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 Issues | Thirty-Nine Articles | History

Subscription to the Articles

It had been expected in 1553 that clergy would subscribe to the Articles, but the death of Edward scuppered this.

In 1571 it was again expected that clergy would subscribe to the articles, but again this never really happened.

1604 Subscription

Not until 1604 did clerical subscription become a necessity under Canon law.   Here clergy were required to assent to three articles, the first to do with the sovereign, the second with the Prayer Book and Church order, the third with the Thirty-nine articles.


In fact what was required was not that the minister assented to the articles but rather assented to them being agreeable to the Word of God.


1644 Prayer Book abolished

In 1642 Civil War broke out and the Prayer Book was abolished and replaced by the Directory or Worship, based on the Genevan Service Book.


Although subscription to the Articles was no longer required they were not replaced.   It had been intended that a new set of articles would be produced by the Westminster Assembly in 1648 and called the Westminster Confession of Faith.   However this was never fully authorised and, although it became the doctrinal standard of the established Church in Scotland and of many other presbyterian and independent churches in later centuries, it has never had an official position in England where it was produced.


1660-62 Restoration

In May 1660 the monarchy was restored and after a period of uncertainty the draconian Act of Uniformity was introduced in 1662. This established the Book of Common Prayer as the sole worship book of the Church of England for 300 years.   Alongside this the 39 Articles were reintroduced and this time Clerical subscription to them was rigidly imposed.


The form of subscription has changed over the intervening years.


In 1689 the general practice became to use the wording of 1604 together with the words:

I A B do willingly and from my heart subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the United Church of England and Ireland, and to the three Articles of the Thirty-Sixth Canon, and to all things therein contained.


In the 18th Century there were attempts to change the form of subscription, but the main proponent, Archdeacon Blackburne, was suspected of being an Arian (someone who denies the full divinity of Christ) and the attempt failed.

A new formula was introduced in 1865 with the wording:

I A B do solemnly make the following declaration:

I assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion...

I believe the doctrine of the United Church of England and Ireland, as therein set forth, to be agreeable to the Word of God...


In 1975 a new form of words was introduced, which is much weaker.

It is set out in Canon C17 of the Canons of the Church of England.


There is a preface which declares that the Church of England:

professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.

Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion...


In the declaration you are about to make will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God...


I A B do so affirm and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness...


This new form, is deliberately vague and weak.   Therefore in the Church of England today many simply ignore the Thirty-Nine Articles.   They are generally not taught to candidates for ministry and many in the Churches do not even know of their existence.


However, officially the Articles are part of the doctrinal standard for the Church of England.


Canon A2 asserts that the Articles are agreeable to Scripture and can be assented to with a good conscience.

And Canon A5 states:

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.

In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.



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