The Theological World of the Nicene Controversy

The Council of Nicaea
Council of Nicaea, St Sozomen’s Church, Galata, Cyprus

This January will mark two years I’ve taught for Davenant Hall. It will also be the first time in my academic career I have the chance to teach something for the second time — The Theological World of the Nicene Controversy. Ad Fontes recently published a piece of mine promoting the course. I hope you enjoy the piece — and maybe you or someone you know will sign up!

Here’s the intro — read the full article here.

Growing up in an Anglican church, we recited the Nicene Creed every Sunday—you know, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” I remember being quite surprised in confirmation class when I learned that the creed we recited at Holy Communion wasn’t actually the Nicene Creed but a later Creed, from Constantinople, with some added bits about the Holy Spirit. As I recall, I was a bit put out about this. Why didn’t we use the original? Why did we use some interloper masquerading as the Nicene Creed? Somehow, whatever lessons I got from confirmation class about why these two creeds exist just didn’t stick. I blame, of course, my teenage self. The priest who taught me was very good and a huge church history buff. I still talk church history with him to this day.[1]

The question of my teenage self, setting aside the bizarre feelings that the Creed of Constantinople is an interloper, is a worthwhile question though: why do we have two creeds that we think of as the Nicene Creed? Isn’t one Nicene Creed enough? And why is the second such creed the one we use at Holy Communion?

Read the full article on Ad Fontes
Advertisement

Is Sunday worship a “good show”?

Obviously, Sunday worship contains what I delineated from the BCP in my last post:

we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.

BCP, Morning & Evening Prayer

Nonetheless, this leaves a wide leeway for stuff you can do, doesn’t it?

The thread that sparked my last post said that cancelling Sunday morning worship a few times a year was important because it helped prevent the staff from becoming burnt out from working every Sunday. Truly worshipping God is more important than being known for putting on good shows. And cancelling church to do something neighbourly shows said neighbours we care about them more than putting on said shows.

Hold the phone.

Putting on good shows?

. . .

Putting on good shows?

I never knew this was essential to fulfilling the BCP’s four/five bullet points about what we assemble and meet together to do on Sundays.

My dad is an Anglican priest. Most of my life, I have attended Anglican churches. Anglican churches almost never cancel church. Maybe if there’s a gunman down the block and your church is on the other side of a police blockade. Sure, you can cancel church then.

Also, though: My dad, as a priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, got a month of holidays. Who would put on the show while we were off camping???

Fun fact: An Anglican service of Morning Prayer, or even Morning Prayer and Antecommunion does not require a priest (you need a priest to celebrate Holy Communion but can do the earlier part of the service without one). And what to do is all there is whichever service book your parish uses. All you need is a layperson to lead the service. Preparation is not very extensive.

But what about the music? Well, a normal Anglican service has 3 hymns. Many churches have more than one person capable of leading these three hymns. Or, if you have contemporary songs, you might have enough guitarists to lead. Or even this: No musicians at all.

This can be done.

I have to confess though: It may not be a good show. Maybe not even when your priest is there. Maybe not even if you have paid musicians.

Unless there’s a lady playing the saw, of course.

Because the church-canceling pastor was right: It’s not about putting on good shows.

It never should be.

It’s about the people of God assembling together to praise him, thank him, hear His Word, and ask him those things that are requisite and necessary.

So, what’s Sunday morning for, anyway?

Worship at Notre Dame de Paris

In the inevitable dust-up over whether to cancel church on Christmas or not, some strange and interesting things have been said that should make all of us back up a little and say, “So, what’s Sunday morning for, anyway?”

There was this one Twitter thread (that I won’t make you endure) that said some very revealing things about how we imagine the gathering of the ekklesia and how we imagine worship. It was by a pastor of a church that will not be gathering itself together on Christmas morning. The primary reason: Getting everybody together in one building at the same time isn’t the only way to worship God.

We grant that. Of course.

But not all worship is the same sort of thing. This church cancels Sunday services multiple times a year to remind people that this is not the only way to worship. Instead, they could have a barbecue. Or help out the poor in some way. And so forth. There was an equivocation between the praise and worship of the assembled people of God and every act in our lives being done to the glory of God.

