The ‘Christmas Day’ Articles were authored by Philip Melancthon, advising German Princes (the Elector of Saxony and Landgrave of Hesse) how they were to approach Henry VIII as possible leader of the Smalkaldic League. The Fourteen points contained therein outlined rules of engagement that eventually led to the Wittenberg Concord. It was upon the Wittenberg Concord that the Henrician Ten Articles (1536) were likewise framed. While the Wittenberg Concord detailed points of agreement between Anglican and Lutheran doctors, areas of impasse– later outlined in the six articles— left an insufficient basis for membership in the League. The outcome was an indeterminate prorogue of discussion, remaining true even after Edward VI’s sacramentarian reforms. Yet the Ten Articles go unrecognized as direct descendant several altered-Augsburg Confessions, prototypical to the Protestant media via amongst common amongst royals in Northern Europe. Likewise neglected is Henry’s brief overture as the supreme head of Protestantcy, providing an example that James I and related Palatine princes emulated– suggesting the British throne as a last court of Protestant appeal.
The Christmas Day Articles:
Written December 25, 1535, the Christmas Day Articlesset terms for Anglo-Lutheran unity. The Christmas Day articles exemplified northern catholic conciliar efforts, though biased on the German side. The Christmas Articles may be summarized as having three parts– 1) the Augsburg Confession as common symbol of peace; 2) setting restrictions on unilateral talks with Rome as well as non-League churches; 3) providing certain logistics of military procurement. For this essay, the third section is least interesting while the second simply forbade independent engagements with non-Lutherans. However, the first section– subscribing the Augsburg– is highly pertinent.
The Christmas articles began with some political shuttle board. In rather bold language, the Articles side-stepped Henry VIII’s greater status, especially divine right claims, as “Emperor in England, Wales, and France”. Nor was any flattery spent upon Henry’s renowned theological literacy. The German princes wanted to avoid implications respecting England’s greater dignity. A letter from Cromwell to the Germans admits, “The King, knowing himself to be the learnedest prince in Europe, thought it became not him to submit to them, but them to submit to him”. Therefore, Henry felt the burden of compromise ought to be upon the German legates, leaving the Lutherans to amend the Augsburg to please English prejudice, “something first, in your [the Lutheran] Confession and Apology be modified by private conferences and friendly discussions between learned men”. Neither Henry nor Cromwell were ready to give the Augsburg the esteemed place Melanchthon would have it. Articles I, II dealt with the Augsburg as theological starting point, permitting amendment by multilateral talks. While article VIII stuck to a confederate model, cautious of England’s supremacy or claims to divine right, they read:
“I. That the Most Serene King promote the Gospel of Christ, and the pure doctrine of faith according to the mode in which the Princes and confederated states confessed it in the diet of Augsburg, and defended it according to the published apology, unless perhaps some things meanwhile justly seem to require change or correction from the Word of God by the common consent of the Most Serene King, and the princes themselves.
II. Also, that the Most Serene King, together with the Princes and States confederated, defend and maintain the doctrine of the gospel mentioned, and ceremonies harmonizing with the gospel in future council.
VIII. Also, that neither the aforesaid Most Serene King, nor the aforesaid Most Illustrious Princes or States confederated, ever will recognize, maintain or defend that the primacy or monarch be held today or ever hereafter as de jure divino…” ( p.63-66).
The Ten Articles:
The disputations in Wittenberg carried until late-March. Disagreements revolved around Henry’s divorce with Catherine, but also abuses in the English Mass, clerical celibacy, and, whether the English King should continue other questionable ceremonies. Dubious practices named were the decking of images, masses for purgatory, and invoking saints. Upon the return of English delegates, copies of the Wittenberg Concord and Lutheran Repititio (an elaboration on the former), arrived in England, and Henry established the Ten Articles as a first rejoinder.
The Articles, like Henry’s longer Catechisms, were divided into two parts– one portion belonging to doctrine, the other to ceremony. The part given to explain Faith generally followed the Wittenberg and Augsburg Apologies, yet adding a Henrician emphasis upon good works as evidence of living faith. Agreeing with the Augsburg, Penance is counted as a third sacrament for the remission of sin after baptism. However, unlike Henry’s vocal defense of seven sacraments in 1522, the Ten Articles were purposefully silent on the efficacy of the lesser sacraments. It‘s notable that Protestants at this early period of Reformation were open to either Penance or Holy Orders as a third sacrament. This restraint on sacramental enumeration continued into the 1540′s. Veneration of images and saints, however, were outright banned, at an early date, 1538. But the English defended private mass and concomitance of the elements, and for this reason the Lutherans found the Ten Articles deficient. Nonetheless, delegates expected remaining differences to be ironed out in the future.
