The doctrines of the Anglican Church are set out in a number of propositions called the Thirty Nine Articles, developed in the century following the establishment of the independent Church of England in 1535. These are not so much a comprehensive statement of faith, as particular points where the approach of our church differs from doctrines advanced by other denominations, in particular the Church of Rome. The full text of these articles can be found on page 698 of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
As a gift from my cousin in England for my birthday last November, I received an unusual book entitled The Bible in Limerick Verse. Not a joke, but a serious attempt by a retired clergyman to make the gist of a number of Bible stories memorable and easily available to newcomers to the Scriptures, in the hopes that in due course, they would become interested enough to read and understand the originals.
My cousin suggested that I likely do better versification than some of those in that book, and should have a go at the Thirty Nine Articles. I know not whether she was serious, but in fact I did take up the challenge, and in so doing, reacquainted myself with these basic tenets of Anglican doctrine, which, after all, are subscribed to by every person ordained into Anglican ministry.
It strikes me that in the present state of tension between various groupings within our church, the one unifying factor is in fact that all our clergy have subscribed to this basic statement of faith, and the question of whether a group stays within the Anglican church or outside it may well be the question of whether they are prepared to accept these articles or not.
And since the Elizabethan verbiage of the Thirty Nine Articles is something of a disincentive to reviewing and understanding them, I am pleased to append them now in the easily understandable form of Limerick Verse. Feel free to make use of them and pass them on to others as you see fit.
Don’t live in a house built on sand:
These Articles help understand
What Anglicans know
Of the way they should go
To walk in the path that God planned.
Article I – Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
There is but a single Divinity
Whose origins are from Infinity
Made the earth and the skies,
Compassionate, Wise –
One Being revealed in a Trinity.
Article II – Of the Word or Son of God, who was made very Man.
Christ Jesus, God’s Son and true Man
The work of redemption began
Condemned to the grave
He yet loved and forgave –
Our Saviour, all part of God’s plan.
Article III – Of the going down of Christ into Hell.
For all of us, death is a must:
Souls remain, bodies turn into dust.
So Christ, crucified,
Went to hell when he died
Proclaiming release for the just.
Article IV – Of the Resurrection of Christ.
Christ’s body, entire and complete
Rose again, his disciples to greet;
And forty days later
Rejoined the Creator
’Til all for his judgment shall meet.
Article V – Of the Holy Ghost.
From Father and Son, there proceeds
A Spirit, that speaks to our needs.
Her gifts that keep giving
Assist us in living
Bearing fruit in love, joy and good deeds.
Article VI – Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Scripture’s sixty six volumes suffice
To guide us to everything nice;
If you want any more
The Apocrypha’s store
Entertains. but it’s not for advice.
Article VII – Of the Old Testament.
Don’t belittle the Testament Old
In which Israel’s story is told;
Though the Temple is gone,
Replaced by God’s Son
The moral commandments still hold.
Article VIII – Of the Three Creeds.
The foundation that everyone needs
For faith is contained in the Creeds:
Athanasian, all lean
On the Bible for sowing their seeds.
II. The Human Condition
Article IX – of Original or Birth-sin.
The snake in that innocent garden
Caused Adam’s behaviour to harden;
Led astray by desire
All are plunged in that mire
And need to be saved by God’s pardon.
Article X – Of Free-Will.
Since Man scorned the rules of the place
And Paradise left in disgrace
His search to regain
Peace with God will be vain
Until his heart’s changed by God’s grace.
Article XI – Of the Justification of Man.
The merits of Christ, who forgave
The people he suffered to save
Alone give the right
To seem pure in God’s sight –
Set free, and no longer sin’s slave.
Article XII – Of Good Works.
When faith in Christ Jesus takes root
In our lives, then beyond all dispute
It’s no more a labour
To care for our neighbour –
Good deeds come like trees bearing fruit!
Article XIII – Of Works before Justification.
Holy actions, God’s favour to win
Are a course we should never begin;
For unless Christ directs
What we do, one expects
God will have to condemn them as sin.
Article XIV – Of Works of Supererogation.
To obey the Commandments, ’tis true
Is a thing that we all ought to do,
But it’s arrogance fond
To try going beyond
To look like the best in the pew.
Article XV – Of Christ alone without Sin.
Those who claim to be sinless, forsooth,
Have gone very far from the truth;
Only Jesus can rate
That exceptional state –
The rest of us sinned from our youth!
Article XVI – Of Sin after Baptism.
We’re baptized, and receive a fresh start
And the Spirit comes into our heart
But our weakness of will
Means that sin’s with us still
Though God’s grace will forgiveness impart.
