An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXXIV

Article XXXIV.

Of the Traditions of the Church.

It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like), as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.

Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church, ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.

Traditiones Ecclesiasticæ.

Traditiones atque cæremonias easdem non omnino necessarium est esse ubique aut prorsus consimiles. Nam et variæ semper fuerunt et mutari possunt, pro regionum, temporum, et morum diversitate, modo nihil contra verbum Dei instituatur.

Traditiones, et cæremonias Ecclesiasticas, quæ cum verbo Dei non pugnant, et sunt autoritate publica institutæ atque probatæ, quisquis privato consilio volens, et data opera, publice violaverit, is, ut qui peccat in publicum ordinem Ecclesiæ, quique lædit autoritatem Magistratus, et qui infirmorum fratrum conscientias vulnerat, publice, ut cæteri timeant, arguendus est.

Quælibet Ecclesia particularis, sive nationalis, autoritatem habet instituendi, mutandi, aut abrogandi cæremonias, aut ritus Ecclesiasticos humana tantum autoritate institutos, modo omnia ad ædificationem fiant.


THE Reformation was in a great measure a national movement. The power and authority of the see of Rome had annihilated the distinctions of national Churches, and produced an uniformity, not only of doctrine, but also of ceremonial and discipline, throughout the West. This Article, like the XVth of the Confession of Augsburg, is an assertion of the right of particular Churches to retain or adopt, in things indifferent, local and peculiar usages. The Preface to the Book of Common Prayer, headed “Of Ceremonies, why some be abolished and some retained,” is a farther and fuller exposition of the sentiments of our Reformers on this head. It should be read in connection with the Article.

The two points insisted on, and which we have to consider, are

I. That traditions and ceremonies were not to be everywhere alike, but that particular or national Churches may ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies of mere human authority, so all be done to edifying.

II. That private persons, of their private judgment, are not justified in openly breaking the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to God’s word.

I. There is little direct proof, either for or against our first position, to be drawn from holy Scripture itself. The Apostolic rule was, that all things should “be done to edifying” (1 Cor. xiv. 26); “all decently and in order” (ver. 40). This certainly leaves a great liberty, and a great latitude, to order the ceremonies and offices of the Church.

But, if we come to Christian history, we shall find that the different Churches, in early times, though having wonderful concord in doctrine, and in Apostolical government, had yet great variety in discipline and ritual. The well-known controversy concerning Easter very early divided the East and West. The Church of Rome kept Easter, as we keep it now, so that it always falls on a Sunday; whilst the Churches of Asia Minor observed it on the fourteenth day of the month Abib, after the manner of the Jewish Passover, let it fall on whatever day of the week it might. The Apostolical Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, paid Rome a visit, to endeavour to arrange with Anicetus an uniformity of custom on this head; but though they could come to no agreement here, they agreed that the unity and harmony of the Churches should not be broken on such a point of tradition and ceremony.[1] Later indeed, Victor, Bishop of Rome, was disposed to excommunicate the Asiatic Churches, because they did not follow the Roman custom; for which uncharitableness Irenæus sent him a letter of reproof.[2]

The still more important controversy concerning the rebaptizing of heretics arose in the next century; Cyprian and the African bishops maintaining the propriety of baptizing anew those who had received baptism from heretics; whilst Stephen and the Roman Church maintained, that such baptism was valid, and therefore that it could not be repeated. The controversy indeed ran high; but for a length of time each branch of the Church followed its own views.[3]

Another instance of diversity of custom was the mode in which the Jewish Sabbath was treated. Some Churches, those of the Patriarchate of Antioch especially, not only observed the Christian Lord’s day, but also the Jewish Sabbath. On the other hand, some Churches used to fast on the Saturday, or Sabbath, as well as on the Friday; because on the former our Lord lay in the grave, as on the latter he was crucified. St. Augustine mentions, that St. Ambrose wisely determined to fast on the Saturday, when he was in those places where it was customary; but not to fast on that day, where the custom was against it.[4]

Another observable thing in the early ages is, that the different bishops were so far independent of each other, that they were allowed to frame their own Liturgies, and even to express the Creed in different forms.[5] Accordingly, we hear of the Liturgies of Antioch, and Constantinople, of Alexandria, of Rome, of Gaul, of Spain,[6] &c. &c.

Now, all these facts prove the right of particular Churches to some degree of independence one of another, as regards bare ceremonies and traditional rites and customs.

II. That private persons should not wantonly break or neglect the traditions of the Church to which they belong, may be said to result from the very nature of a Christian society, and indeed of society altogether.

The scriptural authority is strong in favour of obedience to both civil and ecclesiastical authorities; even when both are corrupt. Of the former see Rom. xiii. 1; Tit.iii. 1; 1 Pet. ii. 13, 17. Of the latter, we have our Lord’s injunction to His disciples to obey the Pharisees, because they sat in Moses’ seat, Matt, xxiii. 2, 3; and the example of the Apostles, who, in all things not unlawful, adhered to Jewish observances and the customs of their own nation, even after the Church of Christ had been set up in the world. See Acts ii. 46; xxi. 20, 26; xxviii. 17. The Apostles indeed denounce severely those who cause divisions and schisms in the Church (Rom. xvi. 17. 1 Cor. iii. 3, &c.); and enjoin all Christians to obey their spiritual rulers, and to submit themselves to them (1 Cor. xvi. 16. 1 Thess. v. 12. Heb. xiii. 17).

It seems unnecessary to add authority from the primitive ages. The whole system of discipline and order, then so strictly observed, of necessity involves the principle, that laws and regulations made by the body of the Church were binding on, and to be observed by, every individual Christian who belonged to the Church. The decrees of Councils and Synods, often relating to discipline and ceremony, of course proceeded on the same understanding and principle.


  1. Euseb. H. E. IV. 14, V. 24.
  2. Ibid.
  3. See Mosheim, De Rebus ante Constantinum, sæc. III. § XVIII. Also Mosheim, Eccles. Hist. Cent. III. Pt. II. ch. III. § 13.
  4. “Cum Romam venio, jejuno Sabbato; cum hic, non jejuno; Sic etiam tu ad quam forte Ecclesiam veneris, ejus morem serva, si cuiquam non vis esse scandalo, nec quemquam tibi.” Epist. LIV. ad Januariam, Tom. II. p. 154, quoted by Beveridge on this Article.
  5. See Bingham, E. A. Bk. II. ch. VI.
  6. See Palmer, Origines Liturgicæ, “Dissertation on Primitive Liturgies.”


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

'An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXXIV' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(c) 2024 North American Anglican