39 Articles—The Visible and Invisible Church (4)

We have examined how the Reformation’s rediscovery of sola scriptura reset both the authority of the Church (Article 20) and the authority of General Councils (Article 21) to their proper status. Having set the necessary limits in how the visible church must remain within the bounds of the invisible, the Articles give an example of the seriousness of making the visible preeminent in the decisions of Church or Council. Article 22 lists three doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church are weighed in the balance of their fidelity to the Scriptures and found wanting: Purgatory with its attendant pardons, worship and the adoration of images and relics, and the intercessory invocation to the saints. All three have, “…no warranty of Scripture …but are repugnant to the Word of God.” 
XXII — Of Purgatory

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.
One change was made in 1563 from Cranmer's 1553 original. 1553 has: "The Romish doctrine of the School-authors…" was broadened to "The Romish doctrine…" most likely in reply to the Council of Trent which affirmed the doctrine in the same year. One should read “Romish” to mean the official Roman and Tridentine doctrine which continues to be in force to this day as Trent has never been repudiated. Article 40 of Cranmer’s 1553 Forty-two Articles original goes further in condemnation of the doctrines of Soul Sleep and Conditionalism. Soul Sleep is the doctrine that the soul is unconscious between death and the resurrection of the dead. Conditionalism is the teaching that the soul dissolves with the physical body to revive in the resurrection body:
They which say that the souls of such as depart hence do sleep, being without sense, feeling or perceiving until the day of judgement, or affirm that the souls die with the bodies, and at the last day shall be raised up with the same, do utterly dissent from the right belief declared unto us in Holy Scripture [Bray, Documents of the English Reformation,309].
The first and perhaps most widely known doctrinal error is the doctrine of Purgatory. Purgatory was an intermediate state of rehabilitation for the dead where the regenerate but not yet fully justified members of the church were sent at their death to be "purged" by the remaining stain of sin. The process would inevitably bring such suffering and trial lasting billions of years when one considers how one speck of sin remaining cannot exist with the perfect holiness of God. In the midst of such bleakness, Purgatory’s corollary doctrine of pardon sought to bring comfort to the terrified Christian. The assumption was that as Jesus had paid for the all the sins of the world, past, present, and future, there is an inheritance of grace based upon his merit available to the Church. The Christian may draw upon this treasury of merit principally through the sacraments. But even further remissions of purgatorial rehabilitation were granted through the offices of the Church to a suppliant who had either the financial means (they made a cash contribution) or had the time or ability to complete prescribed rituals as evidence of their submission to Christ. The great danger of the error of rehabilitation after death is the degree to which the integrity of the two natures of Christ as Mediator is compromised and his glory is diminished. No longer a completed work according to both natures, but our earning must in some sense accent his.
The second and third doctrines, the worshipping and adoration of images and relics, and the intercessory invocation of the Saints (capital “S”) were further qualifications of the doctrine of Purgatory. The “cult” of the saints is broad and general obsession with believers who had achieved a rare and sought-after status: they had by-passed purgatory and instead been conveyed directly into heaven in merit for the great quality and purity of their Christian lives. These specialized Saints were regularly set apart through the worship of their memory, or by the devotion shown to their pictures and relics. Both were believed to be a special conduit of meritorious grace. In many cases, these Saints were even directly called upon to answer prayer requests. In my part of the world one will still regularly hear the advice to bury a statue of St. Joseph, the father of the Lord Jesus, upside down in the garden to facilitate the sale of a home that has so far not found a buyer.
The Scripture teaches that no one has any further penalty or punishment to pay for their sin once they accept the merits of Christ’s death by faith alone. His complete righteousness is imputed to them as their Mediator. Isaiah 53.4–6 makes it plain. The Lord’s Suffering Servant has taken our punishment to make us whole. By his bruises, we are healed. There is no sense in Scripture that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is partial, with the balance to be completed in the extreme suffering of his people between their death and resurrection.
As abuse of the plain and simple meaning of the Scriptures, these doctrines were completely unacceptable to our Anglican forebears. They saw that the entire Roman doctrine of Purgatory and its ancillary errors were as article 21 says, “…a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.” They could see how these beliefs had been invented and later abused for the sake of wealth, prestige, and power of the Roman Church.

Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous articles in this series, see:


Henry Jansma