The Question of Images In The Documents Of The English Reformation

The suitability of images in the Church’s worship of God is a question that stretches from the adolescent years of the Church to the present day. Consensus among the different traditions and denominations within the catholic Church on the topic seems to be futile. Many Protestants today find a connection to the ancient past through the use of images, especially icons, in worship while some are wary of their use because of their connection to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Unlike the theological disagreements that led to the decisions of Nicaea II, the disagreement comes not from whether or not you can make an image of God after the incarnation but whether you should.

The question of the appropriateness of images in worship was especially alive in sixteenth-century England. In almost every foundational document of the English Reformation, the question of images and their appropriate use is discussed and answered. A look into these documents provides a glimpse into the problem of images in England and the response that the theologians and monarchs took to remedy it. This article seeks to investigate these documents and trace their movement from the cautious and objective optimism of the early years of the Reformation to the, perhaps more realistic, negative and subjective view as seen in documents of the later sixteenth century.

Through this examination, this article ultimately seeks to understand properly what Article 22 of The 39 Articles of Religion means when it says:

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.[1]

To answer the question of why these various practices are rejected outright as vain inventions one must look to the body of documents commonly called the Anglican formularies, or the foundational documents of the English Reformation.

Concerning the place of the formularies, Tim Patrick helpfully clarifies that “the formularies can only be fully understood when they are understood together as part of a carefully prepared matrix of documents, each one designed to advance the Protestant cause on a different front, but all in concert with each other.”[2] If a statement in The 39 Articles of Religion is ambiguous or brief, one must go to the other documents within this body to clarify what the Articles are referring to and to discover the larger framework in which they are working. The Articles serve as short, memorable, and authoritative statements on certain doctrines that were, and continue to be, important pillars for the reformed English church. The other documents, such as the royal injunctions and approved homilies, help put flesh on the bones of the Articles. After first surveying the Articles that came before the finalized thirty-nine Articles, this paper will survey the rest of the relevant foundational documents to peer into the world in which these Articles are speaking and to guide interpretation on what exactly the “worshipping and adoration….of images” means.


Wittenberg Articles

In 1536 a delegation from England traveled to Germany to forge an agreement with the Lutherans after king Henry VIII officially broke with Rome. The Germans desired a full signing of the Augsburg Confession while the English drafted these Wittenberg Articles as an English equivalent to the Augsburg. In the end, this agreement failed and a joint statement of beliefs with the Lutherans was never achieved. Article 17 of the Wittenberg Articles doesn’t really correspond to a specific paragraph of the Augsburg Confession but stands on its own as a Protestant statement on what was surely a concern for these English delegates. None of what is stated in Article 17 would be used in the later Ten Articles but some parts would be recycled in Cranmer’s Thirteen Articles.

Article 17 discusses the use of images in the church at length and takes an optimistic stance. It is quite long as compared to other articles in the Wittenberg Articles, which might clue one in to the greatness of the problem in England. The article begins:

Images of Christ and of the saints, i.e. representations of their story by means of paintings and the like in churches and elsewhere, have been the books of the illiterate, as Gregory says; that is, they explain the story like written books. In itself this is a matter of indifference which Christians should not argue about.[3]

This optimistic position is one that characterizes the early Articles. Gregory the Great’s adage of images as books for the illiterate is one that comes up time and time again to defend their place in the church. The Article continues to clarify that they “…do not reject pictures in themselves, nor do we abolish them, but we do object to their misuse.”[4] The misuse of these images is what the problem is, not the images themselves. To even admit that there is a possibility for images to be misused is a radical statement as the Catholic theologians maintained that this was impossible.[5]

The Article clarifies what the misuse is by saying that images “…are not to be worshipped, nor is to be thought that they have power, nor should people think that setting up images of God or of the saints is serving God, or that God is more gracious or does more than otherwise if he is invoked before such an image.”[6] It is clear that major misuse of images was a problem in England and it had to be remedied. The worshipping of physical objects is not compatible with the Protestant faith, nor is special grace from these images possible. The basis for this is clear:

