Church of England Articles allowed Universalism in 1563


That would be very interesting and extremely relevant Jason :slight_smile: I’d also be interested to find out when she was given honorific stauts in the Catholic and Anglican calendars.

c. 1367–70
This is the conjectured date for the writing of the first text – Text A – of the Christian Dream Vision allegory ‘Piers Plowman’ (the author revised the original twice and these revisions are known as Text B and Text C). The text B and text C versions contain clear statements of hopeful universalism. The conjectured author of this poem is William Langland (ca. 1332 – ca. 1386). We know very little about him, but the sophisticated level of religious knowledge in the poem indicates that he had some connection to the clergy, and was possibly an itinerant hermit. The tradition that Langland was a Lollard, promoted by Robert Crowley’s 1550 edition of Piers and by early Lollard appropriation of the Plowman-figure, is false. Langland and Wycliffe shared many concerns: both question the value of indulgences and pilgrimage, promote the use of the vernacular in preaching, and attack clerical corruption. But these topics were widely discussed throughout the late fourteenth century anyway, Langland certainly does not echo Wycliffe’s teachings about the sacraments.

Passus 18 of the B text (and 20 of the C text) concludes with Will waking to the ringing of Easter Bells after witnessing in dream vision the events of Holy Week culminating in a debate between the four daughters of God – Mercy, Justice, Truth and Peace. Justice and truth argue for everlasting punishment of sin, while Mercy and Peace argue for forgiveness and restoration. Christ intervenes to harrow hell saying –
Then I shall come as a king, crowned with angels
And have all men’s souls out of hell
Demons great and small shall stand before me
And be at my bidding where I will
My kinship demands that I have mercy
On man , for we are all brethren
In blood, if not in baptism

My righteousness and right shall rule
In hell, and mercy over all mankind before me
In heaven. I were an unkind king
If I did not help my kin.

(Piers Plowman, Passus 18.399)Through the incarnation, all mankind is kin of Christ the King, and this verse emphasizes that Christ is bound by the bonds of kinship to save all of his kin – all of mankind - from the flames of hell. Langland here is drawing on the old Anglo-Saxon views on kinship and its bonds(found for instance in the pagan poem ‘Beowulf’) which held on quite long among the English. However, Langland extends kinship to all mankind, something the older, tribal-based Anglo-Saxons wouldn’t have done, and he does this through his inclusive doctrine of Incarnation. Langland’s egalitarian notions of kingship are very different from the hierarchical Norman French notions found in Anselm’s eleventh century ‘Cur Deus Homo’ – where God’s kingly honour, because God is infinite, is infinitely offended by our sin.

It has to be said that this passage conflicts with more pessimistic passages elsewhere in the poem including one – Truth’s pardon – that echoes the Athanasian Creed’s ;those who do evil will go into the everlasting fire’ (A Passus 8.96, B Passus 7 110B, C Passus 9. 287)… However, in the Harrowing of Hell scene it is important that the words of ultimate hope are placed on the lips of Christ – although it seems that Langland was still troubled by this hope as if the Daughters of God within him were still at loggerheads.

Piers Plowman was widely circulated in the fourteenth century (fifty two known manuscripts are extant). With Crowley’s printed edition of 1550 it reached a wide readership (although I will have to check and see how Crowley glosses the Universalist passages someday). If there is an inspirational link between the first flourishing of hopeful universalism in fourteenth century and the radical Universalists of the sixteenth century, ‘Piers Plowman’ is it.


Even advocate what? (There seems to be at least one phrase missing.)


Hi Jason – yes that was just an error in the mapping notes, which I’ve now deleted. The most important difference between Langland and Wycliffe from a UR viewpoint is that Langland was a hopeful Universalist, while Wycliffe and the Lollard mainstream seem to have been soul sleepers and annihilationist (I’ve seen the claim made on Universalist websites that the Lollards were Universalists but have seen no evidence for this claim given anywhere).

