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Also online: Browne’s “An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles: Historical and Doctrinal”

February 27, 2010

Tonight I came across yet another book on the Articles of Religion that can be read online – this one probably recognized by many as one of the better ones: Edward Harold Browne’s An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles: Historical and Doctrinal.  This one too comes courtesy of the Internet Archive and is the 1874 edition.  I found noteworthy these thoughts from Browne in his Introduction (from pages 16-17):

In the interpretation of them, our best guides must be, first, their own natural, literal, grammatical meaning ; next to this, a knowledge of the controversies which had prevailed in the Church, and made such Articles necessary ; then, the other authorized formularies of the Church ; after them, the writings and known opinions of such men as Cranmer, Ridley, and Parker, who drew them up ; then, the doctrines of the primitive Church, which they professed to follow ; and, lastly, the general sentiments of the distinguished English divines, who have been content to subscribe the Articles, and have professed their agreement with them for now three hundred years. These are our best guides for their interpretation. Their authority is derivable from Scripture alone.

Seems as though Browne would have had no problem with sola scriptura in its true sense!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. deathbredon permalink
    February 27, 2010 5:57 am


    Personally, I have always considered Browne’s exposition of the Articles as playing second fiddle to Bicknell’s. And, your post, I think, has given me the key to understanding why. Indeed, I think I prefer Bicknell because I disagree with Browne’s high ranking of the “opinions of such men as Cranmer, Ridley, and Parker, who drew them up” when it comes to determining the proper meaning Articles.

    To my mind, reason dictates that it is not necessarily the intended meaning of authors of a public document that determine its construction, but rather the sense in which the document’s effectual ratifiers were known to have understood it when giving their assent and imprimatur. Indeed, the two senses, respectively the subjective and the objective, the private and the public, need not correspond at all. And, moreover, it is not necessarily those who draw up documents that imbue them with public and official significance and status, but rather those who ratify and approve them.

    Thus, regardless of what the authors of the Articles developed views on certain controversies were, the sense in which the Articles of Religion were received stands in overarching importance to deducing their public, as opposed to private, meaning. Consequently, the thought of the Articles’ most important apologists and proponents, such as Queen Elizabeth I, John Jewel, Richard Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes and the other Caroline Divines have tremendously more significance toward fashioning a proper understanding of them than would a contemporaneous authored, word-by-word exegesis by Cranmer himself. Indeed, it is the Church that truly “authored” the Articles even after the great bulk of them had already been set to ink–Cranmer, Ridley and Parker, then, were but a scribes.

  2. February 27, 2010 11:13 am

    Ok, that does it. I am deep in the reading of the previous book on the Articles and now you have given us Browne’s. This, incidentally, is Bishop Robinson’s favorite and the few pages I read give me an inkling of why. With Bicknell, I thought we had gotten past them, but it seems that they have matter that may not be escaped as long as we have among us those unwilling to be fully Anglican.

  3. February 27, 2010 11:52 am

    Bishop Lee and Death,

    I really have a hard time choosing the text on the Articles I like best; Death makes an excellent point about the ratifiers of the Articles being important in our understanding of what I’d call “original intent”. In that regard Bicknell may have an advantage – perhaps because of his not taking the position that Browne does regarding Cranmer and Ridley. From what I have seen it truly seems Bicknell is more acceptable to the Continuing Anglican Churches than the other commentaries on the Articles – because he is more of an Anglo-Catholic. From what I recall my own issue with him (I will have to go refresh my memory, though) was that he did not have as high a view of Scripture as I think is needed – although he certainly has no worse a view, and probably better, than many who read his book.

    So I appreciate Bicknell’s book a lot, yet I hope other texts will continue to be read because this battle (for that is what we face) over the true place of the Anglican Formularies will be with us for years to come – as you and others have helped me realize.

  4. February 27, 2010 12:36 pm

    My frank opinion is that until I finish reading both Brown and the other posted book, I am not really going to have much of one as to relative value. The important thing which I think we all need to remember is that throughout this whole period the Articles kept being revised as learning and understanding increased.

    I remember that opponents of the Articles have in the past made a huge point that they made use of Luthern and other non-papal originals. What they forgot to say is that before Trent there were no papal equivalents so that, in effect, the Articles were largely an answer to the Continentals. The big point made is that they were not acceptable to the Calvinists which is why during the Interregnum we got the Westminster Confession which the Denominationalist think strange than Anglicans never offically adopted. But we should realize that anything drawn up when the Church was effectively outlawed and her worship banned is quite going to be our bang up thing.

    I must keep reading.

  5. February 27, 2010 1:28 pm

    Dear Will,

    I am glad you zeroed in on this piece. I found it myself after Bp. Robinson suggested Browne. There is definitely something here on historiograhical method that Anglicans desperately need, applying it not only to the reading of Articles but also between Formularies, giving right gravity to documents passed jointly by parliament-crown-convocation vs. those written privately by salient divines. And, even if it is the commentaries of said divines, we certainly need to know something of the theological systems they were engaged in. It takes quite a bit of study, indeed a lifetime, and this is why leaving core questions of theological identity to “local options” is squirrely. You can’t use a private mind like Newman or a Society like SS Peter and Paul to overthrow Article 25 or Prayer Book rubrics, etc.. That’s putting method on its head.

  6. deathbredon permalink
    February 27, 2010 3:12 pm

    I agree with Charles that Browne, a solid High Churchman, is very correct about reading the Articles in conjunction with the other formularies. Indeed, the Articles are but one element of a larger religious settlement chosen by the English-Speaking People and, therefore, cannot be taken out of context.

  7. February 27, 2010 3:37 pm

    Hi Death,

    …”chosen by those who lived in the realm of the British Crown”… the ‘english-speaking people’ part comes later with the rise of a world-wide British empire. It is interesting, however, how Anglicanism was once synonymous with the jurisdiction and power of the Crown, uniting many houses and lands. I guess mid-nineteenth century Anglicanism shifted that point of unity away from the British throne to the symbol of Canterbury, “throne to throne” as it were. Today, as Anglicanism fragments, into competiting jurisdictions, we have many ‘thrones’, AB Haverland being one. I guess in someways we’ve returned to a feudalistic array of bishop-princes (metaphorically speaking), and under feudalism lines of allegiance constantly shift?

    • deathbredon permalink
      March 1, 2010 3:39 am

      I tend to employ the phrase “the English Speaking Peoples” as anachronistically as Churchill did in the title to his multi-volume history. To wit, like Churchill, by considering the Anglo-Saxons of part of the English-Speaking Race, and likewise pre-Colonial Englishmen, I am merely anticipating ultimately broad and sweeping scope of the English colonialism diaspora.

  8. February 27, 2010 5:54 pm

    I have to say that description of our having “returned to a feudalistic array of bishop-princes (metaphorically speaking)” is about as good a way of summing up our current state as any I have read! And we do consequently see lines of allegiance constantly shifting as well. Perhaps that helps explain why we seem to become ever more fragmented.

    But yes, the more I read in Browne the more I like him – he is a good High Churchman and his section on Article VI gets my approval.

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