For God wants men to grasp him only in faith through his Word and his sacraments; therefore it is a godless error to bind God to certain images without God’s word. It is also a Godless error to think that such a deed performed before such an image pleases God more than if done elsewhere…[7]

This puts images in their place doctrinally. The proper way to know God fully and truly is through the means that he has given us: Word and sacrament. Images are to be retained as teaching tools for the illiterate but must not go beyond that. Images have clearly been misused but they are not to be abolished or rejected. The understanding is that once the Word and sacraments are put in their appropriate place, all other doctrines and practices will fall into place.

Ten Articles

After the delegates returned from Germany without coming to an agreement with the Lutherans, Henry VIII put forth his Ten Articles which were not nearly as Protestant leaning as the Wittenberg Articles sought to be. These became the official teaching of the Church of England in 1536 and remained so until they were replaced by the Forty-Five Articles in 1552. The articles on purgatory and justification reflect the beginnings of Protestant doctrine while the one teaching on images is more optimistic than the Wittenberg Articles were but still admit that abuses exist. It starts by stating that images”

…have been used in the Old Testament, and also for the great abuses of them sometime destroyed and put down; and in the New Testament they have been also allowed, as good authors do declare. Wherefore we will that all bishops and preachers shall instruct and teach our people committed by us unto their spiritual charge, how they ought and may use them.[8]

Key here is the emphasis that the article places on teaching and preaching against these errors. It claims that the whole of scripture is pro-image but that sometimes, because of their abuse, the images are removed. The article continues to describe these abuses by stating:

…as for censing of them, and kneeling and offering unto them, with other like worshippings, although the same hath entered by devotion and fallen to custom; yet the people ought to be diligently taught that they in no wise do it, nor think it meet to be done to the same images, but only to be done to God, and in his honor, although it be done before the images, whether it be of Christ, of the Cross, of our Lady or of any other saint beside.[9]

Images, on the whole, are seen as good things, but the lack of teaching in England has caused error to creep in. Thus, Henry proposes a mass education project to correct the issues.

The article continues its apologetic for images by saying that images are “representers of virtue and good example,” that they are “kindlers and stirrers of men’s minds,” and “make men oft to remember and lament their sins and offences, especially the images of Christ and our Lady.”[10] It concludes:

…therefore it is meet that they should stand in our churches, and none otherwise to be esteemed; and to the intent the rude people should not from henceforth take such superstition, as in time past it is thought that the same hath used to do, we will that our bishops and preachers diligently shall teach them, and according to this doctrine reform their abuses, for else there might fortune idolatry to ensue, which God forbid.[11]

According to this article, idolatry is possible and is actually the reality on the ground. Common practice in England seems to lean toward the idolatrous. Thus, the teachers of the church are responsible to teach against these abuses so that the correct use of images may flourish. This article goes beyond what the Wittenberg Articles allowed by claiming that they are more than just books for the illiterate. They are a valid means of worshipping God, as long as it doesn’t get out of control.

Thirteen Articles

These articles were penned by Archbishop Cranmer in 1538 as a possible alternative to the more traditional leaning Ten Articles. The articles were heavily influenced by the Augsburg Confession and Wittenberg Articles. They gained no official status but they reveal the Lutheran leanings of Cranmer as well as where he wanted the country to start heading. Many phrases are carried over from the Wittenberg Articles and the stance is similar. It begins:

In so far as images of Christ and the saints can serve the illiterate instead of books, in instances where written books might remind them of their histories and deeds, we think that they may be usefully set up and placed in Christian churches or elsewhere. Such images, besides leading the illiterate above all to a remembrance and understanding of history, are also useful to the learned; for an educated person is all the more strongly affected when he sees the image of Christ hanging on the cross than when he reads that he suffered and was crucified.[12]

Here the Gregorian maxim is extended to include the learned as well. Images are useful for teaching and strengthening the spiritual affections of all. Images can even be more powerfully effective than scripture alone can! The article continues by insisting that images had humble beginnings. It states:

