Thirty Nine Articles are concise statements of fundamental truths
of doctrine, and, to a lesser extent, statements of church practice. It is sometimes said that they are a peculiarly protestant
phenomenon, but this is a simplistic analysis. They have
a similar position to some of the statements of the great councils
of the early Church. The key statements of the early Councils
were the Creeds and Canons.
is possible to see in the Bible certain fundamental credal statements
which may have been used, or came to be used as a basis statement
Judaism the shema of Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4 certainly
came to be seen in that way:
O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.
chapter 2 and 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 16 may have been basic
credal statements before Paul wrote them. They certainly
acquired that status afterwards.
the decades that followed some of the early churches developed
simple summaries of the essential truths of the Bible. These were
used in part to teach new converts and therefore came to be associated
with baptism, as simple statements of what the candidates believed.
The Apostle's Creed is still used as a baptismal affirmation.
the creeds also became a test of what was the accepted teaching
of the Church and what was not.
in AD325 the Emperor Constantine called a gathering of the Bishops
to settle various doctrinal disputes in the Church one of these
creeds was submitted by Eusebius of Caesarea as a possible compromise
position in the dispute. The Council reworked the creed
substantially and it was followed by later Councils to become
what we know today as the Nicene Creed.
points should be recognised concerning the Nicene Creed:
was carved out in the midst of controversy.
who propagated it believed in the absolute authority and trustworthiness
of Scripture. They believed the Creed to be faithful
to the Word of God and a fair summary of key Biblical teaching.
Creed teaches positive truths about God but it was also intended
to deny certain errors.
contains some terms which were not themselves Biblical but were
adopted in order to give expression to important Biblical doctrines.
Creed is not exhaustive. In particular it says nothing
about Scripture or the Atonement of the Sacraments, all of which
became central issues at the Reformation.
was produced in an attitude of humility. For example,
Athanasius of Alexandria wrote regarding the Doctrine of the
Trinity : We speak of three persons of the Trinity not because
the phrases are adequate but because they are only an alternative
points should be borne in mind because they also apply to the
Thirty Nine Articles which were produced much later but also in
a time of controversy.
early Councils of the Church did not only propagate Creeds.
They addressed many areas of concern but also produced Canons.
are not statements of belief but rather concern the policy and
practice of the Church. One of the regular themes of the
early Canons was jurisdiction, that is, which Bishop has a say
in which areas. They were also concerned with issues to
do with Church orders including who could ordain and also with
the relationship of the Church to the Emperor and other civil
authorities. Similar concerns are also addressed in the
last few of the Thirty-Nine Articles.
the Thirty-Nine Articles are similar in scope and purpose to the
Creeds and Canons of the early Church.
biggest difference was that the Articles were propagated in the
dominions of the Crown of England. The Creeds were propagated
in the whole Roman Empire although there were Churches, such as
the Coptic Church which rejected some parts of the Nicene Creed.
It was the desire of Thomas Cranmer, which eventually came
to nothing, to work for a set of Articles with standing across
all the Protestant nations.