Scottish Episcopalianism and the Articles: no foreign imposition

Mindful of the fact that Scottish Episcopalianism assented to the Articles of Religion in the 1804 Laurencekirk Synod, and that it is frequently suggested that this assent was purely political, imposed on reluctant Scottish Episcopalians, it is interesting to note how the Scottish College of Bishops in 1850 referred to the Articles.

Firstly, the Scottish Communion Office is placed within the context of the Articles and their affirmation of the liberties of national churches:

WHEREAS it is acknowledged by the Twentieth and Thirty-fourth of the Thirty-Nine Articles, that "not only the Church in general, but every particular or National Church, hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying;" the Episcopal Church in Scotland, availing herself of this inherent right, hath long adopted, and very generally used, a form for the celebration of the Holy Communion, known by the name of the Scotch Communion Office.

This is a noteworthy invocation of the ecclesiology of the Articles of Religion.  It is also worth considering that the distinctive characteristics of the Scottish Communion Office are here presented in rather minimalist terms - "ordained only by man's authority" - rather than in any way necessarily superior to the forms used by other national churches within Anglicanism.

Secondly, in responding to the Gorham Judgement, the Bishops provided this declaration of the authority of the Articles as part of the received Formularies of Scottish Episcopalianism:

We have always held, as we were taught by those who preceded us in the Episcopate, that the Doctrine of the Church in Scotland is to be collected from the Scripture, the Creeds, the Articles, and other Formularies of the Church jointly.

Both statements suggest that the Articles had a much more vibrant and authoritative place in the life of 19th century Scottish Episcopalianism that is routinely suggested.  And, of course, they point us towards the role the Articles should again have in restoring theological coherence to Anglicanism. 


  1. Neil Swinnerton31 July 2019 at 20:18

    I am not sure of the exact date, but the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) broke away from its subscription to the 39 articles sometime in the 1980s or thereabouts. I have also now discovered that the church has done the same thing with the 1662 BCP (again I am not sure of the exact date). Bishop Alexander Jolly's book on the eucharist published in the 1830s (The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist) quotes the articles with evident enthusiam and approval (whilst also supporting the form of the Scottish Communion Office). As for theological coherence, much of the present day SEC would be completely unrecognisable to Episcopalians from 200 years ago.

    1. Neil, many thanks for your comment. Yes, the ending of the subscription to the Articles by SEC was significant, a signpost on the path to incoherence and a rejection of defining characteristic of the Anglican tradition. As for the 1662 Communion Office, I know it is included in the 1929 Prayer Book. Is that Book no longer authorised?

      Thanks for flagging up Jolly's 'The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist': something else to read!


    2. Neil Swinnerton3 August 2019 at 18:46

      The 1929 Scottish BCP does contain the English 1662 BCP communion office, but with a few minor tweaks here and there. Some of the other services are very similar to the English 1662 BCP, but there are some significant differences in the confirmation service (possibly inspired by the English 1928 BCP - I'll have to check). The 39 Articles are also not included. The 1929 BCP is still authorised in 2019, but it is now just one liturgical option amongst several others and does not have any special status in relation to doctrine. The net result is a loss of contact with the SEC's roots and theological incoherence

    3. An excellent summary, thank you. I have attended a few 1929 celebrations in Scotland in the past during family holidays. What is particularly striking is that a small church like SEC really does need its roots and theological coherence (something we in Ireland have traditionally done quite well).


Post a Comment

Popular Posts