Necessary Doctrine and Erudition

Bishop John Stokesley

The 1543 English catechism, known as the King’s Book, officially titled A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man, often is described as reversing the England’s move toward Protestantism. However, earlier formularies, be it the 1537 Bishop’s catechism or Ten Articles, have no fundamental disagreement with Henry’s alleged Romanism. This is more apparent when Protestant confessions are understood as possessing two ‘sorts of laws’ (as Hooker might say)—those dealing with church order vs. doctrine. The King’s book, like the Ten Articles which it is based upon, maintains this necessary difference, and, while it remains stubborn against certain Protestant views (namely, the Mass), it is consistent with the development of earlier English thought. Hopefully, a study on Necessary Doctrine will not only show the early date of English Confessionalism, but also how Protestant/Evangelical ideas were fundamental to Henrican ceremony.

Two Sorts of Articles:

Early catechisms provided sound teaching for both lay and clergy, clarifying both doctrine and order in light of Rome (‘superstitions and hypocrisy’) and Wittenburg (‘enormities’),

“forasmuch as the heads and senses of our people have been embusied, and in these days travailed with the understanding of freewill, justification, good works, and praying for souls departed; we have by the advice of our clergy, for the purgation of erroneous doctrine, declared and set forth openly, plainly, and without ambiguity of speech the mere and certain truth in them” (p. 215-6, Lloyd).

A ‘middle path’ between Romanism and Lutheranism was not pursued by Henry. By the mid-1530’s the Church of England was already, reasonably ‘reformed’, absorbing what New Learning was consistent with catholic-augustinian teaching. Henrican divines  then debated the extent the new emphasis on Augustine would alter medieval ceremony and sacraments. The disputation between AB Cranmer and Bp. Stokesley proved royal favor for the Archbishop. But the Catholic party, led by Gardiner, convinced Henry to retain a number of practices which frustrated Lutheran opinion– namely, Eucharistic concomitance, annihilation of the bread, and private Mass. Gardiner’s influence was felt in the Six articles which terminated Lutheran-Anglican conferences.  English confessions of the 1530’s generally reflect this conservative gravity, but none are ‘regressive’ in the sense of rolling back Augustinian soteriology. Only later would Augustinian doctrines implicate the medieval mass, but this did not begin until after Henry’s death.

Yet Henrican theology maintained a steady tension between Reformed (here called Augustinian) doctrine and catholic worship, insisting upon Justification throughout. Justification makes its first debut with respect to ceremony where Articles are divided into  ‘two sorts’– those owing to faith and those for rites. This is a crucial point. The church of Rome treated ceremony as part of an infallible oral tradition, sometimes equated to ‘peter’s keys’, no less authoritative than scripture. Instead, Henry begins the task of distinguishing rites instituted by Christ, for the remission of sin (like baptism), versus those established by the Church for edification. The latter are good works.  In relation to ceremony, the division is the kernel of justification. Nonetheless, Henry was reluctant to apply the same distinctions to the Mass.  Later English confessions continued with the logic of ‘two sorts of articles’ (see Articles XX, XXXIV). Regarding these ‘two sorts’, the Preamble to the Ten Articles instructs:

“the Articles be divided into two sorts; whereof the one part containeth such as commanded expressly by God, and be necessary to our salvation; and the other containeth such things as have been of a long continuance for a decent order and honest policy, prudently instituted and used in the churches of our realm, and be for that same purpose and end to be observed and kept accordingly, although they be not expressly commanded of God, nor necessary to our salvation” (p. 244, Hardwick)

Here is the influence of Cranmer and the New Learning, where good works are distinguished from grace, “all bishops and preachers shall instruct and teach our people committed by us to their spiritual charge, that this word justification signifieth remission of our sins, and our acceptation or reconciliation into the grace and favor of God, that is to say our perfect renovation in Christ” (p. 253). Though justification is accomplished by “contrition and faith joined with charity”, it is not as though, “contrition, or faith, or any works proceeding thereof, can worthily merit or deserve to attain the said justification: for the only mercy and grace of the Father promised freely unto us for his Son’s sake Jesus Christ, and the merits of the blood and passion, be the only sufficient”.