Article XVII – Of Predestination and election.
God’s will is salvation for all
And he helps those who answer his call
So do not despair
If perfection’s not there –
Confess- you’ll be saved from sin’s thrall.
Article XVIII – Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.
Some faiths are true faiths, some less so,
And don’t teach the right yes and no;
So let us beware
Those who do not declare
Christ’s way as the one way to go.
III. The Church
Article XIX – Of the Church.
The Church is a place where the Word
Is proclaimed, and the sacraments shared;
It’s a wonderful place
Filled with folks full of grace –
What a pity some churches have erred!
Article XX – Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church prayers and rites can proclaim
And matters of faith and of blame,
But in looking at Scripture
It must view the whole picture
Asking nothing outside of its frame.
Article XXI – Of the Authority of General Councils.
The secular power must agree
If a Council is going to be;
And to keep our faith pure
We must always ensure
That with Scripture its verdicts agree.
Article XXII – Of Purgatory.
When the Romans define “Purgatory”
It’s only a fictional story,
Also images, relics
And beings angelic
Should not interfere with God’s glory.
Article XXIII – Of Ministering in the Congregation.
The preacher, who seeks to secure
A post, though his motives be pure,
Needs lawful authority
To approve his priority
Or else he’s not welcome, for sure
Article XXIV – Of speaking in the Congregation in such a tongue as the people understand.
A clergyman’s message must focus
On words that are not “hocus pocus”;
We folks in the pews
Used to sit there and snooze
Until with plain English you woke us.
Article XXV – Of the Sacraments.
Communion and Baptism we list
As Christ’s sacraments, made to exist
To cleanse and give strength
(Not for worship at length)
Five more aren’t the same, and dismissed.
Article XXVI – Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament.
“All have sinned, and come short of God’s glory.”
But that’s not the end of the story:
Christ’s mercies still work
Though his servant’s a jerk –
But bad priests – beware of God’s fury.
Article XXVII – Of Baptism.
Through Baptism, new life we begin
Receiving forgiveness of sin;
By sacrament crafted
We’re adopted and grafted
And children are free to come in.
Article XXVIII – Of the Lord’s Supper.
Don’t let superstition deceive
By teaching false things to believe;
Both bread and wine stay
Unchanged all the way,
It’s through faith that we Jesus receive.
Article XXIX – Of the Wicked which eat not the body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s supper.
The faithless and wicked, who taste
Christ’s Body and Blood are disgraced,
For though they may think
They receive food and drink
Communion for them is a waste.
Article XXX – Of both kinds.
At Communion, all people should sup
Not just of the bread, but the cup;
We obey Christ’s command
When we’ve both in our hand
That obedience should never let up.
Article XXXI – Of the one Oblation of Christ finished on the Cross.
Communion’s a way to recall
Christ’s victory over man’s fall;
His work is completed
No need to repeat it –
Other views have no merit at all.
Article XXXII – Of the marriage of Priests.
Some clergyfolk still have to learn
That it’s better to marry than burn;
They’re free to stay single
Free also to mingle
As God gives them power to discern.
Article XXXIII – Of excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided.
A person expelled from the fold
Is an outcast, and stays in the cold
Until this harsh sentence
Is cured by repentance
And a judge lets him back as of old.
Article XXXIV – Of the Traditions of the Church.
Tradition can vary in places
Without kicking over the traces;
So traditional rites
Are no reason for fights
Our church decent order embraces.
Article XXXV – Of the Homilies.
The Priest who on Saturday night
Finds he hasn’t a sermon in sight
Can cure the anomaly
By using a Homily
And his Sunday will turn out all right.
Article XXXVI – Of consecration of Bishops and Ministers.
The Bishops who had consecration
To serve in the Church of their nation
By the rites of King Ed-
ward the Sixth, may be said
To be validly placed in their station.
Article XXXVII – Of the Civil Magistrates.
The King is supreme in our borders
With force to quell crimes and disorders;
His dominion extends
Just for temporal ends
And Christians may fight at his orders.
Article XXXVIII – Of Christian men’s goods, which are not common.
The question of what’s mine and thine
Needs care when we’re drawing the line:
One can keep what one gleans,
But a Christian with means
No person in need should decline.
Article XXXIX – Of a Christian man’s Oath.
Profanity’s foreign to James
Who deplores the base use of God’s names;
But the man who in Court
Swears the truth as he ought
Is a person whom nobody blames.
We’re now at the end of the list
And of Anglican faith have the gist;
Though since Vatican Two
We should maybe review
Some articles needing a twist.