Disregarding the False Dichotomy of Calvinism and Arminianism [Commentary on Browne: Article XVII]

In keeping with his earlier treatment of Article X and Article XVI, Browne holds that Article XVII is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, although, as mentioned previously, he suggests the Article allows for both positions: “It seems worthy of consideration, whether the Article was not designedly drawn up in guarded and general terms, on purpose to comprehend all persons of tolerably sober views.” That the Article enforces neither Calvinism nor Arminianism is evidenced by the fact that, as Browne says, it does not specify the basis of predestination, whether it be God’s good pleasure, per Calvinism, or foreseen faith, per Arminianism: “The Article says nothing concerning the moving cause of predestination; and therefore speaks as much the language of Arminius as of Calvin.” Furthermore, the Article is silent about the notion that, just as God predestines some to life, so does He reprobate others, i.e., predestine them to damnation. As Peter Toon observes, “This negative side to divine election was resisted in the Reformed Catholicism of the Church of England, even though exiles who had been in Switzerland and who returned in the reign of Elizabeth I pressed for double predestination to be included in the Confession of Faith of the reformed Church of England.[1] Likewise, Oliver O’Donovan writes that Article XVII “does not speak of the double decree”:

This silence is emphasized by its peculiar shape. “Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God,” it begins; and we naturally await a balancing sentence, “Foreordination to death … etc. But it never comes. Cranmer will not say that there is such a thing as foreordination to damnation, but only that belief in such does exist and that the devil can make use of it.[2]

Neither does the Article mention effectual calling, i.e., irresistible grace, or particular redemption, i.e., limited atonement. Regarding the former, Browne writes, “The language of Cranmer and Ridley, and of our own Liturgy, Articles and Homilies, is remarkably unlike Calvin’s concerning effectual calling.”[3] As for the latter, Browne notes that “the English Reformers held, and expressed in our formularies, with great clearness and certainty, the universality of redemption through Christ,” citing Article XXXI to this effect: “The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world.”[4] The question of final perseverance we have already addressed previously.

Rather than imposing the lens of Calvinism or Arminianism onto the Article, Browne maintains that it should be read as teaching ecclesiastical election, which he defines as follows:

As the Jews of old were God’s chosen people, so now is the Christian Church…every baptized member of the Church is one of God’s elect, and…this election is from God’s irrespective and unsearchable decree. Here therefore election is to baptismal privileges, not to final glory; and the elect are identical with the baptized; and the election constitutes the Church.

To contemporary Christians this might seem like an idiosyncratic category of Browne’s own devising. In fact the concept of ecclesiastical election is well established in historical theology, and if it appears to be a strange novelty this is only because it has been neglected in recent years, as many older Anglican authors discuss it in various works.[5]

Without getting into the details of Browne’s presentation of ecclesiastical election, I will add that it is but one way to account for all of the relevant biblical data. Given how contested the topic has been throughout Christian history, what Browne says in light of this fact is forever germane:

Deep learning and fervent piety have characterized many who have widely differed in these points of doctrine. It is well for us, disregarding mere human authority and philosophical discussions, to strive to attain the simple sense of the Scriptures of God. But it is not well, when we have satisfied ourselves, to condemn those who may disagree with us; nor, because we see practical dangers in certain doctrines, to believe that all who embrace those doctrines must of necessity fall into evil, through the dangers which attach to them. Discussions on subjects such as this do not, perhaps, so much need acuteness and subtilty, as humility and charity.

We should also remember that, as Browne points out, Luther in his riper years “speaks of the predestinarian controversies set on foot in his own time, as the work of the devil.” May we therefore heed Browne’s words and approach the topic with a reserve befitting its history of controversy.


  1. Peter Toon, “Predestination in Anglican & Reformed (Calvinist) Formularies,” The Prayer Book Society: News, 23 April 2007, https://pbs1928.blogspot.com/2007/04/predestination-in-anglican-reformed.html.
  2. Oliver O’Donovan, On the Thirty-Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christianity, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 2011), 85. See also Thomas Waite, Sermons, Explanatory and Practical, on the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1826), 261‒62; Edward Welchman, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (London: SPCK, 1842), 43; Gilbert Burnet, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, ed. James R. Page (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1842), 225; George Tomline, Elements of Christian Theology, 14th ed., vol. II (London: T. Cadell, 1843), 261, note a; William Baker, A Plain Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Rivington’s, 1883), 100; John Macbeth, Notes on the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1894), 89; G. F. Maclear and W. W. Williams, An Introduction to the Articles of the Church of England (London: Macmillan and Co., 1895), 221‒22; B. J. Kidd, The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their History and Explanation (London: Rivington’s, 1899), 155; F. E. Middleton, Lambeth and Trent: A Brief Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Chas. J. Thynne, 1900), 97; and E. Tyrrell Green, The Thirty-Nine Articles and the Age of the Reformation, 2nd ed. (London: Wells, Gardner, Darton & Co., 1912), 115. It is worth noting that, according to T. P. Boultbee, “The greater part of those commonly called Calvinists do not hold the doctrine of reprobation. They usually approach nearer to the doctrine of St. Augustine, and are content to say that God simply leaves the impenitent to the inevitable consequences of their sins—a doctrine known technically as præterition” (Boultbee, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles [London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1871], 146, italics original). See also Middleton, Lambeth and Trent, 96.
  3. See also Tomline, Elements of Christian Theology, 261‒62.
  4. See William Beveridge, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (London: James Duncan, 1830), 373; Thomas Pigot, The Churchman’s Guide in Perilous Times (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1835), 49‒50; Tomline, Elements of Christian Theology, 261 note a; A. P. Forbes, An Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles, 2nd ed. (Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1871), 253‒54; Maclear and Williams, Introduction to the Articles, 225‒26; Edgar C. S. Gibson, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen and Co., 1898), 485‒86; Kidd, Thirty-Nine Articles, 157‒58; and Middleton, Lambeth and Trent, 97. See also Michael J. Lynch, John Davenant’s Hypothetical Universalism: A Defense of Catholic and Reformed Orthodoxy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021).
  5. See, e.g., Waite, Sermons, 264; Tomline, Christian Theology, 258‒60, 266‒67; Forbes, Thirty-Nine Articles, 254; Baker, Exposition, 102; Macbeth, Thirty-Nine Articles, 91; Maclear and Williams, Introduction, 218‒21; Gibson, Thirty-Nine Articles, 465‒69; Kidd, Thirty-Nine Articles, 155‒56; and Green, Thirty-Nine Articles, 117. Compare M. F. Sadler, The Second Adam and the New Birth (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004).