…images were first placed in churches, so that the appearance of the images might call to mind the virtues of the saints and the examples of the lives of those on whose images we gaze, so that as things subject to the eyes move us more than things which are heard, we might be all the more encouraged by the virtues and examples of the saints, which are depicted in their images, to praise God in the saints, to weep for our sins, and to pray God that we might imitate the virtues of the saints and their life by His grace.[13]

According to this, none of the things which images can do are contrary to the word of God but are indeed analogous to the gospel message. Images are to serve an auxiliary role in urging repentance and encouraging affection.

Yet the article insists that “…people have greatly sinned in the use of images…”[14] and have moved images from an auxiliary role to a central one. Cranmer continues by stating:

Some (which is greatly to be regretted) have venerated images to the point of putting their faith in them, being persuaded that they have some extraordinary power and holiness, while others have made offerings to images and undertaken long pilgrimages in order to see them, believing that God, thanks to the image, will hear them better in one place than in another…[15]

This is completely unacceptable to Cranmer. For images to take this type of function is to damage their character as helps towards holy living. He elaborates by saying:

…in order for the images themselves to be kept in the Church and all abuses and superstitions be completely removed, it is the duty of pastors and preachers to instruct and inform people better about these things, that they should teach the true purpose of the images…[16]

Cranmer insists that for images to play the role that they were created for, preachers and teachers must teach the laity the proper use of images. For the images to stay, the images must be purged of all abuses. The question remains as to whether this is possible or not. At this stage, the English Reformers are optimistic that it can be done.

45/42/39 Articles

The first edition of the still official Articles of Religion was first presented by Cranmer in 1552 as forty-five articles and in 1553 they were tweaked to be forty-two articles. These first editions were probably not in use for very long because king Edward VI died a few weeks later and the Catholic queen Mary ascended the throne. In 1562 the Articles were revived by Elizabeth and edited into the form that remains authoritative today for Anglican churches. Article 22 itself largely stayed the same through the revisions except for the replacement of “school-authors” for the clearer and pejorative phrase “Romish”. The article states:

The Romish doctrine [of School-authors] concerning purgatory, pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.[17]

Clearly, this article is shorter than the preceding ones yet the context remains the same. The Romish doctrine of images, which is tied to the meritorious system, is still condemned.[18] The brevity of this article drops all the explanatory material and the condemnation is harsher. Seemingly, the realization that the old meritorious system that has now been overthrown is perhaps too closely tied for the images to be retained. This is possibly why these seemingly unrelated topics are put into one article. Where past articles give images an entire article, the Thirty-Nine Articles give only a passing mention to them. It is clear though that this article goes farther than any had before and puts forth a more pessimistic view of images when contrasted to prior Articles. As later documents reveal, the problem of images was not going away easily and required more concrete action to combat the idolatrous tendencies of the laity.

Royal Injunctions

The Royal Injunctions are unique documents “…occupying a place between the published doctrines, such as those found in the Articles of Religion, and canon law.”[19] These documents are official rulings from the English crown outlining how new policy was to be implemented. As new Articles of faith were introduced, injunctions followed to give guidance and instruction on how these new articles were to be enforced on the ground. Tim Patrick helpfully states that “…the injunctions explained how these beliefs would be manifest in the life of the church, and the canon law set down the judicial penalties for failure to implement them.”[20] Thus it is fitting to look at how these documents dealt with the issue of images as a window into the problem as a whole.