Although John Frederick the Elector was anxious to receive the Ten Articles before the summer of 1536, they did not arrive in Germany until late-November. Henry’s tardiness was due to an unfortunate monk revolt in Yorkshire. Once the Articles arrived, Melanchthon said nothing flattering, “[they]were put together with the greatest confusion”. But a decade later, Melanchthon would write the Leipzig Interim that was arguably more Romish than the Ten Articles. Aside from the continued use of the Mass, the Ten Articles agreed with the Wittenberg. Where the two confessions differed was upon limits of adiaphora in ceremony. The Ten Articles retained some questionable ceremonies for the sake of ‘charitable concord’ whereas the Wittenberg and Augsburg purge the Papist Mass. The Preface explains the division between salvific and edifying rites, retaining some for the sake a political order:
“…have not only in our own person many times taken great pain, study labour and travails, but also have caused our bishops, and other the most discreet and best learned men of our clergy of this our whole realm, to be assembled in our convocation, for the full debatement and quiet deliberation and disputations, had of and upon the premises, finally they have concluded and greed upon the said matters, as well those which be commanded of God, and necessary for our salvation, as also the other touching honest ceremonies, and good and politic order, as is aforesaid; which their determination, debatement, and agreement, forasmuch as we think to have proceeded of a good, right, and true judgment, an to be agreeable to the laws and ordinances of God, and much profitable for the establishment of that charitable concord and unity in our church of England” (p. 4, Oxford).
Among the Henrician Bishops to serve as legates in Germany for the Crown was the Rev. Nicholas Heath. Heath’s churchmanship likely characterized the period, 1535-1545. In 1535 Dr. Nicholas Heath was the king’s chaplain. Sent to Saxony along with Henry’s representatives, Foxe and Barnes, Heath was sympathetic to the “New Learning” but placed brakes on Barnes and Foxe’s tendency to hastily agree with Lutheran particulars. This caution resulted in a half-way or altered form of the Augsburg later known as the Ten Articles. According to Pusey’s study on the Anglo-Lutheran continental conferences, Melanchthon held Heath in high regard for his relative conservativism while accusing that Fox “believed too much” (p. 134, The Real Presence). Nonetheless, the Ten Articles mostly agreed with Melanchthon’s Apology (1531) and Loci (1535) though it parted on sometimes contentious aspects of ceremony. However, other Evangelical princes besides Henry had also taken conservative paths in ceremony. German Princes in Bradenburg and Brunswick signed the Augsburg while keeping stubbornness with ‘old faith’, so the equivocations by England shouldn’t be taken as an abject rebuff. Moreover, ceremony was indifferent given rites were reinfused with correct theology. Holy Week, Creeping the Cross, Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, the Easter Sepulchre and other rites gained a lifeline given deference to “right use”. In the 1537 book, Cranmer explained,
“If men will indifferently read these late declarations, they shall well perceive that purgatory, pilgrimages, praying to saints, images, holy bread, holy water, holy days, merits, works, ceremony, and such other, be not restored to their late accustomed abuses; but shall evidently perceive that the word of God hath gotten the upper hand of them all, and hath set them in their right use and estimation”. (p. 178, Tjernagel)
Despite disagreement on catholic ritual, the Wittenberg paved an important theological precedent for Cranmer’s Ten, if not later, Forty-Two Articles. Two points deserve stress: First, the Ten Articles occurred during official dialogue with German counterparts, affirming the core of the Wittenberg conferences. This critical dialogue was not abandoned in 1538 but continued intermittently until 1547 against the backdrop of Trent. Bishop Gibson was wrong to dismiss the influence of Trent[i]. Proto-Tridentine sessions were well-established; particularly, the Diet of Ratisbon and related Leipzig Interim (between 1541 and 1548 respectively) had well-broadcasted the Roman-side, so the theological positions staked out against the Reformation was easily known before the publication of Henry’s 1543 catechism.
Second, the tenor of Anglo-German dialogue in the 1540’s was between Vienna (Erasmus) and Wittenberg (Melanchthon) humanists. The synthesis of reformed-minded Roman Catholics and moderate Lutherans constituted a continental ‘third way’, embodied in works like the Regensberg Book, Leipzig Interim, and Witzel’s Reforms. Historians usually overlook this period of convergence by which the Ten Articles drew. Anglican distinctives from that time include the necessary evidence of works for lively faith, an occasional enumeration of three or four sacraments rather than merely two, and recognizable ceremonial continuity to the medieval.
Among the Henrician Bishops to serve as legates in Germany for the Crown was the Rev. Nicholas Heath. Heath’s churchmanship likely characterized the period, 1535-1545. In 1535 Dr. Nicholas Heath was the king’s chaplain. Sent to Saxony along with Henry’s representatives, Foxe and Barnes, Heath was sympathetic to the “New Learning” but hindered Barnes and Foxe’s tendency agree with Lutheran particulars. This caution resulted in a half-way or conservative form of the Augsburg later known as the Ten Articles. According to Pusey’s study on the Anglo-Lutheran continental conferences, Melanchthon held Heath in high regard despite Heath’s relative conservatism; though, Melanchthon chidded that Fox “believed too much”. Nonetheless, the Ten Articles mostly agreed with Melanchthon’s Apology (1531) and Loci (1535), parting sometimes on more contentious aspects of ceremony.