Justification ends that portion of the Articles regarding true faith. The next section, ‘laudable ceremonies in the church’ bear out the former’s  implications. Interestingly, the Articles do not abolish catholic worship (like the enormities of Lutherans or Zwinglians), but, instead, clarify their use and nature in light of Christ’s finished work. Whether speaking of images, statues, prayers to saints, or rites attached to certain holy days, the Articles repeatedly teach none “have power to remit sin, but only to stir and lift up our minds unto God, by whom only our sins be forgiven”. (p. 155-158, Fuller). Roman practices and rites (outside the sacraments) are given their proper place, putting  “us in remembrance of those spiritual things that they do signify, not suffering them to be forgotten, or to be put in oblivion, but renewing them in our memories from time to time” (p. 158, Fuller). Thus, creeping the cross, rosaries, ashes, and icons, etc. are memorials, subject to church order/discipline, or as Hooker names it “convention” (adiaphora). They are retained according to four precepts.


Amongst Protestants, the English Reformation was remarkable for preserving medieval rites (i.e., Sarum), and, while shrines or monasteries were leveled (see articles XIV and XXIV)’, many other rubrics and customs were kept for the sake of peace, unity, and order, “that all things should be done seemly and in order, and hath beautified and set forth by distinction of ministers and offices the same church” (p. 217, Lloyd). For Henry, this meant keeping fair relations with neighboring Monarchs and their provincial churches (law of nations or ‘the religion of the prince is the faith of the realm’)– namely the German Emperor, Charles V. Nor acting overly favorable to the Lutherans while looking forward to possible reconciliation with Rome at the proposed 1537 council of Mantua. Ritualism also meant a liturgical continuity and aesthetic to the immediate past, i.e., the english medieval church, upon whom most churchmen were sentimentally attached. This, along with a strong catholic party of bishops, gave the CofE its conservative tone.

In its day, separation from the Pope had major theological and salvic implications. The Roman ‘magisterium’ was re-evaluated according to scripture, creeds, and four councils (“four holy councils, that is to say, in the council of Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, and all other since that time in any point consonant to the same”, p. 146, Fuller). And, while disagreement always existed over the extent ceremony and tradition should be negotiated, there was at least an Anglican consensus on their relation to preventing grace. Emerging ‘orthodoxy’ was institutionalized during the 1530’s, subscription first required by the Oath of Supremacy 1534 and then the Ten Articles in 1536 which said,

“…unity in the church of England, which we most desire, we have caused the same to be published, willing, requiring and commanding you to accept, repute, and take them accordingly…And for because we would the said articles, and every of them, should be taken and understen of you, after such sort, order and degree, as appertaineth accordingly, we have cause by the like assent and agreement of our said bishops” (p. 143, Fuller)

As disagreement on the extent Sacraments ought to be purified flared, Article subscription for clergy became more rigorous. The problem separating laudable ceremonies (indifferent) from doctrines of grace (essentials) are such categories do not neatly divide. Both Puritans and Disciplinarians realized this as they sought to change Injunctions, e.g., bowing toward the altar has theological significance, “the law of prayer is the law of belief”. Justification, if consistently grasped, necessitates a kind of RPW over sacraments. How far does this go? Historical Anglican canons have tried to define it given circumstances of various parties.

After Henry’s death, Edward VI’s Protector allowed Cranmer to finally reform of the Mass—introducing communion in both kinds, the liturgy in English, and amending the Eucharist prayer to fit ‘Philipist’ (Variata) views. The 1549 BCP was the culmination of Henrican theology (not excluding saints, prayers for the dead, and high view of the sacramental bread) while the 1552 book represented Cranmer’s deference to Swiss opinion. Elizabeth reconciled the two prayer books as well as earlier Articles and Injunctions, adopting a reformed faith with Henrican ornaments. In retrospect, Cranmer won England’s liturgy while Gardiner won her aesthetic.