The First Henrician Injunctions were drawn up in 1536 to accompany the Ten Articles. This document explains how the doctrine of the Ten Articles should be translated into common life. It shows the problems on the ground that the Articles were trying to address. Obviously, there was resistance to these new Protestant teachings by the laity. Thus the crown authoritatively states:

…to the intent that all superstition and hypocrisy, crept into divers men’s hearts, may vanish away, they shall not set forth or extol any images, relics or miracles for any superstition or lucre, nor allure the people by any enticements to the pilgrimage of any saint, otherwise than is permitted in the [Ten] Articles…as though it were proper or peculiar to that saint to give this commodity or that, seeing all goodness, health and grace ought to be both asked and looked for only of God, as of the very author of the same, and of none other, for without him that cannot be given; but they shall exhort as well to the keeping of God’s commandments and fulfilling of his works of charity, persuading them that they shall please God more by the true exercising of their bodily labour, travail or occupation, and providing for their families, than if they went about to the said pilgrimages; and that it shall profit more their soul’s health, if they do bestow that on the poor and needy, which they would have bestowed upon the said images or relics.[21]

It is clear here what the problem was. Images, relics, pilgrimages, etc. were a staple in the Medieval meritorious system and sought out as means of grace, health and prosperity. This injunction completely undercuts this by insisting that these things only come from God. To do these things so that you might gain something is not biblical and does damage to things that are commanded by scripture. Only what is permitted by the Articles (that images are teachers and aids to the pure worship of God) is allowed. The pastoral concern of the Injunction shines through as well. Loving one’s neighbor is set up to be superior to serving images and going on pilgrimages. Apparently the practices mentioned took up so much of the laity’s resources that they had nothing to give to the poor and destitute.

The Second Henrician Injunctions of 1538 take a harsher stance on images than the first injunction. Concerning the responsibility of Curates and Bishops to respond to the erroneous beliefs of the laity it states:

…that you shall make or cause to be made in the said church, and every other cure you have, one sermon every quarter of the year at the least, wherein you shall purely and sincerely declare the very gospel of Christ, and in the same exhort your hearers to the works of charity, mercy and faith specially prescribed and commanded in Scripture, and not to repose their trust or affiance in any other works devised by men’s fantasies beside Scripture; as in wandering to pilgrimages, offering of money, candles or tapers to images or relics, or kissing or licking the same, saying over a number of beads, not understood or minded on, or in such like superstition, for the doing whereof you not only have no promise of reward in Scripture, but contrariwise, great threats and maledictions of God, as things tending to idolatry and superstition, which of all other offences God Almighty does most detest and abhor, for that the same diminishes most his honor and glory.[22]

Curates are to actively preach the pure gospel and insist that images, pilgrimages, etc. are not to be trusted for salvation. The juxtaposition is clear: the common practice of the laity is in contrast to the pure gospel found in scripture. Descriptions of these acts are given which is helpful to see why this was such a concerning problem.

The injunction further elaborates that any parishes that have images that are used in this way (pilgrimage sites, etc.) they are to be taken down. It states:

…that such feigned images as you know in any of your cures to be so abused with pilgrimages or offerings of anything made thereunto, you shall for avoiding that most detestable offence of idolatry forthwith take down and delay, and shall suffer from henceforth no candles, tapers or images of wax to be set afore any image or picture, but only the light that commonly goeth across the church by the rood loft, the light before the sacrament of the altar, and the light about the sepulchre, which for the adoring of the church and divine service you shall suffer to remain; still admonishing your parishioners that images serve for none other purpose but as to be books of unlearned men that cannot know letters, whereby they might be otherwise admonished of the lives and conversation of them that the said images do represent; which images, if they abuse for any other intent than for such remembrances, they commit idolatry in the same to the great danger of their souls; and therefore the King’s Highness, graciously tendering the weal of his subjects’ souls, has in part already, and more will hereafter travail for the abolishing of such images as might be occasion of so great an offence to God, and so great a danger to the souls of his loving subjects.[23]

Images are permitted if they are not used for purposes contrary to scripture but they must be stripped of candles and other things that communicate this old way. The Gregorian maxim comes back as the absolute maximum use that images can have in the church. Thus, a more active stance against images is seen.

