Articles of Perth

Archbishop Spottiswoode 1618

The Perth Assembly debates between 1618-1619 provide good opportunity for apprehending Anglican adiaphora and the general purposes of church canon. The assembly and conferences were summoned by King James to lay the ground work for greater Scottish discpline. An episcopacy had already been re-established in 1606, and James I wanted better conformity between the Scottish Kirk– still mostly regulativist in ceremony– and English ritual.

The Perth Conference:
The articles requested by the King rubbed raw Presbyterian regulativist worship. They included five-points; namely, private communion for the sick, kneeling during mass, sabbath-keeping upon the five principle feast days (christmas, easter, et al.),  private baptism, and the rite of confirmation.  Knowing all too well the stubbornness of Scottish dissent, King James warned respective bishops and nobles his authority would not suffer impunity. His letter at St. Andrew’s in 1617 thusly concluded,

“But I will pass that among many other wrongs I have received at your hands. The errand for which I have now called you is to hear what your scruples are on these points, and the reasons, if any you have, why the same ought not be admitted. I mean not to do anything against reason; but on the other hand, my demands being just and religious, you must not think that I will be refused or resisted. It is a power innated, and a special prerogative, which we that are Christian Kings possess, to order and dispose of external things in the polity of the Church, as we by the advice of our Bishops shall think most fitting; and by your approving our disapproving deceive not yourselves. In will never regard it unless you bring me a reason I cannot answer.” (p. 380, Lawson)

The King’s general tone was for common order, or what Ridley called ‘vera-adiaphora’.  The reforms of that Stuart period, 1603-1640, generally built upon Elizabethan policy of proper upkeep and decking of churches. The strong associations plain-worship invoked with varieties of impropriety and iconoclasm, non-conformity was usually taken as a sign of disloyalty. Further complicating matters was the differing temper and ceremony of two national churches. The English had kept many medieval customs while the Scottish more radically looked toward an extremely primitive (pre-nicean) usage. Most controversial, according to Spottiswoode and Cowper (p. 401), was the proposition of kneeling in both prayer and communion. Both sides agreed the practice indifferent. But the Scotsmen protested kneeling and similar reverences had no utility in their kirk, ulitmately harming edification with unnecessary distrubance. Dr. Lindsey, in his record of the proceedings, described the presbyterian position partly, saying,

“first, Master John Carmichael brought an argument from the custom and practice of the Church of Scotland, which had been long observed, and ought not to be altered, except the inconvenience of the present order were showed, and the desired gesture qualified to be better…From this argument, they went to another of Christ and the disciples sitting at the first institution; in discussing whereof, they were brought to acknowledge the gesture not to be of the essence of the Sacrament, but alterable at the discretion of the Church: Only they held the custom formerly received to be better.”

Once Presbyterians admitted adiaphora, however, Episcopals only had to hammer-home the King’s authority, an authority found constitutionally in England in the 1559 Act of Uniformity. Bishop Faber easily turned Carmichael’s adiaphora argument around,

“I neither know scripture, reason, nor antiquity, that enforceth kneeling, sitting, standing, or passing, as necessary; but think them all indifferent: and therefore, that any of them may be lawfully used, when it is found expedient. And considering nothing to be more expedient for the weal of our Church then to keep peace with our gracious Sovereign, and not to contend for such matters, I judge, yeilding to his Highness desire to be the onely best.”

These matters belonged better, perhaps, to the wisdom of Solomon than a polarized synod. The Archbishop Spottiswoode sagaciously reminded the Assembly at Perth regarding the dangers of contention, begging churchmen to consider pastoral ends canons ought to serve,

“The Kingdom of God consists not in them [the Five Articles], but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Away with fruitless and contentious disputings. Remember the work we are sent for is to build the Church of God, and not to destroy it; to call men to faith and repentance; to stir them up to the works of true piety and love, and not to make them think they have religion enough when they have talked against Bishops and ceremonies”. (p 393, Lawson).

Church Ceremony is Not Divine Law:
Dr. William Cowpar, Bishop of Galloway, likely gave the best defense for the King’s articles. He preached upon Christmas Day when the Articles were first enforced. A former pupil of Andrew Melville, Cowpar’s reason for re-instituting kneeling-at-communion was essentially the same as Cosin’s rationale for fixed altars. It, therefore, argues the temporary nature of 16th-century canons like the 1566 Advertisements that contained puritan zeal without abandoning earlier royal command, e.g., the Ornament Rubric. First, Cowper explains the nature of adiaphora (an idea both evangelicals and catholics today ought to re-familiarize themselves upon) by point out prior rites which have either been cast-off or restored.

