Tuesday, October 28, 2008

E.J. Bicknell on Development of Doctrine

The following is an excerpt from The Thirty-Nine Articles by E.J. Bicknell. It comes from a chapter about Article XX* in a section called the "Church's authority in doctrine."

So we refuse to accept such doctrines as those of the Treasury of Merit or the Immaculate Conception or Papal Infallibility as true developments of Christian truth. They cannot be proved from Scripture. There is no evidence that they formed part of the beliefs of the Church in early times. Nor can they be logically deduced from apostolic teaching. Human logic is only valid when it has a complete and adequate knowledge of the facts from which it argues, but when it deals with Divine truths about which our knowledge is limited, its conclusions are at best precarious. Logic is most triumphant in dealing with abstract or mathematical statements, in the form of 'all A is B.' When we know the symbols A and B, we know at once all that there is to be known about them. They are the pure creation of the human mind. But we cannot detect in advance by logic the course of human history or the conduct of our friends. So to argue that our Lord's sinlessness and the holiness of the Blessed Virgin imply that she must have been conceived free from all taint of original sin, and to state this as a new dogma, that of 'the Immaculate Conception' is to strain logic. Such an argument would only be valid if we knew all about original sin and heredity and the manner of the Incarnation. Further, since the Blessed Virgin is a historical person we are justified in asking for historical evidence that she either claimed to be sinless or made the impression of sinlessness on others. In Scripture there are indications that at times she lacked the complete and immediate sympathy with our Lord's purposes which would be evidence of entire sinlessness. She is rebuked by Him once (John 2:4) and even takes part in an attempt to restrain Him from His ministry (MK 3:21 and 31ff). In the Acts, after the first chapter, she disappears. The whole idea of 'Immaculate Conception' is the natural outcome of the place she has come to hold in modern Roman devotions, not of the place that she held during her life on earth. Logic cannot create new facts, and the Roman doctrine needs such for its defence. We claim, then, that Roman developments of doctrine are not on the same level as the earlier developments of doctrine, such as we admit in the case of the formal statement of the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. They imply an addition from outside to the deposit of faith, and so demand in the last resort a fresh revelation. At best they are but pious opinions which grew up in the Church as the private beliefs of individuals and schools, and afterward were exalted into dogmas. We fall back upon the test of Scripture as interpreted by the Universal Church and by such a test they stand condemned.

* Article XX. Of the Authority of the Church. The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.


Anonymous said...

Article XX beautifully summarizes the Anglican position on the Church's authority (and, thus, of her doctrines, or tradition )and that of sacred Scripture. The authority of the Church is weighty (which is no surprise, given Cranmer's high regard for "what the Catholic Church and the Holy Fathers have maintained " ): The Church is the guardian of revelation, a "witness and keeper of Holy Writ". Hence, besides "having power to decree rites and ceremonies", the Church has "authority in controversies of faith".

It is no wonder then that the Articles declare that the canonical Scriptures are made up of those inspired books of which "there hath never been any doubt in the Church". Moreover, the Catholic faith enshrined in the ecumenical creeds are "to be thoroughly believed and received".

But this authority finds it's ultimate validity in a genuine deference to the fundament of Scripture as the Word of God written; for in Anglican belief and Practice the Church's tradition is a necessary, yet subordinate standard of faith, which faithfully passes on and explicates what God has revealed in Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture. Thus, it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written. And the creeds are to be accepted precisely because "they may be proved by most certain warrant of the Scriptures".

It's summed up rather tidily, I think, in the old phrase:

"The Church to teach; the Bible to prove."

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to attach my name to that last one.