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 Issues | Thirty-Nine Articles | History

Status of the Articles in the Church of Ireland

Initially the Reformation was less thorough in Ireland.   Later on there were some strong Puritan influence not least in the form of Archbishop James Ussher.

 

The Eleven Articles produced in 1561 in the reign of Elizabeth had never been made legal in England but they do appear to have been introduced in Ireland in 1566.   As a consequence the Thirty-Nine Articles did not become the standard in Ireland for 70 years.

 

Instead, in 1615 under Archbishop Ussher, the Convocation of the Irish Church approved a series of 104 Articles drawn up by Ussher and known as the Irish Articles.

 

Differences between Irish Articles & 39 Articles

There are commonly held to be three main areas of difference between the Irish Articles and the Thirty Nine Articles.

 

First, although the Thirty Nine Articles teach very clearly the doctrine of Predestination and perseverance, they are fairly careful in doing so and in this follow the likes of John Calvin.

Ussher's Articles are much more forthright in declaring this doctrine and its implications.

 

Secondly, Ussher's articles are decidedly more anti-Roman Catholic.   For instance his articles affirm that the Pope is Antichrist.

 

Again the Thirty Nine Articles take a less polemical line.

The Thirty Nine Articles do not hesitate to refute false teaching, whether that be Roman Catholic or Anabaptist. They declare certain doctrines and teachings to be in error, but they are not being sectarian or personal, it is the defence of truth against error that is in view.

 

The one place where it might be said that there anti-Romanism is in the 38th Article which famously declares:

The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.

But that is simply part of an article that declares where proper authority does lie and repudiates the claims of a foreign power. As I said earlier it is similar to the many Canons of the early Councils.

 

The third difference is that in Ussher's articles there is no mention of a three-fold ministry, nor of the need for episcopal ordination. Here again this influence of the Presbyterians can be clearly seen.

In contrast the Thirty Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer assert the practice of a threefold ministry as something we have inherited, without trying to claim it is of the essence of the Church or, in fact, Biblical.

 

Ussher's articles lasted until 1634 when the Irish Convocation, under the influence of Lord Wentwoth, later the Earl of Strafford, adopted the Thirty Nine Articles instead.

 

Ussher himself continued to use both forms, but gradually the Irish Articles gradually fell into disuse in Ireland.

Ironically they were a major source in the compilation of the later Westminster Confession of Faith and therefore became much more part of the life of worldwide Presbyterianism rather than Anglicanism.

 

In the 1640s and 50s Ireland went through the same turmoils as England and the 1662 Act of Uniformity had consequences for both. From then on the Thirty Nine Articles had an assured place.

 

Above the 1865 formula of subscription was noted.   Four years later came the Irish Church Act of 1869 and in 1871 the disestablishment of the Church.

 

Assent is still required by Irish Clergy to the Thirty-Nine Articles when they are ordained and instituted to a new living.

 

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