James Clark

James Clark is the Book Review Editor at The North American Anglican. His writing has appeared in Cranmer Theological Journal, Journal of Classical Theology, and American Reformer, as well as other publications.

'Disregarding the False Dichotomy of Calvinism and Arminianism [Commentary on Browne: Article XVII]' have 12 comments

  1. September 22, 2023 @ 3:04 pm Ian Perry

    While the 39 Articles allow for more than one position on a number of contested issues in this area (the Articles do not require agreement with perseverance of the saints, and leave open more than one view of the atonement), I do think that they were written from a perspective in which faith is given on account of predestination, and given the overall historical context it seems plausible that it was written to exclude the foreseen faith view.


    • September 27, 2023 @ 6:50 am Petras

      Why? Such a view was held many church fathers prior to Augustine and was not foreign to the medieval church. It seems to
      Me you’re forcing your view onto the text. I can say do the same. If election was intended to be unconditional then it would be more plausible that would have been written in the text. The omission of the the status of the elected (whether double predestination or passive passing over) may very well indicate that the elects status is not fixed in an unconditional matter. Nevertheless, the fact there is omission on both sides of the aisle gives browns view a lot of weight. Even if Cranmer held to a Calvinistic-Augustinian view, the fact that is is omitted shows to me that his Catholicity on this issue was more important that his particular view. But I do find it very disconcerting when some Calvinistic Anglicans to this day desire to shut out anyone who may lean toward a classic Arminian position.


      • September 27, 2023 @ 6:54 am Petras

        I meant to say “status of the unelected” not the elect. My apologies for the mistake.


        • September 27, 2023 @ 7:15 am Ian Perry

          This appears to be describing an Augustinian account of predestination: “Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.”–Perhaps I am missing something, did anyone involved in drafting this interpret this in any other than an Augustinian way?


          • September 27, 2023 @ 7:17 am Ian Perry

            And note that the issue of whether to describe predestination as “double” is separate. A number of people avoid that term and still believe predestination is not based on foreseen choices, and many people who use the term would still describe reprobation as in a sense “passive”.

          • October 1, 2023 @ 9:46 pm Petras

            Perhaps , yes. I can not say definitely. I do know that the compilers of the prayer should have been aware that many of the pre-Augustinian fathers held conditional election or corporate election. So even if the compilers of articles were Augustinian they seem to be real shy about it. Nothing is stated about unelected and as the author of this article stated no moving cause is stated as to predestination. It seems to me that catholicity may have been considered more important than Augustinianism on this issue.

          • October 2, 2023 @ 4:19 am Petras

            Perhaps, don’t know for sure. But the fact that other church fathers held to a different view than Augustine should not discount it. The drafters were clearly “shy” in their augustinianism for there is no mention at all of the non elect and the moving cause in predestination. I concur with author of this article that their catholicity took presidence over their augustinianism. Also browns commentary in which gives a biblical and Support for corporate election is very compelling.

  2. October 2, 2023 @ 4:30 am Petras

    The ommisssion of double predestination is understandable but the omission of passing over is not if Augustinianism is dominant here. Methanthons advice to
    Cranmer was to trend carefully on this issue. It seems to me that there was wiggle room intended in this article.


    • October 2, 2023 @ 4:42 am Ian Perry

      I’d be interested to read what Melanchthon wrote to Cranmer. There are a couple other theological disputes (other than the foreseen faith view) which might have made it more complicated to get agreement on what language to use for those not of the elect, for instance, 1500s era church of England leaders apparently had different views of whether only those elected to eternal life were elected to true faith.


      • October 4, 2023 @ 10:53 am Petras

        I am not sure what you mean by those elected to life is different from elected to true faith. Augustine did belief that there were those who were truly regenerated but still not part of the elect. They will not persevere until the end like the elect. Nevertheless, the fact that there were different views including the foreseen faith view, seems to only strengthen the case that this article was written to be broad in its interpretation. Browns commentary seems to me to be a really strong case for ecclesiastical election.


      • October 5, 2023 @ 11:02 am Petras

        Augustine seems to believe that there were non-elect regenerated persons who would not preserve to the end. Not the same as Calvin’s view. The diversity of views seems to me mar
        More plausible that article was written to be broadly interpreted. Catholicity was more important.


        • October 5, 2023 @ 12:10 pm Ian Perry

          I agree that Calvin and Augustine differ on it–I wrote an essay on it to get honors credit for a class back in undergrad: https://ibperry.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/calvins-augustinianism-2007/ . I also agree that the 39 Articles were written in such a way as not to require belief in perseverance of all the regenerate. However, the 39 articles allowing both non-Calvinist Augustinians and Calvinist Augustinians to be in good standing doesn’t mean they were intended to allow a foreseen faith view, which I suspect would have been seen by many English Reformers as semi-Pelagian.


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