“But, they say, We have no commandment in the word to do it. I answer, Let them distinguish betwixt that which is substantial and real in religion, and that which is circumstantial and ritual. A point substantial must have an express warrant in the Word commanding it; for that which is circumstantial, it is sufficient if it be not against the Word, it being left to be ordained by ecclesiastical authority. As, for example, to preach in season and out of season is a substantial point; for it we have an express command in the Word. What day of the week ordinary preaching should be beside the Sabbath, that is circumstantial, and left to the decision of the Church, who by the same authority that they may ordain preaching [on] such a day of the week, may also ordain preaching such of the month in a year.  Again, he that sins openly shall be rebuked. This is substantial in religion, and we have an express command for it. But to set him on  a pillar three days, or more, or fewer, is circumstantial, such as our Church without doing wrong to the Word of God hath determined. I acknowledge it to be a good order, and will any of these men condemn it because it is not an express command in the word? Marriage is honourable among all men, for man and woman to join without marriage is fornication. This is substantial, and hath the warrant of the Word. But that first they must be three days publicly proclaimed, is circumstantial, done by the Church for good order, which I acknowledge sufficient, because it is not against the Word”.

“Yule Day, say they, was cast out of our Church. I answer, what they call Yule Day I know not; but a day reputed for the day of Christ’s nativity, and observed for the remembrance thereof, that I know. I find no ecclesiastical law standing in all our books of the Assembly to the contrary. But if it have been cast out, yet a thing not against the Word of God upon good considerations may be brought in again, albeit it had been left out. Instances of this I might bring from the Church of Geneva; one I bring from our own. Since baptism not upon a preaching day was cast out by act and practice, and yet is now received again, why may not the preaching of Christ’s Nativity, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Holy Ghost, or such days, be received again, albeit it had been cast out?” (p. 417)

This idea of rites being ‘cast-off’ or ‘put-on’ to better correct abuse before restoring a prior custom might be read in the Perth Articles themselves, the first ordinance of which explains,

“Seeing we are commanded by God himself, that when we come to worship him, we fall down and kneel before the Lord our Maker; an considering withall, that there is no part of divine worship more heavenly and spiritual, then is the holy receiving of the blessed body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; like as the most humble and reverend gesture of the body, in our meditation and lifting up of our hearts, best becometh so divine and sacred an action: Therefore, notwithstanding that our Kirk hath used, since the Reformaiton of Religion, to celebrate holy Communion to the people sitting, by reason of the great a abuse of kneeling used in idolatrous worship of the Sacrament by the Papists: yet now seeing all memory of by past supersititon is past; in reverence of God, and in due regard of so a divine a mystery, and in remembrance of so mystical an union as we are made partakers of, the Assembly thinketh good, that the blessed Sacrament be celebrat hereafter meekly and reverently upon their knees.”

Cowper finishes his apology for kneeling by, once more, citing vera-adiaphora, if not Article XXXIV (Of Traditions of the Church),

“If I should condemn sitting at the table, I should do wrong to my mother Church– the Church of Scotland. If I should condemn standing, I should do wrong to that sister church of France which hath stood for the truth to the blood. If I should condemn kneeling, I should do wrong to the Church of England, glorious with many crowns of martyrdom, and many other Churches also. I like well that modest judgment of Peter Martyr, who thinks any of these, sitting, standing, or kneeling lawful. Our Church has determined that kneeling seems the most reverent form for receiving so great a benefit; and the rude gesture of many of our people in many parts of the land requires that they should be led to a greater reverence of that holy mystery, and taught that by humble kneeling we shall at length be brought to a joyful sitting with Him forever”. (p. 402, Lawson)

A Kind of Comprehension:
There are some vital principles that original Protestantism has since forgotten. One is adiaphora where church rites continue according to the temperament and edification of the people. We know Elizabeth suspended areas of the Ornament’s Rubric, but these were for reasons of peace and keeping weak brothers. Nonetheless, the Ornament Rubric covers acceptable ceremony, and those canons which followed are not like divine law. What is put away can be restored. The Ornament Rubric itself judged acceptable worship in the reformed sense.

Another maxim once engendered by original Protestantism was common order governed by the prince. Unlike Germany where Charles V ultimately caved into Papacy, the English monarch was already an Imperial throne working a successful Reformation. The King of Ireland, Scotland, France, and England ruled a commonwealth of national churches, and by marriage his dominion later crossed into north Germany. In Hanover Lutherans interestingly retained their bishops. At any rate, royal marriages would provide greater framework for a pan-protestantism, or a kind of northern catholicism, to grow by way of British empire.  As different as the Scottish and English Church may have been, Perth was an early attempt to comprehend their respective  Ecclesiastes. Perhaps it was a more principled than the Lambeth Quadrilateral.