This pattern of thought is troubling because if assembling the saints for worship is the same as any other Christian action, why even go on Sunday? Many people with small children find the Sunday morning experience less than pleasant. Out the door on time. Back for lunch/naps. Recover over the afternoon. But if brunch can be worship — hey, presto! Stay home!

But I think everyone knows that what we do on a Sunday morning is, by definition, not the same as other acts of worship (unless they’re the same thing as we do Sunday but on a different day of the week). What do we do on Sunday morning? According to the Book of Common Prayer, “we assemble and meet together”:

  • to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands,
  • to set forth his most worthy praise,
  • to hear his most holy Word, and
  • to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.

And, since this is from the preamble to the penitential rite in Morning and Evening Prayer, we also assemble to confess our sins.

First off, then: What we are doing on Sunday morning is objectively different from a barbecue, building houses for the poor, working at a soup kitchen — different even from other explicitly “religious” things, such as a Bible study or theology lecture.

For me, it’s the communal thanks and praise that really shift Sunday away from other things. Worship, adoration, latreia — if we wanna get all historical here, adoratio and latreia imply something specifically, consciously worshipful. Adoratio can sometimes also cover the same ground as proskynesis — getting down on the ground like a dog before the emperor or the Shahanshah (Persian King of Kings). Late Romans even had a special ceremony called adoratio purpurae wherein you got to touch the purple hem of the emperor’s robe.

Your heart can sing as you raise a roof. You can do it to the glory of God. And you can even do it, in a certain sense, as a more pure act of worship than what may be being offered up in your local megachurch discotheque — I mean, Sunday service — or cathedral concert — I mean, choral evensong. But it’s still not. the. same. thing. Literally a different human act from having the Lord open your lips that your mouth may show forth His praise.

And I think that everyone knows this. Opening presents on Christmas morning, when done to the glory of God, still isn’t the same, even if you whisper, “O God, make speed to save me,” when your kid is given more Hotwheels. And, “O Lord, make haste to help me,” as you gaze upon a gift you hate.

If you aren’t at church on Christmas morning, your time of family worship, with Scripture and some carols and prayers, maybe an Advent wreath, is similar to what goes on at church and may even include all the elements listed in the BCP. But it still isn’t the same. Why? The assembly of the saints.

Second, then: The BCP kicks off its list of churchy purpose with “we assemble and meet together.” I’m all for the validity of Lollardy — I mean, private devotion among friends, family, neighbours, without priestly supervision. I think singing hymns and carols around the family piano is even a species of the same thing that goes on at the Lord’s house when we all assemble together.

But do you see what I did there? We all assemble together. It’s good, but it’s still a different thing. When we assemble and meet together at the kyriakon, at the “church”, it is a theological act — it may even be the constitutive act of the church-as-people. I mean, ekklesia means assembly, after all. The entire community is invited and encouraged and exhorted. Some denominations require attendance at this assembly as part of their discipline, even.

And so we assemble and meet together, and those things that we do while there are all consciously Godward — praise, thanksgiving, the scriptures, supplication, repentance (which is a joyful turning from sin towards God who heals us [bad paraphrase of Met. Kallistos Ware {memory eternal!}]).

We are constituted as the body of Christ by being together. And while we are together, we fulfil our telos, which is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (right now being part of forever).

Anything else we do — no matter how worshipful — is literally a different thing.

This is not to bind consciences about Christmas morning. But it is meant as a reminder about why we gather on Sundays in the first place.

The fourth century: Bursting at the seams with ecclesiastical history

Here’s a YouTube video I made a while back about the fourth century. I’ll be teaching fourth-century ecclesiastical history for Davenant Hall this January in my course called “The Theological World of the Nicene Controversy (325-407).” You can sign up for it here! And if you’re not sold that the fourth century is a wild time worth studying, here’s the video:

Bread in the Desert

Last night was a bit sad for me because it was the last session of my Desert Fathers course for Davenant Hall — “Streams in the Desert: The Christian Wisdom of the Desert Fathers.” We closed with Sts Barsanuphius and John, a pair of monastic fathers in sixth-century Gaza who left behind a corpus of 850 letters of spiritual instruction. Letter 170:

Question from the same brother to the Other Old Man [John rather than B.]. If a fantasy occurs to me by night and, on the next day, there is Holy Communion, what should I do?