Regarding my notes on the first flourishing of UR in England – well I’ve a little bit more to say about Julian (comparing here with Anselm regarding God’s motherhood seems well worth a note) – but the gist of things is down now. I think I’ll just put some brief contextual notes in about the big events that the early UR crowd shared and which shaped their beliefs –

The Black Death
The Peasants Revolt
The rise and fall of the Lollards
The Hundred Years War
The season of popes and anti-popes

Should have this finished by end of the week. Then I can get cracking on the sixteenth century big time and work forwards (I’ve done enough flitting from one thing to another now).
When the mappings is over it will be time to look back at the first UR set and see if any other perspectives crop up – but I will soon leave them alone for the moment.

Jason – thanks so much for reading this stuff. You are a pal



Louis Ellies du Pin, or Dupin (1657 –1719) the French ecclesiastical historian often quoted by nineteenth century historians of universalism apparently speaks of a council convened by
Langham, Archbishop of Canterbury, .A.D. 1368, in which judgment was given against thirty propositions that were taught in his province; one of which was that “all the damned, even the demons, may be restored and become happy.” I have good reason t believe that Dupin is not always a reliable source –but this is worth checking sometime against ecclesiastical records.


Ann interesting fact (if you are interested in boring stuff) -
When I’ve been working with Pog no his list of ‘hellism deniers’ I scanned through a copy of ‘The Modern History of Universalism: Extending from the Epoch of the Reformation to the Present Time. Consisting of Accounts of Individuals and Sects’ , by Thomas Whittemore on Google Books. Whittemore actually covers the same ground that this thread does about the Abrogation of the 42nd, the connection with Anabaptist Universalism etc – he tells the sane story. I hadn’t known this until now.

What I will say is that there is a lot we know now – a lot of it detailed in this thread – that Whittemore had no idea about. But this is effectively a new telling of an old story.


that’s interesting…i wonder if he’d be interested in this thread??


He’s been dead a long time James :laughing: He departed this life in 1861 - but I’m really glad I’ve done an intensive stint on Pog list because it’s improved my knowledge about American Universalism hugely and enabled me to find this out. :smiley:


does that mean he’s not interested? what a bore :stuck_out_tongue:


I wish I could download Whittemore’s two books off Google (or somewhere) – the various new print versions are expensive. But I’ve registered them in my Google library anyway. :wink:


Dave Tomlinson, a great mention…and thanks to you lending me that book, i’ve been going to and LOVING his church :slight_smile:


I’ve seen some copies for about £10 on Amazon UK. I think I ought to get one for this research - I see it includes some stuff by an early Episcopalian universalist minister citing the abrogation of the 42nd article.

James - I’m really glad you are loving it at Dave’s church - well he is a universalist after all :slight_smile:


A note to say that the Synod convened by Langham of Canterbury (mentioned above – and cited by a number of 19th century American historians of universalism) actually did take place and concerned the views of Uthred of Bolden that I’ve mentioned. Here is the ‘dirt’ on it -

In 1366, a quarrel broke out at Oxford when the Dominicans, led by William Jordan, launched an attack on the Benedictine Uthred of Bolden; the earliest evidence of this s a letter written by a monk of St. Mary’s, York, found in W.A. Pantin, General and Provincial Chapters of the English Back Monks, (London; Royal Historical Society, 1937), 3:308-9. This seems to have been the start of a long running quarrel.

Feb 18th 1368 Archbishop Langham of Canterbury ordered the Chancellor of Oxford to silence the two parties. On Nov 9th, Langham condemned a list of 30 propositions as erroneous; 22 of them deal with the issue of grace and salvation, and are clearly Uthred’s work. The remaining 8 deal broadly with the principle that things cannot change their basic nature, and appear to be the work of Jordan, although he was permitted to deny holding them. See Dom David Knowles, ‘’the Censured Opinions of Uthred of Bolden’ in ‘Proceedings of the British Academy, 1951, p.p. 306-42. There is no evidence that either man was required to formally recant or was punished in any fashion.

‘The School of Heretics: Academic Condemnation at the University of Oxford’ by Andrew E Larsen. P 297)

It is not clear to me yet that the Langham’s Synod actually did condemn universalism per se. I’ll need to do some more digging – and get hold of David Knowles’ article.