The Edwardian Injunctions of 1547 show a further shift towards a pessimistic view of images since no positive use of images is mentioned. The Gregorian maxim is totally omitted and it is encouraged that any misuse should be opposed and taught against. The practices are outright condemned by calling for:

…the suppression of idolatry and superstition throughout all his realms and dominions, and to plant true religion to the extirpation of all hypocrisy, enormities and abuses…to the intent that all superstition and hypocrisy crept into men’s hearts, may vanish away, they shall not set forth or extol any images, relics or miracles, for any superstition or lucre, nor allure the people by any enticements, to the pilgrimage of any saint or image, but reproving the same, they shall teach that all goodness, health and grace ought to be both asked and looked for only of God, as of the very author and giver of the same, and of none other.[24]

The same themes are present from the Henrician injunction but they are no longer tempered by the concessions of right use. An even stronger stance is made to the destruction of misused images, both in the church and in parishioner’s homes.[25]

The Elizabethan injunctions of 1559 largely reinforce what was said by Edward before Mary took the throne. Preaching is seen as the antidote to the problem but the naivety of the situation seems to have vanished. [26] The strong stance against images is seen as it was in Edwards injunctions. It states:

Also that they shall take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, covering of shrines, all tables and candlesticks, trundles or rolls of ware, pictures, paintings and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry and superstition, so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glasses, windows or elsewhere within their churches or houses. And they shall exhort all their parishioners to do the like within their several houses.[27]

Images are seen as reminders of an old system which has been rejected and removed in the official teachings of the church. To keep these things around would be counter-productive and would violate the pure teaching of God’s word.


The Homilies were designed to be exposition and expansions of what the Articles asserted to be true and the theological underpinning of what the Royal Injunctions commanded to be practiced. Tim Patrick clarifies that, “the purpose of the two Books of Homilies was to provide sound teaching in churches and in doing so, to compensate for the lack of able preachers in England.”[28] Following the assertion from the Injunctions that the laity must be taught what is right concerning images, along with a myriad of other subjects, the Homilies were provided to show what type of teaching they were talking about. Thus, it is necessary to see how the homilies treat images and the theological understanding which supports it. There are two homilies that directly teach on the subject of images: “Of Idolatry” and “Of Good Works.”

The homily entitled “An Homily Against Peril of Idolatry and Superfluous Decking of Churches” (henceforth “Of Idolatry”) was included in the second book of Homilies published in 1563. The homily is by far the longest homily coming in at over 35,000 words! It rails relentlessly against the uses of images and concludes that they should all be removed. It is clear that the images are too involved in the old system to be kept. Stronger than the formularies that precede it, “Of Idolatry” is insistent that idolatry is happening.

The homily eviscerates the old Gregorian maxim that images are the books of the unlearned. It says that the Word is to be prized above all other teachings and that all Christians should be “…repelling Satan’s suggestion to idolatry and worshipping of images, according to the truth alleged and taught out of the testament and gospel of our said heavenly doctor and schoolmaster Jesus Christ…”[29] The author has no patience for those that claim that these images are books of the unlearned. If anything, these images “…teach idiots, nay to make idiots and stark fools and beasts of Christians.”[30] It is clear that, in practice, the Gregorian maxim falls apart when analyzed according to the common practice of the day. The author states:

Do men kneel before their books, light candles at noontime, burn incense, offer up gold and silver and other gifts, to their books? Do men either feign or believe miracles to be wrought by their books? I am sure that the New Testament of our Savior Jesus Christ, containing the Word of life, is a more lively, express and true image of our Savior than all carved, graved, molten and painted images in the world be, and yet none of all these things be done to that book or scripture of the gospel of our Savior which be done to images and pictures, the books and scriptures of laymen and idiots, as they call them.[31]

If anything is to be honored it would be the New Testament, but the scriptures are being relegated to a secondary status by these image-lovers. The affections of Christians in England were distorted to the point that these images are dangerous to their spiritual health.