Response by John

Let us approach with all our wounds and not with any contempt, as people who are needful of a doctor, and he who healed the woman with the issue of blood (Mt 9.22) will also heal us. Let us love much, that he may also say to us: “Your many sins are forgiven; for you have loved much” (Lk 7.47). When you are about to take Communion, say: “Master, do not allow these holy things to be unto my condemnation but unto purification of soul and body and spirit.” Then, you may approach with fear, and our Master, who is loving-kind, will work his mercy with us. Amen.

Trans. John Chryssavgis, Letters from the Desert (SVS Press 2003), p. 93.

There’s a lot that could be unpacked from this letter from the Other Old Man, about grace and trusting in God and loving God and so forth. What I want to point out is the Holy Communion. As I said on the first episode of my and my brother Jonathan’s podcast, the Holy Communion is paradigmatic for the entire devotional life. And so in Ep. 170 of Barsanuphius and John it is likewise: It is about approaching, doing what you are able, and trusting in God to be merciful even when we are weak.

It is about the coming of grace.

Holy Communion is not often talked about in relation to the Desert Fathers. Usually, and understandably, we talk about their teachings on topics such as interior prayer, fasting, Psalmody, watchfulness, apatheia, hesychia, etc. In the selection of letters in this volume of Chryssavgis’ (who has also translated them all in two volumes for The Fathers of the Church series), Holy Communion comes up in five letters, to both communicants and celebrants. Ep. 241 is a beauty; I’ll quote only a bit:

The deacon serves like the Cherubim, and ought to be all eye, all intellect, with his intellect and thought looking upward, with fear, trembling, and doxology. For he bears the Body and Blood of the immortal King. He even assumes the face of the Seraphim in proclaiming the doxology and in fanning the hidden mysteries as with their holy wings, recalling through these wings their levitation from this earth and from things material, crying out ceaselessly with his intellect in the temple of the inner man (cf. Rom 7.22) the victory hymn of the magnificent glory (cf. 2 Pet 1.17) of our God: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of your glory” (Is 6.3).

Trans. Chryssavgis, p. 107

The angelic allegory continues — this is what is recommended to someone serving at the altar in the role of deacon during the Divine Liturgy is meant to meditate upon. The liturgy is not just something we are doing here on earth — we join the host of heaven as we offer up the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven are worshipping with us. It is a deeply spiritual, powerful, mystical event, and God is present there to us and with us through the Holy Communion.

The desert tradition of spirituality is not, then, divorced from the common worship of the church in all ages. Now, it’s true that St Mary of Egypt went 40 years in complete solitude and thus didn’t received communion. And many of the hermits only received occasionally. But it’s also true that, say, St Simeon the Stylite went for an extended period living on nothing but Holy Communion! When the semi-eremetic communities emerged at Nitria, Kellia, and Sketis, the abbas of the desert all lived within walking distance of a common chapel. Even if they were hermits six days a week, the Desert Fathers, for the most part, got together for the assembly of the saints, the synaxis, and this was a service of Holy Communion.

They received communion at least weekly, and they believed in the Real Presence of Christ, as we see in the Sayings as well as in the discourses of St Shenoute of Atripe. The Sayings include a miracle story wherein one simple monk who doubted the veracity of the body and blood under the species of bread and wine had a vision of the priest offering him bloody flesh at Communion, and so came to believe in the Real Presence. And Shenoute is insistent about the reality of the bread as Christ’s body, sounding in many ways like St Cyril of Alexandria, with whom St Shenoute had contact.

They practised Holy Communion. They believed as did other Christians of the era both that it was truly the body and blood of our Lord and that it was a means of grace.

So, hopefully, this Sunday you will be able to engage in another aspect of Desert spirituality at your local parish church. And, like St Barsanuphius’ companion, remember that the angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, thrones, dominions, and powers are there, too, worshipping God with us.

Why Lombard?

In my last post, I talked about how I think I’m becoming a theologian because I’m not just reading theology for personal use or to teach church history but because, in January, I’ll be teaching theology at Ryle Seminary! “Theology 1”, in fact, covering “theology proper” — the doctrine of God and the Trinity plus creation and revelation. It’s a lot of stuff.

And so, naturally enough I’m reading Peter Lombard, The Sentences, Book 1.

Right? That’s normal, isn’t it?

