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Article Index

Anglican Beliefs

The 39 Articles of Religion are one statement of Anglican beliefs. The official statement in fact. This page provides simple explanations of each of the Articles.  The original version of each Article is printed together with a simplified modern version.

1.  Anglican Beliefs
2.  The 39 Articles of Religion
3. Concerning God:   Articles 1-5
4. Concerning Scripture and Creeds:  Articles 6-8
5. Concerning Salvation:  Articles 9-18
6. Concerning the Church:   Articles 19-22
7. Concerning The Ministry:  Articles 23-24
8. Concerning the Sacraments:   Articles 25-31
9. Concerning Church Discipline:    Articles 32-36
10. Concerning Church and State:   Articles 37-39

1.  Anglican Beliefs

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the other English Reformers left three great foundations for the Anglican Church:

  • the 39 Articles,
  • the Bible in English, and
  • the English Book of Common Prayer.

Together with the ancient creeds, these have given the Anglican church its great theological and spiritual strength. These four foundations describe the heart and source of Anglican belief.

This page is a simple explanation of the 39 Articles and the doctrines which they state.

2.  The 39 Articles of Religion

The Articles of Religion state the main doctrines of the Anglican Church, but they are not a systematic statement of all Christian doctrine. The Anglican Church assumes that Scripture teaches Anglicans the truth about all doctrines.

During the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI various sets of Articles had been approved by the Kings. Henry wrote 10 himself in 1536, and 42 were approved in 1553 near the end of Edward’s life. 38 Articles were published in 1562 early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. These Articles were approved by the bishops and clergy of England, but not without some debates with the Queen. In 1571 a number were improved and Article 19 was added to make the 39 Articles we have now.
They are still the official statement of Anglican doctrine.

Many were based on other Confessions of Faith including the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and Articles of Schmalcald, as well as various Reformed Confessions. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent met between the years 1545 and 1563 in order to state Roman Catholic doctrine over against the teaching of the Reformed churches. Some of our Articles are direct responses to some of the Canons of the Council of Trent.

While the Articles were written in the midst of the major changes of the Reformation, the writers (probably Archbishop Cranmer in the time of Henry and Edward, and Archbishop Parker in the time of Elizabeth) focussed the Anglican doctrines on scripture. The Articles point to the Bible as the supreme authority in matters of faith. They also point to the three great creeds, which state doctrines that all Christians have believed to be true.

3. Concerning God   Articles 1-5

1. About Faith in the Holy Trinity

Original: There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Simple English: There is only one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or suffering; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Anglican doctrine of the Trinity is the same as the doctrine of the Councils of Nicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon. It affirms the unity and uniqueness of God. It also uses the language of the Council of Constantinople to state that in the one Godhead, and sharing the same essence or substance, there are three persons.  Thus it denies the different forms of Monarchianism (the belief that stressed the unity of God, but denied the full divinity of the Son, and the Spirit).

“Without body” means not restricted by limitations of space or location. Not able to be represented in bodily shape.

“Without parts” means not able to be divided, does not change, and without the possibility of conflict.

2. About the Word or Son of God, who was made truly Human

Original The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, war crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.

Simple English: The Son, who is the Word of the Father, was begotten from eternity of the Father. He is the true and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father. He took human nature in the womb of the blessed virgin, of her substance. So that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided. There is one Christ, truly God, and truly Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, was dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of people.

The Article about the Son affirms the doctrines of the great Councils. Against those who say that the Son did not always exist and was not truly divine (Arianism) it says that  the Son  was eternal and that he was of the same substance as the Father.  In relation to those who thought of Mary as the bearer of God, the Article affirms that the Son took human nature, in the womb of Mary, from her substance. Against those who emphasized Christ’s divinity and thought that his human nature had been absorbed into his divine nature (Apollinarianism) the Article says that Christ is truly human. Against those who wanted to keep the two natures of Christ separate (Nestorianism) it says that there was one person which could not be divided. It affirms that two distinct natures were joined together in the one person of Christ.

The New Testament says that God (not the Father) reconciled us to himself (not that he was reconciled to us). The Article is perhaps explaining in different words how the death of Jesus has made it possible for the Father to accept us.

“Original guilt” probably means original sin (see Article 9). The meaning here is that the sacrifice of Christ is for all sin.

3. About the going down of Christ into Hell

Original As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell.

Simple English: We believe that Christ died for us, and was buried. We also believe that he went down into Hell.

Probably Hades is meant, the place where the dead people go. It is probably a neutral idea, rather than a description of a place of punishment. The biblical basis is Acts 2.27-31 and Psalm 16.10.

4. About the Resurrection of Christ

Original: Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

Simple English: Christ truly rose again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things connected with the perfection of human nature. He ascended with it into Heaven, and sits there, until he returns to judge all people at the last day.

This Article agrees with the creeds concerning the resurrection of Christ. It  also states that he did not give up his humanity when he ascended to heaven. The background to this is that some heresies taught that Christ was divine but not fully human, or that he only appeared to be human for the time he was on earth. The Article also forms a basis for understanding that the body of Christ is in heaven and cannot also be present in the same manner in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

5. About the Holy Spirit

Original: The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

Simple English: The Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, truly and eternal God.

 

The Article affirms the divinity and eternity of the Holy Spirit. It also makes clear that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a divine person in the same way that the Father and the Son are divine persons.
The Article also agrees with the western version of the Nicene Creed by stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (the filioque clause). This clause was not added to the western version of the creed until the Spanish Church added it at the Council of Toledo in 589, probably as a result of the influence of Augustine of Hippo. Its use gradually spread, although it was not until the 11th century that the Roman Church added it to their creed. It was the cause of the final split between the Eastern and Western churches in 1054.