Doctrine in the Church of England 1938 (p. 219) states - ‘‘there must be room in the Church for those who hold that the love of God will at last win all to penitence and answering love from every soul that is has created’’


I had never read that, Dick. Heartening.


I looked at the numbers who have read this thread the other day and got a bit down because they are very high. I’d just like to say that although the suppression of the 42nd Article in the Convocation of 1563 has consoled and given legitimacy Anglican Universalist in later times, I’m certain now that there are no reasons to think that allowing universalism was the intention of the Convocation, and there are many good reasons for thinking this was not the case. Sorry about the change of mind:-/ And I think it is better to refer to the 42nd article having been ‘suppressed’ rather than ‘abrogated’.

All the best


Matthew Parker’s tutor Martin Bucer - who mentored him in moderation which is the reason why Elizabeth appointed him – was not a man who would shun someone for disagreement over matters that he thought we not essential . However, when – before he’d fled to England -he questioned Hans Denck the Anabaptist in Strasbourg who was charged with universalism and other matters (perhaps wrongly) he had part responsibility for having Hans Denck banished from the City. Bucer wrote that Denck had been leading members of the flock astray from their own salvation by teaching universalism.

The Articles that were deleted included those against the ‘millenarians’ (and like universalist. in the nineteenth century there were Anglican clergy who had become dispensationalist who used the deletion of this article as evidence that their beliefs were allowed). There are strong arguments to think that this was not the intention of the Convocation either. However, the one argument that trumps this reasoning is that the article against the ‘antinomians’ was also deleted – and it would be absurd to argue that therefore Anglicanism at this time was open to the licentious teachings of the antinomians.

The only evidence we have for debate about matters of belief concerning the articles at the convocation of 1563 is from correspondence between Bishop Alley of Exeter and Matthew Parker urging that the article about the Descent into Hell be shortened because there was so much disagreement over it. And indeed Cramners’ article was abridged in the final version no longer affirming that Christ preached to the spirits in prison but instead simply affirming that Christ descended into hell (The Calvinist doctrine that Christ that took this stamen as figurative for Christ experiencing the pains of hell on the cross – which did away with suggestions of post mortem salvation in the descent was well known in England and was the doctrine preferred by the Reformers who had returned from Switzerland . And with this being such a contentious issue, allowing universalism as an option would have been way beyond the pale.

Although the Funeral service in the Prayer Book was complained about as ‘Orignestic’ in the later Calvinist Admonitions to Parliament’ - along with many other complaints about the Articles not being fully Reformed - the suppression of the 42nd article is not mentioned in these. It certainly would have been if this allowed universalism.

Although the 42nd article was suppressed other articles assume the prospect of eternal damnation. For example the one on the Creeds. The authenticity of the Athanasian Creed was not in doubt at this point apart from in very secret communications of some Continental humanists, and the ‘charity of its damnatory clauses was not an issue before the rise of the non-conformists at the end of the eighteenth century. Also there the Article about the error of believing that people can be saved by following their own sects and opinions outside of the Church (which assumes that those who believe this are damned) and the comment about unbaptised children not begin saved in the Prayer Book of (which was deleted in the late seventeenth century when this idea rightly came to be seen as abominable).

The article against Purgatory and other superstitions is strengthened in the Elizabethan Prayer Book. (And some sort of doctrine of post mortem purification was essential to universalism at this point). Cranmer only speaks of the scholastic doctrine of purgatory as an abomination – but Parker’s article is less specific calling it squarely ‘Romish’. And this is clarified in John Jewel’s homily that scoffs at any idea of there being an intermediate state of purification and of the efficacy of prayer for the dead. Prayers for the dead were ordered in Cramner’s first prayer book but deleted from the second prayer book on the advice of Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr. They were condemned in the early Latin draft of the Elizabethan articles but this condemnation was dropped from the 39 articles (and they are included in a Latin primer later in Elizabeth’s reign). We do know that the Elizabethan Reformers were ‘gradualist’ in their project and were hoping that concessions made to the old Catholic practices when these were not too contrary to Protestant faith would actually result in these practices dying out. It was only later at the end of Elizabeth’s reign in reaction to the near triumph of the Reformed party in the Church that the idea that Anglicanism was a real middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism gained currency with Richard Hooker.