The homily also condemns those who honor images more than their destitute neighbors. It states:

Now in the mean season, whilst the dumb and dead idols stand thus decked and clothed, contrary to God’s law and commandment, the poor Christian people, the lively images of God, commended to us so tenderly by our Savior Christ as most dear to him, stand naked, shivering for cold, and their teeth chattering in their heads and no man covereth them; are pined with hunger and thirst and no man giveth them a penny to refresh them, whereas pounds by ready at all times, contrary to God’s Word and will, to deck and trim dead stocks and stones which neither feel cold, hunger nor thirst.[32]

The homily condemns the pastors which relegate their duty to teach the laity the things of God to images which distort the message of scripture:

Have not we been much bound, think you, to those which should have taught us the truth out of God’s book and his Holy Scripture that they have shut up that book and Scripture from us (and none of us so bold as once to open it or read on it), and instead thereof, to spread us abroad these goodly carven and gilted books and painted scriptures, to teach us such good and godly lessons? … We need not to complain of the lack of one dumb parson, having so many dumb devilish vicars, I mean these idols and painted puppets, to teach in their stead.[33]

If England is in need of Godly and able pastors to teach the laity then these images are doing way more harm than good. It is out of pure laziness on the part of the clergy to use these images to teach their flock rather than do it themselves.

The homily closes with the exhortation to continue toward scriptural worship and away from the idolatrous ways of the past:

Let us honor and worship for religion sake none but him, and him let us worship and honor as he will himself, and hath declared by his Word that he will be honored and worshipped, not in nor by images or idols, which he hath most straitly forbidden, neither in kneeling, lighting of candles, burning of incense, offering up of gifts unto images and idols, to believe that we shall please him, for all these be abomination before God, but let us honor and worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), fearing and loving him above all things, trusting in him only, calling upon him and praying to him only, praising and lauding of him only, and all other in and for him. For such worshippers doth our heavenly Father love, who is the most purest Spirit and therefore will be worshipped in spirit and truth.[34]

It is clear that the homily desires that the laity of England be true and spiritual worshippers of God. By blasting all the talking points that people commonly used in favor of images in worship, it makes room for true Christian piety to flourish under the pure teaching of the Word.

The homily “Of Good Works” from the first Book of Homilies of 1547 surprisingly discusses images at length. Much like the homily Of Idolatry it connects the wicked use of images in worship to the decline of righteousness in England. The images of the day are compared to those of the Old Testament and the claim is made that serving images, pilgrimages, etc. came from these old pagan cults.[35] Seemingly, the author sees that problem of the time to be far worse even from the idolatry found in the Old Testament! It states:

What man, having any judgment or learning joined with a true zeal unto God, doth not see and lament to have entered into Christ’s religion such false doctrine, superstition, idolatry, hypocrisy and other enormities and abuses, so as by little and little, through the sour leaven thereof, the sweet bread of God’s holy Word hath been much hindered and laid apart? Never had the Jews in their most blindness so many pilgrimages unto images, nor used so much kneeling, kissing and censing of them as hath been used in our time.[36]

Thus these things that had been accepted as proper expressions of Christian piety are actually pagan rituals.


The question of images and their place in the church was worked through by the Anglican divines and they came to the pastoral conclusion that it was unwise to keep them around. This might seem harsh or narrow-minded in hindsight but one can only imagine that it arose out of necessity. Many have taken the iconoclastic spirit to its absolute end and have caused much pain through uncouth and radical destruction of property. It is clear from the above documents that this is not an appropriate way to act as an Anglican.

On the other hand, today the image is omnipresent yet there seems to be no talk going on about it whatsoever. If there is talk about it, it is mere infatuation with iconography of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In many circles images are used abundantly in worship, both public and private. According to the documents as outlined above, this attitude towards images should be concerning. One must ask, What hath Canterbury to do with Antioch? One must admit that images can, and have, been abused. To ignore this fact is cruel and unpastoral on the part of clergy and naïve on the part of the laity. God cares about how he is worshipped. It is the task of the church to always have this in mind.