Maybe — if you’re Stephen Langton (amirite?). But since I’m not assigning the Lombard to my students (it no longer being the year 1200), why him? Why not, oh, say, Herman Bavinck? I’m friends with some leading Bavinck scholars, after all. Or simply get back together with the Fathers? Or, given his current flash of light amongst online Protestants, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae?

Well, the simple reason is: Peter Lombard interests me, so I’m using this an excuse. He is upstream of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure — and Stephen Langton. All of them used Lombard’s material, Aquinas and Bonaventure even writing commentaries on The Sentences like, well, almost every scholastic theologian beginning with Alexander de Hales. Lombard is also after one of my favourite Latin theologians, St Anselm of Canterbury (Langton, however, may be my favourite Archbp of C). And he’s contemporary with some of my favourite mystics, those early Cistercians Bernard, Aelred, William of St-Thierry.

As a historian of Christianity, this makes him interesting to me. He’s a piece of the puzzle whose shape and contours I want to know.

But that’s not the only reason I picked Lombard up off my shelf — after all, I’m turning into a theologian (in the modern sense — in the Evagrian sense it’s still a long term work in progress).

Why Peter Lombard is ultimately rooted in what The Sentences — all four volumes of it — is. Peter Lombard’s Sentences is not a modern systematic theology textbook. The majority of the text is quotations from theological authorities, most of them being Church Fathers. Actually, more precisely, most of them being St Augustine of Hippo, who accounts for 90% of the quotations — or sententiae chosen.

Besides St Augustine and the Bible, in Book 1 Lombard cites St Ambrose of Milan, Ambrosiaster, the Athanasian Creed, Boethius, Cassiodorus, the “Nicene”/Constantinopolitan Creed, a creed from a Council of Toledo, St Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, Fulgentius of Ruspe, the Gelasian Sacramentary (I wonder if actually just the Roman Mass), St Gregory the Great, St Hilary of Poitiers, St Isidore of Seville, St Jerome, St John Chrysostom, somebody called Mediocre John, St John of Damascus, the Liber Pontificalis, Origen, Pelagius (!), and Syagrius.

The passages are usually about as long as a modern paragraph. They are excerpted from their source and then arranged topically. In Book 1, later users of The Sentences divided them into 48 groups called Distinctions. Alongside the sententiae Lombard has inserted his own analysis of particular problems that may arise or clarifications or summaries along the way.

These passages have been culled not directly from their authors’ works but from other, slightly earlier, similar enterprises, chiefly the wonderful canon law textbook we call the Decretum of Gratian, which is very similar but for canon law, and the Sic et Non of Peter Abelard. That is to say — Lombard is not choosing those passages from the Fathers that most support his argument, which is a valid thing to do and is what Peter Martyr Vermigli will do in On the Two Natures in Christ. Instead, he is choosing authorities who are already established in the tradition.

What he then does is produce a work that enables the reader, whether teacher or student, to work through these authorities and the difficulties they raise of one sort or another, and then come to a sound, orthodox conclusion with a deeper appreciation for the logic behind orthodoxy and a deeper knowledge of the authorities of the faith.

So I’m becoming a theologian. And I think to myself, what better way to strengthen my foundations than to work through this casebook of theological authorities for myself?

(I’m also going to read Bavinck because I’m assigning him.)

What do I mean, I’m becoming a theologian?

The other day, I took in hand a copy of Peter Lombard’s Sentences, photographed it, and tweeted:

But what, really, makes this different from any of the other times I’ve tweeted theology books?

What makes this different is why I’ve decided to get down with Lombard (and Bavinck, too, as it turns out). When I post a picture of (or even read) Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Vermigli’s Dialogue on the Two Natures in Christ, St Gregory of Nyssa’s Catechetical Discourse, St John of Damascus On the Orthodox Faith, or any other theological book, I am reading or consulting that book for a few possible reasons:

  • I’m teaching it or its author
  • I’m researching something to do with it
  • Personal edification

And, technically, none of the courses I have yet taught have been theology courses. Thus far, besides Classics (Latin, Greek, ancient history, Latin & Greek literature) I have taught church history/Christian history. My students at Davenant Hall do end up reading quite a bit of theology, usually (if you study with me in January, you’ll get to read theology by Sts Athanasius, Ephrem the Syrian, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose of Milan, and John Chrysostom! Sign up today!). But the purpose of my teaching is for them to understand those authors on their own terms and in their historical context.

So what’s different with Lombard and Bavinck?