Final Remarks for Anglo-Catholics:

Anglo-Catholicism had its origin in Prayer Book conformity, reinstituting the fullness of the 1662 Ornaments Rubric. But missed by Anglo-Catholics is the evangelical theology Henrican worship is rooted upon. Without Justification, the entire Henrican edifice (supremacy and mutable ceremony) fall into clutches of Roman Tradition, and it is Henrican worship (defined by 1538 Injunctions– the nucleus to 1604 canons) which best suit Anglo-Catholicism . Henry’s reign is perhaps more formative than even Elizabeth, and the 1559-1571 settlement ought to be viewed as a defense of Henry’s articles, catechism, and injunctions. A re-reading of the henrican formulas, particulary Necessary Doctrine and the Institution, should answer two pressing questions:

  1. What is our rationale or defense for the Affirmation of St. Louis vis-a-vis classical Anglicanism as best defined by the 39 Articles? Rather than simply dismiss the 39 Articles, the 1530 standards explain how the Elizabethan settlement and Necessary Doctrine (seven sacraments) are congruent, not contrary. We can do this without the casuistry of Newman?
  2. Can a movement that knows the importance of Reformed Catholic worship bridge evangelical and catholic parties? Old High Churchmen like Laud (aka. disciplinarians) upgraded England’s sacramental life without overthrowing either the foundation or nature of Anglicanism. The absence of Justification in catholic Anglican worship ultimately determines our ecumenicalism (which in turn defines our patrimony)– do we cross the Tiber, Bosporous, or the Thames.

A great discussion amongst Continuuers regarding our Anglicanism was had here, “Avoiding In-House Extremism“. The next few articles will hopefully explore Henrican catechist treatment on seven sacraments vs. ‘new learning’. Until then, I hope to post some snippets exploring the Anglican primer, either here or at the Thames River Beach Party. I will also be working on articles for a local Anglican mission newsletter.

  • Fuller, Thomas: The Church History of Britain, Oxford, 1896
  • Hardwick, Charles: A History of the Articles of Religion, Cambridge 1859
  • Lloyd, Charles (ed.): Formularies of Faith, Oxford, 1825

7 responses to “Necessary Doctrine and Erudition

  1. First, Justification by Faith through Grace was not a new doctrine. Thomas Oden’s book on justification is, I believe, more than proof of that. If one reads St Paul closely one can not escape that it is a doctrine of the New Testament.


  2. Hi Bishop Lee,

    Just so I am not accused of turning Anglicans into Lutherans or Lutherans into Anglicans, etc.., I want to make clear there is no slavish attachment between the two. Anglicanism only had to go back to Anselm and Augustine, or for that matter Wycliffe. Nonetheless, there was a fraternalism with the continent, and the English reformation was in indeed in dialogue with Germans and Swiss over the resourcement of tradition. There were efforts to resonate confessions. In the end, as the conferences in 1538 demonstrate, the German and English relations fizzled and respective reformations went separate ways.

    I have a feeling some people think I am reading too much Lutheranism into Cranmer and the new theology in England. Though Cranmer indeed borrowed word-for-word phrases and articles from Augsburg confession, invited Melanchthon to Canterbury, married Osiander’s daughter, and was quite warm to German and Swiss theology, England’s restoration remained conservative thanks to her bishops and Crown, lacking the ‘enormities’ of the continent. It is amazing how quick AC’s will point to England’s rapprochements with Rome or Orthodox East but easily ignore more productive Protestant conferences.Where I believe Reformers differ from Augustine or church fathers with respect to Justification was making it a linchpin to a bigger system of thought. Most likely I will get ‘blasted’ for saying this since latitudinarians have drilled into our heads the Articles are merely ‘negative statements’ and not themselves part of a credible development of doctrine. I believe they are more, and it would be interesting to collate Hooker, Jewel, and Cranmer’s words about Justification with respect to the revival of the church. When anglo-catholics hear the word ‘justification’, hackles rise and boogy-man ‘puritanism’ comes to mind. I fear dissenters have stolen doctrines of grace for themselves, meanwhile Rome appropriated the notion of ‘catholic’. If Anglo-catholics could finally discuss how justification is a foundation of their sacramentology, then I think we’d realize how unnecessary the evangelical vs. catholic divide has been? The next step would be taking church polity seriously and submitting to canon or ‘common authority’ as the Articles say…

    But, Bp. Lee, your point is well taken– justification has been taught by the church since Christ, and anyone who calls it ‘protestant’ is sorely mistaken. That being said, it is perhaps the most abused and misunderstood article– to the detriment of Evangelical and Catholic alike. It’s hard to see how a ‘high-grace’ view of God undermines the same sacraments Christ instituted? Sorry if I sound upset. I am not, but I find this stuff is exacerbating at times. I agree with what you say, and wish I could get my hand’s on Oden’s book. 🙂


  3. Articles with no equals. I am tempted to keep a connection to the internet simply so that I can read new pieces on Anglican Rose. I can only pray its author will spare me this fate by putting his thoughts in ink.