  1. Gerald Bray, ed., “The Forty-Two Articles, 1553 The Thirty-Eight Articles, 1563 The Thirty-Nine Articles, 1571,” in Documents of the English Reformation, 3rd ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 265.
  2. Tim Patrick, Anglican Foundations : A Handbook to the Source Documents of the English Reformation (Latimer Trust, 2018), 2.
  3. Gerald Bray, ed., “The Wittenberg Articles, 1536,” in Documents of the English Reformation, 3rd ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 139.
  4. Ibid.
  5. David J. Davis, From Icons to Idols: Documents on the Image Debate in Reformation England (Cambridge: James Clarke and Co, 2016), 10.
  6. Bray, “The Wittenberg Articles, 1536,” 139.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Gerald Bray, ed., “The Ten Articles, 1536,” in Documents of the English Reformation, 3rd ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 149.
  9. Ibid., 150.
  10. Ibid., 149.
  11. Ibid., 149–150.
  12. Gerald Bray, ed., “The Thirteen Articles, with Three Additional Articles, 1538,” in Documents of the English Reformation, 3rd ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 192.
  13. Ibid., 193.
  14. Ibid., 192.
  15. Ibid., 192–193.
  16. Ibid., 193.
  17. Bray, “The Forty-Two Articles, 1553 The Thirty-Eight Articles, 1563 The Thirty-Nine Articles, 1571,” 265.
  18. Gerald Bray, The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Anglican Foundations Series 1 (London: Latimer Trust, 2009), 119–120.
  19. Patrick, Anglican Foundations, 116.
  20. Ibid., 116–117.
  21. Gerald Bray, ed., “The First Henrician Injunctions, 1536,” in Documents of the English Reformation, 3rd ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 154.
  22. Gerald Bray, ed., “The Second Henrician Injunctions, 1538,” in Documents of the English Reformation, 3rd ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 158.
  23. Ibid., 159.
  24. Gerald Bray, ed., “The Edwardian Injunctions, 1547,” in Documents of the English Reformation (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 218.
  25. “…they shall take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, covering of shrines, all tables and candlesticks, trundles or rolls of ware, pictures, paintings and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry and superstition, so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glasses, windows or elsewhere within their churches or houses. And they shall exhort all their parishioners to do the like within their several houses.” (Bray, “The Edwardian Injunctions, 1547.”)
  26. Gerald Bray, ed., “The Elizabethan Injunctions, 1559,” in Documents of the English Reformation, 3rd ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 1994), 301.
  27. Ibid., 305.
  28. Patrick, Anglican Foundations, 83.
  29. Gerald Bray, ed., “An Homily Against Peril of Idolatry and Superfluous Decking of Churches,” in The Books of Homilies: A Critical Edition, 1st ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 2015), 228.
  30. Ibid., 288.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid., 289.
  33. Ibid., 288–289.
  34. Ibid., 291.
  35. Gerald Bray, ed., “A Sermon Of Good Works Annexed Unto Faith,” in The Books of Homilies: A Critical Edition, 1st ed. (The Lutterworth Press, 2015), 45–46.
  36. Ibid., 48–49.


Jared Willett

Jared lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife Sarah. He is a seminarian at Beeson Divinity school. He seeks to serve Jesus Christ in the Anglican church.

'The Question of Images In The Documents Of The English Reformation' have 7 comments

  1. October 18, 2021 @ 7:07 pm Ben

    Great article!


  2. October 19, 2021 @ 1:56 pm Columba Silouan

    At the time of the struggle with Images in the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic abuses and errors indeed needed to be reformed out and done away with. The entire Reformation, however, created a vacuum in the area of the Visual Arts in the wanton overreaction and The Stripping of the Altars.

    A reapproachment with the Eastern Orthodox approach to Images, Relics and Pilgrimages is needed to restore a healthy situation within all of Anglicanism. The Orthodox never dipped into the abuses of the Roman Church. There were no Merits, Indulgences, or Supererogation issues within Orthodoxy.

    The writing of icons is governed by strict standards that attempt to head off the stirring up of worldly passions. The difference between the Roman Catholic art of the West and the Icons of the East is noticeable and striking. This is why the style of Eastern Icons remains constant. Icons are the visual, anchoring Liturgy of the religious art of the East. Liturgy anchors the use of words and language, Icons (and Stained Glass in the west) anchor the use of religious imagery.