There is no evidence of any Anglican priests advocating universalism before the late seventeenth century – the general idea expressed at prior to the seventeenth century is that universalism is a madness that threatens all social order by taking away the motivation for people to be good an disobedient. In the late seventeenth century the advocates of universalism wrote either pseudonymously or in posthumous publication which does not suggest any degree of acceptance of universalism before this date. There were of course vigorous debates about predestination and freewill in the Elizabethan and Jacobean Church– but this is another matter

The most thorough evidence we have of an Anglican swayed by the teachings of Origen earlier than the late seventeenth century comes from Sir Thomas Browne’s ‘Religio Medici’ where Browne tells us that in his youth –in the 1620s - he believed in universal restoration for a time but later renounced his error (although his other writings show that his wider charity still was at variance with the teachings about hell). He says that he fell into error rather than heresy because he did not publicly teach his error and therefore cause division in the Church.


No one can complain you aren’t an honest scholar and gentleman! :slight_smile:

Is there a prior post in this thread you would like to add a comment to, and/or a link to this post, for future reference? I’m not sure if non-mod members have unlimited time to edit their prior posts; but if not, and if you want to, let me know where and what you want to amend, and one of us (presumably me) will do it for you.


Hi everyone,

I’m a bit late in on this discussion, and not sure if the following has already been said, but as someone with a great interest in the Church of England I am reassured by the actual Common Worship ordination service liturgy:

The only direct declaration made there is the following:

Bishop: Will you faithfully minister the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them, so that the people committed to your charge may be defended against error and flourish in the faith?

Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

In addition, people to be ordained have to make the following “Declaration of Assent”:

The Declaration: I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.

Notice the desire to be very open in the careful language of these declarations. The declaration is in the faith that is “revealed” in the Holy Scriptures, “set forth” in the catholic creeds, while the “historic formularies” of the Church of England “bear witness”.

What is striking here is that none of the adjectives relating to the creeds (which might include the Athanasian creed) or the “historic formularies” (which includes the 39 articles) require belief in their infallibility. It simply says the creeds “set forth” the same faith revealed in the Scriptures. The MacMillan dictionary defines “set forth” as “to explain or describe something in a clear and detailed way, especially in writing” - implying the creeds are meant to explain and clarify the doctrine revealed by the Scripture. Significantly, the faith is not revealed in the creeds - it is revealed in Scripture - meaning that, if there were some point of difference, the Scripture would have priority. It does not say that one has to believe everything in the creeds, or that they are perfect - it simply says a belief in the faith (i.e. faith in Christ) which the creeds in some sense explain. I could, for instance, declare that a mathematics textbook “set forth” the principles of mathematics, without affirming its inerrancy.

The language with the “historic formularies” (i.e. 39 articles etc.) is even more open - these are affirmed to “bear witness” to the faith. This simply means they contain some truth somewhere that sheds light on our understanding of faith. This certainly does not imply their perfection, however, or a complete agreement with them.

And also, remember this is only for people being ordained in the Church of England! If such openness is given to people who are ordained, imagine the openness to everyone else! In fact, as far as I am aware, apart from the Nicean creed which is declared as “our faith” during services, I do not believe there are any specific faith requirements of members of the Church of England!

This is reassuring, as it seems to me the Church of England is open to people believing in the ultimate restoration of everyone to God! :smiley:


Hi Jason Pratt - that’s very kind of you :slight_smile: I have no idea what to do. Perhaps I should try and write something over the summer and give this one the best I can because I became the main chap in this discussion at a time when I was still finding my way round the sources. I’m not a proper scholar in this field - but I certainly can give a better answer now than I did four years ago and was simply exploring different avenues of enquiry (I’ve read more primary sources - I’ve even read Erasmus’ Prefaces and Annotations to Origen fro example so I know that some of my speculations long ago were off mark. I’ll have a think about this. Hmmmmm :smiley:


Hi Elliot :slight_smile:

Here’s a really boring response for you :smiley: (your blog is so interesting and lively compared to the stuff I’m going to write here :smiley:)

Everything you say here is spot on. There is an absolutely no reason why an Anglican cannot be a Universalist today – and many Anglicans are indeed Universalists. There are at least two separate issues in this discussion – issues I’ve sometimes confused. The first is what the original framers of the 39 Articles believed and/or permitted others to believe and to teach. And the second is what Anglicans can and do believe today.