  4. Thanks CV!

    As always the first day or so goes through some editing. Thank you for bearing with the grammer. Here are some downloadable books I think you will love (if you haven’t already found them):
    Constitutional History of the Church of England by Makower
    History of the Articles of Religion by Hardwick

    I am a slow reader. You will probably burn through them. Awesome insights into the Erastian order and English ‘confessionalism’. Let me know if you think they are worth anything. I’ve only skimmed.

    BTW. Please email or leave links here for anything interesting you find on Wesley or Methodism. I’d like to add more links to that particular section. I just purchased a 1939 Methodist Hymnal. There’s some interesting stuff inside.


  5. I am with Lee on this one. Although Lutheran thinking made a distinct impression on the early English Reformers, just a Swiss thinking later impressed the Puritans, I see nothing touching doctrinal matters, as opposed to jurisdictional or ritual matters, that indicates any official participation in the Reformation. That impetus was bottled up and had to wait for Henry death’s. Indeed, Henry’s Article on Justification could just fit seamlessly into Trent.


  6. Hello Lee and Death,

    I cleaned up the article a little bit. I often use ‘reformed’, ‘lutheran’, and ‘new learning’ interchangeably. This is somewhat misleading and sloppy. Necessary Doctrine is a correction of New Learning/Lutheranism. It accepts it in so far as it agrees with Augustine, and I edited some of my earlier terminology, deleting ‘reformed’ or ‘new learning’ in exchange for Augustinianism. This indicates the caution, catholicity, and conservatism of Henry w/ respect to the german reformation. That being said, the Henrican church begins a process which is finalized under Elizabeth, namely differentiating ceremony from (dominical) sacraments, works from preventing grace. etc. This is as much the influence of Erasmus as the Fathers. At least this is where I think I am trying to go with my study.

    Death and Lee, you have both been very helpful and patient in your corrections. Believe it or not, I do think about them and try to understand, and you have kept me from identifying Anglicanism car blanche with a crypto-Lutheranism. I now finally agree it is not, though often it is mistaken for such. I will try to be more careful in the future.

    I also added this statement, “Henry’s reign is perhaps more formative than even Elizabeth, and the 1559-1571 settlement ought to be viewed as a defense of Henry’s articles, catechism, and injunctions.” Maybe I am being provocative, but I think Henry deserves to be viewed as authentically Anglican, not a merely regressive vis-a-vis the continent, and that Elizabeth wished to keep Henry’s 1534-43 consensus. Where Henry indeed differs from Elizabeth is not touching the eucharist, but I believe Henry’s augustinianism was pregnant with correcting the abuses associated with transubstantiation as we see soteriological categories like preventing grace encroaching how ceremony is practiced, e.g., starting with treatment of saints and relics. There is affinity with the Lutheranism here, but Anglicanism possessed learned restraint, and we can thank the catholic party shaping the ‘voice of the English Church’. The saliency of Gardiner after 1538 is crucial. While Cranmer was unquestionably to the “left” of Gardiner, I just wonder to what extent he was a Philipist. I suspect his deep sympathy for Saxon theology, following a similar pattern of patristic resourcement as the Lutherans. Elizabeth pruned back and staved this influence, in my opinion, hence Gardiner’s legacy.

    Finally, Henry’s Articles absolutely do not seamlessly conform to Trent. There is a denial of merit throughout– both in equivalency of satisfaction for sins and benefit of the saints for the same. He also takes a high view with respect to preventing grace, dismissing congruity as do later Articles. However, this is not true of Henry’s treatment of the transubstantiation which he left untouched from the standpoint of justification. Nonetheless, going from the Ten Articles, to six, and between the two catechisms of the period, I believe there are no ‘retractions’ or ‘reversals’ as most commentators claim. When Henry is blamed for some kind of ‘counter-reformation’, they are not talking about the internal dialogue of Henrican documents; rather they are looking at the conferences between Lutherans and Anglicans. We should not confuse the two.


  7. Pingback: Article on Freewill « Anglican Rose

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