    Likewise the honoring of the Saints and requests for their prayers differs from Roman Catholic abuses in Eastern Orthodoxy.

    There are no guaranteed outcomes, and there are no merits earned. Instead there is a strengthening of devotion and resolve and love of and for God and his people. It’s a much simpler approach.

    As for the expenditure of finances on Pilgrimages, in modern culture this concern is superfluous when you consider the wealth of most Christians in the West and how much money they spend on secular vacations and entertainments. Yet the citizens of America remain the most generous of peoples in their charity to the entire world.

    The Anglican view of Images became too pessimistic and devolved into Iconoclasm. Today’s context makes that overreaction unnecessary. We are in constant competition with the images of the world. We need our own images to counteract these.

    A restoration to a proper and balanced belief is needed.


  3. October 19, 2021 @ 9:27 pm Fr. John

    Mr. Willett, this article is inadequate on several counts.

    First, you do not engage with the history of images in Christianity, with the development of the image as an expression of the Church’s Christological affirmations, or with the actual debates over images during the Reformation. The Church has never equated the honor paid to images with the latreia due to God alone. Never. If you intend to publish an essay on images in Christianity you should first read St. John of Damascus.

    Second, you do not seem to be acquainted with Medieval Christianity. It is, of course, bad historical writing to broadly characterize entire millennia of Christian practice, but I suggest any study of late Medieval piety (1300-Reformation?) would be very helpful for you. Pays special attention to late Medieval carols and songs. Pre-Reformation Christians loved Jesus and trusted him for their salvation, and knew quite a bit about the Bible!

    Third, your argument does not acknowledge the real shifts in royal policies under the two reforming Tudor kings. Henry was not a reformer and did not permit his creatures, the Lord Chancellor and the Archbishop, to tamper with the religious life of the kingdom more than it suited his own ends. Edward’s regent was a radical who enacted a cultural revolution complete with secret police, mass propaganda, and jackboot thugs. Have you considered that the gold plate and revenues of the chanteries went, not to the poor, but into the royal treasuries, and that Henry’s particular hatred for the cult of St. Thomas of Canterbury has a sort of cynical logic?

    Fourth, what hath Canterbury to do with Antioch? As in, the Antioch where Christians were first called Christians?


    • October 28, 2021 @ 10:03 am Max

      This comment is incredibly insulting. You do not actually address the article or its claims. The author is not rejecting Nicaea II, nor its Christological affirmations. And you are wrong, people did confuse worship of God and worship of icons; a cursory reading of the sources lends itself to this. Your second and third points have almost nothing to the with article. I would suggest you need reread the article with an openness to learn, and revisit the sources. Read Fourth Lateran Council documents, while some pre-reformation laity knew much about Christ, many were woefully ignorant. This is not to say they lacked capacity, but institutionally they lacked the right systems. Also, the distance you go to ignore the formularies is astounding.


    • February 18, 2023 @ 3:11 am Rev. J. Overton

      What is a sadly inadequate is “Fr” John’s study of the history of images – almost as inadequate as his commitment to historical Anglicanism. Off to Rome with you sir, and take your idols with you.


  4. October 25, 2021 @ 11:15 am The Ven. Richard Lepage

    Jared, well done and on point. A very healthy and much needed conforming corrective, redirecting us to our defining standards. The spirit of non-conformity to the Anglican standards, as seen in several of the criticisms of your article, is what has created the popular view of Anglicanism in North America as a buffet table of “anything goes,” especially if you want to play at being Roman but not actually submit to the discipline of Rome and surrender the liberty of being eclectic in faith and piety. For Anglicanism to survive and be effective for the Gospel and no longer seen as a wax nose, we need to recover not only the knowledge of our defining Formularies (which you demonstrate) but also restore the discipline of conforming to them (which you suggest). Amos 3:3. Very well done and thoroughly researched.


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