The possibility of communion was known from Archbishop Spottiswoode’s rather optimistic report from the 1617 Assembly. While the assembly repeatedly rejected the King’s five-articles between, from 1617 to 1621, it was willing to adopt (modified versions of the) four of the five said statutes (pp. 400, 412, 418). But James and Charles I would have no half-way measure.  For a time Perth succeeded, but Presbyterian resentment simmered until exploding in 1638 with the full imposition of prayer book and canons. Too often our two maxims– edification and common order– find themselves at odds. Rather than hurt the weaker brother, Mr. Scott, a presbyter at the conference, advised a kind of catechism until the apparent impasse was softened,

“In short, a very different feeling pervades Scotland on many of those matters, which even those who adhere to the covenanting fanaticism cannot deny. Intercourse with England, a better system of education, and other causes, might be assigned for the softening of the old and bigotted prejudices.” (p. 413)

A history of the Perth proceedings and Scottish Episcopal Church by Lawson can be downloaded here.

3 responses to “Articles of Perth

  1. One very small correction: Elizabeth I never authorized any weakening of the Ornaments Rubric. The so-called Advertisements had the authority of the bishops only as they caved to those who had taken oaths of obedience and then made it clear that they would not obey but were instead involved in the virtual overthrow of both the Book of Common Prayer and the Church of England.

    Further, when both the Church and Parliament issued the prayer book of 1604 upon the accession of James I to the English throne any other order which Elizabeth I was authorized to make (but never did) was eliminated by the new legal authority given to the prayer book.

    Also, the Scots’ divines may truly have believed that the apostles ‘sat’ at the institution of the Eucharist but the truth is that they were laying on their sides supported by one elbow, hardly a posture which one would recommend for worship and one never imitated by the Church in the centuries after.

    I appreciate James’ efforts to make real Christians of the Scots after their experience with Knox and others, but it strikes me as being a great deal like asking a liberal to read and understand the Second Amendment. It is really something of an impossibility or at least was at those times.


    • Hi Bishop Lee,

      I guess I made it sound like the Advertisements had the royal seal when I only meant the bishops were left to decide the matter. Let me quote my source, Cardwell, who says this,

      “These Advertisements and the proceedings consequent thereon occasioned the first open separation of the nonconformists from the churhc of England, the professed ground of separation being the necessity of wearing the same apparel that was used by the Romanists, but the real point at issue being, and soon afterwards shewing itself to be, the right principle of church government…The Advertisements were drawn up by the archbishop, and other bishops in commission with him, in obedience to peremptory letters addressed to him by the queen, who had been informed that great irregularities prevailed without any endeavours on the part of the bishops to repress them, and was determined that stricter methods of discipline and good order should be exercised for the future. It appears however several of her council…were disposed to favor the wishes of the puritans; and whether from this cause or some other, although the queen was the person really responsible for these Advertisements, she did not official give her sanction to them at the time, but left them to be enforced by the several bishops on the canonical obedience imposed upon the clergy and the powers conveyed to the ordinaries by the act of uniformity. Their title and preface certainly do not claim for them the highest degree of authority; and although Strype infers from certain evidence which he mentions that they afterwards received the royal sanction, and recovered their original title of articles and ordinances, it seems more probable that they owed their force to the indefinite nature of episcopal jurisdiction, supported, as in this instance was known to be the case, by the personal approval of the sovereign. The way in which the archbishop speaks of them in his articles of enquiry, issued the year 1569, certainly assigns them ‘public authority’, but clearly distinct from the crown; and in the year 1584 archbishop Whitgift rfers to them as having authority, but still calls them simply the book of Advertisements. It is worthy of remark also, that they are quoted as authoritative in the canons of 1571 by the convocation of that period, but was expunged by the queen before shee ordered the canons to be published. In practice, however, they were uniformly treated as having authority; and being quoted as such in the canons of 1603, which were confirmed by King James” (p. 322-24, Church of England’s Documentary Annals)

      It is true, Elizabeth never weakened the authority of the Ornament’s Rubric. It was never repealed but remained in place, reserved by the Crown by the 1559 Act of Uniformity which said,

      “PROVIDED always and be it enacted, that such ornaments of the church, and of the ministers thereof, shall be retained and be in use as was in this Church of England, by authority of parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth, until other order shall be therein taken by the authority of the Queen’s Majesty, with the advice of her Commissioners, appointed and authorized under the great seal of England, for causes ecclesiastical, or of the Metropolitan of this realm.