This time, I’m reading theology to teach theology.

That’s right, in January, besides my teaching at Davenant Hall, I have the opportunity to teach the course “Theology 1: God and Creation” at Ryle Seminary in Ottawa, covering, as the course website says, “A systematic and biblical study of Christian theology proper, with special attention to the Trinity, God and Creation, and the nature and scope of revelation.” Now, the doctrine of the Trinity is, to a large degree, what my other course, “The Theological World of the Nicene Controversy” is about. So the content overlaps.

But it’s different to put together a course where you say, “Whom am I teaching? What period am I covering? What are the most important primary sources for my students?” versus one where you say, “What am I teaching? What doctrines do I need to cover? What theological principles related to this topic will my students need the most?”

And so: enter Peter Lombard.

(Why him specifically? I’ll get to that later, maybe.)

Catholic Anglican thoughts (again)

13th-c mosaic on loggia, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

I think that perhaps one of the great problems with our society is that too many of us spend time thinking about our identities. For me, I spend time thinking about my religious identity. In particular, I often find myself feeling somewhat alone as a catholic Anglican — and not an Anglo-Catholic.

Like the majority tradition of Anglicanism, I embrace the teachings of the Fathers, the 39 Articles, the BCP, and what I’ve read of the Books of Homilies so far. I agree with Richard Hooker so much I wrote an essay recommending him for a real publication (as opposed to just another blog post). Moreover, I cherish the poetry of Donne, Herbert, and Guite, as well as the hymns of Charles Wesley and JM Neale. I recently called Lancelot Andrewes a saint, so there’s that in the mix, too!

Most of this doesn’t really make me much of “catholic”, though, does it? I mean, it mostly makes me an Anglican. I reckon John Wesley liked those things, too, except for the ones from after he died.

But what if I told you, despite spending 8 years as a Presbyterian, the only other church that seemed truly enticing was the Eastern Orthodox Church? That an Orthodox priest (now bishop!) once said that I am Orthodox in all but name? Although this actually isn’t true (I don’t seek saints to intercede for me [filed under: 39 Articles] or believe in tollhouses [filed under: umm…], to grab two really quick examples), I do have enormous respect for the Eastern Church and think that we can learn a lot from them in the West after a few centuries of Enlightenment and Romanticism under our belts.

So, yeah, I read St Sophrony, St Porphyrios, Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Father Andrew Louth, The Way of a Pilgrim, and others in my devotional time. I love the Greek Fathers, and sometimes I think I’m a Palamite. Byzantine chant and Byzantine icons, yes, please. I love the Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom. Once when I was in a foul mood, I read the Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints Basil the Great just to cheer me up. And it’s beautiful and rich and makes anything from the West post-Vatican II (BAS and Common Worship, I’m looking at you) look like wading in shallow water when God has given us the skills requisite and necessary for surfing (or something like that).

I embrace the ancient and medieval heritage of the church — as interpreted through the 39 Articles and the BCP. Give me St Augustine. Give St Maximus the Confessor. Give me St Anselm and St John of Damascus and the Venerable Bede and St Benedict of Nursia and St Symeon the New Theologian and St Gregory of Nyssa and The Cloud of Unknowing and St John of the Ladder and St John of the Cross and St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Gregory of Nazianzus and St Basil of Caesarea and Origen of Alexander and St Athanasius of Alexandria and St Irenaeus of Lyons and Pope St Leo the Great and Pope St Gregory the Great and St Cyprian of Carthage and St Francis of Assisi and St Bonaventure and Stephen Langton and Julian of Norwich and Richard Rolle and Walter Hilton and Aelfric of Eynsham and Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl and The Dream of the Rood.

Give me the Ruthwell Cross. Give me Mt Athos. Give the Benediktinerstift Sankt Paul im Lavanttal. Give me St Paul’s in London. Give me Durham Cathedral. Give me the Durham Gospels.

Give me these things, clothe them in the music of Tallis or Purcell or Gibbons. I’ll kiss your icons. I once kissed the alleged crozier of St Gregory. Give me the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Give me a little incense.

Give me these things, for when I encounter these things, I find Jesus in them.

Most of all, then: give me Jesus.

And I find that Jesus is found in this catholic Anglicanism. I find him there better than elsewhere — whether because of my own temperament or something in the nature of the catholic tradition itself. But Jesus comes to me in the poetry of John Donne and the teachings of the Orthodox monks. He comes when I read Pearl and I am drawn up to him through the architecture of a place like York Minster.

