Thirty Nine New Articles

It is four hundred and fifty years since the Thirty Nine “Articles of Religion” were first issued, and three hundred and fifty since Charles II re-imposed them: both were attempts to establish the basics of Anglicanism after disruption. Martyn Percy has been seeking to do the same for the 21st century in a number of books, outlining “An Anglican Landscape of Faith”.

In this book he uses the 39 Articles as pegs on which to hang articles, talks and sermons dating from 2002 until last April. There are five groups: “Catholic Faith” “Personal Religion”; “Corporate Religion”; “Miscellaneous”, a discussion of eight key figures; and “For Good Measure” (there were originally forty two articles) commemoration of a ministry, “Parting” (two funeral addresses) and a final lecture in New Zealand.

Percy regards Anglicanism with a mixture of love and exasperation, often trenchantly expressed, not just in Article 8 “On believing in the Church” or throughout “Corporate Religion”, Articles 19 to 31. In Article 35 he writes “We like our religion to be interesting and rich – but also sedate, ordered, not overly fussy and certainly not exuberant” and in Article 14 says unambiguously that the besetting sins of the Anglican Church are impatience and procrastination. But all things work together for good, even our failures, and “It is a kind of blasphemy to view ourselves with so little compassion or such severity, when God already looks on us with such love” (Article 15).

Percy’s directness may not appeal to everyone. Enthusiasts for charismatic ministry may be offended by his discussion of “tongues” in Article 5 “On the Holy Spirit”, and some may not be as amused as I was at Anne Lamott’s shortened version of the Daily Office (Article 13): in the morning “Whatever”, and at evening, “Ah, well”.

Perhaps I may be allowed a final illustration of insights that particularly appealed to me. In two articles he draws on music as an analogy. In the very first Article, “On the Trinity”, he suggests that jazz may help understanding and worship: idea, performance, listening. “To worship the Trinity is not to understand each note, or to deconstruct the score; it is to listen, learn and participate”. Then in a homily to students at the start of term (Article 13), “Try and pay attention to the bass line, and don’t get overly distracted by the melody. The bass line is all about patience, depth and pace…So listen to one another. Pay attention to the cadence, timbre and rhythm of what we are about. And listen for that greater sound…and the signs and notes of the Spirit, too deep for words.” Wonderful advice for all of us in ministry.

I hope I have managed to show that I have found Martyn Percy’s thoughts stimulating and encouraging. I look forward to re-reading the book at a more leisurely pace than is allowed to reviewers and getting to grips with parts I didn’t quite grasp, or with which I didn’t at first agree. Certainly this is a book which repays careful reading, perhaps a section at a time, allowing it to inspire and challenge.

Frank Conley.

Frank Conley is a Lay Reader in the Cheriton Benefice and Reader adviser for the Elham Deanery.