There are many examples of Anglican Universalists citing the suppression of Cranmer’s 42nd Article – which condemned the teaching that all people will eventually be saved – as evidence that the Elizabethan Convocation by so doing was actually permitting universalism as an optional matter. This does not seem a tenable argument for the reason I’ve sketched rather sloppily above. All Churches have a sense of tradition – but no tradition should be bound to the letter of its historic formularies to the intentions and presuppositions of those who first created these. We cannot of back to the past – but if we are to respect tradition we can have a dialogue with the past. I think in dialogue with the past and in attempt to discern the spirit behind the letter we can see who Anglicans today can be Universalist – which is the second issue.

The spirit of the 39 Articles was meant to be irenic – to give people of different views on issues which moderate voices saw as non –essentials a statement of essential doctrine on which they could all agree in charity. The Article 17 on Predestination and Election is a case in point. It affirms election to salvation but not election to reprobation. The Calvinists in the Elizabethan Church who became perhaps the most powerful party by the end of her reign were not happy with this. It allowed them their beliefs but also made space for other beliefs – and this was not enough for them. But Elizabeth herself resisted any attempts to foist the Reformed doctrine upon the Church as a whole and from the first took steps to prevent this being the outcome of her Reformation. For example by authorising Erasmus’ Paraphrases of the New Testament to be read in Churches – and in these Erasmus’ gloss on key scriptural passages affirms free will and God’s wish to save all people. Some [David Starkey for example]even believe that the ‘Comfortable words’ of scripture included in the liturgy to comfort against despair of salvation were included at Elizabeth’s command. These concerns lead to a wideness of hope and charity in mainstream Anglican authors like Richard Hooker who were not Calvinists. Although this was not Universalism it can be seen as preparing the ground – at least in terms of sentiment for the reception of the larger hope.

And there has been a Universalist tradition in the Church of England at least since the end of the seventeenth century – and the tradition of hopeful universalism gathered strength and numbers among both clergy and laity in the latter part of the nineteenth century. F.D. Maurice the mentor of George MacDonald was a key figure along with Dr Farrar of Westminster whose series of sermons ‘Eternal Hope’ in 1870 were widely read in printed editions. Indeed, in 1938 the report on Doctrine in the Church of England 1938 (p. 219) states - ‘‘there must be room in the Church for those who hold that the love of God will at last win all to penitence and answering love from every soul that is has created’’

The 39 Articles were originally irenic, flexible (within limits) and intended to keep the peace between traditionalists and the more zealously reformist clergy. However, by the mid-seventeenth century they were already seen by some Anglicans as a too rigid code for the clergy to adhere to. William Chillingworth for example argued – “I am fully assured that God does not, and therefore that men ought not to, require any more of any man than this, to believe the Scripture to be God’s word, and to endeavour to find the true sense of it, and to live according to it.” and that the damnatory clauses in the Athanasian Creed are ‘’false, presumptuous and schismatical’’. However the Articles were originally framed in a moderate way – and this moderation wittingly or unwittingly opens them up to new light in future times; and even universalist light .

Article 21 – ‘Of the authority of general councils’ – states clearly that Church councils can err because although they are guided by the spirit they are comprised of fallible men. In the 1960’s Bishop John Robinson who was a convinced universalist argued that this gives Anglicans sufficient grounds for questioning the authority of Church councils that have condemned universalism in the past (and of course for questioning the authority of the Elizabethan Church Council that suspended the article that explicitly condemned universalism but still assumed that there was no salvation outside of the church.) Likewise the Books of Homilies that affirm eternal damnation for the impenitent and speak against opportunities for post mortem salvation are commended in Article 35 only as models of sound doctrine ‘for these times’ (that is the time in which the Articles were framed) without claiming to have absolute authority for all times.