IRL, one finds oneself with almost no Anglicans round about, and few digging deep into this.

But Jesus comes amidst them, anyway — of course.

This is part of the secret of the catholic tradition, that God is always right there waiting for you. If you can cultivate hesychia and find, by grace, some level of purity of heart, you will find Jesus wherever you are, and not just listening to Byzantine chant on Spotify or with fellow catholics on Twitter, but at your own local parish.

Watch out for him. He’s there. Pray the Jesus Prayer. Memorise a poem or two by John Donne. Like St Pachomius, see God wherever He is, especially in your brother in Christ. He’ll be there — he has promised he will.

Richard Hooker and Union with God

My latest YouTube video was made on the commemoration of Richard Hooker on November 3. In it, I discuss his Christology in relation to Chalcedon but most especially in relation to you and your union with God and participation in the divine life. Enjoy!

The theological flow of the 39 Articles

This post is really just me being a 39 Articles fan (stan? Am I a stan? What is a stan?). I’ve been going through some Reformation-era confessions and catechisms for research lately, looking at what they have to say about Christology. It’s interesting, but the results are still forthcoming. One thing I notice is where the article about Christology falls, and it’s often far down the list, or at least after a discussion of the Fall of humans.

And I noticed this because I’ve been mulling over the 39 Articles of the Anglican faith lately, and it puts the Christological article as Article II, right after the Article of Faith in the Holy Trinity. Here’s a Table of the Articles from prayerbook.ca, complete with links to the text:

  1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
  2. Of Christ the Son of God.
  3. Of his going down into Hell.
  4. Of his Resurrection.
  5. Of the Holy Ghost.
  6. Of the Sufficiency of the Scriptures.
  7. Of the Old Testament.
  8. Of the Three Creeds.
  9. Of Original or Birth-sin.
  10. Of Free-Will.
  11. Of Justification
  12. Of Good Works.
  13. Of Works before Justification.
  14. Of Works of Supererogation.
  15. Of Christ alone without Sin.
  16. Of Sin after Baptism.
  17. Of Predestination and Election.
  18. Of obtaining Salvation by Christ.
  19. Of the Church.
  20. Of the Authority of the Church.
  21. Of the Authority of General Councils.
  22. Of Purgatory.
  23. Of Ministering in the Congregation.
  24. Of speaking in the Congregation.
  25. Of the Sacraments.
  26. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers.
  27. Of Baptism.
  28. Of the Lord’s Supper.
  29. Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ.
  30. Of both kinds.
  31. Of Christ’s one Oblation.
  32. Of the Marriage of Priests.
  33. Of Excommunicate Persons.
  34. Of the Traditions of the Church
  35. Of the Homilies.
  36. Of Consecrating of Ministers.
  37. Of the Civil Magistrates.
  38. Of Christian men’s Goods.
  39. Of a Christian man’s Oath.

The flow of the articles is from more important to less important. We begin with the doctrine of God, and then we discuss Christ, including his saving mission, then the Holy Spirit, before moving on to how we know about God — the Scriptures, the knowledge from which is articulated in the creeds. Having established the absolute foundation of our faith — God, the Holy Trinity who saved us through the life of Jesus — and how we have the knowledge of theology — God’s revelation through Scripture as articulated in the creeds — then we can move into other matters.

And now, not as Article 2, but as Article 9, we come to Original or Birth-sin. From here, questions of justification and sanctification are addressed, including stuff like predestination and election. Once salvation and the place of the church and her authorities are in good order, we look at what goes on in church, from speaking in a tongue such as the people understandeth to the sacraments, to excommunication and traditions of the church.

I love that in reading the Articles we are brought face-to-face with the greatest realities of the Christian faith before anything else. The Most Holy Trinity is where to lay our gaze, and then what he did for our salvation (which is wrapped up with those first few articles). Everything else should flow from or be framed by that belief. And the Articles help us be there.

It’s a great corrective to something I’ve witnessed — I’ve been at baptisms where people are asked about their beliefs in the Bible before their beliefs about God. Something is just … off in that ordering. It is disordered.

I’m sure other people have done this better than I have. But here it is. Now — read the Articles and see how Protestantism looks when it’s done properly.