However, Evangelicals Royals prior to Henry had also taken conservative paths. German Princes in Bradenburg and Brunswick signed the Augsburg while remaining stubborn in ceremonies commonly associated with ‘old faith’. So, Henry’s equivocations weren’t an automatic rebuff. Moreover, English divinity was prepared to retain medieval ceremony given rites were re-infused with correct theology. Thus, Holy Week, Creeping the Cross, Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, the Easter Sepulchre won a lifeline by “right use” principles, explained in the 1537 English catechism,
“If men will indifferently read these late declarations, they shall well perceive that purgatory, pilgrimages, praying to saints, images, holy bread, holy water, holy days, merits, works, ceremony, and such other, be not restored to their late accustomed abuses; but shall evidently perceive that the word of God hath gotten the upper hand of them all, and hath set them in their right use and estimation” (Tjernagel, 178)
Despite England’s difference with Saxony, the Reformation proceeded apace. Cranmer’s 1537 Bishop’s Book along with Cromwell’s 1538 church Injunctions drew Henry closer to the Saxon Elector. These reforms extirpated some outstanding disagreements with Lutherans two years prior. For instance, candles and incense before images were banned. An explicit Purgatory was rejected. By 1539 the largest monasteries were dissolved.
However, in April of 1539 Henry issued the notorious Six Articles. The Six Articles were not the rollback some assume but a concise statement about outstanding differences with Lutherans dating back to 1535. The Articles drew a theological line which Henry expected German accommodation. The Articles are usually thought as an apology for Transubstantiation or the Roman Mass. They retained concomitance in the elements, clerical celibacy, and private eucharist. Though the first article contends a complete annihilation of bread and wine after consecration, the terminology of transubstantiation is missing. This has been noted by McEntegart:
“This question was answered in the negative: only the substance of Christ remained in the sacrament after consecration. This response, though it failed to include the substance of the bread and wine with Christ’s body and blood in the eucharist, as Lutheran teaching demanded, avoided an explicit endorsement of transubstantiation and hence could be acceptable to all parties.”(McEntegart, 159)
Surely, Henry had reasons for Six Articles. The early 1540′s marked turning point for the Lutheran movement in both England and Germany since the Emperor was willing to accommodate the Evangelical cause to rally the Empire against France. Furthermore, Catholics and Evangelicals were finding common ground against growing iconoclasm, identified with Calvinism. As with later Stuarts, Henry identified iconoclasm with democracy; consequently, Henry, together with German princes, often adopted high church views that hedged authority by ceremonial against the iconoclastic ‘leveling’ forces. Schofield has speculated upon Henry’s motives for drawing the six, suggesting:
“The second factor was the King’s aim to establish his own national church, independent of both Rome and Wittenberg, based on scripture and the fathers as Henry interpreted them. He did not seek some vague middle ground; he saw himself as a Christian prince and head of the church like Constantine and Justinian, and looked to the doctrine and dogmas of their times.” (Schofield, 125)
Henry saw no abuse in promulgating six articles since his methods were humanist.While Henry perhaps went too far on certain questions, e.g., calling evangelical counsels the ‘law of God’, precedence was had in other areas. Evangelicals were sometimes receptive to carnal interpretations of the Real Presence in order to fence off Zwinglians. Furthermore, Cranmer would dull the significance of Henry’s six articles in his compilation of the 1543 King’s Catechism. Here, Cranmer tries to dismiss the mode of sacrament in favor of worthy reception,
“Wherefore in this most high mystery no man ought to reason overfar, nor go about to compass the will and work of God by his weak sense and imagination: but we must without further searching give firm assent and credence unto Christ’s almighty word, by the which heaven and earth were made, and not trouble our wits in laboring to comprehend the power and might of God, but rather (steadfastly giving faith to his word) apply our whole will and affection to attain the fruit and profit of this most holy sacrament towards our salvation, according to the intent of Christ’s institution” (Various, 263)
Thus, the six articles not only answered German complaints lodged earlier with the Ten Articles, but they also voiced an emerging conservatism in England’s church, perhaps a cue taken from other conservative Evangelical Germans who anticipated the advantage of Charles V as with a coming Papal Council in Trent. Nonetheless, they belong to the theology of the Reformation, providing a “core” of doctrine that would continue into the Elizabethan Settlement until a better convergence with Philipist-Lutheranism could happen.
Anglicans ought to be encouraged to study the Henrician Formularies, 1536-1543, as laying the basis for Edward and Elizabeth’s final version of the Settlement. A hardcopy can be purchased at Amazon through the same Henry VIII link.
- Jacobs, Henry Eyster. The Lutheran Movement in England During the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Philedelphia, 1890.
- McEntegart, Rory. Henry VIII, The League of Schmalkalden, and the English Reformation (Boydell Press, 2002)
- Pusey, EB. The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Oxford, 1858.
- Schofield, John. Philip Melanchthon and the English Reformation (Ashgate Publishing, 2006),
- Tjernagel, Neelak Serawlook. Henry VIII and the Lutherans. Concordia, 1965.
- Various. Formularies of Faith put Forth by Authority During the Reigns of Henry VIII. Oxford, 1825.