Article 21 in qualifying the authority of general councils of the Church also opens up Article 7 on the three creeds. The Elizabethan Council was in error though ignorance in assuming that the Athanasian Creed was written by Athanasius (a century later Voss, a Dutch scholar who was in England at the time and had taken Anglican orders, was responsible for showing this incontrovertibly). The Athanasian Creed – especially its damnatory clauses - no longer has the status it once had among mainstream Anglicans and this accords with spirit if not the letter of the Articles. William Chillgingwoth was not the last Anglican to see the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed as ‘schismatical’. Bishop Jeremy Taylor likewise expressed discomfort at their lack of charity and there were many in the eighteenth century who did the same including John Wesley (who remained in Anglican orders to the end of his life). Indeed when the Episcopalian Church became a separate province in 1801 they dropped the Athanasian Creed completely from their Prayer Book but still remained in communion with the Church of England.

The one time an Anglican clergyman (Rev. H.B. Wilson) was actually on trial for teaching something like universalism was in 1861. His accusers said his teaching did not accord with the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed and he was convicted under canon law in an ecclesiastical court and suspended from his post for a year. However, the case was referred to the highest court of the Privy Council (which included the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York as its members) and he was acquitted. They ruled that there was nothing in the formularies of the Anglican Church that prescribed a particular view of how many would be saved (they seem to have been referring to the suspension of the 42nd article under Elizabeth). And so there is even a legal precedent in canon law for Universalist clergy to appeal to.

Going back to William Chillingworth who had much anxiety over subscribing to the Articles but in the end was able to agree with them in Spirit - of course his contention that on the primary rule of Scripture interpreted according to conscience is already there in Article 6 ‘On the sufficiency of Scriptures for Salvation – and it’s a point you yourself have made Elliot :slight_smile:. A Universalist interpretation of scripture was not an option in magisterial Churches who feared universalism as a doctrine promoting social disorder and vice when the 39 Articles were framed. There was a great interest in Origen as a scriptural exegete during the Renaissance and Reformation – and even as a defender of the doctrine of freewill - but not in his universalism. So Origen’s distinctions about the different meanings of ‘aionis’ – which are important to universalist exegesis of scripture – were not given proper consideration; as far as I can see this only happened amongst Anglican scholars in the seventeenth century (James Windett and Thomas Burnett spring to mind). Today an Anglican Universalist can appeal to modern scholarship – that Origen’s distinctions about ‘aionis’ were not part of any eccentric and heretical scheme at all but were distinctions that are actually there in the New Testament texts.

A final root in history for Anglican Universalists is the number of the Anglican saints remembered in both the Church of England and the American Episcopalian calendars who were Universalists. (From memory the last time I looked I noted that Gregory of Nyssa, Julian of Norwich, William Law, F.D. Maurice and Florence Nightingale were all allocated liturgical days for example). If you go back to the beginning of the form of the Anglican Church that the Elizabethan Settlement initiated, Matthew Parker the Archbishop of Canterbury who presided over the Convocation that produced the 39 Articles was also a keen Church historian eager to stress a continuity between the Reformed Church of England and the Catholic Church in England stretching back to Augustine of Kent. He was also keen to stress the occasional independence of Catholic i England from Rome. A Universalist with a Catholic sense of tradition – in the spirit Matthew Parker - could point to the evidence for a brief openness to ideas of wide hope and universalism that occurred in England when the power of Rome was weakened by schisms in the fourteenth century – Julian of Norwich is the prime example of proto universalism but also William Langland. and William of Ockham and Uthred of Bolden are examples of wide eschatological hope at this time.


I am aware that people who read the Church of England Article threads may well be Anglican universalists in need of comes sort of consolation - so I have this on my conscience. If there is any way I can think of to make this accessible and/or remotely interesting I will write an extended essay on this. Let me think about this :slight_smile: