith.
But we have nothing that can take their place, and no revision of them is probable.
The difficulties would be quite as great as those that attended the revision of the Prayer Book.
It was at one time thought that Archbishop Davidson's Doctrinal Commission would provide a basis for a new formulary to take the place of the Articles.
But the publication of the report of that commission showed that such expectations would not be fulfilled.
The report is indeed a valuable document wherever it is based on agreement.
But the members of the commission themselves differed on such fundamental matters that their report could not be made a basis upon which the English Church could be expected to agree; and that, though the conservative wings of all parties were unrepresented on the commission.
The report of the Doctrinal Commission has never received the assent of the Church and has no authority except that of the distinguished theologians who signed it;
and for this reason it has hitherto been only once mentioned in this book.
The other doctrinal formularies issued in the sixteenth century call for our attention, partly because the Articles can hardly be understood without some knowledge of them, and for a more important reason, because they are still accepted by large bodies of our fellow Christians and still affect profoundly their religious outlook.
The earliest of these formularies is the Confession of Augsburg (Confessio
Augustana), the doctrinal basis of Lutheranism which was first issued in
1530 and was the work of Melanchthon.
For this reason it shows no traces of the temperamental violence of Luther.
It is in some respects more conservative than the Thirty-Nine Articles, for it explicitly retains the word "Mass", and declares that it contains nothing contrary to the teaching of the Roman Church (which the Roman party at once proceeded to deny, and which certainly could not be maintained after the Roman position had been more sharply defined at Trent).
The Confession of Augsburg recognizes the three creeds and the first four
It condemns all the heresies condemned by the ancient Church.
A large part of it is devoted to the denunciation of the great abuses then prevalent in Germany and the causes to which they were attributed:
the celibacy of the clergy, monastic vows, the temporal power of bishops
Naturally Justification by Faith receives great emphasis, and the doctrine of assurance, that a man is saved when he believes himself to be saved, which has been carefully excluded for the Anglican Articles, is taught here.
So is the priesthood of all believers so strongly maintained by Luther, a doctrine that is certainly true (I St. Peter 2:5,9) but requires guarding, as Lutherans are not always careful to guard it.
Transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass in its corrupt medieval form are rejected.
But Melanchthon and some modern Lutherans, such as the Bishop of Vaxjo(Dr. Yngve Brilioth), recognize the sacrificial element in Eucharistic doctrine.
[The use of the word "altar" by Lutherans everywhere, and of the word "priest" by all Scandinavian Lutherans, is significant.
Melanchthon, in his Defence of the Augsburg Confession which is an official Lutheran confessional document, uses the phrase "nostri sacerdotes", and asserts that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving but not of propitiation (that is, in the medieval sense).
This is as much as we can expect of that age when the true meaning of "propitiation" and of "sacrifice" was unknown.]
The Confession of Augsburg also teaches that Church government is a thing
indifferent, which within certain limits is true.
Forms of government differing widely from each other and ranging from almost pure despotism to almost pure democracy have been, and still are, in use in various parts of the Universal Church.
Unfortunately Lutherans have often interpreted this to mean that bishops [Both the Augsburg Confession and the Defence refer to bishops as the normal rulers of the Church.] and apostolic authority are not necessary.
The provisional government adopted by the German Lutherans was allowed to become permanent.
Luther, terrified by the Peasants, Revolt, threw himself and his cause into the hands of the princes who were determined to allow no possible rivals.
This was the reason for the disappearance of real episcopacy in Protestant Germany, Denmark, and Norway.
The original form of the Confession of Augsburg (invariata) was accepted
by the Church of Sweden in 1593 as a bulwark against Calvinism, and is retained
by all the Scandinavian and Baltic Lutherans.
The form watered down to make agreement with the Calvinists easier (variata) is still retained by some Lutherans in other countries.
The principal Calvinistic confessions that are still important are
the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), which is the doctrinal basis of the Dutch Reformed Church in Europe and South Africa,
and the Westminster Confession (1643), which is the doctrinal basis of the English speaking Presbyterians.
These confessions are not so strictly maintained as the Augsburg Confession partly because individualism and dislike for formularies is more widespread among Calvinists than among Lutherans (on account of their belief that the universal Church is invisible), partly because the old Calvinistic doctrines are much more difficult to maintain in modern times than the old Lutheran doctrines.
For instance, the Westminster Confession asserts explicitly that the Pope is the "man of sin" foretold in II Thess. 2:8,
and maintains the doctrine of predestination to destruction in all its rigor.
The Roman attitude towards the controversies of the sixteenth century was
sharply defined by the Council of Trent (1548-1563), which marks the transition
from medieval Western Catholicism to modern Romanism.
The phrase "Roman Catholic" should properly be used only of the Roman Communion after Trent.
The Council of Trent claimed to be an ecumenical Council although it consisted
solely of bishops of the Roman Communion;
and many of its sessions were badly attended even by them.
It carried out a large number of long-neglected practical reforms, especially in the education of the clergy whose ignorance had been a grave scandal for centuries, and in the removal of many of the abuses that had led to the Reformation, such as those connected with indulgences.
But its reforms were carried out by giving much greater power to the Papacy and by defining much more sharply the doctrines that were to be taught.
Many opinions that had long been commonly held, but could not be proved by Scripture, were now raised to the rank of dogmas.
It therefore became necessary to place UNWRITTEN TRADITION on a level with Scripture as a source of dogma.
This principle, which was proposed by Cardinal Pole, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, at the first session of the Council, was the foundation of all that followed;
and it made any reconciliation with the Church of England, and still more with the Continental Reformation, impossible.
This was the deliberate intention of the Council.
The possibility of a compromise between Rome and the Reformation, which had been hoped for by moderate men on both sides a generation earlier, was finally destroyed at Trent.
A century later Leibnitz, the Lutheran philosopher, took advantage of a specially favourable moment, when the Wars of Religion were over and the rationalist movement had not yet begun, to attempt to come to an agreement with Bossuet, the great leader of the moderate party on the Roman side;
but when he found that the decrees of Trent must be accepted without discussion, he gave up all hope of union.
[See G. J. Jordan, The Reunion of the Churches (1927).]
The authority of the Council of Trent is rejected by the Anglican churches
for the following reasons.
They were not represented at it (Cardinal Pole was there as a cardinal of the Church of Rome, not as a representative of the Church of England.
He was, though a cardinal, only a deacon at the time).
It was not a free council, for the Eastern churches as well as the Anglican Communion and all the Christians of Northern Europe were not represented, and it is not regarded as a universal or even an orthodox council by any church outside the Roman Communion.
Many of its doctrines are not based on Scripture, and some are even contrary to Scripture and were quite unknown to the early Church.
These doctrinal decrees are summed up in the Creed of Pope Pius IV which,
supplemented by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the decrees of
the Vatican Council, is the basis of modern Romanism.
It begins with the Nicene Creed (including the Filioque clause) and continues thus:
I most firmly assent to and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and the rest of the observances and constitutions of the same Church.
I assent to Holy Scripture according to the meaning that has been and is held by Holy Mother Church whose function it is to decide the true meaning and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, and I will never accept and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.
I profess also, that there are, truly and properly speaking, seven sacraments of the New Law, which were instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and necessary to the salvation of the human race, though not all necessary to each separate person; namely, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination, and Matrimony; and that they convey grace; and that, out of these, Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination cannot be repeated without sacrilege.
I also accept and assent to the accepted and approved rites of the Catholic Church in the solemn administration of all the above-mentioned sacraments.
I embrace and accept all and each of the definitions and declarations made in the sacred Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.
Likewise I profess that in the Mass a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice is offered to God for the living and the dead; and that the Body and Blood together with the Soul and the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ are truly, really, and essentially in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and that the whole substance of the bread is changed into His Body, and the whole substance of the wine into His Blood, which change the Catholic Church calls Transubstantiation.
I confess also, that the whole and entire Christ and the true sacrament is received in either kind.
I hold constantly that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are assisted by the prayers of the faithful: likewise also that the saints reigning with Christ are to be venerated and invoked, and that they offer prayers to God for us, and that their relics are to be venerated.
I most firmly assert, that the images of Christ and of the ever-Virgin bearer of God, and of other saints, are to be possessed and kept, and that due honour and veneration is to be paid to them.
I affirm also, that the power to grant indulgences has been left by Christ in His Church, and that the use of them is of the greatest profit to the Christian people.
I recognize the holy Catholic and apostolic Roman church as the mother and teacher of all churches, and I promise and swear true obedience to the Roman Pontiff, the successor of blessed Peter the chief of the apostles, and Vicar of Christ.
I accept and profess without doubt all the other things handed down, defined, and declared by the sacred canons and ecumenical councils, and particularly by the holy Council of Trent: and at the same time I reject and anathematize all things contrary to them, and all heresies whatsoever which are condemned, rejected, and anathematized by the Church.
This true Catholic faith, outside which no one can be in a state of salvation, which at present I profess and truly hold, of my own free will, I will, with the help of God, keep and confess whole and inviolate to the last breath of my life, and will see that it is held, taught, and preached by my subjects, or those for whom I am responsible, according to my position.
This I promise, vow, and swear; so help me God, and these holy Gospels.
Every word of this creed is binding upon every member of the Roman Communion
and is regarded as infallible and irreformable as if God Himself had spoken
No proposals for reunion could be entertained for a moment that did not include the acceptance of this creed.
It is therefore probably the most insuperable of all the barriers to the reunion of Christendom.