An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXXV

Article XXXV.

Of the Homilies.

The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.

Of the names of the Homilies.

  1 Of the right Use of the Church.

  2 Against Peril of Idolatry.

  3 Of repairing and keeping clean of

  Churches.

  4 Of good Works: first of Fasting.

  5 Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.

  6 Against Excess of Apparel.

  7 Of Prayer.

  8 Of the Place and Time of Prayer.

  9 That Common Prayers and Sacraments

  ought to be ministered in a known

  tongue.

  10 Of the reverend estimation of God’s

  Word.

  11 Of Alms-doing.

  12 Of the Nativity of Christ.

  13 Of the Passion of Christ.

  14 Of the Resurrection of Christ.

  15 Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament

  of the Body and Blood of Christ.

  16 Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.

  17 For the Rogation-days.

  18 Of the State of Matrimony.

  19 Of Repentance.

  20 Against Idleness.

  21 Against Rebellion.

 De Homiliis.

Tomus secundus homiliarum, quarum singulos titulos huic articulo subjunximus, continet piam et salutarem doctrinam, et his temporibus necessariam, non minus quam prior tomus homiliarum, quæ editæ sunt tempore Edwardi Sexti. Itaque cas in Ecclesiis per ministros diligenter et clare, ut a populo intelligi possint, recitandas esse judicavimus.

De Nominibus Homiliarum.

  Of the right Use of the Church.

  Against Peril of Idolatry.

  Of repairing and keeping clean of

  Churches.

  Of good Works: first of Fasting.

  Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.

  Against Excess of Apparel.

  Of Prayer.

  Of the Place and Time of Prayer.

  That Common Prayers and Sacraments

  ought to be ministered in a known

  tongue.

  Of the reverend estimation of God’s

  Word.

  Of Alms-doing.

  Of the Nativity of Christ.

  Of the Passion of Christ.

  Of the Resurrection of Christ.

  Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of

  the Body and Blood of Christ.

  Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.

  For the Rogation-days.

  Of the State of Matrimony.

  Of Repentance.

  Against Idleness.

  Against Rebellion.

[The American revision adds, “This Article is received in this Church, so far as it declares the Books of Homilies to be an explication of Christian doctrine, and instructive in piety and morals. But all references to the constitution and laws of England are considered as inapplicable to the circumstances of this Church: which also suspends the order for the reading of said Homilies in churches, until a revision of them may be conveniently made, for the clearing of them, as well from obsolete words and phrases, as from the local references.” It is needless to add that the revision has never been made. — J. W.]

THERE is not much to be said concerning this Article. At the time of the Reformation there was great need of simple and sound instruction for the people, and but few were competent to give it. Many of the clergy were but partially affected to the so-called new learning. Many were very illiterate. In many parishes, therefore, the clergy were not licensed to preach, and hence the reformers put forth these popular discourses, to meet the exigencies of the times.

The First Book of Homilies, which was published in the reign of Edward VI., is attributed to the pens of Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, and others. The second, published in Elizabeth’s reign, is supposed to be due in great part to Jewel. The former seems to be written with much greater care and accuracy than the latter, and is indeed most full of sound and valuable teaching.

It is not possible to prove the assertion, that they “contain a godly and wholesome doctrine,” without going through the whole book of Homilies, and commenting on them all. All writers on the subject have agreed, that the kind of assent, which we are here called on to give to them, is general, not specific. We are not expected to express full concurrence with every statement, or every exposition of Holy Scripture contained in them, but merely in the general to approve of them, as a body of sound and orthodox discourses, and well adapted for the times for which they were composed. For instance, we cannot be required to call the Apocrypha by the name of Holy Scripture, or to quote it as of Divine authority, because we find it so in the Homilies. We cannot be expected to think it a very cogent argument for the duty of fasting, that thereby we may encourage the fisheries and strengthen the seaport towns against foreign invasion.[1] And perhaps we may agree with Dr. Hey, rather than with Bishop Burnet,[2] and hold, that a person may fairly consider the Homilies to be a sound collection of religious instruction, who might yet shrink from calling the Roman Catholics idolaters. The Homilies are, in fact, semi-authoritative documents. The First Book is especially valuable, as having been composed by those who reformed our services and drew up our Articles. The second also shows popularly the general tone of instruction, which the divines of the reign of Elizabeth thought wholesome for the people. They are therefore of much value in throwing light on documents more authoritative than themselves; and may be useful for the instruction of our clergy and people in the doctrines of the Reformation. The higher education of our parish priests, and the now somewhat antiquated style of the discourses in question, render it not very likely that they will ever again be much read in Churches.

Something has been said before of the “Homily of Salvation,”[3] which is of greater authority than the rest, being referred to in Article XI. as a fuller exposition of the doctrine there delivered. It was written by Cranmer, and is indeed of great value, sound, simple, and eloquent.

It has been apparently thought doubtful by some, whether anything uninspired ought to be read in Churches. The Bible should be read there, prayers offered up, and sermons preached; but to read ancient writings which are not inspired, is to put them on the same level with the inspired Scriptures. This objection has been considered, with reference to the reading of the Apocrypha, under Article VI.[4] What was said of that will fully apply to the reading of homilies. There can be no danger that the Homilies, or any such things, should ever be esteemed by the people as of like authority with the Scriptures. The same objection would apply to sermons and hymns, at least as strongly as to homilies. It is not possible, in any ordinary state of the Church, that all sermons should be, not only extempore effusions, but uttered by direct inspiration of the Spirit. We must therefore esteem them as merely human compositions. And, though special blessing may be expected on the teaching of faithful ministers of Christ; yet it is difficult to see what there is to raise their written or precomposed discourses to an eminence above the writings of martyred bishops, such as Cranmer and his fellows. The lawfulness therefore of the putting forth of the Homilies seems unquestionable.

Notes

  1. See Homily On Good Works; and first, Of Fasting.
  2. See Burnet on Art. XXXV.; Hey, IV. p. 466.
  3. See above, p. 299.
  4. Art. VI. sect. III. No. II. p. 188.

 


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.


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