      I would argue, while canon cannot contradict prayerbook, there can and has been variances which have been tolerated according to pastoral necessity and common order. This is where wisdom and teaching must decide and prevail. I see Mr. Scott’s advice being the best, restoring order by way of catechism, sermons, publications, dialog, and example. The historical subscription oaths were three-parts: 39 articles, prayer book, and royal supremacy. From royal supremacy flowed all the canons, ordinances, statutes, injunctions, etc.. of the church. What I read from crown to crown succession is largely a repetition and continuation of core canons going all the way back to 1538 and 1547. Elizabeth only added to what was laid before (much like the 39 Articles and prayer book). There is actually very little subtraction, though more often ‘modification’. An example being the location of altars. In 1559 Elizabeth said the table be moved within the chancel. The 1604 actually loosens the definition a bit, saying ‘within the church or chancel’, thereby leaving the location for communion to Ordinary discretion This was very important for the revival of the cathedrals.

      You have to wonder, but you are largely right about the Presbyterians. Regulativism is a deal breaker. It is impossible to reason with someone when they think ceremony is divine right. In this case, Presbyterians believe the details of worship is entirely commanded by scripture. Divine right in ceremony is essentially the same claim which Rome makes. How ironic? I am inclined to think the critique of Regulativism is simultaneously a critique of Romanism, and perhaps Hooker was aware of this. Nonetheless, I recall the Presbyterians weren’t all one voice. They were split over the Crown, the Engagers w/ Presbyterians in England bringing back Charles II. The Scots also disliked Cromwell and the Congregationalists, and were scandalized by the sovereign’s regicide. Even amongst congregationalists there were separatiing and non-separating factions. Erastianism could be a large tree with many birds resting in her.


      • Hi Bishop Lee,

        This might better explain the relation between the Advertisements and Ornament Rubric. I finally started reading Bishop Frere. Here is a quote which applies to the dead letter (or not) of canon.

        “It might be said that the canon of Nicaea had ceased to be operative through desuetude, i.e. through the effect of contrary custom prevailing over positive enactment. And certainly it is a recognized principle that the canonical legislation does lose its force through desuetude. Canon law is not repealed, necessarily, as is statute law, when it is no longer required to be in force. It lapses through the prevalence of contrary custom or the indirect action of subsequent legislation. The principle is clearly exercised, though its application is often a matter of great obscurity.
        Ceremonial rules are therefore liable to be confused by the existence of contrary or inconsistent prescriptions of varying antiquity, or by the prevalence of custom over law. IN this respect also ceremonial does not stand alone, for such circumstances as these are common to all ecclesiastical discipline. The reason for this state of things lies in the ecumenical character of the Church, and the diversity of ways by which disciplinary rules are made or carried out.” (p. 182, Principles of Religious Ceremony)

        This is really interesting. First, we can see the gamble when churchmen ‘normalizes’ a variance contrary to prior canon. With Elizabeth, the Advertisements were double-edged. In a way they halted further Puritan disorder. But they also risked creating new precedent through habit and custom. I think this was the situation in the 19th centuries which Tractarians and ritualists interrupted, saving the Ornament Rubric (late Henrician utensils) from desuetude. Yet I also find alarming the ‘customs’ modernists have introduced through minimalist standards and zero enforcement of canonical worship.

        We are now left to somehow fix the enormous problem of diverse rites and prayer books. This gets back to Bishop Robinson’s recent post on ‘Broad Church’. While the problem with 79 prayer book churches is painfully obvious, yet even with respect to Missal churches, how do we reverse the trend, especially where there is little in the canon to sanction our position (e.g., the ACC’s C. 2.1)? We have to pick a starting point, and it is ironic that we are forced to accept the basis of commonality established by very late liberal catholics, namely eucharistic communion. I believe in the post-war era liberal catholics wedded themselves to modernists, and as local options were increasingly relied upon to solve church disputes, an intentional shift was made away from confessional identity (which evangelicals preferred) toward a ‘minimalist’ one, conceived along lines of the Lambeth Quad, or, even more low context, “fellowship”. This was really a low church victory.

        Anyway, what’s scary is how new customs can assert themselves as norms, and today’s popular practice might very well become defacto authoritative. Perhaps our “way back” is through the same claims made by liberal catholics, pushing forth orthodox elements, namely apostolic succession and the person of the Bishop? We can easily go from there to a discussion on patrimony and therefore Anglican divines, synods, and vows?


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