The 1571 canon is frequently quoted without reference to the context of the Book of Discipline wherein it’s found. Introduced by Parker, and perhaps inscribed by Elizabeth herself, the canons passed the southern convocation of Canterbury and the Bishops of York added their signatures. However, it never gained ratification from the Queen, or the entire realm, who preferred leaving normal church matters to the Archbishops. Consequently, the legal history of the canon is similar to the Book of Advertisements; mostly, they are diocesan and regional Articles, adopted by Canterbury and London with less impact elsewhere. But the canons provide the earliest terms of subscription prior to Whitgift’s three-articles.
Unfortunately, the 1571 canon was somewhat embellished by 19th-century Tractarians to loosen the terms of subscription vis-a-vis the Thirty-Nine Articles. However, when the canon’s actual paragraph is read, it’s hard to disentangle the catholic fathers from maintaining the Articles. The frequently invoked mandate to keep England’s doctrine catholic, well-known by traditionalists, is first given:
“But cheifly they shall take heed, that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe, and believe, but that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old Testament, and the new, and that which the catholic fathers, and ancient bishops have gathered out of that doctrine.” (The Canons of 1571, p. 76)
This is where reference to the 1571 canon often stops, but the paragraph immediately continues by praising the points of Settlement:
“And because those articles of Christian religion, agreed upon by the Bishops in lawful, and godly convocation, and by their commandment, and authority of our noble princess Elizabeth assembled and holden, undoubtedly are gathered out of the holy books of the old, and new Testament, and in all points agree with the heavenly doctrine contained in them: because also the book of common prayers, and the book of the consecration of Archbishops, Bishops, Ministers and Deacons, contain nothing repugnant to the same doctrine, whosoever shall be sent to teach the people, shall not only in their preaching, but also by subscription confirm the authority, and truth of those articles. He that doth otherwise, or troubleth the people with contrary doctrine, shall be excommunicated.” (p. 76-78)
These two quotes are probably best understood as a single directive, namely, the articles and other formulae provide a reliable and authoritative witness to catholic faith, and nothing contrary to them can be instructed. “Pray behold and see”, says Parker, on addressing the ejected Marian bishops in 1560, “how we of the Church of England, reformed by our late king Edward and his clergy, and now by her Majesty and hers reviving the same, have but imitated and followed the example of the ancient and worthy fathers.” (Hardwick, p. 116) Meanwhile, the “articles” spoken are likely the 1562. But “articles” might also be understood in a wider sense as the sum of standards approved by Crown and convocation between 1559-1562 as terms of subscription; in other words, the Ordinal, Book of Articles, and Prayer Book. The 1571 canon is the first to require clerical subscription. However, the idea of binding clergy to doctrinal standards began at the start of Tudor reformation which tended to be more severe than what was expected after 1571, requiring clergy to read Articles (this would have been the Ten or Eleven if before 1562) twice a year in place of a sermon (Hardwick, p. 118). Subscription was slightly more gentle, giving ministerial licence upon signature. In the 1580’s, the canon would be better known as the ‘three-articles’ introduced by Whigtgift, but not until 1605 would it be formally adopted in the Northern Convocation of York, given in the 36th canon ecclesiastical. Nevertheless, the 1571 book gives a vital context by which the three-articles (both Canterbury’s 1584 and later the realm of England in 1604) required understanding, soundly basing England in the doctrine and practice of the primitive church.
Though Elizabeth initially left the 1571 untouched to be voluntarily approved by dioceses and provinces, the canon eventually acquired an arguable yet indirect form of royal assent through terms of subscription mentioned above, in 1584 and then 1604. Another avenue of approval for the 1571 comes through the preface of Jewel’s Works (which included the Apology and Defense) written by Richard Bancroft. Bancroft had this to say about England’s profession,
“this is and hath been the open profession of the Church of England, to defend and maintain no other Church, Faith, and Religion, than that which is truly Catholic and Apostolic, and for such warranted, not only by the written word of God, but also by the testimony and consent of the ancient and godly Fathers.”
This edition of the Works was commanded to be set or “chained” in the churches alongside the Bishop’s Bible, suggesting its relative importance as a standard. Combined with Jewel’s greater manuscript, the 1571 canon therefore explains our standard methodology, this being the witness of the first few centuries. This latter exhortation is a reference to what would be known as Andrewes’ formula rather than the Vincentian canon (which often fails to discriminate late-antique and medieval centuries). Anyway, the 1571 canon compelled subscription because the points of Settlement precisely agreed with the Word of God as well as the ancient Fathers. However, the 1571 book at no point alienates the protestant Settlement from the catholic faith– something missed by anglo-catholics when invoking Elizabeth’s canon.
The 1571 canons are overwhelmingly preoccupied with subscription formulae and scrutinizing clergy for proper letters. There are some curiosities within the 1571 aside from issues with conformity to articles. The following misc. canon are also from William E. Collins’ The Canons of 1571 in English and Latin , London (1899). These quotes are interesting as snap shots for England’s former strictness and intensity with faith.
- An ordinance testifying that Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was likewise an important, probably tertiary standard, for the church:
p. 30 “Every Archbishop and bishop shall have in his house, the Holy Bible in the largest volume, as it was lately printed at London, and also that full and perfect history, which is entitled Monuments of Martyrs, and other such like books, fit for the sitting forth of religion” .
- p. 56-58, An ordinance demonstrating 16th century moral instruction in preparation for Holy Communion:
“They shall admonish the people to come often to ye holy Communion, and that before, they prepare themselves with a perfect mind, as it is fit. And that all may understand, what duty they owe to God, what duty to the prince, whom they ought to love and reverence as the vicar of God, what they owe to the laws, what to magistrates, what to their brethern, what to the people of God: they shall be ready in the churches straight afternoon, every Sunday and Holy Day, and there at the least they shall read two hours, and teach the Catechism, and therein shall instruct, all their flock of what age or degree soever, not only maidens and children, but also the elder, if need be. But especially they shall warn young folks, not only men, but also women, that it is provided by the laws, that none of them may either receive the holy Communion, or be married, or undertake for a child in baptism, except before they have learned the principles of Christian religion, and can not fitly and aptly answer to all parts of the Catechism.”
- p. 66-68, A description of the Warden’s policing power, and how it cooperated between local and dioscesan authorities . In this instance, the ordinance speaks against drunks who miss preaching or communion services. It then covers other types of scandals:
“If any do contrary, upon contempt or stubborness, they shall present both him, and them whom he received, personally in the next visitation. If any offend their brethern, either by manifest adultery, or whoredom, or incest, or drunkenness, or much swearing, or bawdry, or usury, or any other uncleanness and wickedness of life, let the churchwardens warn them brotherly and friendly, to amend. Which except they do, they shall personally show them to the parson, vicar, or curate, that they may be warned more sharply and vehemently of them: and if they continue so still, let them be driven from the holy Communion, till they be reformed. And that all which live unchastly and loosely, be punished by the severity of the laws, according to their deserts. The same churchwardens shall present those adulterers, whoremongers, incestuous, drunkards, swearers, bawds, and usurers in the Bishops and Archdeacons’ visitations.”
- p. 72, The Warden could charge and present bawdy priests to Bishops for trial. Even more amazing was the level of scrutiny English Bishops kept over their clerics, recording and dating sermons in the cathedral, etc.:
“But if the Parson, Vicar, or Curate, behave himself otherwise in his ministry, or that he read ill, darkly, and confusedly, or that he live more losely, and licentiously then is fit for a man of that calling, and thereby great offence be taken: the churchwardens shall speedly present him to the Bishop, that by and by he may be punished, and amendment of his fault may follow. And the Bishop shall understand, what sermons are made in every church of his diocese: the churchwardens shall see, that the names of all preachers, which come to them from any other place, be noted in a book, which they shall have ready for that purpose, and that every preacher subscribe his name in that book, and the name of the bishop, of whom he had licence to preach”
- p. 92-94, A Form of Sentence for Excommunication, somewhat clarifying article 33, “Of excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided”. The example is of an absconded adulterer:
” for that cause he is cited to the bishops consistory, that his notorious disorder may some way be punished. And because the foresaid A.B. through guiltiness of his wickedness, hath refused to appear at the day lawfully named, and stubbornly hath withdrawn himself from Justice, and by his example hath harted others to the like stubbornness, therefore, this I further warn you, that our bishop, by the name and authority of the most might God, hath excommunicated him from all company of the church of God, and hath cut him off as a dead member, from the body of Christ: In this state, and in so great danger of his soul is he at this time. S. Paul being taught by the inspiration of the holy ghost, commandeth that we eschew the fellowship, and company of such men, lest we be partakers of the same wickedness. Yet, as Christian charity warneth us, because he will not prayer for himself, neither understandeth his danger, let us all in his name pray unto God, that once he may acknowledge his misery and filthiness of life, and may repent, and turn unto God. For our God is merciful, and can call them from death, that were fallen.”
Unfortunately, the 1571 canon is often misused. Contrary to popular application, it immediately invokes Settlement articles in the same breath it speaks of catholic faith. More so, the entire book of discipline 1571 was really a prescription compelling clergy to assent to the Articles, Ordinal, and Prayer Book– what would be later known as the 36th canon of the Church of England. The 1571 is often used in contexts other than what Parker intended, and for this reason the full text was posted.
A last thought and worthy recollection is the 1571 might can be read as a prologue to primary English standards. In this respect, it resembles modern Solemn Declarations (SD) where a statement on Catholic belief (the Quadrilateral) precedes, or gives context, the provincial confession (the BCP, Ordinal, 39). Another way to say it is modern Solemn Declarations usually combined the 1571 and 1584 canons in succinct and convenient ways. Perhaps this hints the historicity of SD’s?
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